One Man's Railway by Allen Jackson
A model railway often sets out as an entity within a room, and it usually describes an orbit in its early form. The notion of a ‘train set’ where a locomotive, some rolling stock and often an oval of track, is one familiar to many.
The railway I built takes the model railway to operate between separate buildings and hence have a start point and a destination much as the real ones do.
There is something very satisfying about a train disappearing from view as it sets out on a journey and something even more satisfying about it reaching its destination safely, particularly if it’s your own train. This is the romance of railways, the tearful farewells and the expectations of a journey.
Although the term ‘Garden’ is used, by which I also mean ‘Yard’ in a US context, the layout I built is strictly speaking not a garden railway in terms of G scale or SM32 than runs among the plants and herbs. I have done that in Britain and it usually precludes all year round running unless you are in Southern California or Florida.
No, this railway is O Gauge that runs between three sheds or light buildings with the railway protected from the elements in between and the operators similarly protected in their cosy buildings. We run all year round and as the sheds are at least 2 metres (six foot six and a bit inches) apart we ran in lockdown as the rules allowed.
The location chosen for the model, Brymbo, is a place in North Wales, the nearest city being Chester over the border in England. This enabled the use of three of the four main railway companies that existed in the 1930s, namely, The Great Western, London and North Eastern, and the London Midland and Scottish. This didn’t happen often in Britain but sometimes, like Union Station in Washington D.C., companies came and worked together, almost.
North Wales had mineral riches of coal, limestone, and lead. These riches clustered the companies around the area looking to expand their operations. A steelworks was established at Brymbo which survived until 1990.
This meant lots of traffic and work for the railways and a hint of that is attempted on the model.
The model locations are fictitious as the real thing could not be accommodated in a relatively small area, but the flavour of the area has been kept with typical buildings of the real location.
The railway has working signals which are LED lit, interlocked with the point motors. This circuitry has been home made using relays and diodes. There are two signal boxes/interlocking towers, one at each station. There are no semaphore signals at the fiddle yard, which represents the rest of the railway network, only indicator LEDs.
Trains are moved around the layout using a system developed in the 1870s and still in use in parts of Britain and on preserved lines. Operators communicate with each other using block apparatus from the 12 inches to the foot railway and the equipment is mostly in period. We have telephones too which are wireless landline phones used in intercom mode. You allocate each phone a number and that is the number printed on the other phones to dial that phone.
The railway is run to a sequence of 50 moves, and this takes the three operators about 2½ hours to complete. The only freight wagon shunting is at Crowndale Halt which only sees 18 of the sequence moves. This is to ensure something is running almost all the time and everyone is mostly fully occupied. A former signalman on the real thing declared ‘it was like putting in a shift only busier.’
CCTV cameras assist the operators to hand over or take over trains from an operator as the hand over points are all outside the shed buildings. There are also cameras at the fiddle yard to keep an eye on what is in Watery Yard and on summer days they can look outside and be outside but in winter the lure of the gas heater is too much. Some of the CCTV cameras have lighting but the cameras are all the infra-red LED type.
The locomotive stock is a mixture of kit-built, bought in and proprietary. It has to be this way unless you don’t want a life outside trains. I built seven of the locos from kits and an advanced one like the Martin Finney Collett 2251 Class took about six months, off and on.
The goods rolling stock is nearly all kit built but the coaches are all bought in. There is about as much work in a corridor coach as a small locomotive.
The signals are scratch built using etched components as is the point rodding which is the lever worked way of operating points/turnouts from a signal box/tower. In reality all points/turnouts are electrically operated, except for the fiddle yard inside shed, and they are interlocked with the signals where needed. Signals are not interlocked with the block instruments as that process was only begun on the main lines in 1935 and not on branch lines by then. This was as a result of the accident at Welwyn Garden City north of London Kings Cross station.
The buildings are scratch built except the Brymbo East Junction tower/signal box which is a Churchward Models etched kit. Both signal boxes have interior lights and detail including single line apparatus and BEJ has two.
The scenery is nothing patent with teased dyed carpet felt, static grass, sawdust, plaster and miniature heather as some trees. Some of the areas under CCTV surveillance are scenicked but this is a work in progress. The back scenes are photographs by Gaugemaster.
Tea, coffee and water is provided at the beginning of a run on Tuesdays and similarly at the end with a light lunch and a lie down in a darkened room as an option or more usually a trains related video. They keep coming back.
Allen Jackson's book One Man's Railway: 0 Gauge in the Garden is available for purchase now.