Five years on …

November 3, 2019 by

A big change of direction, but with some familiar faces… the ISL wasn’t doing it for me at all.  There is no chance of ever building Guadalupe – unless some sort of financial miracle happens – or stocking it, as it requires hundreds of freight cars and dozens of locomotives.  Given the short production runs and inflated prices of super detailed freight cars, it just isn’t going to happen.  I piddled about with some changes of direction including Scottish BLT, Western Region BLT, German French and Czech, BLTs before settling on something that seemed to tick a number of boxes.

  • EMD locomotives
  • ‘exotic looking’ but familiar
  • 80s 90s era
  • interesting and prototypical track layout
  • short bogie freight stock
  • quirky passenger stock, including generator vans
  • working signalling and other intrinsically interesting railwayana
  • and something that connected with my early years

So over the past year, I have sold off almost all the US, Scottish, Western,German, French and so on and consolidated efforts on capturing the essence of this formative article, from June 1981, in model form:




More on this later.

and we’re done…

June 17, 2014 by

It was Father’ Day on Sunday,and I got to spend time in the shed.  The final woodwork task was to install the workbench, a piece of 8′ x 21″ Conti board.  Now you’ll know Conti is saggy, soppy stuff so my bench is designed to sit on the battens and also has a 34mm x 70mm frame and 34mm x 34mm square legs to hold it all rock steady and sag-free.


All that’s needed now is a power brick for the tools, and a set of task lights mounted on the framework of the layout above the bench.   I spent some time this morning moving the tools, trains and cutting bench (an old double glazing panel) into the shed.

I also had a play with the general arrangement of the yard and the lead tracks to get a sense of how it will all fit together.  So far, so good I think.  I just need to order some more track, and I can get started on laying the first stage of  the layout… finally!

yard 01

yard 02

yard 03



yard 05

yard 06

Some old friends got to see daylight for the first time in a long while… Altogether, what a great month of progress!


benchwork blitzkrieg…

June 11, 2014 by

I finished all the benchwork this evening, including the lift out section and replacing the corner brace that was slightly short.


To say I’m pleased would be an understatement.  The job got done with no major problems, and was an absolute blast from start to finish.  The advantages of a dedicated, purpose built space for the pike was evident in the hours I saved by not having to get stuff out and put it away.  Everything was to hand, all of the time.  All that’s left to do now is install the workbench, and I’m done with major construction.






Onwards to laying track, soldering electrics, and who knows – even an operating pike before the end of the summer…

a stunning burst of speed…

June 8, 2014 by

I got cracking on the benchwork early today, and only running out of  #10 twin thread screws prevented me from finishing all the benchwork assembly.  As it was a Sunday, there was no choice but to quit for the day.

We had a late lunch around 3pm.  Before that I’d spent time cutting and assembling the main girders, then got most of the frame in position, with just the splice plate to complete it.


I’m fairly organised and have all the tools I need, although a rip saw for sheet material would be good.  The mitre saw cuts good and square, but it can be hard work. There’s something very pleasing about building something like this – makes a change to visualise something in my head, then on paper, then see it take shape physically.



The 90 degree clamps are essential tools – it’s impossible to build a ladder frame without them.  I’ve had these for years, and they’re well over 40 years old.  I got a good system going, and assembled everything fairly quickly although it’s slower working solo.  Two drills helps, one with the pilot and one with the countersink tool.  There’s an awful lot of screws going into this baby, and every one has to be countersunk and then gone back over with filler to smooth it all out.


Anyhow, by the close of play at around 7.30 I had completed all of the U shape, including the end wall connector piece, and now only need to add the 45 degree angled supports in the corner sections, then screw the ply tops down and fill the gaps and countersunk screws. I’m well within sight of the finishing post, and I’m pleased at the finished quality of what I’ve achieved.

I’m aiming in my own slightly cack-handed way to emulate the finish of some of the seminal layouts I’ve admired over the years, particularly the work of David Barrow and Tommy Holt,where even the fascia and benchwork are neat and professional looking.


Mr Barrow has been the longest and most consistent influence in what I might call my ‘modern era’ of modelling.

I hate this strange affliction whereby a modeller has super attention to detail on locomotives, but nothing else.  Some published layouts look like they’re built on any old piece of scrap timber that’s been floating around the shed. I’ve seen some super models built in a shed with no insulation or internal wall finish.  Having scrimped on all that stuff last time, I was determined that this one would not be compromised.  I never managed to install a backscene on the previous pike, so an integral wall finish that leant itself to a back scene was a must this time around. I want an overall finished and professional quality to everything.


I think I’m on track to finish this week, especially as I’m owed a day for working Saturday – that only leaves the lifting section to complete, and that can wait.  At this rate I could be laying track next weekend!


slowly but surely…

June 7, 2014 by

progress is finally being made, although not as fast as I would like.

After getting the damp sorted out – which essentially meant an entirely new shed interior – wood has been purchased, tools have been reconditioned and benchwork is being erected.


I’m using a batten system, as the shed doesn’t have enough framing (and none of it in the right places) for a conventional bracket system.  This way, the batten can be screwed into the framework and the actual layout frame sits on top of the batten.  This is a little lumber intensive, but it does mean that the layout is completely supported along its full length.

shed 11

The layout frame is a completely conventional 2″ x 1″ ladder frame, supported at each end by the wall battens and in the centre by a single knee brace cantilevered off the lower batten.  I had intended to add more braces, but a simple ‘lean’ test seems to indicate that further bracing is unnecessary.  The benchwork is, after all, only 15″ wide,and there is no sag either lengthways nor widthways.



I’m very happy so far with how neatly the job is going.   It’s definitely a two man job, and I’m fortunate to have a practically minded chum who – in exchange for parking the odd aeroplane kit on the workbench – is happy to lend a hand.  It’s also great to be using tools that haven’t seen the light of day since the construction of the previous pike, way back in the late 90s.  Some of these I inherited from my Uncle Joe, and I know he’d be pleased they were still working well.  They must be knocking on for 40 years old.


I had a dry run of the yard layout a few weeks ago.  And it does look rather good.  I may actually start track laying for real, soon.  I would like to look at raising the track off the flat ground a little.  There isn’t much in the way of scenery needed,  but the ground in the sort of area I am modelling isn’t billiard table smooth either.



The trackplan had a minor revamp.  Although it’s designed to be operated as a dead-end branch, it seemed prudent to offer at least a disguised roundy roundy option.  SO for the days when I don’t feel like car spotting or blocking the yard (or visitors), I can let ’em rip on a continuous circuit.  Not looking forward to trying to build a lifting flap over the door though.

shed 07a

Slowly, it’s finally all coming together.   And don’t call me Shirley…


making tracks…

February 6, 2014 by

Lordy, thinking of cheesey titles is hard.  Anyway. One consequence of the continuing shed saga was that I had to take a day off work.  Whilst waiting for the shedmen to arrive, I spent some time on a couple of quick projects.  I managed to get the front and rear handrails on my Atlas Santa Fe GP38… what a bloody job that was. I gave up trying to fit the plow and the sunshades.  Seriously, I’d rather pay an extra $10 and get some tiny fingered Chinese woman to do it for me.


I also had a crack at hacking a Peco #8 into some semblance of a prototype turnout, with some success. In my hurry, I somehow forgot to attach new headblocks and I couldn’t be arsed to fit the rail braces nor the point reinforcing bars.  I just cannot get on with etched metal parts at all.  I will probably opt for plastic parts, as Central Valley are doing a convenient baggy with all thee relevant bits.

1603I’m quite pleased with my quick hack job.  Improvements for number two would be to complete the detailing around the points, and bomb-proof the electrics by wiring the frog to the Caboose Industries ground throws.  Also, to try and improve the paint job – this one is far too dark.  While it would be ok in a damp climate, or as a newly laid turnout, I need to find a way to replicate the fading that happens in the desert South-West climate.

turnout 12



turnout 17

Not a bad hours easy work, and it gives me some confidence to tackle others as the mood takes me.  It still doesn’t make up for not being able to use my shed and get started on the pike.  Sodding weather, and sodding British workmanship.



round and round and round I go

January 27, 2014 by

I’m not sure whether it’s morale boosting or sapping to stick a couple of historical images up.  Back in the mid-90s, my US interests were beginning to focus more on industrial switching, having been through most of the de jour obsessions of the time.  I think the only thing I’ve never been tempted by is some form of North-Eastern twiggy pike, or anything involving car floats and FSM style scenic over-egging.

I dug these old prints out of a pile, and don’t know whether they indicate progress, or a lack thereof.  The garage wasn’t an ideal place to build a pike, and the depredations of the gas company, indifferent builders and domestic pressures to re-use the space forced the early demise of these two layouts.  Looking back, building an exact facsimile of the south section of the Milwaukee Line’s Kingsbury Branch wasn’t a smart idea.  Sure, it fitted the space and looked fine – I even started mocking up some buildings – but the era and location meant nothing to me, so it didn’t survive long.


I’d also had a very early stab at a modern switcher pike, built off the mortal remains of one of the early coal pikes.  The mix of freelance Alcos, double stacks and modern industrial buildings didn’t really come off, and this one too bit the dust pretty quickly.  Weirdly, looking at the photograph now, it has a strange charm – it’s almost like coming across an actual, long-forgotten shortline that flourished in the 90s before being engulfed by one of the Class 1s.

early industrial switcher 01

The deal breaker really was the horrible Peco code 100 track.  It’s so wrong, it spoiled the look I was going for back in the day.  Even weathering it didn’t really help much, and I tried ballasting a few times and hated it.  This photo is a bit of a fudge, really, as it disguises the fact that there are two double slips hiding under the train!  This was back in the day when I was still in thrall to the tricky-track brigade, who insist that curved turnouts, 3-ways and slips are the answer to the space starved modeller. This quite overlooks  the fact that the prototype railroads have eliminated them ruthlessly from their properties, and so any model deploying them instantly loses its credibility to my eyes.  Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a track nut?  I also can’t abide the main track coming off the curve leg of a turnout, another bodge to ‘fit more in’…

What does work well is the overall scene – it’s only an impression, basic buildings, a pretend freeway bridge, blue sky and a hint of earth tones on the ground and weathered track.And yet it hangs together surprisingly well.  It’s quite reassuring how such a minimal – but consistent – level of ‘scenery’ has set the scene.


I suspect the shed pike will be equally minimalist.  I just don’t really enjoy scenery modelling, and will probably end up going for a Barrowesque impressionistic effect.  A bit of sandy, gravelly ground cover, some lightly weathered buildings, a plain sky backdrop. Even when I see amazing scenery, like Pelle Soeeborg’s or Lance Mindheim’s, I don’t feel convinced by it, nor want to replicate it.  Odd that.

(fresh) eyes on…

January 25, 2014 by

I knew something was wrong, as I spent a lot of time over the Christmas and New Year thinking about various OO and O gauge themes.  I cycled through some old favourites, Thurso and Cheltenham St. James in OO, Lyme Regis in O and tinkered with some new ones.  Sidmouth in O or OO, and several fruitless variations on coal or cement hauling industrial themes.  At one point, I was even contemplating utilising a Bachmann Robinson 04 with Dapol 24T iron ore hoppers as a quasi-J&A Brown coal railroad.

Nuts.  But clearly a sign that something was not right with the latest ‘Lubbock’ plan.  So while the shed continues not to be repaired (sigh), I sought some inspiration from another US modeller, via a quick exchange of PMs.  Chris Gilbert has a solid track record in actually getting things off plan and built (unlike me) and his models are in tune with my thinking regarding US modern switching pikes.

He really got to the heart of the matter by identifying that the staging as drawn was a wasted space, and didn’t offer any operational interest.  Trains basically just sat there, pretending not to be there.  It had always bugged me, but although I’ve tried to plan something that looked more like an actual yard, it never really gelled. His suggestion, based on his current Highland Branch of the Florida Central, puts the yard – or half a yard, really – into a corner that is otherwise unused.  This gives space for a lead track, and a loop.  This in turn supports car blocking, which was something I really wanted to do in addition to spotting cars at industries, and allows the switchers to be at the correct end of the cut to shove or pull cars dependent on whether the turn is working facing or trailing spurs.

shed 2

His final stroke of genius was to suggest three separate turns to work the layout.  First trick pulls, second trick shoves and the third trick serves the cement plant right at the far end of the branch.  This would probably work out as a light engine move, pull loads back to the yard, then shove empties back down the branch.  The plan eliminates the mental blocks I had with the previous version, and has an operating scheme that provides for a variety of activities and jobs.


Thanks, Chris.  It’s a very very good plan.  I like it a lot, and I like the ops scheme even more.  And no, I shall not be calling it Eighteen Inches because it’s Half a Yard…

one step forwards, two steps backwards, and the twenty-one year wait…

January 9, 2014 by

After more than a decade of nowhere to build my little empire, I finally took delivery of my garden workshop on November the 5th.  It’s insulated, heated and has (after a lengthy wait) electricity.  


It’s also damp, with an inexplicable amount of water penetrating the floor.

Now I know we’ve just had the wettest December on record, but really – this isn’t on.  I requested a remedial visit on Christmas Eve, and apparently the ‘construction’ industry takes a two week break over the Christmas period.  I’m still waiting for someone to come and fix this.

shed 03

It really is rather disappointing.

And as for the twenty-one year wait?  Well, I originally became interested in model railways in the middle 1970s.  I had a small N gauge layout in my bedroom that grew from a Minitrix set into a pretty dysfunctional collection of out of scale Lima stock, a mixture of Peco track and set track and so on.


I did love that original Minitrix set – a green class 27 (from the solebars up, at least) and two maroon Mk2a carriages.  I got it for Christmas, 1975 and I can clearly recall pushing the train up and down a yard length of Peco flex track on the bed in the spare room of 44 Folly Lane… I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a model train as much since…

The whole thing futtered out in the early 80s when I left home.  I had an abortive revival in the late 80s, but even though the OO stock looked better, it still didn’t run any better and that fizzled out in the early 90s.

During this period I didn’t really have much more than a passing interest in the prototype scene, which is a shame as if I’d known how much duller things would become I would have paid more attention to the dying days of Speedlink, Enterprise, and the whole-scale demise of locomotive haulage.

The one exception to this widespread ennui, was a two week trip to China in November 1992 to see the last of the mainline steam.  To say I was captivated would be an understatement.  On my return, I devoured every single tiny shred of information about this magnificent spectacle.  There wasn’t much, this was the early days of the internet and to my credit, I set up and ran for a number of years a website that compiled as much information as possible to share with like minded folk.


That’s me, in very fetching cold weather gear, at the Changchun depot with QJ6886.  I really liked the QJs without the shields in front of the feedwater heater pump.

What I really wanted, of course, were models of the wonderful machines I’d seen.  There were none, and it seemed ridiculous to suppose there ever would be, because despite feverish recording of the spectacle of steam as it died out, there was no market for models of this niche interest.  My interest evolved into American modelling, and the late 90s and onwards were devoted to collecting and trying to build a US outline pike.  I covered that in some detail right back at the beginning of this blog.

And then, astonishingly, Bachmann China – having been closely involved in exponentially improving plastic scale models for the American and UK markets suddenly brought out a small range including the three final steam classes to run in China,QJ, JS and SY.  Of course I had to have them!  Unfortunately, they were pricey, I was broke and they were produced in very small batches that disappeared almost overnight.  Over the next decade, I picked up an SY in Hong Kong, a JS from Ebay and finally in November 2013, twenty-one years after my first, last and only experience of a proper, working steam railway, I got a tip on a pair of QJs going for less than half price each.


Of course I had to have them, they are wonderful.  And I still have nowhere to run them.  One step forwards, two steps backwards…

once more with feeling…

October 3, 2013 by

Lubbock 14 by 8 shed 06

October 2013

shed switcher 04

October 2012

Look how far I’ve come since October last year!  Or not, depending on your point of view.  The 2012 plan was for a spare room, whereas the current plan is for a 14′ x 8′ shed.  Of course, allowing for the structure of the shed gives a maximum inner footprint closer to 13′ 6″, so there’s some linear squeezing going on.  The plan now reflects the actual turnouts I own, so the yard is completely ‘right handed’, and uses a compound ladder rather than a simple ladder.

The unanticipated outcome of this is four yard tracks of equal length which is impossible with a conventional simple ladder.  I’ve deliberately omitted a run-round in the yard itself, but have an option to use the double ended siding as a run round if needed.  I imagine the lead off the yard tracks will hold a pair of switchers that will back onto a cut of cars, pull them round the curve and the switcher set that was trapped at the end of the yard tracks is now free to run ahead into the lead.  On the return trip, the switcher sets will be reversed, and the operation continues in that fashion.

So it’s coming together via tiny incremental steps.  And I’m still waiting for the shed…