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Small and Wonderful Industrial and Narrow Gauge

The model railway exhibition of the South Downs Group of
The 7mm Narrow Gauge Association

Allbroke Estate Railway Part 2


Doug Meany

The Story continues.

You may remember the first part of the story, but if you are like me and suffer senior moments on a more than regular basis and don’t, here is a reminder.

The Allbroke Estate Railway was extended to serve all the needs of a large country estate as the use of road vehicles was severely restricted. 

Part 2 of this epic 4-part trilogy is a reminder for me, of some of the trials and tribulations of creating the layout.

Having offered to build the layout to display in the window of a local charity shop to advertise our forth-coming narrow gauge show (now called SWING) I had to think of how I could do it on a limited budget and using the parts and materials I had to hand

Taking the first board I could find, I commandeered the kitchen table and most of the kitchen worktop, which was to become its home for the next two months. This didn’t go down too well but I reminded the household authorities that “it is for charity’. By the end of the first six weeks they were all keen to help me finish it just so they could sit at the table to eat their meals, do homework and the things that couples do together on kitchen tables and worktops.

So how did I start this mammoth task?

I took the board, looked at it for some considerable time, scratched my head and came to the conclusion it was too small. Undaunted I tried placing a few points and short lengths of old track in various positions until I could make a sort of plan that might just work. With a bit of adjustment and using a lot of modellers licence it began to look good. Yes, that was it. All I had to do now was fix a frame under my piece of MDF, which was once the end of a computer desk, and fix the track in place. I prefer to use flexible track and was lucky enough to acquire a box of Peco O-16.5 Narrow Gauge at a ridiculously low price when a local toyshop was closing down and realised this track had been unsold for years. Using a couple of lengths as testers I found I could make a double track layout with curves down to about nine inch radius. So the plan I decided on was to have an area with five Peco Narrow Gauge points which would become a goods transfer area from road to rail (and vice versa), a mainline with a passing loop curving round and through the backscene at one end and a branch line following the mainline through the other end of the layout. The branch was (supposedly) to serve a quarry and a few farms on the Estate. Behind the backscene were the end of the passing loop and a siding from the main line and the end of the branch, which had 3 sidings.

The only problem with this plan was that it did not allow for the front overhang of the locos at the end of the board so I decided to extend the boards by 3inches at each end. This was a good move as it allowed a little more space between the points and the start of the curves as well. Once the track was fixed on the board I fitted a softwood frame under it making sure the H&M point motors would fit. I then wired the layout for DC control. Next, I built a control panel using a piece of 6mm MDF that was once part of a TV stand and some scraps of 50mm x 18mm softwood. I had a number of old switches from the dashboards of original Transit vans (don’t ask me how I came by them, but the Ford van factory was just along the road) so I used some of them and 6 old rotary switches (source unknown) to give full ‘cab control’. Fixing them to work together was a real nightmare and took several hours and much head scratching and swearing.

Before I started building anything I had measured the rear of the car to work out the maximum dimensions for a layout. When I started building the layout I completely forgot to take the size into account and built it with high sides and backscene, then added a lighting pelmet and a profiled front board to give it a moving picture effect.

So what did I do to get it to this stage?

Luckily I had recently had my kitchen floor replaced and the builders left me with a spare sheet of 4mm plywood. Just the thing for the sides, backscene, top and shelf of the layout. These were cut to size and fitted, with the backscene curving from near the back of the layout at one side to about halfway from front to back at the other side giving a sort of triangular area for the viewable part of the ground. I screwed and glued all parts together and after fixing a ‘stock’ shelf halfway up the rear of the backscene I painted the structure in satin black on sides and light grey at the back. The fiddle yards tend to be dark as the ‘stock shelf’ blocks some light so the grey helps to brighten it a little. I have since fitted a small battery operated lamp with a movement sensor under the shelf.

Time was running out as the layout was booked for just 2 weeks away. On to the scenery. The backscene and inner sides were painted in two halves; a blue emulsion at the top and green at the bottom. The green was blended towards the blue and shaped as distant hills. Pencil lines were marked on to represent field hedges and woods. Clouds showing an angry sky were painted in white and grey emulsion. I had some old ‘OO’ Peco country village backscene sheets somewhere in the attic so after frantic searching I found them and cut out the picture profile, discarding the blue sky section and pasted them to the backscene about 4 inches up from the baseboard. This was to help give the impression of some sort of perspective so that the ‘village’ seemed to be some distance back from the front of the layout with distant hills further back.

All the while I was urgently searching on Ebay for anything I could use on the scenic section.

To further the illusion of perspective I added a length of cardboard, the width of the layout and roughly 4.5 inches high. This was placed upright on the baseboard and spaced with polystyrene blocks one inch in front of the backscene. It was painted green and had arches cut out each end for the trains to pass through.

It was at last beginning to take shape but time was still running out. Things were beginning to arrive from Ebay so I was able to start planning some scenarios and details for the foreground. I had planned to use a Provender Store as the main building as I had seen the Bachmann model at the Ally Pally show and I found that Hattons were the cheapest. They delivered within 2 days.

So… I had this length of cardboard fitted but had no idea what to do with it. Panic. It was green. The wrong green. And it was just sitting there. Taking an odd piece of polystyrene I cut out the shape of an embankment and glued old carpet underlay to the top of it and stuck it to the front of the card but it was only half of the height of the card. It looked OK so I glued a length of stone-embossed plasticard in front of it and had the beginnings of a wall at the back of the layout. Great. More polystyrene was broken up and used on the narrow end of the scenic section to form a hill and cutting. I made a front panel and cut out the profile of the viewing area and painted it black. The layout is 4ft long by 2ft high but the viewing area is 3ft 6inches by one foot nine inches. This gives the effect of a picture frame and the box formed looked a bit like a television. This whole structure is very strong and rigid (if a bit heavy) but can? be carried by one person (just).

More items arrived from Ebay. Cast whitemetal figures and objects were selected for use, but they were all unpainted. Among the moans from the household about the lack of space left available I heard those three little words that couples say to each other. Can, I and Help. Well there was an offer I couldn’t refuse but what could they possibly do? I was on a roll. My artistic, carpentry, electrical engineering, civil engineering talents were beginning to flow. To share this burden was likely to spoil the whole project. Then!!!!! “ I could paint your people and some of those other little bits for you”. “YES my dear, Thank you my dear. Can I make you a cup of tea my saviour? I’ll get the paints out.” I will add my thanks here for the amount of time that Heidi spent doing a really good job of painting so many of the extra detailing parts that makes the model ‘live’. I must enquire if she has any interest in soldering and working with brass.

On the home stretch now. The polystyrene was carpeted, with PVA as a bond, and the underlay was ripped off to leave ‘long grass’ which was dry brush painted in shades of green acrylics. Mounting card was used on most areas of the baseboard to bring the ground up to railtop level. Thinner card was inserted between tracks with check rails to imitate tracks laid in concrete. I hope to scribe them at sometime to represent cobbles or paving slabs. This was painted in various shades of grey (about 50 I think) A low relief Nissen hut was built from an old large drinking chocolate tub, covered in the corrugated paper from a swiss roll wrapping, card and plasticard and placed against the backscene. Some lichen was glued to the green strip to represent a thickly wooded area (actually to try and hide it) and trees of sea moss were planted in front of it on the embankments and hills. Track not in the concrete was treated to a mix of plaster between the sleepers which was painted brown(ish) and sprinkled with weeds. Just as a finishing touch, although it cannot be seen when the layout is viewed head on I have made a low relief warehouse from card, which is stuck to the side panel. I like to have plenty of activity on layouts so have now acquired a large collection of figures and bits and pieces for detailing the layout and these are added when the layout is exhibited. It has had three outings now and has been well received. I don’t use my car to take it out as the layout is twice the maximum size that I can get in my car (which you may remember I measured carefully in the beginning). Instead I have to borrow a people carrier with the seats down.

Before the third outing which was to Totton, Nr Southampton in aid of the Air Ambulance, I changed the layout plan by connecting the branch line to the passing loop in the fiddle yard area and making a double track circuit which enables two trains to operate simultaneously and independently.

To those who are still awake I say “Thank you for reading this”. I repeat my thanks to Heidi and also to young Sam who has also given a great deal of help and encouragement and made suggestions of what rolling stock we desperately need to buy from almost anywhere that takes money. Thanks also to active members of the South Downs Group of The 7mm Narrow Gauge Association and Bognor Regis Model Railway Club for their help advice and encouragement without which this layout would probably have been built anyway.

I can’t wait to see what I write in the next instalment, which will probably be titled Allbroke Estate Railway. Part 3.

Douglas Meany

NOTE: This article can also be found at http://swing.model-railway.org.uk/allbroke_2.php