Railway Modelling

A Journey Not a Destination

A Reprint of an Article in The Coupling of June 1999 - by Mike Walton

Mark Stapleton's closing remark 'merely a collector' goaded my writing to stop the rot.

It's time to complement the goodle-gob being written by the narrow-minded super-detailing minority. I use the word complement - because in their small way they contribute greatly to this wonderful hobby.

I view the hobby as world with many rivers to be explored. As we explore the upper reaches of each river or facet of the hobby, the banks close in and progress slows. When we take to the land, progress slows even further. For some, of course, satisfaction is derived in striving for peaks that can never be reached because the molecules won't scale down. For me the greatest satisfaction is exploring the many rivers. For me, being somewhat idle, there in no sense in rowing or walking if the wind and tide can take you further.

Due to good luck and an exploratory nature, railway modelling continues to capture my interest after 45 years. Fortunately I have had more than my fair share of interest. Many Platelayers have known me for the past 20 years therefore the experiences and opinions recorded and reflect upon below, relate to the first 25 years of my journey.


I have always been a compulsive builder. A fellow engineer once accurately described me as a frustrated fitter although I think a bulldozer was by favourite toy and I envy my son s job with heavy construction equipment.


At nine, I started railway modelling when I received a second-hand clockwork Hornby O Gauge train set with 3 locomotives. We lived in a wonderful mansion in Walkden, I had a servants bedroom with its own staircase down to the kitchen but my room was small. Sharing my toys with my Dad and Uncle Wilf was bonding at its best. They had the political clout with my mother to retain running rights for a semi-permanent setup in the dinning room. The house sat in about 4 acres of trees and rhododendron bushes.

Inspired by the 'Lakeside Railway' at Southport, I set my sights on a '15 inch' live steam layout to run around the garden. My mother and aunts said they would buy a garden railway for me some day, they had a sense of humour, and I was naive.


At eleven, my parents bought a used Trix Twin train set with 3 locomotives and 6 points. I suspect it was a good buy, and I was elated, I still have the plans I drew for one of the layouts. We moved to a small house in Bolton. Fortunately, my bedroom was large, about 20 by 20 . Along with the Trix snap track came with some crude handmade track with brass strips soldered to studs. The studs passed through card sleepers, at 3" pitch, into three foot long slats. This simple track allowed me to extend the layout from 6 by 4 to 12 by 5 . Never mind the quality, feel the width.

About that time, Peco started publishing the Railway Modeller. My parents bought my Eagle magazine weekly for four pence halfpenny. I argued that the Railway Modeller at one shilling and six pence monthly cost less and to my father s chagrin, substituted the Railway Modeller for the Eagle. Now, I suffer from information overload and vigorously restrict my railway reading time.


At thirteen, my skills and ambitions had risen sharply. My mentor, an adult member of the church choir, had a fully landscaped mountain railway with hand laid track, Rivarossi and scratch built stock. I sold the Trix-Twin and bought two low-cost Rivarossi engines. By moving to two-rail I lost the ability to run two trains on one track simultaneously. Now I could recover this flexibility and more by going to Digital control when the cost and control module size drops.

It s interesting when I think back that points and plain track had the same purchase price per yard. My allowance at that time was 2 shillings a week, if I gave up sweets I could lay track at the rate of about one-yard a week. Perhaps I could make money selling 'The railway modelling diet.'


At fourteen, I was very impressed with the North American modelling scene with mammoth layouts and wonderful brass locomotives. My first attempt at locomotive scratch building was a 'General' type 4-4-0. I was inspired by popular film, I think it was called 'The Great Train Race', a remake of the Buster Kenton classic.

I turned the boiler from solid steel and needless to say it was too nose heavy to run. My MR Compound s weight transfer mechanism rose from the ashes of this disaster and defies the laws of adhesion governing the prototype. I have always found a kit close enough to what I want. Sometimes I think the kit is there to get me off top dead centre for what is really scratch building.

Rivarossi prices were beyond my means so I painted Triang stock into Italian colours. Triang and Hornby-Dublo enclaves existed at the Technical School I attended. Triang appeared to be moving ahead in leaps and bounds while Hornby was more conservative. My Triang friends were more radical to the point of being communists. I felt Hornby made a more robust product but I couldn't live with three-rail and a bunch of wimps.

I drifted from Continental Rivarossi to North American Triang for selection and price and filled my attic room with Transcontinental and British trains and operating sessions with budding communists. If time spent on modelling is the prime indicator, my enthusiasm for railway modelling peaked at this time. My mother on many occasions would tell me to switch the lights out at 2:00 am. By the time I was fifteen I was asked to resign from scouting and my schoolwork was suffering. I still keep very irregular hours. Family, work, health, home renovation and railway modelling still compete for time.


At sixteen, my family moved to St Annes-on-the-Sea. Gone was the wonderful attic. I joined a local, adult, model railway club, good company, but I couldn't live with their third rail and basic scenery. It's hard to find more than 3 modellers willing to work together without a fight. I enjoy the camaraderie of building modules but I could not commit to a singular club layout.

Back to the garden, I built a brick outbuilding with large windows, and started laying Lilliput flex track. This came to an abrupt end when I found new friends, especially the female variety. The next ten years were full of creative skill expansion, from my work in the aircraft industry to restoring cars, creating 'The Pad' and Go-Cart racing. Starting adolescence as a Beatnik and maturing through the sexual revolution, I was not deprived but my railway was, so passed my trains on to my nephew.

Knowing that I would pick up modelling later, and to save money by staying out of the pub, I would assemble building, wagon or locomotive kits. The urge was still alive.

From the railway perspective, the period was not wasted as I eventually found a pre- conditioned girl; her father was a railway modeller. Sue begs me to quit writing now, but you must continue to suffer, and you must thank Mark.

1969Freshly married, we arrived in Canada and quickly purchased our first and current house. Within a couple of months I found Charles Mather, Brian Fayle and various members of the Toronto Branch of the BRMNA, later the Platelayers. I restricted my modelling to British prototypes. I quelled my appetite for more variety by buying a North American train set for my son.

'Do you make your own track?' I asked Charles Mather on our first meeting. 'Life is too short', he chirped. This rude awakening changed my philosophy. I had become too picky to achieve my overall objectives. I still make my own track, but only where I want to obtain a smooth line.

It was about this time that I decided not to move to EM gauge. I like other people to run their trains on my layout and 16.5mm gauge is more widely used. But, having said all that, I am a perfectionist at heart and the decision to keep my British stock narrow gauge was difficult. It's sad that a lack of foresight or the 'not invented here' syndrome prevented 3.5mm standardisation in the UK.


The next thought was P4 or fine scale standards. Here was a compromise between appearance and robust design. Real trains don t keep falling of the tracks and can be backed up with confidence. I would require an army of P4 men to maintain my large layout, which I intend to run single-handed. Therefore I decided that the flanges will be oversized. I have a rake of coaches fitted with fine scale wheels. They alone will randomly find all the variances induced by temperature and humidity changes and need to be re-wheeled. There, I've said that which should get Mark off the pot.

All modellers make severe compromises. My severe modelling compromises were:

Thus was my journey to 1974, I am concerned that you may find the level of detail boring. The last 20 years would be by request only and later.

The Future

Life's too short and more compromises will be made to achieve my broad objectives within my constraints.

I estimate that my 45' by 22' layout is about 15% complete. I would like to build a portable 'Roland Emmett' style layout, a mining layout and a tramway system.

The dream of a 15" steam railway running round the garden sits with the lottery tickets I never purchase but 'G' gauge steam in the garden will become a reality. Sue clarified my direction when she responded to a whimsical Christmas wish by purchasing a Bachmann 'G' gauge Shay. To pick-up some tricks, I joined COGRA (Central Ontario Garden Railway Association), Tony Ross and Walt Gray were already members.

The attitudes and skills of COGRA members impress me. Many are matured; accomplished modellers who wish to spend more time with their partners in the garden. I like their Ten-Foot Rule, if it looks good from ten feet, its good enough. At a recent COGRA workshop, a NMRA master modeller said, 'I got fed up modelling for others and entering competitions, I decided it was time for some fun', he capsulated my thoughts completely. It is not difficult to see why garden railways are fastest growing segment of the railway modelling. Most COGRA members are 'HOGs'; I would be a 'OOG'. There's G gauge in the garden but there's an OO gauge in the cellar.


As you may have gathered, railway modelling has given me tremendous pleasure, particularly the company of Platelayers. Occasionally, I travel up the super detailing branch, I enjoy the trips, but I can't live there permanently. I envy the breadth of territory covered by mere collectors and armchair modellers. I enjoy bouncing in and out of childhood. It seems that my journey has taken me back to the garden of my youth.

Regardless of what others may say, if you re not having fun, you're doing it the wrong way.

© Mike Walton - 1999

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April 2001