England's highest station and its formidable landscape has long influenced modellers. Inspired by his forebears, Mike McManus presents his iteration.
Layout name: Dent
Scale/gauge: 4mm:1ft scale / OO gauge
Size: 26ft x 3ft (scenic section)
Era/region: 1950-1960s / BR London Midland
Location: Dent, Settle & Carlisle
Layout type: Continuous loop
Over the years there have been many modelling projects based upon Dent, with my earliest recollections being those of the talented David Jenkinson with his fabulous layout ‘Dentdale’. This layout, together with his book Rails over the Fells, began my fascination for this Midland route from Settle to Carlisle.
For several decades, not entirely due to David Jenkinson and others, I have had the nagging urge to model the highest station on an English main line, Dent. I travelled over the Settle & Carlisle (S&C) quite regularly in the 1970s, following a move to Nottingham and transfer from St.Rollox Works to Derby Locomotive Works travelling between Nottingham and Glasgow using my BR ‘free pass’ or ‘privilege card’, which is where I feel this nagging urge originated. However, my modelling subjects up until now had always been ‘complicated’ freelance affairs with busy stations, depots and yards. Therefore, this project is a complete departure from my usual modelling style.
How my urge became a reality was entirely due to Mother Nature flooding my railway den (glorified wooden shed), which resulted in a total rebuild, this time in blockwork! It was a good excuse to build a layout from scratch and I needed no more deliberation - it was going to be Dent – at last!
I already knew quite a lot of the history surrounding the S&C but the research of Dent station has enlightened me to much more and if you are considering modelling an actual location then I would advise you to spend some time digging out whatever information you can before starting.
One of my initial criteria was there was to be no ducking under nor a lift-up flap as I wanted the room to be divided into the layout on one side, with a modelling bench and its associated clutter the other side. This posed the problem of how to manage a full-length scenic layout of 26ft x 3ft combined with a similar sized fiddle yard – in a space 26ft x 10ft.
I gave the problem some thought and at the time decided to position the fiddle yard beneath the scenic sections and connect them by way of a helix or spiral at each end.
Sadly, this solution failed through poor uphill performance of several steam locomotive types as they were attempting to haul prototype heavy trains. Going downhill also proved problematic, with mainly coupling over-run, especially with stock from some manufacturers, which is difficult to shunt due to the variable height and common ‘droop’ found on some wagons and coaches. The problems can be viewed on my ‘Dent Station’ thread on RMweb.
Work on the layout began in earnest in 2013 once I had rebuilt the new 'den'. The scenic section baseboards are made from strips of 9mm birch ply, 80mm deep, with weight-reducing apertures which also act as wiring routes. The trackbed is carried approximately 150mm above the boards on uprights to allow for variable topography which is a major feature of the area. The fiddle yard boards are standard softwood framing with 9mm ply tops and braced to avoid fouling point motors at the ‘fan’ entrance/exit ends. Other criteria were to avoid the use of legs for support where possible and to this end both the fiddle yard and scenic section are supported on cantilevered aluminium angle, mounted from the wall, thus offering a clear space below for storage, barring the bracing which is not intrusive.
All trackwork is laid on 0.125in cork throughout then wired and tested thoroughly prior to scenic work. The scenic section was ballasted using Geoscenics fine stone ballast, stained in a mix of cold tea and coffee then dried before application. Some sections have been treated differently for some prototypical variation.
Following several weeks of trial running sessions, work started on forming the landscape and infrastructure. The first item made was the iconic ‘Coal Road’ bridge. This was made from 12mm ply and 3mm MDF clad in Wills brick plastic sheet, painted and from some manufacturers, which is difficult to shunt due to the variable height and common ‘droop’ found on some wagons and coaches. The problems can be viewed on my ‘Dent Station’ thread on RMweb.
The landscape being a rather large area was formed using ‘Kingspan’ insulation board glued to the baseboard framework and carved to shape with a large kitchen knife, then covered with ‘Mod-Roc’ to form the typical fells around Dent.
Platforms are 3mm ply with a homemade blend of grit. Platform edging stones are made from 0.040in Plastikard. The retaining wall is Wills Dressed Stone capped again with Plastikard.The station approach road and car park is similarly constructed with a difference in grit style for the car park, and plaster covering for the main roadways. The stone walling is cast from proprietary items and painted to suit the location, meanwhile station fencing is Ratio Midland Railway diagonal type.
Both station buildings are scratch-built using Perspex for the main shell that was then fitted with Wills quoins on all corners, followed by commissioned laser-cut window and door items from ‘York Modelmaking’, which were pre-painted before fitting. Any depth issues were then made up with Plastikard before cladding the walls with Slater's 2mm Dressed Stone. The roof is again Perspex covered in York Modelmaking slates. The building is painted in Humbrol No. 84 stone and weathered with Modelmaster washes. All buildings are made featuring a plinth, which locates into the baseboard/platform to avoid the unsightly gap when a building is simply placed on a surface.
The signal box is the only item formed from a kit. It is a standard 20ft Midland box, which York Modelmaking supplied with doors and windows repositioned as per the prototype on my behalf. The ‘Bothy’ is of similar construction to the station and was clad in Wills Dressed Stone, again painted in Humbrol No. 84, then overpainted in white to simulate the lime wash finish of the prototype. The stationmaster’s house is similarly constructed, with two sides featuring Wills Dressed Stone and the other two finished in a rendered look. This was done on the prototype to guard against the winter conditions prevalent in the fells.
Standard 12V analogue is my chosen system but not my favourite topic. I have always done the same system of wiring on all my layouts. It looks complicated and over-engineered and probably is the latter but I find it easy to trace any faults relatively quickly by isolating various sections. All boards are wired independently, as are the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ lines. These sections are then taken to the control panel. Also, I do not use the ‘common return’ principle; all rails are individually connected via positive and negative feeds back to the panel via 25-way ‘D-Sub’ connectors. There are no metal fishplates to carry power through rail joints (except on the hidden loops). However, traditional 60ft sections feature C&L surface-fitted fishplates.
Point operation had to be motor-driven as opposed to solenoid and I chose Cobalt motors from DCC Concepts. I found these very easy to install, though performance is variable. Signals are scratch-built in brass, with components from Model Signal Engineering providing the finer items. Operation is provided through a Mega-Points module and servo units. This did tax the old grey matter at first, but once I got the basics right it was not too bad. There are occasional problems with the operation, but I find reprogramming the module suffices.
All buildings are fitted with lights, with a choice of lighting on various different sections. Lighting rooms for some nocturnal variation is a subtle feature. I have begun to detail the interior of the station building, but to be honest, for what can be seen through the tiny windows it does seem pointless. The platforms also have scratch-built working lamps that operate on a lower voltage than the bulb requires, resulting in a nice dull yellow glow.
I spend a lot of time working on the stock, usually as soon as I get it. Nothing runs on the layout unless it’s undergone what I refer to as a ‘basic weathering’. This is done with an airbrush using a favourite blend to keep a consistent look throughout the range of rolling stock. Of course, in time, most items then receive further attention using various media to produce individual finishes. Many items have been revisited and enhanced over time and many still require further attention.
Having a large selection of rolling stock that spans many years of collecting, means some items, such as my collection of ex-Lima parcels vans, posed problems running on Code 75 track with their giant wheel flanges and coupling hooks. To correct these issues, I replaced the bogies with Bachmann units – you can’t easily replace the wheels in the Lima bogies because the axle is shorter. The couplings, when fitted to the body, are removed and I designed my own simple etched bar to represent a screw-coupling, which is fitted to one end, with a Plastikard peg at the other. Obviously, shunting is not possible with this design but there is little call for shunting on 'Dent'.
Another prized project of mine was the S&C’s signature freight train; the Long Meg–Widnes anhydrite working. Sadly, none of the major manufacturers has introduced the specialist hopper wagons used for this flow. Having seen Ian MacDonald’s brass versions on 'Kirkby Stephen West' which, I believe run on Judith Edge chassis units, I thought this was just a bit beyond my capabilities, so I opted for an easier solution and used the Dapol unfinished 21T hoppers as the donor wagons. Following a fair bit of butchering and scratch-building, I have produced a full rake of 20 of these iconic vehicles and another 20 for the return empties may be tackled – one day. I have asked Accurascale if they have any plans for an anhydrite wagon and told them how close their hopper is, but will have to wait and see if they follow up on it.
I love my freight stock, and I love a wide variation of wagons and of course ‘paying’ loads for them to carry. I scratch-build many loads utilising wood, plastic, castings, kits and anything that looks as though it will do the job. I regularly pause a DVD if I see an unusual freight and study the items on the wagon if the photographer has lingered long enough on the ‘mundane’. Sadly, back in the steam era, cine-film was expensive and most users caught the locomotive passing the camera, then stopped to keep the remaining film for the next opportunity. Understandable, but it means we as modellers missed out on much information.
I also enjoy constructing various goods wagon kits, especially if they are of non-commercially-available ready-to-run types. I build an unusual wagon only to find one of the ‘big boys’ introduces the very same thing soon after – anhydrites, anyone?
Recently, a short rake of BR Coil wagons has been constructed using the Dapol unfinished seven plank open as the base with a combination of styrene and brass section forming the coil restraint fittings. The steel coil loads are from DUHA’s fabulous range of wagon loads, which is proving difficult to source since P&H Models closed. BR’s civil engineering fleet is another extremely interesting area and I am currently building up a varied selection, mainly from the Cambrian Kits' range including ‘Salmon’ and ‘Sturgeon A’ types. Add to this my current programme of updating some older stock with three-link couplings. This helps reduce the number of wagons with those massive tension-lock bars while adding to the interest when shunting.
I have recently purchased Geoff Kent’s three volumes entitled The 4mm Wagon, which I’m sure will lead to several more unusual and specialist wagons and their paying loads to appear in the future. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of the hobby, even though at times it gets frustrating and fiddly. I often find myself intending to operate the layout only to find I’m sitting at the modelling desk cutting up materials or such like.
Passenger rolling stock has only seen a bare minimum of attention with my statutory weathering, plus several coaches now carry nameboards for the two named expresses which ply back and forth - The Thames-Clyde Express and The Waverley. Other boards can be added as desired for diversions brought about by temporary closure of the WCML, such as The Royal Scot, The Caledonian and The Mid-Day Scot. Several coaches and most DMUs now contain seated figures. However, this will be a low priority at present. Parcels coaches are many and varied and cover all regions and most liveries seen during the timespan modelled, which includes a modicum of British Rail blue/grey.
Car transportation was a regular scene with both Motorail and car manufacturers' new models being moved both north and south. For these flows I have a Cartic-style set, which is a combination of Lima and Jouef, plus a rake of Oxford car-flats and Invicta CCT vans, all of which have been noted on S&C metals.
I am fortunate to have amassed a large collection of suitable steam- and diesel-outline locomotives, many of which saw service over the S&C and some that didn't, but are there because I like them.
There is a wide selection of Fowler, Stanier, Fairburn and Ivatt ex-LMS designs, complemented by most of the Riddles BR Standard types seen on the line. Especially, I have four BR Standard 9Fs, all Bachmann, of which three have been renumbered to locomotives seen on the anhydrite workings – a little indulgence on my part. Several other locomotives have also received more appropriate numbers based on allocations in the Leeds and Carlisle areas in the main and occasionally repaints as required. One special locomotive to me is 45629 Straits Settlements, a Bachmann 'Jubilee' converted from 45562 Alberta, as the prototype was the very first locomotive I ever took down the number of at Corkerhill MPD (67A). All steam locomotives have a crew fitted, real coal and sport correct-pattern lamps as required.
The ex-LNER is represented officially by the A3s, several of which were transferred to Leeds Holbeck (55A) in the early-1960s and worked through to Glasgow. Other sightings noted allow A1, A2 and A4 classes on occasions, and my other Gresley, Thompson and Peppercorn designs run when I feel like.
The diesel fleet comprises the stalwart ‘Peak’ classes plus in the main classes 20, 24, 25, 26, 28, 37, 40 or 47, and liveries span early BR green through to BR Corporate Blue. Sadly, I sold several favourites that had problems negotiating the spirals such as the Deltic and DP2, but now the spirals are gone, maybe…
Unfortunately, I have seen no evidence of electric locomotives over the S&C in my timespan which is not surprising. However, the ‘Glasgow Blue Train’ (Class 303) traversed the line, albeit in tow to the manufacturers when being delivered and returned for maintenance; but naturally no one makes these RTR. I feel the North-South divide is alive and well, even in model terms.
The layout in the main is complete although there is always scope for change even if it's simply changing a few cameo scenes around for variation. Operating the layout, as I have already mooted, is secondary and I will continue to expand on my fleet of specialist and odd wagons with suitable loads and further detailing. Three-link couplings are a must, especially for those older vehicles with ugly massive coupling bars, such as the rake of bogie bolsters, which looks much better without the 12mm gap between the buffers.
A current project is the conversion of a few coaches into breakdown train support vehicles following the surprise Christmas gift from my wife and close friends of the excellent Bachmann 45T breakdown crane in engineers' Gulf Red livery.