At some point in the mid to late 50's I became the owner of a Triang 00 train set comprising an oval of 2 rail track with two points, a class 3MT tank locomotive, two suburban coaches and various accessories. Well, I say I became the owner but I'm sure my father had more than a passing interest because this lot was set out neatly and permanently on a board in the bay window of our ground floor flat, a feat I could not have achieved as I was just few years old. I have few recollections of the layout design but some of that old Triang train set has stayed with me to the current day.
I do remember one significant event. My father collected me from infant school, unusual in itself since he should have been at work. He greeted me with the news that a fire had broken out in the top floor flat. I was not to be concerned because the firemen had saved my train set! Evidently the amount of water poured onto the building had cascaded through the floors into our flat. The firemen had stood in front of my train set with brooms to hold back the flood! Hmm some story but, sure enough my train set was safe.
Like many modellers it was being given a train set at an early age that sparked my interest in railways. It does not develop into a life long hobby for everyone. Why should I be affected so? Maybe the brave act of those firemen saving my train set affected my sub conscious making me realise I had something special.
This period marked one of the major milestones in railway modeling because certain gifted individuals were turning train sets into quite convincing miniature landscapes. John Ahern, G. Iliffe Stokes (Ravensbourne c 1950-58), Peter Denny (Buckingham Branch Lines 1945-2009) and Roye England's Pendon team are the pioneers who's work become an inspiration for me in later years.
Around 1960 we moved into our own house. There was no room for the train set to be set up permanently so, it became a box of bits that rarely came out to be set up on the carpet.
The mid 60's saw my parents moving again and this time I was blessed with a bedroom that had space for a 6' x 3' board. Now I was old enough to try my hand at modeling. Things did not go too well at first on the landscaping front. Somehow grass made from gloss green enamel paint over glued sand did not look right and trying to clean the paint brush with water just would not work!
I soon tired of the simple oval and so I embarked on a major upgrade that resulted in an end to end layout on purpose built shelving around three walls of the bedroom. Landscaping became more ambitious with cardboard kit buildings alongside scratch built structures such as platforms, bridges and low relief buildings. At one point a Minic Motorway was integrated into the layout. But it did not last, probably because the slot car mechanics did not look realistic compared to the trains running on two rails like the prototype.
There was no attempt to model a real scene, or period in history. This was about fueling my imagination and developing creative skills with continual reference to model magazines for ideas and techniques.
A family move to a brand new house caused a rethink because having a permanent model railway layout in the bedroom was not going to be an attractive proposition, coupled with the fact the bedroom was a little smaller.
It was time to consider a portable solution. A cabinet was made that housed modular baseboards. These were pulled out when required, placed on legs and interconnected to form a U around three walls and over the furniture.
Now in employment I suddenly had money to burn at a time when the range of proprietary models and modeling materials mushroomed in the market place. This period further expanded my modeling skills with an increasing desire to create a realistic three dimensional picture of railway and landscape.
My girlfriend was introduced to the latest layout and her reaction monitored to determine whether we had a future. I am pleased to say she became my wife, mother to my children and tolerant of the fact there are three in this marriage!
It was during this period that I scratch built a fine goods shed following an article by M. A. Randall in Railway Modeller magazine (Nov. 1960). It is the goods shed at Crewkerne in Somerset. I found this structure to be visually appealing and I much enjoyed making it.
Marriage and a home of our own with four bedrooms, big enough for children and a model railway - in the second largest bedroom!
Having an entire room at my disposal made me think about building a model railway layout that was more representative of the real thing. To find inspiration I meandered back through my, now large, collection of model railway magazines and rediscovered a track plan in the Railway Modeller magazine (August 1960) of a layout built by M. A. Randall. This plan seemed ideal to me and some aspects of it was adopted. My model railway layout differed in so far as the continuous circuit formed a triangle where the station complex occupied the long hypotenuse side.
An essential item to acquire for a new layout is the station building and it did not take long to discover that M A Randall had come to my rescue once again with his construction article in Railway Modeller magazine (November 1968)
about modeling the majestic, gothic station building at Crewkerne. Unfortunately, no scale drawings were included but fortuitously a visit to the area resulted in an excursion to the station where I photographed all sides of the building and plans were drawn up scaled from the photographs.
My future path was sealed. I would be modeling the London & South Western main line in Somerset. The period would be roughly 1960 to 1965; a period within living memory and one where steam and diesel locomotives worked side by side. Deciding to model a specific area and period demands research and to assist in this respect a library of books about the Southern Region was built up.
The model railway layout had become quite large when another house move occurred. The removal company had to provide a van for the sole purpose of transporting the boards and boxes of equipment. In the new house half the double garage was boarded up to become the railway room and work commenced adapting the existing layout from a triangular arrangement to a conventional rectangle with central operating well.
The more I researched the history of the line the more I became disenchanted with the inaccuracies of the model I had created. Modeling technology was also moving forward and landscaped model railway layouts shown in the press, especially The Model Railway Journal were so finely detailed that they looked like a real railway. Barry Norman's Petherick was also influential in my decision to rebuild my model railway. The layout was end to end over about 12 feet depicting a through station with fiddle yards at each end. From the viewing side the landscape extended over the entire length disguising the fiddle yards and giving the impression the trains arrived from somewhere up the line and left the station to go to the next. The opportunity was also taken to convert to fine scale
Track was EM gauge with turnouts being hand made and rolling stock converted from 00 to EM.
Whilst the model railway looked right there were operational problems. Most significantly the end to end operation just did not give enough train movements because the 12 foot length was reduced to about 6 foot actual railway without the fiddle yards and since this was a mainline, running long express trains was just not practical. This problem together with family and work commitments lead to the model railway being cocooned for about 10 years.
In 2008 I decided to sell some of my 1950/60's Lesney Matchbox cars on Ebay, but was soon attracted to those being sold by others. I started buying. This was the impetus that rekindled by model railway interest.
On Ebay I bought a new Hornby N15 locomotive and a Bachmann N class locomotive and discovered that something significant had changed at the manufacturers during my dormant years. The quality and fine detail of these proprietary models is outstanding. I was almost fearful of touching them in case some small detail broke off - which it did. Here was a level of detail that hitherto was only achieved through kit or scratch build construction. There was no way I was going to attempt to convert these to EM gauge. For me EM gauge was doomed. I needed somewhere to run these new locomotives so the decision was taken to brush the dust off my model railway layout, convert the EM track to 00, return the rolling stock to 00 and extend the layout into a large oval for the running of longer trains.
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