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The Donkey and the Bales of Straw




I said in a posting on my workbench blog that layouts required seperate comment, and I've remarked a couple of times that I got myself hopelessly overcommitted on far too many fronts , even before work matters absorbed all my energy in the first half of last year. The two things are linked..... so perhaps a survey of my layout commitments is over due, at least to show where I'm coming from


For quite a number of years I was extremely heavily committed to a layout project in my club . It wasn't without it's frustrations and difficulties, but I suspect a good many clubs have housed a struggling project with large ambitions and limited numbers of people and experience actually behind it. Eventually it all got too much, especially when coupled with administrative responsibilities, active membership of a society, long working and commuting hours, and the household chores arising from being single. Something had to give and late in 2009 I dropped out of the project, in the hope of getting my life back - only to be hit by a train coming the other way.


Changed personal circumstances now largely rule out my becoming involved with a club layout group again , even if I wished to. I no longer work near my club, and just getting there costs almost £20 and involves an hour and a half of travelling each way. I've managed it only once in the last 6 months, and while I certainly hope to do better in 2011, those aren't conditions which allow you to be actively involved with a project. And the project itself has been taken on by new people and gone in other directions. There is a club nearer to me where I have one or two contacts, which has a couple of layout projects each of which might connect with some of my interests - but to be honest I'm rather enjoying my freedom and I'm really not sure I want to get involved with layout groups and the Exhibition Circuit in that way again. Quite a bit of my life had to be put on hold in the years when I was spending 2 nights a week at the club and getting home at gone 11 o'clock, and it's nice to have the chance to pursue other interests inside and outside the hobby again.


So that's one bale of straw - a big one - out of the way.... Plenty still to go.


First and foremost there's Blacklade, which is nominally the subject of this layout blog. Unfortunately the lack of postings in the last year would suggest - quite correctly - that nothing has been happening on it. The job is 85% done - I just haven't been in a position to focus on the layout and carry out the few remaining major jobs.


For those who haven't been living in these parts since the last century, a bit of background may be in order. About 4 years, and 2 iterations of RMWeb, ago , there was the Layout Building Challenge. The rules for this were build a layout in 12 months, with a maximum footprint of just 6 square feet, including fiddle yards. Andy Y's Keyhaven started as part of the Challenge and so did a couple of other rather fine layouts . My initial thoughts and a photo of the layout as it stood 14 months ago (and still stands) are in the first posting in this blog , not very far down the list.


One of the major reasons for building it was that I'd started to acquire - almost involuntarily, as you do - stock for use on the club project. I wasn't really supposed to be a stock provider but I'd started picking up a few brightly coloured DMUs that were being discounted and would fit the project perfectly. It was only really backup stock so I didn't work on it, but when we ran the club project there were inevitably gaps to stop up, and you get sucked in. I tucked the boxes in the gap between the bookshelves and the wall and before I'd realised what was happening the pile was 3' high and climbing. Whoops.


The project I was involved with was DCC, so I needed a test track and DCC programming track at home to enable me to do my own installations. I didn't want to be dependant on others to chip locos , especially if that was going to mean paying for a topline decoder every time (My normal fleet decoder is a TCS T1 , which at one point was available for £11.50 sans plug. Prices have climbed a bit since then, I'm afraid) . It occured to me that if I had a layout at home on which I could run this stock , it would give me an incentive to do something with it, and would at least ensure that it all ran properly. And if I could also use the various bits of stock that I had for what was supposed to be my real modelling interest (1980s ER secondary) that would be even better. There were enough gaps to require a bit of retail therapy, plus some kit building, which was better still... If the club project ever fell through or my stock wasn't actually required on it I'd have a Plan B (If this seems a bit dour, somewhere at the bottom of that pile is an elderly Hornby 155 in Provincial, bought to be converted into 153s in support of a previous proposed club project. That dropped through without anything actually being built, and I don't think the 155 has ever run. I suppose one day I'll tweak the wheels, stick in a Macoder which lurks at the bottom of the decoder bag - it's all it deserves - and there'll be another early period DMU. Yes , I know they were all allocated to Canton. It's running trials after visiting Derby for overhaul. It's nil cost - and quite as far down my list of jobs as it is down the pile of stock...)


As it happens, I've ended up there by a different route . However, although I'm now out of the club layout game, with a couple of exceptions, all my stock fits Blacklade very nicely.... Blacklade gets erected in the sitting room when I need to program a decoder, and I even managed one short running session about 2 months ago


I need to motorise the last three points, finish off the wiring, and build the station structure (largely surrounding walls) . I also need to sort out the one major problem to date - the Marcway points are very stiff and the wire supplied with the Tortoises is too flexible, resulting in points not throwing completely. I bought some suitable steel wire for replacements at Warley just over a year ago, but haven't got round to fitting them. If - a very big if - I can get this all done by the middle of the year , there are two modest group events I might just take Blacklade to . Although I originally intended that it wouldn't be exhibited - which is why the boards are 4'3" long - I now have a car, and a bit of measuring suggests I might just get them in with the back seats folded down, and without having to fold back the passenger seat - so a second operator could travel in the car. We shall see.


This is very much my main layout now, and while I'm not really sure if I would want to be on the circuit, I would at least like to finish it and if possible take it out in public a couple of times, just to show that I can actually build something that looks ok and runs ok. At which stage, point made, I might bow and retire


Then there's the Boxfile, which I've referred to from time to time as my shunting plank. It does have a proper name and it's actually two boxfiles, linked, but it's the Boxfile . It was built for the DOGA competition some years ago, and represents a smoky hole in East London which handles a few wagons: the track plan is a loop and two sidings(sort of) and it functions as a shunting puzzle, with a loco and 7 wagons. Period is post war - ranging from the early 50s when the Y3 is running/slipping to the mid 60s, and if I manage to build the Y5 in the cupboard it may even run as early as 1948




One of the attractions of the exercise was that it allowed me to build all those interesting wagon kits which are strictly out of period for 1980s Lincolnshire - but which had somehow found their way into my cupboard nonetheless. Suddenly I was free to go out and buy all those kits I really fancied but which were normally strictly off-limits for me; not surprisingly I've ended up with way more wagons than are needed to operate the boxfile. About 4 times as many, to be precise - I'm now slowly reaching the latter part of Tranche 4 - and four times as many locos as well (05, Hunslet tram, Y3 and Knightwing shunter to be precise). I've got a part built Branchlines chassis for an 04 sitting on the bookcase, and a second hand Stephen Poole kit for one of these lurks in the cupboard




I believe North Woolwich museum has closed: does anyone know where the Y5 is and whether it's in good keeping?


Quite a few of these wagons have passed through my workbench thread ORBC- the Boxfile is where my steam-age wagons end up. It may seem excessive producing decent kitbuilt wagons just for a boxfile, but turn it the other way round - the Boxfile does at least give me something to run my wagons on. I


've also salvaged and recycled a few of my early teenage efforts, and got decent wagons for the 'file out of them.




I originally posted these shots at the start of the very first incarnation of ORBC on RMWeb. The Conflat is "scratchbuilt" to match the Bachmann container (the old Red Panda clasp braked chassis kit, with a spare Parkside floor and side/chain pockets added in styrene) and the Mogo was stripped down , patched up and reworked from a teenage effort


The finished wagon is seen here alone with a Ratio Mink built at much the same age, and also recycled and refurbished:




This was one of the reasons behind the whole exercise - get things out of the cupboard, get them sorted out , and get them into use so I have something to show for myself. Both wagons have seen a bit of service since they were done and I'm quite pleased with them


I'd hoped that the boxfile would give me a layout I could run quickly easily, and potentially a lot at home, and it was designed to be set up and run on the dining table. But the sheer pressure of other commitments and stuff needing to be built has meant that this has only happened occasionally. Now I have a bit of time again, I hope that will change. But at least this is one layout I finished (which is more than can be said for the COV B kit, which is supposed to run on it..)


Then there's the little layout which a small informal group I'm involved with are nominally building. We meet up every 6 weeks or so, and it was suggested that we build a small layout as a focus for our activities. So far two baseboards have been built (not by me) and a third is required, for the fiddle yard. That's as far as matters have got.


The other members of the group are a bit older than me, so this layout was only ever going to be steam or steam/diesel. Since anumber of group members would be running stock they've had for some years, it will be DC - in any case there's very little advantage to DCC on a small steam layout of this kind. Track will be Peco code 75, and the track plan is an Iain Rice design , Broadwell Green, which appeared in the fifth issue of the late lamented MORILL. Although based on Fairford, we decided to do it as a minor Great Eastern branch line terminus. My wagons off the boxfile would be ideal, and so would be the Dublo 20 I detailed up a couple of years ago. I've got a second hand whitemetal N5 in a box somewhere... I can't quite recall whether the headshunt was long enough to take an ROD on the pickup goods or not. I remember a B12 would go , but a Sandringham definitely wouldn't. A Hornby L1 would certainly be easier than a kit built Gobbler


My potential contribution includes a couple of Ratio ex LNWR coach kits, as handed down via the M&GN, one of which has got as far as a preliminary undercoat of brown on the sides before construction starts, and a GE station - one of StreetLevel Models' kits sits in the pile. But I'm not the prime mover on this one, and, until it starts to develop, this one is on the backburner as far as my own modelling is concerned.


Then there's my light rail project, Tramlink. I had seen the Alphagraphix kits for light rail, and a book on Croydon Tramlink, then newly opened . I thought a model light rail unit could be made via that route, at modest cost - at that time Mark Hughes was offering a whitemetal kit which would cost at least £100 all up when motorised, and I reckoned that this way I could do it for about £35, with flushglazing and livery ready applied. There's no point building models if you've nowhere to run them, and I rapidly decided a little diorama layout based on scenes from Croydon Tramlink could be done. The unique selling point was that it would be entirely card, even the stock




I was younger then, and innocent, and my life was a great deal less encumbered. I was also a great deal less experienced , and several errors were made. The layout was making good progress until I found my second LRV , a Croydon unit , wouldn't take any kiind of curve , and the first (Metrolink) didn't like a reverse curve through a Setrack point in one direction, so it derailed every time it reversed out of the cripple siding. And at that point I was shanghai'd into the club project and the whole thing came to a grinding halt. It got a little further than the photos show, but not that much




Tramlink sits, boxed up , in the study, under a pile of magazines, and gets dragged out occasionally when I need a DC test track. A wire's broken underneath so only one board is currently live. And I look at the buildings and think they scrubbed up well (and that the photostat mockup of the warehouse needs to be replaced with the actual kit), and then it goes back in its box again. Two boards , 3' long by 11" wide with integral plywood backscenes, opposable and forming a case , small enough to take on public transport and get through the automatic ticket gates


Then we come to the shadowy realm inhabited by the Ghosts of Layouts Past and Yet To Come (complete with Prieser figure of Bob Cratchitt carrying a 30lb goose)


The first spirits to visit us are those of Ravenser Mk1 and Mk2. Ravenser was a minimum space (in theory) freight only layout set at an imaginary small port in N. Lincolnshire. Think Boston Dock (or Gunness) transported to the banks of the Humber and the top end of the N.Lincs Light Railway from Scunthorpe and you have the scenario. It used a plan published in the June 1988 RM , entitled White Swan Yard, which incorporated a fierce curve, but I enlarged the board a bit and added a fiddle yard.


I made lots of mistakes with this layout. The curve proved unworkably sharp - derailments due to coupling issues were frequent. An elderly Wrenn 20 and Lima 08 proved hopeless for reliable running. Initially I thought only a low standard would be practical on such a portable layout, a decision I rapidly regretted, and could not wholly reverse.Setrack points were another very bad decision: I learned a lot about wheel and track standards as a result. A Lima 20 upgraded with Ultrascales and all wheel pickup could not be got to stay on the track round the loop: I never had the heart to tackle the body as a result. Ravenser Mk1 resulted in my first serious successful attempts at kit built and upgraded RTR wagons, through the fleet was ultimately limited because I ran out of space in the stock box (a converted cassette case)


Ravenser Mk2 was to be built around two walls of the study in my new flat. A design was prepared , this time incorporating a small passenger station. I was going to have 20s, 31s, 114s , maybe a 105. It was never started, because I got involved in a club project. However Ravenser the layout has its place in this story because the stock is slowly being recycled into other projects. The 20s, 31s, and DMU kits can be used by Blacklade running early period. The 03 could be reused for the oil tank on Blacklade, as ultimately could the Bachmann 08. The Knightwing shunter is an interloper on the boxfile, and some of the wagons have gone the same way. Most of the Crane Train I was buil;ding is being recycled for the early period CE train on Blacklade. I still have the buildings , including a scratchbuilt 18th century warehouse from Louth and a freelance 1950s office block. And the baseboard, after cluttering the study for many years, went to the tip a fortnight ago.


Then , older and fainter, come the spirits of the trams - the other Blacklade Artamon Square, and the possible London tram layout.


Long, long, ago, in a far-away galaxy, sorry continent, a teenage boy built a OO tramway in his bedroom. I would very much have liked it to be a model based on the Sydney tramways, but kits were not readily available. I only ever saw such things once - someone was selling home made kits done with glassfibre resin (like wot you use to make surfboards) at Sydney exhibition one year . He had some of them on his layout, built up and they looked good. I only had enough money on me to buy one kit, and no motorising units - so I passed . I'm still kicking myself.Scratchbuilding wasn't an option for me then - Sydney was into crossbench cars big time (and a K-class is still fairly high up my list of Things I Don't Want to Scratchbuild). Anyone got a kit for a Sydney corridor car?


What was available was a Mehano US outline model which I bashed into a British single decker, vaguely resembling the LCC's single decker cars for the Kingsway Subway (guess whose references comprised a couple of magazine articles, a booklet on the Kingsway Subway, and NSW Tramcar Handbook Parts1+2). There were also BEC whitemetal kits available, and I built two - an LCC B , and a balcony car. Both were modified to fully enclosed with 20 thou plasticard and painted for the fictitious Blacklade Corporation Tramways in a simplified version of Sydney's new Mercedes Benz bus livery which I rather liked. One of the minor mysteries of transport history is why Regional Railways then adopted a Sydney bus livery...


I've got two photos of how Artamon Square looked when I dismantled it - annoyingly the scanner refuses to scan them, so you'll have to make do with a blurred shot at a very early stage of proceedings:




This does at least show - very badly - the Mehano car, the BEC LCC car (almost certainly still under construction) and the general arrangement. More buildings - the Builder Plus terraces and detached Victorian houses- and some scratchbuilt buildings as well - followed. Builder Plus even did - briefly - a big shop based on Hamleys. I had that, and cut it down to fit the tapering site. This was the first Blacklade Artamon Square..... I reckon the railway station I'm now building must sit in the cut-out.


The stock and buildings came back with us when we returned from Australia and have been sitting in boxes ever since. I collected the remaining buildings from Mum's loft at Christmas and brought them home - most of the Superquick and some of the BuilderPlus were too far gone to keep, but the terraces, Hamley's and the scratchbuild stuff is ok. The trams are stored in the cupboard, though my efforts with the 20 thou had shed too many window pillars and had to be removed. Thorough refurbishment will be needed.


Track was OO , of course , and the back story said this was a 4' gauge system, like Derby and Bradford. Nice little get out clause


Over the years since I've picked up 2 of the Keilcraft Birmingham kits (one for 50p of the DEMU second hand stall) and one of their West Ham kit , a Tower Models Feltham and E/1 (all plastic) another LCC B (ABS/BEC) an LCC stores van (ABS/BEC) and an LCC single deck subway car.


You can see where this is going... I keep picking subjects with overhead, and keep not building the said overhead. The LCC was a conduit system - so no wires. I've got plenty of reference material. I'd definitely want North London not South London , but all the North London routes bar those through the Subway went by 1940. I want a Subway route. I want something more than a straight length of track (Blacklade had a dogbone loop double track route, with a single track branch, and a depot) Highgate Archway in the mid 30s has distinct possibilities....


I'm definitely not committed to this of course. Or do I build the Keilcraft Birmingham cars and revive Blacklade? If I see a cheap Corgi Feltham around I really should grab it. The Festival of Tramway Modelling is back at Kew Bridge this year.... Maybe if I have time on my hands I build the Keilkraft kit for this:




Last and faintest ghosts are the other scales. Someone gave me a low emission Dapol 66. I've subsequently acquired another one, a Farish 57, and 04, some modern wagons - the large ones that are such a problem to fit onto a layout in 4mm. Maybe I should build a freight distribution park they can run to?


Then there's the large padded envelope of wagon kits left from my flirtation with 3mm, not to mention the small collection of Traing TT, the Brush 2 and the unfitted new armature, the BEC/2SMR J11kit. I was thinking of an urban goods station, but maybe the boxfile's got that out of my system. Then after I'd built two wagon kits and bought some 12mm Peco points I got heavily involved with a society and the whole thing wasdropped...


Not to mention the HO - a NSWGR 422 class and two NSW coaches in Tuscan. But Currawong Heights, a small terminus in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, is scarcely even a ghost


Projects, projects, projects. All too remininscent of the story of the donkey surrounded by bales of straw, which died of starvation because it couldn't decide which bale to eat first....


No. Blacklade , the railway, comes first. Followed by tidying up stock and bits for the boxfile. Everything else can wait - and some of it, I suspect, will be waiting avery long time



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  • RMweb Gold

Your not alone. I have gauge 0 GWR and Cambrian with a pile of kits to build. 16mm live steam garden layout to built plus a coal fired conversion kit on order. Plus a box of 2mm bits I am itching to have a go with. None of which I can start until I finish the bedroom replace the bathroom and knock down the conservatory and replace it with an extra sitting room amongst other jobs.


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That's a lot of projects to be juggling!


Your boxfile sounds very interesting - is there a thread or more details on it elsewhere? I'd be keen to see trackplan/photos if they exist.

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Thanks for the comments - as Donw says it's not just the model railway projects that add up.... I've not posted anything on the boxfile before, but I'll try to add a posting on it to this blog

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