3mm Modelling with John Walker

Last updated: 19 August 2015

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3mm Society

I am an active member of the 3mm Society. We are currently building a 3mm web at http://www.3mmsociety.org.uk/. For other sites of 3mm and general railway interest try http://www.3mmsociety.org.uk/Links.htm

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Swanage Branch

I started building Swanage in 14mm gauge (just Triang TT + 2mm) in 1966. However on joining the Society I found everyone else was either working in 12mm gauge or 14.2mm finescale so eventually I scrapped that layout and started on Corfe Castle in 12mm gauge. That must have been 15 years ago and I still have a long way to go!

Much of the rolling stock used on the branch over the years is available as kits in 3mm through the 3mm Society and private traders (see Stock for Swanage in 3mm) and I have a large collection of "flat packs" waiting to be built. One day I hope to be able to represent the stock used in different periods from the early 1900s into the 60s.

Corfe Castle station in 3mm scale is 12' long and 1'6" to 2' wide. The original layout required a further 6' length to complete a circle with hidden sidings at the back. This circle has been dismantled to produce a fiddle yard to Corfe to fiddle yard. One of the fiddle yards will be "through the wall" in the laundry room. This will make more space in the railway room for Swanage in 14.2.

I have started to experiment with 14.2mm gauge finescale, which is attracting an increasing following in the 3mm Society. I plan to start building Swanage station as an experiment (see Progress on Swanage in 14.2). If that is successful I will, eventually, rebuild Corfe Castle to match.

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Progress on Swanage in 14.2

7 July 2000

Swanage is making some progress. It will occupy 3 2'6" x 3' boards and 2 2'6" x 4' boards. Two of the 3' boards and one of the 4' boards are almost complete and I have started to build track directly on the boards.

The boards are made completely from 6mm Birch Plywood. The surface is a single skin of ply supported by a frame 100mm deep (please excuse my mix of imperial and metric, after all I am working to 3mm : 1ft scale!). Each frame member is formed from two skins of ply dowelled together to avoid slipping when the two surfaces are glued together. I have used white PVA throughout. There are no screws, pins or nails used. I am laying 1/8" cork under the track in the station area where there is no ballast shoulder. The exposed woodwork, including the underside, is sealed using polyurethane varnish.

The plywood was cut using a Black & Decker jigsaw and finishing blade (ref: A5194). Contiboard has a straight edge and was used as a guide. This gives a very clean and accurate cut.

For the track I am using plywood sleepers and scale rail, available from the 3mm Society, plastic chairs from Ian Osborne, a member of the Society, and fishplates from Allen Doherty (Worsley Works). Looking at my 40': 1" plan of Swanage and templates from C & L I reckon that most of the points are around B8 to C9. I may standardise on 1:8 frogs and B switches.

Hardly any of the points seem to be straight so I will experiment with a jig to make up the switch directly on the cork, then position the frog and let the rail find the natural curve between them. Having tried to draw out the pointwork in the station throat I have decided that I need to build the two 3' boards which accommodate the station and goods yard so that I can get the track alignment right. Having built the end board I have started to build the cross-over in the main platform. It is straight and should be the simplest of the points I have to build. That will enable me to check out the operation of my first 14.2 points before embarking on the more complicated double slip and goods yard points.

With the latest finescale wheels now starting to be available from the Society I have started to build a 14.2 chassis for one of my Ivatt 2-6-2T's. That includes two ponies and full outside valve gear so it should provide a good test for my trackwork! Progress to date is very encouraging using the following components:

- chassis from Chris Thane
- finescale wheels from 3mm Society
- Perseverance hornblocks (CG001)
- 38:1 Mid-Line gearbox from Branchlines
- H19 motor from Branchlines

I am also planning to use these components in the following locos for Swanage:

BR 3MT 2-6-2T from 3SMR
BR 4MT 2-6-0 from 3SMR

I am convinced that the compensation improves pickup. However I don't think the Perseverance hornblocks will fit the M7 and 700 chassis. They are going to need some more thought.

5 October 2001

Not much visible progress to report having been side-tracked by 7mm in the garden and other developments such as the acquisition of Templot and many more flats packs not directly relevant to Swanage!

Templot looks like the solution to fine-scale track building problems. Before it is fixed to the baseboard the track is very fragile making it difficult to transfer it from separate templates. It is also difficult to lay curves in the conventional way by building half-track and then transferring it to the baseboards. The fine-scale rail is not robust enough to find the best curve and the sleepers tend to flop about.

Templot lets you design all the track on the computer screen with sleepers aligned on curves. It makes it a doddle to produce transition curves and curved points. In fact these become almost irrelevant because I can scan my scale plans into Templot as background shapes and build the track over the top.

I plan to fix the Templot templates directly to the cork on the baseboard and then build the track in situ. This will lead to a delay while the templates are drawn. I think it best to complete them for the whole station before attempting track-laying. That way I can be sure everything fits without requiring minor adjustments to previously layed track. Once the templates are complete the track-laying should proceed relatively quickly.

I have used Templot to produce an outline design which includes Swanage, Corfe, Eldons and Furzebrook sidings, Worgret Junction and Wareham in two rooms plus my garage. This has become the lifetime project!

An opportune acquisition at Scaleforum was the latest in the series from Xpress Publishing on BR Operating History. Part 3 Wessex includes Working Timetables and Carriage Workings for the Swanage Branch and the main line through Wareham in 1954. This will provide the basis for planning stock requirements and hidden siding design

29 January 2002

I laid my first Templot templates last weekend.  Those that know me would say that I am not impatient but I say impatience got the better of me because I had intended to complete all the templates for Swanage first.  I have found some problems with them.  Lest I forget in future, before laying:

- check that sleepers do not cross baseboard joins
- check consistency of options such as the length of track panels

Other things which I did check:

- sleeper alignment where point rods and signal wires cross the track
- timber shoving around turnouts and where templates align other than at a track join

I fixed the problem with the sleepers across the baseboard join by shoving timbers in Templot, reprinting the page and cutting out the offending piece.  I used that as a guide to cut out the original template and I found I could peel that away from the cork and replace it with the new piece.  I sprayed the new piece rather than the cork with spray mount.

The track that I first laid around the crossover in the main platform uses 45' track panels.  I used 60' panels in my Templot templates.  That is probably an acceptable mix, especially as the templates laid to date are the main lines from the platforms.  Maybe I should use 45' track panels for the goods yard?

I tried soaking the plywood sleepers in Carr's sleeper stain for 2, 2.5, 3 and 3.5 hours and then mixed the result.  I don't think 2 hours is quite long enough.  The others look fine.

I had to replace one piece of the 1/8" cork base where I had previously glued sleepers that didn't line up properly with the Templot templates.  I glued the cork to plywood baseboard, templates to cork and sleepers to templates with 3M Photo Mount spray adhesive.  One or two passes seem to be sufficient.

I printed the templates on to grey inkjet paper.  My theory is that when I come to ballast if any specks of the paper show through then grey will be less obvious than white.

I masked the baseboard so that the photo mount only sprayed the track base.  Then I laid the templates on to the track base.

To spray the sleepers I attached 10 at a time to a piece of masking tape, sprayed and then removed them and fixed them to the template using tweezers.  The spray mount dries too quickly to do more than that at once.

The next step will be to mark where electrical breaks are needed.  I don't want these to correspond to track joins because I am using Allen Doherty's etched brass fishplates.  I plan to superglue plasticard strip into the electrical breaks and then file it to the rail profile so that they don't show.  I can't do much about baseboard joins although they will be used for breaks where that is appropriate.

I also need to mark the runs for point and signal rodding.  Later pictures of Swanage show the channel section point rodding which will be very difficult to model convincingly in 3mm:1ft.  However there is a picture on page 67 of The Swanage Branch Then & Now by Andrew Wright dated 1956 showing round rodding so I think that is enough to convince me to use round rodding for the lot. 

15 May 2003

Decisions on electrics, and specifically where local section breaks are required, will be greatly simplified now that I have decided to go DCC. I am currently considering Digitrax or ZTC Controls. I was very impressed with a demonstration of ZTC and their latest sound system at the ALSRM show at Reading last Saturday. I intend to use the same control system for both my 3mm and O gauge in the garden. There will be no problem fitting the sound system into my O gauge engines but I think the 3mm ones will be a little more difficult.

I will start in 3mm using the smallest and simplest decoders. It looks like I can fit a decoder in the bunker of the 61xx leaving the space between the tanks for a sound decoder and the smokebox for a speaker. The sound decoder looks like it will fit the tender of the 43xx and Manor. Southern engines will have to wait for Southern sound. I think I may have to permanently couple M7s to their pushpulls and put the sound decoder in a coach.

4 August 2003

I should have said earlier that I am using Butanone solvent, from C&L, to glue the plastic Osborne chairs to my plywood sleepers.

I have taken the plunge and bought into ZTC Controls DCC system. At the moment I am using it on my O gauge in the garden but I am planning to introduce it to the 3mm layout as soon as I have some rolling 14.2 loco chassis. That event is waiting on my final experiment with springing which, in turn, is waiting on the arrival of a hornblock system from Finney & Smith. I am planning to try springing all drivers with the outermost axles having a top stop to permit downward movement only. Middle axles will be able to move up and down, or at least where the clearance under splashers allows it.

30 December 2003

Well, here is progress on Swanage to date. The sidings in the yard have sleepers laid on Templot templates. I hope to get around to laying chairs and rail before too long. Then I can start filling them with wagons. Templotting is complete out of the yard to the running line but I haven't laid the templates properly as yet. They have been printed to allow proper alignment of the sidings.

Sleepers have also been laid through the double slip and into the main platform and loop but the treatment of slips in Templot has now been improved and I intend to rework the slip. The crossover in the previous photograph is at the top end of the main platform road to the left of the red can of Photo Mount..

The buildings were made from balsa and stone paper when I was a teenager. They are due for replacement.

Points await crossing and blade filing jigs from the 3mm Society and a stretcher etch which I am working on. Hopefully these will be available during 2004.

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Stock for Swanage in 3mm

I have done some more work on the loco kits required for Swanage and Wareham, when I get there (see Loco Plan).

Here are some other kits I have acquired in 3mm for running on the Swanage Branch. Some are, as yet, untouched, others I have started to build.

The following kits are no longer listed as available but may be found secondhand (an indication of why it pays to be a member of the 3mm Society!).

I had a batch of these reduced by DJB from 7mm. They are now sold out.

Reduced from PC Models 4mm kits by the Society.

Then there are LOTS and LOTS of wagons plus rolling stock for the main line, when I get to Wareham! Maybe I'll add these to the list when I get more time.


Prototypical operation of Swanage would largely consist of pushpulls moving back and forth up the branch with, at most, two goods trains a day, trains to Eastleigh and Salisbury and the odd excursion.

I plan to add more variety by creating a sequence which moves on in period as well as time. So, for instance, the first branch train of the day might use the Beattie Well Tank, the next a Radial and so on. This plan needs some careful development to try to keep the stock in Swanage station matching a particular period at any given time. This is my excuse for collecting such a wide variety of flat kits!

The periods represented will need to take into account:

- availability of kits
- livery changes
- changes in stock used on the branch

At the moment I am thinking in terms of the following:

Early                   1885 -

Beattie Well Tank

Later LSWR

Adams Radial

Early Southern


Mid-Southern            1932-38


Later Southern          1939-


Goods - T1

Early BR - 1949-57 liveries

M7 (lion & wheel)
LSWR pushpull - BR red?
Ironclad pushpull conversions (1949-62) - livery?

Goods - M7, 700, T9

Later BR (steam)         1960-May 64

M7 post 1957 livery
Maunsell pushpull conversions (1960, BR green)

Goods - Q, BR Std 4 2-6-0

Later BR (various)

Ivatt 2-6-2T
BR Std 3 2-6-2T
BR Std 4 2-6-4T
Hampshire DEMU

Clearly that plan needs much more work on stock and liveries. I also need to work on the scheduled passenger trains to Eastleigh and Salisbury. Then there are through coaches to Waterloo with complete trains on Saturdays and I plan to produce at least one excursion for each period.

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