Fo­cus on the key de­tails

They said he couldn’t do it, but Stephen Fay has gone ahead and built an ‘O’ gauge main line on an 8ft by 4ft base­board - beau­ti­ful and barmy!

Model Rail (UK) - - News - Words: Mike Har­ris

They said it couldn’t be done, but Stephen Fay built an ‘O’ gauge main line on an 8ft by 4ft base­board.

Mod­ellers go to great lengths to cre­ate the il­lu­sion of depth. Forced per­spec­tive, elab­o­rate backscenes, and low-re­lief build­ings are some of the in­ge­nious meth­ods that can fool the eye into per­ceiv­ing more space. When done cor­rectly, such tech­niques can look truly stun­ning, but they’re not es­sen­tial - just ask Stephen Fay. His lat­est build, ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’, is just 8ft by 4ft and, for a 7mm scale main line, that’s very tiny in­deed. Asides from a spot of com­pres­sion, Stephen has used none of the above tech­niques. So, how ex­actly did he squeeze an ‘O’ gauge dou­ble track main line into such a small space? Well, truth is, he didn’t need to do much squeez­ing...


Stephen didn’t want to com­press the lay­out at all. “I wanted to keep it as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble,” he says. “I had no choice but to mas­sively com­press the length, so I could model both tun­nel mouths.” It’s a bold move, and one that’s ex­tremely ef­fec­tive - the pro­to­type lo­ca­tion is never in doubt. “Many peo­ple told me I wouldn’t be able to pull it off,” says Stephen. “But as long as you

in­clude a few key de­tails that im­me­di­ately tell you where the pro­to­type is, it can work.” The lay­out de­picts the English por­tal of the Sev­ern Tun­nel at one end, Sev­ern Tun­nel East sig­nal box and then Able­ton Lane tun­nel por­tal at the other. This was where Stephen was forced to com­press space: “I prob­a­bly would have needed around 30ft to build the lay­out to scale, but only had 8ft avail­able,” he says.


Part of what makes ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ so dis­tinc­tive are the high em­bank­ments that flank the main line and, in­cred­i­bly, the land­scape for­mer is ac­tu­ally part of the base­board. An ex-car­pen­ter, Stephen is a dab hand at wood­work. As such, he clev­erly built the frame of each em­bank­ment into the base­board it­self. “The whole lay­out is two 4ft square boards mostly ply­wood in con­struc­tion,” he ex­plains. “The em­bank­ments are shaped like a shal­low V, with hard­board tops.” The re­sult is a light­weight build with a strong frame­work in which to layer ground cover. But with a rigid, flat wooden base, how did Stephen make the ground cover un­du­late so re­al­is­ti­cally? With rel­a­tive ease, ac­tu­ally. “I used teddy bear fur for the grass - it’s so thick that if you flat­ten it down in cer­tain ar­eas it’ll look suit­ably un­even. I did use a lit­tle 50mm ex­panded poly­styrene to fill in the ar­eas sur­round­ing each tun­nel mouth, too.”

Stephen has used var­i­ous shades of green and yel­low poster paint to colour the fur. “A lot of peo­ple use static grass, a fan­tas­tic method, but when you’re cov­er­ing a large area it takes a long time,” he ex­plains. The green­ery is fur­ther de­tailed with bushes, ferns, wild flow­ers and small trees, sourced from a range of man­u­fac­tur­ers in­clud­ing Noch, and min­i­natur. The em­bank­ments com­prise the defin­ing fea­ture of ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ and Stephen has made some key ob­ser­va­tions. He ex­plains: “Many peo­ple model late sum­mer when ev­ery­thing is golden and yel­low, but I went for late spring - the grass is greener and flow­ers are in bloom. “Look­ing at pro­to­type pho­tog­ra­phy helped, I could see that the em­bank­ments were awash with lots of in­ter­est­ing colour.”


The mo­ti­va­tions for tak­ing on such an un­usual project were many. Stephen had orig­i­nally planned to ex­hibit ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’, so ease of erec­tion and trans­port were para­mount. In ad­di­tion, al­most all mod­ellers have to deal with space re­stric­tions (at some point) and Stephen’s method is to sell his lay­outs on to make room. “I al­ways think about build­ing lay­outs that would be suit­able for lots of peo­ple,” he says. “I al­ways knew at some point I would sell the lay­out.” It’s cer­tainly no co­in­ci­dence that ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ will fit into a mod­est-sized garage. In fact, Stephen is sell­ing ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ right now (turn to page 24 to find out more). Although Stephen had been told that mod­el­ling an ‘O’ gauge main line in such a small space wasn’t pos­si­ble, he over­came the odds. And he has a lit­tle ad­vice for any­one fac­ing sim­i­lar com­ments: “Build it any­way. “I call it the Hol­ly­wood ap­proach; bend­ing re­al­ity to suit your needs - if you have to. If you can cap­ture the essence of the pro­to­type and model those key el­e­ments, space re­stric­tions don’t have to mat­ter.” That’s ex­actly what Stephen has achieved with ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’. The tun­nel por­tals are mod­elled ac­cu­rately and to scale, and - along with the sig­nal box and em­bank­ments - the area is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able. Be­cause of this, the com­pressed main line doesn’t mat­ter. At the end of the day, a lay­out is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion - an artist’s im­pres­sion if you will and ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ cap­tures that no­tion per­fectly.

Photos: Chris Ne­vard

VI­TAL STATS Lay­out: ‘Sev­ern Tun­nel East’ Re­gion: West­ern Era: Mid-1950s Size: 8ft by 4ft Gauge: ‘O’

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