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Open Office

Most of what passes for scale modelmaking here takes place on an A4 sized cutting mat in a cupboard in our living room. This has the advantage that I can close the doors and hide the disaster zone that my workbench inevitably becomes after a few sessions.

It also has some drawbacks, especially as I tend to buy materials from art wholesalers and architecture supply shops, as I have yet to find a local model shop that sells anything other than boxes of hideously expensive trains. The local art wholesaler in particular tends to object to selling card in sheets less than about 2m long so when I decided to work on a project that meant I’d need to use this card, there was no option but the floor.

I like to think this gives me a mystical bond with Japanese craftsmen who worked in this way for centuries, but realistically they would be unlikely to be constructing a set of small buildings for a rather silly tabletop game.

The buildings are supposed to have a vaguely generic military feel, so we can make a sort of low budget bond villain base for our characters to play in. Hopefully they will be generic enough to take on other roles as it seems tabletop games are a bit like film sets and you need to make new scenes fairly frequently.

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All this trying stuff out is very important and useful, but if I don’t get moving on the main model there isn’t going to be one, so I’ve been trying to get myself focused. The arrival of this package is another step in that direction.

For people with a normal life I should explain that this is a ‘simulator’ controller, which is designed to operate like a real train: when you turn the electricity on it starts the train gently, accelerates to the set speed, and then slows it down with momentum like a real train. Of course you can make it look like a real train to other people, but this way you have to learn how to drive the train into the platform or stop at signals etc, which is obviously much cooler.

I’ve liked simulator controllers ever since I saw one as a child, so much, in fact that I saved my pocket money for a Gaugemaster unit (“With Brake”) in the 1990’s which turned out to be everything I’d hoped for, just not in combination with the ‘pancake’ motors in models at the time. Frequently the train would sulk in the platform for several seconds then lurch forward at high speed and, because mine was rather short model, crash into the buffers about three seconds later. On at least one occasion the train went clean off the end in a dramatic recreation of the Montparnasse derailment.

I also managed to find the least ergonomic position on the model I was building and give myself a repetitive strain injury using it, although I notice the company has since changed designs so it may not have just been me.

Twenty years later and modern motors have flywheels and weight, and the ability to stop, go, and pull the skin off’f a rice pudding. When I got the chance to buy a used panel mounted unit for a very low price I sent an offer before the owner changed their mind, and this week the unit arrived.

Now I need to find a transformer and build a case, which shouldn’t be difficult, and may even get me back into making things out of wood again.

The seller had brought the controller with him on holiday to northern Germany and packaged it in a newspaper at his hotel, so I even had an instructive five minutes reading the Bad Doberan Advertiser. I am now up to date on the goings on of the East Coast Sailing club and the summer theatre scene on the Baltic coast.

So there, bilingualism pays.

Mean and green

 

I’m still getting into my stride at work and I’ve been a bit short of energy for model making, which is why instead of working on the Big diesel as planned I decided to take it easy and finish the cardboard rocket.

I’d mentioned that I wanted to use a variation on the “hairspray method”. This is where you paint the model, usually rusty brown but I went for silver, spray liberal amounts of hairspray over the model, let that dry and paint the ‘final’ colour on top. Then you scrub the lot with a wet brush and all the exposed corners start to show up in the undercoat leaving the impression the model is rather battered and made of metal.

This worked mostly, although I found that artist’s acrylics are remarkably good at holding onto hairspray, and in one or two cases I went straight through to the milk carton underneath and had to touch it up.

Being me I couldn’t let it lie and gave the model a going over with black and brown pastels to break up the colour. I briefly tried using water with the pastels but made such a mess I had to clean it all off, so I went back with dry.

As it stands this will be a getaway/pursuit vehicle for pulp tabletop games as soon as I get my act together making buildings and other bits and pieces. I have a feeling it may gain a few customisations when the boys get a hold of it though, as I’ve already heard mutterings about machine guns and ‘catapults to throw things at cars behind’. We shall see…

 

After the almost-intellectual activity that took place last week, it was back to making things out of cardboard for a bit. After ignoring the advice not to bother priming cardboard, I decided to use a variation of the ‘hair spray‘ method, using silver as an undercoat instead of dark brown ‘rust’.  Normally I’d apply light coloured highlights by dry brushing, but the point of this model is to just try things without getting all precious about it.

In theory the top coat will come off on exposed corners showing slight variations in the silver, which will increase the illusion of a vehicle made of metal and slightly battered in use. We shall see…

The penny drops

When I last wrote about the Big Diesel (aka ‘Moby Dick‘) I was dithering about how to make the ends, because as usual I was overthinking everything about the project, imagining a dozen different ways to make the curve on the nose and how they could all go horribly wrong.

Eventually I decided that it would be better to actually finish the model at some point and reverted to plan ‘A’.

The problem was that despite my early sketches of the loco I really wanted the distinctive chromed light clusters on the the Brohltalbahn’s D5 or its standard gauge cousin, the Deutsche Bahn type 218. It identifies the locomotive immediately and hopefully makes it clear that the model is in Germany as opposed to Austria or Switzerland. As this will be a somewhat unusual model I wanted to have as many of these visual cues as possible to set the scene quickly in viewers minds.

More to the point I really like the class 218.

For some reason I’d got stuck on the idea that if I didn’t make the nose curved I couldn’t have the 218 styled light bar because… um… Reasons. so I’d followed the idea down the rabbit hole and was looking at the headlight designs on the similar Bulgarian railways type 77 when I happened to come across a type 218 picture and noticed that it has flat ends. Of course it does. I’ve travelled behind class 218’s for hundreds of kilometres and every one of them had an absolute lack of curve on the ends. I’d just… missed it somehow.

As expected, determined procrastination has ensured little progress on the Great White Whale so the focus has returned to the Cardboard Rocket, especially as I’d already come to the fun part where I get to add all kinds of bits and pieces which somehow make it look less like a few bits of milk carton gobbed together with superglue and more like a car. At least I think it does. Don’t mess up my reality.

So far the model has cost a grand total of nothing, unless you count superglue. Even the figure is recycled from a 1:48 scale kit, after your correspondent finally realised that the difference between 1:48 and 1:55 is so small that for the most part it’s invisible. The head is nominally 1:55 and white metal, a leftover from a pack of ‘female heads’. For model railway builders I should perhaps explain that these are sold for mounting on figures to make then ‘female’ the gender being less than obvious when the figure is in a uniform. It’s handy for those of us who don’t want our female combatants to have a biologically impossible figure.

Other ‘detail parts’ consist of old guitar strings, handles from a Chinese takeaway, brass offcuts (the over large buckle on the ‘strap’ wouldn’t have worked with steel), dressmakers pins, (side and rear lights), electrical wire, a filed down nail head, (radiator cap), a cut off picture nail head (fuel cap) and an exhaust from copier paper wrapped around some metal of unknown origin that’s been kicking about the workbench for years.

The general idea is that after painting this will all somehow fit together and look like it’s made of metal and leather instead of cardboard and oddments. We shall see…

White whale

I’m thinking of calling this loco ‘Moby Dick’: right now it looks like a great white whale and I’m not sure who will win the struggle to finish it off. I’m moving at a speed that a glacier would probably consider tardy, but I have finally managed to complete the sides and even attach them to the frame.

Appropriately, I’ve built the sides thick enough to be an ice breaker, partly for strength and partly because it made it easier to be sure the angled sides would be the same on both sides of the locomotive. I tend to think this is even more critical than getting the ends perfectly identical because it is relatively difficult to see both ends for comparison when the loco is on a model, whereas it’s quite common to see it end on.

The thick sides also made things like the steps and handrails easier to fit. I used recessed handlebars on this model, not because I’m such a model making genius but because I thought it may be easier to get them straight, or if I didn’t I could hide the fact more easily with some weathering.

It’s worked for the most part, just about. Although somehow the body has managed to twist a small amount, it isn’t noticeable if you squint…

I think I’m slow with these models because the Körschtalbahn was my ‘baby’ for many years now, with the original sketches dating from when I was in High School. Whenever I start a project I have a sudden need to think through everything half a dozen times before committing to building anything.

The current problem is a case in point. The original Henschel locomotives have a slight horizontal curve on the lower and upper parts of the nose which I’d like to repeat on the model, but I’m spending ages worrying about it instead of just getting on with the job. It would probably be more sensible to just make a straight end like the Bulgarian Railway locomotives I started with, so I can finish the model and then build the second example as a more ‘pure’ Henschel, giving me two similar but not identical locomotives with slightly different capabilities.

Either way, it’s about time I stopped messing about and got on with it…