Monday, 23 November 2015

"Rēru no hīrō - レールのヒーロー"

Or better known as "Hero of the Rails!"

This October gone, I went on an adventure with a friend to the land of the rising sun. Whilst we were there, we came across a railway with lots of lovely 3ft gauge steam locomotives.

The Oigawa Railway!

I was hoping for a first glimpse of an intact D51 steam engine. I hadn't seen one the whole trip aside from the chopped up one in Tokyo's Railway Museum! We didn't see one at the start of the trip at Kanaya when we had to take a small heritage electric train to the steam shed...

But we DID get to see several wonderful old steam engines posed around the yard. I persuaded my friend to let us take a train up the line and stay over night in an old logging town nearby.

(Nearby turned out to be a 40 minute taxi ride away - but that's another story!)

Our steed for the day was a magnificent 3ft gauge 2-6-2T numbered C108.

I loved this engine: even though it was 3ft gauge, everything about it seemed well proportioned.

The Japanese have a real flair for design, and the brass numberplates on the cab sides had me in mind of the Great Western Railway back home.

You can see that C108 has two sets of outside, Walschaerts type valve gear. This is a single bar type, not unlike the Thompson L1s I'm so fond of.

The front lamp and spartan stove pipe were other attributes I particularly liked.

 After some time spent admiring the locomotive, we took the train up the line.

And I promise, I will get around to putting together the video for this, but suffice to say it was a beautiful railway, running along the banks of a river and through many tunnels and across several bridges.

Arriving in Senzu, we were greeted by a band - although they were there for WATTRAIN and not us!

The engineer on the locomotive was very kind and let me have a potter about the cab. It was in some respects similar to our standard 2MTs back home, though the firebox was amazingly thin and small. You don't need much coal to keep the firebars covered on this steam engine!

Truth be told, the electric engine on the rear had done most of the work, but the steam engine had put on a good show.

So that was it, I thought, sadly. Until Matt tapped me on the shoulder and said "have you seen what's in the yard?"

And there he was!

The first D51 I had seen the whole trip - and of course, it was none other than "Hiro", in full Thomas & Friends guise. Naturally I had to take a few photographs!

They even had a Percy, made from an 0-6-0T!

If I'm honest, as much as I was thrilled to finally see a D51, the real stars of the holiday were these beautiful steam locomotives:

Class C11, no.190 was our engine for the return trip and she was rather better than C108. For a start, I suspect the electric engine at the rear didn't have to do anything on the return trip...!

I spoke with one of the Oigawa Railway's volunteers whilst Matt and I photographed the engines.

They reckon Hiro's introduction to Thomas & Friends saved their railway. The Japanese engine, together with his British friends, has thousands of visitors, mostly families with children, come every year for Days out with Thomas events. Hiro is their favourite exhibit aside from their Thomas locomotive.

Of course the day we picked was the day of a private charter, but I was told Senzu comes alive when the Days out with Thomas events come around. I can well believe it, given the ambience of the place. Where else in the world can you find live steam locomotives and heritage electric traction, AND a heritage electric rack and pinion railway with this kind of beautiful mountain scenery and scorching weather? Nowhere, in my opinion.

The volunteer said they had immense pride in the fact that Japan's contributions to railways had been recognised in this most famous British children's show. So obviously I had to climb up and thank Hiro personally.

When all is said and done, who would begrudge them this one Japanese character when - frankly - having travelled the length and breadth of Japan, I can say categorically that they have the greatest railways in the world.

So it turns out that "Hiro", the lone D51 on the Oigawa Railway, is something of a "Hero of the Rails" after all. I knew he was my favourite of the non-Awdry characters for a reason!

I hope you've enjoyed this one off blog - we will be back to grumbling about British model railways soon enough! Although we will return to Japan for a blog extolling the values of their amazing Shinkansen trains.

Until next time.

Monday, 9 November 2015

"Raising money for The Railway Children Charity"

Firstly, my apologies for the severe lack of updates. I have been away in Japan and I have many stories, railways and their trains to relate!

However I have a more important story to tell today. I'm raising money for The Railway Children Charity in December, and it would mean a lot if I could hit my target of £250. 

It's been a year full of 5km runs but none quite so important as this one. I can't stress enough how much I want to hit this target and to match my ambitions in the run itself. My aim is to break 22 minutes and to raise £250.

Just leaves me to say thank you to my regular readers for their patience and support over the course of this year. Please help me in my aim to make the lives of children in the UK, India and Africa better through the help of The Railway Children Charity.

Until next time.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

"Nitpicky - Simon's Response"

Morning all!

Some of you may be aware that on occasion I do some blogs for my good friend at the Sodor Island Forums, Ryan Hagan. I actually did a review of The Adventure Begins for him recently and you can find that blog here.

Some of you may also be aware that overnight there was a "review of a review". Bit of a strange concept to me, being reviewed for my reviews...! You can read that piece here.

But hey, it's a free country and we're all allowed a right of reply, so here's mine.

One of the things that was brought up was railway realism. Unless you have actually done some research into Awdry's work, you wouldn't necessarily understand how much historical writing went into his stories. The Real Lives of Thomas the Tank Engine has a fantastic database with almost all of the original stories and their origins covered, here.

The points I would like to cover off from the review of my review are:

1) Engines don't have faces.

No they do not. Excellent spot that. However Awdry used these faces to make the engine characters more understandable to children. Emotions are very difficult things to establish without visual aids in children's writing, especially for the early years.

This does not mean that Awdry's stories weren't also complex, steeped in railway history, and in accordance with railway practices of the time. They were: so the idea that slapping faces on trains means it in any way invalidates the above is a straw man argument.

2) The majority of the stories from the original Awdry stories wouldn't have happened

Aside from the fact there is the perfectly good website which shows that all of the above were possible (here's that link again to emphasise this) and in fact in some cases have several historical precedents, I have to stand up for Awdry's "Wrong Road" story in particular and say that actually, I've found several examples where Awdry's work was spot on historically.

The most likely one Awdry would have been aware of in my opinion was an incident on the L & NWR. Though the locomotive concerned wasn't so big as a Gresley Pacific, the L & NWR Claughton locomotives were the biggest on the railway at that time, with a high axle loading and yes - there would have been many people in the permanent way department concerned at a very heavy locomotive traversing a more lightly loaded branchlike!

So the criticisms of Awdry's work here come from a lack of knowledge about the source material. That's okay, not everyone can know everything, but trust me when I say that Awdry's work has both historical basis in fact and also railway practice at the forefront of the writing.

3) We've had stories like the one described before

Well yes, that is sort of the point. These stories form a sort of partial reboot, a new starting point from which further new specials could emerge in this vein. So what exactly is your point here?

These stories aren't aimed at people such as the reviewer of my review, or me. They're aimed at the newest and youngest generations.

That doesn't also mean they can't be excellent pieces that take from the original source material and follow them carefully, updating them for a modern audience in a very positive way. I cited Winnie the Pooh as the best example in my review, and there are other examples of both adult and children's literature where they've been updated well for the modern day and bring a real flavour of the author's original intentions to the fore.

And yes, you can get closer and closer to the original style of the author with careful understanding and writing. Look at the "new" James Bond books that have been released by different authors in the last decade. They're not perfect Ian Fleming-a-likes but they are extremely close and very entertaining.

4) All it screams, to me, is a purist screaming "THIS ISN'T WHAT I WANTED!".

Er - what? I say on countless occasions within my own review that this is exactly what I wanted. So...?

No, it didn't live up to my own high expectations (and I say this explicitly too) but I also counter this with being positive about the special and pointing out that it is still by far the best special HiT Entertainment have produced under that brand. It's a positive step in the right direction (and I say this too).

I'm not going to apologise for lamenting certain things, and that it's still a flawed production. That's kind of the point: if it was perfect I'd say so. Yes I have high standards and I apply that to my life, my writing, my modelling, my day job, relationships and similar. That's not a bad thing. If your standards don't come up to mine, that's your hang up and not something I would criticise you for. If you enjoy it, by all means, enjoy it.

In this case I did enjoy the special and my godson will too, but I'm not going to shy away from being honest.

At the end of the day the "review of a review" with a hastily tagged on disclaimer at the end seems to me to be nothing more than the writings of someone who both didn't understand the source material, and certainly didn't read my review very carefully, sounding off because he seems to think the review is attacking HiT Entertainment's production.

It isn't - it hasn't - and though I lament some of the things missed out and perhaps not done as well as they could have been, that's surely the point of a review? It is my opinion after all.

You don't have to agree with it, but you could check to see if your own facts are right before throwing something out onto the internet both attacking my character and the intentions of my review (and I have to say, the disclaimer at the end is hilarious. The whole review is an attack on me and my character and yet there's this disclaimer, tagged on at the end, like some sort of "get out of jail" clause.

I know where I stand on this, frankly. It's not a great excuse and having thought about it overnight, decided to put my own view out there. This is separate to Ryan's work and has been done without consulting him, because quite frankly this review of a review was aimed at me, not Sodor Island Forums.

The biggest problem with that particular fandom is that anyone who knows anything about anything is derided. People with knowledge get slapped down for being rivet counters, effectively. It's a nasty undercurrent prevalent not just in that fandom but others too. Perhaps this is a worldwide trend.

People like the reviewer above forget how much of a positive contribution to the fandom the Sodor Island Forums have been. Ryan Hagan in particular has worked tirelessly to keep the Awdry name alive and without his influence and patience, you'd not see any improvements in the TV series at all.

Hell, without blowing my own trumpet, I know my reviews have had some effect over the last decade because - guess what - there's brake vans on trains again at last...! (I had to slip that in somewhere).

All I know is that where I'm asked for my views, I will continue to give them, with all the information I have at my disposal and with the unerring honesty of someone with ultimately good principles and a determination to make things better for everyone.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

"BRWS Ltd Update #9: Thompson's only design memorial"

One of the things that I find wonderful about this hobby is the research. You can turn up many interesting combinations of locomotive name, number and form. 

A case in point: Thompson's B1s. Built by Darlington, Gorton and North British, they all had some detail differences including smokebox rivets, style of and placement of works plates and the smokebox door type.

Bachmann's latest, unnamed, apple green Thompson B1 no.1123 was the subject for my latest round of modelling. Having purchased a number of these at a knock down price, I went through my preferred books for research on the class. The Power of the B1s, Yeadon's Register and the RCTS' LNER volume 2B all featuring some interesting prototypes.

I had already made a model of class pioneer Springbok and two more of the deer namers caught my eye for different reasons. 

B1 no.1039 was featured in Yeadon's Register with an unusual difference to its classmates. The photograph in the book shows it coupled to one of the ex-Raven/Gresley Atlantic six wheel tenders. These tenders were a close, if not perfect match for a V2's group standard tender. Since I had a number of these spare, I took the opportunity to remove the shaded LNER lettering using some water and a glass fibre pen, and add Gill Sans plain lettering instead. The base model's tender will go to another Thompson related project in due course.

1039 had electric lighting, but the base model does not. I removed the lamp irons and used some bits from a spare Replica Railways B1 body shell that did have the electric lighting fitted. It's not a perfect match for the original style Thompson lighting system but it'll do in terms of representation. Some wire was added to the right hand side of the boiler and fitted next to the stones generator on the running plate, also taken from a spare Replica B1 body shell.

The original chimney was cut off, and the smokebox filed down, for a brass cast Gibson's B1 chimney with a much nicer profile to be fitted. Superglue of the semi-quick drying kind was used to allow some time to fiddle around and make sure it was fitted properly. Fox Transfers provided the nameplates and works plates for this model and these were duly added using the same process.

One modification I have made to all of my Bachmann B1s is to remove the original, large, plastic coupling bar from the tenders. I use Hornby's Railroad Scotsman metal drawbar, available as a spare online, and these are coupled through the tender's drawbar and through the locos to be screwed in. This closes up the gap nicely without making it impossible for the models to go round corners.

The other B1 being worked on, Addax, was also shown in the same book with a very nice combination of BR numbering and full LNER livery. I repeated the process for this model, with the one additional being the smokebox numberplate fixed in the normal position. This will need repainting as the brass numeral effect isn't accurate. 

The nameplates and numberplate for Addax came from Modelmasters and though I dislike the brass effect on the smokebox door am ultimately happy with the shape and style of both. The comparison between Fox Transfers and Modelmaster etched plates is interesting. I can't say that I have a particular preference but it'll be Fox from now on as they have a better selection of the B1 names available at present. 

So here then are two variations on the same theme made that look similar and have similar detailing but ultimately are different and individual. 

Springbok, Steinbok and Addax will be joined by a few more in due course no doubt. For the moment, an older split chassis apple green B1 Sir William Gray keeps them company, making a quartet of named apple green B1s for my work in progress layout.

When finished, the three deers will be weathered and coaled and with crews fitted, and will no doubt enjoy a mixed bag of work on the layout. I am already imagining a few different freight and passenger formations they could be seen on.

Ultimately for me, the LNER has always been about Thompson's plucky B1s. Although only an LNER liveried locomotive class for around 6 years, they epitomise the post-war LNER rather well and they are - one must admit - very handsome machines.

Many say it's Thompson's only design memorial, both in actuality and in quality. I don't believe the latter myself, but one cannot argue with the fact that it's the engine Thompson is best known for. 

And when all is said and done, it's the locomotive the LNER needed - and got.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Saturday, 22 August 2015

"BRWS Ltd Update #8: "Going to Japan"

It's not a big update, but the blog will be quite quiet as I am going travelling in Japan for a bit!

There'll be a big railway update, rest assured, in November!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

"BRWS Ltd Update #7: Saying goodbye..."

The July update I had planned has been put back for the time being.

It's been a very difficult month and this morning, though not unexpected, made things a little more difficult.

Orders will still go out as planned and I'll still be responding to emails. I just need a little time to sort things out both at home and in my head.

Fallling in love doesn't come easily to me. When it happens, it's rare, and it's real. The first six months of this year were amazing for me, the happiest six months of my life so far. I don't remember getting up to go to work with such a can do attitude as I did between January and June of this year.

When people like that come into your life, it's very difficult to then say goodbye and watch them leave.

If you're reading, I will always remember the good times. Ice skating amidst skyscrapers, valentine's day theatre trips, castles in the country and many more besides.

I cannot believe how much happened in the first six months of this year and I still can't get over...that it's over.

I made some bad choices and acted badly, and paid the price for that I guess.

One thing, one positive thing, out of all of this. Two years ago I suffered the worse kind of heartbreak. I never thought I could feel that strongly about someone ever again. That sort of love that overrides everything.

It turns out, I can love again. And one day I will again.

So thank you for the time we had together. I only wish we had more time.