I shall try to show that it is possible in almost any space to build an interesting layout for seventy pounds excluding stock. This article looks at the design concepts behind small layouts. And why I decided to build a small goods yard (thirty-six inches long, fourteen wide and twelve high). Ukho Yard is operated with consignment notes.
In the Spring of 1997 a bombshell landed. The Civil Service decided to second me to a new post which would mean living in digs Monday to Friday for the future. As I wished to continue modelling I decided to build a portable layout - Ukho [United Kingdoms HO] Yard
All though I approach them separately: track plan, operation, scenery, electric’s and base board design interact in layout design. Ukho Yard had to meet stringent criteria. It would have to be; interesting, scenically convincing, electrically reliable, very portable, easy to store, fast to erect and take down, resistant to in transit damage, and able to set up on a table, desk or bedside cabinet. All on a budget of seventy pounds.
Interest would be maximised by a careful selection of the track plan and operating technique. Initially I looked at the classic small layout concepts. Developed by Alan Wright the Inglenook is a layout given over to shunting a fan of sidings, usually three. A prototype of this is Dyserth North Wales. I decided not to use this plan as I had used it in an earlier layout Trelawnyd. A development of this popularised by Andrew Knights is the double Inglenooks and places them; in a mirror position; end to end, side by side linked through one of the sidings or side by side at different heights. The first would be to long, the second to wide and the third to high for Ukho Yard. In the USA John Allen developed the time saver made of a loop feeding sidings usually two to four. All but the Inglenook plan more points than the budget could stand and under four feet all three approaches have restricted operation. To make the operation more interesting these concepts use consignment notes or similar to control the destination of wagons.
I like a fiddle yard on my layout to give the trains some where to go! It seemed that a shunting layout using consignment notes and having a fiddle yard would have a high level of interest. If the fiddle yard was in part a traverser then four tracks could be shunted without any points and the trains In practise it was found that five tracks could be fed from the traverser increasing operating potential.
The scenery was planned bearing a number of things in mind. A fiddle yard required a scenic break hence the bridge. A preference for all the front of the layout to be scenic lead to the kick back siding and the lack of a top board due to the traverser enables it to run over coal and sand drops. The hidden sidings for holding stock out of view to be concealed by a warehouse. Too many straight lines make a layout look unnaturally geometric so as much curved track as possible. The back scene is used to suggest that Ukho Yard is part of a larger industrial area. As many sources of traffic as possible are created by using the; head shunt to the kick back siding as a general siding, the warehouse siding serving a timber merchant and a centre track serving a low relief wagon works to bring in unusual vehicles. A possibility which I decided not to follow, was to use the head shunt as a platform for a railcar or something similar. I looked at the possibility of an engine shed layout. The engine shed would have been low relief at the opposite end to the traverser allowing the display of six locos up to twelve inches long with servicing on the head shunt. The hidden siding would have run the length of the layout allowing six more locos in the fiddle yard. A goods service could be run with; closed wagons bringing in lubricants, sand, parts etc. and open wagons brining in coal and removing ash or tankers supplying oil. The kick back siding could be used to store a short, possibly four wheel, coach holding emergency tools.
To keep the electric’s simple, reliable and to minimise cost the layout was wired as a single section with no need for a control panel. These goals were a major factor in deciding not to run a passenger service and with the desire to use a box girder base board (see below) to the rejection of the engine shed concept.
To meet the need for portability and ease of storage I decided to use small baseboard(s). The need for fast to erect and take down was met by using a single baseboard removing any problems with baseboard joints. The particularly high back and sides, rising to 10.5 inches above baseboard protect the layout from in transit damage. They would also form the back scene and support low relief buildings, walls etc.. After measuring round the house I felt that the ability to set up on a table, desk or bed side cabinet would be met by keeping the baseboard to three foot or under. After some thought I decided to make the baseboard a box girder as this would make it strong, rigid and light. The box is a sandwich with a top and bottom of 6mm ply and a middle of 25mm by 25mm soft wood round the edges and across the layout at one foot intervals. At the fiddle yard end the top was left off for the last foot and the front edge timber set back to allow room for the traverser and the sand and coal drops. 6mm ply was used for the back and sides. The traverser is also made of 6mm ply and runs on the top of a soft wood a cross brace and an edge. The value of the ply and 25mm by 25mm was £11. Where possible joints were screwed and glued to allow rapid construction. Cork off-cuts were glued to the bottom of the board to avoid damage to table, desk or bedside cabinet.
The track is laid on cork stuck down with wood glue. The location of the points determined and channels for the point rodding gouged into the cork with a screw driver. I followed Peco’s advice in drilling and pinning the Peco code 100 track in place. The track was in stock had I bought new I would have used fine scale, code 75 costing £15. A similar approach was taken with Model Signal Engineering wire in tube point rodding that I have found over many years to be easy to install and reliable. At the junction between board and traverser I soldered the track to copper paxalon strips as this gives a firmer fix than plastic chairs and is easier to fix if things go wrong. The copper on the paxalon was cut between each rail to avoid electrical problems.
The layout is powered by a Hornby controller which I bought second-hand for £3. The five feet of wire used on the layout connect the controller to the nearest track and then run to the traverser and all other track. I used wire salvaged from a prior layout but new wire would have cost about £1.
The scenery on the layout is in three main plains; vertical consisting of fences walls and buildings diagonal of roofs and horizontal of track, ‘earth’ and ballast. Buildings and bridge are made of 6mm ply off cuts covered in Slaters Plasticard. 80 ’thou’ pasticard with microstrip webbing forms the bridge girder. Abutments are covered with a main layer of ‘cut stone’ then a partial layer representing pillars. The buildings vertical plain are similar to the abutments but add an inner layer of plastiglase with windows cut through the main layer and window frames made out of microstrip, doors are made of 4mm ‘plank’. As is the fencing, with the pillars made of several layers and the horizontal braces made from microstrip. The log loader has a deck of 80 ’thou’ supported by similar Plasticard with the store made of 4mm plank. ‘Paving stones’ formed the edge of the log loader and narrowed down the top of the abutments. The coal and sand drops are two lengths of 6mm square balsa resting on a couple of bits of 2mm balsa into which I scribed ‘planks’ to make dividers. The outside of the drops are vertical 4mm plank with a horizontal lip of the same. The roof on the warehouse is a sheet of ‘pantiles’, on the wagon works ‘slate’ built up a layer at a time. All though more expensive than brick paper Plasticard was used throughout to give more texture and detail which I feel is important on small layouts. Peco’s ballast is used stuck down with the usual mix of half water, half wood glue with a dash of washing up liquid I add Indian ink to ‘dirty’ the ballast. The earth is plaster coloured with powder paint and Indian ink so that if it gets chipped there is no white mark.
Matt paints are used through out as I feel this gives a more realistic effect for a none to well cleaned industrial area. As Pasticard has a glossy surface it required two coats to matt down. A variety of paints (Humbrol numbers given) where used on the layout brick red (70) on track and chairs to represent rust, dark brown (86) on sleepers and timber work representing wood preservative, black (85) on the bridge sand (63) on stonework and dark blue (92) with dark green (31) used on the window sills. To bring out the texture and to tone down the yellowness the stonework was given a wash of equal parts hemp (168) and thinner. This was done a little bit at a time so that the stonework could be horizontal while the wash was applied and dried. Finally the layout other than the sky was treated with a wash of one part black to five parts thinner representing the effects of decades of industrial grime and steam trains. The back scene ‘sky’ was sprayed aircraft blue (65).
Small bushes and weeds are used to give greater visual interest and to help merge the horizontal and vertical surfaces. Bushes are made of lichen spray painted matt dark earth (29) and glued with wood glue after this dries they are sprayed with photomount and covered in a mixture Woodland Scenics extra coarse yellow (T34) and light green (T36) turf then a partial layer of medium green course turf (T64). The weeds are Woodland Scenics (T64) stuck down with photomount. I was unable to locate a 1960’s industrial back scene so I scanned pictures of suitable buildings into the computer, enlarged them if necessary, printed them of and cut them out. Then I used photomount to stick them to the back and sides of the layout. The vehicles used came of a previous layout. Costs are difficult to quantify as most of the above was in stock but say about £20.
Stock for the precursor layout Trelawnyd was built up by purchases at exhibitions and swapmeets. Trelawnyd modelled the terminus of a proposed LNWR light railway in North Wales. My interest in steam and the availability of Lima 4F and wagons lead to it being set in the LMS/BR(LM) period. The stock is used on both layouts. The 4Fs proved to be rather to long and were joined by a rather nondescript industrial diesel shunter which is now the mainstay of Ukho Yard.
When operating Trelawnyd I found that I got more enjoyment if wagons moved with a purpose. So each wagon was described on a card indicating were it should be shunted The objective was to run through all the cards in the least possible time and moves then shuffle the cards and repeat. This approach was developed for Ukho Yard. The card (see left) describe the wagon allowing it up to four moves on the scenic section. For example a van might come out of the fiddle yard unload at the warehouse, move to the wagon works for repair, load at the general siding and finally go to the ‘middle siding’ before being shunted to the fiddle yard. Inappropriate moves can be avoided for example as there are no facilities to handle oil a tank wagon would only go to the wagon works and then to the ‘middle siding’. This approach helped to identify which wagons to buy. Though the layout can hold up to twenty-four wagons experience shows that twenty gave the best balance between demanding shunting and smooth operation. This was a pleasant shock as I had expected it to hold and operate with only about half this number.
What have I learned from the layout. Firstly I did meet my goal - it is possible to build a small but interesting exhibition standard layout for £70 (excluding stock). Exhibition experience suggests that the back and sides should be about two inches lower. The back scenes provided surprisingly good results it is a technique I would use again. I need to be more careful when building windows!