Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

1 Comment

Why railways?

Someone recently asked me on Facebook why I liked railways. It’s an interesting question. Look on the bright side. It’s a harmless hobby…

The Elder Statesman introduced me to railways. He grew up in Gloucester and went on family holidays back to the ancestral home in Bude so if you snap him in half he has “GWR” written through him like a stick of rock, and his second favourite is the Southern.

His Uncle was signalman at Yeovil Junction and the Elder Statesman used to go there in holidays to work the ‘box under tuition. My Great Grandfather was a Stationmaster on the LSWR. Started way down in the Lizard as a lad porter and moved east as he got promoted, ending up living in Bude.

Bude station in 1907

For me, I like odd things, experiments, and performance. I like narrow gauge, LNER and GWR. I don’t mind LMS or SR but it gets a bit particular with them: – Hughes Crab, Stanier developments, Q1, Leader, and USA tanks. I like mechanical signalling, industrial railways (particularly brewery railways), and the study of railway accidents.

The one thing that is common in that list is that I am interested in clever mechanics, and providing the best solution to solve the problem at hand.

The history of the engineering experimentation and development over the course of the industrial revolution is fascinating and the only acceleration of development of similar proportions has occurred in the last 30 odd years with the development of computing power to enable CAD / CAM, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and the like.

If you find me on a locomotive footplate I’ll probably tell you about the performance; if you find me under a locomotive, the ingenious design; in a signalbox, the sheer complexity of mechanical interlocking; at the Railway Technical Centre, the history of the fantastic creations born there; at a disused railway site, what made the railway important; the railway museum, the designs that changed the world; and if you want to know what I think of the current railways I’ll remind you of the unbelievable growth in the last 20 years.  I’ll probably do all that with an enthusiasm which marks me out as slightly bonkers. But then I’m an enthusiastic railwayman. It’s in the blood.

Stockport No.2 Signalbox - mechanical interlocking

Stockport No.2 ‘box interlocking © Peter Whatley

I’m going to start sounding like a stuck record in a minute. The Elder Statesman likes the elegance and class of railways, particularly locomotives. He loves pointing out that it is likely there are more books written about the GWR than any other single subject on the planet. Not sure about that one, but it is an interesting theory.

For that reason he hates Hawksworth while I’m fascinated by him, His style wasn’t Churchward or Collett, but to my mind his style was GWR. Experimenting, improving, trying to win back the years lost when Collett was past it and didn’t step down. He was too late of course. But what might have been? His 15xx was a leap in the right direction. His Modified Hall should never have been called a Hall it was so different from the original. His County took 2 cylinder locomotives beyond the classic 4 cylinder Castle. And his Pacific would have been the most powerful locomotive in the UK.


That’s what I love. The investigation of what was and what might have been. Pioneers at the top of their game. Which means come Christmas time, at some point, over a Purple Moose or two, the Elder Statesman and I will have our usual conversation where he waxes lyrical about the GWR and I tell him I’d be more impressed if they’d sorted grease and mechanical lubrication, roller bearings, accessibility, crew comforts, left hand drive. All the things that made the GWR, great though it was, flawed. And then we’ll argue whether the GWR or the Ffestiniog was the real pioneer (they both were).

I’ll probably also get a chance to get my usual little jest about my favourite Southern locomotive. It’s called Ellerman Lines….

Happy Christmas everyone. Cheers!

1 Comment

Stefco – standing on the shoulders of giants

Steve Coulson  (C) FR Archives

Steve Coulson
(C) FR Archives

Last night, we of the Ffestiniog lost one of the greats of the preservation era. Steve “Stefco” Coulson stands head and shoulders above many not because he did more, but what he did had such variety.

A nuclear engineer by trade, and a staunch supporter of nuclear power, Stefco could, and regularly did, turn his hand to anything.

Funkey locomotive Vale of Ffestiniog  (C) Barrie Hughes

Funkey locomotive Vale of Ffestiniog
(C) Barrie Hughes

His achievements stand as monuments to that, particularly the Funkey, Vale of Ffestiniog, where he took something that shouldn’t have fitted on the FR’s loading gauge and made it fit, and carriage 122 which although ultimately only a prototype could have been the forerunner of a new fleet of tin carrs and still I believe is one of the first carriages to fill up due to its roominess. Certainly the design should be looked at by other railways who cannot build wooden carriages like the FR does.

Carriage 122 (C) Stewart Macfarlane

Carriage 122
(C) Stewart Macfarlane

Interior of Carriage 122 (C) Stewart Macfarlane

Interior of Carriage 122
(C) Stewart Macfarlane

Not only that but he was instrumental in helping set up the Purple Moose Brewery and was effectively their first resident engineer, and could even be seen disappearing into the cellar of a local hostelry when they had an intermittent problem with their lines.

Stefco was also an accomplished model maker and his ability to make sequential models by cutting the CDs you got free with computer magazines into cams to drive a sequence of model actions was astounding when you did get a chance to view the gubbins of the job. His model of a narrow gauge train being filled with coal by a digger then moving into the exchange shed to be tipped was just incredible.

For me Stefco was the Tamper Man. He was the first of a line of engineers who have tackled regauging tampers for use on the FR, and proved it could be done. The Stefcomatic, ex Southern Region, saved from scrap in 1968, and returned to use in 1978 by Stefco, was the stalwart tamper on the FR for many years. It had a brief second life when it tamped some of the lighter graded sections of the WHR but it couldn’t cope with the 1:40 gradients and the KMX was brought in to do the job.



Stefcomatic Both (C) Roger Dimmick

Stefcomatic t’other side
Both (C) Roger Dimmick

As I set about regauging the KMX, it was often Stefco I’d have a pint with in the evening to talk over the latest challenge. He always had an idea, or a thought; invariably it was just what was needed.

The man was an inspiration, a great engineer, family man, and  friend to lots of us on the Ffestiniog. He built on the giants of the Ffestiniog and his name will stand with them. He will be sadly missed.

Leave a comment

Small but perfect

Module 1: Peel Godred

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Module 1 was originally my whole railway. It started out when I was living in Australia. I wanted a test bed to run models I was building. Then I thought, why not make it scenic? Then I thought, why not make it dual gauge? Then I thought, why not cram as much into a small space as possible?

Dual Gauge track in the Czech Republic - (Copyright Michael Roots, accessed from Wikipedia)

Dual Gauge track in the Czech Republic – (Copyright Michael Roots, accessed from Wikipedia)

The size of the module is small – dictated by the size of the desk I was dismantling to make it – about 1m by 0.75m. Fortunately in designing Penlowry it fitted perfectly into the bigger picture. I hope to post a picture of the baseboard for it shortly. It is built, tracklaying being postponed by a 12,000 mile move, and I do have photos… somewhere!

The Concept

At Peel Godred the railway will run through the streets of the town, over the industrial area and swings over the standard gauge branch line and down to the station. Here the dual gauge section starts with a NG spur into the brewery and a separate standard gauge branch to the brewery and chocolate factory. The idea is that raw materials come in by the Mid Sodor Railway and the majority of the output goes out by standard gauge, with some going back over the hills to supply the thirsty people of the Mid-Sodor and Ratty.


As mentioned previously, Purple Moose Brewery opened a second plant due to demand. The brewery is a home for NG locos (thanks to the enthusiasm of the brewery owner), hopefully including vertical boilered Leary, and it also owns two standard gauge locos named Madog and Glaslyn. These were built low profile a la Alfred and Judy due to the original NG bridge over the branch which was built low to ease the gradient for NG trains heading out of Peel Godred.

The branch originally went to Peel Godred’s fledgling port where shipment to Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland was possible. The port came to nothing, goods were shipped out via the railway, and the branch now terminates at the aluminium works. With more powerful locos and Peel Godred being a request halt for the NG allowing trains a run up, a full height bridge has now been installed but the locos remain as an oddity.

Bagnalls Afred and Judy at the Foxfield Railway - (Copyright Norman Bates, accessed Great Central Railway)

Bagnalls Afred and Judy at the Foxfield Railway – (Copyright Norman Bates, accessed from Great Central Railway)

Just to prove there is occasionally some action and I don’t just talk about railway modelling, here is the bare bones of Glaslyn under construction.

Bachmann Bill (accessed from

Bachmann Bill (accessed from

The Bachmann Bill and Ben unfortunately are quite large. I am keeping the wheelbase (which is also a tad long) but shortening the chassis particularly at the front bringing the cylinders back to where they should be, lowering the cab roof, and lowering the whole body to “hunker down” on the chassis a bit more. The tanks are in fact thick enough but the paint job makes them look ridiculously thin. A repaint will make all the difference to this loco. Here is the chassis having had the front cut off with the cylinders lined up ready for shortening of the piston rods and slidebars.

Bachmann Bill chassis post shortening

Bachmann Bill chassis post shortening

Whether Madog will ever exist remains to be seen. Glaslyn has its plates thanks to N-Brass, and livery will be Glaslyn blue with Purple Moose crests above the nameplates and Porthmadog on the tank fronts.

The chocolate factory will have a NG and standard gauge link. It will be called Burgess’s (a family name) supplying their world famous irresistably delicious Snowballs (my wife’s family name).


A new blog and a new name

I’ve decided to start this blog as:

a) I want to record my modelling activities (railway modelling – my wife always reminds me I forget that important word “railway”…)

b) I want something to pen any thoughts I have

c) This project is so mad I suspect I’ll find other like-minded mad people out there too to exchange ideas with.

So what’s Penlowry?

Penlowry is the name for my model railway. As it is a big project and I have nowhere to put it, I have cunningly conceived a plan to build it in modules that can be put together at a later date when we own a house with a requisite sized loft to put it in. Quite frankly, a fox from Oxford University would have struggled to do any better.

I will post a diagram of the entire project soon. For the moment, let’s just say it will contain 5 gauges and will be 4mm to the foot (1:76). The gauges are 00, 0010.5, 009, 006.5, and monorail. Told you I was mad.

The name Penlowry comes from the first module which I originally was building as a stand-alone model. It has 00 and 009 tracks and is depicting the junction between the 2 in a factory setting with chocolate factory and brewery (based on the Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog). The industrial setting reminded me of paintings by the artist L. S. Lowry so much I looked for a name to suit.

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

In the completed model the upper end of the module will be a headland and so I borrowed the Welsh word Pen for head or headland (as in Penrhyndeudraeth – Headland between two beaches) and so resulted in Penlowry. I also checked to ensure Lowry or Llowry didn’t mean anything in Welsh. It doesn’t according to my friendly Welsh guide, although Llowry is a girl’s name.

So there we are. Penlowry.

In the next post I’ll scan a copy of the concept diagram and see if I can expalin a bit more about the modules.