Peter Denny’s Buckingham branch was very much an operational layout; for many years Peter’s children – Stephen and Crispin – were his chief assistant operators. However, as his children grew up they weren’t always available and Peter found himself operating short-handed. He found this frustrating as the need to cover the missing person interfered with the remainder of the operators.
This provoked the creation of the Automatic Crispin, one of the more famous parts of the layout. Long before the use of DCC, micro-processors or automatic shuttles, this was an electromechanical computer – and very ingenious (and mind bogglingly complicated) it is too. This was designed by Peter’s other son – Stephen – and took the place of Crispin to operate a portion of the layout automaticaly, in response to requests and commands from the other operators.
The heart of the system are a pair of disks and a paper chart with holes in it; all powered by motors and the enivitable mechano! The disks contain a series of metal studs or runners, each of which is connected to either the bell, the block instrument, the track or turnout relays. Running across these were a series of wiper blades of brass that connected power to the studs or runner as required.
The operation of the disk was initiated by Grandborough Jct’s signalman. As he sends a bell code, this sends a pulse of power to initiate the motor to rotate the disks or the paper chart on one segment; this first segment sends power to activate a bell code reply (each stud giving a ping). When this is answered by Grandborough Jct, in addition to acknowledging the offering forward of a train with a further bell code, it sets the block instrument. The acknowledgement of the latter being the next command to operate the correct route into the fiddle yard and power up the track in order to allow the train to arrive. The arriving train would hit a dead portion of track at the end of the fiddle yard to stop it running away, but in the process would send the “train out of section” bell code back to Grandborough Jct to allow the line to be cleared.
The story always told by Peter was that the Automatic Crispin was required when the real Crispin went to University but I think it is time to share with the world that this was a white lie. Crispin’s more prosaic explanation was that he had discovered girls at the time and all of a sudden, playing with Daddy’s trainset didn’t seem quite so interesting…….
As can be seen in the pictures, at present the Automatic Crispin is presently in bits, but is all beleived to be complete. It is part of Tony’s master plan to reassemble this; its orignator Stephen is apparently up for assisting to, so who knows?
To conclude the last of these three posts on Buckingham Central, a few photographs and to give you a chance to see the Automatic Crispen in action, take a look at this link to the BBC News article on Peter’s death and some video from circa 1980 of the layout – enjoy!
It is fair to say that Peter Bond and myself were not as proficient as Peter and his sons in this, sounds like we need some more practise Peter……..
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!
Most years I attend the Missenden Railway Modellers Spring Weekend and have just returned from this year’s. The weekends have some 70 or so railway modellers congregating for a residential retreat to both learn some new skills, enjoy the company and get some quality modelling time in. The participants split between different groups depending what they wish to do; trackwork, weathering, painting/lining, DCC sound control, backscenes and, in my case, loco building.
In my case I started a new loco (of course…..), but not a Highland one. This is a North Eastern 2-4-0 “Tennant” produced by Arthur Kimber. I am building this for Tim & Julian for them to use on their layout, Benfieldside. Thus it is going to be in EM, but I am going to put in clearances sufficent to convert it on to P4 if this ever takes my fancy, and it will be in NER green – so it should look rather fine. Indeed, it should look a bit like this (:only hopefully at a higher resolution!):
Slightly annoyingly, the kit was conceived to be built to P4, so instead of converting OO/EM kits to P4, I am converting a P4 kit to EM!! However, at least it is all the same skills and cutting bits off to make them narrower, is easier than splicing them in! One small departure has been to use some Markits wheels to act as some test track dummies for the build. The idea is that they are capable of being taken on and off without damage, are not steel (so are not going to corrode) and also that they automatically quarter themselves. This is they in the largely completed chassis (which is a rolling chassis, even if I have not yet fitted a motor). Also of note is the valve gear (dummy, life is not long enogh to making working inside gear – and nor am I a good enough modeller!). At present the slide bars and pistons are not yet fitted.
Unlike Highland locos, the running plate and valancing has high swept up sections and really nice flowing curves. This took quite a lot of care to form and I found it necessary to clamp both the front and rear in place initially, after the shape had been bent. Once, however, one end was soldered in place, the second end need to be released so that the thermal expansion did not distort the running plate.
There are more of these sweeping curves to the cab, which also give rise to some tense moments as it is formed. So long as the folds are made at the right locations and around a former the curves formed quite well. When this is added to the running plate, it starts to look like a locomotive.
The boiler comes pre-rolled, with all of the cuts for the wheels and holes already formed. The smokebox is a seperate part that is secured onto the boiler by a bolt and nut. This is quite effective and may well be something that I mimic in the future. The boiler does not come with boiler bands, so I will have some fun putting these on. It also appears to be about 1/2mm too long, so some cutting and filing is going to occur.
This is what it looks like with the boiler plonked on it (as I said, it is a bit too long so is not sitting down properly – however, it does look good and very different from anything the Highland had!
Sorry if it looks a bit silly on its reduced size wheels! This will get explained and corrected nearer the end of the build.
In support of my earlier post on the visit to Buckingham, and in response to Michael, here is the trackplan for Buckingham.
Tony tells me that there have been a couple of slight changes to this plan, but these are fairly cosmetic.
At the time of my visit, Leighton Buzzard was not set up, hence there being no pictures!
As we had to travel to Nottingham today to return my son to uni, we took the opportunity of accepting a fairly long standing offer to see Peter Denny’s Buckingham branch which now resides with Tony Gee.
Most of you will, I suspect, be aware that Buckingham was about the first EM gauge layout ever constructed (apparently, there was one other at about the same time) and can thus be said to be pretty much the daddy of the finescale model railway.
The layout has origins that go back as far as 1947, so is approaching 70 years old. There are a number of elements that go back to this era still on the layout, including the tank loco shown above which was built from the very earliest of plastics; I hope I look as good as that when I hit 70!
Whilst there have been several generations of layout, the core has always been an imaginary line to Buckingham from the Great Central mainline to London. Buckingham is, of course, a much bigger town in this imaginary world and justifies a fairly significant service of commuter, local, parcels and goods trains. In the view below, we see a “businessman’s express” for London readying for departure from Buckingham and then below that the peace and quiet of the station once it has gone.
As befits an important station, there is a complicated station throat, controlled by quite complex signalling and a fine box over the line.
The other principal station was Grandborough Junction (the third station, Leighton Buzzard Linslade, was dismantled at the time of our visit). This was a busy junction and had a pair of branches going off it and crossing countryside.
I particularly remember an article on “filling corners of your railway” – where he showed a gas works at one point and then an engine sheed – well here is that engine shed! Mindful of my turntable sagas (see November posts), I was half disappointed that this one worked so well – although it did have a very fierce growl when it operated!
Peter Denny was also a prolific writer so the layout adorned the pages of most of the british magazines – and even apparently a Japanese one! Certainly, it was a layout that I regularly read about in my father’s collection of back issues so it was a happy chance to see something that had a formative impact on the early days of my hobby. I still have a big book entitled Miniature and Model Railways – signed Happy Christmas Mark – from Gordon 1977! – that has a section on Buckingham which I perused before leaving to remind myself of the layout!
A lot of his articles were on building things for the layout – remember, this was built in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s and the alternative (when available which was rare) were tinplate. Here are some examples of the quality of Peter’s modelling.
The story as to why Peter Denny selected the Great Central Railway as his prototype is worthy of retelling too – as they made me chuckle. Apparently, he originally wished to model the Great Western and took his first completed model – a siphon (which is still on the layout) – to the Model Railway Club proudly one evening. There it was met with both admiration but also the sucking of teeth as various prototype details were pointed out as being incorrect. Now, woe betide me to say anything critical of Great Western followers but on the back of this, Peter decided he needed to find a prototype that less people knew about so that he would not get pulled up on technical details again! He rather liked the brown and cream coaches, so he did a search and found that the Great Central had them too – so a swap of allegiances was promptly implemented!
Resources were clearly a lot more challenged when Peter was modelling, most of the models make plentiful use of timber and card – it puts some of my efforts with much more sophisticated techniques!! Peter even used CSBs (see wagon below – well, nearly CSBs any; what do you think of that Will/Russ?).
But above all else, Buckingham is a layout for operating and is both very complex and quite simple at the same time. There is a substantial amount of electrical logic such that lines only become electrically active when they are correctly signalled. Even attempting to run a train in the opposite direction to that which is signalled is prohibited. All this uses hand built switches, many of which are mechanically linked to the single or turnout. As you would imagine, this creates a somewhat complex warren both above and below board!
Even now, Tony is not fully aware of what the layout can do and there are plenty of teasers that need to be overcome to get it to operate properly – “aghh yes, this lever needs to be pulled over really hard to make the contact” but the next time “don’t pull that one over fully, or it doesn’t quite work“. It essentially needed to be caressed and humoured to operate – but operate it did even for ham fisted Tatlow!
We spent a happy couple of hours playing with the trains; dealing with arrivals, sorting out loco’s for the return work and shunting the platforms and yard. I thoroughly enjoyed myself – so thank you Tony and I’ll definitely come again!
I have now added a trackplan in an addition post here.
A year ago, I posted a few photographs of one of my friend’s layouts, Aultbea.
Peter has been making progress with the layout and now has the bulk of the trackwork laid, so it is worth having another look at it:
As you can see, it is a bit of a beast because this is only the passenger station complex, the MPD and sidings for the military are not even on show here!
The full extent of the layout can be seen in the previous posting and you will see he that even the bay is conceived for a seven coach train. Looks like Peter will need to be building/converting and otherwise acquiring a fair amount of stock!
in the views you will see that a some of the buildings have been finished – the signal cabin and the water tower. I think station buildings are next and before too long, he will mention signals I suspect!
Now that the much of the bulk of the above running plate work has been completed, the running plate valences can be fitted. As these are nearly always long and thin, they are prone to distortion in the kits I have built – so it is time for another jig!! This one holds the valences at numerous places to stop it flexing and to hold it straight.
With this, it is a doddle to fit the valences in their correct place and solder them without distortion. I did find that the running plate flexed significantly at the end of the tanks; so the final version is going to include a pair of temporary stiffeners that fold down and stop this. This would be the moment when they are removed to allow the valancing to take their place.
And onto the boiler. In a departure from normal practise, I am not including a flat etch to be rolled into a boiler – it is relatively difficult to get even a pre-rolled boiler into a neat tube without a visible seam and if you do not have a rolling machine it is effectively impossible to do so. In addition, where boilers have been half etched to create boiler bands I find that the half etched elements that remain are overly delicate. This was something that caught me out a while back when I drilled such and area to take handrail knobs and badly distorted the metal – this kit is still sitting in its box now and I am probably going to have to replace the boiler.
With these problems in mind, I simply used a piece of brass tube from Eileens; easier and much more durable and if I were sratch-building I would not even think of taking a different route. This did still leave the need for some rolled parts, to make the smokebox and I have sought to use another little trick here to make these easier to fit – some tags and eyes. The tags are strips of half etching that pass through the eyes and then tugged back. This can’t impart a curve into the metal but does allow the parts to be pulled tight and makes it easier to solder into place without much of lip. Mind you, they were a tad short and will be lengthened slightly in the production run.
A second additional laminate is then needed to form the outside of the smokebox and down onto the saddle.
I did find another little error when it came to the front of the smokebox. Whilst the diameter for the front that I had drawn had allowed for the thickness of the two laminates, when you fit these there is also a layer of solder between them and whilst this ought not be that thick, it was just enough to make the fronts too small. In the production run, I will deliberately make this a tad too big as it is easy enough to file it back but much more difficult to add the missing metal (I didn’t, I just made a fresh one from sheet metal). The smokebox door is not mine, the door from the Lochgorm Models Loch is the right size judging by the photographs (note the drawing in the old man’s book has it being smaller but this does not match the photos, so I ignored it in this respect – sorry Dad!).
The downside of using tube as a boiler is that boiler bands need to be considered. I have provided these in the kit (again using the strap and eye technique). I chose to fit them on this kit although in practise I think any metal boiler band is too thick and would probably have done it with a transfer sheet if this was not a test build (done prior to painting, the thickness of the transfer is enough to show through the paint on what will be a single colour to the boiler).
Only the top of the boiler is visible after the first ring and a bit, so can be cut away to leave lots of room for the motor, weighting and DCC chip. I may try and fit this with sound, so who can give a view on what it might have sounded like – a jinty is my favoured guess?
With the basic chassis made, it is essential to fit the nuts to secure the body to the chassis as both of these will be concealed with later work. So a quick test fit looks like this and we can get onto the next bit, the coupling rods.
As is not uncommon, these are made from a pair of layers of brass laminated together. You can see that the outer layer is half etched for much of its length, with the full depth only being present at the bosses. I have also sought to make it easier to build these by including them in a folding jig – the folding is underway in the bottom portion of the view. The logic of the jig, indeed the whole kit, is to make a really smoothly running chassis much easier to make. Modern CAD and computer operated phototool creation techniques by the etchers means that it is possible to easily draw and then etch such that each dimension is faithfully repeated on the product. Thus, it is possible to be confident that the wheelbase will be repeated exactly on each side of the frames and also on the coupling rods. However, this accuracy is completely lost if the user has to laminate the two parts together by hand; it is not possible to get them superimposed on each other exactly or repetitively so the spacings of the crankpin holes will change. The jig overcomes this as the fold line is so long that there can not be any twist as it folds, so the two parts will meet consistently and accurately.
It is true that there remain two areas of variability. The first is that the degree of etching will not be exact on every occasion so the holes will be slightly bigger or smaller on each occasion. This can be easily overcome by making all critical holes a tiny bit too small and then opening the holes up with a ream (not a file, reams will open up a hole consistently). The second problem is that a fold is not always consistent on a fold line so the jig can protect against twisting but might not necessarily put the two laminates directly on top of each other. However, the important point is is that they will be correct horizontally, any error can only crop up vertically. Thus, when the crankpin whole is opened up, it is possible that it will move vertically slightly but this will not change the dimension between the holes so the critical dimensions should be retained perfectly.
The above is all true in theory but in practise there was an almighty cock up in my artwork; so I was deprived of finding out. A total case of designer error and when this is yourself, there is no one else to blame……………….
………..I made one of the coupling rods no less than 8mm too long – doh! I have no idea how, but it needed chopping; so it was back to the old fashioned way of making coupling rods despite my high ideals! Fortunately, as they were laminated, it is possible to stagger the cut to make the splice – essentially the same technique as Alan Gibson’s variable length coupling rods. Anyway, after the cutting and splicing, I did get a sweetly running chassis and this is what it looks like. The unusually large wheels for a shunting loco are already making their presence felt!
The chassis is created around CSB’s; continuous springy beams. A spring wire is anchored to the chassis at four points per side (for an 0-6-0) and at the centre of each hornblock. Thus each hornblock is supported on either side and can “bounce” on the spring. However, the clever thing about CSBs is that when a hornblock is depressed, not only does the spring wire flex a bit as suspension, but it also rocks on the anchors so the adjacent wheels push downwards a bit to equalise out some of the deflection. It produces a really smooth chassis and, if it is conceived at the design stage, I think is actually rather easier to both design and build than traditional compensation. This is a close up of a pair of hornblocks and a pair of the anchor points (the other is hiding behind the frame spacer on the right). Also worthy of note is the colour coding of the hornblocks; to enable them to be reinstated in the same hornguide each time. This is probably unnecessary with modern (and therefore consistent) hornblocks and the accuracy of the etching I have noted but old habits die hard!
Putting aside the body for a while, to take a look at the chassis because it is necessary to mount the two together and it is not possible to close up some of the element of the body until this is sorted out.
As with the body, I am trying to take a moderately fresh approach to the chassis to make this a little easier to build than certainly most of the kits I am used to. In this regard, most of the kits for the Highland are quite traditional in their design and I readily admit that all but two of my ideas has been either all out pinched from other designers or at least significantly inspired by them. All I am trying to do is use more of these neat ideas in a single kit to make the life of the builder easier. I am, however, finding that it makes my life more difficult, as there are a lot more moving parts to most components, so more places for the tolerances to be catered for; so as John Price has already said, the list of little tweeks and amendments to make is growing! At least, no one can say this particular kit designer has not built their own model.
Anyway, this is what the chassis looks like in the flat; note that it is a fold up design – this is inspired by the Mousa Models chassis, so a pinched idea!
And this is what it looks like with the basic folds made up. What it achieves is really neat, as it is instantly sufficiently stiff to work as a chassis; by the time a couple of further cross braces have been installed the basic chassis is more than robust enough for its life.
My design uses the same slide in hornblocks as utilised by Comet and Brassmasters for their chassis. After a tiny bit of practise, it is possible to size the hole for the hornguides such that these are just too small when etched. This means that with a few strokes of a light cut file on each side, the hornblock becomes a tight sliding fit. Once all of the hornblocks are in, it is then possible to measure the distance between each on both sides of the chassis and also on the corresponding coupling rod. This is done with digital callipers and by the expediency of measuring the distance at its maximum with the callipers facing outwards and then repeating with them facing inwards the average being the actual distance between the centres. I reckon to be able to measure down to 2 or 3 hundredths of a mm, which is rather better than I can build to! Where there are inconsistences, this is dealt with by a few more strokes of the file on the side which needs to be adjusted to change the centre. This needs to be done anyway to turn the tight sliding fit to a snug but smooth fit for the hornblocks to work properly soif the centre does not need to be changed, the file strokes are undertaken equally on both sides of the hornguides.
This does need to be done after the coupling rods have been formed, of which we will see in the next posting. However, the chassis is also designed with a keeper plate to accommodate all of the cosmetic springing to the model and the ashpan sides. This is secured with a series of 12BA screws to enable it to be removed to allow the wheels/axles to be dropped out. A great boon as the model is built and painted.
To make the assembly of this element easier (in fact in this case a lot easier!) I have created a jig that holds the two layers of the laminate in exactly the right position. The jig is chunky enough to avoid distortion as it is folded up and it locates the parts perfectly. In this particular case, the soldering needs to be done with care as there are folds to make after the jig is cut away and it is important not to fill this with solder before hand.
And this is what the keeper plate looks like – it is pretty delicate until it is mounted but fine thereafter.
And the two components assembled look like this. The beginnings of the cylinders are also visible, this is a slide in module that can be removed for assembly and painting (although the scrap tanks were painted fairly simply, so this is not really relevant on this model).