Site updated with name change

I have changed the name of this site from my old model railroad to just “models.”
I found that I haven’t had the time or space to recreate the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai project over the past six years since I moved.
I am, however, moving onto other, more manageable, projects which will be featured here in the coming months.
I am also using the WordPress Twenty-Sixteen as a temporary responsive site theme. I will update to a more appropriate theme with the first new post.

Skeena Valley Model Railroad Association

(Note I am no longer affiliated with the Skeena Model Railroad Association due to work commitments)

So an update from my last entry almost eighteen months ago.

I did move back to Kitimat, British Columbia and did buy a large ranch house with an ocean view.

At this point I am using the large rec room in the basement as my office for my freelance writing and photography.

The house has a large attic, which will become the layout room, as finances permit.


An RCMP cruiser stops a corvette for speeding on the HO Skeena  Valley Model Railroad Association layout in Terrace, BC. The cruiser has alternating red and blue LED lights, creating by Ian Illing.  (Robin Rowland photo)

In the meantime, I am a part time member of the Skeena Valley Model Railroad Assocation and you can see a photo gallery of more images on my photography site.

Trying to set up my new business means that I can’t attend meetings that often at the moment.

I am working on a smaller shelf layout that will go into the rec room office.   Keeping the details to myself at the moment because the new small layout is also tied to a writing project.


A steam engine pulls into a station at the Skeena Valley Model Railroad Association layout, while above a contemporary whips by on an upper track.  (Robin Rowland photo)

Packing up the layout, moving out


I am dismantling and packing up the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai railway.  An increasing workload meant that I wasn’t working on the layout.   In the end, I decided to take early retirement and move back to the small town on the west coast of British Columbia where I grew up.

This is a shot of my model of the famed Wampo viaduct, with a Japanese C56 locomotive pulling a boxcar and a passenger carriage.


Another view of the uncompleted Wampo viaduct.


The Sonkrai trestle bridge, built largely from bamboo skewers, emulating the rough logs used in the original bridge.


A view of the incomplete layout (built in a spare bedroom)


Another view of the layout before dismantling.

If someone tells a model railroader that you can’t model “the liquor traffic” for the period of American Prohibition, don’t listen.

Railroads had a major role in delivering booze from Canada to a thirsty United States from 1920 to1933 and so anyone modeling that period can have a lot of fun adding boxcars full of beer and liquor to their roster of rolling stock and delivering the booze as a part of their operational plans.

How it all worked was outlined in my 1987 book King of the Mob, the story of Rocco Perri, sometimes called the “Al Capone of Canada.”Perri might also be called a railroad operations magnate– he created a system of “laundering” beer and liquor as he shipped it to the US by rail.

It’s well known that Canada supplied alcohol to the United States throughout Prohibition, The picture most people have is that booze came by ship or boat. There were fleets that headed south from the Canadian Maritimes, Newfoundland (then a British colony not part of Canada) and the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Small boats made regular trips across the Great Lakes.

Quirks in the Canadian constitution, the division of powers between provinces and the federal government created a giant loophole. Consumption of liquor was a provincial responsibility and most provinces had some form of prohibition.

Manufacture of alcohol was under federal jurisdiction. There was no federal law prohibiting making the stuff. The federal government didn’t care where the booze went as long as the purchaser paid the
excise tax. So on paper, all the beer and alcohol was manufactured for export. (Some of it was smuggled back into those provinces that had their own form of Prohibition.). It is said by some economists that in the period after the great crash of 1929 and the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Canadian economy was dependent on sending alcohol to the United States, a major reason the feds looked the other way.

So how did the railroads come into the picture?

Rocco Perri, the leader of a small Calabrian mob in the city of Hamilton was the right man, in the right place at the right time. While Perri didn’t control the
region, he wasn’t a boss of bosses, but Perri was certainly the most important force in a region known as the “bootleg triangle” which reached from Detroit in the west (the Hiram Walker distillery and British American brewery) through Toronto (the Gooderham and Worts distillery, now a trendy neighborhood called The Distillery District) and east to Corby’s Distillery at
Corbyville (outside Belleville, Ont.). The apex of the bootleg triangle was in Kitchener, Ont with the giant Kuntz Brewery and the Seagram’s distillery.

Perri and his competitors organized a huge and profitable operation buying beer and alcohol from these companies and creating paperwork that showed the product was being exported “to Cuba” since it was illegal to export alcohol to a country where there was Prohibition, that is the United States. As far as the Canadian customs was concerned, if the booze had to cross the United States to reach Cuba, that was okay with them.

On early indication of how things work was a court case where alcohol was “reimported”
to Ontario. The booze was loaded on Grand Trunk boxcars (one of the predecessors of CN) for Havana Cuba but in this case never reached the American border, much less Cuba.

As you can imagine it was a profitable business. You could buy a case of Seagram’s in Waterloo for $35 (including $14 Canadian excise) sell it for $50 in Buffalo or wait until got to New York where the wholesale price for that case $140.

While the US Coast Guard was busy intercepting fishing boats off Long Island and small boats crossing Lake Ontario, the authorities, it seemed, ignored the railroads.

That is until the Canadian government held an inquiry into the  “liquor traffic.”
One of the men watching the proceedings was Richard Boyce the young American consul in Hamilton, Ontario.

(Before the era of efficient communications, the United States had consulates in many more places than the country does now.)

Boyce wondered how the beer and booze was going south, so he and a US special agent watched as barrels of beer were loaded into a boxcar at the Kuntz Brewery. No way bill was issued until the train reached nearby London, Ontario where suddenly a way bill said the load of  “scrap leather” from the Kitchener Rag & Metal Company was bound for American Tanners in Pittsburgh.

There was no American Tanners in Pittsburgh and when Prohibition agents raided the Pittsburgh siding where the boxcar was waiting, they found 278 barrels each with 30 bottles of beer.

On his own initiative Boyce went through the filing cabinets full of invoices filed with consulate and usually ignored.

Boyce’s investigation showed that between 1924 and 1927 hundreds of boxcars had gone from Canada to the United States loaded with beer or liquor but with way bills describing the the cargo as hay, scrap leather, rags, paper and rubber.

The same name that had appeared on the invoice for the “scrap leather” bound for Pittsburgh also appeared on shipments of turnips to the United States. The only problem was that there were also a large number of legitimate shipments of turnips from the farms of the southwestern Ontario to the Campbell Soup Co. To Boyce, it quickly became apparent that the gangsters were “laundering”
the alcohol shipments amongst legitimate cargo.

Boyce’s investigation showed that between April 1 and June 23, 1927, six shipments of hay weresent from Hagersville, Ontario to a company called Dwyer Reed in New Jersey. Only one box car went to the real Dwyer Reed in Newark, the other eleven box cars when to non-existent Dwyer locations inMontclair, Englewood, Garfield, Manuet and Raritan. (So modelers can think of the switching possibilities in this sort of business)

Boyce found that in those 12 weeks in 1927, 60 boxcars of beer left Hamilton, Kitchener, or St. Catharines for the United States via Niagara Falls. The Canadian government inquiry showed that the price of a dozen pints of Canadian beer at the border in 1927 was $3.25. If each boxcar had 278 barrels with 30 bottles, a single load would have been worth $2,258,75 at Buffalo. Sixty boxcars would have been worth $135,525 at the border, much more in New York and New Jersey.

Boyce got no support from the State Department for his investigation, which told him it was considered “inadvisable”to pass the information to the Justice Department. As for more paperwork, that might help detect alcohol shipments, the State Department said “the system would cause irritation among innocent shippers out of all proportion to its probable value in preventing the shipment of liquor.”

So for those who model the period 1920 to 1933, there all kinds of possibilities for both modeling
operations. Model men unloading beer at a tanning plant. Barrels of beer among a load of hay. Switching the legitimate boxcars to one location, the smuggled beer or alcohol to another. Raids by
Prohibition agents or, of course, gang wars.

You could also have variety of rolling stock, since the Grand Trunk finally went bankrupt in 1923 and was then absorbed by Canadian National. So it is likely alcohol could be found in Grand Trunk, Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific boxcars plus those from affiliated American railroads or railroads that shipped into Canada.

Rewritten from King of the Mob Rocco Perri and the Women Who
Ran His Rackets
. Copyright 1987 by James Dubro and Robin Rowland.
All rights reserved.

What is a tier trestle?

The term tier trestle is fairly recent, given by historians to the bridges built along the route of the Burma Thailand Railway (the River Kwai). See, for example, this Australian government report.

The term could, of course, refer to what are called the levels or stories on a standard trestle. (The Oxford Dictionary defines tier as one of several units of a structure placed one above the other.)


There are key differences with the tier trestle and the engineering standard. The river bridges built by the Imperial Japanese Army engineers using prisoner of war and indigenous slave labour did
follow engineering standards and were solid enough to survive repeated attacks by British and American bombers.

On the other hand, the bridges over the hundreds of ravines were not-so-solid, built hastily and by engineering units that were not as experienced or competent as those building the actual river bridges.

Recent scholarship seems to indicate that the long-term Japanese plans called for these bridges to be filled and covered with earth. a method described in the Merriman Wiggin American Civil Engineer’s Handbook, an indication that the similar methods were used in North America.

Steam era modelers may want to use the tier trestle bridge or some variant for what the
Handbook calls “construction trestles” on temporary lines, or on narrow gauge railways. The handbook recommended removing the bracing during the fill process when it is reached by the fill to prevent the pull in the bracing under the load of the fill from distorting the posts and even breaking them.

In muddy conditions, common in the rain
forest, it warned that “if piles were driven into the mud,
sudden movements of the mud and newly made fill frequently not only
break the braces but snap off the piles and demolish the entire
structure. Such trestles should be built of piles of large diameter,
driven to hardpan and heavily sway braced and the sway bracing
removed when reached by fill.”

Due to war time pressures, in many cases, this step was never completed and so the tier trestle bridges were used until the line was abandoned, often requiring frequent repairs.

Characteristics of a
“tier trestle.”


  • Longer caps
    and sills, and a longer horizontal bent brace at one level reaching
    out beyond the normal exterior bent posts.

  • Additional
    vertical bent posts along the outer edge with horizontal girts that
    reinforce the bridge between the caps, sills and horizontal bent

  • Additional
    bracing from raw logs that are attached to the ends of the caps,
    sills and bent brace.

  • Additional diagonal bracing between the
    platform and the cap. These braces were found on all the bridges
    built on the Burma Thailand Railway, not just the ones over ravines.
    In some cases, there sometimes occasional longer bridge ties visible
    in old photographs, indicating that there may have been bracing on
    there as well.



The Merriman Wiggin handbook makes no mention of this type of construction, so it may be that the Japanese engineers improvised at first and then adopted the method along the entire railway.


The Japanese engineers used local hardwood, mostly teak, to build all the bridges. In my preliminary research experienced bridge modelers told me that dowels that are true to N scale are not available.

Finished logs



  • bamboo
    skewers available in any supermarket

  • round

  • parts of bamboo place mats. (I was able
    get them very cheap from a Japanese shop in Toronto. They had been
    used for window display and so came in various shades even on the
    same mat due to fading in the sun.



Squared wood.


  • Kit bashed from the Hunterline
    N Scale 81 foot trestle bridge.



Support logs


  • At first I couldn’t figure out how to do the logs that support the bridge. The solution came from another technique, while I was using the blender to turn old leaves to dust for ground cover, as a number of modelers have recommended. Those instructions say discard the stems. But as I was cutting the stems off, I realized they were prefect for the tree trunks that were used to support the bridge.





  • Micro
    Engineering bridge flex track

  • Centre planks
    (HO size) 2×2 lumber

  • Tie supports (HO size) 1×3 lumber



Staining the wood
The tropical hardwoods, like teak, used in the building of the bridge are usually insect and rot resistant without use of preservatives such as creosote. And creosote was not available during the war. So I stained one third of the bamboo skewers, toothpicks and Hunterline stringers and sway braces with teak stain. Another third was stained with teak stain mixed with neutral for a lighter shade. The final third was left natural. The bamboo place mats were left natural.

Building the bents
Construction methods on the ravine bridges were hurried and often slipshod. One called “The Pack of Cards Bridge,” built by conscripted Burmese forced labour under Japanese supervision collapsed three times. So the building of the model also reflects this. The caps, sills, exterior bent posts, abutment posts and retaining walls were made from bamboo skewers. So were the extra
horizontal exterior girts. Bent posts were made from round toothpicks. The horizontal bent braces from the bamboo mats. Other bent braces, girts and stringers were from the Hunterline kit. I
followed the instructions from Hunterline and from various articles in hobby magazines, building the bents first.


I found that Micro Engineering instructions can be awkward and it is best to add the guard track
first, using CA adhesive and small clamps to make sure it is well stuck. I used only one guard track, rather the regular two. One guard rail or shorter ones are common in old photographs, probably due to shortage of materiel. Planks were glued in the centre of the bridge. The railway was the only route through the jungle and many people used it as a roadway, which meant there had to be places to walk between the ties. You still see the same kind of planks on railways in parts of Thailand today. The stringers were glued to the bottom of the track. Completing the bridge The standard bridge was built first by adding the girts and sway braces. I then added the additional girts


To weather this bridge, I had to keep in mind that it will be in a model rain forest. The track was painted a grayish color and then given a teak wash as I describe in the Apalon bridge post. The first step was to use a variety of green chalks brushed onto the bridge. The second step was to use black and gray chalks along the track and on the bents, since this was a heavily traveled steam railway. I had tested the standard weathering mix of heavily diluted shoe dye and alcohol on stir sticks but the result was far too dark for my purposes, based on some of the bridges I saw on my trips to Thailand and in the first colour photographs from the 1950s (WWII photographs are in black and white). Then I remembered that this was rain forest. So I tried a new, two-fisted, approach, black weathering spray, followed immediately by a heavy spray of wet water. The result was a soaked newspaper and a very light grey with occasional patches of black. The two sprays also took away most of the chalks, so after all was dry, I added more green, brown and black chalks.

Support tree trunks
The leaf stems were soaked in dilute matte medium as a preservative. There were two levels of support logs, smaller ones attached to the lower tier and the second tree trunk logs to the upper tier. The stem/logs look good in the photograph but are quite delicate. Once all the bridges are ready and the track laid and glued, the stem/logs will be cut to a proper length and anchored.

The spider webs.
A glue called Liquisilk was distributed as free samples at the Toronto
Christmas Train Show
so I tried it out when adding the tie supports where I wanted to test the company’s claim that the glue could be strong in small amounts. It wasn’t until I took macro
photographs of the bridge that I noticed that there was excess glue, that it did look like spider webs, especially when fragments of chalk adhered to the dried glue. Liguisilk


At this point, before final installation on the layout, I sprayed the bridge with Krylon matte, then cleaned the track and temporarily installed it on the layout and successfully ran tests with my trains.

Coming up in the next few months
A river bridge A viaduct Smaller river and ravine bridges



A prototype bible



While I was doing
research for The Sonkrai Tribunal, I came across a couple of references to the fact that the Japanese engineers used the Merriman Wiggin method of building railways. (Many sources misspelled it as
Merriam like the American dictionary, which is why I initially had trouble tracking it down).

During the research for the book, it was just a passing reference. Now that I am building my own model railway and working on the bridges I wanted to find out more about that manual. A Google check came up with little (especially when I used Merriam instead of Merriman). But a handful of copies of the book showed up on Abebooksas the American Civil Engineers Handbook
by Thaddeus Merriman and Thos. H. Wiggin. First published in 1911, it was issued by John Wiley up until (as far as I can tell from the editions on Abebooks, the middle 1950s).

The average price for the book was $15 and one of the dealers was in Canada, so I placed the order.

When the handbook arrived, it was immediately clear why it was the key document for the Imperial Japanese Army engineers. It is the hardcover equivalent of a trade paperback, thick, with 2,263 pages, but shaped so that it could fit into a large pocket (such as a military fatigue pocket), pouch or small shoulder bag.

It was obviously written not only for an civil engineer working in North America but anywhere in the world (it has conversion tables for local currencies and local measuring methods, for example, in Japan and China).

For the model railroader, the book is often far too detailed, but on the other hand it goes beyond the railway reference books. The main reason I bought it is because the Japanese engineers used it as the manual for building trestle bridges. And I found that it gives some hints that are not found in many of the trestle books aimed at modelers. One example that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

n high railway trestles on curves over the centrifugal
forces of the moving train should be further guarded against by
additional braces on the convex side of the trestle.

There are several railroad related chapters. How about water tanks? We buy them, build kits or
scratch build and usually pluck them beside the tracks. It goes into great detail about the problems in those water tanks, like hard water and even mud and the damage that could do a steam locomotive. It says, for example, in 1873, the use of hard or muddy water cost $750 per locomotive per year.â€

And this, again from the late nineteenth century, made me change my layout plans by moving
my water tanks closer to the river bank.


The El Paso and Southern
Railway found that even after chemical treatment of hard water supply
on a division 128 miles long, the engine tonnage was reduced 25% and
the cost of the locomotive was maintenance was increased $1000 per
year per engine over the normal amount. To avoid this, a waterworks
system from a supply of pure mountain water 130 miles distant was
constructed at a cost of $1,300,000. Even this expenditure was proven
to be amply justified.”

to know the wind resistance of a locomotive and total train resistance and the problem of oscillation? It’s there. So is the cost of building a rail line in the 1920s.

There are plans for dams, aqueducts, canals, shafts, tunnels, harbour and river works (including docks, wharves and retaining walls). Steel bridges and concrete bridges each merit their own chapter along with trestles. And if you want a breakwater on your layout, you’ll find it there as well. The book has a lot a rivet counter would love, but if you can get a cheap copy, any modeler would find it useful.

Weathering the Apalon Bridge



I have completed the basic layout for the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai railway. Before I glue down the track, the bridges have to be built. The first bridge is the simplest, a two-span deck plate bridge on three concrete piers.


The prototype is the Apalon Bridge, about 25 kilometres inside Burma, beyond Three Pagoda Pass, at the 335 kilometre mark from the railhead in Thailand. John Stewart described it in his book To the River Kwai Two Journeys 1943, 1979, when he visited the bridge on his return journey. At the time it had been abandoned for 35 years, and at that time, appeared to be intact, but appeared to be
freshly painted a dirty shade of red, like coagulated blood. From close up, it is revealed to be nothing but deep rust which Stewart says contrasted sharply with the pervasive greenness of the
jungle. Aphotograph shows thick jungle right up to the edge of the pylons on either bank.

Alternate world

This project is more of an alternative world, the term taken from speculative fiction than the pure model railroading freelance.  In this alternative world, the railway was not abandoned; instead it becomes a mainline route from China and Southeast Asia, as well as traffic between Thailand and Burma as well as the local runs. However, in the post-war world, there is a minimal budget, and so far, in the period 1946-1947, the maintenance on the hastily built railway is concentrated near the railheads and high traffic areas in Thailand and Burma. The border region that I am modeling is on the list but at the bottom. So the bridge can be described as neglected, and I have weathered it, as it would have been in either world in 1946 or 1947.

A note on construction

In the construction of the Burma Thailand Railway, the wooden bridges, ties (sleepers) and telegraph poles were made from local insect resistant tropical hardwoods, mainly teak. At least during the
period of the Second World War, creosote was not available and not used. That means the traditional methods of staining or painting both the wooden trestle and the ties do not apply on this railway. Teak and other hardwoods were used, usually untreated, for many years after the Second World War across Southeast Asia. Later various forms of anti-insect treatments were used. Today it is more common to use metal and/or concrete for bridges and poles.

The model

The original model is made from two Kato N Scale deck plate bridges with Kato pylons. There is a close resemblance to the original Apalon bridge


The pylons

I came upon a method of creating neglected or decaying concrete purely by accident. I was testing
Krylon All Purpose White Primer #41315 on some scrap styrene. The result was a powdery cracked white, not all suitable a primer, but perfect for crumbling or neglected concrete.

First I sprayed the three pylons with Krylon primer. Once it was dry, I applied a wash of Polyscale Concrete, allowed it to dry and then applied two more washes.

The level of the Kwai Noi varies from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. Flooding is frequent during the rainy season. So how to create flood/mud stains on the pylons? So I tried an experiment, I created a bath of artists acrylics (raw umber and raw sienna), and mixed it so it actually had a consistency of mud. I left the three pylons outside in the sun, which reduced the bath and left a stain, then transferred the pylons to my work bench, where the remainder of the paint bath evaporated over three days, leaving an authentic looking stain.

After the mud stains were dry, I applied artists pastel chalks, first some raw umber followed, in the tropical environment with a bright Phthalo Green, an Olive Green and then a mixture of the two. The
final chalks were Black, Mouse Grey and a mixture of both. The final step was a Krylon matte spray to fix the chalks and remove any sheen.


The track I have already run experiments with spare Kato Unitrack and Atlas Snaptrack. Both have ties that are too dark to match tropical hardwoods. As is widely recommended, I coated the
rails with oil before each painting step.

What worked best was Krylon Satin Almond spray #42327, which creates a dull grey-brown finish. The second step was also an experiment. I had successfully tested Home Hardware Teak wood stain on bass and balsa wood prior to building the trestle bridges.


So I brushed the ties with the teak wood stain”and that worked, bringing out the details of the ties and adding a teak-brown tone to the grey from the spray.

However, this technique works best on track without a built-in roadbed, since the stain tends to bleed into roadbed. (I am working on a couple of other techniques with the Unitrack) I then painted individual ties with a variety of washes from Polyscale D&RGW Building Brown, Depot Buff and Mud, adding a smidgen of Box Car Red now and again. The guardrail and the sides of
the rails were painted with Polyscale Rust.

I added a wash of rust on the central walkway. It was chalk pastels that made all the difference. First was for rust, Caput Mortuum Red, Indian Red, Permanent Red Deep and Raw Umber (and mixtures of those shades). There were several different shades of Raw Umber in Curry’s Artists Supplies in Toronto, so I used those to add a general aged appearance. As with the pylons, I used my selection of green to add some hint of the jungle, followed by greys and blacks.

 Kato calls the colour of the deck plate grey. But it was actually a grey green that was perfect for my needs since it closely resembled camouflage paints, likely the only paint available in the
region at the time anyway. I used a small sculpturer’s pick to distress parts of the bridge, weakening some of the side rails and poking some small holes, which could have come either from allied
strafing or just general wear and tear. Again I started with wash of Polyscale Rust, followed by a mixture of Rust and Building Brown, but largely left well enough alone.

The main step was a heavy application of pastel chalks, several of mixtures of a rusty orange, followed again by greens and finally by blacks.


All the elements were sprayed with Krylon matte finish, to seal the chalks and to remove any remaining plastic shine. I gave the Kato unijoiners a thin wash of concrete, and added
a black gantry support in the middle, that I may use for a telegraph pole or just leave as is.

Next step The next step is
the first trestle bridge.


Why this railway?

A post in the Model Railroader magazine forum
Original question on Ever re-created a movie or t.v. scene on your layout?

: My entire model railway (I am
currently working on the track layout on the foam) is based somewhat
The Bridge on the River Kwai. My
late father was a POW on the River Kwai.

I have just finished a
book on a war crimes trial of River Kwai prison guards, called
Sonkrai Tribunal,
that will be
published in Australia this fall (I still haven’t found a North
American publisher)

During the research for the book I obtained
original WWII intelligence reports which listed such things as
rolling stock, locomotives, number of wooden trestle bridges (680)
and steel (8) and how stations and yards were configured.

Reading and
rereading the reports rekindled my long dormant interest in model
railroading. The period I am modelling is after the war, when the
rail line was run by the British military, with cooperation from Thai
Railways. This period ended in 1947, but the freelance element is
that the railway continued to operate throughout the 1940s, as
intended by pre-war planners in UK and Thailand as a short cut
between Southeast Asia and India. (During the research I came across
a United Nations report that proposed that idea was still viable
today. I
blogged that last spring

It allows for an interesting mix of
locos and rolling stock. As well as Japanese engines brought in and
used by the Japanese Army, there were locos appropriated by Japan
from the Federated Malay States Railway, a number of British made for
export locos and U.S. built Baldwins. Those Japanese locos were
handed over to Burma and Thailand after the war and continued to
operate for many years in both countries. It’s in N Scale called the
Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai. I plan to unveil a blog on how my progress
on the WNS in a couple of weeks

Starting the Wampo, NIeke & Sonkrai (Version 1)


May to October- Railway salvage?
It was after I finished  A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal, that I decided to build
a model railway based on my research, to model the real bridges on
the River Kwai.

But at that time there was trouble brewing.
Management at CBC had applied for conciliation and that had started
the clock ticking towards the lockout that began in August. Money was
tight, but my basement was full of material left by the one the
previous owners of my house, that could potentially be used for a
layout. A large pile of wood, probably structural wood, taken down
when the wall was taken down between the living and dining rooms.
There were also two doors in the basement, not the standard hollow
doors available at your local hardware store. There was a solid door,
same pattern as the rest of the doors in my house and a hollow
cupboard door. So that became my planned bench work. The plans were
put on hold as it became clear that there would be a lockout and I
was working on the first round of revisions of the manuscript. In
August, the model railway gods favoured me while  my income was
reduced by the lockout. I was able to get more salvage material from
construction sites on my block. The first was some old-fashioned wire
mesh, three different types, which I picked out of a pile of
construction waste. Then a couple of weeks later, another house on my
block was being renovated. The exterior walls were covered in lovely
blue extruded Styrofoam. And a colleague and lockout picket captain
owns the house next door, so I was occasionally a visitor and one day
I was there when the contractor’s crew was outside and I asked
and received all their scraps.

October to
November. Layout planning.
The lockout ended (see


Garret Tree
for my blog on the lockout) and once my pay cheque
resumed, I dropped by my local Home Depot and bought one large piece
of 4 x 8 one inch pink Styrofoam and a couple of pieces of two inch 2
x 8 foam. I knew the rough layout and I what was essential, the great
Sonkrai trestle bridge in the centre of the layout and the
spectacular Wampo viaduct on one side. As well, by watching the
forums and e-mail, I concluded that for viable freelance operation,
the railway needed an economic reason to operate, over and above the
long-standing idea that it should be a short cut from Southeast Asia
and China to India. When I visited the region in 1997 I saw the
devastation of clear cut logging, similar to the cut, clear and leave
the slash that so familiar to me when I was growing up in British
Columbia in the 1960s. The Imperial Japanese Army had created small
sawmills along the route of the railway to produce ties and material
for bridges, so my economic assumption is that there was a small
post-war logging and lumber industry that provided some support for
local trains. So that meant a branch line going to the sawmill. The
layout is designed as point to point as the original railway was. But
since the Burma Thailand Railway had what were called air raid
lines with little clearance from the jungle that were designed for
trains to hide during Allied air raids, the return loop of an oval is
partly the air raid spur.

Christmas holidays
I built the bench work during the Christmas holidays.

and February
Going slower than I thought it would, but
then by monitoring the forums, it seems it goes slowly with everyone.
I glue down the base extruded Styrofoam. Then I layout the basic
track plan, using Kato Unitrack for the lines. I planned to use Atlas
Snaptrack for the many bridges (there were 688 bridges on the Burma
Thailand Railway). My plans at this point call for four trestle
bridges based on the photographs and drawings of the real bridges on
the Kwai. (The movie bridge had trusses, the real ones did not) plus
a plate deck bridge (Kato model) based one of the railway’s
steel bridges in Burma. The problem is for this mountain layout is to
figure out the maximum inclination that can be modeled. The Burma
Thailand Railway steep inclines and in that location two locomotives
were used in a push-pull configuration.

Prototype Elements The Burma Thailand Railway (aka the Railway of Death)

This model railway is classified

The prototype elements of the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai are based on
two post-war intelligence reports on the Burma Thailand Railway.

main report was written by then Lt. Cecil Carter Brett, a Canadian
intelligence officer serving in Southeast Asia as part of a joint
British-Canadian-U.S. Intelligence, interrogation and translation
corps. (Brett later became head of Asian studies at Monmouth College
in Illinois).

The second report was written by the Japanese under
issued under the name of Yoshimoto and introduced as evidence in the
Tokyo War Crimes trial. The locomotives and rolling stock I have
chosen are based on lists in Brett’s report, with additional
information from the Yoshimoto report and information obtained from
rail and steam buffs and websites.

After the end of the Second World
War, the British military ran the railway, in cooperation with Thai
State Railway and the Burma Railway for about a year. The Burma
portion of the line was abandoned in June 1946, due to the high cost
in money, equipment and possibly lives of maintaining the line,
Britain and the rails salvaged for scrap. Britain turned the railway
over to Thailand in October 1946 for £15.Million and the line was
dismantled north of Nam Tok.

Freelance elements The area where
the toughest construction for the prisoner of war and coolie labour
was at the mountain border crossing at Three Pagoda Pass, an area
with a sparse population even today. Under normal circumstances (as a
recent United Nations study showed) a railway in this area would be

For the purposes of this model railway The
complete line continued to operate after June 1946, operated by Great
Britain who had claimed ownership of the railway because it was built
partly with POW labour and as the colonial power in Burma and in
cooperation with the Thai State Railway system. The freelance
assumption is that the railway continued to operate and that it is
now late 1947.

Locomotive and rolling stock

The standard gauge in Southeast Asia is
three metres, one metre narrow gauge but almost all the locomotives and rolling
stock were standard gauge prototypes. All were modified somewhat for
use in Southeast Asia, so most of the locomotives I have purchased
are “as close as possible.” On the BurmaThailand Railway,
the Japanese used:

  • Locomotives androlling stock
    shipped from Japan

  • British locomotives and rolling
    stock based on British models from the Federated Malay States
    Railway and Burma Railway

  • US built Baldwin locomotives built
    for and modified by the Federated Malay StatesRailway

  • Japanese built locomotives purchased by Thailand prior to the
    outbreak of war.