Playing trains

While the station boards were inside for wiring up (of which more later) I took the opportunity to play trains … er … I mean check that some prototypical formations looked the part. It’s all very makeshift and the lighting is terrible but with the garage full of stuff waiting for a new shed to arrive this is the longest bit of track I have at the moment ! This is the west end of the station, the point motors visible in some of the pics will be hidden under the St Couans Rd bridge.

Most of these are still works in progress in terms of weathering, couplings, fitting passengers etc. All are prototypical for the Port Road.

2P 40623 of Stranraer (Hornby) with an LMS articulated Inter-District set, an epic kit bash from 4 Airfix non-corridors. Most of these sets seem to have ended up on the ScR but this one probably has rather too many door ventilator hoods still intact for the late 50s.


‘Kashmir’ (Bachmann) with the 1963 Easter Tour. Mostly Hornby Railroad but with a Bachmann RMB.


Generic 1950s 3 coach set. Bachmann’s gorgeous Compound with two Bachmann portholes and a Hornby horsebox and BTK.


Half a boat train (is better than …), Hornby Clan on the Euston – Stranraer sleeper with Bachmann Mk1s. The full rake includes another two coaches plus (on the up service) two parcels vans. It doesn’t fit in the platform but neither did the real one !


Two Newcastle -Stranraer boat trains – one in crimson and cream entirely RTR from Bachmann Thompsons and Hornby Gresleys, and one which will eventually be maroon from a mixture of Hornby, Comet sides on Lima bodies on Coopercraft chassis and Comet sides on old Bachman Thompsons. This will eventually get another Thompson if I ever get round to scratchbuilding one of the round cornered window ones.


Classic late Port Road – 80023 of Dumfries with a Mk1 CK and a porthole BSK. All Bachmann with a couple of Parkside and Ratio vans bringing up the rear.


More classic late Port Road – two coaches and two Black Fives, the pilot added to get a foreign engine and crew off an unbalanced working back home. Comet coaches, Hornby and DJH (on Hornby chassis) locos.


Bridge 162, Station Road


The road bridge at the Dumfries end of the layout was one of two features which dictated where everything else would go, the other being the relationship between the West Junction and any baseboard joints needed to get past the door. The bridge sits at the very end of the single line and had to be as far into the corner of the room as possible whilst still leaving room for the line to curve away on a 3rd radius (19″) curve, which itself sat inside the equally sharp descending curve of the west spiral.


The real bridge was a 35 foot span or thereabouts, with about 12′ headroom. The model is nearer 20 feet which squeezes in a couple of extra inches before the station throat pointwork starts and also just happens to be the span of a Peco N gauge bridge girder. The Peco girders are bow topped whereas the real ones are straight, but that’s hidden once the L girders supporting the handrails are added. I toyed briefly with the idea of sawing four of them in half lengthways and re-gluing to make parallel web girders but thought better of it.

I don’t have a drawing of this bridge but I do have one of the very similar Portpatrick harbour branch “Bridge over Turnpike Road near Peg 8“, a grainy oblique view from Britain From Above and some screen grabs from Dan MacLachlan’s wonderful cine film of the route ( shot from the rear brake van window of a Stranraer – Dumfries train. The western abutment was also there to be photographed but was heavily altered and overgrown. Conventional wisdom with a waybeamed bridge like this is that the waybeams are supported underneath by a girder or sit within a trough girder, and the bridge ‘deck’ is merely a lightweight structure to stop permanent way men falling down the gaps. However, the Portpatrick bridge was different with a substantial timber deck supported from the bottom flanges of the girders and the chairs screwed directly to the deck. I made an assumption that this was because of lighter loads on the harbour branch, and that even if Bridge 162 had started out like this it would be unlikely to be in the same condition 100 years later with Stanier 4-6-0s pounding over it.


The model therefore has conventional waybeams (not easy to see on the photo because it’s all still white styrene). These are based on the cine film still and might acquire some girder detail later. I’m still not entirely sure whether what I’ve built is correct but it looks the part. The rest of the drawing came in quite useful for setting out the curved retaining walls. The rails are carried in 4 bolt chairs but only because I couldn’t find any 3 bolt ones.


The track over the real bridge was slightly curved, the model more so giving a very short transition curve between the 19″ radius curve and the 60″ radius points of the station throat. It’s all a bit tight but there is just enough room to get a 40′ locking bar and the down home signal in with enough room for a loco to stand at it before it all disappears into the back scene !

The bridge deck is permanently fixed to the ply track bed either side but the abutments and wing walls were built as a separate structure to be slotted in afterwards. The substructure is mostly 80 thou styrene with Slaters stone overlaid, the curved wing walls are laminated from thinner sheet and the embossed pattern is close enough for me to the greywacke and sandstone of the real one.


The abutment walls only go halfway back at which point the road is blocked off. The west spiral down to the fiddleyard is just beyond the bridge so the idea is to put a mirror there to reflect the other half of the bridge and the continuation of the road. The wing walls and embankment on the other side will be visible if looking over the top of the embankment so they will have to be modelled too, but that can wait until the backscene is in place and I can see exactly how much room I’ve got to work with. No point creating unnecessary work !

This week I have mostly been burning my fingers…

Not a fan of wiring, it’s right up there with carpentry and wheel quartering in the ‘evil but necessary’ jobs list.

Portwilliam is all code 100 Insulfrog so powering it up was easy, most of the wiring is simply taking power and point motors across baseboard joints. But Newton Stewart is code 75 Electrofrog so I’ve had to re-learn how to do how to do proper wiring. There will normally only be one operator (me) so there only need be one controller, but I’ll probaby have one for the scenic level and one for the fiddle dungeon if only to have a spare. The fiddle yard is code 100 and the half a dozen points fitted so far in it are insulfrog, but I’ll probably switch that over to electrofrog too (there is only a double loop down there so far).


Apart from 200 yards of red and black wire from Peter’s Spares most of the switches, connectors and tag strips used so far were recovered from the ill-fated Kentigerns and stored until now. The mahogany frame for the section switches control box was also recovered from a display case, it hinges up out of the way to avoid damage when not in use. The graph paper diagram is temporary.


All the pointwork in the main circuit is laid, although most will be replaced as Peco expands its bullhead range. The passing loop is also laid but the rest of the layout will have to wait until Peco’s supply returns to normal.

Most of the feeds for the tracks laid so far are in and being soldered up, it might even be working by Christmas although a shortage of accessory switches for frogs is going to be a problem. Some jury rigging may be required.


Meanwhile, the ‘country board’ on the fourth side of the circuit has acquired something of a north eastern appearance…


Meanwhile, back at Portwilliam…

Portwilliam has a new fiddle yard too, although not on quite the same scale as Newton Stewart. Portwilliam lives in my study, which is the box room above the stairs in your standard 2.4 bedroomed 1960s semi, and readers with long memories may remember an earlier foam board and card confection which balanced precariously on top of the banister before common sense prevailed. It was replaced with a bog standard ‘two legs/fan of sidings’ affair which stood on the landing, whilst this was much safer for the stock it did restrict access to the adjacent bedrooms. It was later cut down to a sector plate so that it was only blocking one door, and it hinged down quite neatly when not in use meaning that it could be left attached if not actually up in the operating position most of the time. The blocked door wasn’t an issue when the occupant of that room was 6 years old and not much taller than the layout, but he’s nearly 12 now and not quite so careful at ducking under it.


So it’s back on the bannister, but this time in a more secure fashion. The sector plate is bolted to a framework which in turn is clamped firmly to the bannister. The design was a bit organic but now that the final position has been fixed, the clamps will be replaced with a couple of bolts screwing into the banister rail itself just as soon as I can find some discreet threaded inserts to screw them into. There are some 6mm ones in the garage but they’re a bit agricultural for this application.  


At the front of the sector plate a ply tongue keeps it engaged with the support. The bridge between the sector plate and the edge of the layout is a sandwich of thin ply and foamboard, with some stout walls made from laminations of mounting board. 4mm bolts at both end act both to fix it in position and keep it aligned. The scenery extended partway onto the old fiddle yard, this bit has been separated and forms the new end of the layout.


The harbour branch had been altered some time ago to drop down at 1 in 35 behind the signalbox in preparation for its eventual move into the garage as part of the Greater Portwilliam scheme (check back in about 2030 for a progress report on that), and had its own single track shelf on the edge of the old fiddleyard. Of course it now has to climb back up to meet the sector plate but the total drop and climb back up is only about 10mm. One rail on each sector plate road is connected to a common return via the pivot, the other is connected via a sliding bolt so the road is only live when aligned. Basic stuff but it’s a long drop off one side ! There is just enough room to get into the gap between the bridging section and the bookshelves to get at the bolt. The sector plate will take a loco and two coaches or 8 wagons or so, which is plenty for now.

Fiddling about – 3

The various lifting bits across the door are more complicated than they otherwise might be because, apart from having to take three tracks across the door on three different levels (two of which aren’t actually level), they also need to accommodate the floozie cupboard. This is a tall cupboard in what would otherwise be the field behind the West signalbox, just big enough to take the stepladder and various tools too long to fit in the gardening shed or under the layout. And of course the floozie, which Jane says I must be keeping in there otherwise why would I spend so much time in the garage ? So instead of one lifting section on each line there are actually two. Imagine three Tower Bridges all superimposed on each other.

Door to the right, floozie cupboard in the centre. Upper scenic boards folded out of the way.

There were no suitable hinges available commercially as far as I could see, so I made my own from aluminium angle. It’s a bit chunky, 10x10mm would have done, but this was lockdown and it was in stock. So a production line was set up and several sets of 4mm bolts and wing nuts later, I had six sets of hinges.

What passes for engineering round here

A pad of 1.6mm copperclad is screwed down either side to provide firm anchorage for the track and somewhere to solder power feeds to.

I’m not sure using the hinges to transmit power is quite the done thing but it works!

Whilst the hinges manage track alignment at their end of each lifting section, where they meet in the middle things are a little more prone to misalignment. Latches made from the last few inches of the aluminium hold the ends together, and rail alignment is via 2mm OD / 1mm ID brass tube soldered to the outside of each rail with a 1mm brass pin through each one. So far the only issue has been finding the inevitable dropped pins !

Screw and washer track fixings are temporary.

The hidden lifting sections stack neatly against each other, held up by magnetic cupboard door catches and a stronger latch on the bottom one to hold it all securely.

Brushes etc hanging on the back of the the door, upper scenic boards folded and stored (propped up for this photo).

Fiddling about – 2

The east (Dumfries) end of the yard is a straightforward ladder starting immediately past the shed door. This leaves a wedge-shaped bit of board which will accommodate some kickback sidings and the main electrical distribution board for the layout. Because all the scenic boards hinge or lift up, rather than carrying power between boards using jumpers like any sensible set up, each board will have a single umbilical plugged in somewhere at the back. For now I’ve only laid two loops through the fiddle yard but each of these will take two full length trains with crossovers halfway round. Just the bits across the door to do now !

East end throat with the station boards lifted and folded back. Only the road with the 40 on it and the one adjacent are pinned down, the rest are just laid out to see what fits.
Heading clockwise from the last pic, the structure gauging 40 and its not quite 12 wheeled diner sit on the halfway crossovers. Station boards in their lowered position in the foreground, with supports for the next boards spanning the whole fiddle yard.
A bit further clockwise, 8 Mk 1s look lost in the west end of the loops, scenic boards hinged out of the way (and propped with the spirit level !). Tool storage on the left is the well for the sector plate. The west throat (seen in part 1) is behind us.


Fiddling about (1)

Newton Stewart’s fiddleyard is the whole lower deck of the layout but until now it has mostly been used as a dump for tools, materials, random garage junk and gardening stuff (!). It also doubles as a workbench. About time it gained some track then. The plan is to lay the two throats first but with only two lines through the yard itself for now, then fill in the other roads as and when. That way the fiddleyard will have at least minimal functionality for track laying and testing of the scenic level, without sapping funds and enthusiasm. All track on the lower level is code 100 (because it’s bomb-proof) with small radius Streamline points and minimum 3rd radius curves. There are some very tight clearances in places so gauging is being tested as I go along using a Bachmann Class 40 and a Dapol 12 wheel dining car body on temporary bogies (it will eventually become a sleeping car). If that fits anything will fit.

This is the west (Stranraer) end of the yard, normally hidden below Newton Stewart’s engine shed. The throat itself is on a slight gradient (bad planning !), the three lines on the left of shot in the top pic fan out to form the four primary loops, the four on the right will fan out into six slightly shorter secondary loops. On this side of the layout these six loops will be on a long (7 foot) sector plate which can be slid out to load trains onto the layout but will be locked in place during normal running. It will be removed altogether when not in use to leave me with a narrow work bench under this side of the layout (the grey work surface in the second pic).


The scenic boards on this side are hinged off the garage wall or off some beefy 3/4″ vertical risers (old bookshelves – this layout is not portable!) to allow access to the fiddle yard boards underneath. On the other side the station boards over the east (Dumfries end) throat needed a different approach, the station boards are too wide (and too complex a shape) and the eastbound spiral is still too shallow as it passes behind the station to allow hinging off the wall or off risers.

Many alternatives were considered and abandoned, eventually it dawned on me that rather than hinging, it would be better if the whole station just lifted up vertically 18″ or so. But how ? A bit of Googling suggested that gas struts might be an answer, but they were quite expensive and I didn’t want to accidentally finish up with something strong enough to hold the dining room table up and need to bus in a few mates every time I needed to push it back down. So I gave up and finished repainting an old table instead.

This particular table is a bit of a family heirloom, it’s a very simple home made collapsible side table about 18″ square with folding legs. A thing of beauty it is not, it’s brutally functional and was never intended as ‘best’, in fact it was last used as a saw bench. It is immensely strong though, think colliery joiner’s shop rather than cabinet making. It needed painting orange to go in my son’s room (don’t ask – it’s to do with Lego or Pokemon or something) and having folding scissors legs it’s a pain in the neck to paint as everything is in the way.

Hmm. Folding scissors legs. A bit like a deck chair. Or that vertically folding clothes airer we used to have. Vertically folding …

So, after a lot of messing about with bits of stripwood, 6mm bolts and wing nuts this is what I finished up with – a sort of clothes airer / deckchair / nutcracker hybrid. It does actually work (to no-ones’ surprise more than my own) but it needs some sort of latch adding as at the moment it’s easy to lift up but quite hazardous to lower, and not particularly safe to work under. 5mm more headroom under the horizontal rails would have been an idea too…


So then, Newton Stewart …

Roughly three years after Clan Macleod first circumnavigated the garage, Newton Stewart is finally a reality, albeit one currently consisting largely of bare plywood and track fastened down with drawing pins.

About five years ago I reduced several pages of Peco point templates to 25%, took them and load of squared paper away on holiday and drew up this.
NS Working Drawing

It has subsequently formed the basis for all future planning and was a lot faster than learning Templot (which I still haven’t done). I managed some messing about in Anyrail but my preferred layout planning tool is still a pile of Peco point templates, a box of flexi-track and some crayons.

A look at the 1909 25″ map of Newton Stewart showed that a few compromises were going to be necessary – to do this dead scale would result in a model 28 feet long not including any leads in and out of fiddle yards. Extending the garage wasn’t an option – our entire garden isn’t 28 feet long – so it’s lot shorter and a lot more curved than it ought to be. The fall back, had it not fitted at all, would either have been Dunragit, Creetown or a Rushby-esqe ‘less is more’ model of the Ken Viaduct and that bit of the eastern shore of Loch Ken where the line crosses and re-crosses small inlets on a low embankment.

But it fits, Just. The key to all this is selective compression of course. Three fundamentals underpinned all this – the branch platform must take five Mk 1s otherwise the Easter Tours (there were a couple) won’t fit; the relationship between the station building, footbridge and west end of the island platform must be to dead scale or it doesn’t work, and nothing tighter 3rd radius (19″) curves anywher and preferably a lot larger on the visible bits. In the end the Whithorn branch curves away around 4th radius (21″) curves and the Dumfries end vanishes into the backscene as 3rd radius (19″).

The five coach long branch platform sets the position of everything else. The sharp curve at the Dumfries end determines the position of Bridge 163 which can’t be on too sharp a curve as it is a waybeamed bridge and curved waybeams look silly. This in turn limits the length of headshunt for the down side bay to a Black Five +57′ BG – fine for dropping off the odd horsebox and I can live with that.

The other major compromise is the MPD, which is shorter and more curved than the original. The shed at Newton Stewart was long enough for two Jumbos end to end, so having a large straight thing in the middle of a tightly curved thing has left the configuration of the shed throat rather different to the prototype, even with the shed reduced to 80% of scale (it still fits two Jumbos end to end). But all the sidings are in (just), the relationship between the shed, turntable and coaling stage is more or less correct and the water tank can go in its proper place without any attending loco sticking out onto the branch. The bothy is a bit too near the shed and I would have liked a bit more room in front of the shed to stand locos on but it’s just not feasible.

But the major hold up was designing the fiddle yard. In theory it was straightforward – gradients down to a lower level and then loops all the way round. And a cassette to alllow the Whithorn branch trains to be transferred up to that layout once it eventually takes up residence in the garage as well. And a bit of a sector plate to avoid having to reach under Newton Stewart to adjust stock. And a door in the way. Not that straightforward then.

If the fiddle yard is the datum level, westbound trains leave Newton Stewart at 170mm above datum and head anti-clockwise for Stranraer, eastbound trains leave clockwise. Both lines losing height until, under the goods yard, they cross at at 100mm above datum. They then continue to spiral down until they reach the fiddle yard level almost directly below where they started, each line then splitting into 8 loops ranging in length from about 10 feet to about 20ish.

Apart from the Paddy the longest daylight trains will be the Newcastle – Stranraer trains (loco +6 or 7) so the longest fiddle yard roads will hold two full length trains.

Mock up top
Mock up bottom

How exactly I’m going to operate it remains to be seen, a planning session with a scale drawing and paper trains is required. Ruling minimum curve is 3rd radius (19″) with small Streamline points (about 24″ radius).
Half way crossover
The gradients are a steady 1 in 60 so clearly a Clan with 9 on is going to struggle ! Some experimentation with DCC Concepts Powerbase and the draggiest coaches I could find proved successful – Powerbase is essentially a combination of steel base plates below the track and neodium magnets under the loco, think retro-fitted Magnadhesion. In practice a bit of 2mm piano wire up the middle of the 4 ft proved more effective than the plates being a crucial couple of mm nearer the magnets. Test results were encouraging – fitted with two magnets Clan MacLeod started 9 on the gradient without slipping  and Kashmir managed its 5 coach Easter special. Half the test train was made up of the awful Your Model Railway £1 coaches from a few years ago so once my Bachmann Mk1s are fine tuned in line with Mr Franks’ advice there should be no issues. And if there are I can aways fpllow his other bot of advice and just add another Black 5 to the front !

For most of their run the higher bits of the spirals are behind the backscene (east end) or under the embankment behind Newton Stewart West box (west end). The crossover under the goods yard has just enough headroom to clear the baseboard below the goods shed but the Dumfries end of the station took some thinking about. The real line ran on an embankment and trains on the adjacent spiral will only have dropped about 30-40mm at that point. In other words, if you look along Station Road you’ll see the Stranraer-bound train under Bridge 163 ! A solution involving a mirror under the bridge and some careful management of sightlines beckons.
All the Newton Stewart boards lift to allow access underneath, although some of them are going to be easier to move than others. Newton Stewart occupies three sides of the garage, the remaining side is currently a blank space about 8′ x 2′ and a number of options are possible. It sits between the Dumfries end of the station and the dive down to the fiddle yard, so somewhere east of Newton Stewart would be the obvious choice. Options are the Cree Viaduct, Carty Siding, Graddoch Viaduct (the one no-one has heard of hidden in the trees near Palnure), Creetown station (with a lot of compromise) or the Ken viaduct which just fits! However, first to appear will be Goathland, because Mrs P wants somewhere to run her A4s and I did promise…


Easter Monday 1963

Or, what I’ve been doing for the last three years !

The buildings are blank cardboard placeholders, the fiddle yard isn’t connected and the track is only held down by drawing pins (and half of it is still just paper templates), but 57 years after the real event and only 14 years into my Ten Year Project, 45588 Kashmir pulls into Newton Stewart with the 1963 Easter Tour.

It only just fits. The island platform can take 5 Mk1s and the goods loop holds roughly loco +25. The four parallel sidings in the goods yard are almost scale length but the approach at the Dumfries end is very compressed as is the loco shed. The Northern Irishman will hang off the platforms at both ends but then so did the real one!

loco shed Easter 2020

The loco shed itself has been reduced to about 90% of full size but it still holds two Jumbos end to end and they still fit through the (currently drawn on in biro) door ! Done properly to scale it overpowered the whole scene.

Now I’ve demonstrated that it’s all feasible I can remove the Newton Stewart boards and get back to setting up the fiddle yard boards underneath properly !

(And yes, I know the distant signal arm on the wall is upside down !)

More distractions …

These are pretty aren’t they ? And a little more justifiable than the Peckett. The Helijan 47 has been kicking around for a while, still not decided what to number it as yet.

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I haven’t been entirely distracted by retail therapy though, I did also manage this:

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Quarter size track plan on the back wall , far left hand corner of the garage is the top right hand corner of the plan. The two overgrown spur brackets on the right represent the proposed position for the current Portwilliam, assuming they’ll actually take the weight !