N Gauge Layouts - Rorgyle, Abingdon, Littleton Curve and Penwick


This is an edited version of the article that appeared in the May 2007 issue of Railway Modeller.


See the video of this layout here 


A bit of history

            ‘Rorgyle’ was started just before the Warley Model Railway Club’s show at the Birmingham N.E.C. in 1999, but it isn’t the first layout to have this name. Not long after my son was born, in 1987, I had some spare time and set myself the challenge of seeing if it was possible to build a layout in less than a week. I actually succeeded and completed a working, scenic layout in just five days. In honour of my newborn son I named it after him: Rory Gyles.

            That original layout was constructed on an old wooden shelf from my Mother’s house and was 5 feet long by 5 inches wide. It was a small, single track, GWR terminus station with an engine release plus a siding behind the platform. The only structures were the station building and signal box, which were made from card and brickpaper. At the right hand end was the fiddle yard with a single turnout allowing two very short storage lines. Trains entered the scenic section through a cardboard and papier-mâché hill. A few people, cows, trees, fencing, a tunnel mouth, scatter materials, backscene and a working Ratio signal completed the layout. The location and track plan were completely fictitious, used simply because I like GWR country stations. It was all I felt I could get into the space available whilst allowing for some limited scenery.

            As I had made it at my Mum’s house in Derby and we lived in Leicestershire, it never really got used. It was just stored on the top of a wardrobe in a back bedroom. A few years later I was discussing model railways with someone at a show and mentioned I’d built it and they suggested I show it at the local Derby exhibition. I got the invitation and as I set it up on the Friday evening I was somewhat concerned about the reaction it would get because of its size. I needn’t have worried; while I was setting it up on the Friday evening it attracted many of the other exhibitors who were all positive about it. The next two days went extremely well with lots of very complimentary comments from the visitors to the show. It was obviously not to everyone’s taste as some people barely glanced at it as they went past. At the end of the Saturday, however, during the awards ceremony, I was stunned when it won the Best N Gauge Layout Trophy. If I remember correctly, a previous recipient was the late Andy Calvert’s ‘Calverdale’, a layout which had been one of the main inspirations for me getting into the hobby.

            Once again, however, ‘Rorgyle’ returned to the top of the wardrobe where it stayed for good. Unfortunately I had made it far too unwieldy for us to be able to travel with (Pennie, my wife, and I don’t drive or have access to anyone local with transport). All our other layouts have travelled to exhibitions by train and/or bus apart from on the odd occasion when someone has kindly offered us a lift.


New beginnings

            In 1999 and several layouts later, I was invited by Paul Jones, the exhibition manager for the Warley show at the N.E.C., to exhibit another small layout I’d built called ‘Littleton Curve’ (Railway Modeller, May 1997). He also asked if I could also do a demonstration of scenic modelling in a small space alongside the layout. I said I would, but was then faced with the problem of what I should do. It took a while before it occurred to me that the original ‘Rorgyle’, although small, was well received if only at one show, so perhaps I could do a new more portable version.

            I began by sketching out ideas. I knew I would have to split it into two halves, for transportation purposes, but wanted to keep the original track plan and general idea. I had to move two of the turnouts to avoid them being over the baseboard join and decided to increase the width from five up to eight inches to allow for more scenery. I later realised that this would permit me to include a canal scene; something I had been interested in having a go at for a while. The original ‘Rorgyle’ had been made to be operated from the front but I now thought it might be better to operate the new layout from the back, as this would let me raise the trackbed and improve the overall appearance. The original had actually seemed a little flat. I felt that the fiddle yard would be better concealed under a hill, which meant the backscene would need to be quite high; the backscene forms the front and back of the box unit when the boards face each other for transport; so the higher the scenic features, the higher the backs. Another benefit of operating from the rear would be that visitors wouldn’t have the operators blocking their view.

            With a couple of 3D sketches done and a full size plan of the boards drawn out, including a track diagram, I thought I had a workable idea. Now I just had to put it into practice; what bits would need to be done beforehand to give me enough time to demonstrate a variety of skills and techniques at the show?

            I started the project by making the baseboards. For previous layouts these have been constructed from 2” by 1” softwood with Sundeala on top. This time, to try and keep the weight down, 1¼” by ½” softwood frames were used. This could have posed the risk of the boards warping, but because they are so small I didn’t feel it would be a problem, and would be worth it in terms of transportation. To start with I made the boards up as a kit of parts. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do any woodworking at the exhibition and so put the majority of them together at home, leaving a few parts to be added to the right hand, fiddle yard end. As usual I glued and screwed the outer frames and then glued and pinned the Sundeala boards to them.

            Next I laid the majority of the track, using Evo-Stick contact adhesive, but left the fiddle yard end to be completed during the demonstration. Peco N Gauge Streamline Code 55 Universal Fine track was used throughout with 4 electrofrog turnouts. This was wired up to check everything worked but at this stage wasn’t wired into sections as electrics are not my strong point. To get the power from one board to the next a 5 pin din socket was fitted on each, giving me enough wiring connections for the 4 rails which cross the baseboard join. The two baseboards were kept together by bolts with wing-nuts and accurate locating was achieved by using split hinges. The track was laid while the boards were connected and then, at the edge of these, each rail was soldered to several small pins to make sure it didn’t move before I cut across the rails with an Exacto mini razor saw.

            All the turnouts on this and my previous layouts have been operated by the wire-in-tube method with the end of the wire being bent up behind the backscene board for operation. I usually fit the turnouts in place and then cut a groove in the surface of the Sundeala, from the backscene to the end of the tie bar on the point (the bit that joins the moving blades together), into which I glue the plastic tube the wire runs through. Again I left doing the fiddle yard wire-in-tube until the show. With the wire-in-tube in place at the station end I fitted the platform base piece, made from Sundeala, which was just the right height once the mounting board platform tops were added.

            At this juncture I was going to leave the rest of the construction until the exhibition. However, a couple of days before the show I realised that if I was going to demonstrate using the filler over polystyrene tiles technique for creating landforms, I would be stuck waiting too long for the filler to dry and therefore wouldn’t be able to do much on the use of scatter materials. So, on the left hand, station board I fitted a section of polystyrene tiles, cut into contours, going from under the trackbed to the front of the layout and running half way along the board. PVA wood glue was used to fix these in place. It takes a while to dry but gives good adhesion. Using contour shapes gives quite a realistic, undulating appearance if the filler isn’t applied too thickly. Over about three quarters of this I skimmed the DIY filler. When it had set I painted about three quarters of the filler brown and when that had dried I applied a layer of slightly watered down wood glue onto which I scattered some Woodlands Scenic medium green and blended turf. For applying the turf over the glue I often use an old tea strainer, one of the fine nylon mesh ones, as it gives a fairly even coverage with no overly deep sections.



            I had worked out a range of things I wanted to demonstrate which meant I was going to need a lot of modelling equipment at the NEC. ‘Littleton Curve’ on its own took Pennie, Rory and me to carry, so with the extra layout and all the stuff to take, we were very lucky to be offered a lift to and from the show by Trevor Bradley, then a member from the Leamington and Warwickshire Model Railway Society, who we had met while exhibiting at Leamington Spa. Without his offer we would have been unable to get everything there.

            Early Saturday morning Trevor picked us up and we arrived with plenty of time to get the layout and demonstration set up. We were part of stand 26, the N Gauge clinic, and I was sat alongside Andy Calvert, who was demonstrating locos, wagons, couplings, etc, and Ron Edgington, who was demonstrating buildings.

            My original idea was that I would be able to work through all the techniques to get most of the ground work completed. It quickly became obvious, however, that there was no chance of this happening. At each different stage I found there was so much interest in what I was doing that I ended up in long conversations with numerous onlookers and often group discussions were going on. It was great; there were people watching who were just getting into the hobby who were able to see all the basic ideas, alongside other experienced modellers who offered advice in addition to what I was doing. The atmosphere was really good.

            By the middle of Saturday afternoon I realised I would have to do a series of short demonstrations of each technique, so that I could do a variety, rather than trying to finish my boards. I did board construction, track laying, turnout operation, ballasting, making contours using polystyrene ceiling tiles, using filler to create the top layer of scenery, painting and use of scatter materials such as turf, coarse turf and foliage. I also had the buildings and trees, which had been removed from the original Rorgyle, on display and they too played their part in being the start of long discussions. I didn’t once have the opportunity to operate ‘Littleton Curve’ which Pennie and Rory ran the whole weekend.

            I would like to make an observation here. One thing I was quite unsure about demonstrating was ballasting; applying ballast to the track, brushing it into place and then using a 50/50 mix of PVA wood glue and water (with a couple of drops of washing up liquid added to break surface tension, meaning it goes into the ballast rather than sitting on top) gently squirted from an old eye dropper. I was muttering as I started, not to anyone in particular, that I couldn’t believe I was doing this in the public gaze when it could go so horribly wrong. This raised a few chuckles from amongst the onlookers. As I toiled away I was surprised by how many people didn’t know that this was an accepted method of fixing ballast in place and that it seemed surprisingly simple. I think people that write articles about how they construct their railways often skip over details like this or even say they are not going to include them because it’s common knowledge. It obviously wasn’t and, if the magazine a newcomer to model railways reads before getting into the hobby seems to make them feel they should know something already, they may feel unsure this pastime is for them. There are bound to be people, who have read many articles where basics are described repeatedly, but for some, it may be their first time and, if we are to encourage these people to get into the hobby, we need to be as helpful as possible (and that’s my excuse for going on so long!).

            Anyway, my first experience of demonstrating had been good and once Trevor had dropped us back at home I put everything away in the spare room and that’s where it all stayed for the next six years. I had already decided that Warley was to be the last exhibition for ‘Littleton Curve’, but also, at that time, Rory was beginning to get fed up with having to spend numerous weekends travelling all over the country and then just sitting around in exhibition halls. He had friends of his own and hobbies that didn’t include railway modelling and I knew it wasn’t right for me to keep dragging him out. We’d been doing lots of exhibitions and a break seemed like a good idea, apart from which I had other interests to pursue. It seemed to be the fate of ‘Rorgyle’ layouts to end up in back rooms not being used.


Getting restarted

            In 2005 Rory went off to university and I found I had more spare time on my hands, though it wasn’t until after the New Year that I got the ‘Rorgyle’ boards out. With them unpacked, joined together and wired up, I tested them and found that, with a little cleaning, everything was still operational; despite being made from thinner softwood they hadn’t gone out of shape. Before I could get going though I had the problem of retrieving all my old modelling paraphernalia which I had stored in what, at the time, obviously seemed logical places, but which now were virtually impossible to locate. Once I did find everything I realised that I would have to source more stuff to make sure I could finish the layout. Trips to local shops and exhibitions soon took care of that.


Buildings, structures and scenery etc

            On ‘Littleton Curve’ I had worked with the idea of demonstrating that new modellers could make good use of proprietary kits and bits to make a scenic layout in a very small space. This time I decided I ought to go back to scratch building wherever possible. As with another layout of mine called ‘Abingdon’ (Railway Modeller, March 1996) I wanted to make the main buildings first, because, if I couldn’t make them look right, there would be little point in carrying on.

            When constructing large buildings I tend to make the inside shell from plywood. On ‘Rorgyle’ the structures weren’t going to be big, so I opted to use mounting board instead. You can get off-cuts quite cheaply from picture framers. For each building on ‘Rorgyle’ I found a suitable structure to base it on, usually by hunting through my collection of railway books and modelling magazines, then drawing it out full scale size and altering it to fit my requirements.

            Once the walls had window and door apertures cut out, card shells were fixed together using PVA wood glue. The outer walls were then covered with either a DIY filler (if they were going to be stone built structures) or Howard Scenics brickpaper. For stonework, once the filler had set and been smoothed down with emery paper, I drew the lines for the courses using a pencil and ruler. Next I used a large needle with masking tape wrapped around (to make it more comfortable to hold) to scratch in the lines between the stones. It took a long time to create the walls, even on small structures like the signal box, but if done carefully it does create a good impression of solidly built stone walling. Sometimes little areas of filler fall away while scratching but these can be either refilled and re-scratched or left to create the effect of crumbling masonry. Once all the scratching was complete I applied a very thin wash of matt black acrylic paint. This makes the mortar look aged and weathered. Then each individual stone was picked out in a range of suitable acrylics, mostly hues of brown and grey. On the signal box and goods shed, where there are wooden planks, these were actually scribed into the card of the shell with a knife, along the edge of a ruler.

            The tiles for each building are made from 3mm strips of cartridge paper which had been painted a suitable dull grey colour before being cut. Each strip has cuts 3mm apart along one edge to represent individual tiles. Each row was overlapped and offset by half a tile when glued in place onto card which had been cut to be slightly bigger than the roof area of the building. Before assembling, some individual tiles were cut shorter or had corners cut off to represent damaged ones and I painted the odd one a different shade, some lighter, some darker, to give a more weathered appearance. Once the roof was in place and ridge tiles added, again made from painted cartridge paper, light streaks were painted running down from the ridge to create yet more weathering effects.

            All windows, doors, guttering and downpipes on the buildings are from the Ratio Builder Series range. On the station and goods shed I applied a wide selection of Tiny Signs’ enamel advertising and travel posters. I obviously went a little overboard, but I had done so on the original ‘Rorgyle’ and felt it was appropriate here as I was trying to create the impression of my mind’s-eye version of a GWR station. Detailing is one of my favourite parts of railway modelling. I also decided that this time I would make the majority of buildings with their own internal lighting which meant I had to detail the insides of the signal box and station. For the interior of the signal box I used the Ratio kit, although because it’s such a small box I couldn’t use much of it! For the lights in the buildings I used bright white L.E.D.s with the wiring running down the corner inside the shells. These were then wired to 9v batteries with a resistor in the circuit to protect the bulb.

            With the station, signal box and goods shed made I felt I had finished them well enough to carry on. The cattle dock was made next by drastically reducing the Ratio kit; I hadn’t got much space to fit it in, but with cows glued into place it looked okay. At this point I resolved to tackle something that was worrying me. As I said earlier, I wanted to include a canal lock scene, but having never done one I was concerned about getting it right. I looked at many pictures of real canals and decided that good use could be made of the Langley narrow lock and narrow boat kits. As I hadn’t yet done any further work on the actual baseboards, I made the lock as a self contained unit that could be fitted at a later date. The Langley kits went together really well, with the footpaths and lock walls made from mounting board covered with Rivendell blue engineering brickpaper where necessary. The water in the canal was made by painting the base of the canal a dark greenish, black colour and then covering it with deep layers of clear enamel varnish.

            As work progressed I was beginning to feel more confident, although there were still times when I would sit and rack my memory to recall skills and techniques I had used in the past, but which now seemed to elude me – how had I attached windows and glazed them in the past?, what colours had I used to weather trackwork?, and so on and so forth.

            The sides of the bridge over the canal and tunnel entrance were constructed next; the canal bridge being made from a rather nice etched metal kit (the make of which now escapes me) and a tunnel mouth from the Peco range.

            I then turned my attention to the baseboards. First I wired in some DPDT (Double Pole Double Throw) switches to allow sections in the trackwork. The actual switches were placed inside the fiddle yard area. I also put in the electrics for a new handheld Modelex controller that I had purchased, having seen one working rather smoothly on an N Gauge layout at an exhibition. Finally, in the electrics department, uncoupling magnets were fitted in the station area, engine release loop and siding.

            As I wanted to have the buildings illuminated I realised I also needed working station and yard lamps. Looking through various websites and magazines merely confused me as I wasn’t able to work out which would be the most suitable. A phone call to Maurice Pearce at ‘Osborn’s Models’ in Abingdon, who I had met when exhibiting at the Abingdon show a few years before, quickly got me four Park Lamps (suitable for the station) and two Uniform Gas Lamps (for the yard area) which are manufactured by Viessmann. Once these were in place I wired them to operate from an old Gaugemaster controller’s 16v AC supply.

            With all but one of the structures complete and wiring done, there was now little reason for me not to complete the ballasting before moving on to finishing off the landscape. Woodlands Scenics provided the majority of greenery; I try to make sure that the grass and scrub areas don’t look too even by mixing a variety of shades together. Areas inside the railway boundary always appear much rougher and so coarse turf and foliage predominate there. The ballast, once dried, required a little weathering so I applied a thin wash of black, grey and light brown acrylics.

            Now with the basic scenery done, the canal fixed in place and blended in with its surroundings, I could finally glue the station, goods shed and signal box in their correct locations. Next I ‘planted’ the trees. At one exhibition I had picked up the last few trees on a stand where the owner was selling them off cheap. At the time they seemed a little large, but rather finely detailed. However, when I came to use them, the netting they were made from looked a little threadbare, so I sprayed them with glue and dipped them in Woodland Scenics coarse turf with pleasing results. They are quite big, but the tallest is only 100mm tall, so at 2mm to the foot that makes 50ft, which isn’t actually too tall. The medium sized trees are the ones I removed from the original ‘Rorgyle’. The colours of these are a little unusual but work quite well in the areas where they are planted. I also had a go with the Woodlands Scenics tree kits to produce the wood on top of the hill.

            I now had just one unfinished area on the boards which was next to the lock. I wanted to have a small lock keepers cottage with a garden and I based it on one featured in an old model railway magazine. A card shell covered with filler was painted to represent rendered and somewhat weathered walls. The roof was made in the same way as previously described, but painted dull orange/brown to create a different feel to the railway buildings. A fair amount of coarse turf was used to represent ivy and other greenery growing over it and once the cottage was fitted into place I developed a garden area around it which included a shed, washing line, lawn mower, wheelbarrow and other such items.

            Next the backscene boards had to have holes cut through them where there were any operating sections on the baseboards. I then painted the front to represent sky using old match pots of emulsion paint left over from previous layouts. I tend to use mid blues at the top and work down to white/light grey at the bottom to try and create the realistic effect of the sky getting lighter towards the horizon. Clouds were done with the lightest, almost white, greys available with a slightly darker grey along the bottom edge to give a more three dimensional effect. Holding the boards against the back of the layout I could work out where the painted hills, trees and tarmac needed to be and then applied these using artists’ watercolours. The boards were fitted to the back of the baseboards using screws in case at sometime in the future I needed to remove them to do maintenance.

            The Ratio signal was one of the last items to be fitted as signals tend to be so delicate and I normally end up breaking them if I put them in before all other construction is complete. I made the signal operating mechanism without the spring so that it could be operated by hand directly from underneath the board. It’s location near to the baseboard join meant it was going to be difficult to use the normal supplied operating method of cord with a plastic lever.

            All that was left to add were other details like people, animals, bicycles, milk churns, barrels, crates, vehicles, post box, telephone kiosk, telegraph poles, etc. which can supply atmosphere to a layout if done correctly, e.g. people stood or sat in suitable poses rather than being in permanent mid-stride, vehicles parked or being loaded rather than forever stationary in the middle of the road and so on.

             With the layout nearing completion I started to build the equipment needed for displaying it at exhibitions such as legs, lighting rig and nameboard/fascia. The support unit is made from 2” by 1” softwood and has slightly splayed legs to compensate for the very narrow layout they support; this will hopefully be more stable than just having vertical legs. The lights and fascia are supported by L-shaped units which bolt onto the baseboards and are also made from softwood.


Locomotives and Rolling Stock

            The primary passenger service is provided by a Langley Class 14xx autotank kit, which is un-powered coupled with a P&D Marsh whitemetal and plastic autotrailer kit which I fitted over a Farish DMU powered chassis with the buffers removed. This is now getting a little long in the tooth and will be replaced by the new Dapol versions that I’ve purchased but which still need weathering. The passenger service is supplemented by the Farish GWR railcar. The new 14xx, because it’s powered, will also assist on goods train duties which are currently operated by Farish 94xx and 57xx. I also have my eye on a new Dapol 45xx with sloping tank; a letter to Santa may be going off soon (this is being written in October!). The small selection of goods wagons and vans are from the Peco and Farish ready to run ranges, but suitably weathered.



            With construction mostly complete I began to think about getting back on the exhibition circuit and took some photographs of scenes on the layout. I made up a leaflet combining basic information with the pictures and sent it to exhibition managers, four of whom have booked it. These are the Lutterworth Railway Society’s N Gauge show in May 2007, the Soar Valley Railway Model Club’s Show at Loughborough in September 2007, the Warley Model Railway Club’s National Model Railway Exhibition at the N.E.C. in December 2007 and at the Syston Model Railway Society’s show at Sileby in February 2008.



            I have thoroughly enjoyed getting back into model railways, both from the modelling point of view and visiting exhibitions. This version of ‘Rorgyle’ has taken a lot longer than the original, about nine months in all (plus a six year gap!), but has still been quicker than the majority of layouts. My kind of modelling won’t appeal to everybody but I do like to get things done pretty fast once I get going. This type of layout would work perfectly well on a shelf for someone without much room or who just wanted a small layout in their living area. With a bit of careful planning it could quite easily be made to be operated from the front. We are now looking forward to getting back on the exhibition circuit, so if you see us about do say ‘hello’, it’s always good to have a chat. A few people we’ve talked to at recent exhibitions said they remembered me doing the demonstration at Warley and were looking forward to seeing the completed version.


Since I completed this article I have added more details to the layout including a barn and pond scene on the hill above the tunnel.

Old locomotives have been replaced by new ones from the Dapol and Bachmann/Farish range and I have also fitted D.G. Couplings to them and some of the rolling stock to allow for hands free uncoupling. Photographs of the different stages of construction can be seen on the Rorgyle construction page.