Friday 28 January 2022

Port Eden... Part One

Most magazine editors are, apparently, heartily sick of the phrase "Lockdown Project", so apologies for the fact this is technically THREE of them in one... let's dive-in to the thing which has pretty-well dominated my 2021, and three variations on the theme of a Seaside Miniature Railway.

I found myself needing some sort of deadline-specific project during the plague times.  I'd got through 2020 by doing model making for sanity purposes, and doing some speculative article writing for the mags, but come the dark days at the end of 2020, I hit a brick wall.  A Doctor said a stress-induced medical problem I was rocking needed curing with mindfulness and model-making, but I couldn't think what to do.

And then I remembered there was a layout-building competition, that I'd read about in Garden Rail.  The "7/8th's Scale (And Larger) Railway Modelling Group" on Facebook were running a micro layout competition to build a layout in the larger scales, in 4ft-square's worth of space.  I like modelling in the larger scales, and so this looked like as good a project as any to sink my teeth into...

The Model of a Model Village

Above is the Anglesey Model Village, visited in 2019 and published as a lead article in Garden Rail in Jan 2020.  I love model villages, as a glance back at the first ever post on this blog will attest to.

The Britannia Model Village project contained a model of the eponymous fake tourist attraction, and it had been quite quickly thrown together.  I reckoned I could do something rather better these days, and slightly less dystopian too.  So I planned on doing something on the theme of a model village for the competition entry, as it could incorporate a lot of detail and movement, and hopefully be out of the ordinary enough to stand out a bit.

Port Eden

When I did the Britannia project, I invented a fictional seaside holiday town, Port Eden.  It was loosely inspired by the somewhat bleak real hamlet of Port Carlisle (a planned, but never-developed major harbour on the River Eden west of Carlisle) and Silloth, a wonderfully old-fashioned town a little to the west, which basically froze in time when the railway closed in the late 60's.

My fake Port Eden was a traditional, bucket+spade kind of British seaside holiday town, a bit run-down and neglected perhaps, all chip shops, promenades, donkey rides, grotty guest houses, etc.  It seemed a suitable setting for a coastal pleasure garden, with a miniature railway linking up things like bathing lidos, miniature golf courses, and a model village.

I didn't take many pictures as I was going along; It was a 4ft-square behemoth of a layout, built from scraps and offcuts.  The brick walls were dolls house embossed card, the working model railways were Rokuhan and Marklin Z-gauge tracks, and the working railway aspect would be a miniature line using Triang TT components, as it all that would allow a functioning circuit.

The figures were all I could get hold of; they're Dr.Who figures to about 1/10th Scale apparently. The problems of working to a tight budget, impending deadline, and with no shops open.

It was about half-way towards the deadline when I came to the conclusion this just wasn't working.  I was up to my neck at the same time as this with the Steampunk Station competition build, and this model of the model village concept just wasn't working for me.  I wasn't satisfied with the scene and composition, and the amount of scenic work needed filled me with dread.

I probably just should have abandoned the project, but decided to salvage what I could, and go for another concept, which was...

The Seaside Railway

Staying with the backwards-looking nostalgia angle, browsing some pictures of French seaside railway lines made me think that doing this theme might work.  What can I say, whilst locked inside in a cold, wet, winter on the side of the Pennines made me long for the hot days on the coast.  I also figured that sand dunes would be rather quicker to model than a miniature village.

A complete redesign followed; the circular option was dropped in favour of a longer, thinner layout.  Again it would be using scrap wood (DIY shops still closed), a downside of which would be this thing weighed a bloody ton.

There was no restriction on height of the layout in the competition rules, so I decided to have the line crossing a bridge over a little coastal estuary, for some added visual interest.

It did reveal yet another damned problem though; even doing conventional narrow gauge wasn't going to work, as the length of the layout (about 3ft) didn't give room for anything like an interesting trackplan, and using G gauge tracks took up too much room for any structures or even much scenery.

A Seaside Miniature Railway

So it was time to combine the best aspects of the concepts so far; a miniature pleasure railway using the TT-gauge tracks from the Model Village idea, but at the seaside.

Above, is one I did earlier.  This was an entry for one of the "Cakebox Challenge" competitions on RM Web (it has its own entry on this blog from a while back now).  This would be the starting point.

Planning it out, done in something of a rush as the deadline was approaching.  Having said there'd be no restriction on height, the original plan (as above) to have it mounted on wheels and slide under the bed was ditched when I realised there'd be no height for the scenery.  In the end I worked out it could store on top of the wardrobe, which gave a bit more headroom, though it would still be a bit restrictive.

I rushed through a lot of the woodwork, so didn't get many making-of pictures.  I upcycled loads of bits from the part-built model village boards, like the walls.

I'll do a whole separate post on the bridge at some point (he threatens), as it's a laser-cut item I designed and made for the garden railway.

Speaking of laser cut, the bathing lido (well, paddling pool) had a tiled floor with a custom-designed logo, etched into black acrylic that had been spray-painted.

Looking a bit more developed in this shot.

The stonework was done with DAS modelling clay, rolled-out, moulded around the wood, and scored for texture.

It came out looking alright, but added to the already considerable weight of the thing.  Note the posters on the underpass...

...custom designs.  I probably overthink this sort of thing, but I do it a lot with my projects, and quite enjoy the graphic-design aspect.  The posters for other attractions at Port Eden all use shots from other projects I've done, or I'm working on.

I ended up needing a building at the front, as I was originally planning for a lifeguard tower (to hint that the visible bit of the bathing lido was the end of a larger pool) but it wasn't working for me.  I ended up designing a sales kiosk instead, a kind of generic structure that looked a bit like a mass-produced, portable building.

The trains all run on Triang gear; the two sit-astride coaches in the foreground were done first, with laser-cut seats and running boards, built into a pair of broken Triang carriages.  They were also useless, as the Dr.Who figures didn't have enough articulation to sit on them.  So the bigger sit-in coaches were designed and made, riding on larger flat wagons.  The locomotive was rebuilt from a cheapy battery-powered toy, and sits on a Triang Merchant Navy chassis.

In typical fashion, it was just-about finished in time for the competition deadline, and I managed to find a bright (if chilly) day to get some pictures of it outdoors.

Well. it didn't win the competition, which wasn't surprising.  I was up against some excellent industrial modelling by people who'd been working in the scale for years.  But there were some nice comments about it.  I kind of felt like the rushed pictures didn't really do it justice though, so I thought I'd have another crack after a bit of rebuilding, and completing some detailing that I'd planned but not had time to do.

The sunlight was rather stronger when I got chance for the reshoot.  This time I'd quickly spray-painted some boards for a better backdrop, and added some cosmetic hills to it from card, grass-mat, and scatter.

This worked rather better, and I was able to get a load more photographs.

The next blog post will have rather more detail on the sales kiosks.

Well, I'd done it.  I rather felt like a concept I'd touched-on with some earlier projects had been done a bit more justice, and it scratched the lockdown-project-itch I'd been looking for.

And it got a feature in Garden Rail too, despite technically not being a garden railway.  I didn't realise at the time either that this wouldn't be the only time the Port Eden Miniature Railway would be surfacing during 2021 either, as parts Two and Three will attest...


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