Getting Finescale

My friend, Mark Dance, just sent me a link to the Pendon Museum website. It’s been updated since the last time I checked in, and might be worth a look if you’ve not seen it before.

I was first introduced to Pendon more than twenty years ago, when I was in university. Leafing through the discount bin at a used book store in Ottawa, I found a grubby copy of Model Railway Journal #16 (not Model Railroad Journal). It had no cover, and apart from model trains it wasn’t about anything I was interested in. But it was only 50 cents or something. So I bought it.

Inside was an article by Chris Pilton about building farm wagons in 4 mm scale. He had built two 4-wheel wagons, each perhaps 3 cm long, with excrutiatingly fine detail. Some of the pieces of wood had to have been a millimetre or two in length. The Pendon site has a photo of one of them.

The kicker was that one of the wagons was built to an Oxfordshire style, and the other to a Berkshire style, because they’re different. This was the moment when I finally understood finescale and realized it is what excites me.

Finescale is about careful observation of the prototype and modelling what is there with as much sensitivity as we can muster. Finescale is about finding the beauty in the mundane. It is about making exceptional models of the unexceptional. It is about unwavering dedication to the scale and the prototype. Finescale is the ethos that drives Pembroke, and indeed all my modelling.

Years later, when I found Chris Pilton’s wagons on display in the Vale Scene at Pendon, I almost cried. To this day, visiting Pendon, is a bit of a spiritual experience for me. I don’t know if he’s still around (a quick Google search turns up only old references) but one day I would like to thank Chris Pilton for setting me on a course that has lead to so many challenges, so much interest and engagement, and occasionally a bit of fun.

2 thoughts on “Getting Finescale

  1. Wonderful post and very well said. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I’ve tried to collect many of the articles written about Pendon or how to build models “the Pendon way”. What always astounded me was the honesty of the work. Every article was written in a style that leaves the reader believing that he could actually build one too. The materials were so readily available and the tools just as common. What we could also learn from these same pages was of the value of studying one’s prototype. I hope I’m not being too curt in thinking that the lesson from all of this was: “Heck, I’m building one anyway, why not build it correctly.”

    When I first started reading these articles I was young and new to model railways. I didn’t have money to spend on anything. It was refreshing to learn their methods. They left me feeling like anyone could have models they could be exceedingly proud of. Thirty years later I still believe I can directly credit my passion for model railways and my continued participation in this great hobby to Pendon.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Chris. I don’t know that I share your belief that everyone can build models “the Pendon way.” After painting the individual bricks on one wall, I determined that the Pendon way is a long one, and it is no wonder it has taken the team forty years to get where they are.

      However, that doesn’t stop me from trying! And, I think you’ve nailed it: if you’re going to build one, you might as well do it right.

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