Tasha Oates updated January 4, 2011


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  • Dave and Shirley Rowe’s HO Scale Exebridge Quay

    By Dave and Shirley Rowe
    Drawings by Dave Rowe
    Photographs by Brian Monaghan and Barry Norman

    This HO scale 4x9-foot module is set in England in 1845, but the structures are similar to those all along the eastern seaboard of the United States, including the textile mill at Lowell, Massachusetts, shown in the July 1992 issue and the Enterprise Cotton Mill shown on page 4 of this issue. Many of the techniques used to build this module may be new to most American modelers.

    Many years ago, Dave lived in a house, which had room in the roof space for a large layout, but when it was completed, he found that he didn’t want to run the trains – his pleasure had come from the construction work. As a result, Dave has spent nearly all his spare time for the past 20 years constructing a series of automatically controlled animated dioramas housed in wooden cabinets with glass fronts. Once completed, they only see the light of day when taken from our garage to be shown at model railroad exhibitions. Dave doesn’t like his dioramas to take more than three years to build, so when I joined him in the hobby 10 years ago, it allowed far more complex projects to be undertaken. 

    – Shirley Rowe

    This working diorama is a joint effort by my wife and myself and is based on a  combination of two small docks from the Southwest of England, Exeter and Bridgwater, hence the hybrid name, Exebridge. It was necessary to combine the two, as Bridgwater had interesting working engineering features in an ugly setting, while Exeter had beautiful buildings in a lovely spot but a total lack of interesting movement.

    The diorama is 9 feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 feet high, about as large a single unit as can be maneuvered into exhibition halls, but small enough to allow all the finest detail to be incorporated. We like our way of presentation for various reasons:

    1. It keeps out the dust.
    2. It keeps out sticky little fingers at exhibitions.
    3. It allows us to provide a controlled level of lighting.
    4. During transport, the model is protected.
    5. It has a more theatrical effect. You do not see full-sized people walking behind the layout working the controls, which we think spoils the illusion of a miniature world.

    My wife, Shirley, made the buildings and trees, while I made the ships, trains, bridges and electrical controls. 

    A panoramic view of the left side of the diorama. In the foreground is the green-painted shed housing the steam engine used for moving the sliding bridge and, behind that, the wooden treadmill crane. Note the dual gauge track on the bridge. The ship end-on to the camera is a topsail schooner, behind that (sails unfurled) a ketch, then a barge and a barkentine. The buildings at the back are, left to right, the Wharfinger's office, Custom House, Prospect Inn (painted white) and a warehouse.

    A view looking at the left of the diorama. In the immediate foreground is the sliding bridge with the pit across which the traverser section moves to allow the main span to roll back. By the pit is the shed which houses the steam engine used to open and close the bridge. Behind the shed is the rear of the one-man-power treadmill.

    The broad gauge (7 feet) 2-2-2 loco "Ajax" with 1O-foot-diameter solid driving wheels. (Make your own wheels for this one!) Behind is the three-masted topsail schooner "Kathleen and May" and behind that the barge "Venta." In the background are, left to right, the Wharfinger's office, Custom House and Prospect Inn.

    The sliding bridge is open, the lifting bridge has been raised and the 1843 dredger "Bertha" scrapes mud into the river. To the right is the wooden treadmill crane. - Photo by Brian Monaghan

    Fig. 5 - The sliding bridge opens in two stages. First (top) the land end of the bridge (the "traverser") at the extreme right slides into the "traverser pit. " Second (bottom) the sliding portion of the bridge moves onto the land to occupy the place just vacated by the traverser section of the bridge. All this action (and more) is duplicated auto­matically on the HO scale Exebridge Quay.

    Fig. 8 - End view of the treadmill crane.

    Fig. 7 - Side view of the treadmill-operated crane. The operator actually walked along the treadmill (like a pet gerbil) to raise or lower the freight.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Dave and Shirley Rowe
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date August 1993

    Article Album (13 photos)

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  • Tim David
    Tim David I can remember seeing this diorama at an exhibition back in the days, it was great! One of their earlier dioramas has a night scene, with someone smoking a glowing scale cigarette (fiber optics) After Exbridge they did a Spanish village, but since then se...  more
    January 7, 2011
  • Tasha Oates
    Tasha Oates Thanks for the insight!
    January 7, 2011
  • Trevor Marshall
    Trevor Marshall Great to see this. Thanks for posting, Tasha!
    Shirley Rowe handles overseas subscriptions to Model Railway Journal - a British magazine that's packed with excellent (mostly UK-based) modeling inspiration. I've been a subscriber for years and love it. No w...  more
    February 13, 2011