what is involved taking County Gate to a show

A moment of calm before the doors are opened for visitors. County Gate can be seen centre.

County Gate is one of the larger private layouts that goes on show and an awful lot of work is always required before we set off.

Firstly, the layout is tested very thoroughly. Despite constant maintenance, there is nearly always some snag or another that turns up. We also examine the scenery for any damage, dead flies, cobwebs, kitten fur and repair where necessary. This generally takes about two days. All rolling stock is removed from the layout, all wheels are cleaned and they are placed in their flight cases. All the track off scene is carefully cleaned with a track rubber.

We then use a checklist to make sure that all the bits we might need are packed. This includes tools, spare leads and controllers, gaffer tape etc. etc.

The baseboards are then unplugged and parted from each other and the thin plywood end and front protectors are screwed on. We then cover each baseboard with thin plastic which protects them from any condensation drips in the trailer or if it is raining when we arrive.

When this is all completed, we collect our trailer from storage and our friends come round to load it. About two hours later and after a few cups of tea, we are about ready to roll. If we are travelling abroad, further insurance has to be arranged and we have to make sure that all the car's paperwork is in order. A last check on anything that may have been left behind and we are ready to roll.

Some trips may take up to two days, if we are going abroad. It can all get very tiring. We always arrive the day before an exhibition to make sure everything is done on time. On arrival, we first of all sign in and then obtain help to unload the layout. The exhibition stands are erected behind the trailer. The lights are then installed, and finally the baseboards are carefully carried from the trailer and placed on the stands. They can then easily be rolled into the exhibition hall.

Setting up can take up to five hours. The boards have to be fitted together and the numerous wires plugged in. The back scenes must be aligned to avoid gaps and the joints of scenery disguised with scatter. The pelmet has to be added which takes a couple of tall guys, and the long 'frock' that fills the space between the layout and the floor. The two CD players which provide ambient sound are correctly located behind the frock. Likewise, the two speakers that play the whistles are also installed. Once power is on, sound tests are performed.

Any leads that cross the floor are always fixed down with gaffer tape. We then have to ensure that the crowd barrier is properly erected in the correct position.

The first train on the track is a diesel hauling our Tomix track cleaner. Once we are satisfied all is well, the trains are removed one by one from their cases and railed on the fiddle yard railers. Each train is run through its route, the Railroad and Co throttles. This ensures that its speed is correct for the automated running. They are then shunted into their proper positions in the fiddle yard. The Glenthorne railcar is run to its position at the Harbour and the whole system is tested using the Railroad and Co programme. If all is well, we can enjoy a little personal time examining other layouts and visiting the traders before repairing to the hotel bar!

County Gate packed in the trailer

Shows generally open at around 10.00 hours but we have to get in one hour earlier to check it is all working after the overnight stay. Temperature and humidity changes in the halls can cause problems. We get the automation working as soon as possible, check for any problems and then have a short while to explore before the visitors arrive.

At the end of the show, packing up is just reverse procedure although it does generally take less time. All in all, it is a big operation and at the end of the weekend we are about ready for a holiday!

packed up and ready to roll outside and load