Slow Modelling

Many years ago, as a callow youth, I spent about 12 months working as an apprentice to and Italian carpenter by the name of Johnny. Johnny’s English wasn’t too good, and my Italian non-existent, so he decided that I needed to learn some key Italian words that would “facilitate communication”, to use a very modern phrase and to save me getting a “kick in the arse”, to use a very 70’s one. There are several words I remember but the two that seemed to figure most prominently in my Italian lessons were “pronto” and “presto”. I’m sure there is a subtle distinction between the two but it was made clear to me that both meant “GET A MOVE ON”! As I am now a school principal and not a carpenter this probably speaks volumes about the work habits of me as a 17-year-old, however I learnt more about the realities of earning a living and working with my hands in that 12 months than in the previous 16 years combined, so it was well worth the time.

A couple of months ago I was searching on the net for a source of cheap DAS modelling clay for my next project when a photo of the product appeared with a label that read DAS Pronto. This prompted a memory that DAS used to be marketed in Australia under this name and this brought a smile to my face because using this clay material in my modelling has had the opposite effect to the name: not too many techniques could be much slower than scribing thousands of individual bricks into the surface of my models. Then the memory Johnny shouting “Pronto!’ at me all those years ago really made me laugh. Who ever came up with a name like that for this product? No wonder they dropped it 🙂

About three weeks ago I reached a stage where I had essentially completed my “scheduled” tasks to get Morpeth ready for its appearance at the Aus7 ExpO on March 1. There was never any actual list of jobs to do but you need to be aware that I had made a commitment to show the layout about 2 years ago and I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to have it finished in time. This would not be such a big deal under normal circumstances, plenty of layouts have appeared at exhibitions I’ve attended unfinished, but some of you may not be aware of the context. I’m actually the President of the group who are organising the ExpO and to turn up with a half-finished layout would not have been acceptable to me, even if no one else would have minded. I wasn’t going to get the layout finished, but I had made some decisions about the level of completion I would be satisfied when the show rolled around and I reached that stage 3 weeks ago. At that time there were five weeks left before the ExpO.

What should I do with the time available to me? While the garden was crying out for a bit of attention I decided that this would be a good time to start on a new building, and just to make it interesting, one made of bricks! So I was back to scribing DAS! As I didn’t believe I had any hope of finishing this building this should be a tale of a double irony, one where a half-finished buiilding would be sitting in the middle of a half-finished module. But alas, this beautifully rounded, almost poetic ending was not to be! I believe that the building, a model of the goods shed at Morpeth, will be well and truly finished by the time of the ExpO! So what went wrong?

The person most responsible for the use of DAS in my modelling is the UK modeller Gordon Gravett. He wrote about the technique in one of his 7mm modelling books. I happen to correspond with him via email occasionally and when I told him that scribing bricks is a sure-fire cure for sanity he replied that he found the process “therapeutic”. To be quite honest I find modelling with DAS does have a certain simple beauty about it. To get great results all you need are some DAS clay, a few simple tools, PVA glue and some patience. Oh, and a stong thumb on your right hand (or left if you’re left-handed). I’ve come to believe the reason the results can be so good is partially for the same reason that building models with wood tends to produce good results: in the same way that nothing looks more like wood than wood, DAS produces good stone/brick work because it is partially constituted from the same material as bricks, namely clay. In fact it’s a mix of chopped up paper and some type of clay but let’s not get too pedantic. But no one is going to convince me that there’s anything pronto about working with it 🙂

I’ve been looking forward to getting the chance to work on the buildings on the third scenic module of Morpeth ever since I started the layout about four years ago. In fact I deliberately started on the “boring” end to give myself plenty of time to savour getting to this point. This sense of anticipation was also due to the fact that I’d already worked through some of the structures on that part of the layout before on my earlier Morpeth layout. For instance this was my second go at building the station. All the buildings on the third module were new to me, I’d never built versions of them before.

The information I had on the goods shed was pretty basic. I had the building footprint dimensions from a track diagram and 3 or 4 photos of the building itself, unfortunately all of these taken from almost the same location. I had no specific information about the wall heights, roofing material or what was in a row of recesses one of the photos showed were inset into the side wall. What I did know was that this was a very early building in NSWR terms, built well before materials and techniques were standardised across the system. In addition I felt the building had a very “English” look to it: it was a brick shed in a system that used wood and corrugated iron almost exclusively for these buildings. So decided to brush my modellers licence off and do a couple of things I want to have existed rather than what I know was there.

It seemed logical to me that the recesses were for windows to provide light inside the shed, a shed with a run through being very rare in NSW in itself. I was originally going to use Grandt Line windows and had ordered these but I came to realise that these wouldn’t arrive in time for me to get them installed before the exhibition so last weekend I made my own from styrene strip. I decided that I wanted to use slate on the roof rather than the almost universal corrugated iron. I’ve ordered some 7mm scale slate tile material from a company in the UK called York Model Making and I await with anticipation the arrival of this in the mail from England.

The goods shed is about 70% complete and should be secured in place with scenery and ballast surrounding it within a week. The exact timing will really be determined by the arrival of the slate and the amount of time it takes to apply this to the styrene roof former you can see in the photo I’ll post. So I’ve decided not to start the modelling equivalent of the Italian “slow food” movement: this project has gone far too quickly to allow me to claim membership of such a group. However I’ve really enjoyed working on a new structure and it’s good to know I now have two whole weeks to fill with another project. The yard does need a crane….

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One thought on “Slow Modelling

  1. Hi Trevor,
    Excellent bit of modelling with the goods shed. You will be pleased with the York roof tiling. You comment on the fact that you deduce that the recesses were windows. It is possible they were not windows but recessed walls, but it doesn’t really matter too much as nobody will be able to comment accurately; anyway windows look better. I and a friend will be down to the show on the first March. I tried to add a picture to this reply but haven’t found a way to do this.
    All the best; see you at the show.

    0 Dave

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