JD Models Hunslet #19 on a Mevagissey-St Austell passenger duty


The Situation

After thirty years in a house in North Bristol with a tiny, sloping, North-facing garden, I finally moved half a mile to a house with the garden of my dreams. It is medium-sized, flat and south facing. Paradise, except that I had to rip up the result of thirty years trial and error and start afresh. This page describes how I began to tackle this task.

See Real History for the mixture of fact and fiction that inspired the new line.


Devastation at Pigsty Hill

A Blank Slate

Even before moving in to the new house, I had measured the site and planned both garden and railway together. Some garden railways look as if the plants are a necessary nuisance, added to pacify the Domestic Authorities, while others tiptoe nervously around the herbaceous border, hoping not to be noticed. Fortunately, my wife Liz is a railway-lover and was happy for the railway and garden to co-exist. I sketched out a basic track layout using WinRail, and from then on all the design work was done using a cheap (under ten quid) but excellent garden design program.

If I may crave the reader's indulgence, I’d like to state some general principles here. I believe that, if possible, and I emphasise ‘if’, the radius on the main line should be no less than four feet (1200mm). Smaller radii should either be concealed decently behind the foliage, or given an industrial/agricultural setting. Peat railways, for example, used radii that would make set track look spacious and, surely, somebody must have modelled the spiral inside the Dublin Guinness Brewery…

If you want a ‘wiggly’ railway, and many of us do, give the railway a reason to wiggle. Nothing looks sillier than a railway winding its way across a featureless plain. In my youth, I recall watching trains from the top of Glastonbury Tor; the Somerset Central main line ran straight as an arrow over the Levels to Highbridge, where it crossed the equally rectilinear Great Western main line. Given a flat garden, the first thing I (or, more accurately, my contractors) did was to excavate a pit for a large pond and to use the spoil to build a couple of hills to act as obstacles around which the line could wiggle.

When Bart Simpson plays with Mr Burns’ model railway, he tells Millhouse in awe-struck tones that "it'll be gone for three hours, and yesterday it came back with snow on it!" There’s a grain of truth there; if you are going to run trains in a circuit, which I do, then at least make sure that it’s not all visible from a single point. There’s no need for a tunnel. If it disappears behind a hill or a line of bushes, that’s just as good. I’m probably stating the obvious, but a train running at a prototypical narrow gauge speed is out of sight for longer than one that corners on its starboard wheels.

Which takes me on to my fourth and final principle. Decide whether you want to shunt your stock and run to a timetable. If you do, you’ll need a raised line that’ll get higher as you get older and less flexible. If you just want to watch trains, you can get away with a ground-level line for much longer. Unfortunately, you won’t know which to choose until you’ve operated a railway. For those who are lucky enough to have a neighbour with a railway, this will not be costly. I wasn’t so lucky, and got it wrong first time around. I’ve discovered I’m a train-watcher, so the new line is at ground level with manual steam, and both R/C and manual battery locos. Accordingly, Pigsty Hill station has the minimum configuration of a good long passing loop and a single siding. The resulting design was as illustrated.

Laying the track

The flat part of the garden had been covered with a plastic membrane, slit to allow planting and topped with wood-chip mulch. Just to see how it looked, I then laid out the LGB track on top of this, changing the design slightly from my plan to match the actual lie of the land. Rather to my surprise, a single run with my track-clearing wagon made the line passable by a battery diesel, and the visual effect was surprisingly good. For a more permanent job, I fastened the track together with Hillman rail-clamps on the inside rail. This was a bustard of a job, done on hands and knees with an Allen key; at one point I was overtaken by a worm in a hurry. Nevertheless, I was then able to run PHLR #18 ‘LIZZIE’, my Regner Wilma (since sold), and was delighted to find that she would pull all my stock at a steady scale 15mph without breaking sweat.

Given that it looks good and runs well, I am minded to leave it like that, possibly ballasted with smaller wood chippings. With the pine needles from next door’s Leylandii, it looks just right for a woodland railway. It needs sweeping before each run but, since it’s all accessible and self-supporting, I think that this is the best option.

My next task will be paths and "To the Gardens" signs. Unfortunately, outside work was delayed by the worst June and July that I can ever recall. ‘Flaming June’, indeed!


A familiar figure drives the inaugural train

wpbee64583_0f.jpg wpc3a12568_0f.jpg

Regner Wilma #18 (later sold) negotiates a wiggly bit around Pigsty Hill itself


Building Pigsty Hill Station

This owes a lot to an ancient article by Bill Cook in ‘Sixteen Millimetre Today’, the organ of the 16mm NG Association. The platforms are based on three-foot lengths of tongue-and-groove Two of these are slotted and glued together for the up platform, which holds the main station buildings, such as they are.

I planked the down platform with lolly-sticks cut to its width, and the up platform with alternating long and short sticks. These were cut to size using a cheap X-Cut guillotine, which explicitly states ‘for paper only’, but is fine for thin wood. Small gaps were left to allow for expansion in damp weather, and they were stuck down with exterior quality PVA glue. I then painted the whole with teak exterior polyurethane varnish.

I also made the palings of the platform fencing from lolly sticks, with one rounded end snipped off. These were glued to rails cut from thin wood strips and painted white with car spray. I screwed and glued two ¼" x ¼" hardwood strips to the back of the platform and screwed and glued the fences to the back of these.

Incidentally, it is not necessary to eat several hundred ice-lollies – craft shops sell the sticks in quantity.

I made the rude shed from six pieces of thin ply, cut to size with the guillotine and finished with car spray paint. I covered the roof with tinplate from flattened baked bean tins, opened up with tin snips and also cut with the guillotine. Warning – wear rubber gloves; freshly cut tinplate has very sharp edges! I used grey car primer for protection, but the tinplate still rusts most realistically after a few years of British sunshine.

I bodged the seats from lengths of ¼" x ½" and ¼" square wood strip from the local ironmonger. They are designed to be robust rather than elegant, and have lasted well in the steaming jungles of British North Bristol.

The station lights are Hobby’s street lamps, with a similar lamp fitting inside the booking office. These are fed via wires under the platform from 2 x AA NiMH cells in the office, but I hope to replace that with the gubbins from a solar garden lamp. Most of my stock is lighted, and it makes a fine show at night. To my eye, the whole gives something of the impression of Llanfair Caereinion in pre-preservation days.

By the way, the figures are by Rob Bennett, of whose talents I am insanely jealous.


 An aerial view of the station with Pigsty Hill behind

wp54c4458c_0f.jpg wpc15b5f2b_0f.jpg

How the fence is attached. This is the view the passengers DON’T see


For images from this period see:

The PHLR Mark V - Pictures from 2007  through The PHLR Mark V - Pictures from 2008


NOTE: This page is based on an article I wrote for Garden Rail magazine. See Garden Rail Index to find my articles

The Pigsty Hill Light Railway - a Very Small Garden Railway


A New Start