Having drifted away from the hobby many years ago, after playing with O gauge (clockwork) and various early forms of N gauge (including OOO push along and Treble-O-Lectric), I recently returned and decided to take up the challenge of 2mm Fine Scale. I used to be quite happy doing simple kit-bashing and scratch-building of rolling stock on proprietary chassis and bogies, but had little experience of soldering (and what little I had was long, long ago).
Choice of prototype wasn't too difficult. I've always had a liking for the GWR. In recent years I've had a strong preference for steam over diesel, though that wasn't true in my earlier years, when I looked upon steam as being old-fashioned, dirty and generally second-best to the then-new diesel and electric locomotives.
Initially I was intending to model the traditional branch line terminus, somewhere in the West Country, set in the golden age of mid 1930s. Looking around for somewhere specific, I couldn't find anything that inspired me, so I cast my net a bit wider. Going back to early 1900s introduces some interesting changes in the livery - not sure I really like the darker green on locomotives, but I do like the Indian red frames and the extensive brasswork, and the fully lined-out chocolate and cream coaches would be an interesting challenge to my skills and eyesight.
I had been researching my family tree for the past few years, and realised that offered an interesting possibility - Market Drayton, where many of my father's ancestors had lived. This is a town in the northeast corner of Shropshire, adjacent to Staffordshire and Cheshire, and with GWR lines running north to Crewe and south to Wellington, together with a North Staffordshire Railway ('Knotty') line eastward to Stoke. These lines all opened in the 1860s, and closed in the 1960s. Little remains - I believe that Market Drayton station is now buried beneath a superstore and its car park.
Even in a cut-down version, Market Drayton will be a fairly substantial undertaking - two platforms, two bays, two separate good yards (one for GWR, one for Knotty), a fairly large goods shed, and a small Knotty engine shed. Having made up a few lengths of Easitrac, just to confirm my expectation that there won't be any problems in that part of the project, I decided to postpone the building of points and baseboards and laying of track whilst I start on the rolling stock that I will need for the layout. I will probably build a smaller layout first, either one of the minor stations on that line, or more likely a simple shunting plank. As I don't yet have any locomotives to run, I don't feel any urgency with that part of the project.
I acquired two good sources for the area - "By Great Western to Crewe" by Bob Yate and "The Stoke to Market Drayton Line" by C R Lester. From these I could put together a reasonable picture of the traffic through Market Drayton. Nominally my target is 1905, though I might allow it to slip to 1910 if necessary.
So I'm making a start by building up some GWR goods vans and open wagons, with about 30 currently in the queue, to be followed in due course by a few coaches and then three or four locomotives when the chassis kits are available (and my confidence/competence is a bit higher).
I am also debating whether to use one of the "might-have-been" alternatives for my initial layout, before moving onto the full layout of Market Drayton (assuming that my patience lasts long enough to complete the project). From what I can see, the Knotty enjoyed a very profitable monopoly over goods traffic to and from the Potteries, and local businessmen vigorously supported the provision of alternative routes to break this monopoly. In particular there was an interesting possibility in the Wellington, Drayton and Newcastle Railway proposal of 1861 (which would presumably have been taken over by the GWR in due course) - the potential for this line to bring china clay from Dorset for the pottery industry was apparently very popular. There were various proposals for the Potteries Junction Railway between Shrewsbury and Stoke on Trent, via Market Drayton, which did eventually obtain Parliamentary approval in 1865 - but never obtained the finance to construct the line.
For anybody who is still reading, and wondering where the Gingerbread Line fits in - Market Drayton was famous for its gingerbread. The Market Drayton Railway Preservation Society was formed in 1992 with the aim of reopening part of the Nantwich to Market Drayton line, apparently using the name "Gingerbread Line" - web site is at http://www.the-gingerbread-line.co.uk
Finally a word of appreciation for the modellers whose blogs here inspired me to make the attempt to follow in their footsteps, with suitable modifications. In particular, credit (or blame) is due to Missy whose Highclere shows what can be done in 2mm (but too modern with those new-fangled diesels), and Mikkel whose Farthing layouts showed how interesting the earlier period can be (though I'm not sure that I will follow his example in adding beards to my passengers!).