My first railway in the garden was a short O gauge line. Built on
second hand timber and screwed to fence posts with the grand plan
to take it right up the garden. I never did get up the garden but
I did have fun with the sections I built. For one Christmas my
parents bought me a Mamod steam engine kit. It wasn't long before
it was assembled and steamed.
Unregulated and not having a loop line it wasn't long before I
had the first train get away from me and run straight off the
end. Not having an injector and running on solid fuel it was a
lot of work for a relatively short steaming session.
Being in my early teens I was stumped by two majors factors-
- money. I was helped along
by a few items of second-hand track but buying new
was really outside my budget.
- The timber. The supply of
second-hand timber my dad got from work for sporadic
to say the least.
These two problems coupled with
the necessity to clean the track every time you wanted to run an
electric train soon put a strain on my enthusiasm. Slowly bits
rotted away with the final blow coming with the storms of 1987
when a piece of glass from the veranda fell on the line severing
it in two.
It wasn't until 1997 when I inherited some money that the plan
for a real garden railway surfaced. With the money left to me by
my Grandma I decided to take the opportunity to buy something
which I probably couldn't justify buying at a later date. The
idea of buying a proper working steam locomotive seemed to fit
the bill perfectly.
Here was something that was a large item, low resale value
(removes the temptation to sell it) and would hopefully last a
Not knowing anything about model engineering I purchased a few
magazines and trawled through the advert pages. What I wanted was
a loco which could pull me up my parents' garden. Wrongly I
assumed that to run a ground level railway you needed 7 1/4"
gauge at the very least dual gauge with the larger gauge being
for the carriages.
|With this in
mind I started phoning round to see what was available.
One of the first calls was to Winson Engineering. Having
seen their advert for a Polly II (a 5" gauge 0-4-0
steam tender loco) I rang to enquire if they built 7
1/4" engines. They didn't and so that was that, so I
Polly II now produced by Polly Model Engineering
A few minutes later the phone rang. It was Winson Engineering,
who had used 1471 to call me back. The lady at the other end
enquired why I was only interested in 7 1/4" gauge and did I
realise that you could run 5" locos and coaches on ground
level track, and what's more their 0-4-0 engines can turn on a
radius as little as 10'. One of the other main benefits included
the ability to be able to pick up the loco and transport it in a
car as against a custom built trailer.
One of the big problems for me in buying a steam train was how
was I going to get replacement parts should anything break. This
was re enforced when I was at garden railway open day when one of
the steam engines developed a fault. Eventually one of the
engine's coupling rods snapped. "Oh well," the owner
gasped "it will give me something to do this week". It
was said as if he enjoyed the prospect of having to machine a new
part for his engine. If that happened to me it would seem like
the end of the world.
Buying an engine as a pre-machined kit suddenly solved this
problem. Should the worst come to worst, just order up the
The other major appeal factor was turning on a ten foot radius.
Suddenly the plan of an up and back line changed to up one side
of the garden and back down the other side. Well, these went on
hold as attention turned to the engine.
By chance an advert appeared in one of the engineering magazines
for a Polly 1 chassis unassembled. A quick trip to Stoke and I
became the proud owner of a collection of bits and an all
important list of items required.
Wanting to avoid the possible future dilemma of where financial
priorities lay, I contacted Winson Engineering and purchased the
remaining parts to finish the engine. Slowly over the next couple
of months boxes came through the post until the order was
One year later I was nearing completion of the loco and faced a
new problem. If I finished the engine where would I run it and
what would I sit on. Not being a member of an engineering club my
dad and I to invested in some rail and we started building the
railway in his garden.
Needing some wheels to build a riding coach my dad and I visited
Compass House to purchase some bogies. It was while in the shop
that in a moment of weakness my dad purchased a small Bulldog
0-4-0 battery loco. This was one of the best things we did. It
would have been pretty frustrating spending ages steaming up an
engine just to run up and down our first bits of track.
having money to splash out I welded up a chassis for the
bogies, the angle iron being from an old pair of bunk
beds. Dimensions were roughly the same, width of the
Polly loco and the length being what looked right. Given
the sharp corners we felt a four foot coach looked a bit
long so ended up 42" long.
a welded chassis first year of running
Turning to our track the plan was
to lay the line at the end of the garden where it would be out of
the way. Then once my mum had got used to the idea and saw how
serious we were about it, we would creep down one side of the
garden. The thrill of driving a train in your own garden is a
fantastic feeling and is a great motivator to build more line. It
wasn't long before track was encroaching down both sides of the
Not wanting to disrupt the garden too much we followed the
contours of the garden and even crossed over a path rather than
break it out. In hind site this was a bad mistake. It left the
railway climbing all the way up and peaking on the path. What we
should have done is a full survey complete with levels. Later
when we carried one out, it highlighted just how bad some of our
gradients were. Slowly bit by bit we have been adjusting levels
to ease things up.
The important thing to remember is not to be afraid to cause
disruption. You can easily hide a rise or fall of 100 mm in a
flower bed or lawn but your engine will spot any incline on the
track straight away.
|It is only
when we got towards the house that the idea of creating a
full loop hit us. A few quick measurement showed that
with a 10' radius we could just squash it in. Just over
the month from laying our first piece of track we
connected the loop, commemorated with a golden spike
ceremony (well we're cheap and used a brass screw
Right - the
bottom radius is just 11 foot
The first train consisting of a Bulldog pulling a bogie coach
chassis driven by my dad sitting on a milk crate crossed the
finished link in grand style breaking a string with firecrackers.
The unexpected bang made my dad jump and almost topple the train.
Purely coincidentally the day before we finished the loop the
reversing switch gave up on the loco. Reverse was created by
reversing the motor circuit via a double pole switch. With our
sharp curves and steep inclines the current load was far too much
for the switch and it literally melted. With the loop finished we
didn't replace the switch. If you missed your stop you just went