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A general view of Halstead station.
Space, the final frontier if you are a Star Trek fan. Space, the perennial problem if you are an 0 gauge fan.

I think it's safe to assume we all fall firmly into the second category and, unless you are a pop-star, politician, or National Lottery winner, and own a mansion, you suffer the recurrent problem of where to put your next layout. As I can't count myself in any of the foregoing and live in a small semi-detached, the space problem frequently looms large in my life.

Enter the micro-layout. What do I mean by this term? I hesitate to offer a cast iron definition, but might I suggest that it falls somewhere between small layout and laughably ridiculous. Maybe it might be more helpful to call it a moving diorama.

Now it's obvious that with a moving diorama or micro-layout you can forget that long cherished dream of building King's Cross, or maybe just put it on hold for the time being. Nevertheless the micro-layout does offer hope for those of us who want somewhere give our rolling stock a run, or maybe just want to build a quickie layout. It is an opportunity to practise those scenic techniques that you have been longing to try. Maybe you are new to 0 gauge and want to give it a try without the expense of a larger layout. A micro-layout could be your answer.

Layout plan - click to enlarge
Click on image to enlarge plan
And so to Halstead. A few years ago, while rooting around in the loft, I came across two baseboards which I had made for some long-forgotten 00 scheme. Both boards measured 1 x 2ft 6in, and were made of 2 x 1in softwood with a chipboard surface. If I joined the boards end to end I got an 0 gauge layout 5ft long. Most 0 gauge modellers of sound mind would have instantly dismissed as laughable the idea that these boards could form the basis of a layout, but I was hopeful that some kind of track plan was possible in such a small area.

After perusing various books, including the two inspirational Small Layouts volumes published by the Guild, and following numerous doodles and jottings, I arrived at the final track plan. This consists of a platform with two roads, one of which is a short bay. Both platform roads lead under a bridge directly to the fiddle yard; a single road traverser made from aluminium, which overhangs the layout by eight inches. The one hand-built turnout is situated on the main platform road and leads under the bridge to another goods platform with a cattle dock and goods shed. An isolated section at the end of each road means that three locomotives could remain stationary on the layout. In practice I usually run a maximum of two. The baseboards are supported by a sub-frame supported by two trestles.

Halstead depicts a small rural terminus on a fictitious independent light railway. All buildings and structures are made from styrene sheet. The station building is based on the corrugated iron structures used on the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, although mine represents a wooden building and provides a passenger shelter and an office. There are no toilet facilities for the weak-bladdered. The small covered ground frame is a figment of my imagination, as are the goods shed, cattle dock, water tower and the bridge. I decided that the

bridge would not carry the usual roadway, but thought that a horse drawn tramway would be unusual. This consists of a short section of track with a horse and wagon with a handler in attendance.

The track is Peco laid directly onto the baseboard. Every sleeper gap was infilled with thick card to bring the ballast up level with the tops of the sleepers. I used N gauge ballast to give the impression of ash or something similar. The turnout is made from Peco and C&L parts, and is built to a ridiculously sharp curve. I had to pin it down to prevent the curved rails from straightening themselves. Power is provided by an H&M Safety Minor feeding a controller that was kit-built many years ago for some unfinished 4mm project. This runs 7mm Mashima motors quite adequately. The controller sits on the front of the layout, as do various electrical connections between the baseboards. I feel inclined to say that this was planned so that that the layout could be operated from the front where I could engage in conversation with the public. The truth is that I drilled various holes in the baseboards while they were on their sides under the blissful impression that I was working on the rear. Only when the baseboards were stood the right way up, did I find I had drilled the holes in the front. Silly boy!

There is a double starter signal just beyond the end of the platform. This was hand built from brass with cut-down etched arms. The signal and turnout are operated by brass rods beneath the baseboard. The rods protrude through the front of the layout. The three rail-built buffer stops were built from Peco kits and certainly look the part. The lamps on top were replaced and fitted with red brilliants, which catch the light and appear to glow.

Polly arrives from the sector plate with a short goods train
Halstead No 52 0-6-0T Polly arrives from the sector plate with a short goods train.
Back to barracks
Back to barracks
The station nameboard was made from styrene with computer generated name and background. The station picket fencing was also made from styrene. The lamps, seats, barrows, cattle, cat and water column are white-metal castings as are the figures, which are from the Phoenix range.

On such a narrow board there is not much scope for scenery, although I have added a few patches of greenery using Woodland Scenics' scatter foam and some Puffa grass. Use has also been made of the excellent Scale Link 4mm etched weeds. The backscene is 1ft high hardboard painted with white emulsion with a squirt of blue watercolour paint mixed in to give a sky colour. Townscene produced the printed backscene, which was stuck to my pre-painted sky and represents a wooded area with a church spire peeping over the trees to give the impression that the village of Halstead is nearby. The spire also serves to mask the corner in the sky.

The stock consists of an 0-6-0 Hunslet saddle tank made from the now defunct 85A Models kit, which was unusual in that it was made from plastic; rather like an Airfix kit. This model is a beautiful runner due to the fact that the chassis was factory assembled. A Connoisseur Models budget kit 0-4-0 tank loco is another regular runner. The one coach is a Slater's GWR four wheeler, finished in teak. Wagons and vans are a mixture of hand-built and kits. All the stock is fitted with three link or screw couplings. I use a system of coupling and uncoupling based on an idea promoted many years ago in 4mm scale by the long forgotten Protofour Society. This involves picking up the links with a minute magnet attached to a pole of some kind, like a paint brush handle. I use brass for the top two links and steel for the bottom link. This ensures that only the bottom links are attracted to the magnet. With a bit of practise it is quite easy to pick up the desired link, place it over the opposite hook and, with a sharp sideways movement
of the magnet, deposit the link on the hook. Uncoupling is even easier. Hold the magnet over the hook and the link jumps up to greet it. Move the magnet vertically until contact is broken and the links fall neatly down beneath the hook.

Sound modules, courtesy of Trax Controls, have been fitted beneath the layout. It's amazing how just a few sounds can lift the layout to a new height of interest. Onlookers can enjoy hissing and chuffing, whistles and mooing cows, without a digital device in sight.

As well as being used at home, the layout has appeared at a number of exhibitions including one in France, and has created a lot of interest due, I think, to its minute size.

Elizabeth and train waiting to depart

Hunslet 0-6-0ST Elizabeth and train waiting to depart. (The sector plate has been removed in this view.)

Space, the final frontier? It might well be, but the space problem need not prevent you from achieving your modelling aspirations. Go on, give it a try. Build yourself a micro-layout. I look forward to seeing the results published in these pages.
Busy day at the goods depot

Busy day at the goods depot