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Pentewan Light Railway

The Pentewan Railway in Cornwall was possibly unique in having three* gauges in its lifetime. Christopher Hawkins built the original rai...

Monday, 31 December 2012


This winter has seen me finally get around to ballasting. I started on the big scenic section which is destined to be exhibited in 2014 but was so pleased with the results that I vowed to get rid of as much of the yellow peril foam underlay as possible. I realise having this colour everywhere for so long was really getting to me and colouring (sorry) my judgement. With hindsight I wished I had painted the foam grey or suchlike before any sleepers were laid.

I needed to ensure the ballasting did not affect the ability of the track to float on the underlay which rules out PVA which would have locked it up solid. Luckily Copydex which is flexible, can be diluted and used in much the same manner. Tests done some years ago proved it works, however some ballast has come away in places possibly because it was applied too thinly. This time I set out to find the optimum methods and glue mix.

A lot of the PLR was ballasted with china clay waste as it was cheap and readily available. Earlier this year someone mentioned both chinchilla dust and sieved cat litter as suitable and cheap ballasting materials. Having acquired a bag of each, I then had to dash both my daughters' hopes as to the true purposes of my purchases - they are still demanding the appropriate animals be acquired.

I thought about making a ballast spreader of the type both commercially sold and similar DIY versions, but in the end a teaspoon, fingers and a cheap small paintbrush ended up being the best method of spreading. I laid ballast on about 9 yds of track length with pointwork in a couple of hours. In places I followed a useful tip from a forum somewhere, which was to paint neat glue alongside the track which holds the sprinkled ballast in place.

I had read that diluted IPA (Isopropyl alcohol, not the type of beer) was a good wetting agent and dilutant. It might be for PVA but not Copydex - adding some to a Copydex/water mix almost instantly formed a large ball of solid rubber. Dripping diluted Copydex into an IPA wetted ballast produced similar surface lumps.  I also tried screen wash as a dilutant with no perceivable benefits, so resorted to good old washing up liquid. I made up a decent quantity of water with a generous slug of washing up liquid in it (you could see the colour) and then used that in my spray bottle and to dilute the Copydex, mixing the latter only when about to be used. I didn't measure the ratio used but is probably more than 10 parts water to 1 part Copydex, i.e. very thin, like skimmed milk.

My first spray bottle sputtered out blobs too which rather upset my carefully laid ballast - especially the chinchilla dust. My daughter suggested trying a chemist and I found a small pump action spray for £1.59 which produces a gentle mist. The final technique was to mist something like 12" ahead and follow in a zig-zag fashion with diluted Copydex using a dropper between each set of sleepers between, and either side of the rails, and trying to avoid the sleeper tops and rails themselves, using enough so the ballast fills up with the water/glue mix (as if swamped with milk). To ensure it is properly stuck down (and as the mix is so thin) I repeated the glue dropping the next day before it had dried out. In fact it took several days to completely dry out and as I discovered it also forms a very effective short circuit until dried.

Both the cat litter and chinchilla dust darken when wet. The cat litter also seems to expand a little so some tamping down was done whilst still wet. When dried it reverts to the original natural colours, so much so it looks like it is still loose, but a quick prod will show it is not. To finish off I cleaned the railhead with a block of MDF and then my leather strip rail cleaner (I never use anything abrasive) and some scraping of sleepers and cleaning out the point flangeways etc., interspersed with hoovering. As it is very flexible it is also possible to squash down any raised ballast lumps.

And after (the gully will be weathered and varnished in due course)

Rust stains have appeared in places from the spikes specially when the ballast has (intentionally) covered the sleepers. I think this can be hidden as part of weathering which will be final stage - along with planting some vegetation/weeds etc.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Readers of the Review and followers of the O14 Group will be familiar with my search for authentic looking and reliable couplings. Like many modellers I used Kadees which were reliable enough but simply not correct for a British NG Railway. After many years deliberation I finally got off the fence and embarked on a series of trials of different types. Somewhere along the way I decided to try and make my own and thus Zamzoodled was born. Zamzoodled is a Cornish expression for "Half Baked or Over Cooked" which I felt was rather apt for my efforts!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

K1 Garratt

The prototype of this loco is very real, however in my history it took a bit of a parallel path. It was the first Garratt, one of a pair built in 1909 by Beyer Peacock for the 2’ gauge NE Dundas Tramway in Tasmania. In 1947 Beyer Peacock repatriated it, and after refurbishment sold it to the PLR mainly for use on the extension ‘up the bottoms’ into the Cornish china clay district. There remarkably it survived well into the period when most such railways had either switched to internal combustion or closed. This is the period I am modelling, i.e. very filthy and neglected. When the PLR did finally close in the 1960s, K1 was rescued for display in the National Railway Museum. Most will be aware of it’s more recent restoration to full working order on the revived WHR.

The model itself is 7mm scale 14mm gauge based on a Backwoods Miniatures kit. Construction took all my modelling effort between 2004 and 2008. Modifications included wheel re-profiling (with Scale 7 tool), rebuilding much of the motion, replacing all the tank overlays, the cab, cab fittings, and adding a coal bunker (the kit was oil fired). Each engine unit has a Faulhaber gearhead motor controlled by a dedicated CT Elektronik DCC chip mapped to the same address. One of the chips also controls sound with synchronised chuffs, lights and direction controlled reversing gear operated via memory wire (I confess this was the least successful aspect).

Details on it's construction were published in Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modelling Review issues 72 & 75.

More pictures on construction and a video can be found on the O14 Group website at:


Trackwork and Standards etc.

All my track is hand made to O14 standards using wooden sleepers, Peco Il-115 Rail and hand made spikes. I would have loved to have used Karlgarin code 82 Rail but this was not available when I started out 20+ years ago. I could have justified using Karlgarin on the main line with sidings in the thinner/lighter profile Peco but with 85ft of main line all complete and many sidings not yet laid, I took the decision to stay with the Peco. In fact the Ashover Railway which would have been contemporaneous with the PLR (and built by the same engineer) had fairly lightweight track anyway.

I wrote a series of articles on my track construction which were published in Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modelling Review issues 63, 64 & 65. These are now available for download here: narrowgaugeandindustrial.co.uk/pages/review-extras-finescale-7mm-narrow-gauge-trackwork

The O14 Track Standards can be found here: http://o14group.org/2008/09/22/o14-standards/

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A trip on the Real Thing

Late this summer I had my first ever footplate ride on a steam engine, and what a loco and railway to do it on. I still owe that man lots of beer in thanks.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Extension boards under construction

The boards for the big extension under construction in the early 1990s. Each board is a unique (odd) shape designed to be small enough to go through the loft hatch and also keep joints at right angles to the track.

1990s Layout Design

The first attempt at a plan for the new configuration made circa 1990 using an early (pre Microsoft) version of Visio. The original boards remain at the top although the track plan is not accurate in this area.

A key part of this design was that the narrow gauge (black and purple) spiralled around and under itself and the standard gauge (light blue) and then dived behind the water tank (the shaded rectangle at the bottom RH of the picture). This narrow gauge all got built and remains to this day.

The standard gauge was also meant to spiral through tunnels and then over a Treffry style viaduct and then on hidden track under the main layout and around behind the water tank. This viaduct got built but it was clear the curves were going to be too sharp (especially in Scale 7) so the plan was altered and the viaduct sold.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

1980s Layout Design

1980s Design
The original layout from the early 1980s with the viewing/operating area at the front (bottom). These boards were transposed in the new configuration after 1989.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Pentewan Light Railway

The Pentewan Railway in Cornwall was possibly unique in having three* gauges in its lifetime.

Christopher Hawkins built the original railway to support the growing china clay industry. It opened in 1829, and was worked by horse-power until 1874. In addition to clay, tin was also exported and coal was imported. It ran from just outside St. Austell to the port of Pentewan, just four miles away.

In 1874 the line was rebuilt by the engineer John Barraclough Fell and converted to locomotive working, at which time the gauge was changed from 4 ft 6 in (1,372 mm) to 2 ft 6 in (762 mm). The line closed in 1916 when the channel into the harbour at Pentewan silted up. The track was lifted and used for the war effort.

Its final incarnation was as a light railway rebuilt by Colonel Stephens to 1ft 11 1/2" in the 1920s using ex WW1 equipment. This rebuilding also included building the long planned extension up the bottoms into the China Clay district, where an interchange was built with the standard gauge (an ex Cornwall Minerals Railway branch). This extension proved a lifeline in the railways latter days for transporting coal to St. Austell gasworks.
The layout is set on this latter section in the late 1950s when it was on its last legs with some clay traffic uphill to a SG/NG interchange and coal (on transporter wagons) down to St Austell gasworks. It attracted little attention and was to close soon after.

The layout is loft based and was deliberately planned to be large enough that I would never really finish it, i.e. there would always be something to maintain my interest – which it has done for nearly 30 years. It has two distinct sections: the SG/NG interchange and a scenic section representing the climb up the valley.

Track is all hand built. The narrow gauge is to O14 standards using Peco IL-115 rail (pre Karlgarin unfortunately), homemade spikes and wooden sleepers. Standard gauge is Scale 7 using C&L and Exactoscale parts. All track is built on a foam base, ballasted with sieved cat litter and dilute Copydex. Scenery follows the techniques of messrs. Gravett, Norman and Hill. Locos have DCC sound, Zamzoodled couplings (born from this project) and some with DCC uncoupling.

(* as Pentewan Railway historians will know the real world history only had two)