Saturday 5 February 2011

Tales from a mineral twig...

Friday morning saw me rising bright and early, but not to do the usual thing of heading into my office in the City of London.  No, I was off to collect a rental van for the day, and pointing it due west I headed off on a road trip along the M4, for yesterday I was White Van Man.

And three hours later, I arrived at my destination where I was greeted by Neil, a fellow Scalefour Society member.  He showed me up to his loft, where the reason for my journey was kept.  Half an hour of dismantling and heaving later, and the back of the hire van looked like this:

As Rolf Harris would say, "can you guess what it is yet...?"

Well, that dismantled layout in the back of the van was previously set up in Neil's loft, and it looked a lot more picturesque like this:

 Detail of the far end, during the course of dismantling (although not in a Beeching style):

If it's starting to look familiar to you, then you may well be right...

I have just become the latest custodian of the Ulpha Light Railway :-)

This was built by the Norwood MRC as an exhibition layout, and originally written up in an article in Rail Model Digest No. 3 which appeared in 1996.  A few years later it was acquired by Neil, and he has kept it safe for the last five or six years, in excellent condition but not used a great deal operationally.

Last week, as a stepping stone to moving on to fulfilling his own plans to build his own layout, he listed it on Ebay, where it appeared very, very briefly.  For as soon as I saw it (at about 6.10am...) then I thought that it (i) looked excellent and (ii) would be the perfect test track for stockbuilding.  So after letting my wife wake up (!) and then asking for her agreement to take over part of her garage with it, at least in the short term - it's my car that's been kicked out onto the drive, not her motorbikes - I agreed to buy it.

There is only one small flaw...  I'm a Great Eastern modeller, and this is resolutely set in Cumbria...

However, after getting it all back into working condition and checking it out thoroughly, I have plans to shift the location slightly.  Preliminary enquiries have established that there were chalk quarries on the north-western side of Saffron Walden...

For now, it's putting it up in the garage and admiring the excellent craftsmanship.  thank you Norwood MRC, and thank you Neil for allowing me the privilege of owning it.


  1. I'll try again! You must be very pleased! I'm sure you'll have no problem GER-ising it! It would photograph beautifully too;-)

  2. Well, having done a test erection in the garage, it needs a bit of work before it's going to be in a running state...

    I have found a couple of dangling wires underneath that may, or may not, be involved in making it run. And the trestles are a wee bit difficult to get level so that it all connects properly.

    But these are only signs of a twenty year old layout. Proved by the first exhibition sticker on the front dating from 1991...

    I need to give it a good going over to understand how things fit together and work. It is very, very well designed. The trestle legs, for example, are fully adjustable, but the feet on the end have seized. Just little niggles to sort out, and then I'll be happy to start considering the cosmetics :-)

  3. @Chris: I'm very pleased :-)

    Given that much of the layout is very well finished and in a "light railway" style that could equally well be the line to Thaxted, then I only need to make minor tweaks.

    The more serious work, such as changing the vernacular architecture from northern gritstone to Essex brick and weatherboard won't even be too much of a heartbreak, as it is the scenic elements that have probably aged least well in terms of wear and tear, so need titivating anyway.

    And I'm sure that it will photograph very well, much better than I am capable of!


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  5. I'm sure I remember the layout at an exhibition in South London but can't remember when or where.

  6. Hi Dave,

    You're probably correct... There are around twenty plaques on the front of the layout from various shows. Most of them seem to be south-east based.

    I have in mind to do something with them to reflect its past history in the hands of the Norwood MRC. It would be nice to reflect this properly as a tribute to those who originally built it.

  7. I always liked that layout and with a big enough hammer, the scenery could be made more flat...

    The narrow gauge line will enable you to do some proper "watchmaking".