The more the mer­rier

John Wilkes let his imag­i­na­tion run wild with his in­dus­trial re-work­ing of a for­got­ten tramway where the rule ‘less is more’ does not ap­ply.

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

John Wilkes’ imag­i­na­tion ran wild with his re-work­ing of a for­got­ten tramway.

Quirky US lo­co­mo­tives, bright pink wag­ons and an ex­ploded gun­pow­der van. Not the sort of thing you’d ex­pect to see in a quiet Glouces­ter­shire town, but this is ex­actly what John Wilkes has fea­tured on ‘Cole­ford’, and he’s let his cre­ativ­ity flow. “Con­trary to the usual rea­sons for build­ing a lay­out, I never had any in­ter­est in the area. I just hap­pened to drive past it reg­u­larly and thought, ‘I’ll model that.’ I worked in Glouces­ter for six months and passed Cole­ford of­ten. Af­ter a small amount of re­search, the de­ci­sion to build a de­clin­ing 1960s-era nar­row gauge lay­out based on the old tramway that ran from Cole­ford to Mon­mouth was formed. I’d been quite com­fort­able sit­ting in my arm­chair for many years, imag­in­ing lay­outs that I fan­cied mod­el­ling, but fig­ured that if I didn’t start build­ing a lay­out soon I never would.” ‘Cole­ford’ was orig­i­nally half the size it is now, as in 2010 John had only built the in­dus­trial sec­tion. It was a good start but things quickly be­came very frus­trat­ing. “I was just get­ting an­noyed by the fact there wasn’t any sort of ‘run’. Lo­co­mo­tives would come straight out of the fid­dle­yard into the in­dus­trial sec­tion. I made the de­ci­sion to add the scenic sec­tion to the right of the in­dus­trial por­tion, and to flip the fid­dle­yard by 180º so that it en­ters the lay­out from the op­po­site side. The new cassette fid­dle­yard re­ceives a lot of in­ter­est at shows – so much so that I had to re­move one sec­tion of the backscene to let peo­ple see what I was do­ing.”


Con­sid­er­ing it was his first lay­out, John didn’t make life easy for him­self, elect­ing to use two dif­fer­ent types of Peco track and then mod­i­fy­ing them. One type is ‘N’ gauge with the ma­jor­ity of the cen­tre sleep­ers cut away – to rep­re­sent track on lon­gi­tu­di­nal sleep­ers – while the other is ‘OO9’ track with all of the cen­tre sec­tions re­moved – to rep­re­sent rail on stone chairs. “It took a while to lay the track, but once the first rail was in place it was easy to keep the sec­ond line in the right place us­ing a track gauge. On ‘Cole­ford’ the ex­ten­sion is Code 55, but the build­ing sec­tion is Code 80. I kept the wiring sim­ple, us­ing ana­logue

con­trol, so there are only four feeds al­to­gether and I use dead frog points. This, as it turned out, wasn’t the best of ideas, es­pe­cially as the points were bought cheaply sec­ond-hand and they re­ally aren’t the best. They need reg­u­lar main­te­nance to keep things run­ning smoothly, es­pe­cially with some of the short wheel­bases you get on ‘009’ mod­els.” You may not hear the phrase ‘I never had any in­ter­est in the area’ in railway mod­el­ling cir­cles, but one phrase that you cer­tainly will hear is ‘less is more’. It’s safe to say John doesn’t abide by this phi­los­o­phy. “For me more is more and less is just… less. It’s re­ally a ques­tion of bal­ance. I wanted to give ‘Cole­ford’ some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent and, more cru­cially, make it in­ter­est­ing to op­er­ate. In­dus­trial nar­row gauge rail­ways were of­ten crammed into small spa­ces and that’s why I’ve put all the strange track­work in. I like un­usual track­work.” The dif­fer­ence to the ma­jor­ity of lay­outs isn’t just with the track. John has also tried to make ‘Cole­ford’ stand out at ex­hi­bi­tions by de­pict­ing the lay­out in the cold win­ter months when the railway is ne­glected, as a con­trast to the more typ­i­cal bright blue skies on a glo­ri­ous sum­mer day. His search for ap­pro­pri­ate veg­e­ta­tion and bar­ren trees led him down the aisles of his lo­cal su­per­mar­ket.


“The trees are a huge part of the lay­out and I had to make them look right. At first I con­sid­ered us­ing grape stalks, but these were too coarse. I went back to the su­per­mar­ket, and on the way there I spot­ted a Ja­panese Cherry tree. I tried these but they still weren’t right. The an­swer fi­nally came when I was on a walk­ing hol­i­day in Madeira and spot­ted some ex­otic heather. It was per­fect as it was quite straight, but it had some small curves and I thought it would make pretty re­al­is­tic po­plar trees. When I was back in the UK I gath­ered some dead moun­tain heather on walks, and have used that. Ivy roots were also per­fect as they had just the right amount of ‘wig­gle’. The mo­ral of the story is if you want ideas for your model railway, go for a walk! “Col­lect­ing enough leaves to cover the lay­out was very time-con­sum­ing. They are sil­ver birch catkin seed sep­a­ra­tors. Gath­er­ing a load of them at once proved to be the an­swer, but separat­ing them from the seeds can

take ages. My ad­vice for any­one look­ing to use the same tech­nique would be to col­lect them while they’re young and they haven’t had time to grow fully, as this will re­duce the amount you have to dis­card.”


An in­creas­ingly com­mon fea­ture of ex­hi­bi­tion lay­outs is giv­ing the mod­els back sto­ries, and John’s story is quite ex­plo­sive. “You’ll no­tice that one of the sid­ings has a gun­pow­der van next to a pud­dle. Con­tin­u­ing with my ‘more is more’ pol­icy, I added that sid­ing to fill the gap, but I didn’t want to con­nect it to the run­ning line. I tell peo­ple there used to be two gun­pow­der vans there, but one hot sum­mer day one caught fire and ex­ploded, de­stroy­ing the track and leav­ing a pud­dle in the crater. This be­ing the Cole­ford Railway, it never got fixed. I in­stalled a fake three-way point to fur­ther add to the il­lu­sion that it was once part of the setup.” John has used sev­eral un­usual lo­co­mo­tives on ‘Cole­ford’, in­clud­ing one with a car­a­van and one with a sofa on the front of it! “The sofa lo­co­mo­tive was based on a pic­ture of a US pro­to­type that I found on the in­ter­net. It was used as an in­spec­tion lo­co­mo­tive on the New York Railway. The car­a­van lo­co­mo­tive is also a US creation and this was a self-build ‘crit­ter’ that was largely un­suc­cess­ful. It needed re­place­ment parts af­ter ev­ery jour­ney, and it only lasted for a year be­fore be­ing re­built!” The most in­ter­est­ing lo­co­mo­tive of all is the bat­tery-pow­ered ‘Ply­mouth’. This has a fuel tank un­der­neath the chas­sis that pow­ers the gen­er­a­tor at the front of the lo­co­mo­tive. The elec­tric­ity is stored in the bat­ter­ies un­til the throt­tled elec­tric­ity is de­liv­ered to the trac­tion mo­tors. “I do have some ‘sen­si­ble’ lo­co­mo­tives on the lay­out, prin­ci­pally the Peck­ett, which was built for me by Paul Win­dle, to whom I am very grate­ful.” There are so many great lay­outs on the scene at the mo­ment and it is re­fresh­ing when some­thing that breaks away from the norm comes to our at­ten­tion. John’s lay­out is just that. From the quirky lo­co­mo­tives to the dif­fer­ent sea­son and track ar­range­ment, to what would be con­sid­ered ‘typ­i­cal’, ‘Cole­ford’ stands out from the crowd. We look for­ward to see­ing it at its next out­ing!

“I kept the wiring sim­ple, us­ing ana­logue con­trol, so there were only three or four feeds al­to­gether”

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