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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122. The Welcome Pack - Aug 2016

Posted on August 1, 2016 at 4:55 AM

Part way through the set-up at Catfield’s new venue, their Show Manager wandered over and presented us with a bulging elephant-sized envelope: our Welcome Pack. We put it to one side as getting the layout up and running was a far more pressing matter.

Once everything was tested and we were ready for the public, members of the team started asking important questions like: Where’s the toilet? Are bacon butties available? How much? Where’s the brew room? Where’s lunch served? Do we need tickets? A chap wandered by with a bib proclaiming him to be a Steward. We asked him. He hadn’t a clue, and couldn’t understand why we would bother asking him.

“Where’s your RCD?” an officious person demanded as he strode up to our pitch. “There’s got to be an RCD in your power feed.”

“Our RCD is in the cables storage box,” we replied.

“What good is it there?” We got it out and went down the daisy-chain to fit it. “Should have done that earlier,” we were informed in no uncertain manner. “It’s all in The Instructions.”

Then the official started moving our carefully stowed kit to follow the paths of our electrical cables. Empty wooden boxes and plastic crates, rucksacks and bags, jackets and coats were now strewn higgledy-piggledy across our entire operating space. Even the protective covers were pulled from off the cables and flung aside.

“I’ve got to examine your cabling,” he proclaimed. “You shouldn’t have set the layout up until it had been inspected and approved.” We told him we were unaware of these requirements.

“It’s all in the Welcome Pack,” he replied disdainfully. “You have got a copy, haven’t you? And you can read?” he sneered. We agreed we had, and we were literate.

“What’s the point of giving you a Welcome Pack if you don’t read it?” he asked scornfully.

“We haven’t had time. We’ve been too busy setting up,” we replied.

“When I didn’t receive an Exhibitors’ Briefing by last week, I sent Jonathan an urgent e-mail asking if there was anything we needed to bring, or know about the show,” our team leader explained. “As insurance, I sent another via the club website. I received nothing from either. Not even an acknowledgement of my enquiry.

“If you expect us to know about your procedures, regulations and requirements, then you should let us know in good time. Enough time to read, study and digest it, time disseminate the information to the team, and time to implement the requirements.” The official didn’t think this was a reasonable request, not reasonable at all, especially as Jonathan, the only chap dealing with visiting layouts, had only just returned from two weeks holiday.

We reported all this back at out next club night.

“It raises two points,” out chairman said. “The first is that Welcome Packs should not be how exhibitors get their basic instructions about an event. In my opinion, the bulk of the information should have been sent at least a month beforehand, along with confirmation that the show is actually taking place, its venue and times.

“The second point is that key members of an exhibition team should always be available to deal with enquiries from exhibitors, traders, the press and the public, especially in the weeks just before a show. If any chap has to be away, or otherwise be out of contact, then a procedure should be in place to divert e-mail, phone and postal enquiries so that they can be dealt with in a timely manner by another member of the club.”

We agreed wholeheartedly with our chairman. The committee are now reviewing our own procedures and how they can all be brought into line with our aspirations.


121. The Long-distance Modeller - July 2016

Posted on July 4, 2016 at 4:30 AM

A few weeks ago we heard a story about a modeller in the UK who had a friend serving with the military in a remote outpost of the Commonwealth. He wasn’t a great drinker and he’d visited all of the island’s ‘tourist attractions’ several times. When off-duty, this friend scratch-built locos and coaches. He was fortunate in being allowed to use the base’s workshop facilities whenever he wanted. He was a prolific constructor, and his creations were much admired by the more thoughtful of his colleagues-in-arms.

As a challenge, the home modeller suggested he make him an EM1 ready for his next project, a layout based on the Woodhead line between Sheffield and Manchester. And the friend did so, posting it back to the UK within a few months. The recipient was delighted.

Some time later, the home modeller was exhibiting his current layout - this one set just north of London. The loco-builder was back on leave and was going to meet up with him at that exhibition. The home modeller put the EM1 in a siding so his friend would sees it for the first time in a proper railway setting. It received many appreciative comments and even made a few trips from one end of the siding to the other to satisfy requests from some of the visitors. But of course, it never went out onto the main line.

However, on spotting the EM1, one visitor to the show announced in a loud voice “Shouldn’t be there.” He could be heard all over the hall. “Never came this far south,” he bellowed. “No overhead wires of the correct voltage,” he explained. “Stupid mistake to make.”

The home modeller tried to explain, but the visitor would have none of it. He became very aggressive. “It’s totally out of place. You really ought to research these things properly before you exhibit them.” And he went on in this vein for several minutes.

Other show visitors were embarrassed by all this, and were sympathetic to the exhibitor. “It’s his layout. He can put on it what he wants,” one was heard to mutter to a friend. But the critic didn’t hear him. He just carried on with his denunciation.

Seeing that his colleague was under sustained attack, the fiddle yard operator came to the rescue.

“That particular EM1 was worked down dead from Sheffield on the evening of the twenty-fourth of June,” he stated with great authority. “It was used the following weekend in clearance trials on the Fenchurch Street line as part of the preparations for electrification. It’s been worked back to this siding and is now waiting to be towed back to Sheffield overnight.”

“Really,” exclaimed the visitor. “Never knew that.” He went away to digest this arcane nugget of information and add it to his encyclopaedic knowledge of electric locos. But of course, as you and I know perfectly well, there never was any such trial. The modeller, his assistant and the builder laughed all weekend at the success of the deception, as did the visitors to whom they told the story.

“Did the vociferous ‘expert’ get what he deserved?” our chairman asked. And we all agreed he did. “But was it ethical to let him go on his way without revealing the deceit?” he continued. On this we were divided.

A couple of months later, a letter appeared in one of the railway magazines. It asked if anybody could corroborate the information about an EM1 being used for trials on the Fenchurch Street line. No reply was ever printed. I wonder what the ‘expert’ made of that.


Jottings at 120

Posted on June 1, 2016 at 6:55 AM

Episode 120 is a milepost in John’s Jottings. The first instalment was made public ten years ago. Since then one story has appeared at the start of every month.


It all began some 15 years ago, when I wondered if I had the imagination and stamina to write a monthly column. The best way to find out was to try. Following the maxim ‘Write about what you know’, I decided to base my pieces around a fictitious model railway society, as if written as part of a letter to a friend, telling of conversations and goings-on at that club and others.


Over the next few months, I jotted down a great many incidents, comments, and choice phrases that I had seen or overheard. During the writing of several pilot episodes, a pattern evolved and all stories were re-written to that format. Over the next couple of years, I completed about a dozen episodes. At the same time, further ideas were still being added to my notepad.


I showed the initial batch to the webmaster of the Cheshire Railway Modellers (later Connected Railway Modellers, CRM). He offered to publish them monthly on the public area of the site. This increased the pressure to keep observing, listening, noting happenings, and then creating ‘stories’ based on these jottings. When the CRM website closed, the webmaster kindly set up and gave me the present blog site, and established an archive for the episodes previously hosted by CRM.


With this anniversary edition, I think I can claim to have fulfilled my self-imposed challenge. I have certainly enjoyed the writing process. But by using a nom-de-plume, there’s no way I can be sure how many people actually read my offerings, or what they think of them. In conversations at exhibitions, some people have mentioned John’s Jotting, but I can’t openly acknowledge my authorship.


Is it worth continuing? I’ve got a stock of a dozen completed stories all ready to upload. And there are others in draft form, together with pages and pages of ideas that haven’t yet crystallised into narratives.


I would like to acknowledge the inspiration unwittingly given over the years by so many modellers and others at club meetings, exhibitions and elsewhere. If you think you half recognise yourself in some aspect of a recounted incident, then you could just be right. But I may well have heard about you second or third hand, so don’t jump to conclusions about my identity. And if you are sure you know it, please keep it to yourself. I don’t want to compromise a valuable and endlessly fascinating resource for any author of fiction: people who say and do things without realising they are under scrutiny.


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.