Whiteleaf, Penn St. and Bledlow Ridge all get their names from villages in Buckinghamshire, and this county remains the ‘spiritual’ home of BGRS, although nowadays members come from a far wider area. The Society was formed over ten years ago. Most BGRS members have garden railways of their own with various ideas on what makes a good garden railway, as you would expect.
Whiteleaf 10 years ago was far different from today. Then we used to take to exhibitions a railway which measured 15ft by 30ft, had little operating scope with just a single circuit round the boards, and a couple of passing loops and used stock from anybody who was prepared to lend it to us. We used real flowers, which required watering twice a day, real earth (peat) to complete the effect of a railway in a typical town house garden, and the dock area had a pool with water and a boat for the children to make everything wet. Getting the railway packed away was difficult and messy. Since then the layout has changed in virtually every respect.
Whiteleaf has grown to become a complex layout with a natural size of 40ft by 18ft. It now has many stock storage roads, loco storage areas and live steam preparation areas away from the audience. The main station has an extra platform road, the circuit has doubled for virtually the whole way round the layout, except over the bridge which was on the original layout, and is a single track section which requires control to avoid those dreaded head on collisions. To affect this we use 2 aspect colour light signals which prevent conflicting routes being set up. These work well, but had the problem that the signals could only be seen from the appropriate approach roads, so we often had SPADs. (Signals passed at danger) To overcome this 2 of our members developed electrically operated semaphore signals, from manually operated signals, so that now train operators can see the state of the signals from any position. These have been so successful that much of the layout is signalled, with many signals having route indicators to give the train driver information on where the signalman is sending the train, for example which platform is to be used. We can now run a railway as opposed to having a racetrack.
Until recently we used analogue controllers, mainly Gaugemasters, which meant that we had to have section control if we were to run more than one loco on any circuit. Another member devised the control panel all those years ago which is still in use today. It has been little modified except to add extra features such as point control and signals. The panel enables 2 analogue controllers to be used and by switching sections (block control) as the trains run round the circuits, more than 2 trains could be seen running. After some initial trepidation, we changed over to digital control using LGB MTS, since we now use our own members’ stock at exhibitions and over time they have invested in MTS at home or have purchased MTS locos. We can now run many more trains on the layout, leaving the signalman on the control panel the challenging task of managing route settings, signals and points for as many as 8 concurrent trains on the full layout. It is now very easy to pick up a handset, select a loco, find some rolling stock and set off round the layout, Often the signalman does not know who is driving which train so the only way to communicate instructions to the driver is through the signals.
Following the growth to 40ft by 18ft we again saw the opportunity to grow the layout, to enable even more interesting operations. So we added a member’s own layout called Penn Street. This is a terminus measuring 20ft by 5 ft, incorporating some gauge 3 and has an interesting mixed gauge station layout, and was linked to Whiteleaf through the stock storage roads. To balance the overall effect the “dockyard” was moved out by 15ft, giving us even more sidings and greater challenges in operating trains by providing two branches from the main circuit. We now have a control panel on Whiteleaf, Penn Street and the “dockyard”, (the name lingers even though the docks and water have long gone) which requires co-operation between control panel operators.
Inevitably, there was then a desire to connect the two branches with a single road viaduct, so that trains could pass through Penn Street, over the viaduct into the “dockyard” and back to Whiteleaf. So now the signalman can run trains around two overlapping continuous circuits in both directions each of which have single line sections, It may have been observed by now that we do like a challenge!
These expansions have been made with the thought that alternative arrangements of boards will enable us to show many configurations of layouts, which we can fill most spaces available to us. We can satisfy local schools and fetes with a simple layout right though the gambit to our current largest configuration of 66ft by 18ft.
But our growth did not stop there. One of the options we are often asked to display is the tram layout, which can come in many sizes just by altering the configuration of baseboards. The natural layout is end to end, using Penn Street at one end, and the dockyard at the other, now dressed as a town square. This measures 40ft by 5 ft. However, the fertile imagination soon saw the opportunity to go upwards by adding a rack section to the layout. Bledlow Ridge is 6ft off the ground, at the top of a 30ft, 1 in 5 gradient, and connected to Penn Street. So now trams can ply between the dockyard and Penn Street where any trailers can be detached and then pushed up the rack to Bledlow Ridge in front of a rack loco. It is quite a sight and acts as a backdrop to the tram layout. We still use analogue on this configuration, as all of our tram stock is analogue. The layout uses heavy-duty baseboards which have been added to considerably over the years, and it has now grown to a point where the 66ft by 18ft version makes packing away and transporting more challenging. However its modular nature means that we can tailor what we show to fit the space made available to us by the exhibition organisers. So we now show layouts ranging from a small shunting yard to a large multi-train layout needing a number of operators. The photos illustrate various aspects of the layout as displayed at different venues.
Members and visitors provide a wide variety of rolling stock, mainly proprietary with some scratch-built, and on occasions we try to encourage operation on a ‘theme’ such as trams, Christmas or Switzerland.
Live steam operation always draws the crowds, but is only practicable at the larger exhibitions where we can prepare the engines in relative safety. Steam is mainly run on the inner circuit, keeping it as far away as possible from those little fingers that must touch, but we have no rules, so steam is often seen anywhere on the layout and mixed in with the track powered locos. We have found that the mixing of the two creates no operational problems at all. The track does get dirty, but the electric locos manage well, even after 7 hours of continuous operation, and no track cleaning.
The Society’s main aim – apart from having fun! – is to demonstrate (within the confines of an exhibition) how garden railway ‘atmosphere’ can be achieved. To this end, the layout is landscaped as far as possible, with plenty of buildings and plants, although the need for dismantling and transport at the end of each show does limit our floral efforts, which are based upon the 12 inches to the foot scale. We exhibit about a dozen times a year at venues ranging from 3 day model engineering exhibitions to smaller-scale events such as a 4 hour local fete, using as many vehicles and trailers as necessary.
We are always happy to entertain with intensive train operation or share our knowledge and experience of G scale. As we have been attending major exhibitions for so long, we have probably exposed more members of the public to G scale layout operation than anyone else. The layout is only assembled for exhibitions and our regular destinations include Modelworld at Brighton, The Warley Show at the NEC, the Large Scale Show at Leamington Spa and the Alexandra Palace Model Engineering show.
We have been to the Isle of Wight, Leeds, Christchurch, Manchester, south and mid Wales and in 2007 we ventured abroad for the first time by showing the large layout at Eurospoor, the large annual railway exhibition at Utrecht in the Netherlands in October.
Extract from an article written by Roger Turton, BGRS Member