Layout design for realistic operation

by Harry and the late Ivor C. Marshall.

© Harry Marshall 2006

The right of Harry Marshall to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


The ideas presented in this sequence of articles derive from the combined experiences of two generations of modellers.

My father was a senior operating department officer in what became the Southern Region of British Railways, having started his career as a booking clerk at Tulse Hill, (L.B.S.C.Rly.) in 1921. He had risen through the ranks, via various courses at the Croydon training centre run by the L.B.S.C., and arrived as a junior in the operating department at Waterloo in the late ’20s. He seems to have caught the eye of the operating superintendent, a Mr. S. W. Smart, because one evening in 1931 he was called into the office, seated, (unusual for an underling) and instructed to go to the Isle of Wight and “turn that shambles into a train service”.

Cowes station - approaching lines. Photo: Harry Marshall

Once there, he discovered that the person newly-despatched to sort out the mechanical aspects of what had been three impecunious village railways was a Mr. A. B. McCleod with whom, via a common interest in railway modelling, a lifelong friendship began. ‘S.W.S’ as he was universally known must have suspected that something a little out of the ordinary was about to happen, but he did not bargain for my father’s intensely practical turn of mind. Over a couple of weeks, each station and halt on the Island was visited, and the staff asked what in their view would make the services more useful to the locals, and the holiday-makers on which the economy depended for the summer period.

With the germ of an idea in his mind, he then went to Ventnor, and walked at a leisurely pace out to the furthest guest-house from the station, noting the time taken. This, he later told me, was to allow a family with a toddler and a push-chair to leave the guest-house after breakfast, reach the station in time to get tickets to anywhere on the Island and then go out for the day, returning conveniently in time for the evening meal. Believe it or not, this was truly radical thinking at that time!

Ventnor Terminus Station, IOW - (photographer unknown)

All this information, duly digested, was discussed with ‘Mac’, and the conclusion was that the locomotives then on the Island would not be capable of powering the sort of major (for the Island) journeys that were implied by the service pattern developing in his mind. For that matter, the coaching stock would not be adequate for the anticipated traffic either. ‘Mac’ had already started seeking out replacement motive power from Waterloo, and was offered some of the ’02’ class tank engines that were becoming outclassed for mainland shunting jobs. Experiments later showed that the small bunkers could not carry the coal required for the daily mileages my father was demanding, hence the locally-produced extended bunkers so familiar to modellers of the Island scene.

Cowes - Ryde, IOW train hauled by an extended bunker O2 passing the token at Smallbrook Junc in 1954 - (Original: Pamlin Prints)

The rest is history, beginning with the ‘take you anywhere for the day and back again’ services, and ending with the sight of one of the original printed service display cards (with much deleted) still on display in Shanklin booking office in 1966, just before the change to electric operation.

He never said very much about the rest of the ‘thirties, except that there was the biannual fine tuning of the Island services, to keep up with developing traffic, and it was not until the war that he really came into his own again, firstly over the Dunkirk evacuation trains, (find the locomotives, the crews, and the coaching stock, and organise the servicing arrangements, including liaison with the G.W.R., do it in one week!) and manage the clear-up, such as shifting 12 foot high piles of ash from Redhill loco yard, in the middle of the blitz.
In between long days at the Deepdene hotel at Dorking, (wartime headquarters of the Southern Railway), he managed to find time to be an air raid warden locally, and the quieter watches of the night provided time for relaxation in the form of model-making, using the very limited materials available.

He had a big hand in the preparations for D-day, organising the freight movements into and out of the many extra sidings put down all over the Southern to store the material for that event and its aftermath.

This experience contributed to the Southern’s response to the disastrous floods of 1953, when vast amounts of earth, rubble and chalk were needed to repair the damaged sea defences. I recall his amusement at an overheard comment by one morning commuter from Kent that his local station yard had grown in the night. It had! Contractors had pulled down the hillside embankment face the previous day and the material had been loaded into one of my father’s special freight trains, taken to the coast and used. Meanwhile the permanent way department had moved the siding over ready for the exercise to be repeated the next night.

Starting about then, it had become apparent that the traffic both of passengers and freight was beginning to be lost to the roads, and an organised trimming of services was begun. This mainly affected the steam-hauled ex-South Western lines, so my father got the job, with a small team of assistants, of revising the services and operating practices to fit the new diminished traffic. The by-now usual approach was adopted, of going out and talking to the crews and station staffs of any line they were working on, explaining what they were doing, observing what was happening, and picking up local knowledge of likely future trends. He said later that the many mugs of tea in loco men’s bothies, shunter’s huts and signal boxes around the Region were the best investment of time that he ever made. The result, over several years of work, was that working practices and equipment were gradually altered to keep the railway commercially viable, without any directly related redundancies, a fact which delighted my father. This, of course, was before the wholesale destruction later inflicted by the Beeching process.

His model railway career had passed through two stages during this period. The first was the full development of a gauge 0 clockwork-powered layout representing the Southern’s west of England line, starting at Waterloo, through Salisbury and Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton, the Padstow branch and to Ilfracombe, all in a 22ft by 8ft shed. Father and son spent many happy hours operating this together, he with Waterloo, Exeter, Plymouth and the two loops representing Templecombe and Yeovil, while I had Salisbury, Ilfracombe, Okehampton and Padstow (once I was tall enough!) This was later sold in favour of a 7½” gauge live steam locomotive that was operated on the Greywood Central Railway, later to become the Ian Allan Great Cockcrow Railway at Lyne, near Chertsey, Surrey. ‘Mac’ had got him involved in that activity, having been the only member of the syndicate that ran the original line with any real railway knowledge. He started there as one of the two signalmen, ‘Mac’ being the other, and he quickly gave them a cut-down version of the B.R. rule book, intended to correct a tendency among some of the other members to regard signals as decorations rather than safety devices!

Greywood Central Rly in the early sixties: Father Ivor driving his locomotive "Mere Hall" with son Harry acting as guard. Photo: Harry Marshall

Great Cockcrow Rly in the mid-Eighties: Branch station at the top of One tree renamed Cockcrow Hill. Photo: Nigel Godsell

Having ‘made his name’ as it were with the Island activity, he decided when retirement came in 1964 to move there, and settled in Totland. The live-steamer metamorphosed into an electronic organ, (he was always interested in music), and he made up a small ’00’ terminus layout loosely based on Cowes, just for old time’s sake. I put together the Wills ’02’ and ‘E1’ kits for him, and did the simple electrics. As time went on, failing health and the remoteness of Totland from family and friends decided him to return to the mainland, and a bungalow at Effingham, near the junction station.

He passed away in 1986, and I acquired the little layout and its stock, plus the few remaining items from the ‘0’ gauge days, and a number of other railway related artefacts. He had kept the reference copies of the Island timetables, so they went to Haven Street, for their museum and library. I have the “working timetables” that he had developed for the clockwork model, which bring back memories still.

I came along just at the outbreak of the Second World War, and one of my earliest memories is of an interminable train journey to evacuation in Glasgow with an aunt. I must have had my eyes open to railway matters even then, though, because I recall passing the engine at the platform end and remarking that it looked very tired after coming all that way. This caused a small amount of wry amusement on the footplate, where the real exhaustion was to be found! As my father found the time and materials, various ‘0’ gauge trains and an oval of track for the lounge floor appeared, and in course of time I was allowed increasing access to the layout in the shed, which had actually just been started when war broke out.

Time passed, and ’00’ appeared on the scene once the materials became available. As an inducement to do well at 11+, I was promised the then new Graham Farish freight train package; I did and it duly arrived, purchased from the Wills shop in Coulsdon. The fact that the locomotive was a ‘Black five’ and not a Southern prototype was to have a great significance much later.

Interest in railways gradually waned for all the usual reasons during my teens, and was not really re-awakened until by chance my job (I was a time-served electronics apprentice with the Mullard company) and the impact of transistors on the electronics hobby coincided with the presentation of the final “Radio Show” at Olympia. I was asked to produce a set of circuits for amateur constructors to build (using the Company’s products) illustrating the possibilities of the new technology. One design was for a power supply, which I decided to demonstrate on the stand with a small toy train set. It was a considerable success, and that circuit has had various re-incarnations ever since. The locomotive I used was a Triang ‘Jinty’, and it joined my ‘five’ at home after the show. The next summer holiday was spent near Bournemouth, and I recalled a previous occasion when my father and I had spent some time watching operations at somewhere called Evercreech Junction. Out came the trusty pushbike, and the Somerset and Dorset was inspected in its final full year. I did nothing more about it then, but a few years later, this time with a car and camping kit, I had a proper look at the remnants with a view to a model. Meanwhile, through a work colleague I had been introduced to Croydon Model Railway Club, and enjoyed a few years there. Following marriage and a meeting with a married friend of my wife, her husband took me along to Wimbledon MRC, where I have been a member ever since. (Harry is the President of Wimbledon Model Railway Club as well as an active member of the Weymouth Model Railway Association – Ed.)

I tidied up my father’s by-now empty shed, and over about 20 years put together a simplified S and D based layout, which actually never had much scenery, but we could run the 1955 service more or less. The ‘Black five’ now has a hand made Portescap powered chassis, and did yeoman service on that line with a mix of coaches from various kits, and has been joined by an eclectic mix of kits, adjusted RTR and the odd scratch-built model. Similarly with the freight stock, progressing from litho sides to proper wood for wooden vehicles, and so on.

S&D train arriving at Bath hauled by a Stanier Black 5. Photo: Ivo Peters (probably)

My father’s small essay in ’00’ languished in the loft for a while, until I came upon it one day, and the germ of an idea for a portable layout was born. Over a number of years it has evolved into “The South Dorset Light Railway”, a complete fiction, but demonstrating the working of a rural branch line and its interface with its customers. Little did I know when that project started that we would come to live in Dorset, very close to the location the line might have served.
I am the sort of modeller that likes to make as much as possible from scratch, a trait born in part from necessity years ago, but later reinforced by the sheer satisfaction of creating from the basic materials. I have always made my own point work, and latterly had a great deal of pleasure from making the built and landscape environment for various layouts as well as my own. I mix good purchased rolling stock with my own vehicular items, although some of the earliest examples are now showing their age and dated methods of construction, and have joined the scenery, at the back of remote sidings.

A new Somerset and Dorset is coming together slowly, and this one will have enough scenery to enable visitors to identify the depicted locations, while offering interesting operating potential for several people. The intention is that trains will pass from hand to hand as it were along the line, each person being totally responsible for their station, acting as signalman, driver, shunter, etc. as each task demands. I know that this replicates my father’s achievement with his ‘0’ gauge layout, but until you’ve experienced it, the satisfaction of doing it well is like nothing else the hobby offers.


<<< Back        Continue to Part 1 >>>