Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Peterborough Exhibition

What with my work and weekends at The Nene Valley Railway, if there’s one place that I visit frequently, it’s Peterborough. This weekend was no exception, as for the first time since starting this blog, I was finally attending a model railway exhibition. My role was that of demonstrator attached to the Ten Commandments trade stand, so naturally I was primarily utilising products from the range and showing visitors how to get the best out of them. I had prepared a good selection of varied models to build / paint / detail in order to keep myself as well as the public interested. I’m pleased to say that there was a pleasing amount of ‘sensible’ interest and very few nutters about pointing out that the Ford Transit had the incorrect type of hubcaps for that year (Shipley 2007 for that particular gem).

The factory buildings that I have mentioned previously were the stars of this show, and my demo on painting in the windows was particularly well received – just shows how an accidentally found technique can be a winner. The Scenic Rust was popular, along with basic landscaping, road building and detailing road vehicles. There was a lot of interaction on the stand, which made the time pass by more pleasurably and quickly.

Peterborough is a new show that debuted last year, although I wasn’t able to attend as I was sorting out my sock drawer and cross-indexing my Y-fronts. As I couldn’t get out of going; I mean, having volunteered to demonstrate this year, I was looking forward to try out this recent addition to the circuit. Held in the new purpose built exhibition centre at The Showground, the venue is an out-of-town, easy to reach location and the exhibition hall is superb, with plenty of large doors opening onto flat ground making loading and unloading a doddle. A welcome change from the venues chosen by some exhibition managers, who clearly think that operators and traders alike are auditioning for a part in Rapunzel.

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down thy Deltic and a Stanier 8F!"

The show is organised by Warners Publications, a professional exhibition and events company who also publish a variety of magazines, including British Railway Modelling. I don’t read this august journal, not even in the reading room at my local library called WH Smiths, so in the interests of fairness I won’t review it here. Obviously if I liked it, found it well written and presented with relevant articles and news that was topical sometime between Noah’s Ark and The Crimean War then I might read it – but make your own minds up. I don’t want to come across as biased.

As professional events organisers, organisation by Warners is generally good. They turn up when they say they will and even let you in, so if they’d like to take over Ashford Show, then that’s fine by me. On the other hand, they don’t know the difference between Evening Star and Evening Primrose Oil, so the show plays it safe and only books layouts that have appeared in the magazine, rather than going out onto the circuit to look for something new and exciting. Can you imagine the Clothes Show Live taking this approach? “Tell that Vivienne Westwood if her stuff hasn’t been in The Littlewoods catalogue, we’re not interested.” Quite.

Something that you might not unreasonably expect from a publishing company is a show guide in English. The A4 glossy full colour guide was included in the £10 entry fee, but each submission had clearly been written by the layout owner / club /trader – some of whom could write in English, and them others what like cuddent even spel simple wurds and who seemed to think that their grammer was the old lady in the lounge watching Corrie innit. Warners proofreaders had presumably been having an off day, and by rights should now be down at the jobsentaPLUS, and let an amazing number of howlers through. I had highlighted several to share with you here, but thanks to Dave giving away my exhibition guide on the Sunday (without telling me) I now have no reference material. Thanks.

The choice of layouts is entirely subjective, but I felt that the quality of this year’s exhibits was probably the best I’ve seen from Warners for a long time, and it was pleasing to view some layouts that I haven’t seen before – the benefit of taking a break from the circuit, I imagine. I was expecting to view Stoke Summit as it attends almost every Warners event with the inevitability of a participant in Strictly Come Dancing being ‘on a journey’, but it wasn’t there – I believe that it is finally undergoing a long overdue overhaul, and will reappear after refurbishment in a post-privatisation guise featuring overhead catenary with GNER class 91’s and EWS class 66’s taking centrestage as it strives to attract a fresh audience. Bring it on.

I was hoping to give a rundown of my favourite layouts, but as I mentioned earlier, Dave gave my exhibition guide away on Sunday afternoon and it had all my notes in, so that isn’t happening. Probably for the best ...

I will therefore throw in my gallery of some favourite bits at the show. These are all from memory, so if there are any factual errors I apologise and will correct them if notified. I must apologise for the rather poor quality of the pictures – it was a busy show and I was kept on the go over on the demo stand, so the photos were something of a rush job on Sunday morning before opening time. I didn’t get round to see every layout due to time constraints, and just snapped a few models that really caught my eye.

The beach scene on Westcliffe, I particularly like the 'shortcut' path running down to the beach - delightfully modelled on this well observed model.

My favourite scene on Runswick Leamside is the realistically modelled roadworks and contraflow on the dual carriageway. Well, I say realistic - more progress has been made with these roadworks than their real life counterparts on the A1 at Blyth. Maybe the Highways Agency should employ Presier workmen? Just a thought.

My personal favourite layout - Harbourne. I always like to see small, beautifully detailed layouts that ooze character and operate impeccably such as this. It's the sort of layout where very little happens and life is at a slower relaxed pace. In between trains, you have time to take in the scenery and savour the craftmanship that went into building it. Charming.

If you like big layouts, they don't come much bigger or grander than Gresley Beat, based on Kings Cross. Wish I'd had more time to watch it, there was so much going on. The buildings are superb, for a more detailed look at them I'd recommend reading this article on Iain Robinson's modelling blog, which also has some much better pictures that do the model justice.

Staying with the 'make it large' theme, this model of Barmouth Viaduct immediately caught the eye. The 'O' gauge layout was themed around the famous viaduct at Barmouth, and running almost at eye level meant that it looked as imposing as the real thing. The backscene was amazing, all handpainted. Operation was staged so that sequences would begin with the GWR and gradually work up to Regional Railways DMU's - a nice idea that added much variety to the scene. A good photo album of this layout may be seen here.

There was much more, but I was just to busy to see it all!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Time To Say Goodbye

The Grumpy Git Productions season ends with this bonus presentation. Deltic D9009 Alycidon has been a guest on the Nene Valley Railway this summer, and ran regularly at special events and odd running days. I’ve amassed quite a bit of footage of this magnificent loco, and as Alycidon departs from the line this week I decided to edit together the highlights, together with some previously unseen footage as they say. The final sequence was shot as the loco hauled the last train out of Wansford at the 1968 Gala – which was also Alycidon’s final working on the line.

As the film is entirely about D9009, I’ve gone for nice long pans to show the loco to full advantage, along with some close ups and quick clips. Scenes show everything from shunting in Wansford Yard to working the Orient Express Wagon Lits coaches, so there’s plenty of variety. Where practical, the original Napier soundtrack has been retained as backdrop.

Choosing the music was a challenge, and I thought I had it all sorted when editing the film on Sunday. There were niggles, however – something just didn’t gel. Then whilst driving to Kings Lynn on Tuesday, Time To Say Goodbye was played on the Steve Wright Show. That was the eureka moment. The track was perfect in every sense – time to say goodbye as the loco leaves the line, so the lyrics were eminently suitable. The regal slow marching beat admirably matched the photography and pace of the film rather well, whilst the gradual crescendo and power of the music are in keeping the ‘King of Diesels’. So, for all Deltic fans – savour the moment!

Alycidon is owned by the Deltic Preservation Society, and more information about their locomotives may be found in their website. D9009 is returning to Barrow Hill this week.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Someone Left The Cake Out In The Train

Grumpy Git Productions presents: 1968 – The Last Days of Steam. This film came about because of the recent 1968 Gala held at The Nene Valley Railway and you can read about the ins and outs of my visit in the post below.

Although much of the filming took place at the event, I’ve been working on this project for a while, ever since it was postponed back in September – truly a blessing in disguise. During visits to other events at the NVR and even different locations, I gathered some useful additional footage to include in the finished film. This includes some scenes featuring the Jinty tank loco (masquerading as Thomas) at the Midland Railway as they offered some rather pleasant variety to the scene.

The song may seem to be an odd choice for a railway film. MacArthur Park is an over-the-top , evocative and haunting melody, beautifully orchestrated and filled with lyrics that mean - absolutely nothing. It’s not often you hear anyone lamenting that ‘Someone left a cake out in the rain’ and even less frequently does that make a good backing track for a railway film - until I hit on the obvious title to this piece of nonsense! The words are supposed to be symbolic rather than descriptive, I have read. They symbolise, to me at any rate, that the composer, Jimmy Webb, was off his head on LSD when he wrote it. But it’s a nice tune for all that.

I chose MacArthur Park because I needed a genuine hit from 1968 to add some period flavour, and most of the other hits from the era are short ditties about You love me and I love you but you bonked the milkman and now I’m so blue school of sixties songwriting. As the song has four distinctive sections, these would be ideal for creating different themes to break the film up visually and avoid it becoming a copy of the Diesel Gala, which was basically just a long procession of trains one after the other. As I’d be filming from many identical locations, avoiding too many repeat scenes was essential and I wanted a more cinematic atmosphere this time round. As it turned out, it was far more complex a song to work with than I anticipated, but I believe the end result is rewarding and is quite unlike my other railway films. Or indeed, cake films.

Editing in colour or black and white was a tricky question. The bright sunshine of the day brought out the trains and scenery to advantage, but also brought out the pale blue of Thomas and the Post Office red of the TPO set. What decided the matter was the opening sequences in Wansford Yard – shot against the sun with clouds of smoke billowing around the 4F simply oozed period atmosphere, and the decision was made.

Audio was again a problem – some clips had excellent quality sound, whilst those shot in more exposed places had intrusive wind noise. In very few cases the locos were working hard, and much audio was simply wheels-on-rails, so I edited all of it out.

Attention to detail by the NVR was good, and very little smacks as being out of place. In black and white the TPO set looks acceptable, whilst other details are minor and don’t detract from the film to my eye. Careful editing in Wansford Yard was required, but lineside scenes were timeless. The closing sequence is fantastic, and I’ve been itching to use it ever since I was truly in the right place at the right time. Mind you, it came at a cost – the loco was not just blowing steam, but large quantities of thick ash as well. I was caught up in the middle of it as you can clearly see – well, not see due to the large amounts of swirling steam and ash – but by ‘eck, was it worth it! The occasion was actually the start of the 1940’s war re-enactment gala, and as I walked down the platform to the toilets to clean up, many visitors thought I’d entered into the spirit of the occasion by coming as a survivor of an air raid. When I made it to the toilets, and a mirror, I could see their point. Chimney sweep, anyone?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sulzer Beat in the Swinging Sixties

This weekend was the 1968 Gala at the Nene Valley Railway – I might as well move in and live in a Mk1 coach to save on commuting! The gala was originally to have been held on September 12th, but was postponed as the visiting locos were not available. So, was it worth the wait?

The answer is an emphatic YES! It was an excellent event, very well organised and a lot of thought went into making this a grand occasion. The theme behind the gala was to take visitors back to 1968, the final year of British main line steam as the transition from steam to diesel was completed. I personally prefer this type of historically accurate gala to the free for alls of the recent diesel gala, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing all the locos come together in one place at one time, but the modeller in me prefers the recreation of a specific era, so that you are transported back in time – the war re-enactments and Beamish are excellent examples of this.

The foreign coaches were parked up out of the way, and the NVR used the crimson and cream MK1 set all day on an intensive passenger service. Spicing things up were the running of the former Royal Mail TPO set, complete with lineside mail-bag drop off / collection demonstrations that worked very well – rather better than the current 21st century mail service we’re not getting from Postman Pat and his picketing cat. Now that the season for preserved lines is all but over, might the NVR give some thought to taking on the Christmas mail delivery service? While you ponder over that, back to the actual gala, which in addition to the TPO also promised to run some freight trains to add in to the enticing mix.

Last posting day before Christmas - July 5th, 1978.

The loco line up was promising, and the combination is unlikely to be repeated as various engines are leaving the line. Class 25 D5185 was a last-minute replacement for a visiting something that failed prior to the diesel gala – class 20’s I believe – and has stayed on, which is great, as I love these locos. I think it’s based on the Great Central Railway. Resident class 40 D306 would be performing, along with D9009 Alycidon that has spent the summer on the line, but departs during the week for Barrow Roundhouse. Consequently this would be Alycidon’s final appearance and I wanted to get some good quality filming of it in action.

Steam locos would be resident flagship Standard type 4 73050 City of Peterborough – a loco that Grumpy Git Production’s viewers will be very familiar with by now! Also getting up steam would be Thomas The Tank Engine, thankfully sans face but still otherwise bedecked with the accoutrements of his namesake. He'd be working the Yarwell end of the line, and didn't feature in my plans. Sorry. Top of the bill was visiting Fowler 4F 44422, following extensive repairs at its home of the LNWR Heritage Workshops at Crewe. It was these repairs that prevented the scheduled visit in September, but everything seems fine now, and the loco arrived on site last week.

The Met boys promised that the weekend would be overcast and dull, so on Saturday I departed in glorious clear and sunny skies for Wansford. Those guys really need to look out of the windows a bit more. My borrowed Subaru made it down without incident, and as I was good and early, everything was just being fired up or switched on, enabling some nice early morning shots that look great on film – very atmospheric.

44422 oozes early morning atmosphere. (Screengrab)

A nice touch was the chalk messages written on the steam locos; you may recall or have seen photos of such adornments on BR in the final weeks of steam service. The 4F proudly proclaimed ‘I’m young really’ on the smokebox. A tactic I might try employing myself…

The 4F was rescued from the scrapyard. Wonder if I will be ...?

It would be a day of hiking, as the bike wouldn’t fit in the Subaru, and many of the superb vantage points I discovered during the Diesel Gala are only accessible on foot anyway. For this reason, I’d be moving around the first four miles of the route, almost all of which offer good views of the line, whilst still giving a good cross section of photographic points for variety.

Things went well despite the complex timetable, and most trains ran to time. It wasn’t until late afternoon that the gremlins struck. I was waiting for the 15:20 passenger off Wansford, due to be hauled by the 4F, which was a ‘must-have’ shot. Nothing happened for a while, and I assumed the loco must be having issues. It must have been having pretty serious issues, because the train eventually turned up 35 minutes late with the class 40 hauling it. I decided to head back to Wansford at that point, as only two more trains were diagrammed, and I guessed that due to the late running one would be cancelled to allow the last train of the day to run on time behind the booked Deltic. On the way I planned to shoot the returning class 40 trip, as it would be double heading with the 25 that had worked the freight back to Peterborough. I almost got caught out, however, as to save time the 25 worked back to Wansford light loco with the brakevan in tow. Although I was some distance away from the line at this point, I heard it coming and managed to get set up and film across the field, thus adding a nice bit of variety to the day’s filming. I did, however, capture the 40 on the return leg at the planned location, before walking the last leg into Wansford.

On arrival my suspicions were confirmed. The 25 had been booked to do a short Wansford – Yarwell – Wansford trip with the TPO, but this had been cancelled, along with the 16:30 passenger to Peterborough. To make up for this, the last train of the day to Peterborough would travel first to Yarwell with the class 40 top and tailing Alycidon. On the return, the 40 would be detached and the Deltic would carry on as scheduled. This was good news, as I had a great location planned for Alycidon’s final departure and needed to capture the moment before the light faded too much – it doesn’t seem a week since it was daylight at 9pm! Well, it all worked out perfectly; the light held and the train departed on time.

Alycidon reposes at Wansford before her final working.

This brings me to the end of an extremely busy and entertaining season on the Nene Valley Railway – and to think it all started simply because I drive past the line regularly for work, and one day thought, ‘I wonder what it’s like down there …’ The line doesn’t close completely for the winter; Thomas is running his Spooky Halloween Specials at the end of the month, and in December we have the Thomas hauled Santa Specials. As I’m not equipped with the ho-ho-ho gene, I think I’ll give these a miss.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

NVR Diesel Gala - The Movie

Grumpy Git Productions presents the highlights from last weekend’s Diesel Gala at the Nene Valley Railway. I’ve not gone for any effects or story here; just six minutes of good old-fashioned lineside footage featuring the locos in action.

My personal highlights were the class 25 and 40 (both in BR green) working the crimson and cream MK1 set, both singly and double-headed. I would have liked to have used the original audio of the locos working on this film. Sadly, there was just too much intrusive wind noise captured by the camera that spoilt it. Secondly, the NVR is a very flat line, with various speed restrictions that prevent the locos from being powered up for a bit of thrash. For those reasons, I decided to use music instead of the English Electric Light Orchestra’s symphony that was recorded on the day.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The English Electric Light Orchestra Presents:

A symphony is 15 parts, with contributions by English Electric, Sulzer, Brush and General Motors. Yes, diesel mania comes to the Nene Valley Railway!

Barely had the last tank rumbled out of Wansford as the WW2 armies retreated (story here) than the yard was filling up with diesels, ancient and modern, for the autumn Diesel Gala. It just shows how proactive the NVR is at putting on events and pulling punters in. I’d started my week off at the railway, so decided to visit the Gala for a change of pace on Saturday, the highlight of the staggering four day event. Unfortunately, when I woke up bright and early, I found that the skies were leaden and the tree in my garden was bent double by a fierce biting wind. As I planned to spend the day linesiding on foot and by bike, I thought – am I going to be put off by a little bit of iffy weather, just because there’s a hurricane and looks like rain? Of course I was. I’m not that daft, am I? So I didn’t go.

Sunday, however, was a different story. 7 am, and the sky was clear, the wind had dropped and I still had everything packed up in my Grumpy Git Productions bag. Even two sausage rolls that couldn’t be refrozen according to the instructions – well, I couldn’t let them go to waste. So the matter was decided.

I parked up near the former station at Castor, as I wasn’t bothered about shooting film at Wansford – it would be crawling with folk all getting in each other’s way while trying to get the same picture. For me, it was the open countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and some nice views. All the regular vantage points would be occupied by photographers anyway, and I wanted to avoid filming everything from the usual ¾ coming-at-you angle for variety. I was surprised, however, to find that there were more people on the line – the actual trackbed I’m talking about here – than on the public side of the fence or on the trains themselves. I assume it was permitted as they all had on bright orange hi-viz jackets that could easily be seen from Jupiter – problem was, everybody taking shots from the public side of the fence got lovely views like this:

At least have the decency to stand behind a tree. In Cornwall.

Fortunately, most of these photographers travel everywhere by car and will only walk about 50 yards to an easily accessible vantage point; jump over the fence and take a shot. I planned to spend the entire day on walkabout to get as many different views as possible. It’s odd, but sometimes you can take a photo, move 50 yards and get a whole new perspective on the same scene. It also helps pass the time to walk from place to place as well, and it’s healthy. Luckily I had a good supply of biscuits, coffee and Mars Bars to counter this latter effect.

Not that there was much waiting around – the NVR pulled out all the stops for this gala and should be commended for what must have been a huge amount of planning. Three rakes of coaches would be in service, running no less than fifteen return diagrams (17 on Saturday) up and down a 7 mile line! Nine mainline locos were booked, plus two shunters operating a top and tail shuttle up on the Yarwell end.

The coach rakes were a 5 car red and cream MK1 set; the four car Danish rake in Olive green and the beautiful Wagon Lits (Orient Express) coaches, also in a four car rake. Unusual; but in a free for all like this, it just added to the festival atmosphere. Although why the Wagon Lits couldn’t have been used last week during the war re-enactments is a question that needs answering…

Seen last weekend at Wansford. Lovely vehicles.

What was gratifying was that the NVR did match locos and stock when possible, so that, for instance, green D5185 (class 25) and D306 (class 40) both had turns with the MK1 set independently and then double headed, which was a nice touch.

Railfreight grey 37518 rather suited the green DSB set ...

... whilst Alycidon looked very much at home on the Orient Express rake.

Double heading was kept to minimum, and sensible couplings were made on those services that featured it – the pair of grey class 31’s and the 25 / 40 combo mentioned above. Locos and stock were constantly switched during the day, so you never saw the same combination twice.

An excellent point well worth mentioning here is that unlike some preserved railways - who won’t even tell you what loco is running that day and treat diagrams as state secrets - the NVR published the full working timetable on it’s website so that you knew what was operating, with which coaches, and when it was running. You can seek out more information about the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme* than find out which loco the North York Moors Railway plans to use on any given day. As I said earlier, an awful lot of work went into this Gala, and I hope that it was a financial success for the railway.

Apologies for the low-res pictures. These are screengrabs from film clips, and I hope to create the Diesel Gala movie shortly.

* President: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked me to point out that there is no such Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme, and these massive atomic facilities are for peaceful purposes only, once the west has been annihilated. Er, ok.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Roadside Detailing

Can you believe that it’s October already? My mother will be getting the Christmas sprouts on before long. My mind is taken up with various projects currently in progress for the exhibition season, and most of these are now in the final stages. Over on the Truckstop diorama, here’s a selection of some of the smaller details and items of interest. Many lay-bys, at least on the A1, feature a number of very helpful signs to aid the public in these difficult times. You’ve parked up for a quick cuppa and rest and are then faced with this:

Now, whilst car crime is a hot topic in the UK, thefts from lay-bys would not appear to be a major problem. Firstly, a thief is, by definition, going to have to drive to the layby and leave their car in order to nick another one. Which makes it less of a theft and more of a part exchange – and if you currently drive a G reg Astra, and the thief comes along in a 54 plate Mondeo, could actually work in your favour.

Another popular sign at the moment is the Police ‘Load Theft’ sign. This warns truckers that the area is renowned for thefts from lorries whilst parked up overnight – and given the targeted thefts of valuable loads, can be expensive indeed. A couple of thoughts here – if the area is known to be a theft hotspot, why not actually do something about it, like put on Police patrols? Personally I’d park up a Tautliner overnight and fill the trailer with Life on Mars style coppers who hadn’t had a bit for a while – and just wait for the thieves to slash their way in. Then it wouldn’t be a load theft hotspot anymore, oh no! However, it’s against the thieves’ human rights to be bullied in this way. If it says Currys on the outside of the trailer, then it must contain plasma televisions, boom boxes, Wii’s and mobile phones. Otherwise, the thieves will take the haulier to court for misinformation and false advertising.

The milepost; again, very popular on the southern section of the A1, a road I obviously spend far too much time on if I’m noticing such things. It consists simply of a piece of plastic painted white, with a red strip of reflective paint and a green band with the mile markings noted on it. If you break down and give the AA the milepost information, then they know exactly where you are – the same applies if you need to report an accident to the Emergency Services. That’s fine for us oldies, but given that an awful lot of the younger generation don’t even know what county they live in, makes them somewhat irrelevant these days. I’m not being cynical here; here’s a quick quiz I created at work to test the under 21’s I used to work with. Ask them what county they are in, and the principle city of that county. Then get them to tell you what each surrounding county is, and the relevant principle city. You’ll be amazed / shocked / disappointed at the results. Unless you live on the Isle of Wight.

The lineside relay box – numerous examples exist, but by far the best I’ve found is this resin version by Unit Models of Keithley. The moulding is crisp and clear with hinges, doorhandles and air vents accurately reproduced. This product ties in well with the cable trunking; just remember to install some trunking from the lineside to the relay box! I’ve lost count of the number of relay boxes I’ve seen at shows sitting in splendid isolation at the trackside.

One of many trackside accessories available are these piles of discarded sleepers from a PW project. These are from Ten Commandments and come as two stacks as shown here, made from stonecast plaster. They weren’t painted as such; I simply gave them a number of mixed colour washes to gradually bring out a faded and weathered wood appearance. Watered down black, mid grey and dark brown were used in quick succession to allow the layers of paint to blend in with each other, and finished off with a shade of rust highlighting the chairs for the rails. A discarded tyre and rubbish have been dumped in the layby, sadly an all too common sight these days.

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