The choice of location was very important for me; I like railways in lonely and wild places, especially ones situated in flat landscapes with unobstructed views. I also like the sea very much. This part of Kent fulfills these criteria admirably with acres of flat salt marshland and rough pasture with excellent views of the Thames estuary. The area has loads of atmosphere and a curious charm. I also like the fact that it is close to London; one part of my layout will feature a run down BR Southern Region commuter branchline to the capital which will have a working third rail system.
The period of operation is roughly the steam to diesel transition, but I will run whatever is reasonable. One thing is certain; although the landscape will be relatively featureless in geomorphological terms the track will make up for this with its clapped out and nicely weeded up look, with old rubbish aplenty lying around!
St. Mary Hoo is a credible location for an industrial line as "The Hundred of Hoo Railway" used to run close to my chosen location, and this part of the Home Counties is known for its power stations. Here is a link to the Panoramio website showing a 360° view near St. Mary Hoo; my layout will be situated in landscape like that seen close to the River Thames in the background of this photograph:-
After pasting the above web address and entering it, you will find that the resulting photo can be enlarged by clicking on it. You can then scroll the photo backwards and forwards.
Apart from the isolated setting I want to create a scene of dereliction with very overgrown, rusty track suggesting that the entire rail complex (BR and industrial) is on the verge of closure. A great deal of the scenic work will be on the track itself, which is one of the reasons I wanted to give P4 a go because of the lovely scale appearance that can be achieved in this gauge. The link below shows a nice photo from the MSC which illustrates the look I'm after; I would also like to make a level crossing like this:
And another excellent photo here gives a further glimpse of the overgrown railway atmosphere:
I also want to keep the layout as uncluttered as possible with a nice open feel; minimalism is crucial here because of the compact nature of the plan. In my view there is nothing worse than a small layout packed with endless detail filling every available space creating contrived cameo scenes. Although small the layout has to be totally believable and give the impression to the viewer that it's larger than it is.
My final objective is to show (hopefully) what can be achieved in P4 by complete beginners like myself and in a very small space. I hope my efforts will encourage others who are thinking of trying out this very fine (exacting) gauge to have a go. My early experiments have shown that S4 is not as unforgiving as some might have you believe, but be warned, this is a largely hand built gauge, with very few ready to run items available from the trade. The excellent finescale modelling books and legendary "Model Railway Journal" by Wild Swan are a must for any aspiring P4 convertee:-
plus the Scalefour Society website:-
Some track plans
Below are some sketches drawn up by my friend Jam as possible layout ideas for St. Mary Hoo. I like several aspects of these. Since the sketches were compiled I have revised my original idea of having just two points. As stated earlier in the blog I will now have three points and one catch point. My plan is to incorporate a passing loop for the industrial line coming off the the second and third exits of the three way point. I want to keep virtually all the industrial line visible to the audience whilst the BR line will disappear into a fiddle yard (possibly under a road bridge) in the direction of London. Also the layout will probably face the opposite direction to Jam's sketches with the BR line at the rear and the industrial line at the front. I'll post a track plan shortly.
The plans below are the latest idea, drawn by me very roughly! In reality the track wouldn't be as squashed as it appears in the plan. The red areas are roads; the one on the far left is on an embankment and the other is all at track level. The latter could be moved so that it runs vertically rather than at an angle, which on reflection might be visually more appealing. The plan has been reversed in the lower photo to give an idea of what each viewing side would look like. The shaded area by the bridge is the station halt which is assumed to run under the bridge in the direction of London. Whatever version is chosen, a nice curved backscene would be added.
And the computer sketch of the above plan by Jam
And the reverse sketch. This way round seems to work rather nicely because it makes the most of the available baseboard space with virtually all the front section used scenically, with the fiddle yard serving the BR line, nicely hidden at the rear. In reality the fiddle yard will be long enough to hide a two car EMU and a bit more. As mentioned above the plans (and the sketches) give the impression that the layout will be rather squashed; however it will be more elongated than this and nicely proportioned. I am still working on the buildings I will use to represent a small part of the electricity generating station at the front of the layout. I still want to keep the layout as desolate and minimalist as possible and so there won't be much in the way of structural work.
And here's how the layout would look encased by a pelmet with name board and lighting (thanks again to Jam). I've never really been a fan of enclosed layouts like this because I think it detracts from the most important subject, i.e. the layout itself. Many layout builders these days opt for this type of 3D dynamic picture frame, but to my eyes it's like a goldfish bowl and adds a distance between the operator/viewer and the model. I like to get close up and personal to a model that I've spent countless hours building as though you are actually "there". I also think that backscenes can destroy a good layout if not executed with finesse, and in such a way as to enhance rather than detract from the railway. I think I will make mine extremely simple and at a low height - at the same level as the road bridge, or just a bit above it to suggest distance.
Amazingly I stumbled across this photo; it's almost exactly like my proposed track plan above with a few obvious exceptions of course! It shows the Bristol Harbour Railway western terminus:
As mentioned above the track is being built in 4mm scale to 18.83mm gauge and is the first scalefour layout I've built, so it is a voyage of discovery for me. Although I've built my own track in the past in other gauges, the fine tolerances of P4 present quite a steep learning curve. I'm pleased to report, however, that I am making very good progress in this department.
Making a start
The dimensions of the layout are approximately 6' x 1.5' with two equal sized base boards made from 2 x 1 softwood frames and surfaced with MDF. I would have preferred to use plywood here but I needed two very light boards for easy portability as the layout will travel with me from time to time by train and plane. The boards are joined by C and L alignment dowels and tee nuts and bolts. The lack of any undulating scenery was another consideration for portability. All structures are likely to be portable as well.
Most of the track uses C and L components and some Exactoscale parts. I decided to build the most complex track first - a three way tandem point; partly to give myself a challenge, but also because this turnout is the key to the track plan from which the rest flows. This particular point is being built using a Timber Tracks plywood laser cut sleeper base. The plastic C and L chairs are glued to the wooden sleepers using Butanone ABS solvent; this is the same process as used with plastic sleepers; you just have to use more solvent so that the molten plastic gets into the wood grain. The photos below show the three way point under construction:-
I've found the Timber Tracks precut ply sleeper system to be very effective and easy to use. The resulting bond between the ABS plastic chairs and the wood is very strong.
The three way point is nearing completion now, with just the check rails and their chairs (from Exactoscale) to add; the crossing vee chairs (also from Exactoscale), cosmetic fishplates and the tiebars. Oh yes... and then there's the wiring up to do (ho ho!!).
Apart from the three way point there will be two other turnouts; both left handed B6 points, plus a trap point protecting the BR line from the industrial movements. The two forthcoming B6 points can be seen in the photo below temporarily fixed to the baseboard by masking tape and double sided tape respectively in readiness for construction. One point is another Timber Tracks precut base, the other is C and L with individual thick plastic sleepers (the one nearest the camera). The latter is to allow a sparsely ballasted point effect, showing the depth of sleeper. You will notice that the sleepers have been arranged in a slightly haphazard fashion on the template; this is to represent an older badly maintained point. This is quite a common feature on industrial railways where sleepers are not always found in straight lines. A good example of this can be seen at the Beamish railway museum; the last but one photo in this link shows what I mean (at the bottom of the page):-
Also one of these turnouts will be built to industrial specifications with code 75 flat bottom rail (a bit heavier than I would have liked, as much industrial track has light flat bottom rail). At this stage I'm not sure which point base will be the industrial one.
Apart from the point work the plain track will be a mixture of standard wooden sleeper bullhead; concrete sleeper (Dowmac) bullhead, and flat bottomed industrial. I will also be using various types of chair for the bullhead track. Although not shown in the photo above, I've also prepared all the timbers for the trap point and these will also be temporarily fixed to the same baseboard. I want to have all the track that needs building in one place (like a production line) so that I can do little bits to each as and when I feel like it, or when waiting for other bits to dry.
I've made quite good progress with the trap point; all the timbers are laid out on double sided tape and some of the rail has been cut to size and shaped. It's very hard getting nice square ends to bullhead rail; suggestions anyone?
This evening I have continued work on the trap point. This is a double switch bladed type and is, to all intents and purposes, a left handed B6 point "cut" in half. Obviously I didn't cut a point in half in reality but built it from scratch using half a C and L B6 template as a guide. The switch rails seen in the photos below are just test rails and sitting temporarily for the camera. I will make up the proper switches tomorrow and then chair them up. This will eventually be a working point with tiebars, etc. The rather harsh photos make this piece of track look a bit rough, but in reality it is fine and will look very nice once painted. The chairs I used are two bolt pattern as opposed to the three bolt used on the three way point.
I've finally finished building the trap point. It just needs the tiebars adding and the wiring. I will add these items in one session to all four points.
Over lunchtime today I started work on the B6 bullhead railed point; all the timbers are in place and I've decided to use the C and L thick plastic sleepers for this one, and the Timber Tracks base for the industrial point. The latter is going to take some careful working out because apart from the sleeper base everything will be scratch built. The rail will sit on very thin plastic card chairs which will have individual rail clips added. The code 75 flat bottom rail be fixed in place with super glue, which is a method I've used in the past very effectively. The "chairs", if you can call them that, will look similar to the ones in these photos:-
The check rails are also arranged differently to BR points; the photos above show that not only are the check rails held in place by chairs and clips, but also by horizontal bolts through to the running rail. I want to make the point as realistic as possible; the most common method of representing industrial track in 4mm is using copper clad sleepers, with nothing more than solder masquerading as chairs and rail clips. This is rather "old hat" and not at all convincing. As industrial points are every bit as interesting as their BR cousins why not pay as much attention to these as one would building a standard bullhead or flat bottomed point? I'm sure others have made realistic industrial points in this scale, but I can't recall having ever seen one personally. If anyone has a photo of such a turnout I'd be very interested to have a look.
Well, a start has also been made on the industrial point. The two photos below illustrate the chair technique; very thin plastic card cut to shape (just slightly wider than the base of the rail) is glued to the ply sleeper base with Butanone. The rail will then be carefully super glued on top of these. At present the rail is temporarily placed on the chairs for the camera. My problem is representing the rail clips which would be miniscule in 4mm. I had thought about using very thin brass rod/wire placed in pre drilled holes, but if you look at the amount of visible plastic chair, this would be virtually impossible. The chairs are as close to scale as possible. By examining the two prototype photos above the lack of room to drill the holes can be estimated. I might end up cutting some plastic micro strip to represent the clips instead and glueing these in place. All the other point details, however, will be present including the bolted check rails. I will assemble the check rails with the stock rails before these are glued in situ as a complete unit. I think this will be easier to achieve, due to the bolt alignment, than assembling them in the traditional way. The roller gauges will be used to maintain the correct P4 flange clearances.
I made my first real mistake last night. In my enthusiasm to push on with the project I chaired up the straight stock rail from the bullhead B6 point incorrectly. What I did was to add normal chairs for all the sleepers and then glue them down. After wrestling with the alignment of the rail for about an hour, I felt relieved to have got that all out of the way, until suddenly I realised I made the above error! I'd forgotten to leave eight sleepers chair free to add the slide chairs later on! I couldn't believe it. Yesterday was not a good day. Anyway at lunchtime today I successfully corrected my blunder by cutting off most of the extraneous chairs and then pulling the timbers out from underneath the rail. The double sided tape makes this process quite awkward as it just wants to grip the sleeper wherever you least want it. Once out, I filed off the remains of the chairs, flush with the top of the sleepers. Washed off the dust, etc and carefully replaced each sleeper back onto the template. With the three way I had always referred to the template as I went along; with the B6 I was proceeding more from memory. Be warned, never assume anything with point building! I am now back on course.
This evening I sorted out the crossing vee of the bullhead B6, partially chaired it up and glued it into place. This all went according to plan and can be seen below with the roller gauges in place to maintain the correct gauge, whilst the solvent cures overnight. I will eventually add crossing vee chairs from the P4 Track Company in due course.
The B6 bullhead point continues to give me grief. Yesterday and today I have battled with it endlessly and for some peculiar reason this one seems determined to trip me up at every stage. Yesterday I spent ages just filing the straight switch rail to an appropriate shape to maintain gauge. The overall radius of the point is not quite like the template; as the crossing vee, which was a slightly wrong angle for this point, determines the overall radius of the curved stock rail the curve is tighter than it should be. Therefore the switch face covers more of the stock rail and so has to be refined more. I got it eventually. Today all the slide chairs were settling slightly offset after the solvent had cured a bit, meaning more fiddling around to centre them up. I thought having tackled the most difficult point first, the three way, the B6 would be very straight forward. How wrong I was. I think a lot of the problems are caused by working with plastic sleepers rather than ply; the latter was very user friendly. Getting just the right amount of solvent around the chairs on plastic sleepers is quite an art and glue and I never get on. I hope the blighter looks OK in the end though.
The B6 is now more or less complete, bar the check rails, tiebars, etc, and it does look good after all! The curved switch blade did not cause the same problems as the straight one and went together with ease.
Below are two rather badly exposed photos showing the B6 in its current state, awaiting check rails, etc plus the sleepers cleaning up (where Butanone is used to glue chairs).
Last night I made some more progress with the industrial point. I glued the straight stock rail to the chairs with super glue, by placing very small amounts every third sleeper on one side and the same on the other side but on each unglued sleeper missed out on the first run. Thus every chair has glue but in a zig zag fashion, in order to minimise any traces of glue showing up when painted and detailed. The bond is very strong between rail and chair. I also prepared the first check rail which was shaped and drilled; the latter to place thin brass rod through to represent the bolts that are used on the prototype. The stock rail was also drilled in the same way (in the region by the check rail). The photos below show where I've got to with this point; the plastic chairs still need cutting to size and refining in places, and the check rail is not set at the correct clearance yet (as it has not been attached to the stock rail and is loose). Also, I've placed another piece of straight rail temporarily on the sleeper base to get an approximate gauge.
I've more or less finished making the crossing vee (bar cleaning up a bit of the soldering) for the industrial point today which I started yesterday lunchtime. The photos below show the common crossing temporarily placed on the plastic chairs for the camera; the vee itself needs the rail ends filing and cleaning up. The whole assembly still needs glueing down and the correct P4 clearances setting with the roller gauge. Also the plastic chairs need refining still and cutting to size. You'll notice the short check rail; some industrial points had these instead of the more usual practice of having check rails running the full length of the common crossing. An example can be seen here on the PLA system in the London Docklands:
More progress photos showing the industrial point common crossing being fixed into position after the clearances were adjusted. My test wagon does the honours of checking that all is OK in the PW Department! And it was.
My ex NLR class 75 under power testing the completed common crossing. It is possible at this stage of point construction to run locos without polarity changing switches connected. The loco ran very smoothly first time. Hoorah!!
The industrial point is now at an advanced stage of construction with both switch rails in position. The long curved check rail is still temporarily positioned for the camera, hence the uneven look to it.
Progress has been slow recently, but I have finally fitted the curved check rail to the industrial point with basic bolt detail; I have added "heavy duty" chairs to the stock rails, next to the ends of the switch rails (the white out of focus angled plastic seen in the background), and added all the cosmetic fish plates. Not the best photo to illustrate all of this, as the bright Provençal sun made the conditions very contrasty today. The point needs to be cleaned up still (all the lumps of super glue around the chairs and check rail bolts). This piece of track work looks much better in the flesh, so to speak!
The shape of things to come
... and an opportunity to break up the monotony of track building photos and refer to my future loco and rolling stock "fleet". There will be two steam locos for certain; the NLR dock tank seen above and a High Level Kits big 18" Barclay 0-6-0 (http://www.highlevelkits.co.uk/) the latter being the key power station shunter. The kit is unstarted but complete with the correct driving wheels from Alan Gibson. This will be painted either like that in the High Level photo (weathered black) or green with green driving wheels. I am thinking about converting a Hornby J94 to P4 as a secondary industrial.
Then there will be a few diesels; a Brush type two; a class 24 and an 08 shunter (all RTR converted to P4). The 08 can be seen as my title photo at the top of the blog; this virgin out of the box BR black Bachmann model is yet to be converted to P4 with Ultrascale wheels and Brassmasters coupling rods. Not only this but it will have another Bachmann 08 chassis added that I modified, with new leaf springs and individual spring support rods (not sure what the technical term for these is) replacing the moulded ones supplied. The visual improvement is immense, but the work needed to carry out the conversion is difficult and time consuming.
I also have a Bullied 2 EPB EMU waiting to be built from a No Nonsense kit; this will be painted in either BR green with small yellow warning panels or all over BR blue. It will feature working pickup shoes which will be as near to scale as possible for my energised third rail system.
As far as rolling stock is concerned this will be a mixture of Parkside minerals and mostly the loveable 16t rust magnet. To my eyes these are now iconic trade marks of the british railway system more than any other feature of our once great network; how tantalising they used to look lined up in some distant goods yard; often half obscured by fencing, railings or brick walls. Oh, to have these long gone views back and that magic "clanking" sound of them being shunted..!
Below is my North London ex LMS class 75 0-6-0 dock tank loco posed on the unfinished three way point. This loco will be repainted into BR black with early style insignia similar to this example:
I purchased the loco secondhand and it came as you see it here. I've not started work on refining it yet and one of the first things it needs are some balance weights. The weathering is far too heavy and unsubtle for my liking and this will be toned down considerably, with the coupling rods cleaned up, etc. It is an etched brass kit on a fully compensated chassis with Studiolith driving wheels. Apart from the paint job, it is a lovely little model and very well built. One example of this characterful loco has been preserved and currently resides on the Bluebell Railway. Apart from north London the class 75 also worked on the Cromford and High Peak Railway:
And here are some excellent detail photos of this interesting class of loco:
And one of my P4 converted diesels posing on the unfinished tandem point. This fine Brush type 2 by Hornby is straight out of the box (bar the Gibson P4 wheels of course) and still needs all the very nice detailing parts adding and some judicious weathering applied. It is as quiet as a church mouse when running and extremely responsive. Brilliant...
My order from Exactoscale arrived this morning; chairs for the common crossings and check rails. This is good news as I can now proceed with the penultimate stage of the point production line (as far as the bullhead duo are concerned). I've also placed an order with the Scalefour Society for their scale conductor rail and insulator kits to compliment my existing C and L third rail parts.
Two photos showing a sample of the third rail bits and pieces which arrived a week or so ago. The second photo is to show the specific profile of the conductor rail (still in its rough cut state and untouched). This is quite different to the Peco equivalent and has a heavier look. All of these items are very nice.
The following three photos show how far I've got with my point construction (the three way is not shown as this is awaiting having Exactoscale chairs adding around the crossings and check rails). The three turnouts below are nearly complete; they just need scale tiebars adding and wiring, plus cleaning up (the excess Butanone marks). Even though it's hard to see in the photos, cosmetic fishplates are in all the appropriate places on both the B6 points. I find glueing these miniscule items onto the rail sides extremely frustrating and difficult. The air has been blue on more than one occasion I can tell you! I'm reasonably happy with the outcome though, especially with the industrial point (the middle one of the trio). The last photo shows the bullhead B6; the electrical break after the crossing still needs adjusting in terms of rail height, as one sleeper is slightly higher than its neighbour. This will be tackled when track laying commences (soon I hope!).