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Archive for the ‘Alternative History’ Category

Obviously when making silly adventure tabletop games, sooner or later you are going to have some swashbuckling pirates, because, well, what would be the point otherwise? To fill this role we have “Captain Betsy Miller and the Aroura Crew”. All of my characters have names from real historical people, and the real Captain Miller lived in Saltcoats in Scotland between 1792 and 1864. She was the first woman sea captain in the UK to be certified by the board of trade, and frankly her life could be a pulp story in itself: she gained a reputation as an excellent shipwoman who could handle her brig in the most adverse conditions and would sail in weather no other captain dared face. As a result she commanded a great deal of respect from her crews. She didn’t stop sailing until she was seventy years old, when she handed over to her sister.

I’ve mentioned before that I prefer female characters to be fully clothed and shaped like normal humans, so to make Miller I took another ‘female head’  and did some rather dramatic surgery on a “Merchant seaman” I had to hand.

 

After the leader, each league in Pulp Alley should have a sidekick, not quite a legend in their own right but a legend in the making. On a Aroura this is John Macpherson, who, helped by a ‘telescopic sight’ made from a bit of brass wrapped in some plastic is the crew sharpshooter, can hit a stick at 100 paces sort of thing…

I’m normally only allowed one sidekick, so the next level is the ‘allies’. I have three in this group, and have done terrible things to the fabric of the space time continuum to bring three people who lived at different times into the same team, but that’s nothing compared to the surgery required to make another “merchant seaman” into “Juana Ramírez”…

Finally, the dog who will be a trusty follower for the crew, as soon as I’ve painted him anyway. ‘Togo‘ was an Alaskan husky and sled dog, and was lead dog on the longest and most dangerous 1925 Serum run to Nome, Alaska transporting a Diphtheria antitoxin to prevent an epidemic in the town.

There’s another team before I’m finished, but it’s time for some railway model making for a bit…

 

 

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More silliness this week: I’ve been working on our pulp Alley models. Pulp Alley is a set of rules for a dice based tabletop game loosely based on the ‘Pulp’ books and serials from the 1930’s and 40’s. As you can expect, they are often rather silly in nature. Airships are often involved. And ridiculously improbable robots. And wait until you see the steam powered monowheel I’m building…

But I digress. In order to play games we need several leagues of five or six swashbuckling adventurers. This is what I like about the game: rather than mass armies of anonymous cannon fodder, which I never felt comfortable about in my war gaming days, each league is made up of individuals. This sits better with my tree hugging pacifist hippy nature. Also, it is a lot cheaper.

The first league, “Captain Erwin Von Witzleben’s Hohenzollern Guard” has been largely painted for a while now, and the final job was making the cards for each character. These are necessary because each one has different strengths and weaknesses and there’s no way you can remember them all. I will return to this subject at a later date.

The “Hohenzollern Guard” never existed by the way. Hohenzollern was a tiny state in the south of Germany, in what is now Baden Württemberg. I imagined the Hohenzollern Guard as a sort of French Foreign Legion/Swiss Mercenary type of army organisation, which can turn up in any kind of exotic location I want, by saying they were ‘hired’ by local authorities to keep order/guard a military installation/steal artefacts from the ancient and mysterious temple, et,c

The Hedgehog logo, by the way, is because I decided the Hohenzollern Guard would be based in the Hohenzollern village of Igelswies. “Igel” is the German word for Hedgehog, so obviously, once I’d found this out, it was inevitable this would be part of the badge, because then every time I used the models I could utter the immortal phrase “The Igel has landed…”

I did warn you it would get very silly…

*It still has it own railways though. I posted some videos about those here.

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And other light entertainments.

And now for the question that no-one has asked: what has been happening to the steam powered tank?

Firstly it’s gone rusty. This was achieved by the usual method of painting everything rusty brown, spraying matt varnish over the top, then hairspray, and finally the ‘final’ colour. Even using a familiar method you can learn something new however, and on this occasion I learned that if you try and thin semi solid acrylic paint with Ethanol too many times the pigment separates from the carrier in a rather ugly mess.

Having cleaned off the worst of this learning experience I tried to paint the model a rather nondescript blue/grey. The idea was to make it look like the tank could belong to the British Navy, but not make it too obvious in case some other dastardly cad needed a steam powered death trap in a hurry.

I’m not that convinced by the results thus far: it looks too dark and there’s no sparkle. I realise that a tank shouldn’t have bling and chrome trimming, but I think it needs something to lift it, possibly starting with a completely different colour.

Any thoughts welcome…

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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…

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If I’m going to keep that Steampunk vibe going on our rather implausible steam powered tank then I need rivets, and lots of them. This is a new problem for me as I usually make models of modern(ish) trains, which are welded together.

While working out how to make putting off the rivets, I made some heavy duty doors, extra wide on the basis that anyone leaving this vehicle will likely want to do so fairly quickly, and most importantly for the younger member of the project team, made sure the ridiculously large seven-barelled gun would be appropriately hidden when not in use.

So far it seems to work. Below, gun port closed:

Sliding a cunningly placed “Pipe’ on the other end of the tank pushes the gun forwards, opening the hatch as it does:

I’d like to claim this was achieved by careful measurement and engineering, but as long term readers will already know, it was mostly guesswork, and as usual I’m not quite sure if I could make it work twice.

Having done this I couldn’t put of the rivets any longer, so I bought some short brass pins from a sewing shop, and after breaking two drill bits making holes for them, I spent a happy couple of evenings gluing them on to the tank.


With my usual speed of uptake, I also realised that the kit we’d bought for the caterpillar tracks had lots of interesting detail parts, and added as many of these I thought I could reasonably get away with.

I’m guessing the cables were carried in case a tank broke down in the field, and I decided these would be essential. On an an engineering disaster like this I think it’s a bit optimistic hanging them on the back instead of the front…

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The last instalment of the Körschtalbahn’s ‘history’ was so long ago I had to back and read it. I left the line in a bit of a mess, with Deutsche Bahn trying to shut it down and increasing road transport competition.

This is of course a rather typical scenario: so many books on Narrow Gauge history describe it as ‘inevitable’ that this or that railway closed because of “Economics”. Economics has become a dogma, an excuse for anything that corporations and governments want to push through against the will of normal people, but just occasionally, if there’s enough people, and they’re properly organised, they can change things.

Let’s assume this happened. The local government was planning a major road building project, which would cut through the heart of several villages in the Körschtal,Of course, this would render the railway ‘obsolete’. A similar scheme had just finished off the Altensteig line, but whereas the road that replaced that line had crossed the Nagold valley on a graceful viaduct, this plan would mean destroying the historic centre of Wildberg.

Coming so soon after the oil crisis, and at a time when tourism was really beginning to kick off in the Black Forest, the citizens of Wildberg and the Körsch valley revolted and elected a new council opposed to the scheme. Much muttering and negotiating later, the Körschtalbahn, track stock and buildings and the power plants on the river were bought from Deutsche Bahn who valued it at one German Mark: the Tax Department demanded twenty Pfennigs extra.

It was quickly realised that the summer tourist season would contribute the most revenue but also that tourists would be the least inclined to make allowances for the state of the track and overhead wiring. Over the winter of 1979-1980 therefore, passenger trains were replaced by buses and the track was entirely replaced. There was some discussion about making the line diesel operated throughout but this was rejected: oil prices hadn’t settled down yet, and there were plenty of metre gauge trams on the market which would provide a cheap, rapid passenger service. For greater capacity and through trains the newly formed “Körschtalbahn Limited” (KÖB) refurbished their fleet of ageing bogie passenger coaches: these and what freight was still running were handled by a motley collection of diesel locomotives until such a time as the railway could afford more powerful electric rail cars in the mid 1980’s.

By 1985 the line was running several passenger trains a day plus tourist trains in the summer and winter peak seasons: the trams had proved a success, and several new stops had been integrated into the system. The maintenance sheds ad Dachsburg were extended and upgraded to handle major repairs, and a new railcar shed was built in Spitzenwald which could handle day-to-day maintenance on diesel locomotives. I’ll explain why that isn’t pie-in-the-sky in another post.

School traffic provided a regular steady income outside of the holiday season and there was a small but growing number of commuters who had moved out to the Körsch valley and worked in Wildberg, Nagold or even Pforzheim, but the railway was still handling but a tiny percentage of the freight traffic which was booming in the Körsch valley: timber, the traditional staple of the railway was moving to road as fast as the swamills were growing, and as new industries came to the valley they were often adding more and larger trucks to the already congested roads, damaging the very fabric of the villages and driving away tourists.

It was time for the Körschtalbahn to re-enter the freight transport market.

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Körschtalbahn railcar VT 4-4 03 in a siding just outside Spitzenwald waiting to form the afternoon school service to Dachsburg. Before leaving the railcar will pick up a van for return down the valley with the post from Spitzenwald and the surrounding villages. The van will then be attached to a Wildberg-bound train to arrive in the local sorting office by mid afternoon.

Okay, I’m making it up. This is what the railcar looked like before I had a go at it with the Gimp*:

A couple of weeks ago we inherited a super-duper, all singing and dancing printer from a friend which we were promised would print brilliant photo quality images the like of which we had never seen**, perfect in fact for making prints of wagon and carriage sides to make rolling stock construction easier.

So I decided to try doctoring a couple of pictures to get a bit of practice, and to try out some colour schemes.

Connecting the printer was the usual twenty minutes of swearing and trying to connect cables to discover what this particular printer will do instead of print as promised in the manual. It turns out that this printer specialised in very, very, faint printing. In pink.

I am not going to have a railway with pink railcars, I mean, come on.

So instead of designing my first printouts, I consoled myself with a quick repaint of the railcar.

There’s a lot of “what if’s” in this version: if the promoters of the proposed railway from Garve to Ullapool, on being unable to raise the capital for a standard gauge line, had instead built to three foot gauge like in Ireland? And what if this line had survived into BR days?

(Background image from here)

Okay, it’s a bit far fetched, but here we see 152 001 forming the morning Garve-Ullapool service. I’m assuming that the rail car was one of several ordered from Japan to replace some seriously elderly wooden bodied stock on this ‘socially necessary’ railway.

If you read it fast enough it is almost convincing.

Now, maybe British Rail Blue and grey, or something a bit more adventurous?

*very similar to Photoshop with the important difference that it is free.

** The printer, that is. Our friend was getting married and moving to North Germany, where I am reliably informed there are trolls.

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