John's Jottings

116. All for Authenticity - February 2016

Posted on February 1, 2016 at 2:20 PM

Modellers strive to recreate the world in miniature. Some years ago, one layout at the Whirtleborough show had a little bonfire, flickering realistically, with a wisp of smoke lazily drifting upwards. “It’s not smoke oil,” the operator announced, “but a cigarette held in a metal tube below the baseboard. The heat from the lamps pulls the smoke up by convection.”


“Can’t have cigarettes being smoked in a public place,” said the venue’s Health & Safety jobsworth, who just happened to be passing at the time. “It’s against the law.”


“They’re not being smoked by anyone,” the operator protested. “They are just smouldering.”


“You still can’t do it.”


“But they are herbal cigarettes, not tobacco.”


“What sort of herbs? Does the drug squad know?”


It took quite some time for the operator to satisfy Mr. Jobsworth that it was both safe and legal. He went away, unable to be specific as to which regulation was being breached, but convinced in his own mind that a serious crime was being committed.


“But realism can cause problems,” Jim said, recalling an incident at another show he had attended. “About half an hour before opening time, the fire alarm went off. ‘Disconnect your layouts from the mains and leave the building,’ cried the organiser. We all trooped out.


“Through the windows we could see the caretaker staring up at a smoke detector and examining a Gauge 1 layout underneath it.” Jim continued. “Shortly afterwards a False Alarm was declared and we were allowed back in.


“Then the alarm went off again and we evacuated a second time. Once more the area of the Gauge 1 layout was the centre of the caretaker’s interest. But nothing amiss was discovered and we trooped back in again.


“This time the caretaker and the exhibition manager stood next to the Gauge 1 as we all rushed to finish our preparations. The layout under suspicion depicted a diesel stabling point controlled by DCC. As the exhibitor powered up the layout, the locos emitted the appropriate sounds. First the oil, vacuum and air pumps and then the starter motors kicked in. As all the engines purported to be springing to life, they spewed forth plumes of prototypical exhaust. And the fire alarm went off once more. But the culprits were now identified. They were banned from using smoke-oil for the rest of the show, much to the dismay of their builder, who was most proud of the realistic puther that his creations had been designed to give out.”


“Now we’ve got smoke and sound,” Bill mused, “I wonder what the next advance will be. Visitors being showered with soot, ash and glowing cinders from model steam locomotives? All in the cause of authenticity, you understand,” he added with a wry smile.


“It’ll have to be smell,” Jim joked. “Little whiffs of steam oil, hot brake blocks, fishy smells from the harbour, the stink of rotting seaweed. Computer controlled, of course.”


“What I’d like to see,” the chairman mused, “Is little people that open the doors, and get on and off the coaches. And shunting with horses. Now there’s a challenge.”


“That’s not all horses do,” he added, holding his nose and making an appalled face. And with suitably disgusted merriment, we all agreed with that.


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