MQR Slab Cars – Part 1

Way back in 2013, I purchased a number of 7/8″ scale car kits from Acme Engineering in the UK. Here it is late 2019, and only now have I had the time and space to start working on them. I purchased three slab and ten slate car kits so I thought I would start with the slab cars.

I purchased the kits with the Penrhyn-style buffers, but after reading many of Chris Bird’s articles on rolling stock (like this one on his build of the Acme slate cars), I’ve decided to go with dumb buffers for all of the MQR rolling stock going forward.

I purchased some dimensional wood from the local Michaels and ran it through my table router in which I mounted a tall ogee bit. This gave me nice wide-radius curves for the front of the buffer. I then glued the new buffers to the ends of the slab cars.

I decided to cover the face of the buffer with some plastic strip I had stored away for another long-forgotten project. And to finish it off, I used some brass pins to represent bolts holding the plastic “metal” buffer facing. Below is a photo of the buffers under construction; they still need to have the plastic and brass pins epoxied to the wood.

Slab Car Buffers in Construction

My least favorite part of the original slab car kit was the decking and so I decided to replace the decking that came with the kit with popsicle sticks to make a more interesting deck; something more like this:

Photographed at the National Slate Museum (2014)

Here is the proof of concept:

Slab Car with Popsicle Stick Decking (Proof of Concept)

More to come…

2019 SE Lounge Swap

After some thinking, I decided to build the small shelter for the swap project. Its design is not intended for extended exposure to the outdoors; rather, I built it as a display model for photography or for an afternoon steamup.

I started out by gathering my supplies back in May and picked away at the construction over the summer. I decided to build a plywood substructure and panel it with the popiscle sticks; I read that others were having issues with warping when using just the sticks.

Other than the plywood and some dimensional lumber, I had all of the other materials on hand: popiscle sticks (my wife Robin uses them for her garden), some 30 year old stripwood I had stashed away and some plastic vegetable garden markers for the hardware.

The following gallery shows the various steps of the project:

I spray-painted the main structure with Rustoleum Flat Red Oxide primer and then did a few washes of diluted Polly-S Grimy Black. The support timbers were painted from a 30-year old bottle of Floquil Grimy Black. The roofing material are Avery labels coloured with a wide black Sharpie marker.

I’m pretty happy about the way it turned out and hope the recipient feels the same.

MQR Design by Vignettes

After approaching layout design from a theoretical point of view, I started doodling around with some basic shapes. Taking Rich Chiodo’s railway design as a basis, I created a basic dogbone-shaped loop with a wye coming off one of the the loops in 3rd PlanIt. The basic footprint is 36 foot square. Every curve has a minimum radius of 60″ (5 feet) with spiral easements and all turnouts are #6’s.

The MQR at a Glance

Scale: 7/8″ (1:13.7) (2-foot gauge)
Prototype: Penrhyn Quarry Railway & Talyllyn Railway
Locale: Wales
Time Period: late 1950’s
Size: 36 x 36 feet
Layout Style: Point to loop
Layout Height: 24″
Benchwork: Retaining wall (Celtik system for example) 
Roadbed: Trex splines
Track: Handlaid Code 215 on cedar ties
Turnouts: #6 stub turnouts with 60″ radius curves
Minimum Radius: 60″ with spiral easements
Maximum Grade: none

With the basic design in place, I then started to think about what scenes for the two prototype railways would fit the design.

MQR using PQR Vignettes

MQR a la Penrhyn Quarry Railway
MQR a la Penrhyn Quarry Railway

Overlaying the PQR on the basic design, I found that, outside of Felin Fawr, there weren’t as many well-known scenes to model.

MQR using Talyllyn Vignettes

MQR a la Talyllyn
MQR a la Talyllyn

The Talyllyn key scenes are a much better fit for this design and I can easily see how things would work here. At the moment, this would be the design I would build.

Popsicle Stick Models

The SE Lounge, my favourite source of inspiration in 7/8″ scale, has traditionally done a yearly swap where people build a 7/8″ scale model and send it to another swapper. They in turn receive a model from yet another swapper. The swap give people a good opportunity to try new techniques as well as build camaraderie within the group.

For 2019, there is a proposal to do a swap but also to constrain it more than previous years: the bulk of the construction should be made from Popsicle sticks, tongue depressors and coffee stir sticks. The idea is that this would keep the costs to participate low. Now that I have a workshop, I decided to participate, should it go forward.

I am using this thread to capture ideas for swap items.

Idea 1 – Shipping Crate

This would be the simplest build. Shipping crates have been around for a long time and would be relatively straightforward to build. Labeling them is probably the way to personalize them for the swappee.

A simple wooden shipping crate.

Idea 2 – Covered Van

I’m not sure I’d swap this, but for my own purposes, converting an Acme Slate Slab Car into a covered van like those used on the Talyllyn Railway up to the 1940’s looks like a fun project.

Talyllyn Covered Van circa 1930

Idea 3 – Shelter Box

This would be the most complicated build. I don’t remember where I found the jpg of the drawing but as soon as I saw it, I squirreled it away. A simple shelter based on this English prototype could be purposed for many applications around a narrow gauge railway.

Line Drawing of MS&L Railway's Fogman's Permanent Shelter Box
Shelter Box Plan circa 1895

IDea 4 – B&SR Coal SHeds

A number of swappers model the Maine two-footers. A search around the Internet found some drawings for B&SR coal sheds which look rough enough for building with Popsicle sticks.

The downside is that they are large structures. I may have to selectively compress it for the swap.

MQR Design – Track Considerations

A garden railway with quality track and roadbed makes everything much more enjoyable. I was fortunate when I built the roadbed for my Lost Hollow Railway in Houston Texas to get good advice from a local garden railroad modeler.  John Frank suggested that I build a hardiboard-based roadbed that worked perfectly there. Therefore I have been carefully researching this topic for many years in anticipation of building the MQR.


Following Rich Chiodo’s concept, I will likely build a subroadbed from Trex or its equivalent, then nail the ties into the subroadbed using brads. Kevin Strong recently use a similar concept when rebuilding part of his Tuscarora Railway.

These photos show the spline under construction. The stringers are 3/4" square, 8 feet long ripped from 3/4" X 8' inch plastic wood.

They are connected every foot by a spacer glued in place with outdoor PVC plumbers adhesive. This essentially welds the plastic into a weather-proof bond.

The stringers are flexible and when constructed as a ladder permanently holds the curve they are clamped in. You do need a LOT of clamps.

The ties (sleepers) are redwood soaked in preservative and are brad-nailed to the spline. I used a air powered brad-gun and the tie is solidly anchored to the spline with a nail to each stringer. Tie size and spacing are, of course, to suit.

Sleeper Size and Spacing

After looking up a number of Welsh narrow gauge practices, I’ve settled on 6″ x 6″ x 62″ sleepers, spaced on 16″ centers.


I expect to handlay track, most likely using Code 215 aluminum rail from Llagas Creek.


Interestingly, the Penrhyn Quarry Railway used stub switches for many years. So I plan on using #6 stub switches with a 5 foot radius in most places. There is a good on-line design website for stub switches where you can make templates for all scale/gauge combinations. There is also a good construction article on stub switches in the February 2016 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist.

More Design Flavour for the MQR

The other Welsh railway that I am basing the MQR on is the Talyllyn Railway. Unlike the Penrhyn Quarry Railway, the Talyllyn continues to run today as a tourist railway; it was sold to a group of enthusiasts in 1951. Robin and I rode it in 2014 and the photo above came from that trip.

I purchased a copy of James I. C. Boyd’s book, “The Tal-y-llyn Railway“, later on during that 2014 trip and have found it to be a great resource. Of course, the Internet also has plenty of information.

Wharf Station

This is the west end of the Talyllyn Railway. While today’s operations is heavily documented, photographs from the 1940’s and early 1950’s are relatively difficult to find. Here are two of Wharf Station in the early 1950’s. The size and scale of operations make a good fit for the MQR.

Towyn Wharf station, Talyllyn Railway with train,1953

Talyllyn Railway train at Towyn Wharf station, 1951

Stations Along the Line

While the Penrhyn Quarry Railway was primarily focused on moving slate, the Talyllyn had much passenger service and had some attractive small stations along the line. Brynglas is located about half way between the ends of the line and features the sole passing loop on the line.

Brynglas ‘station’, Talyllyn Railway, 1951

Dolgoch is another stop along the line. It features a water tank for upbound trains as well as a very attractive viaduct over a stream.

Dolgoch station with train, Talyllyn Railway, 1951

MQR Minimum Viable Design – Part 1

There is a concept in the software development world called the “minimum viable product“. From its Wikipedia entry, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is “one with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development.”[1][2]

I thought I would extend the concept to model railroad layout design to determine what would be the simplest design that met my goals for the MQR. A Minimum Viable Design is largely concerned about how trackage is connected to each other; concepts like the the geometry and length of the mainline, the minimum radius of curves, easements, siding length, etc will not be finalized until the final layout design.

For my former garden railway (pictured above), I could argue that the minimum viable design was in fact a circle of track. At that time, I really wanted no more than a loop of track to run my one train. The layout had two switches on it but I hardly used them at all.

Givens for the MQR

  • The design must support continuous as well as point-to-point operation, representing both ends of the line (Coed-y-Parc and Port Penrhyn)
  • Steaming-up of engines must be done off of the mainline track.
  • For the point-to-point option, it must be possible to prepare the train for its return trip without having to physically pick up any rolling stock or locomotives. This requires a runaround track at every end of the line. Turning of locomotives either by a turntable or wye is not required; the prototype Penrhyn Quarry Railway did not turn their locomotives.

Minimum Viable Design for Single Train Operation

It was reviewing Rob Bennett’s Weston Railway design that gave me the idea of the Minimum Viable Design concept: I liked the way Rob put the two “ends” of his railway beside and parallel to each other (lower right corner) but was concerned about the number of switches it took to implement.

Rob Bennett’s Weston Railway

Things clicked when I doodled out a design where the runaround trackage was shared by both ends of the line. To make this work, I felt it would be necessary to create some sort of visual separation between the two ends of the line.  The prototype Penrhyn Quarry Railway helped out here with the long slate wall on the south side of Coed-y-Parc.  Such a wall would not look out of place in Port Penrhyn either. This insight led to the MQR MVD #1a:

Marchlyn Quarry Railway Minimum Viable Design #1a

This design requires just 5 switches to meet the givens listed above for single train operation; the trade-offs are that: 1) for the runaround move, a locomotive must make use of the track at the other end of the line; 2) physically the two ends of the line must lie together and some means of scenically separating them must be devised. On the advantage side, this arrangement creates a working wye so that locomotive direction could be reversed if desired.

Typical operation would go like this:

  1. A train can be steamed up on either side but let’s assume the train is built up and steamed up on track B.
  2. It proceeds on track C towards the mainline.
  3. Entering the mainline on track D, it can extend its run using track E.
  4. To complete its run, the train enters track F and stops on track G. The locomotive is uncoupled from the rolling stock.
  5. The locomotive moves to track A, then backs up through tracks B and H until it reaches track F.
  6. The locomotive then pulls forward and recouples to the rolling stock on track G, ready to return.

Adding one switch removes the need for sharing the runaround trackage between the two ends and allows Coed-y-Parc and Port Penrhyn to be physically separated. This represents the MQR MVD #1b design:

Marchlyn Quarry Railway Minimum Viable Design #1b

This fundamentally is Rob Bennett’s Weston Railway design stripped back to its basics. Typical operation would go like this:

  1. The train is built up and steamed up on track B.
  2. It proceeds on track C towards the mainline.
  3. Entering the mainline on track D, it can extend its run using track E.
  4. To complete its run, the train enters track F and stops on track G. The locomotive is uncoupled from the rolling stock.
  5. The locomotive moves to track I, then backs up through track J until it reaches track F.
  6. The locomotive then pulls forward and recouples to the rolling stock on track G, ready to return.

Here I think the addition of one switch would substantially improve the overall operation of the layout, despite losing the wye.  In addition, it will make it much easier to scenic as Coed-y-Parc and Port Penrhyn no longer need to be co-located. In the next post, I will review the design in the context of operating two trains.

Inspirational 7/8″ Scale Railways

My previous garden railway (pictured above) provided me a lot of enjoyment over its four-year life. It was simple in design, quick to construct, easy to maintain and quick to dismantle when we finally moved. It was a great first outdoor layout for me but as I look to design and build the MQR, I am planning on setting my sights higher.

I’ve been a member of the 7/8″ scale forum, The SE Lounge, since 2007. Over the years, members have documented the creation and development of their layouts.  Here are three that have captured my imagination and will provide inspiration for the MQR design.

Rich Chiodo’s Isle of Shoals Tramway

If you are not familiar with Rich’s layout, I strongly encourage to go through all 23 pages of the post linked above. The IST is a wonderfully executed garden railway that fully captures British narrow gauge.

Things I like about the IST:

  1. The brick tub supporting and surrounding the IST is just gorgeous; it creates a nice edge which photographs well. However, Rich mentioned that it took a long time to construct. 30″ feels about the right amount of elevation to design for.
  2. Rich’s design allows access to all parts of the layout.
  3. Low track-to-scenery ratio.
  4. Very simple track work: wide curves, little straight track, 5 switches in total.

Things I’d do differently:

  1. I would like to have the option to run both point-to-point and continuously.
  2. I am on the fence when it comes to the “pit”. It is a sunken area in the middle of the layout where people can sit and enjoy the layout from a different angle.

Chris Bird’s Summerlands Light Railway

Chris has documented his layout extensively on YouTube.

Things I like about the SLR:

  1. Once again, a very simple track work: wide curves, little straight track, 6 switches in total.
  2. Many small scenes that photograph or video well and make the layout seem much bigger than it is.
  3. Because Chris has included a reserve loop, he can run the SLR in an out-and-back configuration.
  4. The layout is elevated along the main operating side; looking at photographs, I would estimate the elevation difference to be about 15-18″.

Things I’d do differently:

  1. I’m unlikely to have tunnels on the MQR.
  2. No passing loop on the mainline.

Rob Bennett’s Weston Railway

Rob Bennett is another well-known 7/8″ scale modeler from the UK. As I understand it, his Weston Railway was originally at ground level but was elevated in the late 2000’s. I mostly seen Rob’s layout through the various YouTube videos he has made.

Things I like about the Weston:

  1. The two sets of spurs running off to the lower right give Rob the option of running point-to-point. They also serve as steam-up bays.

Things I’d do differently:

  1. The Weston is quite a bit more complicated in track design compared to the IST and SLR: I count 16 switches in Rob’s diagram. I expect the MQR design to come in around 10 switches maximum.

Design Flavour for the MQR

Now that we are back in Canada full-time and know where we will be living long-term, I’ve initiated the planning process for the 7/8″ scale Marchlyn Quarry Railway. To start, I’ve pulled together a number of photos of the prototype Penrhyn Quarry Railway for reference and flavour.


This was the south end of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway. Here the PQR connected with the slate quarry.  Coed-y-Parc was also the location of the main slate dressing mills, the sheds for the steam engines as well as a small yard for marshalling the trains to Port Penrhyn. Coed-y-Parc featured a beautiful road bridge splitting the Coed-y-Parc yards in two. It also featured an impressive slate wall on the south side of its property that ran the length of the yard.

Slate Sorting Sidings, Coed-y-Parc, 1962

Felin Fawr, Coed-y-Parc, 1962

Felin Fawr, Coed-y-Parc, 1962

Coed-y-Parc Bridge and Wall, unknown date

Hendurnpike Crossing

Hendurnpike featured a picturesque road crossing. The original crossing guard’s shed was still standing in 2013!

Hendurnpike Crossing 1962

Hendurnpike Crossing, 23rd February 2013


Tregrath was the location of the main passing loop about halfway between Coed-y-Parc and Port Penrhyn.

Tregarth Passing Loop, 1963

Port Penrhyn

Port Penrhyn was the north end of the PQR and where the finished slate was transferred to boats and ships for export. Port Penrhyn was also served by the standard gauge British Railway, making for some interesting trackwork.

Approaching Port Penrhyn, 1961; Standard Gauge British Railway to the left

Port Penrhyn Decks, 1961

Port Penrhyn, 1964

Photo Set: On TraXS 2017

I returned once again to the Dutch Railway Museum for the 2017 edition of On TraXS. This year 28 exhibition style layouts were set up throughout the museum.

Once again, there were some very well-done layouts on display. I especially liked:

  1. ‘t was in Amsterdam (recreation of 1950’s trams)
  2. S&G Vancouver Island, HOn3
  3. Vivat Viaduct, Spoor 0

As always, I’ve made a photo set available on Flickr.