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

1 Comment

Why railways?

Someone recently asked me on Facebook why I liked railways. It’s an interesting question. Look on the bright side. It’s a harmless hobby…

The Elder Statesman introduced me to railways. He grew up in Gloucester and went on family holidays back to the ancestral home in Bude so if you snap him in half he has “GWR” written through him like a stick of rock, and his second favourite is the Southern.

His Uncle was signalman at Yeovil Junction and the Elder Statesman used to go there in holidays to work the ‘box under tuition. My Great Grandfather was a Stationmaster on the LSWR. Started way down in the Lizard as a lad porter and moved east as he got promoted, ending up living in Bude.

Bude station in 1907

For me, I like odd things, experiments, and performance. I like narrow gauge, LNER and GWR. I don’t mind LMS or SR but it gets a bit particular with them: – Hughes Crab, Stanier developments, Q1, Leader, and USA tanks. I like mechanical signalling, industrial railways (particularly brewery railways), and the study of railway accidents.

The one thing that is common in that list is that I am interested in clever mechanics, and providing the best solution to solve the problem at hand.

The history of the engineering experimentation and development over the course of the industrial revolution is fascinating and the only acceleration of development of similar proportions has occurred in the last 30 odd years with the development of computing power to enable CAD / CAM, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and the like.

If you find me on a locomotive footplate I’ll probably tell you about the performance; if you find me under a locomotive, the ingenious design; in a signalbox, the sheer complexity of mechanical interlocking; at the Railway Technical Centre, the history of the fantastic creations born there; at a disused railway site, what made the railway important; the railway museum, the designs that changed the world; and if you want to know what I think of the current railways I’ll remind you of the unbelievable growth in the last 20 years.  I’ll probably do all that with an enthusiasm which marks me out as slightly bonkers. But then I’m an enthusiastic railwayman. It’s in the blood.

Stockport No.2 Signalbox - mechanical interlocking

Stockport No.2 ‘box interlocking © Peter Whatley

I’m going to start sounding like a stuck record in a minute. The Elder Statesman likes the elegance and class of railways, particularly locomotives. He loves pointing out that it is likely there are more books written about the GWR than any other single subject on the planet. Not sure about that one, but it is an interesting theory.

For that reason he hates Hawksworth while I’m fascinated by him, His style wasn’t Churchward or Collett, but to my mind his style was GWR. Experimenting, improving, trying to win back the years lost when Collett was past it and didn’t step down. He was too late of course. But what might have been? His 15xx was a leap in the right direction. His Modified Hall should never have been called a Hall it was so different from the original. His County took 2 cylinder locomotives beyond the classic 4 cylinder Castle. And his Pacific would have been the most powerful locomotive in the UK.


That’s what I love. The investigation of what was and what might have been. Pioneers at the top of their game. Which means come Christmas time, at some point, over a Purple Moose or two, the Elder Statesman and I will have our usual conversation where he waxes lyrical about the GWR and I tell him I’d be more impressed if they’d sorted grease and mechanical lubrication, roller bearings, accessibility, crew comforts, left hand drive. All the things that made the GWR, great though it was, flawed. And then we’ll argue whether the GWR or the Ffestiniog was the real pioneer (they both were).

I’ll probably also get a chance to get my usual little jest about my favourite Southern locomotive. It’s called Ellerman Lines….

Happy Christmas everyone. Cheers!


Newcastle Brown

I’ve got a new favourite. As regular listeners will know I like an oddity. Something off the norm for me is just really interesting. I think it is the designer in me, I like to see the results of other engineers experimenting. Sometimes there are successes, and sometimes there are failures. But if you don’t try, you/’ll never know. My list of “one day in the future” models includes (for example) the LNER streamlined B17/5s. They only did two of them and I think they were probably a pig to maintain, but it was an experiment for publicity – something the modern railways can forget about sometimes.

Gresley B17/5 East Anglian

Gresley B17/5 East Anglian

The list also includes the LNER C7 with booster tender. Booster tenders never seem to have survived much wherever they were tried but I love the experimentation that went into them

Gresley C7 with booster tender

Gresley C7 with booster tender

My new favourite class is the Consett long boiler tanks. There is something about the way they look, almost narrow gauge in appearance. I also like the ingenuity that went into solving a particular problem. Again, it was an experiment, partially successful, partially not. At high speeds the long boilers, with their firebox behind the back axle made them waggle their arse – a bit like a salsa dancer waggling their hips as they walk. However, the tractive effort packaged into a small locomotive with small wheelbase made them ideal for hauling heavy loads on branchlines with tight curves and steep gradients. So that is what they were used for. Evolved over time, the details of the design changed although the concept remained the same. One remains, preserved by the North Tyneside Steam Railway Association. It has just been returned to steam and looks fantastic. Railway Bylines has just done an article on them in the latest issue (Vol 20, Issue 4, March 2015). Worth a read.

(c) North Tyneside Steam Railway Association

(c) North Tyneside Steam Railway Association

Leave a comment

He’s not the Stig…

Putting this post through a Top Gear translator (if one exists), this post becomes “It’s not the Deltic, it’s the Deltic’s suburban cousin!”

Deltics are like the Stig – bold brash, instantly recognisable, and when you see one fly down the mainline you know it’s the one in the white suit, not the black suit (not that the prototype drove off the end of an aircraft carrier).

However, as I often say on this blog, I prefer the oddities. So this is the Stig’s cousin who is dressed in the white suit and helmet but is the size of Ronnie Corbett.

The Baby Deltic was one of these. Only 10 produced; a Deltic engine half the size of the original; and by the time they were reliable, the tiny fleet size made their withdrawal inevitable. 

Baby Deltic  (C) Ben Brooksbank

Baby Deltic
(C) Ben Brooksbank

I’m not quite sure why this one popped up in my eBay searches, but it did.

What's in the box

What’s in the box

And it was a bargain. Yes I know I can go and get one from Heljan but that involves money and I am a Yorkshireman with short arms and deep pockets, and I bought a house a few months ago so it just isn’t going to happen. It set me back £10. You know it’s a bargain when the postage is 40% of the price.

class 23

I also acquired a chassis on eBay for it. The kit says it will fit on a Lima 20 or 73, or a Hornby 25 or 29. Now the Lima 20 would be good bet because coming from the same era from the same manufacturer (EE), the bogies are almost identical. However, the modifications to make it fit require some work. The 73 would be best in terms of dimensional accuracy but Class 73s still cost more than I wanted to pay. The class 25 from Hornby is no where near and the bogie doesn’t look anything like a Class 23 bogie. So I settled for the Hornby Class 29.

Wheelbase comparison table

Wheelbase comparison table

If I am feeling inspired enough I may fork out for the sprues for the Heljan bogie frames which are quite cheap and can be sourced from Howes Models, and thus improve the bogie frame. Even if I don’t the bogie frame is vaguely passable as long as I remove the large sandboxes from the front.

Hornby Class 29 - the donor chassis

Hornby Class 29 – the donor chassis

Hopefully I can get on with the backlog of projects I keep talking about but not doing shortly, although house renovation work (and repair work following all these gales) is taking priority.

However, to finish on a happy note, The Baby Deltic Project is building a new Class 23. They are using a Class 37 (37372) with shortened body and shortened noses, Class 20 bogies acquired from DRS, and the sole remaining Napier T9-29 Deltic engine acquired from the NRM to recreate, as closely as possible, the tenth member of the class.


Leave a comment

Fifty years volunteering

My uncle reached the milestone of having volunteered on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway for 50 years. This is something to celebrate. So we did. On a train. With real ale. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

My parents hired a cottage for the weekend near Cullingworth and so on the Saturday we drank beer and on the Sunday we went walking on the Great Northern Railway Trail, a disused part of the Great Northern Railway. Possibly a theme to this weekend. Subtle, but you may notice it.

Anyway, here are a few pics from the weekend.


Our steed for the day, the SD160. Its whistle reminds me of a much missed American lco on the Ffestiniog...

Our steed for the day, the SD160. Its whistle reminds me of a much missed American lco on the Ffestiniog…

The prototype diesel -electric shunter Vulcan. BR missed its potential, the Worth Valley did not.

The prototype diesel -electric shunter Vulcan. BR missed its potential, the Worth Valley did not.

The Volcano is back! Celebrating the original name, the newly outshopped SpamCan will carry the name Wells for 9 months until being renamed "City of Wells"

The Volcano is back! Celebrating the original name, the newly outshopped SpamCan will carry the name Wells for 9 months until being renamed “City of Wells”

"A great railway," says a friend of mine, "about one pint long!"

“A great railway,” says a friend of mine, “about one pint long!”

Mini-me watching the coal tank and GNR coach at the Vintage Carriages Trust at Ingrow.

Mini-me watching the coal tank and GNR coach at the Vintage Carriages Trust at Ingrow.

No 72. I do like the USA tanks. Ugly but they mean business.

No 72. I do like the USA tanks. Ugly but they mean business.

A walk along the Great Northern Trail is possible for most people

A walk along the Great Northern Trail is possible for most people

The two viaducts at Cullingworth are spectacular

The two viaducts at Cullingworth are spectacular

Members of my family posing for the travel guide (no, not really)

Members of my family posing for the travel guide (no, not really)

This is a great piece of Victorian engineering

This is a great piece of Victorian engineering

Trying a bit of filtering on my phone

Imagine if the KWVR extended from Haworth…

Until next time...

Until next time…

1 Comment

Counting the days…


The lack of recent activity both on here and on the modelling front has been precipitated by a house move. However we are now in the new H family house and it has space. Oh yes it has space…

Anyway, I haven’t been idle with getting bits for the Cathedral project.

Here are the latest bits. This County body and tender body I picked up for next to nothing on eBay due to a slightly melted firebox side sheet caused by an overheating motor.

However as I want it for the cab (which is slightly different from a Collett one) and for the double chimney, this is perfect.

So now I’m counting the days till the house is in a sufficient state of unpackedness for me to have a modelling day.

Also I now have another tender body so maybe another Modified Hall. Sod Hall perhaps.


Blinded by colour – a chuntering on liveries

Did I mention the “c” word? I think I might have done.

“What colour?” seems to be the biggest cause of argument on the railway. Occasionally you see it used for good such as in the case of deciding what colour to paint Duchess of Sutherland where punters could vote… for a fee, thus raising the money for the repaint in the process. By showing how the voting was going, and publishing it in the railway press, additional votes (and therefore revenue) were secured by people desperate for a particular colour scheme. Smart work, whoever thought of that one.

Duchess of Sutherland in the voted for Brunswick Green  (c) RuthAS

Duchess of Sutherland in the voted for Brunswick Green
(c) RuthAS

One benefit of the younger brigade of railway volunteers starting to swarm some of the UK’s railways is the reduction in all things BR black. The upsurge in the late 90s and early 2000s was a direct result of those people who could remember the days of steam being in charge of the paintbrush. As they get too old to volunteer, or too old to be in decision making roles at least, we are seeing more colour come back, which is a good thing in my books.

A well applied livery can make such a difference. A bad one can look appalling. You can see on today’s railways the difference between those that get it and those that don’t in their livery applications. Some railways get it very right. Midland Mainline for example seem always to manage to provide a livery that works. The teal and tangerine livery, followed by the blue, followed by the latest EMT liveries all worked for their time (and continue to do so).

Midland Mainline's second livery launched in time for Project Rio

Midland Mainline’s second livery launched in time for Project Rio

Midland Mainline's second livery and East Midlands Trains livery (EMT photo (c) Phil Sangwell)

East Midlands Trains livery
(c) Phil Sangwell

As did GNER’s blue and red.

Much missed GNER livery (c) Phil Scott

Much missed GNER livery (c) Phil Scott

Second from bottom of the livery pile for me are Northern’s class 333s. The original livery was smart. Very smart. On the lines they first ran where there hadn’t been anything new for donkeys years it was like seeing the Vulcan at Farnborough airshow in 1952 when all you were used to were Lancasters. Unfortunately they have since had several partial vinyl wraps and that red/blue mix just make you want to vomit.

So much potential... missed!  (c) Peter Skuce

So much potential… missed!
(c) Peter Skuce

However, the winner (or loser) of worst livery ever is DOR’s East Coast. This is a good reason why the railways shouldn’t be under Government control. Brand awareness just doesn’t seem to be a Government skillset.

East Coast have one saving grace. It’s the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight class 91, 91110, the British record holding locomotive. You may not like the livery but it is distinctive so it ticks some of the livery boxes.

Yes I like it, and yes, I've got one

Yes I like it, and yes, I’ve got one

However, getting back to the East Coast norm, which civil servant nitwit thought a grey train (OK it’s supposed to be silver but it is grey in pretty much all light) would look good? Not only does it show up every single crinkle and dent on the Intercity 125s and 225s but the person who came up with it hadn’t been looking out the window that day and noticed the sky in the UK is uniformly…  GREY! When you get a train you want to be cheered, spirits lifted, hop, skip and a jump, etc. Never before has anyone produced a livery (and I use the term loosely here) that can depress people more. The purple stripe doesn’t help either. It’s a small trickle of colour that has escaped the bland artist on the bandest palette immaginable.

Grey, grey, GREY! (c) A1Personage

Grey platform, grey canopy, grey sky, grey carriage… grey, grey, GREY!
(c) A1Personage

A livery should be a symbol of the company. A beacon of advertising. A distinction from the world around it. If East Coast’s livery is a beacon of DOR, the sooner it is back in private hands the better. And the purple stripe? It reminds me of the scene from the Italian Job when they all jump in the Dormobile after they’ve done the raid. They’re all looking so glum and one of them says “Look ‘appy you b@rrstards…we won didn’t we?” and one of them responds with a limp wave of a balloon.

That’s East Coast’s livery: a sad, depressing, grey day punctuated with a limp purple balloon.

"Look 'appy, you b@rrrstards..."

“Look ‘appy, you b@rrstards…”