Penlowry

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


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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.

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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!

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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…”