SALTASH AND THE ROYAL ALBERT BRIDGE This article by Ian Shulver describes the club's Saltash layout, which was exhibited around the North-West from 1997 to 2012. It is now in honourable retirement in one of Jim's capacious cellars. He is almost sure which oneâ€Ś.
Following on from Dulverton, but still retaining a Great Western theme, 'Saltash and the Royal Albert Bridge' is the Society's latest offering in N-gauge. Strictly only the trackwork conforms to N-gauge, the rest of the layout being built to 2mm to 1'. Brunel's magnificent bridge spanning the River Tamar and joining Devon with Cornwall took almost six years to build and was completed in 1859. The Royal Albert Bridge, as it is officially known, is a 'bowspring suspension bridge' comprising of two wrought iron arches supporting the trackbed which spans the river, at this point over 1100' wide. Leading up to the main bridge spans are the ten approach viaducts on the Cornwall side and seven on the Devon side, giving a total length of over Â˝ mile.
Originally it was intended that only the main bridge and approach viaducts would be built â€“ it would just about fit into a room at home as a tail-chasing layout. However, once plans had been obtained, a visualisation model made and a start made on constructing the main tubular arches, it became apparent that a somewhat more extensive layout was required. Fortunately Southport MRS offered to take on the construction of this as a replacement for Dulverton. With more resources available, Saltash station could be included to give some interest on the Cornwall side, whilst for the Devon side plans were made to include a short stretch of the old LSWR line from Plymouth to Exeter. For a time the layout was exhibited as viewed from the north, or up-river, side of the bridge. Saltash town and station were fully modelled but the Devon side only sparsely so, apart from buildings and the LSWR line in the immediate vicinity of the approach viaducts. Whilst it was possible to get up close to the layout with this arrangement and admire the detail, it was difficult to appreciate the sheer scale of the bridge.
Then came a happy accident. At a recent exhibition, an error in measurements meant a late relocation of the layout with the consequence that could now be seen by the public on all four sides. What surprised us was the number of people viewing it over the fiddle yard and taking in the full panoramic majesty of the structure. This is now the preferred viewing angle and additionally has also allowed us to get the LSWR line up and running.
Although the period of the model was set in about 1960 (hence no evidence of the soon-to-be-constructed Tamar suspension bridge) modellerâ€™s licence is allowed and it is not unknown for a rather eclectic mix of motive power and rolling stock to be seen.
The main bridge and Saltash station are to scale dimensions â€“ even down to the regulation 100â€™ clearance under the spans as demanded by the Admiralty. However, to ensure that some semblance of reality was present, the approach viaducts were foreshortened a little and a good deal of liberty was taken with the townscape of Saltash itself. However, because of urbanisation over the years, it was more difficult to give the same treatment to the Devon side and thus it is largely a basic landscape. Ultimately we intend to make the LSWR Plymouth to Exeter line, which passes under the bridge, fully functional. Most of the building on the layout are scratch-built, usually from card, and have been scaled from photographs. There are some totally freelance structures as well as some kit-built buildings mainly to ensure that the particular building fits the intended site and also because we rarely had a comprehensive set of pictures relating to that structure. The River Tamar has posed us a bit of a problem. Not so much because of portraying the water, but rather because of what happens on it. 2mm scale boats are not the easiest to come across, particularly for the number of rowing boats and yachts that are needed. One aspect of river life that we have included is the car ferry (unfortunately only one, since the ferry operators have moved the other to Devonport for repairs) again made out of card, and motorised. Since financial constraints meant that Brunel had to build a single track bridge, it is vitally important that appropriate precautions were taken to prevent accidents occurring in real life. This is equally true of models and to meet such a requirement, linked slow-action point motors utilising the integral switches have been used to give a form of interlocking. One benefit of this is that operation can be carried out by only one person, although a higher manning level is preferred.