I didn’t think I’d be following Wilbert Awdry’s footsteps in railway modelling, but it turned out as much for me as for him that large layouts became impractical and smaller layouts found to give as much or more satisfaction than larger ones. Hence came about Testbedford Mark 2.

The larger Testbedford eventually perished, after a period of enforced neglect, in the Great Flood of 2011. Floods downstairs necessitated a cooking surface upstairs and the board was stripped of its track. Although the bigger items were mostly broken or discarded, I found, just as Wilbert had earlier, that enough was left over to start again.

The spark was a chance visit to a flea market and an unexpected acquisition of new motive power. A test track was rigged up for it, and then and there came the conception of a new layout as just that – a test track to keep engines in good working order, rather than mouldering in their boxes.

The new Testbedford is based on the following construction principles:

- Minimum of paint and glue, mainly card pinned on foam sheets

- Sufficiently robust to withstand attack from cats, children and drunks

- Highly portable: Simple and quick to dismantle and box for storage or removal

- Easy to play with: Accessories relocate without fuss, but will not move when the table is thumped.

- Fun to play with, lots of operational variety.

The base is an ordinary 4x3ft wooden kitchen table. The table is covered 100% with 5mm foam sheets cut into 3 pieces: The road, the railway station and an end piece which extends the railways, gives space for the controls and a touch of green space. The road piece can be removed for separate play, or to give desk space, particularly for kits or repair jobs for the railway. Each sheet was overlaid with dark grey for road, light grey for pavement and cork underlay for the track, or grass. The best fasteners turned out to be the smallest grade of nail, slightly shorter and fatter than dressmaking pins, so less prone to go through the foam.

The main track is an X with a double slip in the middle, which looks like a diamond crossing and works like a pair of points back to back, enabling a loco to go up and down any of the 4 roads. The secondary track is one long piece of straight track with no joints to test any loco, however old or infirm.

Accessories divide into 4 Epochs as follows:

Epoch I: Came with my first train set in 1972

Epoch II: Collected as a child from then until about 1980

Epoch III: Collected with Testbedford Mark 1 (1997-2011)

Epoch IV: Modern era (2014-present)

Class 33 and Mk II coach in classic mid-70s BR blue, could be taking us from Andover to Waterloo...

The blue Chrysler is radio-controlled...

BMW Z7 is a pull back clockwork...

Populace come to see the mighty Turbomotive in the goods siding

Hornby Jinty is the improved model introduced around 1982, with smooth-running motor and space in the cab for a crew, still made at Margate.

Mysterious alien death ray takes out the Merit WPC and St John's Ambulance bloke. A harried Doctor is confused by the local bus timetables.

Testbedford Mark 1: 1997-2011



The action takes place in Testbedford, the county town of Testbedfordshire (Testbeds.) a Rutland-sized county (which disappeared under the 1974 reorganisation) nestled between Cheshire and Derbyshire, equidistant from those hothouses of LMS engineering Crewe and Derby. The year is the fatal one of 1947, the last year of existence for the Big Four.

Testbedford had a small works which was an important adjunct to the company's mechanical engineering operation. Boasting an LMS laboratory engaged in fundamental research, it was an ideal site to shed various prototype engines, diagrammed on trains to and from Crewe or Derby with the dynamometer car in tow, a place at least where they could limp in and be relieved by more standard motive power.

LMS experimental locomotive policy under Stanier and his successors was both innovative and pragmatic. It is an interesting coincidence that both the LMS and LNER gave the number 10000 to an experimental locomotive. The LNER's 10000, Gresley's 4-8-4 "Hush-Hush", was an untested new boiler design that turned out to be impractical and costly. The LMS, by contrast, gave the number to the first Co-Co diesel-electric to run on British rails, a far-sighted decision for a wheel arrangement and traction type that became the mainstay of British railways into the 1970s and 80s. The LMS 10000 specifically was the direct ancestor of the English Electric class 40 and an engine with the same wheel arrangement, the 37, a standard goods loco of which 308 were built under British Rail.

LMS No 10000, bashed from its descendant, a Triang Cl37.

Although Stanier's Turbomotive 6202 was a one-off like "Hush-Hush", she was a practical and working design. Surviving considerably longer, she was sufficiently available to put in 300,000 miles of revenue service as the only steam-turbine locomotive in Britain between 1937 and 1949.

LMS No 6202, bashed from two Triang Princess 7Ps. One in 1976, the other in 2003.

The English Electric 0-6-0 diesel shunter however, first tested on LMS lines under the watchful eye of Stanier in 1935, turned out to be the ancestor of the humble "gronk" or class 08, British Rail's most prolific loco ever with 945 of them running at the peak of their popularity in the 1970s. There is no more eloquent testimony to the ruggedness and versatility of the 37 and 08 than that even in the present decimated state of the railways, there are still many of both classes in active service. Engineering virtues championed by Stanier, then, still survive in the real world.

If only the same could be said of Testbedford! Now there is an Asda where the goods yard used to be, a huge Tesco on the site of the old Works, and the town's high street has been gutted with a shopping centre. The EMUs which take its commuters to Manchester and Derby have no need of shedding there, while the Merit Man on the Phone has been liberated from his red phone box and can be placed anywhere on the layout.

Testbedford town - still a lot to be built.


The layout

The 4' by 6' layout is an oval to enable continuous running, but all signs of the oval are hidden by scenery to maintain the trompe l'oeil that the double track main line merely clears the station and swerves right sharply into a tunnel. The centre of the oval is filled with three sets of sidings - bay platforms, goods yard and loco sheds - to provide operational variety. Three locos can be operated concurrently.

Overview of the layout: Look very carefully to spot the Coronation 8P, yet-to-be-reliveried gronk,
L&Y Aspinall Pug and battery-powered pseudo-German monstrosity on the turntable.

Tracks in the scenery are connected to provide for a variety of roads in and out of the station and alternating trains. Control is presently 12v DC relying on points as isolators, although DCC is desirable. Two of the throttles were built from scratch with components on vero board, circuit diagram here. Trackwork is Hornby 3rd Radius (normal 2nd radius points) and Mehano's 2 1/2 radius for the inside curves, and Hornby/Mehano straights, nailed on to mottled grey corrugated cardboard. Scenery and buildings are a mixture of proprietary and home-made. The sheep farm and cottage below were downloaded from the Internet and printed out. The engine shed is self-designed.

Thanks very much to Khun Kittiyudh for these photos.

Back to Locations