The Penhallick Story

The story starts back in the summer of 1992 when Mel Rees, a member of The Railway Enthusiasts' Club, and his cousin Jerry Winterson (joined a few years later by Mike Nash) decided to build an exhibition layout based on the North Cornwall line as it was during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some ten years later the layout was ready for exhibiting - though not yet complete. The layout started life some 51' 6" long and in twelve sections. Why 51' 6" you may wonder, well that was the length of the roll of wallpaper used to draw up the original plan! Then in time for the Tolworth Showtrain Exhibition in November 2005 another 4' was added, to host the town centre.

Rather than model an actual part of the line, the decision was taken to "go freelance" and model a fictitious branch that leaves the main line by means of a triangular junction at Delabole and heads off to the coast, terminating at the seaside town of Penhallick, a place with a long fishing history. Loosely based on Bude, the original plan was for a two platform arrangement, but was later increased to four to allow better operating opportunities. The branch's history tells that it opened in September 1896, some seven months after the main line from Halwill arrived at Wadebridge. There is such a place as Penhallick, but as a geographic feature rather than a town. To the south of Tintagel are Higher Penhallick Point and Lower Penhallick Point (sometimes spelt Penhallic). Trecarne is a real place, too, though very tiny and found just to the north west of Delabole. Throughout the period modelled through trains arrive and depart from both Exeter and Waterloo, plus local services to Padstow and, with a reversal at Wadebridge, to Bodmin North and to Bodmin Road via Bodmin General.

A large collection of stock has been amassed, all authentic for the line and period, including T9s, O2s, Spamcans and the ubiquitous N class moguls.

At Wadebridge Exhibition

The sheer scale of the layout can be judged by this photograph of it set up in Wadebridge School in 2003 - and it's grown a bit more since then!

Construction slowly took place over a number of years, dependant on how work commitments impinged on time available. With the boards built, track laid and abundant polystyrene forming the basis of the scenery, a suggestion to the exhibition manager of the Railway Enthusiasts Club in Farnborough that the layout would be ready for their 2002 September Show, readily accepted, gave added impetus to finishing the layout. The three friends now became extremely active in their pursuit of the target date. Greenery sprouted from the white polystyrene, roads were cut through and buildings were modelled.
The layout sits on 13 boards, nine of which were built using the open frame method, three (the town end) with a flat surface, simply braced and covered with Sundeala, and the final one as a traverser, built by Red Dog. This traverser is seven feet long, the traversing section itself being five feet, with one foot sections either side to allow for locomotive access and storage. At the far end is a manually operated turntable and two hidden sidings lead off under board 11, beneath the hillside to the rear of Trecarne Halt. The open boards are constructed from 2" x 1" and 3" x 1" with 1" x 1" bracing, no two bracing timbers being more than a foot apart. The track used is SMP throughout with hand-built points (mainly by Marcway) worked by Lemaco point motors.

Penhallick station Penhallick station, left, sets the scene for the whole of the layout. There is a lot of fine detail, lots to see (and lots more to add) but the overall impression is one of relaxed spaciousness. The sidings are set a realistic distance apart and the platforms are long enough and wide enough to accommodate a busy holiday express. All the signals are, of course, fully working and illuminated, though there is no interlocking. A project for the future perhaps? One of the interesting aspects of Penhallick is that despite being more than 15 years in the making, it is still being developed. The line runs from the terminus to a fiddle yard, and in this picture a parcels train can be seen to be just leaving behind a T9. The white mounds in the top left of the photograph are not representative of the clay spoil heaps to be found elsewhere in Cornwall but are simply dust sheets on another stand as it is early and most of the other exhibitors, and the traders, have yet to arrive!

The control panel, built by Jerry (obvious pun avoided!) incorporates a schematic track plan, with LEDs showing the routes, plus isolating and signalling switches. There are two Gaugemaster controllers and three AMR hand-helds, of 12 volts or 9 volts (in order to help light engine and shunting movements be carried out at low speed). The layout uses traditional cab control with one rail providing a common return whilst the other rail is split into various sections, indicated by the different colours on the track diagram. These sections have SPDT centre-off switches to either isolate the section, or allocate it to a particular controller. All sections can be controlled by the main controller, whilst those for all bar the loco yard, and separately the loco yard, can be allocated to other hand-held controllers. It is therefore possible to have three independent movements happening in the station area at any one time. Communication between the controllers at either end of the layout uses Penhallick control panel

Right: The Penhallick control panel. The top righthand yellow section can be switched between the panel and a dedicated loco yard cab, whilst all the others can be switched between the panel and the "driver's" cab, which will take a train from buffer stop to traverser, and vice versa. There are isolating switches that will allow an engine to be held at the buffer stops whilst another shunts the stock (or backs onto it to form another train) in the platform behind it. The cards above the panel contain the order of events, the black hand-held controller resting on the panel is for the panel operator's use whist the black panel on the right is the Brush House Block Instrument and Train Describer panel.

The traverser is controlled by a Gaugemaster unit which allows for self-contained operations behind the scenes. When a train is arriving at or departing from the traverser, a push-to-make switch will give temporary control to the "driver's" controller.

Traverser control panel

Left: The traverser control panel. The switch on the far left gives control to the "driver" whilst that third from left controls the up signal at the beginning of the cutting near Trecarne Halt. Power is fed to the rails by means of brass bolts, with all lines leading to and from the traverser having their individual isolating switch. The Block Instrument and Train Describer panel for this end of the layout is mounted on the side of the adjacent baseboard.

Penhallick stationRight: Mel, on the left, and Jerry during operating time.

Three people can operate the layout satisfactorily, though four is preferred so that tea-breaks and etc. may be enjoyed, not to mention viewing the rest of an exhibition!

Unfortunately this photograph just does not do full justice to the intricate green fence running along the railway boundary. Note, too, that all the lights are illuminated. The route winds out of Penhallick station, very generously endowed with four platform roads (Padstow had just one!), sidings on both sides of the line and the Goods Shed on the right and past the rusty corrugated iron buildings of the Cornwall Timber Merchants until the small MPD is passed on the left-hand side of the tracks where they are converging into the single line to Delabole. A small engine shed is provided, with a water tower, coaling facilities and a turntable that is large enough to accommodate the Bulleid light pacifics that bring the heavier trains, once packed with holiday makers but now, sadly, conveying fewer and fewer as the private motor car takes over as the affordable transport of choice.

The layout is fully signalled, with most of either LSWR or SR design although one is a Western Region starting signal that was installed when the Western Region owned the line. This Western signal is a modified Ratio kit whilst all the Southern ones are built from Model Signal Engineering kits. All the signals are operated by equipment from Embedded Controls of Scotland with lighting by adapted loco oil lamps from Express Models, with the exception of the fixed distant which has a LED and the Western signal, which is as yet unlit.

River bridgeThe estuary of the River Hallick is never far from the line here but as the MPD is left behind the river turns right, beneath the railway on its two span bridge, and parts company from the line as it takes a shorter route up towards Bodmin Moor.

The turntable is from a Wills kit with a mechanism that looks as if it is the work of a combination of Emmett and Heath Robinson! It is operated with a Meccano mechanism and an old Tri-ang turntable and took a long time to get "just right". The buildings are a mix of kit-built, scratch-built and proprietary resin (Hornby Skaledake, Classix) ready-built with detailing and repainting. A number of low relief buildings were constructed by Roy Hickman of the REC, Kevin Hardman and the Penhallick team. (Hornby and Classix may be obtained from your local model shop whilst Kevin Hardman can be contacted on 01254 238184). The road surface is wet-and-dry paper on a hardboard, plywood or Sundeala base and was weathered by simply rubbing fingers across the surface. However, doing this can quite quickly leave one with no skin on the fingers, so gloves are recommended! Road vehicles are a combination of ancient Matchbox toys, repainted and fitted with windows, Monty's Models, Langley Models and repainted and weathered EFE, Corgi and Trackside. The people are plastic models, all repainted.

Open country

Once beyond the bridge the line passes the Signalbox at Penhallick Junction which controls the junction with an ex-GWR line from Launceston where it joins the main Penhallick line. As the junction is left behind the line is "out in the country" and, unless required to stop at the next station, a small halt, drivers can open their regulators and make smart progress inland.

Having crossed the river, this train, with its Bulleid light pacific operating tender first, continues its progress along the estuary and is just passing Penhallick East Junction's Home Signals with the ex-GWR branch leaving to the left of the picture. The line is about to say goodbye to the estuary as it heads inland for the climb up to Delabole, some 700 feet above sea level.

The route progresses through the single road, single platform Trecarne Halt, after which it disappears under a road bridge and into the "fiddle yard". Passengers waiting for a train at the halt have just a small shelter to protect them from the elements.

Scenery has various coloured sheets of grass affixed with PVA glue which, with the addition of hedgerows, trees etc. create the impression of a railway line that has been built through a patchwork landscape, rather than a landscape built around a railway line! Once more Roy Hickman was a great help here and his ability to build a tree around the roots of a hebe or twisted wire can only be seen to be believed. Water was very tricky but after several experiments the sea was made from a mix of 50% PVA and 50% plaster. The PVA allows for flexibility and stretching whereas pure plaster cracks and chips, usually leaving a white tell-tale sign. As the mixture dried a palette knife and old toothbrush were used to great effect creating white horses and waves. These were painted with a mixture of blues, greens and whites - at all times checked against photographs. The end result was varnished with a water-based varnish rather than the thicker oil-based variety which, although requiring fewer coats, is prone to cracking and recession. The water-based varnish can be applied every twenty minutes or so as it is extremely quick drying, and when it was thought to be finished, another twelve coats of varnish were added!


Trecarne Halt, the Kings Arms pub and the bridge leading to the "fiddle yard".

As can be clearly seen, great attention has been paid to detail with the result that this is a superbly landscaped layout.

In addition to creating a very faithful representation of the much-loved and missed North Cornwall Line, Jerry, Mel and Mike have brought the story up-to-date with a short history of events that followed the closure of the branch on 3 October 1966, the same day that the lines from Meldon Junction via Halwill to Bude and Wadebridge closed.

The public house at Trecarne, "The Kings Arms", survived the railway by some 19 years before closing in 1985 after which it was left to go derelict for some twelve years until early 1997 when the site was cleared and, together with an adjoining field and the filled-in cutting, became a development of thirteen "executive" houses, not at all the type of home the area most needs! All that can be seen to remind one that there was once a railway at Trecarne are a few sections of the concrete fencing that was manufactured at the Southern Railway's Exmouth Junction concrete plant. Moving down the course of the old railway line towards Penhallick the two spans of the bridge have been removed, although the central piers remain, and the MPD site is fenced off and unoccupied having had the buildings razed to the ground during the mid-1980s, with only a solitary telegraph pole and some remnants of a discarded LSWR lattice signal post, found in undergrowth some distance from where it once stood, remaining. The station area was the scene of a failed attempt to re-open the buildings as a restaurant and then stood derelict until 1988 when the site was cleared and a Safeways (now Morrisons) supermarket with 130 car parking spaces built on the site. The town itself has changed with many of the surrounding street buildings now converted or rebuilt for the holiday trade, with self-catering apartments now dominating the harbour view, itself much changed since silting caused much of the remaining fishing fleet to transfer to Padstow.