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The Beal Thing



Whilst I am putting in yet more wires on Hatton Parkway to get all the point motors working I thought that I'd take time out to do some musing (they can't touch you for it, you know).


Back in the days of yore there were model railways that put the emphasis on the railways rather than the model. This is something that is still big in the US - models of large sections of railway systems rather than a single station, or part of one. Currently the UK hobby seems to be concentrated on producing rather nice models of a specific location (be it real or imagined) rather than portraying how a chunk of the rail network works and interacts.


Those of you of a certain age, or more, will remember layouts like Jack Ray's Crewchester, Norman Eagles' Sherwood Section and Peter Denny's Buckingham - all of which were models of railway systems where trains went from place to place, in some cases with intermediate stops or alternative routes. Whilst the models were all individually built, rather than taken out of a box, none the less they weren't the stars of the show, instead they were just actors in the show that was operating the layout like the real thing.


Many people hold up John Ahern's Madder Valley, now preserved at Pendon Museum, as the first true scenic layout but overlook the fact that it was designed to be interesting to operate as well. The various industries gave a purpose to the freight movements and the various modelled communities gave a reason for the passenger operations.



The 'grand-daddy' of UK 4mm operations was Edward Beal. During the 50s and 60s he published a stream of articles and books about building 4mm models and how to use them to portray real operations. If you come across a copy of his book WEST MIDLAND: A Railway in Miniature I'd strongly advise sitting down with it. It is a fascinating read and whilst much of its content is dated it still provides much food for thought.


Today we are fortunate in that we can sit at a computer screen and order finely-detailed locomotives that run smoothly, accurate coaches and freight wagons to a constant scale and scale miles of track at the wave of a plastic card. We can add virtually any type of scenic embellishment we like, all without raising a sweat if we so choose. So where are the operating empires of today? Where are the layouts with four or five stations with freight terminals, branches and visibly different types of traffic?


Maybe it is just me, but the layouts I remember reading about in my youth that left the biggest impression were not the large 'railway in a landscape' single (or no) station scenic spectaculars, but the ones that replicated a significant slice of railway. Good narrow gauge does this - after all you can model a whole line and often get the spectacular scenery thrown in, US outline layouts (in the US) have it down to a fine art. Perhaps it is time for a few more of us in the UK to think about using the current crop of ready-to-play products to create models railways rather than model stations?


Now, where did I put my tin hat?wink.gif

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I think I need a tin hat too... I have to agree with you that a model railway with a purpose, and a series of stations or industries to serve is much more interesting to operate and watch than a railway in a landscape. (Not that a railway in a landscape is bad, it's just different - a well executed layout in a landscape can be examined for ages). The best layout (to operate) I ever operated was a fictional Welsh narrow gauge one - slate quarry at one end, transhipment sidings 30-odd feet away down the other. I am currently planning a home layout that will hopefully provide this interest - but am hampered by the size problem. Americans tend to have much larger homes than we do, so can build these large layouts, we seem to build ever smaller houses, making the big layout option very difficult.

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Whilst I fully accept that in the UK space is at a premium (and yes - I spent years drolling over some of the layouts featured in US magazines) but lack of space and 'system' operation are not mutually exclusive. Whilst I exclude the minimum space layouts from this, even a small space will allow for operations.


My Shake-the-box layout, Walton, is a case in point. Whilst I have only built the terminus it was designed as part of a larger system that allows you to operate a full branch line. The full scheme is envisaged to occupy 15' x 2' along a garage wall - or an equivalent 'L' or 'U' space. In 'N' you'd have an 8' x 1' shelf - that would go just about anywhere.




Mind you, a BIG UK operating layout would be a joy to behold smile.gif .

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This is a very interesting topic, I have to say, and one that I have thought long and hard over for a long time and my recent modelling endeavours seem to reflect the dilemma.?

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I have just stumbled across this 2009 posting whilst looking around the site for other "system" layouts. I couldn't agree more with the comments. My childhood hero layouts were Peter Denny's Buckingham Branch / Buckingham Great Central and the Gainsborough Model Railway's depiction of Kings Cross to Leeds. The multi station operation of both fascinated me.


I then spent 30 years dreaming and having no space time and money to do anything except collect stock. Finally, with the help of HWDMRS, I am building my own three station system called Buckingham West. I wear my inspiration on my sleeve.


In the meantime I have read references to the Sherwood Section but cannot seem to find any further information. Any pointers anyone?

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