Thursday, 31 December 2009

The New Year - A time to reflect

Having experienced such joy after the birth of Thomas but such feelings of shock coupled with sadness just a couple of days later I have been left in a very reflective frame of mind.

2009 has been a strange year in many ways. Work wise the start and end of the year it was great - the middle bit was no so good and left me very depressed and wondering what was the point as summer passed me by as I sat with no real purpose trapped in stale air-conditioned offices. But out of the office, on track I felt so much better. I know where, and with what, I want to work!

Personally, we got through our first year of marriage, or rather, somehow Suzi coped with a year of being married to me! Then we found out it would no longer be the two of us! Or three of us if you include George, he may be a cat but at the moment he's at least three times the size of Thomas!

Modelling wise the highlight was undoubtedly Botanic Gardens making its debut at the Hull Show, albeit as a work in progress with the Class P1 covering a silly mileage over the course of the weekend! The positive reaction we got at the show was very encouraging indeed and has certainly spurred us on! I hope 2010 will be a great year for the layout and the team behind it - we have lots to do but the progress made since the show has been amazing and I do hope this will continue. For me knowing where to start with the great, long list of things I want to do may be the hardest part!

Botanic Gardens from above
2010 is going to be a year of huge change; Thomas is due to be home tomorrow and life will then change forever! Hopefully modelling will still be there, somewhere! Though I'm trying to sort out some of my projects in such a way that some can be done on the dining table rather than requiring the workshop! That way they should be able to fit into home life fairly easily - well that's the plan, who knows if it'll work or not!

Though I know exactly where my priorities will be...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Mick Clark, 1969 - 2009

This isn't something which is pleasant to post yet I feel I need to. I learned yesterday that a friend and colleague had died suddenly, and very much unexpectedly, over the weekend.

I worked with Mick Clark, who was a P-Way Engineer with VolkerRail, during my time on the Hull Docks Branch upgrade. I learnt a lot from him working with him and he was very willing to share knowledge and very generous if you needed help. This was when I decided that P-Way was what I wanted to work with.

It was good fun working with him too! This was partly why I was disappointed to be transferred at short notice away from the Hull project. Though even after this he got me a few weekend shifts on the project - just what I needed to keep me sane! Even though on one Sunday morning he blocked my car in so he wouldn't be the last to leave!

Everybody to whom I have spoken is in shock. A life cut tragically short. Mick was a thoroughly decent and kind man; if he could help anyone he would go out of his way to do so.

RIP mate, it was a pleasure knowing you. You're going to be greatly missed.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Thomas Simonett Wells

We have some news!

The Wells Family
Suzi and I have a new edition to the family; Thomas Simonett Wells born 25th December 2009 at 0822 by Emergency Ceasarean Section at Hull & East Yorkshire Women's and Children's Hospital.

It's been a very long day! The end result of being in and out of hospital everyday over the last week! 2010's going to be a fun year!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Great Model Railroads 2010

The Yorkshire Wolds have been covered in a seamless blanket of snow. This is when you don't want to venture too far despite the snow combining with the Wolds' own beauty to be truly stunning.

So with the weather and this being the first day of our Christmas break (not to mention the first day in ages when I didn't have to be in Scunthorpe for seven!) we didn't want to venture far! Just before lunch in Beverley we popped in to WH Smith's and I picked up Model Railroader's Great Model Railroad 2010. To our eyes many layouts which have appeared in GMR over the years will seem huge; a combination of many US homes having large basements and their liking for operation, as discussed previously here. Model Railroader, especially, seems to focus on the operational side of the hobby and it seems to us that this translates as large layouts requiring a team of operators. This does seem at odds with the reality which many of us who are starved for space over here have.

Many of these larger layouts which are predominantly the work of one person seem to have to take on a more impressionistic approach which will probably more effective to the naked eye than they do in photographs. Maybe this is why they don't always 'do it' for me. As such I found Mike Confalone's Woodsville Terminal RR the real highlight of GMR 2010 which is very close in appearance and levels of detail to UK finescale as you'll find. But it is also built with operation and a real purpose in mind which, I think, has produced an excellent result.

Even if you don't always agree with what you read or see, it is always worthwhile seeing how modellers in other countries approach things in the same hobby. It provides an excellent opportunity to learn and see things from a slightly different point of view.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Last Day in Scunthorpe

Today was my final day at Scunthorpe after four months on P-Way within the works.

I have enjoyed my time immensely! It has been a very satisfying time for me; a time which really re-enthused me after a few months stuck in an office fulfilling no real purpose. I have met some wonderful people at the works and have enjoyed working those who were around me. I think I’ve provided the odd comical moment too – tightening a rail joint, slipping and banging yourself on your helmet with a fish spanner and knocking yourself over and ending up lying, laughing, on your back in the four foot is undoubtedly amusing to all around! Oh, yeah... And I locked my keys in my car too one day!

Industrial systems, as I’ve found, are a world away from the mainline railway…

There's a level crossing under there somewhere!
Recently we have been working in one area to renew a siding through the ‘Slab Bay’ where freshly produced slabs are loaded on to either internal wagons to go for finishing within the works or onto EWS/DBS wagons for delivery to other sites round the UK. The loading process means that the sidings receive a fair bit of hammer as the ground either side is subjected to heavy machinery and this can affect the track too. We have renewed one turnout over the last week or so too. The conditions here are quite unlike the mainline; mud and sludge are right up to the level of the rail heads and even just checking during routine maintenance can be hard work. One of the photos, believe it or not, actually shows a level crossing! The weather affected us too; on Thursday and Friday the mud was frozen solid and as a result one siding couldn’t be used in case the mud caused a derailment.

Renewals projects such as these have been very satisfying; nice self-contained jobs where you can easily see the whole thing through from start to finish. This is quite a contrast to some of the large contracts which VolkerRail have elsewhere. Although this is a small contract, it undoubtedly works very well indeed. Some of the staff with VolkerRail who are based on this contract have been working on permanent way within the works for over thirty years and have a wealth of knowledge and it has been an honour and a real pleasure to be able to tap into this during my time working with them.

John Pike (left) and Wayne Moorhouse at Scunthorpe
I have spent every day for the last few months out side in all weathers – a change from our usual project work which sees a mix of office and site work. It was quite a liberating to not be chained to either a desk or a laptop! It was a real education to learn how to ‘arrange’ track manually without the use of sophisticated machines. I’ll be left with memories of centre cab industrial shunters in Corus’ red, white and yellow livery fighting with their loose coupled rakes of wagons as they make their way around the works. I’ll also be left many wonderful memories of those who work there – they have made it a wonderful experience!

The last months have been incredibly satisfying and rewarding; the time I spent working on the railway within the steelworks will be a period which I will treasure for a very long time.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Humpty Dumpty

We’ve just got back from York; it was a rather weird evening!

We spent the evening at the Theatre Royal having been to see Humpty Dumpty! As those who have read previous posts here may be aware we go to the pantomime at York Theatre Royal every year, we tend to go twice actually! I’m very much a fan of Berwick Kaler’s productions and his approach to what is sometimes called the ‘post modern pantomime’ due to the use of video and puppetry.

Humpty Dumpty is not how you’d imagine it; Snow White and her seven Penguins (yes, Penguins!) make an appearance along with Simple Simon who turns out to be not exactly how you’d expect him (well, her!) to be and the Spartan Army travelling by Routemaster! And the villain, well he appeared as most of the other characters at some point during the production!

The villain is worthy of note; David Leonard is a classically trained actor who, somehow, became an integral part of the York production. He must be one of the few villains who received just as many cheers as boos when he first makes an appearance.

The show is perhaps best appreciated by adults – evening performances are normally 95% over 18; the audiences tend to be intelligent ones and the humour is often pitched at a higher level than one would perhaps realise. Though the musical numbers are ever present and appeal to children though the song performed by Ken (Leonard in one of the villain’s many disguises) and Barbie (Kaler’s Dame desperately seeking to relive her youth) was as comically brilliant as it was creepy and it delighted the audience - though the mouse perhaps upstaged the rest of the cast! See, not how you expect it to be at all!

It’s a magical evening and I still would urge everyone to go!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

15,000 Not Out

Well firstly a thank you to all of you who read my blog! It has had, just before I started typing this, 15,039 views since 6th of April this year. Not a bad achievement for my random ramblings about things! It does genuinely surprise me that people would want to read anything that I write - the main reason I started to write this blog was to force write something which wasn't written in a 'technical' or formal manor. I'm dyslexic (as my posts may have suggested!) and this has helped me be a little more creative with words and given a break from the formalities which work and professional development demand.

As a nice aside from this it has also allowed me to share some of my work and views on subjects which may not have fitted in elsewhere. I'm pleased have shared some aspects of my 'real' work too; comments on here, along with comments made at exhibitions and elsewhere, have made it quite satisfying to share things which most enthusiasts wouldn't normally see or perhaps even think about in the first place!

Next year will bring some huge changes; I hope to to be able to continue sharing my thoughts and ideas about life and railways of all sizes!

Friday, 4 December 2009

MRJ 195 - The Chris Pendlenton Issue

When I was nine I can remember my Dad bringing home a copy of Model Railway Journal; this was the first issue I remember seeing of this magazine as my Dad didn't buy every issue. There was one article in this issue which was to have an enormous effect one me…

The issue was MRJ No. 58, The North Shields issue. This is Chris Pendlenton’s masterpiece, probably one of the best pieces of railway modelling you will ever see! It’s a layout which has inspired me ever since! It's a wonderful piece of modelling which depicts the everyday and mundane to perfection and everything works together as one. In the intervening seventeen years I have managed to wear out two copies of this issue and am now on my third rather dog eared copy!

So, in the current trend which Wild Swann are following with guest editors, I was very pleased to see that Chris Pendlenton was editing issue 195! The highlight of the issue has to be the selection of new photos of North Shields – with some of the most convincing snow and winter effects you will ever see! I was so pleased that these new photos generated exactly the same feelings of wonderment and admiration that those original photos nearly twenty years ago did.

Following this another North Eastern supremo, Dave Bradwell, describes developments on his layout which follows on to push the finescale concept further to encompass operation and further combine the American and British schools of layout design and operation as we've discussed here previously. Both Chris Pendlenton and Dave Bradwell are promoting these ideas.

If you, as a railway modeller, cannot find inspiration from or be impressed by North Shields I do wonder if there is something deeply wrong with your soul! Undoubtedly Chris Pendlenton is one of the top modellers, past and present and remains since first seeing MRJ 58 one of my favourite modellers and someone whose talent I greatly admire.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Last Train over the Wolds

The 27th November 1965 marked the end of services on the York to Beverley railway with the very last being a six-car DMU running the 2142 from York to Hull - when this post is published tonight it will be forty four years to the minute since the last service set off and marked the end of the line service. The opening photo shows one DMU set on the last just ready to depart from Pocklington.

Of course I have covered the line before, but even so I feel that today's anniversary is worth a mention. If you get chance there's an interesting selection of photographs from the last day on the BBC Humber site. There is also an interesting piece with people's own memories of the line and the railway is very much about people, both railwaymen and the travelling public. There is still talk of reopening the line but for now you can still travel along part of the line, only for now it must be on foot...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Best Laid Plans

There are certain articles I always go back - Chris Pendlenton's North Shields in MRJ No 58 is a prime example of this, so much so I'm on my third copy of it now! Another on is one article in Iain Rice's sadly missed RailModel Digest Issue No. 2 (along with an excellent article on Southwell) on Iain Rice's specialist subject, layout design.

He is, of course, very well known for his books and articles on this subject, both in the UK and in the USA. The two approaches from 'typical modellers' on the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean are quite different. UK modellers often seem to think about exhibition layouts with the emphasis being on appearance and American modellers seem, if their magazines are to be believed, to focus on operation. In Issue 2 Iain Rice proposes a plan which combines a UK prototype with an emphasis on operation.

Go back fifty or sixty years and many UK layouts were set up for operation - layouts like The Sherwood Section, for example, were very much focused on operation. Layouts like these seem to have mostly died out as many people lack the time, money and space for such 'empires'. The plan here addresses these rather nicely. It's inspired by the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Vally Railway in Wales, which was known for class 03 and 08 diesel shunters which had been reduced in height to clear structures along the line.

The plan would give a real sense of running trains from one place to another - something which has a huge appeal for me. The space required is quite reasonable too, at less than 10' x 8' - a room like this most people would try and squeeze in some kind of country branch station which could, if one wasn't careful, end up appearing cramped and rather unnatural yet the industrial subject here is quite at home in compact area and tight curves wouldn't look out of place.

I love how it combines various locations which would generate traffic and how they feed the exchange sidings where the branch meets the mainline. It's very much an opportunity to model a 'railway' rather than just part of it and in a space which many people could find and justify.

Looking at plans like this encourages you to think a bit out of the box in the approach to layout design yet it could easily have each scene modelled in the same way UK modellers tend approach small layouts with an emphasis on detail. Maybe this would be the best of both worlds? Plus having two or three friends round for operating sessions would help to bring the layout to life and would be a great way to spend an evening!

Monday, 16 November 2009

BBC Archive

I just had to share this wonderful link!

It's a wonderful selection of films! And it features two episodes of one of my favourite television series - Miles Kington's Steam Days. I remember watching these programs over and over again on video - it's a wonder I didn't wear the tape out! One of the episodes was about 46229 Duchess of Hamilton which may go somewhere to explaining my affection for this locomotive. The series was beautifully shot and Miles Kington was a railway enthusiast and this comes through in the programs.

Follow this link to see Miles Kington's wonderfully atmospheric journey from Fort William across the western Highlands via Glenfinnan to Mallaig.

It's superb!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Beavering Away

To provide a comparison with the new Beaver featured here a little while ago, I thought these images of a slightly older machine may be useful.

This is 51001 and is a long serving VolkerRail plain line tamper currently based in Scunthorpe and is out of public view for most of the time - you may see it from either Dawes Lane or the high level line from the blast furnaces if you're lucky!

The main difference from a production point of view is that this lacks any of the sophisticated computer control which the VolkerRail NL Beaver has but it's interesting to watch a good operator as the results can still be very good.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Fame at Last!

Just a very quick post this evening - we were featured in the Hull Daily Mail today! A great piece about the layout and what the project is all about! What makes it all the more pleasing is that the HDM's reporter, Katy Wood, was thorough in her research and has shown railway modellers in a very good light!

To read the online version of the article click here.

Botanic Gardens' Exhibition Debut

Last weekend Botanic Gardens made its exhibition debut! And no, we didn't know how big the layout would look either!

The layout was for the first time assembled as a single entity and it all went together perfectly! Dave's work with the non-scenic boards was superb! Chris' work with the station area is also to a very high standard. This area is a focal point of the layout and an area which many people remember. With the layout being a local subject meant we had a really nice reaction to the project with a lot of people sharing memories and experiences of the station and the surrounding area.

We didn't have much stock to run on the layout and my NER P1 did sterling service as it clocked up, we reckon, over 200 scale miles over the weekend! That's around 2,5 real miles! It hauled for most part a mixture of mine and Chris' stock. The weekend has showed us just how much a good run settles stock down, not just locos either; we found a couple of wagons which need adjustments for various reasons. We also need to find some way to stop brake vans being too free running amazingly!

It was a great weekend! Even if the time leading up to the weekend has cost me a fortune in DVDs and chocolate for Suzi! The interest that the layout generated was fantastic and really has raised my enthusiasm even more! Next year is going to be a lot of fun - loads of things planned and lots of stock to build!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hull - This Weekend!

Just a quick reminder that the Hull MRS Exhibition is this weekend!

Full details have appeared on here previously and can also be found on the Society's website. Hope to see you all there!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Tamping In Newcastle

Last night I had a rather enjoyable trip to Newcastle to see VolkerRail NL's Beaver tamper at work. It's a great little machine and travels all over Europe on various jobs too including Sweden and Germany over the last few months. Making Tracks, November 2008 - Click to ViewSpeaking with the crew they do seem to like the opportunities that working on this machine brings!

The machine is enjoying its second stint in Newcastle on the Metro following a very successful first visit in the autumn of last year - it was very well received by the staff and management at Nexus, who couldn't speak highly enough of it during our visit! The speed of operation is very impressive and a huge source of pride for its crew.

It's a product of Plasser & Theurer - you may recall that I visited their 'Open House' event last year. This event was mainly focused upon 'big' machines intended for heavy mainline use and the Beaver is quite a contrast. My own experience of small tampers has been, most recently, within Corus' works with one of our own examples as well as rather tired examples on heritage railways. In these cases the degree of sophistication isn't that high; it's not needed though. Industrial railways are very much created as 'fit for purpose' and the key thing, in Scunthorpe for example, is to allow the safe passage of very heavy loads at low speeds.

VolkerRail NL's beaver is quite different though and is very sophisticated providing all the capabilities of a mainline machine in a small package which gives it distinct advantage on a system like the Tyne and Wear Metro with its smaller loading gauge.

It shows a direction in which a number of companies may be heading now; machines and plant which can operate in various countries. VolkerRail NL already has DR 73946 which, I believe, was the first tamping machine intended to be able to operate on any European standard gauge system. So as time goes on we may see foreign machines coming in and out of the country as and when work demands.

For those of you who don't get a chance to see just how a tamper actually works up close, I think this may be of interest. I have been asked a number of times at model railway exhibitions about this subject as many people are interested but the possibility of seeing it is quite low due to the times of work and the remote location of many work sites! So, here is a very short clip of the tamping banks in action -

The basic idea is that the 'tamping tools' pack the ballast beneath the sleepers as the machine 'lifts' and 'lines' the track by holding the rails. This adjusts the position in vertical (though only upwards) and horizontal direction, either left or right. Wikipedia actually provides a decent introduction to the subject too.

One final view of the Beaver during the works, its small size will be noticed -

It was a very enjoyable and educational visit - one of the many days which makes this industry thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view! I must also thank Phil Kirkland and Sid Lewis of Nexus for making it such an enjoyable visit.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


If anyone stumbled upon my blog at the moment they might think it was about comedy with many of the recent posts! But it all goes together to make a rather pleasent time. Time, however, seems in rather short supply mostly though!

This evening we saw Mitch Benn & The Distractions at the new Hull Truck Theatre, which is a superb venue; the tickets were a present from my in-laws! I've listened to Mitch Benn for years on The Now Show so it was good to finally see him live! Being a musical act it was quite different from most comedians I've seen! Mitch Benn exudes a real warmth from the stage, no doubt helped by the smaller venue. If you fancy a slightly different eveing's entertainment, you should try to see him live!

Industrial Inspiration

The photo above is shamelessly taken from Bing maps 'Bird's Eye view' - click on the photo to take yourself to full map. If you look you can see a kick back just above/north of the loco works yard. We were on 'point care' (as S&C maintenance is known on the works) yesterday in this area and we were checking this little used part of the system. Down at track level it's quite different. There are years' worth of weeds and the kind of shrubbery which chooses to grow by all kinds of railway lines and the area feels a little removed from the busy works which surrounds it. It could easily provide the inspiration for a whole selection of industrial layout schemes.

As you can probably tell, I'm still very much enjoying my time at the Steelworks, despite having to be up this early for work!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Cake or death?

Sometimes, someone can take you somewhere else entirely away from the stresses and worries of everyday life. Eddie Izzard is one of these people. In a couple of hours he takes you into his world and talks about things you experience all the time, such as Wikipedia and computers to strange surreal moment such as french speaking badgers arguing with God about food on the third day of creation!

We saw Eddie Izzard at Sheffield Arena last night! I've waited years to see him and it was certainly worth the wait! He is a comedian of the highest calibre who can effortlessly captivate 11,000 in a venue for two hours. It was an amazing experience!

As you may have seen, I love live comedy! I think those who never go and see live comedy are really missing out in life! It can make you feel so good especially if you see some one like Eddie Izzard who is right at the top of his profession. And in these depressing times hearing of a badger on the moon is just what you need!

And the title 'Cake or Death'? Well this may explain...

And if you like that, click here - enjoy!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Michael McIntyre

Last night we went to Sheffield Arena (which is a horrible venue!) to see Micheal McIntyre - he was very good! One big appeal he has is that he is never nasty about other people, which is quite a contrast with some of the 'edgier' comedians who I used to see performing at University.

Perhaps this light relief is something we all need during times like we currently have - news of economic problems for the world, MPs claiming too much for their duck houses and all the other depressing headlines can really get you down. You should never take life too seriously - we are fortunate enough to live in a society which, on the whole, isn't too bad. Live comedy is perhaps one of the best ways to remind us that life can be pretty good!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Developments with Milk Bottles

Just a little update today on a very long term project - a more detailed description of it has appeared previously, along with an explanation of my use of the term 'Milk Bottles'! Click here to read it.

I mentioned that we'd be sorting out a couple of bits from Dave Bradwell for the boiler fittings. Mould 15 provides a lovely chimney which captures the look much better than Bachmann's does. I also changed the dome, not that it really needs doing but I thought I might as well as the same set of castings provided it and Dave Bradwell's castings are superb!

So it edges a little closer towards completion!

Monday, 12 October 2009

A Modern Day Branchline

For years many modellers have chosen branch lines as a subject for their layouts and modelling - British houses have never been particularly big on the whole and many would struggle to accommodate a main line style layout unless you are lucky enough to have a decently proportioned loft! So the branch line has been often promoted as the way ahead, despite King's Cross station actually taking up less space than many branchline termini! Cyril Freezer produced designs very early on for branchline which could fit in an average British house.

However, these were steam era designs and the 'modern' modeller is faced with the fact that the stereotypical branchline disappeared many, many years ago on the whole. However there is the odd exception I have found such a line on my way to and from the hustle and bustle of Scunthorpe Steelworks.

From the main line between Scunthorpe and Immingham there's a branch which winds its way to Barton on Humber. Previously the branch had been a key part of cross Humber traffic as ferries docked at New Holland Pier. When the bridge opened in the early eighties the need for the Pier station ceased. The connection on to the Pier can still be seen but it looks like it has been some time since it was used. Grain was transshipped on the Pier and even coal imported via it during the Miners Strike.

The station at New Holland is a simple affair - a single short platform suffices here. This isn't the original station but does show a good example of the rationalised railway. The semaphore signals really do add to the atmosphere of the location.

As you approach Barrow Haven station you are met with a rarity on the mainline, a level crossing with no barriers or even lights! The line speed is so low at the station that it's not really an issue!

The Class 153 is a typical train for the branch now; it seems to provide adequate capcity for the line's need for the most part. I saw one solitary passenger disembark from the train at Barrow Haven.

To the west of the station the line crosses a bridge which would make a lovely model; the area has, of course, provided inspiration for a couple of Hull MRS layouts, notably Barrowfleet. Despite large settlements being very close by (Hull is just over the river) the area has a very remote feel to it.

A final look at Barrow; the station is again a simple affair, built of sleepers. It really doesn't need much more than this! It has a wonderful atmosphere.

Finally the line reaches Barton - as you might expect the current station is a small and simple one! The line did continue beyond the station to a factory but now this is very much the end of the line.

If you're in the area the line is worth exploring - it has a timeless quality and you do wonder how on earth it manages to survive. Maybe we should be pleased that our railway has these little gems - from the enthusiast point of view they're wonderful but I suspect from the railway's point of view it represent a small millstone! Either way I think it is very satisfying searching out lines like this.