Interim model railway update

Phoenix Yard (Mark 1)

With the success of the recent Great Model Railway Challenge TV programme, as aired on Ch 5, together with the upcoming Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC I decided to build a very simple “shunting plank” layout to try to draw visitors to the SLS stand. Have it available so that they can see what can be done and have a go. Whether they want to take on the whole shunting puzzle exercise is immaterial, ideally yes but even a trial go will be progress.

We can sell the Society and our published material if the passing visitors stop and engage. The hardest part getting that break of step for the initial pause as they walk by.

The fact that it also gives me an option for a small portable fun layout for home use too is the bonus. The final choice of base is a simple 4ft x 1ft piece of shelf timber I had in stock. In the build I had tried the Plum Hollow base, useable but with issues, and adapting another piece of existing potential layout board (a recycled DIY table top). The latter almost made it, as a folding version, but with a slight modification for use as the fold would have been through a point. It was only the time for the extra woodwork for the hew half that killed the idea. A Mark 2 iteration with full scenery may well appear for Alexandra Place and York.

Why Phoenix Yard? The reason is almost everything on it is recycled from other projects. I have taken the basic “Inglenook” 8 wagon (5-3-3) format for the scenic side and added two small sidings in to a  hidden section. This allows for a single coach workmen’s train to appear. It also allows alternative locomotives to be swapped in/out.

The longest spur, for the 3 wagons plus locomotive, can accommodate engines up to a Bo-Bo diesel or an 0-6-0 tender locomotive. As the shorter locos would allow cheating with 4 wagons a moveable velcroable buffer stop may be incorporated.

As a comparison with the GMRC project of 24 hours of building, the track is partially down as I write this. Time spent, excluding pre-planning, about 3 hours to paint the base, juggle the track until I was absolutely satisfied with its position, and fixing it down.

Draft view of the layout
The track laid out before the board was painted. To the left the public area/ working zone, on the right the hidden/fiddle area.

Plum Hollow

As part of the above exercise the base earmarked for Plum Hollow project was manoeuvred around the house and tried in the car. This indicated that the project will have some issues in moving it around if proceeded with but will just fit round the corner in the staircase. It was this problem that led to evaluating the folding base for a larger version of the Phoenix Yard build.

New cars

Our old Zafira developed an engine problem that meant we had to change it quickly. We now have much smaller Vauxhall Corsa. One immediate issue for Plum Hollow will be working out exactly how high the scenery can be. The board will fit (just) as a bare carcass if the rear seat is down flat but with the rake on the back of the driver’s seat any added height will be critical.

With regard to new cars as always there is progress and regression, as examples, the DAB radio is excellent for sound but requires more retuning than older FM sets to switch masts to get local radio as you travel cross-country; there is no CD option, and most importantly, the supposedly anti-dazzle rear view mirror is useless at night, the old flip type worked these don’t!!

 

Plum Hollow – a sort of update

Plum Hollow, minor progress

Picture of the kits
Test build on paper of the trial hut and 2 of the 5 sheets for the next trial project.

For a variety of reasons the Plum Hollow layout project has had almost nothing done on it for some time. That was not a case of out of sight out of mind, simply a case of other workload intervening.  The scenic side is the next step, hence today’s test kit build. The aim was to see if a  printed paper/card kit scaled down from the originally intended HO (1:87) scale to US N scale (1:160) would either (be 1) too fiddly to construct or (2) not look good enough after completion. The test suggests both answers are negative, the outcome therefore is positive and therefore a run printed onto card-stock is worth trying. This simple build with unreinforced paper prints suggests constructing the kits will be manageable with card-stock backing.

As progress since the last update the polystyrene blocks have been bought as has the 4mm scale Dapol signal gantry kit I intend to use as  lattice girder railway over river bridge.

There is a possibility that the existing base boxes may get re-purposed into another project and replaced for this one.  If that happens an update will be posted. If it does it will be for a quick build project for the Warley (and onwards) shows; with this one it will be time that determines the outcome.

As a final point the scaling experiments for this exercise indicate that the ratio of printing the pdf plans at 54.4% is correct.  Although they are not currently accessible to check when I’d made the buildings for Reindeer Landing (N Gauge side) they always looked too small; it is possible they had been printed at 25% (The area reduction) rather than 54.4% which gives the necessary shrinkage in each linear dimension.

SLS Workload

This is one of the reasons for the delays mentioned above.Situations Vacant adverts are included in the current Journal going out to members in the hope of filling some of the vacancies. Once that gets delivered to members the adverts for those vacancies where open recruitment will be possible will also be circulated to non-members. In the meantime several officers are doubling up, even tripling up, on roles to keep us going. The trouble with being a volunteer – you tend to volunteer whenever crisis looms.

 

SLS Website

main Plum Hollow page

 

 

 

Non-stop editing!

Photo - dippy

A month of solid editing

I ended last month’s blog expressing hopefully “What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.” Well that hoped for return to normality during February went well, or not! What it ended up as was a month of solid editing to get my second SLS Journal and Newsletter out on time. My problem; not the page layout et al, but all the catch up reading of back submissions to find the content ready to drop in. It is easing, the third edition will be a bit easier again from the experience gained from editing the first two. I am already planning content for the issues through to December.

Is there a lesson to be learnt by other Societies – yes – succession planning. That said, we did try, but no other suitably experienced member volunteered. My lesson learnt, if you know at the back of your mind that reality is you are going to get roped in regardless, give in early and take the longest lead in period you can get.

image of Journal cover
The March/April cover (C) SLS/AISLT with thanks to the A1SLT for permission to use the image.

The earlier editing job

Image Front cover NG & Miniature
Front cover NG & Miniature
Image Eclectic Electrics the front cover design
Eclectic Electrics the front cover design

 

As mentioned in the November blog post I was also Production Editor for the SLS in producing the first two volumes of material from The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives.(Cover images above)

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

Sales went live on the Society stand at the NEC and copies will also be available from us at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and over the following Easter weekend at York Model Railway. They can also be ordered from me direct by post. The SLS Board has approved electronic selling but I have yet to get the system into place on the Society website.

PayPal and other computer gremlins

The most recent editing nightmare, a fault with the way the Google app on i-phones and i-pads interacts with the code we got from PayPal to sell tickets on the York Model Railway Show website. (I am Website Manager) The culprit is not Google Chrome, that is fine, but their search app. The app ignores the shopping cart it is supposed to open and tries to log directly into the customer’s PayPal account. This system has worked properly for eighteen months, why does the mighty Google feel the need to make changes that then b*****s up other systems that were working properly. Not good customer care by them, although I like to think our own response was better than the other customer care issue discovered recently – Apple repair fault logging and repair protocols (See next item).

Apple’s appalling customer care protocol

This final item is a bit of a rant and gives me another Victor Meldrew feeling about the sanity of some modern ways of doing things. Have organisations learnt nothing about customer care?

Scenario – I drop my Apple laptop it needs a fix as the display becomes intermittent. Oh yes I think to myself there is an Apple dealer in Bournemouth, I’m in Bournemouth tomorrow, I will drop it off for repair. Off I duly tootle to the said Apple shop (Solutions inc) who I have used before. To paraphrase –

“I’d like to drop this off for repair please.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No I just want to drop it off for repair.”

You can’t without an appointment.” (Duh thinks I – a shop that doesn’t want you to buy the service!!!)

“So I have to waste time and money driving home today, ring you, and then come back again? That’s madness and unacceptable!”

“But it is Apple’s policy Sir, no appointment, no drop off, no fix! (Shades of Jobsworth, or worse, me thinks)

At this point I got very firm and eventually a techie deigned to appear from the bowels of the shop, discuss my issue and take the lap-top in.

Dear Apple – Either the staff at your dealership are a complete bunch of numpties or your accredited repair logging system, they claim they have to use it, is the most ridiculous state of BAD customer care I have ever come across. How about this – It’s a shop and authorised repair dealer, you walk in with a repair job, they take the order and any due examination/inspection fee money and then a techie looks at the job later in the queue (customers are not stupid – we understand queues and waiting lists), it then gets fixed/can’t be fixed and the customer is rung and advised either it is ready or is bust beyond economic repair. How difficult is that?

Finally – Dippy the dinosaur in Dorchester

Despite the horrendous monsoon like half-term weather on the day over half term we had booked, and the car failing to start, we visited Dippy with the family. The outcome was two awed grand-children and four very impressed adults.

Photo - dippy
Dippy the dinosaur ‘on tour’ at Dorchester Photo: C) John New (Has had some minor digital adjustment/de-skewing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS A final note

It’s not that February was a hectic month or anything but this update for the month got posted almost at the deadline of midnight on the 28th. Final editing took place today, Thursday 1st March!

January update

Image of Yorkshire Rose

January update

This Blog post with the January update is very brief owing to circumstances outside my control. A strange month; the first edition of the SLS Journal with me as Editor went out roughly as planned despite the Royal Mail managing to chew up the printer’s proof and then deliver it about three weeks late. 17 days for a packet to travel from Walsall to Dorset (and then arrive damaged) is hardly First Class service!  A family crisis then arose requiring me to be away from home for a few days

Family emergency

Yorkshire rose image
Yorkshire rose. Source information lost.

Left: The image was downloaded from the internet several years ago and the attribution details have been lost. If the image is yours I will happily credit it if you supply the details.

 

 

My grandson developed appendicitis so a decant to Yorkshire to be on hand to provide lifts, do the school run with his brother etc., etc.

Update: A thank you to the NHS in York and at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) for the work they are doing to make him better.

Delayed January content

What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.

A literary month

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals

A literary month

Two connected, but disparate, sections to this blog post describing my literary month. The first a completed task and introduction to a new role as Editor of The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal; the second related to local theatre productions.

Stella, my wife, stage managed Me and My Girl so a lot of work in the household went into that both in the months leading up to the show and in show week itself. To add to that drama connection the local Royal Manor Theatre here on Portland recently ran a production of Old actors never Die and as a consequence we got that title at Weymouth Writing Matters as one of our a prompts. Given it will soon be time to assist as a volunteer with the Weymouth Pavilion Panto prep’ time it seemed appropriate to also add my own small tribute to the thespian’s craft below.

A teaching day

The other generator of workload was an invitation to give a talk on the history of railways to a group of Polish exchange students staying over at Clevedon in Somerset. The students had come over to the UK to get experience of a range of topics and issues prior to selecting a career: one of those careers being the option of working on the railway back in Poland, hence this talk. Initially envisioning the usual hour to an hour and half of talking (as for a local club/society evening) it eventually turned out to be a four hour, full day. My recent BACOM experience and training at Bournemouth in presentation skills certainly came to the fore; it went well. A day’s teaching, a first for me, and an experience I found surprisingly satisfying.

Photo from the history talk.
An image used in the presentation. 150 years of progress in one picture. Left – The gas turbine APT – 175 mph in 1975. Centre – Iron Duke (Replica) 60 mph – 1840s. Right – Rocket (Replica) 32 mph in 1830. Image (C) John New

Editing time

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals
The final proofs for the two new SLS books. The final editions are perfect bound NOT wire bound. Images (C) John New.

Since coming back from summer holiday life has been hectic with book editing for The Stephenson Locomotive Society. A deep end start to the role I’ve also just taken on of Editor for the bi-monthly Journal; first edition will be January/February. But back to the books – launching at the Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC on 25/26 November the first two volumes of material from the SLS Archives.

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

On launch weekend they will be available on our stand (Hall 5, Stand D44) at £9.50 each (£7.50 to Society members). Postal sales will be available post-Show once the P&P situation is finalised. (When available generally it will be announced on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, the SLS Twitter feed and the SLS Publications page)

Old actors never die

They say old actors never die; like the ancient pagan gods they remain alive as long as they are adored, worshiped, remembered. Their old posters and fading photographs line the walls of musty corridors and theatre bars, slowly fading as the plays they starred in pass from living memory.

The ephemera of a craft, the passing of time, each show a snapshot, unlike cinema, where time remains frozen. The youthful face of the craggy old star shambling from Hollywood café to occasional TV studio appearance, their old movies endlessly repeating on obscure channels; a cruel reminder of past glories. The long legs dancing the kick line, the piercing smile of the male lead, forever captured, reality the decline, the baton passed to the new replacement.

Times change, tastes change, the star of yesterday’s western unnoticed in Wallmart, the silent queens of the silver screen, glorious in mono, passed over in colour. No more repeats of the Keystone Cops to entertain the kids at the Saturday flicks: 633 Squadron flies to face the deadly Hun no longer, the Eagles Dared but the Empire Struck back.

The house lights dim, the curtain rises, the new crop take the stage; from the wings the old look on, coaching, training, remembering. The words they spoke last the ages; for some their memory will be immortal, names spoken in reverent tones, their routines rehashed and recast, even perhaps immortalised as a new sweet desert, fruity, tangy, was Dame Nellie like that in life?

As they say in showbiz, another opening of another show. As the door closes for one for another it opens. For some, the very best, it will stay revolving, but sadly, for most, like a child’s spinning top the hum and buzz will gently fade away.

Copyright on all the above remains with the author – not released into the public domain.

Last week I caught a train

Trains, the ticketing nightmare
Trains
Southbound Cl 185 Trans Pennine Express at Shipton by Beningbrough (Yorks). The acceptable side of train travel.
Southbound Cl 185 Trans Pennine Express at Shipton by Beningbrough (Yorks). The acceptable side of train travel.

Trains are an interest, last week I even rode on one just like that pictured above. For people who know me well, or sometimes visit this blog, that probably seems an obvious statement. I am PRO for a railway society (The SLS) and manage the website for two other rail related groups so train travel should be a norm. Unfortunately it isn’t, partly down to geography/available routes, and partly down to the nature of the rail industry today. This blog post is reflections on trying to actually plan/use the train to make three main-line trips from the major UK rail hub of York; for only one was the train actually usable!

Ticketing
Tickets and cards.
Tickets and cards.

It used to be easy, you turned up, you bought your ticket and got on the next train. These days each Train Operating Company (TOC) has its’ own range of discounts and options; woe betide the person who gets on a wrong train or thinks they can just buy one from the guard/ticket collector. On Friday I was 50:50 lucky, there was a very substantial discount to travel restricted to Trans Pennine Express but it meant leaving at a set time to get the last train back. Why was that only 50% lucky, the event over-ran so I missed the last few minutes.

Empty reservations

Even though I take advantage of it because it is there what is annoying to me as a passenger is the discount for advance payments. This is for two reasons, (1) the number of no-shows means reserved seats get left empty and (2) it is simply illogical from a passenger perspective. It may make wonderful commercial sense to travel providers, be they train or airline operators, but for the passenger it means the turn-up and go fare payer (where there is all the risk of no seats etc.,) pays the premium rate. The premium should be for the early booking guarantee of a seat. Why this observation; in my coach on Friday of the 10 reservation slips visible only 4 were actually occupied for the leg specified!

Parking and evening buses

Another issue that creates an issue for train choice is parking and lack of late evening buses. On top of the train fare you have the parking tax as the lack of evening buses means a car or taxi is needed to get you home, and if the journey is rural, that can be surprisingly early. A Park & Ride scheme is great, but useless for the inward journey if the car-park is locked after 8pm so you can’t get your car out even if you get a taxi back to the P&R site after the last bus.

Why do I write this? In a fortnight I want to go to an evening meeting. It is in a neighbouring town to York and the expected 9:40 to 10pm finish is hardly late! However, I will be staying over that weekend at a relative’s house and there is no public transport option back out of York to their village after 7pm, outcome will be a 90 mile round trip drive.

My experiences using Scotrail whilst on holiday earlier in the month were slightly better but these general principles still have validity for services north of the border too.

Seating and people types
A southbound Voyager near York
A southbound Voyager near York. The route I won’t be taking!

The final straw, to this cumulative disaster, is the Cross-Country Voyager train. My Saturday afternoon meeting in Derby shortly coming up has to be another 100 mile plus round trip car journey as everything conspires to make the train a non-starter. The first blow, no evening village bus home and the park and ride alternative would be touch and go for getting back on the last one, so dare not risk.  Car park fee at station -don’t ask! However even if I pay that fee the train has such jammed in seating that as a tall man I can only sit in First Class with a guarantee of getting enough leg room.

So another weekend another motorway journey, not from a lack of motivation to use public transport but because it isn’t available as a practical alternative.

Going back to that Friday trip last week, people watching sure is fun. What a mix. Outward it was fine despite the train being pretty full but another downer for evening travel are the parties of tipsy and drunk fellow travelers. Not fighting on this occasion but raucous and with hardly the most desirable language choice at times.