Abbey Hill Steam Rally 2018

So in May, we were back at Abbey Hill once again in the marquee.

After one of the coldest weekends at Wimborne during the beast from the east, we faced one of the hottest weekends on our next outing!

Thankfully the layout held up really well and didn’t suffer with the extreme heat – no plastic to warp in the sun!

During our time at Abbey Hill I decided that in order to raise the funds to pay for the recently acquired Beyer Garratt, the blue & grey EMU needed to go. I have all the graphics files so replacing it shouldn’t prove to be too difficult, when I get around to it. Within 30 minutes of being listed, the EMU reached its Buy it Now price and was then safely packed away ready for posting when I got home. Sorry to see it go but needs must.

Whereas in previous years, we’ve ended up shutting up shop early due to poor weather, so such issues this time! – The sun shone for the whole Bank Holiday weekend.

Plenty of visitors through the marquee and lots of interest.

Next year however we have a diary clash, so we won’t be at Abbey Hill in 2019.

Lack of updates

I’ve been asked recently why this site hasn’t seen many updates of late, so I’ll try to explain! – Serious and long-winded post alert!

I don’t believe in posting one’s life stories on the internet and get regularly annoyed by those who post on social media the in’s and out’s of their illnesses, checking into hospitals etc. I’ll make an exception in this case for the benefit of those who do regularly read this site!

Over the last few years I’ve struggled at times with stress and depression, that meant that on occasions, switching off from work was somewhat difficult. Having a distraction, such as model trains, proved very useful in channelling my energies into something enjoyable. That included regular updates on this site as I had numerous projects on the go at any one time and an endless source of things to write about. Something for me to look back and reflect upon for many years to come. Difficulty getting to sleep of an evening also meant that I would frequently spend time late in the evening writing up our exploits before feeling suitably tired enough to retire to bed.

Then during the last year or so I’ve become more and more tired, reaching the point of being permanently in a state of exhaustion. As time went on, I found myself prioritising my energy for my day job, ensuring that I could get through each working day. As my energy levels continued to drop, I no longer had the energy, will or enthusiasm for many things outside of work. Basically all I really wanted to do was sleep. Preparing for Warley kept me occupied and then at the start of 2018, the struggle became even harder. Even attending exhibitions became very tiresome.

My wife had commented that I appeared to stop breathing in my sleep, often gasping for breath and snoring loudly. Something that had been going on for several years really. After a check with the GP and a suggestion that my tonsils were to blame, I waited for a hospital appointment to check them, where they decided they were fine. At that point I never really followed this up. Only when during the early part of the year, when I finally realised that my energy levels were now so low that I could barely be bothered to get out of bed, wash and shave, that I plucked up the courage to go and see a GP again. You see I don’t do GPs or hospitals – too many sick people in there!

After a referral to a sleep clinic, we suspected that I was suffering from a common condition known as sleep apnea, and to confirm the diagnosis I would require monitoring for an evening. This happened back in February and I spent the night (in my own bed thankfully) with a pipe up my nose, two straps around my midriff, a wrist monitor and a finger monitor, to monitor the quality of my sleep. Not easy getting to sleep with that little lot attached but I somehow managed it and we got some results within a few days.

Before leaving the hospital with the kit, I was shown the sleep pattern graphs, firstly of a normal night’s sleep and then of someone with a chronic sleep apnea diagnosis, which I was told was the far extreme. The graph showed that the patient never got beyond the second sleep stage, so never achieved a full night’s sleep. The brain goes into self-defence mode and wakes you, not to the point of physically being awake but enough to restart the breathing. Untreated, patients are at risk of premature strokes, heart problems etc. For me the effects were not only the exhaustion, the depression, low mood, snappy temper and most frustrating, I started having severe issues with short-term memory recall. My memory was always sharp and this was a huge frustration. Something that I’m assured will repair itself once I start sleeping properly!

The follow-up phone call stunned me a little when I was told that I was considered to have a chronic condition, that my breathing was stopping approximately 42 times per hour and my snoring was in excess of 80 decibels. The most effective, if unattractive treatment would be to use a CPAP machine, which would feed positive air through a face mask which I would have to wear each night for a minimum of four hours.

So I was relieved to get a proper diagnosis but still had a further four month wait to get my hands on the CPAP kit. Those four months proved to be the most difficult, as the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep each night began to really take its toll.

During 2017 I also took on the responsibility of administering my local model railway club’s facebook and website, then took on another website for another group, then another, then another. Suddenly I had five websites to webmaster and zero enthusiasm for any of them, switching to a must-do environment where only essential updates got done. All I wanted to do after finishing work was lie down and nap. Watching tv, playing on the ipad, even having a conversation with the wife, I nodded off during all of these things. At Abbey Hill, I had to go and nap each day!

So why have I got this? – When I attended the group session to collect the CPAP equipment, I was by far the youngest and slimmest person in the room! At 45 years of age, 6 ft tall and 15 stone I’m not exactly obese either but my collar size is just over 17 inches, which puts me at risk. Exercise alone can cure this but trying to exercise when all you want to do is sleep, that’s not easy to do!

So I’ve now been using the CPAP treatment for just over three weeks. Not easy to get on with at first, the original face mask turned out to be too small, plus I’m a lot more claustrophobic than I ever realised. The machine automatically sends data each morning about the quality of my sleep and this is turned into an overall score out of 100. After a very shaky start I’m now getting high 90s and occasional 100 scores each night. Some people using this treatment say the effects are instant, while that hasn’t been the case for me, I am now a lot more awake and alert and slowly but surely, my desires for activities outside of work, including my trains, is improving!

So why am I bothering to write all this? – Well frankly it’s something that I can refer to in years to come but also, let’s face it, most people who read this site are over a certain age, may not be terribly fit and could be carrying some extra baggage. If you feel tired every day, if your other half is moaning about your snoring, or tells you that you stop breathing at night, go and see your GP – it may not be the most attractive treatment but a. it works, b. it’s non-evasive, c. the difference it will make to your well-being is huge!

Normal service will resume on this page as the projects resume, although to be fair there’s not much layout wise to do at the moment, there are a few exhibition updates at least.

Watch this space…




Wimborne vs the beast from the East!

So we found ourselves back at Queen Elizabeth’s School in Wimborne again.

After a chilly setup on Saturday, the layout once again went together without issue or fault.

The Beyer Garratt appeared once again, spending most of the first day happily trundling along with the coal train and on the second day it was allowed to rest a little while the other three sidings were put to use. We also encountered an issue with the valve gear jamming at one end of the Garrett so this had to be resolved.

Saturday night brought fresh falls of snow and after a slippery journey to the show, the decision was taken to close early as visitors had mostly decided not to venture outside. Before we packed down, I put all of the SR EMUs together to form a 14 coach rake, which looked quite impressive!

So we ended up finishing earlier than expected but still came away with more potential bookings, we were also kept fed & watered, another sign of a great exhibition!

Never done an exhibition in snow before.

Our next outing is at the end of April, time to service the locos ready for a four day outing at Abbey Hill.

Milton Keynes

February saw us on our travels again, this time all the way up to Milton Keynes for their one-day exhibition. After a lengthy Friday afternoon drive, we setup at our leisure and then retired to our hotel.

Once again we were very well received, and in the company of another three rail layout and members of the HRCA. We were kept busy all day.

Once again, we met people who had seen our layout on the internet, either via this site or the YouTube videos and knew all about us!

The layout again ran really well, with no major hiccups. A few pieces of worn track were replaced during the show but that didn’t stop us from running.

The turntable continues to run without fault, good really considering the amount of time and effort that has gone into it.

I also collected this, my latest treasured possession – the Beyer Garratt, produced by Jodel models and custom built to order.

With the two creators on hand, it seemed only fair to try and get a double header going…

And why have two when you can have four?!

So that’s roughly £2000 worth of locos sat on my upper loop!

Huge thanks to John Bann & Derek Smith for producing the loco for us, and for lending us the additions for the photo.

Thanks also to the organisers of the exhibition for their hospitality, feeding us and finding us a nice hotel!

We received a few enquiries to attend other shows in the area so we may return some day…

Reflections on 2017

It’s been a busy 2017!

With the Warley exhibition in mind, we always knew that we’d need to pull out all the stops and resolve all those little niggles before our biggest ever show.

At the start of the year, I racked out the trailer ready for our first show and soon realised that there was potentially room to extend the layout, and having worked out how to automate the crossing gates I also realised that there would be no room within the existing boards to mount the crossing so the centrepiece of the new extension would be the automated crossing.

After two shows we were modifying the new extension already, thanks to the donation of a goods depot (thanks Tony!) which meant ripping up track and ballast that was barely dry!

With the layout now extended to 21ft, we originally planned that the extension would be optional so the remaining boards and extension piece had to be designed to operate with or with out the 5ft extension boards. However now that we’re used to exhibiting at this length, we’ve decided that the layout won’t be offered in its original 16ft form in future.

As the layout grew, attention turned to the fiddle yard. Previously a couple of the sidings had been modified to allow parking of two trains on some sidings by adding switches and relays, with the layout now longer there was plenty of space to do this on each of the sidings both inner and outer. But there wasn’t sufficient space within the 37 pin board connectors to allow this. When first wired there were no electric points in the fiddle yard and as these have been replaced, along with additional sidings and the upper section, wiring has been added and added to the point that it no longer made logical sense and the diagrams were impossible to follow. The best option was to strip all the wiring from the rear sections and rewire from scratch using a proper wiring chart to ensure that each board is wired the same way. Much easier for fault diagnosis and with the wiring streamlined and duplicates removed, it was just possible within the 37 pin connectors to accommodate all the additional isolators for the sidings.

This then meant that the control panel had to be modified. Having already been adapted to reflect the additional extension, it would now need even more switches, more holes and another re-design of the panel graphics. Realistically the only option was to replace the front panel and start from scratch. Another long and time-consuming job.

A good opportunity while rewiring the rear sections to take a closer look at some of the points in the fiddle yard, some work well while others don’t. Most now work reasonably well but some have a habit of switching back when the train passes over them, I have a potential solution by using servo controls which I’ll explore further next year.

The turntable project continued this year, culminating in replacing the light sensor, firstly for an infrared detector and then finally to a solenoid and microswitch operation. All of the Arduino based projects have required some form of tweaking or another before they settle into reliable operation and the turntable was no exception but now finally operates as intended, and with a design that it almost invisible!

Warley is now a distant memory, over in a flash after so much excitement and so much time & effort preparing. An ambition realised and a great success.

Rolling stock wise, I continue to restore and modify as and when items arrive. In recent weeks I’ve parted company with a number of locomotives as we attempt to fund the purchase of a Beyer Garratt locomotive. Both the prototype version and the final version of the Gordon Highlander Deltics have been sold, both making a profit. Duchess of Abercorn, which features on the front of this site has also gone to a new home while another Abercorn is currently in production to replace the one just sold. My home-restored City of Liverpool and 0-6-2 tank engine 9597 have also found new homes. Sad to see these go but ultimately it will be worth the pain!

As for 2018, well we already have a number of exhibitions lined up which will keep us busy. There isn’t a massive to do list this time as we addressed all the issues that were apparent in the run up to Warley!

Expect some updates on 3D printing in the new year, and keep looking in to see if we can reach our goal of purchasing the  Garratt!

With just a few days remaining of 2017, it’s time to say the usual thank you’s to the many exhibition organisers for hosting us again this year. Thanks also to everyone that took time out to come and see us & chat with us. The many people who follow this site, the Facebook page and the YouTube channel – there will be more to come next year, but I’m not quite sure how we’re going to top 2017!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Revisiting the 2017 checklist

So at the start of the year, I posted my aims for this year and listed 10 items that I was looking to achieve this year…

1. Finish wiring the top loop rear section (points at the far end need to be wired)

Completed, all points now operate correctly.

2. Repair & rewire the rear fiddle yard to include the isolated sections that never worked previously, the dead-short on one of the inner sidings and several pairs of non-operational points.

Completed, entire rear section rewired from scratch as part of the extension project.

3. Relocate the board connectors and utilise the patch leads that I made last year. (leftover from last year’s list)

Completed, all sections now connect via patch leads.

4. Install the Arduino signal aspect controller.

Completed, but only after several modifications to the design!

5. Replace & repaint the back scene.

Completed, entire back scene replaced during extension work.

6. Expand the layout by adding an optional 5ft extension.


7. Automate the gates of a single road level crossing using servos and Arduino.

Completed and installed in extension section.

8. Reorganise and correctly label the stock boxes.


9. Clear the desk of restoration projects intended for sale, and then sell them.

Completed, surplus stock sold.

10. Ensure that everything is ready for Warley in November.



Quite a successful year I reckon.



We came… We  saw… We played trains…

The one we’ve been planning for so long – two years ago we started to get excited as we received confirmation of our attendance at Warley 2017 and this year has been all about getting the extension added and all those other little minor issues that we never got around to correcting finally sorted.

Although normally a crew of two, this time there were three of us just in case things got busy.

After a long journey to the Midlands (the furthest we’ve been so far) we were marshalled with near-military precision into hall 5 of the NEC and managed to park the trailer right next to our pitch, making this the easiest setup we’ve ever had!

Having arrived on Friday afternoon, we had a leisurely setup and plenty of time to test everything. A bent rail was discovered on one of the boards, most likely this happened when we loaded the trailer after the Wincanton show (probably not related to the 180 mile drive!) and even after straightening with pliers, it became obvious during the Friday test session that there was still a problem, so the offending track was replaced.

In the weeks leading up to Warley, much work has been carried out to the layout, tidying wiring on the rear boards (totally rewired) fixing points that didn’t work and restoring more rolling stock so that we could run stupidly long trains along the upper loop. All worked without fault. On the shuttle, the Bachmann and Hornby units were left in the stock boxes, leaving the shuttle running exclusively to the recently restored Green EMU and the Lima Railcar. Okay so the Lima has no place on the layout really but, like the EMU, both ran alternately for over 8 hours on both days. Not bad really.

Casualty wise, mercifully there was only one, Canadian Pacificic ground to a halt and as we were busy chatting, we didn’t spot it. The aroma of burnt lacquer from the cab would suggest that the armature is cooked but I’ll explore later and rewind if needed.

The two 0-6-2 tanks that traditionally hauled the coal wagons (recently replaced by two Deltics) found new work hauling a rake of thirteen blood & custard coaches, a job they managed with ease.

The turntable performed well, a few sticking issues at times but a lot of interest, along with the level crossing gates.

At this show, we met people who have been regular viewers of this site and the Youtube videos. It’s the first time I’ve experienced meeting people who have never seen our layout before but know all about it. And as for the saying “never meet your heroes…” well our hero is the legend that is Ron Dodd, famous throughout the hobby and Youtube for his many videos and his superb layout. Not only did we get an invite to come and see his layout, he also photographed ours, and even let us pose for a selfie. What a nice man!!!

We were kept busy for the entirety of the two day show, lots of interest and several requests to attend shows elsewhere. In no time at all though the show was over and it was time to pack down and drive home. Months and months of hard work and all over in a flash!

If you ever get an opportunity to exhibit at Warley, do it! – I’ve just had one of the best weekends of my life. Superb accommodation, great food, amazing atmosphere and very well managed – I can’t wait to go back again!!!

There are plenty of pictures to be uploaded, which I’ll put into a Warley gallery. Video footage will also follow once uploaded and edited.

We are very grateful to everyone involved with the Warley model railway club for their assistance & professionalism, a nod also the staff of the NEC who kept us suitably fed and watered (and even sorted those horrible lights out!)

This brings to an end our 2017 exhibition diary – and what a way to end. Time to chill out (and repair Canadian Pacific!)