The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 5: The Great Divide

I’m making it law on this blog that every post contains at least one link to my Flickr account 😉

Joking aside, It would probably be helpful to include a link to the latest batch of photos documenting my progress on Flickr, given that both the photos and blog posts compliment each other, for words can say what pictures cannot and all that philosophical carp.  Today’s story begins when I got bored with weathering my track, squinting at rails 80 hundredths of an inch in height painting them a subtly-different colour from the rails.  I had no idea that such a small layout could demand so much painting at that level.

As is the way with the middle of the project, the choice was between something I’d rather put off, and another thing I’d rather put off.  And with that, I broke out a sheet of recently-acquired 9mm plywood and got to work making good on the fundamental concept of this layout.

Making good on the name:  Constructing the Backscene

Ever have one of those ideas that you think of as a minor addition to your project and yet they turn out to be genius?  This was the case with using the guide rails pictured below:

Backscene Construction (9)

You see, their original function was to keep the backscene straight across the centre of the baseboard, as my experiences of warping with plywood is pretty bad.  Quite by accident, however, it made the bracing process a lot simpler than it would’ve been otherwise, as it clamped the backscene in the correct orientation.  A little PVA glue sealed the gaps and added to the integrity of the structure.

Backscene Construction (10)

But alas, such successes cannot last.

By the time it came to cutting out the side supports, the plywood was back to it’s old tricks again – chipping, de-laminating and generally ending up looking like the kind of workmanship found in a boiler cupboard.  While this isn’t too critical, it is something to keep in mind for exhibitions in future.

This was where the guide rails really paid their dividends, as I could act with confidence that the centre of the backscene was going to stay put.  The side supports were of a simple triangular profile, with a void in the middle for dealing with derailments mid-transition.  From there it was a simple case of screwing the parts into the layout battens, and nailing the supports to the backscene, which serves the dual function of straightening and strengthening it.

Backscene Construction (13)

The end result is a sturdy backscene, 20cm high for the best compromise between compactness and scenic space, that effectively separates the two scenes.  It was such a simple job in the end, yet it’s effectiveness is undeniable.

The Goods Yard:

Backscene Result (1)

The Station:

Backscene Result (2)

Bonus Trivia:  The shortest railway stations in the UK

Here’s a bit of odd inspiration I came across at my new job (I’m a Junior Lab Technician now, coming up in the world!).  It involves two railway stations in Scotland, less than ten miles apart just north-west of Inverness, called Beauly and Conon Bridge.  Just before I reveal the length of the platforms, I’d like to point out that the class 158 DMUs that serve the stations can only open one door to let passengers disembark.

That’s right.  15 Metres.  A Class 158 has carriages 23 Metres long.

Come to think of it, the goods yard could be receiving it’s own station after all…


RailEx 2018 – Trip Report

There are many reasons to go to a model railway exhibition – meeting friends, buying supplies, observing the handiwork of those with a frustratingly-high amount of free time compared to yours.  I was unable to meet Matt Wickham up at Ally Pally this year, so seeing as he comes down to this area of Buckinghamshire to visit family, this was an ideal place to meet up.  Besides, for once I was the one showing him MY handiwork!

This exhibition seemed to be a celebration of 4mm scale, with an abundance of EM Gauge and P4 layouts on display.  This means a lot more of the visually-pleasing finescale track than you would normally expect.  Two such layouts have made my top three, with both of them at the upper end of the list.

The Top 3 Layouts

1) Burntisland

Burntisland (3)

Set in the town of the same name in the County of Fife, Scotland, this Pre-Grouping layout is set in 1883, a nod to the fact that it is a P4 layout with a true 4mm/foot gauge of 18.83mm; this puts it’s time period in between the Tay bridge disaster and the construction of the Forth Bridge, meaning that the preferred onward method of reaching Edinburgh at the time was by ferry.  I can only assume that the officials who planned goods workings came to the same conclusions, as the famous floating bridge designed by Thomas Bouch (of Forth Bridge fame) has been modelled, complete with working winches to load/unload the rakes of wagons.

Burntisland (6)

Due in no small part to the lack of documentation from the period, Pre-Grouping railways are notoriously hard to research.  Photography, if it exists at all, is often of a poor quality and almost never colourised, as I discovered when modelling some Metropolitan Railway coaches a few years back.  This makes it doubly-impressive when anyone does such a good job of such a layout, especially considering the sheer number of liveries that have doubtless disappeared from people’s conciousness.

Burntisland (7)

As such, Burntisland (pronounced Burnt-Island, it turns out) takes the well-deserved number one spot.

2) Hornsey Broadway

Hornsey Broadway (2)

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of a layout set in the BR Blue period; too distant for nostalgia and yet too recent to lend itself to legend.  Also BR Blue ruined the 5-PUL units.  I know I’m too young to remember that too but its unforgiveable.

As an avid train-tripper, I am no stranger to train travel through London.  Hornsey Broadway is a layout which, to my mind, perfectly captures the knotty nature of the tracks which pick their way through the capital, with a dash of 70s thrown in.

Hornsey Broadway (7)

The result is an atmospheric mix of pleasingly-complex trackwork, drab buildings, British cars and the transition between BR Green and BR Blue liveries.

Hornsey Broadway (8)

It can sometimes be hard to logically justify why I like a layout so much; maybe its the trackwork reminding me of going over all those flying junctions whilst travelling through London, perhaps its the thought of what train trips through London would’ve been like at a time fairly close to the time period when BBC’s Life on Mars was set.  The one thing I do know, however, is that this is worthy of second place in my eyes.

3) The Summit

The Summit (4)

As O Gauge is such a massive scale, it’s appearances at shows are usually themed around small rural backwaters or industrial goods yards, where the focus is strictly on the trains due to space constraints.  Very rarely do we get the appearance of a railway in a landscape that is often the preserve of the smaller scales, but this is exactly what happened with The Summit.

The Summit (5)

The layout represents the titular summit of the Settle & Carlisle line at Ais Gill.  The breathtaking scenery of the Yorkshire Dales providing a dramatic and effective scenic backdrop to the many varied workings on the line (which includes an engine towing it’s own narrow-gauge launch, apparently 😉 ) without the need for too much space – the scenery represents just a few hundred feet either side of the line – and it remains effective despite a very simple trackplan.  Little more than a crossover and a couple of lay-by sidings are in the centre of the layout.

The Summit (2)

When I say that the above Fowler 3F is like that RV from Top Gear that launched it’s own sports car, I’m being facetious.  This is probably either a trip-to or a return from the works, as before the widespread rise of heavy road haulage and the roads needed to support it, slow goods trains were one’s best bet at getting something so heavy around the country for reasonable rates.

So that’s my top three layouts for RailEx 2018.  Incidentally, be sure to visit my friend’s website on his representation of Horsted Keynes station in OO, and also to check out his photos and video of the event.

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 4: Buildings and Track Weathering

I must confess that I have not exactly been looking forward to painting the track, given the length of time that it took to get the test pieces presentable; and these were just made of a single Peco Double-Straight each.  It seems that I have entered the sluggish middle-part encountered on any project; this is where the excitement of starting out has worn out it’s welcome, yet you’re not close enough to the end to be energized to finish what you started.  This is the main threat to the completion of any project – more so than any material or monetary shortages I find – so it is imperative that we find reasons to smile about how far we have come.

A dusting of industry – weathering the track

Its quite amazing how something so simple as painting your model railway track can do wonders for it’s level of realism.  Covering the shiny rail sides and sleepers with coats of subtly-different shades of brown is probably the rite of passage which allows a train set to graduate into a model railway.

Track Painting (2)

The shot above is probably the one which illustrates this best; already the track has taken on the kind of sooty, dark brown appearance that the accumulation of rust, dirt and brake dust would bestow it.  Obviously, the rail heads would have to remain shiny and exposed, doubly-so given how notorious N Gauge is for problems with current-pickup on short-wheelbase locos, but when combined with the crushed stone ballast, the track is likely to really look the part.

Creating the look of a SR-themed Heritage Line

Having been raised on a diet of heritage lines in the south such as the Mid Hants, the Swanage Railway and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, there was no doubt as to what the setting would be for my first layout.  Originally the plan was to model the Meon Valley Railway in an alternate timeline where the movement to preserve the line was successful, even if it pains me to admit that the Mid Hants would never have existed.

After a great many evenings working on the Metcalfe buildings upon my new modelling desk, I am in a position to mock-up their positions, which I have done below.

Building Placement Test (1)

Two things are readily apparent here.  The first is that there is significantly less space behind the goods shed than Anyrail would have had me believe, which will lead to a little creativity when it comes to the road bridge I plan to use as a scenic break.  The second is that the platform shelter is disconcertingly close to the edge of the layout, with the outer platform being cut off at the baseboard edge.  I’m going to need to avoid fragile details to that platform, such as lampposts and station signs (we can always say that the sign on that platform is beyond the baseboard 😉 ).  The lesson here is that Anyrail may be a great program and a real timesaver, but if I’m to create accurate layouts in future, it is not to be completely relied upon.

A quick visual inspection will tell you that the Metcalfe country station is not of Southern origin, but it is in fact based upon a standard design of the Cheshire Lines Railway.  With this in mind, a facelift with the help of some Humbrol was in order; Green platform shelter pillars, green window frames and green window sills are enough to immediately evoke the SR in the eyes of the viewer.  Pity that when I thought of this, the windows were already assembled and mounted, leading to a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier on my part.  Even so, I’m sure you’ll agree that it turned out rather well in spite of my short-sightedness:

Station Building SR Modifications (1)

Station Building SR Modifications (2)

So, what’s next?

Easily the top priority once the track is painted is to build the backscene which bisects the layout.  Admittedly, the backscene is another thing I’m trying to put off, given that all the paintings I’ve ever done make as much sense to the eye as a piece of abstract art in the middle of an engineering drawing.  If it makes me feel any better, I guess that my choice to model a countryside scene on both sides, even if its a little cliché, does mean that the scenery should be simple to paint.

Until next time…


Unearthing my childhood: Layout in the shed

A Garden Shed that once contained a Model Railway.

As is the custom in the United Kingdom, the slightest appearance of sunshine brings on a plethora of attempts to make the most of the good weather before it buggers off behind the clouds once more.  As such, my dad has taken to repairing and renovating the garden shed that once contained my childhood OO Gauge Model Railway, which he built.

I will admit that I probably didn’t appreciate this layout as much as I should’ve, being around 12 and all, as the track was eventually lifted and the shed spent the longest time under two jurisdictions; On the left there was the side for my brother, James, which was usually covered in car parts, and on the right was my side, where a lot of effort was expended wrecking the once-pristine surface with careless DIY.  Now that all of that is gone, imagine my elation when I came to discover that thanks to my dad’s decision to use double-sided tape to secure the track, the outline where trains once ran is still very-much traceable.  It’s not often that I get to play archaeologist.

So, without further ado, join me this week as I explore the relics of my forgotten start in railway modelling.

The ghosts of Hornby’s past

Coming into the shed, and observing the former trackbed for the first time in years, it is clear that the ravages of time, nature and UV light have not been kind to the shed.

The left side of the old OO Gauge layout.
The baseboards are of Medium-Density Fibreboard, which isn’t a great material as far as pinning the track down is concerned, so it’s no wonder my dad chose double-sided tape instead. Sagging and what I assume to be mould are in abundance.
The middle of the old OO Gauge layout.
Not much going on in the middle, apart from the spur to the turntable.
The right side of the old OO Gauge layout.
Probably the main action area of the layout. Once the home of a turntable and locomotive shed, this turned into my main area for DIY once the track was lifted, hence the spray paint and holes.  To be honest I don’t know what I was thinking putting that sticker of a city on the hillside of the faded Peco backscene; this would be like improving a Picasso artwork by sticking an airfix model of a tank to it.

So maybe time for a refurb…

A BRM-style review of the trackplan

For anyone making a start in model railways, I would seriously recommend getting the three volumes of the BRM Guide to Trackplans & Layout Design.  These are superbly laid-out guides on how to design and build an effective model railway layout, and they contain colour plans and descriptions of many successful layouts of all sizes, as well as beginner-friendly bullet point lists of the good and bad points.

Another reason to get them is that they also contain articles clearing up some of the lingo in the hobby, such as what code 100 and code 75 mean with regards to OO Gauge track.  The three volumes contain content which is progressively more advanced, with Volume One containing articles geared towards the basics like layout location and baseboard construction; Volume Two goes more in-depth with modelling locations, track design and maximising the space you have available; Volume Three has articles almost entirely focused on modelling real-world locations, so you can see how your skills are expected to develop over time.  If you are just starting out, and you have to pick one, get Volume One.

So, for the sake of brevity, and because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (wink, wink!), let’s break out Anyrail 6, retrace the trackplan as best we can, and assess these remains in closer detail.

Plan of Old Train Shed OO Gauge Layout in Anyrail 6.
An approximate reconstruction of the original layout, done in Anyrail 6. This layout was constructed in a space of approx. 2894mm x 1689mm, or 9ft 6in x 5ft 6.5in. 57XX Pannier Tank and two BR Mk1 Carriages for scale.  N.B:  The light-grey rectangle beside the right flank of the layout is a proposed extension to the baseboard, it is not currently fitted.

Starting from where the Pannier Tank and Mk1 Carriages are located, we move off into what can be considered the main run of the layout, negotiating the outer loop, we cross the diamond crossing and turn right on the points (the left heads into a rudimentary two siding goods yard) to enter the inner loop.  After crossing the diamond crossing again, we cross the middle section into the right flank, rounding the curve passing the engine shed with it’s turntable, and we cross the spur leading to it to come back where we started.

As we can gather from that description, it was clear that dad intended to buy mostly tank engines as the motive power for the railway, and as it happened, these made up the majority of the fleet.  That said, I did treasure a couple of tender locomotives in my fleet; a Midland 2P and the A4 Pacific Mallard as I recall.  Many of my operating days on this layout were pockmarked by derailments of the tender engines as they tried to negotiate curves they were never suited for.  The light-grey extension to the baseboard, which brings it up to the door frame just like on the other side, would’ve permitted 2nd radius curves to be used, saving a lot of frustration.  Of course, this would also mean some kind of bypass on the left flank, before the diamond crossing.

While I can appreciate what dad did for me nowadays, given that he likely knew less about model railways then compared to what I know now (which, as I’m discovering with every problem I run into with my layout, is not a lot), back then, I clearly didn’t give this layout the love it deserved either.  Granted, I was twelve, but I still think that if I had made a bit of effort to make the layout my own, i.e:  added scenery and detail, it may never have been mothballed, but become a treasured surviving part of my childhood.

  • Use of the diamond crossing allows for two loops where only one might exist otherwise, extending the run.
  • Turntable and engine shed provide a perfect place for showcasing the fleet.
  • First Radius curves used too often on the main run, causing tender engines to derail.
  • Not much room for a substantial station.
  • Goods yard could easily be turned into something more substantial, such as a shunting puzzle.
  • Rudimentary scenic detail with no landscape leaves viewers in the dark as to the theme.

What the future holds…

This area is indeed ripe for development, and the timing is great, too.  Product-wise, these are exciting times for the Railway Modelling hobby, and not just in terms of locomotives and rolling stock – even if those are a little expensive – but the scratch/kit building end of the hobby is being revolutionized by the emergence of 3D printing; from obscure classes of stock, scenic objects and people, to spares for out-of-production locomotives.  Even if you are on a strict budget, companies like 3dk are allowing people to take advantage of the widespread abundance of decent photo printers to provide designs that can be printed in perpetuity, saving a lot of money especially when recycling waste card.

Needless to say, the N Gauge layout is giving me enough trouble, so maybe a project for next year.  In the meantime, there’s always Anyrail 😉

The London Festival of Railway Modelling 2018 – Trip Report

Last week, I divulged on my ulterior motives for visiting this show.  While it should not be forgotten that The London Festival of Railway Modelling is something of an annual pilgrimage for me, if you know what the going rate is for what items you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to snag a great deal at the various trade stalls.  In this case, I spent £185 for a Bulleid Q1 and a four-car rake of Maunsell Carriages in Blood & Custard, consisting of a composite, two thirds and a brake, making the perfect small heritage line train for the Southern Region; I’ve seen Dapol Q1s alone going on eBay for almost as much!

Anyway, that was last week, today we get to explore what my top 3 layouts were at this illustrious event.  These three will be listed in what I personally declare to be an ascending order of greatness, the top three based upon atmosphere, operational interest and inspirational value.  Atmosphere concerns less of the amount and correctness of the detail present, but how it adds up to a cohesive whole to evoke the layout’s time period and situation.  Operational Interest is self-explanatory, how many unique situations can be modelled within the layout’s trackplan, although this can be as simple as running a unique formation across the layout.  Inspirational Value is a criterion designed to address an elephant-in-the-corner in today’s hobby, the inspiration of both outsiders (parents who bring their kids, basically), and the younger generation themselves; will they be able to look at a layout and identify simple yet effective ways to make it look good?

Number 3:  Kensington Addison Road

Kensington Addison Road (3)

Attaining the Bronze Medal this year is a layout with a distinctly bronze ambience!  Must be all the brown around, but nevertheless this Grouping era layout offers a lively variety of colourful rolling stock undergoing a transition from a myriad of liveries to those of the Big Four.

Being an O Gauge work, there is necessarily a wealth of detail around, which is just as well because while the name implies a different place, the mention of Olympia on the station nameboard invites comparisons to it’s modern counterpart, Kensington Olympia.  A quick trip to Google Maps and the Disused Stations page yields some interesting alterations over the decades, such as how the siding that the gangers are ripping up has now become platform 3 for the District Line.  Depicting a well-known location in a different light is one premise where the immaculate, highly realistic layout approach shines.

Kensington Addison Road (8)

‘Kam’ the Circus Elephant propels baby Yvonne Kruse towards the station building, a nod to a famous 1956 photograph

Heavy on atmosphere, this layout makes good use of a time period when the Grouping was in it’s transitory phase to display a myriad variety of liveries, as well as having a competent amount of operational interest.  The inspirational value does suffer as a result of it’s phenomenal level of detail, however; this layout is a club effort, and as such only other clubs are likely to think that they can take something like this on.  As such, Kensington Addison Road retains a well-earned 3rd place.

Number 2:  Lacey Dale

Lacey Dale (4)

Here we have an example of N Gauge in it’s element, even if the dramatic scenery is composed of relatively few different scenic items; a single shade of green scatter appears to be used across the whole layout, with white plaster cliffs and isolated bits of hedge making up the rest of the natural terrain.  Even so, the end result can best be expressed by asking the reader to imagine what it would be like to look up from one of the platforms below.  Personally, this layout brought back painful memories of cycling up the Dorset hills, even though there isn’t a road in sight!

Closer inspection yields the reason for Lacey Dale’s Silver Medal, however.  This layout manages to present an exhibition-worthy spectacle whilst sticking to some fairly simple modelling techniques, which is handy when it comes to inspiring the audience to participate in the hobby.  The trackwork is Code 55, weathered suitably to remove the gleaming aura of a train set, incorporating some creative pointwork on the lower level to keep the shunting fun and the space small.  Stock objects have been visually upgraded, with the standard Peco buffer stops receiving a load of ballast in place of the moulded stone filling.  The addition of passing loops to the high level lines fleshes the main line out by adding a place where slow trains can be bypassed.

Lacey Dale (1)

Even though this is a club effort – just like Kensington Addison Road above – the simple-yet-effective nature of the scenery is significantly more accessible to the average lone modeller.  While the scenery lacks the precision of most of the other layouts present, Lacey Dale did strike me as a layout that I could potentially replicate without decades of experience.

Number 1:  The World’s End

The World's End (4)

This spot was a toss-up between Saltdean, a fictional O Gauge layout depicting a colourful variety of Pre-Grouping LSWR Traction and Rolling Stock (albeit in a location even the makers themselves admit would be impossible to reach by an adhesion railway!), and this one.  The World’s End is a rather vertical layout set in the Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, which Primary School children may identify as the home of an iconic Prophetess – Mother Shipton.

The layout itself is an impressive collation of significant landmarks in Knaresborough.  The first thing which strikes you upon viewing this layout is the deep, expansive valley, along with the impressively fortified viaduct spanning it; it is fitting that this structure is the focal point of all the railway action, in spite of the fact that there’s not a lot going on in terms of trackplan complexity.  There are also quirky houses sat atop the cliff overlooking the River Nidd, The building acting as a booking office to Mother Shipton’s Cave, the ruins of Knaresborough Castle and of course the station itself.

The World's End (2)

I think for this layout the number one spot isn’t earned so much by any individual elements but in how the whole is presented.  There is a certain depth to the layout which is rare to see, with the massive valley and the emergence of the station from a hill atop the cliff.  In terms of inspiration, the link to Mother Shipton would probably pique the interest of anyone who learned about her in school, as I certainly did.  Overall it does a great job of bringing one of Britain’s most quirky and interesting towns to life in model form, and as far as I am concerned it is okay to be personally swayed by one factor of many.


Until March 2019 rolls along, thank you for reading, and happy modelling!

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 3: Spoiling myself, 2mm style

A Bulleid Q1 and Maunsell Coaches in N Gauge.

So the London Festival of Railway Modelling has come and gone for the year, leaving a trail of empty bank accounts in it’s wake.  At least, if the other patrons had an experience like mine.

My current collection of N Gauge rolling stock, treasured though it is, consists of a motley band of locomotives and wagons in a toolbox, as they have been stored since childhood.  A 94xx Pannier Tank, a Large Prairie Tank, a Bulleid Light Pacific and an Intercity Class 47 make up the locomotive roster, and the ravages of time and movement have not been kind to a couple of them.  Needless to say, today I take better care of my trains.

As for the rolling stock, A smattering of vans, open wagons and bolster wagons make up the goods fleet.  Amazingly there is only one passenger coach in the whole box!  A chocolate & cream suburban carriage with pizza-cutter wheels and a missing underframe, which would be fine if the motive power was a Peckett saddle tank like Teddy here, but I have serious doubts that such a tiny machine would be able to cope with insulfrog points even if I did have the will and ability to make one in such a diminutive size.  Another highlight is the trio of Mk1 Parcels Carriages in Intercity colours that I got with the 47, and examining it next to a product of our time produces some interesting comparisons:

A Graham Farish Mk1 Parcels Carriage and a Dapol Maunsell 3rd Class Carriage Side by Side.
Representing a product of the early 2000s, the Intercity Parcels carriage reflects a time when modellers were predicting the terminal decline of British N Gauge.  On the other hand, the standard of the Maunsell would’ve blown minds in OO circles at the time when I began playing with model trains in the same period.

There are too many improvements to count.  The pizza cutters on the bogies?  Gone, replaced by finer, chemically-blackened wheels.  Fine detail abounds, of both the moulded and separately-fitted varieties.  NEM pockets fitted as standard, making conversion to Kadee knuckle-couplers a cinch.  Tiny decals on the windows.  Working, yes, working corridor connections (although not flexible enough for setrack, as I found out to my embarrassment).  It even has pickups on the wheels for what I assume could be a plug-in lighting system.

In short, this standard of detail in such a small size – ready-to-run, no less – would’ve been inconceivable in my youth.  Still, no train goes anywhere without motive power, and for that purpose I have deployed the most powerful 0-6-0 ever to run on Britain’s rails:  The SR Q1 Class.

A Dapol Q1 in N Gauge.
Copes remarkably well with the less-than-ideal job I did laying the track, particularly when facing the curved points.

Designed by Oliver Bullied CBE as a War Department machine for the Southern Railway, which lacked a decent goods haulage capability being preoccupied with passenger workings throughout the densely-populated south.  Peculiar features such as the casing around the boiler were designed with non-strategic materials in mind, such as using the plentiful but structurally-anemic Idaglass Glass-Fibre Insulation to lag the boiler.  The class long outlived any expectations of an Austerity design and soldiered on until 1966.

This Dapol rendition uses a tender-drive mechanism with a cardan shaft running through the cab, a luxury which is more easily afforded than on, for instance, a 4F, owing to the Q1 class’ high-sided tender.  Moulding and rivet detail is very precise and well-proportioned.  Separately-fitted detail abounds, with the sanding gear being particularly prominent.  Running qualities are stellar even before running-in, with a smooth and powerful quality being readily apparent.

So as I sit here, £185 poorer (£90 for the Q1, £23.75 for each carriage), I look forward to a time when I can view this procession lazily trundling it’s way around the layout, surrounded by the cheerfulness of preservation on the station side, and the mournful decay of a declining railway in the goods yard; okay, in the latter context the Maunsell carriages wouldn’t fit, but the Q1 was ultimately a mixed-traffic machine, and it’s many pickups will serve it well going over the basic starter-set pointwork.  This year’s turn at Ally Pally was a rare moment of extravagance for me, and one which yielded some very pleasing results.  Want to know the full story?  Next Week 🙂


The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 2: Scenic Conundrums

When I began this layout I never thought that the first house move it ever went through would be so early in it’s life. There was only track onboard with a couple of wires for power, so unsurprisingly it reached my parents house more-or-less intact, but that got me thinking: Would I be so lucky next time?

It’s both an interesting and unsettling question, as I’m one of those people who wince at any damage to personal property, the effect rising exponentially on account of the hours put into it’s creation.  There are a few ideas in my head right now, such as making the platforms out of Plywood like Youtuber New Junction has done, keeping buildings and other fragile detail as far inboard as possible (meaning the outer platform would have no protruding features such as canopies and lighting masts), and even a full cover for the layout.  In a way, this is like building a layout for the exhibition circuit, minus the modelling pedigree required to achieve such results, which every minute spent on this project is forcing me to appreciate!

Shifting the terrain

A lot of vexation has resulted from the prospect of constructing the scenery, not least due to the aforementioned predicament of it being a mobile layout; this was the original plan as drawn up in Anyrail 6:

N Gauge 3ft 3in x 2ft 3in Track Plan

Clearly, there was some work to be done, especially with regards to the left transition point.  Although I could have created the end of an airfield on the right hand side, with something of an air pageant going on with parked warbirds, it simply wasn’t worth the compromises suffered with regards to train lengths.  Enter the revised version:

N Gauge 3ft 3in x 2ft 3in Track Plan - Take 2

Quite a dramatic change in terms of operational interest, even if the upper half looks a little more vanilla for it.  I had briefly considered building a high-level station where the treeline is on this plan, using flexible track as a way of building skills for future layouts, but no amount of fiddling with the upper scenery would permit enough space.  Pity, I could have built a disused high-level station that passengers would have viewed as they traversed a footbridge from the still-operational station building, leading to the low-level station where the trains arrived.  The high-level station could’ve doubled as rolling stock storage, too.

On a related note, The setting for the layout has undergone a humbling.  I was originally inspired by the tragedy of the Meon Valley Railway in Hampshire, with it’s lifelong predicament of being a stillborn main line to the south coast, it’s large platforms seeing traffic befitting a provincial branch line.  You can probably start to see the issue, as I’d need platforms long enough for 8-12 carriage rakes to make the scene work with 4 carriage trains, and the layout in it’s altered state could only provide platform space for strictly for the latter.  Needless to say, I’m still enamoured with the concept of an underutilised backwater main line, so perhaps one for a garden shed.

Another factor in the move away from a specific prototype comes from being inspired by the work of Budget Model Railways on Youtube.  I often worry about the future of Railway Modelling as a hobby, specifically about how many of the younger generation are being inspired to take part, and these two recently did a sterling job of highlighting the fundamental “model railway” vs. “train set” elitism within the hobby:

Eye-opening in many ways.  I was clearly aiming too high with my layout (my very first one, no less), and that was probably a factor in my sluggish progress in the first few months of it’s construction.  In a way it’s quite vindicating to know that you can get highly attractive results with a layout using rather simple, some would say “amateur”, methods.  More to the point, these methods can be completed reasonably quickly, which is handy since I plan to honour my New Year’s Resolution by having a complete layout by the time 2019 rolls around.

Power Woes

A fairly minor amateur error has occured.

In my excitement to get my track plan nailed to the baseboard, I neglected to properly test the electrical viability of the layout, specifically the headshunt on the Goods Yard side.  You see, parking a locomotive there is impossible since I’m using Insulfrog points that only pass power onto the track they are switched to.  Since the power leads feed into the main circuit – thankfully under the scenery, as some of the sleepers there are no more due to piss-poor soldering – setting the points to direct the loco into the headshunt will prevent power feeding into the goods yard, stopping all traffic.

Thankfully, a fairly simple solution comes in the form of adding power feeds to the headshunt, along with a switch to allow me to isolate the yard when the points are switched to the running line.

Back to Basics

Metcalfe Kit Construction

As much as I’d like to pepper my layout with unique 3D-Printed buildings, fancy signalling electronics and generally build an exhibition-quality effort, I know I’ve got to get a grip and merely aim for a decent effort.  There’ll be plenty of time, money and therefore layouts to hone my skills later on.  In the meantime, I can rekindle my love of Metcalfe Card Kits (pictured above), how intuitive and cleverly designed they are and how attractive the final result is.

So, to myself, It’s my first damn layout, give me a break…

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 1: Work begins in earnest

I haven’t posted about this model railway layout here before, since I began the project before I got back into the Girder Gibbon Blog.  Therefore, before I go off on one, here’s a quick refresher.

The Premise of the Layout

N Gauge 3ft 3in x 2ft 3in Track Plan Uncovered

Essentially, there are two halves to the layout, with each one acting as a fiddle yard for the other during operation.  The top half depicts a typical country station, not unlike the one at Isfield on the Lavender Line.  I’m a little torn as to whether I want to make replicas of the elegant Mock-Tudor buildings of the Meon Valley Railway (Scroll down to 2/3 of the way down to find LSWR excellence), since they occupied platforms fit for trains up to 12 carriages long, whereas my station in the image is a little smaller than Farnborough North, which can barely house four carriages on each platform.  In short, such splendid buildings may be a little wasted here.

The time period of the top half is, of course, the Preservation Period.  I don’t think there has ever been a better Swiss army knife for the railway modeller, with regards to running whatever pleases him, anyway.  This means bright, well-kept stations, along with a menagerie of smaller steam and diesel locomotives; Q1s, Prairie Tanks, Class 33s, et cetera making up the main passenger workings with a trio of Mk1 or Mk2 carriages in tow, and a few demonstration goods workings headed by a Gronk or a Pannier Tank.  On the hill overlooking the station, an additional event will be taking place such as a steam rally, fun fair or perhaps, now that I remember that T Gauge is a thing, a narrow gauge railway!

The bottom half is a little more rural, and depicts such a goods yard as Mislingford, again on the Meon Valley Railway.  This was in the middle of nowhere, even by the standards of the other communities the railway served, and to my mind it ought to be treated as such by the ravages of time.  Just before closure, passenger trains are short, few and far between, in the style of the “Sulky Service” that was once subjected to the Bluebell Railway in the mid-50s.  Most trains are processions of old, worn-out private owner wagons, trundling behind an equally unloved goods machine.

This is the same railway occupying two different points in it’s history, with the neglected goods yard being deliberately run into the ground to dissuade any attempts at resurrection, and the triumph of the preservation groups in reversing what seems to be terminal decline.  Consider it my love letter to all the happy memories I have.

The Story so far…

Track Pinned Down (2)

This just about sums up the progress of the layout.  Baseboard has been constructed, cork underlay affixed and track pinned down, nothing more.  The buffer stops are mocked up, but I’ve definitely settled upon their positions.  Not a hell of a lot for 8-9 months work since conception in Anyrail 6, I must admit.

What also doesn’t help is my sheer ineptitude in affixing the ballast in a test-piece:

Track Test-Piece (7)

Now, I must explain that my original idea was to use a mixture of fine and medium grades of ballast to make it more visually interesting.  This was surely achieved, but probably for the wrong reasons, as the larger lumps achieved the same thing as large lumps of carbon does to the microstructure of Steel – They made it harder to spread the ballast effectively around the sleepers by disrupting the flow of the smaller places, resulting in a lumpen appearance that was easily disintegrated by finger pressure even when dry, much like the lumps of carbon result in a harder, but more brittle metal.

Perhaps too much washing up liquid in the classic 50/50 mix of water and PVA glue?  I only made a tiny amount in a paint pot so portions are hard to control at that scale.

Current Shopping List

  • Gaugemaster Controller – before I do anything else, I really ought to make sure trains can navigate the line without problems; I should only need one controller since the track plan is nowhere near complicated enough to justify the track being separated into electrical ‘Blocks’.  Perhaps one of their Simulation models is in order…
  • Peco 6′ Way Gauge in N – even though I’ve laid the double track to the correct spacing for Setrack (26mm between rail insides), I’ll still need to know how high the platforms ought to be; speaking of which…
  • Building Kits:
    • Signal Box
    • Metcalfe Platforms
    • Goods Shed
    • Engine Shed – not sure whether to build this by scratch or not, given the curve to the permanent way.
    • Station Building
    • Tunnel Portals – These are needed to help decide how to dimension the hill above the station.
  • Ballasting Supplies:
    • Ballast Glue – I may give the PVA/Water mix another go, but failing that, Noch do a decent alternative 🙂
    • Ballast Spreader – I’m aiming to get this layout complete by the end of 2018, so might as well save time early on.

Model Railway in a Day

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout, with complete Cork Trackbed.

Ever looked back at something you’ve done, and thought “How the hell did it take me so long to do this?”.  What you see above is the result of 8 months work!  To put my tardiness into context, check out this video of a layout being built, scenery and all, in one day on a piece of Celotex Insulation Board:

Needless to say, if I am to hit my target of having this layout complete on both sides by the time 2019 comes around, I’ve got to get a move on.