Moving Up A Gauge

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by A. Probyn

Live Steam Model Railway Review, No. 4, May 1984

As a live steam passenger carrying railway enthusiast (and Manufacturer) I write with some trepidation in this, the ultimate scenic garden railway mag. This is not to say that I have no experience of Gauge 1. My first garden railway was G1 with a spirit fired Bassett-Lowke 112 tank loco and a couple of tin plate coaches, now in retirement on the attic shelf (no it's not for sale).

I was also early on the scene with narrow gauge - converting some of my Hornby 3-rail with narrow gauge bodies (and ruining my mum's kitchen scissors cutting up old tomato tins for the job).

My present interest lies in narrow gauge garden railways in 5 inch & 7-1/4 inch gauge. I know I am preaching to the converted when extol the virtues of narrow gauge with its short runs, tight curves and chunky "character" locomotives, giving a realistic railway in far less space than would be required for standard gauge. So why 5 inch gauge! It is in my opinion, the smallest practical gauge for ground level passenger hauling. I find the usual elevated 3-1/2 inch and 5 inch gauge model engineering society tracks very unrealistic and though suited to public passenger carrying, not the sort of thing to beautify the garden with. Not that many people have gardens that will accommodate a 5 inch Pacific in full cry anyway.

Narrow gauge 5 inch is a different story, a 4 wheel tank engine with a couple of wagons in tow, rounding 8 to 10 foot radius curves at a slow walking pace, typifies the charm of narrow gauge. Even a small garden will accommodate a realistic line and locos are game for a climb too, with grades up to 1 in 30 or more with light loads. As a rule of thumb a 5 inch ground level line will fit where a medium to large standard gauge 1 layout would go and the costs are comparable with kit steam locos little more than "Aster" prices and track cheaper per foot than L.G.B. Needless to say, you won't find many narrow gauge railways with double track or scissor cross overs, all of which add to the cost.

Line side fittings and accessories have to accommodate the "over scale" loads involved in transporting real people, but if kept on the simple side they can still look reasonably realistic with stations, signals, water towers, etc. Bridges and tunnels are the only things well over size, where about 4 feet of headroom is required, if you wish to go in for them that is! 7-1/4 inch gauge requires more room and is somewhat more expensive to buy but is better for commercial ground level running where greater stability and increased loads are an advantage or if you find driving 5 inch ground level a little cramped, however you won't be able to lift a 7-1/4 inch gauge steam loco single handed as you can with 5 inch.

To me the main reason for going to the bigger gauges is being actually at the controls of the loco, experiencing first hand the sensation of driving, something which no other model can offer. Even with radio control the driver is basically a spectator looking on. All the internals of the loco follow that of full size, the smell of coal and steam being the essence of every steam enthusiasts dreams. This does not apply to the diesel locos however as they have a car battery under the bonnet with enough power to run the loco for 5 to 6 hours. Ideal for those unexpected guests who would like a ride, or odd times when steam would take too long to prepare.

Battery locos are also safe for children to drive and can even supply 12 volt power for steam loco blowers. This is especially useful if you take your railway in search of passengers, not as crazy as it sounds with track in 8 foot roof rack size lengths and a loco and passenger trolley in the boot, you will be in great demand at local fairs, school open days, etc., and have a good day out into the bargain.

I have run my 5 inch ground level portable track for some years now, using ordinary rail lengths laid on a convenient path or other hard flat surface. Stability is no problem so long as the driver is on the same trolley as the passengers and can put a foot out to save the day, on the odd occasions when they lean out too far.

This is not the end of the story however as we have one customer who has built several sit-in bogie tram cars for 5 inch gauge. These are battery powered and will take up to four passengers with an overall roof and controllers at each end. The latest creation is a sit-in diesel loco using the same components with fully enclosed coaches, all of ply wood construction on 5 inch gauge. The power bogies and trailing bogies are supplied complete and each loco and tram has only cost about 200 pounds finished.

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