Northern Heights

I recently went through boxes storing some of my childhood non Hornby trains along with some that were purchased in the early 70’s before I moved to the US.
As a result I had some old locos in need of service which I added to some 0-6-2’s that were in need of attention.
I sent the items to Chris Prentice in Toronto who as Traindoc is my go to for Dublo repairs.
While I was getting the package ready there was an eBay listing from Canada for two Dublo Diesels, a Co-Co and a Bo-Co that were two rail. At that point had just looked through one of my childhood HD catalogues and remember the hours of deciding if I should buy a diesel loco. I didn’t then. As a result I bid and won the two locos and since they were free domestic shipping I had them sent to Chris to service them.
As I already had a 2 rail Co-Co Chris converted the new one to 3 rail along with a Hornby R.157 BR Diesel Power Car set that was originally released by Tri-ang. I had purchased that back when they ran on one of my local London lines. It was always a light model when 2 rail and with three rail pick-up the front bogie lifted of the track which I cured with two ounces of lead.
So Northern Heights has a new Diesel commuter train during ‘Rush Hours’ and a Co-Co which will be relegated to goods trains.
This weekend my two rail 0-6-0 diesel started it’s duties as London Transport L39 with a new body from Wrenn.
I don’t think a 08 loco ever looked this good. Only recently has London Underground used Class 20 diesels for work trains so Northern Heights beat them by decades.
I do have a HD 3 rail Class 20 but have failed over the years to find a spare body suitable for repainting. This one will fill the diesel gap!

Brian has just received the new EFE Underground train to run on his layout.

Three photos of the new EFE TRAINS tube running on Northern Heights at the weekend.
As predicted there are issues when the motor bogies take a radius, which is inconsistent but probably corrected by adding a little extra weight. The trains are very light. Second and third radius probable would not be a problem.

Update from Brian September 2021

I found a damaged plastic two rail brake van which with some glue, paint and decals has become the third and last Dublo Docks equipment. Photos attached.
I added a couple of pictures of the BR replacement Wrenn R1 bodies in service. As Northern Heights is both 2 rail and 3 rail it means I can run those plastic wheeled coaches and wagons that don’t like 3 rail running.
Do you find mixing plastic and metal wheels leads to more derailments?
Your links to the history of HD and Tri-ang trains are quite fascinating. I never quite understood how Meccano could have gone bankrupt, after all who didn’t want toys! Having warehouses full of unsold product would do it, Now thanks to modern economics nothing is warehoused by manufacturers, just made and shipped to order. Yet even with short runs, some modern Bachmann and Hornby trains are rubbish. Not the quality control of Meccano at all.

Another update from Brian on his layout Northern Heights

Hello Tony,

I recently dug out an old computer that still ran a ‘type manipulation software’ and created a Dublo Docks logo for my shunting 0-6-2.
Photos attached.

While the colours are garish the yellow and orange were the colours Dinky used to promote themselves and as a Meccano company I thought Dublo Docks deserved the same corporate branding. I’ll have to add a logo to the crane next.
The milder weather here has allowed me to go outside to spray some of the remaining Montana RV-5 Lutecia Green onto a replacement Wrenn 0-6-0 body.
I had purchased some Dublo rolling stock on eBay which came with an 0-6-0 with a shattered body. With servicing the chassis ran well and I have been waiting some time now for weather conditions to improve.
This falls under the Neverwas class of toy. Hardware was transferred from the smashed donor body. Since the green isn’t an exact match for the Dublo model I consider it a trial paint scheme and I used the BRITISH RAILWAYS lettering of early nationalization. I liked this style when it was cast onto the Budgie Diecast toy 0-6-0 and always wanted to replicate it on a ‘runner’. I was too lazy to number it with individual numerals so used the decals from the AIRFIX/Dapol Pug kits that I had kitbashed into steam railcars.
I enclose a picture of the undecorated replacement body with the coaches, when the decals have fully dried I’ll picture the finished loco with the coaches.
Next weekend we will have our just turned three year old grandson as a house guest. I gave him a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday card and some Thomas themed jigsaw puzzles on his birthday. We have been running dinosaur trains whenever he visits and pictured is the one set up for next week. Percy will come into his own!
If you’re eagle eyed you may be able to spot Paddington Bear on a East Winchley platform. He has a red hat and blue coat.

Brian has updated me on his collection:

A while ago on ebay I noticed that someone in Canada was making replica boxes for Hornby Dublo. As custom items were offered I ended up commissioning a London Transport version for one of my N2 tanks, just out of vanity.
Attached are photos of the box and the loco. While slightly incorrect in colour I will display it in my  cabinet with the reserve ‘on shed’ locos.
Jeff Baker can be contacted at JWBAKER1@TELUS.NET

A further update and pictures from Brian

I use neither a smart phone or a pad but my MacBookPro does find your new blog layout much improved.
I have broken the theme of Northern Heights from just my part of North London to include a 7′ x 1′ extension of River Thames waterfront.
In reality it would be many miles away not just over the tracks but ;
1)     I had waterline boats to use
2)     I wanted to show the various Dublo wagons I have that don’t otherwise get seen.
3)     I’ve been itching to build the old Airfix/Dapol crane again. It and the shunting 0-6-2 are in ‘Dublo Docks’ colors
4)     The Tudor Rose plastic tugboat is contemporary with Hornby Dublo from the 50’s (picture 0596)
5)     The Goods Shed from the Bachmann Resin Thomas the Tank Engine range reminded me of Dock Building.
Happy modelling,

Another update

The Montana RV-5 Lutecia green was ordered on line. I sprayed some in a glass ramekin and used a brush for the retouching. Not a brilliant paint job on my behalf but these are not collectable coaches, I run my trains, and at speed who will notice?
Hopefully the lock down will encourage people to use their new found time to play trains.

Brian updates us on his layout additions since the original story was published

These are updated shots from Northern Heights. Slowly between track and rolling stock maintenance the gaps are filling in on the layout.

When everything was in my head there were going to be many bridges and church spires. Bridges happened, now the first church is in. Being the Dapol/Airfix kit it has a low spire and the name was taken from Monty Python, St Looney-Up-The-Cream-Bun-and -Jam.

If you are ever at a model train show and someone has managed to remotor an Ever Ready Tube Train please send me contact information.

You may have noticed there are few cars on the layout but many taxis and buses.

That’s because when I was an art student in the 60’s I owned and drove a 1956 Austin FX3 taxi. During the 50’s my parents didn’t drive so all trips were by buses or tube trains.

While an art student I worked summers at BRS Parcels depot at Muswell Hill, hence BRS vans not BR making deliveries.

Also Watneys was predominately the local brewery.

At this point East Winchley high platform is pretty much at maximum occupancy.

Well that concludes Brian’s update which gives a great picture of a busy and bustling London scene and proves to me at least that a scenic HD layout can really work.

Now back to the beginning

Brian tells us all about his layout:

Here are some very recent photos of my “Northern Heights” layout. It’s been building since June 2013 at weekends in our second home, purchased for its basement as far as I am concerned! This layout is not finished but a work in progress.

It depicts North London in the 1950’s where I grew up. In my version the “New Works” programme that was to incorporate a British Railways steam line, once electrified, into the London Undergrounds Northern Line took place. My branch line, the Alexandra Palace branch, was dropped from the programme, but if it hadn’t, the this is what could have been. Station names are fictitious but the hope is to produce the feel of the times in a toy train way. This is the model railway I wanted to build over 50 years ago

A couple of videos and then a detailed description of the layout

Now for the detailed description

Northern Heights hillside showing tunnel mouths.

Foreground shows Northern Heights station, lower level three rail Hornby Dublo, 0-6-2 tank engines repainted as London Transport. Upper level station on viaduct on two rail tube stock


Single track on concrete viaduct to the left of the photo. Middle level shows street scene with tramway, foreground shows bi-level station/interchange.


High level platform to the left. Centre right shows lower level with Woodside Circle station.


Bottom shows the bus garage with repainted Dinky buses. Top shows the high level station in art deco style


Bus garage and right centre shows the bridges to the tunnels


Looking to the right of the photo shows both bridges and viaducts to the tunnels

And a lot more pictures of this layout


My original HD train, Silver King, makes it’s first visit to Northern Heights. Still runs as sweetly as in 1955.


Train spotters vantage point



I only have one Dublo Bridge and so could not work it into the circuit. In its place I painted the other bridges orange!










Ingles Barracks with HMQ reviewing Middlesex Regt. Note on right is Helijet with Spacefleet personnel and Treens



Vintage car rally




Watney’s Beer distribution


Armoured train of WW2 vintage


I first read BATMAN in the mid-fifties as b/w Australian reprints. Note late 40’s Batmobile


In my version of London Transport an A4 is ready for express services. Note the red loco to left of second shelf. It’s a truncated plastic Hornby body on a Lima chassis. 2 rail it Runs like a rocket and is a reminder of all those model train, O gauge clockwork box lid illustrations that showed a thundering LMS Pacific Express but the box contained a 0-4-0.

Something really different on Brian’s layout, 3 rail, 2 rail, underground trains and trams plus some very interesting engines in the display cabinet.

Update from Brian

The buses are mostly Dinky repainted with one or two Budgie which were the first OO scale Routemnaster models, with windows!

The bridges in the photo are made using the ends from the Airfix Girder Bridge. Years ago I made a few long bridges joining several kits and the unused ends went decades in the parts box waiting. While I have two Every Ready 4 car sets converted to two rail I would love to obtain new motors for the two sets I hope to run as 3 rail. 


As an historical note London taxis in the 1950’s were limited to a 10 year working life. Once a year they had to go to the Public Carriage Office to be inspected both mechanically and cosmetically for fitness of service. If they failed the inspection they would loose their PCO number plate that showed they were licensed for hire.

Usually a fleet owned cab that was around 5 or 6 years old would need a new interior after being driven for several shifts a day. Some less than honest owners would set fire to their cabs rather than restore them. This was easy as the PCO regulations meant there were no locking doors on the vehicles so vandals could be blamed. Insurance companies grew tired of this and ‘Fire and Theft’ coverage became Theft alone.

Here the London Fire Brigade has put out two burning cabs and is inspecting the bridge above for damage.

My parents didn’t drive so travel was London Transport or on the rarest of occasions a taxi. I loved trams and was disappointed in 1952 when my local route 35 ended along with the rest. In 1954 my local branch line, Eastern Regions Alexandra Palace Line ceased passenger service.

On ‘Northern Heights’ they return. Road traffic is at a standstill, thanks to a strategically placed level crossing, trams run as do the trains, buses and other traffic sits in frustration. People are queuing for one of my favourite films of the day, Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Also trains in London were either in cuts or on viaducts that’s why there are three levels to the layout with the twin track lower level as 3 rail.

Here is a close up of one of the models in the case. It is a repainted 0-6-2T in London Transport deep red with condensing pipes added


We now have the detail of the engines in the cabinet which I show again for easy reference


Brian describes the locos in the display case

The first train on the top left is one of the Redbirds which ran on the No6 route on the NY subway. Next are two Duchess of Montrose 3 rail both in matte and the earlier gloss finish. They were acquired on ebay as part of parcel lots of Dublo. One day I will trade them. Next is a container load on flat wagon. Great play value in it’s day.

Second row is the Hornby LMS body shortened and on a Lima 0-4-0 2 rail chassis. My cousin had a, I think Brimtoy, O gauge clockwork version. My version has been known to fly round the circuit hauling Lima Watney’s Tankers for the entertainment of passengers awaiting their train.

The next 0-6-0 is a Bachmann Digital starter set diesel re-bodied and repainted as London Transport. The upper circuit can be digital if I change the power supply, haven’t done so yet. That’s why in photos the red power cord to the upper circuit is exposed.

The next repainted 0-4-0 was a private owner Hornby. Since it has the slotcar motor it tends to build up g-forces on the curves  and flies off the track.

Next is a Mainline/Airfix N2 repainted for LT. Followed by a HD 3 rail Standard Tank.

I have two Trix 3 rail engines. They run as smoothly as sewing machines but of course cannot negotiate HD points. The second one is painted for LT and is on the layouts siding pulling a breakdown train. A Trix coach, crane and Guards Van.

Last on that shelf is the Hornby Pug. I had to buy one after making so many of the Kitmaster/Airfix versions which were unpowered. If I ever get round to building the dockside extension I will need it.

Third row, A4 in LT livery. I still need to add boiler bands and Middlesex Regiment name plates. Great for running express trains.

In the 1930’s for the birthday of the GNR the LNER ran an A4, Peregrine and a Sterling to Alexandra Palace for display. They ran light engine and returned tender first as there was no way to turn engines. The local trains ran back bunker first.

As a kid with an A4 loco I used to look to my branch line every time I heard a train in case it was Silver King for real. Sadly by then passenger traffic had ceased and only coal trains went through.

Next are four 3 rail HD 0-6-2’s. They await service if motive power failure occurs in the branch

Fourth row are 3 rail Standard Tank and N2 in original paint. Next is a Kitmaster Pug and Kirk kit LNER coach kitbashed to be a steam railcar. In BR colors it’s powered by a Bachmann bogie in the coach. A steam railcar did run on the Edgeware end of the branch in GNR days and there was talk of a private group taking over the branch in 1954 and running ex GWR diesel railcars. The second railcar is in LT colours kitbashed from an Airfix Pug and Kitmaster coach with Kitmaster power bogie. Both were made to run on a proposed shelf layout in auto-shuttle mode.

They do not take curves and weren’t built by me to do so. So cannot run on the present layout.

Fifth row is a Mind the Gap watch for time keeping, then a Heljan Met. BO-BO electric loco in LT colours straight from the box. It’s new, it’s a poor runner and the couplings are rubbish. Next is another Standard 3 rail Tank. Next is a New Haven diesel, possibly a GP7 I think made by Atlas and a coach. They are here to represent the type of train that ran to the town the house is in. Service was cut back by several stations in the early 50’s and taken over by Metro North the NY/Connecticut state owned commuter railroad.

Part of the abandoned right of way is now a museum line, The Naugatuck Railroad. It’s a scenic run along river banks, with visiting steam in the summer months.

Bottom row is a motorized three car set of Harrow Models Underground stock. Now made by Hadley Models. Very heavy white metal kits, which hate even the slightest grade. Next is a Hornby Percy from the early 90’s. Bought for my daughter but she preferred her clockwork sets. Next is my membership card to British Railway Modellers of North America. That was the Journal I sent you a low res version of. I joined hoping to find like minded modellers but they are mostly Canadian based rivet counters. They don’t appreciate the sound of HD drowning out talk and any radio in the room.

The last loco is a Bachmann GWR tank they issued as London Transport in a set with a couple of wagons and brake van. I have three of these and they all suck with poor running straight from the box which with the Heljan model convinced me that going HD 50 year old three rail was more reliable.

After having waited years for ready to run London Underground they are a big disappointment. Of course having said that, the HD are notorious for running perfectly for hours then derailing, uncoupling or just ceasing up for no known reason.

I only have the need for two inservice at a time, but you notice there are more ‘in the shed’ for when motive failures happen.


This photo shows the ABC showing 20,000 Leagues as mentioned in the text. There was an ABC cinema next to the branch line in Muswell Hill. I actually saw  a Peter Seller film there where he played a cinema projectionist, that had to hold the projector still when a train ran by. The crazy thing was that a goods train ran by the theatre during the second feature taking coal to Muswell Hill station goods yard. (now a Primary School) It was almost as loud as in the film!

Correction, The Smallest Show on Earth was seen at the REX East Finchley a few years after the branch through Muswell Hill closed. When Sellers held the projector when the train went past the audience yelled The ABC! The REX East Finchey was about a 10 minute bus ride from Muswell Hill and drew from the same local audience. Sorry, sign of a faulty 59 year old memory.

Also shown is the level crossing giving priority to the trains. I wish the Tony Cooper adaption of the Dublo version to twin track was available when I started building as I would have tried to fit one in at the Northern Heights station.

While there are no crossings on the London Underground there was one out in the docks of east London. I found my way there back in train spotting days to see Port of London (PLA) tank engines at work. They were dead ringers for Percy from Thomas the Tank Engine but I thing a deep red not green. The tram track shown is Tyco brand from the 50’s, the tram disappearing is a Keil Kraft kit on a Tenshodo spud power unit.


This is a blurred shot not for use on your site ( but I used it anyway as its a good story) but to show the Evening Standard poster framed on the wall. The poster is one of a series showing BRISTOW by Frank Dickens the cartoon character that represented the eternal hum drum life of a clerk at work and his problems as a commuter. The cartoonist lived in Muswell Hill and commuted from East Finchley which in the strip was called East Winchley. East Winchley is my name for the elevated station on my layout. It was the station on my branch line that was to be where trains could be caught to reach Moorgate if the Alexandra Palace branch has joined the Northern Line.

If you are unfamiliar with Bristow there are websites that rerun the strip and here Also on the wall is a framed Evening Standard poster about rail complaints. These reflected the headlines of the edition that they were bundled with at delivery to news agents. They would go behind a wire mesh frame where the paper was sold. They are seen on the Airfix/Dapol W H Smith Platform Kiosks and on the Matchbox Evening News delivery van side doors in OO.


Again the photo is blurred and best not used. It is also quite old. For some reason I seem to have avoided taking photos that include the break down train. I will retake it next weekend when ‘playing trains.’ Centre left you can see the TRIX brake down train on the siding. In writing this it occurred to me the irony of a brake down train that will derail as soon as it travels it’s own length. Trix locos on HD points need to bring their own crane!

In this photo you can see the 2 rail track on the extreme left. It is an auto shuttle from Northern Heights East Winchley served by a Bachmann Brill trolley modified to look like the single decker trams that ran to Alexandra Palace. It was intended that the service would be by the kit built three car Harrow Models train in the display case. The two Spud motor bogies couldn’t handle the gradient (or any gradient for that matter)

When retaken the picture will complete all views of the layout to date.

I have attempted to take videos but somehow that guarantees if all seven tracks are going at the same time and I’m video recording the action, something will stall, derail or uncouple. It never fails. I really must learn how to use the basic video editing software.

Some more pictures of the layout including the Trix breakdown train




and a closeup of the poster


In 2007 I built the first layout called Northern Heights. It measured 3’x5′
It had two working tram circuits, the BEC open top powered with a Tenshodo Spud and the Corgi Feltham powered by a BEC unit made to motorize this model are still in use.
The road traffic, Hornby breakdown train, and EFE ’39 Stock motorized by Metro Models are all to be found on the new version.
The first version was knocked about so much being stored and set up that it was never expanded with additional modules and finally thrown away in frustration.