Monday, March 31, 2008

Unterfeuer Westerooge

While I wait for the electrical gubbins to arrive I've been working on the lighthouse that will hopefully set the scene and hide the fiddleyard a bit. Actually the model is not of a traditional lighthouse as much as an 'Unterfeuer' which I think translates as a 'Navigation light'. An Unterfeuer tends to be smaller than a lighthouse, and works with an 'Oberfeuer', which is much taller and usually further inland, so that ships can line up the towers or lights to guide themselves through river or sea channels. The model is based on an Unterfeuer at Baumrönne, one of several which work in conjunction with the Altenbruch Oberfeuer, and is not too far from where Westerooge is supposed to be. As an added advantage the height of the Baumronne Unterfeuer in 1:43 scale is almost exactly the length of a standard tube from a roll of kitchen towels.

I'm debating if I should have the windows clear or of they should have a card backing, as the picture of the original seems to show the windows being largely shuttered. I know I could make a detailed interior, but 'Westerooge' is supposed to be a short-term project and I'd like to finish it before we go to visit my family in mid-May. This isn't as ambitious as it sounds: I've ordered the remaining electrical parts so they will arrive any day now, and I already have all the track and scenic bits for finishing off what will be a fairly flat model, so I think things will speed up now, as long as I don't keep procrastinating.

I'm already planning the summer project: I'll tell you about it in the next blog entry.

[Update: Just as I was about to publish this entry, DHL delivered a box of electrical goodies]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Here's a free travel tip: next time you want to plan a train journey, use the Deutsche Bahn website. Seriously. Even if you're travelling entirely in the UK. It is more accurate than the National Rail enquiries website, as I discovered when planning a journey from London to Northallerton today. the British website suggested we take a train leaving 5 minutes before our Eurostar arrived, or offered the attractive option of waiting in the station until early the next morning. I had a sneaking suspicion that even in the UK trains leave the capital more than twice a day. A quick look on the DB site showed one running about an hour after we arrived. I called National Rail Enquiries with some trepidation (In Germany I call helplines as a last resort: they take ages to pick up the phone, operators are frequently unpleasant and unhelpful, and they charge premium rates) But the person on the other end was very friendly and confirmed this train was running. Perhaps they use DB too. I'm told British station staff often do.

This being the brave new world of the privatised rail network, National Rail Enquiries couldn't reserve a seat so I was connected to the train operating company help desk and I had a nice chat with 'Norman', who was very apologetic but said to reserve seats with a Britrail pass like the one we are travelling with, you have to go to London Kings Cross ticket office in person. Now call me awkward if you will, but this seems an odd requirement for a ticket which is not available to residents of the UK.

Norman was as helpful as he could be, and suggested we go to coaches 'G' and 'H', because of there is space it will usually be there, and that we talk to the conductor to find where there are some free seats.

So it seems that UK officialdom (as represented by the NR website and rules) is its usual haphazard self, but the people on the end of the phone are friendly and efficient. It will be interesting to see how this works over the three weeks of fairly extensive train travel while we are in the UK.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sinsheim 2008

To one used to British model railway exhibitions, the 'Faszination Modelbau' in Sinsheim is immense. It covers just about everything: model railways, trucks, diggers, planes, boats, racing cars, and tanks. Eldest Son and I were going to meet Alexander Rainer and see his 'Rittigsmühle' model, but it took 20 minutes for us to even find the model railway section, and even then finding a shoebox-sized layout in the huge hall proved difficult. Eventually we stumbled across it by accident while craning to see around the back of a well made N scale model:

Rittigsmühle: The new circular section with incline.
Track going off bottom right leads to the mill itself.

The Mill yard with Alexander's diesel shunting.

Wood delivery waits to be unloaded.

I'll admit I went a bit overboard with pictures- but It's been so long since I went to an exhibition, Alexander's scenery was really nice, and besides, I'd been invited to take my little diesel and mess van to do a guest turn, and despite them being far too big for the tunnels, I wanted to take pictures of them on a real railway as well. I've tried to keep down the pictures here, instead putting most of them in a new album on my fotopic gallery

My loco in the yard at Rittigsmühl,
pretending it is small enough to go through the archway.

The one place the diesel could run: on top of the incline.

Diesel in the trees.

The mess wagon spent the day exiled on here with the workman vainly trying to push it.

Of the other layouts, the majority seemed either to be in the 'Overgrown train set' style, with lots of automation but rabbit warren tunnels and carpet-like grass, or very, very big (although very beautiful) modular layouts based on German and American prototypes. Fortunately, around 'Rittigsmühle' there were a couple of other small models which not only looked as if they would fit into a normal house, but were also very well built and presented.

'Blockstelle Eselsbrücke'

One of these was 'Blockstelle Eselsbrücke' in 'N' gauge, which looked like you could hang it up in the living room. Maybe that's what the owners do when at home. It was backed by a massive sandstone cliff, with a double track main line running along the bottom, along which trains ran every few seconds.

Freight bursts out of the tunnel.

View of the slipway to the river. Another freight passes.

The cliff fronted by a double-track electrified main line is probably based on a famous section along the Rhine between Frankfurt and Köln, and like that line, trains ran past every few seconds. It was also carefully detailed without being overdone, with some German details like the cliff top viewpoint and the cross on an overhanging rock. The model had sound, but this was confined to a CD of birdsong playing on a continuous loop. Very nice. On second thoughts, I wouldn't hang it on the wall, I'd put it where the TV usually stands.

Weimar railcar on the Döppenauer Kreisbahn,
complete with the drivers bike.

The other layout I found myself repeatedly looking at was the 'Döppenauer Kreisbahn', a narrow gauge local government railway in 1950's West Germany. It took me a while to figure why it looks so open, but I think it was the way the track is angled to the front of the model, and the scene rises gradually towards the rear, rather like a stage in the older, grander theatres.

This model also had a lot of Cameo scenes, but what I really liked was the way the line and station was part of the landscape, and the separate scenes were linked by the railway. I guess I'm also biased because it had some nice big diesels as well...

Diesel-hauled train running into the station at Döppenau.

Freight yard at Döppenau

Of the larger layouts, my favourite was 'Balen', a visiting model from the Netherlands which included this Dutch street and fortress. The townscape had a boat running past through the canal.

Further along it had this realistic modern double junction, with a large construction site behind.

American outline models aren't really my thing, but this little scene caught my eye, and appealed to my dark sense of humour

One of those days...

I think I'm failing in my education of eldest son though. As we came into the hall for the first time, he saw these and fell in love, and all the rest of the time he kept asking me to take him back for another look:

Oil rig supply ship and fire launch on the boating lake.

All the way home he was talking about radio controlled boats.

I think a new project is coming soon...

Monday, March 10, 2008


I'm stuck. It's inevitable when working in a different country where things aren't always the same as you are used to: Sometimes there is an annoying delay while you hunt for bits. This time, the bits in question are electrical -an area I'm not too confident in. I've found a shop on the internet that sells what I'm after: plugs, and slider switches, which is a step forward in that I know what to ask for, (Thanks to Zabdiel for the Wiki tip) but lack of knowledge makes me a bit cautious about forking out €20 in one go, which is the minimum for an online purchase. I'm searching for a local electrical shop where I can have a good look at the components first.

Which is a bit frustrating, so let's talk about something more interesting. I've got a train ticket to go to a model railway and toy exhibition with Eldest Son this weekend, where I'll hopefully be able to meet Alexander Rainer, a German member of the Gnatterbox, who will be exhibiting an model railway in a shoe box. He wants me to take my mess car along for a visit. I just hope it fits on his model.

Meanwhile I'm still hoping to get this model done by May, after which we will go to visit my family in the UK. After we come back, I've got another idea for a project, which is just a few sketches and a vague idea at the moment. I'll give more details as I know them. It is another attempt at the Körschtalbahn, although Sägewerk Pfeifle will have to wait still longer until my boys desist from climbing up the furniture.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The dark art of the sector plate -1

Ever since I started Westerooge I've had the same nagging thought at the back of my mind, namely that I hadn't a clue how to make the offstage area, usually called the 'fiddle yard', which represents the rest of the Island. I knew I would have to attempt a sector plate, a sort of sliding table for trains to save space offstage, but sector plates always seemed to be a dark art: a mysterious knowledge knowledge passed down to the initiated, but never divulged to the masses. That's why I've been putting off working on the fiddle yard in Westerooge for ages now, but the trouble with that is it became even more of a barrier in my mind, so yesterday I decided it was time to have a go.

The box 'closed' with the cutout fitting into the same attachment as the fiddle yard.

Remarkably, it seems to be working so far: the base fits into the side of the board and hasn't warped, sagged, or fallen off.. I'd hoped to get the deck for the track completed before posting this, Next job is working on a deck for the track and hopefully getting the electrics sorted out, and I can finally play trains and start the creative scenery bit.

On the subject of electrics, if anyone out there knows the name of DPDT switches (Seen here on 'Plankerton Wharf') in German, and where to get them, Please let me know...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How 'narrow gauge' can work.

In case you think I've forgotten about modern image narrow gauge, here's a short (90 second) impression of the Matterhorn-Gotthardbahn in Switzerland, showing how effective a narrow gauge railway can be if we just give it the chance. It's not trying to restore something from the past, laudable though this is, but it is a modern, if small railway serving the local area. The passenger trains and 'Glacier Express' in the video are just a part of their traffic: they carry a lot of freight and even have motorail services on one section of the network.

I like the covered bridge that opens onto the railway shown in the video. I'm fortunate as well that the Schwarzwald has a lot of these all over the place. I think a smaller version may turn up one day. Those B-B electrics look good too.