John's Jottings

As overheard at a model railway club, somewhere in Cheshire, and jotted down by John Millington. The names and locations have been changed, but these stories are based on true conversations.

Archived editions (1-77, see nav-bar at the top of the page) were originally published via the Cheshire Railway Modellers website, but from December 2012, issue 78, the Jottings can be found here in blog form.

John Millington is a nom de plume. The author's true identity is disguised to enable him to continue collecting material for the articles.

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120. An Exhibition Challenge - June 2016

Posted on June 1, 2016 at 6:50 AM

The other week we heard a story from a club that had staged a ‘gross’ competition as part of its exhibition. The challenge was to create a railway scene in 144 square inches. The competition was open to members of any club, and of no club. The public voted for one or more by putting a coin in the plastic beaker in front of each exhibit. The winner was the model with highest number of coins, not the value. And the vote-money went to charity.


There were some excellent scenes, full of detail and amusing cameos. Some were static, others had bits that moved. Many caused great interest and amusement, especially the bobbing birds in the tree that was growing through a rotten wagon at the end of a disused siding. Another was a scene with a locomotive fixed on a short length of track, but ALL the wheels rotated and the fireman periodically stoked the fire.


Several members of the Plonkton club had entered. This was surprising, as the Plonkton lot don’t normally recognise any village exhibition as being worthy of their attention, never mind gracing another club’s event with their presence and bringing their models.


It seems that they had been goaded by some adverse comments on a website and were determined to show that they were by far and away the best modellers in the county, if not the entire region. And of course, their entries were all highly imaginative in concept, and excellent examples of model-craft. However, there was uproar amongst them when the winner was announced. It was a thirteen-year-old!


“Shouldn’t be allowed,” they chuntered. “This was a competition for modellers, not children.” They complained to the show manager. “Must have had help from an adult,” they protested. “That’s unfair.” The show manager was most unsympathetic.


“I don’t control how the public vote,” he told them. “If you wanted to influence the result, you should have filled ‘your’ beakers to over-flowing.” But the Plonkton lot didn’t see why they should have to shell out masses of small change just to ensure that their entries took the top places.


“I know the family,” the show manager continued. “The young modeller discussed the build with the father, who provided some raw materials, loaned some tools, and gave advice, but he didn’t work on any part of the project himself. Construction was all the child’s own work.”


“It’s impossible for a kid to have reached that standard,” the Plonktons announced. “It takes years of practice and experience to make even a half-decent model.”


“I suggest you invite the lass over to your clubroom and ask her to give a demonstration,” the show manager suggested. “Though perhaps it would be better for you to observe her modelling at the family home. Would you like me to mention this to her parents?”


When the Plonktonians finally registered the words ‘lass’ and ‘her’ and then realised that the modeller was A GIRL, they became incandescent. Whether this was with rage or embarrassment the show manager didn’t really find out. Their comments became very unpleasant. The miserable so-and-sos swept up their entries from the competition tables and stormed out of the hall.


“There will always be losers in a competition,” our chairman mused. “Bad losers shouldn’t enter. And as far as being able to model railways, age and gender are irrelevant. It’s planning, skill and workmanship that matter.” And we all agreed with that.



119. The Grand Inaugural Run - May 2016

Posted on May 8, 2016 at 4:10 PM

Last week, Fred told us about the ceremonial unveiling of a large model railway built by Alan, a long-time friend of his. Alan had retired a couple of years ago and decided that he’d have the time to construct the model railway he’d always wanted. And he’d now got a large loft in which to house his Grand Project.


As he approached retirement after four decades with the same company, he was asked what present he would like. He told them about his modelling plans and wondered if instead of the traditional watch or clock, they’d consider model railway equipment to be appropriate. The directors not only agreed to his suggestion, but contacted the firms with whom he’d had dealings during the latter stages of his career. Many of them were delighted to mark his retirement by giving him locomotives for his Grand Project.


Once retired, Alan started construction. With great enthusiasm, he had his baseboards up within a few weeks, quickly followed by the track. DCC was his chosen system of control. Some basic platforms and other key railway buildings were put in place.


Then came the day of the inaugural run. Alan invited some of his former colleagues to witness this significant event in the development of the Grand Project. Alan said a few words of welcome and briefly introduced his layout. He then tapped in the code for the first locomotive, opened the throttle. And nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing happened.


He tried another locomotive: completely dead. Then he noticed a ‘short circuit’ indication on his hand-set. He pressed the reset button and tried again: another short. With increasing embarrassment he tried all sort of settings to clear the problem, all to no avail. His friends left, wondering why they had been invited. They were not impressed.


It was at this point that Fred was called in for his advice. He confirmed that there was indeed a major problem. Then he tried to find out what it was and its location. He first removed all locomotives and rolling-stock from the tracks. This didn’t help. He got Alan to disconnect the DCC master unit from the power bus. A DC controller was substituted. The short was still present.


So he suggested they narrow down the geographical area of the problem by putting breaks into the two bus wires so that each of the resulting sections could be tested individually. But Alan was unwilling to do this, as every connection had been soldered. There wasn’t a single screwed terminal block, or plug-connector, or switch on the entire system. Fred suggested cutting wires, but Alan was adamant: no cutting.


It seems that Alan had laid the track and wired everything up without checking running and electrical performance as each length was installed. Fred examined as much as he could visually, particularly the correct positioning of isolating fish-plates at points, but to no avail. He left Alan to sort things out for himself. Fred was annoyed, Alan was frustrated.


“It just goes to show,” the chairman commented, “that even the grandest of Grand Projects should be considered as a series of small projects. Each segment should be thoroughly tested under as-near-to-normal operating conditions as possible. The correct working of every new section should be verified on its own, and then in conjunction with all preceding mini-projects, before being ‘signed off’ as proven and complete. And on larger projects, means should be included to easily isolate zones of the system to facilitate the speedy location of any faults that might subsequently develop.” And who but Peter and Paul could disagree with such advice?


118. Working Away - April 2016

Posted on April 1, 2016 at 10:25 AM

The other week Bill had been over to the Church Upton club. He heard the story of how members had been complaining that one of their number was slacking. He didn’t attend many meetings. And for those he did get to, he was often late arriving and left early. They thought his involvement was so half-hearted that he was hardly worth bothering about.


Now the fellow ran a business and was often away from home, hence his poor attendance record. What they failed to realise was that he ran the club’s website, compiled the exhibition guide, and wrote and posted the press notices. He often did this from hotel rooms across the globe. He relied on a friend who attended most club meetings to keep him up-to-date.


His friend Gavin was assiduous in garnering and forwarding information. But none of the other club members realised his role. They poked fun at his incessant questions, and meticulous noting and checking of information. The website was always up-to-date, the show was always listed in the magazines, and the masters for the show guide always appeared in good time ready for printing, so nobody thought about how this happy state of affairs came about.


However, Gavin had been taken ill and the flow of information and photos had stopped. The itinerant member had asked the club secretary for the latest news, but he didn’t reply. The secretary considered that if the chap really wanted to know he should start to attend meetings. The itinerant member asked the show manager and the chairman, but got no reply from either. He wasn’t on the show committee, so why should they tell him?


Some time later, a club member complained that the website wasn’t up-to-date. Another reported that the draft copy for the show guide had not appeared. A third said the magazine listing for their show was incomplete. Other members agreed this was a disgraceful state of affairs. But they didn’t know who to blame. The club officers couldn’t tell them. Even the show manager was unsure. For the past decade or more, all three things had just happened, and always in time, so nobody had bothered to find out exactly who or how this had been done. After all, if everything was working satisfactorily, why bother? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Then the itinerant members turned up at a meeting. He listened to the mutterings, but said not a word. Questions were asked after The Announcements had been made. With the show fast approaching it was important that something was done. Then the itinerant member broke his silence.


“For all these years I’ve been getting on with the tasks that were given to me at an AGM way back in the last millennium,” he said. “Since there have been no complaints, I presume that I’ve been discharging them to the complete satisfaction of you, the club members.”


The members looked at each other with disbelief. They couldn’t remember that far back. Many had not been members long enough to know of the appointment. There was no mention of it in the current list of office-holders.


“Of course, I couldn’t have done this without the help of Gavin,” he added. “He’s done a great job keeping me informed. Didn’t you realise why he kept asking questions?”


“It all goes to show,” our club chairman observed, “That the most significant contributors to a society are not always those that attend the most meetings, or talk the most noisily, or complain the most bitterly. It’s usually those that do a job so well and quietly that nobody notices.” And we all agreed with that sentiment.


117. Leaflets Go Again - March 2016

Posted on March 1, 2016 at 4:45 AM

We’d been at the Barton Bridge show. Just before closing time on the Sunday, Fred went over to the table where exhibition leaflets were on display. He collected the ones for our show, and then tidied up those for other events. One of the stewards from the host club told him not to bother.


“What are you going to do with them?” Fred asked.


“Bin them,” the steward replied. “What else?”


“What a waste. Can I take them?”


“Do what you want. They’re no use to us. They’re not for our show. What do you want them for anyway?”


“I’ll keep them safe and put them out at the next show I attend,” Fred explained. “That way, they get a second chance to be picked up.” The steward looked puzzled. He could only see them being used for shopping lists.


Now the Plonkton club had made sure that there were plenty of their leaflets. There were three piles: one printed on pink paper, the others on pastel blue and pale yellow. Fred collected them all together.


“Do they do this so that you can choose whether to attend a pink, a yellow or a blue show?” he enquired with a smile. The steward looked on blankly. He didn’t see any difference between pink and yellow exhibitions. And he definitely didn’t attend blue shows.


“Look at this lot,” Fred said, holding up the stack. “There must be at least a hundred and fifty here. How much has that cost them? If you chuck them out, that’s a complete waste of money and resources.”


It took Fred some time to convince the steward of the possibility that there might any benefit from recycling residual leaflets from show to show. Now Fred had to accept that there was no advantage to that particular club’s show for this year, but it was a benefit to the entire show circuit, as a whole, over the annual cycle. It might help to grow their collective audiences.


Fred pointed out that the Regional Federation had a display-board with transparent pockets in which posters for forthcoming exhibitions were placed. The board was passed on from show to show. Why couldn’t something similar be done for leaflets at the same time? Was it too much trouble? Was a box of leaflets too heavy to move? He thought it was no more so than the display-board.


The show steward offered no answers. He quickly busied himself on other aspects of clearing up at the end of an exhibition.


“Is this passing-on of leaflets something we should take up with the Regional Federation?” our chairman asked. And there was general agreement that it was a matter worth raising at their next meeting.


“Should we take the initiative ourselves and collect residual leaflets at shows Fred doesn’t attend? We could pass them on at club meetings.” We agreed that this was a good idea, but it remains to be seen how thoroughly it is implemented.


116. All for Authenticity - February 2016

Posted on February 1, 2016 at 2:20 PM

Modellers strive to recreate the world in miniature. Some years ago, one layout at the Whirtleborough show had a little bonfire, flickering realistically, with a wisp of smoke lazily drifting upwards. “It’s not smoke oil,” the operator announced, “but a cigarette held in a metal tube below the baseboard. The heat from the lamps pulls the smoke up by convection.”


“Can’t have cigarettes being smoked in a public place,” said the venue’s Health & Safety jobsworth, who just happened to be passing at the time. “It’s against the law.”


“They’re not being smoked by anyone,” the operator protested. “They are just smouldering.”


“You still can’t do it.”


“But they are herbal cigarettes, not tobacco.”


“What sort of herbs? Does the drug squad know?”


It took quite some time for the operator to satisfy Mr. Jobsworth that it was both safe and legal. He went away, unable to be specific as to which regulation was being breached, but convinced in his own mind that a serious crime was being committed.


“But realism can cause problems,” Jim said, recalling an incident at another show he had attended. “About half an hour before opening time, the fire alarm went off. ‘Disconnect your layouts from the mains and leave the building,’ cried the organiser. We all trooped out.


“Through the windows we could see the caretaker staring up at a smoke detector and examining a Gauge 1 layout underneath it.” Jim continued. “Shortly afterwards a False Alarm was declared and we were allowed back in.


“Then the alarm went off again and we evacuated a second time. Once more the area of the Gauge 1 layout was the centre of the caretaker’s interest. But nothing amiss was discovered and we trooped back in again.


“This time the caretaker and the exhibition manager stood next to the Gauge 1 as we all rushed to finish our preparations. The layout under suspicion depicted a diesel stabling point controlled by DCC. As the exhibitor powered up the layout, the locos emitted the appropriate sounds. First the oil, vacuum and air pumps and then the starter motors kicked in. As all the engines purported to be springing to life, they spewed forth plumes of prototypical exhaust. And the fire alarm went off once more. But the culprits were now identified. They were banned from using smoke-oil for the rest of the show, much to the dismay of their builder, who was most proud of the realistic puther that his creations had been designed to give out.”


“Now we’ve got smoke and sound,” Bill mused, “I wonder what the next advance will be. Visitors being showered with soot, ash and glowing cinders from model steam locomotives? All in the cause of authenticity, you understand,” he added with a wry smile.


“It’ll have to be smell,” Jim joked. “Little whiffs of steam oil, hot brake blocks, fishy smells from the harbour, the stink of rotting seaweed. Computer controlled, of course.”


“What I’d like to see,” the chairman mused, “Is little people that open the doors, and get on and off the coaches. And shunting with horses. Now there’s a challenge.”


“That’s not all horses do,” he added, holding his nose and making an appalled face. And with suitably disgusted merriment, we all agreed with that.


115. Who Needs to Plan? - January 2016

Posted on January 2, 2016 at 5:25 AM

At the Friday evening set-up at the recent Highsteads show, the layout opposite ours was in total disarray. They seemed to be short of both baseboards and manpower. Later we found out that the layout manager never clearly announces which members of his team are to attend each day, and in whose cars they and the layout pieces are to travel. All the arrangements are made in one-to-one conversations, and he commits everything to memory.


“That sounds as if the layout manager thought he was controlling a spy ring,” Fred observed with a smile. “Maybe each operator was only told what he needed to know, and was kept in the dark about the overall plan and everybody else’s role in it. Perhaps he did not want information to fall into the wrong hands, just like in espionage novels.”


It seems that the layout manager’s arrival at Highsteads had been delayed and no other member of his team knew enough of the arrangements to make alternative plans. They did eventually sort themselves out, but being ready was a close run thing on the Saturday morning.


Perhaps the layout manager was not a very good planner,” Jane suggested. “If he didn’t make plans widely know, nobody was in a position to criticise them.”


While discussing this over lunch at Highsteads with some other exhibitors, we heard of a different club and layout manager who took a contrasting approach. Once he knew which operators and cars were available for each day, he’d draw up a Travel Plan, setting out drivers, their passengers and cargo. Copies were circulated a couple of weeks before the show. And woe betide any team member who hadn’t read and acted upon them.


Another sheet gave participants all the information they would need about the exhibition: address of venue, name of exhibition manager and his mobile number, dates and times of opening for exhibitors and for public, the ‘team sheet’ for each day, their pick-up and arrival times, arrangements for unloading and loading, car parking, lunch and drink arrangements, and so on. Every team members’ address and phone numbers were also included.


“This seems like administrative over-enthusiasm on his part,” Paul commented, dismissively. “Totally unnecessary. He’s just a control freak.”


We were told this procedure had come into its own when the layout manager was taken ill. Everybody in his team could find out quickly what he was down to do and when, so that alternative arrangements could be made with the minimum of fuss. Even the reserve member knew at once who was picking him up, at what time and where. The weekend went just as smoothly as when the layout manager was there. Indeed, it even drew questions as to why they needed a layout manager in the first place.


But of course, for arrangements to run smoothly, in spite of last minute problems, someone has to sit down and systematically draw up the scheme, and then confirm with his team that all was do-able, and they were happy to put the plan into operation.


“It can be a problem for layout managers to find the middle way,” our chairman observed. “Super-efficiency can be off-putting. But on the other hand, incompetence can be more disastrous. The former only annoys some of the exhibition team, while the latter can jeopardise the standing of the layout and the club with both public and exhibition managers.” We agreed that getting the balance right was indeed a fine judgement. As our chairman put it: “Acting like an 007 is no way to deal with an 00-16.5 !”


114. Superfluous Operators? - December 2015

Posted on December 2, 2015 at 12:50 AM

While at the Wraybury show, we overheard an animated conversation between two visitors. One was an exhibition organiser, the other was the manager of a layout he’d invited to his show. The former was questioning the size of the operating team for the latter’s layout. “It’s far more than is necessary” he complained. “We can’t afford free-loaders.”


He acknowledged that the layout information leaflet did give the team size, and the floor plan showed how they were disposed around the layout, and their roles. But he was not convinced just how many people needed to be involved in the various aspects of the presentation.


“Cut the number down,” he insisted. “We can supply chaps to help you out over lunchtime. The people I have in mind pick up layout operations quite quickly.”


“You realise that they’ll need to attend training sessions at our clubroom,” the layout manager pointed out. “It took several hours for even the best of our members to become sufficiently fluent to perform in public.” But the show organiser saw thing differently. He wasn’t into ‘quality of performance’, just keeping something running.


Now we’ve seen the layout in question and it is unusual in several respects, not least the provision of team members dedicated to greeting visitors, explaining what was happening, showing them details they might otherwise miss, and answering their questions. This leaves the operators backstage to concentrate on running trains to a demanding and intricate schedule. The chaps out front engaging with the audience wae an integral part of the original concept of the layout, and without them the layout looses one of its essential features.


“If we don’t have a full team” the layout manager explained, “it would be like staging Romeo without Juliet; The Lonely Gentleman of Verona, Goldilocks and the Two Bears, Snowhite and the Four Dwarves, Three Brides for Five Brothers, or Ali Baba and the Zero Thieves. All are entirely logical, but each is lacking essential components that provide a reason for performing them in the first place.


Had the organiser seen the layout for himself? He hadn’t. Had he watched the video? Oh no. Why was the layout invited? He’d just heard good reports of it and how popular it had been with visitors. So popular, in fact, that the informants had not realised that the ‘explainers’ weren’t just chatting with the public to stop themselves getting bored while waiting their turn to drive.

The show organiser could not believe dedicated PR people were all that important. But it was an aspect of the layout that visitors really seemed to appreciate. Even if they had approached the layout with no great enthusiasm, they left with a far better understanding of what the scene portrayed, the working of industrial sidings, and ways of depicting aspects of both on their own models. Many went away smiling, delighted with the attention they had received, the information so freely given, and the inspiration available.


“Isn’t this the difference between an exhibition and a show?” the chairman asked. “The former is like an old-fashioned museum, where visitors had to make sense of the displays all on their own, with a little help from printed labels. On the other hand, shows are where exhibitors help others to improve their modelling. This involves both talking and listening.


“Some layouts permit it, and have operators sufficiently skilled, that driving and talking can take place simultaneously. However,” he went on, “for many exhibits, concentrating on driving precludes interacting with the audience, and visa versa. Don’t you think a dedicated person out front is a great advantage?” And we had to agree, he’d got a point there.


113. School for Exhibitionists - November 2015

Posted on November 1, 2015 at 5:50 AM

There was interest in the clubroom last week when a circular came round from the Regional Federation of Model Railway Clubs. It was a proposal for a conference dealing with the organisation of exhibitions.


“Every exhibition manager worth his salt knows how to stage a show. It’s so simple,” Paul commented, though he’s never actually been involved in running one himself in any capacity.


“There’s no need for any of us to attend,” Peter chimed in. And not for the first time, he gave us the benefit of his great wisdom – the insight only afforded to those who are completely ignorant of, and totally inexperienced in, the subject to hand.


“Will the Plonkton lot be telling us how we ought to do things?” Jim wondered sarcastically. “After all, they know they are perfect in every respect. We’ve only to follow their example to be similarly successful.”


“Before we dismiss it out of hand, let’s look at what the day might cover,” advised Bill with his usual pragmatism. “Remember the Nether Hamblins exhibition team went on the ‘Grow Your Audience’ training day put on by the Regional Board for Promoting the Arts. And their attendances went up, didn’t they?” So we looked more closely at the suggested topics.


“Is there more to choosing a venue than finding somewhere of the right size that’s relatively cheap?” Adrian wondered. But then consideration has to be given to unloading, sizes of access doors, parking, proximity to public transport, and the availability of kitchen facilities.


Catering and food hygiene regulations were topics where most of us felt ill-informed. Though were we quite sure we weren’t going to poison the visitors to our show. But if a local authority inspector should turn up, would he agree? And what if he didn’t?


We didn’t think we needed to bother with the Criminal Records Bureau and the Vetting and Barring Scheme for the protection of vulnerable adults and children. But again, we didn’t know for certain what might actually be required under statutory regulations.


And while in the regulatory frame of mind, exactly what is the law regarding public liability, risk assessment, minimisation and mitigation? How do current fire and electrical regulations apply to exhibitions? Some shows send round detailed forms to be completed and submitted, while others turn blind eyes to the most obvious of hazards.


Financial Planning and Budgeting seemed a particularly difficult aspect of exhibition management. “As long as you keep expenses to a minimum and charge enough at the door, you’ll be OK,” was Paul’s simple formula. But where does Price Elasticity come in?


“If you always go for cheap layouts, you won’t get good-enough layouts to draw in satisfied crowds year after year,” advised Ken. “And how do you calculate an admission price that large number of people will be willing to pay and yet covers the expenses?”


“And what are the most cost-effective forms of advertising to bring in those large numbers of people?” Jane asked. “We know what we do and the number of visitors it brings in. But if we did things differently, would we get an even larger audience?”


“There’s a lot more to putting on an exhibition than is immediately obvious,” the chairman observed. And we had to agree with him that it might be worth having someone there, if only to confirm that we’re working along the right lines.


112. There is green, and then there is green - October 2015

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 5:00 AM

As our new layout progressed, we got round to discussing the scenic treatment and the choice between light, medium and dark green scatter materials.


“There’s more to it than that,” Felicity advised.


“Why, how many shades of green are there?”


“In Ireland there are supposed to be forty,” Graham answered.


”Aren’t there fifty shades of grey?” Adrian asked, tongue-in-cheek.


“But isn’t grass just green?” Peter retorted.


“Go and look,” Felicity advised him. “The leaves at the top a swath of grass receive more light than the lower parts, so they will appear lighter and brighter, sometimes almost white. Close to ground level it may be quite dark. I reckon that there are three or four shades for any plant: direct sun light, slight shade, full shadow and back-lit. And each plant has its own basic green, so for any mixed herbage, there will be dozens of tints of green.


“I just mix blue and yellow,” Paul commented. “Add a touch of grey or white to vary things a bit and the job’s done.”


“Ah, yes,” said Jane. “Did you know that yellow and black also make green, but a different range of greens?”


“Black and yellow?” Paul asked incredulously. “Surely it’ll be a dark yellow?”


“Oh, no,” Jane replied. “Think of it this way. Blue is a sort of dark colour. So is black. So the eye can be fooled into seeing yellow plus a dark colour as a green.” Paul was not convinced.


“Only well-tended grass lawns are uniform in colour, mainly because they have a limited number of species and all cut to the same height,” Felicity continued. “Pasture, rough grassland and woodland contain many different species, each with its own range of colours, some of which aren’t even green. And that’s before you consider the flowers and fruits.”


“And don’t forget the shadows,” Jane reminded her. “In sunlight, they aren’t black.”


“Not black?” was Paul’s incredulous comment. “It stands to reason, shadows are always black.”


“Oh, no,” Felicity replied. “In full sunlight, shadows are illuminated by blue from the rest of the sky, so they appear blue-purple. If there’s some cloud, then this reflects some of the sun’s light and shadows are more greyish.”


“Doesn’t it just go to show,” the chairmen suggested, “that it’s a good idea to have periodic reality checks? Just to make sure that the models we produce have some basis in the real world, and that they’re not replicating what we’ve seen in other models, or how we think we remember the world outside the railway room?” And we all agreed with that.


111. Badges of Honour - September 2015

Posted on September 1, 2015 at 11:25 AM

The members of the Dewcliffe club were very pleased with themselves at the Catfield show. This was the fortieth show at which they’d exhibited Wyeknotte West. Quite an achievement. The screen in front of the fiddle yard had all the plaques to prove it. For something as basic as a plaque, the wide variety of sizes, colours and styles on display was quite surprising. Some just gave the town and year. Others were more informative, with the name of the host club, the number of its show, a logo, and so on. We wondered if the various plaques yielded clues as to the financial position of the various exhibitions and the organisers’ perceptions of the status of their shows.


Reading the plaques in order we could see how the Wyeknotte West team had first done their local shows. And then, as the quality of the layout was increasingly recognised, they’d been invited to travel to ever-more distant events, each resulting in exhibitions even further afield, including the near continent.


Now at Catfield, Wyeknotte West had been awarded, quite deservedly, Best-in-Show. And they’d been presented with a special plaque to add to their collection. But it was much larger than the others – getting on for A5 size, specially engraved and mounted in a wooden frame. The team were delighted at this recognition of the excellence of the construction, operation and presentation.


However, once the official party had gone away and the applause had died away, there was much bickering within the operating team. Some thought it was showing-off to have the plaque on public display. They wanted it put backstage for now and then kept in the clubroom, while others were quite happy to have it on display at least for a time. Chaps on neighbouring layouts got involved and pleaded with them to have it on view for the duration of the exhibition. This compromise won the day.


But disagreements continued. Where should it be put temporarily? There was no obvious space for it to hang on the fiddle screen. And anyway, using bits of string or wire to hold it in place was far too crude for a layout that was Best-in-Show. The only other place available was the goods yard, but this would spoil the artistic effect of the scene and stymie shunting. The neighbouring layouts suggested that they could always lift it off to shunt.


And what would happen when they got back home? Should they pull off all the other plaques from the fiddle panel to make space for the new one? Or leave it behind when they next went out.


By contrast, we know of one layout where the owner, confident in the sublime quality of his creation, and in anticipation of many plaudits it would earn, had built a small shelf into the layout specifically on which to display each trophy that he would undoubtedly receive. But such rewards never came his way.


“What to do with a trophy is always a dilemma,” the chairman observed. “Brazen display can give the impression of recipients being big-headed, upsetting the public and other layout teams. Keeping an award secret could imply that the accolade is considered worthless and so offends the awarding committee. And visitors often like to know who has won what, both at that and previous shows. So perhaps a small discrete plaque would be in order.”


And we thought this was a good compromise. We’ll have to wait until we win something ourselves to find out how it works in practice.