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