There is something about trains that can get inside a man’s mind. For years people have been seduced by the idea of old trains crossing national and international frontiers. The great steam trains are fondly remembered as magnificently constructed engines pulling carriages of people to kick start the industrial revolution. This romanticised picture often forgets the polluting smoke and waste that was left as a result of this mode of transport. Many people follow trains through the hobby of train spotting spending hours on cold stations marking the serial numbers of engines they see. People are even more excited by steam and there will be regular trips to one of the many steam railways still in operation.
One of the steam railways still running in the UK is the West Somerset Railway. Owned by Somerset County Council it is largely run by volunteers taking care of the trains, the track, and the stations. It is the longest train track of heritage railway in the country as it meanders from Minehead to Taunton through the beautiful Somerset countryside. This passion for trains is shared by modelers. However, the plastic model kits for trains do not hold the same sense of fascination as they do for boats, cars and plans. The train enthusiasts crave to see the train running and the plastic model kits do not give the engines enough of a realistic feel to them. Models for trains are based around train sets. As well as including the carriages the sets include the track, the stations, the wagons, the scenery, and anything else to do with the railway. The trains are electrically run generally although there have been some models that have run on steam. The engines are not assembled, but the modelling craft comes into other forms of the train sets.
Many people try and create their own landscapes to reflect a certain line. The largest such model in the UK exists in the Pendon Museum in Oxfordshire where the Vale of White Horse Train Line is being re-created. One of the problems of train modelling is getting all parties to agree to the same scale and gauge. Scale is the proportion of the model to the real thing. Gauge is the width between the tracks. The most obvious problem is some fine train models cannot run in some very good modelling clubs as the trains do not fit onto the tracks. The level of craftsmanship of the modelling is heightened with competitions. A good example occurs at the Yeovil Model Railway Club where each year the members compete for the chairman’s cup. In 2017 the competitors were given an empty “O gauge” coal wagon. They then had to construct and paint it with the winner producing the most realistic wagon. The level of art in these competitions is of such a high standard and the winning entry was incredibly realistic.
There are many model railway clubs up and down the country in the UK. The biggest is The Model Railway Club in Kings Cross in London which has several hundred members and meets every Thursday evening. There are regular events, such as the skills transfer meetings where the less experienced members can pick up advice from those with certain skills. The popularity of train modelling and the associated clubs, clearly shows the passion of many enthusiasts in recreating the train environments from previous generations. The level of craft on show is of the highest standard and is an appealing feature of this hobby.