A piece of
German border railway
in North Hampshire
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CROOKHAM GARTEN BAHN (HO gauge)
It all began at Easter 1999, when the idea of building a garden HO layout emerged. This was to enable the operation of a Thalys set that was presented to me at a recent birthday party by a group of friends. Two working model trams were also part of the gift. With a large 25-year old "N" gauge system in the garage the garden was the last option if the presents were to be seen running.
The shape of the garden demanded a sinuous route around a large oak tree (authentic year-round leaves here) with one terminus parallel to the patio wall.
An extension was included before the original route was finished and now provides a useful alternative terminus and a crooked "Y" formation.
Peco track was laid on roofing felt which not only provided an authentic ballast look but also a weatherproof cover over the wood base. Virtually all the layout is raised about 12-18" above ground to minimise damp problems, but it has proved the necessity of fully painting the underside of the timber base, whilst the airspace has proved invaluable for (the considerable) electric wiring. Support is provided by fence post bases hammered into the earth. The stretch across the patio is laid on two concrete lintels (spare from fencing) supported by house bricks. This posed a potential problem of drilling through to the underside - a sharp masonry bit was required.
An early tip learnt was the need to hardwire around each rail joint to ensure conductivity. Another early problem was that point motors mounted underside of the base were prone to collect water and therefore rust, impeding operation. All exterior point switches are, therefore, surface mounted on Hornby or Peco bases with P.Way hut covers.
Although the original intention was to have a simple layout with minimal electrics outdoors, inevitably the inborn desire for operational accuracy was to prevail and the flexible system offered by Embedded Controls of Alyth, Dundee, was chosen. This small company provides signals hand built by Roger Murray with "plug-in" or direct fix bases and their own micro-electronic circuits with track circuit options and an excellent after-sales service is offered. Six such circuits were installed, at each terminus, three around Knotenpunkt and another at the sidings junction. The outdoor environment (and the need to inter-work with infra-red train detection units by Heathcote Electronics) caused some mystifying problems at first but after a personal visit by Mr. Embedded himself (a 500 mile journey!) the problems were solved. The result is authentic 2 and 3-aspect operation of the colour-light signalling. Where necessary signals have been installed at a slight angle from vertical to permit better vision.
OPERATION in the early days
Each of the three termini had two tracks enabling up to five trains to work the system, although the single main line restricts operation to one train at a time. It is wired for automatic operation using slowdown and shuttle reverse units by Kent Panel Controls. Use of a Gaugemaster Duo controller, however, also allows manual operation from the original shed.
The rolling stock units comprised a DB regional two-car tilting Pendilino set, A DB diesel loco with two double-deck suburban coaches in push-pull mode, the initial Thalys articulated four coach set, and other examples of DB and Swiss trains.
Having arrived from the sidings in the adjacent garden shed the sequence started at the Rabenau terminus, named after a delightfully-situated station in Lower Saxony. A train will then depart across the long suspension bridge before rounding the 120-year old oak to cross the tracks at Gartenmühle by girder bridge This station is reached through the shubbery via a length of square roof guttering which leads to the points at Knotenpunkt (German for junction!). The curving left hand route is taken here along the raised perimeter wall of the shrubbery culminating in a sharp left turn into Gartenmühle station itself. Only one short platform is provided here for a three-car train. It then returned to Rabenau. The out-and-back sequence was then repeated by the Thalys (or fourth train). Two hidden sidings were served by a parallel line at Gartenmuhle. The expanded operations now use it as a connector between the oval and shuttle; the sidings have been taken out of use.
A train arriving back at Rabenau allowed a departure of a train from the opposite side of the island platform for the third terminus at Rosenstock. The same route is taken as far as the junction, where the main right hand route was set to take the train over the long Lotchsberg viaduct across the shed entrance to reach the two platform terminus, covered by a train shed roof. The local train at in the second platform at Rosenstock was permitted to leave for Rabenau after the points were changed by more Heathcote equipment.
Back at Rosenstock, detection of the arriving train allowed the points to be changed for the outgoing departure back to Rabenau. The sequence was then repeated, providing a 3 to 1 frequency on each branch.
It can reasonably be expected that the plants and flowers will provide an authentic backdrop to the railway but limited scenic dioramas have been provided, particularly at Gartenmühle, where, apart from the windmill (illuminated at night) a working brewery is to be found near the station, separated only by the town garden and its clock, a replica of that which stood in Berlin Hbf. Round the narrow bend in the road (controlled by working traffic signals) stands a pub with bier-garten, although the beer seems to come from a source other than the nearby plant.
Some buildings have been affected by the weather or little beasties who seem to include paper in their diet. On one occasion a bigger beastie, in the form of a squirrel made a visit damaging several items. A new purpose-built animal-proof cover has now been provided which has conveniently allowed improved cabling to be installed from the main shed.
With the Essbahn extension, a low level town scene has been created which includes a tram shuttle and brass band playing musical concerts. Whilst listening, look for the shop offering strip shows!
The enclosing of the additional wiring and control units allowed expansion of the streets around Rabenau. A lively market is sited next to the 4 wheel carriage while at the end house a fire is raging with the fire crew battling for control. The large churchyard (with funeral in progress) is separated by a narrow road and level crossing over the high-level Hochbahn line. When the new loco depot is complete some more scenic items will be added.
Scenery at Rabenau, apart from the usual railway operational buildings (the line's HQ is here), is limited to local housing and small station approach with car parking and cycle rack. Occupying the single station siding is a redundant 4-wheel carriage now used by local rail staff.
At the elevated Rosenstock terminus, there is space only for the terminal building behind the buffer stops. The overall roof, along with the church, brewery and many other buildings are internally lit at night and these, together with the trains' working head and tail lamps, make evening viewing very attractive.
10 YEARS ON
About 20% of the formation has been rebuilt recently after our climate had made its mark on sections built of other than natural timber. The term "wrong kind of wood" sprang to mind. The use of roofing felt has definitely paid dividends but dampness can still pervade any untreated surfaces.
The original curving Y layout has been extended in three ways culminating in provision of a purpose-built shed (10’ x7’), supported on two sides by lateral battens fixed to stone walls. The arrival of this quality "room" has meant much-improved protection for not only Rabenau terminus, but the low-level line of the new oval route, town tram shuttle and scenic dioramas.
The latest extension, a two metre long platform at Rabenau Hochbahn, plus a steep downgrade chord to the clockwise oval line, provides a reversing facility for main line trains on a continuous run. For this to occur, however, the Gartenmuhle shuttle has to stabled at that terminus, whilst the main line trains uses its pathway to Rabenau and the connection to the Hochbahn platform.
When a replacement shed was necessary for the golf equipment, this was obtained one size larger, thus permitting an extension of both platform lines at Rosenstock into it. Relocation of the route at the original garden shed has eliminated troublesome interfaces at the Lotschberg bridge and permitted simplification of the carriage sidings store as two purpose-built steel depots (wall & tree) are now in place, giving eight longer sidings.
OPERATION AND CONTROL
The present system includes both manual and automatic control. For both the inter-urban tramway and rail shuttles automatic mode is the norm. It is wise, however, to have a supervisor on duty as trains can occasionally stop short of platforms etc. CCTV permits remote supervision of Rosenstock sidings.
The continuous run can also be operated automatically, but the local Controller has to select the place at which each train should commence its deceleration to ensure a correct stop at Essbahn station. As with the prototype right-hand running is the norm on double track sections.
When the Controller wishes to send the train back to depot, he must take over manual operation of the Rabenau shuttle after a train has arrived at Gartenmuhle. As already mentioned, this permits the main line train to reach Rabenau and take the through route via platform one to R-Hochbahn. The track power then has to be reset for clockwise running. This is indicated by an audible warning and clearance of the platform starting signal. The route will then be clockwise until its time for the train to terminate at Essbahn and return to Wall depot. To add further interest a second reverse loop is almost completed, allowing the continuous anti-clockwise run to restart again from Essbahn.
The original Rabenau shuttles have been expanded and simplified, three new sidings beyond Rosenstock give an improved variety of services asd all use platform 2 at Rabenau. After arrival there the route is set from the other platform for the train to leave for Gartenmuhle. On its arrival back at Rabenau, the loco-hauled train returns to Rosenstock. When the Lotschberg diversion was opened the opportunity was taken to provide a second track between the sheds to provide a dedicated tram route. A connection exists however, for trains to use Rosenstock’s far platform, or for stock movements.
In addition to the original acquisitions, the system now has a 6-car ICE tilting unit, a 6-car IC Express set, a Swiss Double-deck train, a lengthy freight train and, in common with many European operators, has a "nostalgia zug", with two steam locos to haul it. The tram fleet comprises a Karlsruhe tram/train unit, a Stuutgart S-Bahn set and a Berlin triple car tram.
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