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

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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!


The little grey cells

As I said in an earlier post, my modelling appears to have currently reached a temporary hiatus. There is little I can do about it. I have two sons who are hardly independent, a job that has gone into overdrive, and, as my previous but one post said, I am getting to grips with the new pump world.

One of my regular readers, who happens to write a blog about modelling that does happen, said to me recently, “You like to have several projects on the go at once don’t you?” He may well be right, but I think my blog is misleading because I haven’t anywhere near as many projects actually on the go as I make out. Many have reached the drawing board and are no further.

This doesn’t concern me greatly, because the day will come when the kids are busy doing homework, and when not doing homework, chasing girls, and I will get some time to build things. All I am doing now is the planning.

Although I don’t get much modelling time, what I do get are 10 minute breaks between jobs in the office, and a lunch break where I need to think about anything but High Speed Rail in Canada, buying trains for Mexico, looking at recently scrapped trains in Australia, and has the right team won the latest franchises in the North of England (to give an example based on this week just endeth).

These 10 minute breaks are ideal for research. So for the last couple of weeks I have been resurrecting an idea I’ve had for some time to build a 1988 built steam loco in 009, and the last couple of days in amongst the hectic world of modern day Colonial railways, examining GWR tenders, Hawksworth ones in particular, both for my Pacific project and also for something else. These dabbles in online research keep the creative juices flowing and ensure I don’t end up in the loony bin.

More on 1988 steam locomotives and Hawksworth tenders another time. I may also do a piece on Hawksworth himself. The more I look into his work, the more I’m saddened he didn’t get a chance to show what he was really capable of.

One of the results of this week’s research: Did you know that Charles Collett did an 8 wheel version of his standard 6 wheel 4000 gallon tender?  No I didn’t either. He only did one. I presume it was an experiment to see if you could get the same capacity on a wider route availability. Presumably it wasn’t worth the bother.

Anyway, here it is attached to a Hall.

Collett 8 wheel tender


Newcastle Brown

I’ve got a new favourite. As regular listeners will know I like an oddity. Something off the norm for me is just really interesting. I think it is the designer in me, I like to see the results of other engineers experimenting. Sometimes there are successes, and sometimes there are failures. But if you don’t try, you/’ll never know. My list of “one day in the future” models includes (for example) the LNER streamlined B17/5s. They only did two of them and I think they were probably a pig to maintain, but it was an experiment for publicity – something the modern railways can forget about sometimes.

Gresley B17/5 East Anglian

Gresley B17/5 East Anglian

The list also includes the LNER C7 with booster tender. Booster tenders never seem to have survived much wherever they were tried but I love the experimentation that went into them

Gresley C7 with booster tender

Gresley C7 with booster tender

My new favourite class is the Consett long boiler tanks. There is something about the way they look, almost narrow gauge in appearance. I also like the ingenuity that went into solving a particular problem. Again, it was an experiment, partially successful, partially not. At high speeds the long boilers, with their firebox behind the back axle made them waggle their arse – a bit like a salsa dancer waggling their hips as they walk. However, the tractive effort packaged into a small locomotive with small wheelbase made them ideal for hauling heavy loads on branchlines with tight curves and steep gradients. So that is what they were used for. Evolved over time, the details of the design changed although the concept remained the same. One remains, preserved by the North Tyneside Steam Railway Association. It has just been returned to steam and looks fantastic. Railway Bylines has just done an article on them in the latest issue (Vol 20, Issue 4, March 2015). Worth a read.

(c) North Tyneside Steam Railway Association

(c) North Tyneside Steam Railway Association

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Bird’s eye view

I have an 08 shunter. It’s a Bachmann one. They’re good and they’re outside framed (OK I know the new Hornby one is considered better but that doesn’t make the Bachmann one bad).


I’ve always wanted an 08 and a BR blue one too. This in itself is a little odd as I’m not really a corporate blue era person.

The reason though comes from a couple of incidents. When I was 4 (in 1982) I spent a week in hospital. From my vantage point in the hospital I could see the railway below and it looked like a model railway.

When I was 8 (I’ll let you do the maths) I spent a week in hospital again. As before I got to watch the railway below and this time I distinctly remember a very shiny shunter hauling carriages about. It made me want to build a model railway with a blue shunter.

I have since done sufficient research to know this was 08567 built at Crewe in ’53 and had just come back from overhaul at Swindon a few months previously.

So my only tasks on this little project is to re-number my 08 and make sure it has the correct details (dual braking for a start) for 1986. Then it will be the yard shunter in the research facility.


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Light rail and Brio

Once again I must apologise for the recent break in transmission. Work reached an all time epic level and I have had no time for modelling let alone blogging about it.

On the work front I have been discussing what the north of England might see next for rolling stock, preparing to carry out a global market survey, and soothing the fevered brow of some banking types who are thinking of putting some cash towards a light rail system in a little village called Sydney. This has necessitated 2 trips, and I am writing this on the way out on the second of these trips (currently at 36,792 feet, 7,357 miles from Sydney, -45 deg C outside, travelling at 569mph, just clearing the coast of Oman having stopped at Dubai).

On a modelling front I have no intention to do a light rail system but one of the interesting things about the Sydney system is that it will have no catenary in the “historic” section from Wynyard to Town Hall. This is excellent news for the modeller who now has an excuse not to put the string up (in fact the Dubai light rail due to open this year will be the first totally wire free system using Alstom’s third rail APS, but I digress).



I have many connections with The Sydney light rail system as I helped write a report that said a) it’s quite tired, b) you (the government) shouldn’t pay too much to buy it back, and c) shut the monorail it’s even more tired (in fact it’s very like the first word in this c section but the vowel changed).

A scene from the past - light rail and monorail at Paddy's Market before the monorail was dismantled

A scene from the past – light rail and monorail at Paddy’s Market before the monorail was dismantled

(My next post – Part 2 of the rail research unit –  will include more about the monorail)

Oh and the Brio? Well I’ve been building many layouts for my son. I now generally do my best work before I leave the house in the morning. It’s his birthday on Thursday and I’ve bought him the Forth Bridge. No, really, look!

Brio Forth Bridge

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Fleet Guide – No.1: The Class 69

I thought it would be good occasionally to write short posts about some of the stock to run on the railway, as a fleet guide that can be built up over time into a full Traction Recognition.

Each post will have a short description of the locomotive class, or locomotive, in question. To get the ball rolling, here is the less well-known history of the Class 69.

The history of the Class 69

With the growing demand for rail freight in the UK, several years ago the Rail Freight Strategy Group got together and brainstormed ideas to alleviate capacity on the railways. One suggestion put forward for freight trains was to lengthen them, thus reducing the paths required (although it was acknowledged that some loops were of insufficient length for this plan). In terms of moving products such as coal or minerals/aggregate this seemed a good idea. However, the need for a locomotive which could haul a coal train of 100 wagons from a standing start up the 1:37 of the Lickey incline meant that matters were put on hold.

It might have all ended there had it not been for an entrepreneurial individual who had been following the flourishing of railways in Europe and the UK and saw an opportunity. Understanding something of locomotives they knew that the best type of locomotives for starting a load (i.e. greatest tractive effort at start) were steam locos, and this may be a possibility as outright high speed wasn’t the issue (as long as the loco could get the train up to 70mph-ish then all would be well).

Early research soon dismissed the idea of hybrid traction, something that had been tried by Kitson back in 1924-1935 and hadn’t worked sufficiently well – and had pretty much bankrupted the company.

The experimental Kitson-Still steam-diesel hybrid.

The experimental Kitson-Still steam-diesel hybrid.

The final design that was put forward was a 2-6-2+2-6-2 Garratt which could burn either oil or pulverised coal, the latter being the preference as there is a large quantity of it shipped to the UK every day to fire the power stations, the transport of which being highlighted as a use of the locomotives. Automated operation included the introduction of two regulators, one for each power unit, controlled with a WSP system, thus curing the Garratt’s Achilles heel. This coupled with high levels of remote condition monitoring meant that the design would only require single man operation and the central cab where the firebox was only needed to be accessed in emergency. Instead full front cabs were installed at either end, styled like those on the Class 66s, making the design a cab-forward Garratt.

Initially one demonstrator was built and loaned to Direct Rail Services (DRS). It was named Janus, in recognition that the locomotive literally had two faces (in Thomas the Tank Engine world terms) and looked to the past and the future, just like the Roman god.

While DRS trials were continuing, three more demonstrators were completed and were loaned to DB Schenker, Freightliner, and GB Railfreight (GBRf) respectively.

GBRf Class 69 004 poses at the Great Central Railway during running in trials. Crimson Lake 8F 8624 can be seen in the background.

GBRf Class 69 004 poses at the Great Central Railway during running in trials. Crimson Lake 8F 8624 can be seen peeking through the gaps in the background.

DRS saw the potential in the locomotive and negotiated the purchase of 69 001 and placed an order for a further three, continuing the naming theme started with Janus.

While the DRS additional 3 were in production, the other three freight operators decided they didn’t agree with DRS and returned their demonstrators. These were then shipped to mainland Europe to be loaned to various freight operators, and the last news was that one was to be re-gauged for trials in Russia, and one was being shipped to China.

The fleet therefore stands at seven, these being:

69 001                 DRS Janus

69 002                 Originally DB Schenker now being re-gauged for Russia

69 003                 Originally Freightliner now in Europe

69 004                 Originally GBRf now in transit to China

69 005                 DRS Belinus

69 006                 DRS Aditi

69 007                 DRS Heimdallr

Pictures of the demonstrator Class 69s in service are rare but here 69 004 is captured drifting across Arten Gill viaduct with a rake of HTA wagons in tow

Pictures of the demonstrator Class 69s in service are rare but here 69 004 is captured drifting across Arten Gill viaduct with a rake of HTA wagons in tow

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A Study in Blue


Well if you’re a Holmes fan you’ll know about scarlet and if you’re a Sherlock fan you’ll know about pink, but this one’s in blue.

My wife wanted to find a blueprint to put on the living room wall. We agreed it was better to get a real one that meant something rather than some cheap tat from a shop.

On eBay I picked up a set of 7 blueprints. Intriguingly these were all stamped on the back “7th Feb 1934”.

They were all North British Locomotive Company. Having researched them and discussed it with a number of people I believe they were printed for a sales agent to carry around to use to sell their wares “this is what we can do” sort of thing.

Trying to resolve what they were exactly took a bit of time as 3 were 3’6″ gauge, 1 was standard gauge, and 3 were 5’6″ gauge. In the end I booked in with the National Railway Museum’s Search Engine facility and had a look at the original order books they have. They also have the original linen hand coloured GAs for the standard gauge Fairlie.


Here is what they are:

South African Railways 15CA 4-8-2


South African Railways MH 2-6-6-2 Mallet


South African Railways FD 2-6-2+2-6-2 Modified Fairlie


Mexican R1 / R2 Double Fairlie


Bengal-Nagpur Railway KSM class 4-6-2


Great Argentine Railway CS6 4-8-0


Great Indian Peninsula Railway N1 2-10-0.


The modified Fairlie is interesting because they weren’t very successful. Only 2 FCs were ever built and only 4 FDs. The FDs were produced in 1925 so presumably hadn’t shown their inherent weakness after 9 years if the NBL Co were still trying to flog them.

Also found a typewritten sheet in one of the order books at the NRM which showed which orders in WW2 had or had not yet been given authority to build. Real wartime rationing. Munitions before motive power.