What inspires a layout? In the case of ‘This is York!’ the short, simple answer is this photo:

I came across it whilst looking for a picture to show me what colour red the wheels were painted on blue A4s. As well as answering this question, what really hit me was the amazing lighting the overhead skylights throws: if that could be captured in model form it would make a very impressive and very different layout.

The whole railway system at York would be a massive project (even in 2mm scale) – when the central electrically operated signal box was opened in the early 1950s it replaced 7 manual ‘boxes with a total of 846 levers and that still left some of the goods line ‘boxes. Modelling that, I would either loose interest long before it was finished or succomb to old age. Also, it would not stand a chance of meeting one of my other design criteria – has to fit in the car!

But what if I JUST modelled the main concourse of the station under the roof? At 800ft long this was a very practical size in 2mm/ft. The open air parts of the platform at either end could be viewed through the ends of the roof and the entrance building could be ‘off scene’ so that the view would be as if you are standing on the main platform – it had to be done!

The longer answer is that I had been planning a 2mm finescale layout of the LNER in the 1930s for some time. The original setting was going to be on a similar sweeping curve but in a very different setting – Gamston Curve just south of Retford.

The sweeping curve is nothing new to me in layout design: Blea Moor – my OO exhibition layout of some years ago had a remarkably similar shape:

Many hours experience watching trains go by on this layout meant I knew very well how captivating the continuously changing perspective is – from a visual point of view, far more captivating than a run of straight track.

Gamstom Curve is a very similar setting to Blea Moor in many ways – sweeping curve with a hillside behind it:

This quarter scale mock up demonstrated how effective the setting would be. But there was a nagging feeling that this wasn’t quite right or at least wasn’t quite what I wanted to build – perhaps it was the comment from my good friend Paul Marshall-Potter that is was ‘basically Blea Moor with corn fields’ that crystallized this slight sense of doubt. So, whilst progress was made on stock for the layout, the layout itself remained in the planning/thinking stage.

The photograph of Mallard gave me the answer I was unconsciously looking for: it ticked all the boxes for me:

  • Capturing the sense of place of a prototype setting
  • Building something that has a definite visual impact
  • Building something different

Gamston Curve could, if well done, tick the first two of these but, as illustrated by Paul’s comment, different it wouldn’t be – at least from Blea Moor.

The next question was how the inside of the station could possibly be modelled in a way that was actually visible – the piilars supporting the arches of the roof are only 15 – 20ft tall (30 – 40mm in 2mm scale). Whilst I’m all in favour of a limited viewing angle (the so-called ‘pillar box’ view) this was fairly obviously a little too extreme!

But what if the roof was ‘peeled’ open so that it was complete arches at either end as in the prototype but opened up in the middle to allow a more practical ‘viewing slot’? I was very unsure how (or even if) this would work so the only option was to build a mock up and see. I have a Silhouette craft cutter which will cut 10 thou (0.25mm) plastikard with considerable accuracy and whilst I knew this wouldn’t work for the real model, it might, laminated into several layers to give more rigidity and strength, do the job for a mock up and be reasonably inexpensive.

The Network Rail webshop produced drawings and plans to enable an accurate representation to be drawn up on CAD and cut on the craft cutter. After quite some time, trying various different options and head scratching a successful outcome was achieved:

As can be seen, there is a short section of the roof arches as they are in real life followed by a section where the arches ‘peel’ up to produce a practical height viewing window – this has already been compared (NOT by me) to Zaha Hadid’s architectural designs which I take as a definite compliment and a sign I’m onto something.

So, fairly self-evidently (to me at least) this was a success: the essence of the station had been (or at least could be in the final model) captured, the view was pretty captivating (impact) and it was DEFINITELY something different! All three boxes ticked.

The next challenge was to get from this concept model to the real model. It was going to need considerable thought putting into the design and construction methods if this was to work as well as I hoped it would – see the Design page.