Model Railways

I've been interested in model railways since I was seven or eight years old. I have memories of my father building an oval of Hornby OO track on a base board that we kept behind the sofa, and running an 0-6-0 tank engine (nicknamed puffing billy) that belonged to my brother, so I have no idea how old that was.

My next dabble into the hobby was in my late teens, when the young brother of the girl I was dating at the time wanted to build a layout, and I offered to help. This also re-kindled my passion for another layout and built an 8' x 4' OO layout in my parents garage. Then life moved on, I got married (not the the same girl), and we spent a holiday down in Devon, not far from the Peco complex in Beer the following year. It was then that my interest was re-kindled yet again, and I started collecting N gauge rolling stock with a view of building a layout to similar standards as those seen in Railway Modeller.

In 2005, my son who was aged 12 asked if we could build a proper layout in his bedroom rather than the oval of track I had made years previous. So we sold off some of the modern image rolling stock and commenced our new project detailed below

Cloverdale - a busy village GWR branch terminus


The layout is approx 8 feet long by 15 inches at its widest point. The construction is the traditional 2" x 1" softwood timber frame with 6mm MDF deck. The frame is screwed to the wall so that it forms a permanent shelf. The track plan took a lot of planning as my son had stipulated he wanted twin tracks so two trains can be run at the same time, and I wanted a goods area to provide a function of the layout rather than simply run trains in to the station and then back out again.


We finally came up with the layout shown above. This allows for 3 trains in the station and one shunting in the goods yard, so we are both happy.

Track work

The track work is all Peco fine scale. This was chosen to give a more realistic appearance, and was influenced by the fact the local model shop had a lot of unboxed points going cheap, which helped with the budget. All points are electro frog type, which proved interesting when it came to wiring the feeds to the controller. I had always used the self isolating insulfrog points before, so this was a first for me. In the end it wasn't too difficult and with the use of eight DPDT switches we can now take control of any loco from any of the two controllers.

The control panel was made from a thick sheet of plasticard. This has a copy of the track plan on it with 3mm bi-colour LEDs situated where the track sections are. These LEDs are connected to the same DPDT section switches so that the give an indication (red or green) which controller is feeding that section. The controllers are wired in the common return format

The image on above shows the track laid onto the baseboard ready for the station platforms to be built and installed


Now it was time to start building the scenery. The station platforms were made from mount board, painted and then coping stones were added to the edges. These stones were made by printing off 2mm scaled down images obtained from the internet. The end result is very pleasing.

I then turned my attention to the tunnel entrance to the fiddle yard. Here I used a Peco twin track tunnel mouth with a black card insert for the tunnel walls. The rear mouth was glued to the foam board background and then the hill constructed by filling with broken up bits of polystyrene tiles, held in place with diluted PVA at a 4:1 ratio. Once dry plaster of paris was mixed and poured over the styrene and mould ny hand. The same method was used to construct the other hills and terrain. Once dry the layout was painted with an earthy brown base colour. This was then painted with PVA and a selection of scatter materials sprinkled over the glue.

The foliage was then added (again using PVA) and a few simple trees were made using thing tinned copper wire, twisted together and then covered in foliage. Although these look OK, it is hoped to add more life-like trees at a later stage.


This image shows the completed tunnel entrance painted in stone colour. All that is needed is to add weathering details.


The next stage was to start adding some detail and to ballast the track. I purchased some N gauge fine granet ballast from the local model shop and applied this in the time honored tradition of brushing it in to the sleepers and adding diluted PVA on a 1:1 ratio with water, plus a few drops of washing up liquid to allow it to soak in. Once dried the track was checked for running and any odd lump of ballast removed if found to be stuck inside check rails etc. The layout is still only 70% complete as of mid October 2005 as there is all the detailing to do, and there is only one building (the engine shed) on the layout.

I've opted to use the Ratio Plastic Models on the layout as they are excellent quality, nicely detailed and represent good value for money. The only problem with N gauge is painting some of the items such as the isolators on the telegraph poles can be hard on failing eyesight !


Arriving at Cloverdale is a mid morning passenger service headed by an 0-6-0 tank loco. The engine shed is a kit by Ratio Models


On this layout we chose to use electrofrog points, and I must admit that never having used points with live frogs was a bit daunting, and it took a few days solidly de-bugging all the shorts that these threw up. We still have a few running issues, but I think that this is due to the ballasting of the track rather than electrical issues. I think that although the ballast looks good, it can create more problems that are not obvious at first. The trains certainly run better in the sidings on bear boards, but tend to need a but more power on the layout and still occasionally stick. I'm sure that a few more feeds will take away any of the resistance caused by the ballasting.

The control of the trains is via a gaugemaster twin controller wired as a common return cab system. This sounds complicated, but essentially means that all returns from the rails are connected to the return on both controllers, and the feeds are sent to each track section via double pole double throw switches. This means that each section can be controlled from either controller. The other pole of these switches has wires that go off to a dual aspect LED that changes colour (red or green) to indicate which controller is feeding power to that section.

The last refinement was to use a PIC Micro to display which of the 4 sidings is free or occupied. Each loco has a magnet fitted which triggers a reed switch as it passes over it

The goods yard with a selection of box vans waiting to be unloaded


Two of the buildings are commercial kits from the fantastic Ratio range. However the station building was my first attempt at scratch building. Whilst we are loosely modeling the GWR region, the station building is based on an LNER building that existed on an old local branch line which was axed as part of the Beeching act in the 1960's.

Its made from three "boxes" cut out of plasticard, with some bracing internally. The windows are printed onto OHP transparency film, with the doors set back in small frames. The part that too the longest amount of time was the roof, which to get a good effect has printed roof tiles laid up in strips, with around 50 strips per roof section, that meant cutting and gluing nearly 300 strips ! - But the effect was worth all that effort.

Like other aspects of the layout the station is not complete. I still need to add the guttering and drainpipes, and fit interior lighting. The Ratio station lamps (only one made so far) have been modified to work via the use of fibre optic cable, which gives great results


The main station building. Still requires detailing such as guttering and drainpipes. And yes that ration lamp is lit !

Rolling Stock

The work on the layout has taken a back seat for a while. I've been purchasing items off e-bay to increase the stock. The one major purchase I couldn't refuse was a 14xx loco to go with the auto coach my father-in-law gave my son last Christmas. A few extra wagons were also purchased, as was a buffet car.

The Jinty and Pannier tank loco started to show signs of needing a service so in June 2006 we sent them off to BRlines who offer a service for just £8 per loco plus parts and that includes return post. Hopefully they'll be returned back to the free running order and performance they had when new.

I must admit that the performance of the 14xx is fantastic. This was the first Dapol model I have ever had and they are quiet and smooth running. I'm really impressed with this little loco, and puts some of the Farish locos to shame. I've uploaded a video (8mb DivX format) showing the 14xx with auto coach departing from the bay platform. To view click here

The 14xx arrives at Cloverdale with its auto coach, whilst box wagons are unloaded in the goods yard in the background

Signal Box

August 2006 - and the work on the layout has been slow of late, mainly due to other commitments, but also because I wanted to purchase a small airbrush to paint the fine windows used in the construction of the signal box. Well I finally got one and have now finished the Ratio kit and the box has been installed in a suitable location on the layout.

We've also used 12v grain of wheat bulbs to illuminate all the buildings on the layout. These are fed from a 5v DC supply and give a nice warm glow rather than high intensity bright light that is often seen on some layouts. The next stage planed step is to make the station lights and change the LED I currently use for one of the 12v bulbs as this will give better performance through the fibre optic


In November 2006 we needed to remove the layout so that we could replace the radiator underneath it. At this point the layout had hardly been used so after a discussion with my son we chose to donate the layout to the local N-Gauge society group. The members of this society spent several months convering the layout so that it was portible, re-wired it, added point motors and a lot more detailing.... so much so that they managed to exhibit the layout at the 2008 N-Gauge AGM meeting.

I'm pleased to see that our hard work has provided a grounding for their first exhibition layout