Reminiscing my live steam railway.

Discussion in 'G1/32' started by Mr Grumpy, 10 November 2015.

  1. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    While ‘between kits’ I have spent a fair amount of time browsing the live steam and garden railway threads.

    I came over all nostalgic and thought I would write an account of the ten years spent evolving my garden railway, now regrettably a distant memory.

    I must apologise for the quality of the photos, I didn’t own a digital camera, so all the photos have been scanned from my originals.

    My railway interest had always leant towards diesels, mostly hydraulics, but also the class 33/1. I had sold my previous 4mm scale layout in the 80’s to pay for photographic equipment, so had no model railway involvement for a few years.

    I moved house in 1990, and a couple of years later, met a chap at work who loathed diesels. Anyway, we got chatting about his recent visit to the Merstham steam show and I borrowed a couple of leaflets and resolved to attend the Kew narrow gauge steam event in November. In the mean time, I received Ian Pierce’s catalogue and fell for his radio controlled Beyer Peacock 0-6-0 Countess.





    My wife had agreed to me buying one of his cheaper models, but as this was the only live steam loco I was going to buy, the deal was done.

    While waiting for delivery, I built two of the original Welshpool coaches and some goods rolling stock, all of Brandbright origin. I really enjoyed building the wagons as they were made from wood, so ‘felt’ right.


    My loco was ready for collection in May, so we drove up to Church Stretton to pick it up.

    My first mistake was getting talked in to using 45mm gauge track by the chaps at GRS, as this was to have costly and time consuming consequences later on.

    My second was using a builder to lay the track bed from the plans I spent quite some time designing. The line was at or just above ground level, gradients were around 1-20, with some 4’ radius curves. The track bed was all shuttered concrete with the top 1” from mortar which made a very smooth and flat track base, and took rawlplugs easily. Unfortunately, the builder misinterpreted my drawings, and the layout ended up with several 2’ radius curves. All track was Peco G45 including their point work. I used scale size ballast held down with diluted PVA.

    Couldn't resist a quick play prior to track laying

    2'radius revers curves on 1-20 gradient!




    Removable bridge, in reality it stayed put all the time.


    The Countess fired on butane, although I used a butane/propane mix during the winter for more stable firing. Piston valve cylinders and whistle were fitted and she ran at 20psi with radio control. Even with the steep gradients and tight radii she would pull every piece of stock I had, now also including a rake of Brandbright wooden 4 wheel coaches, finished in chocolate and cream.

    I happily ran my empire for a few years,, until around 1998ish I fell for the 2-6-2 Hunslet then running on the Welshpool line. The problem was that it could only negotiate curves down to 4’ radius, so I had to remove the pony trucks while I thought of a solution……a chance chat with Chris Tolhurst of TME sealed the solution, as I found myself ordering his VoR 2-6-2 coal fired loco with all the trimmings! this little baby needed 8’ radius curves on 45mm track.
    Pugsley, chrisb, Steve Cook and 3 others like this.
  2. Scale7JB

    Scale7JB Western Thunderer

    I was always a big fan of Countess at shows when I was a kid..

    But a coal fired VoR, that's a whole other animal..!

  3. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    Prior to moving on to the complete re-build of the line, and the arrival of my TME 2-6-2,
    here's a couple of pics of my Countess and Hunslet.... (second photo following complete railway re-build)


    Pugsley, AJC, Steve Cook and 2 others like this.
  4. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    I had a long wait of around two years for my coal fired TME 2-6-2. In the meantime, the layout had to be re-built to accommodate 8' radius curves and 1-40 gradients.
    I decided the only way to achieve this was to build a spiral to take the line up the garden on a rising gradient of 1-40, but coming down the other side of the garden, was around 1-25, followed by a sharp bend and brick wall!
    I'm fortunate that my wife is very tolerant of both me and my hobby, as the garden resembled a building site for nearly two years!
    I hired a van and filled it several times with the concrete from the previous line, and ran to the tip. I kept back a fair bit and crushed down for footings for the new station and steaming area.
    The spiral was drawn out by inserting a peg and string with a paint aerosol tied to the free end. The spiral was then plotted out with battens set to the correct height, and short lengths sunk into the ground where a long cutting had to be cut in to the slope of the garden. I then cut down to these battens to enable me to keep the cutting floor to the correct gradient. I had to construct a substantial retaining wall to prevent the soil sliding down in to the cutting. Not quite Sonning cutting, but you get the picture! The raised spiral was marine ply supported on fencing posts well concreted in.
    The ply was then sealed with bitumen and very high grade roofing felt, followed by ballast.
    The main station area was constructed mostly from breeze blocks.

    1-40 spiral and cutting




    Main station area on a dropping gradient of 1-25
    Spiral with temporary safety rails (Later removed)

    MK 2 version of my railway empire!
    Pugsley, chrisb, Steve Cook and 7 others like this.
  5. Scale7JB

    Scale7JB Western Thunderer

    The spiral is very impressive, partly for the modelling but mostly because I'm surprised you got planning permission from er indoors..

    Hope to have something similar one day..

  6. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    Considering the garden had only been landscaped a few years before , I don't know how I pulled it off!
    Just starting the process again for an 0 gauge loop!!
  7. Dikitriki

    Dikitriki Flying Squad

    The Countess and the Hunslett, particularly the Hunslett, look lovely, particularly from the angle you photographed them.

  8. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    I was lucky to drive No14 on a driver experience day a few years ago before her retirement to Sheldon museum.
    I believe my model was the first one sold. I used her as a snow plough in the winter :)
  9. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    Talking of snow.....I hope you will enjoy the photos of my locos out playing. This was the time of year I loved. The garden filled with steam, and the lovely smell of warm oil clung to the air. I found it essential to use a butane/propane mix to fire the locos. Butane would enter the burner in liquid form and not ignite.
    The Hunslet had a particularly noisy burner, and slightly unstable flame picture. I stripped the burner out and cleaned the slots with a file and added some washers between the burner fixing plate and the boiler to allow more air for combustion. The flame picture was now stable, but still a little noisier than the Countess.
    Both locos ran at 20psi, the countess had a whistle, the Hunslet didn't. As neither loco had operating drain cocks, there was a fair amount of priming through the chimney for a minute or so. I used to place a cloth over the chimney to prevent the loco becoming covered in oily water.
    These photos were taken prior to fitting glazing in to the Countess and moving the pressure gauge back to the spectacle plate. Also, the name plates are missing. I had originally named her after my wife,but she felt it was better for the loco to carry 'The Countess' nameplates, which were on order at this time.



    Marking on Hunslet damage to original photo not the loco!




    The Countess just after blowing down. The oily water can be seen on the step and ground.
  10. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    One of the dangers of having a cutting is the debris that can collect in there. I always ran a brush through before a run, but sometimes that just wasn't enough! In the end the conifers had to go!
    Pugsley likes this.
  11. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    Around June 2001, along with a friend, I paid a visit to Chris Tolhurst, TME engineering to finally pick up my VoR 2-6-2 tank loco.

    Chris and his wife put on a great day, I believe two other chaps were also picking up their locos.

    Following extensive driving and maintenance demonstrations, we were let loose on Chris’s loco to hone our skills.

    My loco was finished in lined brunswick green. She came equipped with working cylinder drain cocks, super heater, multi tube boiler, steam lance, blower, whistle, water gauge, pressure gauge, reverser (I think correct terminology?) which enabled a degree of ‘notching up’, 5 channel R/C and above all else, coal firing! I also had specified full rivet detail, Swindon type cylinder covers, chopper couplings, handbrake and vacuum pipes.

    The flow of steam was controlled manually from the cab controls or by R/C via special trumpet valves hidden in the hollow water tanks. She ran at 40psi.

    Prior to ordering my loco, I watched a demo video with Chris and his wife being pulled on a truck by his VoR 2-6-2!

    I treated my self to four of Chris’s VoR coaches which he built and finished for me in ‘blood and custard livery. The coaches were magnificent.

    * For a far more detailed explanation of firing the loco, see @Steve Cook ‘Coal Firing Live Steam Models’

    The operation of my engine took a fair amount of time to perfect. An electric fan was placed on the chimney and the fire was started by shovelling in eight shovels of paraffin soaked charcoal, then after several minutes, coal was steadily added until the fire was burning properly. Once 20psi was achieved, the fan was removed and the blower cracked open whilst continuing to build the fire. Too much blower, the water level dropped, and fresh water only decreased the boiler pressure, so was a bit of a balancing act. Over the weeks the loco loosened up and I became more proficient at firing and driving. In the end, I rarely used the R/C as manual control was far more enjoyable. A big bug bear was when a cinder blocked the super heater, which resulted in a dramatic loss of power and the only way I found to clear it was to drop the fire and sweep the tubes. Also, (as Steve notes) using a type of coal to create the 'flag' looks and smells wonderful, but the payback was the extra difficulty of cleaning the tar and muck from the smoke box and tubes.

    After many sessions, cleaning the loco, dropping the grate and sweeping the tubes after a running session began to loose it’s charm!

    Steve, if you are reading this, please don’t hate me, but in retrospect I wish I had gone for the gas firing option.

    I think the Countess and the Hunslet were almost what computer chaps would call ‘Plug and Play’, in that the locos were on the line and up to full steam within minutes. I enjoyed shunting and I felt they were far more controllable in that situation. But bear in mind, the TME loco wasn’t even run in when I sold her.
    A new kid on the block :)

    Preparing to fire up!

    The safety valve lifted at 40psi

    This was the main station, with the steaming bay just to the right of the loco. The coaches were supplied and built by Chris Tolhurst. The chopper couplings were exquisite and were complete with the prototypical locking mechanism. The vacuum pipes could all be joined together. Note the TME water tower. (This photo and some of the following are of poor quality as scanned from Garden Rail magazine.)
    Owain Glyndwr on the steaming bay, whilst ex Chattenden docks loco brings in the coaches.

    When I rebuilt the line, I originally built the steaming bay and ash pit to the rear of the line. This involved a bit of manoeuvring to bring the loco back to the main line, so was moved after a few weeks.

    SCAN0208 (1).jpg

    The lever to the right of the fire box door is for manually operation of the cylinder drain cocks. In fact, once used to running the loco, I rarely used the R/C as everything was so readily accessible with the rear of the cab removed.
    I had to replace and raise the bridge as after a few months, the line settled by a few mm, and I knocked off the Countess's large whistle.
    The station area and spiral were finished with 'log on a roll' and I removed all the white edging.

    The replacement bridge, the loco has reached the summit. Running on R/C (always tell as the back of the cab is in place)

    The maintenance stand and water bottle are just above and to the right of the loco. I don't know if Steve has a stand, but I found it essential. The loco was screwed to the frame so that the rear truck could be unscrewed and swung out of the way to allow the grate/ash pan to be removed.


    The lifting bridge stayed in place and was rarely removed. The loco's case is on the table. I really liked these little coaches from Brandbright.


    During the first weeks of operation, the safety valve would jam open. I took the loco to Chris and he sorted the problem. Here she is 'naked' as Chris wanted to adjust the trumpet valves.
    Dave Bowden, Pugsley, JohnFla and 3 others like this.
  12. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    While I was having fun learning to fire the VoR loco, I began to get the craving for the sound of diesels again.
    I really liked the large shunter at the W&LLR, and nipped up to take some photos and measurements, with the idea of scratch building it.
    However, I discovered the Essel Engineering made one, although a little basic, it had potential.
    I ordered one complete with R/C and sound. Steve hadn’t installed sound in one before, and it was a tight squeeze!
    The loco didn’t perform correctly, due to interference from different parts of the electronics, so I took it to Brian Jones, who installed, I think a Mac 5 controller. I fitted glazing and detailed the cab, correctly painted and weathered.
    The loco then ran perfectly, and I loved the sound. Shunting was so controllable and just as on the real railway, starting was instant, no cleaning up afterwards equalled longer play sessions.
    The TME loco got sidelined and I mainly used the diesel and one of my Pearse locos.
    On one occasion, my friend ’s roundhouse loco ran out of gas in the cutting and the diesel dragged the whole lot back to the steaming bay!
    In truth, I knew the writing was on the wall, I had to go back to main line diesels.
    I sold absolutely everything with in three weeks including track, buildings etc.
    I then considered laying 0 gauge track on the track bed, decided against it and pulled the whole lot up.

    The real loco on shed at Llanfair.

    My loco as built. Devoid of glazing and cab detail, rear steps and radiator grille body colour.

    Following re-paint and glazing. Lighting worked and was VERY bright!


    No.7 on a works train. Come on, we all do it....use the train to carry materials for actual ballasting (in the cutting)


    Dragging the discraced Roundhouse loco back to the steaming bay.


    View of the main station


    General view of the line.
    Last edited: 12 November 2015
    Pugsley, JohnFla, Steve Cook and 3 others like this.
  13. Mr Grumpy

    Mr Grumpy Western Thunderer

    As a footnote , I came across this photo of Chris Tolhurst's loco, showing the steam trumpets, servos and reverser mechanism.
    Pugsley likes this.
  14. Steve Cook

    Steve Cook Flying Squad

    Its great reading about your old line Mr G, you certainly had some lovely stock to run with :) That Countess looks fantastic and I salute you for building the line at ground level, looks good fun in the photos.

    A fully loaded VoR too, lucky man! I wasn't into 16mm when Chris was doing a batch of those, hence I was really happy to be offered one, they just don't come up for sale that often and if they do, its word of mouth just like mine was. Looks superb running with his coaches too.

    No hate from here at all :) I can fully understand why you wish you had gone for the gas option - it looks to me like you operated your railway and I can see coal firing getting in the way of that. Conversely, I am just playing with an engine and coal firing adds an extra level of involvement which is quite absorbing. After all, you could argue that given I tend to run on elevated planks, anything thats distracts from the supporting structure is a good thing :D

    Whilst it looks to have been a shame to rip it all up and move on, I have to say I can relate to moving interests and selling things on - its far better to have had and enjoyed than not in my book.
    Thanks for posting