Steam! There's nothing like it. My earliest encounter was when, during the early fifties, my father presented my brother and myself with the Steam Launch "Snipe". This was a launch he had had some twenty-odd years before and was powered by a steam boiler very similar to that of a Mamod, fuelled by solid pellets. Unfortunately, whilst in the middle of a pond one day, the propeller had failed and the launch, becalmed in the best nautical tradition, ran out of water but not fuel and was seriously damaged. This was the condition in which we inherited her, but it did not stop us having hours of fun either trying (and failing) to mend her or taking the boiler etc. out for some other scheme. Eventually the Snipe was usurped by a second-hand Mamod stationary engine which, although it worked, was not as much fun for us as "messing about with the boat" had been - perished rubber steam pipes and all!
Railways were also very important in those years - we had first lived alongside the ex-GN line to Hertford North and I still recall lying in bed at night listening to the sound of trucks being shunted and engines slipping as they tackled the over-bridge outside Palace Gates station. No trip home from school was complete until one had been enveloped in the steam and smoke of a hard-working N2 tank as it passed under the footbridge at Bowes Park station! After a house move in 1953 we were able to look out of a bedroom window towards New Southgate and would spend many hours watching the smoke from an engine disappear as a train entered the tunnel, then waiting for it to re-appear at the other end a few minutes later.
We had already been the proud possessors of an oval of clockwork Hornby "O" gauge but the mid-fifties saw the arrival of the electric train set in the form of the Rovex "Princess Elizabeth" and two coaches whose roofs bowed upwards in a remarkably short time. Not for us the superior but expensive Hornby Dublo with it's unrealistic three rail track and tin-plate rolling stock. As time passed, the railway developed until by the time I reached the age of 17 was quite a reasonable hand-built scale model of the ubiquitious dead-end branch-line. Soon after priorities changed for the worse and the railway was sold to help provide funds for a car and the pursuit of girls! Steam in all it's forms, was, however, always a great interest. It was about this time that I first rode on a locomotive footplate, the "Marlow Donkey", the Marlow branch's 1453-worked auto-train. Then came marriage, a home, children etc. and the yearning for something steam-powered!
During the mid-seventies there was advertised in the model press by Model & Miniature Railways of Rochdale, a kit to build a Gauge "O" live steam model of the L.M.S. Jinty for, if I recall correctly, £60. All that was needed to make this spirit fired, "easily assembled", kit were, and I quote from the box which is before me as I write (1998 - now "lost" after a house move in 2000), "Simple Hand Tools, Solder, Adhesive, Paint and Transfers". So, I set to and started construction.
The cover of the box, stained with meths and rather tired after 20-plus years of sitting in the garage!
In the meantime some thought had been given as to what to do with the beast once assembled, and an oval of Peco "O" gauge track was laid around the garden with a triangular junction leading to where a terminus would eventually be built. But, "easily assembled" proved to be beyond my capabilities! My wife, Marion, knew quite well the late Brian Glue, an accomplished model engineer and well-known G1 steam railway man. Even he, with his vast knowledge and know-how, in his well-equipped workshop, couldn't make the beast work. So, construction virtually finished the project was abandoned and sat for many a day in its box in a cupboard in the garage until being disposed of when we moved house. But, in the meantime, the garden had gained a railway line with nothing to run on it! What to do? It just so happened that at about this time I had been seeing the adverts for the Archangel models, so I made enquiries and to cut a long story short, purchased in April 1978 a Sgt. Murphy which was christened Tegwyn (Tegwyn, where are you today?).Some coaches were quickly built and the Nursery End Railway was in business. A three road terminus was added and hours of enjoyment for all the family ensued.
Tegwyn and three coaches standing at the terminal station.
The children loved the loco as it went raspberrying around the garden, blowing off in the rudest possible way, although Marion was never enamoured by the smell of meths that pervaded house and garden! Perhaps the least satisfied was myself - I had had a mental picture of sitting on the lawn on a sunny Summer's day, a glass of beer in one hand, watching the train go round.
Rounding the 6ft radius at ground-level.
But, reality was totally different: although I had built the track to be as level as possible (ground level one side of the garden, up to 18 inches above ground level the other) I found I spent the whole time chasing the engine round to adjust the regulator. Despite a minimum 6ft radius Tegwyn, left to her own devices, would speed up, slow down, and occasionally de-rail when furthest above the ground. Then, a couple of years later, the decision was taken to purchase a second engine and, after much careful thought, an order was placed for a G.V.T. tram engine, named Sir Mark, from Gosling. This was a fine piece of machinery, twin oscillating cylinders, very controllable and with a magnificent exhaust, both in noise and steam.
Sir Mark and two coaches on the raised section
But, due to the track-base construction being originally for 7mm, the loco was a fraction of an inch too wide and the skirts would bind against the wooden side rails, despite my having taken a plane to the wood. So the decision was taken to sell Sir Mark. The rest of the family were not too sad as, to them, it didn't look like a steam engine! So, we soldiered on with Tegwyn (and an abortive venture into 4mm live steam with a West Country loco, but I'll not write about that disaster!) and the raspberrying - and half the kids in the district in the garden, or so it seemed! The children grew up, interest in the railway declined and eventually, with a house move imminent, the track was lifted and the stock sold. If I recall correctly, Tegwyn went to a new home in Torquay.
So, 1985 arrives and the steam bug is biting again! Plans are drawn up for the Foxwarren Light Railway, a simple circuit around the lawn with a passing loop, a couple of sidings and a tunnel under the steps leading down to the lawn. Construction took some time as the new garden was enjoying a major re-design after our house-move. More agonising over locomotive power led to the conclusion that, bank balance permitting, radio control with gas firing would be the best for our needs. A visit to the Model Engineer show enabled us to try first hand a Merlin Mayflower and an order was placed there and then for an all-black "budget" version at £399.99. January 1986 saw Megan (Merlin works number 285) arrive and she is still with us today. Life with Megan is, umm, interesting! Her ability for slow running is superb but getting her lit is a bit of a problem. The gas control goes from "Off" to "On" with an immediate strong flow of gas and lighting at the chimney frequently results in lots of flame, all in the wrong place. She did, once, burn through the wires for the radio control! That was easily remedied though I often wonder why no-one asks the reason for the mend - quite obvious through one of her spectacles. Then she did the one thing that was bound to happen after I ignored the golden rules and built a tunnel that was a) over twice my arm's reach and b) curved - she stopped right in the middle of the tunnel! By the time I had rigged up a hook on a cane to retrieve her, the damage was done and the white metal in the "steam chest" had partially melted and she failed in a big way! By now I was rather fed-up with the lighting-up problem and the limitations of the track, so she was just put back in her display cabinet in the study and stayed there. The track was lifted, a small amount of it sold, and the garden returned to being a garden. But, the F.L.R. was not out of business yet! After a while Megan was despatched to Merlin for an overhaul and various plans for re-building the line ensued, construction of which did not start until Easter 1997. In the intervening period I was more involved with a 12 inches to the foot steam railway where, amongst others, I met Dave Kiernan (King of 16mm Cardboard Rolling Stock) who built the Molesworth Railway. I had read his article in the 16 mil Association's magazine, Sixteen Mil Today (S.M.T.), without realising I knew the author! By pure chance one day he had some photos with him that he showed me, the connection with the article and the Club was made and he immediately insisted that Megan should come out of her retirement and that I should take her over to run on his line. She duly did and was an absolute pig to light, but once steamed, ran as sweetly as ever. Dave persuaded me to take her to the 16 Mil Association's East Surrey Group's Summer 1995 Show at Merstham where she ran for a considerable period on the Oyster Creek line.
Two interesting events happened at Merstham. First I was muttering under my breath whilst trying to get her re-lit when a voice behind me asked if I needed any assistance. I rather gruffly replied, "No thank you. She's fine once going but a real bitch to light!" The owner of the voice then moved away and as he disappeared I was sure I recognised him - it was "Mr. Merlin", Tom Cooper, who had built Megan some nine years earlier! Then I was chatting on the Pearce stand and the suggestion was made that instead of lighting at the top of the chimney as per the instructions she may be easier to light from between the frames, under the chimney. She is! Not necessarily first time mind you, but far better than previously. I have a great affection for Megan and am pleased she is back on the track again. (I was very interested in Tag Gorton's article about Merlins in S.M.T. 79 and immediately contacted Mike Chaney to purchase a similar gas valve. Unfortunately the type used by Tag is no longer available, so I have a "straight" as opposed to "right-angled" valve which fits reasonably satisfactorily but requires a little extra copper piping.)
The new line is slowly taking shape and basically will be a small terminus (Five Lanes) leading to a dumbbell-shaped "main line" with a short line leading off (to Launceston station) and a mineral branch to a quarry. The return dumbell represents the line to exchange sidings with the standard gauge at Launceston. So far just the "main line" has been constructed, but the bases for the station and the quarry line are in situ. Outside work has come to an end for 1998 but there's plenty to do indoors during winter - point construction being paramount! It'll all be built one day!
In the meantime though, more stock has arrived! I saw advertised in SMT a while back some slate wagons, 20 in all, complete with "slate" loads. The price was a bargain compared with buying new, so after a quick 'phone call we were off one hot summer Saturday to look at them. The wagons were in very good condition and the "slate" loads looked more like "granite" loads to me! Perfect! So, they were purchased. There was also for sale a small plasticard and metal model of a Huddy Hunslet style loco which ran quite well on re-chargeable nicads. It was rather plain but looked good so it was purchased as well.
Left: "Plain Jane" Verity, as she was when she was purchased
Once home, this was the first of the purchases to receive attention. Four brass curtain rings were fitted to the Spectacle holes which really did improve the appearance. Next I added some handrails and lining, moved the charging socket from on top of the footplate inside the cab to the right-hand frame under the cab, put in a handbrake column (conveniently cut to allow driver Trelawney's arm to rest nonchalently on the handle), and gave her a name - Verity. Once the work was completed she was out in the garden with a few of the trucks for a test run. Very satisfactory too! She takes a whole 3 ¼ minutes to complete a circuit of the "main line".
Right: "Pretty" Verity after the addition of Spectacle Rims, Handrails, Lining, Side Chains, Handbrake Column (out of sight on far side of Cab!) and, of course, her Nameplates.
Next a garden shed appeared with a spur leading off from where the line loops round beyond Five Lanes station area to two sidings inside the shed. The main ideas for this were:- 1) somewhere to keep garden tools, chairs etc. as the garage is considerably over-crowded and 2) storage for the less-valuable stock to save carting it in and out of doors all the time.
Attention was now turned to the trucks. Work has started but is by no means complete yet! First the side rails were painted to represent the Cornish flag, black with a white cross. Now lettering is being added, "C G C" standing for "Cornish Granite Company." Next will come the numbers. Nearly all numbers will be duplicated so that I can run a "full" and "empty" rake suggesting loading and unloading of granite. There will be a few left with unique numbers to leave in sidings etc. representing wagons not presently in use. Couplings were a problem and I haven't yet found a suitable solution. The wagons themselves couple up with a simple loop and hook. No problems there! But, how to couple them to the loco? My first idea was to fit chains to both the loco and the wagon at the end of the rake. This looks good, especially on "Verity", but it is so very fiddly to connect wagon to loco that I needed a better method. "Megan" and the coaches are fitted with "chopper" style couplings, originally from Clay Cellars but now marketed by P & J Models, so I decided the best solution was to use these for "Verity" and with just a "chopper" hook on the end wagons.
Unfortunately illness in the family during 1998 meant nothing much happened, as far as the railway is concerned, for more than a year, but now work is progressing once again. The number one maintenance problem to address was subsidence. Where the line passes between lawn and a miniature acer tree once stood a rather large silver birch. The previous owners of the house had it removed but, unfortunately, did not take out the root-ball. We have been in the house for nearly 17 years and the root-ball is still there, rotting away slowly! I have had two goes now at adjusting the track-bed with the result that it is now supported on plastic drainpipes that go down as much as four feet into the ground! Next winter will be the test of this latest "under-pinning" which, if it fails again, will have to be replaced with a far more rigid structure. This part of the line is now called "Subsidence Curve"
Megan and four coaches rounding Subsidence Curve on the first part of the Five Lanes and Launceston to be opened.
The above-mentioned Mike Chaney gas valve has made an enormous difference to Megan's lighting-up! First time - every time. I have experimented with differing settings for it and have, hopefully, found a happy medium where she will raise steam in a reasonable time but doesn't waste it blowing off. The original Merlin screw valve acts as the main "on/off" gas valve with the Mike Chaney one set for running. A further well worthwhile improvement I have made, following yet another Tag Gorton article in SMT, was the addition of a "Sentinel" glitch buster from Airedale Models. The improvement in the response to the radio control is enormous and I have no hesitation at all in thoroughly recommending this product, especially as I had a small problem with the supplied unit cutting out. I didn't know the best place to "hide" the unit so tried it out of sight in the right-hand side tank. It worked perfectly on the test bed (well, kitchen table) but once steam was raised was as dead as a dodo. It seemed the problem was one of too much heat so I tried it with the unit hanging out of a rear spectacle with not much better success. It worked for a short while, then cut out. I spoke to Bob Horrell of Airdale Models who immediately said to return the unit and he'd replace it and if that didn't cure the problem, to return the replacement and he'd send me a refund. He pointed out that the unit is designed for model cars which are nowhere near as hot as a steam engine! Fortunately, the refund wasn't required but that is what I call service. It's a pity some of the bigger companies in the land don't behave the same way.
Subsidence Curve did not live up to its name last winter so, fortunately, no emergency P Way work was needed for Spring 2000 but it is now mid 2000 and the house has been sold! We hope to be moving by early September so, for the time being, the Railway has to be lifted once more.
That was a silly thing to write! No sooner had I done so than our buyers pulled out! Still, that's life. More will come along. In the meantime all bar some eight or nine yards of track has been lifted (I kept a little down so that Megan can go on until the end!) and vague plans are already forming for the next, the best, Five Lanes and Launceston Rly Coy featuring the stone traffic of the Cornish Granite Coy.
Well, the house move went through but there were a number of problems involving insurance claims and builders, so there hasn't been much time for railways, other than some indoor construction and some exhibition running. However, all is set for a rennaisance during 2006, a year that has got off to a good start with the laying down of frames for a Quarry Hunslet-style locomotive to haul the granite trains. Additionally, due to the north Cornwall weather being very unreliable (strong winds off the sea at the drop of a hat!) I am toying with the idea of a layout that will be part indoors and part outdoors. Not connected, but with a common "main station area" that will be a part of either the garden line or an inside line. We shall see.....
Having flirted with the idea of an "indoor/outdoor" arrangement I decided in the end to abandon the idea as it was simply becoming too big to be practical, so it is back to basics with a ground-level outdoor line. The main station, sidings and steam-up area will be on the top of a low wall with the line running round an area of the garden in a simple circuit, with passing loops in the station and on the far side of a flower bed. The idea being that this latter can be used as a hidden "fiddle yard" for the granite trains so that full trains go in one direction and empties in the opposite with the loco changing from one to the other out-of-sight behind the plants. On an open day or somesuch it will provide additional capacity for running trains. The weather wasn't too favourable until mid-March when a couple of fine days allowed excavations to start. Unfortunately there were other fine days when I was committed to being elsewhere, so progress was rather slow! However, by Easter Saturday 2007 enough track had been laid (three quarters of the circuit, plus the station loop) for a service of sorts to be run, operated by a single diesel and a railcar that looks as if it has just arrived from Tralee!
Left: Out on the single line. Right, the station site passing loop.
During 2007 I saw advertised for sale a much improved Roundhouse Lady Anne at a sensible price and I just had to have it. Now christened Demelza she proved to be a very strong and reliable engine.
Left: Demelza and Tenmille Tall-y-llyn coaches in the platform. Right, Goods train headed by Megan in the loop.
Left: Megan and goods train in the station loop. Right, Verity and a train of granite wagons.
On 21st June 2009 Demelza and her coaches went on a day trip to Trevarno, seen here on the 16 Mill Association Cornwall Area's portable layout.
A superb Christmas 2011 present was three Brandbright coach kits which are now Demela's pride and joy.
Oh dear, it's moving time again and this time it's a real big one - we're off to New Zealand. The railway will, of course, be going too but .... how long will it be before it is reconstructed down under? Only time will tell. The final act before packing everything away was to purchase a black Roundhouse Russell, now named Morwenna and lined to match Megan which so far has only steamed the once as track was being lifted!
Morwenna unpacked from her journey across the globe.
On 23rd April 2015 Morwenna was invited to run on a friend, Paul's, line in Massey.
Early in 2015 Roundhouse announced they were to make a new model of the Ffestiniog diesel, Harlech Castle, with the option of having sound and I was very tempted, so placed an order for delivery "about July". July wasn't far off as I received it late August. In common with my naming policy (for all except Megan this engine is Hendrawna.
Hendrawna as received on 25th August 2015.
Hendrawna running on Paul's line in Massey on 26th September.
Now with some lining, her name, chopper couplings and handrails painted silver, Hendrawna in November 2015. I've also repainted the roof and added some rainstrips and a hatch, but am not sure if it will stay. The red paint is wrong too.
One of the big advantages of having a railway is there is never a problem answering when someone asks what you want for a Birthday/Christmas present. Here we can see seats and one of several telegraph poles that made up one of my 2016 Birthday presents with seated figures from another. Note the prototypical "lean" of the telegraph pole!
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. This page updated by on 4th December 2016