R.W.G. Bryant - Pioneer and Inspiration

Text: R.W.G. Bryant, John Bryant, Andrew Webster & Nigel Cliffe

Photos: Bryant collection (taken circa 1950), some unknown & Robert Shackle (taken circa 1994).


Lifetime 2mm Scale Association Honourary Member R.W.G. (Ron) Bryant, creator of "Inversnecky and Drambuie", died peacefully in Ottawa, Canada on December 3rd 2003 at the age of 88. His son, John, has kindly researched this tribute to a great 2mm pioneer.

Pictures of the Inversnecky and Drambuie Railway are often cited as the inspiration to model in 2mm scale by today's modelers. They appeared in various books and magazines. The layout was built to standards which are no longer used. It was built at a time when there were few commercially produced items to support modelling in OOO or 2mm scale. The Inversnecky and Drambuie had a visual completeness which captured the imagination and set it apart from many other contemporary models.

The railway fitted into its landscape. Though an imaginary location, it was undoubtedly the Highlands of Scotland. The choice of where to stop modeling was inspired - the narrow terminus station was bounded by water (in several places the water formed the boundary between model and rest-of-world) and a rear station wall. The original terminus had a curved baseboard, this may have been pragmatic to fit a guitar case for transport, but it also broke away from the constraint of rectangles, giving the model a more organic shape - something which is discussed in more recent layout design books. Above all, it "looked right".

The model is now in two pieces, the terminus and lighthouse section, together with some of the stock is part of the National Railway Museum collection at York, UK. The distillery section survives in private hands.

R.W.G. Bryant maintained a fascination with small model locomotives. On seeing a new small locomotive described in the 2mm Magazine, he would speak of people "out-doing Dornoch". He was very fond of "Dornoch" to the end, and used it as a kind of standard measure of things miniature.

In the 1950's, R.W.G Bryant wrote a book entitled "Minimum Space Model Railways". It was never published, and indeed it is not clear that he even tried to find a publisher. The book included a chapter in which he discussed a number of layouts. These included J.J. Charlton's layout [ photos ], C.W.A Mitchells's "Umbrage and High Dudgeon", J.J Langridge's "Casterbridge Branch" and, of course, "Inversnecky and Drambuie". His description of his own line makes fascinating reading. It is interesting to learn, for example, that Inversnecky as built differed from the original conception, and that Drambuie was something of a planning disaster. In any case, I can think of no better testimonial to the master than to have him describe his masterpiece in his own words. So here, unedited and unabridged, is R.W.G. Bryant's description of "layout No. 13".

Layout No. 13 - The Inversnecky and Drambuie Railway

I cannot very well get away with writing a book on small model railways without describing my own layout - or rather, my first layout in 2mm scale, although I feel it is already sufficiently well known. My own interest in 2mm scale began twenty years ago when I read an account of Mr. Beal's locomotive depot for a track gauge of 3/8". I made a few buildings and the beginnings of a tiny layout on the "looped 8" principle used by Mr. Hancock for the Gleish Valley line. The only rolling stock used was a Great Western A.E.C. railcar, formerly included in the Dinky toys series, but I never got around to fitting a motor. Incidentally, this would be perfectly feasible today, if Meccano Ltd. could be persuaded to re-introduce this useful little item.

Owing to lack of time, I never finished this early layout. My next venture in 2mm scale came about through getting in touch with Mr. C.W.A. Mitchell during the war. I found that I had time and opportunity, even on overseas service, to produce buildings and accessories for his layout. This was easy. By strict adherence to scale, I found it possible to produce items such as signal boxes and goods sheds, which fitted in to their appointed sites, thousands of miles away. I had no thought of any quid pro quo, but Mr. Mitchell insisted on building a locomotive for me. As he said, it would have to be a "large modern prototype" so as to have plenty of room for the motor. To cut a long story short, the "large modern prototype" materialized as Highland Railway 0-6-0T No. 56 "Dornoch" [ photo, photo ], the original of which was built in Inverness in 1869. This delightful little engine is described elsewhere in these pages. Suffice to say that its acquisition set me off on the task of producing a layout, in 2mm scale, that would be in all its details representative of the practice of the Highland Railway. I had in fact long had the intention of building such a layout, but in 4mm scale. I already had, therefore, the essential background of prototype data collected over a period of years.

At this point, it is well to say something about the matter of prototype information. The freelance model railway has undoubted attractions. In the very tiny scales where so much has to be made without benefit of commercial components, there are obvious advantages in taking an easy way out, and to go freelance. But good freelance work is not an easy way out, if the proper amount of care and thought are devoted to creating designs of character and verisimilitude. In any case, I determined not to go this way. So my collecting of Highland Railway prototype data continued and has continued to this day, as an essential background to actual modeling. This adherence to prototype practice does, however, create complexities as well as possibilities. To take one particular example, a worker might construct freelance 2mm signals, which might be of the simplest and plainest design. I could not be content with this - my own signals not only work, but they also look demonstrably like the rather distinctive H.R. signals, with correct spectacle plates, finials, and so forth [ photo ]. Granted, in such a tiny scale, there is much detail that may be omitted. But I set out deliberately to capture the special atmosphere and flavour of the prototype. I leave it to the illustrations to indicate the extent to which this effort has been successful.

To revert to the actual layout, it cannot be called a masterpiece of design. I would not do things in the same way next time. But which layout owner could say otherwise? A basic difficulty was that I was not living at home while it was being built. It therefore grew, section by section, through a succession of changes of address.

Inversnecky Pier terminus was built to fit into an old guitar case. Originally, when the whole project was in the planning stage, I had intended to make it a true pier station, like Ryde of Kyle of Lochalsh, with water on three sides. I've often wished, since, that I had adhered to this plan, but it happened that while I was building this section, I had a room with an eligible corner site. It was therefore arranged to fit into a corner against background "flat" of distant hills, and with a high retaining wall behind the platform to enable satisfactory blending of the three-dimensional model with this background [ photo, photo , photo ]. Actually, the background flat was not made until some years later. In the original plan, this little terminus was intended to be on a short branch off a continuous main line. But changes of residence ensued, and the continuous main line never materialized. Subsequent sections were added, end to end, simply because this seemed the most convenient was of doing things, forming a point to point layout, 15 feet long. It was a pity that I seldom or never had the space available to set it all up [ photo ] - the only time when complete operation was possible was in exhibition halls [ photo ]. Anyone who has operated a model railway at an exhibition, in any scale, let alone 2mm, will appreciate how the dust and gremlins pop up on such occasions.

It will be best to describe the layout section by section. The pier terminus is built on plywood and battens. The shape was dictated by that of the guitar case, but this fact was used to advantage in the design of the little harbour. The pier itself is a dog-legged stone structure, simply constructed of wood and building paper. It is of course detachable: it obviously does not fit within the case "in situ". The front of the base is finished as quay or sea wall, in Merco Old Stone paper, with extra courses added in process white. The depth of the base is such that it was necessary to postulate permanent low tide in the harbour. Accordingly, the lower parts of the quay and pier were made green and sea-weedy, and well covered with glossy varnish. Apart from the pier, the only other part that does not go into the guitar case is the high-level booking office in the corner, over the station building. This was put in to provide some vertical emphasis. The guitar case is only 3 inches deep and therefore there is inevitably a great deal of horizontal.

I describe elsewhere the ways and means of constructing buildings and scenery, so this is not the place to go into great detail on that matter. The illustrations show what was fitted in and where. The factory building masks the panel controlling all but the traction circuit. Part of the building can be taken off for maintenance when necessary. The fixed part houses a relay which acts as signal interlocking. There are two starter signals and two homes, four in all, all operated by a single 3-way switch. The operator selects the direction - for "down" or "up" train, and the points at the approach to the station automatically select which signal is to go "off", main or goods according to the setting of the points. The control panel also controls point motors, one electromagnet for uncoupling near a stop end (the other uncouplers are permanent magnets), and a "dead-alive" section at the end of the platform road.

The terminus layout is simplicity itself, but it allows of two trains being handled - one passenger and one goods [ photo, photo, photo, photo]. Had space allowed, I would have added a bay platform road, which would have made it possible to handle two passenger trains. There are only two short dead-end sidings, but these suffice for quite complex shunting movements, especially when there is the odd fish truck to be moved over the crossover on to the platform road for coupling to a passenger train. Mixed train working - a feature of Highland Railway branch line operation - involves using all the layout there is, even to shunting out under the bridge, which is actually on the next section.

The second section consists simply of a section of single track, winding round a mountain on reverse curves of 18 inches radius. It is connected, electrically, to the harbour terminus by a five pin plug and socket - two leads for the traction circuit and three, including a common return, for the two "home" signals. The fishermens' cottages occupying the point formed by the shape of the mandolin case are of the simple type familiar all over the north of Scotland [ photo , photo ]. The lighthouse is a plastic scent bottle suitably doctored up. There is also a coastguard station (built round solid perspex) with a flagstaff, a shed with roof formed by an upturned old boat, and an old railway van body doing duty as a hut. There are also such details as a henpen, a line of washing, and a couple of rowing boats drawn up on the shore. Furthermore, this small village is situated between the spectator and the railway. In a larger scale, this would be open to objection, but as it is, it helps to increase the apparent length of run.

From behind Seatown Inversnecky, the line curves round on a shelf between the mountain and the alleged sea-loch in the foreground. Part of the slope is of solid rock (balsa wood), and there is a length of retaining wall where the "earthen" bank exceeds a natural angle. At the end of this section, the line enters a short cutting, at the joint between the Seatown Inversnecky case and the Drambuie Junction case [ photo, photo, photo, photo, photo].

The latter is 6'2" long when opened out but folds into a case 3'11" long. Going from the Inversnecky direction the single line apparently becomes double, but the second track is in fact a lengthy goods loop, signaled for working in both directions, with the appropriate type of signal arm. This goods loop is joined by a siding from the Inversnecky-Glenlivert distillery. The distillery sidings are not extensive but there is a wagon turntable at one end, from which a track disappears into the boiler-house, at right angles to the main lines. The company posses a small 0-4-0 saddle tank, but this is strictly dummy and not part of the operating stock [ photo ]. The point about this distillery is that the long range of buildings forms an excellent background and effectively masks the junction between the three-dimensional model and the background flat, which at this point has a mere suggestion of distant hills just visible over the long roof. The buildings are almost "low relief", in fact, and appear more extensive than they are - after all, there is nothing to suggest that there are not yet more buildings behind those which are seen. The malting kiln tower at the far end is detachable - it covers part of the hinge blocks, as also is the chimney. The latter is formed of a cut-down drumstick, and is useful, visually, as lending vertical scale to the composition. The signalbox controlling Drambuie station is located in this section for reasons of space. In the foreground is situated the Station Hotel, but in such a position that the road access thereto must perforce be left to the imagination.

The double track continues into the next section, which includes Drambuie station [ photo ] and loco shed [ photo ]. This section is hinged to that just described by a pair on hinges mounted on blocks of wood. These hinge blocks are concealed by demountable building features, which must of course be removed when the layout is packed away. The hinge behind the tracks is concealed by the distillery malting kiln, already mentioned, and the one in front by a house and garden - to be specific, the general merchants' shop of Mr. J. Flett [ photo ]. These demountable features fit snugly into the fixed portion of the landscape; it is not apparent that they are removeable.

The actual layout of the station is somewhat peculiar, because of a subsequent development. The goods loop ends in a crossover. One line curves round behind the island platform, while the other serves the straight platform face in front. Originally, this was a bay. Now, it is a through line. Conversely, the rearward line is now a bay, ending in bufferstops in a rock cutting. Formerly, this line disappeared into a dummy tunnelmouth, which provided the alleged connection with the rest of the Highland Railway system. The loco depot and the steeply inclined siding for loco coal wagons form a rather awkward connection into this bay, by points facing the dead end. I certainly would not have arranged things thus in a plan on paper. But full size practice abounds in such anomalous features originating in comparable circumstances and I mention this as an example of how the most careful paper planning may have to be modified as one's layout develops.

The loco depot and Drambuie station are adequately illustrated, so there is no need to say much about their design. The loco depot is of the simplest possible nature, but complete with coaling and watering facilities, inspection pit, and ash-heap. There is a dead-alive section controlled by push-button, so that two locomotives can be on the shed road together. The station building is of stone with corbie-stepped gables. It is not modeled on any particular building, but is in character with several H.R. station buildings (Moy or Fochabers Town, to give but two examples).

As originally planned, this station was to function as a terminus, although laid out to present the appearance of a through station. In practice, however, it has proved difficult to operate. The baseboard is too narrow to permit of more than a single track on either side of the platform. Hence, it is impossible to release the engine of an arriving train without backing a considerable distance on to the loop opposite the distillery. An engine rounding its train was thus half way back to Inversnecky in the process. Alternatively, a second engine could take out the train - "dead-alive" push-buttons were provided on both platform roads to allow the incoming engine to stand. Either way, it was not a convenient arrangement.

To overcome this difficulty, I therefore added a further section, and converted the former bay into a through line, as already mentioned. This extra section is a rectangle, 1'4" x 2'8", and comprises simply a length of single track and a turntable 14" in diameter, with three spur roads, two of full train length and one for locomotives. The spurs are normally "dead", but can be energized by push-button. I should have preferred a rather larger turntable - but this one can handle the longest trains normally run (i.e. tank engine, four coaches, and a couple of fish trucks). The whole of the working parts are concealed by a hollow mountain of lint stretched over a couple of coat hangers. It looks every bit as solid as the more orthodox portions of the landscape. Before the background flat was added, the whole thing was arranged to fold down. The coat hanger which formed the curved contour of the skyline behind was mounted on hinges a couple of inches above track level. The other was pivoted at the front and connected to the "skyline" by a pin. The mountain simply folded flat on withdrawal of this pin. Which goes to show that portable scenery need not be elaborate in construction - or heavy. But more of that in the appropriate chapter. The point here is that this simple addition immeasurably increased the convenience and ease of point-to-point operation. In fact, since the turntable was made, Drambuie has become simply a way station at which occasional shunting can be done to diversify operations.

I have written at some length of this layout of mine - understandably perhaps. A poor thing but mine own, and I hope to use the lessons of experience in replacing it. But it has given much pleasure to so many people, and for that reasons its construction has been very worthwhile.


While his layout is now over half a century old, Inversneckie and Drambuie continues to receive periodic mention in the modelling press as a source of guidance and inspiration. A bibliography of articles about this layout, and of other model railway works by R.W.G. Bryant, is being prepared and will appear on the 2mm Scale Association's website.

R.W.G. Bryant will be missed by many modellers, both within and outside of the Association, yet this in no way will diminish the impact that his work continues to have on the craft of modelling miniature railways.