27 March 2008

Visiting Pendon

We visited the Pendon Model Railway Museum on Monday. On a snowy Bank Holiday with a toddler to entertain, we thought it worth a look. And we were right.

It's a low-profile attraction to say the least: tucked out of the way in the village of Long Wittenham near Didcot, with a cramped car park at the end of a narrow lane. But the welcome from the volunteer staff was warm and friendly - they seemed genuinely grateful that we had visited (and we were by no means the only people doing so). And once we got into the display rooms, Pendon revealed itself to be an inspirational place, especially for a budding modeller such as me.

There are three large models, two of which are fully functional. The extent of the models is breathtaking. With the massive hills and viaducts of the Dartmoor Scene you experience a vertiginous three-dimensionality that is just absent from most models: even at 1:76 scale, the high tors tower over the visitors. The Vale of White Horse Scene on the upper floor is 70 feet long and housed in a huge barn of a room - but the fine detail and realism of the models would justify any superlatives you cared to throw at them. The guide we spoke to said it would take another 15 years before everything on that layout would be complete, and it's easy to see why. Every length of track (EM gauge), every sleeper, every chair, is hand-made, individually assembled and individually weathered. Every contour of the landscape is carefully crafted. Every building is based on a real example somewhere in the Vale, and reproduced in loving detail. Even down to the hollyhocks blooming in the gardens. If I can capture even a fraction of that realism on my layout, I will be happy.

I heartily recommend Pendon for anyone who appreciates good scale modelling - not just in the railway sphere. They are always looking for volunteers to work on the modelling; if I had more time and more talent, I would jump at the chance.

26 March 2008

Early images

Here is the "site" as it is now...

The current site

And I have put together an outline plan for the layout...

The initial plan

(please excuse the roughness of the track sketch...)

Getting started

Welcome to the blog for Middlehampton. With this blog I intend to chart the process of constructing a model railway layout in my loft. I'll try to keep it up to date and add photos as the model progresses

Why "Middlehampton"?
It's a name I coined years ago to represent an imaginary city somewhere between Northampton and Southampton. The name seems plausible and is easy to remember. When I was about 12 I designed an entire city for Middlehampton, including transport network. This placed the city somewhere between Stevenage and Luton, with loops from both the East Coast and Midland mainlines servicing a mainline station, and an elaborate underground metro serving the suburbs. Fortunately for the residents of west Hertfordshire, this city has never been built; but the railway ideas live on to a lesser extent in this model.

The background
I have been interested in model railways for years. When I was about 12 my parents gave me a basic Hornby set (R790) for Christmas. Over time I extended this with track, rolling stock and buildings, and was finally able to establish a fixed layout on a baseboard hinged to my bedroom wall. This lasted for a few years but was impractical for a number of reasons. At around the time I left home to go to university, the layout was dismantled and put into storage, where it remained for the best part of 20 years.

At my 40th birthday recently, my wife and family clubbed together to buy me a fabulous new set (R1077) including DCC control and a GWR Pullman. This has inspired me to retrieve all the old boxes of stuff from the previous layout, and to start the process of revising the fixed layout idea - this time in the loft of my house where it is out of everyone's way. Just opening all the old boxes was a journey of rediscovery, especially when I came across items I had forgotten about. All the locomotives still work, although some of them are a little sluggish after 20 years gathering dust.

The model setting
As soon as I returned to this, I knew that the model would have to have certain features and a particular setting. The basic design is already fixed through long hours of daydreaming, and as the ideas have taken shape I have reached the following basic parameters for the model:

  • Based on 1970s British Rail (my favourite period)
  • Loop design: double-track mainline and two single-track branch lines
  • Junction station: mainline with through tracks, and intersecting branch lines
  • Branch line station halt
  • Fiddle yard off the loop, with up-and-over spurs from the mainline

Because I have the benefit of DCC control, I will be working on that basis for the entire model. Already I have started to convert some of my existing locos to DCC - more on this in a later post.

The constraints
There are a few constraints which I will have to take into account:

  • The loft is small and we need some of the space for other purposes. Hence the available space is limited - only 10' x 7'. This puts limits on the scope of the model, and particularly on the platform length for the mainline station. Some of the curves will be tighter than I'd like.
  • I need to use proprietary models and components (I have no experience - yet - at doing it myself)
  • Finance and time are, as ever, limiting factors - so it may take a while to get everything done

The plan
There's lots to do but I hope to approach it in a methodical way. Here are the steps that need to be taken first:

  • Clear the loft space and make the remainder of the loft useable
  • Install decent lighting and power in the layout area
  • Build the basic framework using new or recovered timber
  • Build the baseboards

I will try to keep this blog up to date with photos and further reports, as the work progresses. Comments and suggestions will be welcome at any point.