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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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.


124. The Music of the Rails - Oct 2016

Posted on October 1, 2016 at 2:35 PM

Last week we were discussing how many musicians also have an interest in railways, both real and model. Pete Waterman, Joules Holland and Rod Steward are well-known, but there are countless musicians up and down the country, both professional and amateur, performers and their audiences, who also take great pleasure from model railways. They are not all builders by any means, but they all appreciate the hobby as a craft and as an art.


We decided that there are several similarities between these two forms of art. At the simplest level, there is the rhythmic four-beats-to-the bar chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff of steam locos and the trickety-trock, trickety-trock of bogie coaches over jointed rail, and the clack-clack, clack-clack of four-wheel wagons over points in continuously welded rail. But they are just the percussion section.


At a station, there are busy times and then periods of calm, just like the changes in volume and mood of music. There are express passenger trains and lumbering goods trains, equivalent to different tempi. Fast and slow trains can appear together, moving independently, each on its own track, just like some composers can have fast and slow melodies sounding simultaneously, each complimenting the other and interweaving in delicious counterpoint.


One person likes jazz while another prefers symphonic music. They use similar instruments, much the same staff notation, and weave intricate tapestries of melody, motif, modification, modulation, harmony and rhythm. But the effects are quite different. Likewise, one model may be of a bucolic rural branch station, while another is a realistically grimy but bustling metropolitan terminus. Classical or jazz, rural or urban, each has its own appeal and beauty.


“But what’s the railway equivalent of pop music?” Jane asked provocatively.


“Brio” was the swift reply from Adrian. “Both of them are crude, basic, limited in scope, and provide undeveloped minds with transient pleasure.”


“It’s just a pity that some minds don’t actually develop any further,” Bill added, with a wry smile. Neither Peter nor Paul realised that it was their minds he was thinking about.


Now neither Peter nor Paul could see any similarity between music and railways – no resemblance at all. But then they refuse see the inter-linked passage of trains as corresponding to either choreography, or counterpoint, or to the interplay of characters in a drama. They do not see model scenery as constituting a landscape. They are ardently not into aesthetics of any sort. They do not recognise model railways as an art form. Indeed, they take any such suggestion as an insult. Showing the slightest interest in any of the arts would compromise their view of themselves as being serious scale modellers, wouldn’t it?


But the rest of us are more open. We may not be artists in the narrowest sense, but we appreciate that creating models of railways has many affinities with the more widely recognised art forms. And we do what we can to encourage other people to adopt this broader view.


“I wonder,” the chairman mused, returning to our starting point. “Is the similarity between music and railways that both are based on sets of rules, but rules that allow for a myriad of variations on a theme, with everything working in harmony?” And with such a philosophical analysis, who could disagree?


123. Layouts Remembered - Sept 2016

Posted on September 1, 2016 at 2:45 PM

At the Dewcliffe exhibition, there was a married couple with a highly detailed continental layout. Everywhere we looked there were little cameos. None of them had come straight out of the box, if they were ever in a box. No building was ready-to-plant, or a made-up kit. Most of the accoutrements were scratch-built or heavily modified. The numerous figures were all customised. Each had a name, a role in the scene, and a back-story.


And the couple had the historical photos, articles, plans and drawings to justify the inclusion of every component in each little incident, if not the name and the precise details of the story. They showed their archive to anybody who stopped for more than a few micro-seconds.


And if a visitor asked a question, then they described the materials and techniques that they’d used. Some were pretty standard, while others were highly original. But they didn’t keep to themselves their methods, or the tricks-of-the-trade they had discovered over the years. They were sharing them with anybody and everybody. In fact, they spent so much time talking to visitors that trains seldom ran. They really could have done with a team of dedicated operators, separate from the ‘explainers’.


However, one visitor rounded on them for simply copying various layouts. He thought it very bad form to replicate cameos, techniques and materials already utilised by others. He named the source layouts, and was able to tell them at which shows he had seen them.


He then went on to tell them about his own inventions, in the most general of terms of course, without actually giving anything away. He kept the exact recipes secret. It was his belief that this was the only way for true craftsmen to demonstrate their accumulated knowledge, well-practiced skill, and undoubted ingenuity. It would ensure that lesser modellers were quickly identified for what they were – unimaginative and incompetent copycats.


Now it came as quite a surprise to the critic when he learned that the exhibiting couple had been to all of the shows that he’d listed. Indeed, they’d being exhibiting the very layouts he’d cited as their source material.


And then the penny dropped. They’d built all of the layouts he had named, so it was not surprising that there were similarities. All credit to the critic for detecting the ‘family traits’ amongst the layouts, and for remembering where he’d previously seen them. He’d obviously an eye for detail and remarkable visual recall.


“Why couldn’t he remember the operators’ faces?” Felicity asked. We didn’t know. It wasn’t as if the proscenium was blocking the sight line between operators and visitors.


“Perhaps the little scenes were so life-like and enthralling he hadn’t noticed the real humans,” Graham suggested.


“May be he hadn’t previously engaged the operators in conversation,” was Paul’s explanation.


“Some folk are terrible at remembering faces,” Jane volunteered. “Their recollections of other sensory inputs are perfectly normal.


“I wonder,” our chairman said. “How many totally original layouts the fellow has actually built and exhibited?” We guessed they could be counted without the use of a single finger or thumb. But we all agreed, we’d probably never know.


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?