Club Visit – Sci-Bono Discovery Centre

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On Sunday the 31st January, seven club members and their families travelled to the Sci-Bono Science and Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg to see the resurrected layout that once belonged to Jim McLuskie. Jim opened his home to the club members in early 2014 where the same layout had been built in a dedicated room. This was one of the last opportunities for visitors to see the layout at the time as Jim had plans to sell the house and move into a smaller home where the layout would not fit.

Jim followed a career as a mining engineer throughout his life working for various big companies in the gold, coal and diamond sectors. As he approached his retirement he laid out his plans to build a model railroad layout, drawing inspiration from his childhood memories of riding on the trains back in England. He started building his layout in 2002 and finally completed it in 2008.

Due to the decision to sell his house, the layout had to be removed from the home and the original thought was to scrap it as he could not take it with. It was a difficult decision to make as it had taken countless hours of work to achieve such great detail and perfection to get it complete. The search was then started to find a new home for Jim’s incredible layout.

This search ended when a new home was found for it at Sci-Bono. The mammoth task was now to move this layout from Jims home to the new premises. The layout was carefully cut into five sections and the partition wall was removed to get them out of the room. The sections were then loaded onto a truck and transported to Sci-Bono, where they were lifted by fork-lift to the first floor and reassembled into the current position. The wiring had to be carefully cut, marked and then re-joined when the layout was reassembled. After many hours of further work by Jim, Colin Tanner Tremaine and Graham Guthrie [who automated and computerised the layout] it now stands proud as it did when it was part of Jim’s home.

As it was still to be an operational layout in an exhibition setting, it was necessary to have the trains running seven days a week without an operator being on duty. This was achieved with the use of a Digitrax system, and a Laptop computer running Model Train Control software available from Railroad & Co. It was also not necessary to have trains running all day while there were no visitors looking at the layout.

All of this was made possible in the following way:-

Four trains were assigned Digitrax addresses. A neat panel was made up with four illuminated pushbuttons, one for each train. The layout was then divided into sections, each with a detector developed by Colin. The layout and all the sections were then tied into the software on the computer so the positions of each train can be monitored as it travelled around the layout. There were four routes programmed, The Up Line, The Down Line, The Branch Line and the Coal Line.

As a visitor stood in front of the panel and pressed the appropriate push button, the corresponding train, slowly accelerated, made its way along the designated route and returned to its original position thus completing the programmed operation. Once the operation was complete, the lamp in the pushbutton would switch on again indicating that the sequence was complete and the push button could be pressed again.
When originally designing his OO Scale layout, Jim wanted four main features to be included, a railway town, a junction station, a branch line and part of the line being underground. This town was to be located on the mainline between London and Birmingham.

Stourbridge – a light industrial town West of Birmingham, was his model for the town. It relies on the Great Western Railway ( GWR ) to import and move raw materials and export finished product. By contrast, Ditton Priors is a tiny Shropshire village that had its own line, “The Cleobury Mortimer & Ditton Priors Light Railway”. It was mainly used to transport stone from the GWR owned quarry which was a short distance away. The quarried stone was used in GWR operations such as laying track and building bridges and tunnels.

Since the scene is set in 1936, all the detail included on the layout is authentic to that year.
Stourbridge Town Station ( in the far corner of the layout ) served the town of Stourbridge which was in the heart of “The Industrial Revolution“ and steam drove this “Revolution“ from the trains used for transportation purposes to the machines used in manufacturing and mining. The need at the time to move huge quantities of coal and raw materials around the country made the railway systems and railway towns crucial to the new economy.



A large area of the West Midlands became known as the Black Country because of coal seams close to the surface as well as train and factory soot. Stourbridge was fortunate to be surrounded by picturesque countryside as it was located on the Perimeter of the Black Country.

To summarize, Jim’s layout can be classed as an example of perfection in the model railway world. The detail and scenery is in a class of its own. As the layout now stands as a permanent display at the Sci-Bono Exhibition centre, Jim can be proud of his workmanship and be assured that he is spreading the joy of our hobby to hundreds of people every month, and he can rest assured that thousands more visitors will see and enjoy the layout for many years to come.


    • John Burkhardt on 12/02/2016 at 7:29 am

    Hi All,
    I must say that this visit to Sci-Bono was a most enlightening experience and a pleasant family outing. My grandson enjoyed it immensely, not to speak of the ice cream at the end!
    A big thank you to Colin from the Burkhardt’s for organising this swell event!

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