7/8ths Scale‎ > ‎

7/8ths Personnel

by Doc

In which our esteemed contributor waxes lyrical about things that bear but a minimal relevance to most other people's garden railway. But soft, who is concerned?

What's it all about?

We all come to garden railway from our different backgrounds. Few of us are heavily into the gardening element; the vast majority, if asked, might admit that their miniature endeavours only thinly conceal a desire to turn back the clock to a more filthy time, when steam ruled, men were men and spat ont' floor with impunity. Boys walked the streets clutching smog butties in brown paper bags, their thighs chapped with the cold and chafed by worsted shorts, handed down to them for generations.

Yes, but, No but.  Some of us, born moments after the last shot fired in anger in the last unpleasantness with Germany, are of an entirely different kidney. We are, essentially, miniaturists. We care little about double reversing clack thrusters and finely tuned goggle wagnits. If it's small and bijoux, it's for us. Many of us come from a background of extreme deprivation. I wish my father had beaten me more. It might have made a man of me. As it is, he did worse than that. The miserable son of a gopher made me read books and study. Toys were for others. Train spotting was for weedy men in anoraks. Perhaps he had a point. My father beat me mercilessly…. at chess... and in rhetorical diatribe. He made it impossible for me to fail in my career. Worse than all these things, he made me rich, filthy rich, RICH I TELL you. Well, not exactly. He made me easily satisfied with very little, with small things, and that is richness indeed.

My Guv'nor, Sir Adrian. Not much fun in his house.

So, saddened reader, wipe that tear from the corner of your eye. Yes, YOU, go ON, wipe it! …………….That's better.

As soon as I left home, I cast caution to the wind and soon made up for all those years of childhood misery. I got very involved in miniature warfare. Yes, I admit it. I was a Napoleon. I still possess a 15mm French Imperial Guard for table top wargaming. All the units with uniforms correct to the last turnback colour and button. Hundreds of them. I made dollhouse furniture. Proper Chippendale stuff out of basswood, stained and varnished. I learned how to make dolls food using salt dough. I even set up a company to import 1/12th scale items from the USA. At one time, if you bought a readable 1/12th scale leather bound book, there was a good chance I had brought it into the UK.

So, for me, garden railway is all about the miniaturisation thing. I'm not trying to reconstruct some nostalgic moment from my youth. Best forgotten really. No, I'm making small things, some of which happen to run on rails. I have to confess though, that the things that don't run on the rails give me slightly more buzz. I like the look of old red brickwork and of still usable decrepitude. A bit like my own body, you might think, and you'd be right. The sight of rusting corrugated iron raises the hair on the back of my corrugated old neck.

The people

A big part of what garden railway is about for me is what Si Harris of ModelEarth refers to as the 'back story'. The raison d'être if you suffer from Norman blood. Why on earth would somebody spent good money to lay a length of track in the countryside if it had no purpose? Just to see something run around in a circle? I think not. You had a quarry, you dug out the gravel and now you had to get it to the customer. You owned a pottery and you needed to get the clay to the works, and get the finished product to the market. In the 18th century, you got a bunch of Irishmen to dig you a canal, in the 19th century it was all about railways. Only much later did the internal combustion engine make the road worth spending money on. Running a railway needs people so my 16mm line has dozens of them. Most of them are passengers, infesting the station platforms but all the cabs have drivers and all the signal boxes are manned. There is an adequate police force on the DLR too. Well, just look at the faces of Rob Bennett's Busybodies and tell me there are few rogues among them.

When I discovered 7/8ths scale, I found my true home. Here is where dollhouse meets garden railway, head on. Best of all, very few manufacturers cater just yet for this scale so we are obliged to make things. Making things gives me the greatest pleasure.
On the other hand, it is nice to kick off with a few off the peg geezers to get you eye into the new scale and I am internally grateful to Rob Bennet for these reprobates

This is Ray Gandhi, known to all his friends as 'Goosey' for some reason. It was I that married his head to his body, and why not? He seems happy enough about it.

Stan Dinnup is a close friend of Neil Downie and I rather like his louche appearance. Reminds me of myself on a good day. I understand he is a left handed billiard player and practises a lot, so there, we differ.

I cannot pretend that this is not my brother-in-law, Dick, because if he's not, its a doppelgänger. One of my favourite relatives is known to many as 'Billy Whizz' and, to be fair to him, he is still very fancy with a cricket bat. I can't say where he got that dreadful tan but it certainly wasn't on a beach. He may well cast his eyes to heaven but, sadly, no help can be expected from that quarter. Sooner or later, I'll get round to making him look more normal. Or not

7/8ths scale means that on 32mm gauge Peco track, I am dealing with an 18 inch gauge railway when I convert up to full size. The people are 50% bigger too and that brings huge rewards and challenges. Sure, you can use commercially available dollhouse figurines but they look vile. I also think that precisely scaled down people look an unacceptable unreal, a bit like a shop window dummy. One of the reasons I like Rob Bennett's figures at 16mm is that they are caricatures. They do not pretend to be real; they are surreal. Rob makes a few 7/8ths figures but they are made to satisfy Rob's imagination, not mine. I wanted figures that told a story and had a life that suited my railway. What was nice was to discover than I could buy heads, hands and boots from Si Harris at ModelEarth and use Super Sculpey to make the bodies do what I wanted. I have no desire to mass produce them so I need not concern myself with any eventual mould lines or undercuts when I sculpt. This is free play.

For example, nobody makes a kneeling figure. It occurred to me that with these very low flat wagons, I could use a figure who would be able to get onto the flat deck and manoeuvre the loads. That was how Neil Downie came into being but, as you can see here, he also has a role on the verandah of the Sand Hutton parcel brake.  

Neil Downie also started life as a sign writer and indeed will carry 
a palette and mahl stick in his right hand and a cloth in the left.
He can also manage a pickaxe and, no doubt a jemmy. Previous 
convictions for going equipped must not be referred to yet.

Well, now is as good a time to be honest as any. I wanted a man to operate the brake wheel and I built Len Hawkins, only to find that he was too tall to stand under the overhang. Those ModelEarth heads are magnificent, but they are a bit big. On the other hand, they add to the caricature effect and I like them. I made the body as short as I dared but even so, once fired, it was obvious I had made a serious ricket. He could only stand on that verandah, twisting the brake wheel with his head jammed tight against the roof. I couldn't do that to him. Besides, nobody would ever see that face under there.
So, Lenny became Oily.

The oil can is a white metal Uskin offering

Of course, those hands were once arranged to manage a wheel. I was saddened to have to amputate the fingers with no anaesthetic and replace them in suitable positions using Miliput.

It may not be instantly obvious but these two chaps have the same head. I just added a Miliput 'Ole Bill' tache to Neil's upper lip.

ModelEarth sell a variety of heads and hands and one set of boots. The boots are excellent castings for a standing figure but I felt that a Kneeler would have the soles bent so I cut the toecaps off, chamfered the top, glued them back and made good with Miliput as usual. It's a small thing but it would have annoyed me for ever.

I wouldn't be able to sculpt the next two heads and they directed me towards the bodies as if they could have spoken. That beard is so imperious and the side whiskers so foreman.

The foreman, Sid Viscous. Once he is given a task he sticks to it.

I risked firing the Guv'nor's body with the hands in situ as I realised that to remove them would have caused damage. I got away with it, but, to be fair, the cooking is only 30 minutes at 130 degrees.

Never mind, "Well, who knows what 9 and a half hundredweight is
in kilos?", would you kindly top that one up, Goosey?

The Penrhyn Payday set

Rob Bennett in conjunction with Si Harris of Modelearth offers several sets of figures. One nice little collection comprises the Accountant, the Secretary and a Geezer to sit one behind another in a model of a Penrhyn inspection wagon. The prototype of this is to be seen in the museum at Penrhyn Castle.

I decided to copy the finish of the museum vehicle which is evidently plain if distressed, varnished wood. The kit is very simple to make and all the fun is using acrylics to simulate wood planking. I elected to use the buffer system supplied with the kit but mounted a set of Talisman couplings on top so that all my 7/8ths rolling stock is compatible.

I don't know if Mr Bennett has a problem with any accountants but, in this figure, he has created a thoroughly nasty piece of work; a scrawny, mean, shifty looking man. Meet Philip McCreddit. There is a slight problem with the Accountant figure. His legs are long and his boots come up against the upright so he doesn't quite fit into his seat as he should. He hovers a few mm above it. You might say he is without visible means of support! Hah!

On the other hand, Jane the company secretary is a total sweetie, clutching her padlocked Louis Vuitton bag to her ample bosom. She ought to wear glasses but finds the world a great deal more attractive without them.

Finally, we have the Archibald Clockwatcher, known throughout the works as 'The Geezer', resplendent in loud Prince of Wales check, full hunter and chain. We don't mention the Albert. On his lap, a copy of the Racing Times, without which he would be incapable of losing quite so much money every week.

2015 saw a significant amount of new building work for the DLR to properly fulfil the commitment to a change from 16mm to 7/8ths scale. More buildings cried out for more personnel. And anyway, I like making personnel.

Babs, Dave and Sid

Babs and Dave. 

I like characters that appear to be doing something. Dave is a general "dogsbody" whose outstretched arm could be useful for all manner of duties, including begging. Babs is a scold, so that's what she does most of the time. Big lady. Not to be messed with.

Sid Crane

Sid is another one of those useful figures for when you want to suggest Bambi-dexterity. Sid is able to reach up to trap his fingers in a block while, simultaneously scratching his groin. He could also, at no notice at all, attend a Nuremberg rally.

Making a cluster of buildings, using a variety of finishes is addictive. Once you finish one element, it becomes imperative to tack on another. Pretty soon, this vast conglomeration will be too large to lift unless I stop soon. On the other hand, the complex now assembled can be transported easily from its site to undercover which is a vast improvement on the clusters of buildings in the 16mm days. I could waste hours of lovely running time messing about with little buildings. However, as I want the buildings to act as video and photographic backdrops, i sometimes become aware that, were I to add just another element, the camera angle could be widened. This was why I decided to add a brick section to the rear of the diesel tank section. That led to an opening upstairs window thence to Holly and the ladder, hence Ollie. The wood store is a copy of the one I have at home.

Holly, Ollie and Babs

The 2015 16mm AGM was fairly unremarkable, other than the prodigious numbers of chauffeurs Chris and I managed to sell to an eager and demanding public. Rob Bennett did bring along some new 7/8ths bodies and separate heads and I snapped a few up. Here they are and now all that is required is to find names and jobs for them to do. The vicar drives McGurk of course. The guy in the wooly hat carrying a tool is Manuel, the Spaniard in the works. Could that be Percy Sledge?

Much of my motivation for populating my railway with these characters, quite apart from the fun of making them, of course, is that they have jobs to do. The first is to be extra colour and scaling assistance in photographs which I like to tell some sort of story. In the videos, they are "extras" but I feel I have to be careful with moving images so that the illusion isn't entirely destroyed. Because of that, for a video that keeps a figurine in shot for a few moments the pose of the person needs to be realistically static. People sitting and standing around or watching a passing locomotive works well enough, whereas some navvie wielding a sledgehammer would look daft if the implement stayed up in the air. I therefore decided to experiment a bit with limbs and heads. It's easy enough to create a swivelling head. How about a functioning arm?

I had a mind to film a sequence of a loco leaving an engine shed, arriving at a water tank and taking on water, before mooching over to collect some wagons and departing. Simple stuff. If I cut to different angles, I figured I could move some of the figures between shots to suggest that they were indeed walking about. It occurred to me that it would be easy enough to make a hinged arm so that one man could pull the chain to release the water. Just like those metal toy soldiers we used to get with the weird hinged arm with a rifle? I don't know why they made those; they only looked reasonable with the gun at the slope anyway!   Call for Ginge!

Ginge! Ex squaddie and can't get over it

Hey Ginge! That girl fancies you!


Another vexed issue for me was after fitting a Bangham whistle into the Dennis, it was possible to see the activating lever in the cab depress at whistling, right in front of the driver but, as if by magic. It proved just as possible to amputate his right arm and reconnect it to his body using a short length of neoprene fuel tube. That way, his arm appears to activate the whistle but springs back to its original place afterwards.

Spring 2020 and the Corona virus

When I was a boy, a fizzy drink called "Corona" used to be delivered, house to house, just as the milk was, but weekly, not daily and never early in the morning. It probably represented the very first signs that post WW2 austerity was beginning to come to an end. In early 2020, a new and lethal virus made its way across the globe from Wuhan in China. It was a virus we think might have mutated through animals, possibly bats from an earlier one called SARS. This new Coronavirus, so called because of its appearance under electron microscopy, also came to be known as Covid-19. It killed almost a thousand people a day in the UK and, to prevent it swamping the hospital service, much of the world resorted to "lockdown". People were confined to their own homes unless absolutely necessary. As I write this, I am recovering from it, slowly. It has been the worst illness in my life and lasted over a month in one form or another. We have been confined to the house for several weeks and it is likely to continue for many more.

During this time, we modellers have not been idle. Indeed, in one sense this has been a blessing in disguise. The roads are empty and air pollution has never been lower. Modelling is happening all over the place. For my part, I have built a couple of new passenger coaches, based on some that were seen on the Glynn Valley Tramway. The had clerestories and big windows, so, naturally, on my railway, they needed passengers, three to a coach.

They only exist from the knees up because there wasn't enough foot-room in the coaches and, besides, they will never be seen below the waist in any event. This is their only time in the limelight. Enough, I'd say.

The first three I made, using Sculpy entirely were simply designed to be visible through windows so are not slavishly finished and are cruder and brighter than usual. That's my excuse.

Brenda is almost 50, but you'd never know from her hair, her clothes and her make-up. She's retired from being a gangster's moll and is now actively looking for love but she won't get what she craves from Charlie who spends most of his life in the bookies when not in the King's Head, nor from Percy who has developed a permanent crick in his neck from looking up chimneys for birds' nests.

My creative juices were now flowing so the next trio were a reverse stripper, a shocked cub with a comic and an appalled bishop. What's a "reverse stripper". That's a lady who goes to work naked but, in a sleazy club, slowly gets dressed. I think of them as Peter Paul and Mary.

Humble hints for would-be figure makers

Sculpey gets softer as it warms up. While that helps with adding fine details, any subsequent firm handling obliterates those. The answer? Do the job in short bursts to allow the clay to cool down. Sit it in the fridge for a bit?

If you are making a large, complex figure, your holding fingers will ruin the detail you have already done. One nice thing about Sculpey is that you can add and recook. Nowadays, I make the boots first, poke in a wooden cocktail stick to give me something to form legs on then cook for 18 minutes. I like the bamboo cocktail sticks .Once the boots are cool, I can add the trousers, or even a pair of shapely legs then re-cook, also for possibly less time than represents a full cook job. That's because sooner or later, I'll be adding a big chunk of torso and that thickness of Sculpey demands as much as 30 minutes, Again, I think forward, incorporating cocktail sticks into the top of the legs. 
Now, I'm in a position to form the bum and lower abdomen with more Sculpey and set the pose of the legs so that the whole thing stands unsupported and has a couple of sticks to work to. Back in the oven. And so on. You get the idea.

I build the torso, always without arms but concern myself with shaping the arch of the back, the pecs and shoulders but not any clothing detail yet and cook again. Now it the time to think about paunches, love handles, dowagers' humps and breasts and getting the work so far to stand well balanced. If I have a particular arm posture in mind, that also informs the direction the arm "pegs" will be inserted. If an arm is to be raised, I always add a bit of mass to that shoulder and if the arm will be held forward, I might remove a little from that side's shoulder blade area.

The next thing that concerns me are the hands and I'm so grateful that there are several good tutorials on Youtube about making excellent hands. I tend to cook those with a stick for a wrist and make the arms last. I actually think that the arms are the most tricky parts to get looking right and, of course, particularly incorporating a sleeve, they can upset the balance significantly. If i haven't thought about that enough at the torso balancing stage, I can add more weight somewhere behind the centre of gravity ( bigger bum?) or cook a pad under the toes to resemble the welt of a shoe. Sculpey is so forgiving that way.

Thin arms, like, for instance, bare arms, I make around a piece of wire and press onto the torso. The cooking glues things together reasonably well but a sharp knock will separate at the joint line and permit a change of posture.

Now comes the part I like the most and is the reason I spend so much time getting the torso looking anatomically right, be it a fat or thin person, a man of a woman, young or old. The clothes. I rollout the clay a thin as I can and maintain some control of it and cloak the torso, smoothing it to stick to the slightly unforgiving cooked surface and allowing it to fall naturally over the bumps of chest, hips, belly and bum. That way, you get the hang of a jacket or dress and it actually looks as if it is a cloth, more than it ever would if you just carved it out. Once the cuffs, lapels and collars have been shaped, a very small cooking time is needed to fix everything together, maybe as little as 15 minutes.

Buttons are suggested by pressing the open, top end of a biro refill.

Thick figures need at least 20 minutes at 130 degrees in the middle of a fan oven but will tolerate more if you fail to hear the pinger. I do that all the time. Overcooked sculpey is darker and more brittle and as time goes by I cook it less and less but I gather that undercooking is a more serious problem than over, so maybe I needn't worry. Besides, these figures will get undercoated, painted and probably polyurethane laquered and won't be handled roughly.

Thin sculpey is brittle anyway, so if I have an unsupported dress hem, I often, after it has cooked, fill in the gap between the leg and the inside of the dress and re-cook..

You don't have to get everything right in one go. You can sand and carve the final cooked outcome to correct areas you don't like. It is impossible for me to make an uncooked model so perfect it needs no attention once hard so I no longer fuss that much if I know there will be subsequent firings. 

Sometimes I undercoat with red or grey primer but I also like Zinsser BIN which leaves a flat white surface which takes acrylics very well. What does matter is that I let that cure at least 24 hours before even thinking of painting with acrylics. I use Vallejo paints which have very finely ground particles.

It is worthwhile buying a set of wooden clay tools but you'll find you only use one and improvise with other tools you already own and probably make your own special ones with 'popsicle' sticks. Blow me, it's catching!


In August 2020 I was renovating all the buildings after a period of neglect. I had built a new garden shed from old parts for the specific purpose of storing the buildings and every time I transported one to its new home, something fell off! I decided that I wouldn't just restore to the original but attempt to learn from my mistakes and make each building more interesting in its own right. prviously, the buildings were merely designed to be a backdrop for movies and stills of locos and rolling stock and the little people just an afterthought. Now I wanted to make each building more interesting in its own right. I wanted the building to tell a story and that really needed people that had specific purposes. I had already begun that with characters like Ginge.

The depot was always a useful building but labour intensive to set up and dismantle. Now I decided to set up a diorama that would be permanent so that I could store the building inside for protection but very quickly move it into place, ready to roll. All the paraphenalia would be pinned and glued to its final place. The building could then also be stored on its side, or upside down for that matter. Being able to construct an infinite number of scenarios would not be about one building but I would have a variety of stories but one per building. If I want another story, well, I'll just have to make a new building! Result!

Seth is therefore, for all time, the foreman of the depot and, for all time, a dog hater. Its the smell of them he detests and the way they cock their legs on his crates of armaments.

Summer 2020 and the Viol Consort

It is not widely known, but, along with garden railway modelling and writing, I play a bass viol in an early music band, known as the Kenilworth Consort. No prizes for guessing where we meet and rehearse. Viols were the precursors of modern string instruments, normally played as amateurs by rich toffs and today is no different. The boss of our band is a retired maths prof and we are all toffs of the highest calibre. Normally we number five but one of our number has very wisely decided to shield from Covid. The remaining four have continued to play regularly "al fresco" on a variety of patios with careful social distancing. We even constructed an online video of us performing Wilbye's "Weep, weep no more", recorded as individuals and spliced together.

Anyway, I could load up a sound track but I have far more respect for your ears and for poor Wilbye ( died 1580, bless him) but I did think that no station platform should be without medieval buskers. Or even old and  evil buskers like these.

Yes, that is the back of my neck and the current state of my hair, so long it has been since the local Turkish barbers have had their way with it. By popular acclamation, here is the frontal view.

I think Seamus is saying to Oily, "Look, if you oiling it hasn't made a difference, why don't I bash him on the bonce with my spanner?"

Spring 2021 and still the Corona virus but yes but no but......

Being in lockdown has all sorts of benefits for many of us with a passion for craft. I find it hard to make anything to order but when the spirit moves me, the work seems to flow out of the fingers.

One facet of my previous existence was as a teacher of Argentine tango. Yes, I know that's hard to believe, given what I look like and, had you seen me dance, you'd find it even harder. The thing is, I came to love it, devoted a load of my life to it and even wrote the definitive book about it. You can still buy "A Passion for Tango", and I wish more people did. I thank you.

What many readers won't know is that Tango, the dance and the music, evolved at the same time. The very first bands were just collections of random musicians, mostly classically trained, grouping together just with the instruments they carried with them as immigrants to Argentina at the turn of the 19th to 20th Centuries. This almost unique combination informed the musical genre we know know as Tango. It has no percussion, that being provided by the bandoneon, a German instrument like an accordion. Actually, the bandoneon is very different from an accordion in that it has buttons, not a piano keyboard and those buttons have no discernably logical pattern. They evolved from earlier very restricted concertinas. The other difference is that, while the accordion has a pronounced wobbly sound (think Parisian movies) the bandoneon is vibrato free. It is fiendishly difficult to play, as I know only too well.

My latest cluster of figures, destined to pollute the atmosphere of Speechley Magna station, represent the very earliest Tango band to be seen. They are guitar, flute, violin and bandoneon. Later, the flute was dropped and the more percussive piano was added in but guitars, violins and bandoneons became a constant, even in quite large Tango ensembles. The whole business became very very big indeed, until the death of Eva Peron in 1953 when the country became unstable for almost 30 years.

The bandoneon player ought, by rights to look more "Germanic", the guitarist, more "Hispanic" and less like an Irish matelot and the flute player less like Hitler, but there it is. At least the fiddler is in a suit of tails and has red socks.

What would be the point of a Tango band if at least one couple danced? It is characteristic of Tango that it is often danced in the street. I have danced on quaysides, in the Peristyl of Diocletian's palace in Split, in the streets of Mataderos, along with dozens of others. Indeed, if my wife and I come across a busker playing a Tango in a tube station, we immediately respond by a few steps in an embrace. It's what Tangueros do.

And, before you ask, yes, it is me in the chalk stripe suit and the shoes, made for me out of the crocodile skin that once was a handbag of my mother's. There wasn't quite enough skin to make a full pair so my cobbler suggested he added the navy blue and it works well. They are a very comfy pair of shoes for dancing too, still doing admirable service since 2005. And at the price he charged me, so they bloomin' well should!

The woman in my arms? I'm not prepared to say. Just eat your hearts out!

El choclo

A new station master

Spring 2021 was also time to rethink the long term project tht bhad been festering away for more than a year. I want to create a properly constructed video with animation of an early morning start up on my line. It will be similar in its look to an episode of Trumpton, for those readers of a certain vintage. Recent skills in animation and the maturation of shrubs on the DLR along with very many new buildings means that I can set up some effective movie sets to film the action. The only thing holding me back is the story boarding work. I suppose I really need some sort of collaborator to bounce ideas off and bicker with!
Some new personnel are required and I think I will have to make some that are identical other than a variety of poses. I could have the heads detatchable and able to swivel on the body. Walking shots can be zoomed in to exclude legs if necessary, though nobody seemed to care much about that on the TV shows.

I want some of the characters to be recognisably people we all know and admire. They are more fun to make anyway. Speechley Magna station needed a proper Midland/LMS station master, so I built one. I think he has the gravitas required, but I'm not entirely happy about his right arm an the apparent V sign he is giving somebody. Or is he calling somebody  to come towards him? The hand was designed to grip the peak of his cap, catching him as he doffed it to some gentlewoman passenger but it looked daft when I set it up, so I made another hat and think it looks better on the head. I may change my mind again. I think he probably ought to be a little more portly too, so probably this model is but a prototype?

Who is he?  Why, none other than John Sinjin Embry, known to all as "Chookie" for some very obscure reason.

Sundry seated passengers.....

Having a 3D printer allowed me to print out some suitable bench ends very cheaply and use coffee stirrers to make the planking. Now for some passengers to occupy them; a cast of motley extras.