An O Gauge layout based on the now closed branch line terminus at Ashburton in Devon

Built and described by Paul Plowman

6 May 2020 - Timeline and Rolling Stock Planning

The biggest problem I face in building this layout is that I don't have forever to do it. Consequently I need to take every opportunity to utilise whatever I can acquire ready made or ready to run. One would have thought that rolling stock would not be a problem. Ashburton was synonymous with 14xx tanks with autocoaches and 45xx praire tanks. All of which are available ready to run from Dapol and Lionheart each in a mulitude of liveries. To make life difficult there were numerous changes in locomotive allocations and types and liveries of coaches in the short period of time post nationalisation when passenger services were operated, just 10 years.

In an attempt to get a full picture of events I have drawn up the following timeline from available photographs in books and on the internet.



Note: For descriptive purposes auto coaches will be described as follows:

Type 1: Panelled body.
Type 2: Flush sided Collett era.
Type 3: Flush sided BR built.


  • First confirmed date of 48xx 0-4-2T no.4870 on the branch 30 August. 4870 later numbered 1470 found general use on the branch on both passenger and goods until final closure in 1962.


  • Railways nationalised 1 January.
  • First repaints of auto coaches in crimson and cream.


  • 44xx 2-6-2T no.4405 was the regular goods engine until withdrawn in 1955. Occasionally used on passenger trains. Always ran chimney towards Ashburton. Livery always black with early logo.


  • Region wide directive from Riddles that auto coaches to be painted crimson. Existing to remain in crimson and cream until repainted. New builds to be painted in plain crimson.
  • 14xx 0-4-2T no.1439 photographed on the branch 18 September.
  • First photograph of a type 3 auto coach on the branch 18 September in crimson and cream livery.


  • 44xx 2-6-2T no.4405 withdrawn and replaced by 16xx 0-6-0PT no.1608. There is no photographic evidence of 1608 on the branch.


  • Region wide auto coaches to be painted in plain maroon.


  • Type 2 auto coach photographed on 29 May in plain maroon livery.
  • 2-coach B set in use by the autumn.
  • 14xx 0-4-2T no.1427 photographed on the branch in 1957 and 1958. Livery uncertain. Might be lined green.


  • 14xx 0-4-2T no.1427 photographed in lined green livery with early logo with a 2-coach B set.
  • Passenger services finish 1 November.


  • Region wide from mid-year auto coaches painted in lined maroon. None to be seen on the Ashburton Branch now goods only.
  • During the goods only period 14xx 0-4-2T no.1470 was photographed in lined green livery with late logo. The loco now ran chimney towards Ashburton.
  • During this period there are a number of undated photographs of 45xx 2-6-2T no.4555 working on the branch running with chimney towards Ashburton. Livery uncertain. 4555 was eventually painted in lined green with late logo but the date cannot be confirmed.


  • Line closed to all traffic 10 September.

Locos confirmed by photographs to have worked on the line: 1427, 1439, 1470, 4405 and 4555.
(No photos to confirm 1608 worked the branch only one taken at Dainton)
Auto coaches confirmed by photographs: W31 (Type 1), W192 (Type 2)
B Set coaches confirmed by photographs: W6277W. (6277 was paired with 6276 but no photo to confirm identity of 6276 at Ashburton)

The first major decision I had to make was whether to model pre-war or post-nationalisation periods. Dapol produce a very tempting model of an autocoach in GWR colours with the panelling fully lined out.

Above: GWR Autocoach by Dapol available from Hattons

However, this is a trap for the unwary. The 14xx class locomotives were not introduced until 1932 while the GWR had ceased painting coaches in this style around 1928. So one cannot pair a 14xx with an autocoach in this livery, unless it is in a well weathered condition. There are very few photographs taken pre-war. Those which were taken are mostly poor quality views of 517 Class 0-4-2T's which preceded the 14xx Class. The huge volume of photographs and information available for the post-war era makes modelling this period a far easier prospect. However, in the post-war period there is another trap to be wary of. Certainly the regular goods engine was 44xx Class 2-6-2T No.4405 but this locomotive was withdrawn in 1955 to be replaced by 16xx 0-6-0PT No.1608. From 1955 until the goods only period there is no photographic evidence of a Class 44xx praire working on the branch. During the goods only period there are a number of undated photographs of 4555.

Above: Class 45xx 2-6-2T by Lionheart available from Hattons

If I wish to run a 44xx praire on my layout in the passenger era it will have to be no.4405 and the layout will need to be dated before 1955.

Auto coaches were first repainted in crimson and cream. In 1952 Riddles issued a directive to the Western Region that the livery of auto coaches was to be all over crimson in compliance with the standard BR practice. The first photographic evidence of a BR built auto coach on the branch is dated 18 September 1952 (in crimson and cream livery). The change to all over maroon came in 1956 after the departure of 4405.

Decision Time:

In consideration of the photographic information available I have decided to set the date of my layout to 1954. The branch locos will be 44xx 2-6-2T no.4405 and 14xx 0-4-2T no.1439 both in black with early logo.

Above: Class 14xx 0-4-2T by Dapol available from Hattons

This date enables me to run all types of auto coach in either crimson and cream or all crimson liveries.

Above: Autocoach in crimson by Dapol available from Hattons

As the change to maroon occured in 1956 it will not be possible to run anything in that livery. However, life would become very boring if at times we don't apply some modellers' license, "It's my layout and I'll run what I like". So 14xx no.1470 will be seen in lined green with late logo as it was to be seen in the goods only period.

Above: Class 14xx 0-4-2T in lined green livery with late logo by Dapol available from Hattons

Also praire 4555 will be seen in lined green with late logo.

Above: Class 45xx 2-6-2T in lined green livery by Lionheart available from Hattons

It might even be seen with a 2-coach B set in tow as was to be seen on the line during 1957 and 1958.

1 May 2020 - Progress Report

I am currently focusing my attention on building the crossover located in the platform. I have continued to use my CAD system to design the detail of this crossover. In my attempts to make the trackwork as accurate a representation of the original as possible I am refering to photographs and the GWR 1914 site survey. Close scrutiny of photographs suggests that BR renewed this crossover sometime after 1949 but before the end of auto working in 1957. A photograph by R J Doran on page 41 of Paul Karau's book Great Western Branch Line Termini, Vol 2 shows a short check rail supported by only four chairs. A later photograph by R C Riley on Alex Seal's website shows this check rail to be supported by the standard five chairs.

Link to picture on Alex Seal's Website

The crossover appears to have been renewed fairly recently as the ballast is clean and not yet contaminated with dirt and weeds. The creosoted timbers also appear to be fresh. I am therefore modelling a BR standard B8 crossover with semi-curved switches at this location.

I have cut out the sections of sub-base from 7mm plywood and drawn out the timber and rail positions on them.

Above: Trackwork sub-bases for the B8 crossover looking towards the buffer stops

For the lower level in the sandwich I am using cork floor tiles to minimise the transmission of noise into the baseboards. The two layers have been glued together using Selley's Kwik Grip, a contact adhesive and Australia's equivalent to Evostic.

Above: Sub-base sandwich of 7mm plywood and cork floor tiles

17 February 2020 - Initial Considerations

Above: Former GWR Autocoach W38 by Dapol

Over the past year or so it has gradually become apparent that I need to seriously review the future of my Littlehempston P4 layout. Age is catching up with me and realistically I will probably have to down size into a smaller property or retirement accomodation within the next five years. An assessment of the tasks outstanding to complete the layout suggest that completion is unlikely to be achievable within the five years. I am therefore faced with the question, do I continue to spend money, time and effort on a layout which will probably have to be broken up before it is completed? There is little chance of the layout coming with me as it will need at least a 3-car garage to accomodate it which would be a very unrealistic expectation. My thoughts are that I should now abandon the project or at least cut back on it and direct my efforts towards building a new smaller layout which could, at least in part be erected in a single unit garage in the future.

About 35 years ago when I was working in the CCE's New Works Office of Southern Region a student came into the office with a 40ft - 1in scale plan of Ashburton which he had acquired from the records office at Swindon. I managed to persuade him to loan the plan to me for a few days while I spent my lunch times tracing it on to linen. Many years later I digitised the plan to enable me to load it into a CAD system. The resulting computer model is probably not that accurate but it is the best I can expect.

In CAD I rescaled the survey to 7mm to 1 foot. Here in Australia it is usual for houses to have what is called a "rumpus" room. It is a extra living room and is used for a variety of purposes, television room, music room, games room, gym, etc. When I overlayed the 7mm scale survey of Ashburton over an outline of the room I found that I could fit the layout from the buffer stops to the engine shed inclusive and close the room off from the adjacent main open plan living area. The Malthouse would need to be on a seperate removable baseboard extending into the living area. At a future date the section between the buffers and the engine shed could at least be erected in a single garage unit although operation would be difficult.

As a subject for modelling Ashburton has a lot going for it. Firstly there are a huge number of photographs on the internet and in books. In addition the excellent book "Great Western Branch Line Termini" by Paul Karau contains pull out drawings of all the main buildings including the overall roof. These three main buildings still exist, although somewhat modified and can quickly be found with Google Earth and Streetview.

The one problem I have come up against is that the survey from which I am working is dated 1914. The layout was altered around 1930 to extend the loop. Prior to remodelling it was only possible to run round two coaches. The extended loop made it possible to run round 4 Mk1 coaches or 5 coaches of around 57ft. However, the reason for extending the loop was probably more to do with the length of cattle trains rather than passenger trains. In later years the service was provided by a loco and single coach, either an autocoach or finally a single non-corridor brake composite. At busy times the formation might be increased to two coaches. With CAD using the 1914 survey as a background I have had to redesign the layout in its later form from photographs. I say 'redesign' because other than the release crossover every turnout appears to have been moved and none of them are straight. Fortunatey details of Great Western turnouts can be found in publications from the Permanent Way Institution.

Above: CAD Design

In undertaking this redesign process a number of interesting features were revealed. Firstly it appears that the layout was just built with anything second hand that was available. There is no other reason for the release crossover to be made from two B8.25 turnouts. It also appears that the turnouts were very cleverly positioned to suit the alignment of the running line. This layout cannot be built using proprietry turnouts. Peco turnouts are completely unsuitable for anything other than use in the hidden sidings. I will have to build all six visible turnouts from stratch.

My chosen period is the early 1950's when auto working was still in operation and the autocoaches could be seen in a mixture of red and cream or all maroon liveries. Only two classes of locomotives were used on the Ashburton Branch, the 14xx Class 0-4-2T and the 45xx Class 2-6-2T small praire. Both of these classes are available from Dapol. Usually the goods was worked by a 45xx praire but one of these locos was later withdrawn and replaced by a 16xx Class 0-6-0PT. Unfortunately a ready to run model of this class is not available. Dapol make a 64xx Class 0-6-0PT but these did not appear on the line until the preservation era. Auto coaches are also available from Dapol and so far I have purchased W37 and W38.

Above: Former GWR Autocoach W37W by Dapol

A major decision which has to be made at an early stage is the method of track construction. 47 years ago I started building an O Gauge layout, yes it was 47 years ago! Unfortunately we needed to make a household move. Our new house was not suited to O Gauge and I continued working with OO. However, some progress had been made with the construction of a tandem turnout and two crossovers. The concept was that building pointwork in easy to manage modules would be better than leaning over wide baseboards to build pointwork in situ. The materials used are all Peco, comprising rails, S1 chairs and slide chairs. It was quickly realised that the Peco plastic chairs were not going to be suitable or strong enough to hold critical components in place, such as flexible switch blades. It was also desireable to have a layer of sound absorbing material under the track to prevent vibration being transmitted to the main baseboards. The choice was for a sandwich of half inch wood fibre insulation board topped with 3mm plywood. The plywood would provide a firm surface to hold small brass screws to which the critical components could be soldered. It would also be a suitable surface to hold track pins. The wood fibre insulation board would absorb sound while screws and pins could protrude slightly through the plywood.

Above: Pointwork built for a previous project showing plywood sub-base laid on wood fibre insulation board

The sleepers and timbers are balsawood. Balsawood might seem rather soft for this application but it can easily be cut with a sharp knife and readily aborbs wood stain. This method of track construction has not been tested with the pounding of heavy O Gauge locomotives so it needs to be given some thought.

Above: This image shows the realistic effect of balsawood timbers

Above: Pointwork built for a previous project

I have made the decision to continue with this method but to use cork floor tiles as a sub-base instead of wood fibre insulation board. At the time of writing I have not made a decision about the use of balsawood timbers. A possible alternative would be plywood.

Paul Plowman

17 February 2020

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