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As part of the Missenden Railway Modellers summer retreat, I was lucky enough to be invited to see the Princes Risborough North Box, which is now in the custody of the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway Association.
The box had lain derelict for many years, since its closure in 1991. Somewhat peculiarly, it was a break in by vandals during this period that potentially saved the box as it identified how seriously affected by water penetration and rot it was. This lead to the preservation society being able to convince Network Rail to let them in to stabilise it and they feel that had this not have occurred, when the building’s distress subsequently became apparent to Network Rail they would have merely ripped it down.
The box is substantial and is apparently the largest remaining GWR signal box in the country. It originally controlled the north end of Princes Risborough station but its size was determined by the complicated junction at this end of the station with three branch lines splitting from the main-line to Bicester and beyond. The branches it served were Aylesbury (still part of the national network), Oxford (closed in 1963) and Watlington (closed in 1957 but now reopened to Chinner as part of the preserved railway). The Railway Clearing House map is below and just to prove the complexity the box diagram too!
As would be imagined, there is a fairly extensive array of levers although in the various rationalisations that occurred through the GWR and BR eras have reduced the extent of these significantly. The preservation association have, however, reinstated many of the missing levers even though they are not yet connected to anything.
At present, the preservation society only have a temporary connection into the Princes Risborough bay platform but the intention will be to make this a permanent link onto their line, signalled via the box. However, given that this will still only be one of the lines that the box formerly served, there will only be a limited amount of it in use. Apparently the plan therefore will be to separate off the bulk of the box to create an interactive museum where visitors can play the part of a signalman.
The treat for me (and many of the others on the visit) was to go into the frame room to take a look at the locking frame. Although I had seen this in model form before, I had never seen a full sized locking frame – even though this is only a shadow of its former self as it only covers that proportion of the box that was in use at 1991, it is still very complicated as you can see.
The Chiltern line is now really quite busy, far more so than when I used it to get to Solihull on business regularly. In addition to the procession of class 168 DMUs, there were class 68s on the trains for Birmingham and Wrexham plus a pair of trips each day with class 66s on spoil trains from the Thames Tideway sewer project.
And finally, this is what the box looked like in the days of steam. This photograph was taken in 1960 by Christopher Bomken when he was still in his shorts – it even won him 2 shillings and sixpence in a school photographic competition. Recognition at last Christopher it has made the interweb!
It is with great sadness that I advise that Richard Chown passed away last week.
Richard was a prolific modeller, typically of the somewhat unusual prototype and always in 7mm/1ft scale. Not for him a debate between BR blood & custard or blue grey, instead he modelled unusual and quirky prototypes from Norway, Ireland or France – that always made his models interesting!
Although he did produce some smaller layouts, typically his layouts were somewhat on the large scale; tending from the substantial right up to a full size french viaduct where unless you were a basketball player you needed to stand on a box to reach rail height. This layout was Allendenac, which was based on a French line a touch to the north of Clemont Ferrand. The line was famous for the rather beautiful Rouzat Viaduct designed by Gustave Eiffel as a sort of trial run for the Eiffel Tower.
All being made in 7mm/1ft made for a somewhat large layout and to give a sense of its scale, in the picture below, all but the person directly in front of the viaduct is standing on a box and in the view below that, you can see Richard at the rear someway up a ladder and still not to the full height of the layout (so you see Mrs T, I am not that bad really………..).
With a layout of this size, access points to maintain (or build) the layout are important and here is Richard popping out of just such a hatch!
Just because the layout was big does not detract from how good the modelling was, as these pictures show.
Naturally, as he modelled the esoteric Richard had to scratch build everything for his layouts and he was a very talented modeller as you can see ……..
This locomotive operated on one of Richard’s smaller layouts, Courcelle Part which was built for a Gauge O Guild layout competition. It used some of the buildings from Allendenac and also its stock to create a more portable exhibition layout. As I understand it, Courcelle Part had some cut outs to the rear within which to place the operator’s wine glasses – the wine was often local to the Courcelle and Allendenac region as Richard felt that it helped the operators get into the right sort of mindset to operate a sleepy french railway. Now that is innovation in the field of model railways!
Richard’s own website (which is operating now but will presumably be taken down in time) shows that he was already firmly into modelling as a teenager and contributed to several group layouts.
His first layout that I know anything about was when he modelled the Highland Railway and built a full sized model of Kyle of Lochalsh – weighing in at a mere 48ft. Richard was, I suspect, inspired to follow the Highland by virtue of knowing Sir Eric Hutchinson and this interest brought him into contact with my father. Although the layout was exhibited and fairly well developed as a model, Richard became conscious of some operating restrictions of the prototype (but only because he did not know that the engine shed was used as a headshunt!) and lost interest in it. He disposed of it – apparently the under-bidder was none other than Roger Daltry!
For me, however, Richard will best be associated with his layout Castle Rackrent; the name of which was inspired by a early 1970s property scandal. The origins of the layout are very modest as a small (for 7mm) transportable exhibition layout but it proved a crush in his small bedsit of the time. In an effort to find more room for the layout he found his employer accommodating (or perhaps unknowing) and erected it in a disused post office footbridge on Waverley station.
Helped perhaps by handy access during lunch breaks and the better part of a mainline station to fit it, the layout reached (I think) 70m in length before BR decided that perhaps they would like their footbridge back…… Undeterred, Richard had a house built with a conveniently large (a.k.a. giant) basement to fit it and subsequently extended it to some eight stations such that it was an entire system. The layout weaved around the room several times and even though the two stations below appeared next to each other, they were in fact nearly the length of the system apart.
All this (or nearly all in the final incarnation) was single line and worked with bells as no station could see the adjacent station and the trains had to be driven to the signals and then handed over. This made the operation of the layout somewhat unpredictable as I discovered at one stage when I had four of the six trains on the system within my station limits and a rather irate Slim Controller (you know who you are) sending urgent telegrams to discover the whereabouts of the hunt special…….
There are rather more photographs of Castle Rackrent in my earlier blog posts – here and here. The core of the layout – Castle Rackrent itself – was exhibited widely and on some occasions quite large parts of the system was transported to shows. Here it can be seen at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra.
Richard’s final layout (that was completed, there were others in gestation) was Fangfoss which was built to Scale7 standards but of a 3’6″ gauge prototype in Norway. The layout was not an exact model of any location but was inspired by the Randsfjord line that was a little outside of Oslo and was a means of portaging past a series of rapids – in this case the Fangfoss.
As can perhaps been seen throughout Richard’s layouts he was keenly interested in bridges, often being the key part of his models; as in Fangfoss from which this detail is taken.
At the other extreme to the size of Kyle, Castle Rackrent or Allendenac, Richard also produced some cameo layouts, typically aimed at being transportable by train (he apparently took a large chunk of the Castle Rackrent system from Edinburgh to Bristol by train – back in the days when there were luggage compartments…..). Here is a small one called Port Lairge Wharf which was perceived as an extension of the Castle Rackrent lines (although I don’t think it was ever connected).
For finescale modellers in the Lothian Region, and occasional visitors from further afar like me, would gather on a monthly basis to operate Castle Rackrent and Richard was always welcoming and encouraging. He will be sorely missed by all and it is fair to say that I don’t think we will see the like of he in the hobby again…………….after all, who would try to model the tallest viaduct in the world in 7mm (even if sense did prevail on this one as it did not get completed)…….
Rest in peace, Richard.
Thanks to Jim Summers, Danny Cockling and Alan Aitken for the use of some of their photographs.
Back in one of my very first posts I explained the origins of the layout’s name; which has a lot more to it than might first appear (for any of you that have missed this post, follow the link back to discover the world of Glenmutchkin that Professor Aytoun created.
I had been aware that others had discovered the name and, like me, piggy backed a good story for our own purposes – there is even an entry in “Railscot” for the line. What I had not realised was that this seems to have been going on for more than 100 years!
This changed when I had an email out of the blue from a charity seeking to discover a bit more about the story and had come across this blog. Their email was prompted by a donation they had received of the medal below, which they were trying to find the story behind.
We have been able to find out very little about the medal beyond the hallmarking (Birmingham Assay Office in 1898) and that it was made by Shipton & Co (who are – as you will see if you follow the link – still trading. Our supposition is that, 50 years after the publication of the story, it was still known of and a group – perhaps a university society or similar – used the story to mark some sort of event or other action of one of their members by striking this medal. Given that Professor Aytoun’s story is centred on skullduggery and tall tale telling it is intriging to wonder what it might have marked!
So if anyone does know more about it, do please let me know and I will update the blog if any more information comes to hand.
When I was still in my shorts, I used to peruse my father’s extensive collection of railway magazines for hours on end – the Railway Modeller, Model Railway News and the Model Railway Constructor. I even marked in pen articles I particularly liked (not for long, the old man soon warned me off that approach!). My memories from this period of Buckingham were not about its operational possibilities but for its modelling.
Whilst the years have passed and there are now a fair number of fine layouts that have eclipsed Buckingham, back in the 1970s (when I was leafing through these magazines) these were not common and going back to when the articles were being written 10 or 15 years before, only a very few even got close to the standard of Peter’s modelling. So this post will illustrate what state of the art 1960s scenic modelling looked like.
As can be expected of a layout that is 50+ years old, wear is showing in places and prior to his death, Peter Denny did have a programme of repair and improvement underway. One of the aspects to be dealt with was the trees made of sprigs of lichen on trunks made of wire or heather – these had not faired well.
Tony had been mulling over what to do about this and consulted with Peter’s children who still have an interest in their father’s layout and seem to act as “non-exec directors” to the board. The conclusion was “do as Peter would have done” and as a result little upgrades and repairs are being completed to Buckingham, so the layout will still develop. In the case of the trees, replacements will be made of sea moss and ground foam.
One story that Tony was able to share with us, which I do not think is widely known, is why Peter selected the Great Central for his modelling. Apparently, he initially started modelling the Great Western but soon found that there were a few too many people that knew a too much about the GW. He was concerned any incorrect details would be found out and so he sought out a rather lesser known prototype. He settled on the GC because he wanted a prototype that had wooden post signals (he could not work out how to make lattice posts); he liked the brown and cream full coach livery that the GW & the GC shared and he did not want a company that used outside valve gear because he was concerned whether he could model it!
The layout contains a number of quite clever little cameos, often segregated from one another with a bridge or a blocking building. This means that there are quite a number of such scenes within close to each other without it looking too crowded.
Beyond the buffer stops of Buckingham, a market square and a pair of streets were modelled. Obviously, it is market day to generate a couple of extra trains – you can’t call this a cliche, because it was essentially the first example so every other example is the cliche!
In the final part, I will take a last look at the layout and also one of its more iconic features – the Automatic Crispen; with a shock horror revelation………..
For my 100th post we ought to choose an interesting topic, so it is fortunate that I recently wangled a return invite to visit Peter Denny’s Buckingham Great Central on a journey back home from the north east!
I was accompanied on the visit by Peter Bond and although perhaps not initially intended, this turned into quite a long operating session. Fortunately, there were several cameras on hand; so there are plenty of photographs – sufficient to split this posting into two or even three, so look out for further installments in a couple of days time!
Pete managed to blag command of Buckingham’s control panel; which is the most complicated of them – so he did regret his decision at times! Here he is looking suitably perplexed!
Perhaps with good reason…………..this is the control panel:
And this is the signal diagram:
All platforms have calling on arms, all lines have inner/outer homes and the platforms operate to receive and deliver! So, there are a fair number of signals to contend with – all (well, nearly all if we are honest!) of which work and need to be complied with. Here for example is the main home gantry………….
On this occasion, I operated Grandborough Jct, which has a less exacting timetable but even so, its control panel has a few idiosyncrasies. It (like that to Buckingham) is entirely handbuilt including its switches so some of them need to be coaxed across, others need to be pushed firmly and a few – most of the signals – do not yet work. There were also hand made block instruments and some signal bells to contend with.
Buckingham operates to a careful conceived timetable, that plots a “day in the life” of a busy market town station, not so inconveniently located for travel to London. There is a variety of fast and semi-fast commuter trains to London; a pair of pick up goods trains; local services services and a couple of services that come off the Leighton Buzzard branch which continue through Grandborough Jct to terminate in Buckingham, such as this one just coming to a stop at Bourton Halt and disturbing a hunt:
Even with over three hours at the regulator, we managed less than 20% of the day’s timetable; so we were going at around 120% of real time. Peter originally had a speeded up clock to keep the pace moving (which Tony, the layout’s now owner has on the wall but does not use). Apparently, you needed an experienced team to keep up with the clock and – just like the real thing – if you started to fall behind the whole system quickly becomes bunged up!
The timetable contains just over a hundred train movements. It starts in the morning with newspaper and milk trains, getting the town ready for the day. Then the early morning commuter trains start, along with connecting local services. A little later, the London expresses start, timed a little faster for the city suits to use (and pay for, they are posh coaches!). Here is one waiting for the right of way.
Once the morning rush is out of the way, a more settled period starts and the freight trains move around the layout interspersed with local passenger trains. However, towards the end of the day the reverse happens with the returning commuters. By the end of the evening, Buckingham is chock-a-block with trains, as you can see here:
But this is not the end of the day, because all of the locos need to be released and sent to the sheds, the trains remarshalled and made ready for the next day (which was great, because Grandborough Jct had no moves so I could go and poke Pete for all the errors he was making…………).
And here are the day’s operating crew!
So thanks for joining me on this blog; we are a minnow by some standards with around 40,000 hits but I hope there are things in here that interest you and maybe even some sources of inspiration!
I have been back onto the layout of late, with a view to get the first wheel turning on it before too long. That means attacking the electrickery things, beginning with the control panel.
I made a start on this by drawing up a diagrammatic representation in MS Paint and then using this to get one of the online firms (Vistaprint) to print me up a poster board to form the basis of the control panel. I am not sure I chose the right material as it turned up on a light weight foam board and I had to mount a sheet of aluminium behind for it to be stiff enough to be useable. But it did look pretty smart I thought………….
The control panel deals with all of the signals and turnouts that the cabin will have controlled, with local ground frames (which will be located on the boards locally) to be used to control the goods yard and the MPD. The latter will be arranged such that it can be located either to the front or the rear, to allow some flexibility in operation.
I have got to the point where the full extent of switches have been wired in and I am just completing the jumper leads. I took a lot of care to plan the wiring prior to any construction – despite the locos being DCC controlled, there are an awful lot of wires. This is because I have stuck with traditional control for the turnouts and signals. There is further complication as a result of the desire to incorporate some bells and even a block instruments (well maybe, at the moment it is just the wires!). So in all, there are 90 odd wires doing something or another on the layout.
Somewhat in contrast to Portchullin, I have sought to keep the wiring as tidy as possible; everything is neatly collour coded and even labelled (to be fair it was labelled on Portchullin, but in a non colourfast ink………..!). I am hoping that this will make the wiring easier to debug at the start of the matter and repair if it does get damaged.
I am proposing to use a variety of connectors between boards and to the control panel, including this rather nifty varient of the D-sub range that is wired directly onot a cheeseblock wireless connector. Available to a variety of types from ebay including from this seller.
A bit belatedly back to the blog after exertions over the summer but I thought a few photos from my trip stateside might be worthwhile. The main railway angle of the holiday was a journey on the Amtrak’s Cascades, starting at Seattle – which is a bit grander than my usual commute!
The Cascades service runs from Portland, through Seattle and concludes its journey in Vancouver. Another grand station reflecting its importance as the terminal of a continental trunk route.
The route hugs Puget Sound and the Pacific coast for the entirity of the journey, for the greater part actually forming the sea wall.
So not unsurprisingly, the views really are fabulous (so if you do it, make sure you are sat on the seaward side!).
The route crosses a number of creeks and rivers, often on timber trestle bridges; where the train typically going at dead slow. This is helpful as for an added treat, thrown in for free – thank you Amtrak, was a bird-spotting trip. Calmly sitting on a post as the train rattled past was an Osprey. Apparently this particular bird is a bit of a mascot for the line and seems to have become used to the rumble of a few tens of thousands of tons of machinary as itis regularly on view.
It is possible to see Ospreys in the UK, but you need to be either pretty lucky, persistant or go to one of the recognised locations such as Loch Garten. But you can’t get to see bald headed eagles which was the next voyeur of the train going past that we got to see!
So all in all, this is a fabulous trip to do and it is fair to say both Seattle and Vancouver are great places to visit – both with a strong railway history! If you are also able to make it further south, down to Sacramento, then the Californian State Railroad Museum is also worth a visit. Sacramento was the birthplace of the Central Pacific, one of the partners in the first trans-continental railroad and therefore it feels it has something to say about the topic! It is also close (in American terms) to the site of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad which held onto its very aged stock for a startlingly long time, meaning that a significant proportion has survived – some of which is in the museum. If you think this feels just like those western movies that you watched as a child, you would be right. The Virginia and Truckee’s stock was used extensively by the movie industry and it is very likely you have seen this very loco!
In addition to these early locos are a selection of F Units that I do rather like and a giant Southern Pacific Cab Forward. These were built with the cab at the front to stop the staff suffocating from the exhaust smoke as it climbs up through the rockies which has numerous tunnels. They are rather odd to behold though!
All things Amercian are really big, something quite alien and thrilling to a Brit! Imagine that blasting up Shap or Drumochter…………………
In my last visit to the Highlands, I took my father up to almost the extremity or our island to Thurso. The purpose of doing so was to mooch around portions of the Highland Railway north of Dingwall but also to drop in on Richard Doake. Richard is a fellow follower of the Highland Railway and has a rather nice layout depicting a pair of the Far North line’s more interesting stations; Helmsdale and Thurso.
Although Richard has sought to use a large degree of ready to run stock, most of the infrastructure on his model has been scrachbuilt so that it captures the Highland flavour. This includes signal boxes, goods sheds, water tanks and the like – the combined effect works as this is one of the most authentic feeling Highland layouts I have seen.
An overall view of the main part of Thurso.
The train shed is a reduced liength version of the real thing (which is still there for those that don’t know). This view would have been a daily occurance in the late 1950s as a hiker concludes its long journey from Inverness with the Thurso portion of a Far North train.
The signal cabin at the station throat.
A small ben, Ben Wyvis, does some shunting in Thurso’s yard. This has been converted from a Hornby T9 with a replacement tender. The wheels are in reality 6 inchs to big and the boiler is consequently too high, but I bet the Highland fans that read this didn’t notice until I told you?
Brn Wyvis’ sister, Ben Clebrig acting as station pilot at Thurso.
The other station is Helmsdale and here we have the Hiker once again returning south. passing a typical Highland goods shed.
A Pickersgill on shed at Helmsdale, along with a pannier. A pair of panniers were regularly found at Helmsdale in 1962 as they worked the Dornoch branch at this time following the failure of the last operational Highland locomotives, some small tanks.
And here is an example of this tank – aptly named Passenger tanks as they specialised on lightly loaded trains on the short branchlines the Highland had a number of in their region.
Like on the Kyle line, van traffic was a big feature of the line and here we see a clan pull out northwards with a train of vans and non-passenger stock. The eagle eyed will notice that the clan is in BR livery where in reality they did not last long enough to carry this. Richard is quire relaxed about this as it enables him to include locos he fancies!
And a similar working heading south with the almost enivitable (for the real thing) black 5.
So thank you Richard for entertaining us and also for the use of your photographs – rather better than my own!
…..but, before it was counted as finished, it needs to be doing the job it was designed for – buffeting. And that means it needs to be populated with people.
Regrettably few modellers, even finescale modellers, actually put people in thier coaches (and sometimes in contrast to platforms which are stuffed with them!). This is a shame as they do make a difference to even a fairly casual viewer. At a show recently, a dad and his son who were probably not modellers spotted the people in my coaches instantly. I’ll take that as proof of the point!
As is common with rtr coaches, the seats are moulded in place such that there is no room for the little peoples legs, so some severe amupation is required! In the case of Hornby’s buffet, the seats are also modelled pushed tightly underneath the tables – which has meant that the backs to the seats or the lip of the table also needs to be hacked away a bit. As all of this surgery occurs below the waistline of the coach, it is not visible from outside so your Dr Crippins’ tendancies will go unnoticed!!
Next up was to paint the exterior where the new plastic was cut in and here I had some problems. I was warned by Brian of Shawplan that I should paint the whole side when I repainted the new sections but I decided not to follow this advice – something I now regret!! So having masked up theadjacent areas and sprayed in only the affected sections i found that the grey that Hornby used was notably bluer than that provided by Precision Paints. The first attempt at repainting had the colours sticking out like a sore thumb and even on the second attempt, with a dab of blue in the mix is not perfect but is just ok underneath the grime. So, if you are proposing to do follow this build follow Brian’s advice, not mine!
Once a couple of new windows were cut into the reshaped windows in the kitchen area of the buffet car, it was necessary to weather the vehicle. These buffet cars were notorious for being really tatty by the 1970’s; partly because the paint supposedly was prone to debonding from the underlying teak but also because the automatic washers were not good at getting into the corners of the panelling. After an overall spray of dirt to tone down the colours and another to represent the brake dust and track muck, I used two techniques to represent the weathering on the panelling. The first was to spray the whole coach with a mist and once it had started to dry a stiff artist’s brush was dipped in thinners was used to remove the bulk of the paint. The areas that it does not come away from are the nooks and crannies around the panelling; the same areas that would have retained the dirt in the real things. I to find, however, that the margine between where the paint has been removed and not can be a bit stark, so I used a second technique to both hramonise this and also acceptuate the effect. Using a heavily thinned dirty black paint, run a brush over the whole of the sides – the paint runs to the corners and achieves the same effect. It pays to be brave with this as the wetting effect of the thinners makes this initially look much darker until the thinners have dried off.
And this is what the finished article looks like………
So thanks Hornby for supplying the model in the first place and the inspiration to do some plastic surgery. Whilst this write up may have lasted some months, actually this was quite a quick conversion – the basic surgery on the side was only 4 hours – so why not have a go?