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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134. Strictly Not Entertaining - August 2017

Posted on July 31, 2017 at 2:40 PM

It’s not often that dance and model railways appear in the same sentence, but it happened last week. We’d been discussing Plonkton’s new layout – a beautifully-modelled grand terminus set in a county town. But it didn’t hold an audience for long.

At first we couldn’t work out why. But then it dawned. A passenger train came in, the loco was changed, and the train left. A freight would arrive, shunt and depart. The full potential of the track plan was never exploited. There was seldom more than one active loco at a time, even though there was the potential for at least three, perhaps four, or even five.

“It was rather like the excitement generated by a football match where only one player is allowed onto the field at a time,” Bill suggested with a smile.

Next door there was a simple single-line rural terminus. Again it was worked one train at a time. But the next train arrived before the previous one departed, so there was always something happening, or obviously about to happen.

“It’s a matter of choreography,” Jane explained.

“Choreography!” Peter exploded. “Running a model railway’s got nothing to do with dancing.”

“It’s all a matter of movements,” she calmly went on, “linking them together to form a flowing storyline, to create patterns that are logical, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and satisfying to the intellect.”

Now ‘intellect’ or ‘aesthetics’ are not something that we associate with Peter, and he duly showed his philistine side. “Model railways are only there to represent the real thing.”

“But having the next train arrive before the previous one has departed is representing the real thing,” Graham pointed out. “The arriving driver has to surrender the single-line token to the signalman, who insert it into his token instrument and exchanges ‘Train out of section’ bell codes with the other box. Then he has to offer the train that’s ready to depart to that box, and when accepted, withdraw the token and give it to the driver.”

“What a palaver,” Paul commented. “Surely the arriving driver has just to hand over the token to the driver of the departing train.”

“But that’s not the procedure adopted by most railways to ensure safe working,” Fred admonished him. “If you’re insisting on prototype practice, then surely you should mimic full-size practice, even if only in your imagination.”

“The thing is,” Graham added. “The operator held the attention of visitors by explaining all this to his audience. Would you have done that?”

“Of course not,” Paul replied. “That’s just showmanship. I’d stick with one train at a time.”

“There should be a very long wait while one train goes all the way to the next box, before the next train comes all the way back,” our chairman commented. “So would be long periods with nothing moving for the audience to see. How boring.” And most of us agreed. But it remains to be seen if we can actually implement multi-train choreography when we operate our layouts at shows.

133. Get It Write - July 2017

Posted on July 1, 2017 at 1:45 PM

At the Dewcliffe show, the newly-appointed Editor of the Regional Federation Newsletter had a small stall and was making himself known. He was trying to meet as many officers from as many clubs as he could and persuade them to write short reports about what the clubs were up to and their future plans.

“Your predecessor always mucked up our contributions,” was a common complaint. “Some were so garbled that they were unintelligible,” another person said. “That’s why we don’t send them in very often.”

“I’m determined that all information is relevant and presented in as unambiguous way as possible,” the Editor assured them. To assist the clubs, he provided two sheets of paper. The first was a checklist for information about shows and other events: name of organiser, name, address and postcode of the venue, and so on. There were even sections for public transport details, local car parks and their charges.

“We know what to include,” one indignant show secretary complained. “I find it offensive to be presented with such a sheet. It implies I’m stupid and can’t write in English.”

“If I give one to everybody, then nobody has any excuse to miss out vital information,” the Editor replied. The complainant was not appeased.

To help write reports on activities there was a Style Sheet. This gave instructions on font and size, line length and spacing, gaps between paragraphs, indents, the use of punctuation marks, when to use italics and capital letters, accepted abbreviations, and so on.

“This is going to put a lot of people off,” one chap protested. “Having to keep referring to your Style Sheet will disrupt writers in their lines of thought. Plain stultifying.”

“Write what you like while the inspiration is there,” the Editor suggested. “Then go through and check that each requirement has been met.”

“Haven’t got time for all that palaver,” he was told. “That’s your job, anyway.”

“It’s such a chore having to sub-edit contributions before I can even check grammar and spelling, and then make sure it all flows and makes sense. Would you like to become a sub-editor?” The Editor’s invitation was declined.

“You’re just too fastidious,” he was told. “This is a hobby, not a profession.”

“But if you don’t want your reports garbled, then make sure they are of a high standard to start with, and that they follow the guidance given in the Style Sheet,” the Editor commented. “I’m always delighted when one comes in that doesn’t need to be changed.”

“I’ve seen a professional style guide,” our chairman informed us, when we discussed editorship back at club. “It ran to over fifty pages, with numerous examples: things like lists of hyphenated and non-hyphenated words in common use. Its application meant that publications were consistent: they reinforced the company brand, as one might put it.

“It also showed that the writers and the company respected their readers. They considered them sufficiently important to make sure they got everything right.” And we agreed he’d got a good point there.

132. Spelling It Out - June 2017

Posted on June 1, 2017 at 3:40 AM

We’d been at the Catfields show. One exhibitor obviously had a thing about pre-grouping covered vans. On his ‘historical’ layout he’d got examples from most of the railway companies in the British Isles, each proudly displaying its company’s livery and lettering.

While the owner was on his lunch break, his understudy started to form up short groups of vans. When he saw the owner re-enter the hall, he marshalled the vans into a single train in a departure road. The owner was surprised to see an all-van train, but agreed that it was an operational possibility. His friend sped off for his lunch.


The owner set the train in motion. As it emerged from the siding onto the main line, the audience began to titter, and point, and snigger. The owner couldn’t understand why. Then the audience got out their phones and cameras, started taking pictures, and laughed even louder. This was followed by lots of phone calls to their friends: “You must see this.”


The mystified owner could stand it no longer. He asked the cause of all this interest and excitement. There was a roar as the audience realised that he hadn’t the foggiest idea as to the source of their merriment.


“Look at what the vans spell,” the audience told him. He looked along the line of vans, but could see nothing amiss – just the initial letters of each owing company.


“Stop the train. Come round the front,” the audience told him. The wagons had been so ordered that, from the audience’s point of view, their company initials spelt out a very risqué message, far too crude and cruel to be reported here. The poor owner was most embarrassed.


He returned to the back and realised that though he and his audience were seeing exactly the same letters, they weren’t in the same order on the two sides of the train. His side wasn’t even the reverse of their side. Prove it to yourself with, for example, two letters on each of two vans, that together make up a four letter word.


He hurried the train into the fiddle yard and dispersed the wagons to the stock shelves, making sure that they no longer formed rude words. Once normal service was restored, the audience dissipated. But details of the incident had spread though the exhibition halls. For the rest of the day, visitors came over to see for themselves, but were disappointed to find that every combination of wagons had been carefully scrutinised before dispatch, and any that yielded dubious sequences of letters were separated.


We recognised that the friend had pulled off a very clever prank. It took considerable imagination to realise that livery letters could be assembled into words, and mental dexterity to form them into a message, especially as the precise sequence of letters on one side of the train is not the same on the other. We wondered if this could only happen with the great number of companies that were around before 1923. On the train home we tried our hands at making words, polite or impolite, from livery lettering.


“It’s not often that literary censorship is a desirable attribute for an operator,” our chairman commented with a grin. “I wonder how many times words have appeared previously on that model, on other models, and in real life without anybody noticing.”


The rest of us also contemplated what happened to his friend when he returned from his lunch. We all agreed he’d have to face the wrath of the owner at some time.


131. An Invitation Declined - May 2017

Posted on May 1, 2017 at 10:35 AM

You really ought to go to the Specialist Narrow-gauge Trade Show,” Fred was told by a friend he’d met recently. “But do bring plenty of cash and make sure your credit card is well-funded. There’ll be so many lovely things to buy.” Fred showed little enthusiasm.

“But you used to be such a regular visitor, and you’ve bought lots of stuff in the past,” said the friend. “We’ll all miss you.”

“Thank you, but no, I’ll not be attending,” Fred replied. The friend offered to drive him there. ... And back. But Fred still declined.

“You can’t really be considered a serious railway narrow-gauge modeller unless you’re there,” his friend insisted. Fred was adamant. He appreciated the offer of a lift, and enjoyed the conversations with narrow-gauge modellers, but he still would not go.

“The club’s narrow-gauge layout has quite enough locos and stock,” Fred assured him. “Once we’ve built the few remaining kits we’ve got in store, we’ll be more than full.”

“But you can always find space for another loco or rake of coaches,” he was assured.

“What’s the point?” Fred asked. “None of us model in 7mm narrow-gauge at home, so it would be a waste of both building time and of money to overstock. And we’d just have more stuff to carry into and out of exhibition halls, and to maintain.” But his friend could not see that once a club project was completed, there was no logical reason to keep buying things for it, especially as training and maintenance sessions, and exhibition outings were the only time the stock was run.

“It’s always useful to have reserves and understudies in case anything goes wrong.”

“We’ve got them already.”

“You could always build your own 7mm narrow-gauge layout,” the friend suggested. “You could run the additional models on that.”

“But where would I put it? And it would divert me from my existing home layout and future club projects,” Fred responded. His friend saw neither of these as problems.

“I‘m always buying for my Great Project,” the friend announced with pride. “You can never have too much put by. After all, it might not be available by the time I actually get round to building it. I’ve cupboards, drawers and boxes full, all ready for the day.”

Fred knew his friend only too well. He’d had his Great Project on the go for over thirty years, and at the present rate of progress, it would take another thirty to get it to anything like completion. How many of those stored kits would he ever make up? In the mean time, how many would be superseded by better versions? Once operational, how many would he find he no longer needed to run the services he envisioned? Would he have enough sidings to accommodate them on his layout? Or would they spend most of their time on storage shelves and in boxes awaiting an occasional turn on the tracks?

“Finite space, finite cash, finite time,” our chairman observed. “Aren’t these the great obstacles to being able to model everything we might fancy?” We agreed with him that selection and prioritisation were desirable for any model railway project.

130. Seeing Double - April 2017

Posted on March 31, 2017 at 2:55 PM

At the Whirtleborough show, we heard the Plonkton show manager again talking about his procedure for selecting layouts for his exhibition. He was adamant. “You mustn’t have more than one layout representing the same company or era. There must be a good mix of scales and gauges, and of operating styles at well.”

“I remember visiting one show where one builder was exhibiting two models of the same place. The key difference was that one was set in LMS times while the other in early British Railways. The track plans were the same. The buildings were nearly identical, except for paint colours and some alterations. The pattern of traffic was exactly the same.


Now the two layouts were intentionally staged next to each other. During the Friday set up, the other rigging teams had double-takes as they passed one, and then thought they’d passed the same layout again. One their way back to get their next load of equipment, they would pause, look more closely, and realise that there were indeed a pair of layouts.


“I thought I was in a warp in space-time,” one commented. “Either that or I was seeing double.”


“You were indeed seeing double,” the operators laughed. “But that is because the two models are separated by two feet laterally and fifty years in time.” Other riggers were intrigued at both the concept and its implementation.


“Building two layouts the same: that’s boring,” was Peter’s blunt assessment. “Chap must have absolutely no imagination. I’d never do anything that stupid.”


Of course, Peter wouldn’t ever do anything that stupid. In fact, he doesn’t do anything at all - period - except try to sound as if he were an elite modeller of railways. But after all the years he’s been a member of our club, we’re used to him adopting that stance.


During the exhibition, it was surprising how many member of the public went from one layout to the other, commenting on both without realising that they were of the same location and had the same station name. One or other team of operators would point it out to them.


But then the fun began, especially for the children. Visitors shuttled backwards and forwards, looking for similarities and differences. Small trees on one were tall trees on the other. Tall trees on the early scene had disappeared on the later one, though one was still lying where it had recently fallen. They spotted that the chapel was painted a different colour. There was a funeral rather than a wedding. Shops had changed hands. Businesses had moved, expanded, or disappeared. Motor vehicles had taken the place of horse-drawn carts. Even the clothes worn by the little inhabitants were different.


The more discerning visitors saw that ancient 0-6-0Ts had been replaced by more modern 2-6-2Ts, short 6-wheel wooden-bodied coaches had given way to bogie coaches made of steel, and the march of progress from milk traffic being in churns carried in slatted 4-wheel vans, to transport in insulated 6-wheel tankers.


“Does this suggest that the general public is not all that concerned about duplication of scales, locations and periods?” our chairman asked. “If that is the case, then perhaps the Plonkton selection procedure may not necessarily be the only one that produces successful exhibitions?” And we had to agree, he’d got a point. It was proposed that our committee should bear this in mind when making their selection for our shows and be willing to consider inviting layouts that were similar to each other.


129. Shunting Skullduggery - March 2017

Posted on March 1, 2017 at 5:15 AM

There were ructions at the Catfield show last weekend. One of their club members had brought along an American-style switching layout. He was encouraging visitors to have a drive under his instruction. And they were all successful, even though it took some time.


One member of the public asked to have a go, but announced he’d do it without guidance as he knew all about shunting and solving shunting problems. However, after quite some time and many, many moves he declared the problem unsolvable.


“You shouldn’t be presenting puzzles that can’t be solved,” he admonished the layout owner. “What a disgusting trick to play on the public. Makes us all look like sadists. Puts people off the hobby altogether.”


At first the owner just smiled benignly. But the critic persisted and managed to frighten off several youngsters who had been queuing up for go, though one little lad stayed on as he didn’t want to lose his opportunity to have a drive, even if he didn’t complete the shunt.


The owner got fed up with the criticism. “You set up the cars,” he challenged his critic. “You decide where the arrivals are to go, and this lad, with my guidance, will show you how it’s done.”


The contest was accepted. The owner gave the instructions. The young fellow, not altogether sure what happening, followed them meticulously. It took some time, but all the incoming cars were placed in the correct sidings and the departing train pulled away to a round of applause. The young ‘engineer’ got his certificate, just like all the other young ‘engineers’ who had completed the task.


The critic was furious and highly embarrassed. He was convinced there had been some slight-of-hand - a piece of skulduggery - that he hadn’t spotted. He watched another kiddie complete the task, and was even surer that something devious had gone on.


Realising that the critic still didn’t believe his own eyes, the owner gave him a sheaf of papers. They were a pictorial step-by-step guide to solving the problem. “Take them,” the owner said. “Go and have a cup of tea. Sit down and study them carefully. Identify any incorrect moves. You know - the invalid ones that make the shunt possible.”


The critic took the papers and flicked through them. “This is impossible to understand,” he snapped. “There’s so much of it. Can’t you make it simpler? You’re just trying to bamboozle me with unnecessary complexity.”


While he was supping his tea, he realised that quite a lot of the children had certificates. He asked to see one. It recognised both driving the switcher locomotive and successfully completing a complex set of moves. He was furious. If they could do it, even with help, why couldn’t he?


He returned the paper ‘solution’ to the layout owner and slunk away, too embarrassed to admit that he couldn’t find a flaw, and annoyed with himself that he hadn’t worked it out for himself.


“Ah, yes,” said our chairman. “It all goes to show how skilful those shunters and yard-masters had to be when dealing with wagon-load traffic. It’s a skill that some modellers have yet to appreciate, and many have still to develop.” He’d got a good point there.


128. The Mutual Exclusion Principle - Feb 2017

Posted on February 1, 2017 at 6:15 AM

While we were at the Highsteads shown the other weekend, we overheard a conversation between the show managers of Plonkton and Nether Hamblins. They were discussing the different ways they went about selecting layouts for their respective shows.


Mr. Plonkton was insistent that all show managers should use a grid when selecting layouts for exhibition. This grid had the gauges along one axis and historical periods along the other. There was even a third axis allowing for operational style, thereby converting the two-dimensional grid into a three-dimensional array: a concept that some folk find difficult to deal with.


In Plonkton’s system, each candidate layout is assessed according to the three variables and assigned to the appropriate cell of the array. According to Plonkton, there should be a good spread of layouts across the array, seldom two layouts in any one column or row or file, and definitely never more than one in a single cell. So he would never have two blue diesel layouts in 00, though he might have one in 0 and one in N, but one would be a shunting layout and the other main line. This way a wide range of gauges, periods and styles would be covered. ‘Something for everyone’ he explained.


Mr. Nether Hamblins’ method of choosing layouts for his own show was very different. When visiting exhibitions, he would first assess the size of crowds round layouts. Did they linger or move on quickly? Then he’d move forward to see if the layout looked attractive. Was it colourful in a natural way, rather than drab, or garish? Was it well lit? The third factor was how the operators interacted with their audience. Was there a good rapport between exhibitors and visitors? Were questions asked and answered? Was there banter?


Then came the details. How many cameos were there? Were visitors encouraged to search them out? Were any humorous? Were there intentional anachronisms? It didn’t worry Nether Hamblins if he had several 00 layouts with blue diesels in his line-up as long as they were well-presented and their operators actively involved the audience.


The Plonkton man dismissed the Nether Hamblins approach as unbalanced and populist. It could not ensure that all major gauges, eras and operational styles were represented. Nether Hamblins considered Plonkton’s approach to be prescriptive, formulaic and restrictive, and did not ensure a good visitor experience.


“The thing is,” Fred observed, “both run successful shows. Over the years, their evolutionary paths have diverged, so now they have different aims and seek to satisfy audiences in contrasting ways. This is what gives each event its own distinctive atmosphere.”


“It’s what biologists call the Mutual Exclusion Principle,” Felicity explained. “If two identical species live in the same area, then they are in competition for identical resources. Over time, either one of them looses out and becomes extinct, or they will evolve so that they have slightly different features or requirements, and no longer compete on all fronts. I don’t see that model railway exhibitions are any different.”


“Does it not illustrate that there is no single formula for a successful exhibition?” our chairman asked. “Our exhibitions do not have to be clones: not in the way that if you go to see a Lloyd Webber musical in New York or Moscow, it will be indistinguishable from the London production. Each exhibition should have its own character. As long as organisers make things clear in their advertising so that the visiting public realise this, then everybody should be happy.” And with this we all agreed.


127. The Orphanage - Jan 2017

Posted on January 1, 2017 at 2:40 PM

The other week Fred reported on a visit he’d made to the Wraybury club HQ. “We went into their storage area. It was full of part-built layouts. Each one had a story. Some had been donated by the widows of modellers, others by folk who were moving away, or by modellers whose eyesight had faded. But most were club projects that had stalled.


“It seems that whenever a layout met a technical obstacle, work ceased. Rather than strive, and use imagination and ingenuity to overcome the problem, another layout was started. It was like cross-word puzzles, where people give up as soon as they hit a problem, instead of backtracking, finding an alternative solution and then carrying on. The room was a jumble of junk. Fred shuddered to think how much time, money and effort had been abandoned there, deteriorating and gathering dust.”


Orphan layouts are always a problem. The donor is often a widow, keen that her husband’s last project should be taken through to completion, just as he had planned. For her it would bring some sort of closure.


However, what about the receiving club? Their interest may not be in that particular scale, region or period. If the layout is of a former member, then they might want to complete it according to the late owner’s plans. But they may want to make changes. Some could be made so that the layout can be stored more easily. Or to make the layout more appropriate for several people to operate at once. Or it could be to convert it to a format that is more entertaining for visitors at shows.


But what if the chap is still alive? Perhaps he’s suffering from a terminal illness. If the poor fellow’s afflictions are physical, then he might still be able to direct work from his home or, at least, be able to discuss it with visitors. If his mind is going, then what do you do?


However, if a club has too many layouts on the go at once, there is always the chance that skilled man-power will become so dispersed that progress falters on all the projects. Enthusiasm could wane, and in a self-perpetuating spiral, activities grind to a halt.


And what happens to a project that is refused? How will the member or his widow react to that?


At another club we know, there’s a trio that relish taking in orphan layouts and sorting them out. First they find out how the baseboards fit together. Then they try to get something running. Their ability to rectify badly-laid track is excellent. Their persistence in understanding wiring is exceptional. And once the mechanical and electrical challenges are solved, their skill at resuscitating scenery that most folk would instantly condemn is beyond belief.


The odd thing is, this trio have never built a layout from scratch. They’ve never started with a blank piece of paper and decided exactly what they want, devised how to achieve it, and then brought their scheme to fruition. When asked why not, they explained that they ‘couldn’t possibly do that, with all the planning and the like.’ Perhaps all they lack is that spark of originality to set them on their way. They certainly don’t lack the necessary practical and technical skills to bring their design to fruition.


“How should such rescued layouts be credited in show guides and the like?” our chairman asked. “Is it the original builder? Or the rescue team? Or both?” On this we had mixed views.


126. Poster Boys - Dec 2016

Posted on December 1, 2016 at 5:40 AM

As is usual at this time of year, we’d been out distributing posters for our forthcoming show. Some shopkeepers have been happily accepting them for years, and yet again expressed surprise that it was all of twelve months since we last asked them to put one up.

But there were other shopkeepers, new to the village, for whom the concept of a model railway exhibition was totally baffling. It was obviously something they’d never come across before. But because they needed to deal with paying customers, it was seldom convenient to start explaining things.

“Perhaps we should compile a simple leaflet, “Felicity suggested. “Leave it behind for the shop people to look at in slack moments.”

“It would need a whole booklet,” Jim said. “There’s so much to include, like scale and gauge, and region and period. Then there’s scratch- and kit-building, DC and DCC, signalling, operation, traffic, and scenery and backgrounds, and baseboards and electrics and control panels. And what about demonstrators, and static displays, and railway- and model-related societies, never mind all the different manufacturers, and the suppliers of components and raw materials? Where do we start?”

“Start with far less detail than that,” Jane pleaded. “The essence of a model railway exhibition needs summarising in a few simple terms – words that are not based on knowing what constitutes scale, or modelling, or anything more than the existence of railways, or readers ever having been to any sort of exhibition. Can it be done?” That challenge silenced us all for a while. As far as I can remember, no other topic has ever done that before.

Eventually Bill broke the hush. “Exhibiting model railways is one of our club’s core activities,” he said. “So we really ought to be able to come up with a broad description.”

“But isn’t that the problem?” Jane asked. “We’re so used to model railway shows in all their rich variety that we overlook the core essentials – those features which are common to all such exhibitions.”

“Each show has its own feel, features and character,” Graham observed. “There isn’t a single formula.”

The discussions went on for quite some time. Various ideas were suggested. Some found favour, while others were dismissed. Among those considered worth of inclusion were building miniature scenes, representations of trains that move backwards and forwards, and visitors to the exhibition who watch, talk about, and enjoy what is on display.

“But in what language should the leaflet be?” Ken enquired. “For some of our shopkeepers, English is not their mother tongue, even if they were born in this country.

“Use lots of pictures,” was Jane’s suggestion. “And keep everything simple.”

“Creating a suitable leaflet is quite a task,” our chairman agreed, “but perhaps its needs to be done. We could submit it to the Regional Federation for wider use. So I issue this challenge: Describe a generic model railway show in a hundred words or less, using no more than three pictures, in a way that is accurate, informative and encourages people to want to attend the event.” And with that task set before us, we decided it was time to pack up and go home. It’ll be interesting to see what solutions appear. ... And who provides them.


125. Time, Speed, and Movement - Nov 2016

Posted on November 1, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Some of us had been on a club trip to a steam-worked heritage railway. At one of the stations there was a model railway, and we got round to comparing the way the two were run.


“It’s surprising how long it takes to fill up a real tender with real water,” Graham commented. “I reckon it was getting on for at least ten minutes, and that was after a journey of only a few miles. We don’t often allow anything like that amount of time with our models.”


“And what about the maximum speed of a light engine when shunting through platform roads?” Ken asked. “It tends to be at walking pace rather than Formula 1. Definitely not the speed of light!”


“On models, some steam locos never stop for coal, or to top up with water, or even to empty their ash-pans and smoke boxes,” Bill added. “They arrive with a train, run round and are away again before the guard has even time to carry the tail-lamp to the other end of the rake of carriages. There’s no time to couple up, connect brake and steam-heating pipes, establish the vacuum, test the pipe connections and so on, all practices that pre-date the modern railway’s preference for fixed rakes of coaches with driving cabs at each end.”


“At least with those electrically-heated 00 steam locos take some time to prepare and get into steam. In the larger scales, with more conventional firing by gas or meths it takes a bit longer, and it’s more like thirty minutes with coal-burners.”


“But you can go too far the other way,” Ken commented. “If trains aren’t moving, the public presume that something has broken down and nothing is going to happen. They drift away, no matter how exquisite the scenic modelling might be.”


“Isn’t that where showmanship comes in?” Felicity asked. “While one engine is stopped taking water, another is moving on a different task.”


“That brings electrical complexity,” Adrian pointed out. “All those section switches cluttering up the control panel, and having to remember where the rail breaks are. And that’s without having to co-ordinate several operators.”


“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Fred said. “In the days before DCC, I once saw a model of a station where five locos were in action. But the operator only had one simple controller. He divided each loco’s moves into separate legs. When one stopped, ostensibly for its driver to reverse direction, the operator switched off that section and moved another loco on the next leg of its travels. Many in the audience were quite convinced they’d seen more than one loco moving at the same time, and in opposite directions! They were mystified as to how this could possibly be done with just a single hand-held unit. It was the slick use of section switches that created the illusion.”


“But the operator must have had a grasshopper mind,” Adrian commented, “forever switching his attention from one loco to another.”


“Perhaps he did,” Fred agreed. “But he must also have formulated an ever-evolving overall plan, so that he could see how each loco’s moves could be interwoven with others. Both aspects of mental agility are essential to handling moving traffic.”


“I wonder if air-traffic controllers make good operators of model railways?” our chairmen wondered. “And whether competent operators of model railways would make good air-traffic controllers?” But of course, none of us could answer either of his questions.