Garden Railway Adventures

of Colin Binnie

Colin Binnie 1933-2008

My late father Colin was a enthusiastic railway modeller for some 55 years. In that time He penned quite a number of magazine articles, drawings and railway based cartoons.

His articles describing production methods for modellers, are practical descriptions of how he made stuff, not dissertations on the processes involved. Though useful some should be read with caution. Colin`s enthusiasm often verged on the reckless, even by the lax health and safety standards of 1970s. Disasters were not uncommon in the Binnie workshop.

I have gathered some of Colin`s published works together on this website so they be freely available to all in accordance with Colin`s wishes. I describe Colin`s garden railway and some of the locomotives he built.

In the 1960s Colin was modelling in `O` and `S` gauge whilst living in Hampshire. I knew he had a particular enthusiasm for LB&SCR and Southern railways as he would often wax lyrical of the genius of William Stroudley. Colin`s passion for all things Stroudly resulted in him publishing a book, `The Brighton Terriers`.

Few parts were available for `S` gauge in the 1960s. Spoked wheels being a particular problem. Even if you had a lathe to turn the wheels you still had the laborious task of cutting out the spokes with a piercing saw.

Colin`s first attempt to make wheels by centrifugal brass casting were a spectacular disaster. Next he tried white metal casting with some success but `S` gauge wheel rims are thin and white metal has little strength. Great for details but not for wheels.

Colin Binnie, DeWinton loco and card coaches
Colin, DeWinton loco and card coaches in his Garden Railway

Finally in 1967 Colin settled on injection moulding the wheels in Nylon with an extremely crude device made from a large soldering iron. Lots of burnt fingers and foul odours but anything is better than cutting out spokes with a piercing saw.

About 1970, after Colin had moved to Wembley, Don Boreham suggested Colin make some wheels for the Merioneth Railway Society.

Founded in the 1960s in the western suburbs of London the Merioneth Society were a small group modelling 16mm scale narrow gauge on 32mm track.
They would meet on Friday evenings at a members house, gather around the kitchen table, drink tea and make models.
This formed the core of a very enthusiastic club which Colin soon joined.

Few people had a garden railway back then. No live steam. No radio control. Loco's were 2 rail electric or battery powered often based on Triang Big-Big train chassis.

One notable Merioneth Society achievement was the Betws-y-Bryn layout. This layout was enormous and superbly detailed. Betws-y-Bryn generated a great deal of interest in 16mm scale narrow gauge when exhibited at the 1973 Model Railway Exhibition at Central Hall Westminster. It left a lasting impression on me.

The Merioneth Society organized field trips to measure prototypes, produced drawings and published there own magazine the `Merioneth Mercury` which did much to promote 16mm narrow gauge in it`s early years.

The magazine circulation grew rapidly. The Membership grew rapidly. More and more time was spent producing articles and drawings for the magazine. Less and less time was spent modeling.

Then Ted Wade wrote the Und Tomorrow Ze World article questioning the future direction of the club. Do we want to administer a vast narrow gauge modeling empire producing a mass circulation magazine, or do we want to go back to the kitchen table, tea and making models.

Having chosen the latter option they continue to this day as a small group of active modellers.

In 1976 Colin moved to Somerset. Distance prevented him from having such an active role in the Merioneth Society. Fortunately in 1977 the Association of 16mm Scale Modellers was founded. Colin along with all the Merioneth members soon joined.

The Associations focus was live steam narrow gauge in the garden. With a magazine,`16mm Today`, the 16mm Association grew rapidly now having many thousands of members worldwide.
One of the best features of the 16mm Association are the local groups which arrange open days. Members visit each others garden railways bringing loco's and stock to run. What could be better than having your friends round on a summers day for tea, cake, run steam trains and chat. It is worth joining the Association just for the open days.

The move to Somerset, though causing major disruption to Colin`s modelling activities, did provide a garden of ample size for a 16mm railway though construction was not started until 1983.

In 1978 Colin had acquired his first Mamod and soon realised it might be improved with a gas burner. One was quickly designed, built and proved to be a success. Such is the nature of 16mm railways that once seen many will ask can you make me one. Now your making gas burners by the dozen.

Encouraged by the success of the gas burners, Colin developed a DeWinton loco` based on Gorge Henry at Tywyn Wharf museum. This featured a two cylinder double acting oscillating steam motor driving the wheels through Meccano gears. This too proved a success.

The steam motor was narrow enough to fit between the frames of a 16mm scale loco`. It soon proved popular for use as the power plant for many home built loco`s.

Engineering ability alone is not enough to maintain a successful enterprise. One has to have some business acumen even for a little part time venture. Colin, as a mechanical design engineer possessed the former quality in abundance but not so much the latter.

By 1985 Colin`s sons Robert and Peter were both newly married, with mortgages and broke so, despite their enthusiasm, they no longer had the spare time to help Colin in the workshop.

Colin`s simple injection moulding methods which had been fine for producing a few hundred wheels could not hope to make the tens of thousands that were now required.

It was decided to split Binnie activities.
Colin would concentrate on steam motors and DeWinton loco`s. Peter would put the mouldings onto an more industrial footing and manufacture plastic wagon kits.

The health problems associated with age were also slowing Colin down.
The gas burners were abandoned, then after building about twenty, so were the DeWintons.

As with so many of us, the enthusiasm remains long after the energy has faded. Colin continued making steam motors and a few locomotives into his retirement. He had started a batch of steam Yac overtype loco's but only finished one by the time he died.

Photo. Colin and Marjorie Binnie
Colin and Marjorie

I am convinced Colin harboured an ambition to manufacture steam locomotives as a full time occupation but he also enjoyed an interesting job in defence research.

One lifetime has not enough years to do both.

Colin was one of those well read individuals who could hold a conversation on subjects as diverse as physics, medieval English literature and archeology.

He is much missed.