N gauge ‘Wheal Annah’

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Wheal Annah February 2015 - 2- OMWB

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Wheal Annah Feb 2015 - 3 - OMWB

Wheal Annah is a straightforward N gauge (9mm gauge) layout with the theme inspired by Cornish china clay operations from the 1970s and 1980s.  This is my fifth portable layout suitable for exhibition use and one of the smallest I have ever built – my OO gauge Loch Dhu Distillery being smaller. The building of the layout has been featured in Hornby Magazine over the last five months of 2014 and it is now complete and ready for exhibiting.

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It started life as a recovered baseboard frame from another abandoned layout project. I never throw anything away that has the potential to be reused. This frame was glued and screwed together including the original top. If planning to make frames reusable, certainly use the belt and braces of glue and screws when building the frames, but only use screws to secure parts you may need to discard to allow re-use the frames – makes it so much easier to dismantle the boards further down the line!

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Research and planning is essential – make sure your layout plan includes some way of running a loco or two round your train and be sure that shunting necks will accommodate the longest loco or pair of locos you are likely to use.

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Fun with track laying. The layout is equipped with Peco code 55 track. The choice of track and other methods of construction had to be mainstream to meet the needs of Hornby Magazine. That does not preclude making the layout appear interesting and unique.

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Track laying commenced once the recycled baseboard frame was stabilised and fitted with a new top. A shunting layout needs good track for smooth operation – shunting using up to date standard equipment being one of the project objectives.

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The layout shared a small ‘fiddle stick’ staging yard with ‘Dudley Heath’, my other N gauge exhibition layout for a while. It has since been equipped with its own cassette staging yard.

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Test running with a Graham Farish Class 66 and Dapol ICA ‘Silver Bullet’ clay slurry tank wagons.

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Working on the layout structure with back drop boards and uprights to support the layout’s lighting box taking shape.

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The layout is not designed to be a beginner’s project but a low-cost one for a more experienced modeller. Turnouts are operated with simple wire and tube linked to activation switches (DPDT) for polarity change of the turnout common crossings located at the front of the layout.

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Building mock-ups made from card to see how they will fit the layout.

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Given that the key objective of the layout is for shunting operations, it helps to have plausible ‘industries’ and ‘customers’ to be served by the railway. One is a bulk clay loading shed whilst the other is for palleted and bagged clay.

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Making a start on the buildings which are constructed from styrene card.

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One of the works buildings after painting.

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Taking shape! There are several reasons I did not go for coved corners on this layout. Firstly, the side panels are made to be removable to allow different angles for photography. Secondly, removable panels are easier to paint and maintain. Thirdly, painted panels can be left to one side as work progresses on scenery and detailing to prevent them from becoming spoiled by a slip. Finally, should I wish to change the back drop painting, the end and back scene panels can be slipped out and placed on the work bench to allow changes to be made easily.

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Painting the back drop and side panels on the work bench using fast drying acrylic paint. Mistakes are easier to correct when acrylic paints are used.

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Typical features of the area can be painted on the panels to give the impression of other works and clay dries which are off-scene.

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The back drop sketches are simple and lack detail so they do not overwhelm the small layout. Instead, I hope they create the impression of distance.

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China clay collected from a real CDA wagon is used to weather hard standing and other features. It is mixed with water and matte medium to ensure it sticks!

Wheal Annah Western 101

Progress as of mid January 2014…

Wheal Annah Western 100


Wheal Annah Class 25

Early Graham Farish is represented in the form of a Poole-designed Class 25 model. This is a relatively recent re-issue of the model (2013/4) but still not DCC ready. A completely new tooling for the Class 25 has been completed and released by Graham Farish which will eventually include the Class 25/3 version. This model is equipped with a Digitrax DZ126 wired decoder to enable it to run on Wheal Annah.

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Dapol Class 122 – a particular favourite of mine and a lovely runner too.

Wheal Annah overview

Detailing of the layout continues – even a small N gauge project like this can swallow up a lot of small details. Attention will turn to renumbering and weathering the locomotives, including a Dapol Class 22 and 52; locomotives which are not as familiar to me as more modern ones.


Lighting box which is now has LED strips instead of the fluorescent tube.



The most recent development (2016) is the cassette staging which has made operations very much more flexible and has reduced the handling of stock to almost nothing.


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