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Zimbabwe has been in the news a fair amount of late I do hope it makes a turn for the better as it is one of the most stunning countries in the world and with some of the friendliest and gentlest people too. This news prompted me to remember my visit there, in 1989 immediately after leaving university and before entering the big bad world of work.
The railways of southern Africa had some extensive systems but were with long distances on lightly laid track and heavy loads, the railway companies were confronted a difficult reality – how do you get a sufficiently powerful locomotive without making it too heavy for the line. Making a long locomotive with many wheels would have worked, only they would not have coped with the sinuous curves required to snake through the countryside. The solution came in the form of an articulated locomotive – essentially two locomotives with a single boiler slung between them. First patented by the Manchester firm Beyer Peacock these locomotives were synonymous with the railways of Africa, although they were found around the world.
The railway snaking around the contours was very much part of the railways of Zimbabwe and the need for an articulated locomotive is easy to see. It is the only time I have seen steam trains truly earning their keep – something that I will probably never see again as I understand that even the Chinese have withdrawn almost all of their locomotives.
As can be seen in the photograph, the railways of Zimbabwe do not use standard gauge track. They, along with pretty much all of the railways of southern Africa, use 3’6″ gauge – to the point where it is nicknamed “cape gauge”.
Due to the sanctions placed against Rhodesia and the economic condition of Zimbabwe, steam lingered on for a long time and has not totally faded out even as I write this; although I believe that the last remaining couple of steam locomotives are really pets and are largely wheeled out for tourists. I suspect that there are a lot of rusting hulks still in the country though and perhaps if the country settles down we will see a really proper number of them put back into use as the tourist trade picks up. It really is a wonderful country, so is worth a visit and I would love to do the journey again.
In putting this blogpost together I was conscious that most of my pictures were taken at relatively close quarters to the trains, because I was travelling on them. Therefore, to supplement my photographs, I contacted a few people who had posted their Zimbabwean railway photographs online. I am therefore I am indebted to Alan Crotty and Fabrice Lanoue for the use of their photographs in illustrating this blog – all rights to these photographs are retained by them. The good news, if you have liked the pictures, is that John and Fabrice were not the only ones who were prepared to let me use their photographs – therefore, there will be a part 2 to this blog post soon!
Being a little alternative (a.k.a. railway enthusiast), when it comes to preparing for a friend’s nuptials, the flesh pots of some poor unsuspecting city do not come up to scratch. Instead, when Chris (of OTCM) decides to have a stag trip, he chooses to go around a grimy steelworks – well you wouldn’t you?
In this case, we went to Scunthorpe Steelworks where there is not only a substantial private railway (the largest in the UK, I beleive) but also an active preservation movement that operates on the system. This is the Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society and they operate public services many weekends during the summer months and also charter trains throughout the year. For quite a moderate sum of money (if there are 15+ of you), you can have a private train take you around the majority of the network.
As you can see, first class is not an option for the tour but then it really would not have been fun if it were. Foolishly, we felt it was not right to fire up the stove in the van; the others in their van did and given how chilly it was they were the smart ones!
Our steed for the day was an Avonside 0-6-0 T which was one of two steam locos “in ticket” at present; the other being a rather pretty little Peckett, although its ticket runs out early next year so get there quick if you do want to see it in action.
The society also have a number diesels including this rather claggy Yorkshire Engine Co Janus which fumed us out when we were allowed to open the throttle in the shed, as you can see!
However, when out on the steelworks lines, these have to dodge the steel company’s quite numerous trains which are typically hauled by these – ex Norwegian Di 8’s. These had been delivered to NSB in the mid 1990’s but found to be under-powered and a little prone to catching fire. So when their traffic flows changed, they were sold for use at the steelworks her in the UK. Most are still in use, although a couple have been cannibalised for spares to the number is reducing.
The system is most extensive, amounting to over 100 miles of track and winds its way around furnaces, rolling mills, a coking plant, slag heaps and very extensive sidings. There was enough route mileage to keep us amused for the greater part of the day.
A steelworks is not the sort of place that is on my day to day circuit, so it was fascinating to see such iconic structures as the blast furnaces. There are four at Scunthorpe, all named after english queens, although presently only two are in production.
The steelworks is very much still in production – evidenced by how hot the torpedo slag wagons or those that were carrying fresh ingots. The heat haze coming off them does not show in the pictures but you could really warm your hands as you passed them at 40 feet away!
The trip is well worth the effort to do; even if you don’t have a stag to take along with you.
And besides, Scunnie is not too far from Sheffield were there are the city flesh pots if you want a combined outing – and if we did, that isn’t going to make it onto this blog!
In just over a week from now, I will be down in Portsmouth for the South Hants Model Railway Club’s annual show. Despite being a one day show, I find the show to be a good quality finescale show and the crew down there are very friendly, so it is definitely worth visiting. You can find details of the show here.
I will be assisting in the operation of Benfieldside, which I have illustrated on this blog in the past but it is worth looking at some of the pictures again:
I can assure you it is worth coming to the show to see this alone; and you might even find my latest construction effort – although probably still shiny like this. This is a D&S Models NER auto-carriage and really needs a sister to work with it but that will have to wait!
Stop by and say hello if you do visit.
The interruption in fresh posts has been caused, in part, by a recent trip to Norway – a country with some particularly fine railways (why else would we go there – well actually there are a fairly good number of reasons!).
The trains (or Togs in Norwegian) start almost immediately – this is the rather brutal looking “airport express” – or flytoget in Norway.
But the real trains are reserved for the Norwegian Intercity trains – this is the train engine for the Bergen Express:
And the suburban stock looks like this (at Bergen – top and Voss – bottom)
The Bergen line was the first of the highlights of the trips; the line initially skirts Oslo Fjords (lots of tunnels and no views) before winding through some very pretty farmland interspersed with lakes,
As the line gets higher the landscape gets starts to get harsher and the gradient steepens (you can see it climbing up the mountain in the background in this view):
By the time it gets near the top, the bulk of the line plunges into snow shelters – some 30 miles of them and there is even a station within one at the top.
If the snow sheds weren’t a sufficient clue that they have a touch of bother with snow up on the line, the collection of (preserved in this case) snow blowers left you in no doubt:
The other railway highlight of the trip was the Flam line which is a truly stupendous (if amazingly tourist) line. It rises no less than 2,831ft in only 12.6 miles – it has a maximum gradient of 1:18 which is an appreciable gradient on foot, let alone a natural adhesion railway! To deal with this level of gradient and fairly long trains, each train is top and tailed by a pair of locos, as can be seen.
The extent of the gradient can be seen in this (slightly murky) view, the line right at the top is the line leaving the junction with the Bergen line at Myrdal, it can be seen in a snowshed in the middle and we are in a further snow shed only a short way further down the line.
The line goes right down to sea level the surrounding land ceases to be quite so harsh and there is even a deep sea berth at the end of the sea fjord – convenient for cruise liners (of which Norway has rather more than its fair share!).
The rather beefy electric locomotives (class E.18 I think) have a very modern feel to them but I rather preferred their predecessors the E.17 class as they felt so much more “continental”:
Whilst that finished the railways for the trip, mention of Slartibartfast’s prize winning designs really does need mentioning. For those of you who don’t know what I am going on about, Slartibartfast was a figment of Douglas Adams’ imagination. Douglas Adams is the creator of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and he was a Magrathean – a designer of planets. His prize winning designs were the fjords of Norway – he was so well regarded he was going to be allowed to do the whole of Africa when earth MkII is recreated once it has been destroyed to make a bypass.
So here are a few fjord pictures just to go ohh and aghh to:
It is fair to say, you can get a bit fjorded out as fabulous views are not really good enough when there are so many really fabulous and really really fabulous views out there! I think old Slarti deserved his award, don’t you?
Whilst it is fair to say that one of the highlights of the weekend that OTCM have not mentioned – Oly’s ashen face on Sunday and his continuing insistence that he is never drinking again – here is a quick report on the trip to Expo EM.
It’s the morning after a show and people with any sense usually take the Monday off, not at OTCM, straight back to work. We are dedicated like that. As usual we were Portchullin Roadies, with the same mix of trains, beer and curry. It also had it’s usual pitfalls, mainly Marks ropey driving, dodgy wiring and last minute fixes.
But it was all because deep in a dodgy council estate was Parlington liesure centre and EXPO-EM. Under the yellowy light and the sound of lashing rain (rain like only the north can do) was a selection of good layouts and great people.
First up is some photos of Andy Clayton’s mega lush Scottish stock for his forthcoming Queen Street posed…
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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………..