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The Far North Line

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.

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An overall view of the main part of Thurso.

Richard Black 5 at 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.

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The signal cabin at the station throat.

Wee Ben at Thurso

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?

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Brn Wyvis’ sister, Ben Clebrig acting as station pilot at Thurso.

Richard Helmsdale Black 5

The other station is Helmsdale and here we have the Hiker once again returning south. passing a typical Highland goods shed.

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Richard Helmsdale 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.

Richard Passenger Tank Helmsdale

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.

Richard Clan off to the sunset

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!

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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!

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A Quiet Day at Portchullin…………

Although it may be that there is a train in the yard as the shunt signal is off…… I suspect it will be one of the class 24s?

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Portchullin is just back from a trip to the St Alban’s show and its next outing will be in Telford, for the Diesel & Electric Show on the 20-21 February.

With thanks to David Brandredth and Tim Venton for the cracking photo.  Now my fav of the layout!

Buckingham Central

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.

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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.

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As befits an important station, there is a complicated station throat, controlled by quite complex signalling and a fine box over the line.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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?).

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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!

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DCC anyone…………..

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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!

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I have now added a trackplan in an addition post here.

Glenmutckin Shed Area

Glenmutchkin’s shed area is modelled on Kyle of Lochalsh’s (it is a mirror image) and I wanted to capture the typically cramped feel of the inspiration. This is the original OS map for the shed (ie old enough to be outside of copyright).

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Key to this is the way that the whole complex centres around the turntable and the first turnout is almost tight against the turntable’s wall as this photo extract shows (notice there is not even a buffer stop on the far side of the well):

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The first turnout is, you will see, a tandom and whilst it is not visible in this picture, almost certainly it was interlaced (as the Highland always seemed to always use interlaced turnouts). Well, interlacing gets quite crowded on a tandom turnout, as you can see:

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It takes a long time to do all of the sleepers as there are a lot of them but once it is done, it does look rather impressive don’t you think?

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Mark Tatlow

One for the Gorilla – tracklaying progress

Matters have been progressing with the layout on and off through the summer and a lot more of the track has now been laid.  We have both the main line and the full run around loop complete, along with most of the bay and its run around loop too.

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The line diverging in the foreground is going into the shed area, those visible below the bridge go to the bay (left) and yard (right).  A signalling trackplan can be found here.

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I quite like the sinuousness of the line, which can be seen here/  I have done this in order to give interest to the layoput but it is pretty typical (indeed characteristic) of the lines to the west coast as they wind through the mountainside.  I do have in mind some hills to justify this in the finished item.

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Already there is a sense of magnitude to the station forming, the platform face (which is not all in view in either of these views, comes in at about 7 feet – enough for an eight coach train of pre-grouping coaching stock.  Really, its length is defined by the length of the bay – this will become clearer when the train shed appears because the bay has to start clear of this..

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I have also placed into its approximate position the road overbridge that separates the shed from the main station area.  The construction of this can be seen in postings here and here.  The intention of hte bridge is to act as a scene blocker and thus to compel the watcher to view the layout from more than one location to appreciate it.

Day Return to Castle Rackrent

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

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Storms above Castle Rackrent

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St Juliet Town

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As you can see, a number of stations are undergoing a rebuild.

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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.

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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!

No Point Hanging Around

Whilst I have not put any posts up showing progress with the boards for Glenmutchkin, progress is being made and the last two boards are essentially now finished.  I am hoping that with one more day’s work which will mostly be to build up a carrying box for the final two, they can all come home.

In anticipation of this, I have been building some turnouts and a bit of the basic trackwork.

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I am only able to do the turnouts which I am reasonably confident will not change shape when the track is finally laid out on the boards.  In essence this means the crossings in the bay, the main line and the goods yard.  I have also done one of the turnouts in the yard.  So seven down, twelve to go including a slip!

I have also developed my approach to TOU’s slightly from Portchullin.  As a finished article they look like this:

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You will see that relatively little of the TOU is exposed (and when it is painted it blend away further).  Equally it is much more durable than most of the other options out there because the switchblade is held by both a wire strip but also to some brass strip that is tight to the underside of both the switchrail and the switchblade.  By installing this strip in this location, the switchblade is held in a vertical plane much better than other solutions.  I think this leads to better running.

This is what it looks like as it is being assembled.  You will see that in essence is it is merely a bit of copper clad below the switchblades, but lowered somewhat further due to the use of the brass strip.  This allows the whole lot to be hidden below the boards.

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You will note the rather unusual arrangement of sleepers.  This is called interlacing and was very common on many pre-grouping lines, including the Highland.  I will expand on this in a future posting.

 

First Four Boards Complete!

Julian and I have been putting a bit more time in on the baseboards, to the point where the first four are complete with the exception of their varnishing/painting.

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You will also see in the pictures that the beams that support the boards have also been completed.  These span between the brackets that were shown here which in turn are supported by bolts that have been affixed to the builders trestles.  This means that each point of contact can be adjusted for both overall level and also cant.  The idea is that this is done prior to placing the boards on the beams, so that the whole thing can be levelled as one and the boards then just get plonked on.  So long as the floor is not too wonky (like that in Tim & Julian’s place!), this does not take long and it is very idiot-proof assembling the layout perfectly each time.

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Also visible in the views are the gallows brackets that will support the lighting and facia.  These are fairly meaty as they have to span over 1300mm from front to back, so the moment on them is quite high.  What we have just found is that they are a tad low due to the beans being a bit higher than I had expected.  A bit of adjustment will be required in due course; especially as the layout level is also a bit high.

But the acid test of the new boards is shown in this view.  On Portchullin one of the problems is that the boards rise up slightly at the joints – a problem I see a lot on layouts.  This is dead flat; so we won’t see the trains doing any Casey Jones runs over the mountain ranges!

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The next visit will get on with the last two boards, which will take up the rather obvious space where Julian is working.  These will only be a single width in size as the boards are tapering in to 700mm wide at the end on the left in the view below.  To give a sense of scale, the yellow spirit level is 1200mm and the dark one 750mm.  (see Mr Ullyot – two spirit levels now………..)

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So thanks again to Tim & Julian and if any of readers are looking at electric loft ladders; give them a call.  S&T Joinery.

 

 

Last train to Castle Rackrent?

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:

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I spent my time (mostly successfully directed by Ian) at Moygraney, so here are rather more pictures of this station:

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Immediately next to us was Mount Juliet Town):

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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:

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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.

Timber!

A fairly big day in Glenmutckin’s life today; the start on baseboards.

As I mentioned in the last post; a couple of my team who help on Portchullin made the mistake of both criticising my carpentry skills and then admitting that they ran a joinery business.  I guess you can see that they thus talked their way into a task and we spent day one in doing these today.

I know that a bad workman blames their tools; but by god having all the proper kit makes things much faster and a great deal more accurate!! To say nothing of someone who knows rather more about joinery than I do!!

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The intended design will be predominantly open design around a skin of ply.  Initially a rectangular box is being made, as above.  After we have made the first batch of these we will then laminate a further layer of ply around this to provide the material to support the raised scenery and also to house the rebates for the pattern makers dowels – when we have done it hopefully the pictures will make it more clear.

We got three of these boxes made today; here are two of them – what is particularly pleasing is that they are perfectly level across the joint (see the bit of timber laid across the joint).  This is an area that I really did not get right on Portchullin and I note that lots of other modellers don’t either – right up to the famous person modelling Leamington Spa.

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So thanks Tim and Julian – I am sure some signals can work their way back!

And a small plug for my hosts; if you are looking for a powered loft ladder; give them a try http://www.st-joinery.co.uk/electricloftladder.html?gclid=COfvoN-HyrwCFYWWtAodjCQAcw

Roger Farnworth

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