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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135. The Underground - September 2017

Posted on October 31, 2017 at 6:05 AM

There was one layout at the Catfield show that was of an ingenious double-deck design. The visible portion depicted a rural junction station. The lines in each direction curved and dropped to the lower level, where there was a complex of junctions and storage loops, all hidden from view of both public and operators. Some trains would disappear into the tunnel at the Edinburgh end, to re-appear some time later as the return working. Other trains, like loaded coal wagons would only run in the Up direction, while others only in the Down.

How all this was achieved remained a mystery to the visitors, and also, it would seem, to most of the operators, who often had no idea what trains were where, in which direction they were facing, or where they might emerge. Frequently, whole chunks of the countryside were lifted up so that the operators could locate trains.

And to complicate matters, the track was of such a poor quality that trains did not always follow their intended routes - one portion might be on one path, while the rest was attempting to take a different way through pointwork. The stock had to be re-railed. The need for repeated scenery shifting did not seem to upset the operators one little bit. On the positive side, it did give the public a chance to see the underground lines.

Furthermore, some locos were poor runners and would stall at inconvenient subterranean places. Some of the rolling-stock had dodgy couplings and trains divided en route. Each time this happened, the offending item was either turned round or repositioned in the train. Only when the problem persisted would the offender be removed and a replacement found.

This all suggested that the layout, locos and stock had never been exhaustively tested at exhibition intensity back in the clubroom. Or if they had, there was neither critical assessment of performance, nor effective remedial work resulting. Indeed, one operator commented about a particular loco “It does that every time.” This begged the question: should it, or the entire layout, have ever been taken to an exhibition in the first place?

Felicity commented that there was a similar problem in a needlework club of which she was a member. Some items were definitely of exhibition quality. However, other items had not been washed or pressed since the sewing had been completed. Pictures were not correctly tensioned over their stretchers, or mounted square in their frames. Even some of the frames had scuff marks and scratches.

“We can’t hang that in public,” one of the club leaders was heard to say when they were setting up an exhibition. The needlewoman was most upset at this condemnation of her handiwork. If she had taken the trouble to create this work of art, it deserved to be shown.

“But we have to maintain a high standard of workmanship,” she was told. “If we’re expecting the public to visit our exhibitions in the future, then there must be no second-rate work on display. If there is tat, then they won’t come again and nobody will be able to make any sales.” Felicity told us the poor needlewoman was so incensed that she snatched all her entries and stormed out, never to attend another meeting.

“It’s always a problem when amateurs’ work goes on public exhibition,” our chairman commented. “It’s a difficult balance between providing encouragement through public display, and ensuring quality to ensure the public’s continued approval. If strict standards are being applied, then these should be set out well in advance. And guidance must be freely given to help everybody achieve the highest levels of presentation. The sad thing is, not everybody will accept such advice.” We all looked at Adrian, our resident bodger, and agreed wholeheartedly.

137. A Pile of Paperwork - November 2017

Posted on October 31, 2017 at 5:55 AM

Have you seen all this?” our secretary had asked a couple of months ago as he spread out a whole sheaf of papers on the table. “This has all come from the organiser of the Salchester show.” We leafed through them and took our pick.

“This sheet is about meals and overnight accommodation arrangements,” Ken announced. “It wants to know who is vegetarian, vegan, or allergic to milk, gluten, nuts, and so on.”

“This one’s all to do with the rules and regulations concerning the use of mains electrical power,” Adrian reported.

“My sheet covers the unloading, car parking and loading procedures,” Nigel told us. “It’ll all be under the control of stewards with yellow bibs and radios.”

“I’ve got the fire, emergency and evacuation procedures. They even give the wording of the public announcements that will be made to alert us to problems, but yet not alarm the public.”

“This one’s about name badges, security passes, and access routes.”

“Here’s the site map and the recommended route through the local road system that avoids planned roadworks at the nearby motorway junction. That’s thoughtful of them.”

“This is a poster for us to put up. And a request form for leaflets and advance tickets.”

“They want a full Risk Assessment for the layout, its transport, erection, operation and dismantling,” Jane said, holding up a substantial booklet. “It requires details of heavy items, solvents, soldering irons, items that might case someone to trip, burn their hand, and so on. They want to know what steps we’re taking to minimise the chance of an accident and what procedures we’ll have in place to mitigate the ill-effects should an incident occur. We’ve to present it completed to the organisers on arrival at the venue.”

Fred subsequently completed our Risk Assessment in the most meticulous detail. However, after the exhibition he was scathing about the process.

“After all that work, I don’t think anybody read it,” he complained.

“How do you be sure?” Nigel asked.

“Amongst the hazards I identified was the likelihood of shock experienced by youngsters when the pipe at the bottom of the trench in the roadworks cameo squirts water at them. There was no response.”

“Perhaps they don’t worry if kids get wet,” Felicity suggested with a smile. “Maybe it’s the only bath they get all year.”

“For one of the responses I included the phrase ‘or alternative, as required by the show managers.’

“They were obviously happy with what you had proposed,” Jim suggested.

“For the layout of the power cables, I gave two alternatives, asking which they preferred. I assumed that some official would come round to discuss it, but nobody did.”

“I had a chat with the show manager on the Sunday,” Fred continued. “He said that it’s only every five years that the show’s insurers insisted on full Risk Assessment documentation. None of the show officials are actually expected to look at the paperwork.”

“That’s stupid,” Paul commented. And for once we agreed with him wholeheartedly.

“Isn’t it’s always a good idea to do some form of Risk Assessment?” our chairman countered. “It helps to ensure that lax and potentially dangerous practices do not become the accepted norm.” And we had to agree with that as well. We’ll see what we actually do.

136. The Doubtful Daisy-chain - October 2017

Posted on October 1, 2017 at 6:00 AM

On arrival at the Wraybury show with our layout, we found that no electrical cables had been laid out, even though setting up was well under way.

“You’ll find a socket somewhere over there,” one of the organisers said, with a gesture that was wide enough to encompass most of the known universe. “You all have your own way of setting out cables, so we’re letting you get on with it.”

We erected the layout and ran out our cables. Then Ken took the plug end of our heavy-duty extension lead and went in search of a socket. He soon reported back that he’d plugged it into a bank of socket two layouts away, and it would soon be live.

In the meantime, the operators of the layout on the other side had asked if they could plug into our multi-gang socket. Of course they could. And the layout next to them daisy-chained from their power supply. But as opening time rapidly approached, not a single layout had any power to carry out the essential tests of their electrical systems.

Another of the organisers wandered by. “When’s the electricity coming on?” we asked him. He didn’t know, but said he’d sort it out.

He traced the cables right round the exhibition hall. Eventually he reached the end plug. “I’ll soon have you all connected,” he shouted triumphantly. “I’ve just got to find a socket.” He hunted round and found one underneath a layout. “Power going on,” he cried out. “Have fun!” We waited, and waited, but nothing came live. The chap disappeared.

Out came the test equipment. The continuity of the wires within the cables was frantically investigated. The integrity of fuses was examined. Plugs were opened up to check that all wires were firmly screwed into the correct terminals.

Then the hunt for the missing electricity really started. We sent out two search parties. One set off clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. Between them they traced the sequence of connections from under one layout to under its neighbouring layout. The two search parties drew ever closer to each other, but on the other side of the hall. Eventually they met at a micro-layout.

“Where’s your power supply,” they asked the operator.

“Dunno,” he replied. “I’m battery-powered. There’s this cable passing underneath.”

In desperation, a plug was pulled out from a socket. Having checked that the socket was dead, one probe of the test meter was held against the earth pin of the plug and the other pushed into the earth aperture of the socket. The meter bleeped unhealthily. But it bleeped. The same thing happened with the neutral and live.

“We have continuity right round the hall,” Ken announced. “But at no point is any of it actually connected to the mains.” There was laughter amongst the exhibitors.

By now the organisers were wondering why no locos were running, no display lights were on, and no sounds were coming from the DCC layouts. Then the penny dropped. There was a frantic search for some additional extension cables, and an even more frenetic hunt for the building’s own wall sockets. Eventually the great circular daisy-chain was divided into sections, and each connected to a live outlet. The layouts sprung into life just as the doors opened and the public streamed in.

“Does it not go to demonstrate,” our chairman wondered, “that every aspect of an exhibition should be planned, and those plans put into operation? When it comes to something as critical as the power supply, nothing should be left either to chance or for exhibitors to sort out for themselves piece-meal. Yes, there will always be deviations from any plan, but there must be an effective plan to begin with.” We all agreed with him. It remains to be seen whether the organisers get their act together in time for next year’s show.

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.