The Run Up
Late 2018 saw representatives from the club approach KnickerBockerGlory
Productions with a view to participate in the second series of the Geat
Model Railway Challenge.
Following a session of online questioning and video interviews, in which
each member had to present their case why the team should be selected,
the group was chosen as a potential candidate.
Early in 2019 we received confirmation that the team had been successful
and were given additional information as to how the series would
proceed. This included the theme of the challenge and the filming
A number of revisions to the schedules and format of the series ensued
resulting in a few frayed nerves as plans were having to
reviewed, holidays rebooked to cover filming and additional support
Planning began in ernest, after full confirmation was obtained. Using
the theme "Restless Earth" we planned a layout that would incorporate
various geological features that could be modelled. Early in the
planning it was decided that these features should be easily reset.
Subsequently the landslide was made to not just deposit huge amounts of
material onto the track that would prove a problem to clean up and
reset, but placed onto a tea towel that could be pulled back up and
hooked ready for the next use. While this approach has derived some
mirth from the online community, and a small amount of derision, the
decision proved to be successful.
A volcano was obvious as this would be a large focal point. Inside the
volcano would be lit with a lava lamp and the sides made thin enough
that some of that light would be visible. The tunnels underneath were to
be lined with mirror paper which would reflect the string of red LEDs
used to illuminate it, thus giving the illusion of a tunnel running
through lava. Added to this was a mist generator to create an illusion
of volcanic activity. An eruption was not planned as a feature.
The geyser went through a couple of revisions. The first idea was to use
a nozzle to spray a mist of water, however was later rejected as it
would result in the layout being drenched destroying the buildings. A
member of the club kindly donated a smoke machine which had become
surplus to his business and the main mechanism was decided as not only
was it safer, it was also more impressive.
An earthquake was considered and concepts of how to achieve this was
then discussed. Talks how to just shaking the whole layout were quickly
dropped as it would cause problems with running trains. A vibration
plate fitted to the board would create a similar dilemma, so a rotating
shaking plate was the popular choice.
A Tar pit idea was also discussed. This became an easy choice as all
that was needed was a pot and a fish tank aerator.
Also early in the planning it was decided to add cheesy amusing names to
the features on the layout. Subsequently, we had a tar products
manufacturer called " Tar V.E.Rymuch", a lava lamp producer called "Otazell
Lava Lamps". The hill with the landslide was called "Fawley Down",
partly as a fun name and as an omage to the fact that the series is
filmed at Fawley Hill. With this in mind, the earthquake area had a farm
build onto it and was named "Fawley Over". Completing the play on words
names was the "Old Geezer" geyser. Added fun touches were the names of
the locomotives serving the local industries with "Jack" operating the
shuttle between the tar Pit and its works, and "Bernie" shunting the
wagons between the lava mine and the lava lamp buildings. As an added
feature, the wagons were outfitted with flickering light units to
End of March saw the arrival of the layouts boards at the club premises.
The boards were originally to be made of equal sized sections, with each
being 5ft x 3ft 3in, making a 10ft x 5ft layout, but due to a
miscommunication between the production company and the baseboard
manufacturers they were unable to fulfil all of the order and deliver
within the agreed timetable. Thus we were supplied with a different
configuration from an alternate manufacturer. The sections were also
different sizes with 2 sections of 5ft x 4ft and 1 section of 5ft x 2ft
to make up the required 10ft x 5ft. This also meant a certain amount of
rejigging the plans to fit the features into the spaces to also allow
the baseboards to be split into their transportable sections. It was
decided early in the planning that the completed layout should be made
to apart with the least amount of fuss so it could taken to exhibition.
Other considerations were that the height of any features should be
restricted to 2ft 6in which is the size of a standard door frame thus
allowing the layout to be taken in and out of the club rooms without
Track was quickly laid out and checked that the concepts were viable.
Then the prebuilding of certain objects could be properly constructed
with the changed parameters. Given the instructions that we were allowed
to lay trackwork and track bed and ballast on 2 of the supplied boards,
we pressed ahead with how the layout would operate. The plan then was to
have 3 trains running on a shuttle system and thus automatic and
requiring no additonal input. The main lines were made so that once the
trains were set running they, too, would require not intervention of the
operators. Once started, the layout would then run by itself leaving the
team to operate the features.
Each team was given a budget from the sponsoring manufacturers with
certain restrictions, such as all the track was to ordered from Peco.
Minor adjustments were made due to limitations or that items ordered
were out of stock. Some suppliers being more on the ball than others
when it came to informing participants of order problems and giving
enough time to allow alternatives to be requested.
June arrives and the time has come to pack up everything into a van and
head down to Fawley Hill. A hotel was laid on in Reading and filming
began the next morning.
8am on a nice dry but somewhat overcast day and we have unloaded the
equipment and layout into the studio. All our electrical items have to
be PAT tested so they are laid out onto a table for inspection. A
briefing from the production team ensues and filming finally begins with
a series of walk ins of each team and a final walk in of the 3 teams.
The teams for Heat One were Corby MRS, Fancott Miniature Marvels and The
Train Set. Expectations were high and some hilarity was to be had by
Work finally begins on the layout just before lunch and we quickly have
the rest of trackwork in place and running. Due to the production crew
wishing to film certain items before they were placed on the layout, it
soon became evident that our proposed timetable was going to pushed to
the limit, resulting in some of our features not receiving as much
attention as they would have liked. Soon, however, the main landscape
items were in place and the rest of the formers could be made and fitted
allowing landscaping to take place.
Steve Flint gave us some praise for our quality of build and ballasting
early on, which only spurred us on to not let the rest of the build down
by rushing, even if speed was one of our qualities.
Day One comes to a close with satisfactory progress being made.
After another briefing and another set of walk in shots, we again set to
our layouts. Talk amongst the teams was lively and full of enthusiasm.
The dreaded and expected "Scratchbuild Challenge" rears its head and
representatives are selected. We chose Francis to take part. However,
despite our optimism, Fancott won the two points for the challenge. Well
Landscaping and testing continued apace, drawing attention from the
other teams. Looking around the room, it was evident that some excellent
modelling was being demonstrated by everyone. We were quite impressed by
the Train Set's work on the coastal scene, and considering it was his
second attempt at using resin water, we all agreed that it was
excellent. Something to take note of, you can always find inspiration no
matter where you look.
All our lights and effects were operational and we retired from the day
happy with the progress.
With the assembling crowd of friends and invited guests, we were
reminded that we had only a few hours to fine tine and fettle our
creations before judging began.
Disaster! And not, the planned type. Our smoke generator on our volcano
With only 30 minues left til judging, we frantically tried to get into
the working of the volcano to rectify the errant part only to run out of
time. Note to yourselves, aolways make sure you can get to all the
working parts in case of problems.
Last minutes were spent making sure that scenic details were in place
and that everything else was ready.
The moment had arrived. With our volcano not working, we were sure to
lose points on functionality, so our early lead would be eaten into.
We started the layout up and as soon as the class 66 led train emerged
from the tunnel it was noted that it hadn't been put back on the track
properly after the camera crew had been round taking their layout shots,
so the train derailed at the facing points. Damn!
Everything else worked well. The lava mine train needed a wake up call
by tapping the underside of the baseboard, but with the lack of a
working volcano, it seemed as though we weren't going to score very
Our ace up our sleeve however did impress as the judges were not
expecting the geyser to be as large as it was given its relatively low
profile on the board.
Fancott and the Train Set's demonstrations were fairly impressive and
the team did think that we might be looking at some really tight marking
from the judges. Train Set's volcano was quite a sight when it erupted.
Good use of a fire extinguisher! Well done to them!
The judges left to deliberate while we were left to talk amongst
ourselves. Then came the moment of truth.
Lined up, we were all nervously awaiting the result. Had we done enough
to secure a win or would we be leaving the competition there and then?
Corby MRS was chosen as the winner of the heat! We were, understandably,
Congratulations to the other teams for being such worthy opponents. It
wouldn't be until the airing of the programme that we would know the
scoring that we won by one point!
* * *
Semi Finals One
We arrived early on a wonderfully warm day and got ourselves settled
waiting for the production team to arrive at 8am and open the doors so
we could get our equipment in. We were hoping to have all of that done
before they wanted to start filming the walk ins and other little bits
they needed for the intro.
The morning mainly consisted of filming until approx 9.30 when we could
make a start on our woodwork. This would form the base of our second
layer which was crucial to the entire build. However, this was not to go
as smoothly as we would have preferred. Many times we were halted from
making headway because they wanted to film what was happening with other
teams and the amount of noise we would create was going to interfere
with that process. It really hampered our efforts as Francis was stuck
outside waiting for the crew to finish reshooting a segment, for the 4th
time, for about 30 minutes while waiting to cut some blocks of wood on
the chopsaw that would have taken all of 20 seconds to complete. This
was noted by the judges who, after watching the film crew slowing down
the builds on all the layouts, told the production team that if they
didn't back off and let the teams progress then there would be a bunch
of half finished layouts being shown on tv, and that wouldn't bode well
for the series continuing a third year.
Eventually, we were all allowed some space and time to try and catch up
on our work. For some, however, the lost hours would create a knock on
effect. All teams were feeling the pinch.
Day One came to a halt at 8pm and despite having been given some
clearance, we couldn't get our trackwork for the second level fully
tested. This was to result in a few problems later.
Another warm day, glorious sunshine outside, searing heat inside. This
would be the order of the day.
Continuing on our catch up work, we tried to make headway and get back
on schedule. Sadly, the production team seemed to have different
thoughts and again we were stopped from completing tasks. This, coupled
with the heat building up in the building, was starting to fray a few a
After a number of these, a couple of us walked away from the build
announcing our extreme displeasure to the film crew, we took some ime to
try and gather our thoughts and work on a solution to complete the
The scratchbuild challenge on this occasion was to be undertaken by
Mike. Given his items, he set to and produced a number of items to
complement the layout. Despite his efforts, Team Grantham won the
challenge. Good effort Mike! Still proud of you!
The judges came round in the afternoon and commented that they were
concerned that we hadn't ballasted yet. This set off another set of
complaints which were duly noted. Ballasting was done in the 6pm to 8pm
time slot that filming is suspended to allow work to get done.
However, during this time, large elements which would see a dramatic
change in the layout wouldn't be allowed. Rail Riders were forced to
remove a hillside they'd made. This didn't improve the mood among the
Day Two ended with some of us thoroughly peed off at the lack of
progress due to the previous day's hampering.
The day started with a quick briefing as to what we needed to get done
and in what order. The ballasting from the previous night wasn't dry
despite the warm conditions. This was to create further problems as it
started to warp the plywood we had used on the top deck. This then
caused erratic running of trains, which didn't please us.
It was decided by the judges to allow the teams a little more time to
work on the layouts before judging commenced. However, this wasn't quite
enough to allow for all the work to be completed. Hence a certain number
of areas of the build were rushed to try and make them look like they
A loco brought in by ourselves to cover the missing stock that the
sponsors couldn't provide in the required time, failed to traverse the
layout, resulting in another smaller loco being utilised. This also was
playing up in the heat.
Judging began on other team layouts while we attempted iron out the last
niggles. We weren't satisfied that we had produced our best work, but
were hopeful that our operational challenge would be enough to carry us
through. We had opted to complete the challenge not once, but twice.
The Loch Ness monster was to be loaded onto a wagon at one end of the
layout and unloaded at the other. After a shaky loading we were on the
move. Points thrown, we attempted to move back to the unloading point,
but our loco stalled out on an uneven portion of track, requiring a
slight nudge to get it to continue. Nessie was successfully unloaded and
the crowd cheered. We were given the option of sticking with the
result we had or go for broke with our second challenge. Having built
it, we weren't about to shy away from demonstrating it. The pipe rolled
onto the wagon, and we were off. The little loco stalled out on sections
on the way but reached the destination and the pipe rolled off.
At least those parts worked. We felt a moment of relief.
Again the dreaded moment had arrived, and we all lined up to receive the
First up were Team Grantham. Despite their layout looking fairly bland
and flat, they gave a great performance that made them worthy of a place
in the final.
The tension mounted while we awaited the news of our own fate. Rail
Riders were selected, which shocked not just them, but everyone else in
the room. The resulting applause was mixed with disbelief, which wasn't
what the film crew was hoping to catch. The result had to be reshot and
the crowd encouraged to show a little more enthusiasm.
After congratulating the winning teams, we were approached by Steve
Flint who thanked us for our patience and our contribution to the series
and railway modelling in general.
It was noted that many members of the audience there were gathered near
our layout who were offering commiserations but also remarking on their
disbelief at the result. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but at
the end of the day, we had obviously not impressed the judges enough
that we were knocked out of the competition by ONE point.
After the layout shots had been taken and filming finished, we started
packing up and disassembling the layout ready to be transported. Luckily
we had designed and built our layouts to be easily separated. A little
forethought goes a long way.
Upon arriving home, we took stock of our experiences. While we all
agreed it had been a worthwhile venture, we also felt that it was
something we would be unlikely to repeat in the future.
While the programme had been
challenging by testing your skills and ingenuity, it should be noted
that you need to make sure that everything you plan to do can be
achieved in less time than you think you have.
They say 3 days to build your layout,
but that isn't quite true. Almost constant stoppage times because you
can't make any noise while they are filming on another layout or
reshooting parts because of external interference, you can find your
available man hours being eaten into rather quickly.
Our advice to anyone thinking of
participating is to think big, but think quick. At the end of it you'll
find you only really had 18 hours build time out of the 26 hours you are
Expect tensions to get high and make
sure your team can work well under pressure. Believe us, we were
uttering many expletives and retiring to a safe distance to vent our
What you will get from the experience
is a whole new perspective on what can be done in such a small amount of
time with the proper preparation and mentality.
So remember our motto of the 6 P's when
embarking on this journey.
Proper Preparation Prevents P!$$ Poor Performance.