David Mallot had a love-hate relationship with ‘Chapel Wharf’ or the ‘Dwarf,’ as he fondly called it. While it marked the completion of his first model railway, which he acknowledged as a noteworthy achievement, it also proved to be a substantial diversion from his primary railway interests in the scenic Scottish glens. The genesis of ‘Chapel Wharf’ stemmed from a whimsical idea during a wet Sunday afternoon in Cornwall, where David entertained the thought of having a model railway to pass the time until the rain ceased.

This quaint notion took root, and before he knew it, David found himself engrossed in crafting track plans and contemplating the feasibility of creating a small yet realistic and engaging layout. Chapel Wharf became a captivating project, a departure from his initial intentions but an undertaking that persisted over four years.


The design of Chapel Wharf began to take shape on a stormy Christmas Day in North Cornwall, where David Mallot found himself confined indoors by the relentless rain and winds off the Atlantic. Unable to embark on the customary pre-lunch stroll, he turned to armchair modelling after indulging in a festive feast and immersing himself in Model Railway Journal and Model Railways magazines.

Facing the challenge of being 500 miles away from his home and model railway, David’s imagination sparked the idea of creating a highly portable layout. Sketching in his trusty sketchbook, he envisioned short baseboards that could be easily carried, even on an Inter-City 125, aligning with his affinity for train travel. The design aimed to fit all essential components—transformer, control panel, controller, locos, and rolling stock—into a compact carrying case.

Inspired by Rodney Hall’s P4 layout, Llanastr, David opted for a distinctive track plan incorporating the fiddle yard traverser instead of a turnout, influenced by the efficiency and space-saving nature of this design. Although initially considering a small country branch line terminus, possibly run by the Great Western Railway, he embarked on a more adventurous path, choosing a less conventional freight-only branch. His passion for goods wagons and their diverse variety fueled this deviation.

Turning to The Turnchapel Branch, a book detailing a small branch line in the Plymouth docks area, David found the perfect setting for Chapel Wharf. This real-life branch line, still open to freight traffic at the time, terminated at Admiralty Wharf, inspiring his track plan. The vision was to capture the essence of a railway dedicated to transporting various goods to and from wharves and private sidings.

The initial plan involved standard straight 24″ radius points (B6), but with baseboard dimensions set at 7½” x 37″ (19cm x 94cm), including a 12″ fiddle yard, David shifted to 12-inch minimum radius curves. This decision, influenced by John Greenwood’s test track with 6″ radius curves, enabled the creation of a full-size track plan using Tracksetta gauges. Resisting the temptation of straight lines, David embraced the incorporation of as many curves as possible, believing that curved points enhanced the flow and realism of the trackwork.


In designing Chapel Wharf, David Mallot carefully considered the baseboards, recognizing the need to avoid problems with points or acute angles of track over the joints. Keeping the weight down was crucial, ruling out the use of 2″ x 1″ and chipboard. Drawing inspiration from Barry Norman‘s “Petherick” baseboards, David adopted the concept of ‘box girders’—two strips of 4mm plywood spaced apart by blocks of 18mm x 9mm hardwood.

The framework construction involved straightforward assembly, utilizing 4mm exterior grade plywood. The baseboards were made rigid by glueing the frame members with PVA and clamping them together. Cross-members at the baseboard join featured location dowels, essential for quick and accurate track alignment across joints. Joining the boards through the split hinge method ensured ease of assembly.

For the fiddle yard traverser, David employed a simple design using a 4mm ply piece running on Formica-covered crosspieces. The plywood had a very slight twist but was flexible enough to be pulled into line by the track alignment bolt. The baseboards’ construction laid the foundation for a compact, lightweight, and rigid layout.

To complete the ensemble, David crafted a carrying case, a stock tray, and a control panel box. The carrying case, made of 9mm plywood for the sides and 4mm ply for the lid and bottom, housed the layout, stock tray, and other components. A separate control panel with a mimic diagram of the layout, protected by 2mm Perspex, offered a functional and visually appealing interface for operating the layout.


Chapel Wharf’s trackwork, meticulously embedded flush with the quay’s surface, aimed at achieving smooth and reliable operation. This decision also conveniently addressed the scarcity of PCB sleepers at the time. The construction process involved pairing points and installing continuous check rails for both prototypical accuracy and to contain plaster during later scenic work.

The track was carefully laid on a sheet of plate glass over a precisely drawn plan. The spray adhesive served effectively in securing the sleepers in place. In the sidings and fiddle yard, the plain track took shape with the initial placement of only one rail. The second rail was then added in situ to ensure the creation of smoother curves. To potentially deaden locomotive sound, David introduced a 2mm balsa sheet as the trackbed, although its impact on noise reduction remained uncertain.

Anticipating the track’s surroundings to be covered with plaster to simulate a concrete road surface, continuous check rails were strategically integrated. These not only contributed to prototypical realism but also contained the wet plaster during application. However, this decision did impose certain limitations on the types of locomotives that could navigate specific curves, particularly those with inaccurately set back-to-backs. Reflecting on the construction, David recognized that introducing a slight ‘gauge widening’ on the smaller radius curves might have enhanced the overall operational flexibility.

Electrical System

Chapel Wharf operated with a remote control panel, which necessitated the electrical operation of points. Initially, the conventional ‘point motors’ were considered, but their noisy solenoid mechanisms posed a challenge. The fortuitous discovery of someone using relays offered a quieter alternative with reliable switch contacts for changing the crossing polarity.

For the size of Chapel Wharf’s track, miniature relays with 12-volt coils were found ideal. These relays featured gold or silver-plated contacts, configured as a pair of change-over switches (DPDT). A bracket, fashioned from a thick brass strip, and a mounting plate were constructed to secure the relays on the baseboard. A thin piano wire was soldered to the clapper and extended through the baseboard to engage with the tie-bar. The relay’s movement, its capacity for a bit of ‘overthrow,’ and the tie-bars response were carefully calibrated during installation.

Electrical simplicity prevailed on Chapel Wharf, driven not by a fear of electronics but by the layout’s inherent simplicity. Most of the track, excluding the crossings, was kept ‘live’ to adhere strictly to the ‘one engine in steam’ principle. The only exception was the rear siding, allowing the isolation of a locomotive if the desire for two locomotives on the layout ever arose. The wiring of the diamond crossing showcased a clever solution: a relay linked to one of the neighbouring points was employed to change the polarity of the diamond crossing in coordination with the set route.

Uncoupling on Chapel Wharf was accomplished with electromagnets salvaged from relays, akin to those used for point operation. Neat wiring was a priority given the limited space beneath the boards. Before embarking on the wiring task, David simplified the process by drawing out the mirror-image track plan on the baseboard’s underside. Each component to be connected received its designated colour-coded wire, not only ensuring clarity but also adding an aesthetically pleasing touch. The use of multi-core cable, stripped of its outer sheathing, provided a cost-effective source of coloured wire. Connector strips, essentially a line of OO PCB sleepers, facilitated easy additions to the circuit.

The power supply emanated from a single 16-volt transformer with dual sets of output terminals. One set powered the controller directly, while the other, passing through a bridge rectifier and a resistor, converted the power to 12-volts DC for the relays, magnets, and LEDs. Despite initial doubts about the power output’s adequacy, this arrangement proved quite satisfactory in practice.

Setting the Scene

Chapel Wharf was not conceived as a scenic layout, given its predominantly urban nature. The modelling effort primarily focused on man-made structures, demanding considerable time and attention. The limited space compelled a creative approach, representing large buildings by modelling only their fronts, employing the ‘low relief’ technique. Warehouses along the backscene were strategically placed closely together to conceal their shallow depth of 20 or 30 millimetres. Similarly, the quay’s water occupied a small corner at the front, effectively conveying the harbour ambience.

Determining where the scenery should end, especially around the fiddle-yard entrance, posed a common challenge in model railways. David’s solution involved incorporating a single-track railway bridge as a scenic break, the narrowest form he could envision. To obscure the point where it intersects with the backscene, a warehouse was thoughtfully positioned. The curved backscene in the corner eliminated the unsightly line that typically occurs at sharp angles. The bridge featured a gated arch, symbolizing the entrance to an off-scene scrap metal yard, introducing another source of traffic with minimal effort.

Most warehouses drew inspiration from prototypes in Plymouth and Exeter, while two smaller buildings replicated those in Kyle of Lochalsh. The bridge hailed from Twickenham, a testament to John Ahern’s influential theory. Various construction methods were employed for the buildings, depending on their characteristics. Those with stonework utilised a 1mm thick white mounting board, scribed with a blunt pin, and painted with watercolour. The bridge’s main structure was made from card and clad in brick Plastikard. The remaining buildings were fashioned from Plastikard alone, requiring minimal bracing due to their smaller size.

The quayside’s construction involved Slater’s stone Plastikard and plaster, painted and weathered referencing colour photographs of Padstow. David, an avid user of colour photography for realistic finishes, found it immensely helpful. The only natural element to be considered was water, which occupied a small triangular shelf of plywood below the baseboard top. After being covered with Plastikard, painted in watery colours, and coated with polyurethane varnish, the water surface was enhanced with a small rowing boat, cleverly modified for a ‘waterline’ effect.

Creating flush road surfaces involved distinct methods. Some of the track was embedded in concrete, while stone sets surrounded the rest. Slater’s small stone Plastikard proved invaluable for representing the stone sets, strategically packed underneath to align with rail level. Plaster covered the concrete-covered section, applied in layers with Jack Kine plaster to minimize the risk of cracking. The stone Plastikard received thinned-down brown paint, and careful masking allowed for airbrushing of the ‘concrete.’ However, a notable oversight occurred when the plaster was levelled flush with the rail top, hindering traction, electrical pick-up, and complicating track cleaning. The ‘concrete’ and stone sets’ appearance was enhanced with multiple coats and dry-brushing, resulting in an effective track aesthetic, though track cleaning challenges persisted. Periodic retouching sessions became necessary to maintain the desired appearance.

Playing Trains

From the outset, David intended the operation of the layout to be purely for his pleasure, and, within reason, considerations of period and location would not be allowed to hamper his choice of motive power. Due to the nature of the layout with its somewhat restrictive curves, the choice was already narrowed down to short wheelbase shunting locomotives. Initially, David had no ambition to build locomotives from scratch, preferring to run his motley collection of small continental locomotives masquerading as industrial shunters. All of them had their wheels replaced or turned down by the 2mm Scale Association and were ‘Anglicized’ as much as possible. Notably, the Ibertren locomotives, including a Cuckoo and two Köf III diesel shunters, could impressively crawl about the layout when clean.

After operating the layout for some time, David decided that he needed something more appropriate in the way of motive power. This realization led to the momentous decision to join the ranks of locomotive builders, with all the joys and frustrations associated with this form of masochism.

The first two locomotives caused quite a few labour pains for David. Most of the problems were caused by gears of dubious concentricity, leading to experimentation to find alternatives. After two rebuilds and much nurturing, these two locomotives were eventually running around the layout in a well-behaved manner. Both were heavily modified kits, one being a P&D Marsh steam Sentinel and the other a Langley Drewry 0-6-0 diesel shunter (BR Class 04) with side skirts and cow-catchers. Both ran on a compensated chassis driven by a small Tenshodo, in the case of the Sentinel, and a 1212 coreless motor in the 04.

These locomotives were soon to be joined by a B4 tank engine based on a slimmed-down Peco kit, running on an Ibertren Cuckoo chassis. As Chapel Wharf took longer than initially intended, David had no plans for further locomotives and was eager to return to his Scottish branch line enterprise.

As far as the actual operation was concerned, Chapel Wharf was, to put it kindly, slow. With the locomotives running at walking pace, it could take forty minutes or more to shunt an incoming train of four wagons and make up an outgoing one of the same number. After an hour or so, certain moves would begin repeating themselves, signalling the time to put it away before it became tedious. It was always interesting to watch other people working the layout and see what kind of tangle they got themselves into, with no two operators shunting the layout in the same way.

The layout was first revealed to an unsuspecting public at the 1986 AGM and showcased in various stages of completion at a couple of 2mm events since. David constructed Chapel Wharf partly to demonstrate how little space is truly needed for a model railway. In this regard, he believed he had been successful and knew of at least two 2mm modellers who were inspired to create something along similar lines. It had one public exhibition outing, and despite initial concerns about its interest for visitors, they seemed to enjoy it. Children, in particular, appeared fascinated by it, even without ‘Thomas and Friends’ in sight. Perhaps this was because the layout was always displayed on a table and was the only one they could easily see.

One outcome of exhibiting was that the equipment required had outgrown the original box and had to be accommodated in a second carrying case. This case included a lighting fascia and supports, the small ‘legs,’ drapes, and other miscellaneous items that David didn’t seem to be able to do without.

David Mallot and his Chapel Wharf layout now reside in exile in Germany, and, unfortunately, is no longer easily exhibitable. There is talk, however, of proving its portability by flying over with it for some future event, leaving David to wonder what airport security will make of it.


It was designed specifically to be transportable by public transport and is kept in a custom-made case which conforms to airline carry-on dimensions. It has made the trip to Britain three times and each time it was a bit of an adventure getting it through airport security. Scaleforum 1991, Last exhibited at Rail Wells in 2004.

The main baseboard is 94 x 19 cm and folds in the middle. There is a 5.5cm extension which brings the overall length to 99.5cm. The carrying case is 50 x 42 x 15 cm and includes a partitioned tray with most of the rolling stock.

More Information

  • Mallott, David. “Chapel Wharf (1).” The 2mm Magazine, October 1990, pp. 69-76.
  • Mallott, David. “Chapel Wharf (2): Setting The Scene.” The 2mm Magazine, December 1990, pp. 85-91.
  • Mallot, David. “Chapel Wharf – 2mm in a Suitcase.” Model Railway Journal, no. 59, 1992, pp. 311-314.