Enhance your layout with a narrow gauge feeder line

13 December 2021
Inspired by a recent trip to a preserved railway, Phil Parker builds a narrow gauge feeder line that could enhance any layout.

Some people will visit an attraction and feel the urge to take a photograph, or even draw a sketch of it, but I'm inspired to build a model. 

In July's issue of BRM, you can read about the trip Andy York and I took to visit Rocks by Rail in Leicestershire. A cracking day out for the industrial railway enthusiast that left me wondering how I could turn it into a micro layout. 

Part of the appeal would be to use both narrow gauge and standard gauge tracks with one feeding the other. As more OO9 models have appeared, I know there are many modellers thinking about something along these lines to add more interest to their model. 

I won't claim this is a new idea. In fact, I'm really only building a small-scale version of Giles Flavell's crowd-pleasing micro layout 'The End of the Line'. Despite its tiny size, the layout was popular with exhibition visitors largely because of the operating skip wagons which tipped, and the radio-controlled lorries. 

Challenging enough in 7mm:1ft scale, these weren't going to be practical in 4mm:1ft scale, but that doesn't mean I can't have the look of the model with my version. 

The scene is also a test bed for several products from Geoscenics. These are natural materials that look great and are simple to use. I have tried the pothole road kit in the past, and it is superb, so I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some of the others. 

Top of the list is the track weathering materials – a job difficult to do well without an airbrush, but I'm happy to report they are easy to use and give excellent results. The oil spill kit replicated the gunky, horrible sludge left by diesels without requiring any unpleasant chemicals, something I've not achieved to my satisfaction in the past.

Since this is a test piece, I've kept it small. The baseboard is only 60cm x 35cm, compact enough to be a feature in the corner of a larger layout, but one that could appear to generate some useful goods traffic for the rest of the line. The only problem with the size is that I've hardly touched the generous supplies of Geoscenics products, but now I've had the chance to test them properly, you can be sure they will be featuring in future projects! 


I knew roughly what I aimed to build, but there's nothing like putting some track on the baseboard and seeing how everything will fit. Nothing is pinned down at this stage, but it's enough to allow me to run a loco to make sure it can cope with the curves.


If a point motor is to be fitted under the baseboard, I'll need to be able to get at it, hence a great big hole is cut beneath the operating slot under the tiebar. A cheap hole-cutting saw fitted in an electric drill makes short work of this job.


Scenic work starts with the loading bank wall. As this is supposed to be concrete, I'm using rectangles of 2mm thick Daler Board, each 50mm x 12mm. Those would be hefty beams in real life, but not unbelievably so. They are fitted to a card wall with PVA glue, and a square ensures they are lined up.


While I don't want all the faces unnaturally flush with one another, the differences should be fractions of a millimetre. Using quality card means it can be sanded with a fine abrasive, removing any unwanted lips and bumps at the same time.


The card has some texture but spraying car primer at it from a distance, so that paint is slightly dry when it hits the card, adds a bit more. Random blasts of beige and grey provide a good base colour to work with for the next step.


The hillside starts life as a piece of expanded polystyrene roughly shaped with a hot wire cutter. A knife will work too, but be much messier. This is then fixed down with PVA glue. The weights ensure everything is firmly fixed together. Final shaping is carried out with a Surform, a messy job, but really simple and effective.


Precision Paints concrete colours are splodged onto the card faces using a piece of sponge to produce random shades. These are brought together by dabbing talcum powder on and then sweeping this downwards with a stiff brush.


Using plaster-impregnated bandage, the hillside is given a hard shell. Cut the material into small strips, soak each one in water, then place it on the hill, smoothing down with your fingers to spread the plaster. A few layers will ensure a nice hard surface that will take any type of paint and glue.


Left to dry overnight, the plaster bandage is ready for a coat of brown emulsion. I blend a few shades on the model to avoid too uniform a result. If the grass applied later leaves bare patches, it will look like mud showing through.


With the worst of the messy work complete, the track is put back into position. I double check that there is clearance on the lower level and that the hoppers on the narrow gauge are close enough to the edge to tip their load into the standard gauge wagons.


The lower level is ballasted with Geoscenics Siding Ballast. This is a dark colour representing the sort of low-quality recycled stone that you tend to find away from the main running lines. It's fixed with thinned Geoscenics Scenery Glue glue – a 60:30 mix of glue to water, plus a drop of washing up liquid to reduce surface tension.


Once the glue has dried, I pull the pins out of the sleepers as they are long enough to stick through the bottom of the board (I'll remember to check this in future) and the holes are hidden with a tiny bit of filler.


I don't want to gum the point up, so apply neat Scenery Glue around the moving parts, then sprinkle ballast into it. Once dry, loose stones are removed and the ones stuck in place will act as a dam to stop the water glue from going where I don't want it later.


The narrow gauge ballast is Geoscenics Pristine Limestone for N gauge. The smaller stones look more appropriate for this area and the colour suggests that this railway was built by a different company from the standard gauge.


Laying the road starts with a good coat of Geoscenics Scenery Glue. It's less viscous than normal PVA and can be spread around with a brush (clean this with water) to cover the area with a generous coating.


Using the darker grey material from the Geoscenics Pothole Road kit, the basic road mix is sprinkled in place. There's loads provided, so I'm generous with it as I want my road to have a little depth ensuring that potholes show. More glue, thinned to a watery consistency, is dropped along the edges where it seeps in to make a grey 'porridge'.


Pat the damp grey dust down with a piece of plastic, or in my case, and old bank card, which is the right size for the job. The aim is to produce a reasonably level surface. But not a perfectly flat one.


The next stage is to fill in the potholes with the ash colour, and add some dirt colour to the edges of the road. I like to do all this while the base is still wet, which means working reasonably quickly, but on a project this size, that isn't a problem.


Finish the road by wiping very gently along it with more plastic. This blends the colours and gives a convincingly flat top surface. Even a really terrible road, once scaled down, won't be that lumpy. This stage takes a gentle touch, so it's worth learning by practising on a separate piece first.


The standard gauge line is worked by diesels and that means the track should be covered in filthy gunk. Geoscenics Oil Spill kit contains a thin black paint and grey powder. I mix a little powder into the paint, and slosh over the track.


Using a stiff brush, the powder is dabbed on the sleepers, absorbing the paint and producing that mucky oily sludge where diesels have left their mark. Any loose powder is fixed with more of the paint and the effect can quickly be built up to suit the location.


The Geoscenics Steam Track Bed Weathering kit also includes paint and powder, but this time, the powder goes on first. A stiff brush really works it into the ballast. It's a messy job, but I like to let the weathering spread around as dirt does in real life.


Geoscenics recommends sealing the dust with a spray of watered-down scenic glue. I'm not convinced as it changes the look, but at least the dust is sure to stay put. More experiments are required as I like both the before and after effects.


One the glue is dry, the track is painted with the greeny-brown paint. It's acrylic, so I thinned it with water to allow me to build the effect up slowly. The thinned paint also seeps into the edges around sleepers and rails which is really effective.


To guide the ore into the standard gauge wagons, a simple chute is required. This is bent-up from a piece of brass that is thin enough to be cut to size with scissors and then bent with pliers. Those rivets are formed using a special tool, but tapping a blunt nail on the back of the metal will work just as well.


After a coat of red oxide primer and some rust colour paint, it's dusted with Humbrol weathering powders. Keeping them attached to the metal is difficult, and in this case, unnecessary as the dirt would get everywhere, so I treat the track and ballast too.


Larger lumps of ore come from the Geoscenics Medium Brown kit and are fixed in place with thinned scenic glue. Splashing some on the chute turns the weathering powder into a liquid, allowing it to be wiped down the metal for greater realism.


Around the engine shed area, I use some coal dust where the locomotive would be fuelled, and a nice pile of ash from the road kit to represent the waste material.


While the hill has been covered with electrostatic grass, some little patches in the road would be nice. These start life as blobs of glue on aluminium foil, sprinkled with the grass fibres. When using a electric applicator, clip the earth to the foil.


Once dry, the grass can be peeled away from the foil and glued onto the road and anywhere else small patches are required.

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Everything you need to have a go yourself…

To help you recreate Phil’s industrial diorama, you can now buy all the Geoscenic products used in this feature from World of Railways, with FREE postage! Sold either as individual items, or as the packs shown below, you’ll have everything you need to transform your layout.

Exclusive: Geoscenics Track Pack

 •   Pristine Limestone N Ballast – 1kg
 •   Siding OO Ballast (1kg) – 1kg
 •   Track Bed Weathering Kit – TB Steam
 •   Oil Spill Kit    

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• Coal X Fine – 300gr
• Iron Ore OO Wagon Load – 1kg    

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Exclusive: Geoscenics Scenery Pack

• Pot Hole Road Kit
• Plaster Bandage (2 rolls)
• Lineside OO Fencing Pack (12 items)
• Ballast & Scenery Glue – 500ml

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Exclusive: Geoscenics Complete Pack


• Pristine Limestone N Ballast – 1kg
• Siding OO Ballast (1kg) – 1kg
• Track Bed Weathering Kit – TB Steam
• Oil Spill Kit
• Pot Hole Road Kit
• Plaster Bandage (2 rolls)
• Lineside OO Fencing Pack (12 items)
• Ballast & Scenery Glue – 500ml
• Coal X Fine – 300gr
• Iron Ore OO Wagon Load – 1kg

PRICE: £115. Click here to buy.

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