More on the detail trap

More on the detail trap from The Erratic and Wandering Journey….

Out of Context?

I recently re-blogged René Gourley’s post, in which he quoted Marty McGuirk’s comment on Georgia O’Keefe:

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

This is a lot deeper than an initial reading might suggest: O’Keefe was talking about identifying the essence of something, so that it can be drawn out. She was not, necessarily, talking about eliminating every detail, but making the point that you can remove some of the distractions from what you are trying to portray, to make your creation clearer.

That said, I think a degree of caution is necessary when translating Georgia O’Keefe’s words to our hobby.

Our models are not static 2-d representations attempting to emulate the impact of distance on stereoscopic vision which makes judgements of size and distance based on relative angular displacement (“perspective”). We have depth as well as height and width. We actually have twice as many dimensions to play with, for we also have time, allowing movement, which in a painting may be portrayed by blurring some of the detail, and things which are far away and indistinct may come closer and resolve into exquisitely made tiny parts on a model.
Say, for example, that you are building a model of an industrial steam tank engine. There would be levers for opening the sand pipes, with flat rodding and various cranks running from the cab down one side to a sandbox, with a crank and rod running across the back of the smoke box to a sandbox on the other side. For the sake of illustrating the point, this is a scratch build.
How do you best represent this? In theory, you should have some rectangular strips of brass, pinned and soldered at each joint, using the head of the pin to represent a rivet or bolt. That would provide the ultimate in detail. Of course, if you were working on a 5” gauge live steam engine, it might well be assembled to work, but as you come down the scales, you get a point where the extra detail of doing it the “hard way” gets lost in shadows, so unless you are building for a competition, is it worth bothering at all? Possibly not, once you get down to Z gauge, maybe, but even in N Scale, a complete absence of the rodding may not look right. So, what you can do, is use a piece of wire to represent the rodding, cranks and joints: if you feel really adventurous, you might even squeeze parts of it flat, to improve the looks. This would work well on a “layout quality”/“3 foot rule” model in most scales, including 7mm scale, but especially so for scales smaller than this (I know, ‘cos this is what a friend has done). [b]But[/b] – and this is the crucial point – it still needs to be bent in the right places, and in the correct direction. You don’t simply take any old piece of wire and 30 seconds later say, et voila! No, you take care to select a piece of wire that is noticeable but not obvious, and measure and bend carefully. Say 5 minutes. Still easier and less time consuming than doing it all with separate pieces, and far better than leaving it out.

Another example. Geoff Forster, of Penhydd and Llangunllo fame, emailed me today about this and that, as you do, and went on to say:

“I was comparing two recent 16T mineral builds with an earlier example that I put together. The latter has etched ‘V’ hangers, brake lever, ratchet and safety links, whereas the new builds have just had the kit parts refined, and a wire brake cross shaft fitted. Can I tell the difference on the layout, can I heck, which begs the question is it worth going the extra mile in 4mm scale?”

Geoff went on to add that shape, colour and texture are more important than detail -which can be simply suggested by these three – in contributing to the wider scene, a sentiment with which I agree and which Geoff demonstrates oh so eloquently…

My take on the O’Keefe reference is not that you simply omit features, but you decide on how you are going to represent the features – in this respect, I am put in mind of what Allen McClelland unfortunately called “good enough”. I say “unfortunately” as the phrase is ambiguous and could be interpreted as settling for second best, when really it’s about asking what level of detail is required to suit your purposes. If you are operations-focused, then moulded on details will be more robust, yet will still catch the light. You also need more stock, and the fist- and time- saving features of freight cars with mould details are not only substantial but essential. If you are details-focused, where close-up viewing of your models is the order of the day, then moulded on details are definitely not if interest.

As René pointed out, “Marty is right: don’t sweat the details, unless that’s your thing, in which case, don’t expect anyone else to notice.”

But whatever your choice, you still make a neat and clean job of it: craftsmanship and workmanship are always necessary.

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Canals, spies & politics – the Crossrails that weren’t built

A very interesting article from the Ianvisits blog.  Crossrail under London is nothing new…..

018 will be the year that Crossrail is completed, and the Elizabeth line is born, yet it could have looked ever so different had previous plans been built.

It’s been a long time arriving, much longer than most realise…

When it launches on 9th December 2018, the Elizabeth line (nee Crossrail) will increase central London’s underground rail capacity by around 10 percent. To put that into context, it’s equivalent to lengthening every tube train passing through central London by an additional carriage.

But the process of getting to 2018 has not been an easy one. The path was long, strewn with politics, spies, and debates about whether railways were even needed at all.

But first we start with a predecessor of Crossrail.
Liverpool Street railway station

For a very short period of time it was possible to catch a Metropolitan line train from the mainline platforms at Liverpool Street station and travel to Paddington via the Underground.

Built in 1874/5, a tunnel creates a link from the underground railway to platforms 1 and 2 on the mainline — to create a temporary terminus for the Metropolitan line while their underground platforms were still being constructed. Intended to allow the Met line to run out to Walthamstow, it ceased use just six months later, and fully closed in 1904.

The tunnel’s name is interesting. It used to be simply the Great Eastern Railway (GER) Connection Tunnel, until a Queen used it, as it is said that the Queen Victoria Tunnel was used for special after-hours services carrying the Royal Train from near Buckingham Palace to interchange with services to Sandringham.

The tunnel still exists, and was used for a staff canteen and storage, and for a while by the City of London police. The remainder of the tunnel will eventually accommodate a passageway from the existing London Underground station to the Elizabeth line station.

But to build a proper mainline railway crossing central London, we first turn to the canals.

Read more here.

And here’s a report about the GER Connection Tunnel, prepared during the Crossrail work.

I’ll be looking out for articles on two of the other projects completed over Christmas – London Bridge and Redhill Platform 0.  It will be interesting to see how they perform on 2 January…..

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Happy New Year! – And on my workbench #3

A Happy New Year to all our readers!  It’s unlikely to be a prosperous one, but wishing you many hours of happy modelling.

I was able to spend a number of hours in the railway room over Christmas, slaving over a hot soldering iron. I also had a sad job to do – I stripped all the reusable bits off my Earl’s Wood layout, and took the carcass to the tip. The man on the gate must have been an expert – “Dead model railway, sir – that goes in the electrics skip, as there are lots of wires”. Well, not that many, as I’d already recycled a lot.

It was a shame to dispose of this layout, that is about 10 years old, and has been exhibited a few times, but I wasn’t running it, it was unreliable, and it was time for something new.  Here are a few shots of it in its final form (it was both continuous run and end-to-end in its 10 year history, with 4 attempts at fiddle yards, none really satisfactory.  The photos were taken at the 2015 Dorking MRC exhibition, where I spend two days shunting a 4′ layout….

The next, happier, job was to start the new wiring and additional point motors for my American N-club modules.  I’ve just about finished the first, smaller, module, that is now ready for ballast and scenery.

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2017 in hindsight

At the end 0f 2017, it’s worth a look back and see where my hobby has taken me.

It’s been a year of exhibitions.  I’ve visited more model railway shows than in recent years.  Most have been very good, and I have usually come away inspired to start modelling again.  I’ve also been on the road with ESNG more than previous years.  We can never be exhibiting every couple of weeks, like some individuals and clubs, but it’s been good to do a couple more exhibitions.  Our own ESNG show went off well, and it was good fun exhibiting at the Bluebell Railway, the West Sussex show, and at Stuttgart.

I think I finally decided this year that, having been a collector for a number of years, it was time to get back to making models.  I realised that this is my real interest in the hobby.  As I have worked (and earned) more than expected this year, I have taken the opportunity to stock up with some etched kits and ready-to-run bargains as the basis of future projects.  I’ll report on progress with them on the blog in due course.

As for modelling, not much got done early in the year, as I was travelling too much.  But in the last few months, I have completed some repairs to Aldersford, built a new N-club module, and progressed my American switching modules.  And projects on the workbench are under way.  It’s surprising how much progress one can make if one takes an hour or two here or there for modelling, rather than write reams of rubbish for my readers.


Outside of the railway world, there’s been two big events.  I’ve almost retired, and have (deliberately) lost 3 stone and 4 inches (circumferentially not vertically).  The challenge will be to keep both work and weight away in 2018.

And finally, here are the most useful purchases of the year, as I start to try to solder small bits of metal together – an etch folder, and a set of watchmakers magnifiers.  I’ve had them for some time, but they are now getting some use.  (Not as bad as my multimeter – made in 1973 as my first university engineering project – used in 2013 or so for the first time to test the layout!)  They are pictured here on my tidy workbench….

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A few post Christmas links

A little light reading after that heavy Christmas luncheon.  (I think mine is just wearing off….)

The BBC recently had two interesting articles on railway stations ‘worth lingering at’ – stations often with few trains, but lots of other interest.

Play stations: Railway stops worth lingering at

The golden age of rail travel appears to be well and truly over, and stations lack the glamour formerly associated with letting the train take the strain. Often unmanned and usually unloved, they are places to hurry through.

Commuters on the daily grind tend to be grimly determined when leaving a train. Heads down, elbows out, it’s a fight to get to the exit. The only reason to pause is to grab a cardboard cup of something caffeinated before stalking out into the ice-spiked drizzle of a dark winter’s morning.

But what if your station wasn’t full of faceless coffee chains and people pushing? What if there was a station garden filled with fragrant shrubs, or an art gallery, or a top-notch local restaurant?

Here are some everyday railway stations with added extras you may wish to linger at – or even arrive early for.

For example:

Melton, on the line between Ipswich and Lowestoft, is one of the few railway stations with a butcher on site. The station itself opened in 1859, was closed in 1955, and reopened in 1984 following a local campaign.

Although there is a rail service, the station is unmanned – so there was a nice butcher-shaped space available for the purveyors of pork.  During the winter the Five Winds Farm shop specialises in local game, and the team have been national finalists in the awards known as “the Oscars of bacon.”

Track suits: More railway stations worth lingering at

While most railway stations in England are places to scurry through on the way to get somewhere else, there are some which are worth lingering a little longer at. BBC News recently suggested some everyday stops that offer commuters a little more than hurrying hordes and characterless coffee shops. Here are some more, this time recommended by readers.

For example:

People wishing to linger at Cromford railway station in Derbyshire can do so overnight, as the waiting room is now a holiday cottage.  The stone building, with the original pitched roof, is situated on the now disused southbound platform.

It was used by Oasis on the cover for their 1995 single Some Might Say.  Lyrics include, “Cos I’ve been standing at the station/In need of education in the rain”, so take on board the advice from the Gallagher brothers and remember your deckchair, book and umbrella.

And now for something completely different:

Scottish railway station is least used in Britain.

A railway station in Angus is the least used in Great Britain, new figures have revealed.

Just 24 passengers travelled to or from Barry Links station in 2016/17, according to data published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR.)  Only two ScotRail trains stop at the station, which is unstaffed and has no facilities, each day between Monday and Saturday.

The station, which opened in 1851, is located between Dundee and Carnoustie.

Here’s the official statistics…..

I’m just surprised there are no Southern stations included….

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On my workbench #2

As Christmas approached, I found the time to tidy up the railway room, and have made a list of projects and tasks for the weeks and months ahead.  Some might be considered as overambitious…..

But as a simple warmup exercise, I decided to upgrade the two Lima Siphon’s that I had picked up second hand.  This was a quick and nasty job, using the Dapol Siphon G chassis – sometimes available separately – to improve the bogie and underframe detail.

All is needed is to flatten the raised detail on the chassis, except the four pegs on the four corners that locate the body.  The Lima weight is added to the chassis. It could be glued in place, but I opted for a plastic card retainer to prevent it coming loose in the future.  A coat of grimy black, and underframe complete.

The bodies needed a mere sliver of plastic scraped from the inside of the ends, and the Lima body then fits perfectly onto the Dapol chassis.  A coat of grimy black for the roof, and a little ‘gunge’ on the sides completed the job.  The resulting Siphons are seen here posed on ‘Earl’s Wood’.

I really ought to do something about those ridiculous NEM pockets, that space the vehicles so far apart – why did Dapol do this?  And a better coat of paint would be nice.  But this was an ideal project to get me back into model making, rather than buying things!

I’ll report on any progress on other projects in future posts.  In the meantime, I have a new computer to set up.  The old ones screen expired yesterday, probably a short in the laptop hinge, as there was an electrical smell, and the screen went white.  Fortunately, most of my files are in the cloud, and having connected a screen to the laptop, it worked fine, and enabled me to save the rest of my files (not that many).

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Christmas greetings

Well it’s almost here….  Weeks of manic consumerism culminate in a final spending frenzy.  “Pete 75C” commented on RMWeb….

I thought I’d pop into Tesco at 07:30 to avoid the rush and get a few last minute bits. Good GRIEF. Nowhere to park and trolley rage in every aisle. I’m done. Noticed the sign on exit… “We’re shut on Boxing Day, but don’t worry – our Express stores are open”. I won’t worry at all, thanks…

Slight shortage of good will to all men here?  But don’t panic, Sainsbury are open on Boxing Day!  Why do people stock up as if Armageddon was imminent? (Or perhaps they know something I don’t?)

But come tomorrow I’ll be delighted to return to the real meaning of Christmas, remembering a new-born baby in a manger – who would grow up to change the world.

Wishing you a blessed and peaceful Christmas 2017.

But to  be politically correct, thanks to “javlinfaw7” on N Gauge Forum…..

At this time of the year it’s difficult to know what to say without offending someone and there has been a lot going on on various FB groups recently. So I’ve checked with my legal adviser and on his advice I wish to say the following to all friends and acquaintances.

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2018, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that Great Britain is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:
This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.

So here’s another perfect combination of Christmas and trains…

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