Expo Narrow Gauge 2017

On Saturday the Greenwich and District Narrow Gauge Railway Society held their annual narrow gauge show, Expo NG. It is a massive event with a huge number of layouts, an even bigger number of trade stands and lots and lots of visitors.

This year I decided to take it easy. I travelled by train (avoiding the M11, M25, and Dartford Crossing)  and arrived as large numbers of people were leaving (many of them clutching bags full of things they had brought). The journey was much more pleasant and it was easier to see the layouts 🙂

Here is a selection of photos. (I tried to photograph more layouts but the photos weren’t always successful. If your layout isn’t featured, that’s the reason).

First, Mers les Bains a 1:32 scale, 32mm gauge layout by Peter Smith. It represents a fictional French metre gauge line on the Picardy coast in the 1950’s. The layout has a lovely French feel.

I was impressed by the scratchbuilt stock…

…and the wonderful French scenes that populate the layout.

The wagon turntable leading to the goods shed is so very typical of rural French narrow gauge lines. This layout was recently featured in Voie Libre magazine. The article was impressive, but the layout is even better in real life. Very inspiring modelling.

Regular readers will know that I am drawn to industrial layouts and, true to form, I fell for South Downs Tar by Dave Ward.

I thought this 0-16.5 layout had bags of atmosphere and was very well modelled. I was admiring the brickwork on the buildings, when Dave told me is is Noch brick paper. I would never have thought brick paper could give such great textures.

Dave has created lots of interesting scenes and structures throughout the layout.

It got me thinking about modelling something industrial. I’m not sure I can achieve this high standard though….

Let’s take a look at four smaller layouts. This is Creech Grange, 4mm scale, 6.5mm gauge by James Hilton. James used Busch HOf feldbahn track and mechanisms and build his own British style stock onto the Busch chassis.

The above photo is deceptive. Here is the whole layout, sitting on top of it’s transport box.

It is amazing how much detail James has managed to get into such a small space and onto such small rolling stock. The slow running of the locos is superb. I think James has successfully demonstrated that this is a very viable scale / gauge combination for British outline modellers.

Castle Quay, by Chris O’Donoghue is an 009 layout built in an old wine bottle box that I had seen online but never in real life. It was inspired by the fisherman’s beach and net sheds in Hastings, England. I hadn’t realised it was so small (50cm long x 32cm wide or 19.5  x 12.5 inches).

The layout is an ‘Ingelnook’ design and offers lots of shunting potential. The buildings, quay side and backscene are all images printed onto paper. I was really impressed with the textures the papers have created and how much detail Chris has successfully worked in to such a small space. Proof that limited space isn’t a barrier to good modelling.

Also in 009, Sand Point by Richard Glover, is a small terminus on the south-western coast of England, set sometime in 1920 to 1935. This is another layout that I had seen online and it was so much better to see it in real life.

It is not often you see a boat jetty so well modelled.

Back by popular demand was Ted Polet’s Creag Dubh Summit. This little layout won the Dave Brewer Memorial Challenge at this exhibition in 2016. I didn’t get a good look at it last year and I  enjoyed getting a second chance to see it this year. It really looks like the rocky summit of a mountain railway and is a very nice bit of modelling indeed.

I did endulge in the retail experience that ExpoNG offers. I got some 7mm figures from S&D Models (the guys on the stand laughed when I produced a list of what I wanted), some slide bars and connecting rods from RT Models (including an excellent explanation of how to solder them together) and some secondhand sacks of potatoes from the 7mm NGA stand (a bargain).

Many thanks to the Greenwich club for organising this event. I’ve been to four or five Expo NGs and this was the most enjoyable by far.



A Tale of Two Locos (Part 2)

This is the other secondhand O9 loco that I brought recently. I really like the model, the green livery and the driver with his moustache and fancy tie.

There were a few things I wanted to do to the model. The biggest job: it had a Grafar 0-6-0 chassis (like the first loco) and I wanted to exchange this chassis for a Kato 103. There was a small hole in one side where, I suspect, an exhaust may have been fitted. This hole needed to be repaired… or disguised! Lastly, the easiest job of all, I wanted to add Greenwich couplings.

The Kato chassis had to be shortened slightly so that it would fit into the motor cavity. I added a 2mm diameter bolt at one end to attach it to the body.

Cutting these resin kits generates a lot of unpleasant dust. For this model I fixed the pipe of our vacuum cleaner right next to my workspace and used this as a simple form of dust extractor. Working as close to the hoover pipe as possible, I cut the base of the body using a Dremel with a grinder attachment until the Kato 103 fitted snugly. I glued a nut in place to attach the chassis to the body. (You can see the previous owner has glued a weight into the body to counterbalance the weight of the whitemetal driver. As a result the loco is really nicely balanced).

Next the couplings were fitted.

Inevitably, during all these modifications, I made some marks on the buffer beams and the frames on the sides of the model. I repainted these, then weathered them with a light touch of rust colour. While my paint box was out, I added some brown ‘mud’ around the drivers feet.

Then my thoughts turned to the hole in the loco body. I decided not to repair it because I couldn’t match the colour of the green paint. This meant the best option was to disguise the hole. I rummaged through my ‘bit box’, found a small buffer from a N scale loco, gave it a lick of paint and plugged the hole in the body with it. In my imagination it is a filler cap of some sort.. (well, it is a freelance loco!). Finally, to finish the job, I applied a layer of ‘Dullcoat’ varnish. And here’s the finished loco.

The Kato wheels are a little bright, I will probably darken these down.

What have I learnt from these two locos? Well, buying secondhand has been a great way of increasing my O9 stock quickly. I think it’s good to buy stock you really like, that you don’t feel you want to modify too much. Spending lots of time making many modifications defeats the idea of buying secondhand. You might as well buy a kit and spend the time building it the way you want it to be. For these two locos I think I got the balance about right, but I wouldn’t want to do more work on a secondhand loco. I will keep this in mind when buying secondhand in the future.

Narrow Gauge World (Updated Post)

 At the Bishop Stortford show Colin Palmer gave me a copy of Narrow Gauge World, a magazine I hadn’t read before. I really enjoyed reading it. There’s an interesting mixture of news, articles about the prototypes and narrow gauge modelling. It’s a bit like a Sunday paper for narrow gauge enthusiasts.

If you shop on the high street each issue costs £4.75. The publishers are offering a subscription for £9.99 per quarter at the moment  ( https://www.world-of-railways.co.uk/narrow-gauge-world/store/subscriptions/). That’s a saving of a couple of quid over the cover price over the course of a year.

I have subscribed, of course.

Updated post: Many thanks to the people who kindly pointed out that I had made a mistake in my original posting. In my rush to get a ‘bargain’ I didn’t read the (not so) small print 🙂

Note: I have no connection to Narrow Gauge World, I’m just a happy reader.

A Tale of Two Locos (Part 1)

I brought a couple of very nice, secondhand O9 locos and I wanted to get them up and running.

First, this little red loco. I really like the model, particularly the red livery, but there are a few things I wanted to change. The couplings have to be changed to my standard coupling, the Greenwich. The current chassis was an old Grafar 0-6-0 and I hoped to exchange it for a Kato 103. Finally, I was not sure about the figure. He’s really well painted but he doesn’t look quite right for an English layout.

The Kato chassis was just slightly longer than the cavity in the loco body.

So the first job was to cut the chassis to size. Now here’s something you dont see every day – a Kato chassis wrapped in cling film. I read somewhere that one modeller wrapped a chassis in cling film before cutting it to stop dust and debris getting into the mechanism. It seemed to be worth a try.

I used a razor saw to cut approximately 2mm off of each end.

I’m pleased to say the cling film worked well, no dust got in the mechanism.

However, there was more cutting to do. The cavity in the loco body was designed to accept the Grafar chassis and it would have to be extensively modified to get the Kato chassis inside.

I used a small Dremel drill with a grinding bit to cut away at the body. Cutting the resin was really messy and made a lot of unpleasant dust. Here’s the result. I’ve added a couple of strips of plasticard to stop the Kato chassis moving from side to side.

I’m pleased to say the modified body fitted the chassis very well.

I fitted a 2mm diameter bolt to hold the chassis in place. The seat was a very useful useful way to conceal the bolt.

While I was working on the chassis I removed the N gauge couplings and the seat. The coupling blocks came off when I removed the N gauge couplings.

To finish the loco, I glued the coupling blocks back on, added the Greenwich couplings, and repainted the seat, the buffer beams and the chassis. Here’s the loco after a spray with ‘Dullcoat’ matt varnish.

I must admit this was much more work that I expected and cutting the resin chassis was not a pleasant task. However, I’m pleased with the result.




Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

This summer, as a special treat to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary, we went on holiday to California. Our holiday was planned around tourism and family things but, by sheer coincidence, one of the places we stayed was two miles from the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Honestly, it really was a coincidence!

I arrived on a brilliantly sunny morning, and collected my ticket from the ticket office.

In the early 20th Century the original railroad was constructed by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. At one point it had seven locomotives, over 100 log cars, and 140 miles of track through these mountains. The company operated by clear cutting, the removal of every tree in a parcel of land. As a result the track was laid into an area, all the trees were felled and the track was removed and relaid in a new area. They had a sawmill a couple of miles from the present railroad and they transported the lumber 54 miles to Madera county using a flume, a man made water channel. Unfortunately, the depression and a lack of trees caused the logging operation and the railroad to close in 1931. It is said that if all the trees that were removed from this area were laid end to end they would stretch three times around the equator.

Fortunately, the trackbed, gradients and rights of way remained in existance and the current railroad was established in 1961.

My train didn’t depart for some time so I could look around the depot. The train was headed by this Shay…

Number 10 is a 3 foot gauge Shay built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio in 1928 . She is a huge locomotive. she weighs 81 tons and I was told she is the largest narrow gauge Shay ever built. Originally owned by the Pickering Lumber Company she worked for the West Side Lumber Company from 1934, until being purchased by the YMSPRR in 1961.

Number 10 is oil fired with three pivoting trucks (one under the tender) and drive to all 12 wheels. Here’s the front truck and part of the drive mechanism. The large cylinder is for the Westinghouse air brakes.

Here’s a close up of the bevel gears used to drive each axle.

Here is one of the longitudinal drive shafts. You can see the square sliding prismatic joints to allow the drive shaft to contract or expand to accommodate the rotation of the swiveling trucks.

Here’s one of the universal joints and part of the reverser shaft.

A close up of where the three cylinders connect to the drive shaft, and more of the reverser shaft.

On the other side of the loco is the pump for the air brakes.

Ephraim Shay was a schoolteacher and a civil servant before becoming a logger and a railway engineer. Also, he was a shrewd business man. He obtained several patents to cover this unique loco design. No 10 has a plate listing some of the patents, presumably to remind anyone that it might not be a good idea to copy the design.

After inspecting the Shay I looked at the passenger cars, some were covered…

…and others were open air log cars.

I walked down the depot past No. 402, a centre cab diesel.

This is the engine shed. Inside on the left is the line’s other Shay locomotive, No 15, built in 1913 and acquired by the YMSPRR in 1988 after she had been on static display for a number of years. On the right is one of the lines Jenny Railcars, Ford Model A automobiles converted for rail use. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone to ask for permission to enter the shed and take some photos.

Outside the shed was every railroad modeller’s favourite accessory – a classic American pick up.

I boarded the train. With a lovely, deep whistle and the sound of the bell  ringing we headed off into the forest. The Shay has a very different exhaust note from the English engines I am used to. The whistle, bell and exhaust sounded fantastic and for the first time I understood why some modellers want to use DCC sound.

The first part of the line is downhill. The engineer told me he applies light braking downhill, this stretch out the cars slightly to give him more control. The locos use local water which is full of minerals. To stop the pipe work becoming blocked they blow out pipes once every journey. It’s an impressive sight. The steam is released at 450 psi and over 300 degrees F.

About half way round the tour we made a 10 minute stopover at Lewis Creek Canyon. The tender took on water…

…and I got the opportunity to talk to the engineer. (He’s the one on the left in case you were wondering 🙂 )

The return journey was mostly uphill. You could feel the power of the Shay and the sound of the engine was great.

After our hour long journey we arrived back at the main depot. I visited the Thornberry Logging Museum. They had this steam donkey engine that was used to pull logs to the railway or to the sawmill.

This gas (petrol) powered dragsaw was used to cut logs to size. These were the forerunners of the modern chainsaw.

Finally, I took a walk down the line and found some of the other stock. Firstly, this impressive snow plow (plough).

I’m told that is was the West Side Lumber Company’s plow No. 2 and it is rare to see a narrow gauge snowplow.

I think it would make a super model.

There was this enormous bogie tank wagon. Look at the aged wooden frame.

A simple bogie, flat wagon.

Finally, I was surprised to find No. 5, a two axle diesel switch engine built in 1935.

No. 5 didn’t seemed to have moved for a while and I was told she’s not operational at the moment.

Visiting the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad was an unexpected surprise, and a great pleasure.

Yes, I can say ‘I’ve been there, and I got the T shirt’.





When Your Fiddle’s a Faff….

My layout ‘First’ will be appearing at the Steam in Miniature event at the Bure Valley Railway on the 9th and 10th September. I’m really looking forward to the event.

However, the current fiddle yard arrangement with it’s reverse curves (see picture above) is a faff. It works, by I have to run trains in and out of the fiddle yeard at a really low speed. And, to be honest, I don’t fancy working operating the layout like that for two whole days.

This has spurred me on to finally bite the bullet, rip up track and organise better access to the fiddle yard.

After much gazing at the layout I came up with a plan. A purple plan.

I decided to move the fiddle yard to the other side of the layout and install a point on the left hand side so that the access to the fiddle yard is virtually straight. Then, rip up the existing curves and the existing point and relay the track on the curve. I will have to move some of the electrical connectors (partly covered by the paper point template) so that the track can run to the fiddle yard. It won’t be the perfect solution, because I’m retro fitting everything to an existing layout, but I think it will be better than the current arrangement.

Decisions made, I drank a strong coffee and removed the track.

I tested the position of the new point, removed a little more track and then fixed the new point and new curve in place.

Connecting the track to the fiddle yard was pretty straightforward – it is virtually a straight length of track. Here it is pinned in place, before I soldered the joins to the copper strips.

I repositioned the electrical connetions. (The two connectors on the left power the point motors and those on the right provide the power to the track). I checked the clearances to check the trains will run trains past the plugs. No problem.

Finally, I soldered the wires to supply the track power to the toe of the point and did some test runs. I’m very pleased to say everything worked. Best of all it is so much easier to use that the previous arrangement. I can ‘zoom’ trains in and out of the cassetes very quickly rather than having to run them at low speed round the reverse curves.

In many cases I follow the old rule of: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. In this case a fix has been the right thing to do and I’m really looking forward to running ‘First’ for two whole days!

If you go to the Steam in Miniature event please drop by and say ‘Hello’.

Beds ‘n’ Buck at Leighton Buzzard Railway

The boys from the Beds and Buck Narrow Gauge Modellers put on an exhibition at the Leighton Buzzard Railway today. Pages Park station was a great venue, there were lots of layouts and the visitors (young and old) were really interested in the displays.

Pride of place, right opposite the enterance, with a welcoming smile went to John Rees and his Old Oak layout. Everytime I see his layout John has done more work on it. John has added grass and sheep. All good layouts have sheep on them!

David Gander brought Green End which featured the ‘Narrow Gauge is Fun’ sign you see at the beginning of the blog. David mentioned this was the last time Green End will be exhibited. I think I’ve heard that before, but I was worried it might be true so I asked if I could operate. David kindly let me. It’s a nice layout to operate, simple controls that are easy to understand, and everything works well. Even I didn’t manage to crash anything!

Everyone likes a ‘landie’….

Danny Figg specialises in small or unusual layouts and he brought an interesting selection. Here’s Newnes Street Bridge a layout built for a competition at Expo Narrow Gauge.

This is the Owoh Nine Wells Watercress Farm. This working layout is built in a box file and measures approximately 34 x 24.5 cm.

Danny is creating a 1:32 scale loco from an inexpensive plastic toy.

Also, Danny brought “Emmenthal Incline”, a working incline layout built by Dawn Figg. It makes eveyone smile.

Brian Key exhibited Ilfracombe East. It represents a fictional extension of the Lynton and Barnstable Railway. It is really well modelled and the stock is lovely.

A Kerr Stuart in Southern Green…?

Brian’s layout even features the competitors every narrow gauge railway fears – charabangs!

All of the locos, stock and buildings on the layout are scratch- or kit-built, although Brian has recently invested in a Heljan loco. The detailing on the loco is excellent. Brian tells me he ran it for over an hour on his test track yesterday and he is very chuffed how well it runs.

Late in the day I spotted this very nice railcar, but I didn’t manage to get any details about it from Brian.

Tony Clarke’s Mirkwood is a narrow gauge railway serving a small slate quarry and village in Wales.

I’ve seen the layout a couple of times and everytime I see it I’m struck by how well modelled it is. Look at these gardens.

The buildings are kits or scratch-built by Tony.

I like the village store.

The quarry is very atmospheric. I believe Tony used real Welsh slate.

Exhibiting layouts at a narrow gauge railway was something new for the Beds and Buck group and was very enjoyable. I spent four hours there, and the models and conversation were so good, I didn’t even look at a real locomotive!