Briding Noora

Why did you build a model railway layout on an ironing board?

A question that I am often asked and one that I ask myself sometimes.   It really came about from a discussion one evening at the Hull Miniature Railway Society about the best way of supporting layouts.  The debate was about the pros and cons of using trestles or hinged legs as the support and progressed to the best way of hinging the legs and how to fit them with stays to stabilise the layout.   A quick look under the layouts at any model railway exhibition will indicated the number of different methods used.   I just casually mentioned that you didn’t get this problem if you built a layout on an ironing board.  I had seen one at an exhibition some time before the discussion at the clubrooms and the concept has certainly been around since the 1960s with Nigel Adam’s ‘Pen-y-Bord’ layout.   My remark was met with a look of contempt from my fellow Society members so no more was made of the comment and was forgotten, or so I thought!

The following week a fellow Society member turned up with an ironing board which he presented to me with the comment, “here you are then, build a layout on this”, Hung by my own petard I really had no choice!   A rummage through various boxes over the following weekend uncovered some Peco 009 points, a ‘Y’, two left hand and one right hand, all electro-frog.  There were also some odd lengths of track, although not enough to build a layout.  So it was down to the design using the points available as the limiting factor.  I believe that a model railway, just like the real thing, must have a reason for existing; I am also not very keen on modelling the heydays of narrow gauge railways, namely the 20s and 30s as I wasn’t around then, despite comments from fellow Society members!   So I really wanted something based in the 1960s, (I was around then) and living near to the East coast this seemed like a good starting point, but why would a railway have been built?   Perhaps originally to serve some form of coastal industry – marine engineers for example, who would need materials and some way of sending out finished or refurbished goods?  So that was the excuse for the goods trains but what about passenger trains?   The 60s was the heyday of the holiday camps, so passenger trains could be used to bring people (happy holiday makers) to and from a holiday camp.   Hey presto a reason for the railway was established.

As the trains would have to go ‘off stage’ as it were some form of fiddle yard/sector plate would be required, as I wanted to keep the whole layout in the confines of the ironing board this would need to be hidden inside or behind a large building, the marine engineer’s.   Goods trains would arrive and be shunted into the ‘factory’ with different wagons being pulled out e.g. full coal wagon in, empty coal wagon out; damaged ship’s propeller in, refurbished ship’s propeller out.   A run round loop would also be required to allow the shunting to take place.   Passenger trains would arrive, at a small platform, the loco would run round the train and then depart.  Different locos and stock could be used to give the impression of more than one train in use.   In reality the passenger coaches tend not to get changed just the locomotive!   The basic idea is shown in the track plan.


Trak P

'Viewing Side'

For this to work some form of automatic uncoupling would be required, I dislike the great hand from the sky with an over scale uncoupling rod being used, it spoils the illusion!   This meant that the stock was fitted with B & B couplings (usual disclaimer), and three permanent magnets were fitted under the track at strategic places this allowed the shunting and loco run round, via the loop,to work.  It does most of the time!

The ironing board was of the old chipboard type so this was covered in cork tiles, the cheapest the local DIY shop had, to give a good surface for the track and to allow the point control mechanism (wire in tube) and the wires to change the frog polarity to be run in grooves cut into the cork so that there are no wires, or anything else under the actual ironing board.   The points are changed using slide switches at the operating side of the layout which changes the polarity to the live frogs as the points are changed.  The layout is electrically fed from one end (only two wires and no chips); although this can give one or two problems for those who are not used to operating the layout.  The scene was to be of a sea front so a piece of thin plywood was added to the front of the ironing board to give a base for the sandy area with the edge of the ironing board proper forming the sea wall.

With the track laid and tested the scenic material was added, the sand is real sand finely sifted and stuck down with the usual PVA mix.  The layout is populated with Preiser H0 people, many being purchased unpainted to keep the cost down and allow some differences in colour etc.  There is a young lad running off with his older sister’s bikini top, with her and a friend in hot pursuit.   This is usually spotted by 10 – 12 year old girls who point it out to their accompanying mums’.   The sea front railings are made up from boat stanchions from the Billings Boats range with 1mm brass rod forming the railings.   Control is supplied by Gaugemaster Model ‘D’ controller which also allows a track cleaner to be used to keep the wheels of the locomotives clean.

The name was thought up by a group of my academic colleagues over a number of cups of coffee in the University refectory, and was devised to not only be an anagram of ironing board but to also sound like a sea side place name.  The layout made its debut at the 1998 Hull Model Railway Show, really just as something different.   Locos being a mix of 009 kits for the diesels for the freight workings and Paul Windle locos for hauling passenger trains.  The rolling stock is a mix of Parkside Dundas and Colin Ashby kits.   Some of the locos are also borrowed from the Hull Miniature Railway Society’s ‘Barrowfleet’ layout.

The layout survived the Show and I was presented with a steam iron at the Show ‘get together’ by the Mal Scrimshaw, the then Exhibition Manager’ for having the layout with the most stupid name.   It was suggested that the iron could be converted into the controller for the layout, but my son, who was just off to University, needed an iron so it went with him!  Despite its short comings the layout was invited to appear at the Tyne Tees 009 Show in 1999 and then a number of invitations to Shows followed.   My fellow Society members however thought that the layout should be extended and to that end another ironing board appeared at the club rooms with the suggestion that another layout be made and then the two layouts could be connected together by a single track running along a cloths prop! (You don’t have to be mad etc, but).  However by the fifth Show the use of the ‘cheap’ ironing board was starting to give problems with the chipboard warping, usually but not exclusively by the end drooping downwards causing all the stock to run into the head shunt when it was uncoupled!   Various props were tried to overcome this with little success as the props just moved the warping elsewhere so much so that at the Nottingham East Midlands Exhibition in 2002 the operating mechanism on the main point came adrift.   Somehow Paul and I kept it working for the rest of the Show weekend but it could not continue like this and I had invites to other Shows.

The other ironing board, still lurking in my workshop, came to the rescue.   This was an ‘upmarket’ metal type so was not likely to warp.  The legs were removed from underneath the original ironing board the layout was built on and the chipboard layout was firmly screwed onto the metal ironing board.   This was done without disturbing the scenery.  The rest, as they say, is history as it has not shown any sign of warping since despite visiting a further nine shows. I do not use a curtain when the layout is at Shows so that visitors can clearly see that it is on an ironing board, as well as the usual comments about creased shirts and can I do the ironing for them I also hear ‘you are not having my ironing board’ or ‘if you buy me a new one you can have my old one’.  Not sure how many potential modellers have taken up the idea!   However I would recommend that the more ‘upmarket’ metal versions are used for the base with a surface board firmly fitted on top of it.


Briding Noora is still around and comes out for a play on occasions, although no outsatnding Show invites currently.





This layout appeared at the following Model Railway Shows:

1998: Hull
1999: Tyne Tees 009 Group
2000: Aintree
2000: Northallerton
2000: New Earswick, York
2001: York
2002: Welshpool & Llanfair
2002: Thirsk
2002: Nottingham
2003: Norwich
2003: Hull
2004: Cleethorps Coast Light Railway
2005: London, Alexandra Palace
2005: Porthmadog
2006: Narrow Gauge North, Leeds
2006: Caistor
2006: EXPONG
2007: Harrogate
2007: Leeds (Little Trains)
2007: South Yorkshire 009 Group
2008: Shepton Mallet (Small & Delightful Group)
2009: Cleethorpes
2009: Warley

For information on 009 modelling go to the 009 Society website

Thanks to the 009 News editors for use of material here.