Digital Model Railways

I like railways. I always have. When I was a kid I used to hang out with my trainspotting books at Hamworthy Junction Station near Poole, Dorset. At the time it was an important working junction between the main London-Weymouth line and the branch line north to Broadstone and beyond, and a secondary goods line to the docks at Hamworthy.

I had a model railway layout in my youth, but only the lines fixed to a hardboard base. It never came to anything. When I retired I used to occasionally buy “Railway Modeller” magazine, partly for the tips on creating scenery that crossed over to my wargaming hobby, but also for general interest. In one issue I found a near-perfect 1/72 scale model of Hamworthy Junction, just as I remembered it – down to the correct blazers and caps of the schoolchildren waiting for a train.

Some time before that I discovered a CD of a program “Create Your Own Model Railway”. This led me to the full program “Rule the Rail” by a company called Brainbombers. The developers are, I believe, based in Hungary, so the whole thing had a very European style. However, through a (sadly defunct) user forum I was able to download additions of a more British style.

With replacement PCs and so-called “improvements” to Windows over the years meant that the program, no longer supported, failed to work without intensive tweaking and searching for missing driver files. I lost much of the British infrastructure, like old fashioned crossing gates, but recently found an old memory stick with much of what I had lost. Sadly I cannot make the “Wild West” version Iron Horses work any more.

Fast forward to last year when I discovered at the local recycling centre a box of model railway magazines dating from the 1950s and 1960s. I snapped them up for five pounds and am working my way through them. I have reached the point where Airfix kits increased from 1s3d to 1s6d (about 6p to 8p) for a model house or station, etc.

In “Model Railway News” from April 1956 I found a plan and photograph of Moretonhampstead station in Devon. My brother’s Grandfather, Aunt, Uncle and Cousin lived in the town, so we used to visit the place in my young days.

One day I aim to make this model in 1/220 scale (the rolling stock will of necessity be Germanic), but for the time being here are some shots of my digital version, very much a work in progress. I am limited by the digital structures available to me. Starting with the photograph above:

Alas, no old bus is available.

Next is a view from the approach to the station from the tunnel, with the engine shed on the left and an engine taking on water. The signal box is a n addition not shown on the plan. The semaphore signals are of a continental style and on the wrong side of the tracks.

Finally for now, on the plan are marked “Oil Storage Tanks”. I have taken the liberty of making this a small commercial yard, owned by DF Lubricants – one of the signboards and waggon types available.

The layout is devoid of vegetation, people and other scenic extras at present, but will develop. It is fully functional, with trains entering the tunnel being automatically switched and a new goods or passenger train appearing. Shunting operations at the station are manually controlled and prompted by a card system, for example: “All box cars made up and despatched.”, or “Passenger Train depart from Platform 2.”

It passes the time, keeps my mind active and gives me some pleasure without the financial outlay of a full model railway.

New regime.  Day 4. Equine matters.

   After waiting in for three days for my Jeep to be collected for repair we are back to an almost normal morning routine.

   Each morning I accompany my wife to her stable yard with our dog, Sparky.  The Memsahib goes to look after her horse.  I do this to get part of my daily exercise and to exercise Sparky the dog by playing “fetch” with his ball. We started this routine during the early days of COVID, using separate cars to maintain my isolation.

   Recently it has been harder to persuade Sparky to give up his ball, which has become more of a security dummy for him. He is, as he gets older (now about 11 years old) also getting more nervous.  He is happy to trot along beside me with the ball in his mouth but before we can hear the first shooting in nearby woods he will take off for the security of the stable block, where he will hide in the corner. This photo’ shows him in his younger days. Nowadays, like me, he is a lot greyer around the muzzle.

 First job is to ensure that Tristan (the Memsahib’s retired horse) has been fed.  Normally another sharer of the yard has done this before we arrive. Next is to check his rug against the weather forecast.  (Too hot, too cold, too wet…?). Then to persuade him to pick up all four feet (one at a time!) to check for a hoof infection to which he is susceptible in this wet weather.  A little sideways pressure and some treats can help while I hold him in a head collar. He can be stubborn.

   When that has been done I start my daily exercise.  Tristan’s current paddock is  just over an acre at about 4200 square metres.  My job is to walk to and fro across the field seeking horse dung.  Sometimes I only spot it  in the thick grass just before (or after) I have stepped in it.  I mark the location with an orange electric fencing post and the Memsahib uses my markers to decide the shortest route with the wheelbarrow.  This walk usually amounts to around 4,000 steps of my daily  target.

   My other responsibility is to ensure that all three horses sharing the yard have sufficient water.  In winter the troughs are fed by water pipe if not frozen.  In summer or during frosty periods it involves a wheelbarrow and an 80 litre bag of water.

   The Memsahib is very proud of the upkeep of the yard, including the muck-heap, which is neatly compressed into steps in the form of a low-level ziggurat by shovelling, patting down with a shovel and pedal trampling for compression.

Periodically the manure is removed by workers from the local country estate where she runs the accounting.  They benefit from free manure for the organic farm and she benefits from free disposal.

  Then she to the office and I to home.  The whole process takes about 90 minutes at the start of the day.  The Memsahib returns for a shorter visit after work.

The new regime. Day 1.

Today I started with getting my brain into gear with a series of online puzzles, including the latest “Wordle” competition with my unknown rival “Pink Panther”. After 210 rounds we stand at 281 points each.

No attendance at the stable yard today because I am waiting in hope for the local repair shop to collect my Jeep (yesterday’s promise unfulfilled).

After walking the dog I cleared last night’s washing up and vacuumed the office. How does the Memsahib manage to get toothpicks underneath this protective plastic covering?

Then I got bogged down in my daily e-mails and Facebook for an hour or so. Sad to learn that an old friend and former chairman of the Napoleonic Association died last Saturday.

Next was to start placing troops onto the map for the Axis and Allies 1939 Global War campaign. It’s a massive spreadsheet (1 cell = 25 miles or 40 Km), so formatting takes an age. No fancy icons, merely abbreviations in this game.

So far I have added the Germans and some Italians. Many nations to go before I even start moving the units.

It’s now 2 pm and I intend to start work on a digital representation of Moretonhampstead railway station, taken from “Model Railway News” April 1956. I had relatives in Moretonhampstead at the time, when I was almost two years old.

For my digital version I am using an old PC program “Rule The Rail” with additional UK based features.

Then I will start reading this book that my son gave me for Christmas, knowing about my project of living for Lent on wartime rations.

New year. new ambitions

Happy New Year to my readers.

The only resolution I have made this year* is to simply get on with stuff. Most mornings I start by going through my brain training puzzle on-line puzzle games over a cup of coffee and a bread roll, followed by an hour or so helping the Memsahib at the stables.

I have determined that when coming home from the stables I will vacuum one room of our house and clear the washing-up. Then I am free to play.

The next hour, regulated by a timer, is spent on my digital game of “Axis and Allies Global 1939”, which is no way related to my project some years ago of replaying the whole Second World war in 6mm. This one is purely run on an Excel workbook. I am hoping that my PC will not fail me on this one.

Yesterday I ran a recommended “driver update” programme, which resulted in a three hour restoration of the pre-repair status.

Today I have performed my household tasks and done my ironing while watching the DVD extras of the film “A Night To Remember” about the loss of the Titanic.

*I have one resolution: to live on 1943 rations for lent 2023. For each day I succeed I will donate £1 to the Prostate Cancer charity. To my male readers of a certain age, I do urge you to get yourselves regularly checked. Prostate Cancer is a killer. I was saved – just in time – by the British National Health Service.

Reasons not to live in Hampshire, UK.

The attached is from a local newspaper.
We are very lucky to live even in the north-east corner of this English county.
I still reckon that Dorset is better though, having lived there for what is now, surprisingly, less than half my life.

Thinking back, where have I lived?
Devon: a couple of weeks.
Dorset: thirty years.
Berkshire: thirteen years.
Hampshire: twentyfive years.

But I have been lucky enough to visit in my working and re-enactment life France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, and possibly other European countries that I have missed from the list. In several of the capital cities my wife Chrissy and I have spent significant anniversary weekends, tacked onto my business trips and courtesy of Air Miles earned on those trips.

in addition to my visits to the above countries I have found additional friends in Russia, Finland, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the U.S.A and elsewhere through business and hobby. I have been very lucky to have been granted the opportunities.

In retirement I visited Vancouver Island, Canada, where my Dad was posted in the RAF from 1941 to 1944.

If money were no object, where would I choose to live now?
For the climate, knowledge of the language and lifestyle: Italy.
For the scenery and people: Canada
For the best of England: Devon, Dorset or the Lake District.
For my comfort zone: where I live now.

A new year dawns

3rd January 2023. Many people in Britain will be returning to work after the Christmas and New Year break. Apparently this does not include British railway staff, who are striking for better wages and conditions.

We may also expect strikes from nursing staff and ambulance personnel in our National Health Service. The postal system is in disarray due to strikes.

How does this affect me? My medicines are three weeks overdue. Fortunately I keep a four week stock, so I am not yet in dire need. I will try today to get a booking for a blood test to check if the statin pills are having any effect on my cholesterol level.

I need to telephone the company which failed to deliver my wife’s Christmas gift, and the local car body repair shop about the damage I inflicted on my car on New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year!

[update. The on-line booking system for a blood test at my local hospital no longer exists. Therefore I will need to take up more valuable staff time trying to arrange it on the telephone – if they answer the telephone.]