Category Archives: Layout ideas

Something different on the high street

While wandering around Deptford the other week, I came across something that might be of interest to modellers:

It’s a café made out of an old coach. Not even a buffet car, just a regular BR composite coach on a length of track. I’m told the lemon drizzle cake is very good.

Externally, there are only a few differences from a standard passenger coach. A ventilation duct has been installed on top and a set of stairs leads up to the entrance. And, of course, there’s that livery. One might charitably describe it as “challenging,” but there’s no doubt that it catches the eye. You may wish for something simpler, although I understand a number of US firms produce graffiti decals. Don’t forget to paint over the kitchen windows.

The coach sits at right angles to the high street behind a fence in what appears to be a former school playground. At weekends, market stalls are set up here. If you’d like to see it for yourself, take the train to Deptford Bridge (which, I’m told, is the oldest railway station in London), come out of the station, turn right and it’s just a minute or two up the road.

It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s definitely something different for the modern image urban modeller.

The ex-file

Well, contrary to what I said in my last entry, I have actually made some changes on the micro. Witness:

It all started when I added a bit of grass (carpet fibres, available from the shop at Pendon Museum in their own scenic range). Unfortunately, this was a little more effective than I’d hoped, and really showed up the bare grey card. I added washes of light grey in various shades with various brown tints to make the card look a bit more like concrete. Here’s what the layout looks like with no stock, vehicles or buildings:

As you can see, I did add clutter. The buildings have loads stacked up against them, largely to ensure they get positioned correctly. The large crates and small barrels are from Gilbow – superb accessories, among the best on the market in my opinion. The other crates are Peco and the red-ended barrel is Merit.

The pile of sand is a discovery of my own. There’s this substance you can get in art shops known as gel medium. Essentially, the idea behind this is that you add it to paint to give your paintings texture. It comes in several varieties and can be easily shaped. It costs a little under £10 a jar, but is incredibly useful. I’ve used it to represent sand, gravel and pebble dash in the past. Here, I mixed it with Games Workshop’s “Snakebite Leather” paint, which creates a nice sandy colour.

The tractor is an Oxford die cast model and the car is Classix. I don’t intend to fix the vehicles down, as they’re a handy way of setting the period. I want this to be fairly flexible in terms of setting, just so that nothing I run there looks totally wrong.

Conceptually, this is basically a smaller version of “Micklewhite Wharf.” At the moment, it’s called “Semple Town,” which I hope people won’t take as a comment on its builder. It’s set in East London on the south bank of the Thames – the distant buildings on the backscene are supposed to be on the far side of the river. The name comes from the tendency of places in East London to be named after industrial firms – Canning Town, Silvertown, Beckton. This is the works of Harry Semple.

I have no idea what Semple’s factory produces, but it certainly requires a large variety of rolling stock. Much of this has been inherited from Micklewhite Wharf, for the obvious reasons that (a) it’s the same setting and (b) both layouts require compact stock in order to be satisfying to run.

Above left is the Terrier, the “main line” engine. It’s also the longest engine on the layout, which might be a first for a Terrier. It’s hauling the workmen’s train, which consists of repainted “Emily’s Coaches” from Bachmann’s Thomas the Tank Engine range. There’s barely enough room for the engine with both coaches, so most of the time the train will consist of one coach. The Terriers, as I’ve said before, were typical East London engines and could be found both north and south of the river.

Above right is Billy, a rather battered Bachmann Junior locomotive. For a while, Bachmann produced this and an 0-4-0 saddle tank using the tooling from their American Thomas range. Unfortunately, this got them in a bit of trouble with HIT Entertainment, Thomas’ copyright holders, and so have been withdrawn. Detailing is minimal and they’re basically freelance, but I think they look rather neat. I was going to repaint this one, but I think I might just weather him down a bit.

The engine on the left is another Bachmann Junior engine, this time a somewhat Hunslet-esque diesel shunter originally named Rusty. I’ve repainted it and slightly weathered it, and coincidentally it matches Billy’s colour quite well. The wagon immediately behind is a curiosity, and not actually mine. My brother picked it up second-hand, and due to a lack of space and time I am the current custodian of much of his stock. The lack of markings suggest it’s an internal user wagon. As the bro said, it’s quite a nice thing to have on a Docklands layout.

The railway still isn’t finished. The more I do, the more I find to do. I’m sure you know what I mean. But given that in terms of total hours I’ve spent less than a day to get this far (not including drying time for glue) and considering that I’ve spent less than £10, I’m quite pleased.

Now I’m thinking in terms of other micro-layouts. I’ve had lots of layout ideas over the years, but no room for them. Now I’m thinking in terms of a parcels depot, a Tube station, a harbour, a scrapyard, dabbling in O-16.5…

Is this the world’s laziest model railway?

Hola, amigos. It’s been a while since I was last here. I was busy with some things. I won’t lie to you, there have been other blogs. But they meant nothing to me, nothing, I swear.

That out of the way, here’s my latest project. It may be the laziest layout ever built.

The concept is shamelessly stolen from various layouts Carl Arendt’s now-legendary website, Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads (link below). It was built in a boxfile. Most of the scenery was from the scrapbox, so total cost to me was £6. Quick run-down of the layout…

Base – Boxfile from W. H. Smith. I removed the end rather than try to hack through it. This caused the file to lose a lot of its stiffness, remedied by reinforcing the bottom with foamcore board.

Track (including buffer stops) – Hornby. The points were a fiver second-hand (RRP £12), which is why small local model shops with a good selection of second-hand stock are indispensible. Shout-out to Jane’s Trains in Tooting, possibly the best model shop in London.

Buildings – Metcalfe. I’ve had these for a while, and as you can see, they’re a little the worse for wear. The kit came with a sheet of card with extra details on – I cut the walls around the edge of the layout from this.

Ground – Grey card.

Backscene – Blue card. The buildings in the distance were cut out of National Trust leaflets (yet another reason to support the National Trust). I plan to add more buildings along the right-hand side, which currently looks rather bare.

Crane – From the Ertl Thomas the Tank Engine range. It’s currently awaiting a hook. In my opinion, this is a hugely underrated toy in modelling terms. Admittedly it’s freelance and could do with detailing, but cranes like this could be seen from the First World War right through to the 1970s. It could be used in almost any industrial scenario and, to my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like it on the market at the moment (not for that price, anyway).

The layout is almost finished in fact. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can I say it’s nearly finished when I haven’t even ballasted the track? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t plan to. I actually quite like it the way it is. I know, sacrilege. I plan to add some clutter to distract the eye from the bare “concrete,” but otherwise the ground will stay as is.

Basically, I wanted a simple layout that I could actually get finished without getting bogged down or having to make expensive shopping trips for the scenery. It took a grand total of two evenings, not including the time it took to assemble the buildings (one evening). It’s not much, but I like it.

Further explanations will be forthcoming in the next entry.

See also

www.carendt.com – A Mecca for the enthusiast of the micro-layout.

The White Stuff

Well, folks, as you’ve no doubt already realised, the UK is gripped by snow. As ever, we can expect transport difficulties and suchlike fun. Yr. Humble Chronicler, paid as he is by the hour, basically has to go into work chiz chiz.

A Collett 0-6-0 shows us how it's done.

However, in the meantime, here’s a nostalgic look at snow on British Railways circa 1963 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl4pJwcE7JI. It’s a narration-free, slightly artsy collection of documentary footage set to a delightfully ’60s soundtrack.

57xx pannier and Toad brake van finish clearing the line.

As you might imagine, there’s plenty of snow-clearing footage, mostly on the Western Region as far as I can see. Other highlights include some prestigious diesel services featuring a Warship, a Western and the Blue Pullman (all of which was probably, again, filmed on the Western Region). The filmmaker has spliced in some old footage of LMS engines for variety and there are lots of evocative shots of day-to-day operation in what are now termed “adverse weather conditions.” Also for some reason we are treated to film of a gentleman eating his breakfast. All in all, a great resource for anyone planning a snow-set railway.

Seriously, who is this guy?

I’ve often thought I’d like to do a snow-based steam-era railway. It offers a lot of potential for unusual operations. For instance, the snowplough workings that you see in the film would be a good short train to model. 0-6-0s were preferred due to the fact that all their weight was concentrated on the driving wheels, making them both powerful and stable – you could hit those drifts at a heck of a speed, and they might not be willing to move. It was common, as you can see in the film, to pair an engine with a tool van or brake van, which I presume carried a crew in case they ran into trouble. It was also common for two locomotives to be coupled back-to-back, sometimes with the tool van between them.

There are also lots of other interesting operating possibilities – double lines singled, diverted express trains, breakdown trains called out to derailments. Perhaps you could even have a whole train stuck in the snow, being dug out. I’ve seen footage of this at the National Railway Museum, and apparently the way to free up frozen motion was to wrap oily rags around it and set it on fire (good luck recreating that). Even so, it might take days to get the train out.
I’ll leave you with a photo from New Year’s Day 2009. Not exactly in period, but this is what the water tower at Didcot looked like that day:

Freelance as a bird

Something I’ve been idly thinking about on and off for several years now is the idea of a completely fictional railway. I don’t mean a might-have-been branch of an existing line, or a fictional place served by a real railway. I mean a completely made-up railway company. And not a light railway, either, but a proper main line company.

In America, this sort of model railway is not uncommon. That is largely because American companies tended to buy off-the-shelf, as it were, from major locomotive works. In Britain, this was the case for light railways, industrial railways and narrow gauge railways, but most of the main line companies tended to build in-house. Indeed, while there are layouts depicting fictional British railway companies, they do tend to be in the light railway/industrial railway/narrow gauge railway mould.

So to build a freelance main line is a slightly daunting prospect, as it rather suggests that some serious scratchbuilding is going to be a necessity to represent the weird-and-wonderful locomotives of your fictional company. Or is it? What got me thinking about the idea of a fictional company was the fact that a number of companies over the years have produced freelance locomotives in OO scale. There are enough, if you’re prepared to perform a little modification and sacrifice super-detail, to get a pretty complete locomotive fleet.

There are additional ways you might pad the loco stud out. While I noted above that most companies built in-house, it wasn’t unknown for engines from one company to end up on the lines of another. Midland ‘Jinties’ ended up on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway and the Northern Counties Commission in Northern Ireland. London, Brighton and South Coast ‘Terriers’ found their way on to the London and South Western Railway and the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. Some London, Midland and Scottish Railway 8Fs could be found on the London and North Eastern Railway. Major companies even, in times of need, bought off-the-shelf, as with the LNER J94s.

Or – how’s this for an idea – suppose your company managed to poach a real-life locomotive designer? Say, your company convinced Stanier or Bulleid to work for them? You could run reliveried Black 5s or West Countries. Or even let your imagination run riot with might-have-been locomotive designs and failed projects. Suppose Bulleid was given the wherewithall to build a full run of Leaders? There’s no shortage of possibilities.

For now, here are the fictional classes I have in mind for my own layout, along with how they might be made. I’ve come up with my own very basic class numbering system.

B1

Description: An 0-4-0 side tank. Their small coal capacity meant that they were almost exclusively used for shunting.

In reality: Hornby’s Guest, Keen and Nettlefold ‘D’ class tank engine. Although this is based on a real locomotive, the body has been so stretched in order to fit the standard 0-4-0 chassis that it’s practically freelance.

B2

Description: A larger side tank, capable of trip working. Often used on branch lines.

In reality: Triang’s Nellie. This has been produced in several variants over the years. It’s theoretically based on an LSWR C12, but in reality looks almost nothing like it.

B3

Description: An 0-4-0 saddle tank, fitted with a bunker to increase its range. Primarily used for shunting, although capable of hauling short goods trains. Problems with adhesion led the designer to devise an unusual extended saddle tank for increased weight. This tank appeared almost to wrap around the engine’s boiler, leading the class to be nicknamed “sausage rolls.”

In reality: A Bachmann Junior 0-4-0.

B3X

Description: An enlarged version of the successful B3. They were used for much the same duties as that class of engine. Perhaps inevitably, they were nicknamed “jumbo sausage rolls” or simply “jumbos.”

In reality: A Hornby ‘Percy the Small Engine’ with face removed.

B4

Description: An 0-4-0 with extended side tanks designed for use on passenger service. They were noted for their superb acceleration, although they could be unstable at speed.

In reality: A Hornby Railroad ‘LBSC 0-4-0T’. This was originally manufactured in the guise of an 0-4-0 version of Thomas the Tank Engine.

B5

Description: A rugged 0-4-0 shunter intended for dock shunting and indeed, use anywhere where heavy loads needed to be moved around tight curves.

In reality: Hornby’s ‘International’ tank, a vaguely non-British-looking engine produced in the 1970s.

E1

Description: A mixed traffic 0-6-0 with extended side tanks. Essentially a larger, improved version of the B4, it was a highly successful design and formed the basis of a number of subsequent locomotives.

In reality: Bachmann’s Junior 0-6-0 tank of 2005. This, like the “prototype” of the B4 above, was based on tooling originally devised for a version of Thomas the Tank Engine, hence I’ve said that the E1 was derived from the B4.

E2

Description: A small class. The company bought five Jinties from the Midland Railway to augment the E1.

In reality: Er, a Jinty. Triang, Hornby or Bachmann.

E3

Description: Intended to be a modernised version of the E1, these locomotive bear many similarities to the earlier class.  The most obvious difference is that the E3 is a saddle tank. It bears a passing resemblance to the Austerity tank, although it predates that class by a good ten years.

In reality: The current Bachmann Junior 0-6-0 saddle tank. This uses the same chassis as the earlier Junior 0-6-0, and so I’ve accounted for this by saying that, again, one locomotive was based on the other.

ED1

Description: A one-off 1930s experiment in diesel traction, using the frames of a withdrawn E1. Its designer had hoped to replace the railway’s tank engines with diesel traction. Unfortunately, while the engine was fine for shunting, it had very poor acceleration and low speed, and was virtually unusable for trip working. No further members of this class were built.

In reality: The Bachmann Junior diesel shunter. This uses the standard Junior 0-6-0 chassis, and so I’ve said that it uses a steam locomotive’s frames. It wasn’t unknown for this to happen with early diesel shunters. For instance, I know Sentinel used the same frames for their early diesels as for their vertical boilered steam shunters.

ED2

Description: Another one-off 0-6-0 diesel experiment carried out with the assistance of English Electric. As a result, it bore a strong resemblance to early diesel shunters of the LMS, LNER and Southern Railway. However, unlike those, the aim with this engine was to again produce a mixed traffic locomotive capable of doing anything a tank engine could. The resulting engine was a failure on trip working due, again, to low speed and poor acceleration. Furthermore, it was unreliable, and ended its days as a mobile generator.

In reality: The Triang 0-6-0 shunter, which looks almost but not quite like a Class 08. A lot of early diesel shunters bore a resemblance to the Class 08s, even if they weren’t directly related to them. Therefore it’s not too ridiculous to suggest that another “almost-08” was constructed experimentally.

G1

Description: A Victorian 4-4-2 passenger tank designed for commuter trains. Although fast, they were incapable of hauling the longer commuter trains and so were relegated to secondary services by the First World War.

In reality: A Bachmann ‘Emily’ from their Thomas range. This character is based on a Great Northern Railway Stirling ‘Single’. My version is being converted into a tank engine, with the tender reserved for an I1.

H1

Description: A 4-4-0 passenger engine used mostly for secondary passenger services and pilot duties, although they could occasionally be found substituting on expresses.

In reality: A Bachmann ‘Edward’ from their Thomas range with face removed and a more realistic tender (haven’t decided what, though). The tender supplied is utterly hopeless as a scale model.

I1

Description: Known as the ‘Small Moguls,’ these were basically a tender version of the now-legendary E1s. Like the H1s, they were capable of pulling occasional express trains. However, they were primarily used for secondary passenger services and fast goods.

In reality: A Bachmann ‘James’, again from the Thomas range, with the tender from the aforementioned ‘Emily’. As you may have guessed, this also uses the Junior chassis, this time with the addition of a pony truck.

I2

Description: The ‘Large Mogul’, a powerful mixed traffic engine which really came into its own for heavy goods work. Indeed, they were the favoured class for these duties.

In reality: Hornby’s version of James. This is larger than the Bachmann version, being a modified version of Triang’s hopeless 3F tender engine. The extended front and Schools Class tender serve to make this a freelance engine.

J1

Description: A 4-6-0 intended for heavy freight but, in reality, offering no advantages over the established I2. However, they were excellent passenger locomotives and, before the arrival of the K1s, were reckoned to be the best express engines on the railway.

In reality: Bachmann’s ‘Henry,’ yet again from the Thomas range. This engine, in the original Railway Series books, is based on a Black 5. In the TV series it looks like no engine living or dead.

K1

Description: The railway’s first Pacific. The J1 ‘s success as an express engine was noted, but it was not without its faults. The rear of the locomotive looked somewhat ungainly, being unsupported, and the unusually large cab windows were prone to breakage . The K1 was designed to correct these faults, and also boasted a larger boiler. The resulting engine was perhaps not as elegant as the Pacifics developed on other railways in the 1920s, but it was more than capable of the jobs it was given.

In reality: Yes, once again, it’s from the Bachmann Thomas range. This time it’s Gordon, which uses many of Henry’s chassis components. It’s commonly asserted that Gordon is based on a Gresley A3, but in fact there’s not much of a resemblance. Hence, again, I feel no guilt whatsoever for claiming it as a freelance model. However, the tender is again hopeless and will be replaced.

K2

Description: A somewhat inelegant Pacific with inside motion, developed in the mid-1930s to work the routes for which the K1 was too heavy. The resemblance to the LMS ‘Princess Royal’ class has been noted, and allegations of industrial espionage against Crewe have been made, although never proved. In fact, given that this engine has few similarities to the Princess beyond the visual, the theory is largely discredited.

In reality: A Triang Princess. These were too short to be considered ‘scale models,’ and didn’t have outside motion – once again, it’s a case of an engine that’s bad enough to be freelance.

So there you go – 18 different classes of locomotive, sufficient to cover most duties on a railway. These aren’t the only freelance or semi-freelance models that have been produced, not by a long way. With a little imagination you could probably do a lot more, but I hope I’ve proven that it’s possible to create a freelance fleet. In future entries, I hope to explore the fictional company a bit more.

Minories Report

I mentioned in my last post that I’m a great enthusiast for the joys of research. So, when planning my new layout set in the East End, what better way to research it than to actually get out there?

I started out in Shadwell, taking the Docklands Light Railway. I’m a big fan of the DLR, because it’s simultaneously very modern and very historic. It utilises a lot of the old infrastructure of lines long since closed. For instance, here it runs on the viaducts of the old London and Blackwall Railway. These were very characteristic of railways in West London, where gravelly soil made tunnelling difficult.

I thought this was the old station building. Wikipedia begs to differ.
I thought this was the old station building. Wikipedia begs to differ.

Further East, the railway has been built on new concrete flyovers. At West India Dock, there’s a veritable spaghetti junction of lines passing over and under each other as the trains try to figure out which way they’re going. From here, it’s a short walk back to Tower Gateway, following the route of the line.

minories station

The picture above was taken just short of Tower Gateway, and shows both the original London and Blackwall Railway viaduct and the later Midland Railway goods station building – this line was used by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway and the North London Railway, both of which ran into the L&BR’s Fenchurch Street terminus. The goods station had a roof back in the 1980s, and now forms part of a car park. Car parks have little respect for history.

"You know, I don't believe this train goes to Poplar at all."

"You know, I don't believe this train goes to Poplar at all."

Above is pictured another historic feature of interest. One of the selling points used by the builders of the L&BR, or the Commercial Railway as it was known in those early days, was that by putting the railway on a viaduct, the arches could be converted into houses or shops – a nice little moneyspinner, and one in the eye for the rival scheme supported by George and Robert Stephenson for a railway built in a cutting. One slightly unexpected by-product of this was that when the lines were closed, they couldn’t demolish the viaducts, being as how they were occupied. So as a result, you’ll get long stretches of overgrown, trackless viaduct which suddenly end at the road.

You probably can't read that street sign.

You probably can't read that street sign.

This photo shows the area the line runs into – Fenchurch Street on the main line and Tower Gateway on the DLR. The reason I’ve taken a photo of this particular bridge is because it’s a significant place for modellers. This street is, in fact, the original Minories.minories2

Minories, in model railway terms, is a layout plan by the late, great Cyril Freezer for a compact city terminus station. See http://carendt.com/scrapbook/page85b/index.html for a tribute to Cyril and a reproduction of Minories (along with some of his other well-known plans). The layout doesn’t look much like the real Minories – it was actually inspired by Liverpool Street. But as Cyril was an East London boy, he would almost certainly have been familiar with the area.

The real Minories was doomed from the start. As I said above, the L&BR was originally known as the Commercial Railway, for the simple reason that it didn’t actually enter the City of London itself. They had to settle for Minories, a short distance from the Tower of London, which opened from 1840. It was only the following year that an extension was completed to Fenchurch Street. It wasn’t a long extension, but it did give the Commercial Railway that all-important presence in the City – the only line at the time to have a station in what was then considered Central London. Minories was immediately demoted to the poor relation. It was too close to Fenchurch Street to prosper, and in 1853 it was closed entirely and converted into a goods yard for the newer terminus.

Minories Station. The L&BR was originally cable-hauled, hence the lack of locomotives in this picture.

Minories Station. The L&BR was originally cable-hauled, hence the lack of locomotives in this picture.

That, by the way, is what became the Midland Railway goods station shown above.

Minories wasn’t gone for good, though. With the decline of goods traffic on British Railways (thanks again, Beeching), the goods station was abandoned. Fast forward to the 1980s, and the Docklands Light Railway was looking for a site for its western terminus. Well, here was a ready-made terminus site, just a couple of minutes’ walk from BR’s Fenchurch Street and London Underground’s Tower Hill. So it was that Minories had the last laugh – under the new name of Tower Gateway.

Further Reading

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/technology-obituaries/5517020/Cyril-Freezer.html – Telegraph obituary for Cyril Freezer, briefly touching on Minories and his East End childhood.

http://www.themodelrailwayclub.org/docs/minories.htm – A literal version of Minories, using an imaginary extension of the Great Northern Railway.

Anachronism Stew

One of the things I enjoy most about this hobby is the research side. Early on in the planning stage, I like to get out there and get some reference material. Not just on the railway aspect of things, but the scenery, the buildings, even the people. It’s no good ensuring that your 1923 locomotive is pulling the correct 1923 stock if the figures are dressed in 1940s fashions, for instance.

But then again, sometimes you get a perfectly legitimate reason to get a bit silly with the scenic details. For instance, today, while I was walking through St Pancras Station, I came across this:

IMG_1256It’s that staple of the steam era country station, the milk churn. Specifically, four of them being used to advertise a promotion on dairy goods, smack bang in the middle of a station that’s come to symbolise the future of rail travel in Britain. Incidentally, there were also displays for bread (using flour sacks), fish (nets) and fruit (crates). So you can, perfectly legitimately, be completely random with your accessories.

IMG_0193Or how about this on the right? There are several of these old GWR benches in what was once Windsor & Eton Central Station. Most of this grand station, famous for its royal connections, has now been turned into a shopping centre. The railway is limited to a single platform with a shuttle service to Slough, hidden away at the back. But even if there were no longer royal trains, the owners weren’t going to let this illustrious history go, and so the shops are largely housed in original station buildings and, as you see here, they’ve salvaged several GWR station benches. Coopercraft produce these in OO scale.

Windsor also houses what might be the biggest anachronism of all – a locomotive that was cut up in 1912. Or at least, a replica thereof. The locomotive in question is The Queen, a Great Western ‘Achilles’ class and the non-working replica was built for the Royalty and Railways exhibition. The tender was sadly scrapped (although parts have been saved by the Bluebell Railway for their new ‘Brighton Atlantic’ – the tender originated with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway).

IMG_0192This is a terrible photo – I was on my way to a dinner party, so the engine was snapped in the evening. Anyway, despite my appalling photo, this does give you a legitimate excuse to put historic and even non-existent locos on a modern image layout. If you want this particular locomotive, both Triang and Hornby have produced the ‘Achilles’ class and it’s available fairly readily second-hand.

These are just three examples. Plenty of stations up and down the country – not just those directly linked to preserved railways – can boast features from the steam age. Whether they were deliberately put there or simply left over, it’s easy enough to find an excuse to have more-or-less any historic feature on your modern layout. There is, as they say, a prototype for everything.