Modelling Projects Blog

My past, present and future modelling projects. What has been, what might be, and what probably won’t

Big Kettles


While my model railway interests centre firmly in the diesel era, there is still room for the occasional kettle on the layout. The first one, A1 Pacific “Tornado” actually belongs to the post-privatisation era fleet. The prototype was only built in 2009, used for charter trains all over the country. Though I’m not certain it ever visited Cornwall, it was a performer on the Torbay Express at one point, and I think LNER-style apple green goes well with the WR chocolate and cream coaches used on that train.

Dapol 9F 92226

9F 2-10-0 No 92226 belongs firmly to the transition era fleet. Built in Swindon in 1960, it was part of the final batch for the Western Region that also included “Evening Star”, the last steam locomotive built for British Railways. It had an extremely short life, withdrawn after just five years with the end of steam on the WR. In the early 1960s, Plymouth Laira had a small allocation of these locomotives. As far as I can tell they were all used on the main line east of Plymouth and didn’t run into Cornwall, but modeller’s licence applies. They were (or are, since several are preserved) magnificent locomotives, and that’s enough of an excuse for running one.

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Black Country in N

4x5 Black Country

Another of those layout plans I’d love to build. This one’s an attempt to fit as much layout as possible in a small space, in this case 4’6″ by 3’6″. Although not an accurate model of a real-life location, it’s inspired by the point just south of Wolverhampton station where the viaduct carrying the high level electrified main line passes Wolverhampton steel terminal.

I’ve designed it using Kato Unitrack for the visible portions and Peco Settrack for the hidden parts. The upper level is simply a stretch of double-track main line fed by a six-road hidden staging yard. The idea is that the four bi-directional centre roads each hold a four or five coach multiple unit, which can run through the scenic section in either direction. Stock like Virgin and Cross-Country Voyagers, and London Midland 350s would be typical stock. The two longer outside roads can each take one longer train, such as a locomotive-hauled freight.

The lower-level tracks (in red) represent the steel terminal, fed by a two-road fiddle yard beneath the main line loops. The siding tucked under the loops will be appear to run into a low-relief shed. The steel terminal handles a mix of wagon types; typically modern covered BYAs, Cargowaggons, and older SPAs and bogie bolsters. The small size of the layout rules out any physical connection between the upper and lower levels, the junction is assumed to be somewhere off stage.

All that’ mmissing is a tramway; the street-running part of the West Midlands Metro runs very close to Wolverhampton Steel Terminal. Perhaps a third, lower level?

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New Additions

Dapol 45XX and OOVs

A few additions to the rolling stock of as-yet unnamed layout. First, a rake of Farish OOV china clay wagons, made as a special commission for Kernow Models. They sell them both in post-1974 “Clayhood” form, and as illustrated here with the earlier flat tarpaulins, appropriate for steam or diesel-hydraulic haulage. It’s a shame the Dapol 45XX doesn’t run as well as it looks, and I suspect these wagons will be spending most of their time behind a class 22 diesel instead.

Farish Bullied Brake Second

Second, one of the new Farish Bulleid coaches. It’s a little-known fact during the early 1960s the Western Region’s coaching stock fleet including vehicles from all of the “Big Four” pre-nationalisation companies as surplus stock was redistributed across the regions to make the best use of their remaining useful life. I’ve seen photos of a Penzance to Paddington express with a single green-liveried Bulleid brake second in an otherwise uniform set of maroon Mk1s, which is why I bought this coach.  Although some rivet-counters have pointed out that it’s not quite the right diagram for the coaches transferred to the WR from the SR Eastern Division in 1962…

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When I Were A Lad

When I were a lad, we didn't have Brio. We had to make our own...

When I were a lad, we didn’t have Brio wooden trains. We had to make our own….

You may be able to guess what it’s supposed to be a representation of. This one may have had trouble negotiating tight curves, and probably isn’t quite as accurate as the recent Dapol model.

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Dapol and CJM Westerns

Dapol’s blue N gauge “Westerns” have arrived! Just like the limited edition Desert Sand “Western Enterprise” it’s an excellent model of an iconic locomotive. Along with the earlier Dapol class 22s and Hymeks, and the Farish Warship, all the major BR Western Region diesel-hydraulics are now available in N gauge, which ought to spawn a few 60s/70s WR layouts. The only missing loco is the short-lived D600 class, and I’m not sure a five-strong class that spend much of their short lives confined to Cornwall would be popular enough to warrant a ready-to-run model.

The Dapol loco is the one in the foreground. The locomotive behind hauling the milk tankers is an old CJM respray of a Poole-era Farish model. It actually stands up remarkably well considering how old it is. It’s nowhere near as detailed, and with innacurate bogies due to re-use of the class 50 chassis, but I think it’s still good enough to run on the same layout as the new Dapol model. A tribute to Chris Marchant’s skill as a modeller.

Given how many of my older Farish locos have died due to split years, it’s a pleasant surprise to find it still runs.

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Dapol Hydraulics

Dapol class 22

The layout has some new motive power in the shape of a couple of newly-released Dapol diesel-hydraulics. The little class 22 is the first of these.

The class 22s were one of those unsuccessful Modernisation Plan designs. Introduced in 1958 for secondary services, they were victims of the mass cull of non-standard designs at the end of the 1960s. The last was withdrawn in 1972, and despite an unsuccessful preservation attempt none of the locomotives have survived. British N has reached the stage where all the more popular and iconic classes of locomotives have been “done”, so manufacturers are looking at some of the more obscure prototypes.

Dapol Western Enterprise

The “Western” is altogether more iconic, making the national news when the last ones were withdrawn in 1977, and several survive in preservation. Graham Farish introduced the first N-gauge model back in the 1980s, and although it’s still in the catalogue their model is increasingly long in the tooth, so a modern state-of-the-art model is more than welcome.

“Western Enterprise” in its unique Desert Sand livery is a special commision for Osborns Models, a bit of a coup for them since these models were the first Westerns delivered from the factory, some weeks in advance of the more regular blue and maroon versions.

Dapol have come up with an interesting way of coping with the lower valance on the “Western” with regards to fitting a coupler while still allowing the locomotive to negotiate the sort of curves many modellers are forced to use. The model comes with a complete spare bogie, so you have the option of either having a coupler at both ends, or a coupler at one end only with a more realistic-looking front-end at the other. Both bogie and valance are push-fit meaning it takes just a few seconds to switch the locomotive between single and double-ended mode.

Both are very welcome models for anyone with an interest in 1960s Western Region in N, and it’s good to see the mundane in the shape of the 22 alongside the iconic.

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Cambrian on a Door

Another of those layout designs I’m unlikely to build. This one’s based on the Cambrian lines in the 1970s, designed to fit on a standard 6’6″ x 2’6″ hollow-core door, using Kato Unitrack.

The station and yard on the lower side of the layout is based on Machynlleth, the operational hub of the system both in the 1970s and today. The upper half represents any one of the many scenic sections of the line, with the section between Dovey Junction where the line hugs the Dovey estuary with a series of reverse curves a prime candidate.

There is no fiddle yard, and this is by design. The goods sidings on the outside of the oval, and the motive power depot on the inside serve the function of the fiddle yard. It will work provided you don’t clutter the layout with too much rolling stock. I’d suggest three or four two-car DMUs, one or two class 24 or 25 locomotives and perhaps 20 wagons should give enough variety without making things too crowded.

Speaking of stock, most of the signature items for the line are available off-the-shelf. Graham Farish make the class 24 locomotives used on freight as well as the class 101 and 108 DMUs which dominated passenger services. Dapol make the distinctive BR gunpowder vans which made the daily coast line freight such a recognisable train. Likewise, it’s easy to model the Aberystwyth-York mail, the one remaining loco-hauled weekday passenger working with Farish Mk1 coaches and Dapol parcels vans (Former blue spot fish vans converted to parcels use were common on this train).

This is a plan that, at heart, is really a glorified train-set oval. But it should still make a fair representation of a real place, and would make an ideal beginner’s project.

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Failed Saving Throw vs. Shiny

Graham Farish class 350

No matter how much we railway modellers try to stick to a single location and era, there’s alway the odd model that ends up breaking your own self-imposed rules on what should and shouldn’t run on a layout. This beastie is an example.

No, London Midland class 350s do not run in Cornwall, nor are they ever likely to. But I think it’s an attractive model in an eye-catching livery. I do own Cross-Country and Virgin Trains Voyagers, plus a London Midland 153 railcar, all of which do or at least did run in Cornwall, but also shared tracks with 350s in the West Midlands.

If in doubt, then Rule One (“It’s My Train Set”) applies.

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Six by Four

A while ago on one of the N-gauge mailing lists I posted the question “What’s the smallest space for layout that can handle full-length trains?”. Most of the suggestions that came back were variations on the traditional “long and narrow” shelf-type layout with a scenic area at the front and storage roads at the back, linked by tight-radius 180deg curves hidden in tunnels.

The smallest such schemes came to was about 10′ x 2′, but it left me wondering whether something like the 6′ x 4′ of the traditional 00-scale train-set oval might be a better bet. With a central operating well, it’s actually got a smaller footprint than a 10×2. So I sketched the above plan, and it does look viable.

Compromises are inevitable for a minimum-space design, and this scheme’s biggest compromise is the use of Peco Settrack 9″ radius points for the hidden storage sidings. I have, however, avoided troublesome reverse curves by putting all the pointwork on the approach curves.

Capacity is another compromise, and the plan has just six fiddle yard roads. Yes, you could squeeze in a couple more, but only at the expense of length, and one of the ideas behind this plan the ability to run longer trains in a very limited space. There’s a bit of flexibility by making four of the six roads bi-directional, which means the same trains can appear at different times in both directions, enabling protopypical timetable operation of sorts. The longest of the bi-directional roads can cope with a full-length HST (8 coaches plus two power cars), and the two shortest should still take a loco plus seven coaches, enough for a pre-2002 Cross-Country set. The two outer single-direction tracks could both accommodate a rather longer freight.

The scenic section down the front is based on a favourite location of mine, Lostwithiel in Cornwall, with some rearrangement of key features to fit, and a lot of selective compression. The small yard used for marshalling clay trains matches the existing track plan in everything bar length, and it ought to be possible to reproduce often-complex the real-life shunting moves I observed in the 80s and 90s. I’ve moved the trailing crossover to the opposite end of the station to keep it on the visible part of the layout, and retained the up siding (which in reality was lifted many years ago). For a 70s-themed model one could relocate the creamery there.

I’m now being tempted to build this thing…

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BLS in the 1990s

A trip down the rabbit hole of YouTube lead me to this gem. This was filmed around the time of my earlier visits to Switerland, before I started taking a serious interest in modelling the Lötchberg line and didn’t take detailed notes of the train formations. On later trips just after the turn of the century things were less varied, with EWiv push-pull sets on all but a handful of international through services. But back in 1990 it was a real mix; just look the very first train, with it’s mix of Swiss, Italian and Belgian coaching stock, and a rare BLS livery EWi restaurant car.

It’s notable just how few trains are uniform rakes; proof that you don’t need a full rake of anything to make up a realistic train. In particular the EWiv coaches were still being delivered, and the BLS didn’t have enough of them to make up complete rakes, hence the sets make up from a mix of EWiv and older EWi and EWii stock.

The other thing of note is the Re4/4Iv locomotives, which were operating over the Lötchberg at the time. Only four were ever built, and the class never went into series production. All four were eventually sold to the Südostbahn.

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