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Blast from the Past - Minima Bay from the April 1996 Issue of British Railway Modelling

02 December 2011

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We go back to British Railway Modelling, Vol. 4 No.1 from April 1996 and 'Minima Bay' (photography by Tony Wright)...

British Railway Modelling, Vol. 4 No.1 from April 1996British Railway Modelling, Vol. 4 No.1 from April 1996 and Minima Bay'

Mike Williams reminisces on childhood memories of trainspotting and his early layouts. A move to 0 gauge led to the development of his compact BR-era branch terminus.

Standard 4MT No. 80087, a DJB kit, stands outside Minima signal box
Standard 4MT No. 80087, a DJB kit, stands outside Minima signal box

When I was a boy, I used to sit on a bridge just around the corner from where I was born, on the outskirts of Birmingham. From a very early age, firstly with the help of my sister and later on my own, I used to scramble up the parapet wall of the bridge and sit on the top dangling my feet over the other side. Looking down on the railway, I can still remember the holding siding where there would usually be a Class 4 tank, either a Stanier, Fairburn or Standard. If not one of these, it would be an 8F, 'Black Five' or a 'Super D', on a freight working and waiting for the main Iine before setting off on their way to Bescot sidings. The other vision which sticks in my memory is that of my mother - I can still see her running up Wellhead Lane, screaming at the top of her voice for me to get down.

Despite the punishment that followed this did not stop me. Had I got the bug? In the end my dad decided to kill or cure me and took me to Birmingham New Street station before it was rebuilt. However, this made things worse as I started to roam a little further from home in my quest for more of the same; my wanderings taking me as Ear as Perry Bar and Witton. Next, my father took me fishing with my uncle, but the trouble was, he took me to Polesworth right next to the West Coast Main Line (as you can guess I didn't catch any fish) but did see 'Britannias', 'Duchesses'. 'Scots' and 9Fs. Having failed again, dad decided to build me a layout, this was in TT. This worked, in so much as it kept me away from the bridge for a while.

'Black Five' no. 45054 leaves Minima with a SLS special.  The kit is the original prototype that became the Oakville kit.
'Black Five' no. 45054 leaves Minima with a SLS special.
The kit is the original prototype that became the Oakville kit.

I don't remember the day, the date or the week when the steam trains stopped running, they just seem to have stopped. I used to mutter to myself the end of the platform at Perry Bar "Not another '3M W or 8F”, but all of a sudden there were no more steam trains. My bedroom window still rattled when the trains went by, but I couldn't hear the whistles or hear locomotives struggling out of the holding siding anymore. They were gone. Even my layout had to go when dad decided to knock the wall in the lounge down ready for my oldest sister’s 21st birthday party. So it was for many years. As is usual for young boys, I discovered girls and later got married, but somehow deep down it was still there ingrained in my mind.

Hooked on O gauge
When I got a house of my own, I had the space to take up my hobby again – having had my lust for steam rekindled by a visit to the Severn Valley Railway. After dabbling in 4mm, I eventually settled on N gauge and even my dad encouraged this. It was later when I joined the helpers on the SVR and became a member, that I met John Tennent of Tennents Trains. He introduced me to 0 gauge and I was hooked. When I started modelling in 0 gauge some ten years ago, I started by trading-in all my N gauge models for a couple of points and a few wagon kits. I also joined the Gauge 0 Guild.

West Brockton, my first layout, was based on the SVR and appeared in the small layouts book issued by the Guild and useful to modeIlers in any gauge. But West Brockton did not quite fulfil my needs as I really wanted a much bigger layout where I could recreate a main line graced by 'Duchesses’ and their like. I built two boards and started looking for a bigger house that would accommodate my future needs, but we all know what happened to the house market and the move never happened.

After joining Warley Model Railway Club, I got involved with the many shows that the Club put on throughout the year and I thought it would be nice to have a layout of my own to take to the shows. Around the same time I was building an O gauge ‘Thomas the Tank Engine' for my little girl and was asked by Paul Jones to bring it along to the Warley Open Day. I said I would ask if I could borrow a layout to run it on. I was going to borrow Darlington Road, which was then owned by Jim Harris, but about five weeks before the show, Darlington Road developed problems, so I decided to build a quick layout - which was to become Minima Bay.

A Class 4F 0-6-0 shunts a brake van. The locomotive has working inside-valve gear.
A Class 4F 0-6-0 shunts a brake van. The locomotive has working inside-valve gear.

As I said, I had five weeks in which to build the layout using three second-hand points and some secondhand track as a start, you can gather the track plan was going to be simple to say the least I decided that for space and cost reasons the fiddle yard would have to doubIe up as the run-round,so saving another two points. The two main baseboards were built in a day, the track was laid in another day, the wiring completed the following day, the point mechanisms were completed the day after as was the fiddle yard and testing. The following weeks were spent building the scenics, buildings and some of the detail. The station building was part-built and intended for an extension on one of our club layouts. As the layout progressed it became obvious to me that it was becoming more than just a ‘Thomas the Tank' layout and I decided to finish it off so that it could be used for my other models. However, there was something of a motive power shortage when it came to small locomotives, so I built another small tank engine from the Oldbury Models range. The layout's first showing was very successful with very few problems. Since then, the layout has been to many shows and over the last few years, a few more additions have been added.

Running details
As a result of the way and reasons it was built, Minima Bay does not follow any prototypical practice. They always say that you can tell what part of the country a railway is set in, even if there are no trains running. Minima is totally fictitious but as the stock that runs on it is of mainly Midland origin, I will leave it to you to decide where you think it is. A lot of people ask me about the Wellhead Lane reference, but thisis just my nostalgic tribute to my childhood days. Again, the buildings themselves were not intended for this layout but came from the larger layout I was constructing before the house move fell through. The building was one of those things that I started making and just kept adding ideas to. One day, the model shop in the layout decided to change its name to College Models (my business). I might as well do a bit of advertising when I take the layout to shows, as most of the stock that runs on the layout are my own kits or ones that I have had a hand in designing. The little train that runs around in the shop could justify an article on its own. It is surprising how it is often the ladies or the kids that spot the train going round in the shop window. I don't need to go into great detail of how the train works. It is basically a couple of painted strips of wood glued to a disc which sits on top of a modified motor/gearbox. All the scenery it runs on is cantilevered over the top of it. I like having little bits of detail on the layout to entertain the public when there is not much movement on the track.

A DMU built from a Westdale kit arrives and passes Johnson IP 0-4-4T. Minima bay
A DMU built from a Westdale kit arrives and passes Johnson IP 0-4-4T. The 
tank is heavily weathered to represent the locomotive about two weeks before
its withdrawal.

There are lots of little cameos on the layout and if you have a chance to see the layout at shows, you have to look carefully to see some of them. There is the little Tommy who has fired his catapult at the two little girls playing hop-scotch He has hit Jessica and made her cry and Gemma is giving him a very dirty look. Mr Brown is watching the train going round in the shop before he catches his train. Sexy Susan is waiting for a train with Larry the lecher eying her up, and if you strain your neck, what is going on upstairs in the Post Office is not for the feint hearted. (Perhaps it’s his birthday?)

An Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0 arrives at Minima.
An Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0 arrives at Minima. The Kit is a prototype for an Oakville
kit which I am now producing under my own College Models brand name.

All the stock on the layout, with the exception of a converted Lima Diesel, was built by myself from my own kits which I trade under College Models or are kits I have had some involvement with one way or another.

The time period is set around the late 1950s or early 1960s. It is the time of my trainspotting days, when we never had it so good and steam was still king but seldom clean. I tend to have mixed reactions as to the state of my stock. I cannot remember clean engines and if there is one favourable comment I get from people it’s that they are impressed about the realistic look of the layout and stock. Weathering stock is one if those contentious issues that will go on for ever. Personally, I hate seeing an otherwise nice layout ruined by out-of-the-box over-clean stock. I know some feel the same way about my stock, but I think that over recent years the weathering factor has crept into more layouts. I think it has increased the standard of layouts that you see at shows these days. There are some excellent books on weathering techniques, and if you don’t want to weather your locomotives for fear of ruining them, there are plenty of products about that wash off if you don’t like the results.

The station building was built originally for a club layout, but has now found a permanent home on Minima
The station building was built originally for a club layout, but has now
found a permanent home on Minima.

Further thoughts
All in all, Minima has been a good exercise in minimum  space O gauge modelling and it displaces the old myth that you need loads of space to model in O. Admittedly, of course, if you want to run a ‘Duchess’ with 13 on, you will need a fair bit of space. In order to achieve this, I have chosen to go into the garden; O gauge comes into its own in this environment but that’s another story. In fact I had intended to extend Minima to attach it to the garden layout. However, I have decided that it would end up as a bit of a mish-mash so I have decided to build a completely new layout.

Johnson IP 0-4-4T shunts stock over the bridge. The locomotive is an Oldbury Models kit.
Johnson IP 0-4-4T shunts stock over the bridge. The locomotive
is an Oldbury Models kit.

Minima Bay is being extended, the small 12” board at the end is being replaced with a larger board with a longer head shunt and a turntable. This will increase the scenic area to 15’. I hope that the layout gives as much pleasure to those who watch it as it does to those who operate it and don’t be afraid to ask me any questions about the layout or the stock if you see me at shows. Or just do what I try to do. Try to take yourself back to the closing days of steam and reminisce, and if you find your mind wandering back, perhaps I have succeeded in the illusion.

minima bay track plan

Mike Williams
British Railway Modelling, Vol 4, No. 1, April 1996


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