Arun Quay in O gauge

06 August 2020
Talented model-maker, Gordon Gravett, uses his shunting yard concept to emphasise how great scenes can be crafted to a smaller footprint.


Layout name: Arun Quay

Scale/gauge: 7mm:1ft / 1:43.5 scale / O 

Size: 7ft 6in x 1ft 9in

Era/region: 1950s, Sussex

Location: Fictitious, on the river Arun

Layout type: Fiddleyard to sidings

O gauge model railways and small spaces don’t readily go together. But, such things are not insurmountable if desires are not too ambitious. The space issue was non-negotiable – there just wasn’t sufficient room within the house – and the scale situation went back to a previous layout from which I still had the stock and was eager to make use of again. Another issue was portability; this layout would be built with exhibitions in mind, but size was on my side for this – transporting something small is a lot easier, especially if you’re managing it on your own.

Calculations as to what might fit in a car resulted in a scenic area no larger than two 4ft x 2ft baseboards, but to make these more manageable around the house, they were further reduced to 3ft 9in x 1ft 9in, giving me a total area of 7ft 6in x 1ft 9in. Needless to say, passenger traffic was soon ruled out and a small shunting yard was the obvious answer. I had, in my mind, a picture of a small quay-side wharf on the south coast of England and this evolved into Arun Quay, a little way up the River Arun from the Sussex town of Littlehampton.

I reasoned that, although the sidings would, inevitably, be short, by keeping to short wheelbase four-wheeled wagons and small 0-6-0 locomotives, there should be scope for a reasonable amount of activity within the yard. In the outcome, I came up with a ridiculously-contrived trackplan involving a single slip that (I’m sure) would never have been laid in real life. But, with exhibitions in mind, it would create a lot more movement on the layout than might otherwise have been possible.

Arun Quay in O gauge

Transportation and Exhibiting

A layout that is built primarily (if not exclusively) for exhibition use brings different priorities to the fore during the design stage and this was the case with Arun Quay. Portability and the ease of doing this are paramount, but it also, of course, has to fit in the designated vehicle – in this case, an estate car. To this end, lightweight extruded polystyrene has been used extensively within the baseboard construction. And, when clad in thin plywood it’s surprising how strong and rigid the composite structure can be. Protection of the scenic area from dust, when in storage, and damage in transit was also very important and, to this end, a simple ply box with a hinged top was made to hold the boards face to face.

There are, of course, numerous other items apart from the model railway to be taken into consideration when transporting a layout. For Arun Quay, a separate sub-base is used to support the scenic boards and, in addition to that, is the turntable storage yard. Transformers and other electrical equipment are housed in a large toolbox and another similar toolbox carries all the other essential sundries. I consider presentation to be important at public exhibitions and a pair of fascia boards, which house the lighting, are packed face to face and also well protected in transit, as is a display board showing some of the construction techniques. Last, but certainly not least, is the stock. O gauge stock takes up a considerable space – even when it’s as minimal as that required for a small shunting yard – and this is probably the most valuable part of the consignment. I use aluminium storage boxes for this and they are partitioned for each item to ensure that everything stays in place and secure. Everything has its place within the car and there’s even room for an overnight bag!

Arun Quay in O gauge

A layout that is centred around shunting will certainly not appeal to everyone and it could become very self-indulgent. With this in mind, Arun Quay was designed from the outset to be operated from the front and, hopefully, encourage interaction with the public. Many who attend exhibitions are keen to discuss all manner of things relating to the hobby and this is not so easy across the width of a layout. I realise that this can lead to loss of concentration at times, but I hope it can be forgiven and there are times when audience participation can get us out of a (shunting) hole!

In building Arun Quay, one aspect I was very keen to model was variations in the ground surface of a railway yard that had seen a busier life and better days. Introducing differing textures and colouring in various parts of the yard and including damp areas and puddles helped to depict this. Also, the tarmac road surface has been shown to have deteriorated and reveals areas of old cobbles, where grass and weeds are growing through cracks and in the gutters.

Arun Quay in O gauge

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When using O gauge finescale standards, the relationship between wheels and track gauge is very generous and this is particularly noticeable in checkrail and crossing gaps. So, in an effort to improve both the appearance and the running through crossings, I have reduced the actual gauge to 31.2mm but left the checkrails - in effect, bringing the running rails in from both sides.

This reduced gauge has been accepted by all the existing wheelsets (Slater’s and Peco) on my existing rolling stock without any need for adjustment, and the running through crossings is also much improved. The thicker flanges on the wheels of my 30-something year old kit-built Vulcan 'Terriers' were a little tight, however, so I did need to reduce these a little.

Gentle sweeping curves generally look better than straight tracks running parallel to the baseboard front.

Arun Quay in O gauge

Stock and Operation

About 30 years ago I built an O gauge layout called 'Ditchling Green' and most of the stock dates back to that time. I have always been reluctant to part with stock and the locomotives, in particular, are all modelled on specific locomotives that I remember. So, with a couple of 0-6-0T ‘Terriers’ and a ‘P’ class tucked away, it seemed the obvious choice to make use of these again. The 'Terriers' are built from Vulcan kits (white metal bodies on etched chassis) and the ‘P’ is from a Meteor Models etched brass kit. At the time I was not so familiar with ‘P’ class locomotives and I detailed the model from photographs, but unfortunately, failed to realise that this specific locomotive (and one other) had a higher cab and tanks. This model is beyond altering so I just have to accept it as a model of the time!

I like the use of automatic couplings in an exhibition environment and have, for a long time, favoured the Alex Jackson design as being very unobtrusive. They do, though, rely on lateral (as well as vertical) alignment to be effective and the relatively sharp curves on Arun Quay push them to the limit, but generally speaking, they are preferable to working with three-link couplings in front of an exhibition audience.

Arun Quay in O gauge

A small 2ft diameter turntable, housing two tracks, serves as the off-stage storage area. I much prefer this arrangement as it negates the need to handle any of the stock when it is off-scene and, consequently, reduces any chance of accidental damage. It will hold a small 0-6-0T locomotive and three wagons on each track and this is as long a train as can be accommodated on a layout of this size without causing serious disruption!

Arun Quay may not suit everybody’s needs for a layout, and for many, it may not even qualify as a ‘proper’ model railway. It has, though, enabled me to create an operable 7mm:1ft scale scene in a fairly small space, and within a reasonable time frame – about three years.

To read more about Arun Quay, see the April 2020 issue of BRM. Download today from