History of

Middleton Garden Railway

Our Railway

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-

  1. money. I was helped along by a few items of second-hand track but buying new was really outside my budget.
  2. 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 lifetime.
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 thought.

Left 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 replacement part.

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 complete.

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.

Not 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.

Left 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 garden.
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 instead).

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 round again!

Our Railway