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The Run Up
Late 2018 saw representatives from the club approach KnickerBockerGlory Productions with a view to participate in the second series of the Great 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 schedule.
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 systems employed.

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 homage 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 simulate lava.

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 hinderance.

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 additional 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.

Heat One

Day One Heat One
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 all.

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. 

Day Two Heat One
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 done!

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.

Day Three Heat One
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 had failed!
With only 30 minutes 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, always 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 highly.
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, elated!
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 and that we won by one point!

* * *

Semi Finals One

Day One Semi 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.

Day Two Semi One
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 nerves.
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 build.

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 teams.

Day Two ended with some of us thoroughly peed off at the lack of progress due to the previous day's hampering.

Day Three Semi One
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 were done.

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 news.

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 allowed.
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 frustrations.

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.



C&DMRS 2015-2020