OHLE for Dudley Heath

July 29, 2015


The push is now on to complete the OHLE portals currently being installed on my N gauge ‘Dudley Heath’ layout. It has taken some time to complete the planning and find the money to make this part of the project a reality, as is the nature of these things. The total cost of the basic portal kits and fittings came to around £120.00 for both sides of the layout, a total of 22 portals and eight single masts, so the outlay was not insignificant. The time needed to fold and solder the portals together with the register arm assemblies was another factor for the slow progress.


The OHLE portals represent the heavyweight 1950s Mark 1 WCML OHLE and are produced as flat brass kits by N Brass Locomotives which are folded to shape with the aid of brass folding bars and completed with various fittings for register arms, insulators and so on. The result is a basic portal (there are various lengths available) which can be primed, painted and installed as it is or detailed further with additional fittings. They certainly look the part in a West Midlands setting.


The project was completed in part as preparation for exhibiting the layout at the Perth show in June this year, including painting and finishing of the portals except two over the junction on the opposite side of the layout to these pictures (it takes some time to assemble 22 portals). Bases and some additional details are being prepared to complete the portals and various other masts which will then allow me to use a handful of Dapol Class 86s on the layout. Some remedial work to scenery and other features will then follow together with completion of a number of structures.

And before you ask: I will not be modelling the contact and support wires – certainly not straightaway. They could prove to be too heavy in appearance in N gauge and too delicate for a portable layout which is dismantled for storage. I am not sure that the considerable time needed to put wires together convincingly could not be better used to rework some other areas of the layout with a better result, or indeed detailing the masts and portals to further reinforce the WCML Birmingham loop lines and Grand Junction lines atmosphere.

Paint shop progress on Class 150s

March 16, 2015

Class 950 roofShowing pictures of part completed work lays your soul, or at least your painting one, bare for all to see. Rough edges and the lack of transfers and touching up is apparent in this pair of work-in-progress shots of the OO gauge Class 950 project.

Class 950 roof paintingThis particular project is a long-running saga of problems with some of the parts and making the Bachmann Class 150/1 to Class 950 conversion kit by PH Design Model Railway Products work satisfactorily. The primer stage involved a great deal of rubbing down and filling to blend in the door infill panels as can be seen in the image below. Care was taken not to remove excess plastic from the body shells when rubbing down with wet and dry paper so not to distort its appearance. Now the bulk of the paint work is complete, an end to this project is finally in sight after many weeks of work!

Class 950 primer stageWhilst on the subject of Class 150s, another one is making its way through the paint shop. Awaiting lining and some touch-up of the masked lines is this N gauge Graham Farish model to become No. 150123 in an earlier version of Centro livery.

Centro Class 150 paintThere’s no conversion work involved, only a strip down and repaint. It has to be my favourite livery as applied to favourite Sprinters. It should be ready in time for its debut at the Perth show in June where Dudley Heath will be making its first outing to a Scottish show other than Inverness! More on this one soon.


Model Rail Scotland exhibition and Nairnshire Modelling Supplies

February 9, 2015
Wheal Annan overview OMWB

Model Rail Scotland is only a couple of weeks away and much preparatory work remains to be done on Wheal Annah!

Sarah and I have decided to take Nairnshire Modelling Supplies off the exhibition circuit for the foreseeable future – we need a break from trading on the exhibition circuit. Consequently, NMS will not be at Model Rail Scotland (Glasgow SECC) in a couple of weeks’ time, I am afraid. NMS continues to offer a wide range of useful modelling materials online where we are introducing some changes to the range over the next year to meet the ever-changing model railway scene. The NMS web site with its secure online ordering can be found here.

Some of you may have come to this conclusion based on my blog references to preparing Wheal Annah for its exhibition debut on the Hornby Magazine stand where I will be found blethering about modelling techniques and layout building. The positive side of taking a break from trading at shows is being freed up to enjoy the exhibition circuit with one of my two N gauge exhibition layouts. Dudley Heath will be attending Perth in June and possibly Bonnybridge in the Autumn; whilst Model Rail Scotland is the only booking for Wheal Annah currently. Should be fun!


Graham Farish Polybulk (and its big brother)

January 30, 2015

GF polybulk34333‘Wheal Annah’, a compact N gauge layout based on a Cornish china clay theme, is being prepared for the Model Rail Scotland exhibition where it will be displayed on the Hornby Magazine stand. Whilst it is primarily based in the 1970s, I plan to collect together some stock to allow a few trains of the 1980s to be run for a little more variety.

GF polybulk34334The new Graham Farish Polybulk wagon is one addition to the fleet and one I can also use on my other N gauge display layout ‘Dudley Heath’. It’s an amazing-looking model, albeit relatively costly to collect more than a couple at any one time. Masses of separate details, NEM coupling pockets, metal buffers and a an excellent representation of the complex shape of the hopper body make this one of the top British N gauge freight stock models around.

GF polybulk23991Three versions are available in N gauge including the early one above; a weathered version with the simplified Polybulk “Traffic Services” livery and a pristine one with intermediate ‘Traffic Services’ markings. List prices at the time of writing come in around £39-£42.

The N gauge version follows the OO gauge model which was released about 12months before the Graham Farish model. I picked one up before the list price rocketed to nearly £60 for a weathered version. When you look at the level of detail on the OO gauge model and the time it probably takes to assemble one, the price tag of £50-60 comes as no surprise.

OO Polybulk OMWB-2OO Polybulk OMWBOO Polybulk OMWB - 3

Putting a rake of these together is going to be a challenge to the modelling budget! The time to look at quality rather than quantity when a planning layout theme is definitely upon us.


Static grass buzz

January 13, 2015

Static grass has become the accepted standard for scenery modelling, replacing ground foam for general ground cover. I love the wide variety of texture that can be achieved using various lengths of grass; multiple applications and mixes of different coloured grasses. Beats ground foam for great texture and colour every time!

Static grass applicators are not cheap. Such is the price of commercial applicators that some modellers have turned to home-made models of various types. The real buzz in the hobby is the adaptation of electronic fly swats to make low-powered but effective grass applicators. It’s not an original idea by any means and there are numerous references on the internet by others that have followed this path – a quick search will locate some useful web sites on building different types and indeed how to make your own grass tufts too.

My usual applicator is a Noch Grass-Master, a powerful and very effective piece of kit. However, it has certain limitations including control over the application of fine grass fibres of around 2mm length. It simply dumps too many fibres in one go when used with the narrow nozzle even when I add an extra mesh screen.

I concluded that an applicator with a fine mesh would be better for those areas where I need sparse short grass such as N gauge scenery. Enter the ‘Bug-Zapper’ and a fine mesh metal tea strainer!

The starting point for a home-mage grass applicaro for fine grass fibres is a 'Bug-Sapper', wire, clip and a fine mesh strainer or sieve.

The starting point for a home-mage grass applicator for fine static grass fibre is a ‘Bug-Sapper’, wire, clip and a fine mesh strainer or sieve.

Before I go on, please be aware that this adaptation of an electronic fly swat is not without its hazards and will not qualify for a CE mark! The chance for electric shock is very real if mishandled. It has none of the safety features of commercial applicators. Build and use at your own risk.

Dismantling the bug-zapper.

Dismantling the bug-zapper.

The important electronics are located in the handle. It is dismantled by releasing three screws.

bug zapper grass_1 copy

This model takes two AA batteries. The battery terminal fittings and tactile button are retained.

The ‘racket’ part is not needed and is cut up to provide a mount for the tea strainer.

Cutting up the racket. Keep the mesh screen just in case you can find another use for it!

Cutting up the racket. Keep the mesh screen just in case you can find another use for it!

The mount end of the packet frame is cut off and retained as a mount for the tea strainer or sieve.

The mount end of the packet frame is cut off and retained as a mount for the tea strainer or sieve.

bug zapper grass_5 copy

The sieve/tea strainer handle is trimmed to length. A new lead is soldered to it

The shortened tea strainer handle is glued to the mount end of the racket moulding using ‘Araladite’ five-minute epoxy glue.

The electronics are located in the handle.

Fitting the sieve/tea strainer to the handle using part of the racket moulding. This allows the original fixings to be used.

The lead soldered to the tea strainer or sieve is connected to one terminal of the circuit board – the same terminal as the inner mesh of the racket assembly. The opposite terminal is fitted with the long ‘grounding’ lead.

bug zapper grass_7 copy

Finished! Note the wire fitted with a crocodile clip which is the ‘grounding’ lead. It is attached to a pin or nail inserted in the scenery during static grass application.

Using the applicator is simple. Once the landscape has been prepared with your chosen adhesive, insert a nail or pin and attach the grounding lead. Place some static grass fibres in the sieve and press and hold the tactile button on the side of the unit to activate it and create an electrical charge. The applicator is gently agitated over the wet glue to shake fibres through the mesh (keep pressing the button) and onto the glue where the static charge will make them stand on end.

When you have finished with the applicator, release the tactile button and then immediately discharge it by touching the sieve with the end of the grounding lead. There will be a spark and a pop, so don’t be alarmed by this. Regarding safety – keep it well away from sensitive electronic components such as decoders and do not touch any metal parts when it is charged or in use. It may give you quite a belt! You have been warned!

This unit is not as powerful as the Noch applicator and needs freshly charged or new batteries for the best performance. However, it is very effective at relatively close range – about 2 inches – and cost me less than £5.00 to build excluding batteries.

‘Wheal Annah’ update

January 7, 2015

Wheal Annah Western 100

Christmas was taken up with detailing my compact N gauge “Wheal Annah’ layout – 1970s BR in Cornish china clay country in the 1970s. In addition, some effort was put into tidying up rough edges and adjusting scenery features where the perspective did not work in photographs.

Wheal Anna baseboards
It’s a far cry from the ‘plywood parkway’ and card building mock-ups of six months’ ago!

Wheal Annah Class 25
One of my favourite scenes is the short branch to the older clay works or ‘dries’ It has been finished with an application of 2mm static grass to make the track appear largely neglected. The scene is separated from the rest of the layout by a ridge of land and shrubs.

Wheal Annah 990

Detailing work has included fencing, more grass effects, lamp posts and various other details. Photography of the layout at this stage demonstrates that I need to do more work on the inside face of the wall if I am to continue taking photos from this angle.

Wheal Annah Western 101

A view from the usual viewing side of the layout showing the working level crossing gates and modern works buildings in the back ground. The Dapol Class 52 remains to be weathered together with changes made to the train reporting code boxes to display the loco number. Much care was taken leave the field of view clear at the front of the layout to allow photography from various angles.

Wheal Annah overview

Wheal Annah Class 25-200

Wheal Annah is scheduled to appear at ModelRail, Glasgow this February as part of the Hornby Magazine stand. In preparation for that event, the layout has been equipped with a light box and a pair of trestles left over from my ‘Platform 4a & 4b’ layout which have been extended to present the layout at a good viewing height. In the mean time, more details need to be added and tidying up of corners completed!


Organising multiple unit operation

October 13, 2014

Whilst contemplating which OHLE gantries would suit Dudley Heath (an expensive project), I decided to get to grips with organising the diesel multiple unit fleet. One train formation I had in mind was a ‘London Midland City’ three-car Class 153 and Class 170 combination as used on the Birmingham New Street – Rugeley service. It involved several sets of Micro-Trains couplings; a Dapol Class 153 and a Graham Farish Class 170. The new formation took to the rails recently after ballasting the unpowered and rather light weight Class 170 car and programming the decoders so the two units would run smoothly together.

Class 153-170

The other end of the formation with the two-car Class 170/5 leading in the Birmingham direction.

Class 150001-junction

In the meantime, test running of the recently assembled Class 150/0 continues, with reliability much improved after some adjustments, particularly when the powered vehicle is propelling the unpowered ones. A second Class 150, a two-car Class 150/1 is currently being painted in Centro colours so local services on the layout can be strengthened. When the OHLE gantries are in place, I have to take a serious look at modelling an accurate Class 323 EMU.


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