Crowsnest Chronicles

What’s it been now? Maybe a month since my plan to enable a friend into some large scale modelling back-fired and, in turn, interested me in exploring this instead? How long probably doesn’t matter since this is so much fun. That Saturday morning was a little bit of compounded shopping that “all happened so fast” and now I have a bunch of Binnie Engineering skips here and I ordered a bunch of back issues of Narrow Gauge & Industrial Review Magazine that contained some interesting 16mm scale articles. In that order with NG&IRM I also included a copy of Roy Link’s book: Crowsnest Chronicles.

Cover image linked to the NG&IRM website

The model itself and a basic comprehension of its backstory was something that I had already and then at the Narrow Gauge Convention in Augusta a few years ago I had a chance to see the iteration of this layout that now lives in Canada.

Now that I have a copy of the book here I can’t remember why it took so long to order a copy. It’s too common to open a conversation on first impressions with a reference to price but, in this case, I can’t not: this book is a well constructed and beautifully composed thing that should cost more than it does. It’s worth more than it cost.

The day it landed just couldn’t go by fast enough. Eventually, the day’s commitments were met, the tea made, and the cat and I gathered on the couch to start reading through this book. It’s assembled in a kind of chronological order so that we follow Roy as he interacts with the layout’s theme. It’s this conversation between artist and work that fascinates me so much here and what I was looking forward to in the book. In our hobby we have examples of modellers who have worked on a single model railway for most of their time in the hobby and modellers who move between projects (this is me) like pollen carried by the wind. Modellers who stay constant in theme but continue to revisit it, changing all the other variables, don’t seem as common. As this story unfolds we follow Roy as he builds complete iterations of this layout in scales from O and up to 16mm. Always, the layout concept remains about the same, the quantity of rolling stock the same. Change and “new” are exploring how working in a different scale changes his relationship with the models and also mark points as his skills matured. Reading through the chapters chronicling the evolution between iterations was what I hoped for. The evidence of fine modelmaking is everywhere in the work but the story isn’t presented so much as one of precision engineering but one built around an interaction with the choice of modelling scale and also of the influence of good friends in the hobby. In these ways, the story feels so accessible because it too echoes what a lot of our experiences are like: friends introduce us to ideas that excite our imaginations and by doing, we learn what we are trying to do.

The story follows and builds to Roy returning to 16mm scale modelling and work to create what would be the final iteration of the model. As this story changes so does the book–moving more deeply into the story of the models themselves and their construction. In such a large scale “models” is the trains but also how individual plants in the scene were constructed, how details like not just an interior in a building are made but how each of those pieces of furniture were made and even detailed so minutely as to include an open packet of cigarettes. Even though the book changes to focus more on these details I’m still left with a feeling of how this modelwork is a reflection of the builder’s fascination with the subject and his own natural curiousity.

While I could move comfortably through those early chapters I joked, half-seriously, that when those detailed chapters opened I had to pause to absorb just what I was reading and appreciate what was being presented–there’s just no way I could have zoomed through these pages. The book’s been here long enough that I feel like I’ve read it a few times now but still only a chapter at a time. I see in these photos examples of models I want to try making in this larger scale. It fascinates me, how in this 16mm = 1 foot scale that details like modelling grass aren’t just about an overall texture and colour but conceivably about each blade of grass and how it should be “modelled”. I had the book open on the couch, that first night, when our daughter wandered into the room. I couldn’t and didn’t hide my fascination with this new book and she picked it up to thumb through–pausing as I had to study the ideas that fascinated me too. So good is this work that it stands outside our hobby.

The book closes, quite nicely, as it opened with the story about Roy’s social connections to this scale. I love how you get this sense of interaction and enabling that must have circulated between a group of equally talented and naturally curious people exchanging ideas and prodding each other into trying something new. Our hobby is one of community and work like Roy Link’s feels like beautiful evidence of the potential of how good it can be.

I’m inspired by the book. Even if I never build anything the book itself is a solid read and I’m glad it’s here in my library. I can see it being something I’d happily return to, wine or tea at hand, and enjoy reading and daydreaming about. It’s a story of a modeller and his fascination. That sense of natural curiousity fueling contemplative and interrogative work is one of an artist exploring our hobby and we’re all the better for it being shared and so accessibly.

I ordered my copy of the book directly from NG&IRM. The experience of ordering from them, my first, was superb in every way and a model of exactly how good it can be and my book arrived in about two week’s time from when I ordered it. The quality of service from NG&IRM was so good that I couldn’t not order something else, so I did. Here’s a link to the book on their website:

Categories: How I think

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2 replies

  1. The Ffestiniog Odyssey is a similarly engaging story of one mans journey with a subject through iterations as his modelling and ambitions grow, also RCL publications IIRC.

    I thoroughly the story, for that is what it is… it’s not a factual or instructional book, it’s the story of Roy’s modelling, his ambition, his meandering and his appreciation of the subject.

    • I saw the Ffestiniog book in their catalogue and contemplated adding it to my order the other day but then didn’t—guess that’ll be something to include sometime soon. Any time a book like this is published I’m going to be interested in it. They can’t be easy to compose because they walk a fine line between biography and technical guide.


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