June 23, 2011

"The British Railway Series - June Update 2"

Over the last two weeks, I've been doing some costings for Episode 18 of The British Railway Series, as it was originally intended, and the next episode of The British Railway Series, as I intend it to be, later this year.

Suffice to say, as originally intended, Episode 18 comes out much cheaper. Same old faces, same old models, new sets, new special effects, but still not quite there.

The one thing which has been gnawing at me, more and more, is how much better the series could do on Youtube, if its constituent episodes were brighter, better filmed, more animated, shorter and more compact, whilst retaining the history and entertainment values at its core.

So I started researching into new models. Not just any models - bespoke models of the characters that will do what I what need them to do, look "right" on screen, and above all sell the brand better on here, and on Youtube.

The first costing was wildly optimistic with a three figure sum in mind. And that was for a single engine. The actual cost for a 00 scale engine, complete with all the bells and whistles, tailored to suit my needs, is going to cost a hefty four figure sum.

So, there we have it. Either I find a way to bring the costs down, or I carry on as before.

The inherent problem with carrying on as before, is that I no longer have any inclination to. I do not want to settle for a few model trains on a small train set, being filmed from all angles whilst running Sidcup's least efficient smoke machine.

The whole look of the series worries me, because behind the scenes, "Project Allen" is progressing extremely well, and the artwork being created for it is something else. It captures the essence of the characters better than my own faces and models do!

So with that in mind, how could I possibly settle for more of the same?

The answer is, I won't. By hook or by crook, something will be worked out by the end of the summer.

Until next time.

June 11, 2011

"Railroad Tornado: We Fade to Grey"

It all started with this review video:

I'd finished filming the review, and found that the right hand set of buffers - which are all plastic, moulded as part of the bodyshell - had been damaged in transit.

I was not very impressed with this aspect of the model. Whatever your thoughts may be of the moulded handrails, the model is clearly designed to be a cheap and cheerful representation of the new build A1. I could forgive the moulded plastic in all but the buffers, which were extremely flimsy.

I chopped the buffers off, and replaced them with sprung, LNER replacement buffers (ironically, manufactured by Bachmann!), as in the picture below:

But it occurred to me that I could go further.

In 2008, Tornado was first released for traffic. I will never forget my first meetings with 60163: firstly, outside the fence at Darlington, gazing at the unbranded, grey A1, and then the many happy days and evenings spent on the Great Central Railway, Loughborough, watching her on tests and hauling public trains.

So it then followed that I figured the Railroad Tornado - to all intents and purposes, closer to the real thing than the Bachmann Tornado - would be a perfect donor for a repainting back to her early days.

I had missed out on the TMC and Bachmann variants of the grey liveried Tornado deliberately, neither in the flesh captured the actual colour, which in the flesh, and in my photographs, betrayed a slight bluish tinge to the paintwork in certain lights.

So the thoughts progressed, and the hunt began on Thursday this week, for a suitable paint colour. I'm by my own admission, a great fan of acrylics, but whilst perusing my favourite model shop for paints for a different project, a small tin of paint, with a swatch below, caught my eye.

Revell number 49, "Light Blue" - it was grey, but with a bluish tinge. I looked absolutely perfect for a Tornado conversion.

So it began.

The tender body was removed from the frames, and rubbed down using some wet'n'dry paper, giving a smooth finish and removing the lining and lettering of the British Railways Apple Green livery. The wheelsets were removed at the same time, and both were taped up carefully using Tamiya masking tape.

The cab was also similarly treated. Both bodyshells were cleaned and dried, before masking up and moving onto the painting stage. Mixing two parts thinner, three parts paint, I carefully sprayed two even coats of Revell number 49 onto the bodyshell and tender.

The wheelsets followed shortly after, with two short, even coats applied over a ten hour period. The whole chassis had to be dismantled in order to remove the driving wheels - a word of warning, removing the valve gear and connecting rods before removing the driving wheelsets is advised. This prevents damage and makes the job of lifting them out much easier.

After allowing the components to dry, the tape was removed, and the components cleaned up. Gamesworkshops Chaos Black was used to paint wherever the no.49 paint had spilled over onto the areas of black, being brush applied, with two parts water to three parts paint.

Revell number 91, "Silver" was used on the cylinders, buffer heads, smokebox straps and door dart to represent the burnished nature of the real thing. These components were all painted through brush stroking, one part thinner to two parts paint.

The components were reassembled, the model tested to ensure perfect running had been retained (it had), and then I had time to pour a pint of bitter, and survey the results.

The result was, in my eyes, perfect.

The colour was spot on. It appeared darker, and more grey in certain lights, and bluish in others. David Elliot of the A1 Trust, had once said the original livery was an "eggshell blue" - and this choice of enamel paint matched perfectly to my memories.

For comparison:

I'm very pleased with this repaint, and can honestly say that I think Hornby have missed a trick with the Railroad version. Yes, the apple green is Tornado's main livery, but the Railroad model - deliberately plainer than its more expensive variants - looked distinctly odd with such a simplified version of the apple green livery.

The grey brings out the shapes and contours of the engine so much better - and it looks brighter, too. I can't quite explain it, but the model suddenly seems to have more presence now, than it did in its original form.

Of course, the stovepipe chimney will need changing to a rimmed one, to be truly accurate, but to say I'm happy with the results is an understatement. For months I'd felt a little down on my modelling, the quality was poor in my view, I wasn't improving as I wanted to be, and my confidence to complete my other outstanding projects was at an all time low.

Working on the coaches recently had helped somewhat (and an update for those will be forthcoming), but this simple repaint, and careful modification of the Railroad Tornado has done wonders for my enjoyment of the hobby. It's been so satisfying to sit back and remember those very happy memories though this model, and I dare say it'll form a part of my 2011 Challenge project sometime soon...

For now, I'm going to put the tools down, get out a few of those ubiquitous Hornby Mk1s, and have a play with it while the F1 qualifying plays in the background.

Until next time, thanks for reading...

Except that wasn't quite the end of the story...I noticed I had made a slight error on my model, and had kept the splashers grey. They were in fact, black, on the prototype, as this photograph will show:

And so, I duly modified my model accordingly:

I haven't decided yet if it will stay unlettered and unnumbered, as it was in Darlington in 2008, or whether it will take on its Great Central guise with www.a1trust.com on the tender, and 60163 on the cabsides. Either way, I feel it's a great improvement on a model that was lacking somewhat in the aesthetics, but certainly not the physical components.

Until next time!

June 10, 2011

"The British Railway Series - June Update"

Portrait of Sir Ralph Wedgwood, by Dean Walker

So, it has now been, officially, nine months since the last The British Railway Series Episode. Where are we now, with the Youtube series?

One thing I regret about the filming of 17X is that I allowed certain pressures to get to me. Firstly, the demand for the next episode - always welcome, and I enjoy reading the comments back on the videos without a doubt.

But I self-imposed a deadline on myself to make the next episode count. 17X had a terrific storyline, three superb new characters (all of which came about as a consequence of 2009's BRWS Competition), and a much more rounded feel to the animation and cinematography.

For the last six months, I've been involved in a new series of videos - the Hornby VS Bachmann videos. These have allowed me to stretch my film making muscles a bit, have some fun, and reflect on the lighter things in life. That, and reliving portions of my childhood through the delight of the Thomas range!

All through making these, new ideas and thoughts as to the next step of The British Railway Series were developing. For example, the Bachmann Thomas & Friends range - and the virtues of 3D Printing - have awakened me to the possibilities of the videos. Moving eyes, working smoke generators, 3D printed faces and bodies for them to fit on.

In essence, the whole look of the series and its episodes could change radically, if I decided at this point I wanted to reinvigorate them.

And I have to say, I do. The models, and their faces, look tired. They have done for nearly a year. They looked fresh in 2007, but in 2011, the models with faces just don't cut it on the screen. It's not the best I know I can do. They're not bright enough, nor professional looking enough, despite the use of the many incredibly detailed models we have here.

So thoughts have turned to making the models from scratch. It wouldn't be easy, or cheap. Would it be worth doing to make the series work better for Youtube? I think so.

In fact, it's not just the character engines. It's the whole look of the videos, the way I film them, and their overall length.

The episodes have traditionally been two parters, of four to five minutes each. Later, when I was able to, they were always uploaded in their intended 11 minute format. That needs to change, for people to enjoy the characters more on Youtube, and certainly for me to enjoy making them. I no longer have the time or inclination to make long episodes, with drawn out plots.

Certainly, I want to continue the plots through the season, and I intend to do exactly that. There are dozens of stories left to tell. But the gut feeling I have is that, if I continue to develop the stories in this way, they won't be worth watching. It'll be more of the same, with the same problems.

Watching the teaser video I did with the Bachmann Spencer model, again and again, made realize that something rather powerful was missing from my videos. Image, a sense of purpose, less talking and more action! People want to see trains running. Episode 15, good and proper, was the last time I had a passenger train on screen, for gawd's sake...!

So with Project Allen progressing extremely well behind the scenes - those in the Facebook group will know what the worst secret on Youtube is at the minute...! The Youtube Series has taken a step back for the moment, and the review videos fill the void while everything gets thought through, researched, and then...by September (at the very latest!) decided on.

There will definitely be a new episode in 2011. Whether it is Episode 18, or something else, I can't yet say.

So, not much of an update this month then. My apologies. I want it to be so much more - but it's got to be right, and done right.

Until next time.

June 06, 2011

"Hornby Railroad Tornado - Review"

“It's the best of British – a brand new, mainline steam locomotive for the 21st Century”

“The A1 Trust's number 60163, Tornado, is now available in model form, from Hornby!”

“How will the Mighty Tornado fare in this model review, with tests on style, strength and SHEER POWER?”

First Impressions

In 2008, 60163 Tornado was released to traffic for the first time, running in on the Great Central Railway in her grey livery, before being painted in her most recognisable British Railways Apple Green livery.

The locomotive was the culmination of a shared dream: People who shared a vision, and were determined to turn it into a reality.

The engine has achieved super star status, appearing markedly in the national press as the star of Top Gear's Race to the North – and now, it has been immortalised by Hornby in three model variations to be released this year.

The first, and the subject of this review, is the budget “Railroad” range Tornado.

On receiving the model, the first thing I noticed was a little sticker applied to the handsome yellow and red packaging – a “DCC Ready” sticker. The box is the standard Hornby affair, though annoyingly it does not use the plastic inserts of previous Railroad models, regressing somewhat to the polysterene tray of previous years.

At a first glance, the bulk of the new build Peppercorn A1 is captured extremely well. Most notable are the roller bearing axle boxes on tender and engine, the shape of the cab roof – unique to Tornado – the placement of the A1 whistle (different from the original engines) and the plain stovepipe chimney.

On the front bufferbeam, the electric lighting and their lamp brackets are absent, but the holes for their placement are not, leaving three distinct square holes in the running plate. The hole for the vacuum pipe in the bufferbeam is also present, but no detail is provided with this budget model to fit.

A spare pipe can be fitted very easily to the front end, improving the look.

The handrails on the cab, tender and smoke deflectors are moulded onto the model, much like the Railroad Flying Scotsman model. The handrail for the boiler is separately fitted.

The buffers are not sprung, and are moulded onto the model. This is something of a disappointment as my example had some damage to the right hand buffer. The plastic is clearly not durable enough, and caution is advised when handling the buffers. If you are brave enough, as I intend to be, to fit new buffers, spare sprung buffers can be obtained from Bachmann of the correct LNER type.

The tender shares this type of buffer. Detail on the rear of the tender body is crisply moulded, though again there is no vacuum pipe, but a hole for fitting one remains present.

The tender is probably the strongest part of the model, capturing every single unique detail of Tornado's tender, down to the anti-slide plating on the water tank, to the cabinet of dials on the front. The spoked wheels are a joy to behold, and capture the prototype extremely well.

The connection between the tender and locomotive is a simple bar arrangement, with two holes for changing the gap between cab and tender. This means the tender, like the Bachmann Peppercorn A1s, does not have pickups of any form.

This is the first time I have seen this particular arrangement on a Hornby model, and I don't like it very much. It seems a rather flimsy arrangement, compared with the other other Railroad Pacifics plug in connection.

The cab is also moulded very well, entirely in plastic and as part of the injection moulded bodyshell. Two cab seats are provided, one either side. The cab roof, though relatively plain, is a very accurate presentation of the prototype's different curvature to the roof.

The chassis is a very familiar affair, if you are familiar with Hornby's other Pacifics in their Railroad and Super Detail ranges. The cartazzi wheelset – the two small wheels under the cab – are flangeless, allowing the model to negotiate tight curves with ease. A relief for my tiny trainset!

The wheels have plastic centres, with metal rims pressed onto them. The only real complaint here is the colour of the plastic – it does not match the green of the bodyshell very well.

When lined up alongside two Bachmann Peppercorn A1s, the differences are clear. The top engine is Bachmann's W.P. Allen model, and the bottom is Bachmann's own model of Tornado, first released in 2010.

The first obvious difference between the three models is the application of their liveries. The Railroad is a budget model, and has a much simplified livery. The white/black/white lining of the prototype is reduced to simple white lining on the locomotive, and to white/green/white on the tender.

The extensive red lining on the running plate, and frames of the locomotive and tender have also been excluded. The overhead warning stickers are also absent.

At the front end, the white lining on the bufferbeam has also been excluded. For a budget model, this is understandable.

The nameplates are printed onto the smoke deflectors and are easily legible. The cabside numbers and British Railways branding on the tender are neatly applied too.

More disappointingly, no silver paint has been applied to the smokebox – one of Tornado's most recognisable features are her burnished smokebox straps and handrail, and to some extent this changes the “face” of the model somewhat. The very prominent chime whistle Tornado carries behind her right hand smoke deflector is there, but is both unpainted, and very plainly moulded.

This is a very minor quibble with an otherwise excellently painted model. The livery application is crisp and sharp, the model looking smart regardless of its much simplified livery.

Haulage Capacity

Each model has to pull a train of coaches, the standard coach being used for this test the ubiquitous Hornby Mk1 coach.

The weight of one Hornby Mk1 Coach is 5 ounces, roughly 140 grams. The Railroad Tornado weighed in at ounces, approximately grams, and its tender weighed in at ounces, approximately grams.

The model, according to Hornby, utilises a 3-pole motor, not a 5-pole one. It did not seem to make much of a difference, as the Tornado model was both quiet, smooth running, and powerful. 14 coaches were pulled on the level without any problems.

The only misgiving I have is the front bogie. Like all the Pacifics in the Hornby range, older types of pointwork seem to give these trouble. The Railroad Tornado derailed twice whilst conducting this test. Aside from that, it is a terrific model.

Recommended Retail Price

The recommended retail price for the Railroad Tornado model is £76.99. In comparison, the cost of a full spec A4 Pacific is now reaching the £140 mark, whereas the high spec Tornado model (not yet released) is £92.99. Until that model is released, it's fruitless to ask whether or not the Railroad model is value for money against it.

However, it is definitely value for money against the Bachmann Tornado model, with an RRP comparable to the Hornby A4s, of £141.95 – the next batch of these models will be released towards the end of next year.

Overall, I'm sold on the virtues of the Railroad range – affordable, well performing models that look enough like their prototypes to delight and entertain any child or railway enthusiast on their train set.

So on that bombshell, it's time to end – until next time, thank you for watching!