Sunday, January 31, 2016

Progress Report 63

Another milestone has been reached in the history of the blog! The number of hits to pages on my blog just passed 250 000! I just wanted to say thanks to all those who, over the years, have been following my meanderings and posting supportive comments.

When I started on the business of blogging developments on my railway (just under ten years ago), my intention was to provide snippets of information for others who might be thinking about starting out with building a railway in their garden. Over the years, I  have learned a great deal - but I have also come to realise how much more there is still to learn.

So, this progress report will be more of a retrospective than an account of developments since my last report. Having reached this particular milestone, I want to look back to see where and when I reached other milestones in the history of my railway.

Milestone 1 - Getting Started (July 2004 - March 2005)

  It probably took me about three years to plan my railway before I actually laid my hands on a spade and started digging. The dream of having a railway running in the garden had, however, been gestating for somewhere around 50 years (see Railway Modelling and Me).

I well remember the day I finally settled on the track plan, took a tape measure in hand and spent a good couple of hours knocking pegs into the ground defining the route of the railway. Here's how the garden looked before I started landscaping - basically, a sloping lawn with a small lawned terrace at the back of the garden. This corner is where Beeston Castle Station is presently situated.

And here's the first bit of earthwork (2 July 2004), marking out the loop which is where Peckforton Station is now located. If I had been more astute at the time, I should have held a ceremony for cutting the first sod.

By March 2005, the landscaping was finished - around 2 tonnes of soil had been barrowed from one side of the garden to the other and two large skips had been filled. Some of the retaining walls had been built and the layout for the railway was beginning to take shape.

If you compare this view with the first one above, you will see that the lawn area has levelled and the terrace cut back considerably. The lean-to porch had also been constructed (from scratch using recycled window frames and a door bought through the local free-ads paper).

Milestone 2 - Laying Track (April 2006)

By April 2006, track was starting to be laid. At that time, there was only one terminus (now Bickerton) .....

..... but the upper and lower loops were taking shape.

..... though work was brought to a halt while funds were raised to buy more track.

As can be seen in the immediate foreground, the track has not been laid at the railway's only through station at the time (now Bulkeley), though the loop on which Peckforton Station is now situated was laid (in the middle distance).


Milestone 3 - The Opening Ceremony - July 2006

By July, 2006, the trackwork was finished, the first trains were running, and so a few friends and neighbours were invited round to mark the occasion.

The range of rolling stock was severely restricted - basically the LGB Starter Set loco and coaches, plus a Bachmann Jackson Sharp coach and an Accucraft Lynton & Barnstaple van.

However, I was running trains - and the stream was working!

Milestone 4 - UK Rolling Stock - December 2007

By the winter of 2007, I was beginning to accumulate rolling stock which was more appropriate for a UK-based railway. My reason in choosing 45mm gauge had originally been taken because, at that time, there was very little ready to run UK based stock available and as I had a fairly time-consuming job, I wanted models which I could buy off the shelf and run. However, it had always been my intention to bash, kitbuild and scratchbuild UK based models as time permitted.

My first foray into this aspect was to construct some UK-looking open wagons and a brake van

These were all based on Hartland 4-wheel wagon chassis ......

...... with plasticard or (in the case of the guards' van) lollypop stick bodies.

The other great innovation at this time was the construction of a UK style locomotive - an 0-4-0 Peckett loco, from a Garden Railway Specialists (GRS) kit on an LGB ToyTrain motor block. (see How I constructed a Peckett loco from a GRS kit)


Milestone 5 - The railway is extended and gains an identity - August 2008

Until 2008, the railway comprised a terminus station, a circuit with a through station, and a reverse loop. During 2008, two more through stations were added and the line was extended down the side of the garden to another terminus - the Peckforton Light Railway was born. I had been trying to decide on a context for the railway for some time and whilst on a walk along the section of the Sandstone Trail from Beeston Castle to Burwardsley, it suddenly hit me - why not use this area as the location for the railway? A quick look at the map and some fieldwork exploring footpaths in the area, and the previously unnamed stations adopted 'real' locations (see The line gains an identity and A tour of the hypothetical railway).

The new main terminus became Beeston Market, beside the Crewe to Chester mainline railway sited in what used to be the goods yard for Beeston & Tarporley  mainline station

The narrow site on which the station would have had to be built suited the restricted space which I had available for it

The next station was located near the village of Beeston, not far from the entrance to Beeston Castle. It was therefore named Beeston Castle station, to avoid confusion with Beeston Market and also other Beestons around the country.

This gave me the excuse to model a (pale) representation of the castle behind the station, allowing sightseeing passengers easy access to the castle.

The station in the centre of the railway was now located at Peckforton, which gives its name to the hills and the railway.

The station was originally going to be little more than a halt, but it soon developed into a more significant arrangement, with a goods siding and a siding serving a timber yard.

The fourth station along the line was now located at Bulkeley, just behind the water mill (to the left in this picture). In my imagination, I could just see a station yard on this site with the railway winding its way through the fields beyond.

My station comprises an island platform and a single siding (much like most of the intermediate stations on the Southwold Railway and the Welshpool and Llanfair).

The final station was located at Bickerton, where it was felt the line would terminate. Again, there is a perfect site for the station leading to a cutting and an overbridge for the lane in the far distance.

Again, the facilities here are minimal at my station. A couple of platforms and a single siding (though there are storage sidings in the lean-to which could be pressed into service).

The branch to the Copper Mine would, in reality, be located between Bulkeley and Bickerton .......

...... but for convenience it is actually located on my model adjacent to Beeston Market. This enables trains of full skip wagons to be exchanged for empties, thereby providing realistic industrial traffic for the line.

And so, from 2008, the line started operating as a real railway (see A Typical Running Session). A timetable was devised (based on that for the Southwold Railway) and freight operations were managed through the use of a simple computer program (see Managing Freight)

Milestone 6 - My first scratchbuilt loco - April 2011

Having constructed a couple of loco bodies from GRS kits (Garden Railway Specialists), I decided that building a body from scratch would not be beyond my modest capabilities. I decided to start with a diesel outline as I figured this would basically comprise two cuboids - one for the cab and one for the bonnet. I wanted something which would be in keeping with the location and period of my railway which by now I had decided would be the early 1930s, to enable me to justify running stock from the Southwold and Leek and Manifold which closed in 1929 and 1934 respectively. I chose to base my model on a Fowler diesel mechanical loco. Being unable to find a prototype for a 3' gauge model, I used photos of standard gauge and 2' gauge locos to produce a compromise between the two.

As it turned out, construction was a little more complicated than I at first envisaged (see How I constructed a Fowler diesel loco). The upper surfaces of the cab and bonnet were curved, the radiator was a quite intricate and the LGB ToyTrain motor block needed to be modified to include a layshaft and fly-cranks.

 Despite (and maybe because of) these complications, I gained the confidence to construct increasingly more complex models. I have now gone on to scratchbuild a further three locomotives - all steam outline. I opted to construct locos which were not available commercially - two Southwold locos (see How I constructed a SR Sharpie and How I constructed a SR Manning Wardle),

and a Manning Wardle which ran on the Davington Light Railway (see How I constructed a Manning Wardle 0-6-0T).

Milestone 7 - Battery power and radio control - August 2012 - May 2013

 The next milestone was reached gradually, in easy stages over a six month period. By 2012, I had built up a large collection of UK inspired rolling stock and my loco roster had exceeded that needed for a full operating session. I was enjoying running my railway to timetable with realistic and purposeful freight operations with shunting at each station (eg see A typical running session)

 However, I had become increasingly frustrated with the drawbacks of track powered locomotives in the garden environment.The track needed to be kept scrupulously clean, I was constantly having to trace breakdowns in electrical continuity around the line and my diminutive 0-4-0 locos would falter over pointwork with plastic frogs or when they encountered uneven track. As the greatest joy I get from operating a railway is slow running and realistic shunting operations, I needed to find a solution. I started dabbling with battery power and radio control.

My first venture into this world was the construction of a Ford(ish) railmotor which was bashed from two Andel coach kits (see How I constructed a Railmotor).

After experimenting with various cheap and not particularly effective radio control systems, the mention on a forum, of a relatively new r/c system specifically designed for use with model railways turned out to be my epiphany - Deltang Radio Control entered my life and transformed the way I was able to operate my railway (eg see - An evaluation of Deltang radio control equipment).

With this compact transmitter I can control all of my locomotives (I now have twelve battery powered locos) and the quality of control which can be achieved is really impressive - eg.....

I have never regretted abandoning track power. I now use my railway much more frequently. As the fancy takes me, I can take a loco out into the garden, hook it up to some rolling stock and run a train with a minimum of track clearing. Sheer bliss!

Milestone 8 - Battery powered locos - May 2015

 After being won over to the delights and rewards of battery power and radio control, I set about a loco building and conversion programme so that by the Spring of 2015 I had a fleet of eleven locos powered by batteries and controlled by radio - the one remaining track powered loco in this video was converted to battery a month later.

 I had also ventured into 32mm gauge, building a short SM32 line to serve the Copper Mine workings. One of my twelve locos was therefore 32mm and another, a plate frame Simplex, was dual gauge.

 Milestone 8 - RC Trains is born - January 2016

Having been a great fan of Deltang Radio Control, I noticed that ready-made transmitters were no longer being offered for sale on the Deltang website. Having made a few transmitters from kits and experimented with Deltang equipment fairly extensively, I decided that I could offer a service to fellow modellers, making a range of transmitters and offering accessories to accompany the transmitters, drawing upon my experiences.
 After some deliberation, I decided to call my new venture RC Trains (Radio control for model trains). Although Deltang equipment is also used in model cars, boats and planes, I felt that I was only qualified to offer assistance to those who wanting install radio control into trains.

It is early days in this new venture and at present I am focusing on two versions of the Tx22 transmitter and associated accessories, but I plan to extend the range as I become more established.


 Over the past ten years, my life has changed. I have gone from being in full time employment in a fairly time consuming job to being a full time retiree. I started the railway as I knew I needed something which would occupy my time as I moved into retirement - I am not someone who is happy to sit still. What I love about garden railway modelling is that it not only focuses on my lifetime interest in railways, it enables me to explore new areas of interest. Through my hobby I have engaged in:
  • Surveying
  • Landscaping
  • Gardening
  • Water gardening
  • Plumbing
  • Bricklaying
  • Masonry
  • Metalwork
  • Working in plastics
  • Woodwork and carpentry
  • Electronics
  • Mechanics
  • Radio control
  • Electro-mechanics
  • Computer programming
  • Desktop publishing
  • Blogging
  • Website development and construction
  • Local history research
  • National history research
  • Photography
  • Videography
  • Audio editing and sound manipulation
  • Spray painting
  • and now - business management
I am also in the process of fulfilling another lifetime ambition of visiting all the passenger carrying narrow gauge railway sites (past and present) in the UK - see Narrow Gauge Railways blog

Now I am retired, I am increasingly wondering how on earth I managed to find time for a full time job. Such is life!