Making a MQR Postcard

I had a lot of fun putting together this homage to the Penrhyn Quarry Railway.

It all started when I found an online scan of this old postcard while searching for images of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway:

I don’t have a good idea of when the post card was made, but I suspect it would be some time between 1910 and 1950.

I built the MQR version up in PowerPoint, using some photos I had of my Marchlyn rolling stock.


  • Penrhyn Railway Red: R:242, G:68, B: 79
  • Penrhyn Railway Dark Gray: R:83, G:78, B:78
  • Penrhyn Railway Green: R:151, G:211, B:183

The toughest part to recreate was the logo. In the end, I decided to just do a simple two-colour logo with just the Marchlyn Railway name.

MQR Design – Revised Again

I continue to tweak and adjust the plans for the MQR, more recently focusing on the benchwork. A recent post in the Model Railroad Hobbyist forums that led me to a pdf put together by Richard Smith back in the late 2000’s: “Evolution of the Port Orford Coast Railroad: An Experiment in Raised Platform Garden Railroading“. Looking through my hard drive, I found I had downloaded a copy of it back in 2009 but had forgotten about it.

The design keeps the track layout of Version 5 (Piko R3 radius curves with a single passing track) but replaces the deck construction with a simpler 2×4 frame covered with hardware cloth and landscape cloth. The frame is then edged with a 2×4 “fascia”. Roadbed is formed from splines cut from cedar 2×6’s. I am thinking of using foundation screws to anchor the legs in the ground rather than digging holes and using concrete.

What I like about this benchwork method is that it is more more scenic than a deck and it is possible to grow some small plants on the layout proper.

The MQR at a Glance

Scale: 7/8″ or 1:13.7 (45 mm gauge track as 2-foot gauge)
Prototypes: Penrhyn Quarry Railway & Talyllyn Railway
Locale: Wales
Time Period: late 1950’s
Size: 10 x 14 feet
Layout Style: Loop
Layout Height: 48″
Benchwork: Raised Platform (pressure-treated wood) 
Roadbed: Cedar splines
Track: Peco
Minimum Radius: 6′
Maximum Grade: none

Here’s a rough visualization of what it would look like:

MQR Design – Simplified

Since I wrote the post “MQR Design by Vignettes” back in 2019, I’ve given a lot of thought of the time investment needed to make these designs a success. And I’ve come to the realization that the complexity of construction would mean a year or two of building before I was able to run trains.

So I’ve decided to pivot to a more simple design that I can complete rather quickly while still working full time.

The concept of the layout construction comes from the Family Garden Trains website: Building a Raised Platform Garden Railroad. The final design is based around using Piko R3 radius curves (6′ in diameter), requiring an 8’x13′ raised platform:

It is a simple loop with one passing siding which would allow one train to run while another train is being prepped. This allows me to run a couple of trains or to host some small steam-ups in the future.

I’ve ordered the track I need and will lay it out to test-fit things before designing the final details of the deck.

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…

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″ or 1:13.7 (45 mm gauge track as 2-foot gauge)
Prototypes: 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 in the style of the Penrhyn Quarry Railway
MQR in the style of the 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 in the style of Talyllyn Railway
MQR in the style of Talyllyn Railway

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.

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.