Wednesday 15 May 2013

Smack the "Pony"...

   This is another project born out of my desire to do an extremely complex bit of photography, and having neither the budget nor the resources to pull it off.  Basically, this is a development of my “Inter-City” project from last year, produced for the “Dromology” open call at the South Square gallery, which was a slightly abstract night-time rail journey through a city.  Not being able to get into the cab of a real train to get the pictures, I built a camera rig on an 0 gauge coach chassis, and cobbled together a set from odds and ends.  Keeping with the theme, but exploring it further, I want to replicate a shot I saw in a magazine a while ago, and I cannot remember the photographer…  It showed an American diesel loco seen from the cab of another loco coupled in front, so the camera was travelling at the same speed as the train; in effect, it was a lovely, moody shot of a train in focus with the surroundings blurred by motion.
   Now in order to replicate such a shot in real life, I would need to either arrange to be on a train travelling at speed a few feet in front of the ‘target’ train, or go to somewhere like the Welshpool and Llanfair where they have balcony coaches, and not mind that it would be a shot of a train travelling away from the camera and not towards it.  So, the usual solution then, do it with miniatures, and have the camera rig towing a model train along at speed.

   A quick check showed though that using 0 gauge trains wasn’t going to work due to the height of the camera compared to the size of the trains, which meant larger trains were needed.  And the mission-creep effect of this problem meant that I would then need to buy a larger gauge of train track, larger trains, and thus it would commit the capitol crime for one of my experimental projects, and cost money.  Or I could go down the narrow gauge route, which for those of you not wearing anoraks can be basically defined as big trains on rails that are narrower than ‘normal’ railways.

   As I mentioned in the last blog post, this is basically going to be a nod to the locomotive that had a fairly large influence on my becoming a railway enthusiast/ nerdy shut-in, the Ffestiniog loco “Welsh Pony”.  Said loco stopped working on the Ffestiniog in the 1930's, and by the 80's/90's was displayed on a plinth up at Porthmadog station, allowing people to clamber all over it.  Which I duly did whenever visiting Porthmadog during holidays.  Being very fond of this locomotive, and being as it has finally just been cosmetically restored for the 150th anniversary of steam haulage on the railway, it seemed fitting to do a model of it. 

   Anyway, to the model…  Being as I am working on a budget, and this was more about creating a striking, experimental image rather than an award-winning scale model.  Starting from the requirement to have a powered chassis, I’ve attacked some of the stock of 0 gauge battery-powered toy locos bought for the Britannia Model Village project.  These cheap and cheerful toys formed the majority of the stock for the model railway, and were converted heavily for that project.  One of them will form the basis of “Welsh Pony”.

The chassis is 6 coupled, and was therefore stripped down and had a wheelset removed.  My attempts to build slightly more accurate pistons and rods was abandoned due to the first attempt causing the wheels to jam and a motor to burn out.  It also occurred to me that moving at speed, the wheels would be blurring anyway so it didn’t matter too much.

   An early plan to build the body separate was found to be a bit impractical due to how the batteries are held in place on the chassis, so I’m building around the plastic loco body.  Working on the usual budget of nothing, the saddle tank has been formed around a gravy tub, clad in thin card.  The majority of the bodywork is being built up in mountcard and foamboard.  By a happy coincidence, the gravy tub has worked out as being about right in proportion compared to the wheels and chassis.  I like it when a plan comes together… 

With the saddle tank attached to the body, the smokebox was then built up around a length of cardboard tube, and the cab from reinforced mountcard, both built up around their respective parts of the original donor loco body.  Access into the cab has needed to be maintained to change batteries, so the back doors of the cab have been modelled open. 

   The smokebox presented a significant issue, in that I struggled for some time to find a suitable door- by one of those freaks of coincidence which has somewhat characterised this build, the perfect slightly dish-shaped door was actually discovered whilst hunting through the bits-box; its the transparent plastic lens from a push-button LED torch.

   The cab was estimated in size, compared to the rest of the proportions of the saddletank and smokebox.  I did manage to make a bit of a cock of this, and had to re-draw and cut a modified version.  Its made from mountcard, and reinforced with foamboard on the inside edges.  The rear doors of the cab are rather wider than on the real loco, a compromise dictated by the size of the batteries that need to be accessed through the cab. 

   So this is the state the loco is in at the moment...  Needs a lot more detailing and tidying, not to mention the construction of the tender.  Updates as it progresses...

Thursday 9 May 2013

Projects Update

Well, another few months have gone past, so I thought I had better update- its partially a result of using a dongle for Internet access, as we tend to only get decent Internet signal in our part of the valley for about 10 minutes a day, once a month, when the moon is full and when a unicorn walks in a clockwise direction round the nearest hill during a thunderstorm.  I’ve also generally held off on putting anything up on here because I keep starting projects then finding I don’t have time to finish anything, largely a result of having to work at the day job on my days off during the busy spring season- the ad-hoc time off to make up for the overtime isn’t conducive to organised project work.  Also, being of slightly low self-esteeem with my work until I have a finished product to show, I generally try to hold off posting stuff (mainly because my ‘ex-art student, bodge it together and make it up as I go along’ work practise seems to confuse and annoy some other model makers).  Still, I reckon its time for a little recap on where some of the projects stand:

Project Thunderbolt is on hold for the time being, largely because I need space and a good couple of days to set up what will be a very complex shoot.  I really need to crack-on with it though and get something done before the inevitable ‘damage by neglect’ happens with the models.  My biggest problem with model making is actually safe storage, as we have very little room in our house for this sort of thing, and the alternative option of a second shed in our small garden, or possibly some sort of bunker under the lawn, consistently meets with negative appraisal from authorities both domestic and financial.

Likewise the “Iron Monsters” project (which is set in the ‘decline’ period of my Britannia universe) is at a standstill, having got as far as the design stage.  I’m nearly ready to start making things ready to photograph, but until I’m sure of the final ‘look’ I want for the images, I don’t want to start making things.

The model of the model village from the original BMV shoots

One big project that is underway though (mainly because I have a tight deadline of September) is a mini-revival of the Britannia Model Village, in the form of a diorama in 7mm scale for the NGRM-Online forum.  This will be my first time working in 7mm scale, and this is only because I need to exploit the available footprint of an A4 piece of paper, which is one of the rules of the challenge.  When it has moved on a little beyond the present card mock-up stage, I’ll do a proper post on this.  I’m actually a little embarrassed my lack of proper progress so far on this project, not least because my mistake-laden, make-it-up-as-I-go-along progress documented on the forum seems to have provoked a somewhat confused or mildly sarcastic response from the ‘proper’ model makers on there.  In hindsight, when proper model makers are hand-crafting exquisite miniature mechanisms from brass, my shoving up badly-lit snaps of cobbled-together cardboard and old Thomas the tank engine toys is maybe not a move that’s going to inspire confidence in my ability to hit the challenge.
The very advanced mock-up for the NGRM diorama... and the likely reason proper model makers may be somewhat sceptical about the project...

On the subject of Britannia, my model railway set in the Britannia universe is finally taking shape after some 5 years of planning, re-planning, and house moves.  To get past the ‘chicken and the egg’ stage of model railways (what do you build first, trains to run on a layout or the layout which will decide what trains you need?) I’ve just got on and have been building trains ready for it, which is oddly fun- working in 4mm narrow gauge (009) means there’s almost nothing to buy ready-made anyway meaning everything has to be built from kit or scratch; the nature of Britannia means that stuff looks even madder anyway, resulting in (for example) narrow gauge police armoured trains.  So far the project consists of two parts, the main layout and a smaller ‘shelf’ being built on a budget of as close to bugger-all as possible, using recycled materials from work.  Again, it will get regular posts to itself as work progresses.

Very Britannia-esque locomotives under construction...
And a teaser for the model railway, based heavily on photography projects done along the Cumbrian Coast whilst at Uni.

Two big projects of sorts are on the horizon- “Cardboard City” and “Welsh Pony”.  The cardboard one is a potential for a recycling-themed open call, using a lot of the materials which end up accumulating in the Day Job, and will be inspired very much by the likes of the Megacities in ‘Judge Dredd’ and the like, but in a Britannia context.  I’m still trying to hammer the details for this one out, but expect something soon as the deadline is in July.

Project “Welsh Pony” is another train-themed project, and basically a love letter of sorts to a locomotive which helped get me interested in transport stuff in general (along with history, steam power, mechanisms, all the stuff which would be of great use should I ever discover time travel and head for the late 1800’s where a number of my friends think I belong).  Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t spent many years crawling around on the loco when I was a small child, I might not have developed the social stigma of being a train enthusiast, and would even now be a lager-swilling football fanatic who buys ‘Nuts’ magazine.  In hindsight though I’m not too unhappy about the outcome.
   I digress; “Welsh Pony” is an England Tank loco on the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales, and one of the oldest surviving steam locos in the world.  When I was a child, the loco was sat on a plinth at Porthmadog, gently rusting in the sea air and somewhat neglected.  To me this engine was a symbol of childhood holidays to north wales, and my sisters and I climbed on and around this engine rather a lot during days out in Porthmadog.  Recently though “Welsh Pony” has been stored out of sight, but in time for the anniversary of steam traction on the Ffestiniog this year she has received a magnificent cosmetic restoration; hopefully I will get chance to get a few photos this year.
   In the mean time, I shall be scratch-building a model of “Welsh Pony” to use as the subject matter for another experimental shoot, loosely following on from the “Inter-City” series I did last year for an open call, and looking at motion blur shots using a miniature camera rig.  The project is presently awaiting my finding a suitable toy train chassis of the right size, but I’m ready to get going with it as soon as possible, so hopefully updates will appear soon.

The highly-advanced camera rig that will be used both for the "Welsh Pony" and "Thunderbolt" shoots... I'll do a bit more on this in a future blog.