An account of how a model railway novice got hooked on 3mm
started with a Tri-ang TT gauge tank locomotive, three coaches and seven wagons
my father found early in 2000 in a box. I fondly remembered playing with them
as a child and even then they seemed to me to be the perfect size. Iím not sure
how they went missing for 40 years but it was great to see them again. By
coincidence, at the time of the find, I had been thinking about fulfilling a
long-held ambition by building a model railway, inspired by a visit to the
permanent exhibition in York,
and was trying to decide between OO and N gauge, which seemed to be the only
didnít really have room to do justice to OO, and N looked a bit fiddly. That TT
find looked perfectÖhowever, there was no track, no
station, in fact nothing apart from the stock. Maybe I should put them in a
showcase and leave it at that? Still, I thought, I canít be the only person in
the world with the remnants of a Tri-ang TT train set, maybe there are some
enthusiasts I can contact over the internet. What was I thinking? It didnít
take long to find the 3mm Societyís website and to get a few reassuring replies
from some of its members. It seemed that just about everything I needed for a
3mm layout was available without involving too much scratch-building. So I did
end up deciding between OO and N Ė I went for something exactly in the middle!
3mm Scale and the 3mm Society
is the contemporary name for TT, or table-top, which Tri-ang introduced in the
late fifties. It was smaller than OO and, owing to the small minimum track
radius of a little over ten inches, it enabled a small
oval layout, say five feet by two feet, to be easily fitted onto a table top.
The size of the trains equates to a scale of 3 millimetres to one foot (the odd
mix of metric and imperial being a quirky feature of the UK model
railway world in general), or to a ratio of about 1:100. 3mm scale is therefore
about three quarters the linear size of the more widely used OO but 50 percent
larger than N. This means you can get roughly one and three-quarters as much
layout as you can with OO into a given area, or build a similar layout in less
than 60 percent of the space. So for example, a layout that would need an area
8 feet by 4 in OO will only need 6 feet by 3 in 3mm scale.
The 3mm Society, along with a handful of
small traders, is the hub of 3mm modelling. Loco, coach and wagon kits, track,
wheels, motors, simple building kits and a wealth of scenic and ancillary
components are all available such that with a bit of time and effort, realistic
working 3mm scale layouts can be made, to finescale standards if required. For
the nostalgic or less demanding modeller, a limited range of original Tri-ang
stock and components and early pre-built kits is also
background - the Bradford-York Railway
As I didnít know anything about
real railways at the time, Briargate was built with no particular region in
mind. Later, to add operational interest and give credibility to the oval track
format, I invented the Bradford-York railway, which ran in a two-way loop,
connecting Bradford, Leeds, Briargate, York,
Knaresborough, Harrogate, Yeadon and Shipley, then back to Bradford.
For a Yorkshire railway, it certainly had an
odd mixture of stock. Alas, the model, like the real thing, is now defunct.
Baseboard and layout
going to have to be small and simple (just like me really). I knew nothing
about prototype train operation but I wanted enough room for two continuous
loops, a station, an engine shed, and some sidings for a bit of shunting. There
would be some kind of village or town backdrop.
measured about 5ft x 3ft, made from three equal sized pieces of chipboard I
found in the garage belonging an old wardrobe, laid side by side and screwed
together using three pieces of 2 by 1 lengthwise (also to hand in the garage),
with cork sheet from my model shop stuck on top with Evo-Stick and painted with
mid-brown emulsion (from that garage). I cut V-shaped grooves into the 2 by 1
every so often, as advised by the experts, for wiring to pass through. There
were no legs, it simply rested on a desk in what we
aptly call our play room.
Track and points
track from the 3mm Society. This comes as separate 18-inch lengths of rail and
sections of plastic sleeper base made for the Society by Ratio. Threading the
rails through the sleeper bases was not the most pleasureable of tasks and I
ended up with sore thumbs, but my then nine-year-old daughter gamely helped and
we got the job done over three or four bursts.
I used two
sets of hand-made points from 3mm Scale Model Railways (one of several 3mm
scale traders), which are beautifully made but need individually wiring and
switching to change the frog polarity. For the rest, I decided to go for Peco
HOm points, which require no additional wiring. They fitted to the track quite
well despite the slightly different cross section. The sleepers look slightly
heavy compared with the Society track, but not too bad when ballasted. I had
problems running Tri-ang locos through them and shaved bits off the plastic
check rails to remedy this. Had I known at the time, however, I could have
avoided this by slightly adjusting the back-to-back measurements of the loco
wheels. Never mind, I know now!
the track was the most traumatic part of the whole thing, what with getting the
curves right (more or less - I found I had to make lots of cuts in the sleeper
joints, and flex the rails quite a bit to make them retain their Ďbendí and
avoid dog-legs) and mucking about with N gauge fishplates as recommended by the
3mm Society. These are too narrow and eventually I switched to the bigger Peco
HOm fishplates - much better.
I bought a track cutter, which was
indispensable. The track was temporarily placed with drawing pins in between
the sleepers, then stuck down at intervals with PVA
over the sleepers, pending ballasting. No track pins were used. I used dark
brown acrylic paint to weather the rails Ė I found this a chore, so I did the
visible side only.
was quite fun but the grey Javis chippings I used turned a sort of grey-green
after the dilute PVA had set. Another lesson Ė this is apparently caused by
chemicals in the washing-up liquid mixed in as recommended by the experts to
free the surface tension of the mixture. And of course I got some of the points
jammed up with grit and glue and had to free them up to get the electrical
contacts working again.
job on the track, one of the last on the whole layout, was to install
uncouplers at strategic points. I made these out of transparent flexible
plastic packaging material and glued them into slits cut in the ballast. They
were hardly visible and worked very well.
were three main feeds, one on each loop and one for the spur in the sidings,
using a twin controller. I did this before ballasting, soldering the wire
underneath the rails and passing it down through holes in the baseboard.
use of the self-isolating nature of the Peco points to prevent unwanted
movement of locos in the sidings, but when everything else was more or less
finished I decided I wanted to isolate a few more sections to allow more
flexible movement. This meant drilling holes through the ballast and soldering
more wire, this time to the sides of the rails, but after a bit of touching up
it was hardly noticeable. I used small toggle switches to turn the isolated
sections on and off.
buildings were either scratch-built or 3mm scale Bilteezi. I just about went
for the works here - dairy, Georgian houses, row of shops, tunnel, engine shed,
country station and signal box. They are hardly the
last word in realism but they are certainly cheap and look quite good with a
bit of weathering Ė and without them I donít think I would have even started,
since having to scratch-build everything would have put me off. Since I built
the layout, the whole range of Bilteezi OO scale kits has become available via
Messrs. Finney and Smith, reduced to 3mm scale. Scalescenes also make a range
of excellent building kits, downloadable from their websiteat a very reasonable
cost and printable in 3mm scale by adjusting printer scale settings.
I had fun
playing around with the names of the traders Ė thus we had Messrs. Curdle and
Churn running the dairy, W. Irons the blacksmith, the Pricey and Posh Department
Store, Boot and Lacey footwear, I. Shearem Hairdresser, and the Frog and
Fishplate Hotel. I made the new signs using MS-Word, printed them out onto
plain paper using an inkjet printer and simply cut them out and stuck them over
the existing ones.
backscene was a piece of hardboard the length of the baseboard and 9" high
(guess where I found it??), painted sky colour. I then applied white paint with
a sponge for the clouds. To this I stuck scanned photos from a book about Yorkshire, with the Bilteezi shops, houses and dairy in
A Great Western
milk van in Yorkshire? Some mistake surely!
scratch-built the platforms, footbridge and level crossing ramps from thick
artist's mount card, painted with poster paint or enamel and weathered with pastels,
rubbed in with brush or finger. With 3mm you canít really get away altogether
without scratch-building but once Iíd started I found it really easy (though I
already had piles of card, the paints and the pastels so I didnít have a big
shopping list Ė but these things are easy to get hold of anyway and not
expensive). The brickwork around the platforms is from a scanned and reduced
photo of real bricks. The crossing gates were taken from a Tri-ang crossing
supplied by 3mm Society Secondhand Sales.
were painted with poster paint and weathered with pastels. I used Javis scatter
materials for the fields and the hill over the tunnel, which was made from
expanded polystyrene covered with filler. There were a couple of Tri-ang
signals from 3mm Society Secondhand Sales with Society ladders added, and a
coal staithes which I scratch-built from Wills OO sheets. The people are also
from the 3mm Society.
you see on the layout would have been suitable for a Yorkshire
railway, itís a case of what I could get hold of
quickly at the time.
original Tri-ang 0-6-0T was soon supplemented by a Tri-ang Castle,
a pre-built white metal 94XX body kit on a Tri-ang chassis and a 3mm Stanier
2-6-4T body kit, again on a Tri-ang chassis, later replaced by a Society nickel
silver chassis with Romford wheels.
services were by two Tri-ang BR Main Line coaches and one Kitmaster, which like
the Tri-ang ones had survived 40 years, albeit a bit battered. With the aid of
a few bits and pieces from 3mm Society colleagues, I restored it to reasonable
original seven miscellaneous Tri-ang wagons were gradually supplemented by the
excellent 3mm Society wagon kits. I couldnít resist buying extra Tri-ang items
too, and the dairy ended up being served by six milk wagons Ė two for each cow
in the adjacent field.
I have to
say that various interlopers started to appear on the layout in the form of continental
TT locos and stock. They definitely looked interesting on what was intended to
be a British layout, besides being to 1:120 scale rather than 1:100, but I
couldnít resist buying them, and they run extremely well.
years or so between May 2000 and May 2002 taught me a lot about model railways.
To an extent I did things the hard way by going for 3mm first off and of course
I made lots of mistakes. The ballast was not as even as I would have wanted. I
didnít take enough care with the curves and track spacing so that with certain
combinations of stock, collisions and derailments happened.
first layout I proved to myself (and hopefully to others) that itís possible to
build a realistic layout in what many consider to be the ideal model railway
scale. I was pleasantly surprised at how cheaply it can be done. I had lots of
fun into the bargain, and made the acquaintance, both electronically and in
person, of a great bunch of 3mm-ers, whose help was indispensable.
Rod Shaw, 2009
Lightwood - Continental TT
Ecclesford - British 3mm Scale
Yorkford, PA - US HO
Naples Street - US TT
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