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Shifting Sands




This is by way of a speculative post.....I've remarked before that it's been a very long time since I started a new project. Over a decade in fact. Between 2000 and 2007 I launched into 4 different layout projects, all 4mm/OO - Tramlink, a club layout project, the Boxfile, and Blacklade - but since then, nothing.


I've recently resurrected the Boxfile - see postings here - and though I'm still hunting gremlins in the stockbox it's working a whole lot better than ever before. Proper systematic debugging will hopefully get it running with a high degree of reliability - in the meantime it's already possible to have a play at shunting as originally intended, quickly and with reasonable reliability (except for the couplings).


Blacklade has been out a few times to shows and it works reliably as a home layout. The club project is long buried. So...


A long time ago, at the end of the last century, I joined the 3mm Society. I acquired a little secondhand TT3 - a Brush 2 and a diesel shunter, along with some wagons and coaches. Matters got as far as an ambitious order for about 15 wagon kits from the 3mm Society, and the acquisition of a 3SMR J11 kit and an etched brass diesel shunter kit. A design for a compact urban goods depot was sketched, I built a couple of wagons which didn't seem to roll freely , and I bought about half a dozen of the then new Peco 12mm gauge points. At this point I got shanghaied into the club layout project, I became involved with a society, and what with Tramlink, work, commuting, etc. anything in 3mm was squeezed out.


I'm still a member of the 3mm Society. It's a nice size. The padded envelope of wagon kits is still in the cupboard . The replacement armature for the Brush 2 is still in its packet somewhere.


In the years since the idea of doing something with those Peco points has crossed my mind occasionally. A 3mm layout is one possibility , but what about OOn3 ?


That means staying in my familiar 4mm scale - for which I have masses of stuff in the cupboard and elsewhere.


Now narrow gauge and me are not a natural match. Because narrow gauge normally means OO9, and OO9 has traditionally meant rabbit-warren layouts dripping cute and twee - the Hobbiton and Munchkin-land Junction Railway, with a spur to Ivor the Engine's branch operated by an Eggerbahn railcar on a 9" radius curve using a Gaugemaster shuttle unit, the whole thing being built on a 4' x 2' board in four tiers of granite hillside, modestly populated by colonies of small pet Welsh dragons who eat buns from the tourists.


I'm afraid I tend to penny-plain realism in muted shades of grey, and minimum gauge railways have never really gripped me. I like proper trains on proper railways doing a proper job - it's probably no coincidence that the narrow gauge locos that instantly appealed were the WHR's Garretts. I come from Lincolnshire, and Eastern England is a plain spare landscape with a notable lack of thatched cottages with holly-hocks round the door set amid rolling hills, nor does the Celtic twilight rise at dusk like a mist.


My idea of a toy railway is Canary Wharf DLR. (I'm sure they must have used lithographed tinplate somewhere in the structure. Hipster-designer lithographed tinplate, of course.)


But 3' gauge railways are another matter. The CDJR , L&LSR, and the Manx railways were serious and substantial operations. So were a number of Midlands ironstone systems. OOn3 means something a bit different (definitely a plus for me) and in prototype terms implies a proper railway which feels much more like a minor standard-gauge rural railway, doing a proper job. (There's also the faint possibility of what MORILL years ago called 3n3 - that is 3' gauge in 3mm scale, using OO9 track and N gauge mechanisms)


This thinking has, over the years, led to the acquisition of a Southwold Railway van kit in resin, and a couple of ex MTK Isle of Man coach kits. Oh, and there's those Peco 12mm gauge points. But what might be modelled has been rather hazy.


Only once in my life have I been to Ireland, and then only to Dublin, with a day trip by rail to Galway. (For much of my lifetime Ireland has been the island of bombs and balaclavas - I've never been to Northern Ireland and still feel no urge to go). Consequently I don't really feel any personal connection with Irish railways - certainly not enough to commit to the solid slog involved in building a OOn3 model of one.


I don't really want to build an accurate model of a specific Manx prototype, and there isn't really space on the island to accommodate a fictitious one.


There was no 3' narrow gauge in Wales, and almost no narrow gauge at all in Scotland. In any case granite mountains are not me.


That leaves English 3' gauge lines, of which there are usually said to be two - the Southwold (closed 1929) and the Rye & Camber, a rather small operation abandoned in 1945 after the Admiralty had finished with it. In fact there is also the original Ravenglass & Eskdale (1875-1915) and a number of fairly significant ironstone systems in the Midlands.


I have occasionally toyed with the idea that the promoters of the Mid Suffolk Light might have made it a 3' narrow gauge line, using Leek and Manifold style transporter wagons, in which case they might have focused on the proposed line from Needham Market via Debenham and with the reduced construction costs of narrow gauge have made it into Halesworth to link with the Southwold - the whole 3' gauge empire being inherited by a rather reluctant LNER (and no doubt worked very hard in support of the USAAF during World War 2)


But the most tempting scenario involves "conjuring spirits from the vasty deep" in the general vicinity of the Dogger Bank.


Long ago as a child I read that until the 12th or 13th century the coast of Lincolnshire was sheltered by low sandy islands on what is now the Dogger Bank - their loss began a cycle of occasional devastating storm surges across the North Sea, starting with the loss of much of Mablethorpe in 1283 and continuing down to 1953.


Whether this is true I do not know. In recent years prehistoric archaeologists have conjured up a very much larger ghost, in the form of "Doggerland" - a vast region of low hills and plains spreading across what is now the North Sea until rising sea levels drowned it in stages in the later Mesolithic and early Neolithic:




What we know as the Dogger Bank represents the central uplands of "Doggerland"


It's fair to say that modern archaeologists believe this whole area was under the North Sea thousands of years before the 13th century - but for the sake of a layout, we can envisage that two or three largish sandy islands continue to exist on the Dogger Bank down to our own day - thus permitting not merely Early English narrow gauge, but emphatically 20th century narrow gauge too.


Whilst medieval Great and Little Dogger would have been inhabited only by a few wretched fisher-folk, from the 17th century onwards they would inevitably have been of great strategic importance to the Royal Navy and from the reign of William III through to the late 1950s there would have been a strong naval presence there. As well as being dotted with 18th century batteries and Napoleonic Martello towers there is also the famous Great Dogger Mole, an 18th century naval equivalent of the Cob at Portmadoc, which links the two islands and creates a sheltered anchorage for small naval vessels in the inlet which separates them - as legend tells us , this was built out of ballast stones brought from England in the holds of ships which came to Dogger to load barrels of the celebrated Dogger herring. Horatio Nelson's famous letter, written as a young lieutenant in 1776, in which he complains of being cooped up on "two miserable sandy islands containing a handful of mean houses and meaner inhabitants" has been rather generously rewarded by the signboard of a large pub overlooking Dogger Haven, the Lord Nelson....


Railways came to the Dogger Islands as a result of hasty repairs to the Great Mole , and the construction of two new batteries, at the start of the Crimean War. A narrow gauge horse-worked line was established from Doggerport, up to - and across - the Great Mole, (and thus past Dogger Haven) and up to a suitable point on Little Dogger for the off-loading of stone for the new fort . This stone obviously had to be imported, since the islands have no stone ( and not many trees ), and afterwards the tramway was found very convenient by various parties, civilian and military, for moving stores, coal , herring barrels and the like around the island. It was upgraded to a steam-worked line in the early 1870s with a passenger service serving the islands' three main settlements and the naval installations - a small number of Beyer Peacock 2-4-0Ts and some 0-6-0Ts reminiscent of the R&ER being supplied.


The naval arms race before WW1 saw it modernised and developed, and this accelerated during WW1 when the Dogger Islands were a key base for minesweepers and torpedo boats in the N Sea : indeed in 1917 the Dogger Light Railway acquired Britain's only narrow-gauge rail gun. Petrol locomotives appeared during WW1 and the railway's rolling stock was augmented by standard WD narrow gauge equipment, running on 3' gauge bogies.


After a quiet period between the wars, the Dogger Light Railway was again at full stretch during WW2, but thereafter things began to run down and when the RAF Coastal Command base ran down in the late 1950s , that was the end.......


Buildings - brick boxes. I have a number of Lincolnshire buildings in Skaledale form which could find a home on such a layout.


I've also acquired several Dundas WD wagon kits. If I could get someone to produce a fold-up etch H-frame wagon bogie, to which you could stick the moulded bogie sides , they could convert to OOn3...


But I have to admit that the new Bachmann OO9 stuff looks rather tasty. I don't quite see that you could regauge the Baldwin 4-6-0T. And nobody could accuse the Western Front in 1917-8 of being cute or twee.....




I have Stewart Squires' "Lincolnshire Potato Railways" - I knew his son at school. There is however a large gap between the handful of systems in the Tetney/Grainthorpe area and those in the fens or Nocton Estates.


Suppose there had been some potato railways in the Marshes between Mablethorpe and Skegness. Chapel St Leonards has caravan parks - but it never had any railway near it.


Suppose someone in the early-mid 1920s proposed a 2' gauge narrow gauge line from Mumby Road on the Mablethorpe loop to Chapel St Leonards, linking several private farm lines with the LNER , and offering a primitive service to holiday makers going to Chapel St Leonards - using surplus WD equipment (shades of the Ashover Light Railway)




The only space that might be available for this would be if I finally decommissioned the old computer and removed the computer desk . That might give an L- shape about 4'3" x 2'4", with the short leg being a narrow ledge under the window sill.


But 4'3" x 18" max doesn't really seem too promising for depicting low coastal sandhills or flat Marshland potato fields - both of which require a sense of flatness and openness




Somehow nothing has quite gelled on this one....

Edited by Ravenser

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Measuring the possible site has crystalised a few points. By clearing some magazines away (which might well end up on a shelf below the layout) the thin side of the L ends up at about 3', not 2'4". In other words the "fiddle stick" just under the window sill now looks like 18" long.


I assume a min 12" radius curve. Ravenser Mk1 suggested that was a very tight theoretical minimum in OO - shunters went round and so did 4 wheel wagons, with a few minor coupling issues. In OOn3 it ought to be ok. Allow a point at the start of the curve - ie a transition curve entry - and I think I should be reckoning on about 14" radius /square terms of in space actually occupied. Allow this to protrude/end 2" onto the "fiddle stick", and you have the running line 6" in front of the backscene, with 11" of board in front of it for a loop, sidings and scenic treatment . You also have 16" of fiddle yard . Without having measured anything, I hope that would be sufficient for two IoM bogie coaches + loco. I think a 2 road sector plate, not a traverser would be needed


Allowing about 1.5" behind the running line where it meets the sector plate, you then have 15.5" used up at the right hand end of the main board, (up to the place where the 90 degree exit curve starts)  leaving 2' 11.5" . Call this 2'9" from the buffer stops to the start of the exit curve. The loop should be just long enough to take that 16" train, and there could be two trailing sidings . An Arthur Pain style station building like the Southwold Railway? with a few low relief cottages / pub on the other side of a country lane?


The point at the start of the exit curve would lead to either a small corregated iron engine shed, or possibly a fuel discharge facility serving the RAF base - their aviation fuel is assumed to come by sea to the main port and be transferred from there by rail. . Behind this , at the end of the layout, dunes and a sea wall - with a large building as view blocker to mask the exit of the curve


The numbers seem vaguely to gell, though they would need to be checked

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Having surfed the internet looking for TT gauge 0-6-0 mechanisms - it's looking rather problematic for OOn3. Add to this advice from the OO9 Society stand that whitemetal loco kits are normally a tight fit round N gauge mechanisms and getting a larger TT gauge mechanism in might be quite difficult... And having seen the Bachmann and Peco OO9 stuff in the flesh at Stevenage - they look rather nice.


So it looks as if I'd have to go to OO9 after all. This would mean the Dogger Light Railway becoming a 2'6" gauge line. The RN did use 2'6" gauge at ordinance factories and on the Chattendon and Upnor , so the gauge fits. The Welshpool & Llanfair and Leek & Manifold were both to this gauge, and fairly substantial operations. And Beyer Peacock (who apparently had a 2'6" gauge works system) converted ex WD Baldwins to 2'3.5" for the Snailbeech & District and 2'4" for the Glyn Valley. A 2'6" gauge conversion is therefore credible. The Bachmann model would be a good starting point for the layout


Kits for decent sized locos are available in OO9 to take N gauge chassis- RT Models do a Harrogate Gas Works Peckett,  Dundas do a Hunslet 2-6-2T, there are a couple of ex Chivers kits for 0-6-2Ts    and among the large range of OO9 stuff on Shapeways is a Manning Wardle https://www.shapeways.com/product/XZQXNCWJR/00n3-kettering-no6-8-manning-wardle-body?optionId=61609377&li=marketplace, as well as some Cyprus Govt Rlys kits from Roxey. Throw in ex WD Baldwins and Simplexs, and genuine RNAD 2'6" diesels and rolling stock and a credible "house image" representing a more substantial narrow gauge railway becomes possible. Rearmament in the late 1930s would provide a legitimate excuse for second-hand purchases of ex L&B rolling stock and even ex Leek and Manifold equipment.


A setting in 1937-8 should justify a busy peacetime railway with passenger traffic and plenty of military traffic too

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A further file note because this is starting to look as if it might have legs....


Construction of the main board would be based on single-plate ply/stripwood girder like Blacklade, with the plates extended upwards on 3 sides to form the backscene. That will mean stiffening strips at the tops and in the corners, otherwise the ply will warp - as it has at the top of Blacklade's side backscenes. Since this would be up against a wall, those strips must be internal, and at that point a boxed -diorama presentation becomes inevitable, with the stiffening strips serving to support a lid which carries the lighting (LED strips?). The "proscenium arch" would be a separate unit added later above the front member , for ease of cutting, working etc


Trackwork to be the "mainline" OO9 from Peco - I note that John de Freysinnet's County Gate site inveighs against Peco Crazy Track points and recommends the larger mainline OO9 points for reliable running. (If I use modern Farish 0-6-0 mechanisms I should be immune from his attack on the reliability of much OO9) The station plan would be fairly similar to that from Steve Fackerill in this month's RM, and the Ratio concrete provender shed might make a suitable goods shed. There's a possible station building in the Peco timber station shelter


Since the station is supposed to serve an RAF station over the dunes, some suitable tankers and vehicles may be needed. I should have an old Airfix RAF refuelling set stashed away somewhere - I think the vehicles survive. And there's a very promising Airfix RAF bomber support set, with useful vehicles, a bowser , and various munitions. I'm very tempted to have an aircraft hanging from the lid on fishing nylon - coming into land. As it happens I bought an Airfix boxed set of 4 kits, being sold off cheap two Christmasses ago - none of them have been built as I've nowhere to display them, but the smallest is a Hurricane Mk1 , which is just in period...... If the nylon is tied round a penny washer, with a slot in the "lid" to pass it through, it could be hung, removably . This implies an 18" high boxed diorama , 18" deep. (3" for the base, 12" for the scene, with 2" for the top arch /lid and an inch below it for a Hurricane coming in to land - 12"=300mm = an altitude of 75' = not impossible...) That will go in the car across the back seat, so this becomes a potential exhibition layout  


The curve will need to be about 95 degrees , so the station slants a little across the board, generating more width behind for buildings . Two of my Skaledale buildings (Forbes & Masons Arms) look promising, and several of the card buildings in the Dover Press "Build an Irish Village" I've had for years look adaptable. ("The George & Anchor" maybe?) A pillbox nestling in the dunes , facing the sea...


I'm not committed to building this, of course. And the whole thing would be predicated on decommissioning the old desktop PC , which is unlikely to happen this year. But still - it is looking surprisingly plausible.

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