What’s happening with Rail Express Modeller?

Rail Express magazine, which includes Rail Express Modeller, the modelling supplement created by Philip Sutton.

Just curious about what’s happening with Rail Express Modeller recently.

Looking at the November 2020 issue of Rail Express, I noticed that there’s no actual modelling in it. Lots of reviews, but no modelling.

(There’s also an annoying trait where it’s no longer in the centre of the magazine meaning you can’t separate it and keep it like many of us used to do with ModelRAIL, not that the current issue makes you want to keep it!)

Not so long ago we were treated excellent modelling from the editors Philip Sutton and Gareth Bayer, plus the work of many other excellent modellers. And Mostyn, we can’t really forget such a major and long running feature! Simon Bendall’s tenure featured he and his father creating a layout from start to finish in P4, really encouraging people to have a go but now Rail Express Modeller seems very Ready-to-Run focused. This is such a shame as it was all about actually making and modifying your own.

So, in case the publishers and editorial staff read this, cab we please have some actual doing, making and modifying modelling articles please? Back how it used to be!

Mental Health and Model Railways

Today is World Mental Health Day 2020, the day when companies, employers and organisations pretend to care about our mental health and wellbeing.

For many of us though, mental health issues are an everyday reality, my own mental health is often poor. I have clinical depression and severe anxiety – it’s often met with a slight awkwardness when people don’t know what to say. It shows there’s still a way to go before we’ve normalised mental health so we regard it in the same way as we do physical health.

This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is mental health for all – lockdown, furlough, economic uncertainty and many other things this year have meant mental health issues are becoming more of a concern for more and more people sadly. But it’s still a hugely underfunded area – as a society I think we’re still scared of mental health issues too.

As a result we need to try and look after our own mental wellbeing as much as we can. Hobbies can be so important and key to this.

My therapists, yes multiple therapists, who have treated me have said without exception that my hobby is a brilliant thing to have, “a therapy in itself” is how it was put to me once. This bit if escapism can be very refreshing for us and helps us forget about what may be causing us stress and problems in the real world. Anything which involves your hands and mind (even jigsaws!) can be beneficial as it frees your mind as your concentrate on the task in hand.

I’ve certainly had my sanity helped by building models, even though my head can bring it’s own problems. If I’m struggling with low mood or high anxiety (or both sometimes!), it can be hard to concentrate but even ten minutes or so can help.

Over lockdown, while many were stuck at home, hobby shops and online stores found they were selling greater amounts than they would be normally. There was even a shortage of Peco track at one point! So clearly hobbies have been helping a great many people.

So remember, this wonderful hobby of modelling railways is a very prescious thing – it’s a gateway to good mental health.

Project Lockdown – Assembling the Shawplan Roof Fan

The Shawplan class 31 fan.

At one time roof fans would be a simple one piece etch where all you did was twist the blades a bit and paint it, but not so with Shawplan’s Extreme range of etchings.

First glance it looks complicated, especially if you’ve never done one before. But despite appearances, it’s not that bad at all.

You’ll notice in the case of the Extreme Etchings class 31 fan, the parts are numbers. This is the order in which to place them.

Without removing them, place the etch on a piece if flat, scrap wood and drill 0,5mm holes through one of the pieces to a reasonable depth and insert two lengths of 0,45mm handrail wire into the holes, one in each hole. They need to have about an inch or so sticking out of the holes.

So with the makeshift jig made, clean the etching with a Garyflex block or similar and tin the parts on either side (the cap only on the underneath though) with Carr’s Green Label Flux and 145° solder.

The parts being fed on to the makeshift jig.

Drill through the holes with a 0,5mm drill and the remove each one in turn, cleaning the edges as you go.

The fan blades need twisting clockwise slightly for the right sort of effect.

Then just place the pieces on the jig, in turn.

Most of the parts now in place – note that they’ve been tinned already.

Keep going until you’ve got all but the cap in place.

With a cocktail stick or similar wooden aid, push the top layer down and flood with flux before applying a nice, hot soldering iron to sweat the assembly together.

With the relatively low temperature of the 146° solder, this is quite straightforward and shouldn’t take long.

Allow it to cool before removing the excess wire on the top and filing the top nice and flat. The cap can then be soldered (sweated) in place or even glued in place.

Remove from the wooden block and tidy the underside.

A finished fan!

You could use super glue, but I prefer soldering. It’ll need priming and painting as with the body – I used Humbrol no. 100 as it’s red but not too bright.

Mounting is simple, a 40 thou piece of Plastikard 23mm x 17mm with two 2mm strips on the outer ends to get the height correct. Simple. Use black Plastikard if you can as it makes painting simpler.

And it’s ready to mount in the body! Though I’m going to wait until final assembly to fit it.

Back to the cab interiors next!

Project Lockdown – Nearly There

Nearly there, now ready for weathering.

We’re nearly there now – the last couple of months have felt manic though. School holidays haven’t allowed so much time for modelling, well, not my modelling anyway as the boy tended to take over the workbenches! But the modelling has continued in the background.

Northern Rock passing Muncaster Mills.

We’ve also been away too, over to Cumbria and the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway which is one of my very favourite places. The 15″ gauge line is a world away from the setting for West Halton but it really is a delight!

River Irt at Dalegarth Station.

Sadly this has been about it for us in terms of going out to see trains of any kind really – the rest of the time it’s been smaller trains. The Cavalex BBAs have been a real highlight. But for now it’ll be trying to bring you all up to date with Project Lockdown.

The New Order – The Cavalex BBA

The outstanding Cavalex Models BBA wagin.

“This is one of the very best British outline RTR models yet produced.”

Cavalex Models’ BBA wagon has really made an impact in the days following its release. There’s no question about that.

The model represents a huge step forward in many respects, despite Cavalex’s first release of the PGA – just looking through the BBA’s floor to see the underframe detail confirms this. And yes, I mean looking through the floor – it’s not solid, it’s etched mesh. The wagons themselves upon their introduction differed enormously from what had gone before, they’re not really a traditional British type of wagon at all which gives RTR designers a challenging task since there’s no floor to work from as mostly the floor marks the point where separate underframe and body mouldings can seamlessly join. But here, there’s really no floor – the mesh is really only there to stop staff falling through the wagon, the cross beams take the load’s weight.

The ridiculously detailed underframe, I think this is the best I have seen on an RTR wagon.

The model has to follow the prototype in how it’s constructed, the structure is therefore key to not only the appearance but also the structural integrity of the model. So at its heart is a diecast frame which is not only very strong but also nicely weighted. Cavalex have taken advantage of this approach to construction too, following the prototype comprehensively too, justx look at the pipework detail, the air braking system modelling virtually in full. You only see it all by lifting the model and turning it upside down! By looking through the mesh you can just make out all sorts of bits, which really adds to the appearance of the model. The stanchions are in place along the side but also a set of metal ones are supplied to install yourself – they vary from wagon to wagon to suit the load. I removed the outer ones and used them again in different positions using photos as a guide, there are the prototypical slot to take them on the wagons too which is superb stuff!

This is one of the very best British outline RTR models yet produced.

As we’ve converted the model to P4, we’ve seen just how good it is.

New wheels and new brake discs.

The brake gear is faithfully modelled in the form of brake calipers, not conventional brake shoes, as more modern wagons have drake discs mounted on the wheels. In 00 these fit around the whweels perfectly. Obvoiusly this isn’t good for EM and P4 modellers but Cavalex have included alternative calipers for those of us in wider gauges. With a thin blade, jewellers screwdriver, etc, you can pop the existing ones off and glue the new ones in place. They line up perfectly. One of the loveliest touches is the the cover for the NEM socket which represents the bang plate on the front of the bogie. A superb piece of design.

00 Vs P4

The original wheels are a bit ‘bling’ I think, they need to be dull in appearance, aside from the brake discs, but it’s good to see the discs on the rear of the wheels too. Painting and weathering them will really help things for those modelling in 00 I think. The wheels are very high quality though – solid, highly concentric.

I used Alan Gibson wheels, three hole wagon wheels but discs are fine too as we’ll cover them with brake discs, which came from Stenson Models. These are very good, pre-prepared and ready to fit to the wheels.

Stenson Models hand brake wheels.

For the sake of durability I decided to replace the hand brake wheels with items from Stenson Models as well, they also have the edge over the supplied items – this is refining the model reflecting just how good the base model is.

Cavalex buffers and the replacement Lanarkshire Model Supplies buffers.

The buffers have a noticeable moulding line across their heads, this can be easily filed or sanded away but I chose to fit replacement items from Lanarkshire Model Supplies.

Lanarkshire Model Supplies buffers.

The buffers are the weakest point of the BBA I think. the buffer head finish rather lets things down sadly. I’d prefer to see metal heads for buffers personally, they more durable for a start. But if this is the weakest aspect of the model, it shows just how high the standard is overall.

First new buffer in place.

I also elected to replace the lamp irons (see here for more on making lamp irons) as I felt metal ones would be finer in appearance than the supplied items – again refining an already good model.

But the one thing which really will transform the model is weathering!

All ready for weathering.

Steel wagons lead a very hard life – they’re never clean for long out of works. They take on a filthy, browny-grey appearance in a short space of time.

Although a picture from 2017 rather than 1992 this is a typical condition of a BBA in terms of appearance – faded and filthy.

The red ends fade and the easiest way to capture this is to repaint the ends, using a light pink mix. Yes, pink.

Masked up.

The difference can be seen.

A fetching shade of pink!

Weathering was carried out using Humbrol enamels, sprayed, cleaned off, sprayed again, washes, ‘chipping’, sponges, its quite involved and probably worth a blog post on its own if people were interested

The separate stanchions were treated away from model ready to be installed – bent abused and weathered.

The finished wagon –

And again –

And a comparison –

Before and after.

Weathering really breathes life into the model and this is a superb model as it comes. Refining areas such as buffers, lamp irons, etc, isn’t a criticism but reflects how little there is to do. And not doing what I did doesn’t mean it’s no good. Far from it.

I’ve had a superbly built Cambrian Kits BBA to hand while I’ve been working on the new Cavalex offering – it’s a good model but it shows how things have developed rapidly over the last couple of years. To build the Cambrian kit to the same standard as the Cavalex BBA would take a ridiculously long time and most of the components would have to be replaced and the cost would go up considerably – it’s not a bad kit at all but the new RTR model is in a different league and despite my preference for building and making my own models, in this case there’s no point.

That a small company can produce such a result must be a worry for the likes of Hornby, after all with few resources Cavalex Models are producing products of the highest quality and not at unreasonable prices either.

This wagon is one of the very best RTR models we have yet seen, it deserves to succeed and given the first run has sold out I think it definitely will.

Cavalex BBA – A new era of RTR wagons

The Cavalex BBA, already in the process of being converted to P4!

The new Cavalex Models BBA wagons has arrived!

An absolutely beautiful model, with alternative parts to allow easy conversion to P4 and EM gauges – this is new territory! The underframe is an absolute delight to look at, the model feels weighty and reassuringly solid but with a real finesse about it.

We’ll be having a closer look very soon.

I’m already starting on the P4 conversion on the first one – it’s so well thought out, Hornby and Bachmann better sit up and take notice!

Project Lockdown – Painting

At last we’re ready for painting! We’ve had some delays – I found a small crack in the side of the nozzle on my airbrush and have had to wait for a replacement, which came through Element Games, who have a good range of spares for Iwata airbrushes. The only issue was the shipping time due to the current situation.

Now, painting seems to be something which puts people off but don’t worry, it’s straightforward and good results are achievable by all.

I like to use Halford’s primers, I’ll use white primer for the body and red oxide for the underframe. They cover beautifully and are better than any other regular aerosol primers I’ve tried.


A reminder of what we’re trying to achieve. 31569 at Lincoln Station with a mixed engineers train on 22nd June 1992. Photo courtesy of I Cuthbertson collection – click here to see the original photo

Paint wise, the main livery colours will be Humbrol Trainer Yellow and Phoenix Precision Railfreight Grey – both enamels. You could use Phoenix Post 85 Warning Panel Yellow but Humbrol’s Trainer Yellow is a very good match and looks right to my eyes – yellow does fade too so don’t worry too much about the exact colour. We see colours through atmospheric haze which means how colours appear, that’s before we take into account the time of year, time of day, the weather, etc, etc…

I use a Neo for Iwata airbrush, they’re ridiculously good value and have the finesse and durability of many much more expensive airbrushes – I cannot recommend them highly enough. My compressor came from Expo Tools some years ago, it’s not in their catalogue from what I can see now so you’ll have to look for yourself, but have a look at Expo regardless.

First of all we need a clean surface to paint – the model will be covered in grease from our hands, remnants of flux, dust, grime, possibly even Covid-19 too, so we must clean it. A decent cream cleaner and a toothbrush is all you’ll need. Don’t use washing up liquids as the can leave substances behind which help your plates sparkle but won’t help paint stick to the surface.

Cleaning the body with CIF.

Squeeze a good amount over the body and without adding water to begin with, gently clean the model with a good quality toothbrush, rinse and repeat until you’re sure it’s clean. You may find that the odd part might come adrift (keep the plug in the sink as you clean!) so you’ll need to fix the issue and start the cleaning process again.

The body needs to be left to dry somewhere dust free – a cupboard, a Tupperware box, etc. Then the underframe can be cleaned and then the bogie frames, but only outer frames, not the motor or wheels for obvious reasons!

The clean loco body.

I left the model overnight to ensure it was dry – have a good look, and make a final check that everything is as it needs to be. Happy? Good!

So the first coat of primer can go on.

You might notice I haven’t stripped the body of paint – Lima’s paint on most models was so thin it wasn’t worth stripping, just a gentle rub down with a Garryflex fine abrasive block is enough.

First coat of primer. Purple gloves are optional.

Follow the guidelines on the can for distances, you can apply a light coat of primer. This is Halford’s white primer, normal, not plastic primer. Start spraying off the model, pass over the body steadily and quickly.

White undercoat is excellent at highlighting any surface issues.

Blemish – looks like a cat hair.

A cat hair appeared to have got on the model despite careful handling. Once dry, the Garryflex block will make light work if this but won’t damage the mouldings like abrasive papers would.

Rubbed down with a Garryflex fine abrasive block.

Once it’s been rubbed down, it can be repainted and then light coats built up to get a good, thin covering on the model. The same approach was taken for the underframe but with red oxide primer.

Loco body in white undercoat and the underframe in red oxide.

Now for the first coat of piant – I don’t think we can really go into the full details of airbrushing but I would recommend this book if you’d like a proper guide to these techniques.

A Modeller’s Handbook of Painting and Lining, by Ian Rathbone.

Humnbrol Trainer Yellow is mixed to a consistency of semi skimmed milk, possibly a little thinner. The important thing is to apply thin, light coats. Even if you need three coats, it’s no good rushing this stage as you could ruin all you’ve done up to now.

First coat of yellow applied – the white primer means the yellow covers very well.

Once you’re happy with the coverage of the yellow, leave for a couple of days to properly dry. Don’t be tempted to mask it sooner as you might pull the paint off with the tape, damage the paint, etc, etc…

Masking Tape

I use normal masking tape – good quality masking tape from a DIY type store, but you must cut a new edge since, as it comes, the edges aren’t that sharp, find for decorating but not good enough for our purposes. You’ll see lots of people saying you must use specialist modelling masking tapes but you don’t need to… Far from it in fact. I like being able to cut tape to the width I want, thin strips for the livery/colour edges, then wider widths to fill in. Cut it on a mirror, piece of glass, clean cutting mat and you’re away – sticking it down will take the edge of the stickiness too which helps, though high quality tapes are fine straight on when you’re masking between thinner parts but beware of very cheap masking tapes.

Tamiya masking tape is good but expensive I think. If you don’t want cut your own, for whatever reason, then this is an option. I do have one ‘thinnish’ roll of it as it’s useful for things like 0 gauge diesels and coaches where long lengths are needed but beyond this I prefer to use normal masking tape.

There are people who will say my approach is wrong, one well known North East based resprayer certainly was on one Facebook group! But I like how much control my method gives me, so it’s certainly worth trying. And for certain livery elements, especially in the post privatisation world, it’s very useful.

Always refer to photographs when masking models, individual locomotives can display different variations on what should be identical liveries, variations between how works did things have always existed. Or even between those doing the painting in the same works!

In the case of Dutch, masking is easy. The upper band and the warning panels require masking off, but I also masked the cab windows where the black will go to reduce the number of layers around the windows to make fitting the Shawplan Laserglaze windows as easy as I can.

The beginning of the masking – ignore the flake of plastic which has landed on the model!

Start with a thin width of tape for the edges of the yellow band and the warning panels. Once you’re happy with the position of the tape, smooth it down with a knife handle, brush handle, etc, just not your fingers! This would could the model in grease which we don’t want.

The areas to be kept yellow can then be filled with wider widths of tape as appropriate. Around things like handrails and lamp irons on the model, thinner tape built up around the details helps ensure no paint gets through. Humbrol Maskol is worth considering too to help seal these areas.

Ready for grey.

I used Phoenix Precision Railfreight Grey for the main colour. This covers beautifully!

A thin initial cost is important, if you spray too heavily you risk having paint run under the tape no matter how carefully you applied the masking and, worse, a visible ‘step’ between paint layers. So again, two or three light coats is the way to go.

Incidentally, in the very hot weather we currently have it can be worth making the paint a little thinner than normal to prevent it drying before it hits the model, it does happen. Similarly, if it’s very humid, wait until the humidity is reduced.

Before you remove the masking have a really good look to make sure you’ve got a nice, even coverage with the paint – it’s not always obvious if an area isn’t as well covered as it should be be.

Grey now sprayed and the masking removed.

It’s the same with the cab window surrounds. It seems that there’s plenty of variation on exactly where the black was applied, in terms of the exact height of the lower edges. So again, photographs are your best guide.

The black window surrounds applied.

I used an 80:20 mix of Humbrol 85 Coal Black and 32 Matt Dark Grey for the windows, it gives a nice black colour without the starkness or pure black. A couple of light coats covered very well with this mix and the colour woks very well.

With this done, that’s the body completely painted, well, details aside. The last job at this stage was to pant the orange cantrail stripe around cab rain strips. I use transfers normally on bodysides and flat surfaces but here it’s easier to paint it with a fine brush – Humbrol 18 Gloss Orange is perfect and matches the colour of the Fox Transfers I like to use for this. Don’t thin the paint, it’s easier for this task if it’s thicker. A fine brush drawn along as per the photo will, with practice, work very well. Have a cotton bud moistened with thinners to hand just in case of mistakes and all should be well.

Painting the cantrail stripe along the cab rain strip.

The final stage of painting for now is to varnish the body with a gloss coat to give a good base for the transfers.

The chassis still needs painting but we’ll look at this in weathering as I skipped the clean stage with that altogether!

Ready for varnishing.

I loathe spraying gloss varnish. Hate it.

It’s all to easy to spray too much because it’s hard to see, it’s a bigger to clean an airbrush too. Advice is to spray thinners through airbrushes to clean them until it comes through clear – how do you know all the clear varnish is gone then?!

This last point, add a bit of dark paint to the varnish mix when you’re done before you clean it out. It’ll give enough colour to see when it sprays clean after cleaning.

Gloss Livery Paints

Phoenix Precision produce some gloss livery paints but the vast majority of their paints and those of others are Matt or satin. There’s a myth in model railways it seems that gloss paint is bad. I don’t know why this is the case as nothing kills a model model than a dead matt coat of varnish with no weathering, where’s a sheen can look superb.

There’s a reason why the top painters (think the Alan Brackenborough end of things, Warren HAywood too, not the resprayer with a Facebook page!) don’t finish their work with a coat Matt Varnish everywhere. It looks so much better – weathering models like this is actually a way to achieve very high levels of realism on locomotives and coaching stock, goods wagons are another matter!

So ‘the hobby’ has asked for matt paints for realism but then we have to coat them in gloss varnish so we can apply transfers only then for many to apply matt varnish to kill the gloss, an extra step we shouldn’t need to take.

Bonkers. Absolute bonkers.

So please encourage any paint manufacturers to make their livery colours in gloss, it would make our lives easier!

I’m stepping off the soapbox now…

So, the blaggers’ guide to gloss varnishing!

As with all spraying light coats are the key; I mix gloss varnish to quite a watery consistency and spray very lightly. If it takes five coats, then so be it but I learned the hard way a long time ago with this!

Some people like aerosol varnishes, but whilst I like certain Matt varnishes in aerosol form, I find aerosols simply too much like hard work to control for gloss varnishes for our small scale models. Each to their own though.

And this leaves the body ready for the delightful Railtec Transfers!

Varnished and transfers applied.

But this is for another time – I hope the update was worth the wait!

Exciting Things are Happening!

The first baseboard!

It’s a very exciting time at the moment!

My mental health isn’t great at the moment so I’ve not done much recently. Though we have been getting on with The Boy’s layout at last following the arrival of the track direct from Peco – lockdown had caused a shortage of their track in Europe!

The Boy’s layout – the first track laid on his Great Western Railway project.

Project Lockdown has stalled slightly while I wait for a spare for my airbrush – again Covid-19 is affecting all areas of life. But the next installment is coming soon!

But the biggest news of all is that the baseboards for West Halton itself Re now coming along very well! My food friend Andrew offered to build them for us and he’s very good with this sort of thing!

One if his layouts has been mentioned previously too.

Westerham by Andrew Jones

There’s lots happening and as lockdown eases things should hopefully start developing nicely.

I’m genuinely excited, like a child at Christmas!

Railtec Transfers

Railtec Complete Loco transfers.

I received a lovely delivery from Railtec Transfers this morning! In amongst the various items are two of their ‘complete loco’ sets – printed on the one sheet in this case. You choose which scheme/livery from the website, you’ll get an email asking for you to confirm the number of the locomotive required (and in some case other items like the subsector logos as with 56044) and within a few days you’ll have the transfers in your hands ready to apply to your model!

I’ve used these packs a few times in both 4mm and 7mm scales and the convenience of having the numbers ready, as well as the resulting neat job is brilliant! The transfers are very good quality and go on very well. I cannot recommend Railtec highly enough really – to clarify, no connection beyond being a very satisfied customer.

And remember, what makes our hobby so great isn’t the big ready-to-run manufacturers, it’s our amazing smaller manufacturers who support us in our modelling and projects.


Railtec Transfers

Project Lockdown – Ready for Painting!!!

31569 in all its mundane glory.

We’re ready for painting! At last!

Shawplan’s lovely roof grille.

So much deconstruction, reconstruction, rebuilding, modification, swearing, blood (Kerry can confirm this!) and much effort we’re ready to transform this combination of plastic, brass, nickel silver and steel into something which looks like a hundred tons or so or metal. I wasn’t going to cover painting but I’ve had a few people asking so just as with construction, it’ll be step-by-step as far as possible.

The opposite side of the loco.

But for just a little while, admire how far you’ve come.