Un­earthly plea­sures

Lo­co­mo­tives on one of Saturn’s moons? Lau­rie Calvert’s cre­ations are out of this world.

Model Rail (UK) - - Contents - Words: Chris Gadsby Photography: Chris Nevard

‘Cato Pass’

We are used to see­ing Bri­tish out­line lay­outs. We’ve fea­tured lay­outs show­ing the rail­ways of Europe, even North Amer­ica. But Lau­rie Calvert’s ‘Cato Pass’ is, quite lit­er­ally, out of this world. A fierce bat­tle is tak­ing place as a race of aliens with ex­oskele­tons tries to in­fil­trate a mis­sile silo, built by hu­man steam­punks, deep within Saturn’s sixth largest moon Ence­ladus, to pre­vent the launch of the rocket within the bunker. If you want pan­nier tanks gen­tly shuf­fling around a West Coun­try branch line, you’re on the wrong planet… “I built my first sci-fi lo­co­mo­tive Ex­ecu­tor from a Hornby Cale­do­nian ‘Pug’ 0-4-0ST in De­cem­ber 2012,” says Lau­rie. “It needed a small track to run on. My club (Rom­ford MRS) recog­nised its po­ten­tial for at­tract­ing young­sters at shows, so they al­lowed me to

make ‘Clash at North Ridge’ fea­tur­ing a crashed space­craft with two aliens rush­ing to get to the goods on board. “It wasn’t easy to trans­port though, so the idea for ‘Cato Pass’ was born – my great­est sci-fi model to date. It has alien fac­tions fight­ing on the sur­face, lots of in­ter­est­ing de­tails, and spec­ta­tors are in­vited to push but­tons and play.”


Lo­co­mo­tives such as Ex­ecu­tor, Cy­clone, Tallern and Lion have many out­landish shapes but look closer and you can start to pick out some fa­mil­iar shapes. Cy­clone may look like the off­spring of Pep­per­corn ‘A1’ Tor­nado and a jet fighter be­cause that’s ex­actly what it is. Lau­rie has given his lo­co­mo­tives alien shapes us­ing parts from plas­tic kits (pre­dom­i­nantly Air­fix fighter jets) or re­cy­cling the toys left be­hind by his now grown-up chil­dren. “I sent a pic­ture of Cy­clone to the A1 Trust. The trust said it was fun but they had doubts about the load­ing gauge and will not be do­ing this any­time soon to the real Tor­nado!” That rick­ety-look­ing high-level rail­way might make ‘Cato Pass’ look as though the mine rail­way from In­di­ana Jones & the Tem­ple of Doom has gate­crashed Blofeld’s hol­lowed-out vol­cano lair from You Only Live Twice but its ¼in bal­sawood struts are de­cep­tively strong. Lau­rie has only once had a lo­co­mo­tive leave the track when a child tripped and fell into the lay­out, caus­ing some dis­rup­tion. Thank­fully, be­cause of the se­cure 9mm ply­wood box, con­structed by Model Scenery Sup­plies, the lo­co­mo­tive wasn’t dam­aged. De­spite the sci-fi out­line, the tech­nol­ogy is some­what tra­di­tional. The lay­out is con­trolled from a Gauge­mas­ter D 12V DC con­troller.

“I like to be dif­fer­ent and can’t think of any other lay­outs that have a func­tion­ing rocket in the cen­tre of them”

How­ever, as Lau­rie ex­plains, there is a neat twist: “The two lines, the base level and the one on the raised bridge within the bunker are wired to­gether but with op­pos­ing po­lar­i­ties so that as one lo­co­mo­tive moves one way, the other moves in the op­po­site direc­tion.”


Build­ing sci-fi trains is one thing. But how do you cre­ate a be­liev­able alien world? By, Lau­rie ex­plains, think­ing out­side of the box. “The multi-coloured bal­last was sourced from a rep­tile shop. Rather than the greys and browns that model shops have on of­fer, peo­ple cover the floors of their vi­varia in a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent colours and I was able to source the or­ange gravel eas­ily at the right size to look re­al­is­tic for bal­last. I used a plasma ball ex­ec­u­tive toy to cre­ate the ef­fect of the power gen­er­a­tor but for the base part I wanted some­thing rounded. I found a suitable com­po­nent in the form of a guinea pig home from a pet shop. Some poor guinea pig is home­less now!” Thank­fully, the vast in­ter­est in sci-fi/fan­tasy means that pop­u­lat­ing ‘Cato Pass’ has been easy. The in­vaders are Warham­mer fig­ures, helped by a re­strained giant lizard (a Ther­izinosaurus from Sch­le­ich), while the de­fend­ers are steam­punk fig­ures from var­i­ous sources. The steam­punk base was made from carved in­su­la­tion foam, which gives a very rock-like fin­ish. The cen­tre­piece has to be, how­ever, the rocket – which could work if Lau­rie wanted. “If it was fit­ted with a black pow­der mo­tor, it would fly. Not that I can launch it at ex­hi­bi­tions – it can reach 1,000ft and trav­els at 400mph! “Getting the smoke ef­fect to func­tion well was dif­fi­cult. At first this was done with a Seuthe smoke gen­er­a­tor but it needed fre­quent re­fill­ing. After about a year I switched to an aroma dif­fuser, nor­mally used to aer­ate rooms with smells. This uses wa­ter and lasts six hours. It pro­duces a de­cent amount of steam, but then I have to deal with the prob­lem of con­den­sa­tion, so I did a lot of test­ing to make sure this is done safely, es­pe­cially near the electrics. It now runs with­out any prob­lems.”

Tallern is a £10 Bach­mann model Lau­rie found lan­guish­ing at the bot­tom of a bar­gain box in Basil­don. Its body was in a ter­ri­ble state, but the rest of it was per­fect, so it was ideal for con­ver­sion.

‘Cato Pass’ re­cently won Best in Show at the Isle of Purbeck ex­hi­bi­tion, Lau­rie’s fifth award in that cat­e­gory this year.

Above: Lion was made from a Hornby Sen­tinel diesel shunter. It’s the only blue lo­co­mo­tive on the lay­out.

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