Narrow Escape
Extra Large Scale (7/8"-1") Narrow Gauge Railways in the Garden

Welcome to Narrow Escape
One man's approach to building and maintaining his 7/8" scale narrow gauge railways in the garden.
Lastest update: 4/12/08

In an attempt to make things simpler and take less time to maintain, thus allowing me more time in my workshop and garden, I've downsized the Narrow Escape site to one page. Always remembering that "Less is truly more!" New views of the Estancia's operations will be uploaded periodically to my Flickr page, so please check in often.

Simply scroll down through my
Introduction, to review the Backstory of the Estancia Fortuna and it's railways. There is a brief Personal Bio at the end as well.

Springtime on the Estancia.
Photo by K. Schindler


Postcards from the Island

For the latest "Postcards from the Island," ,or My Album Collections at Picasa Web Albums... 
Click on photos to enter either site.  Enjoy

 Thanks for stopping by the Island!
His Lordship: Graham Sutherland
a Fortuna / Cia. Minas Cielo Azul

By way of a proper introduction, I present the following "thoughts and ideas" to give you an hint of where I'm coming from and going to. Scroll down further for the
Backstory of the Estancia Fortuna. And remember to visit my two photo sites for more images from the island.

Why build a 7/8' scale Industrial Railway?
Simply put, You get a lot of character in a small space.

If you chose to work in 7/8” scale, the “industrial or feldbahn” equipment can easily be used in the same space you now use for your present garden railway, and offers some grand possibilities. The equipment is comparable in size to 16 mm or 1:20 scales, simple because the prototypes were so diminutive. The scale is really an optimum size for depicting very small railway equipment. Visually, 7/8” scale offers a good balance in the garden between model and the real world. The tight radius curves, so common in garden railways, actually enhance the look of the short wheel based equipment found on the industrial railways. In many cases very small locomotives are just too small to work in any scale other than 7/8” scale. Their boilers are too small to hold a sufficient amount of water and steam to be worth the effort to build and run. But in 7/8” scale, a tiny 3.5 ton locomotive fleshes out into a Roundhouse Locomotive Works boiler and chassis quite nicely. As for rolling stock, I work with real nuts and bolts. As a matter of fact, a few of my cars don’t have a stitch of glue in them at all. Nuts, bolts nails and tie rods hold the entire car together.

7/8" scale is very near the long established "Doll House" scale of 1" to the foot and uses either Garden railway gauges of 45 mm, Gauge 1 which translates to 2 foot (610 mm) gauge, and Gauge 0 represents ~18" gauge.

I've found that a mix of 7/8" scale and 1" scale bits work to "dramatize" the railways size in the garden. A creative modeler finds the use of both 7/8" scale castings and wheels along with Doll house "goodies' help to evoke a very believable railway and its environment. Larger scale equipment and their associated bits, 1 1/2" scale and larger, take on a "toylike" look and they lose the "imagination factor" that allows the beholder to jump into the scene. So, in my opinion, 7/8" scale equipment and details have the "just right" proportions that blend well with real world things like dirt, rock and plants. I call this the "Goldilock's factor" of "Extra Large Scale.*" (*Phrased coined by Tag Gordon, Garden Rail, Issue 131, July 2005)

Railways in the garden. First and foremost, leave your model railroad in the house! Going outside changes everything! When you build a "miniature" railway outside, reality sets in... in other words, it's time to get're in the out of doors use real materials. Rocks are HEAVY, trees really grow, and your right of way needs maintenance of way...a lot of maintainance.

To begin, and without having to reinvent the wheel, I strongly recommend you check out Marc Horovitz's philosophies in his Garden Railway Aesthetics. Now with that done, here are my some of my thoughts and ideas beyond those thoughtful words by Marc as they apply to Extra Large Scale railways in the Garden.

Now, I must admit right up front, I'm more an artist than a technician, I take an "impressionistic approach" to all aspects of my railway in the garden. All the details aren't necessarily right there, there are hints and bits to suggest more. Simply put, in this scale...less is really more...the secret in 7/8" scale, or any larger scale. Imply that there is more just over the hill or around the next corner. The "Art of Implication," is the key to success in this scale. 7/8" scale is too large to truly do justice to a large structure or facility, unless of course you've got the acreage to do it....but most don't...and honestly, who wants to...running trains is enough in itself. Maintaining the railway in the garden will be plenty to keep you busy. Believe me I know.

Keep it simple...yes, I know you've heard that before too. But, really it's true. Maintaining the railway, to keep it operating for however many months out of the year you can, given your location, is a monumental it rain, snow, weeds or gophers...your miniature railway takes some serious hits through the years...and guess who has to deal with them...YOU! So, keep it simple, and I strongly recommend elevating your railway at least 30 inches or more to make operation (especially using live steam locomotives) and maintainance easier.

Start with a simple continous circle of track...yeah, I want that perfect point to point, right...NO, don't go there!...In the garden, repetition is a good thing, there are ways to set up scenes and visual blocks so that it will seems you have come from somewhere and are going somewhere. The key here though, is really in the circuit of track itself, bottom line, get something running...then elaborate. Getting it running is the most important element in progress of your railway,'ll find you won't need a whole lot more,...really.

Secondly, the details are everything, but don't let yourself get bogged down in them, In the garden, the 5 foot rule RULES!...if it looks good at 5 feet, you're in the ballpark...and if I may be so the garden, rivet counters need not apply, the garden is a rough place for equipment...and that 90 hours you just spent installing every last bit of underbody brake system can be lost in a mere moment by a twig or pebble finding itself in just the wrong spot. In 7/8" scale, the rolling stock is pretty stout to begin with. So, in constructing your rolling stock, build to operate, you'll be happier in the long run. Leave the fine details for the inside, or the contests. But, always remember run them trains, it's good for the soul.

Most importantly, find something that keeps your interests...your railway should be multi faceted, so you can build equipment, create senarios, and dream up faux histories, that spark your creativity. Nothing is worse that a dead end...don't paint yourself into a corner...Let your railway evolve, grow and branch out, so to speak. Use your imagination, and have fun creating an entire world for your railway to operate in.

A Narrow Escape...One little Island, two tiny railways
and a whole lot of sheep.

A few years back while researching for a plausible background history for my new outdoor railway enterprise. I came across a very intriguing website, “Railways of the Far South” by Martin Coombs. It featured among other things, photos and histories of narrow gauge railways on the remote islands of the South Atlantic. These images struck a cord in me, for I had been looking for a colonial railway operation allowing me the opportunity to mix British, and American equipment. Then with hours spent on Martin’s website, and building a small library of similarly associated subjects I created a faux history that in turn, shaped the construction and character of my two 7/8” scale railways in the garden.

The Back Story: Just after the Second World War, some now forgotten upheaval in the House of Lords brought Lord Graham Sutherland, to decide to leave his political burdens behind and everything else for that matter. He moved, lock stock and barrel to the “end of the world, a remote island in the South Atlantic. His aim was to establish a large sheep station, known as an Estancia, as far away as he could get from London. Sutherland’s destination; Isla de Fortuna, (Fortuna Island), a British territory, offering the perfect situation for raising sheep off the coast of Argentina, in the distant company of the Falklands and South Georgia. This is how it all began.

It should be mentioned that Sutherland, a renowned photographer, also had a fascination for small narrow gauge trains, and even had a minimum gauge railway serving his English estate. So with his move to Fortuna Island he brought his love for railways along. He established the Estancia Fortuna and a 2 foot gauge railway was build to serve the endeavor. The Estancia’s base of operations, were built near the southern end of the island, at Port Sutherland, of course. The line served the small port, the estate house, a rock quarry, a wood and brick yard, sheep paddocks and the pastures in the highlands.

Not long after the Estancia had been in operation, a rare mineral deposit of “Delirium” was discovered in the highlands. Lord Sutherland was delighted with the discovery and planned to use an abandoned “extra narrow gauge” (18” inch gauge) railway on the northern end of the island. The tiny railway had been left in ruin after it had served as a supply line to a wireless station and lighthouse built during the First World War. With the new mineral supply waiting to be moved to the sea, the “eighteen” was extended from Nunca Tierra into the Highlands to Oveja Negra, (Black Sheep) the highest point on the line. With all this activity, and a new opportunity to operate “wee trains,” Lord Sutherland soon found it appropriate to build a summer home, “Ravenswood,” (27 rooms, mind you) in the Highlands. He felt it would be simpler to oversee the mining operations, although most of his attention really went into minding the railway. With the mining operation blossoming, Sutherland launched his new Cia. Minas Cielo Azul, (Blue Sky Mines Co.) At first, two battery trammers, known affectionately by the crews as the “Tesla twins” worked the rails between tidewater and the highlands bringing the precious mineral to port. As time past, Sutherland found himself caught up in the preservation of some very intriguing 18” gauge steam locomotives to “help out on the eighteen.” In short order, a diverse roster of prized 18” gauge steam locomotives were seen moving tiny wagons among the rugged cairns of the highlands. To share his preservation efforts with the rest of the world, Sutherland produced the now famous “Postcards from the Island” a photographic study of a remote island’s railways. A museum of sorts was born, largely for Sutherland’s amusement and photo efforts, but other die hard railway enthusiasts braved the long journey to visit this diminutive railway operation on the distant Fortuna Island.

In reality: This is the basis for my two 7/8” scale railways built in the far reaches of Northern California, USA. The two narrow gauge railways are separated only by inches both vertically and horizontally. Yet, each operation has its own purpose and story, which allows me a lot of variety in operation and rolling stock. The two foot gauge equipment is more “down and dirty,” or utilitarian, and has a larger loading gauge. There are two 2 foot gauge locomotives on the roster, one steam locomotive profile, “Ginny” and one IC, “Fantasma” which provide motive power for the sheep hauling railway. Both locomotives are powered by a battery on board, thus making operation easy, for the entire two foot gauge railway is built just a little (6-12 inches) above ground level.

The eighteen inch gauge equipment is obviously smaller, 4 wheeled rolling stock for the most part. Most of the mining operations are largely handled by my two “Lixbuilt” battery trammers, “Electra and Volta.” Sutherland’s “little helpers,” the 18” gauge live steam locomotives, make up the rest of the roster, and are my pride and joy. The eighteen inch gauge (32mm) operation is constructed about at about 30 to 36 inches above ground level, thus making live steam operations more convenient and easier on the operator’s aging back.

The 2 foot gauge railway, (45 mm gauge) has a continous run of about 100 feet, running underneath the "18" at two locations. Thus allowing me a nice compact area to maintain to a high standard. The 2 foot line also has a switching/ staging area just off the continuous circuit. The “18” (32 mm gauge) is also a continuous loop operation of approximately 125 feet of hand laid track. The circuit includes, at this moment, a passing loop and siding at Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) and a short pair of sidings at Caldera Oscura. And there’s talk of a passing loop at “Ravenswood”. The P-way crew is assessing this as we speak.

My approach in a nut shell:
As mentioned elsewhere on the site, I’m more of an artist than a technician,” if it looks right, it’s right. This approach has come about, partly due to the large scale I work in, and partly my artistic bent. I see my approach as “Impressionistic,” not every last detail is there, but it gets the feeling across. For instance, both of the island's railways will have a few line side structures, to “imply” that there is something just out of sight. That way, most of the big features of my railways are left to the imagination. In other words, I simply “infer” the existence of a small settlement, or Sutherland’s “Ravenswood”, the simple 27 room summer house. They are just over the knoll,” or “right behind that tall hedgerow.” A tiny halt, a sheep loading ramp or freight platform is all that is really necessary to allow imagination to create the “extended image.” On my railways, rivets need not be counted, close counts, just as in horseshoes. The equipment I build are not recreations of any specific prototypes. At best, they are conglomerations of this, that and the other from books and photos I’ve studied and admired over the years. Yet with that said, all my equipment have the look of something that could have been somewhere, sometime. I borrow a lot of practices and ideas from US, British and Colonial narrow gauge railways throughout the world and I strive to keep a “family look” to my rolling stock.

Story continues....stay tuned.

More Picasa Web albums are in the making, and should be available very soon. I'm learning the ropes right now. ...Please check back. (1/14/08)

A little about me.
My name is Kevin Schindler, I've been a model railroader and hobbist for over 45 years now. I started off around the age of 7 with a HO scale railroad in our basement and flying "Free flight" model airplanes with my dad near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Upon my families move to Southern California in the mid sixties, brought the beginnings of my facination with Narrow Gauge Railways. It started with a HOn3 layout in our garage in 1967, and weekly weekend trips to Joe Barlow's Ace Model Shop in Pasadena, California. Joe's shop was a mecca for narrow gauge modelers from all over the area at the time.

In 1968, my Dad, Bob Schindler, got word that things were coming to an end on the Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow gauge freight operations out of Durango Colorado. So several times that summer we made trips to Durango to photograph and experience some of the last steam operated narrow gauge freight trains out of Durango to Farmington, New Mexico and Alamosa, Colorado. I was never the same after that.

My dad and I were also charter members of the Original Slim Gauge Guild in Pasadena. Which was an eyeopening experience in itself. Some of the very finest narrow gauge modeling ever was done by that group of folks. I'll never forget those memories and experiences.

A little later in 1969, my Dad opened a hobby shop (a lifetime dream of his) in Glendora, California, named the Hobby Bench, and by some fortunate events we became another home for many of the narrow gauge modelers of Southern California. This was a very good time in my life and I look back at it with great fondness and joy.
While in college, I worked at the Original Whistle Stop in Pasadena where I maintained my friendships with many of my fellow narrow gauge friends.

Life went on from there and my hobbies took a back seat to love, life and the "pursuit of happiness." My enthusiasm for narrow gauge and modeling went along quietly , collecting books and magazines and waiting for someday to rekindle the fire. Years later, after a few cross country moves, I finally settled in Far Northern California, found a wonderful wife and had a garden to tend to. I found a had a passion for digging in the dirt. Enter a LGB Porter and a small cadre of cars and my focus became clear...I was a Garden Railway Enthusiast.

After starting off, as many do, with LGB, I had an brief interlute with 1:20 scale modeling , but found, as in the years of my book collecting, I gravitated toward the "smaller equipment" as found on plantantions and mining operations.

Then a chance meeting with a gent named Charlie Lix, from Sparks Nevada. Charlie's experiments in both 16mm scale and 7/8" scale modeling were absolutely fancinating to me. Tons of character and charm. The size of the equipment was "just right in the garden." He in turn introduced me to a group of incredible modeling buddies and we've all been swapping stories and ideas ever since. Thanks mates, for all for your input and inspiration.

At about this same time, I was also introduced to Live Steam locomotives used in the garden, which brought back me back to similar memories and experiences of my flying "free flight" model airplanes in my childhood. Joyful memories reborn!

The die was cast, and I have been following this path ever since. I hope you enjoy my site.

Remember to visit my Flickr site, for loads of pictures.

Again, Welcome to the Estancia!


This site is dedicated to my Dad's memory, he passed on December 28, 2001. My life wouldn't be what it is, without the influences and support he gave to me. I'm a better man for it. Thanks Dad.

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