Fryers Lane – ExpoEM North 2016

It had been a year since I exhibited Fryers Lane (as a work in progress) at Scaleforum in 2015 when, in September 2016, I had the opportunity to exhibit the layout in a much more finished form at ExpoEM North.

Here is a brief recap of how the layout came about and a reflection on how various elemnts of it performed.  I’ll start by saying that I’ve had a P4 itch to scratch for a while, I’d also been slowly building up a collection of air braked freight stock and a few locos to suit a late 80s setting.  The Scalefour Society’s Standard Gauge Workbench provided the impetus to put these two things together in a layout that would be easily transported and not require too many operators.

As well as testing out my skills with the finer tolerances of P4, there were a number of things that I wanted to try out for future layouts and this seemed a reasonable place to try:

  • Steel rail
  • Servos driven turnout operation
  • Foam track underlay
  • Hex Frog Juicer to switch crossing polarities
  • Cameo layout design on a single monocoque baseboard
  • LED lighting (integrated into the board design)


I’ve found steel rail challenging at times, but in use, it is (so far) proving to be very reliable and require little cleaning.  Yes, I did find soldering droppers to it to be a bit of a pain and yes, filing vees and switch blades takes a little longer, but on reflection I think I’ll be using it again in the future.  Interesting quirk we noted on Sunday of ExpoEM North was that the nickel silver rail in the fiddle yard was filthy, enough to cause locos to stutter, whereas there were no such problems on the steel.  I wondered if the different properties of the materials was somehow the cause of this?  Easy enough to deal with though.  The Frog Juicer works well but does have a slightly annoying tendency to arc for a split second when a wheel runs onto a vee of opposing polarity.  For this reason, I’ll probably switch (pun intended) back to more conventional methods next time as I feel this visual impact negates any benefits derived from (slightly) simplified wiring.

The servos are great.  Cheap, reasonably easy to set up and no issues.  Definitely on the list to use again.  Can’t say the same for the underlay.  This was the black foam stuff from C&L.  IMHO, it is too soft and has a bit too much give in it.  Back to cork (or maybe thin ply or MDF next time I think).


The “cameo” baseboard has worked well; but the dimensions of this board are approaching the maximum practical size for a board that can be handled without assistance, particularly within the confines of a 200 year old cottage with its low ceilings.  It’s on the heavy side too; although that may partly be down to my use of 12mm ply (because I had a spare sheet left over from another job).  I might use something thinner (9mm ply?) for all but the board ends if I was doing it again.  The lighting probably deserves a separate blog post, as it was quite a journey, but overall it’s working well.

So, what next?  I don’t subscribe to the view that “a layout is never finished”.  I think it’s important to aim to push your standards, but know when a particular project has gone as far as it can go. Fryers isn’t there yet, there is more scenic work to complete, namely to fill up the skyline along the back of the layout and to improve how hidden the exits to the fiddle yards are.


Beyond that there is (always) the tempting prospect of extending the layout.  Another board at the right hand end would allow me to model the level crossing, the signal box and maybe even the goods shed (although that would be likely to be disused).  On reflection, I think if I wanted to do that I’d be better starting again, with new baseboards of a different design as a longer layout would benefit from deeper baseboards.  That would then start to take me away from the original aim

For various reasons, I’d slightly gone off the idea of exhibiting and was thinking my next project would be a home based layout, not intended for the exhibition circuit.  However, exhibiting at ExpoEM North reminded that I do enjoy doing shows and of the advantages of small layouts which can travel in a car and only need one or two additional operators.  One idea I have buzzing around in my head it to build alternative modules (of similar dimensions to Fryers) that utilise one or both of the existing fiddle yards, now I have some that actually work!

Relic Hunting for Low Level

From time to time I’ll search for Wolverhampton Low Level related stuff on e-Bay.  The platform ticket (which is the avatar I use both here and on RMweb) is one recent example of this.  The photo below shows this, along with a couple of other recent finds.

The June 1971 edition of Railway Magazine was sourced following a tip-off from Neil Rushby that it contained an article about the (then) imminent closure of the GWR mainline between Low Level and Snow Hill.  While the article itself doesn’t really tell me much I’d not read or seen elsewhere before, it’s nice to have and really helps to set the scene for the layout.  It’s interesting to read something written at the time the layout will be based, rather than the more recent sources.  It is accompanied by a couple of photos, one of Low Level with the bubble car stabled in one of the centre roads and an 08 in the former up platform (with a varied selection of parcels vans and a couple of vanfits).  The other shows the bubble car pausing for custom at Priestfield on its way towards Snow Hill.

The pink sheet of paper (actually there are two sheets stapled together) is a BR handbill (which also dates from 1971) showing the timetable and ticket prices for the Low Level – Snow Hill passenger service.  Six weekday departures left Low Level bound for Snow Hill (with an additional 13:50 departure Saturdays only).  Journey time was 32 minutes (compared to 35 minutestoday on the Midland Metro – although that includes additional stops and takes you right into the centre of Wolverhampton), calling at Priestfeild, Bilston, Wednesbury, Swan Village, West Brom’, Handsworth, Langley Green and Hockley.  There was of course, we are reminded “NO SUNDAY SERVICE”.  A second class day return would cost you the princely sum of 40p; a one month season ticket £7.20.

One which got away recently was a 1971 Locoshed, mainly to confirm the Bescot 08 allocation at the time; I’ll keep looking.  The plan is to display these finds on the fiddle yard screening of the layout – assuming I get the time to continue with the layout build since the arrival of the new family member at chez Forrest:

P4 Track Co Turnout

I had a couple of days off work this week and thought this might allow a bit of modelling time.  It did, but nowhere near as much as I would have liked.  The current list of tasks for my WLL project is broken down into rolling stock, buildings (& other structures) and track.  Having done some work on buildings and rolling stock recently I thought maybe it was time to look at track and I managed to find a couple of hours to have a go at putting together one of the P4 track company turnout kits.

I had high expectations for these products, in fact it would be fair to say they were one of the things which attracted me to building the layout in P4 rather than EM.  They have small pips on the timbering which allow the chairs to locate in the correct position.  I’ve not used steel rail or plastic timbering before and have previously made up my own common crossings and switch rails so these kits are quite different to anything I’ve built before.  The first one (of three which I’ll need) is a B8  left-hand turnout, which will form the junction of the former goods avoiding lines at the rear of the layout.

Overall I found construction to be a quite a pleasant experience, although must admit I struggled a little to follow the text of the instructions (I’m never good with instructions and was confused further by my LH kit having a RH template in the pack, as the astute will have already noticed in the photo above!).  Despite the pips on the timbers, a set of gauges are still required to ensure accurate alignment of the rails, mine came from EMGS (who can supply these to suit 18.2mm and 18.83mm gauge to members of the society).  As designed the kit is intended to make a straight turnout, but I found it easy enough to introduce a gentle curve to match the drawing I have prepared in Templot (which is based on a scan of a 1:500 plan of the station).  I suspect this may be more of a challenge when it comes to the C10 turnout for the down platform though.

At this stage there are still some details to add.  The detail in the chair components is far superior to the C&L components I’ve used previously and overall I’m very impressed.

Testing with a spare coach bogie seems to confirm all is well; hopefully I’ll find a little time over the weekend to add the remaining chairs.  I think it probably took about 3 hours (excluding tea breaks) from opening the pack to get to this stage; probably another hour on top of that to add the remaining details – although this should reduce as familiarity and confidence with the product increases.  At £35 each they aren’t cheap, but as I only need a few, I think the advantages in prototype fidelity and ease of assembly do make them good value.

Project Low Level

For the past couple of years I’ve been wittering on to anybody who would listen about my plans to model Wolverhampton Low Level in its days as a parcels depot.  Progress has been sporadic, particularly with the house move (and subsequent renovation work) taking priority, but I’m finally getting somewhere.

As Nigel mentioned in the Workshop Night update I’ve been making some progress on the buildings recently.  I’ve made cardboard mock ups of the station buildings to help planning the position of board joints and viewing angles.  I’ve also finally got my head around how to use Templot and have drawn up the templates for the trackwork – significantly more planning than went into Foundry Lane!

Last week, I cleared the dining room table and put the templates and buildings together, here’s what it might look like, an overall view of the scenic section, which will measure 2.4m x 1.1m:

These views are taken from the position of Sun Street bridge which will hide the exit to the fiddle yard.

Think I’ll be needing a bit more parcel stock!  Hornby’s new SR Van B and Gresley BG might be useful!

Confession time: I’ve decided I’ll be building this in P4, rather than EM – it just seems the right thing to do for a model of a real location, especially as the trackwork is quite simple and that hardly any of my EM stock from Foundry Lane will be used.

A parcel from EMGS stores arrived today; 10m of steel bullhead rail, should be able to make a start on some track soon.

And that building which Nigel mentioned (which I think was the parcels office):

and a further update after a bit more work done last night: