Scenery and development of SMRC Avonbridge ‘O’ gauge layout
Once the additional boards were delivered and the track planned, laid and wired, we set about making what started as a simple circular test-track into something more like a proper layout.
The final layout size is approximately 13 feet x 30 feet, but the consideration we made to limit board width (reducing weight, storage and transport space) restricts the area available for scenery
The decision was made that only the front of the layout would be intended to be on show and we would have a scenic break about halfway around the end curves.
After a little thought it was decided that, as our ‘OO’ layout was dominated by a Great Western Railway main station, we would focus on the Midland Railway for this layout. All buildings and structures would need to be removable for transport and any permanent scenery could not be any higher that the existing board sides for both storage and handling reasons.
To begin, to weather the track and hide the plastic finish of the sleepers, the track was simply sprayed using aerosol cans of matt black car paint.
Ballast was added, glued down with watered-down PVA, but before ballasting the front boards we started work on the station platforms, which turned into quite a saga.
We were still very aware that we wanted to keep weight down on this layout and with this in mind thought about how to make the platform structure. Even with the restricted width of platforms we had allowed ourselves, using solid timber for the whole platform would have added something approaching 20-25lbs additional weight and the varying width of the platforms would have caused problems to cut. For the main lengths, we therefore decided that we would use solid timber blocks for strength at the ends only and between them build a rigid ‘honeycomb’ structure of very thin plywood. We glued strips of ply directly to the boards using spacing strips from the adjacent rails to set clearances, cutting numerous further strips to build-up the geodesic inspired structure we were after. When we had finished this we realised that we hadn’t fully thought through the next step – adding the platform top. As the ply was so thin, there was almost no contact surface to be sure of getting a good joint with the ply deck. If we had made the structure separately to the board we would have avoided this (but getting the correct dimensions would have been as tricky as working with solid timber). One of the members had a brainwave. If we filled the cells of the platform structure with expanding builders’ foam there would be a lightweight, solid surface to stick to. In theory, it would just take a quick squirt in each cell, avoiding the need to cut and shape additional glue blocks. We were not entirely sure how far and in which direction the foam would expand, but with some trepidation and a lot of newspaper masking over the adjacent tracks we gave this a go. It turned out that any doubts were unjustified and the rather bizarre procedure and alien-like growth of the foam provided some entertainment to the onlookers. When this had set, we cut and sanded the foam to the level we wanted and spread acrylic tile adhesive over it, laying on the ply deck. We marked up some solid timber for the end ramps, which one of the club members planed to shape. The face of the platform walls and the corbels are Slater’s brick plastic card, the platform edges are plastic card and the main platform surfaces are bitumen paint scattered with sand. Ballasting to the front boards was finished once the platform sides were painted.
We started building cutting embankments on the end boards using expanded polystyrene cut to shape and glued-down with neat PVA glue. This was then covered with a skim of filler. However, some of these proved to be too easy to knock-off while moving the boards, so, following our experiment with builders’ foam on the platforms, we thought we would try using the same product to build embankments. Our thinking was that the builders’ foam proved to stick to timber well and would be more forgiving when handled, as it remains slightly spongy. It also doesn’t produce the snowstorm that cutting expanded polystyrene does. We used cardboard sides to keep as much of the foam off the track as possible and cut and sanded it to shape when set. We were given the tip by one club member that gluing industrial paper handtowels over the top would help to reinforce the embankments. Strips of towel were laid over both the foam and filler with undiluted PVA to form a tough bandage when dry. The embankments were roughly covered in old flock from our store cupboard to form a key and finally covered in a mix of three shades of Gaugemaster foliage laid with watered-down PVA.
The first building to be completed was the main station building. As the platforms are quite narrow, we thought we might have quite a search to find a suitable building to model. Looking in ‘A Pictorial History of Midland Railway Architecture’ by V. R. Anderson and G. K. Fox we found details of the station building at Northfield. A timber island platform structure built in 1893, it proved to be just what we wanted as it was only 11 feet wide and short enough in length to fit our platform. The book contains dimensioned drawings which were re-drawn to 7mm=1foot scale. The model itself is scratch-built from plain plastic card. The basic carcase is 060 plastic sheet, 060 framework overlaid on to this with 040 plastic cladding inside and out. The external cladding was scored with a scribing tool for the planked effect, which gives the structure a scale thickness. The roof was made up from staggered strips of scored 060 sheet, butt-jointed over a framework made of 060 card. The doors are hinged on pins and the windows slide open in channels formed with Plastruct angled mouldings
We were looking for models of the distinctive Midland Railway lamp hut. Those we found looked poor value for money for such a simple item, so we simply made some from a chassis of 040 plastic card covered in Slater’s corrugated sheet.
At Warley Model Railway Club’s annual show at the NEC we bought a selection of figures and platform clutter from various sources. In addition, we have also bought figures from Preiser and the platform trolleys. The chocolate machine and scales are whitemetal Peco kits.
Finding a building for the narrow platform proved difficult. Looking through a book of old railway postcards it was noticed that there was a small timber shelter on the second platform at Moseley station. We thought this would suitable and a sketch was made, the model itself is plastic card, built in a similar fashion to the main station building.
The Midland Railway seems to have quite commonly used distinctive angled station nameboards with a central wrought-iron bracket. These are made from plastic using sheet, Plastruct hollow posts and Microstrip pre-cut strips for the board edging.
The scenic break at one end is a standard Midland Railway brick road bridge design. It is adapted from an ‘Eric Plans’ drawing of the bridge at Ripple, near Tewkesbury. The line is now disused, but the bridge still stands. Initially a card mock-up was made, to check side and height clearances. The carcase of the bridge was made in balsa, which gives a scale wall thickness, but is light, easy to work with and should not splinter or delaminate. The balsa frame was covered in Slater’s brickwork plastic sheets, fixed with Rocket card glue.
The signal box is a standard Midland Railway modular timber design. In this case it is a copy, made in plastic, of the Prototype Models cardboard Luffenham signal box kit. Luffenham signal box has been partly preserved by the Derwent and Wye Valley Railway Trust, but has been moved from its original site near Oakham to Matlock Riverside and now has a concrete ground floor. Although this model did appear at the club show in November 2011 it was incomplete. Other projects delayed it being finished and the interior, doors, windows and walkway were not added until July 2012. The box is built in a similar way to the station building, 060 thick plastic carcase overlaid with 060 strips for the framework, engraved panels of 040 for planked sections. Strips of 040 plastic, with thin battens of Microstrip to angle them, make up the horizontal shiplap panels. The roof is strips of scored plastic card staggered and overlaid for a tile effect. Interior details were based on pictures found in Michael A. Vanns’ book ‘Signalling in the age of Steam’, using a Springside signal box interior kit as an additional guide. The doors are hinged on pins and the windows slide in Plastruct channel sections.
The signal box’s coal bunker is based on Marton Junction’s bunker. The corrugated iron privy is modelled on one shown in a picture of Lawley Street Goods Yard. Both were found in pictures on the internet and are plastic card covered in Slater’s embossed plastic sheets.
Looking for a prototype for a platelayer’s hut on the internet we found Blackwell Mill Halt, Derbyshire. The building may date from the line’s opening in 1874 and still stands. Also on the internet was a survey of the area for a proposed walking route, which provided the dimensions of the hut. The model of the hut is made from plastic card, laminated to give a scale thickness to the walls as the door can be opened. The walls are clad in Slater’s plastic stonework sheet and the corrugated roof was made using a round needle file to cut channels in sheet plastic card.
The Edstone aqueduct, Bearley, near Stratford upon Avon was opened in 1816. It carries the Stratford upon Avon canal across a shallow valley 475 feet wide, making it the longest cast iron aqueduct in England. A model of a section of this structure forms the scenic break at the remaining end of the layout. The canal barge was brought in by a club member, who had it tucked away for some time and that inspired the idea of building an aqueduct. Details of Edstone popped up while looking for aqueduct ideas on the internet and it seemed to be ideal for several reasons. It is relatively local to the club, historically and nationally significant and an interesting structure. It actually crosses an existing ex-Great Western Railway line and several pictures confirm that in the past it was used as an ad hoc water tower for the now lifted GWR Alcester branch. A detailed survey on the internet and a trip to the aqueduct provided the required dimensions. The buttresses are balsa sub-structures with Slater’s embossed plastic sheeting cladding, fixed with Rocket card glue. The trough is made from 060 plastic card with individual rivets cut from Microrod and Microstrip railings. Plastruct box section and tube mouldings were used for the water crane. The ‘water’ is a box of clear Perspex.
All paints used for the scenic structures and figures are Humbrol enamels, including any washes and dry-brushing. A finishing coat of Tamiya clear matt varnish has been usually applied.
One important addition, which substantially improves the look of the layout, is the curtains around the edge, which cover the legs. Many thanks are owed to one of our associate members for the work done on those. They are fixed to the board with strips of Velcro.
The first public appearance of Avonbridge was at our club show in November 2011 and the scenery was still at an early stage. Then we only had the bare platforms, the station building, the part-complete signal box, one piece of embankment and the curtains. Much progress was made in 2012 and the layout would look very different for its first trip away from home, the Telford Show that September.
As of August 2012, future developments considered include constructing a footbridge between the platforms, adding timber walkways, signals, backscenes, lights to the buildings, platform lamps, fencing and adding lineside clutter
Also under consideration are alterations to widen some of the boards, which will give a wider range of operating opportunities and further scenic scope.