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Togs, Trains and Slartibartfast’s Award

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.

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But the real trains are reserved for the Norwegian Intercity trains – this is the train engine for the Bergen Express:

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And the suburban stock looks like this (at Bergen – top and Voss – bottom)

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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,

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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):

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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”:

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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:

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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?

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Richard Chown; 1941 – 2017

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.

Gerard Tombroek

A7=On the viaduct

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………..).

A12=At Telford

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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!

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Just because the layout was big does not detract from how good the modelling was, as these pictures show.

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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 ……..

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…….

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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.

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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.

Fangfoss showing the Foss rock and falls - RC

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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.

Bridge on Fanfoss

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).

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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)…….

Garden Layout 1971 from RModeller

Rest in peace, Richard.

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Thanks to Jim Summers, Danny Cockling and Alan Aitken for the use of some of their photographs.

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