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First tentative steps



When attempting your first layout it is so tempting to rush out and buy a controller, a few pieces of track and any loco that stands even the remotest chance of ever having run over the lines. However, I have decided to take my time over this layout. I have given lots of thought to location and period. I have read every magazine and book that I could reasonably lay my hands on. Sadly, for me, I have chosen the wrong gauge, the wrong location (region) and the wrong era. Southern, 1957 to 1965 in N gauge is poorly catered for in the R-T-R market but further research has revealed that there are kits available for the locomotives that I desire. I am not so foolish as to believe that I can go from a position of zero knowledge and skills to being a master kit-basher overnight. 'Slowly, slowly, Catchee monkey'.


Firstly, the most important consideration - where is the layout going to be located. It was going to be the front half of the garage but a dramatic change of circumstances means that I now have a room that is roughly 4m x 4m, with plenty of light, eat and ventilation. I am not so stupid as to think that I can fill this space in one go. Instead, I am going to start small and slowly expand. My modelling skills are limited so I intend to start with one of the fiddleyards (there will be 2 of them, one at each end). My first baseboard will be 4ft x 2ft and I am not sure that the fiddleyard will occupy all of the space available.


Clearly I have much to do and, therefore, while I continue with my research and start preparing initial thoughts on the design, I am starting to acquire the tools that I am going to need. The layout is going to be partially automated but I don't want to have to get involved in complex electronics (such as occupation detectors) and I don't want to spend a fortune on the controller. After much research I concluded that the Bachman Dynamis Ultima met my requirements. I am aware that it isn't 'top of the range' but for the price, it delivers the features and functions that I require. Most importantly, it comes with script-based automation, albeit time-based. I was lucky enough to get a decent deal, so this DCC controller became my first major acquisition. It is still waiting to be used.


Knowing that I was going to have an almost inexhaustible list of tools and bits and pieces, I have made a start on acquiring them, a few at a time. I now have things like a Dremel, a soldering iron, jewellers screwdrivers, a decent steel rule, etc. I am waiting for a DCC training day, at my local model shop, when I hope to pick up sufficient knowledge to make a start. In the meantime, I have downloaded the instruction manual for Dynamis Ultima so that I can be prepared as possible.


Progress, in the early stages, is going to be in fits and starts as I have some other commitments that I can't get out of. It is, perhaps, fortunate that one of those commitments means that I have to travel down to Littlehampton in Sussex, once a month. Of course, Littlehampton is only a few miles from Ford where Gaugemaster is based. I make a point of popping in every time that I am down in that neck of the woods, armed with my most recent shopping list. My next visit, towards the end of this month, will see me picking up sufficient 2nd radius curves to make a circle. Apparently this needs to be laid down, as a test bed, in order to set the scale speed of any loco. According to the instructions, it is necessary to run the loco round and round (at full speed) and then enter the prototypical top speed. Doing this with all locos means that they will run at the correct scale speed which will make running double-headers much easier. Of course, it will also help to 'run in' any new locos that I buy.


With all of this going on I will still have some 'free' time before the serious model making commences. I have quite a lengthy commute, to work, each day - by train, naturally, and I intend to use that time creating a feasible backstory to justify the traffic that will run. Whilst there needs to be a grain of truth to the backstory, I still need to ensure that it is believable. There is little point in hypothesising that the Southern built an enormous goods exchange yard in the middle of the leafy Sussex countryside! My chosen location will be loosely based on Midhurst but will remain fictitious so that I can manipulate the population of that town and invent reasons for traffic levels. Arguably, the hardest thing to do will be to justify the levels of passenger traffic. In the real world, the lines into and out of Midhurst were poorly utilised by the public at large and it was no surprise that when one of those lines suffered severe flood damage the decision was taken not to re-instate the track bed. One instance of modeller's license will be to imagine that this incident didn't occur.


So, if the layout is going to be fictitious then I will need to come up with new names for the off-scene stations as well as the main subject of the model. Midhurst will become 'Midhirst for Easebourne' and Chichester will become 'Chidister' (which is how the locals pronounce it). No doubt I will make extensive use of puns when naming other stations. Suggestions for alternative names for Pulborough, Petworth, Lavant, Singleton, Rogate and Petersfield would be more than welcomed.

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