The Great Model Railway Challenge - Series 2 - Heat 5 - "The Sky's the Limit"

04 October 2019
Team Grantham, the Railway Sleepers and Muddle and Go Nowhere take part in the final heat of this year's competition. Who will land the last places in the semi-final?

It's Saturday evening and the GMRC is up against Strictly Come Dancing for the first time.

Will the competitors rise to the challenge with some fancy footwork? 

Can we expect to see Stern Steve, a fan of the American Smooth by all accounts, to don a sequin-covered jacket? 

Will the layouts be models of syncopation?

The Teams

Team Grantham - Richie Mason, Graham Nicholas, Andrew Burchell, Paul Bolton, Tom Dewdney

Firstly, this lot isn't from Grantham, the name comes from Graham's model of Grantham station. With over 250 years of modelling experience between them and a giant rabbit mascot, will they be too heavyweight to handle the speed building required?

Railway Sleepers - Warren Gleeson, James Wilks, Paul Lewis, Martin Onderdonck, Simon Day, Michael Wilks

Cleverly assembled like a modern pop group, this team came together after a call on social media for people with very specific skills. Does this ensure that they are fully equipped to do everything or simply argue over the best way to do anything?

Muddle and Go Nowhere - Chris Simmons, Helen Burrow, Lucy Jarvis, Matt Jarvis, Phil Armstrong, Jonathan Ward

Named after the nickname for the old Midland and Great Northern Railway, this team has experience in building everything from 5" live steam to Tomy toy trains. They have never worked together though, so can they handle communicating in person rather than social media? 

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The Theme: The Sky's the Limit

Steve expects lift-off and Kathy wants the modeller's imaginations to know no bounds.

Grantham has been inspired by Switzerland and it's railways with lots of inclines and elevated lines, all culminating in a rocket launch. After weeks of flat layouts, Kathy is impressed by all the height they plan for their model.

The Sleepers are looking to the day when Earth is so polluted we have to move off to Planet 16, complete with a space city and aliens watching a train full of waste. We're promised more rockets too.

Finally, the Muddle team has relocated a Great Wester Branchline Terminus to Mars, which is causing problems as everything has to be scratch-built. The modeller of Martian layouts is somewhat badly served by the model railway trade.

As a fan of the Hornby Battlespace range of models, this is already my favourite episode. I need to have a word with the BRM team about some future projects...

Construction starts

There's a lot of woodwork on show on Granthams's mountainous model, but the Sleepers have some really clever laser-cut box structures to support the track. They slot together, giving them a head start.

Over at the Muddle model, it turns out that the Bachmann coal tank isn't powerful enough to move a rocket launch pad on its own. I bet the Boys from Barwell never considered that when designing the model!

At the end of day one, Steve likes the Muddles mix of model railways and rockets, awarding a 4 for creativity. Kathy agrees with another 4

The sleepers aren't lighting Steve's blue touch paper in the same way so they only get a 3, but Kathy likes her sci-fi to have a basis in reality, so it's a 4 from her.

Grantham's promise of scenic splendour appeals to Steve so it's a 4, but Kathy wants more than a Swiss Alps layout with a rocket tacked on the side, but it's still a 4.

Day 2

Team Muddle's layout looks like a bloodbath as the red ground colour is slapped around liberally but the Sleepers space city is running behind schedule. Simon, a Wargamer, is working on four projects at once, surrounded by many match-pots as he works.


An amazing Jodrell Bank inspired parabolic radio telescope from team Grantham. Soldered up from N gauge rail, it rotates and the dish swings up and down. Even the control cabin is lit to show the detailed interior.

The Sleepers have re-purposed a Faller road system car and track to produce a futuristic Space Racer (is there any other sort of Space Racer) running around a tight track made up of laser-cut pieces.

Scratch-Build Challenge

Tim's been rummaging in Steve's man-bag and dishes out a bottle of tanning oil, a pair of size four flip-flops and (Ewww!) a tanning thong.

The Sleepers add what sci-fi modellers call “greeble” and the rest of us call bits of plastic kits, to the outside of the tanning bottle and spray it silver to become a rocket. The flip-flop becomes the sides of a drop pod spaceship and the thong its parachute. Leftover flip-flop bits are ground up for suitably alien wagon loads.

Grantham turn the thong into a marque (surely Steve's not that big?), the flip-flop becomes a path and part of a wagon load along with the oil bottle sorting the legend “Flint Brand Rocket Fuel”.

Bubbling away on the Muddles layout is a vat of tanning oil, a Martian hot tub powered by a water vaporiser and sat in a 3D printed bath. The flip-flop becomes a platform and the thong a wagon tarpaulin. Kathy loves the hot tub – the best animation from the Scratch-Build Challenge – and awards them the win. Mind you, she doesn't really like any of the thong models, so perhaps not the ideal material for future entrants.


Back in the build room, Lucy Muddle is enjoying being part of a family project. Her dad won't let her work on his own model as she claims to be a bit clumsy. A talented artist, it's her job to paint the 10-foot long space backscene.

Judging build quality, Steve likes the Sleepers laser-cut parts and awards a 4, but Kathy thinks they are relying too heavily on this and give them a 3

Steve describes the Muddles as the “Kitbashing Kings” and gives them a 4, but Kathy doesn't like the unweathered massive coper building so it's a 3 from her. Steve disagrees and thinks they will come good.

Finally, the big news is a pair of 5s from both judges for Team Grantham. Steve loves the viaduct, Kathy wants to pinch the radio telescope.

At the end of the day, all is not well in the Sleepers camp. Captain Michael is giving the people building the space city a rocket, but just gets told it will be, “ready when it's ready”

Day 3

Team Grantham still hasn't tested their trains!

We then head over for some rocket comparisons. Does size matter? Can the producers wedge in any more double entendres into the short chat?

The rocket launchpad, which had been working on the Muddle layout is now playing up again, and Lucy is having trouble with people on platforms who won't stay upright when glued down.

Pretty much all the contestants look like they want to punch Tim as he does his countdowns. I can't say I blame them...

Times Up

Muddle and Go Nowhere – Forever Autumn

We start with a 009 train zipping through the mountains. Next, there is a OO passenger train which embarrasses itself with a derailment but the good train pulling rocket parts performs perfectly.

A giant gramophone-based radio telescope that gives the model a real steampunk look, rotates as the trains pass and sticking with the Victorian theme, a rocket that could have been inspired by a Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon” film takes off along the back of the layout.

Finally, the big doors of the rocket shed (which has been weathered) open and the coal tank couples to the launchpad, pulling it out into the middle of the layout.

The Railway Sleepers – Planet XVI

A passenger train formed of an 08 shunter a Hornby 4-wheel coach runs in. The footboards mean they can bat away Tim's question about the lack of a platform for the passengers.

Next, the Galactic Express speeds along the high-level track passing illuminated signs depicting the development of the Earthbound space race.

In the middle, the space racer runs around the road, an alien chases an astronaut through a cave and another alien pops up out of the ground.

With the passengers loaded, the big spaceship takes off with the aid of some Thunderbirds inspired fishing line puppetry.

Team Grantham – Per Ardua ad Astra

Oh good, the production team have found the yodelling and alpenhorn sound effects.

The sky train express, pulled by the FLYING Scotsman, pulls into the station so the passengers can transfer to a funicular cleverly converted from a Hornby 4-wheel coach body.

A goods train arrives with a rocket on board. It uncouples and shunts the wagon so a Sentinal loco can take it up the 1 in 20 incline, over the Landwasser viaduct, past a beer garden to the launch pad. As it passes, the radio telescope rotates.

The finale is a swimming pool opening (the rocket is a Thunderbird 1 after all) from beneath with, the rocket launches in a blast of smoke, shooting skyward to disappear behind a cloud.

And the Winner is...

Team Grantham – Flawless functionality and even if the modelling was a bit clinical, top quality workmanship.

There is good news for the Muddles, they're the highest t-scoring runners-up so they are also through to the next rounds.

OK, we might not have seen any sequins, but this was a really strong episode. Move over Strictly!

Speaking of which, did anyone else spot Steve having a boogie at the start?

There is an animated version of this picture on RMweb.

Is he planning to defect to BBC1 next year?

Join the discussion with the teams from this episode over on RMweb.