We wish to express our many thanks to the publishers of Railway Modeller, especially Tim Rayner, Assistant Editor Peco Publications & Publicity Ltd for granting us permission to share these articles complete and verbatim with TRLOTTTE visitors.

The December 1959 issue of Railway Modeller featured the Rev. Awdry's Ffarquhar Branch as the Railway of the Month. This first article by Wilbert is also the most detailed of his contributions to the magazine, with photographs galore!

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Railway Modeller December 1959

The FFARQUHAR BRANCH - Railway Modeller December, 1959

The branch is, at least in Thomas's estimation, the most important part of the North Western Region of British Railways! This is the railway system serving the island of Sodor, which lies between Barrow-in-Furness and the Isle of Man. Maps of the island are now available. This is a good thing, because in the past the island has been shamefully neglected by geographers!

As the plan shows, the branch leaves the main line at Knapford, serves the villages of Dryaw and Toryreck, then goes to the attractive country town of Elsbridge. Elsbridge is a paradise for anglers. Thomas once discovered this the hard way! Leaving Elsbridge, the line climbs an attractive valley alongside the Kindbeck, pierces the hills and finally reaches Ffarquhar, a pleasant village almost secluded in the hills, but celebrated for the excellent stone which is quarried there.

During the past few years, traffic on the N.W.R. has increased so greatly as to congest the port of Tidmouth. Accordingly Sir Topham Hatt, who is of course the Fat Controller, is developing the harbour at Knapford.

This harbour was formerly used for the export of ore from the lead mines between Dryaw and Toryreck, but when the lead began to fail the cost of dredging the harbour became prohibitive, and the tramway was extended to Tidmouth, round the point of the cape, and the harbour fell into disuse. However, on the formation of the N.W. Railway soon after the 1914 war from the three independent systems on the island the tramway was abandoned, and a new line, the present branch, was built and extended beyond Elsbridge to Ffarquhar, where the stone quarries promised useful materials and revenue.

Formerly the line was worked single-handed by Thomas, but something happened to prevent this. The line to the quarry runs for a certain distance alongside a public road, and when a fresh police constable was appointed to the district he objected to Thomas using the line without cowcatchers and sideplates. He was, technically speaking, in the right, so to meet this difficulty the Fat Controller obtained Toby from the Eastern Region (they were then dieselizing the Wisbech and Upwell line and had a Y6 available), and all went well for a time.

Then the new harbour works were started at Knapford, and the traffic to and from the quarry became too much for Toby to handle. Accordingly Percy was seconded from his duties as yard shunter at Tidmouth to help with the traffic. The old tramway direct to Knapford harbour has been relaid to Ministry of Transport standards, and a junction provided at Toryreck so that the stone can be taken straight to the harbour.

Further, in the old lead mines materials have been found which, under the Official Secrets Act, we are not allowed to name, but which are very valuable for nuclear research. This provides additional and profitable traffic for the old line, which is worked almost exclusively by Percy and Toby, though Thomas does come down on special occasions. It was on this line that Percy had his famous race with a helicopter.

The model, however, is only 6ft. x 4ft., and cannot do more than show a tiny part of the branch, namely that between Ffarquhar station and the eastern end of the tunnel.

Toby arriving at Hackenbeck
Above: "Toby" arriving at Hackenbeck. To the right we see Horker's cottage and garden with apple tree and pigsty. Below: Ffarquhar station. "Thomas" arriving hauling "Annie" and "Clarabel."
Thomas arriving Ffarquhar Station
click image below to view larger version
Map of Thomas' Branch Line

Judging by the number of passengers on Ffarquhar platform, it would appear that the inhabitants have never lost the “railway habit.” The station, though small, is reasonably well equipped to deal with a variety of traffic.

The single passenger platform is well provided with buildings. There is a run-round from which project three sidings, one to cattle dock and goods depot, another to coal staithes and an oil storage tank, while the third, a loco lay-by, is also used as a shunting spur.

On leaving the station the line curves sharply, and there is a 20 m.p.h. limit on all trains. The signal-box is at the junction with the quarry line. We now cross the Elsbridge road on the level and sweep through the wooded cutting, then under a road bridge, to reach Hackenbeck halt, where a number of passengers are hopefully waiting.

The hamlet is named from a stream which winds round the base of the hill. Thomas Cousins, agricultural engineer, has his workshop in Hackenbeck. Whether by accident or design, he built it next door to the Three Beetles, an attractive timber-framed, thatched inn. The Three Beetles is deservedly popular, and a bowling match is being played between the railway staff and a team which appears to have come from the local “Territorial” camp.

A postman is trying to deliver letters, but the landlord's dog seems to have other ideas! Four service “types” are sitting on a bench in the sun enjoying their drinks, and the postman's predicament, but they themselves will soon be in a “spot”! They are A.W.O.L., and a “redcap” is coming round the corner.

Next door is a neat little house, built of local stone. It is set in a neat little garden, very suburban in type. Mother, father and the two children have just started their holiday. That, at least, is their idea, but the car has decided to be awkward! All we can see of father is a pair of legs. He has been underneath the car for some time! The children are fidgeting about asking irritating questions, and mother stands impatiently by the pile of luggage. She is getting crosser and crosser every minute.

A hump-backed bridge carries the road over the railway, and just before the rise a wicket gate opens on a path leading to both the halt and the stream. A fisherman sits on the bank waiting for a rise. Two cheeky children are watching him from a safe distance. They are doing their best to take a rise out of him!

Nearby, on a bench beneath a hand­some stone-pine tree, sit a courting couple. They have already missed a number of trains, but are quite oblivious to that or anything else except love's young dream.

The Hackenbeck flows in a rough semi­circle round the base of a rocky hill. This hill juts out into the landscape and explains why the railway had to take its roundabout course. At the base of the hill, and between it and the stream, there is a patch of fairly level ground. On this patch is an old thatched cottage. It is approached from the Elsbridge road by a footpath and plank bridge.

The Horker family have only just settled in. The garden, though dug over, has not yet been planted. There is a fine old apple tree in blossom. Amos Horker, a sheep farmer, is walking up the hill with his dog to see to his sheep grazing on the summit. His wife, Hepsibah, an old-fashioned body, is walking over the plank bridge. She has her shopping basket.

Ellen, their daughter, is feeding the pigs. She and her father made a sty for them from some old shingles and bits of corrugated iron. There are three pigs, a black and two whites, and they seem to be in prime condition. Ellen's brother, Simon, is a lazy young man, He is happiest when watching others work and giving them advice. He is supposed to be planting the garden; but that, he feels, can wait, so he strolls over, hands in pockets, to watch Ellen instead.

From Hackenbeck halt the railway crosses the stream by a small girder bridge and enters a rock cutting where platelayers are at work. Then it plunges into a tunnel, at the other end of which lie Elsbridge, Knapford and other places in the outside world.

Ffarquhar layout plan - click image to see larger version

Ffarquhar station - click image to view larger version
  Ffarquhar with "Thomas", Annie" and "Clarabel" at platform, "Percy" in siding.

Locomotives. For exhibition work we use four. “Thomas,” 0-6-0T Essar cast body and motor, painted blue, lined with red as in the books. “Percy,” 0-4-0ST, body home made, Essar chassis and motor, painted green with red lining as in the books. “Toby,” 0-4-0T (ex-L.N.E.R. Y6 ; the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway runs through my parish). The body is home made from the official drawings, obtained by courtesy of the Eastern Region. The mechanism is a Romford motor bogie. “Toby's” body is painted G.E.R. chocolate brown, side plates blue.

The above three locos normally work the traffic. The fourth loco, “Duck,” is taken along as a spare engine. “Duck”is a Gaiety 0-6-0PT, and retains G.W.R. livery, lettering and number. When first bought he waddled—there is no other word to describe his peculiar progress—and our family promptly christened him “Duck”! Now, though re-wheeled and steady, the name still sticks, and has been perpetuated in the books.

Passenger stock. One two-coach push-pull set, “Annie” and “Clarabel.” “Annie” is an antique; she is thirty years old, and my very first attempt at coach building. “Clarabel” (2nd brake compo) was built nine years ago to match “Annie.” Both are mounted on wagon bogies, but look remarkably authentic. What is more, they run well, and can be pushed at speed round sharp bends without derailment.

“Henrietta” was made for me by Mr. P. R. Wickham. She is a beautiful model of a four-wheeled Wisbech and Upwell tram coach, and with “Elsie” she is “Toby's” special responsibility. “Elsie” is a model of the one and only low-slung luggage van ever built for the W. & U. When passenger traffic ceased in 1926 she was transferred to the Elsenham and Thaxted line, only being scrapped when that was closed too. Hence the name “Elsie.” She is home made from official drawings obtained from Stratford by the kindness of E.R. Her livery is the G.E.R. chocolate brown.

Goods stock. The sidings will not hold more than five trucks and brake van at any one time, so the stock is limited to seven open wagons (five for stone traffic, two for coal and coke), one closed van, one cattle truck, one oil tanker and two brake vans. These are all either Tri-ang adapted or made from kits.

For exhibitions we have a progamme covering a morning's work (7.25 a.m. to 1.05 p.m.). This takes from forty to forty-five minutes, and can be divided into two sections.

1. “Toby” emerges from the tunnel at 7.25 with a workmen's train due at the quarry at 7.50. “Thomas” is now ready for the “Commuter,” depart Ffarquhar 8.0. This train runs through to Tidmouth (arrive 8.34), so office workers have nice time to be at their desks by nine o'clock. Connection is made too at Tidmouth with the “Sudrian” (depart 9.0), which runs through to Barrow non-stop and has through coaches for St. Pancras and the West of England.

“Percy” arrives with the morning goods at 8.34. He shunts the yard till “Toby” has crept out from the quarry line and backed to the passenger platform, “Scarborough fashion.” When “Toby” leaves (8.45), “Percy” finishes his shunting, goes along the quarry line to the stone wharf, and picks up a load. He waits at the signal till the push-pull arrives from Tidmouth at 9.20, and then sets out for the harbour. “Toby” crosses him on the way, reaching the halt at 10.05, thereafter going straight through to the quarry.

This marks the end of the first section.

2. At 10.45 the push-pull leaves again for Tidmouth, to make connection with the “Wild North-Wester” (non-stop Barrow to Tidmouth). “Toby” follows at 11.15, backing as before to the passenger platform. “Percy” now rattles through with a load of empties. He leaves these at the stone wharf on the quarry line, and when “Toby” has gone (11.20) he returns light to the yard, collects the wagons left there earlier, and waits till “Thomas” has arrived (12.16) with passengers brought by the “Wild North-Wester” from Barrow and England. Then “Percy” draws His train out, with no brake van, and backs down on the quarry line, where a further load is attached. He leaves at 12.25, and on his way down the working timetable says that he is held at Elsbridge to cross “Toby,” who with “Henrietta” and “Elsie” arrives at Hackenbeck at 1.05 and disappears along the quarry line.

This ends the second section and all rolling stock is now where it was at the start, all ready to begin again.

The Rev. Awdry and his Ffarquhar layout.

This, in the main, follows the usual principles, but one or two points may be of interest.

We have never yet bought special magnets for uncoupling. All ours have come from discarded magnetic toys. A contraption made from the plungers of an old electric light socket automatically ensures electrical contact between the two halves of the layout when the railway is opened. The track on the front of the baseboard can be switched in or out from the control panel. It is useful to be able to hold a train in the tunnel while something else is going on at Ffarquhar, or behind the scenes. But we shall have to devise a warning gadget, as the train in the tunnel is sometimes forgotten. The resulting tangle is disconcerting!

At first we put the controls in the left-hand corner (see diagram) ; no other position seemed possible, but it was awkward, especially when shunting. The difficulty was to see when the couplings were over the magnets, particularly in the farther sidings. After the Trades Fair, on Ken Davidson's suggestion, we resited the controls centrally over the storage sidings. This made control much easier (compare the operator's expression in the photographs above). The panel is of hardboard, and on it are the resistance and two toggle switches (master and reversing), together with section switches made from O gauge spring buffers. When in use, on end rests on a batten screwed to the backscene and the other is hinged so that we can swing the panel out of the way when doing trackwork. There was no room on this panel for the conventional type of controller. We had never been satisfied with them anyway, for though we have tried several well-known makes none gave really smooth control of speed with a variety of motors. This time we used an ordinary wire-wound 100-ohm radio rheostat. The wiper has nearly 360 degrees of travel as compared with less than 180 degrees on the conventional types. This allows a fine adjustment of resistance, making near-scale speeds possible and shunting a joy. Set your controller for the correct speed, watch your loco creep to the required spot, listen for the click as the magnet draws the couplings down, switch off, reverse, switch on, and the loco creeps away, leaving the wagon behind. You only need to preset your controller and your switches do the rest. If you can get a reversing switch with a “centre-off” position it would be simpler still.

We are very pleased with our cheap controller. It has even subdued “Duck's” Gaiety motor. This used to behave like a jack rabbit! Now, though jerks at starting and stopping are not entirely eliminated, near-scale speeds are normal. Our controller has been in use for over two years and still shows no signs of strain.

The Three Beetles

This layout is designed for exhibition, so we aimed at simplicity, robustness and realism in track, operations and scenery. We wanted to show the average man or boy what could be done in a small space and at reasonable cost, so we only used materials readily available, keeping the size to 6ft. x 4ft.

The plan, as can be seen from the diagram, is simple, a continuous circuit with two branches. The inner serves the station, the outer serves the storage sidings. The link line is supposed to lead to the quarry.

Baseboards. The two halves, each 6ft. x 2ft. designed for strength and rigidity. (Take warning: as made they are too heavy for convenience in transport. If we were doing the job again we would make them lighter). We made them from battens 1½in. x ¾in. cross braced at intervals of 1lin. On this framework hardboard was screwed to make a strong, smooth foundation, while insulation board above this provided a workable surface.

The two trestles came next, made of 2in. x1in. battens. Each trestle is 3ft. high with a bearing length of 4ft. at the top.

With the two halves laid on the trestles, end pieces 2ft. x 9in. x lin. were screwed to the ends of each. These were to carry the hinges and side scenery. They also form the ends of the box which the layout makes when folded. The two halves of the baseboard were then screwed firmly together with scrapwood battens so that the whole was true and rigid.

Trackwork. The insulation board was given several coats of size, and when dry the track layout was planned and pencilled in. The sites of hills, roads and bridges followed, the course of the stream was cut out, and the “water” laid on its bed with cellophane according to Ahern principles.

We then laid, wired up and tested the track. We used Wrenn because we had no time to make our own and wanted to experiment with it anyway. The smallest radius curve, apart from those of the two curved points, is 1ft. 6in. Most small-radius curves have a 3ft. radius lead-in (2ft. radius lead-ins were only used where 3ft. could not be wangled to fit). Originally the two main storage sidings were joined by a crossover, but we took this out later, as it took up valuable space: besides, it was never used. “Crane shunting” behind the scenes is simpler and quicker!

The line is, within limits, correctly signalled. All signals and points are worked by copper tube and piano wire from lever frames behind the scenes. The exceptions are two distant signals on the front half of the layout. These are fixed, as might reasonably be expected in prototype practice under the circumstances. Ground signals are now in position at the station, but not yet operative.

Duck and goods train leaving Ffarquhar station

This was built up mainly on Ahern principles, with our own and other people's bright ideas. The hill through which the tunnel is driven is rocky and closely cropped by sheep. Medical lint soaked in size was wrung out and pinned, furry side up, over a skeleton cut out of scraps of pulp board. Over the tunnel itself battens of stripwood were nailed, and strips of old deck-chair canvas were woven over and under these, forming a webbing to support the lint. When dry we painted the lint first brown, then grass green, using very sloppy oil paint in each case.

The trees are various. The bushy horse-chestnut type are crepe paper and wire, using a method found in the Model Railways Constructor. Mr. Stone's article in the Railway Modeller gave us poplars from pipe cleaners and a conifer plantation from Woolworths. The stone pines are box twigs with rubber sponge. Hawthorns are box twigs as well. Spray with shellac or thin glue, and press lumps of carpet underlay between the boughs. When dry, pull the lumps away; they will leave strands behind. Spray these with shellac till each has a noticeable size and thickness. You now have a twiggy effect. Spray again when dry, and drop on flock for leaves. Shake off surplus and leave to set.

For the apple tree we followed the same method except that after the leaves were on we sprayed lightly again and dropped white and pink flock on for blossom. We are, however, not satisfied with that tree. The shape is right (it ought to be, for we searched long and carefully for that twig!); but the flock does not give the right size of leaf. Next time we shall use dyed sawdust or tea-leaves instead. While on the subject of trees we might mention that we needed some on the hill over the tunnel. Unfortunately we cannot plant many, as they interfere with the station buildings when the line is folded! So we planted a few hawthorns, one pine, and a few  dead ones (box twigs again). Then, not content with that, we planted a few stumps, laying piles of sawn-off boughs near them to suggest that there had been many more trees, now felled.

Hedges are strips of pipe lagging stuck and pinned in position. We paint ours grass green, and while wet tease strands up till they give the desired effect. Rough grass along the road-sides is made in a similar way from carpet underlay.

The inn will be recognized as the Bilteezi large thatched cottage. It went together very nicely, but we had fun with the sign. We decided to call it the Three Beetles. In warm weather my son's bedroom is invaded by ladybirds. They crawl in swarms over the windows and have to be “Flitted.” He decided to use some for the inn sign. He prepared the card, stuck on three dead beetles, and left them to set. Half an hour later he came back and found they had not set at all. There was the card, but no beetles! This happened several times till we found three really dead ones! Perhaps Durofix is to ladybirds as smelling salts are to ladies; I wouldn't know!

Our bowling match is, we think, something fresh. The green had perforce to be smaller than scale ; but so far we have not had any adverse comment from bowlers. Slater's plastic figures were obliging and adaptable, but the woods and jack were a problem. We tried beads at first, but could find none just right. Finally, in desperation, we made a stiff paste of black Bostik and fine sawdust, moulded it round the heads of pins and pressed them into position. The jack is a pin-head with a dab of white paint.

We think, too, that we have broken new ground with our tunnel ventilating shaft. We cannot remember ever having seen one modelled. We deliberately put ours there to help the illusion that the railway goes straight on instead of curving round and back to the storage sidings.

By the way, has anybody ever tried to model a bog? We have; but not apparently with much success! We point it out to visitors, and they say “Ah, yes” and then look at something else! All the same, we are proud of our bog. It took several evenings to make, and the clumps of rushes were very troublesome to plant. It is a great pity they are not better appreciated.

Ffarquhar on exibition.

Our little railway has stood the test of exhibition conditions very well. The first, at a local trades fair in 1956, was the most rigorous. We were in a marquee whose roof was not exactly watertight. When it rained we were cold and damp, when the sun shone we were roasted! We could do nothing about the heat, but damp and cold played havoc with the track and points. We managed to offset this by hanging car-heater lamps beneath the layout. The line was worked under these conditions from 2 p.m. till 10 p.m. each day for seven days. “Thomas” and “Percy” needed little maintenance except daily oil­ing and wheel cleaning, but “Toby” was only kept in circulation by continual atten­tion between sections of the programme.

Some 34,000 people came to the fair, and most of them found their way to us. We were kept hard at it all the time. I am most grateful to my brother, Ken Davidson, Colin Brown and Brian Wenlock, who formed a rota with me, also to A. E. Hull, who helped with another long session at an exhibition in March last September.

All types came. There were the young children, not under proper control, who would creep under the barrier, and prod and poke, and try to pick things up. When the harassed operator let out a bellow their mothers would take them away in a huff, making remarks about it being only a toy railway anyway!

Other youngsters, well-behaved and interested, followed the doings of one particular engine with breathless interest, and could not bear to lose sight of it for a moment. “Toby,” being local, was the greatest favourite. “Where's 'Toby' ? Why has he gone? Why doesn't he come out again? I want to see 'Toby'!”

Interested schoolboys, and grown-ups too, would return again and again, asking questions about this or that modelling problem.

Then there was the tall man, a new recruit to the hobby, who leant farther and farther over the barrier muttering “I will see how that uncoupler works.” Needless to say, he was soon behind the scenes, having the H & N uncoupler explained, and seeing the rest of the “works” too.

Personally, I shall always remember a bad ten minutes on Saturday evening, when in front of a packed crowd the uncoupler on the cattle van failed and the crowd passed on unimpressed. We got through the rest of the timetable somehow, and then examined the van. One of the three tiny soft iron links had dropped off. This is one of the failings of the otherwise admirable H & N coupler. The links are exasperating to fix, and fatally easy to lose. I now use no links at all. A household pin, with its head bent at right-angles, is pushed through the hole in the brass hook. It is then snipped off to the right length, and there you are! You lose in looks of course, but you gain in reliability.

One other thing needs to be said. From time to time there appear in the model railway press criticisms of working layouts at exhibitions. They run down these layouts and their owners, because at the time that the critic was passing something had gone wrong. I had never rushed into print about it, but I was one of those types!

I think differently now. It is one thing to show your layout at home to visitors who have given due notice of their coming. You have checked everything over, and your programme, lasting forty-five to sixty minutes, goes through without a hitch, and so it should. But it is quite another thing to show your layout in operation continuously for seven days perhaps, away from home, spares and workshop, under conditions of dust, heat, and all the other gremlins which bedevil model railways in public places. I am uncomfortably aware that the people who watched me trying to shunt on that Saturday evening above-mentioned went away thinking that the line looked quite well perhaps, but was unreliable. So it was, but only until the trouble was diagnosed and cured. However, on that Saturday alone the line had worked faultlessly for four hours before the mishap occurred. The critics did not see it then, they only saw the bad ten minutes. All the same, they went away convinced that the bad ten minutes was typical of performance throughout the week!

No! My experience at exhibitions during the past two and a half years has taught me that to keep even the smallest and simplest layout, such as ours, running for long periods puts a great strain not only on the locos and rolling stock, but also on the operators themselves. The stock needs constant maintenance, and the operators have to be constantly on the watch and ready to improvise. Even then the chances are that they may be defeated by conditions such as dust and heat, which in a public place are out of their control.

Ffarquhar buffer stops

Click the Railway Modeller covers below to read additional articles written by the Rev. Awdry
Railway Modeller July 1961 Railway Modeller January 1968

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