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.
You will recall that approximately a year ago, I posted about my last visit to Castle Rackrent and I mentioned that the layout was about to undergo a significant reconfiguration. A month ago I had a chance to revisit Richard Chown and see how it is getting on.
Here are some photographs from my visit (but only a few as I had difficulties with low light levels):
Castle Rackrent Station
Storms above Castle Rackrent
St Juliet Town
As you can see, a number of stations are undergoing a rebuild.
A lot of work remains, as large sections of the line remain simply track on bare track on boards and some fettling of the track will also be necessary but already there is a lot done. Hopefully I will be able to visit again when things are a little more developed.
Also on view was Fangfoss which was in an even darker room, so no photos at all of the actual layout, but a few of the locos were elsewhere and here is a taster.
You will be able to see Fangfoss for yourself (and it is worth I can assure you) at this year’s Scaleforum which will be held in Aylesbury on 19/20 September – details here .
See you there if you go!
Last week I was able to visit Richard Chown’s house to have a play with Castle Rackrent at one of his operating sessions.
Castle Rackrent is both an individual layout and also a system; comprising a total of five stations, a harbour and a couple of fiddle yards. It is based on Irish practise, so is all hand built to 5’3″ gauge. Given that the layout is 7mm/1ft, it is pretty substantial and wraps around Richard’s basement a couple of times. This creates the situation where it is somewhat of a challenge to know what is going on in any other location on the system – this does not matter as the stations communicate with each other via bell codes (well, only one adjacent station in our case due to a fault, so we adopted a version of the telegraph system known as shouting!).
It is fair to say, even with this and possibly due to some inexperience on my part, things still get chaotic. We ended up with four of the six possible trains at our station at one point. The normal controller Mr Summers was not in attendance fortunately, otherwise I sense some firm words might have been had………… It was all good fun though and is not really a basis of operation I have experienced before, even though of course all it does is mimic the real thing.
Here are a few photographs; starting with the terminus and original station on the line, Castle Rackrent:
I spent my time (mostly successfully directed by Ian) at Moygraney, so here are rather more pictures of this station:
Immediately next to us was Mount Juliet Town):
It is worth noting the red tag on the rear of the brake van in the final picture above. This is a form of tail light and one of the jobs of the signalman at each station is to check that the full train is there by checking that each train has a tail light. The eagle eyed might also note a few coloured discs on the top of the wagons – these are a form of wagon label; each colour describing the station that the wagon is to be detached at. It all adds to the the challenge of working the line.
The final two stations I have pictures of are Salruck Junction and Lisgoole:
And the reason for the title of this post?
Fortunately, this was not the last train to Castle Rackrent; which will no doubt please the show manager of the Perth show (where the layout will appear in June 14) but it is the last to Castle Rackrent in its present form. Richard has in mind changing the arrangement of the layout and introducing another station. So it was still a historical evening.