Post holiday blues? … not a bit of it!

September 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have just returned from holiday in Poland, suitably inspired and ready to crack on with my model making. We only managed one trip by train (to Pszczyna or Pless in German, the home of the Polish Piast dynasty and their large 12th Century Castle/Home), but it afforded me a chance to soak in a little of the atmosphere of the residential tenements backing on the railway that I hope to eventually incorporate into my model railway. It also gave me a closer view of Katowice and Bytom’s industrial decline, not so easily visible from the road. I do not completely intend to capture the feeling of decay evident in Poland, but the architectural style here is very similar to Berlin. Unfortunately due to an accident with a bottle of water damaging my camera, I was unable to take any of my own photos. Mind you had my camera been working, the kind of photography I would have liked to indulge in would still have been difficult with the rest of the family in tow.

I was dismayed to discover that as part Katowice railway station’s redevelopment, its unique concrete hyperbolic paraboloid vaulted roof had been demolished. Admittedly although Wiki’s photo shows it in its best light (the dark!), the station and its environs were in serious need of work. Most people probably thought is was an ugly building, and would not have realized the significance of the structural solution it employed, but it was a notoriously unsavory place to be particularly at night.

On my return to England I was passing my local charity shop and was pleasantly surprised to find these lorries in the window all for the princely sum of £9. Curiously although they are by German manufacturers (and HO scale rather than the more common British OO) the graphics are predominantly English, yet all but one of the models are still left-hand drive. It was a little indulgent of me to by all of them, particularly as Like most things, there is no shortage of them on my dad’s layout. In keeping with my habit of finding new projects before I have finished the current one, I intend to eventually use these to experiment with weathering and possibly even re-branding with some of my own graphics.


August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

A Simon and Garfunkel inspired title to my blog this time!

By now you may have noticed one or two patterns starting to emerge! The first being that I have plenty of other things to do that distract me from building my railway, and this month is no exception. Ania is currently in Poland with the children visiting her mother. In theory this would give me more time to devote to my model making, but as ever there is a list of jobs that need doing some of which are only really possible without the family in the way. I also have a recently renewed enthusiasm for riding my bike which is taking a lot of time and energy out of Sundays.

The second thing you may have realised is that even if I have no recent modeling endeavours to update you about, I always have a fall-back plan, in the form of the many models I have created for other layouts in the past. I was determined however this month not to rely on the plan B. I am also off to Poland later this month and I really wanted to have made some progress as there is a chance I may get to visit the original building again. So it is that I have been burning the midnight oil drawing and painting bricks, and this is what I have to show for it.

I never said this was going to be a quick, and so far the planning has been one of the lengthier parts of the process. Even on the prototype on a building like this every colour pattern and brick course would have been planned in detail before a brick was ever laid, and just like the original all the dimensions on my model are planned in multiples of brick sizes. Technology has been a great help, I have used AutoCAD to draw and print templates to facilitate the accurate multiple reproduction of the window arches. The brick courses are scored into the 1.5mm mountboard using an empty fine Bic Orange biro. The stretcher courses are marked out with the aid of a set-square, but the alternate header courses are filled out by hand. The whole area is then painted with a dirty white/cream colour to emulate the lime mortar, before the bricks are painted individually using a size 000 brush. Care has to be taken in the painting to avoid creating noticeable  patterns. As the brush unloads the brick that is painted will get lighter. If bricks are painted randomly then the slightly dappled effect natural to brickwork can be achieved, but it is too easy to paint course by course and get a repetitive ‘fade’ effect. This is was not so much a problem with this piece where there are real patterns and the facade is also broken up with lots of windows, but I have worked on models in the past with much larger areas of flat colour.

Painting the bricks
The lower half of the board shows some aborted efforts and colour experimentation (including the original test piece from a few months ago) where I got some of my brick bonding patterns wrong. This is the first of about 3 or 4 sets of wall sections that this building will require. Obviously this is a very slow and laborious task, so expect to read about some of my other models in the meantime before you see any of the below assembled in three dimensions.


June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is getting towards the end of the month again, and I have not posted! I did say at the end of my last post that I needed to do some model building if I was to have something to write about, well progress has been very slow. The essence of the building I am working on is the brickwork and the patterns in the string courses and the lintels. It has been proving quite tricky to work them all out satisfactorily and at times I am getting hamstrung by previous decisions.

In truth I was not really expecting to get very far, and not just because of the difficulty of what I am doing. I have been a little distracted (again). My wife is currently expecting our third child, and I have spent the last 3 weeks expecting to have to rush her to the hospital at a moments notice. I should really have done this earlier but I am now executing the fallback plan (which I had all along); writing about previously completed projects.

This is not the first time I have built a model based on the Berlin Stadtbahn, so here is a little evolutionary history. My dad had always built his layouts with trains on two levels, with the upper level running on stilts above the lower level, often with sidings for storing extra trains. While I always enjoyed the variety of operational possibilities these layouts offered, I was never entirely satisfied with the aesthetics. There have been a few previous attempts from my earlier teenage years of building a ‘wall’ to conceal the lower level. The first attempt was made from breakfast cereal boxes painted grey with stonework drawn on with a black felt tip. Fortunately there are no surviving pictures. It was hardly the pinnacle of my model making career.  The sections were very short and the joins were not very good, and I quickly become lazy and the stonework was very inconsistent, let alone realistic. The second attempt aimed at more uniformity. This must have taken a while; even just collecting my raw materials was a drawn out process. I restricted my self to one brand of cereal boxes, the only one with a grey inside to eliminate the need for painting. I was then more meticulous with the drawing of the stones. While still not particularly realistic, it did give a more pleasing effect, but it was not without its problems. Joins still were not very good, although I did cut the boxes up differently to minimize their number. Durability was the second problem; the wall often needed taking down for track/turnout maintenance, to correct derailments  or to rescue trains that were stuck on dirty track. The wall was only held in place by track pins, and these had a tendency to punch through the cardboard. The corners and intermediate fixing points soon became perforated by lots of holes. Architecturally it was very monotonous and did not really follow any realistic precedent.

It was after this that we started to visit Berlin regularly on holiday, and I eventually realized that I had a legitimate prototype on which to base my wall. We decided at one point to rebuild nearly the whole layout in order to address some of the operational issues, and the old grey wall was never reinstated.

Here is a picture of my first attempt at modeling the Berlin Stadtbahn, complete with a 1930’s S-Bahn unit. This must have been from about 1991, after my first year at architecture school where I discovered the joys, of modeling with mounting board. My thinking had matured on many levels, and I was able to use architectural features to assist in solving previous problems. For example piers are used to conceal joins between sections, and intermediate turrets to hide extra fixing points. The thickness of mounting board add a lot more rigidity and durability to the design and also made creating relief details such as piers, flared bases and indentations much easier. At this stage I did not go to the extent of painting individual bricks, but I was keen to reproduce the overall effect of railway arches and associated paraphernalia. Similarly to in this country, the railway arches underneath the Berlin Stadtbahn are home to all manner of businesses, bill-boarding and graffiti. I did not go as far as reproducing the graffiti, but I did try a variety of ideas to infill the arches. Here are some examples of hand painted billboards. Some arches were left empty to act as road bridges through the Stadtbahn, and also acted as service points to the trains underneath without having to always dismantle the wall.

The buildings behind the stadtbahn are much later additions, and I hope show a development of my model making skills. They are also typical of Berlin apartment buildings, and represent another of my interests, I want to say early 20th century graphic design, but the Coke advert is of a particularly late 20th century vintage. These kinds of murals are often found in this context, and the guy holding the beer glass is doubly apt as this is the logo for Schultheiss, one of the local Berlin breweries, and was copied off a beer glass. I have always had a particular skill for facsimile, rather than original thought which is probably why I was never going to be as good I would have liked to be a successful architect. Here is a close up of the Maggi advert under construction. I have now taken the plunge and decided to start drawing individual bricks, and trying to create an authentic weathered finish.

While this incarnation was the most complete, including railings and a far side, it was not the final version of my ‘Wall.’ I do not have any pictures to hand of any completed parts insitu, but I did start and almost complete a second version of the Stadtbahn where I painstakingly painted all the bricks. Unfortunately the layout was dismantled before I could finish what was possibly a slightly too elaborate cornice detail, but parts have been used by my younger brother when he rebuilt the layout as a part of his rehabilitation after suffering for more than a year with ME. I will have to publish some photos of this layout as part of another blog.

While writing this entry and scanning the relevant photos, I have scanned quite a few more photos of the old layout that I have not included here, showing examples of some of my other models. So while progress may be slow on the current project, I do not have any excuses for not having anything to write about next time, and with any luck you may not have to wait so long for the next installment.

Just in case you were wondering I have deliberately avoided any music references in my blog title this time, and there were a few possibilities along the Pink Floyd/Roger Walters axis. For the very eagle-eyed, there is an allusion to a long defunct BBC2 music program. Unfortunately there are no prizes for spotting it.

A Question of Scale

April 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Here is the prototype for my next building on the layout.

Chorzów Poczta

This is my own photograph of the Post Office in Chorzów, Poland, close to my wife’s hometown of Radzionków. I designed and built the previous Town hall model from a single photograph taken personally. The above photograph was taken in a hurry as we were on our way somewhere else, and I had two small children to look after at the time. While it is not a bad photograph, it does not show the complete building, and some of the details particularly around the base are obscured. But times have changed. Unlike 16 years ago, this photograph was taken digitally, so I had some idea that the image was of good enough quality to capture all the brick detailing;this is the essence of the building that I really want to convey on my model. The other big development since I started the Liberc Town Hall model is the advent of the internet, particularly Google maps. Now with a single mouse-click I can transport myself back to the middle of Chorzów, look at other people’s photograps of the same area and fill in any gaps I have.

All of a sudden you no longer have to visit a place and photograph it perosonally in order to build a model! But this is slightly missing the point of how most people choose the theme for their layouts.

This time you get the pleasure of seeing the work as it progresses. Here is a test piece, to see if my modeling skills can adequately replicate the style. I doubt this will actually make it into the final model, as you can see my brick painting skills are a little rusty. I am mostly still in the planning stage but I do have an area on the layout earmarked.

Obviously the painting, cutting, gluing skills etc. are all important, but I feel one of the real skills, and the one that is key to the success of a layout is in the design and planning.

I have already discussed that without a huge amount of space a model railway will very rarely be an exact scale representation. A standard continental coach is 26.4m long, and an average express train length is about 10 coaches. Working at HO (1:87) scale would require a platform length of  3.2m to accomodate it. And then there is the question of curves. Most people work with trains less than half this length. So not only does an object itself get scaled down mathematicaly, but reality itself also gets scaled. Model manufacturers often added their own tricks as well. Before Roco introduced it’s ‘Exclusiv 1:187 Exact’ range in the mid 1980s, modern carriages were more often than not modeled out of proportion. The profile and track was 1:87 but the length was typically 1:100 making the carriage proportionaly shorter and therefore more managable on small layouts, particularly around tight curves. Going back further particularly to early tin-plate models, they are no more than a stylistic representation of the prototyope. Both locomotives and carriages would not only be much shorter than exact scale modeling would make them, but also the number of windows or even wheels could be ‘scaled’ in order futher reduce the size.

I think it would be fair to say that most railway modelers primary interests are trains and their immediate environment. Anything else will be to provide a little bit of context and atmosphere; shops town-halls, churches are the popular choices. These often particularly in England are rarely in the locality of the railway station. If these were to be modeled exactly to scale, particularly with adjoining roads and civic spaces, they would often dwarf the railway which is supposed to be the primary focus. So simillar tricks need to be applied to the modeling of the built environment too. Towns get condensed to edited highlights, and the the buildings that are modeled get abreviated too.

You can see the  effect of this abreviation on my town hall model. So architectural features get reduced in size and number, and often just the number of windows is the first casualty. The height and number of floors are also prime candiates for being reduced. I am having to use all these tricks again for this model of  Chorzów Post-Office, so do not be surprised when the final model is not an exact replica. On further trick I am also having to employ is mirroring. As it stands the original will not fit neatly into my planned road layout, so I am building the model as a mirror image.

10 Years (or more) in the Making

January 22, 2011 § 3 Comments

A significant event occurred over the Christmas holiday period. I finally finished the Liberec Town Hall model, pictured above. It has probably been more than 10 years in the making. I do not remember the exact date that work started, probably sometime in 1998/99, but  I took the original photograph while on a family holiday in 1994. I remember doing a significant amount of work arround the time of the Sydney Olympics(2000). I think I even finished the majority of the work on the walls over the next couple of years, but  and it has spent much of the past 10 years on a shelf gathering dust. In fact there is one part that is much older. The top of the tower I think is at least 15 years old. This was designed and constructed as an exercise by itself after being inspired (on another family holiday) by the Onion style domes of Bavaria. It was only later that it found a home on a building.

Here is the original photograph that was the sole source material for the project.

Liberec Town Hall

Interestingly enough I had the foresight 10 years ago to photograph the different stages of development, in anticipation of exactly the sort of undertaking you are now reading. Most of the techniques I used on this project were pioneered on other buildings, some of which I hope to make subjects of other entries on this blog, but due to their architectural influences they are unlikely to find a home on the current layout.  The core construction is from 1.5mm thick mounting board. This gives the model its structural rigidity, and provides a good depth for window reveals, steps and kerb heights. As you should be able to see from the photographs much of the relief detail, such as quoins , keystones and rustication is achieved by layering much thinner (~200gsm) card. The coarse stonework mortar joints were scored using an empty ball point pen, and the stones individually painted.

The window frames are cut from mounting board that is approx 3/4mm thick and each one is custom cut to the window reveal. The whole shape of the window frame is cut out and transoms and mullions are inserted afterwards using strip styrene. Strip styrene is also used extensively for the balustrade detailing, and the cornices.

Unfortunately I do not have any detail shots showing the construction of the roofing slates in progress. The effect is achieved by overlapping thin strips of card, These have been pre-painted and cut before being glued onto the model. The strips are approximately 6mm wide with perpendicular cuts along the length about 3mm apart and 4mm deep, Once overlapped this gives the appearance of the individual tiles. Ridges are finished with very thin paper ‘lead’ flashings. This is not always prototypical practice but on the otherwise the modeled joints would not be neat enough. I must admit the roof tiles are probably the part of the model that I am least happy with. The colour of the tiles is supposed to be grey with over-washes of purple and green to give the slate effect. not all the strips were painted together and the coloring is not consistent. There are some very stripy areas. Maybe I could have spent more time colour matching my strips before applying. I have heard of stories where modelers lay each tile individually, This would have produced a much more random effect, but I wanted to finish the model sometime before I died. I may yet get out my paint brush again and try to even out some of the worse areas. One of the main obstacles to the progress of the roof was the late addition of some dormer windows to the rear, and for a long time I had no idea how I was going to finish the wrought iron finials. They have ended up being not quite as fancy as the original picture in my head, but there is only so much that you can do with thin card, pins and a little Milliput.

The eagle-eyed of you will have noticed that the model is not an exact replica, in fact there are quite a few omissions and edits, but the intention was to capture the essence of the original building, which I feel I have done quite well.

Here are some more photos of the work in progress. These are all pre-digital and scanned from prints, so my apologies for the quality.

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