We hope to answer any question here for you.
If you don't see it here then Email us and we will try to answer.
Q. What is EM Gauge?
A. EM Gauge is 18.2mm or 4mm to the 1ft or 1:76.2 An attempt to make the OO layout gauge more realistic. At 18.2mm it still falls short of the 18.83 ideal, but was felt to be close enough.
Q. Why is the Layout LNWR?
A. LNWR or London and North Western Railways was where Ken's father was a Driver and he grew up in and around the Neasden & Willesden area of LNWR and was where his early passion for Railways started. If you look closely near the allotments you might see him as a boy, (however this was in the 40's/50's not the 20's :-)
Q. What era is the Layout Modelled?
For our purposes, we have decided that the LNWR made most use of the station (they did use the “other half” of the real Broad Street) and that the Midland and the Great Northern Railways also operate some services. We have set the period of the layout at about 1925, give or take a year or two. This enables us to run much stock still in the old liveries, along with examples in the new LMS livery.
Q. How long did it take to make the basic Layout before it was ready to exhibit?
A. Most of what is on view was built by Ken and Tony in about 12 months, although many others have helped and their assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
Q. Is the Station modelled on a real station?
A. North London Railway terminus at Broad Street.
Q. What is are the Buildings made of?
A. Most of the buildings are made from sheets of plastic and individual crafted parts.
Q. How long did the Station Roof take to make?
A. About 20 hours. This included fabricating the Roof from foam board and printing wood planks onto card, soldering steel rails and washers to make the iron girder work and masking tape to form the Lead roof flashing. And no its not a kit :-)
Q. Is all the Rolling Stock hand made?
A. Yes, Brass and White Metal
Entertaining Publications for you Enjoyment
Original Published Write up for BRM written by Tony Gee
The seeds of this layout were sown many years ago.
This project is the second time Ken & I have collaborated. The first was some 18 years ago, when we built & exhibited a layout called Valleyfields.
Work & family commitments then caused our (model rail) ways to part, although I have been involved in several layouts in the intervening period, including Thompson’s End, which appeared in this magazine a few years ago.
In the last few years, both our circumstances have changed and we found ourselves in a position to be able to work together again. The first thoughts were to resurrect Valleyfields. It still exists, although it was never really finished. An old cliché but more true of Valleyfields than of many another layout!
We set it up and dusted it off. Years of muck were scraped off the rails and it still ran, just. We looked at all the things we would do differently now, with a few more years experience. A start was made on a new version, to incorporate the good features of the original one and sort out the faults.
At this stage, we met up at EXPO EM at Bletchley. May 2003 it was, our annual pilgrimage to the spiritual home of EM modelling. I have been there with several layouts over the years and I was deciding if it would be possible to design and build a new layout for next year’s show. My usual, 5 points and three sidings terminus, plenty of time to put something like that together.
We started talking and after a bit of proper pipe dreaming we decided that the new Valleyfields would include a mainline terminus and that the two of us would build it for EXPO EM 2004. A quick chat with the exhibition manager and we had a 32’ space allocated before we could blink. It was one of those moments of madness we railway folk suffer from every once in a while. The exhibition manager seemed to have faith in us and Ken works at a rate that makes me think he has a fast forward button somewhere but it was still a huge undertaking.
We both felt that although the standard of modelling on exhibition layouts is probably higher than it ever has been but that the standard of the operation has not improved in line with the appearance. Some of my thoughts have appeared in print before, so I won’t repeat them here but we felt that we wanted to try and make intensive and interesting operation one of the main features of Narrow Road. We enjoy the social side of exhibiting (as well getting a chance to show off a little!). Having said that, first and foremost, an exhibition is a show and that is what the paying public deserve to see.
So, the plans for intensive operation were built into all the designs and control systems from the start. In addition we decided to include a few little gimmicks and special features to help engage the audience. We still had plenty of rolling stock from the original Valleyfields. Much was a little basic compared to a lot of what can be seen today, so we decided to concentrate on building a layout with lots of action, using the old stock for the time being and replacing and upgrading the stock at our leisure.
A couple of weeks later, we had found the track plan of the North London Railway terminus at Broad Street. This was really two separate stations side by side, linked by a single crossover. We realised that using one half of it, with an added goods yard and loco shed would give us all we wanted. Looking at photographs of the station in its early years also gave us the inspiration for the roof and platforms. Each one is different in its top surface treatment and the pits down the full length allowed inspection and servicing work without the need to remove stock to carriage sidings.
By now, we knew what space we had to fill and a couple of photographs and part of a track plan. With a project like this, with a lot of work to be done in a short while, we had to make some choices. Normally, a fair amount of time would be spent planning things out before work started. Our “plan”, such as it was, consisted of two stages. Track laying and wiring to be completed by Christmas leaving us 5 months to make it look nice. We didn’t even keep to such a simple plan as that, so a complicated one would have been a waste.
Much of what we did was not new to us, other than in the sheer size of the project. Mostly we did what we have done before, just more of it. We did have a few new ideas about the control systems. Ken and his son Chris have a lot of experience of fairly advanced electrical engineering and it seemed a shame not to put some of it to use.
Once the baseboards were built, the track plan was laid out using lengths of flexible track and a list of points was drawn up. More than 30 (that’s more than all my previous layouts put together!).
These are fairly conventional. 4’ x 2’ with 1/2” plywood tops and sides. The sides were made deep enough for the legs to be hinged to fold up inside. There are six scenic sections and two for the fiddle yard.
For this, we decided on a traverser. The deck is hinged and about 7’9” long. It has two kitchen draw runners and is supported by two more 4’ x 2’ frames. This time the frames are open topped, to save weight.
There are 7 tracks, three full length and the remaining four are shorter because we incorporated points in the outer tracks. This was necessary as the distance the maximum travel of the draw runners gave would have otherwise only allowed five tracks and we wanted more than that. Longer draw runners would have meant that the deck either protruded beyond the front edge of the layout or fell off the back edge of the frame, not recommended! The fiddle yard was not completed until a few weeks before the first show. Now is a good time to start and acknowledge the help that came our way when the chips were down. In this case, my cousin David, who came to stay for a weekend and broke the back of the fiddle yard construction. It is surprising what a difference it makes when somebody knows which end of a saw to hold!
The fiddle yard has a fixed frame of four legs and cross braces. The remaining boards have a hinged leg at one end and attach to the fiddle yard “piggy-back” style. A spare leg allows us to set the layout up without the fiddle yard, if required. The hinged legs each have adjustable feet. It is bad enough finding a floor level enough for an eight foot layout, never mind 32’.
We did initially encase the under baseboard area with removable hardboard panels. These were mainly to protect the wiring during transport. The jury is out on the hardboard. It does its job but is also a pain in the neck if any alterations or adjustments are required. It is one of the pending jobs to decide whether or not to improve the arrangements for removing the panels or to omit them all together.
The only other thing to say about the baseboards is that the two station platform boards sit ½” lower than the rest. This saved us from cutting slots in them for the platform pits. The surface on these boards was built up using strip wood. Much easier than cutting four straight, parallel sided slots each 8’ long.
Most of the points were built for the layout, utilising P4 plans. Not as daft as it sounds as the difference between the two gauges is less than a pencil line thickness either side and by the time plans have been subjected to photocopying they are never very exact at the best of times.
The geometry of the P4 plans seems to be better than those available through the EMGS, which seem to have remained unchanged since the dawn of time (unless I just haven’t seen updated ones). Standard plans suited the whole layout, which was lucky as we didn’t have time to start altering or creating new ones.
Recent layouts have been built using ply sleepers and individual chairs. Very satisfying and realistic but with so many to do, we decided on the flexible track and points from PCB sleepers with rails soldered on. This probably saved about an hour per point (2 hours instead of 3 for a standard turnout) which over 30+ points represented a couple of weeks modelling time. I daren’t work out how much time was saved on the plain track.
SMP track was used, as we have a number of locomotives with old Romford wheels. Remember the cast ones, without the nickel silver rim? They will be replaced one day, honest! C & L track probably scores over SMP in appearance but those wheels bump their way down the chairs. I know others have found ways around this, such as Chris Matthewman attacking the chairs on the inside. Again, saving time was the priority.
Towards the end of the point building stage, I was gradually grinding to a halt. Doing the same job for weeks on end does that to me! So, when we got to the loco shed yard, we used some points salvaged from a layout scrapped 20 years ago. They are not too bad but it was a mistake, as they are not as well made as the new ones and one or two locomotives struggle just a little through them.
We did use C & L chairs in the platforms as we couldn’t see an easier way. The chairs are glue to black plasticard strips laid longitudinally. A touch with a file allows the big flanges to pass.
The whole plan never was marked out on the boards. We knew what the station end would be like and started laying the track there first. We marked out the main lines and the entrances to the goods yard and loco shed and worked down the boards one at a time, from the platform ends onwards. Most of the surface was covered in cork. We used the squares sold by DIY stores for floor tiles. It comes flat, which makes it easier (and therefore quicker) to use than the rolls usually sold for model railway use.
This approach allowed us to lay most of the main lines before we had finalised the plans for the goods yard and loco shed. The cork was down and the entry tracks were in place but we didn’t let the lack of a final plan hold us up.
The tie bars are of the moving sleeper variety, with two holes drilled in them to take dropper wires from the ends of the blades. By leaving the moving part of the tie bar short and adding small pieces of sleeper strip outside the running lines, to line up with the rest of the sleeper ends, an illusion is created that hides the nature of the operation.
A third hole is drilled in the centre of the tie bar and a slot cut in the cork. A brass wire is bent at both ends. One end comes up through the hole in the tie bar and the other end is bent up to pass through the operating crank.
The points are operated by PECO motors on their bases. A hole is drilled in the baseboard and a 1/16th brass tube glued in. This hole is alongside and about 5mm away from the upturned wire from the tie bar. Another length of wire has its end bent over and hammered flat. A hole is drilled through the flat so the main wire goes through the tube and the upturned wire from the tie bar passes through the hole. Under the baseboard the wire is bent over and attached to the operating arm of the PECO base, using a tube bent at 90° and a hole drilled through it, to make a sliding adjustable link.
The whole linkage, from the tie bar to the motor, is basically bent bits of wire. One advantage of this system is that there are no soldered joints. In the past, I have found that any soldered joints in this type of arrangement are a potential source of trouble. We have had one failure, due to over enthusiastic hammering of the flat leaving the metal so thin it sheared off. A new wire solved that one in 5 minutes. Apart from that we have had no problems, once the throw of the tie bar was properly adjusted.
Ballasting was carried out using several different methods. Firstly, to see which was quickest and secondly, to stave off severe boredom. Laying the ballast dry and dropping diluted PVA (plus a drop of washing up liquid) is probably the least boring but it is not one of the more exciting jobs, however you approach it.
So, by November, we had laid the main lines, the goods yard and most of the loco shed. We had even started on some scenic work, as the platforms and pits were put in place to make sure that our ideas for that part of the layout worked. One or two buildings had been started as well.
Narrow Road, or at least part of it, then made a very early public appearance. The organisers of Wakefield Exhibition had a layout drop out and were looking to fill a space at short notice. I took my “Church Warsop” layout but as the space to fill was bigger than that, we put in a spurt on the end station board (Ken seemed to produce the main walls for the station in about half a day!) and took along that board and some other bits as a static display. I have to say that we had a really excellent reaction from the good folk at Wakefield. I ended up operating the layout single handed and Ken talked about “Narrow Road” non stop for the whole show and came away without a voice!
We even had some approaches from some exhibition managers. These were very pleasant surprises, given that we only had one part finished board and some half finished buildings.
It certainly gave us a boost at a time when we were wondering if we had taken on too much.
Best laid plans etc.
Now comes the part where things don’t go quite the way we hoped!
The idea of having the layout running by Christmas went by the wayside. Once thoughts about control panels, switching etc. started to formulate, some innovative ideas seemed to offer some possibilities.
These took rather longer to develop, test and produce than we would have liked. Chris, who carried out much of the work, kept getting distracted by working for people who wanted to pay him money, so those jobs had to take priority. Ken still helps him and although officially semi retired, he still has other commitments (like completely rebuilding and decorating his living room, including building a new fireplace – good modelling time out of the window!) and it was totally beyond me!
So, the control systems were not finalised until April. In the meantime, work continued at a great pace on the scenic side.
A load of old cobbles
Both Ken and I enjoy the scenic side of modelling. We work closely together and to a similar standard, so hopefully it is not clear to anybody looking at the layout where one person’s work begins and the other’s starts.
We should have bought shares in one of the various manufacturers of embossed and plain plastic card as we used what seems like acres of the stuff. We must have used nearly 50 sheets of brick alone.
The signal box, loco shed and goods warehouse are my work, while Ken produced the “coal hole” the station, including the overall roof and platforms, the bridge and most of the backscene. There is nothing new or original about the building construction, other than the size of the station, which uses mdf for the main walls and foamboard for much of the roof (along with some fancy ironwork inside, soldered up by Ken). Not many modellers get to build 4’ long structures.
The signal box is based on photographs and drawings in a book on LNWR signalling. Standard sizes and window arrangements make it easy to build a LNWR box to fit any location. I had hoped to use some commercial etchings for the windows but I made the mistake of making the openings first and the etchings available were too tall to fit in them. The LNWR used either 4’6” or 6’ high and the etched ones were approximately 5’, a size I could not find in any of the drawings in the book. The box is tall, to allow the signalmen to see over the bridge. It is one of only a couple of buildings to be finished with full interior details, even down to a kettle on the stove. The roof is one piece of 40thou plasticard, scribed with a scraperboard knife to represent tiles and then scored along the centre line and bent to form the two sides of the roof.
The warehouse is plastic card, well braced and with a foamboard interior. It is open at the back to allow access to the tracks and has a false wall inside to hide the opening. We plan to detail the interior with columns, girders and lots of boxes, sacks etc before it is fixed in position. The roof is temporary until we can find out what a real one should look like. These are such tall buildings; nobody seems to have pictures taken from above!
The goods yard is based loosely on a photograph of a yard in Manchester, seen in a magazine. The cobbles are scribed into plaster, using a scraper board knife. This seemed like a good idea but three weeks and 15000 cobbles (and a very sore wrist!) later, I wasn’t so sure.
The lettering on the warehouse was produced by printing directly onto plastic card, using my computer inkjet printer. The sheet was painted white, as the printer doesn’t have any white ink. The printer does the black bits. A bit of experimentation on paper, to get the size right and the sheet was run through the printer and came out looking quite good. I cannot recommend this for everybody as I am not sure if it is good for the printer. I used an EPSON PHOTO 790, which doesn’t bend the paper (card) much. I had just obtained a new printer, so I was prepared to take a chance on wrecking the old one! It still works and I am busy trying to think of other opportunities to use it. Printing advertisements directly onto brick walls is one possibility. The “cast” plate near the warehouse entrance was also computer printed (complete with a deliberate spelling mistake for anybody who takes the trouble to read it!), as are the names on the station seats, the running in boards, the control panels and a few other bits and pieces.
A couple of weeks before EXPO EM we still had a big hole along the back of the platform and where the milk and parcels depot stands. Another thank you, this time to Michael Roffe, who took lots of plasticard away and came back, what seemed like a couple of days later with the retaining wall and the depot.
Most of the painting of brickwork was carried out by Ken’s wife, Val. Acrylic paints were used, including some designed as washes, to be wiped off. These are not very durable and tend to rub off easily but again, time factors came into play. The quick drying properties were very useful, as the goods shed was painted about half an hour before it went into the car on the way to the first show.
Val also contributed the windows for the goods warehouse and other buildings and did some other scenic work as well (such as painting figures and some of the allotments near the loco shed).
The one thing we didn’t have to produce was lots of greenery! There are the allotments, based on Ken’s memories of his childhood. His father and grandfather were railwaymen. Grandfather was a driver on the Great Central at Neasden and his father worked with him and then moved to Willesden. Father had an allotment alongside Neasden shed. The small boy looking across at the shed is Ken, thus recreating a scene from his memories. Perhaps I should add that he was there in the 1940s not the 1920s!
We have a number of road vehicles, horse drawn and internal combustion. These are from various sources, plastic or whitemetal kits. There may be a few discrepancies in period and livery, but nothing we can’t live with. Time for another thank you, to Rod Bellis. He presented us with a box of built and painted kits, mostly Merit. These have been lettered and weathered and have helped create a busy scene around the goods yard and other places.
The backscene is based on photographs of the LNWR main line out of London. The brewery appears in the background of a few photographs.
There is still much to do on the scenic side. Our next show is at Alexandra Palace, in April. By then, we hope to have the signalling complete and working along with further detailing and additions, particularly more detailed road vehicles and more figures. The warehouse interior is also high on the list of jobs to do.
One future plan is to lengthen the layout by another 2’ to allow us to add a station building. The real Broad Street was a wonderful vision of fancy glass canopies and ornate stonework, with a domed roof. It would make a lovely model (or should I say it WILL make a lovely model!).
Making it work
Ken and his son, Chris, evaluated the PECO switches (for the point crossing nose polarity) and the levers (for changing the points) and worked out how much it was going to cost for 34 of each. Nothing against the products, I have used them with great success on other layouts but with their background and access to specialist components at trade prices, they were determined to design a new operating system. This would not only switch the crossing nose polarity but also connect the correct controller to the appropriate track and give an indication of the setting of the point on the control panel. Some of the points are too far away to be seen by the naked eye.
By the time we took the first layout board to Wakefield, we had a working prototype module. This was quite satisfactory but by the time the operating mechanism had put some extra friction into the equation, the unit needed beefing up.
The main components of the module are an etched circuit board, a microchip, a beam detector switch and a relay.
I won’t say much more than that, for a few reasons. Few people reading this will have access to the components and facilities needed to produce the modules, there is still development and fine tuning work (mostly to make the fitting of the module easier) ongoing. Finally, if we end up with an easy to use, useful and totally reliable unit, we may even look at producing it commercially. As it is one area where we may have come up with something novel, we may persuade Ken and Chris to produce a separate article on the control systems later.
The layout has a working set of modules now and they haven’t given us many problems. There are a few things we would have done differently. It is one of the jobs where rushing did cause some problems.
The control panels themselves are also quite novel. They are basically printed circuit boards with switches set into them. Again, Ken and Chris have facilities for drawing and etching boards, not available to most folk but still interesting. I will leave it to them to describe how they did it! There are three panels, for the station, goods yard and loco shed. This immediately allows for the separate movement of 3 locomotives at the same time. The station panel allows for 2 more, as a pilot engine can follow a train out, up to the platform end and a further loco can be either entering or leaving platforms 2 & 3 from the loco spur situated between those two platforms.
Apart from the point control push buttons, which include a coloured LED to show which way the point is set, the only other switches are some push buttons for isolating sections in the loco shed, loco spur and goods yard headshunt, plus some three position switches and push buttons at the very end of the platforms. These activate what we call the banking controller, allowing the loco trapped at the buffer stops to follow the departing stock down the length of the platform.
The top surface of the panels is a drawing, created by Chris from a digital overhead photograph of the layout, made up by hanging a camera over the boards, photographing and then moving the camera along. The photographs were “stitched” together, converted to a drawing and printed on white. The coloured sections show which controller normally has which section. The printed circuit board and the printed diagram were then encased in a wooden frame to form a custom made scale mimic “touch panel” diagram of the entire track plan layout. The timetable (see later) is also colour coded to show which controller is required for which move.
The turntable is another bit of modern technology. The geared down motor is started by a push button on the loco shed control panel and the table is stopped by what is basically a bar code reader with a built in lock to hold the table in position.
By the time the point modules and control panels were ready, we were rapidly running out of time. It was April and the whole layout had never been set up together before.
For the last few weeks, I was over at Ken’s house six or seven days a week. It must have seemed to Val that she had a lodger!
Much hard work went on and Ken even found time to make some lights and to make the presentation look acceptable.
We arrived at EXPO EM with a layout, crossed fingers and prayers to whichever saint is responsible for railway modellers! We also had a good bunch of friends with us, most of whom had only seen the layout a few days before for a quick run through of the timetable.
Sunday night saw us coming home very tired, wondering what sort of monster we had created but feeling ever so slightly pleased with ourselves, as we came away with the cup for the best layout. You could have scraped Ken & I off the floor when they announced it.
We decided some form of timetable or sequence would be necessary because if we were going to get anything like the slick level of operation we wanted, we would all have to know in advance what was supposed to happen next. So we turned to George Morris who drew up a timetable designed to take an hour. We then decided to try to operate to real time. For example, if the timetable said a train should arrive at 20 minutes past the hour, we would try and do just that. George is a bit of a specialist on timetables. The one he uses on his own layout covers 24 hours and 9 passenger stations, 2 huge fiddle yards and a dock. The main working timetable is a thick handwritten book and each station has a card for each hour, which the operators use. We adopted the card system for Narrow Road and George kindly prepared some showing the starting positions as well as the movements.
Sadly, although some of the operators are used to working to time, on George’s layout, frankly we struggled. The quickest we managed was just short of two hours. There was always something moving and on occasions we had the maximum five trains going at once but it was hard work. We have now been to three shows and at the latest one we managed 1 hour 5 mins. I think George felt quite vindicated, as there had been some doubts expressed about whether his timetable was feasible. Now it is like the 4 minute mile and we hope to crack the barrier at Alexandra Palace. If you are nearby when it happens, you will hear a very load cheer! We have found that if we have six jobs allocated we seem to get the best out of the layout. These are fiddle yard, goods yard, loco shed, arrivals, departures and a fat controller (usually yours truly). Ken usually does the PR bit, talking to people and answering questions, leaving one spare operator. So although eight operators seems a lot, we are all kept pretty busy.
Locomotives & Stock
Those of you looking for a list of locomotives and stock will by now have noticed its absence. This is so varied that a proper description would take almost as long as the story of the layout. Plus, there are a number of interesting items in the pipeline, so perhaps their story should wait. I would like to mention a couple of contributors, Malcolm Crawley (of the aforementioned Thompson’s End) who temporarily deserted his beloved LNER to produce a few foreigners. One is a bit of a legend round our way as we have the only known example of a finished Jidenco Claughton kit in captivity, unless you know differently. We are also very fortunate to have acquired a number of locomotives and a rake of carriages built by our much missed friend, the late George Norton.
Bit like an Oscar acceptance speech but a few more names to thank are the rest of the operating team. These are Ted Atkinson, who goes into his own little world shunting the goods yard for hours on end, Malcolm Morris, who is the only other one daft enough to share the fat controller post with me (we may get quite competitive about who is in charge when we break the 1 hour barrier), Neil Roffe, who has taken time out from his own project, a big layout of Quorn & Woodhouse, to help us, to Diana, Chris’ future wife, who came along to our first two shows and will be with us at Alexandra Palace. She and Chris are not really railway enthusiasts but we enjoy having them on board as sometimes it helps to have people who look at things from a fresh angle. Lastly, to Tony Lambert, for stepping in at short notice at the recent Pontefract show. He is one of George’s regular crew and his experience at working to time made a big difference. That’s a lot of names but the layout seems to have brought us together and it would be unfair to leave anybody out.
You might be beginning to see a theme to all this. A lot has been said about everything being rushed and sometimes skimped. That may be true but I hope that there is another side to the story of Narrow Road. Something about having a focus on a clear goal and going for it. How many of us spend more time thinking about doing something than we do actually doing it. I know I usually do. It is much more enjoyable to get stuck in, be ready to make mistakes and willing to learn from them.
Narrow Road is still very much work in progress. It has been by far the most difficult project I have been involved with. Most people we talk to seem quite surprised to hear that the bulk of the work was carried out by two people in just 12 months. It has also been the most rewarding, as we have learnt a lot about the hobby and about ourselves! As a layout it has also probably created more interest than any of our previous ones at exhibitions.
What next? Perhaps a little terminus with five points and two sidings? Or fill the shed with the rest of Valleyfields? A mainline, with 8 coach expresses rattling past and an interchange with the Metropolitan Railway. Whichever, hopefully we will continue to work together and enjoy meeting some new challenges.
As this is written, I haven’t seen Tony Wright’s photographs yet but I am sure they will be up to his usual high standards. As the story of Narrow Road is still only beginning, Chris is setting up our very own website, so you can follow the story, at www.narrowroadlayout.co.uk. Tony has taken more photographs than will be needed for the magazine, so we hope to be able to put some further examples of his (and our) work on the site soon.