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!
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...
TRUE TO FORM
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.
BANK TO BASICS
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.
VITAL STATS Layout: ‘Severn Tunnel East’ Region: Western Era: Mid-1950s Size: 8ft by 4ft Gauge: ‘O’