St. Laurent was originally built by Bill Roberts & portrays a busy, heavily graded SNCB main line running through the Ardennes. Most of the traffic is freight, including scrap steel running to the steelworks in Luxemburg. Very few trains actually stop at St. Laurent. During 2005, Bill decided to dismantle the layout & move on to another project. However, St. Laurent found itself a new home in Margate. At the start of 2006 work commenced on refurbishing the layout. Brian concentrating on the electrical & mechanical with Dave concentrating on the scenic’s with assistance from Pam.
The layout was completely rewired, converted for DCC (although could still be operated in DC analogue if required) and we had some serious bracing to do to the baseboards. SL’s last outing for Bill was Cologne and unfortunately it suffered some damage on the return journey.
On the scenic side we changed the road layout so that there were no “roads off the end of the world” – a particular dislike of Brian’s.
At times, we felt that it would have been easier to have started again. However, we persisted and were able to honour a booking for Folkstone 2006 that Bill had already made. It was close, very close but we made it. As well as the layout we also had our trade stand “Euroscalemodels” at the show. All went well, Dave looking after the trade stand, Brian looking after the layout and Pam flitting between the two. Being awarded 3rd best layout in show made us feel euphoric.
However, keeping trains moving all the time and trying to entertain the public was mentally exhausting and the decision was made to automate the storage yards the idea being that we would set up the layout and leave it running automatically so that it could be supervised by one operator who would then have time to talk with the visiting public. We found that the public (who, after all pay for you to be there with their entry fees) enjoyed the constant movement and never really noticed that no trains ever stopped at the station !
For additional interest we added over a period of time some operating accessories, including a Faller Road System, lighting & some cameo scenes. The Faller Road System took a lot of work to get it running well. Not wanting to do things the easy way the operating roadway crossed the main lines, the crossing barriers and lights interlocking with the trains.
Most of the train consists were correct for the area although we did not stick to any particular time span. We did admit to a certain amount of “modellers licence” with the DB ICE3 which was on a test run and the CIWL set with the OGEG operated BR01 was a “special charter” in tribute to Brian’s late mother Grace, who always liked “proper trains”..
We had a lot of fun with SL and gained a great deal of experience with it. None of us in the team had any experience of operating a “transmobile” exhibition layout.
Most of the time SL ran very well indeed, but towards the end of 2013 it was starting to get a little tired and required more maintenance between shows. We made the sad decision to retire St.Laurent from the exhibition circuit and it now resides in a centrally heated garage in South Wales.
We learnt that the public like lots of movement and some interaction – hence the infamous “Penguin Spotting” – they also like a sense of humour which was reflected in the cameo scenes – incidentally, all of us connected with SL were portrayed somewhere on the layout, including “the ultimate authority” Brian’s wife Maggie. Sure mistakes were made, but we learnt from them and will bear them in mind for future projects.
One thing we learnt very quickly was that it’s a hectic and busy way to spend a weekend – the drive home on a Sunday evening often left us physically and mentally shattered, but knowing how much pleasure we had given people made it all the worthwhile.
Would we do it all again – yes, indeed we are and after some false starts and a lot of planning the very first baseboard was constructed over the 2014 Christmas period.
Watch this space for progress reports – all we are saying for now is that it will follow the same format as St.Laurent – plenty of trains on the move.
Brian, Dave and Pam.