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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156. The Featherweight - June 2019

Posted on May 31, 2019 at 2:10 PM

While at the Farthing Gate show we heard about a member of another cub who came into the clubroom with a six-foot long lightweight baseboard. As one might expect, there were comments about it being too long to carry without inflicting a hernia. But it was indeed very light. He then brought in a second board, equally light, and fixed it to the first. The track was down. The tunnel mouth was in place. Blocks of foam gave a rough impression of how the landscape would look.


“This is the first time I’ve had the baseboards together,” he said. “I can’t get them both set up in my railway room simultaneously. And my wife won’t let me put them up anywhere else in the house.”


The other club members sympathised. He then proceeded to attack the foam with a kitchen knife to roughly carve out the land form, putting the off-cuts into a bin-liner. Electro-static interactions ensured that they didn’t all stay there. They subtly spread across the clubroom and attached themselves to members’ clothes.


“I don’t suppose your wife allows you to do that at home either?” his fellow-members asked with much glee. She didn’t. Not even in the garden, or on the drive. There was the potential for far too much mess. The other members appreciated his predicament, but wondered who was going to clear up the mess he was making in their clubroom.


Then the industrious fellow started to file the foam to create gently rolling countryside. Polystyrene shards and individual beads went everywhere and clung to everything. But only the happy landscaper was oblivious to the mess. Drifts of polystyrene clung everywhere and stopped all delicate and paint work.


Credit due. When he had finished, he got out the vacuum cleaner and systematically rounded up every last fragment. “Does your wife make you do that at home?” he was asked, amid much mocking laughter.


“Of course,” he replied. “Don’t you help out round the house?” There were some embarrassed laughs.hen he had finished, he quietly opened up the cleaner, removed the dust bag and went outside to empty it. Obviously he’d been well-trained in correct domestic procedures. He was away for quite some time. His friends wondered where he’d gone, and for what purpose.


“Isn’t it just good manners to empty a full bag?” our own chairman asked. “A bit like not leaving the washing up for others to do when it’s your turn?” We all looked at Peter and Paul, though they didn’t respond.


“It was obvious,” our chairman continued, “that washing-up and bag-emptying were novel concepts for some of that club’s members.” We chuckled amongst ourselves. Perhaps, like a couple of our members, they didn’t realise that bags ever required emptying, or had no idea how to do it, or where to put the contents, or that dirty pots don’t clean, dry and put themselves away.” We all looked at Paul and Peter. They still seemed oblivious to the fact they were the target of this gentle reminder that club membership involves duties and obligations as well as benefits.

155. Snow and More Snow - May 2019

Posted on April 30, 2019 at 2:15 PM

There were three snow scenes at the Merle exhibition. One had taken the simple solution. Everywhere was covered in white scenic scatter, deep and crisp and even. Only the rails remained uncovered. Obviously the frequent passage of trains had kept them clear during the recent snowstorm. But nothing else seemed to have moved since the blizzard had passed. Even the runners on the children’s toboggan left no ruts. The skiers left no tracks. Nobody had put a foot anywhere to violate the pristine snow. Had all the little inhabitants been frozen stiff by a blast of super-cold air?


The hall lighting was known to be poor, so the owner had brought along his own well-provisioned lighting rig. This meant that the snow scene could be seen from right across the exhibition. It positively sparkeled, attracting visitors from across the hall. However, the whole scene was so brilliantly illuminated that, close-to, sun-glasses were necessary to prevent snow blindness.


On the second layout, snow had been applied more sparingly. The underlying vegetation could still be seen, only partly masked by a gently filigree of white. One side of the cutting was whiter than the other. Wagons in sidings were dusted in snow, while moving vehicles had roofs more-or-less free of snow. The scene was almost black-and-white, but there were always those subtle hints of colour. It was this sophistication that made it special. It was not surprising than many visitors were taking photographs.


The snow on the third model was as deep as on the first, but had been applied far more thoughtfully. There were deep drifts against the east-facing sides of every building, and accumulations in the spaces between adjacent buildings. But where there was a chimney against an end wall, the curving path of the hidden flues within the stonework could be traced by the lack of adhering snow. Some roofs were blanketed in snow while other had snow slipping down, threatening to land on passers-by below, the difference indicating the relative warmth of the rooms within.


Snow had stuck to one side of every signal and telegraph post. There were footprints, attempts to clear the snow, people resting from shovelling snow, vehicle tracks, with the distinctive paths of leading and trailing wheels, men pushing cars, people attempting to clear windscreens, the route taken by toboggans along a street and then repeatedly down a near-by slope. The accompanying children’s footprints only went up the hill, not down. There were even the paw prints of animals, definitely dogs and cats, and possibly a fox.


There was one set of enormous prints. If you followed them you were rewarded with the sight of a woolly mammoth hiding in a spinney. This caused great amusement amongst the more observant of the visitors. “Ah, you’ve seen it,” the operator would call out amid laughter, much to the annoyance of the less observant spectators.


Arching over the entire layout was a blue sky-cloth through which light permeated giving a sombre cast to the scene – that indefinable mixture of blue and purple, grey and white that is only created by snow-laden skies. It was so atmospheric you could feel the chill in the air.


“Observation” out chairman commented. “Careful observation is the key to realism when it comes to scenic modelling, whether it’s a winter scene, or high summer, spring or autumn. Don’t model as you think it ought to be, or as other people have done it. Get out and look for yourself. Study every detail. Make notes. Ask yourself questions as to why things are the way they are. And if you can’t provide convincing answers, discuss it with scientists, geographers, other modellers, read books, talk with artists and photographers, visit on-line forums, both those dealing with model railways and other branches of art and landscape, consult experts in relevant fields of knowledge.” Now who could disagree with that?


154. Weighty Problems - April 2019

Posted on March 31, 2019 at 5:35 AM

There was a real expert on one of the layouts at the Salchester exhibition. He would explain to all and sundry why only certain engines were allowed to go along the lightly-laid branch line or enter the even lighter-laid lines in goods yards. He explained in great detail the GWR’s system for categorising the weight restrictions for their routes and how cab-side symbols were used to indicate the route availabilities of each of their locomotives. This was reflected in the livery details he applied to each of his models. “We modellers must have prototype accuracy,” he said many times.


What he didn’t seem to realise was this true-to-prototype policy didn’t apply to his wagons. The contents of mineral wagons ranged from three-quarters empty to one-and-a-quarter full. The top lumps were precariously hanging on to their position, instead of rolling down the heap and falling off the wagon altogether. Was it prototype practice for some collieries to use glue to keep their loads in place?


Another freight train included several wagons with four coils of steel strip just fitting nicely onto each wagon. But their combined weight far exceeded the carrying capacity of the wagon. Now if only real railway wagons with equivalent strength could be assembled from plastic kits, just think how few wagons our rail companies would need to provide.


On the same layout there was a Plate wagon, with four pieces of thick grey plastic sheet aboard. In real life, if they had been steel, the wagon springs would have cracked and the entire chassis pan-caked onto the rails. But the wheel-loading would have also have exceeded the strength of the rails, so no doubt buckled and shattered track would have been added to the mess!


At the same show we heard of an HGV delivering two drums of 750-volt cable to a trackside depot. Now each drum was about 7ft in diameter and weighed over 12 tonnes. That was greater than the tail lift could carry. The lorry driver called for a crane.


“We don’t have a crane, either fixed or mobile,” the yard foreman replied.


“What do you have?” the delivery driver asked.


“We’ve a fork-lift truck. You could use that.” Examination showed it to have a capacity of only 1.5 tonnes. The foreman rang a superior to get advice.


“Open the tail-gate and roll them out,” was the received wisdom.


“Once a drum starts rolling, how are you going to stop it?” the driver asked incredulously. “You lot won’t want to stand anywhere near where it’s going to fall off the back end, will you?” None of the yard workers would be that stupid, would they? “You’ll be chasing after it, but it’ll only stop when it mounts a track and falls over. You could so easily block a running line.” The workers hadn’t thought of that either.


“We could set out some sleepers across it path and stop it that way,” they suggested


“What’s more likely to happen,” the driver told them, “is that when the cheeks of the drum hit the ground, the weight of the cable will wrench the core free. You’ll then be left with a shattered drum and a potentially fractured cable. There’s no way you’ll be able to extract the cable or move it to site.


Eventually the foreman conceded that they couldn’t unload it. He made arrangements for that to happen at another depot – one with a suitable crane. The road driver was annoyed at the extra time this all took.


“It just goes to show that the model operators hadn’t really understood about the rules that every company had for loading wagons,” our chairman commented. “Make sure we don’t make the same mistakes on our layouts.” We all agreed, but we’ll just have to see what actually happens.

 

153. The show-runner - March 2019

Posted on February 28, 2019 at 5:45 AM

A few weeks ago we heard about a nearby club. For many years, the organisation of their show had revolved round one member. He knew how to do everything, be it putting up the banner on the front of the hall, getting leaflets printed, or placing posters in shops for miles around. Everybody else seemed quite happy with this situation. They just accepted that somehow all these tasks, and many more, would be completed on time, and were thankful that they were not involved in any of them.


The organiser rationalised this state of affairs by assuming that members were lazy, or incompetent, or both. Doing it himself was so much simpler than seeking volunteers, explaining what they had to do, and checking that they had completed their allotted task on time and to an acceptable standard. It also meant that he didn’t have to waste time preparing formal proposals to put before a committee and then wasting more time while they discussed, often at great length, decisions that were glaringly obvious.


By contrast, the members rationalised this state of affairs in several ways. Some thought he just wanted to show off his organisational skills. Others thought he didn’t want or need any help. A few decided that there was nothing to running an exhibition. ‘It’s not my job’ was a common attitude.


And then there was the member who was asked to do a simple job. “I won’t help with the exhibition, because you enjoy doing it so much,” he replied. Was this just the way he justified to himself his remaining totally inactive?


Then came the year the show manager was involved in an accident. He was in a coma for some time. Everybody knew that things had to be done, but nobody knew exactly what or how. Where was the banner kept? They didn’t know as they’d not seen it in the storeroom, or thought to ask of its whereabouts. Where was the ladder? Was there a master for the leaflets? Where did the refreshments come from? Who supplied the exhibitors’ meals? What exhibitors were coming? Had the show guide been written? The list of tasks seemed endless. And the more they thought, the more tasks they discovered.


“There’s nothing for it, we’ll just have to cancel the show” was one member’s blunt recommendation.


But then the club secretary started to receive enquiries from exhibitors. They had not received their promised pre-show information packs and could not get any answer from the exhibition organiser.


When the organiser regained consciousness, the club secretary went to see him. He revealed that there was a folder on his bookshelf at home in which everything was set out. There was a list of jobs, details of how each was done, and the date when each should be completed. There was also a list of exhibitors and what each required in terms of transport, expenses, meals, tables and chairs, lunch-time relief, and so on.


When the secretary got hold of the folder he was amazed. He hadn’t realised how methodical the show organiser had been. His only lapse was not letting his wife or the club officers know of the folder’s existence and its location.


“I think we should learn from their experience,” our Chairman said. “I propose that at least two members know how to do each exhibition task.” And we all agreed, though it remains to be seen how many actually volunteer and get involved.

152. Speed-visiting - February 2019

Posted on January 31, 2019 at 6:20 AM

On our way back from the Whirtleborough show, Felicity commented on the speed at which some visitors go round an exhibition. It made her wonder what they’d actually seen. They’d either got photographic memories, took masses of photos to examine later, or they just didn’t look, study and assimilate. She wondered what they learnt and what benefit they got from attending.


“Very little, if anything, I should think,” Graham commented. “Perhaps they only attend to get confirmation that they are extremely sophisticated modellers, whose knowledge, skills and powers of discrimination far surpass those of the other visitors, and most of the exhibitors as well. They wish to be seen, but not get contaminated by lesser modellers.”


“Did you see the chap who whizzed round, but couldn’t find a single layout depicting the Fishguard & West Pembroke Tramway, or anything in 5.5mm scale, or anything set in 1872,” Jim asked. “He was gone within forty-five minutes, declaring the entire show to be ‘utter rubbish’ because there was nothing in his favoured line, scale or period.” We laughed at his waste of time and money. Since the layouts attending had been listed in several of the magazines, he ought to have known what would to be there before he set off. If none of it was of interest, why bother attending in the first place?”


“Some modellers are so intensely parochial,” Jane commented. “You know that chap who demonstrates loads made from rubbish? I’ve heard visitors decline his invitation to examine them with the dismissive comment ‘Not my scale.’ Some were adamant that they could learn nothing from him, even though the concept he champions applies to all scales, gauges and periods. It was just that his examples were in a large scale so that they were easy to see and robust enough to be handled.” We smiled, as we’ve all been accosted at one show or another by this over-enthusiastic fellow.


There was another visitor who was there for most of the day,” Bill countered. “He moved systematically from exhibit to exhibit, observing carefully, making notes, and talking with operators and public. He’d return several times to check he’d missed nothing of significance and to see how things were running.”


“Perhaps he’s the chap that writes that blog,” Felicity suggested. “You know - the blogger that was supposedly unmasked at the Salchester show.”


“There’s also a chap who writes reviews of exhibitions for one of the gauge society magazines,” Graham added. “Though his reports concentrate on those layouts and other displays that are the prime interest of society members, he often mentions ideas from other scales that have wider potential.


“He once told me that what actually gets published depends on the attitude of the editor in post at the time. In the past, one struck out everything he submitted that was not directly about models in their scale. The current one is far more open to ideas from across the entire spectrum of scales and gauges, and even from other branches of model-making.”


“Aren’t people allowed to concentrate on a single scale, gauge, railway company, or era, if they want to?” our Chairman asked provocatively. We agreed - if that’s what makes them happy, then that’s fine. It was their loss if they didn’t take pleasure in, or get ideas from other areas of our hobby. After all, isn’t it the sheer diversity that makes modelling railways such a great creative activity? There’s something for everybody. We all agreed with him when he asked if those who get the most from the hobby are the people who relish, celebrate and build on the richness of experience that comes with diversity.

151. Festina Lente - January 2019

Posted on January 1, 2019 at 1:00 PM

While at the Skelham club’s recent show, we heard some of the history of a layout they were exhibiting. It seems that it had been started several years previously, but the original team had hit snags and lost interest. Progress had stalled at the track and bare boards stage. After languishing in their store room for some time, a trio of new members got it out and decided they would complete it. So work resumed.


It wasn’t long before ballast was down and scenery was planned for viewing from three sides, with the storage sidings hidden away on the fourth. It was then that they realised they’d never be able to hand-work the points by leaning over the planned townscape, so they had to flood the ballast with near-boiling water to release enough of the track to be able to lift it for operating rods to be installed. Then they made good the ballast.


This challenge overcome, scenery developed at quite a pace. One of the team was a dab hand at constructing cardboard building kits, and each week several more appeared. They were installed on a stepped base that cantilevered over the fiddle yard at the rear. The rise between successive rows of buildings was steeper than Anfield’s Kop, but cleverly disguised by using half-, quarter- and low- relief buildings interspersed with trees. It was brought to life by cars, lorries, buses, cats, dogs, dustbins, and numerous little cameos of workmen plying their trades. The overall townscape was most effective. It gave the impression that the town was much bigger than the baseboard would allow.


Then came the triumphant announcement: “This layout is now complete.” There was great satisfaction amongst both builders and other club members as they admired the finished project. Even the original team were pleased with the outcome. It wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was definitely far more imaginative and impressive.


One of the club’s older members was invited to have a drive. He made up a longish freight train and set it to circle clockwise on the lower level. It looked good from all angles as it made its way round. After several circuits of the board, he halted it at the back and manually exchanged the loco and brake van. It looked equally impressive running anticlockwise.


But the fellow saw there was a major flaw with the basic design. In the anticlockwise direction, freight trains that circulated on the lower level could only enter the rear storage tracks by running past the exit from the fiddle yard out onto the scenic section, and then reversing into the holding sidings. This somewhat spoilt the operational magic.


Within an hour of the start of the Completion Celebrations, track was being lifted to accommodate an additional storage siding, one that could be entered via a point at the opposite end to the fiddle yard throat. So much for it being a Completed Layout!


Later running sessions revealed numerous places where trains derailed or uncoupled, requiring more lifting and re-fixing of track and ballast. One bridge, set at the start of a curve, had to have an abutment severely cut back to allow bogie coaches to pass. All this remediation work was hampered by the presence of landforms, roads and other scenery. Some months later, frustration led to a whole new double fiddle yard being added at right angles to the layout to permit easy entry and exit of trains regardless of their direction of running.


“Does this not go to show the importance of thorough planning and exhaustive testing?” our chairman commented. “Shouldn’t a wide range of locos and stock be run for prolonged periods by several operators, as if at an exhibition, before ballast or any other scenic work is fixed to the baseboard? No amount of brilliant scenic detail will improve ill-thought-out track plans, or compensate for badly-laid track.” We all expressed agreement with our chairman, but it remains to be seen if certain of our club members actually learn from this story and follow his council of wise experience.

150. Show-and-Tell, and UFOs - December 2018

Posted on November 30, 2018 at 9:10 AM

As a change from constructing layouts, or standing around watching other members build layouts, or just sitting and talking, we heard recently that the Wraybury club had arranged an evening of show-and-tell. Every member was asked to bring in a model they’d built. It could be a wagon, or a coach, or a loco, a signal, or a signal box. They could be modified RTR, a kit, kit-bashed, or scratch-built. It didn’t matter what it was, or to what scale, or even if it was unfinished.


Each modeller then said a few words in answer to one of these questions: ‘Why did I build this?’ or ‘What do I do next?’ or ‘Why’s this gone wrong and how do I sort it out?’


Some members’ mini-talks elicited lots of comments. Most were sensible and helpful, others simply amusing. There were offers of practical help with particular stages of building a model so the owner could complete the job.


Several models were dubbed UFOs. Not the science fiction type, but Un-Finished Objects. These were projects that had ground to a halt, because the builder had lost patience, or lost interest, or no longer needed the finished model. During the evening, three of them found new homes, and were completed or converted over the following weeks, much to the satisfaction of the new and former owners.


The club chairman was delighted that so many conversational members actually had models to talk about, since they’d never brought anything to previous meetings. Some of the quiet constructional members overcame their shyness as they explained the techniques they used to build their models. Once they got talking, some spoke at length, sharing their enthusiasm for their chosen subject and techniques. By the end of the evening, the range of previously hidden knowledge and skills within the membership was quite a revelation. Several layout managers noted the existence of talents they’d never suspected. They now knew who to approach for help with specific parts of club projects.


But one fellow had brought nothing and said nothing. He just sat in a corner and flicked through magazines from the club library. The chairman spoke to him during the brew break.


“I’m quite happy just being here,” the fellow said. “I don’t build anything. I don’t operate a layout. I don’t even have any models of my own. I just enjoy being in the company of railway modellers, seeing what goes on, and listening to what they have to say. I hope you don’t object.”


“No, no. Of course not,” the chairman assured him. “I didn’t want you to feel left out.”


“I just find the atmosphere therapeutic. There’s things going on, models being built, problems being solved, layouts being tested, operators being trained, arrangements for exhibitions being agreed. But I don’t want to be part of it. You don’t mind, do you?”


“No, of course not,” the chairman repeated. “If that’s what you want, then that’s fine by me. I don’t want you to feel you’re being purposely excluded.”


“I appreciate you asking,” the fellow said. “I’m just happy to be accepted here.”


When our chairman heard this story, he was pleased that the Wraybury club hadn’t forced the fellow into active involvement, or expelled him for laziness. As he said, “There are people who much prefer to remain on the margins than to be full-on participants.”

149. Cottage Manufacturers - November 2018

Posted on October 31, 2018 at 7:00 AM

At last week’s meeting we heard two stories about ‘cottage’ manufacturers – those one-man operations that manufacture small quantities of specialist items. The first received an order for one of his kits. He hadn’t a complete kit in stock, so he made one up from bulk stocks of various components. He parcelled it up and took it to the post office. It had just been stamped when he realised that he’d not included a bag of the smallest castings. He went back home, and put them a packet with a letter of apology. But it was too late to catch that day’s post.


A few days later he received an irate letter, pointing out the discrepancy and demanding immediate supply of the missing parts. He sent off a second letter of apology, explaining how the shortfall had arisen and the steps he’s take to rectify the situation. He suggested that the problem had been exacerbated by letters crossing in the post.


A few days later the manufacturer received another letter of complaint. One component was still missing. There were no calibration bars. The manufacturer sent a letter back saying that there were no calibration bars included in the kit because he had not seen anything with that name on the drawings and in the photographs from which he had worked, and didn’t know what they were anyway. He asked if his customer would kindly enlighten him.


Shortly afterwards, an explanation arrived, together with drawings, a copy of a photograph of one, and details of where they were fixed and their function. The manufacturer checked his own sources and, yes, he could just about make them out, now knowing what he was looking for. He altered his moulds so that they were included. He sent his customer a pair of the modified mouldings.


A little while later, there was yet another letter from the customer, this time thanking the manufacturer for sending the calibration bars. He was so delighted with the now perfect model that he included a cheque for another complete kit. The manufacturer took great care to make sure that this kit was complete and the instructions reflected the inclusion of the new addition.


“At the Salchester show I overheard a disagreement between one of the traders and a customer who was complaining bitterly that the toolboxes were missing from a kit he had supplied,” Jim told us.


“But there weren’t any toolboxes on the prototype, so there aren’t any included with the kit,” the trader replied.


“They’re in the photograph that accompanied the magazine review, so they’re missing from the kit. I want the deficiency rectified.”


“Yes,” the trader replied. “I read that review as well. In my copy the reviewer wrote quite clearly that the boxes were additions he made to suit his own use for the wagon. Your copy of the magazine must have been a special one-off print with that sentence omitted. Or perhaps you should air-brush the boxes from your copy of the picture,”


“Where would we be without the small independent manufacturer?” our chairman asked. “If we give them grief over perceived or actual mishaps, perhaps they’ll give up. Disagreements will occur, but politeness at all times, on both sides will surely be the best course of action?” And we all agreed with that sentiment.

148. May We Present - October 2018

Posted on September 30, 2018 at 2:30 PM

The other week we were discussing how exhibitors introduce their layouts to visitors: letting them know what the display represents, its scale and gauge, historical period, geographical location, what’s going, the control systems for locomotives, signals and other moving items, what special features to look for, and so on.


“Some layout teams seem to assume that every visitor has an encyclopaedic knowledge of both real and model railways,” Graham suggested. “They think it would be inappropriate, if not insulting, to attempt to tell visitors what they already knew, either by labels, or by the spoken word.”


“But the public can be so pig-ignorant,” Peter told us with all the conviction of a person who is close to being just that.


“Others go to the opposite extreme,” Jim countered. “There are acres of printed sheets with text, diagrams and photos, plastered on fiddle-yard screens and below the front of the layout. They cover every detail of the layout that you could ever think of asking about, and some that you’d never even thought about before. But there is far more information than anybody could take in at a single reading. And people who do try to read it all get in the way of visitors who actually want to see the layout itself.”


“Then there are extensive descriptions in show guides that make War and Peace look like a short story,” Jane added, with a smile.


“I’ve seen one layout that has a series of hand-outs,” Felicity reported. “There’s one leaflet for each aspect of the layout. You take from the dispensers the ones that interest you.”


“There’s one layout that’s bang up to date, with an LED matrix screen that lists services, while another is old-fashioned, using lights behind stencil signs,” Jim commented.


“Some layouts explain what’s happening by means of flip cards or monitor screens,” Ken went on. “But that only covers train movements. It can’t cover aspects like construction techniques.”


“Perhaps that’s where IT comes in, with an endless loop of photographs, movie clips and text to explain the different aspects of the layout. If it’s sited as part of the fiddle yard, then its viewers are not in the way of those who want to watch the trains and examine the scenic details.”


“What about touch-screens and mobile phone links?” Bill wondered.


“And finally there are real humans. The best modify their patter to respond to the age, knowledge and interest of each group of visitors, and quickly spot when their commentary is not required.”


“It’s always a compromise,” our chairman suggested. “There are so many variables to consider, not least the expectations of the audience. Those attending a single-gauge show with a large number of specialist traders are probably quite knowledgeable. Visitors to general and local shows, where layouts predominate, may well welcome a friendly guide. And for novices attending their first show, isn’t a knowledgeable companion desirable?” And we had to agree him on that one.

147. The Trainless Railway - September 2018

Posted on September 1, 2018 at 5:20 AM

While at the Catfield show, we got into conversation with a chap who claims to have an extensive model railway. He showed us photographs of it. In fact, it is a model of a whole town with a short length of double track down in the valley. All the buildings are from the same company’s cardboard kits. This makes for a scene where the architectural styles, building materials and colourings are uniform. Some are built as intended, but most have been modified or cross-kitted. The builder loves this aspect of his hobby. And all credit to him, the modifications he’s make are ingenious. The town now extends over many square yards: it occupies nearly the whole of his supposed railway room. The odd thing is that no train ever runs along the tracks. There’s not even one standing in the station.


“I couldn’t get the trains to stay on the tracks,” he explained, “so I’m modelling the period of time between trains. After all, it’s not supposed to be an intensively used route.”


While discussing this layout back in our clubroom, Peter informed us with great authority “That’s never a model railway.”


“Why not?” Graham asked. “As long as there’s some railed track, then surely it qualifies?”


“But a railway runs trains,” Paul chipped in, eager to support Peter. “That one didn’t. So it can’t be a model railway. It’s just a big static diorama.”


“So what about that modelling competition,” Felicity enquired. “You remember - the one to create a scene on a base of 144 square inches? Does that count as railway modelling?”


“Then there was the competition that one club held for its juniors, where they had to create a shed and its surroundings?” Fred added. “When finished, each was ready-to-plant on the entrant’s own model railway.”


“They’re more apprentice pieces,” Paul countered. “A grotty shed on its own is never a model of a railway.”


“So what about a model of a locomotive, entered in a competition?” Graham asked. “The exhibit just sits in a glass case. The only time it moves is when it’s being lifted from its carrying case. Is that railway modelling?”


Perhaps such competition entries should be put on a test track and made to complete ten circuits at low speed, and then another ten at high speeds, then backed through points and shunted,” Jim suggested. “That would sort out those that really are railway models from those that just look good.”


“If one is being fastidious, shouldn’t a model of a railway include everything that appertains to a real railway, plus the surroundings through which it runs?” our chairman wondered. “Locomotives, items of rolling stock, track, fences, walls, bridges, signals, signal boxes, stations, trees, houses, shops and factories all go to make the entire model. Any one item on its own is model, but not a model railway. It’s rather like the human body. It consists of many organs, but it needs all of them working together for the body be considered alive.


“But then the pragmatic answer could be that any item that could be used on a model railway is itself a railway model,” the chairman went on. “What do you think?” The discussion went on for quite some time. We hadn’t reached a consensus by packing-up time.


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