Wrack and Ruin

A mid-life crisis in narrow gauge

A Narrow Swerve From Extinction

I came here to write a mea culpa for neglecting the Rhach & Rhwyn over the past few years, only to discover that I’d been neglecting the blog even longer! (How long? Well, I just had to trawl right back through the archive to the first post to remember how I’d spelled Rhach & Rhwyn.) Occasional weekend services recommenced in the garden just the other day, after actual effort was expended in rescuing it from dereliction. So let me bring things back up to date.

Since the last entry, I dutifully weeded the trackbed, titivated the alignment and ran my basic little battery-powered shunter each Spring for a couple of years thereafter. And then somehow, time got away from me and there never seemed to be quite enough to keep on top of it, and little point making the effort as there would have been few opportunities to use it afterwards either. But I felt bad every time I caught sight of buried rails or broken joints, wondering how much further I could allow matters to slip before my hundred pounds of Peco SM32 became permanently unusable and therefore a waste of money and effort.

Worse, due to soil creep in my attractively dank and overgrown cutting, it had slumped to such a degree that the entire curve was now buried in mud and grot. I should have taken the total demise of the “Mind Your Own Business”, a plant that typically thrives in shade and quickly overruns most gardens instead here drowned in a boggy morass, as a sign that nothing was going to be easy. I knew sorting this out was going to involve lifting it all, shoring up the sides and relaying, and I had a vague idea how I wanted to do it (with a sort of dry stone wall/clawdd), but was dissuaded by the disruption involved and a lack of suitable stone. (Obtaining small quantities of rough building stone for domestic use seems nigh on impossible - I could have indulged in some illicit quarrying locally but I suspected that may attract adverse attention and it didn’t feel like the environmentally sound approach.).

In the end, a week off and a visit to the one useful gardening centre in Cardiff (Blooms in St Mellons - tip-off from a very helpful chap in B&Q) procured a few choice rockery stones and time enough to do the work. The results aren’t quite what I had in mind - more dried-up pebbly riverbed if you’re being kind - but will hopefully keep the cutting clear for a good few years yet. Unfortunately, the sense of cool shade and a hidden green tunnel through the undergrowth has been rather lost, but perhaps the next Spring will restore this.
Relaid curve and renovated cutting

Elsewhere, I added a couple of extra paving bricks and fixings to level out the track, which was beginning to rise in places, and replaced several rusted mending plates and screws. Here’s a tip: do not use zinc-plated anything outdoors, it will never survive Welsh weather. I’ve cleared two B&Q stores out of their limited stocks of plastic-coated 80mm flat straps (and still haven’t got enough), after extracting an original one intact in as-new condition from the cutting, and made sure I used some proper brass woodscrews this time. Crucially, I also repaired some of the breaks in the track that had developed over the duration (which were not helped by the installation of some more sleeper-bounded flowerbeds a few years back - a visible but fortunately harmless kink in one rail being the result, although I’m grateful it was no worse than that). I was slightly perturbed by the number of fishplates that had snapped or sheared at the rail joints. A potentially better alternative would appear to be Cliff Barker’s plastic rail joiners.

Finally, never underestimate the determination of lawn grass to encroach on your ballast. I’ve never hidden the fact that I prefer the overgrown look on a railway but…well, really! Full size grass is much too obstructive to scale rolling stock, and somehow the edges of the lawn have also risen up against the trackbed, impinging on clearance at the sides. I could use some type of low profile edging to keep it back - slate would be ideal, if one could reliably split it to size. (If the lawn would only put as much effort into covering its various bare patches as it did into invading the railway, I’d have a sward of which to be proud.)

This is all, sadly, the result of going for a quick and dirty, semi-permanent construction rather than the proper concreted or brick and block-based, proven techniques that “proper” garden railways employ - but if I’d gone down that path, I doubt anything would ever have run, nor would my temperament have withstood the ordeal. As someone I admire once said, a man’s gotta know his limitations.

Anyway, after two days of back-aching crouching and lifting, I was finally able to run a test train round the circuit several times without incident - and it looked grand too. A little plain and dull - I really should take a stab at sprucing up these Eazy models - but nice to see a train creeping through the shrubbery once more (although Charlie, our youngest cat, was soon to be found creeping after it, curiosity and hunting instinct aroused). In fact, I was sufficiently inspired to go back to my carriage kit, which was set aside mid-build around the same time the railway went to sleep. Last time I went near this, I’d bought the recommended Plastizap glue to stick the glazing in place - and then procrastinated for so long, the entire bottle had hardened until solid. Turns out ordinary superglue works just as well without fogging the windows. With only the chassis to attach, passenger figures to be added and roof to go on, it might actually be seen on the line before Autumn.

Live steam? That never quite happened - the need and the budget never quite reached high enough, but I’m tempted again to revisit this in a year or two, once an expensive holiday is out of the way. Unfortunately, prices have only climbed higher in the interim, with the Chinese-made Accucraft locos in particular being hit by pre-Brexit exchange rises. Were I buying today, I’d be tempted by a Roy Wood Janet with all the extras. If you’re shopping though, Simon Wood has an excellent summary of the current options at the budget end of the market. In fact, go look at Simon’s Moel Rhos line instead, it’s much further on than mine. (I feel partly to blame for putting him on this path, but the impressive results are entirely the fruit of his own labours.)