Tuesday, 31 December 2019

New Year's Resolutions

The last time I made and kept a New Year's resolution the impact on my life was massive. In fact, it indirectly led me to where I am now, sat in the studio at the end our fenland garden

This year I think it is time for another serious set of resolutions around work, home and hobbies.

There is a degree of psychology involved in setting resolutions you are going to keep. Part of that is ensuring they aren't resolutions that are easy to break quickly. So I'm not going to resolve to cycle every day, but I am going to resolve to lose a little weight and to improve my personal best.

So my modelling resolutions aren't going to revolve around specific projects, other than not starting a new one* and channelling resources into the refurbishment and extension of the ELR.

The prime aim is going to be moving on some of the projects I've already got on the go, including those that have been on hold since the house move four years ago. That doesn't mean finishing entire projects, but rather about getting some of the sub-projects to a point where they are ready for use when I'm ready to progress the bigger projects.

So I might not get around to building a permanent 7/8ths line in the garden, but I will have the basic stock and structures ready to go. Incidentally, the new perspective that the studio has given me on the garden is proving useful for rethinking how we might use it in the future. Building the studio has also created a new more private enclave in the garden that I think might allow me to build a garden line safe from public view.

I'm 99% sure I've settled on the 16.5mm gauge version of TAoC, for reasons I'll explore more here as progress resumes. One of my last purchases of 2019 has been a Prototype Models kit for Wimlcote Station which was, of course, a key feature in Roy's original design. I'm not going to actually build it, since the artwork doesn't match modern standards. I'm going to use it as a reference point in deciding whether to go with the LCUT version or another approach. I've already sourced the goods shed.

It might not look like much yet...

* This comes down to your definition of new. There are three little projects that I've not started yet but that are on my project plan. The most significant is a 15mm gauge garden line based on a lonely stretch of the C&L

Friday, 20 December 2019

Annual Apprasial

Looking out from my temporary home office on to the ELR it is hard not to be depressed.  The goats and chickens have removed most of the ballast, and the changes we've made in the garden mean I'm going to have to relay at least a third of the line next year. On top of which Teddy is away for repair and Tug has one of those annoying electrical faults that I can't find time to explore.

More to the point, I still don't have power in the new studio/office, though hopefully, Jason, our brilliant local electrician, will be fixing that in the next few days. In fact he is hard at work as I write this

But there are reasons to be cheerful. I've got a nice mix of projects to get underway as soon as the workshop has power, and Teddy will be home soon. Well sometime next year, anyway

This year I just lost the time to keep on top of the maintenance of the ELR, given the additional damage caused by the goats and chickens and the wettest autumn here since 1880. A major challenge for next year apart from remedial maintenance will be getting the line fenced in to prevent livestock incursions. Another will be working out an alignment so that I can run a second road into the engine shed and build a lean-to for the carriage road.

It is also easy to forget that I've laid quite a bit of new track in the front garden. It is a strange perceptual thing though that plain straight track across an open lawn never seems that impressive, whilst the same amount of track with a curve and a view blocker seems so much longer.

I don't really see Tug fitting in with my long term plans. A BE loco pretending to be something else has never appealed to me. The CJF controller though has really impressed me and made driving  A BE much more satisfying than I could have imagined, so an idea is forming in my mind.

A Tug replacement? The new loco from ride on Railways
The track has become to resemble a WW1 trench railway

This was the same stretch the day Teddy first arrived, four years ago.

On the model railway front a few ideas are beginning to become more concrete with the prospect of moving into the studio. I've got several 7/8ths projects to finish off, and still no idea of where the 7/8ths layout will go without getting in the way of the 7 1/4" gauge plans.

I think I've just about come down on the side of 16.5mm gauge for TAoC project. It just seems to be in the spirit of the layout that it should be doable by anybody. I might even stick with tension lock couplings. It is, after all, all about compromise.

The other priority is a much-modified version of the Scalescenes boxfile layout using HOf/ 006.5m for the quayside line.

The five backburner projects are the expanded Cadeby layout, a portable 7/8ths micro layout, the next version of the Tanat Valley line, a Kinver Light  Railway style tramway and a 15mm scale  C&L line - though again I've no idea where that one will fit. It would be a bigger version of an aborted  OOn3 layout I started a few years ago that was a simple loop with a single siding.

Power at last!

Sunday, 8 December 2019

National Festival of Model Railways

Since Peterborough is on what passes for our doorstep in this part of the world I thought I would give this show a try this year.  Having said that the list of layouts didn't excite me, but it was this or Xmas shopping, so that was an easy decision to make.

As Phil Parker pointed out when we were chatting it is a show with a wide remit and a big audience to please, so it tends to have a bit of everything. Had I gone with a wad of cash in my pocket and some specific projects in mind I'm sure I would have found plenty of opportunities to spend it, with an excellent range of traders from the specialist to the box shifters, and if I go again they will be my focus. It was also nice that the spacious layout allowed plenty of room to get to the trade stands most of the time. Oddly the one I found hardest to get to was Freestone Model Asseccories. I wonder if that is part of what seems to be a bit of a renaissance for card models.

For me, there were just a handful of layouts that made an impression. Bewdley was interesting since it is a location I know well

I liked Burnham, but couldn't really get a good photo of it. I was relying solely on my mobile phone for once and I'm still getting the hang of using it at shows.

Leysdown was my favourite, I loved the spaciousness of it. I have to say it was one of a number of handful of layouts making really good use of subtle levels of sound as well.

Returning home I found a long-anticipated delivery from Rapido that certainly brings back memories of my mostly unhappy schooldays.

 And today I'm back to moving long-forgotten books and models into the new studio.

As well as welcoming two new goats into our herd, to wreck more destruction on the ELR

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The Art of the Possible

The new building is far from ready for use, but I thought it would provide a safer refuge for the baseboards of The Art of Compromise than either of the sheds have been. So here it is in its new home, and despite the ravages of mice over the last five years there are still substantial remnants of my Templot plan in place.

A lot has changed in those five years.

The original idea, to save you trawling through old posts, was to take a break from the somewhat down at heel Tanat Valley and then come back to revisit it both refreshed from the change and having improved my skills enough to make the investment in a new version worthwhile. TAoC had always been one of my favourite plans, so seemed an ideal candidate. When not in use it could be displayed as two separate dioramas in my then office/workshop and then combined with the fiddle yard to be operated in the library.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the layout can't actually be built as Roy Link originally drew it. As a result, most versions of TAoC are modified to a greater or lesser degree. I wanted to prove the original design was feasible using either the models he specified or their current equivalents.  In fact, I wanted to go beyond that and show it was possible to build it with handbuilt EM gauge rather than with Peco Setrack points. That would also provide the opportunity to test out EM conversions as I got round to them. An additional benefit, at the back of my mind, was that I could later replace the scenery with updated TVR structures as a halfway house to the next full-blown TVR layout.

So what has changed and where am I now?

Well obviously we moved house, and I built a  7 1/4" gauge railway. Modelling has been restricted to the OO9 micro layout to experiment with the new generation of 3D printed loco kits and beginning to dabble in 7/8ths scale. I've been building up a small collection of recent RTR OO gauge releases as well, some for eventual conversion to EM, and some for an OO dockside micro layout.

The new building gives me the space to keep a layout like TAoC, or even larger permanently set up, which is a nice plus. On the negative side, I seem to have less free time than ever thanks to the garden and animals, never mind work.

Then there are the developments in the hobby, such as the rise in 3D printing and laser cutting, and in particular the fine-scale bullhead track from Peco in both OO and, via the EMGS, EM.

Oh yes, and Chirs Ford built his version of the TAoC using a very similar philosophy

So the options I'm considering:

Carrying on with the original plan for TAoC but using Peco finescale track in either OO or EM. If I went down the OO route it would let me exploit some of my RTR stock until it is converted. I could build a small Apa Valley type micro layout in EM to test any stock I convert to EM in the meantime

Keeping very close to the original plan, but using 18" wide baseboards, primarily to allow a little foreground into the model and protect the running line from curious fingers. That would swing the pendulum back to EM. I could reuse the original baseboards for an N gauge version of Minories.

Skip straight to the EM TVR on 2ft wide baseboards, again using the existing boards for Minories.

And, of course, even if I go for the first of these options, I could still build Minories on the baseboards at a later date.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

The purpose of life, railways and everything

Well, the purpose of an agricultural tramway is to carry agricultural produce. The goats took that into their own hands by destroying the entirety of my vegetable plot.  Meanwhile, timber and coal traffic has been disrupted by the end of the "tramway" being lifted for my wife's goat-related deforestation project*. A project that has been balanced by hedge planting on my part but which means I need to reinstitute  20m of track in the Spring.

But then in the Spring, we are getting a different breed of goat, and that does definitely mean having to remove a stand of conifers. Conifers that currently hide both the big metal engine shed and the stock siding. That is a Bad Thing in the language of 1066 and All That. The upside is it lets me remove the infamous 8ft radius reverse curve, which also means it is feasible to fit in a second road into the big metal engine shed.

It is  Bad Thing that to do that means relaying another 40m of track, building an extra point and altering the geometry of one of the existing points.

It is a Good Thing, I suppose, that goats generate their own kind of agricultural traffic. Mucking out the goat shed produces a rich, and ripe, source of compost. The input to this process is bales of hay and straw, but I think I'm going to need longer wagons...

* She didn't check in advance that whilst certain shrubs are poisonous to goats, goats seem to be aware of this and so don't eat them.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

The Railway Room

A few days of dry weather meant Alan could complete the new railway room/home office.

Hopefully, the electrics will be in over the next two or three weeks. It still needs a final floor and decorating but after four years of building models on a space  2ft by 3ft, I'm so looking forward to this. Finally, I'll have a room where I can assemble TAoC baseboards semi-permanently.

The delay has, in some ways, been a benefit. at least where availability of trackwork and point rodding and control are concerned. To my mind, they are key elements int the realism of the final layout.

Retirement still feels like a distant hope, but I think I've also identified my retirement layout if ever I'm in a position to not need the home office space. Strangely, or not, it is another Roy Link design that goes back to my childhood.

But before then there is the small matter of extending the 7 1/4" another 100m or so to allow me to commute to work by ELR.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

And a hint of things to come

My new 7/8ths Trefor quarry Hudson Hunslet, built by James Hilton to replace my much loved Merlin 16mm version that got stolen. Working with James on this commission has been a delight from start to finish. Leaving aside the quality of the finished product, which looks just like I imagined it would, James went out of his way to accommodate my requirements, provided a lot of additional advice, and kept me fully informed throughout the process, so the end result felt like a true collaboration that fully realised an image of this loco I've had in my head for many years.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Normal Serice Will be Resumed

A lot has been happening at chaos manor in recent months, and, as usual, a lot has not been happening.

I'm yet to put together a full pictorial of all the ongoing changes we are doing to Elder Cottage, some of which definitely, especially from an ELR perspective, feel like we are going backwards.

As usual, the Summer months have been full of lovely visitors, who somehow abandon us as the fenland winds pick up and the nights draw in. We've also welcomed Freddie, our first grandson, into the world, as well as Gigi, our new pup.

Last week the foundations finally went in for my new home office and model workshop. I suspect the next few weeks are going to be traumatic as we change things around. Tomorrow my main computer will go dark, and probably remain so for a month or so.

I'll see you on the other side.

Support your local show

Last year I was quite disappointed with the local Spalding MRC show, because to my mind it didn't come up to their usual standard.

It would have been easy not to go this year, especially when several of the layouts had the suffix Depot or TMD, which isn't a universal sign of quality.

Before we go any further I'm glad to say my decision to go again this year was a good one. My bad decision was about cameras.  It is a long story, but don't trust the saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. Because I was disappointed last year I didn't bother taking my reliable Fujis that also perform at model railway shows. Instead, I thought I would rely on my Sony RX100. Now there are times when that little camera can work miracles, but an exhibition hall is somewhere it struggles big time. On this occasion, it wasn't helped by a change of prescription for my glasses, which meant I was struggling to work out the right diopter adjustment and relying more on on-screen information than gut feel. Big mistake.

And to compound it all, I was using a new camera phone, a Pixel 4. This isn't the place to go into detail a mobile phone review. To cut to the chase, I love the camera capability it has, but it is obvious I'm also still learning how to use it.

The net result is my worst ever ratio of shareable shots from an exhibition, which is a real shame, and means some layouts I'll mention aren't supported by a photo. In fact with my first draft, I'm leaving photos out altogether.

First of all, some general observations. It remains a really friendly show where it is easy even for an anti-social g*t like me to become involved in conversations with punters and operators. The free guide was 76, yes, 76 pages! Trade stands seemed buzzing but not busy in terms of cash changing hands, but to be honest this is mostly a show for box shifters, so I didn't hang around them except to get past them to the next layout.

As usual, a sign saying a layout had been in RM or CM seemed to result in a crowd, as did the big layouts such as Grantham and James Street. You can imagine Grantham was popular because of the area, but, whilst not my thing, I think a big range of modellers could appreciate it. James Street is perhaps a touch more gimmicky, but well done. It also highlighted that N gauge layouts, in general, seemed very very popular with the audience, and this year all of them were of a high quality, even if one or two weren't what appeals to me.

Looking at narrow gauge layouts, again they were all quite good. I'll come back to one later in discussing my best of show assessment, but Launceston was by far the best OO9 layout, and  Zauberwaldbahn was a nice example of continental O16.5. The Winter setting of Great White River stayed just the right side of twee,

It was nice to see an Australian layout, South Walton. Another good example of N gauge. I really need another visit to Australia, but at least next year I'm scheduled to speak in NZ.

As for those feared TMD and depot layouts, I rather liked the O gauge Ladeside Depot. The locos were very good indeed.

Webbs's Wharf and Wolds Way were good examples of relatively small but well-presented layouts in, respectively 7mm and 4mm. And the Iraq diorama was a brilliant if over-busy, use of forced perspective. So good, in fact, it took a while to be aware that is what it was.

A quick aside before I select, or try to, my layout of the day. I've been reconsidering couplings recently. My conclusion after today is that it is a close-run thing between DGs and Kadees. I was surprised by how unobtrusive kadees can appear. They might just win out.

I'm really struggling with my layout of the day. I loved the 3mm Heybridge Wharf with its hints of the Wisbech & Upwell,  and its use of a Tanat Valley goods shed, except, of course, the combination of the two seemed jarring to me of all people, having a foot in both camps.

So for me the winner by a whisker was the Spanish based Ferrocarrial San Maria.

It had a lot going for it:
  • Great engagement with the audience
  • An unusual but attractive prototype
  • Great integration with the back scene
  • Attention paid to road vehicles
  • The Faller road system used so it was just part of the scene.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Cavan & Leitrim

Ireland always draws me back, even when it means stupid amounts of miles up stupid hills in the stupid rain.

This year the lovely folk at Cycling Safaris came up with a new trip to The Secret West.

The immediate attraction of this was it covered some key locations on the Cavan & Leitrim Railway

The downside, you might have guessed, is that it involved stupid amounts of miles up stupid hills in the stupid rain.

As a group cycling holiday it also made it difficult to go off-piste to explore the C&L as much as I would have liked. For instance travelling by train with heavy luggage meant I missed Nancy in steam at Dromod on the train from and to Dublin. And I also forgot to check the links I had to historic maps showing the route of the line, meaning on at least one occasion I cycled along it for a few miles without realising. Anyway here are a few photos.

The coal mine at Argina were the main source of traffic on the C&L.

Which is why the museum includes a model of a train

And elsewhere you find odd reminders

Few as poignant as this

Though the nearby station remains well preserved

Just waiting for trains to return.

Elsewhere the Marble Arch Caves are an incredible tourist attraction 

As a student, a book of his poems was always in my pocket

Train services are improving

It is always good to meet up with The Enterpises

The famine ship replica is haunting, even though they chose to model it on an original with an exemplary record

But we should never forget

And I ended the trip with an Azuma experience that did not match my expectations

Friday, 13 September 2019

Peter Jones

Having fitted three holidays into a brief period this Summer I have a backlog of posts to publish, though given the lack of railways on the island the Crete one will be brief.

Railway construction across the gauges has obviously suffered as well. I'm hoping it is a case of going backwards to go forwards. It certainly is on the ELR. Major works in the garden have necessitated lifting 10m of track, but enabled the prospect of relaying another 20m on a better alignment and simplifying the laying of the next additional 20m. At the moment it looks terrible thanks to the deprivations of JCBs, goats and chickens.

The OO9 micro layout is pretty much done, other than additional layering of scenic details, and completing some more rolling stock kits for eventual use on a larger version.

A drainage issue has delayed the building of the home office, but I am at least beginning to be able to think about the four or five layouts I'm hoping it will eventually home. A canal trip to the area has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the next EM gauge iteration of the TVR. What I'm still not sure about is whether I'll also build a TAoC OO gauge layout, or if I'll combine the two concepts to produce an EM gauge, TVR inspired layout but using TAoC trackplan. Of course I could always build TAoC in N gauge...

What will definitely be built is a small OO gauge dock/canal side micro layout, and the slightly enlarged OO9 layout.

On the back burner is a small tramway layout with a Kinver theme, and various 16mm and 7/8ths micro-layouts that will essentially be for photographic purposes.

Ah yes, 7/8ths. I'm still struggling with a site for the planned 7/8ths garden line whilst being seduced by more and more stock. The conclusion I've come to is the ideal site for it doesn't exist yet and won't until the garden redesign is complete, especially the construction of a duck pond.

But in the meantime let me return to the eponymous subject of the title of this blog. Peter Jones, Tom Cooper and Brian Clarke were my mentors as a teenage builder of garden railways at a time when, to be frank, I found many in the 16mm Assoc to be snobbishly middle class.

The three of them were unstinting in their support and encouragement.  So it felt an obvious choice to name my Accucraft Wren after Peter, and Matt Acton did a brilliant paint job on it. The stars aligned and Peter's daughter, Kes, the doyen of the Tallylln Railway shop, performed the naming ceremony on it at the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Compton Down Railway.

But I thought it would be nice to put Peter himself on the footplate of a class of loco he held in particular affection, and who better to do that than Rob Bennett?

So here it is, a collaborative effort in many many ways to which I've so far contributed pretty much nothing.

Having posted this picture on FB a comment led to also post this wonderful family group caricature Rob did eleven years ago

Monday, 5 August 2019

On the Rails

Getting Tug to the railhead was a bit of an epic journey that took longer than it might have done.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019


The new, if possibly temporary, loco for the ELR arrived whilst I was in Ireland last week.
I returned with a nasty case of shingles, which, along with doing over 2,400m of climbing on the bike has left me shattered. So unpacking the loco and coach is turning into a slow process.

I've also managed to do some minor damage to the coach roof. The way it was packed resembled the Sofa on the Staircase. 

The loco is a Phoenix Tug fitted with a rather lovely brass tram controller . Keith at Phoenix deserves a special mention for getting in touch to provide me with all the relevant manuals without beign asked. It is a bit of a beast and as I mentioned at the start I'm not sure how it fits into my long term plans, especially since several people have already made me offers for it. If I do keep it there a few things I would change over time. A chain guard in the cab being a priority with animals and children around. It has the parts for a cab as well. In theory it could even be converted to a 10 1/4" gauge petrol loco.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019


Photo by Dave Rowbotham

The last couple of weeks have seemed really busy. Probably because they have been.

The goats, Jaffa, Fig and Ginger - spot the theme - have a new shed to live in that will at least look like a ticket office. That necessitated lifting the "tramway" ready for the new and much-improved alignment. I still don't know how the levels will work out, but we will have a digger on site soon to help move things forward. At the very least it will improve railway access to the driveway and the woodsheds.

We have collected five new rescue chickens to restore the flock destroyed by Mr Fox.  Somehow on the same day I also fitted in the collection of the 5" gauge portable track for a self-contained line for the next generation of railway people. As well as use by grandchildren this will give me my introduction to proper live steam. One day...

Meanwhile, in Wales, the 70th anniversary of the Compton Down Railway was being celebrated. I couldn't make it myself, so I did the next best thing and sent my new Accucraft Wren, Peter Jones, to be named. I'll just repeat again that Matt Acton has transformed this loco and given it a distinct personality. Rather like an expensive watch I don't feel I own it so much as I'm looking after it for future generations.

Oh yes, and then I seem to have purchased this...

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Back to Planning

I mentioned the imminent arrival of goats in my last post. This has several implications for the railways in the garden.

Laurel is poisonous to goats, and currently, the "tunnel" largely consists of a large stand of laurel bushes. So that all has to be grubbed up. Superficially that is bad news, but in conjunction with having taken out some sycamores and elders last month it actually means I can plan a better alignment for the ELR on that side of the house, and perhaps even get an extension to the site of the planned main station finished in this year's campaign.

Laurel is bad for goats but they positively love vegetable beds, possibly even more than the chickens do. So I'm going to have to bite a rather large bullet and relocate my raised beds to their new location at the far end of the other garden. That is a real pain in many ways but in the long terms builds the business case for an extension for the yet to be built garden office.

The garden office will at some point be home to the Art of Compromise layout, and I'm still debating internally whether I build it as the original Roy Link plan in OO or as a slightly wider EM Tanat Valley version. I'm favouring the second at the moment.

Moving the raised beds to that part of the garden means losing the site I'd earmarked for the 7/8ths line but I already had a couple of alternative locations in mind.

So that just leaves finding somewhere to shoehorn in the 5" line...

Tuesday, 25 June 2019


Matt Acton of Berry Hill Works has finished the lining of my Accucraft Wren and I think you'll agree he has done a stunning job.

Many of you will recognise that it is named after the late great Peter Jones of Compton Down fame.
Peter must have inspired many many garden railway modellers over the year.  He encouraged people to have a go, whatever their abilities, and was one of the first to popularise the scenic "modelled" garden railway as opposed to trains running around a lawn or flower bed. He also had a 1:1 model of a Wren in his "greenhouse" so it seemed a particularly apt choice.

Whilst I obviously can't wait to get my hands on it, the Llechfan Garden Railway at Towyn, which has preserved so much of Peter's legacy, is holding a 70th anniversary celebration of the Compton Down, so I'm trying to arrange for the Wren to visit for the day, though sadly without me. I'll be collecting rescue chickens to replace our flock which a fox devastated whilst we were on holiday.

I did harbour plans to snap up one of the last Accucraft Bagnalls, but that plan has been compromised by finally losing patience with my ride on mower and deciding to replace it with something more robust. Oh and goats, my wife has decided we need goats which are arriving next month as well. The Eaugate Light Railway is becoming increasingly agricultural!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Plans and more Plans

It has been a funny first half of a year. Whilst the Winter months were busy with work Spring was focussed on family and improvements at Elder Cottage, particularly in the garden.

That is quite significant for the Eaugate Light Railway, because as our plans become more concrete for the garden so do the plans for the extensions, and revisions, of the 7 1/4".

One of our local crafters made this rustic version of Elder Cottage
The trees on the left of the photo have now gone.
You can see how close to the house and the overhead cables they were

In the short term the biggest change is that we've taken out several of the mature self-seeded trees that had grown alongside the house, and the old apple trees a third of the way up the garden.

Now I normally hate having to have trees cut down, but I salve my conscience with the fact that we are still to count all the trees on our land, and the long term plans involve more suitable replacements.

The sycamores and elders were stealing light from one of the rooms, their roots were in danger of causing structural problems and their branches were dangerously close to overhead cables. It is pure coincidence that they also formed a major barrier to extending the line down that side of the house.

With them out of the way we can now plan what will be a short but significant new section of track that will eventually lead both to additional wood storage areas and a road-accessible terminus. The trees will be replaced by native hedging. One thing that is already clear is that I need to alter the alignment of the last 5m of the "tramway" section, so I'm glad I made the decision to lay the tramway as temporary track.

It was a tough choice deciding whether or not to remove the apple trees. They were very productive, in fact far too much so, giving us a massive glut of fruit and a major problem clearing away windfalls each Autumn. Visually we also found them a major barrier to us even beginning to imagine our vision for the garden. That eventual vision will obviously have a big impact on the big extension to the ELR and its eventual route to the garden office. The apple trees will be replaced by a more manageable and diverse mini-orchard as part of the redesign, which will also let us remove some of the other fruit trees that have also grown out of hand.

We are hoping to have the garden office built by the end of the year, and that will also give me more space for a modelling workshop and a more permanent layout. It is odd thinking about returning to 4mm standard gauge after what has been a four-year gap, but that is a story for another day.