The Cardboard Layout

Paper Prototype of Thaxted Terminus

Building a cardboard layout may sound like a rather strange thing to do. Yet, there’s method in my madness.

I wanted to answer two questions. Firstly, could I fit everything I wanted onto the baseboard? Secondly, could I store the layout in a ready made plastic storage box?

To answer these questions I decided to build a cardboard model of the layout.

I started by making some buildings from cereal packets. These were the same size as the buildings I want to include on the layout. Placing them on the life size print out of my preferred trackplan showed me that there wasn’t quite enough space to fit them into the layout.

So, I went back into SCARM, edited the plan and printed it out full size. Here’s the updated version.

Prototype of Thaxted Terminus Overview

Eagle-eyed readers will see I’ve straightened the headshunt to bring it towards the front of the layout. This created enough space for a cattle dock and a road behind the headshunt. To create space for the goods shed and a small yard I moved both of the sidings forward slightly, and shortened one of them. Everything else (the station building, platform and engine shed) fitted rather well.

I would like to store each module of the layout in a large plastic box, the Really Useful Christmas Tree box. I believe Chris Krupa had the idea originally, and it’s a jolly good idea. The boxes are ready-made, light and have a clip on lid to keep the dust out. Internally they measure 1,135 (L) x 232 (W ) x 340 (D) in mm or roughly 44.5 x 9.1 x 13.4 inches.

Would the layout fit?

With the Christmas tree box on it’s side, the layout slides neatly into the box.

Cardboard Prototype Gonig into Christmas Tree Box

I made the base of the layout 27mm deep, to simulate a 6mm ply baseboard and a 21mm deep wooded frame. On all sides I added a 200mm deep scenic board (except on the far right hand side because I ran out of cardboard!).

When the lid is put on the layout is totally enclosed.

Prototype Layout in Christmas Tree Box

There are a few millimetres of additional space in every dimension all around the layout.

Prototype Layout in Christmas Tree Box 2

Making a cardboard prototype of a layout may seem a strange idea but it’s shown I can fit the track plan and buildings into the space that’s available, and that I can store the whole module in a ready-made plastic storage box.

Answering these two questions has given me the confidence to proceed…

A Day Out With Doctor Syn


On the last sunny day in September I was lucky enough to spend the day with Doctor Syn.

Doctor Syn was a fictional smuggling hero on the Kent marshes. Don’t worry, I wasn’t smuggling contraband into the country. My family brought me a driver experience on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and this Doctor Syn is RH&DR Number 10, a lovely Canadian Pacific style loco build in 1931.

I drove No. 10 as a ‘light loco’ (loco only) for four miles. Then I rode on the footplate for a 28 mile round trip over the whole line with a scheduled passenger service. It was a fantastic experience. The unforgettable feeling of travelling at 20 mph in a gently swaying 15 inch gauge loco with the heat of the fire, the smell of smoke and the hiss of steam.

Simon, who was driving No. 10 that day, taught me a huge amount. He’s been driving since he was 18 and he knows the line like the back of his hand. Many thanks Simon.


Apparently, I didn’t stop smiling all day!


Here are some photos.

Waiting for the signal at New Romney.Waiting for the Signal

Arriving at Hythe.Arriving at Hythe

A quick spin on the turntable.A Quick Spin at Hythe

Oiling and watering.Oiling and Watering.

Cylinder oil.Cylinder Oil

The ‘ashpit’ at Hythe.The 'Ashpit' at Hythe

A couple of pics of Doctor Syn. On the RH&DR the drivers have different stars to identify who’s driving the loco. Simon’s star is on the front of the loco. Apparently it came from Caledonian Railway practice.Doctor Syn

Makers Plate

Out onto the shingle banks, one of my favourite parts of the line.Out on to the Shingle Banks

Dungeness Station.Dungeness Station

Cleaning the loco and I’m still smiling…Pledge and Polish

Bishop’s Stortford Railway Society Exhibition 2016

Snow in the Glen by Noel and Myra Davies

In early September the Bishop’s Stortford Railway Society held their exhibition. There was a nice mixture of layouts in a vast range of styles, scales and gauges. I’m pleased to say narrow gauge was well represented!

Fellow Beds and Bucks member Mark Howe was showing his 009 layout Stanton Cum Lacy. It was good to catch up with Mark as I haven’t seen him for a few months. Mark’s grandson skilfully operated the layout while we chatted.

Stanton cum lacy Mark Howe

An overview photograph doesn’t do justice to the detail on the layout. Let’s start with the workbench outside the engine shed and the bushes growing through the abandoned car…

Stanton cum Lacey by Mark Howe 1

Of course Stanton cum Lacey is famous for the underground RAF facilities…

Stanton cum Lacey by Mark Howe 2

..and it’s agricultural produce.

Stanton cum Lacey by Mark Howe 3

That doesn’t mean there isn’t time to relax.

Stanton cum Lacey by Mark Howe 4

Moving on to Wales. I have seen videos of That Dam Layout but I’d never seen the layout itself. The 009 layout depicts a dam during construction and includes a massive dam wall with a stone quarry nestling in the valley below.

That Dam Layout John Lee

The cranes on top of the dam move and the detail in the quarry is impressive.

That Dam Layout John Lee 2

This is the stone cutting shed.

That Dam Layout John Lee 3

The inspiration comes from the Elan Valley and Grwyne Fawr near Abergavenny.

That Dam Layout John Lee 4

At the other end of the layout these is a ‘village’ of temporary accommodation for the quarry workers.

That Dam Layout John Lee 5

The sheer size of this layout is impressive and I admire the modellers for taking on a project of this magnitude. But, size isn’t the only impressive thing in this layout, the detailing is lovely too. Look at the tools lined up outside this shed.

That Dam Layout John Lee 6

For those people who like Scotland in winter, Noel and Myre Davies were showing Snow in the Glen. I first saw this O-16.5 layout at the Norfolk and Suffolk Narrow Gauge Modellers Open Day in Beccles in March of this year and I admit I’m a big fan of Noel and Myras modelling. The locos and stock are lovely.

Snow in the Glen by Noel and Myre Davies 2

The modelling is top notch.

Snow in the Glen by Noel and Myre Davies 3

The boiler house emits real smoke and, since the layout represents a sawmill, the smoke even has the smell of pine.

Snow in the Glen by Noel and Myre Davies 4

Look at the roof of the boiler house. Now that’s good modeling!

Snow in the Glen by Noel and Myre Davies 5

Myra is a figure painting maestro – look at her figures in the image at the top of this blog. She was giving a figure painting demonstration at the exhibition. On her workbench there were some Edwardian figures…

Myre Davies Painting

…and some baskets of fruit and veg.

Myre Davies Painting 2

She creates real depth in the figures and objects she paints. Myra told me she paints the figures black at first. Then she adds the colour as a wash. Finally, she adds a slightly lighter shade of the same colour as a second layer of wash. (If the top coat is a very light colour she will do a wash of white over the black before adding the two colour washes). I hope I got that right because I’m keen to try her technique – watch this space!

I am drawn to micro layouts in larger scales. Colin French’s O Gauge layout Ledsam Street Yard pulled me towards it and grabbed my attention. It is totally fictitious model of a small part of a larger industrial complex, sometime in the 1930s.

Ledsam Street Yard by Colin French

I like the industrial atmosphere Colin has created.

Ledsam Street Yard by Colin French 2

Ledsam Street Yard by Colin French 3

I had a really good chat with Colin about his approach to building micro layouts and how he made this layout. It was a very interesting conversation. Only after I left the exhibition did I realise I saw another of his micro layouts, Bishops Lane Brewery, at the Broadland Model Railway Club exhibition in Aylsham last year. I remember I was very impressed by Bishops Lane Brewery too.

Perhaps there’s something in modelling micro layouts in 7mm scale…

I’m SCARMing

1 to 1 Scale Print Out of Layout PlanNo, I’m not singing a song from Bob Marley. I’ve been doing some layout planning in SCARM.

SCARM (Simple Computer Aided Railway Modeller) is a free layout planning software package. I’ve never used any software like this before. It’s easy to download and install, and I could quickly start planning a layout. I followed the tutorials and had my first plan in 10 minutes. If only all software was this easy – many thanks to the guys at SCARM!

To make a modular, ‘What If’ layout based on Thaxted I would start with a country terminus. I’ve got a sketch of my ideas.  For storage reasons, I’d like to fit it all on a baseboard 113cm long x 33cm wide (roughly 44 x 13 inches).

I used SCARM to see if I could fit all this in. SCARM has PECO 009 track as one of the standard templates.

Here’s an early attempt using PECO 009 main line points throughout (E495, E496). It’s a cramped for space lengthwise and there isn’t much room between the two lines in the passing loop.

Thaxted 3 with 14 degree points mainline 113cm

Substituting smaller radius PECO 009 points (E491, E492) for the three points in the loop helps a little.

Thaxted 4 with 3 tighter points in loop 113cm

When I use smaller radius PECO 009 points throughout, things get better. These points are slightly shorter, and have a sharper radius than the ‘mainline’ points. It seems to help everything fit into the space that’s available. For example, the headshunt is now a much more usable length and the clearances in the passing loop are greater.

Thaxted 7 with all tighter points 113cm

This is version 7 of my plan, and it’s the design I prefer (at the moment).

Using SCARM as a ‘sketchbook’ to create a basic design and then build new variants based on the previous versions of the plan was easy to do and very instructive.

Now, here comes the best bit.

You can print out the plan at 1:1 scale and use it to see how the stock and buildings would fit on your preferred plan. So far I’ve tried some stock (see the image at the top of this blog). I’m going to keep working on this and use it as a ‘paper prototype’ for the layout. It’s got to be better to make mistakes (and correct them) on paper than to make them when I build the real layout!


Thaxted – A Quick Sketch

Thaxted Idea SketchIf I am going to make a modular, ‘What If’ layout based on Thaxted it would be good to start with a country terminus module.

To create a plausible light railway terminus my basis requirements would be a passing loop and a couple of sidings. To add some operational interest (and because these existed at the real Thaxed terminus) let’s add an engine shed and a bay platform.

Here’s a rough sketch of what I have in mind…

The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway

Arriving at Walsingham

In August we had a short holiday in north Norfolk and I got the chance to visit the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway. The WWLR is the longest 10 1/4 inch (260mm) railway in the world. It was opened in 1982 and runs on the old standard gauge Wymondham to Wells branch line that closed in 1969.

The station at Wells has a lovely light railway atmosphere. Surrounded by countryside, with wooden buildings and the sleepers buried in a mixture of cinders and grass.

Wells-on-Sea Station

I’m told, the railway cannot construct permanent buildings on the site, hence the wooden buildings. The signal box was moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells without being dismantled, a distance of around 40 miles! It has been converted into a shop and tearoom.

Enough talk, let’s have a look at what’s in the yard.

The first loco to catch my eye was Pilgrim an 0-6-0 built in 1981. Look at the ‘oversized’ cab to enable the driver to fit in.


Here’s the cab interior.

Pilgrim's Cab

Next, Norfolk Harvester, a Bo-Bo diesel powered by a Perkins marine engine. She sounds great!

Norfolk Harvester

Very simple cab…

Norfolk Harvester Cab

… and an unusual, but comfortable, drivers seat.

Norfolk Harvester Driver's Seat

Also in the yard was this eight seater Leek and Manifold ‘replica’ executive saloon. I love the livery.

Luxury Saloon

Finally, I met Weasel an 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic, again powered by a Perkins diesel engine. Boxy, but a great loco to model.


Our train arrived…

Our Train Arrives

Norfolk Hero, named in honour of Nelson, is a 10 1/4 inch gauge 2-6-0 + 0-6-2 Garratt. Yes, really! I’m searching for a word that means both incredible and wonderful at the same time (perhaps the Germans have a word for it…)

Norfolk Hero

Norfolk Hero’s cab…

Norfolk Hero's Cab

… and valve gear.

Norfolk Hero Detail

Before we set off I looked into the guard’s compartment. Note the essential kit: flags, shovel and garden shears.

Guards Compartment

Then we were off to Walsingham. The first part of the line runs through shallow cuttings full of wild flowers. It may be an old standard gauge line but the bushes grow quite close to the train in places. Now I know why the guard had those garden shears!

Later, the line opens out to give great views of open fields, houses and churches nestling between the trees.

Norfolk Countryside

There are no steep gradients, I think the steepest I saw was 1 in 66. There are several ungated crossings. The driver slows, sounds the whistle and proceeds slowly. The best of the crossings was near a house with free range chickens. Obviously, the chickens think it is quite normal to roam across the line. The driver proceeded at very slow speed with lots of whistling until the chickens made their way home and it was great fun watching them strut around.

Walsingham station is about as simple as it gets, a passing loop and a buffer. Again, I love the light railway feel.

Walsingham Station

After a snack in town, we headed back to Wells – “All Aboard!”

Departure from Walsingham

Back at Wells I decided to act like I owned Norfolk Hero (yeah, in my dreams..)

Acting Like I Own the Loco

After the WWLR the deal was that we headed to the beach. My family didn’t realise that the best way to get there is to take the Wells Harbour Railway (Ha, Ha).

At Wells Harbour station we met The Duke, looking great in her purple livery. The WHR is a 10 1/4 inch line established in 1976 by Roy Francis, who went on to create the WWLR.

The Duke

The Duke took us to the end of the line, 1200 yards further on, at Pinewoods.

Arriving at Pinewoods

The WWLR doesn’t have a turntable, but the WHR has two!

Turning The Duke

The Duke was turned by hand…

Turning The Duke 2

…and the running round was easily completed.

Running Around at Pinewood

Pinewoods is the most complicated station on the line.

Pinewoods Station

The turntable serves the passing loop and the two lines into the engine shed.

Pinewoods Station Turntable

The engine shed was closed – I’d have loved to have had a nose around there.

Pinewoods Engine Shed

Swaffham is half way between the North Norfolk coast and where we live. We always stop at Ceres Bookshop and Tea Room. The owner really knows her books and she bakes delicious cakes. We left with a pile of books for my daughter, one book on the L&B for me (which has many pictures that I haven’t seen before). Oh, and our stomachs were full of delicious Almond and Orange cake.

The Lynton and Barnstable Railway by L T Catchpole

What a successful trip!



A Plausible Premise

Thaxted Railway Station Postcard

One of the criteria for my next layout is a plausible premise (real or fictional). Well, I think I have found one, literally just down the road…

Thaxted is a small, pretty, town in north Essex. A railway to Thaxted was first proposed in 1835, but the bill was defeated in parliament in 1836. Although, various railway lines were built within 15 miles of Thaxted, the lack of industry never attracted any other serious proposals for a line to the town.

The Light Railways Act of 1896 opened up the possibility of an inexpensive railway joining Thaxted to the mainline at Elsenham, a distance of just over five and a half miles.

Sir Walter Gibley, a prominent local landowner, favoured the building of a 2′ 6″ line. He engaged an engineer for the line, Walter Hopkins, who visited the Hunslet works. Hopkins was shown narrow gauge stock and locomotives being built for India. He was impressed and he enthused about the simplicity of the system.

A proposal for a 2′ 6″ line, the Elsenham, Thaxted and Bardfield Light Railway, was submitted in 1896. Fund raising began, and the negotiations with local dignitries, the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and the Treasury continued for several years.

Eventually, the GER stepped in and offered to fund half the construction costs and to build and run the railway… if the line was build to standard gauge.

This was too good an offer to refuse, and we were robbed of a narrow gauge railway!

The standard gauge line was opened in 1913. It was a charming rural line, built at low cost. As with many rural lines it struggled to pay its way. It closed to passengers in 1952, and closed completely in 1953. There are lots of images and maps of the line in the Henham History pages.

All the above is true (although heavily summarised).

But what if…. the fundraising for the 1896 plan had been successful, and a narrow gauge line, with a slight colonial feel, powered by Hunslets, had been built through this charming part of Essex?

If that had happened you would want to model it, wouldn’t you?

Well, I know I would !

 Image from Wiki Commons, Public Domain.