Small 00 Gauge Model Railways (part 1)

Photograph of a model railway

'Old Rail' by NobMouse, from Flickr

This model railway came about as a result of being disappointed with having nowhere to run my large collection of locomotives and stock. I did have a previous layout, but it was disappointing on so many levels that I carefully chiselled anything off it that could possibly be removed, and dumped the heavy yet too flexible MDF boards. It taught me one good lesson: it doesn’t matter how good the scenery looks, if the baseboard and track construction is massively lacking.

I mapped out a plan on a sheet of A4 how to cut up an 8’x4’ sheet of plywood to get all the components to build a strong yet light layout. I cannot cut wood straight to save my life, so I decided the best bet was to get the wood yard to do it for me. Having a sheet to give them explains a lot of explaining and keeps the wood yard staff happier that they know exactly what they are cutting. It also helps an entire 8’x4’ sheet fit on the back seat of my fancy-pants sports car.

I chose 4mm ply, exterior grade to keep weight down, and got some ¾”x¾” softwood batons to provide rigidity at corners and the like. I wanted the layout to be small as the only space I had was on top of an oak chest in my office that left a maximum footprint of 4’6”x20” and I decided a 12” high backscene on three sides would help give strength. With hindsight 6mm would have been easier to use, but I’ve experienced no sagging of the 4mm wood – the secret of strength comes from 3” cross bracing underneath in the same material and the integral backscene. Some of the buildings were also made from the same material and are all permanently attached, braced and screwed adding to rigidity.

I’m not the strongest of people, so the idea was that the entire thing could be slung under one arm and carried by me. It also has to sit across the back seat of my car for travel. Because of the construction it manages both these feats – just!

I have always preferred small backwater sidings to mainlines and stations, because I like grotty little tucked away places for the aesthetics. Also the size of my layout does not lend itself to running any large locos or coaches. The trackplan was designed several weeks before using salvaged points from the old layout, and a number of other track components that were bought cheaply second hand over the years.

For the space my demands were quite tall, and I was not prepared to compromise. I wanted a run around loop for ease of shunting, and I wanted the yard to serve at least four different industrial customers to provide a variety of stock. In my modelling bits box from years of modelling I had two Ratio oil depot kits, so that along with several Bachmann TTA tankers decided that an oil terminal would be included.

I also have a soft spot for 16t MCO mineral wagons, so I included a scrapyard too. This would be built from the entire contents of my two scrap boxes in time. It’s amazing just how many bits of old Airfix kits had accumulated! Two sidings into a warehouse area provided a third customer, and another siding disappearing into a building provided a fourth as well as a second hidden track to ‘the big hole’ that would ultimately lead to a fiddle yard if I ever built one. The idea was to make it so that all the headshunts were long enough that it could be run without a fiddle yard if need be.

The track is therefore quite intense, but hopefully doesn’t look too crowded. My inspiration came from parts of Trafford Park, Metal Box in Westhoughton (where my Father used to work in the early 1980s/late 1970s. The name, if you are interested, is homage to far too much time spent playing the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on my partner’s PS2.

My Father helped me with the woodwork. I may be the wrong side of 30, but I’m not that great with woodworking. He is, however, the King of DIY (aren’t all Dads?) and has a workshop filled with everything you could ever need. Given the workshop’s usual output has been 4” scale steam traction engines, a little woodworking posed no conceivable issues and was done in two days. Having the kit of parts from the wood yard was a massive help and it all came together really quickly.

I painted it all in household brown emulsion. It was water based, easy to use, and also later would provide the material to make mud and other groundcover. It was certainly the most useful £10.99 spent, and is quite a nice colour (it had the weird name of “Cappuccino haze” but mud brown would be a better description). The backscene was painted blue from a tin of duck egg blue emulsion. With hindsight painting some clouds on would have been a good enhancement, but isn’t hindsight wonderful?

The trackplan I had devised on the carpet of my office was transcribed and, as is usual, didn’t seem to quite work on the real thing as well as it had done on the floor. A few hasty modifications were made though, and clearances were tested and re-tested using a couple of locos and some wagons. The passing loop would allow three MCO mineral wagons to be run around, or two TTA tankers. There was also room for two headshunts that could be wired to isolating switches so the layout can be run on DC with two locomotives.

I wired the electrics up as I went, with lots of testing. The electrics were the most expensive thing, requiring twelve motors. I bought some Peco PL-10 and some PL-10E motors. Whilst the PL-10s were harder to fit, because of having to cut square holes through the board (and one motor had to have a hole cut out of the cross-member underneath to accommodate it) they have been the most trouble free. The PL-10Es on the other hand suffered from the thinness of the plywood meaning all the screws poked through the baseboard and had to be trimmed. It was also much harder to get them lined up so they flicked the points without jamming. All the switches were old Hornby Dublo D1, D2 and G3 ones from my Father’s loft. They work really well, but the screw terminals can be difficult to wire up en masse.

Half the points were electrofrog and the other half were insulfrog, by necessity of what I already had. The only difficult one was the electrofrog 3-way point, but a bit of Google-fu turned up wiring diagrams. I used the G3 switches (normally intended for colour light signals) to wire up the polarity changes necessary for the frogs. As long as they are switched with the switch that flicks the blades, they work fine. I did not bother with the same for the other electrofrogs, because they worked okay for me without changing polarity. The only troublesome piece of track was actually the insulfrog diamond crossing, as locos seem to short briefly on it at low speed, however I can live with that.

With the entire track laid and tested, my barren brown wasteland began to acquire the fun bits. I enjoy ballasting, and it quickly makes a layout come together. The buildings made from offcuts of plywood also came together at this point, utilising coverings from leftover Superquick papers I found in my modelling box. Everything was built from leftover stuff I had to hand, and nothing other than the motors and wire was bought new. I inherited a stack of unbuilt Superquick and Builder Plus kits from my Father-in-law’s loft and these were kit-bashed into all the other buildings. I have to say that the Superquick terminal station is by far the best for kit bashing in this way, as was the Builder Plus engine shed. I also inherited an assortment of plastic lamps, crossing gates and Hornby buffers that were used too.

In my bits box I had a Superquick Market house, partially built. I had the wacky idea of lopping off the base and mounting it on girders so that it was partially over one of the tracks in the warehouse complex. Grafted into the other buildings it looks okay in my mind. It’s actually held on by string in addition to PVA. I was worried that it might be too prone to falling off otherwise. The strings pass through the card structure, down through the insides of the plastruct tubes that it sits on and are tied under the baseboard. When tensed it takes the strain off any PVA joints and has so far worked well.

The only other major building that isn’t made of wood is the office building in the scrapyard. This was kit-bashed from the two wings of the Superquick terminal station. I used a chimney from the same kit to disguise where the roof joins are which were necessary because of the shapes of the donor parts of the kit. All other buildings are flat to the backscene to try and create a better illusion of size in the small space available. The half relief building in the centre at the back was salvaged from a previous layout, and was made from scrap balsa wood and Superquick papers. It actually works better on this layout than on the layout it was originally constructed for. It actually only survived the dismantling process because it came cleanly off – I never expected it to survive.

Continue to Part 2

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