Fairlight Works

Official blog of the High Weald Light Railway (1977) Co. Ltd.

The Small Empire

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The small empire

On a windy, rainy Sunday morning, the Rother Valley Railway site at Robertsbridge isn’t the most enticing place to spend time. However inside their cosy little shop and cafe it’s a different story – with a comprehensive archive of railway magazine back issues for sale (pretty much every issue of Railway Modeller since 1957, for starters) it’s a very useful place to visit for research purposes.

My main objective yesterday was to pick up the series of six Railway Modeller articles from 1972 and 1973 on Derek Naylor’s Aire Valley Railway – a pioneering OOn3 layout and one oft quoted by narrow gauge modellers as a guiding influence. I can’t disagree; I was transfixed by the same articles when I read through my uncle’s magazine collection as a kid and it was great to see how they stand up even today. It’s all the more remarkable when Naylor relates that the AVR, comprising of a mainline, branch and four stations, was built in a loft of little more than 10′ square without appearing particularly cramped.

While I was there I also had a dig through the 1960s and pulled out a couple more issues with articles by David Lloyd and G. R. Hanan, other early adopters of 12mm gauge in 4mm scale. Something common to all of these layouts – and others – was their creation of the “small empire”; that is, a network of small stations offering great potential for operation in a reasonable space and a counterpoint to the “basement empire” enjoyed by US modellers which their legendarily enormous basements.

It’s a subject that’s been on my mind lately, after reading James’ blog post featuring an Ian Rice plan based on the industrial Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway in Wales. Obviously easier to achieve in narrow gauge and smaller scales, I think that this approach to modelling has a lot to commend it if you like the idea that the trains can “go somewhere”. And as all these plan prove, you don’t need a massive amount of space in which to do it.

So I will be digging through the back issues a bit further, as a “small empire” of my own has always been an ambition and it’s always good fun to draw up plans even if you don’t currently have the space (time/money/…). There is also a lot more information in a fascinating thread on the NGRM forum on freelance OOn3, which all of the above mentioned layouts were and doesn’t seem to be done much any more.

Oh and there’s just something evocative about the smell of old, glossy magazine paper, isn’t there? Or maybe that’s just me…