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.

Model Rail (UK) - - Layout Masons Lane - Words: Mike Har­ris Photos: Chris Ne­vard

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.


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.

sim­ply re­fined

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.

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