Brooklands Park: A Full History

The First Layout

The first Brooklands Park was designed in the mid 1980’s as a replacement for our (then) current layout, Great Beeston, a terminus – fiddle yard layout loosely based on Cromer Beach station. It was designed as a 4 track, continuous run layout, specifically for exhibition running. To this end as much as possible is either permanently attached or hinged to the layout. Apart from two removable legs all the other legs are hinged to the baseboards which themselves are hinged together in 8 pairs, each board is 3’6” long by 2’6” wide, making the layout 21’ x 12’ overall. All inter baseboard connections are made when the boards are connected together by plugs and sockets permanently fixed in the baseboards, the mains transformers are fitted inside the control panels (two of them in the corners at the front of the layout, one for the up lines and loco shed and one for the down lines and goods yard) and again all electrical connections to the layout are via multi pin plugs fitted permanently to the control panels and baseboards. Because of all these features, all designed to make for speedy assembly, the layout can be assembled and made ready for running in about 20 minutes by a team of 3 or 4 operators. Assembly may well be quick, but all the design features to make this possible certainly added much time to its construction and it took just over a year (working for 2 – 2½ hours each club night) before we could actually start laying track!

The original design was pretty much adhered to when we actually got down to the business of track laying (except that a goods bypass line could not be fitted in as intended) and as it was designed for continuous running, very little provision was included for moving between the main lines except crossovers between the fast and slow lines for running into and out of the station from the fast lines, and a trailing crossover between the two fast lines. The station itself consisted of two island platforms located between the slow lines and a platform loop line, one each for the up and down directions. The overall design was based very (very) loosely on the Great Northern main line at its southern end. As ‘high speed running’ was envisaged from the outset, the curves at the ends of the layout were canted (banked) as per the prototype, with the fast lines canted more than the slow lines. With trains travelling round these curves it gave the appearance of the banked curves at the former Brooklands racing track, and with a station on the GN main line called Brookmans Park, the name Brooklands Park was suggested and stuck. Incidentally, the canting on the fast lines proved to be too excessive and was later reduced to match that of the slow lines.

A loco depot was provided in one corner of the layout on the viewing side of the running lines, complete with a two road shed (two Wills kits with a part removable roof so as to be able to get to the locos which will always try and stall on any unreachable part of a layout!), coaling tower (Tower Models card kit, strengthened with balsa wood and square section plastic legs instead of the card originals), water tower (Airfix) and working turntable (Peco, modified with imitation vacuum tanks to make it into a powered version, rather than the manual version as the original kit was and was also electrically powered with the drive to the bridge section via Meccanno gearing). There was a small goods yard running along the inside of the running lines with coal drops, goods shed (two Superquick kits fused together) and provender shed and a siding with a dummy wagon turntable which fed into a large (low relief) warehouse (the best part of three Langley Models kits joined together). Many of the buildings have been modified in some way and have also been made to look like they have been there for a long time.

The fiddle yard consisted of 12 through sidings, 3 for each circuit, simply divided into two sections, with power being fed into a section only when the point feeding it is correctly set, doing away with the need for any section switching.

Electrical control of the trains was from hand held controllers, one for each of the (4) main lines and one each for the shed and yard, common return being used throughout. The system used was a type of cab control with the controller being automatically selected by the setting of the points, thus doing away with the need to select a controller and then switch it to the required sections. Point operation used Fulgurex slow action point motors, which could accommodate up to four sets of single pole double throw (changeover) switches, which came in very useful for selecting the controllers as mentioned above. By using a +12 volt and -12 volt supply with a common centre tap it was possible to control the points using a single control wire (with common return) to each. By using the ‘unused’ contact of the motor travel limiting switches together with LED’s, it was possible to have a control panel display of the point setting, again using only one wire. It was the increasing unreliability of these contacts to do what they were supposed to do (not helped by us never getting round to fitting any type of cover to them) that helped us decide we would like to build a new layout.

Scenery was a bit limited as the main emphasis was to display near scale length trains running through a station area, but several dioramas were worked into the spaces available, mainly on the corners at the front of the layout and the two side boards. The station forecourt was one of these, complete with old time bus and taxis in front of the ‘embellished’ Prototype Models kit of Heckington station. One end of the station platforms is on a viaduct bridging the valley constructed of several Wills kits brick arches with a modified Prototype Models kit of Stamford signal box (one of two on the layout) at the ‘country end’ and below is an urban street scene comprised of several more building kits, including at least one heavily Anglicised continental kit. At the other end of the layout, the loco depot formed another diorama and adjacent to this was the valley scene with the tracks heading across a canal, naturally including a lock and a long boat for added effect, a small river and the valley itself on two, two track viaducts. The goods facilities and warehouse presented another diorama, as well as creating a backscene along part of the layout. Trees are a mixture of propriety models, made to look less ‘propriety’ where necessary and scratch built versions made from twisted wire and scenic scatter. These were made by one of our members after having been inspired by a demonstration of the method at one of our annual exhibitions!

Designing scenic effects to try and disguise the hinged joints and the stops to prevent the boards folding completely together when the layout is being assembled or packed away led to some novel solutions, chief among these being the steel rod shaped at the end to fit into the chimney of the house roof that disguised it when on show, the blunt masonry drill which was used up the centre of the canal pumping house chimney and the plastic building filled internally with Artex to make a solid support.

Signalling was mainly semaphore with the addition of one or two two-aspect colour light signals. Although as reasonably accurate as the space would allow, as several of them were quite complex junction signals which needed to be removed before the layout was packed away, none of them were operational.

The One That Never Was

Shortly after the new millennium had arrived, thoughts turned to the possibility of building a replacement for Brooklands Park. As we do not have permanent use of the club rooms everything has to be stored away in cupboards. With an additional 25 years of layout building experience behind us, a board design was drawn up for 20 boards of approximately 4’6” x 2’6” to replace the existing 16 boards within the same cupboard space. I say approximately as the layout was to have been oval in shape which, apart from giving us much better use of the surface area available (no awkward corners where track cannot fit) it would also allow for larger radius curves. The original Brooklands Park was designed to fit into either of the main rooms where we used to meet every week, but things have long since changed and we are now able to utilise the main hall every week (rather than just once a month as had been the case previously) so the new layout was designed to fill the available cupboard space rather than fit into a room.

No detailed track plan was ever drawn up but as we all liked the basic idea of Brooklands Park it would have been a very close copy of it but with much better access to the goods yard from the outer pair (Up) of lines and conversely, to the inner pair (Down) of lines from the loco shed.

The Revised Layout

Desirable as the above concept was and recalling how long it had taken to build the boards for the original layout (although at that time we did not have the range of power tools available to us as we do at present) we wondered whether any of us would live long enough to actually see it running! Because of this it was decided to keep the original, still serviceable baseboards, together with as much as was practicable of the scenic part of the layout, but to achieve the above desired improvements it was obvious to us that we would need to add an additional pair of boards front and back. At about that time, four boards became available from the clubs ‘Junior’ layout, which had never got much further than planning the layout, drawing the plan on the boards, changing the plans, redrawing them on the boards, changing them again etc. etc. During all these changes ‘juveniles’ have an annoying habit not only of growing up but also of finding alternative interests to model railways, thus the boards became spare.

These ‘new’ boards were altered slightly to fit in with the existing layout boards and all the points, crossings and slips necessary to achieve our desired objectives, as well as the usual connections between fast and slow lines and platform lines are on these ‘new’ boards. The opportunity was taken to lengthen the down line platforms by about 18” and to move the point where the up platform loop joins the up slow line by about 6” as the full length LNER Flying Scotsman set owned by one of our members wouldn’t quite fit in the existing platform. Rather ironically before we got anywhere near getting the layout to run, that member moved away from Norwich! At the same time by the addition of a small corner infill we were able to squeeze in the goods bypass line which had defeated us previously. The ‘new’ boards are 4’ long as opposed to the 3’6” of the existing boards, so the layout is now 29’ x 12’. The two control panels have given way to a single, larger, centrally placed panel connected to the layout by 4 umbilical’s rather than fixed plugs, although there is still a now much reduced in size control panel for the loco shed.

As another pair of virgin boards were added to the fiddle yard the opportunity was taken to completely relay the entire yard, and we discovered it was possible to fit in an additional two roads. Currently the same system of isolation and power feeding to the fiddle yard tracks is used as was used on the previous version, but now, as each of the tracks is about 8’ longer than previously a more versatile system to allow better use of the tracks may prove desirable.

Most of the goods yard has been removed to enable the addition of the new boards at the front of the layout so it will be redesigned and expanded to make use of the extra space available. At present the loco depot has not been touched and in fact is currently non operational, nothing has been decided about any changes to this area but if there are any they are likely to be minor, but it would be nice to include an extra line onto the turntable and also an ash plant.

Electrical control of the trains is again via the old hand held controllers, which although exceedingly good (Pentrollers for the main lines) are beginning to show their age cosmetically at least, all of them having made many rapid descents from the control panel or operators hands to the floor! New controllers have been acquired, but as the layout is not yet properly functional it will be some time before they are deployed. The ideal for such a large layout would be radio control, but as this is unlikely to come about in the near future, thought is being given to using DCC walkabouts to control individual tracks as opposed to individual locos. The same system of cab control, controlled by the setting of the points is being used.

Points are now controlled by Peco point motors fitted onto their motor adaptor bases to allow operation of micro switches to control the electrical feeds as per the previous version. These switches are proving to be a bit of a challenge to set up properly, but when this is achieved it is hoped that they will prove very reliable. The decision was made to change to solenoid operation of the points as it was discovered that nice as the slow operation of the Fulgurex point motors was, if we had a failure it was very difficult to change the direction of a point. An NX (eNtry – eXit) system of route setting is being developed for the control of the points which it is hoped will make for simpler operation of the layout.

Advanced thought has been given to areas of the layout which ‘fix’ it in a certain time period, so there are likely to be less permanently fixed items, and more semi-permanent, plug in, interchangeable modules, so hopefully the days of a BR blue/grey HST set running through the station under an array of LNER semaphore signals with a 1930’s bus and taxis on the station forecourt and a horse and cart in the goods yard could be a thing of the past! Making the loco depot and goods yard into areas of dereliction to keep in period with the modern era would prove more of a challenge and will not be attempted.

Having been involved with the layout from the very beginning it has become something of a way of life for me at the railway club. As I type this potted history I shudder to think how many hours of work it has consumed from members past and present since the idea to replace Great Beeston was taken and I am sure there will be an awful lot more before we can say we are satisfied with its appearance and its reliability. No doubt, before we reach that stage we will be mulling over what enhancements can be bolted on to both improve its appearance and method of operation.

Robert Palmer

Chairman, May 2009