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  • John

Welcome to my Poppingham Blog

Hello and welcome to my Blog about the Table-Top Railway and related matters. In this first Blog post, I’d like to provide some background regarding why I started the project to build the Table-Top Railway.

I was very young when our local branch line closed, so I had little to do with railways in childhood. When I was about nine, my cousins were given a ‘Scalextric’ slot-car racing set for Christmas and I immediately wanted one of my own. This arrived as a present for my next birthday and I had quite a lot of fun with it. But, after a while, I became disillusioned with its poor running and started to think a train set would be better fun. I was fortunate enough to receive a ‘00’ Gauge Tri-ang Hornby Flying Scotsman and an oval of track for Christmas, when I was 11, and it was the beginning of a lifetime’s hobby.

Over the years, I started building many layouts, but didn’t finish any! By 2010, I was working on an 18’ x 10’ US-outline layout in ‘N’ Scale, situated in a purpose-built train set room. It was the culmination of many years’ participation in the wonderful hobby of model railways, which had seen me work in ‘N’ to ‘0’, including most scales in between. I had ambitious plans when I started that large layout and it was now complete and operational as regards track and control systems.

I don’t have many photographs of this layout but here is one showing a small part of it.

Suddenly, one Sunday evening, I became aware that this large layout was becoming a bit of a bore. I was having serious second thoughts about it. But why?

My favourite kind of operation is to sit and watch the trains go by. This large layout gave scope for that, but like so many model railways, much of it was hidden from view. You see, there were extensive hidden ‘staging yards,’ which held complete trains waiting their turn to run round the layout. Not only was much of the layout out of view, it was simply too big. I had worked out the ideal maximum viewing distance was about arm’s-length. My field of vision, in clear focus at this distance, appears to be about four or five feet. Therefore, from my seated position, I could only see a small part of the layout at any one time. I kept on working on the layout, although I was increasingly of the view that it wasn’t really what I wanted. But, what did I want?

I realised, as I had grown older, I was having increasingly nostalgic memories of the model railways of my youth. I also remembered the type of layouts I had read about in the magazines back then. These tended to be in ‘0’ or ‘00’ Gauge and frequently had rudimentary scenery. Often, the layouts had been started many years earlier – in some cases before the War. Fortunately, I had retained all my old model railway magazines and I took great pleasure in re-reading them about forty years later. There were copies of the long defunct Model Railway News and Model Railway Constructor, and Railway Modeller, which I knew was still being published, although I had not seen a copy for years. Reading these magazines again, so many years later, was a lovely exercise in nostalgia.

Not long after I had read these old copies of Railway Modeller, I was heading off on a train journey and, on a whim, bought the current, January 2014, issue at the station. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-acquaintance with this excellent magazine and I read it from cover to cover. I’m very glad I did, because I saw an advertisement, close to the back, for Union Mills Models. I hadn’t heard of this Manx manufacturer and decided to find out more. I ordered a locomotive and was absolutely thrilled with it. The model ran beautifully on the US ‘N’ Scale layout and its die-cast metal construction reminded me of the Hornby-Dublo and Tri-ang Wrenn locomotives of all these years ago. I was so pleased with my first Union Mills locomotive that I bought a second one, although they both looked completely out of place on a US-outline layout. I then bought several more!

The engine that started it all! My first Union Mills locomotive, an LNER ‘B12/3’ 4-6-0, No. 1545.

Obtained on 30 January 2014 and still running perfectly.

Three years later, the fog of indecision cleared gradually from my mind and I decided, as a diversion from the big model railway, to build a little layout, in British ‘N’ Gauge, of the type I would have enjoyed when I started out in the hobby with that Tri-ang Hornby Flying Scotsman. A sort of ‘N’ Gauge version of the ‘six by four’ ‘00’ Gauge layout I had until it was replaced in my affections by a BSA motorcycle. It wouldn’t be a ‘normal’ modern layout though; I decided to attempt to build it in the general style of my favourite model railways from so long ago, but in British ‘N’ Gauge and on a table-top. I knew roughly what I wanted, something between a train set and a ‘proper’ model railway, with basic scenery and an idealised appearance, rather like an illustration from a ‘Ladybird’ book come to life. With all my experience of model railways, this ought to have been easy to build… or so I thought.

The theoretical concept was clear enough but, rather like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it took several attempts to make something that resembled my vision. By the sixth attempt, I had finally hit upon the formula for my personal interpretation of a Table-Top Railway. I have had the most fantastic fun with this project and now I think what I’m seeing in front of me is getting tantalisingly close to that idea I had in 2017. And, yes, progress on the US-outline layout has stopped completely!

You can read about the layouts I built on my journey of discovery in the ‘Previous Layouts’ page.

For information about the terms ‘scale’ and ‘gauge,’ please see the Scale and Gauge page.

Thank you for looking.

Best wishes


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1 Comment

Martin Scane
Martin Scane
Jan 26, 2022

Fascinating stuff John. Poppingham certainly keeps a lot of us ‘N Gaugers’ entertained.

The website is a spiffing idea.

Best Regards


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