Morpeth’s Brush With Fame

The ideas incorporated into the benchwork of my first Morpeth layout developed over the course of about a decade of modelling in HO. I’d purchased the Linn Westcott book on layout benchwork and tried out many of the suggestions it contained. My last HO layout, Trundlemore, was constructed using L-girder benchwork and this exercise provided me with first hand experience of the advantages and disadvantages of this style of layout construction. I can elaborate on these at a later time if anyone is interested.

While I found what has come to be known as “L-girder benchwork” did not satisfy all my requirements for layout construction, there was one element of Linn Westcott’s design that I found very useful: the L-girders themselves were a layout feature that I found myriad uses for. The beams produced by attaching a 1″X2″ length of pine along one edge of a 1″X4″ turned two, ordinary pieces of pine into an incredibly stable and rigid construction member.

Over the course of a couple of years I developed a method of layout construction that put the idea of L-girders to a slightly different use than outlined by Linn Westcott. I wanted to use ladder frames to hold up the benchwork risers, but I used L-girders to hold these off the ground. I formed three separate L-girders into what can best be described as a lower case “h”, and connected two of these “h” shaped structures with a simple ladder frame. With a little elaboration, these formed the basis of the benchwork for Morpeth MkI. I’ll post a couple of photos to illustrate what I’m talking about.

The resulting benchwork was relatively cheap, easy to construct (it was all butt jointed), had a small footprint and was quick and simple to put together. For me, one of the most important elements of all was that it could be made from readily available materials and with fairly simple tools: pine of various dimensions, wood screws, plywood and mdf.

I constructed the layout in discreet sections that could have been separated and transported if this had suited me. As it turned, out the layout ended up being dismantled the next time I moved. However, if I’d been moving across town, instead of 500km away, it would have been the work of one afternoon to pull the layout apart and reassemble it in a new home.

As an aside I got quite excited about this layout construction method, so excited in fact that I told a U.S. acquaintance of mine by the name of Tony Koester about it. Tony and I had been trading emails for about a year. I’d sent him some photos I’d taken using my then, brand new, digital camera. I suggested to him that this method of benchwork might make a good feature in Model Railroad Planning and sent him some photos of it. Suddenly my emails started bouncing. So Morpeth’s shot at stardom was to end in ignominy; my benchwork had been rejected by the big time! To be fair to him, Tony did suggest that I contact Model Railroader with these ideas, but I failed to listen.

A couple of years ago Tony Koester visited Australia and dropped by a layout that I had had some small involvement in constructing, Stringybark Creek. After his visit he went home and wrote a fantastic article for MR about his visit and the work of a good friend of mine, Roger Porter. If I’d met Tony during that visit what would I have said? Hey Tony, I’m the guy who’s emails you blocked? I doubt it…

Perhaps Tony Koester was just a good judge of character 🙂

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