The world of the Railway Modeller

A day or two ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Taunton Model Railway Exhibition in…Taunton (!) Pricey to get in, and pretty packed with all sorts of middle-aged gents quietly indulging their innocent little hobby, and, I'm happy to relate, young families, perhaps with the modellers of tomorrow. But it was a treat – the detail in the layouts on display was astounding – the modellers are indeed artists in what they do.

His & Hers railway enthusiasts

And the modellers have a great sense of humour. It's worth spending a good half hour, at least, gazing at each model, and striking up a conversation with its creator if the said creator is willing and in the mood, as hidden in the various little nooks and crannies are all sorts of little cameos, little jokes and pithy observations on life.

Dr Who has arrived...

For me, model-of-the-day was Northbridge, a tiny 6'8″ by 1'4″ OO-scale shunting layout by Mike Kelly. Set in the British Railways London Midland region of the 1960s, it invoked every inch of atmosphere that once existed in the steam railway of that era. The whole layout was beautifully lit, conjuring up the mood of a dark autumn evening, while all along Northbridge's platform were little cameos of people up to all sorts of tricks. In the yard stood a little blue police telephone box, the sort of tiny structure put there back in the 1960s by the local Plod to enable the private citizen to contact the law while out-and-about – loooooong before the days of private mobile communications, other than jumping up and down, screaming and hollering, that is. Mike flicked a hidden switch and a small blue LED on top of the box began flashing on and off. And every visitor to the layout with even an inkling of knowledge about Dr Who immediately mused, “hmmmm… Tardis.” I certainly did!

Caught short?

Mike beckons me around to the side of the model. “Here, have a look at this…” I peer closely. OMG – there's a bloke in a tiny outhouse sitting on the loo! Mike flicks another secret switch and on comes the light in the loo. The bloke in the loo has his car parked at a crazy angle, and I cannot be sure I didn't see a small whiff of exhaust coming from it. Bloke must have been pretty desperate! Mike beckons my gaze once more, to a spot close by – another bloke has not been so lucky with the comfort of a cosy outhouse; he is busy “inspecting” (and probably watering!) the axle box on a coal wagon… Meanwhile, in a flat by the mainline overbridge, an artist is engrossed in his painting. Tremendous detail at every glance – Mike certainly deserved my vote. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the scene of the local constabulary raiding the local premises of ill repute!

There were many, many opportunities, dear reader, for capturing the mood and atmosphere of the model railway. I close with a selection…

The artist in his loft

Raiding the den of ill repute!

Northbridge Station by night



“I’m not photting, I’m bashing…”

Hmmmmm… Translation needed. By the end of the weekend, though, I’d learned to speak this apparently (to many) new language. The weekend in question – the Diesel Ethusiasts’ Gala at the Severn Valley Railway.

50026 approaching Highley. View from the balcony of the new Museum building

The Railway, “Big” and “Preserved” alike, has been a distinct fascination of mine since boyhood; long Saturday visits to Bristol Temple Meads station, in the days when fathers & sons and indeed anyone with an interest in trains were allowed to gather at the end of platform 12 opposite the long-gone Bath Road diesel depot, or at the other end of the station on platform 3 looking around the curve towards the East. Nowadays, gathering like that on a station platform is rather frowned upon (with the exception of a handful of places, where enthusiasts are more tolerated); security “fears” or “health & safety” are cited, and lingering for any length of time may well attract the attention at least of station staff, if not the railway police.

It is, therefore, most refreshing to actually be invited to a railway, to gather, to linger, to ride around, to the heart’s content. Preserved railways know full well that there is an enormous business opportunity to be had from the Enthusiast market, their very life blood which keeps them puffing or chugging along. In keeping with that, on the weekend of 2nd – 4th October, the Severn Valley Railway gathered an impressive array of “heritage” diesel locos to haul an intensive programme of train services, each engine drawing its own group of followers to track it’s every turn of the wheel.

Diesel enthusiasts are an interesting race of folk; they dress in a distinctive manner, usually have a ruck sack over their shoulder, an accessory almost always accented by the inclusion of a camera hanging around the neck. I confess, I’m no different! They speak a most perculiar dialect of English, standard vocabulary replaced with a vernacular of their very own. Before attempting to converse with a group of diesel enthusiasts in their natural habitat, one might be well advised to study this vernacular, perhaps via one of the many online pages devoted to the subject. One of my favourites is this one:

The Bashers: l-r Nathan, Ian, Brian, Adam and Paul

Brian, the author of Taunton Trains, is one of the most intelligent chaps I have come across, and a most accomplished photographer. He puts my humble photographic offerings to shame most of the time! And on the weekend of the SVR “Bash”, we were fortunate to have Mr Brian pretty much leading our little group. Then we had Mr Ian, Mr Nathan and Mr Paul, and for a while Mr Adam. And me, of course. All of them were busy chatting away excitedly in “Basher-speak” as I think I will call it. I must confess to a little bit of prior ability in Basher-speak; I listened at first, but before long, I was into the swing of it – I now converse in Basher-speak in a much more fluent style…!

So, that translation needed at the start of my little speech? British Train enthusiasts generally get labeled as “spotters”. Spotters who photograph are therefore “photters”. And the verb “to phot” thus means to take pictures of trains on one’s camera. Ok. The verb “to bash”? Here’s Brian’s Jargon Buster entry about Bashers: BASHERS: “Rail Enthusiasts who spend all their time travelling on trains, collecting loco’s for maximum mileages“. (Sorry Brian, but I just have to take out that awful apostrophe on locos 😀 He’ll get his own back on me teasing him about that one, I’m sure!) Therefore “to bash” is to do what we mostly gathered at the SVR for – to ride around on trains behind our favourite locos, clocking up as much milage behind each as possible. Each to their own, eh?

Thrash of the Weekend recipient, D1062, departs Highley with an up working

Then there was the experience of the diesel “thrash” – loosely translated as the noise produced by an engine (especially at maximum power), particularly inside a tunnel. On the SVR, the high point of “thrashing” perhaps comes inside the 480yd Bewdley Tunnel, sometimes called Foley Park Tunnel, where all the openable windows in the (particularly front most) carriages are fully opened, and the Bashers begin willingly taking in huge gulps of the diesel fumes which swirl in from the tunnel darkness, while savouring the thunderous racket of the engines. I have to say, the experience of that thunderous sound is pretty impressive, and something not really possible to reproduce perfectly on even the best cinematic 5.1 surround sound audio systems. The fumes, though; maybe I could do with a rain check on that front… Drivers understanding of the passions of Bashers would actually bring a train almost to a stop before entering a tunnel, before throwing the throttle right open, sending the big diesel into as much of a frenzy as possible. Other drivers were distinctly cautious – “You know the rules!” – resulting in a low, but just perceptible, grumbling noise from the Bashers, or even the odd utterance of “Boooooo!”

While on the subject of “thrash”, on my last trip up the line before returning home, our loco (50026) decided to throw a wobbler at Bridgnorth, packing up completely – our rescue locomotive, Western Class 52 D1062 “Western Courier”, treated us to a most impressive thrash all the way up the line, wiping out over half of what was over an half hour delay. The sound of D1062 has now been captured for all afficianados of Train Simulator 2015 by a very decent outfit called Armstrong Powerhouse; forever it will now be possible to recreate that Saturday evening thrash up the SVR, if only in the virtual world!

40106 at Highley

It was a very cheerful, good natured, well behaved weekend, something not always associated with the bashing fraternity. I enjoyed it immensely. It was something I sadly miss, living out there in Western Canada, but a huge draw bringing me back to the Mother Ship on regular occasions. Perhaps I should rename one of the Class 52 models I plan to acquire on my virtual railway – “Western Canada”… A little taste of home…eh?

So to my awards for the weekend:

Best Thrash of the Weekend: D1062 for its rescue mission and memorable run up the line, wiping out over half of a considerable delay. 37109 comes in a close 2nd for its throaty performance in Foley Park Tunnel.

Shiny Loco of the Weekend: 40106, with D8059 not far behind

Big Bad of the Weekend: 50026 for throwing a wobbler at Bridgnorth and having to be rescued by D1062. And for costing me an extra £12 to get home, having missed my booked train on the Big Railway!

But a memorable weekend all round 🙂

50015 approaching Bewdley under leaden skies, but clear signals

D8059 at Kidderminster

D9009 at Highley

Evening shot of 50015 at Kidderminster

Gronks at Bewdley

40106 and 37109 at Kidderminster