Discussion in 'Layout Progress' started by Richard H, 4 January 2020.

  1. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Introducing “Craster”
    After withdrawing “Low Quay” from the cameo competition I reflected on what I had achieved, what I had failed to achieve and why, and what I had learned in the process. Participating had re-affirmed my interest in fine-scale railway modelling but also demonstrated the value of describing progress in a friendly and supportive forum. I have now started work on a layout that embodies some long-standing but never attained aims, and I plan to describe it in this blog.

    The layout must hold enough potential to amuse me (and offer some challenges) in the research, construction and operation, and I want it to be “authentic” in two senses. Firstly, it will be rooted only in my own interests and hopes; I am building it primarily for myself, and accepting that it will therefore necessarily and honestly reflect my limits as well as my abilities. Secondly, I want the subject of the layout to portray a reasonably convincing small station incorporating historically-informed prototypical features and stock.

    I have been able to contrive a dedicated layout site for the layout 12’ 6” (3.81m) long with a maximum width of 24” (60.9cm); this fundamental step removes the necessity to move the layout to allow other activities, and thereby makes it easier to sustain the project. Construction requirements include light but rigid baseboards that can be moved easily without help, and a baseboard support system that is simple, adjustable and stable. The scale of the modelling is 4mm:1ft using EM gauge track, and I propose to use DCC for operation.

    The subject of the layout is entirely fictional but I have set it in Craster, a real Northumberland coastal village which never actually had a railway connection to anywhere, in the period loosely c.1910. My interpretation of a station that Craster never had will be modelled as if it had been part of the North Eastern Railway.
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  2. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Craster and its History
    My imagined layout is set in a real place; aspects of the real Craster inform the rationale for the layout. In accord with Good Elf & Safety practice I’d suggest that, before venturing into my 4mm-scale fantasy world, readers take a firm grip on Reality ...

    Craster is a small village on a particularly picturesque part of the Northumberland coast, a few miles north east of Alnwick. An ancient settlement (the name is probably of Anglo-Saxon origin), its economy centred round fishing from a small natural harbour; the natural harbour with its narrow rock-surrounded entrance was later protected by a pier on the north side and in the early 20thC a south pier was added, from which crushed quarried stone was exported.

    Craster 002 - harbour entrance + Muckle Carr - 190722 reduced copy for WT.jpeg

    Both the fishing and quarrying industries have declined, although the Craster kippers smoked there for nearly a century remain a very successful gastronomic export.

    Craster is now a popular destination for day visitors and holidaymakers enjoying the stunning beauty and fascinating history of this part of Northumberland, and good food. There is an accessible overview of Craster and its history at this website:
    Craster, Northumberland | History, Photos & Visiting Information

    The Craster Community Website (Craster Community Trust Web Site) provides a general overview of the modern village community.

    The website of the active Craster Local History Group includes accounts of the fishing and the quarrying as well as other aspects of village history. Rather than include historical photographs in this posting I recommend visiting their website at: Craster Local History Group Home

    A community history project resulted in the book “We can mind the Time...” (Craster Community Development Trust, 2005, ISBN 0-9550859-0-X) describing the life of the village and its people in the mid-20thC. There is also a website with accounts and photographs, at Craster Living History ~ The life and times of the place and the people

    An important account of the quarry at Craster, with its small internal tramway and the aerial ropeway which took crushed stone to the harbour, is given in Roger Jermy’s book, “Northern Northumberland’s Minor Railways”, Volume 3, Sand, Whitstone & Gravel Lines (Oakwood Press 2011, ISBN 978 0 85361 705 1, pp.55-74

    Authoritative 1/25000 OS maps of Craster can be found in the website of the National Library of Scotland, at Ordnance Survey Maps 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952 - National Library of Scotland

    In my next posting, I shall leave Reality behind for a while.
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  3. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Legendary stuff
    An imaginary layout needs a ‘legend’, a more-or-less credible narrative blended from fact and fiction and intended to justify and authenticate the scene presented. My ‘legend’ necessarily (perhaps that should be unashamedly) takes liberties with the industrial history of Craster and its effects on the village topography, and is deliberately vague on the dating of events. In the following narrative, the fictive word ‘fict’ is used to denote a ‘fictional fact’ or imply a sequence of fictional events, while things that are historically true are given in italics.

    Some little-known Ficts about the railway at Craster, c.1910
    Local fishermen landed herring and whitefish from herring boats, and salmon, crab and lobster from cobles. Part of this harvest was exported, some as salt fish, whilst a proportion of the herring and salmon was preserved by smoking over oak chippings in smokehouses in the village. By the third quarter of the 19thC the economic ficts of the local fishing compelled the industry to seek better ways to export preserved fish and find a way to despatch fresh fish rapidly to distant markets. The photograph below, from the “Northumberland Communities” website, shows the fishing fleet at Craster in c.1910; the boats are moored at the north pier and the foreshore is used for salting and packing the catch.

    Craster Fishing-Fleet in harbour-c1910 - from Northumberland Communities.jpg

    Quarrying at Craster was established by the 1770s, at which time
    dressed paving stones were being sent to London. By the late 19thC quarries lay south and north of the road leading into the village, the southern quarry with its crusher being at the Heugh, and the northern quarry being almost directly opposite at Norwell Brow. The OS map of 1922 shows a short tramway only in the southern quarry, but in fict they were connected by a single line of an internal narrow-gauge tramway which originally crossed the road, and later the railway line, into the village. Like the fishing industry, the quarry company also sought better access to modern transport.

    A consortium to promote a railway was formed consisting of these industries along with significant estate owners, supported by local freeholders, and by local commercial interests already seeing the potential in developing the emergent tourist industry. The North Eastern Railway (NER) also saw the potential in a new source of traffic and supported the Bill with the proviso that the new railway was to be standard gauge (rather than a narrow gauge industrial line like the Embleton quarries line) in order to avoid the delay and inconvenience of transhipping, particularly in respect of fresh fish traffic. The Bill to make a railway stated the ficts of their case very convincingly, and an Act was granted to allow a line from Craster to join the NER at a junction near Little Mill station. The line was to be a little over three miles long and provision was made for a halt and siding near Dunstan Steads.

    The road into Craster passes through the only break in the long whinstone ridge on the west side of the village, this topography dictating that the new railway had to follow a narrow gap between the slightly re-aligned road and the south quarry. Built economically over mainly level terrain, and with active support from the NER, the railway was brought as close as possible to the sources of the traffic, the quarry and the harbour. The gradient on the approach to the village presented a challenge but the benefits in operation proved that the decision to bring the railway into the village was, in fict, sound. From its inception the railway was operated as a branch of the NER.

    Craster - station site east end - photo from Northumberland Communities website.jpg

    The constraints of the site dictated that the station had to be narrow, and the importance of the lucrative but seasonal fish traffic made it sensible to build the goods facilities at the eastern, harbour end. This photograph from the “Northumberland Communities” website, is thought to show the earliest preparations for railway construction at the east end of the site.) The projected passenger traffic justified a basic regular service, but additional services including excursions were provided during the tourist season.

    The primary quarry product, crushed stone, was exported by ship from the harbour, but smaller quantities of dressed stone and occasionally also crushed stone for local use could be sent by rail. A short exchange siding for quarry traffic was laid at the west end of the station to deal with this. The quarry company was granted limited running powers over NER metals for their locomotive to shunt wagons into the exchange siding from a standard-gauge loading point at the south quarry; this loading point lay a short distance west of where the narrow gauge tramway crossed over the railway on a wooden trestle bridge. When necessary, especially during the peak of the herring season, this quarry exchange siding could be brought into use for general shunting. During the herring season it was also sometimes necessary to stand wagons at the Dunstan Steads siding.

    The subsequent history of the railway reflected the fortunes and later the decline of the industries, but also the increasing popularity of the village as a holiday and day-trip destination.

    The next posting should bring a return to Reality (E & OE!) ...
    Last edited: 8 January 2020
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  4. PaulR

    PaulR Western Thunderer

    I'm really looking forward to seeing the alternative Craster come to life, Richard, and pre-grouping North Eastern Railway is so attractive!
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  5. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Planning a station for Craster
    I still need text to describe the development of my imagined Craster, but it is now possible to introduce more images, in line with WT expectations.

    My starting point for work on the layout was to devise a general plan that would then inform the baseboards. I wanted to make tangible progress and with an approximate idea of the trackbed, the ground levels and main scenic features, I could begin to plan baseboard construction. The proviso approximate allowed me to start building knowing that I would be able work more precisely, or adjust things, later.

    The trackplan had to be informed to some extent by the real topography of Craster, modified as necessary to reflect the ficts of my Craster legend. I tried applying typical model railway small terminus ideas to the Craster site, producing ideas like this one, overlaid on a modern aerial photograph:

    Craster - modern aerial photograph - working copy 01 reduced for WT.jpg

    Finding these attempts generally unsatisfying, I decided that I was unable just to invent a convincing trackplan along with signalling, etc., so I sought inspiration in regional NER prototypes of a suitable date. I was encouraged to discover that Edlingham station bore similarities in shape and size to the site of my imagined station at Craster, which would have been contemporary with it. Edlingham lay about 13 miles SW of Craster, on the single line Alnwick-Coldstream branch of the NER and was built in 1887. The first image is from the 2nd edition 25” OS:

    Edlingham in 1896 25in OS - ORIGINAL reduced for WT.jpg

    The second image shows details of Edlingham from an NER standage diagram. The signal box was replaced by the platform-mounted ground frame in 1901.
    Edlingham Station Standage diagram Dec 1919 modified + reduced for WT.jpg
    I discovered that by reversing and slightly rotating the Edlingham layout I could fit it approximately into the site imagined for Craster station. It was not a precise fit, but what mattered was the concept rather than the precise dimensions, because in any case the model of Craster station could only be a reduced version of the fictual station I imagined. Being able to draw on a prototype, even in only general terms, gave me a greater sense of that authenticity I was seeking.

    After cutting & pasting printouts from Edlingham and Craster maps, I shaded them to produce a “concept image” (below) which helped to further focus my thinking and which I found generally satisfying (except for the embarrassing and irritating typo);

    Craster-Edlingham overlay COMPOSITE reduced for WT.jpg

    After the addition of the quarry exchange siding and a change in the access to the coal drops, this “concept image” has retained its appeal. Although the scheme is based on the trackplan of Edlingham, I shall not be using the Edlingham buildings – that line was built for reasons of territorial ambition and prestige, and although the buildings are very attractive they would, in fict, have been far beyond the economic reach of the Craster promoters.

    Having found a concept with which I was comfortable, I could define the essence of the area to be modelled (below). The operating and viewing position will be on the inside of the curve:
    Craster Concept - MASTER 02 - reduced copy for WT.jpeg
    On this basis I worked out what shape the trackbed needed to be to fit the available space (reality check – I played around with bits of EMGS track on sheets of shaped foamboard). For this I counted wagons, measured locomotives, estimated the length of sidings, repositioned points countless times at subtly different angles, and guess-timated the size of buildings and other scenic features. I finally confirmed that I needed two scenic baseboards each of 4’3” long and a fiddle yard board giving storage sidings 36” long.

    I made a full-size paper template of the trackbed and any associated level areas, allowing a margin of up to a couple of centimetres. After final checking, this template was then used to mark the trackbed onto 9mm birch ply … which I then cut to shape, before I could change my mind again. This caused me considerable apprehension (musical interlude – The First Cut is the Deepest), but I knew that at some point I had to adopt an idea, build it, and make it work.

    Please note, that even at this early stage I am using both imperial and metric measurements almost interchangeably at need; this is not as chaotic as it might seem - it is a conscious choice influenced by factors like the dimensions of the raw materials and components, as well as my own convenience.

    The next posting will describe baseboard supports and the scenic baseboards.
    Last edited: 6 January 2020
  6. MartinWales

    MartinWales Western Thunderer

    Worth getting the Alnwick & Cornhill Railway book, if you have'nt already. Some really nice pics and plans!

    I for one will be following your thread with intrest
  7. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thank you for your interest, and the recommendation. I have the John Addyman / John Mallon book and I regard it highly. Although Edlingham station is no longer accessible - it's now privately owned and occupied - I made a photo survey of the site in 1981, when I considered making a layout incorporating that station. The layout never happened but I've always thought that Edlingham lies in an almost theatrical setting against the hillside, with loads of scenic potential. It would need space to do it justice, though.
  8. Brian T

    Brian T Western Thunderer

    I do like the backstories to your proto/freelancing ideas for Craster,to the point that i had a play myself with your first idea.. (hope you don`t mind!)

    Craster NER.jpg

    look forward to seeing this progress...

  9. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thanks for the comment, and for sharing your development of the idea - I don't mind at all - I'm pleased it stimulated some interest. It's always good to see what other people do with an idea, and I think that one of the benefits WT is that blogging provides a fertile ground for ideas to thrive.
  10. adrian

    adrian Flying Squad

    Likewise I will be following with interest - we usually try to make a trip to Craster when holidaying in the area, walked up to the Castle etc.

    Just a couple of comments on @Brian T plan - just to say if I remember correctly what's marked up as the goods shed is the RNLI station and the area to the south east of the private warehouses is the smoked kipper factory.

    Screenshot 2020-01-06 at 21.21.06.png
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  11. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thanks for your interest - you remember correctly! You mention the walk to the castle and I mentioned the history in my introductory posting, so here's a picture of Dunstanburgh Castle taken about 6 months ago, for anyone curious to know what we're writing about.
    Dunstanburgh - 190722 - reduced for WT.JPG
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  12. NHY 581

    NHY 581 Western Thunderer

  13. Ian@StEnochs

    Ian@StEnochs Western Thunderer

    Good trestles if quite heavy and a bit bulky to store. They are substantial, being all steel, come in flatpacks requiring assembly which is quite easy. An identical model is available from Screwfix but their current price is £24.99!
    I bought mine from Aldi when they opened a new store near me, cost then was £8.99 but that was 12 years ago. As well as supporting a layout I have used them for DIY and as bar supports at our local Real Ale festival.

  14. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thanks for your interest and for the suggestion. I considered these but they are too wide for the space where the layout lives. I did consider trying to adapt them but decided I didn't have the skill. I've built wooden trestles, which I'll be decscribing soon.
  15. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thanks for your interest, and the additional information about the trestles. As I replied to Rob (above), they're too wide for the space I have available, and I've now built some.
  16. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Following up the comments about trestles, this is my first posting about the actual construction of Craster.

    I have no training in design, craftsmanship or engineering beyond the first couple of years of secondary-school woodwork so progress is sometimes hesitant, while I work something out. In general during construction I’ve tried make things as simple – and as simply – as I could, and to limit my forward thinking to leaving as much scope as possible for future flexibility. I also tried where I could to build in the capacity for later adjustment.

    If something seemed potentially tricky I very consciously asked myself (a) what’s the worst that can happen? (trying to leave aside the more catastrophic anxieties like cutting off my own head during careless use of the bandsaw) and (b) how many ways can I think of to recover from any error? Only when I had answers these questions did I proceed with that irreversible cut, or the one-chance-only hole. This approach seems to have worked so far in so that I have built my trestles, they do work ... and my head is still on my shoulders.

    The Baseboard support ‘system’
    There are three main elements in my baseboard ‘system’: trestles, longitudinal beams made in sections that sit on the trestles to support the layout, and the three actual baseboards that constitute the layout, sitting on those beams.

    My design was influenced by the thinking and practice of several people but I have not completely followed any one approach. Although the layout has a permanent home, I wanted it to be easily movable and transportable, so physical lightness and manoeuvrable size became important criteria. The system is designed so that each trestle can be levelled to cope with uneven floors, and also adjusted in height to ensure the beams are level; the entire substructure can be levelled before the baseboards are put in position. With the layout erected, any baseboard can be removed (e.g. to work on) without the need to dismantle the entire layout – the other baseboards just slide along the beams to allow access.

    I also used standard materials whenever possible so that it was easy to achieve consistency - I’ve learned that consistency is often more important that the actual dimensions used. The standard materials I used were:
    45x19mm (approximately equivalent to “2x1”) dressed softwood, used for the trestles;
    19x19mm dressed softwood, used in the beams
    9mm birch ply, used for the trackbed, the ends of each baseboard and the cross-members of the trestles;
    4mm birch ply, used for everything else.​

    I knew that the ply would be consistent and reliable, and I asked the timber merchant for softwood that was straight as possible, and lengths from the same cut to ensure consistency – the supplier cuts about 200 lengths at a time, so this was not a difficult request.

    The trestles
    The four trestles supporting the layout are built from 45x19mm softwood and strips of 9mm ply. They are a tripod design (because tripods are inherently stable) with a levelling adjuster built into one of the twin front legs. The single V-shaped rear leg is hinged to the rear of the upper cross beam, and has proved very stable. Joints are glued and screwed. The trestles are inspired by those built by Gordon Gravett for “Arun Quay”, seen in photographs in MRJ No.239. The upper cross member (9mm ply) has a length of 9mm dowel attached to the top edge, so that the beams can sit firmly on it whatever the angle of the trestle legs. They are built so that the beams are held at approximately 39” (1 metre) above the floor. In the photograph below the trestle is complete, except for the bolts used to locate the beams:

    Trestle - composite three views - reduced for WT.jpg

    The longitudinal beams sit on the narrow projecting shoulders, as seen in the next photograph which shows the first two trestles under trial with two of the beams in position:

    Trestles 191113 - 01 - first pair testing with beams - reduced for WT.JPG

    A simple 105mm bolt was mounted on the rear of each shoulder, bearing in a hole in the underside of the beam to prevent it slipping off sideways. The hole is angled and slightly oversize. This is the only fixing, as the beams actually remain stable under the weight of the baseboards.

    Trestle bolt to inhibit lateral movement - reduced for WT.JPG

    The trestle legs are prevented from spreading by a single chain which has a hook fitted at its mid-point for the rear leg fixing. This can be seen in the photographs above. The overall height of the trestle can be adjusted in small increments simply, by hooking different links of the chain onto the twin front legs.

    Trestles chain adjustment and levelling foot reduced for WT.jpg

    The levelling foot is made from an M6 bolt, a plastic ferrule, and a locknut made from a cut-down wingnut, fitted into a ‘top-hat’ nut which is driven into the foot of the leg.

    My next posting will describe the longitudinal beams.
    Last edited: 7 January 2020
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  17. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    As a little PS to my posting about the trestles, here's a photograph I took during the planning. I wanted to test the tripod design and get at least an intuitive idea of its strength. I improvised a test using a model trestle under a load I could increase incrementally. A 'bridge' was made of a book with one edge resting on a short abutment of three books and the other resting on a model trestle. The load was a pile of books (volumes of Pevsner, so fairly dense and relatively heavy) built up on the bridge.

    The trestle was a scale model (1mm=1") of my proposed design made from pieces of coffee stirrers simply glued together using a common 'glue stick'. The V-shaped rear leg was hinged to the cross bar using two small paper hinges fitted as a small inverted 'V' (cut from a self-adhesive address label), and the legs were prevented from spreading by a short elastic band.

    Here's the photograph of the test:

    Trestle test 01 191102.JPG

    In a second test, under greater load the trestle finally broke ... but only when the elastic band slipped and allowed the legs to spread catastrophically.
    Great fun!
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  18. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    The support beams
    Three pairs of longitudinal beams constitute the second element of the baseboard support. Joined end-to-end, they sit on the projecting shoulders of the trestles to form a level platform running the length of the layout. This design was influenced by both Iain Rice’s “Ulysses” idea and Gordon Gravett’s beams of extruded foam encased in thin ply. My beams are 4” deep and hollow, being made from two sides of 4mm birch ply joined by upper and lower rails of 19x19 softwood, glued and screwed. This very simple structure is strong, stable, and quite light. The internal softwood rails are substantial enough to accept the bolts which prevent lateral slippage.

    Beam joiners 191116 02 - the beam socket - reduced for WT.JPG

    The beams (at 48”) are a different length to the scenic baseboards (51”) - this is deliberate and ensures that the joints between the beam sections do not coincide with the baseboard joints, and so avoids a potential point of weakness in the assembled structure. It also ensures that each baseboard joint is supported on a level surface.

    To achieve consistency I had asked the timber merchant to cut some of the ply into 4” strips 48” long, with a smaller amount cut to 51” lengths. Enough ply was cut in this way to allow me to construct the beams and the baseboards (with a little spare to allow for needs I hadn’t predicted and, in the worst case, error). I had decided not only to use standard materials but also to use a standard size of those materials for several components of the layout, which allowed me to use the ply economically. As a bonus, while collecting the timber I was able to watch the huge, vertical, computer-operated saw machine in operation cutting large sheet material – very impressive.

    I wanted to make the beams easy to join without using complicated fixings, and with no protruding “hardware” that would make it difficult to stack or store them in transit. I made them to accept internal wooden “splints” that would plug into the ends of the hollow beams. Although these are quite close fitting (they can actually make a pneumatic popping sound when they are extracted) I ensure the important tight vertical fit in operation by placing a small plastic wedge under the splint, on the side of the joint support by a trestle. The splints fit against an internal stop made from offcuts of 19x19, glued and pinned – this helps to locate them firmly and also prevents them being lost inside the beam.

    Beam joiners 191116 01 - 4 units - reduced for WT.JPG

    An advantage of using standard materials was that I could make the splints from a piece of 19x19 glued and screwed to a piece of 19x45 – this assembly being the same thickness as the upper and lower spacers of the beam, giving a self-determining fit between the ply sides. I had to trim the height of the splints, but then only little very light sanding was needed to eliminate any rough spots and smooth the corners. Six splints were made to join three pairs of beams and provide a couple of spares (because small loose items gets lost too easily in transit). The splints are 11” long and fit inside the beams to about 5½” on each side of the joint, thus:

    Beam joiners 191116 03 - joiner fitted in socket - reduced for WTJPG.JPG

    In operation a pair of beams will be supported and levelled on two trestles. The next pair of beams will then “piggy-back” onto them, being supported at one end by the splinted joint into the first beam and at the other end by a third trestle, and they are then levelled … and so on. The three baseboards of the layout (two scenic and one fiddle yard) require four trestles.

    Beam joiners 191116 05 - beams joined + sitting on trestles - reduced for WT.JPG

    Next, just to illustrate that the splinted joints are quite effective, here’s another photo of the same beams without the third trestle … magic! (For any disbelievers out there, the broom head is not supporting the 48” beam, which is being held in position only by the splinted joint.)

    Beam joiners 191116 06 - no trestle - magic - reduced for WT.JPG

    The final photograph shows the first two pairs of beams set up in the operating position during trials. The splints now have a hole drilled through at each end, as an aid to extraction. The securing bolts are not yet fitted to the shoulders of the trestles. The trestles are easily aligned along a lath laid on the floor along the wall to ensure that the layout when erected clears protruding brick pillar. A sheet of foam-board in use as a planning aid lies on top of the beams, shaped to give a very approximate outline of the baseboard footprint.

    Beams erected 191117 04 - joined and levelled - reduced for WT.JPG

    The next posting will deal with the construction of the baseboards.
    Last edited: 9 January 2020
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  19. simond

    simond Western Thunderer


    your scale model tests are delightful, but I would refer you to some exceptional modelling by Ron Heggs on t’other channel.

    He has built some quite exquisite plasticard bridgework in 4mm, which he tested using beer, cans and cans of the stuff...

    watching with interest
  20. Richard H

    Richard H Western Thunderer

    Thank you for interest and your kind comment. I'm not a member of the other forum, but I found the bridge and the testing. Stunning modelling of a wonderful subject and clearly robust. After the test I put my books back on the shelf one by one, but I think that disposing of so much beer can by can might disrupt the next day's modelling more than slightly.
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