Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Hawking the brat about

The thing I always found most difficult when modelmaking full time was getting known in a wider sphere. I was well known enough as a brass patternmaker, a builder of masters, but I wanted to be asked by rich people to build models of their cars, boats, houses, etc..

The only way I could think of to convince any likely big spender that I was their man was to build models "on spec."
So I knocked up the odd item from time to time when things were a little slow in the master world.

One such was the McLaren M8F Can-Am car, which I found at Scott Racing in Brandon, Suffolk. Near enough to my house to be an easy trip for measuring and photographing.

Trevor, Scott's proprietor and his son were helpfulness personified and I had a great couple of days measuring and sketching every detail of the car.
The gearbox and clutch housing of the 1/12th scale M8F model with the suspension bracket made in brass. The engine and gearbox are made in plastic strip and sheet and will be moulded in resin for strength.

My chum Chas has a fotki photo site and he insisted I do a step-by-step album of the build, so here's the URL for that. There are pictures of every stage of the construction up until I moved aboard my boat. Much later I continued to work on it and will finish it sometime.

Find the build at

Unfortunately the price Bonham's suggested I put on it as a reserve would not these days be attained, or anywhere near. I've also discovered how auction houses rip a one man band off with all their extra charges which they either don't explain when you trust them with your work or don't quantify before they sell it. I once sold another "on spec" model of Miss Britain III via them and I got £2100, six MONTHS after the auction at which the new owner bid £2850, on which he would have paid buyers commission as well!!

Is it any wonder e-bay has stormed the world?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

All that glisters........

A great part of my modelmaking life has been the production of "masters" or master patterns for the casting and moulding industry. Initially white metal and more recently, resins.

For the whitemetal industry it is almost exclusively the case that the patterns be made in brass. My first brass master was made for a very new company then, called Grand Prix Models. I'd suggested they made some kits and they agreed and asked me to make a master of a Trojan Chummy, that strange little pram like thing with solid tyres, much beloved of vicars and district nurses.

And so, away we all went on a mad rush to bring out better and more esoteric white metal models of cars in 1/43rd and 1/24th scale. Over the years I have made over 500 brass masters, but have photos of very few and examples of even fewer.
But here are some:-

This is a 1/76th scale model of a Fairline 50, the company's one-time flagship. It is all in brass, with a little epoxy putty for the "water". The deck removes and inside are seperate cabins with all furniture, all also done in brass, right down to the turned-down corners of the bedspreads.

A 1/48th scale Jeep with trailer and, unseen, its cannon. Bits of its suspension and equipment can be seen in component form waiting for the caster's mysterious art.

The biggest scale I've worked to on a master...1/5th. This B.S.A. DBD 34 "Gold Star" engine and gearbox is the master for a complex kit in white metal for a range of stand-alone model engines for collectors. This is the only one I ever photographed, but I did a J.A.P. V Twin and a Matchless G29 Twin in the same series. Each fin is a seperate casting, all assembled round a length of 15mm gas pipe. Even the nuts and bolts had to be made for these models.

And one of the smallest, but not quite. A master for an Alfa Romeo Spider to a "fit-the-box" scale, for a giftware company. I believe they were used for a motoring version of Monopoly. There was also a Damon Hill F1 car and this:-

A Rolls Royce Silver Ghost at an even smaller scale, being a bigger car, to fit the same box! The artillery spoked wheels were one of the most taxing jobs I've done on a brass master.

A complete 1/43rd scale brass master of a Berkeley T60 3-wheeler. It was one of the last complete masters I did before going to live afloat, where such things were not possible.

This selection barely scratches the surface of all the masters I have done. Not all were in brass. The Aston Martins at the top were carved from a resin toolmakers' material and given brass wheels and tyres with correct tyre tread pattern. They were then used by a silversmithing company to make silver copies to be sold under Aston Martin's giftware label for around £1000 each.

The patterns were rather more expensive....

Monday, 28 September 2009

Distant friends

There seem to be two aspects of internet socialising, not apparently complimentary. I have done poorly from the first, groups and forums, but very well from the second...Internet friends.

Years ago, when I first got on the worldly web I chanced upon two gentlemen through websites with whom I have corresponded regularly since.

They have been the mainstay of my internet friendships. Chas in California, is a classic and racing car fan and a modelmaker of constantly improving standard.
A brace of Lotus Elite's in 1/24th scale by Chas and Dale. Chas's is the racing B.R.P. one in what he describes as "bilious".

Urbane, witty and constantly keen to learn from his researches and experiences.

Such good friends have we become that Chas and his wife, Ursula (Uk) spent some time with us a few years ago when undertaking a "European tour" and delightful company they were, too.

And then, a couple of years ago when spannering for my son's boss at Goodwood, I was able to grab a couple of coffees with Chas and his friend. naturally they were quickly grabbed opportunities for they wanted to see and watch everything at that unique event.
Chas with a hanger-on he happened to meet at Goodwood!!

My other chum from the States is Rich from Florida. Equally well educated and liberal in outlook, but chalk to Chas's cheese. An old biker, ex Coast guard, digger driver, professional photographer and modelmaker of railway and speedboat subjects extraordinaire. A man whose philosophy is difficult to keep up with, so densely experienced is it. I have rarely met one so well-read. His signature changes for yet another witty and wise quotation every few days. His mails are charged with stream-of-conciousness writing that requires re-reading constantly.
This magnificent 1/8th scale model of a Liberty aero engine as used in an American speedboat was made entirely by hand in WOOD!, by Rich Redfern "plus some pens and a parrot toy" says Rich, with typical modesty.

The point I want to make is that it is possible to make really GOOD friends without necessarily ever actually meeting them, or meeting them once or twice only. I am as fussy as they come about friendship. I have only ever had a handful of really good friends, but a fair proportion of them are at a distance, which, now I have no passport, or any desire to go through the impertinent interrogation necessary to obtain one in England these days, I will be unable to traverse.

When I was unconnected from the Internet whilst cruising on our boat, these gentlemen typed e-mails to me, dated and then printed them out after a month or so and posted them to wherever I was reachable. And so having begun the friendship, we continued it with no real help from the ether at all. And, no doubt we shall do so again, when my wife and I continue our travels.
A beautiful Cooper 500 F3 car in 1/12th scale by Dale King, entirely hand made.

Of course, through first friends, others will come, Dale, a friend of Chas's in America, Frank and Tom in Canada, Ken in London, Dave and Anne Marie in Holbeach, Graham in Walsall, Dave in the Isle of Man. All through modelmaking mainly, but all through a general outlook that transcends the pettiness of forums and special interest groups, where my natural intolerance causes me problems.

To all my internet friends who have tolerated me over the years, I raise a glass and thank you for your unswerving loyalty.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Pin back your lugholes...

My favourite author is Tom Rolt as he's most widely known. Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt was a writer, philosopher and visionary.
He was responsible for the Railway Preservation movement with the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the Vintage Sports Car Club and the Inland Waterways Association. The second and third of these ensured the purity of genuine vintage motoring and the saving of the canals for the widespread liesure use they now enjoy respectively.
He found Prescott Hill for the VSCC, which is now run by the Bugatti Owners' Club, who have a museum in his name at the hillclimb course in Gloucestershire.
Prescott has grown in stature to become the premier hill for all vintage and classic motoring events.
Tom's Alvis 12/50 Duck's Back. He never owned a more modern car all his life and was completely at home driving this across country on the minor roads of England as he was making a new part or repairing an existing one. He, quite rightly, proved that an inexorable march , blindy, toward modernism is neither inevitable or necessary. When he became a family man he simply moved seats to a 4 seater Alvis 12/70 Tourer of similar vintage, belonging to his father.
His seminal work, "Narrow Boat", which has been in print continuously since 1946 is rightly credited with saving our canals as places of leisure AND work, where they might have been all filled in if Tom hadn't have led a number of crusading journeys and rallies to save them.
Tom's boat, "Cressy" at the War-time mooring at Tardebigge where he and his first wife, Angela, befriended the March ladies on their boat "Heather Bell", the boat now owned by my wife and I. It was here that Tom formed the notion of an Association of interested parties who would keep the canals going after the War.

Starting the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society and running it almost single-handedly in its early years showed many others worldwide that such was possible.

I have spoken with people who were fortunate enough to have met him or who knew him and it is probably true to say that he was not, perhaps, the easiest man to know. Men of strong, unbendable principles rarely are, but the world is poorer for the woeful dearth of such people in this modern age.
It is also immeasurably the poorer for the lack of writers of his ability. Those for whom writing was a constant struggle, but whose style was born of an earlier, gentler age where the English language was to be revelled in; those who were uncowed by any considerations of political correctness. It is far more enjoyable to read what a person really thinks when it is not only unfettered by such things, but done with elegance and honesty.
Tom, riding an Irish train during his sojourn in the Emerald Isle, for his volume, "Green and Silver". I am homoured to posess a first edition of this fine book.
It was during a period of introspection and, perhaps, depression that I picked up his "Landscape with Canals". I read it from cover to cover in nearly one sitting and when I came out the other end I was fine. I had to read the rest of this astonishing man's work. I knew of "Narrow Boat" but had never read it. I did so and found the same euphoria. It was very easy to see how this one book, more than any other, had started the movement to save the precious resource of our canals and navigable waterways.
I continued with the other two books in his "Landscape Trilogy", "Landscape with Machines" and "Landscape with Figures". These three books form his autobiography and through his self examination help to explain how he, to some extent at least, came to terms with the dychotemy of his apparent hatred of the way the modern world was heading and his love of engineering. All was revealed to him one night at Llanthony Abbey in South Wales. Having been there, I can well understand how his epiphany came about. Reading these books made me want to read his philosophical works. I was to wait some years until I could both find and afford them, for here we enter the realms of rare books and their collectors, for Tom had become a collectable writer.

I'll have a Bloody Mary

Back in 1929, two school boys looking for something interesting to do in the "long vac" decided to build a car. Not a push cart or soap box...a real car!
They were the Bolster brothers, Richard and John. With a rescued V-Twin motorbike engine, some ash, metal bits and a hand-drill, they put together what was to become one of the most famous hillclimb and sprint specials of all time.
John, it was, who fostered the project after his brother went on to other things and eventually the definitive Bloody Mary was developed into a fearsome beast which often held Fastest Time awards and in fact held a course record from 1948-1953 for unsupercharged cars in the vintage class. I've always had a fascination for specials and for the ultra specialised competition of hillclimbing, ever since my uncle took me to a meeting at Wiscombe Park in Devon years ago.
So I resolved to build a model of Bloody Mary in 1/32nd scale... A working model which, according to my self-imposed modelmaking rules for hillclimbers, should have the motors where the engines were on the real car.
When I say engines, in the plural, I mean just that, for young John soon found another J.A.P. V-twin and installed it next to the first in an extended frame. Connected by chains to each other and thence to a motorcycle gearbox, these two firebrands of engines then were connected to a solid back axle by chain also.
No diff was used, a la Frazer-Nash. Brakes were a vestigial pair on the front axle of Austin Seven vintage. Rear hubs and wheels were from a Frazer Nash, so there were 36 spoke wheels on the front and 48 on the rear!

I started my model by making a drawing using all the pictures I could find and the above old Profile Publication, but quite a few features remain a bit foggy.

Once the drawing was more or less done I made a frame from brass tube in a square section and soldered it up as a simple rectangle.; Eventually it should have a member right down the middle too, but fitting motors may mean that has to be modified.

Then I made a front axle from 3/32" stainless rod. For bearings, the car used a double yoke system which took springs above and radius rods below, so I turned a couple of bobbin shapes in the Peatol/Taig lathe and filed them so that the lugs were of a diamond shape above and below the bearing.

Springs were fashioned from brass and given a slightly irregular look, because they were bound with twine in the fashion of the times.

Keen to start bashing aluminium, which I love to do, I also made the right hand body side from thin proprietary sheet from the modelmaker's friend, K&S Metal Centre. This is a particularly good aluminium for shaping. Cut with scissors, knife and files. This is progress, so far

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A return to slot racing

After 42 years I rediscovered slot racing. I used to be a keen club racer in the 60s, but expensive can motor rewinds and sponsored team drivers at raceways killed it all very quickly, so I walked away from it.

Whilst looking for road vehicles to populate 1/32nd scale model railway layouts I found that there was a whole new world of slot racing, new clubs, new cars from Ready To Run companies like Scalextric and a lot of new companies I'd never even heard of.

During a discussion on Slot Forum I rashly offered to make patterns for accurate 1/32nd scale model car bodies and someone took me up on it, offering to mould them in resin. F-F Models was born, not as a business or anything fancy like that, but as a way of helping fellow enthusiasts out with really accurate, detailed bodies that they could put their own chassis under and go racing. Our website can be found at

Our models are now all over the world and have been very well recieved so far.

This a Lola Mk4 F1 car from the early 60s. An F-F Models body kit built by Chris Wright in America..and very beautifully too!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

1931, we had it all!

In 1931, Great Britain had all the major World Speed Records and that is an achievement that has never been matched, before or since.

To celebrate this fact I did some paintings of the holders, with head and shoulders portraits of the drivers and pilots in pencil.

My intention is to compile these into a poster format for sale.

Here are some of the pictures:-

Miss England II, driven by Henry O'Neil De Hane Segrave, one of the finest of British heroes.

The beautiful Supermarine S6B, forerunner of the Spitfire, with a Rolls-Royce R-type engine, seen on Calshot Water.
Flown by Squadron Leader Stainforth to over 400m.p.h.

The Zenith-J.A.P. motorcycle on which Joe Wright took the World Speed Record at over 150m.p.h.

This is a pencil study, since no colour reference has come to light, though in those days most British bikes were just black!
Bluebird, Sir Malcolm Campbell's record breaker on Daytona Beach. Sir Malcolm and his son, Donald were in very much the same mould as Segrave, breaking records for Britain, before themselves.

A few decades of modelmaking

Over the years, my main interest and, indeed, profession has been modelmaking.

I began with a model of a sand carrying barge called Peterna, which was made for a small Essex company and carried on making all types of models for collectors, companies and museums all over the world.

I never advertised, word of mouth being sufficient for all that time.Eventually I went to Germany to work on Prototype cars and Show cars, full size, clay and fibre glass.
I started with a passion for model scenery, particularly on model railway layouts. never having space for a layout myself, I made items for others or just as stand alone models
This is a model of my friend's country garage office. Soon it will be demolished to make way for housing and another fine old country garage lost for ever. the reason it can't make a profit selling fuel is that the government insist on too many tank tests and then have the gall to charge for the dubious privelege. They charge so much that it wouldn't be possible to make a profit if the pumps were running all day. No doubt this nonsense has emanated from Europe, where the mainlanders ignore every petty rule and we, the stupid English, labour under them to the letter! And so, for the sake of "being in Europe" a whole swaithe of our heritage and once pleasant land is swept aside. I'd say Tesco's had a lot to do with putting those rules in place. Soon, they'll be the only place a person can buy fuel and'll be charged at whatever they feel like. Choice having disappeared.

This little scenic set-piece was built in 7mm-1ft scale just to remind me of my beloved estuaries when I was unable to be by one.
It is based on my memories of the River Roach when I was a child. My uncle had a Dunkirk Little Ship moored in a mud rill and we would go there most weekends to take a trip out or work on the old boat, a Thorneycroft High-Prow cruiser with a Meadows 4 ED engine.
The photography worked out well as this little set-piece is only 9" square. The dinghy was made in pearwood veneer exactly as the real boats only with no nails! The oars are bamboo.
This place meant a great deal to me when I was growing up, but a storm one night carried away a lot of the scene, including an old railway coach which the Kimble family had used for generations as a longshoreman's hut for their nets and repair materials. Outside it, a brick area served as a careening shelf, where the boats would be cleaned off of barnacles and re-antifouled.

Now, it is difficult to see where we ever went for our weekends. The oyster beds are just discernable as are the last remains of my uncle's dinghy. Wherever I played as a child, samphire now grows, easy for the picking at this time of year.

The old sea wall was crossed regularly by rustic old stiles made from fallen ships' timbers.
Just down from here in another mud rill still remains the last of Darwin's ship, the HMS Beagle. She was used as a Customs point after Darwin's great journey and eventually just rotted away. I used to play amongst her timbers at low tide.
Old clay pipes could till be found amongst the mud.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

My canal artwork

Here are few of my paintings. I started out just doing pictures of classic canal boat engines while I was living afloat for something to do in the winter evenings.
I'd never painted before apart from airbrush work, but with a child's watercolour set I did this one as my first effort and didn't look back.

This is a Lister JP2, a mainstay of the later canal fleets. Heavy, thrifty and endlessly reliable, like all Listers. These are now a very expensive bit of iron, but not so long ago couldn't be given away!
It's shown in a background of a wooden boat very much like ours. In fact our boat had a JP2 for a long time.

This is a Bolinder semi-diesel 2 stroke. This was the engine which almost single handedly transformed the many horse boats and few steamers on the canals into the modern cargo carriers that continued right up to the point where canals became more for leisure than work.
It is started by a blowlamp being aimed at a bulb on the top for about 15 minutes, then it's kicked over by a retractable pin on the rim of the flywheel. Get that wrong and it would throw you clean out the side doors! On some engines there was no gearbox, you had to time it just right and get the engine itself to run backwards, which many 2-strokes can. these engines have just the one massive capacity cylinder, so need that enormous flywheel to keep going. You can hear a hardworking "Bolly" over a mile away.

Although not really ever a canal boat engine due to cost and size, the superb Kelvin engines are now very sought after for powering modern narrowboats and tugs. Their construction is flawless by design and excecution, even the insides of the engine are enamelled in white!

Their main claim to fame is the fact that they are petrol/diesel. That is, they are started on a tiny amount of petrol, then switched over to diesel once running. I once drove a Kelvin J2 and was presented with a 12 point list of operations to attend to each time it was started, but once those items were checked the engine would always start without fail amidst actual smoke rings from the chimney. Its exhaust note of "Gerdonk" was excelled only by a bigger K2 unit I once heard saying "Rivitt, rivitt" to me.
These were the darlings of the Scottish fishing fleet. If you're freezing in a rough North Sea, you need to know you'll get home.

Many people seem to think the Russell Newberry is the Rolls Royce of engines.


It's certainly Rolls Royce price, but I think there are other, more worthy owners of that title.

Nonetheless, the RN is much loved and even warrants an owners' club.
It has a few strange and interesting features, like horizontal valves, for instance. It was until recently, still made, but at a very high price. It has a distinctive sound, like a cantering horse.

Many of the boats that housed these sorts of engines would gather at this most famous of meeting places...Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham.
This painting shows Gas Street in around the 1970s.
The two boats in the picture are recently decked out in British Waterways colours, albeit without the lettering. The unpowered "butty" was usually tied up to the bank with the motor boat outside it wherever a pair stopped for the night or whilst awaiting loading orders.

These pictures and some others are available to buy as limited edition prints.
The reproduction here is not reliably coloured as, for some reason, they come out a little grey when photographed. Being all A3 size they couldn't be scanned.

I will, I hope, soon have a Paypal account through which they can be bought for £17-50 each+£2-50 p&p in a cardboard tube.

A blog begins.........

Hello, I'm known as Odds, don't ask why, I won't tell you anyway.
Having been on and left a lot of forums, groups and general collectives of supposedly like-minded people, I have been advised now by my good friend on Slotty Salad, Tom Wysom, to just stick with a blog. The hell with forums and groups and their cliquey, nit-picky, anal smallmindedness.
This is me and my interests, opinions, methods, achievements and frustrations, for what it is all worth, which, let's face it, because we are all very small, is probably not very much.

My interests include modelmaking of most types except military, old cars, old boats, old bikes.

I also draw in an illustratorly, rather than arty-farty style. I like to draw any of the above subjects and paint them too, with watercolours and gouache, because I haven't the patience and skill for oils or the tolerance of acrylic's foibles. I like to use pastel and pencil.
I try landscape and scenic subjects from time to time.

I have a fascination for vernacular architecture and have helped restore old houses with friends.

I have lived on boats, coastal and canal, in caravans, in houses old and new, home and abroad.
I used to work abroad, still modelmaking, for the car industry along with many other Englishmen, for the Englishman's attitude at work is highly prized by Johnny Foriegner as long as he's not actually on the books and under the laws of the host land! Dear me, no. That wouldn't do at all.

I have an interest in certain poets and writers. I can read L.T.C. "Tom" Rolt all day for his philosophy and sheer elegance of the use of English and for his vision.
Philip Larkin and John Betjeman make me smile as does an occasional dollop of PG Wodehouse.
Ian Rankin and Colin Dexter keep me turning pages when I need a mystery to escape to.

Time for tea, I think.