Part two of the article from 2009 – original article photos by Ian Manderson
The layout itself is constructed out of 9mm ply around an integral sub frame of two plywood box girders. The frontage is 3 boards, 5 foot in length, varying in width from 2 foot to 3 foot. Each is free standing on its own legs enabling work to take place independently and not having to piggyback boards on each other when erecting and taking down the layout at shows. I see the set up and strip down at shows as an accident waiting to happen and my aim is to minimise the risk. The end boards which take the tracks back round to the fiddle yard are piggybacked but are not as critical, and the solid structure of the front and the fiddleyard provide a stable platform to hang these boards from.
As I mentioned before as a one man band, building an exhibition layout this size is a fair old task and I’ve had quite a few collaborators working with me on the project, for starters on the track. The track plan was first drawn using Templot. Now I’m no IT dummy but then again neither am I a geek/ whiz kid and Templot was a difficult journey into the unknown but well worth it as I was able to produce, by using grids, an exact facsimile of the track layout and reproduce the long sweeping curve of the prototype. Not only that but it incorporates the same curve into the pointwork so you have no three penny bit track at the station throat. The track plan was printed out in 24 A3 sheets and stuck to the boards using photo mount ready to lay the track directly on to. Here’s the first acknowledgement, OK I assembled the points on the board but behind me I had Ian Worthington and Martin Edmondson filing and assembling Vees and filing switchblades on a just in time basis, and as I laid the sleepers, threaded the chairs and put in the stock rails they had the next components ready for me to lay! Points are not conventionally built as such; I used the P4 Track Co. chairs on ply sleepers. Every 5th sleeper I drilled a pilot hole and put in a half inch brass panel pin. This provides an anchor point for the rail and enables a bit of adjustment, something you can’t do if you fix the chairs down straight away. Also the protruding pin underneath the board provides a brilliantly hidden track feed! Why not use rivets? Well the brass pins are easier to put in and as I say provide a feed, and in EM are not as obtrusive. For the plain track I used C & L – I have to admit with some misgivings as its definitely not the best on the market, but I had acquired a shed load cheap in my misguided days when I thought it was OK. The main problem is that some wheels clout some chairs occasionally, which points to inconsistencies in the moulding process. This is the very reason I used the P4 Track Co chairs on the pointwork. I tried Tortoise point motors but just did not get on with them, so as a replacement used the far cheaper SEEP PM4 motors as I’d had no problems at all with them with my last two show layouts. However all things in life change and since the change of hands of SEEP, I now remain to be convinced, as they do not seem to be of the same quality.
Control is conventional DC. The layout was originally built for DCC and started off in that guise – I followed what was then convention wisdom in wiring the layout for DCC ie two wires, , resulting in a disaster as the whole lot failed due to the draw on the number of locos parked up. In hindsight I should have sectionalised all the feeds but the salient facts remained with DCC; my operating crew didnt like it, and more importantly is was neither reliable or fast enough to get trains round the front to view and keep the public entertained at shows. There are those who think that sending a train out front every 5 minutes or so can be adequately compensated by being out front and showing them how clever they are at operating a laptop, but at the end of the day the vast majority of the paying public have paid to watch things move, and with DC thats what we do, not only that we do it reliably, and well.
With the exception of the down side waiting shelter I was fortunate in obtaining plans of all the buildings on site from the NRO at Kew. However beware if you go down that route – I quickly found that there had been some alterations to the original architects plan as soon as I compared these to the photos available – however they provide a good starting point. The waiting shelter I scaled up using the main station drawings and photographs – which was then presented to Phil Taylor as he’d foolhardily volunteered to build something! Buildings and platforms are all built from plasticard mounted onto various backings to ensure rigidity – I could write a separate article on each of these so wont go into detail here. The painting of the buildings I will describe, as I’m often asked the question how do I get that sufficiently soot blackened look without resorting to just painting them black! I first put a base colour on – my favoured base being GWR stone No.1. This I hasten to add is not out of any nod of approval for the “Gas Works” but out of the fact I had some “on stock” (i.e. I got given it) and thought it had to be useful for something. Then using a palette (in this case usually a piece of plasticard) with various shades of brown on get a little on my finger so its almost dry and then proceed to rub it in (not so much a dry brush as finger) to the base coat. After a few coats of gradually darker browns its builds up the pigment until the final coat which is matt black cut with some blue to reproduce the soot – and rubbed in using the same technique. It’s just like being a kid again really!
The Cotton warehouse was an exercise in mega modelling – I kept putting of the inevitable but had to bit the bullet eventually and made a former out of 16th inch ply. Onto this using Evostick solvent free (all the fun has gone out of using glue these days) I laid a base layer of 30 thou plasticard with the windows cut out, then on top of this a 40thou sheet with the reveals cut out – same with the ends. SE Finecast brick sheet was then Mek’ed on this. A word of warning with this material – and I’ve found out this the hard way, these sheets are vac moulded and therefore each brick forms an air pocket when stuck down and obviously contain MEK fumes as it can’t vent. Eventually it warps – big style – and some extra bracing was required inside the shell of the building. The windows are some etches I had Geoff Taylor do for me using the original plans for the artwork!. Painting was done by an overall coat of a brick red the approximate shade of Accrington brick, then worked on using artist’s watercolour pencils to fetch out the colours of individual bricks.
The scenery is conventionally done using ply formers and polystyrene covered with plasterers scrim and then a coat of plaster mixed with PVA and powder paints to produce an earthy looking base coat – the very even embankment sides were done by cutting some laminate floor fibre underlay and plastering over that produce the man made / civil engineered regular look. Grass is a mix of carpet underlay and various flocks, electrostaticaly deposited using the expensive but worth it Noch Grassmaster machine! The flocks were imported from trips into mainland Europe, generally speaking they are much cheaper over there. I’m just waiting for a Customs Officer to stop me and ask what I’m carrying so I can reply “3 bags of grass officer” and watch their face! For the rough grass on the embankments I’ve gone back to using carpet underlay (I have about 10 layouts worth in the garage) which is teased out, bleached and glued down in clumps using PVA. When dry the grass is trimmed back to height using sharp scissors and a diluted spray of green (LNE Darlington for the pedants) is wafted across to take a little of the bleached long grass look out of it. The bare earth paths are done using just that – but in this case not local, but imported from Somerset – Its some fine ground up dried earth off my wellies after returning from the somewhat muddy 2007 Glastonbury Festival. The Who were headlining, so any train at 5:15 will have an extra poignancy for me, particularly so as Roger Daltrey is a well known railway modeller!
The layout made its official debut at the Rochdale show in February 2009. Whilst it was not quite an unmitigated disaster it nearly was. The fiddle yard which is a joint effort originally intended to be shared between several layouts belonging to Rochdale Group members decided over the Friday evening to Saturday morning to expand and warp the trackwork in a fashion where it went from EM to OO to P4 within the space of 2 inches. For two hours whilst the show was first open we endeavoured to run a few trains whist behind the scenes frantic work took place replacing and repairing pointwork. As a result this nightmare over the intervening months, I’ve built my own heavy duty fiddleyard out on 4×1 and 9mm ply with extra expansion joints cut in the track.
At the end of the day I have to ask myself the question would I build a prototype again. The answer is, at least on this scale, a categorical no. It’s been a modelling challenge which has been by extremes both enjoyable and disheartening; on at least two occasions I’ve felt like scrapping it. As alluded to earlier it’s far too big for one person and suffers from the fact I haven’t anywhere to put it up at home to test it. Something smaller that I can put up at home maybe, but for now I know exactly what my next project is,P4, the West Highlands of Scotland and 1970/ 71, a complete opposite to 1960’s Lancashire 😉