Why join a model railway club

As a newcomer to modelling railways, there is a lot to learn and joining Alton Model Railway Group allows you to meet fellow enthusiasts with a vast array of knowledge to tap into.

The Layout – Building my first layout

In getting started, one has to decide on what gauge to model in and that is often influenced by the space available for your layout. It is often best to start with a small layout, in a well resourced gauge. That way you can make your mistakes and learn the techniques needed to build a larger layout in the future.

The next major decision relates to the era that you wish to model. There is plenty of information available in books and online videos to get you started. Also, is there a particular region that interests you? Often members will be interested in their local region but don’t be afraid to explore new areas.

Available space, both to assemble your layout and possibly to transport it, will influence the design of your track plan. Again, there are a range of track plans available, both in books and online, but you can always design your own. I found that, once I had explored an idea or designed a track plan, I showed it to other members of the club, who could give their constructive comments / critiques and often came up with ideas on how to improve it.

My first track plan was modified with a run around loop in the top right and the extension in the bottom left after discussions with other members of the club. This really improved the operational flexibility of the layout.

The materials and design of the baseboards is the first step in constructing your layout out and again there are a range of ideas on how best to do this. Personally, I think that base boards of 4-ft by 2-ft give you the flexibility to design an interesting layout out and break it down to be transported. You can always add more boards at a later date to enlarge your layout. As for materials 9mm or 12mm plywood makes the stable base on which to build your layout, strengthened with a 2”x1” wooden frame.

The trackbed comes next, cork is cheap and easy to work with, however, some of the modern Woodland Scenics track bed is very convenient to lay and gives a good effect when ballasted.

I used 2mm cork sheet on my first layout, raising the trackbed by 4mm.

There are lots of little tips and tricks to make laying your track easier and also in designing the electrics. Designing the electrics can be a challenge but again, there is often expertise within the group to support you in this difficult area.

On the advice of group members, I isolated the extension in the top right with a separate power supply controlled by a small switch. This enabled me to store on locomotive there whilst I continued to operate the rest of the layout.

A lot of problems can be avoided with a bit of thought and planning.  Particularly if you decide to add to your layout at a later stage.  Often in doing something for the first time, you are bound to make mistakes and there are always members there to help with troubleshooting and solutions.
When ballasting the track there are plenty of online videos with advice and help to guide you. However, there is nothing like having somebody experienced next to you to guide you through that first time.

My first ever attempt at ballasting, under the watchful eye and guiding hand of one of the group members
I also decided to make the ballast for the shunting yard look more prototypical like ash. Also, you see my first attempt at scenery.

Scenery can also be a challenge and again there are lots of online videos but bouncing ideas off other people can often be useful. In making your first layout, you have the opportunity to experiment and make your mistakes. It is also possible to modify existing scale buildings and improve them, to make them look more realistic. As an example, I modified the basic Hornby lineside sheds by adding thin strips of wood cut from coffee stirrers and glued to the outside, to give them a more realistic shed like appearance.

Modifying the standard Hornby line side shed.
And on the layout.
I also had a go at improving the Hornby signal box.
My first attempt at building a layout

There is still lots of room for improvement and it would look really good when weathered but that is for the future.

The rolling stock

Many ready to run items are available for the beginner and it is useful to be able to discuss with other people their experiences with running and in some cases improving their design. A popular modification can be to add extra pickups to locomotives, to ensure that they run more smoothly and do not stall on points. Also, club members can advise you on which models are more reliable and which to avoid.

When I joined Alton Model Railway Group, I had no experience of building a model railway and little experience of railways in general. The knowledge and expertise of members of the club and their readiness to share this knowledge has been invaluable.  If you have an interest in model railways, then joining Alton Model Railway Group is one of the best moves you can make.

About the author

Paul Gembidge

I have always enjoyed the practical side of life and as a child, I used to enjoy making models. However, as an adult, my practical skills were directed more towards the necessities of DIY and working on classic cars. On my retirement, I had the opportunity to re-discover my enjoyment of making models. A serendipitous meeting with a long-standing member of Alton model railway club and my desire to make up for the fact that I never had a model train set as a child, led to my joining Alton model railway club and building my first layout. Having no background in railways or modeling them, it has been a steep learning curve but the members of the club have been extremely tolerant and a wonderful and diverse source of support. Many thanks to the club and its members.