Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Matthew and Son

... or indeed, any other family run business.

I’ve been neglecting my modelling projects recently, as the making movies bug has hit hard lately – although I have been adding bits and bobs to ‘The Plank’ every now and then. However, September is looming, and that means that the model railway exhibition season is coming out of hibernation. I was reminded of this in today’s postal delivery, which consisted of the latest product from Ten Commandments with a note saying ‘Get these done for Peterborough.’

Upon opening the box, I found three Victorian style low-relief factory / warehouse buildings. This type of industrial architecture was common in Britain, and continued to flourish around until around the 1960’s and 70's when more modern construction methods saw them begin to die out.

Buildings of this style can still be seen in ever decreasing numbers – I came across this amazing example in North Shields earlier this year. Not only intact and in everyday use, this building has been fully restored as part of the North Shields and River Tyne regeneration scheme – and looks magnificent for it.

My task, which I have been chosen to accept, is to paint these buildings ready for Peterborough Exhibition, as they will be going on display to demonstrate another new line – old style industrial signage. Painting itself doesn’t present too many problems; however, I relish the prospect of painting all those windows with all the enthusiasm a hedgehog would have when contemplating crossing the M62. Basic construction follows the real building above - brick and stone with wooden window frames, each inset with countless small individual panes of glass.

There are three different building types, and as they are modular in construction, can be combined to create a backscene of any length. Each unit is 160mm long with a height of 85mm. The depth is a mere 14mm, so they provide a perfect answer for the space-starved modeller wanting to create the illusion of an industrial background. Each building is a solid one-piece plaster cast moulding. This makes them solid, but at 250g per unit anyone contemplating a large industrial estate on an exhibition layout might want to hire a fork lifet truck to get it out of the van on the day.

More on these later, when I get the chance to paint them. Once tI've finished squinting at the 528 individual window panes, I'll get down to Specsavers and then report back with my findings!

Monday, 10 August 2009

There's Going To Be a Murder ...

Grumpy Git Productions are pleased to announce the release of their latest film, so without further ado, please sit back and enjoy Murder on The Ferry Meadows Express. I recommend full screen with the sound turned up!

I have to say that this film is 8 minutes of pure self-indulgence on my part. I wished to create a railway film that told a story along the way, but when I first set out to the Nene Valley Railway two weeks ago, I had no idea what could be achieved. In a way, the Thomas weekend a fortnight ago did me a favour, as I concentrated on shooting footage from the train and small detail segments. My visit on Saturday concentrated on the exterior shots, and gave me plenty of clips to play with and edit. I also wanted to pay homage to the most evocative piece of railway filming I’ve ever seen – the famous departure scene in Murder on The Orient Express. The truly inspired music score by Richard Bennett captures the atmosphere of a train journey in a way that no other piece of music has done, so using parts of it were essential in my home-grown version. I loved the atmospheric build up with the introduction that leads into that rousing station departure scene. The pace of the music follows the train on its journey to the intermediate stop, followed by the tranquil calm of the middle section before the triumphant crescendo of the final station arrival.

The name of the film and this article is not directly linked to the Orient Express. The soundtrack on the level crossing scenes was ruined by a small child aged around 5 or so, who was having the great-great grandmother of all tantrums at Wansford. His face was as beetroot red as his shirt, and the howls and screams that he was emitting not only drowned out the steam loco, they gave Def Leppard playing live at Wembley a pretty good run for their money as well. His mother was doing her best to ignore him with those ‘it’s just his little way’ shrugs that I found as annoying as the brat himself. The murder in question, therefore, was my suggestion to chuck him into the adjacent River Nene and stand on his head. Needless to say, my well intentioned and genuine offer was met with a hard stare and some presumably sarcastic comments – obviously I couldn’t hear them due to the racket. I know how my mother would have dealt with such a situation; I still have the bruises, a pronounced limp and deafness in one side to prove it.

Only joking – the bruises cleared up long ago.

Out of interest, here is the original Orient Express scene:

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Story of a Plank - Part 5: The Green Green Grass

Don't worry, there is no chance of Boycie or Marlene appearing anywhere in this article!

With recent expeditions to visit the real railway in action, my modelling has not surprisingly taken a bit of back seat. However, I have added a few bits to The Plank, so let me tell you where I’m at, as they like to say on Dragon’s Den. Since the road was laid and the track ballasted I’ve turned my attention to the natural areas of vegetation – the first green shoots of modelling, you might say.

The area around the layby is fairly flat land, so there was no need to build up any significant height. If I need height, my preferred method is polystyrene ceiling tiles to keep the weight down, as used on Exeter Parkway. Ceiling tiles are easy to work with, albeit messy, but cheap – although mine were free as the local McDonalds was having a refurb and threw hundreds of them into a skip. Without the need to build up the land, I simply used a supermarket own-brand of Polyfilla, and I worked this in to the required areas accordingly. One reason I like using this type of filler is that it is flexible to use, and can be watered down to any consistency to suit the terrain being modelled. It takes a long time to dry, and this gives plenty of working time to sculpt the area exactly as you would like to have it. This is useful in countryside, for example, if you wish to create a well-worn footpath, sheep trail or stream. Simply run a finger through the filler to create the path, taking it steady and lightly all the way. This photo from a visit to the Peak District earlier this year clearly shows a well-used footpath, and inclusion on a model can help break up large areas of greenery.

While the filler is drying, I create the sites for such footpaths and scenic features. As this model depicts a layby, there was another feature that needed modelling – the rutted earth and tyre tracks at the entrance, caused by lorries cutting the corner. This can clearly be seen here:

The easiest and quickest way to replicate this is to use the exact same method as used in real life! I took a spare vehicle that had good tyre treads, and rolled it over the affected area several times. I didn’t do this all at once; I did a couple of runs and then allowed the filler to dry out a bit more before having another go. After a few of these sessions, the earth is now looking realistically churned up, but with clearly defined and overlaid tyre tracks. This shows up on this module I made for demonstration purposes a while back:

Here is the entrance to the layby itself once this week’s work was complete:

If you're wondering why the tree has a large '3' on it, the reason is simple. While the filler was still damp, I 'planted' each tree into the area I wish them to be located in when the model is completed. By pushing the tree into the ground, it appears as though the tree is growing out of the earth, rather than daintily sitting on it - one of my pet hates. As the trees won't be glued in just yet (they get in the way) I have numbered them simply so that I know where they're going. Okay, there's only 3 tress and 3 holes - how hard can it be? Well, you don't know me like I know me.....

I allowed the filler to fully harden for a couple of days while I played with my recent video footage in the evenings. Then I returned to The Plank to begin creating Mother Nature. The first step was to paint all the earth brown. Soil is rarely a uniform colour, and I used six shades of watercolour artist’s paints that come in squeezable tubes, rather like toothpaste – although I’m not recommending that you clean your teeth with them. An artist’s palette is useful here, as various quantities of paint can be squeezed into each compartment and then mixed together as appropriate. Add water, a little at a time, in order to create the required consistency. I give the whole area a basic coating to build a foundation before going back and highlighting areas that require more colour. For most types of earth, around half a dozen shades of brown, such as Vandyke Brown, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber from the excellent Windsor & Newton range etc work nicely – if lightening is needed I use Cadmium Yellow. A good artist's supply shop is the best place to find a decent stock of such paints, and in my experience, the staff in these shops are invariably friendly and knowledgable about their products. For distinctive colour such as the cliffs at Dawlish, several shades of red need to be gently worked in as well, so I’d recommend having photos to hand of your preferred location on such a project. As with most modelling projects, add a little at a time and work it in slowly. Overdo it, and you inevitably end up back at square one. Been there, done that.

Recreating these famous Dawlish cliffs can be quite a challenge. I have previously had a bash at these with Sam on Exeter Parkway, and will write up the experiences later on. This photo is one of many I took during visits to Devon between 1999 and 2002 whilst engaged in chasing the last years of loco hauled operation in the area - I really must write some of those trips up, too...

With the earth complete, basic flocking can begin. I do this in stages, starting with a basic covering of grass, then working up to thicker grass, weeds, small shrubs and then onto bushes and so on. Currently I’ve got as far as the basic grassing stage. I painted watered down PVA glue onto all the areas that required grass, and sprinkled Woodland Scenics fine grade flock onto the whole area. As with earth, grass is rarely a uniform colour outside of well-tended areas such as lawns and golf clubs etc. So I mixed around four different types together and sprinkled this onto the areas needing it. Don’t forget small individual areas where grass is clinging to life – even in the rutted earth of the tyre tracks, some hardy grass manages to grow!

I left the grass overnight (to grow?) and hoovered up the following evening. Put a Jaycloth over the end of the nozzle and this saves all the expensive flock ending up in the bin – I put it all back into the flock tin I keep for this purpose. Before beginning any further flocking work, such as scrub and small bushes etc, I added in the lineside fencing. I discovered the hard way that if you leave this until later, when bushes and trees are in position, then it is difficult to get the posts to run in an orderly line parallel to the railway. Also, it is an absolute nightmare to thread the wire through the fence posts!

The fencing in this case is from Ten Commandments, and a pack consists of 25 whitemetal posts, pre-drilled with holes for the wire that is included in the pack. This will make around three feet of fencing. The posts require painting, which can be a tedious process. I simply stood all mine up in some blu-tac and sprayed them with several coats of Halfords white primer. Holes were drilled out alongside the railway track at 27mm intervals, then the posts firmly attached with Superglue. These were left overnight, before the fiddly job of threading up the wire began. There is a technique here that I’ll pass on, but if anyone finds a better way, please let me know!

I start with the first post, and significantly, the lowest line of wire to install – don’t work from the top down, believe me! Cut the wire to the required length of the fencing section – in this case I have a continuous run of around four feet, so each strand of wire I used was cut to 4ft plus a couple of inches overhang as my ‘just-in-case’ margin. Using a pin, insert a small blob of Superglue into the fencepost hole, and gently thread the wire into the hole. Then leave it – several hours at least, if not overnight. It is absolutely crucial that the glue has hardened properly, as a fair amount of pressure will be placed on this joint. (N.B. It is a good idea to repeat this process all the way up the fence post, so that the four of five strands of wire will then all be ready when the time comes to move on. Just be careful not to get the wires tangled up).

Once the glue is hardened, give the wire a firm tug to check. If it doesn’t hold, repeat the gluing stage, as it must be secure. If it is firmly in place, you may now start the enviable job of threading it through the bottom hole of each fence post all the way along to the other end of the run of fencing. It is fiddly, and best done with a pair of tweezers which may be found in your good lady’s make up bag when she’s out (don’t forget to return them, and don’t bother to ask if you may borrow them for a modelling project. You will generally receive a hard glassy stare).

Once the wire is threaded all the way through to the other end, there should be a couple of inches of excess wire. I attached a bulldog clip onto this excess, and then pulled the wire tight to ensure that it is taut all the way through the run of fencing. A couple of spare lead weights were put on top of the clip to ensure that it doesn’t go anywhere. Then again using a pinhead, I dabbed spots of Superglue into the hole from which the wire is protruding. It is also useful to dab a spot of glue every foot or so down the run as insurance, but by no means necessary to do every post. I repeat this process with every strand of wire, always working up the posts as this makes the threading so much easier. Once the last bit of wire is threaded through the final hole, secure it with the bulldog clip and Superglue method, and relax. So what next? No, before a coffee and a Hobnob? Yes, return the tweezers.

Don't say I didn't warn you ...

The whole thing may be left overnight again, and when you return to the project, simply take a scalpel blade to the excess protruding wires and remove them. There should now a run of realistic and taut lineside fencing.

A note on Superglue – it is well worth investing in a good Cyanoacrytate glue from Eileen’s Emporium or a similar specialist. Avoid the cheap stuff from the Poundshop or supermarkets, as it is generally very poor quality.

Stratford comes to Peterborough

Following yesterday's successful visit to the Nene Valley Railway, I have now edited together my footage of class 31 loco, 31271 Stratford 1840 - 2001, named after the East London depot, of course. I have fond memories of these locos from my mispent youth in the North East, when my main spotting mate, Sam, and I would spend many a happy hour mooching around Gateshead Depot. During school holidays we'd blow our totally unearned pocket money on a Northumbrian Ranger ticket, and shuttle between Newcastle, Berwick, Carlisle and York behind whatever loco hauled train would turn up. Happy days!

Class 31's were primarily freight locos of course, working out of Gateshead and Thornaby. Local passenger trains at the time were in the hands of ageing, but solid class 101 DMU's. These were duly replaced by brand new and God-awful 'Pacer' units that had as much chance of turning up as a plumber who promises to 'be round first thing.' Consequently, Heaton depot put together a rake of Mk1 coaches and kept some spare 31's to haul it between Newcastle and Middlesborough as a semi-permenant stand-in. The track between Newcastle and Sunderland (where I lived at that time) is flat and well laid, so the 31's could really rock n' roll with the 3 or 4 coach rakes, timekeeping was spectacular to say the least!

Consequently it was great to see and hear one of these always under-rated beasts at work again, ironically enough, on a short rake of MK1 coaches. Enjoy!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Peterborough Revisited

Following my day-long saga at Peterborough on Friday (see my post on Grumpy), it may seem strange that I would voluntarily return there on Saturday in my own time. But this was different – the forecast was promising, and I wanted to return to the Nene Valley Railway in order to shoot some more film for one of my epic productions. Last weekend, you may recall, I happened upon a Thomas The Tank Engine weekend, and everything in sight had a big happy face on it – except me, of course. I don’t do happy.

Once again I turned up good and early to get the feel of the place and see what was running. The NVR’s website promised that steam loco 73050 City of Peterborough and diesel 31271 Stratford would be running. This was good news on both counts; I needed some good footage of City of Peterborough to complement the video I shot last week – most of which was taken on board the train to get round the happy face problem.

The class 31 was a bonus; I remember these locos from years ago when I lived in the North East and love the sound of their engines working hard. I’ve not seen or heard one since the 1980’s, so I was looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the class.

Unlike most preserved lines that simply operate from A to B and back again, the NVR does it differently. All trains leave Wansford, the main station and operating base, and head west through the tunnel to Yarwell, a short distance away. The loco runs round, then the train returns to Wansford before proceeding to Peterborough Nene Valley, the easterly terminus. After another run round, the service heads back to Wansford and the procedure starts again. This is great for passengers and photographers alike.

At first it looked like there would be problems, as 73050 was on the Danish set of coaches – this did not fit in with my plans at all, as I needed the Mark 1 coaching stock set to match my previous footage! I’d planned a variety of locations to get the whole train on film, and this was not much good at all. However, a quick chat with the helpful driver discovered that the Danish coaches would be shunted out of the way for the day, and both locos would share the Mk1 set of stock. Excellent stuff!

Should you be wondering why a set of Danish coaches would be residing in Cambridgeshire, well, the NVR promotes preservation of foreign stock in a big way, and has an impressive collection of European stock in its collection, including some beautiful original Wagon Lits vehicles as seen on ‘Murder on The Orient Express.’ There are some fantastic Polish locos here as well, although mostly in a state of disrepair and years away from running in service. Perhaps the NVR could have a word with all the plumbers living in Peterborough, and get them to fix up these locos before they return to Warsaw and Gdansk due to the recession (the plumbers, not the locos). The NVR has been used for filming by a lot of companies; the best footage of the foreign stock can be seen in the James Bond film 'Octopussy' which features extensive use of the line and a special steam hauled train. This trailer from the film shows some of the railway scenes:

I feel that I should point out that this film is not a Grumpy Git Production.

I had my day planned in advance as the steam loco would only be running two return trips during the day, and I needed to be in my chosen locations ready for action, with finger poised above the hot shutter button. Because 73050 runs tender first to Peterborough, I would have precisely two opportunities to capture it running loco first on the westbound runs. I knew exactly where I needed to be and when for these runs, and the rest of the day was duly planned around these criteria. I factored in some class 31 filming as well, plus some general shunting moves around Wansford that could come in useful.

Well, I have to say that somebody up there was smiling on me today – maybe it was Saint Thomas? The weather conditions were perfect, all trains ran on time and I had no problems reaching my chosen locations via car, bike and on foot as the location demanded. The NVR staff were as friendly as ever, they gave long blasts on the whistle and waved as they passed by each time. I spent six hours on and around the line, and it was a very pleasant day indeed.

This was an added bonus, class 14 D9516 trundled past as I waited for the class 31 to arrive at the former station of Castor. It had been down to Ferry Meadows with the Royal Mail TPO set that was blocking a platform at Wansford Station.

The Nene Valley are holding a 1968 weekend of mixed steam and diesel operation, with extra services and freight trains running on 12/13th September, so expect to see me there. You never know, I might even have a happy face on …..

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Exeter Revisited

I’ve been sorting out old photo files and tidying up the computer hard drive, as you do during a British ‘barbeque’ summer when it’s chucking it down outside. I came across a file of pictures I took of my first serious attempt at layout building – as far as I can recall they were taken between 2000 and 2003 on a film camera and subsequently scanned. The layout was pretty large – 14 x 7, and occupied almost a whole room in our house at the time. Work began in 1995, and the layout evolved in fits and starts as is so often the case. By 2003 it was getting there, although the time lag meant that whilst some areas were quite acceptable, others were well below standard. Then there is the ‘just what was I thinking / drinking?’ moments when I see certain pictures.

In 2004 the layout was quite well advanced (in construction terms, not modelling terms!) when a house move signalled the end, as it was far too large to move. By now, many in-built faults had come to light, and it was kinder to put it out of its misery and start again, using the lessons and techniques I’d picked up along the way – perhaps one of the greatest pleasures about the hobby. After all, modelling is all about learning new skills, then developing them and fine-tuning as you go. So I’ve decided, for better or worse, to show various scenes from this layout, because not only did I learn a lot from building it, I also had a lot of pleasure, a fair bit of frustration and the odd surprise along the way.

When I build a layout, I give plenty of thought as to where it is to be located, then work out the era, the sort of trains I wish to run and the general environment around the railway itself. With 14 x 7 to play with, I immediately fell into the ‘Oh, I’ve got more space than I know what to do with’ state of mind that entraps the unwary modeller. I did however, have a clear view of the area I wished to portray. I have a great fondness for the railways of Devon, ever since a family holiday at Dawlish in 1980 – ‘nuff said, everyone? Fast forward twenty years or so, and I wished to encapsulate part of this area. Naturally I wanted full-length passenger trains, as well as a freight yard, parcels services and engineer’s trains. I not only wanted jam on it, I wanted cream as well and the whole lot silver-served to me by a nubile page 3 girl. This ruled out anything along the seawall, and left only Exeter as a likely prospect.

Research discovered that just west of Exeter lay Marsh Barton industrial estate, and this was rail served even in the late 90’s for scrap and oil. The short branch line was the stub of the former through line to Newton Abbot via the inland route travelling through Chudleigh. Although truncated, the remains of the branch now terminated about a mile from the principal A30 dual carriageway, which in turn lay only one junction away from the M5 motorway. Ah ha! A plan began to form. Given the heavy congestion in the area during the summer months, how much better would it be to build a park-and-ride station at the end of the branch, given that the two major roads into the area met at this point, and on top of that, the proposed location was a greenfield site just ready for digging up and slapping down a railway station? (Before the tree huggers and badger lovers kick off, this is just fiction). Park up your car, and take the train to the delights of Torbay, Exeter city centre, Exmouth or Barnstaple. Naturally enough, some artistic licence would be required and bit of imaginative thinking, but it was an entirely feasible reason to build a station in the area, as well as a small freight yard that could handle road-to-rail containers – this was the Ed Burkhart era of EWS, and wagonload traffic was being trumpeted as the way forward for freight customers. I firmly believe that the Exeter park-and-ride idea will work in real life equally well, even though our current lords and masters just haven’t got enough vision to see it for themselves. Consequently, it will just have to wait until I get elected, and that will be one of the first things on my agenda. Back to the model though, and Exeter Parkway plus Exeter New Yard were born.

An overview of the station, with the buildings above the simple island platform. A Railnet parcels bay occupies the foreground, and the EWS New Yard is in the background.

All the trains that I operated on the layout were based around real services operating around the period, with details gleaned mostly from the excellent Freightmaster and Class One books (and internet service) by Jeff Rawlinson. Some tweaking was necessary, but by and large, operation was prototypical. In those days I have to say that I was far more interested in operating a layout than building it, a position that has completely turned around in the last five years as my skills evolved.

The northern end of the station, heading towards Chudleigh, although I did not envisage operation running along this line - these tracks simply s erved coach sidings and run-round loops for freight and parcels services.

As far as scenics went, I decided that the station should run underneath the main shopping street, which provided access off the main road into the car park. The other end of the layout would be more countrified, and the centre would be taken up with an industrial estate, representing the Marsh Barton area. A distinct lack of planning meant that I had five tracks all curving into the fiddle yard at the ‘country’ end, and as they disappeared into the backscene, this area needed a natural scenic break. You’ll see how I dealt with this thorny issue as we progress …

A glimpse of the town above the tracks, designed primarily to hide the tight curves providing access to the fiddle yard - or Exeter St Davids in real life.

Such was the background. I won’t go into the long details about building the layout itself; I’ll use the photos to speak about specific areas as this article proceeds. I must apologies for the pretty poor quality of photos used; many are low-res scans from original prints that got lost in two subsequent house moves, but this just a ramble down memory lane – and believe me, in many cases it is just as well that the image quality isn’t all that it could be!

This scene depicts the busy nature of the layout, and I tried to create a feeling of a bustling urban area. I re-used the idea of an urban cutting as a site for a station far more successfully when constructing Valkova Road - however, that layout owes its existence to Exeter Parkway and the lessons learned from building it.

The station buildings were actually two Faller supermarket kits joined together. The hexagonal shapes were interesting to work with, and created a contemporary look for a station that would have built in the 1990's.

The station throat at the Chudleigh end. The brick cutting walls have by now given way to traditional red Devon cliffs - they look rather gaudy in this view, but in reality were not quite as vibrant! The ballasting was truly awful. I attempted to do the whole lot in a day, and as it is a rather tedious job, I got bored and rushed it. Oh dear. Apart from looking horrendous, particularly in close-up, I had no end of problems with the points after that. Oh well, live and learn.

Unfortunately, very few pictures were taken (or survive) from during construction. This shot shows the first area of the layout to receive scenery. The cliffs and countryside at the northern end of the layout were built in a three day period when a modelling friend, Sam, came to stay. We created this set piece, which would later feature a hotel and beer garden, and it remained the best part of the layout throughout its life. This was my first bash at creating scenics, and was a very useful exercise.

Exeter New Yard was inspired by a real life version from my home town of Grantham. Everyday, an 'Enterprise' freight service would drop off a pair of container wagons into a siding. A lorry would then arrive, and the driver operated a large fork lift truck that would take the empty container from the lorry and load it onto a railway wagon. He would then take a fresh container from the recently arrived train and put it on the lorry and drive off - all in about 20 minutes. It was an ideal scenario for modelling, so I took the idea and expanded it as shown here. This area had originally been earmarked for a loco depot, but there was no convincing reason as to why a depot would be built in a such a location.

So that is an overview of my first layout, and as I dig out more pictures, I'll post them. It has brought back some happy memories going through them again.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Faceless Alycidon

I have recounted my recent visit to the Nene Valley Railway on my other blog, so suffice to say that here is my rather limited footage of D9009 Alycidon performing on Sunday. If the sight of a Deltic with a large happy face wasn't bizarre enough, how about a Deltic hauling four Danish coaches around Cambridgeshire? So for all the modellers out there, I can say that there is really and truly a prototype for everything ...

I hate to say this, but the assembled crowds were all actually waiting for Thomas the Tank Engine as Alycidon was about to haul the stock out of the platform and back into the platform that I was stood on. Then Thomas would trundle into platform 2, with the morbidly obese controller watching on. Don't shoot the messenger!

Now you really have seen it all!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

When a Man is Tired of London ...

... he's come to his senses.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of London exhibitions. For some reason, shows in and around the capital attend a higher than normal quota of know-all numpties who are incredibly annoying. On top of this, throw in all the other disadvantages of London – ridiculous roads, impossible parking, astronomically priced overnight accommodation, congestion, bus lanes, bus lane cameras, suicidal cyclists in unbecoming skin-tight lycra plus some of the rudest people in the country and you can see why I prefer to stay away.

The joys of London before you even get to the exhibition venue - where you will
no doubt be greeted by, 'You can't park there!' . Picture from FreeFoto.

There's only one thing worse than a cyclist in body hugging lycra ...

But there is one exhibition that breaks the London mould quite successfully, and remains the only show that I have traded, exhibited and demonstrated at. It is the Enfield Whitewebbs model railway show, held in the transport museum close to Enfield. Being only a couple miles off the M25, access is reasonably easy if you time it right and there is a McDonalds close by. Parking for exhibitors is free, but a logistical nightmare, until you understand the system and play it to work for you, rather than against you – although it took a few years to figure this out.

The only way to get parked during the exhibition is to get to
the show well in advance. These wily traders arrived in 1947.

Bernie, the (former) Exhibition Manager, hails from Darlington, so he approached organising the show in a no-nonsense manner that is refreshing and effective. His missus, Jan, takes care of the catering side of things, and they both believe in looking after the traders and exhibitors equally, which is as welcome as it is unusual. Traders are often seen as second-class citizens, who are invited to a show purely to bring revenue in for the hosting club. The fact that their presence also brings in visitors is a point entirely missed by the committees. Before the Show opens to the public, Jan has the coffee, tea and bacon butties going for everyone, which is a great boost before a long day of trading, especially after the slog of the A1 and M25. Lunch is also provided – and you have a choice of sitting down in the restaurant, which is a converted railway carriage – or if you are alone and can’t leave your stand, then lunch is brought to your stand.

A tranquil spot for lunch; nice to see that some effort has gone into this area.

It is a simple but extremely welcome gesture, so why can’t more clubs take this approach? Bernie pops round during the day to see how you’re doing; it makes a difference when organisers show an interest – far too many only emerge when it’s time to get your stand money. At Bernie’s show, you are greeted like an old friend, rather than a wallet on legs.

When I first began trading, it was Bernie who gave me my big break, so to speak. I had previously run a business selling railway clocks, but I wound this up (did you see what I did there?), as it didn’t pay. I was launching a new range of modern image 4mm signs and accessories as an experiment, but didn’t intend to undertake exhibitions (apart from the modern image orientated DEMU Showcase) due to the costs and viability of a new range like this. I mentioned this, and Bernie offered me a free stand, on the assumption that if I made nothing then I paid nothing, but if I were successful then a donation to the club would be welcome. This was a great opportunity to try the fledgling products out, so I knocked up a couple of dioramas, produced some stock and off I went – and had a blinding day. The product range was well received, and I was able to build up on this and build up the business accordingly. Consequently I returned every year until I shut down the business; then the following year I returned as an exhibitor with Valkova Road. My final appearance was in 2008 with a scenic demonstration stand, a new project I am developing in conjunction with Ten Commandments to demonstrate scenic and lineside detailing.

So the only thing I haven’t done at Whitewebbs is to visit the show as a punter! So perhaps in 2009, you might see Grumpy once more down in London - don’t expect to see me hanging round the layouts, though - I’ll be the first one in the queue for a bacon butty. The Enfield Whitewebbs exhibition is held on 26 September 2009.

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