At the last model railway exhibition I attended here in Perth I was quite taken by several layouts – some because of the peculiar equipment they showcased, some because of the general exuberance of the players, some because of the beauty of the scene, and one because it finally answered a puzzle I had been thinking about for the last 40 years.
It was a silly thing to wonder about…but I did find myself at a loss to explain something about British model railway builders and their layouts. The question revolved about why they were content to make such strange little things with such a wealth of resources. Let me explain.
I followed the Peco publication ” Model Railways ” for years. It featured British-outline layouts and reported on the model railway exhibitions in London every year. I saw marvellous trains, accessories, and structures for sale at what looked like bargain prices. There were no end of scholarly publications about all the various British railway companies and everything to do with the subject. And yet, with the exception of a couple of demonstration layouts at the National Rail Museum in York – seen in 1995 – all the other layouts were piddly little affairs that seemed to be nothing more than one station or halt and two trains that shuttled back and forth along a tabletop or bench. So many possibilities and so little realisation.
North American layouts on the other hand were big, complex, landscaped, and operational. Not all, but the ones presented in the Kalmbach publication ” Model Railroader” certainly were. Why more there and less in Great Britain?
Someone explained that it was the space in the houses. Pooh – I never knew a modeller to let that constrain them. The Germans make big layouts and they have small houses too. Poms here in Australia have houses as big as the rest of us but even here the layouts seen were small end to end shelf affairs. Why such a parsimony of vision?
Well, this year explained it. One of the exhibitors was showing a slightly larger ( but not much larger ) layout and was explaining it to another visitor. ” This was here at this point in the 1950’s and then they changed it to here in the 60’s and when we lived here this was…” and the penny dropped. These chaps were not making railroad empires…because they never never dreamed of having a railroad empire…they were making as much of the railway as their memories could supply – they were not showing someone else’s geography as much as they were showing their own. And they were showing their time.
If all they showed was one station it was because all they knew was one station and all the traffic they ever saw might have been a few up and down trains. They could be faithfully reproduced to a very high standard and all the childhood memories included – the chocolate machines as well as the distinctive lanterns or signal rods. The engines were likely to be true records of actual engines on line at one particular point in time. We could see a small precise memory instead of a large dream.
So I have come to appreciate the different view. I will have to look closer at the detail – This chap’s trams ran well but hopefully some of the others will improve their operations to include more trains and less fingers.