John's Jottings

144. Railway Modelling for All - June 2018

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 4:35 AM

We had a layout at the Dewcliffe show. Across the aisle there was an excellent model of an outer suburban station, with two through platforms, a bay for reversing DMUs, and an avoiding line for down freight trains heading for the city. The whole thing was semaphore-signalled, with the lever frame at the front of the layout.

Quite early on the Saturday, a lad in a wheel chair arrived and was greatly taken by the layout. He soon noticed that across the front of the layout there were display boards with copies of the track plan, plus lists of the signal and point levers. He studied them intently for quite some time, repeatedly comparing the plan with the actual tracks and signals.

He heard every bell code and noted every time a signal changed, and announced to all and sundry what class of train was expected and which route it would take.

“Down Express Passenger to Down Fast, Platform One” he would call out. “Pull Off

Outer Home Number 2, Inner Home Number 4, Starter Number 7, Advance Starter Number 9, Distant Number 1.” From just his study of the track plan and the list of levers, he’d grasped and memorised the signalling system. His commentary, though terse, was appreciated by many of the visitors. They went away much enlightened.

It wasn’t long before the lad and the operator were chatting away, discussing the technicalities of the role of signalman and signal box in the smooth working of trains. The operator wondered if the lad would like to work the levers.

“Won’t he damage the levers?” his carer asked.

“If he’ll do what he’s told, and do it gently, there’ll be no problem,” the operator assured her. The carer discussed the terms of the offer with Young Billie.

“Do what I’m told,” he said. “Be ever so gently. Like stroking kitten.”

With great personal effort and help from his carer, Billie got to his feet. It wasn’t long before he understood how to release the levers and move them. For his early attempts, he tried used his whole hand to grasp each lever. But it didn’t work. Adjacent levers got in the way.

“Just use your finger and thumb,” the operator explained. It wasn’t long before Billie had mastered the technique. The operator still had to work the bock bells and tell Billie what some of them meant. But then the young signalman would call out the lever numbers, descriptions and so on to set the route.

“Class 6 Freight to Down Slow,” Billie might repeat. “Release Facing Point Lock Number 6, Reverse Point Number 5, Reset Facing Point Lock Number 6, Pull Off Outer Home Number 2, Inner Home Number 3, Starter Number 8, Advance Starter Number 10. Distant Number 1 is locked On.”

Billie stayed at that one layout for much of the day. Operations were explained. Everything made sense. Everything was predictable. He even came back the following day. He had a great time. Billie was profuse in his thanks. His carer was amazed at what he could do,

“Does it not go to show,” our chairman mused, “that, handled with sensitivity, railway modelling is one hobby where autism does not preclude enjoyment and fulfilment?”

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