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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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A personal history of Z layout building

5 years 4 months ago #18159 by
Many of you will probably know of me from other forums and also for the regular contributions I make to Z-track magazine but I thought you might like to see a bit of my background and how my layouts have developed from some very strange beginnings.

I work for a highly specialised railfreight company in the U.K and we run an interesting mix of 1960s heritage and ultra modern diesel locos at our depots in the U.K

Here I am at our Crewe 'Gresty Bridge' depot with one of our state of the art Class 68 Bo-Bos and a class 57 in the Northern Belle color scheme.

Now gauge 1 may not be the obvious starting point for building Z scale but the first use of Z I had was for our famous 'Mardy Colliery' exhibition layout. This 28 ft long industrial layout was quite groundbreaking when it first appeared on the show circuit as prior to it appearing most gauge layouts were live steam, Big oval test tracks with only a bare attempt at scenery. Mardy was different with the scenery designed first, accurate rolling stock and a real purpose to the track design and the movements of trains.

Seen below is one of the North British Railway's rare 0-4-0 tender engines beginning the steep climb out of the hidden fiddle yard. Such was the steepness and severity of the curve that we routinely used to add a helper engine on the rear to bank the coal trains up, At the summit the coal train carried on and the helper ran back down light engine. This was a big 'WOW' at shows when people saw it in action.

But.. the back yard was all too visible to the public and needed hiding so I dug out a Marklin starter set I had lurking in the loft and built a park themed board based on a typical Model Engineers track. Very basic in appearance we used it for while until one of the group members took it under his wing and did a lot of superdetailing on it. In this form we did a lot of shows (and I mean, A LOT!)

Now I've given you a taster I'll carry on tomorrow with the Z adventure


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5 years 4 months ago #18160 by
the next couple of shots how I used both N and Z as the layout developed

Remember that the scale of the scenery is 1/32 so Z represent roughly 5-7 1/4" gauge and the N roughly 15" gauge

Both tracks were on timers so they did not run constantly

Mardy was starting to get a bit tired towards the end and when someone offered to buy both the layout and also my German Gauge 1 layout 'Gottersee' for a substantial amount I was happy to accept. The proviso was that I would retain Mardy Model Engineers, as the park layout had been christened. This now had a new career as a stand alone layout in its own right and went on to do over 50 shows the length and breadth of the U.K

Having now got to grips with getting Z to run properly my thoughts turned to what to do next. I got quite fond of using Z in a different context and looking around at a show the next move became obvious.

Mardy Model railway Club

pushing the scale-gauge ratio even further I decided to make a model of a model railway layout! in this case, with Action men and Barbie dolls representing the operators the Z now became a depiction of a gauge 1 layout! This always took a lot of explaining at shows

More soon
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5 years 4 months ago #18161 by
The detail included was , we hoped, familiar to may other exhibitors. Copious amounts of beer under the layout, an electric kettle, the eveready soldering iron and empty stock boxes

This layout was also really popular because of the novelty value and by this stage I was refining how the layouts were presented and transported to shows

In this way we got was quite a delicate diorama safely there and back

After a while the layout starts to acquire a lot of souvenir plaques from shows

Coming next 'Mardy Model Shop' I think you might be able to work out already what that one was about and the the first proper Z layout 'Midsomer Mardy'

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5 years 4 months ago #18162 by
Mardy Model Shop

So We had already done a track in a park and a layout at a show and all the time I was acquiring details that would fit in with the general theme. So much in fact that on a whim one night I started yet another layout!

Still using the large figures it represented an idealised model shop

Loads of detail was incorporated and there were two working Z gauge tracks

remember that all these layouts are built to a common size of 4 foot by 2 foot six so a very convenient display to take to shows

By now the workshop and shed were getting pretty full as much of the workshop was full of heavy machine tools so I went out and bought a bigger shed specifically to store layouts in. Nagging at me was the thought that novelty layouts were all well and good but I now needed to get back to proper scenic layout modelling.
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5 years 4 months ago #18163 by
Midsomer Mardy

Using the same basic footprint and the plinth and lighting rig I started to design a layout capable of running three trains at once

best description is the one from the exhibition pack...
The layout packs a lot of detail and operating interest into just 4 ft by 2ft 6inch and features an entire village bought from car boot sales and charity shops. The buildings are resin cast cottages sold as collectors items including ‘Tetley Tea folk’ houses. They are to slightly varying scales and are used to ”force the perspective” on the layout by using the larger ones at the front and smaller ones at the back to increase the perception of depth. The most any of these buildings has cost is £1.50! The station buildings and other railway structures are scratchbuilt in plasticard based on Midland Railway and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway protoypes. There is a small harbour that serves Mardy Frozen Foods warehouse and Mardy marine ships chandlers. Being only a small village it has 2 pubs.

Baseboard construction is conventional timber with MDF tops. Scenery is styrofoam with a hard shell plaster coating. Three trains can run simultaneously two on the lower track and one on the high level branch line .The track is a mix of Marklin and Peco and all points are electrically operated. Power is supplied by 3 Marklin controllers. The lower tracks are fitted with overhead catenary 25Kv ac system. The layout uses the same exhibition plinth and lighting rig that our previous Mardy Model Railway Club and Mardy Engineers layouts used

Tthe layout is modern image using the old and now rare Elmar class 47s as well as our own resin cast class 56s. Steam engines such as LNER A3 and A4s appear regularly and a wide variety of wagon and coaching stock can be seen

Hidden on the layout (and very small indeed) the good folk of Midsomer Mardy are up to their favourite pastime, murder! Midsomer Murders is a popular TV detective show in England set in a sleepy village full of thatched roofed houses. See if you can spot the murders that have or are about to happen.

This layout also proved highly popular at shows and by this stage I was having to ration appearances for all these layouts otherwise I would have been out nearly every weekend!
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5 years 4 months ago #18164 by
Lurking in the background was the long standing desire to model the Nickel Plate Railroad , one of the last users of main line steam in the U.S.A. Over the years I had bought or built NKP stock in H0, 0, N, and gauge 1 but never really got anywhere. Could it be done in Z?

This time the basic four foot board on the plinth idea was abandoned and an eight foot layout was planned based on the Cuyahoga Flats area of Cleveland. Three trains running at any time was again a criteria. The dockside allowed for some serious ship modelling to be incorporated as well

Again the show pack gives a full description of what the layout offered

For my first venture in American Z I have returned to one of the American railroads that has always fascinated me, The Nickel Plate Road, one of the last users of mainline steam in the U.S.

The layout is based around the Cuyahoga flats area of Cleveland ,Ohio where industry, river and rails are squeezed together and features harbours, lift bridges, car float ferries and quayside freight activities. The railroad buildings, which are all scratchbuilt are based on the Nickel Plate’s modern rebuild of the facilities at Calumet, Chicago. Low relief store houses, an icing station and coach servicing facilities make up the scenic break that hides the 7 road fiddle yard at the back. The Pennsylvania Railroad has trackage rights on the mainline so expect an interesting mix of NKP steam and Pennsy’ diesels.

The layout is 8ft by 2ft 6 “ and makes extensive use of Peter Wright turnouts on the visible sections with Peco flexi track. Marklin double slip points are used as space savers on the quayside section. At exhibitions there is the ability to run three trains simultaneously on the main lines whilst the docks and roundhouse work independently so there should always be some movement to entertain the visitors.

The rolling stock is a mixture of AZL, Marklin, MTL, Pennzee, kit built and scratchbuilt with Kadee automatic couplings on most of the stock. NKP Pacifics and Mikados share the limelight with EMD F7s, GP7s and GP35s. Recent advances in the manufacture of Z locomotives means that the layout performs as well as many larger scale layouts

The layout is constantly being developed and will change a lot over the next few years I am sure. If you have any questions please ask . We were delighted to have extensive coverage of the layout in both Continental Modeller magazine and Z-track the only magazine to concentrate solely on Z gauge

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5 years 4 months ago #18165 by
This layout really astonished people who had only seen Marklin Z at Shows and were unaware of how much the scale had grown. The detail and running qualities of MTL, AZL etc took them by surprise

More than once we astonished the guys in the bigger scales by trouncing them in the 'best running layout at the show' award. At Barrow show one year we beat three big 00 scale club layouts to take the trophy. This caused a bit of an upset but when the judges were challenged the replied 'Every time we passed Kev's layout something was running smoothly and slowly, whenever we passed yours you were either putting something back on the track or poking it to get it going!'

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5 years 4 months ago #18166 by
By now it was getting a bit silly. The layout shed was also starting to get full up as well as the workshop!


So one by one the early layouts were put up for sale and went fairly quickly, MME and MMRC, as they were now known, went to a local collector. MMS went down to the Southwest of England. Midsomer went to South Wales. Which was good because the mighty 'Shasta' was rapidly taking form in the workshop

The first layout to feature a Z-Bend track interface in the U.K as far as I know. This was to be a layout running big trains in big scenery and again would take the public (and other exhibitors) by surprise.

show pack read
Our first effort at a Z gauge layout that uses the Z-Bend track modular connection is based on the Union Pacific’s ‘Shasta Route’ in Northern California. This former Southern Pacific main line fights its way up the Sacramento River canyon on its way to Oregon through the division point at Dunsmuir and round the infamous Cantara Loop. The layout has been designed to allow long trains to sweep round the super-elevated curves led by multiple modern U.S.A diesels. The landscape reflects the drama of Mount Shasta and Castle Crags and the ever-present Sacramento River.
‘Shasta’ is 10ft long by 2 ft 6 inch wide in 3 sections with the joint between the Dunsmuir and Shasta Springs boards being built to Z-Bend protocols, This allows other modules built to the Z bend standards to connect easily.

Rolling stock demonstrates the huge leap in performance in Z scale locos as AZL and MTL diesels run smoothly, quietly and haul impressively long rakes of freight wagons.
As Z-bend supports DCC operation as well as D.C the inner track will become a dedicated DCC track in the long term.

The layout is transportable in an estate car and requires two operators

At its first show in ten foot form we were already experimenting with trains 9 1/2 foot long running at scale speed as the AZL and MTL diesels effortlessly triundled round.

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5 years 4 months ago - 5 years 4 months ago #18167 by
Shasta featured in both Continental Modeller and Z-Track magazines and got a very good reception. We soon built up a reputation for putting on a very impressive display and the fact that both sides of the layout were scenicked ,which is highly unusual in the U.K, has inspired some other guys to scenically develop their hidden sidngs. But.... there were other developments to come.

By cantilevering the 'Cantara Loop' board over the workbench it was possible to add another four foot extension into the middle

This greatly extended the fiddle yard capacity to allow 12 foot long freights to run which is a lot of freight cars in Z. At the fron a representation of the run down depot at Dunsmuir Ca. with its Cab-forward sheds and turntable was added

First outing in 'Long Form' at Macclesfield show caused a couple of minor problems. Firstly the extended lighting rig started to sag alarmingly in the middle so an intermediate support had to be added but more importantly it would not all fit in the X-trail! I had measured carefully enough but failed to notice the downward bulge in the headlining caused by the panoramic sunroof mechanism. It was too low!

Thankfully I was able to use one of the call-out vans from work

Once again it ran like a watch all weekend and the careful matching of the scenery does not make the extension board look obvious

We even started getting brave at Blackburn show the other weekend and started running mid train helpers. It worked, most of the time, and we only had one instance when the double stack train decided to throw itself off all over the place. it might not have been so bad if the lumber train consisting of centre beams and bulkhead flats hadn't been coming the other way at the time and hit the wreckage!
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5 years 4 months ago #18168 by
So what for the future?

Republic Steel is still being developed and I've been concentrating on adding more lighting effects and tidying up the wiring underneath. It has quite a few booking and will appear at Zedex in British Rail 'Railblue' guise in October and has been booked to appear at Blackburn next year in Steam era Japanese form. However there is another cunning plan to add it to Cuyahoga and also to add another board with Hullett iron ore unloaders and a large Ore boat..

This will have to wait until 'Tapton Junction' gets built. This will be a big, British layout based on the golden stretch of four track mainline at Chesterfield in Derbyshire where on the two fast and two slow lines the action never stopped in the 1990s

A parade of loco hauled passenger trains, HSTs, big coal and steel trains and DMUs ran constantly and tapton footbridge was a mecca for railfans in the U.K. Stonysmith is looking at developing some 3D printed U.K freight wagon for me. A typical coal train serving the Trent valley power stations would be either 30 or 36 HAA Coal hoppers long

I'll keep you posted on progress as I go along, might have to buy another layout shed though!

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5 years 3 months ago #18175 by
Leading up to Zedex this weekend I've got both Republic Steel and Cuyahoga in the workshop so it was a first chance to put them together to see what work is needed to integrate them

Republic sits back a bit so that the highlines line up but will need some height adjustment

The foreground will be filled with another chunk of dockside and I'm considering putting a couple of Hullet iron ore unloaders on it

I like that the vast scale of a blast furnace and open hearth furnace become very evident alongside the 'Normal' rail buildings on Cuyahoga


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