This text appeared as an article forming the Railway of the Month in the May 2011 issue of Continental Modeller. It has been slightly updated to reflect events since the article was written.
It's incredible to think back now, that until building Bad Aston, my father and I knew very little about American Railroading. Up until that point, we had both been modelling British Outline in both OO and N gauge, and having just left university we were in a slight lull. It was at about that time that my father received a gift of an American steam locomotive painted in a Christmas wonderland scheme. Amazed at how well the locomotive ran, investigations discovered that it was part of the Bachmann On30 range. A start was made on an On30 layout during which time a number of locomotives were built using HO loco mechanisms.
On a shopping trip to Cookham my father found a model shop which, apart from selling model cars, also had a section devoted to American model railroads, and bought an ALCO S2 in bright orange Western Pacific livery, his first American HO loco. (This shop developed to become Model Junction in Slough and we have made many visits since then - thanks to Stewart and Farrah who do a fantastic job). When we tried the loco out on the on30 layout, it ran so well that we just couldn't hack it about to make an On30 loco as I had intended. That Christmas I received a Proto 2000 Chesapeake and Ohio GP7. Construction then started on what would become our first American HO exhibition layout, Mason's Bridge Yard.
The first layout was relatively successful, and was displayed at several shows around the south of England. However, whilst exhibiting the layout, a number of slight issues came to light that we wanted to address if we had an opportunity to build another layout. The opportunity came about when my wife and I moved into our first house. It just so happened to have a spare room with a 16'run down one side. Planning was started on what was to become Bad Aston.
Having tried using foam-core for the baseboards of Mason's Bridge Yard, we decided upon using the traditional 2" x 1" softwood battening with MDF tops. Whilst this has made the boards much heavier than the previous layout, they are much more stable for exhibition use.
There are four baseboards, each just slightly over 4' long with the width at the staging track end being 12", widening to 15" at the other end. The fiddle yard was originally a sector plate type made from a piece of melamine faced chipboard and pivoted from one end, but was replaced with a cassette style yard after a couple of exhibitions.
The back-scenes are hardboard sheet, strengthened with a 1" x 1" softwood frame, and covered with lining paper. These formed the protection whilst the layout is being transported.
The lighting gantry is re-used from Mason's Bridge Yard, and consists of 4 sections of 9mm ply which bolt together. The lighting itself is provided by slim-line kitchen under-counter strip lights.
One of the biggest problems that we encountered with Mason's Bridge Yard was the lack of a fiddle yard. Whilst there was an off- scene single-track sector plate, which acted as a staging track, this also doubled up as one end of the run-round loop on the scenic section. This led to heavy congestion, and delays in being able to introduce new trains onto the layout. So, from the outset Bad Aston was designed to have a reasonably large off-scene fiddle yard.
Another gripe was the positioning of the permanent magnets for uncoupling. Therefore, a lot of time was spent with a full-size track plan and rolling stock to determine the optimum position for the magnets.
All track is Peco Code 100, and is laid on Cork tiles.
Wiring and Electrics
The layout is operated using an NCE PowerCab unit. Bus wires run the complete length of the layout, with dropper wires feeding every section of track. Nothing specia; has been done to the points to modify them for digital operation , as we have not experienced any compatibility problems with Peco points (This statement would come back to haunt me, and lessons have been learnt for Blackhurst - Ed)
Points are simply operated by solenoids, actuated via stud and probe on a mimic panel. Power is provided by a transformer from a Christmas lights set through a capacitor discharge unit.
History and Setting
Bad Aston is a small to medium sized town in southeast Michigan, on the border with Canada. The town is served by a branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Rail traffic to Canada continues by a car float, which travels across Lake Huron, to Grand Bend, Ontario, where the railroad continues to London, Ontario with onward connections to Hamilton, Ontario, and Buffalo, Pennsylvania. similar to those used around the great lakes, most notably in Port Huron & Sarnia. Whilst the C&O is the primary railroad in town, other railroads have trackage rights, including the Baltimore & Ohio and New York Central.
The town was founded in 1850 after copper was discoved, and was little more than a saloon and a few miners' cabins. By the time the copper ran out, the town had grown to become an important crossing for all sorts of produce to and from Canada. The town was renamed in 1880 by the then mayor. The story goes that whilst drinking in the saloon he overheard a conversation between Wyatt and Virgil Earp, who had apprehended a villain the day, before Wyatt having been wounded in the backside was heard to say "this sure is a bad ass town". This being the town's only claim to fame the Mayor drunkenly decreed the town will henceforth be known as BAD ASTON and it stuck.
Whilst Bad Aston does not really exist, we have attempted to portray a setting similar to many maritime towns around the great lakes, most notably in Port Huron and Sarnia. Much time was spent looking at prototype photographs, and whilst we have not yet had the chance to visit that part of the USA, we hope we have captured the flavour of the area.
There is no strict time period set on the layout - car float operations in some parts of the US continued into the late 1980s - although we generally operate with stock representing the late 1940s/1950s era: This allows us to run a mixture of steam diesel traction.
Scenery and Buildings
All of the buildings from Mason's Bridge Yard were salvaged and most have been re-used, much altered, along with many new kits, on Bad Aston. With plenty of spare time on my father's hands whilst recovering from a dislocated shoulder, he spent many hours making, painting and weathering the buildings.
The grain silos are scratch built from acrylic tube and are very heavy! The car float is also scratch built from thick plastic card and it too is very heavy. The tug is a heavily modified kit and is a good representation of a C&O / B&O prototype. The depot building at the front of the layout was scratch-built by me, and originally performed the same function on Mason's Bridge Yard. It was removed and transplanted in one piece, much to my relief.
The few trees on the layout we made from Woodland Scenics armatures covered with foliage from the same source.
With the layout set to portray the C&O and B&O, our vast collection of locos and rolling stock tends to be biased towards these two railroads, but a few other railroads do feature. Most have been weathered and all have been fitted with Kadee couplings, which are adjusted and maintained regularly.
Many of the locos are fitted with sound decoders some as purchased, but most fitted by ourselves.
We have both enjoyed building the layout and it has further enforced the bond between father and son. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the household authorities, my mother and my wife for their patience, understanding and encouragement during the Construction of the layout.