John's Jottings

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.


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