Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

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The missing riding

My mother recently sent me this clipping. It’s from The Times. 

I agree with it wholeheartedly. When I were a lad the options for education were limited. If you wanted to go somewhere you almost had to go to university. There were no apprenticeships and the government had destroyed grants, although fortunately for me they still paid tuition fees. 

(I once got a grant of £50 for the term- beaten by my mate who got a grant of £32 and wondered if it’d last him the whole night, but I digress.)

I think, although it is difficult to say in hindsight, that had there been decent engineering apprenticeships when I was coming to the end of my secondary education I may have taken that route. I’m not saying I don’t like the route I took but university really wasn’t for me and I only persevered because I could see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

Technical education had been shamefully ignored in our country until very recently to the absolute detriment of our manufacturing industry. 

Fortunately the tide is turning. On the railways Network Rail takes on many apprenticeships every year. The national academy for high speed rail will soon be turning out the skills needed for new railways. Bombardier, for the last 15 years the sole beacon of train manufacturing / assembly in this country, has been joined by Hitachi and will soon be joined by CAF. Alstom has public ally said if it wins New Tube for London (the new deep tube trains) they will be assembled in the UK. 

Recently I looked into the current order for new trains. Of the 4200 vehicles (carriages as the press like to call them), over 3000 will be assembled in Britain. That’s some turnaround. 

However, it’s not enough. Technical training starts in schools, not college or university and we need to get our kids in a workshop sooner rather than later so they can see if they enjoy it and teach them it is not a failure to be vocationally trained. 

My school had a Colchester Bantam lathe and I used it. Wouldn’t it be great if every school had a lathe for the kids to use? 

With no formal vocational training available, I did mine as a volunteer on the Ffestiniog Railway in Boston Lodge Works.  

The Ffestiniog also runs its annual Kids Training Week to provide the vocational training that otherwise would not be available. It’s railways like that which have a proactive approach to encouraging  young people that have filled the gap that should be provided by the education system. And they reap the rewards of young, enthusiastic, loyal, volunteers who keep the railways running for decades after they started. 

So what does the future hold? Well if Ken Baker’s UTCs work we’ll have a lot more technically trained young people and our industry will succeed. 

 But the railways who don’t encourage the young – the future there is much more bleak. The Heritage Railway Association have said that up to a third of steam railways could close due to lack of young volunteers. 

The young hold our future. Will we support them in building their future or leave it to chance yet again? 

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Doing a model engineer 

On a fairly frequent basis I am asked how I’m getting on with my Hawksworth Pacific. I’m not is the short answer. And I haven’t got a great excuse apart from saying that I see it as one of my biggest challenges and biggest projects I want to get right so doing it when I’m constantly knackered from current life isn’t ideal. 

However, I haven’t been totally idle. When I did have some time a couple of months back I emailed 247 Developments and asked for a set of plates to be made. 

They arrived today. And I’m not disappointed. They are fabulous. 



For those of you who know your Bible, you will know that Tubal-Cain was a blacksmith. He was also Tom Walshaw, an Engineer who designed many model stationary engines (not to be confused with stationery engines which are the things you knock together to look like a steam engine in Latin class using your pencil sharpener etc.) 

For Christmas one year when I was about 7, the Patriarch made me a Tubal-Cain designed stationary engine. He tells me he knocked together in about 10 days on the run up to Christmas. You’d think he’d have been busy with other things given his occupation…

After our trip to the steam fair at the weekend, he suggested I got it out as Mini Me 1 would like it (I think Mini Me 2 will too). 

I gave it a once over and apart from needing a new wick (£2.20 with free postage from eBay for 10m of 3/16 braided wick – should last a while) and a new filling syringe as the rubber piston had glued itself to the cylinder of the syringe, all seemed to be well. 

I ran it today to see how it went. There was still oil between piston and cylinder which shows the good build quality as it hasn’t run for about 25 years. After a quick clean, and oil round it was off. It was a little rough at first but with some more librication it improved. Then it had a monster prime, vomited out some gunk, stopped, and then restarted and ran sweet as a nut. 

Next steaming will be with the Mini Mes in attendance. 

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Steamy affair

At the weekend I took the Mini Mes to stay with the Patriarch and Matriarch. 

The reason? The Driffield Steam Fair. It’s a good day out with proper steam powered gallopers (none of this modern rubbish thank you!) and a plethora of road engines and vintage i/c stuff. 

On the Saturday evening they block the Main Street in Driff and parade the whole lot through the town including all the 4″ and half scale stuff too. 

A few piccies below. 

Mini Me 1 and the Grandparents admiring a 4″ scale traction engine. 

Stunning showman’s engine. 

Going arty with the showman’s and the gallopers. 

The beating heart of the gallopers. 

Crane engine 
A troupe of rollers coming down the road

And finally, a panoramic shot of the arse end of all the full size road engines lined up together. 

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Keeping it real (3)

In looking for evidence of the test trains I came across this publicity video. It includes what I presume was the press train. The formation is Cl 91, tourist second open (TSO), first open (FO), restaurant first buffet (RFB), FO, FO, TSO, DVT. It won’t fit on small layouts but it is a great formation to make the rivet counters do a double take. 

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Keeping it real (2)

 The other short form set which is easy to model is a test train. There are various ones but they are all similar in terms of relative shortness. It is even easier these days now that Modelzone has commissioned so many of the Railway Technical Centre (RTC) vehicles.

I have the wherewithal to model one of the test trains used when introducing what was then called the Intercity 225 trains. This was probably one of the last major testing programmes carried out under BR. The first vehicles to arrive were the class 91 locomotives and these ran firstly on test with a set of five mk3 sleepers in blue / grey corproate livery and a surrogate DVT formed of a class 43 power car with buffers, and then in service hauling mk3 sets with an HST power car as DVT. These latter trains went like the proverbial off a shovel as it was discovered that a class 43 didn’t like idling (just providing hotel power) for long without overheating so were instead wired to provide power too resulting in a train with 6,000hp.

(C) D Bower

 Later on when the mk4 coaching stock was arriving, more tests were carried out and this included the formation I have the bits for. It consists of a class 91 hauling two mk4s, the mk3 Test Car 10, and a class 43, number 43051 on the rear. This was unusual in that it was a 43 which was not fitted with buffers which suggests that there was sufficient confidence in the 91 by then that failure wasn’t considered so much of an issue, and also that one of the surrogate DVTs wasn’t available (presumably because it was in revenue service on the back of a train of 91 and mk3s). This then is a 5 car set which was real, made up of ready to run products from Hornby, and therefore can run on limited space layouts without looking ridiculous.

Ingredients are:

Hornby R240 Clas 91

Hornby R452 Mk4 tourist open (x2)

Hornby R426 Mk3 RTC Test Car 10

Hornby dummy class 43 power car 43051 comes from Class 253 train pack R397, widely available from eBay and other second hand shops

Test train at the buffer stops at KGX. Image from

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Keeping it real

The problem with houses is they require maintenance. The problem with maintenance is that they keep you from railway modelling. So in the mean time here is a quick delve into train formations.

The problem with model railways often is the lack of space meaning you can’t run scale length trains. Even going down to the smaller scales such as N or Z requires quite a lot of space for a full length train. If you’re modelling in 1:76 you are effectively having to be one of the larger models on the exhibition circuit or take over a substantially large room in your house.


Examples of this include Gresley Beat and Bron Hebog. Bron Hebog is a good example (only because I know it). Even for a narrow gauge railway the model is so large (it can accommodate scale 10-car trains)  it has so far required a house extension and hiring a van every time Himself, the Scribe, and the Artistic Director  move it. On the faff front, it’s possibly top of the Top Trumps. (But they enjoy it, else what would be the point?!)

The picture above shows Bron Hebog’s magnitude, and the picture below shows it in dismantled transport state (with Dduallt, their other layout, in the right foreground showing how much smaller it is)


For the rest of us, we are either required to run branchlines or shorten trains to a point where it looks unrealistic (think HST set of two power cars and two mk3s). However, there are examples of short form trains out there and I thought I’d share a couple from my own collection.

 First up is the Class 43 going to / coming  back from overhaul or wheel turning. Both these activities only happen at certain locations so there is always the chance to see a lone power car. The problem with the Class 43 is, unless you have an ex surrogate Mk4 DVT one (the ones with the buffers), you can only couple to them at one end, and the coupling is a buckeye so can limit what you can couple to. Often the solution is to run two power cars together to give redundancy and that makes an interesting short form train for the layout, or, as I intend to do, run one power car with a Mk2 barrier vehicle. The barrier vehicles are there to provide coupling adaptors to enable anything else to couple up. The extant mk2 barrier vehicles are made out of redundant BSKs with the windows boarded up. I intend to paint mine in GNER livery (you can see them at Bounds Green).