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19 August 1870

This day, 150 years ago, was a significant one for the highlands and the western isles. It marked the opening of the first railway to reach the Atlantic north of Helensburgh. To understand how significant this was, take a look at a map and and see what proportion of the country this represents – its almost a third of the country.

The line at the time was called the Dingwall and Skye Railway but nowadays we know it a little better as the line to Kyle of Lochalsh. Given it is the primary inspiration for my layouts, I think this anniversary needs to be marked with a blog post!

The classic scene from the 1990s, class 37s in large logo livery passing on a winters day at Achnasheen. I really must get myself a large logo 37 for Portchullin, I have plenty of memories of them!

The original name of the line gives away the objective of the promoters – to bring communication to the western side of Scotland, in particular the islands such as the Isle of Skye. Given that even in the 19th century the centre of the country was very sparsely inhabited, the population was concentrated on the coastal fringes and on the islands. Prior to the arrival of the railway, to ship goods or travel to the islands from the lowlands would take days. These poor communications inhibited the development of these parts and the arrive of the railway was a major spur to the prosperity of the region.

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The original terminus at Strome Ferry on Loch Carron; salt water at last even if the open sea was still some distance away. Believed to be a George Washington Wilson photograph, probably dating from the 1870s.

Despite the value to the region, the line was not constructed with the support of the government, instead it come about entirely with private finance. Given the sparseness of population, this was a brave venture and the promoters did not have sufficient money to reach their ultimate destination – the Atlantic seaboard. Instead they only just managed to reach a long finger of a sea-loch, Loch Carron. This was only intended to be a temporary solution to allow some income to be generated before the final push for the eventual terminus to be made. As with the best of plans, it too a long time for this ambition to be realised as the line to the present terminus at Kyle of Lochalsh did not come to be for a further 27 years.

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A Skye Bogie resting at Dingwall shed; a colourised print by Stephen Arrandale. These locomotives were specifically built from 1882 to serve this line.

The line started from the route up the east cost of the northern part of Scotland from Ross & Cromarty’s county town, Dingwall. It was intended to run through a fairly significant spa town, Strathpeffer, but this plan was foiled by an obstinate landowner. Perversely, therefore, the line bypassed the most significant town on the route, which hardly helped its finances! Whilst the line then travelled through sparse countryside with few centres of population, there were a series of roadheads where glens branch off. A feature of the line until the 1980s were buses coming to meet each train to provide links to the other parts of the west.

Classic 1950s in the Highlands – a stanier black five (known as hikers on the ex HR system) and a neat train of blood & custard coaches paused at Achnasheen. Note the bus that has come to meet the train, as referred to in the text, this will be bound for Gairloch, Poolewe and Aultbea

The line is a remarkable survivor as it was chalked up for closure on several occasions. Its most significant saviour was the oil industry in the mid 1970s, when the country’s biggest dry dock was built not far away at Loch Kishorn and the prospect of increased traffic persuaded the government to refuse a closure request. This prompted the railway to make efficiency savings; for example the line was the first example to use a radio signalling system 40 years ago.

The line in the 1970s, with a class 26 passing Achnalt viaduct heading east.

The line survives to today in its extended form to Kyle of Lochalsh and (touch wood) seems to be safe for a long term future. Ok, it has a lot less charm as a railway than it used to but the scenery is still second to none and you still have the romance of heading to the wild west of Scotland – it justifies being seen as one of the worlds great railway journeys! If you have never done it, then it really needs to make your bucket list!

I couldn’t bring myself to include a photograph of a diesel multiple unit – hence lets have something a lot more attractive. An eastbound train paused at Achnasheen hauled by a superheated goods. These took over from the Skye bogies from the late 1920s. Judging by the livery and the use of corridor stock (of very mixed parentage) this looks to have been taken in the mid-1930s.

If you want to enjoy the charm of the line in the era that Porthcullin is set, this is a link to a fabulous video created by Ross & Cromarty council in 1972. This was deliberately rose tinted as it was a promotional tool to seek to convince the then government not to allow its closure – indeed, it was shown to parliament at the time and may even have had a hand in the saving of the line. After all, you don’t just arrive at magic, it has to be conjured…….

As an alternative, if you do want to find out more about the line there are a number of good books on the line; including one by my father I mentioned here.

Seasons Greetings

Compliments of the season to you all and picture of Rudolf battling through the snow to deliver all the Christmas packages – well sort of!

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I suspect this was taken near Altnabreac in 1895 as there are a series of photographs from there t this time, others of which I have posted before.  The photograph is in the NRM’s collection but given its date will be out of copyright,.

That was the weekend that was….

Well the layout made it to and from Scaleforum – possibly I did too!

Last Friday, the inside of the hire van looked like this.  Whilst the cases worked a treat, the dismantling of the layout from being set up on my own took a long time – much longer than I had hoped or expected.

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Once at the venue, I was able to press gang some “volunteers” to erect the layout and this was much easier.

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Getting the beams levelled up was speedy even though none of my press team had any experience of my logic!  Indeed, with their help, it assembled itself quicker than Portchullin does although the jury is out in my mind as to whether this is simply because it as yet has rather less on it!

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The layout’s size quite quickly became apparent; especially its depth – as can be seen here with Chris in the background for a sense of sale!  Please don’t tell my wife this is actually quite big, I have been telling her it is pretty normally sized!

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I did not manage to get front side all that often so I have only fairly limited numbers of photographs.  Fortunately Samuel Bennett has come to my rescue and has provided a number of photographs to show what it looked like to the visitor.

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We only had three correct Highland locos chipped up (and one of these decided to sulk after a couple of hours!) so we did break out the blue diesels to make sure we had a fully operational layout.  Above there are a few of the locos awaiting chipping on shed and below we have the scene 50 years later!

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……..and below is simply confused!

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Although the layout did not operate perfectly, it did behave much better than I (and my operating team) had feared!  The two page list of faults and issues to resolve with the trackwork, wiring or stock is a fraction of the list that would have existed after Portchullin’s first outing (if I ever had one!).

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The signals received a lot of comment, even if there was one missing because I managed to damage it as I was packing the layout.  There’ll be another post on these soon.

Best Work Trip Ever – Signals and a Sad Reprise

Following the tragic events in Sri Lanka recently, I pondered whether I would complete the intended final post of the series I had in mind.  I have concluded that I would primarily because the experience that I had of Sri Lanka and its people was so friendly and felt so safe.  So this post is my small bit of illustrating that Sri Lanka is not the country that was illustrated by the acts of a few deranged members of the population.

One of the joys of Sri Lanka’s railways is the retention of widespread railway relics from times past – in particular the signalling.  Whilst there are modernised sections, substantial sections are still firmly in the first half of last century with full semaphore signals, tablets and block sections.  Although a few arms have been removed, the bulk of the installations are still in situ and largely in use; so it is a bit of a cornucopia of signalling.  Here are a few of the signals that I saw:

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The signalling that I saw was all Saxby and Farmer – I only saw a couple of the lines in the country so it may be that there are other suppliers in evidence.  The ground signals were quite similar to the McKenzie & Holland equivalents and tended to come in batches – looking like sentinels from an episode of Dr Who!

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I thought the signal boxes looked decidedly home counties, although the rather shocking salmon pink wouldn’t have been found in Hertfordshire or Surrey I hazard!

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With the exception of the signalman’s attire, the inside of the signal box was instantly recognisable to any UK railwayman of the last century of a half (well perhaps any UK railwayman of the last 40 years would be surprised to see so few white levers………).

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This is the inside of Kandy’s signal box.  Kandy is largely a terminus with the line from the Highlands and Columbo meeting here, along with a branch.  With five platform faces and only moderate amounts of sidings, it struck me as a perfect modelling track plan if anyone wants to have a go!  Here is the view from the steps of the box, along with the signalling diagram.

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The approach to Kandy was in the process of being doubled when I visited, so I suspect that it will be resignalled with colour lights when this is done – so you had best get there soon if you want to see it like this………….

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Midland Six Wheeled Full Brakes

Although not Highland vehicles, these full brakes have a strong association with the Highland’s branchlines in the post grouping years.  Once the LMS took over the Highland’s system in 1923, they seemed to have been horrified by the state of the coaching stock that they inherited!  Portions of the Highland’s fleet were speedily retired and large numbers of foreign company’s stock was drafted onto the system (especially the main line from Perth to Inverness, where the trains became fully corridor connected almost overnight).

When it came to the branchlines, the upgrade came primarily by the cascading of the better Highland stock onto these lines but there were exceptions.  Although the Highland had full brakes, it was a line that had a lot of parcels/packages traffic, so it seemed that they needed even more and a batch of these Midland six wheeled full brakes were drafted in.

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Many photographs of the Highland branchlines of the 1920s had one lurking in the background so I felt one should get to make appearances on Glenmutchkin.  Simple, I thought, Slaters do a plastic kit for one and whilst it is no longer available, it is easy to pick up second hand and it should be a nice quick build.  Unfortunately, I had not realised what a rubbish kit it was!  It is too short and too narrow, most of the mastering is really crude and the panelling in particular would be a scale 6 inches deep.  So the Slaters kit made it back on ebay only marginally quicker than it came off and I set about designing my own kit.

It has taken a couple of iterations and about three years, but finally I have got to the stage where I am happy with it but you can form your own view!

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The first iteration used a cleminson chassis but in the light of the success I had with sliding axles on some of my other 6 wheeled stock, I redesigned it to include these and some sprung W-irons in the style of Bill Bedford’s.

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This proved similarly successful and as you can see in the video, it trundles along quite nicely!

Other than the use of these sliding axles, the main unusual feature of the model is the arrangement of securing the roof.  I have found that it is essential to bolt these in place to prevent the roof becoming adrift at some point in the future (which has happened to half my stock over time).  Therefore, I designed a set of legs that allow the roof to be bolted through the floor from below and in the process also securing the separate chassis tight too.  Broken down, the components look like this and having them separated does make painting a lot easier.  It is definitely the route I will take in the future.

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It is intended that this kit will be made available for sale as a 4mm/1ft model – albeit you will need to source the fittings/castings yourself.  I have prepared some fairly extensive instructions (see link below) and this includes the details of what is required and where to get it from.  I am waiting for a quote from the etching company to be able to work out the sensible cost for these; so an update post will follow when I list it on the Miscellany Models site.

Miscellany Models Rolling Stock 2 – Midland dia 530 Full Brake v2

In the meantime, here are a couple of additional views of the completed vehicle, awaiting its turn in the paintshop!

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Cornish Modelling and the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Don’t worry – this is not announcement of being turned to the dark side of modelling “Green With Rivets” (aka the GWR)!  Instead it is a reference to a week’s trip to the extreme west of Cornwall to support my wife who was appearing in a musical that was running for a week at the Minack Theatre – more of this later……

As I was expecting to have a degree of time hanging around whilst the Mrs was on stage, I took a little modelling with me – in this case, a Jones era double deck sheep van.  As can be seen in this George Washington Wilson photograph of Kyle – sheep traffic was an important source of traffic to the Highland Railway – the majority of the train in the platform are sheep vans and there is also a row of them in the foreground.

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Ever with the eye to efficiency, the Highland developed a double deck van to double the number of sheep that could be transported in one vehicle.  I believe that the Cambrian Railway and several railways in Ireland had similar vehicles, but otherwise these were characteristic of the Highland’s lines to the west coast and clearly I have to have a rake of them.  Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of effort in each one………….for example each side below is made up of five layers of laminate (and they are delicate too)!!

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The highland had several versions of these vans, this time I chose the second era of van, which has a single door and diagonal bracing; I do have plans for some of the other diagrams so this is a topic we will revisit at some point!   The starting point for this vehicle was an etched kit from the Lochgorm range (presently unavailable, but we are all hoping……) and as already hinted, it is not an easy one!  This is mostly due to the delicacy of the parts and the multi-layering of the etches that take up a lot of care to line up with each other.  It takes a fair few hours simply to get the sides made up and ready for assembly and then you still have the metal bracing to do!

There were a number of elements to the kit that did not work for me.  The various tabs you see in the above image are to help locate the various floors with each other but in practise they are not correctly located and just get in the way – so I whipped them off!  I also ditched the compensated suspension and instead used spring suspension instead with some trusty Bill Bedford sprung units.

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However, I did not spot the biggest problem until it was too late.  There is an error with the design of the kit ends where one of them is missing the top gap between slats.  The correct end is as per the right hand picture and had I have spotted this prior to the assembly of the ends, I would have been able to insert the additional gap with a piercing saw.  Having missed the problem until after I had built the van, I decided not to sweat the parts apart to cut in the slat.  It only shows to those that know it is wrong; the problem is that I am one of them so it does niggle!

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Contrary to the instructions,  I did not loose lay the floors in place and instead created a cage arrangement by hanging the floors from rods that were secured to the roof.  As can be seen below, this enables the roof and the floors to be released from the interior of the van.  As with all my vans/coaches, this is secured in place with some bolts and nuts, so that the roof can be clamped tightly in place (I hate the cracks of doom that I see on otherwise fine models where roofs are not properly secured!).  The detachable roof is necessary to both paint the vehicle but particularly populate it with the necessary sheep.  You would be startled by how many sheep are required to fill one of these – around 50 and it costs a fair amount to populate each van.  Thus, I have in mind casting some of my own in resin, although that is a story for another day.

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The problems with the kit did not finish with the problems noted to date.  The iron strapping was not quite right, the springs for the axleboxes are too big and the brake lever/shoe seemed excessively skinny.  Thus, these were all adjusted or replaced with alternatives.  All this effort and problems to solve meant that the van took a great deal longer to finish than the week that I had available – so it has taken until now to photograph it.  This is what it looks like and rather dainty and different I think it is too!

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And what of the Minack Theatre?  Well, for any that do not know it this theatre’s setting is simply breath-taking, being set in the cliff side only three miles short of Land’s End.  As you can see, vertigo is an issue for visitors and all of the set, props and costumes had to be carried down to the stage level – exhausting work that took us three hours!  One of other downsides of the theatre is that the seals, dolphins and basking sharks can sometimes be seen over the shoulders of the cast – which is distracting as you can imagine!

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Only my wife was on stage, my duties including the stage building and front of house duties but with 7 public performances in five days, plus rehearsals there wasn’t that much time for modelling!

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The musical being performed was Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which follows the revenge that its namesake extracts on a corrupt judge and his beadle (with quite significant amounts of collateral!) for wrongly arranging for him to be transported.  The most recent Hollywood version is pretty dark and definitely less watchable as a result – our version has just as death but with a great deal of humour too; especially as the leads had some pretty good comic timing to deliver it well.

The by-product of all these killings (ie bodies!) found its way into pies and one of the more jolly parts of the performance is where all the customers of these pies extol the virtues of their meaty dishes.  So with apologies for my rather crude phone videoing; enjoy……………(I did, although strangely I had no taste for pasties whilst I was down in Cornwall!)………..

 

 

 

Railway Cranes – Volume 3

I am pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of volume 3 of my father’s series on railway cranes. This will be available from mid September and on the 23/24 September it will be formally launched at Scaleforum with my father in attendance if you want to speak to him.  This will be on the Crecy book stand along with a selection of their books (including volume 1 if you haven’t got this, volume is out of print at present).

For this volume we move away from breakdown cranes to permanent way cranes. This is a big topic and has even less standardisation than breakdown cranes (and there ain’t much in that!). Thus the book is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all such cranes but rather more a review of the main types and development of them.

The book covers from the relatively early days (given the scarcity of material on early cranes, this is a slightly relative concept) upto the contemporary Kirov cranes.

If you can’t make it to Scaleforum, then it can be ordered via your preferred bookseller or direct from Crecy http://www.crecy.co.uk/railway-cranes-3.

The one book in the series that is still to be done is one of cranes mounted on engines. My father does not feel that he knows enough to write this one so if there are any that feel that they (or collectively) know sufficient, I know a publisher that would be interested………….. (PS this is not a mikey take, it would be great to finish the story!).

I Stand Corrected…….

my last blog-post, I mentioned that the only time I had seen steam engines earning their keep was in Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately father felt rather slighted by this comment.  He felt that the readers of a blog like this would consider him a very poor father if he had not insisted that his young son was dragged to see the dying days of steam on BR if he could.

To prove that he is not a poor father, here is a picture of a very little (I was 18 months old at the time) lad being lifted up by his mother to see steam roar past.  In this case, a rebuilt West Country No 34004, Yeovil appearing from bridge under the Basingstoke Canal at Deepcut on the 10 June 1967.

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Sorry, Dad, not accusing you of being a poor father I just don’t remember it!

Mind you, I do remember going to the Longmoor Military Railway in October 1969 and being plucked away from operating a crane with a promise that we would come back another day – that was cheating because it was the final day of operation ever!

Stags, Steam and Steel (Lots of Steel…….)

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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

 

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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