Saturday 17 February 2024

Wind-up 'What-ifs?' (Hornby; The Collector)

A few years ago, after signing my (then) train-mad youngest to the Hornby Collectors Club, I made an enquiry to the editor about if he would be interested in an article or two.  This has led to a very nice, regular gig writing for Hornby since, where The Collector seems happy to indulge in some of my slightly more bonkers projects... So (typically for this blog) I need to go back in time, to projects from a couple of years ago, whilst I play catch-up with half-a-dozen printed articles to put up here on the blog.

When Lockdown hit, I ended up doing a little Clockwork layout; I've written in more detail about this elsewhere, but sufficed to say, my personal mental retreat into a safer past saw me developing a fascination with collecting 00 gauge clockwork starter locomotives, the cheaper alternative to the world of vintage 0 gauge tinplate.  Coupled (ha, train pun) with my long-standing love of the Ivor the Engine books and films, and producing a layout which was really more of an art project than a model railway. 

It was fun to do, and I might end up blogging a bit more about it in due course, but it has led to plans for something similar but non-Ivor based to make later this year.

Of course, with time on my hands in 2020 and internet shopping as a tempting venue, I'd started collecting a lot of these trains.  Back in the 1960's, and indeed up until the early 1990's, Hornby, Triang, Playcraft and a few other companies made these locomotives to tempt kids into the hobby.  In the days before reliable small batteries, clockwork was the alternative, and these trains tend to be rather unloved and often very cheap online. 

 I bought a few job lots and old sets, trying to get hold of decent examples of each, ending up with a lot of broken or damaged ones in the process.

With the question of what to do with these tatty examples, I thought I'd start a little project of making some 'what-if' models (known as "Neverwazzas" in the modelling world, I gather).  Looking at it logically, and planning for a never-made expanded range of 00 clockwork locomotives by Triang Hornby, later Hornby Railways.


I love the Triang Met-Camm; I inherited one that was my Dad's when he was little, and can remember watching the real things on the level crossing at Langley Green when I was a child.  As one of Triang's better early models, I wondered if I could do a clockwork version of it.  An online purchase of a set of bodies from one of the later-generation Hornby examples from the 70's followed.

Seen above with a different roof; I'd gone cheap with trying to use another roof from a broken coach, and it didn't quite work.  In the end a quick shop to an online 00 gauge parts dealer provided me with an original DMU roof.

Coughs and Sneasels?  Making Dis-easels.

Triang and Playcraft each made a clockwork 4-wheeled diesel shunter, but generally the companies stuck to the nostalgia-magnets of the steam tank locomotive.  I thought I'd try and make a few diesels, as a bit of a change.

I stuck with the ever-reliable 4-wheeled clockwork chassis by Hornby.

The body was one of the Hornby Dublo class 08 bodies (a few of the later Wrenn-produced versions are available online), cut-down and fitted onto a Hornby clockwork Thomas.

Length cut-down, glued, filler, sanding, and dusted with primer.

Two more shunters; a standard Triang North British 4-wheeler given tramway skirts from plasticard, and one with a rebuilt bonnet to look like like a YEC industrial shunter.

I chose to try and keep these simple (these were in reality budget starter toys, with as little money spent on them as possible), so not too many details, and simple two-colour paint jobs for most of them. I also ended up going cheap on the masking, and cut-down some standard masking tape when I should have purchased some better, thinner tape.

The Models

The only starter carriages in reality were some balcony-ended yellow examples, so I made some by using broken wagons and cut-down bodies from period Triang coaches; again, I wanted to try and approach these from a logical approach that Triang might have done at the time.

A standard shunter at the back, and a repainted version in front (no other modifications than the paint job and a BR logo).

The YEC shunter, in eye-catching colours.  Really the stripes should have gone round to the ends, as per British Steel colours, but it was already taking a lot more effort to mask and paint than I had time for before the deadline.

The DMU.

The set for the photographs, btw, is Younger Child's 00 gauge layout, which has been gathering dust in the cupboard for a while.  The backdrops are my standard ones I use for indoor shoots, with a borrowed studio lamp.

The 08 is probably my favourite of them all, and it looks like a model which could have actually existed.

The only thing I think it needs is better steps under the cab doors, maybe a modification to make in the future.

It's in black so it could be used for Diesel from Thomas, a logical way it could have survived in the range up to the 1980's.

The North British shunter with skirts, keeping with the Thomas the Tank theme, as a passable "Mavis".

With a clockwork 'Toby', one of the latter Hornby clockwork locomotives.

The clockwork 'Western' tank is probably the holy grail of the clockwork range and goes for big money second-hand.  Unable to acquire one yet, I made my own by combining parts from the cheapo 'Toy Story' loco Hornby produced a few years back.

Posed with a standard, unmodified version of the same donor locomotive.

For some of the better-quality locomotives which I had duplicates of, I did some resprays in colours which I hadn't seen produced commercially.

And one slightly mad one, in my favourite livery, Railfreight Red-Stripe.  The red loco alongside is one of the last-produced examples which were still in the catalogue in 1993.

It got a really good feature in "The Collector", the in-house mag of the Hornby Collectors Club.

I really enjoyed doing this- more so than some of the more 'serious' model making I've done in recent years.  So much so, that I'm planning a little clockwork-only layout to run these on.  It also led to a lot more Hornby articles, and I'll be posting about them in coming months as well.


Sunday 11 February 2024

Along the Breakwater; Holyhead in 00 gauge

Back when I was doing more of the freelancing with model railway mags, I went through a bit of a phase of trying to do layout planning.  I was coming at it from the point of view of beginners/returnees to the hobby, starting with train sets and low budgets, and I had a bit of success with a piece inspired by Damems on the Worth Valley.  For the follow up piece, I looked at Holyhead...

The Holyhead Breakwater Tramway was a slightly unusual, isolated, industrial line, running from an inland quarry to the breakwater itself.  It led a pretty uneventful existence, gaining a bit of interest from enthusiasts towards the end, when it passed into British Rail control, operated by an ancient little diesel shunter.  Long closed now, there are bits of surviving infrastructure, the old quarry is a lovely country park, and you can walk out along the breakwater.

I've family on Anglesey, and it was a logical spot to explore for an article.  A nice sunny day for it too.

An afternoon was spent strolling around, photographing as much as possible, in readiness for the article.  There were a few relics of the railway still visible, a nice surprise given it closed four decades ago.

I didn't have the space to actually build myself a layout, but thought that I could stretch to a small diorama to accompany the plan I'd be drawing for the article.  A quick mock-up was produced to see how a plank layout, set at the breakwater end, might look.  The overhead crane was the only thing I'd be purchasing for this build, as I didn't have the time (or materials) to scratchbuild it.  In any case the idea was a starter/returnee using commercially available products.

In order to draw up the plan of the full size layout, I gathered up whatever bits I had to hand in order to make a scale mock-up.

The trackwork for the diorama was fairly old (from my childhood 00 layout in fact), the age and condition of it would be hidden under scenic treatment.  The rear wall was made from scrap ply.

A bit more advanced; rails laid for the overhead crane, and stone-printed paper for the rear sea wall.

The main sea wall was made using some more upcycled components (used as set dressing all the way back on the Jabberwock project), with scrunched-up stone paper laid over the top of some irregular bits of mountboard, to give it some texture.

Rather than mess around with the tracks inset into flagstones, I thought it would be easier to set it all in sand and ballast, which to be fair a lot of the real breakwater line seems to have been.

I wanted to get some photographs of the set, and had planned for a shoot in Holyhead on location during a summer trip to see my family, but then the summer Lockdowns came into effect, and I was stuck with having to stay within a few miles of the house.  Looking for somewhere with a large expanse of water, I settled for a reservoir up the valley from us.  Typical rather poor weather, but beggars couldn't be choosers.

The layout in somewhat precarious position...

...with Middle Child hanging onto everything to stop it toppling over.

Still, showed the effect I was after (with the repainted Hornby 06 shunter, the nearest I could get to the Class 01 which really worked the line, and which is only available as a brass kit).  The poor weather annoyed me though, so I thought I'd try and come back on a less manky, windy day.

Back again a little while later.  It's all luxury, these shoots..

Still, brighter weather.

Shame about the trees, it was a bit tricky trying to get them out of shot...

I was quite happy with the second shoot; in the absence of photographs of the real Holyhead Breakwater Tramway in service, it gave me something for the article.

And here's the finished piece; Railway Modeller added some historical shots from their archives, and redrew my layout plan into their house style.  Nice to see it in print, anyway.

I don't have the space to store much, and the breakwater got upcycled into the miniature railway diorama for the Port Eden project.  Much to my surprise though, it ended up getting picked up again for a rewritten and expanded piece for the Hornby Collectors Club, so it had to be rebuilt again back into Holyhead Breakwater, but more on that in a future blog post...