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A layout for a little lad

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A move of house (to Northamptonshire), and a new court order (long story), means that at long last, my four-year-old son Thomas Ivor has a bedroom to call his own and some certainty as to when he will be living with me. As such, the latent promise of a layout we don't have to get out and put away now has to find fulfilment!


I am going to have a bash at running a thread as we go through the build of what is quite possibly going to be my first serious layout since my own childhood, with some particular challenges along the way.


Fortunately, the little guy isn't the sort of child who lists every imaginable thing on his wish list. He wants to watch the trains go by, to have a fiddle yard for his various items of rolling stock, and he enjoys trying his hand at scenics. Hitherto we have been working on something based on the sea wall at Dawlish, between Langstone Rock and Rockstone bridge (his other home is in Newton Abbot), but that need not be fixed at this juncture as we have a bit to do yet.




For starters, Thomas Ivor was most keen that we should lay waste to the carpet and wallpaper. Can't think why!




Yesterday afternoon I duly cracked on with this, and true to form (the house, listed and dating from about 1832 and being a renovation project in its own right) I now have some damp to deal with round the window, the floor to repair and even out, modern skirting board to remove and replace and some plaster repairs to do. At least the railway will be on the internal walls. The room is in the eaves and apart from the door being hung the other way round, looks like this:




I am aiming at putting the layout along the internal wall to the left, giving us a space of about 12' x 3' for a double track continuous run. The only other constraint is that the layout must have storage for toys and model railway paraphernalia underneath it, which I must balance with the need to keep things at a reasonable height for a little boy to operate and work on it with me.


As I write, I am on an HST near Exeter, on my way to pick him up for half term. We have a (rare) whole week to get this project off the ground, so here goes!


I would be very interested to hear views as to the most efficient fan of sidings for the fiddle yard. We need to accommodate a scale length HST, a couple of long loco hauled trains, but otherwise DMUs and other short-formed trains which could have shorter, interleaved roads. I am mindful that the 3' depth will need preserving to ease the curves on the ends of the oval/dogbone...

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You don't say what scale but you might find that 3 feet is a bit narrow for a double track continuous run in OO. The minimum radius would have to be about fifteen inches, which I think is a bit tight for many of today's engines. The outer oval (about 18 inches) would only just fit.

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I did say we were in 'N' in the sub-title, but alas it doesn't seem to show in all views!


A scale length HST in OO in that space would be a painful challenge - and a true 'tail-chaser'!

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Progress here in Wellingborough is never quite as you expect, particularly when you have two under-fives in the house!


We visited Railex at Aylesbury at the weekend, which was superb; popular with the little man were the Japanese 'N' layout and 'Banbury', whose operators were most obliging and helpful! A bit of fiddle yard research was useful, too.




The mid-point of our week approaches and having uncovered more jobs to do with the fabric of the room, we are a bit behind. Nevertheless, preparation for decorating has continued, with my apprentice doing a good job:




We have also started work on a track plan, based on Swithland, on the latter-day GCR, but assuming the station there was actually built and survived. Using a combination of the signal box diagram, a schematic supplied by a colleague on the railway, and Google Earth, a 'first draft' has been completed on 'Railmodeller' (a very useful piece of software for the Mac) and laid out on the floor with a couple of trains to test the proportions.




Not directly layout related but Thomas Ivor (having won some tickets to the golf at Wentworth in a competition, and flogged them to my brother) finally reached his match-funding target to buy his Farish 'Blue Pullman'. He has been saving since last year, even busking on railway stations!




Today we are going to tweak the track plan a bit (will post it later for comments) and look at the supporting structure for the baseboards...

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Guest bri.s

Great to see little ones involved i remember been that young and enthusiastic about modelrailways my first train was the Hornby advanced passinger train .good to see you both having a propper layout to run your trains on

I've got twin boys and they aren't getting anyway near my layout there more into distruction than creating anything lol although I hope it changes as they get older there only 3and a half.

Great to see will be will be watching with interest


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Brilliant stuff getting the little lad involved in every aspect. I can understand him being interested in the trains but to see him doing prep work for decorating....I must get my 21 year old to read this!


Good luck with the project to both of you.

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Hi Tim,


Well done on getting the lad involved so much in the process - he seems to love it and it is a hobby and indeed a set of skills that can last a lifetime so starting young is the best idea.


I can relate to the Blue Pullman thing - I had a hankering at about Tom's age for the (then) brand new live steam Hornby model of Stephenson's Rocket. A similar process ensued as to what Tom has done and all these years later, it still has pride of place in its own special cabinet in my lounge. I know it isn't worth much now as I steamed it and enjoyed it as a kid but it is to this day, polished and well cared for. It taught me a great deal about the value of things having to work hard to get what you want. I hope that Tom has the same affection for his train when he is my age as I still do for mine.


Well done and I look forward to seeing the layout develop!


All the best,



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Welcome to The Rose of The Shires (Northamptonshire), great to see your little one giving you a hand.

My grandson aged 2 next week is an absolute railway fanatic ( cant think where he got that from )


Good luck with the layout.



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Thank you for the comments and encouragement. I hope that this thread will provide some inspiration for other parents, perhaps even those who are not particularly au fait with model railways themselves. Building a layout for a little boy like this is a different discipline in many respects, but I am a great believer that children are capable of more than we often let them prove!


An update:


You know those occasions when you play with a track plan and end up with a Rubik's-cube-style puzzle with odd curves left, right and centre? Well, I have hit that point trying to resolve some of the failings in my first plan. I was the kid who peeled the labels off and stuck them back on, so as such I think I will re-draw it now the little guy's in bed (he is running late, and must make up four minutes and nearly a quarter, on the difficult stretch running over the border...). I'll post up the results when it's done. My only real gripes with the railmodeller software are the way it won't render flexi track in lengths of over a yard when drawing, and not being able to constrain track to straight in given points (unless I have missed a shortcut!) and this has slowed me up a little.


Our re-hash of Swithland is looking like the plan now. We are off to the GCR (where I used to fire and practically grew up!) tomorrow.


There is no chance of getting track down before he returns to Devon on Sunday (back three weeks later for the weekend) so we bodged his old layout back into life so he could run his Blue Pullman in.


Whilst that was on mileage accumulation, supervised by my wife and baby sister Ruth (Thomas Ivor's baby sister, that is, not my wife's!), we nipped down to the Loco Centre in town, who luckily had some of the Farish GCR buildings in stock. I figured it might help Thomas Ivor to visualise the layout better (and me to rectify some iffy clearances - I struggle to 'see' in 2mm:ft!) if we had a feel for the width of the island platform and the scale of the distinctive platform buildings. The good old Peco 'Lineside' platforms are about spot on for width (33' at widest at Rothley) at their fullest size, so I picked up one of them and the Farish waiting room. I have told the little guy his next savings project is the 'Gents'!


I don't let him use the knife of course, but sanding flash off the parts is certainly within his capabilities:




Likewise, he has already been taught that he is not to sniff the plastic weld, and I hold the bottle whilst he dips the brush, but having tacked the corners I let him run the weld in the seams. At that, he considers himself to have built it, and I get to ensure the product is reasonably square!






Placed on the paper incarnation of the layout, we were better able to see what we are working towards.




Note that I offset the joints in the walls and platform surfaces. The length of the final platform is likely not to be an exact multiple of the supplied lengths in any event, but doing it with staggered joints gives a straighter, better looking and more solid result, in my view.


I am impressed with the building, having not used RTP Scenecraft products before. I know the prototype very well indeed, and it is quite strange actually, having a model of a building I can relate to so closely!




Right, a few more minutes flailing around with the track plan, and time for bed. I wonder whether Thomas Ivor and Silver Fox have made it to Edinburgh yet...

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Here we go, one track plan!




A few notes, in case the screen grab from RailModeller is too small to read...


Colour coding indicates broadly the 'tranches' with which the purchasing and laying of track might be staged.


The curves at the ends of the layout equate to second, third and fourth radius setrack.


The sidings where the signal box stands are unfinished!


Otherwise, deviations from the present layout at Swithland (apart from generally condensing it a little in the middle and a lot at either end!) are the addition of the main-to-main crossover at the north end, to allow a train from the quarry to depart for Loughborough from the loop, and behind the scenes, connections to the fiddle yard from both the headshunt and the branch, both of which were going to have to disappear 'off scene' in any case. At that, there would of course be the possibility of running a totally unprototypical but perhaps thoroughly satisfying third continuous loop, which my target market may well like!


The Down loop (in red) is slightly awkward. I wanted to avoid having a turnout against a platform face (although I believe there was one at East Leake in a similar place) but the shortage of available length for the formation means that it curves more obviously than I would like and is on the short side. I considered a 'kick back', as at Quorn these days, but operationally the loop wins the day, I feel.


There are some slightly iffy curves which in real life will sit better, but I am still quite 'green' in understanding the software! Virtual 'Tracksettas' and six-foot gauges would come in handy!


It is late of hour, but I got the bit between my teeth. I'd better call it quits if I am to have any hope of keeping up with my son for tomorrow's field trip.


Comments very welcome. I am sure I will have missed something!



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Thanks for the updates, the track plan looks good, but I am sure others can advise more on how it will run.

It is a really heartwarming thread, and it is lovely to see Thomas Ivor enjoying model railways.

I hope you both have an awful lot of fun with this layout.



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Well, we never made it to Swithland, or Rothley, today.

We did get as far as Quorn, though, via a few other places.

We learned how to wear (and go to the toilet in!) a boiler suit, how to move a 'Britannia' using only a pinch bar, use an inspection pit to get under an '8F', get some sleep in the secondman's seat of a '37' and the best way to get an 'N2' off a low loader.

In respect of our modelling objective, we know that the platform at Quorn is 133 of Daddy's paces from the bridge to the end of the ramp, and that Daddy's paces are almost the same length as the copings on the platform edge. Thomas Ivor paced out the gaps between the buildings, too. A good day's inspiration, then, and following a trip to my parents' house with a half size copy of the track plan, we are on the M1 on our way home, to source and build some more platforms tomorrow!

No pictures until we get home, I fear - the 3G isn't coping with them!

Edit: Pictures!






Edited by Tom J
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More platform assembly this morning, marred by my having picked up a stone pack, rather than brick...


Starting to look like a model railway, anyway!






Like an idiot I had omitted to consider that the platform faces did not have to be straight or parallel throughout! Quorn has an asymmetric taper at the south end, which I have copied the style of. At that, the up loop and up main can have a much gentler and more aesthetically pleasing approach. I think we are almost there - at least with the front of the layout!

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Another field trip yesterday, to the engine shed...










It wasn't all hard work. He earned a ride up to Rothley on the DMU, which allowed us to get some more research in. A class 101 is a remarkably good choice of traction for the task! We also saw 70013 on test following protracted winter maintenance.








I am posting from my iPhone so will dig out pictures as and when they are relevant to the build. Later on, we drove home via Swithland so as to get some pictures of the four spans over The Ridings. We also showed the little man the bricked-up entrance to the station that never was...




Thomas Ivor went back to Devon after lunch today. He is back for Fathers Day so I have a fortnight to make some progress up in his room. A few minor tweaks to the shape of the track layout to do as a result of the visit, but we must now address the holes in his walls, some decorating and some baseboards!

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Hi Tom


Firstly really glad that you have managed to sort out proper access with your little fella, there is nothing worse than that fight.


Love how into the model railway and real railways your little fella is, layout plan is good and really looking forward to seeing it develop


Welcome to Northamptonshire, though I reside in Corby rather than Wellingborough.




P.s. I have to disagree with post 4, Gods Own Country is my homeland of Wales, but thats personal preference :)

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Hi Tom


Firstly really glad that you have managed to sort out proper access with your little fella, there is nothing worse than that fight.


Love how into the model railway and real railways your little fella is, layout plan is good and really looking forward to seeing it develop


Welcome to Northamptonshire, though I reside in Corby rather than Wellingborough.




P.s. I have to disagree with post 4, Gods Own Country is my homeland of Wales, but thats personal preference :)

If I had as a modelling budget the money I lost after two years of not seeing him at all (until only last October) we would be modelling this in 'O' - at scale size - with diamond-studded baseboards! It's an all too common tragedy. As a result I am now a full time parent to Thomas' baby sister Ruth, and with my wife I run a charity working with fathers who find themselves in the circumstances which I continue to endure.


The little man is mad on his railways, of all sizes. If that is the paradigm through which he can make some sense of his world and his identity as a railwayman's son, then I am happy to indulge it as far as he benefits from it.


One of the things to underscore with this, and arguably any such layout for a youngster, is that you have to in tandem create the memories they will draw on as modellers, because you are not born with them! I modelled the Severn Valley as a schoolboy; with the connections I have as a volunteer at the GCR since I was 14 and after almost ten years on the 'big railway', he sometimes has some extra opportunities which I try to make the most of - not least because on the flip side he also faces peculiar challenges at such a tender age.


Some time ago one of his teachers said he had been saving up his toast money at school, telling staff he needed the money for his 'Blue Pullman' fund. I wonder what they will make of it when he tells them tomorrow that he spent his weekend shovelling ash and now needs another £9 towards an outside toilet!


In other news, the GCR has had a big announcement to make this week, and I am proud to say I helped get us to this point. We are going to bridge the MML once more! http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/news/#7940


P.P.S. Cymru am byth, David! ;-)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Having worked with a five year old in building his layout, which also included some train travel, exploration of BIG steam locos and rides on miniature trains, I am very pleased to share your modelling and live ventures with a younger Thomas Ivor.

Good luck with the continuation. I have book marked this thread so as not to miss any developments.

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Thank you for your kind comments and interest.


Quick news update - Thomas Ivor returns this weekend. A friend of his from church whose Daddy is in the Irish Guards' band has invited him to watch trooping the colour on Saturday, so progress this week will be minimal. His next visit will be taken up with a visit to the 'Great Gathering' at York (or 'Mallard's party' as it has been dubbed in this house!) and he then returns for an extended visit at the start of the school holidays.


This buys me some time, because now the radiator is down, it turns out we have a lot of gypsum plaster to remove and replace with lime, and as such we have elected to crack on with repairs to the (original georgian) sash window above. What started as a redecoration of the room has turned into a much bigger task, so we need to crack on if we are to be building baseboards by August!

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Sounds like a good time to be young in England!

I can remember my Nana hoisting me and hanging me over a bridge in north London to watch Mallard go past. That must have been around 1954...


Best, Pete.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks as ever for the kind comments.


Off to Devon today to collect Thomas Ivor. We will be at York tomorrow to see the 'A4s'.


Meantime, stock was getting dangerously low in a shop in Liverpool, so I have bought and put away these whilst he saves up for them:




Hoping to make DEMU on the way home, but his Mum is determined to put the kibosh on that. Bit of an occupational hazard for Dads like me. We shall see what happens!


Meantime, I have dug out a picture of my own first visit to the NRM for him! (Daddy on the right!)



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