I started to build The Duck End Railway in 1984. The sensible railway builder spends much time planning the system. Being particularly impatient to get started however, I fear that my planning and landscape survey was somewhat cursory. I started at the beginning, followed my nose and worked things out as I went.
I had always favoured building a line at ground level so that the track would blend into the garden landscape and look as natural as possible. There could be an added advantage in that my wife might think I was gardening whereas in fact, I would be building a railway.
At that time, I had access to a good supply of old timber railway sleepers and it seemed to me that these might prove a good bet for making a sound track bed. My scheme was simple. I dug solid foundations and built concrete-block piers. I laid the timber sleepers across the piers and piled soil around the whole to form embankments.
I soon realised that vast quantities of topsoil would be needed to achieve this. The garden was fairly flat but by creating beds and lawn on different levels I could glean sufficient soil for my purpose. The altered levels eventually allowed for the natural inclusion of several bridges, a cutting, stone viaducts and a tunnel.
During the eleven years that it took me to build the garden circuit, I made numerous trips to railway demolition sites where I bought old blue brick and other materials for incorporation into the model railway. For the cast iron bridge workings, I utilised everything from Victorian door lintels to rolled angle boiler bands. Auctions of ‘railwayana’ yielded lamps, notices and even sections of iron railings for strategic placement around the system. It is interesting to see how these prototype objects can enhance the model landscape without the comparative scales appearing ridiculous.
Track & electrification
Vintage tinplate stock is not of course, electrically insulated. The old locomotives in my collection had originally been powered either by clockwork or 3-rail electricity at eight volts. Not wanting to compromise the authenticity of these old models, I adopted a stud contact system so that clockwork, steam and electric locos could occupy the same track simultaneously.
Construction commenced before the advent of pre-formed plastic sleepers, so the first third of the railway was built using track which I hand-assembled from ‘Bond’s’ brass rail, metal cast chairs and hardwood sleepers. By the time I had drilled and screwed the studs into every fourth sleeper, completed the associated electrical connections and soldered ‘jump wires’ to the four rail ends, it took me nearly four hours to complete a three-foot track section. This is why the finished track is ‘single’ and not ‘double’ (as I have sometimes been told it should have been!)
With the advent of plastic mouldings, the track could be built much more quickly though adding electric studs still took time. Some of the track has now been down for over 30 years and it has proved to be very robust, both physically and electrically.
After 70 years of use, the permanent magnets on the original 8 volt locos were understandably inefficient. The system now runs on 20 volts at 1-2 amps. The passing loops and sidings are individually switched to allow each to be isolated. Hence, four complete trains can be on the layout at any one time. The longest passing loop has its own controller so that two trains can operate simultaneously on the double track. On advice from an article in a 1912 copy of ‘Model Railways and Locomotives’, I have installed on the control panel, a volt meter and amp meter. Whilst these are no longer needed for electrical protection, I have found them most useful for checking electrical faults and for accurately balancing the output of the controllers.
I have experimented with the remote control of point work but have not yet found a really satisfactory solution. If opting to build a track at ground level, one must remember that lawns still have to be mowed, hedges cut, leaves cleared and trees lopped. If there is too much in the way of delicate operating machinery, this is easily damaged. Bicycle brake cable looks the best bet for mechanical point operation but for the moment I still rely on local point levers.
DUCK END RAILWAY