John's Jottings

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.

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