Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Imaginary branch lines

I’ve mentioned previously that my current layout models a non-existent SP branch line, an idea widely used in the U.K. for smaller layouts. (See my post at: The advantages are that a familiar prototype “look” is present in the railroad components--locomotives, cabooses, structures, signals, etc.--instead of freelancing those items.
     The year my family and I lived in England during a sabbatical was entirely eye-opening on the model railroad front. There seemed to be model railway exhibitions almost every weekend somewhere in the country, and the standard of exhibition layouts is very high indeed. We soon learned that with British roads and population density being what they are, the country is not nearly as small as it looks on a map to an American. Still, there were plenty of weekends when it was practical to seek out an exhibition, and I was rarely disappointed with the modeling on view.
     The layouts at exhibitions are of necessity portable. The usual layout is a small scene, frequently a non-existent branch, with a substantial fiddle yard to permit numerous locomotives and trains to enter and leave the scene. As I said, the standard of modeling was extremely high, not least in structures and scenery, and particularly in N scale. I had never before seen such quality modeling in N scale (this was in the 1980s). I had the good fortune to see one of the most famous N scale layouts in Britain, called Chiltern Green, and it was absolutely mesmerizing.
     But it was the idea of the imaginary branches that intrigued me the most. And looking through the various British model magazines yielded even more examples than I had seen at the exhibitions. More recently, applications of the idea to American prototypes have been explored by noted British modeler and author Iain Rice in several Kalmbach publications. I filed all this away with an eye to possibly using it myself sometime, and as stated, that’s now my approach to my layout.
     So you can understand that I was surprised and delighted to open my copy of Model Railroad Planning (Kalmbach) for 2011 and find an article about an impressive version of the U.K. style of this exact kind of modeling. The article is by John Flann, entitled “British OO scale railway packs a lot of action into a small space,” pages 22-27. It neatly encapsulates most of the ideas I’m talking about. The layout models the typical look of the Great Western Railway, one of the major railways created by the “Grouping” of many smaller railway companies in 1923 into four big ones, and is set in the 1930s. (In 1948, these four “great railways” were merged into a single national entity, British Railways.)
     My own use of the non-existent branch line concept is like that in Flann’s article, in that I embed the line firmly in the SP’s Coast Division and intend to adhere strictly to a 1953 modeling date. This gives a mixture of steam and diesel motive power, though dominated by steam, and of course incorporates standard depots and other SP structures, along with cabooses and work equipment typical of SP in that era. The intention is to achieve maximum credibility without confinement to a specific place. So far the idea is working very well for me.
Tony Thompson


  1. Glad someone else remembers Chiltern Green, not only had the pleasure seeing it but also had the chance to OPERATE it as a boy with my late Father (Mr Geoff Tyler). I was given the grand honour of running the branch line to Chiltern Green which eventually became LUTON HOO. I think this was all covered in the Railway Modeller during the 1980's. Happy Days. Martin T.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Martin. Chiltern Green was an amazing landmark, and it certainly opened my eyes to what can be done in N scale (not a widespread recognition in the U.S. in the early 1980s). At least I didn't feel quite so "behind the times" when I realized that the layout was not merely "one among many," but had gotten rave notices in the British modeling press. It was a great accomplishment in its day.
    Tony Thompson