My first model railway was a relatively modest affair on a 6 x 4 baseboard. Even so there were two circuits of track, one low-level and one that climbed to cross the low-level track by a girder bridge. This would undoubtedly have satisfied me; it was after all so much more than most eleven year old boys could imagine, but my father already had bigger ideas. Who was I to complain? 

Church railwayThere were four rooms in the basement of number 29 in Surrey Street, Norwich. It was a basement, not a cellar, and each of the rooms had a window. Now, under new ownership, this has been converted into an expensive basement flat. I should perhaps explain why my father did not convert it to living accommodation. Back in the 60s the whole building was designated as commercial property, so it had to be let as officespace if it were to be let at all. The market for offices then demanded modern open-plan space, and the basement was not attractive to potential tenants. My father had the ground floor for his optician’s practice, and let the first floor to an insurance company, but the basement was Dad’s to do as he liked with. 

The smallest room wasn’t that small; it was almost as big as my present study and was my photographic darkroom. The two largest rooms were the workshop and the printing office. I have already told my readers of some of the things that went on in these other rooms. This leaves the former larder, a room of about 12 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was this room that my father proposed to turn into the Railway Room.

My model railway was 00 gauge and all my rolling stock and most of my locomotives were made by Tri-ang. This firm later became known as Hornby as it still is. Before this combination with Triang Hornby-Dublo was a part of Meccano. Two of my locos were made by Hornby-Dublo. These were the LMS liveried  Duchess of Atholl, a model of a Pacific loco that had originally been three-rail. My father had sent it off to be converted to two rail. The other Hornby-Dublo loco that I possessed was a Great Western Region Castle class in BR livery. The name of this 4-6-0 was Cardiff Castle. I also had a Trix-Twin Britannia, only this was in HO rather OO scale, so it looked slightly smaller although the gauge was the same. Besides the “foreigners” I had virtually the entire range of Tri-ang steam locomotives but I didn’t have a single diesel! My father didn’t like them. (But to give his due, he said that electric traction would reconcile him to the loss of steam.) These Tri-ang locomotives were made of plastic, whereas the Hornby-Dublo and Trix ones were made of metal.

The whole of the railway room was decked in, with just a narrow walkway opposite the door. The walls were painted blue to represent the sky and the decking was olive-green. A winding river went across the room. Off the river was a dock and beyond a lock-gate was the harbour for shipping. A hill occupied the far corner of the room which was where the tunnel was. It was much too far to reach the hill from the walkway, so a trapdoor was provided to deal with any derailments. These normally occurred in the most inaccessible part of the layout in the tunnel.

To one side of the walkway was the railway yard. This was the most interesting part of the layout. It had engine sheds and a turntable, a coaling tower and sidings.  On the other side was the main railway station with platforms covered by a canopy. This worked well because the station and the engine yard were easy to get to and they were where I was always handling rolling stock. Finally at the end of the walkway, where I stood with my back to the door, was the control centre. It had two power controllers connected to the two circuits of track and a third to operate the railway yard. Also located here were the switches that controlled the electric point motors. I never got round to installing any signal lights or motors to operate the semaphore signals although this was something I always intended to do. 

As you can see from the picture there were plenty of buildings. You may be just able to see the line in the background; the foreground is taken up by the painted river covered with a plastic sheet. This was the country end of the layout; the town was the other end, by the station. The trees were of plastic and were bought from the local toy shop, while the hedged were of green dyed lichen which had to sent away for. The dock had a ships by the quayside, a small oil tanker called Shell Welder that was built from a 1/72nd scale kit. There had to be a dockside railway, naturally, and it was run by a kit-built tram engine. The greatest problem was dust. With a busy road just outside the draughty sash window the track cleaning train was the most common piece of rolling stock that I used.

Considering that I spent most of the year away at boarding school and there were all the other activities to be pursued in the school holidays it is remarkable how much I did get round to doing to the railway. It was really my father’s toy of course, but I did much of the work. I don’t think I did any studying while I was at home on holiday though – I left that for the weeks and months while I was at school. The mental stimulation from all these various and diverse ways of passing my leisure time must have left me with a lively mind all the same. At least so I tell myself.




One response

  1. Joe – fascinating reading, as I am now living in Cape Town. Your father was my optician whilst I was a lad living at Poringland & attending Bungay Grammar School.


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