Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The green, green grass of home...

Quite literally.... These pictures are all within, or within 6 yards of, my home.

With so many ways of producing grass these days on a model railway or piece of scenic work, I thought it might be apposite to discuss just what IS grass.
I also can't work because it's just too damned hot, so I went for a brief stroll around where I live.  It's not all about grass, there's a bit about asphalt, margins, even brick bonds to keep my ol' mate, Rich happy over there in Florida.

The above well noshed field of bright green meadow grass is what most think of as "model railway" field grass, but it is actually only a small part of the scene.  That field is not that common.  The one next to it is as green, but closer cropped and with tussocks of weed which the sheep will not touch.
This is the very next field. Different owner, last year a heavily grazed and partially flooded quagmire in the winter. But here it is with coarse meadow grass round the edge, crushed by the ramblings of just one lone cow who only comes out at night!  The rest is part of our unusually heavy crop of thistles , everywhere this year.  I wonder if it's an omen about the Scottish Independence vote in two months time.  Separating the two fields is a widish ditch. Very much in need of a clear-out, but currently full of the biggest grass I have seen. It's almost bamboo.
This stands at about 5 feet high out of the ditch. Each leaf is about 18" long and up to 2 " wide, yet it is essentially the stuff that peeps out of your flower beds, just left to its own devices.  I would imagine that laser cut thin paper would be the only way to reproduce this.
And what of these damned things?  Nettles. Found in every garden, every lane margin, but very complex plants to reproduce in scale.
This is a path twixt my wife's recent memorial garden and the bonfire pit to the right.
In March it was a path you could walk down!  Just how can we even suggest these fiddly leafed stingers in scale?

Just outside the garden is the lane and its ditched edging. This one connects underground by a culveted section, to the earlier shown overgrown ditch.  It is a very popular hunting ground for Barn Owls and Falcons of various kind, which round here, we get all day.
Next to the ditch can be seen a bog standard telephone pole as witness the thin single wire. This pole is in the side of the ditch, believe it or not and that ditch is a good 10 feet deep!
Note how light in colour is the lane. This is nowhere near black (so often used on a model), it's not even battleship grey it's much lighter.  I don't fiddle with colours as I don't have the software, so what you see on a clear sunny day is what it is...light grey.
Only last week (Friday), a couple of tubby, sweating road operatives from the Norfolk Council, tumbled out of their Transit flat bed and shovelled two shots of "tarmac" into the potholes that had previously smashed a few car springs on the edge of our one car wide lane. Note where a suit had sprayed them white with a certain flourish, in order that said sweaty overweight roadmen should recognize a pothole when he sees one and know where to fill an 8" dip.  These potholes are where the neighbour and all other overly heavy and wide farm and transport vehicles use our lane as a rat run between destinations and pass a parked vehicle squeezed against our fence, which actually leaves plenty of space for a conventional vehicle, but not the rolling towns that the local farmers bring in to do 10 mens' jobs with just 2 screaming diesels.  But the roadmenders have injected tarmac only for the section of pothole which goes to the official edge of the lane, beyond which, the farmer is responsible.  This means that with no proper edge to hold the tarmac in, the edge of it, that they put in, falls into the unfilled part of the hole and therefore averages the original hole out at a bit less than the original depth!  The constant hammering of lorry and Fastrac tyres will soon have that flattened out and when the cold and wet gets in it will look like it did last Thursday and start smashing car springs again!  This is what is known as full employment.  Or rather, giving nicely mechanised pointless tasks to fat, incapable idiots who could do with the exercise of pushing a barrow round our lanes and back to the depot.  But it does make for interesting model features.  It also shows that a jet black tarmac pile is getting towards light grey in just a few days from installation.  You will rarely see a whole new surface on a country lane.

Where the fat men haven't had to visit, the margin of a country lane looks, more often than not, like this.
Here's where the road becomes the field of malting barley. It goes from loose pebbles and dust, to short, driven on, lighter coloured, dust filled grass, to longer meadow grass, leaves about 8 inches long, to thick weed bushes of about 3 feet width and height, usually this time of year, thistle or nettle. Back in April/May the Cow Parsley , full of that rather sad off white blossom would have stood all along there.  There is no ditch this side, so the rougher grass jut imperceptibly runs into shorter (less healthy,) and finally, taller, sturdy, barley, ready to harvest next month. I have actually harvested that very field , year before last.  There is no demarcation, no clear lines, just one surface becoming another over the width of about 8 feet.  32 or 56 mm , depending on OO or O gauge. Or 2" if you model in the far more sensible American O scale of 1/4" to a foot, a fine and sensible Imperial scale.

How often do you see the tarmac really well modelled?  How well observed are the road margins on even the better layouts?  
When did you last espy "marbles" down the middle of a country lane, eh?
Don't try to pretend the traffic won't allow it.  This lane, incredibly, sees 40 ton artics., huge tractor/sprayer outfits, even bigger twin diesel hydraulic powered, 10 wheeled beet lifters, boy racers in flattened Mk 2 Golfs and Scoobies, you name it.  The septic tank emptier in the background rejoices in the legend, "You make it, we take it".
And if ye be tempted to take a short cut with modelling roads properly, there's always this!
The only danger of death with this pole is that it's clearly rotten and was last inspected by Eastern Electricity, (defunct for years) in 1996!

And for Rich, who is a rare American gentleman who loves his bricks, here's our place with an unfathomable bond system best called "lazy English" I think!
Note the correct kind of insulated receiver for the electricity. Oddly, with no real voltage, exactly the same fittings were used for telephones, as here. The power comes in on the extreme right of the picture. Note also the wonderful old outdoor telephone bell, which I've never heard, but one of which used to ring out across the gardens where I grew up as Dad had one for his workshop at the end of the garden.  That ridge tiling could ONLY be done with photo-etching!

More anon.


  1. A very enjoyable ramble, Martin! Grass and vegetation would be only slightly easier to model in "O" gauge and I am sure there is some philosophical point about this which escapes me just now...I, too have a bit of a "thing" about tarmac and rarely see it modelled convincingly. Hywel Thomas is one of the folk that does:
    When I lived in Aberdeenshire we had a pothole caused by farm vehicles and 40 tonners full of soil from city building sites, tipping illegally in a quarry up the road. The "council" came along one day and tipped some tarmac from a bag into the hole, then reversed their transit over said depression a few times! No Aveling roller for that job :-)

  2. Iain, that's exactly what the fat men did here. Three runs over the tarmac with the Transit and off to the next pothole. They, of course, had to have the hard hats, goggles and noisy yellow jackets!