JD Models Hunslet #19 on a Mevagissey-St Austell passenger duty
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
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
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
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
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
How the fence is attached. This is the view the passengers DON’T see