– Or How It All Started
G-Wizz was first thought of in 1988, when a ‘one-off’ layout was built for a railway exhibition on the Fylde coast of Lancashire. It was a ‘one-off’ because it was a real garden with soil, plants, trees and built in twelve hours (Groundforce – beat that if you can) but cost a fortune. Because of the problems it was not repeated, but the public missed it the following year. This set the grey matter thinking as the then exhibition manager, who is a member of G-Wizz, was constantly being asked “When will the big trains be back?” and knew we had a winning exhibit. In 1990 the big trains were back, but as a layout on tables, and was not the winning garden idea from 1988 so a new approach had to be found.
It was decided that the display should feature a railway in a garden, not a railway with a garden. It was considered that this approach might persuade enthusiasts and their spouses that this may add interest to a garden, without taking it over. This seems to have worked, as we have only witnessed one husband being dragged away with his wife stating “Absolutely not!!!”. Another consideration was that the layout be truly portable and so G-Wizz was born in late 1993.
From this early idea the group was formed and currently comprises Allan and Lesley, David, Jo, Holly and Gabby (with a lot of help from some good friends). It was decided from the beginning that real plants would be used whenever possible and because of this the display is never repeated exactly the same each time and also varies with the seasons.
The display has been designed to be available in several sizes, though the track plan only varies in length. The smallest display is 15 feet by 8 feet (4.57m x 2.44m) whilst the largest current design occupies 30 feet by 10 feet (9.15m x 3.05m) and includes a patio with tables, chairs and parasol. The patio provides an ideal are to sit and discuss the hobby with potential converts, answer questions or offer advice. We consider it important to be as accessible to visitors at exhibitions, so often you cannot get close enough to operators to ask questions. To make the G-Wizz crew easy to spot, we all wear matching tops complete with the “G-Wizz” logo and our names thus presenting a welcome “corporate” image.
From the outset, it was vital that the display should be easy to transport and quick to set up. The whole display can be moved in one smallish trailer and usually one car. Setting up has been honed down from the average 2 hours to a best time of 45 minutes, and dismantling and loading after the show generally takes 30 minutes.
Construction started in late 1993 using lightweight off-cuts of polystyrene foam blocks. These are used in the glassfibre industry to make the masters for production moulds and started as blocks 8 feet by 5 feet by 18 inches (2.44m x 1.52m x 0.45m) and we were lucky to find someone who was happy to remove their scrap. Actually the polystyrene is scrap from the World famous Blackpool Illuminations, and if you want to see how the Illuminations are produced, an open day is usually held in June with a behind the scene tour.
The blocks were cut to shape using saws and knives leaving large garden areas in the centre for plants, tubs, water features, etc. The outside edges were carved to represent stone walls using a hot steel bar to make the mortar joints (this needed lots of ventilation because of the fumes). The whole wall was pained with exterior stone paint and the mortar joints were painted with grey emulsion paint. The track bed was painted with some more emulsion paint, and while it was wet cork granules were applied to represent ballast (Note – the cork was chopped in an OLD food processor – please do not try this at home with a new one unless you have permission of the household authority or a death wish). The use of polystyrene allowed us to display the railway at a height suitable for small children, after all they are the modelers of the future. This seems particularly well liked by the press and media who seem to love young children and big trains in their pictures.
Track was originally lifted from group member’s gardens, but has slowly been purchased for the display to remove the need to strip gardens before each exhibition. Electrical supplies are as simple a possible and comprise three lengths of seven-core automotive trailer cable from the control panel with each connection being colour coded. The whole layout can be supplied from one 13 Amp plug, although the recent Christmas version required enough extensions for 36 power supplies for the moving, singing, dancing figures – It still only needed a total of two 13 Amp sockets though.
Buildings are provided by members and are a mix of Pola, Welshpool Pottery, Jigstones and Modeltown. The bridges allow the variation in length and vary from a brick over-bridge wooden trestle, or large suspension version.