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…


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…


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.