Sunday, August 28, 2011

Railway modelling and me

When did I first become interested in railway modelling? That's a difficult one to answer. I suppose my mum and dad must have contributed something to my interest. When my dad was little, he was forced to leave the family home when his older sisters persuaded his mother to walk out on her wife-beating, drunken husband. My dad wanted to take his prized clockwork trainset with him, but was told he had to leave it behind. My mum was from the East End of London and during the thirties spent most summer holidays in Harwich, travelling from Liverpool Street along the former Great Eastern.

 My mum says she used to spend many a happy hour watching the trains in Liverpool Street station while her dad and his brother quenched their thirst in the station bar. It would appear, then, that my interest in railways could be genetic - but that does not really explain why my brother (a mechanical engineer) has only a passing interest in railways and no interest at all in modelling them.

So, what are my earliest recollections of modelling railways?

At the age of five I remember having my own Hornby clockwork trainset. I used to attach the budgie's mirror to the back of the train so it would chase its reflection round the track.

When I was six years old, we shared an old rectory in the depths of rural Norfolk with my uncle, aunt and three cousins. There was no electric lighting - light and cooking being provided by Calor Gas cylinders. It seems my cousins had accumulated loads of Hornby clockwork track, locos and stock. I can remember we used to lay the tracks out along the corridor at one end of the first floor (the servants' quarters, I think) and run trains to each other in different rooms.

 My family moved out of the rectory after a short while and for some time we lived in rented accommodation in various different places around East Anglia. No chance either financially or spatially to engage in railway modelling - and besides, my contribution to the communal trainset had been left behind (history repeating itself?).

When I was nine we eventually bought our own small bungalow in a village near Great Yarmouth - I think it cost somewhere in the region of £1500 - a fortune in those days. I remember my dad coming home with an early Triang Princess Elizabeth train set which he had bought in an auction.

After playing with it for a while, I recall (to my embarrassment now) brutally bashing the coaches into bogie flat trucks and created a garden railway with the tracks rusting in a muddy corner of the back garden. Needless to say, I was not bought any more railway models by my dad. So, I started saving my pocket money and piece by piece I bought sufficient Triang Series 3 track to make one of the plans in their track plans booklet (LR 4).

At the age of eleven, we moved to a village between Colchester and Halstead and for the first time I had a room of my own. For a while I created variations of the Series 3 track plan until I met my first serious railway modeller, a fellow pupil, who introduced me to the Railway Modeller magazine. It was 1965 when I first subscribed, something I continued for the next twenty years. In the meantime, by chance, I discovered the Festiniog Railway on a family camping holiday to Wales and was introduced to the concept of the 'narrow gauge' railway.

Linda and Prince at Tan y Bwlch

My first 'proper' model railway was an 00n3 narrow gauge end-to-end railway with an impossibly steep incline.

And then Eggerbahn appeared on the scene and 009 was born. I constructed two 009 layouts during this phase of my modelling career  - the first was a rabbit warren type of circuit which wound tortuously through a plaster mountain.

  Not the best photo, but the only one I have of my early modelling efforts

 It was never entirely successful and so was abandoned in favour of a more prototypical end-to-end narrow gauge railway running along two walls.

Finally, in this phase of my modelling career, I reverted to 00 scale and constructed a simple terminus to fiddle yard.

For a couple of seasons I worked as an operator for 'The World's Finest Model Railway' at Colchester Zoo. For a teenage railway modeller this was the dream job. The railway was 72 feet long and 15 feet wide. Most of the stock was Fleischmann (for reliability) and the model was divided into sections representing different (European) countries - with a 'City of the Future' (with mono rail) at the far end. My duties were not particularly onerous, I spent most of the time wandering around in a white coat, occasionally re-railing stock, replenishing smoke fluid in the burning house or cleaning track. Every so often (it depended on the through-put of customers) I would dim the lights and turn on the 1000 grain of wheat bulbs which illuminated the model.

I then left home to train as a teacher and after qualifying, moved 'oop Norf' to Cheshire. With a new career and rented accommodation, modelling took a back seat for around fifteen years.

Marriage, a baby daughter and a new house (with a loft) and the modelling bug bit again. An ambitious model of Halesworth Station on the East Suffolk mainline was planned and constructed, complete with a representation of the Southwold Railway in 00n3.

 The above was the first plan - which provided plenty of opportunity for modelling the Southwold, but meant that most of the standard gauge would be hidden from view.

This second plan improved the views for the standard gauge by including a branch station (based on Aldeburgh), but limited access to the mainline storage loops under the branch terminus and limited the amount of the Southwold to be modelled.

The third and final plan provided more operating potential for the mainline and was adopted, however some of the curves into the storage sidings are somewhat tight.

Halesworth station - the Southwold (with Swiss rolling stock(!)) in the foreground

Halesworth - sand/gravel interchange sidings in the foreground (my model assumes the SR survived into BR days)

This ambitious scheme sits up in the loft still, all the trackwork is in place and some of the landscaping has been completed - but too many compromises were made in trying to cram too much into too small a space. One day I will either complete it properly, remodel it into something more realistic or dismantle it.

Realising the loft layout was too time consuming (and somewhat anti-social), I constructed a simple terminus to fiddle yard standard gauge railway in the spare room.

 This first plan sent the line behind the maltings (modelled in half relief). I then worked on various alternatives for this end of the layout:

Some included a swing bridge, but I decided I was trying to cram too much into the space ( a common problem of mine).

After considering various options, I decided on a plan which would be more workable.

In addition, it would provide me with storage space underneath for my accumulations of model railway magazine articles and general modelling 'stuff'. While building the railway, I made a few more changes, the most significant being to shift the river bridge to the other end of the quay. I called the station Dunwich as it was inspired by Aldebugh (and Snape).

The goods shed, cattle dock and station building, with coal yard in the foreground

The fish quay and timber yard (the mainline runs behind the buildings). The fish warehouse is based on one at Southwold.

The station throat looking towards the quay and the maltings (based on those beside the station in Halesworth)

This layout has worked well for many years and then, around ten years ago I bought an LGB starter set and started making plans for extending my activities into the garden. Initially, these plans attempted to fit a railway into the existing garden (See Planning the railway). This had been laid out by me when we first moved into the house as a new-build in 1981. Gardening had never been something which which I was entirely comfortable, but I've always enjoyed civil engineering - which for me is digging up and transporting barrow loads of earth. It wasn't long before I started drawing up plans which required landscaping the garden (see video - How I built the Peckforton Railway).

I had been much impressed by watching a video showing a garden railway which ran on raised rockery beds around the perimeter of a garden, with a sunken lawn in the middle. Our back garden has a gentle slope from the house up to the fence, so I figured that by re-laying the lawn about a foot below datum level at the rear of the garden would enable me to create raised beds.

Various plans were drawn at several levels of complexity until I came up with one which seemed feasible (See Planning the railway). I recognised that a plan which could be completed in stages, with plenty of potential for future growth, would be more productive in maintaining my interest.


So, there we are. From my earliest dabblings with a clockwork 0 Gauge trainset, I have moved variously through 00, 00n3, 009, 00 (again), 00n3 (again) and now into G gauge. I have more than enough unfinished modelling work to engage my interests for many years to come without starting yet another project. At least, that's what I keep telling myself (and the wife!).


Rose Dempsey said...

What a journey, eh? I am now 64 and have always loved trains. I had a few way back when, but my ex sold them. Hubby and I are just getting back into them. I have yet to get an actual loco, I am a steam fan and my first will be my fave hopefully with a steam component, The Flying Scotsman. Meanwhile I have managed to get some buildings to make, to begin my journey again. I hope you have much fun and hours of enjoyment from all your projects!

GE Rik said...

All the best with your projects Rose. I certainly agree that steam is the way to go!