A career in MODELLING
Neil Mason has made a career out of his hobby, and with former exhibition layout ‘Masons Lane’, it’s easy to see why.
Husband and wife Neil and Lacey Mason realised that the hobby was crying out for an accessible layout building service, one for the ‘average’ modeller who can’t afford to spend mega bucks. The idea proved so popular that in June 2016, the couple started their own business in Deeping St James, Lincolnshire, and haven’t looked back since. ‘Masons Lane’ was built to showcase The Little Layout Company’s layout building service, but has since been sold. The compact 5ft by 2ft diesel depot is small enough to fit in most homes, and is unique enough to provide ample viewing interest. The diesel depot has become such a popular layout subject that it could be considered the GWR branch line of the 21st century. The challenge is to make one that stands out from the crowd. Neil built ‘Masons Lane’ to portray all periods from the 1980s to the 2000s. It’s the mid-1980s period that really turns heads, with uniform shades of blues and greys compared to the kaleidoscope that is the privatised railway. The track plan itself also presents a slight departure from the norm, with the presence of an additional line running atop the retaining wall. “We copied that idea from our resident weathering guy, Paul Wright,” admits Neil. “It’s based around his layout ‘Borders Reach’ (MR189).” RUNNING ON AUTOPILOT Cleverly, the upper level runs independently from the rest of the layout, via a Tam Valley Depot automated control system (www.tamvalleydepot. com). Neil explains: “Because we’re a business, we
spend most of our time talking to people at shows it’s not like running an exhibition layout. Using an automated system allows us to chat while the layout is still in operation and provides interest for the viewer.” The retaining wall, corrugated iron building and depot building were built from 5mm plywood - cut using a bandsaw. Neil’s friend, James Styles (‘Operation Abyss’ MR237) modelled the buildings and retaining wall. Embossed plastic card sheet from South Eastern Finecast was used on the retaining wall, which was then painted using Halfords acrylics and weathered using an airbrush. The blue building was covered in corrugated plastic card, with Evergreen styrene strip embellishments. The high retaining wall meant that Neil could install a simple sky backscene. “We used an ID Backscenes product,” he says. “They do a 15in self-adhesive backscene, which I’ve used on all of our layouts. It pushes the buildings forward - visually - and creates an illusion of greater depth.”
Neil doesn’t have the luxury of enjoying a year-long project. Customers count on him building quickly and to a very high standard. Fortunately, Neil has decades of modelling experience. But how does he do it? “You’ve got to keep your methods simple,” he says. “Don’t try to over-engineer anything.” Indeed, ‘Masons Lane’ isn’t an overly technical layout. Embossed plastic card has been used where possible, alongside weathered or repainted ‘ready-toplant’ details. On the opposite page, you’ll even find a super-simple method of planting static grass without using a Grasmaster! But there’s a secondary reason why Neil likes to keep his methods simple, and that’s because of the customer. He explains: “We want customers to understand how everything is built, so if they have an issue later down the line, they can easily diagnose and rectify the situation.” This is precisely the reason why Neil insists on using well known products, too. “I won’t use hard-to-find materials,” he says. “Layouts will always require a refresh, and I want customers to be able to source the materials they need to fix general wear and tear quickly and easily.”
Neil works in what he calls ‘visual sections’. He identifies the areas of a layout that are most likely to capture a viewer’s gaze and then - knowing that their field of view will probably encompass about one square foot - ensures that each of these areas is packed with enough detail to maintain interest. This is a particularly useful method if you’re working on a large layout and don’t have the time to detail the entire model. The smaller the layout though, the closer together each visual section will be. Neil notes: “With really small layouts you need to ensure that you super-detail as much of the model as possible.” ‘Masons Lane’ maintains interest partially because of its sense of depth. Neil has broken the layout into sections, including fencing and weeds in the foreground. The railway itself is in the mid-ground, and the upper tier track and buildings are in the background. Add to that the skyscape backscene and the sense of depth is quite remarkable. The breadth of the layout has also been carefully composed. The left-hand side features the interest of the shed, so Neil included a yard scene for balance. “The trees and portable cabin were included to add height they also make the layout look less flat. The diagonally placed billboard also helps to hide the backscene.” The billboard itself was built from an MDF offcut. The frame was made from wooden ‘O’ gauge sleepers and is built around a TLLC business card.
FEEL IT FIRST-HAND
Neil is an advocate of observing weathering on-site, if at all possible. “I’ve worked around industrial buildings all of my life,” he says. “You become accustomed to how buildings look - the build-up of muck, for example. “I start with a thin wash of black or brown, followed with a coating of various weathering powders. Finally, I’ll make a pass with the airbrush to blend it all together. There’s no special method, I’ll use Humbrol paints straight from the tin, thinned with a little water.” Neil airbrushes his track too, using prototype photography for reference. He begins with a coat of Railmatch Sleeper Grime (2406), followed by Railmatch Roof Dirt (2403) along each rail. This is followed with a dusting of Woodland Scenics Earth Colors Liquid Pigments, and a final airbrush of Humbrol Gunmetal (53) and Rust (113), to create thin rust patches.
Diesel depots are hugely popular because you can display a good collection of locomotives in a comparatively small space. At 5ft by 2ft, ‘Masons Lane’ isn’t particularly large, but it can still house a sizeable fleet. Despite the large number of depot layouts, Neil and James have crafted one that really stands out. On top of everything, they’ve created a layout that’s very inspirational. It’s modelled to a very high standard and looks hugely attractive, yet you’ll find no exotic products or difficult techniques in Neil’s method. He really is the master of good, honest model making he’s built a career out of it, after all.
Neil keeps any spare bits and pieces. The wasp stripes on the corrugated building were leftovers from an old card kit.
Below: Paul Wright weathers all of Neil’s stock in The Little Layout Company workshop.
Various health and safety and other depot-related signs have been sourced from the Internet and printed on a home computer.