My Model Railways

By Steve Chapman.

I first became interested in model railways back in 1969 when my parents gave me a Triang Caravelle train set for my birthday.

This was just one of my many interests until I commenced high school where one of my new friends introduced me to the many past issues of Railway Modeller owned by his father. My interest in all things - trains - increased as a result of this and when we moved back to England in 1973 I started purchasing my own copies of Railway Modeller and began to make plans to build a proper model railway.

During the two years that we stayed in England I started building two model railways. The first was built in the loft of my parents house and consisted of a dogbone layout with centralized station area. I had scarcely got this railway operational when my parents decided to move house so the scenery was scarcely started. The second layout never got much past the planning stage. It was to be a terminus to loop with branchline but only the turntable board was even started when my parents decided to return to Australia. During the time that I was in England I was a junior member of the Maidstone Area Model Railway Club and I thank the more senior members of the club for the great assistance that they gave to me when I was just starting out.

Upon our return to Australia, I started work on an 11 foot by 3 foot layout with a single track continuous run and double track mainline across the front through the station. The intention was to later expand this into a double track mainline using just the tracks across the front of the board. The turntable board commenced for the second layout was brought out with us and was attached to the front of the layout. Work on this layout was slow and spread over a number of years and finally the layout was scrapped while still incomplete when I left home.

Layout four was an end to end with continuous run and fit inside of a garage. A ten foot by one foot section housed the main station which fed a continuous run on an eight by three board set perpendicular to it. A rising track came off the circuit just before where it was joined to the station which then passed over the top of the circuit into a fiddleyard.

When I was finally able to afford to buy my own home, I no longer had room for this layout so it was time for a rethink.


I wanted prototype length trains and a decent length run. A change of scale was indicated and I sold off most of my OO scale equipment and bought N scale. My main area of interest is Southern Railways, the railways that were grouped together to form Southern Railways and the Southern Region of British Rail ie. the railways of South East England regardless of the period. I remembered the trains from the time spent in England between 73 and 75 and decided to model (what was then) the modern scene.

My fifth layout was a fifteen foot by five foot portable layout made up of eight boards. The three boards down either side stacked in under the end boards which were on large frames mounted on casters. The legs under the centre board on each side also folded up for storage. The layout plan called for a twice around double track mainline on a continuous one in two hundred grade, a station down one side with a fiddle yard behind, and a branch around to the other side to a lower level branch station. Due to the lack of flat areas on the layout, the track base was laid in position first and then the scenery was plastered in before track laying commenced. I got as far as laying all of the mainline track when the inconvenience of a layout that had to be dismantled at the end of every session became too much of a pain and it was back to the drawing board yet again.

It was during the construction of this layout that I first joined the Australian Model Railway Association. I was involved regularly with the Nepean sub-branch at first helping to construct club layouts in both HO and N scales. I also made occasional visits to the NSW branch clubrooms which were too far away for regular visits. I live closer now but still don't visit the NSW clubrooms very often due to a lack of time.


At about this time, I heard a lot about people complaining that they didn't have enough space to build a model railway. I still had a few items of OO equipment so I thought I would build a minimum space model railway and prove them wrong. As a result of this decision, my model railway 'Ryarsh' was built in a space of eight foot by fifteen inches. The layout is a branch terminus (what else given the space) with a loop, a coaling siding, and two goods sidings visible and a two track fiddle yard concealed behind the goods sidings. The layout was wired for two train operation using common return. YES it is possible to have two trains moving in opposite directions on a layout this size.

The layout did its first outing to the first model railway exhibition held at the Seven Hills High School. Operation was to a sequence timetable with week day variations. Passenger movement was provided by an M7 and two brake third coaches while goods movement (using dice throws to determine train makeup and siding destinations) used a reasonably large (considering the size of the layout) selection of wagons and a Schools class loco. Yes I know the Schools is a passenger loco but most of the public didn't and there were not a large number of ready to run steam class locos available at that time.

This layout went into storage following this exhibition. A few years later a friend offered to redo the scenery on the layout for me and the layout appeared in this new guise at both the Castle Hill and Liverpool exhibitions. The layout is once more in storage but still exists and make yet another appearance in the future.


Back to N gauge and my next effort (layout number seven) was another portable layout but this time built to fill a spare bedroom (about ten foot by eight if I remember correctly). The layout was based on the track plan of Exeter station that appears in the Encyclopaedia of Model Railways (and which has also appeared in various guises in Railway Modeller - but the version in the Encyclopaedia is the one I based it on). As this was to be a modern image layout, most of the sidings were removed when I adapted the plan to fit the space. This left much more room for scenery. This layout had all of the track laid and wired. It was at this point that I discovered that the Graham Farish Diesel locomotives don't like the Peco 9 inch radius turnouts (12 inches is the practical minimum). I couldn't fit long enough loops in the fiddle yard using the 18 inch turnouts and was did not want to have to build more than a dozen 12 inch ones myself so once again it was back to the drawing board.

Layout number eight started life as a ten foot six by three foot modular layout built in my other spare room (slightly longer but not quite as wide). The layout was built with one end of a station on two - four foot six by two foot - boards with a fiddle yard on two - one foot wide - boards semi-permanently attached to the back. The idea was that the fiddle yard would be reusable on future layouts (alas this didn't happen). The layout was completed by an eighteen inch by three foot board that completed the circuit. The intention was that once more space became available that this board could be discarded when the layout was extended. I did get the track on this layout kind of operational on a couple of occasions (problems with the wiring the first time led to my removing it all and starting again). Scenery on the layout also reached a fairly advanced stage with a raised town scene along the back of the main boards. I even found time to assemble a 4 REP EMU set using Taylor coach sides (before GF changed their coach design to put an end to Taylor's efforts to give a reason for buying a lot more GF coaches) and converted a Minitrix 27 class into something that looked reasonably like a 71 class (yes the layout did have a dummy third rail but I never got so far as to install the overhead wires in the goods yard). I also had a 33/1 class that I had purchased second hand while on an overseas trip.

original layout
Layout number 7

It was during the construction of this layout that I began writing articles about model railways which I had published in the Australian Model Railway Association's Journal and also one article that was published in the British Railway Modellers of Australia's Clearing House (I was a member of BRMA for a short while). Some of the members of AMRA nominated me for the Federal Committee (by this time I had already held several different positions on the Nepean sub-branch committee and also had held the branch reporter position for a short while). A couple of years later, the Secretary's position fell vacant and I was asked to fill the position which I have ever since.

Unfortunately, during a subsequent overseas trip all of my N gauge rolling stock was stolen and due to this and a variety of other circumstances at the time, I decided to move house.

The new house was much bigger but, due to some of the other circumstances that I mentioned, the only space available for model railways was an eleven foot by five foot room. A three foot by ten foot six layout will fit in a five foot by eleven foot room but it doesn't leave enough room to open the inward opening door (half way down one side) or to reach the back of the layout. I like to view my layouts from close to eye level so layout eight was four foot off the ground. I would have had to stand on a tall stool to have any chance of reaching the fiddleyard. Also, the one major problem with this layout was the weight. The board surface was 3/4 inch pineboard which makes for a very solid but extremely heavy layout. Apart from these problems, I was really happy with the current layout but it still had to go.

current layout
Current Layout

Back to the drawing board and I came up with a new modular layout design based on the old one. The goods yard had to go due to the reduced width. The layout needed to get wider at the ends to make room for the track to curve into the fiddle yard meaning that any extensions would need to be done in the centre of the layout instead of at the end. The new layout 'Detling' consists of two boards that are five foot six long and two foot wide at the centre and two foot six wide at the ends. An additional board also five foot six long and two foot wide has been partly constructed to supply station platforms on the front and doubled fiddle yard capacity on the back and can be used if I exhibit the layout or eventually obtain a larger space. Track wiring is now complete and wiring of the turnouts is underway. Scenery has been developed fairly quickly by transplanting the raised scenery from the previous layout onto the new one.

current layout extended
Current Layout - Extended Plan
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Copyright Stephen Chapman