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.

What Will I Model Next ?


I definitely want to build another layout, but what will I model ?

After mulling that over for the last 6 months I realise there are three things that attract me.

A common carrier.

I love rural common carriers. Railways running through beautiful countryside, transporting the local agricultural produce from one small town to another. Definitely not industrial, certainly not profitable and probably rather run down. Think Welshpool and Llanfair or the Leek and Manifold… Hmmmm…

This idea really appeals. It would fit well with my aim of building a modular layout that can grow. I can imagine starting with a country terminus and adding other scenic boards over time. There could be a lot of variety: fields, rivers, bridges, cottages, farms, wayside halts, passing stations and so on. There is lots of potential to sustain my interest. I really like the prototypes. Having said that I probably wouldn’t model a particular prototype. I would rather model a fictitious, but plausible line. That would give me more freedom.

A factory layout.

The cobbled courtyard of an engineering works, with lines going in and out of the various buildings. Lots of grime and discarded detritus to add detail and atmosphere to the layout. Small industrial petrol and diesel locos taking short, heavily loaded trains of raw materials into the factory and emerging to whisk shiny, newly manufactured products off to be transferred to a standard gauge transfer yard.

This idea appeals too, but there are a couple of sticking points. I’ve tried sketching lots of track plans but I haven’t been able to create one that includes all the elements I want and would be good to operate. Also, I can’t see this being a modular layout. At most I see two boards, one for the factory, one for the transfer.

To add more confusion, it occurred to me that this would be a great 09 layout. Not in the 15 inch gauge miniature railway style but as an 18 inch gauge industrial line. (OK, I realise 09 isn’t strictly 18 inch gauge but you could model it to give that impression). Strangely, I like this idea. Yet, I’m not sure now is the time to change scale. I’d be starting all over again.

A Pre-WWI French 60cm line.

Ladies in Edwardian dresses, waiting to board long, mixed trains with elegant carriages. Beautiful Weidknecht locos running through the streets of dusty French towns, out into the country and even to the seaside. Elegant, slightly dilapidated French buildings. The smell of fresh baguette and strong coffee. OK, I’m getting carried away now… But browse through the many, early postcards available online and it’s easy to get carried away.

There’s quite a lot of ready to run 009 / H0e stock available for post-WW1 French lines. However, I find the pre-war atmosphere, locos and rolling stock much more appealing. Here lies the problem. There are only a few kits available for pre-war material. This is very much a scratch building project, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Yet.

The conclusion…

This is a long blog but it’s been useful for me to get my thoughts straight. What’s it told me?

  1. My next layout should be the common carrier, it appeals to me and it fits well with the type of layout I want to create.
  2. I will probably build that 09 factory layout. Not now, but sometime.
  3. I’ll keep dreaming about the French layout.. and eating baguettes…

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Scanné par Claude_villetaneuse (Collection personnelle) [Public domain], (PD-1923)

What’s Next ?

Whats the Next Train

Now I’ve decided that ‘First’ is finished, the question is: what’s next?

What features would I like in my next layout. Let’s make a list…

After Narrow Gauge South I realised I like layouts that have:

  • A plausible premise (actual or fictional)
  • Realistic scenery
  • High level of detail

So these criteria are on the list.

What else? The tight curves in ‘First’ mean it is suited to small locos and four wheeled wagons and it is really a ‘one loco in steam’ layout. Let’s add:

  • Run larger locos and bogie coaches
  • Run longer trains
  • Easy to run multiple locos

There are various ‘aspirational’ criteria

  • Modular – can be built in manageable installments and can grow into a bigger layout
  • Could become a home layout
  • Could go to the occasional members day or exhibition

Wait, after the aspirations, let’s come back to earth. There are some practical considerations

  • Easy to store – there’s probably not enough space at home to set it up permanently
  • Planned then built – not built without a plan (like ‘First’ 🙂 )
  • Good fiddle space with easy access – no reverse curves to access the fiddle (like ‘First’ 🙂 )
  • Relatively quick to build each module
  • Will maintain my interest

That’s a good list of what I want from the layout.

What will I model? That’s the next blog…

Image by Pi.1415926535 used under a Creative Commons License