The Story of Oakley
During the Second World War the War Department took over several disused quarries near main rail lines and
converted them in to storage facilities for ordnance. Oakley, based in the Midlands was one of these. Part of the quarry was
covered in reinforced concrete as under cover storage. The double height of the storage enabled smoke from the steam locomotives,
used with spark suppressors, to disperse slowly without raising the suspicions of any enemy spies or over flying aircraft.
At the end of the war the quarry fell in to disuse and was abandoned by the War Department along with the
adjoining canal. In the late 1960s a preservation group were looking for somewhere to build a working museum, reflecting
both railway and canal operations. The quarry was seen as ideal and over the years various groups like the Canal Preservation
Trust restored the different aspects of the site. The top of the concrete storage was checked and found to be still in as good
a condition as when it was built although some of the external support walls needed to be replaced or refaced. The stability of
the bombproof shelter was such that a second preservation group, mainly interested in building preservation, joined the teams
working on the site. They gradually moved historically important buildings on to the shelter roof to create a small area displaying
the architectural history of the area surrounding the quarry.
A tramway, operated by a preserved diesel railcar, runs through the site providing access to visitors from a link
to a park-and-ride facility close to the nearest town. The canal basin has been converted to a working museum with facilities for
boats and leisure craft. A coal drop has been installed to add another feature to the museum and is worked from the old storage tunnels
on the upper level. The two running lines, originally part of the main rail network, have been disconnected from the network and a
loop fitted inside the storage tunnel to enable the demonstration of preserved locomotives and rolling stock. Access to these is from
the main yard through the storage tunnel. The railway museum area is being expanded to enable wagon and carriage repairs to be carried
out as well as to demonstrate wagon shunting to the increasing visitor numbers.
Oakley the layout
The layout was donated to the Club as a part-complete personal project project but was unusable for our needs as it
consisted of a two layer ‘box’ with track underneath accessible only by removing the top level board. There was a very tight curve,
under 6” radius, fitted as part of a reversing loop and a very steep slope to bring track up from the bottom layer. Trials with various
locomotive and stock combinations showed these two features to be a major problem which would make it unusable in exhibition circumstances.
In addition the length would have made transporting it a logistic problem.
The decision was therefore made to remove the top board and fit extensions to both the ends and front making a portable
layout consisting of 4 boards. The general concept behind the layout was to concentrate on a preserved railway on one level with some shunting
activity on the front of the layout. Having not worked on a layout of this size before it was with some trepidation that we started lifting
the old track and laying out the new. There were several false starts and much track relaying but the two outer loops became ‘functional’
allowing train movement to be successfully demonstrated.
Initially the layout was worked on by just one or two dedicated members making progress slow. A larger group has since
been formed with some new Club members helping out offering both ideas and concepts leading to a much more focused approach and achievable design.
The lower level is still to be maintained with the yard and two running loops. A canal basin is to be installed on the lower end board
with the canal running the full length of the main board between the running tracks and the yard. A small station is to be fitted across
the main line near the front of the layout with footway access to the viewing areas around the yard and to the canal basin and museum.
The coal drop feature will operate from hidden tracks at the back of the board and extensions on the yard tracks will give us some
fiddle yard capability, sadly lacking in the original design. The building museum will go on a platform above the tunnels with an
automatic shuttle module, operating the railcar on the tramway.
Some features of the original layout have been incorporated in the new layout but a leaking roof in the clubroom and the consequential
water damage means that some of the walling is almost unusable. New walling to the same design is in the process of being constructed to
enable scenery work to continue whilst the final touches are put to the wiring. A review of the wiring is ongoing and a ‘to do’ list being
generated to include two control panels and capacitor discharge modules for the 17 turnouts.