John's Jottings

138. The Magic Locomotive - December 2017

Posted on November 30, 2017 at 5:40 AM

Just before Christmas, Fred and Jane visited a model railway exhibition. This one was billed as a family show. And indeed there were many families there, with lots of layouts for them to drive, shunt, works signals, etc.

In the centre of the main room there was a carpet on the floor, surrounded by a low sectional plastic fence. Two ovals of G-scale track had been laid on the carpet, each with loops and sidings. Two youngsters were sitting on the floor, engrossed on driving the trains. Other children were working the points, uncoupling locos, and loading and unloading animals and freight from the wagons, all under the guidance of two supervisors. Everybody was having a great time.

“The carpet indicates a special area,” one of the supervisors explained to Fred and Jane. “The supervisors insist on no running and encourage the kiddies to sit down. The fence prevents toddlers and adults from just walking across.”

“It seems to work pretty well,” Jane commented. “A clever bit of psychology.”

When some parents heard the cost of G-scale locos and rolling stock they got really worried about damage, but the supervisors assured them that there had been none in all the years they’d been staging that exhibit.

“We insist on good behaviour,” Jane was told. “It starts with the very first child of the day. Once the norm has been set, the rest usually follow suit. Any child - or parent for that matter - that misbehaves is immediately asked to go outside the fence.”

There was much excitement when another exhibitor stepped onto the carpet and placed a second loco on the inner oval. At first it followed the freight train, maintaining a respectable distance behind it. The young driver reduced the speed of his train, and the new loco slowed. The child speeded up his train. The following loco accelerated. The train was stopped. The follower stopped. The kiddie was convinced he was now controlling both locos, even if the response of the new one was delayed.

He set his train in motion once more. The light engine now went the other way round the circuit. There was consternation amongst those on and off the carpet. A head -on crash seemed inevitable. But the errant loco reversed just in time, and sped round the oval, quickly catching up with the guard’s van at the rear of the goods train. This totally mystified drivers and audience alike.

What they did not realise was that the new loco was battery powered and radio-controlled. Its driver was standing some distance away, with his throttle hidden behind his back. He was grinning broadly.

The supervisor called for a point to be changed. The loco went into the siding. The point was put back to the main line. The train continued around the oval, while the magic loco poottled backwards and forwards along the siding, its speed and direction bearing no relationship to the setting on the track-side controller.

There was no buffer stop at the end of the siding. The wayward loco rolled off the end of the track. One of the children went to put it back on the rails. But it sped across the carpet, escaping her grasp. It stopped just short of the track on the other side of the circuit.

At this point, the radio operator strode onto the carpet, and wagged his finger at it. “You naughty locomotive,” he scolded. The engine made a few whistles. He picked it up and took it away. “You’re going back in your box,” he announced, amid much laughter.

“Comedy is a component frequently missing from model railway shows,” our chairman observed. “It’s not appropriate for every layout, or even every show. But don’t you think it is an important component of shows aimed at families?”

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