Why the nation loves Model Railways

Why the nation loves Model Railways

It is said that ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’. Just as our society is enriched by

diversity, we also celebrate our common interests. For more than a century, model

railways have delighted adults and children alike. They appeal not only to an interest

in trains, but also to a desire to construct miniature worlds over which the modeller is

in control. These working models bring joy to many – all sorts in fact!

Model railways give us a sense of travel without the need to leave our own homes.

They are unique among modelling. Unlike model boats or aircraft, a model train needs

its own railway network in which to operate – the modeller has complete control over

its journey. In 1924, leading model railway firm Bassett-Lowke wrote: ‘Herein lies the

peculiar attraction of model railways, as compared with every other form of the

modelling art. All the wide variety of railway operation may be worked out on a small

scale’.

There is so much more to model railways than just trains and track.

A brief history of railway models

Model making is an activity with ancient origins. Archaeologists have discovered clay

models of houses and temples from 6000 – 3000 BC.

Models help us understand our surroundings, and communicate our sense of place to others. They may represent something which already exists, or provide a scaled down version of something yet to be made. Alternatively, models can also represent something fantastical from myth or legend.

Unsurprisingly, railway models have been around for almost as long as the full-size

versions. Initially, scale models of locomotives helped engineers solve problems in

miniature, but these were no play-things. The first model trains suitable for the home

came in the late 1860s in the form of clockwork toys.

Electric models emerged some 30 years later, bringing with them the first mass market railway sets. However, clockwork locomotives continued to be popular until the mid-20th century.

In Britain, model railways were initially popularised by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke

and later Frank Hornby. The advent of model railway enthusiasm came about at the

same time as what some call the ‘golden age’ of railways, when grand steam locomotives captured the nation’s imagination.

Though the range of models has developed over time to reflect changes in the real world, steam locomotives still remain a popular choice for modellers.

The art of creation

Whether the inspiration for a model is based on a real place or a fictional landscape,

the act of creating a layout is a profoundly creative process from the very start. The

construction of a model railway requires a vast range of skills. Besides collecting

models and making scenery, modellers also utilise skills in research, design, planning

and management. Furthermore, model layouts are brought to life through story-telling

and feed our imaginations.

Though the baseboard may be empty at the birth of a model railway layout, the

modeller will be brimming with ambitions and ideas. Creating a world in microcosm,

you make the rules, deciding the location, era, and scale. Even layouts faithfully based

on real locations require imaginative approaches and problem solving.

Speak to any veteran modeller about their layout, and it is likely they will tell you, ‘I’ve

been working on this for about 15 years, but it’s not quite finished yet. I don’t suppose

it ever will be.’ Model railways develop over time, and plans often evolve. They

represent a commitment over many years. What might appear a final result to one

person to be may only be a half-way point for another. The process of bringing a layout

into being is one filled with excitement and discovery.

The train now standing

Railway layouts are both products of our imagination and miniature landscapes in

which we may play out our own stories. Though some like to run their trains according

to a set timetable, acting out predetermined routines, others prefer a more spontaneous approach. Whether you’re recreating a Sunday service on a sleepy branch-line of the 1950s or the jostling of rush hour at a modern city terminus, the trains move under your direction.

With nobody to answer to but themselves, modellers make their own choices. In this

miniature world, the operator decides the fate of their domain. The advent of railways

in the early 19th century brought about unprecedented change to nearly all parts of

Britain. They provided a much faster means of transport and communication between

places, carrying news and ideas as well as people and parcels.

Nobody dared to ​imagine such rapid and comprehensive transformation.

Similarly, with a model railway, you can make exciting stories that may seem incredible in our own world!

Author Elisha Cooper describes the train as ‘a small world moving through a larger world’.

Whether conveying passengers or goods, every train contains a great wealth of personal stories which temporarily come together in the context of the journey. Recreated in miniature, the possibilities for brief encounters between these strangers on a train are almost without bounds. With layer upon layer, world within world, model railways can bring to life a great range of stories, reenacting historical events or fictional dramas.

Community

For many years model companies used images of fathers and sons to market their products. However, model railways have never been confined to men and boys alone – not all modellers wear anoraks and smoke pipes! They transcend generations, and can be passed down through families, providing a basis for conversation and collaborative work.

When George Orwell wrote, ‘We are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors’ he was referring to our insatiable appetite for hobbies. Model railways in Britain are part of a rich culture of hobbies, which provide an outlet for our creativity and a space in which to develop new skills and meet new friends. These activities, undertaken in our own free time, can be either a diversion from ‘ordinary life’ or an extension of it. Whatever the case may be, hobbies are undoubtedly important to many of us.

Though most model layouts are essentially private, situated in homes, that does not mean that it is a solitary hobby. Magazines and websites provide forums for like- minded modellers to share their ideas and creations. Likewise, an extensive network of clubs and societies allow enthusiastic individuals to meet with fellow modellers and friends. Of course, model railway shops are also an important part of this community. Here at Rocket Railways we are always delighted to meet familiar faces as well as new ones.

Conclusion Our love for model trains seems certain to endure for years to come. Model railways give us freedoms and opportunities not otherwise available in the full-scale world. It is a hobby which attracts a diverse range of individuals, with modellers of all ages and backgrounds. Famous railway modellers past and present include Rod Stewart, Tom Hanks, Walt Disney, Michael Jordan, and David Hasselhoff. Model railways may either imitate life in our own age and location, transport us back in time, or even explore alternative realities. However, whether based on historical evidence or fiction, the models are still real in themselves. They have a life of their own, as creations of the modeller. Unlike computer simulation games, models are tangible.

Whether running around a simple train set or a sophisticated layout, the trains are real… only really small.

600600

How to Get Started with Model Railways

How to Get Started with Model Railways

Many families are finding themselves with more time together at home as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic. Keeping both children and adults entertained day-in-day-out can be challenging.

Model railways are a great hobby for every member of the family, young and old. They provide a safe and fun way for children to “make new worlds, narratives and stories” and can give older people a sense of community and purpose. Celebrity fans of modelling include Rod Stweart, Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra. Stewart has such passion for the pastime that he recently donated £10,000 to the Market Deeping Modern Railway Club when it lost years of work due to vandalism.

But how do you get started building your first model railway? In this beginner’s guide, the Rocket Railways team will give you all the information you need to start creating a model railway layout the whole family can enjoy.

Understanding Model Railway Terms

At first glance, the world of model trains can be a little overwhelming and confusing. What does “gauge” mean and what exactly is a “Z scale”? We’ve put together a brief glossary of key terms for beginner modellers. You’ll be surprised how quickly you and your family get to grips with this new “language” once you start playing and having fun!

Alternating Current (AC) – Electric current which changes the direction of flow through a wire

Block – There are electrical and signal blocks. Blocks give the modeller control over the track by isolating part of the track (electrical) or restricting access to one train only (signal)

Coach – A vehicle used to transport passengers; these are available in different gauges, such as OO and N, to fit different sizes of track

Digital Control Command (DCC) – DCC is a standard digital control system for model railways. They range from simple to highly complex

Figure Eight – A continuous layout design where the track crosses over itself to form a figure eight

Gauge – The distance between the two running rails on a piece of track. The gauge is normally defined by a letter, such as OO, N, HO and O

Layout – The layout is how a track and the surrounding scenery is set out. This could be in a figure of eight or any formation that suits the desired scale and preferences of the modeller

Points – The moveable rails of a switch

Volt – A unit of electrical pressure. Different voltages are used for different scales of model railway

Scale – Defines the size of the train. The scale is usually given as a number such as 1:87 for HO scale trains. A full train has a scale of one. The numbers after the colon define its size when compared to a full train. A 1:87 scale train is 87 times smaller than a full train.

Sidings – A track that runs outside the main track where trains can meet or pass

Switch – A track switch allows the track to split, sending trains in two directions. An electrical switch can be used to turn the current on or off or to divert it

Of course, there are many more words in the vocabulary of an experienced model train enthusiast, but these terms will help you get started.

Essential Kit for Beginners

There are thousands of amazing products to choose from when you first start looking at model railways. But this is a hobby that can be enjoyed for years to come and one that can be shared and passed down to future generations. Beginners can get started with a few essential pieces of kit and grow this over time.

  • Baseboards – the foundation of the railway layout. This can be made from a wide range of materials, from plywood to hard foam. Consider the space you have available and choose a size that fits.
  • Tools – it’s worth investing in high-quality tools that will provide accuracy and durability. Essential items include a modelling light, screwdrivers, knives and cutting boards, sanding equipment, rulers, a set square, drills, clamps and paintbrushes.
  • Scenery – Perhaps not strictly “essential” if you’re just keen to get up and running and let the kids (and grownups!) have a play, but adding scenery to a railway layout makes it a lot more fun. Add buildings, trees and more to create a whole new world for your family to escape into. Work together to assemble and paint new settings for your railway layout.
  • Control System – this can be analogue or digital. DCC systems are increasingly popular as they simplify the wiring and allow greater flexibility and control.
  • Trains and tracks – An absolute must! There is a wide range of track and train sizes and styles to choose from. Have a browse in our online store. If you’re not sure where to start or can’t see what you’re looking for, get in touch, we’d be happy to help.

Building Your First Railway Layout

  • Find a space for your first railway layout and choose a scale that is practical
  • Choose a theme – this could be a particular period of time or a favorite setting
  • Plan a design and buy the items you need. There is no “right” way to build a model railway. Have fun trying different things out as a family. However, when planning your design, you might like to consider the gauge, scale, track type, layout, scenery, points, stations, sidings and the number of trains you want to run at any one time
  • Build a baseboard. Consider the size and weight of the baseboard. If you have a space that can be permanently devoted to model trains, a fixed baseboard is a great idea
  • Select a ballast. Ballast is a material laid under the track to hold it in position, reduce noise and improve the overall appearance of the layout. Choose a ballast that will help your track look and run as you want it to. There is a variety of sizes and colours to choose from
  • Lay the track. Typically, this is done by nailing the track to the baseboard with pins
  • Set up the electronics. This could involve signals and point motors or a DCC. Test that everything is running smoothly and make any tweaks necessary. This can be a fun and educational exercise for children and adults alike!
  • Add scenery. Let the kids set their imaginations free and create an exciting new world of play and adventure. Add buildings, people, bridges, trees and more

Further Tips and Advice

There are many sources of helpful tips, advice and inspiration online, including:

The World of Railways

Railway Museum

New Railway Modellers

And don’t forget to seek out your local model railway club and get the whole family involved with this fun local community.

The team at Rocket Railways would be happy to help you take your first steps towards an exciting new family hobby in building model trains. We started the company to help families enjoy spending time together by sharing in the fun and creative world of model railways.

Check out our online store and drop us an email with any questions.

The team at Rocket Railways would be happy to help you take your first steps towards an exciting new family hobby in building model trains. We started the company to help families enjoy spending time together by sharing in the fun and creative world of model railways.

Check out our online store and drop us an email with any questions.

Jason and Aimee