Model Railways - an introduction
I've always had a great fascination for the way that the technology
that surrounds us and which we take for granted actually evolved,
and for how we got to be where we are today.
There is no more fascinating area of technology development than the
steam railway, the mechanism that literally created the modern
world.On the banks of the River Tyne, not far from Newcastle, UK
stands a little cottage. As a place to live and bring up young
children, it would seem cramped today. It's hard to imagine the
conditions in which not one, but four families lived in that cottage
more than 200 years ago.
George Stephenson's birthplace, Northumberland, UK. Photo:
What the picture doesn't show is the trackbed of the Wylam tramway,
on which the photographer is standing. As the young George
Stephenson (born 1781) grew up in a tiny room in this cottage, he
woud have looked out of that little window (bottom left, beneath the
sundial) and seen the horse drawn carts lumbering by on this, one of
the first railways in all the world. Somehow, in a way that is
difficult to imagine, his young mind forsaw not only how steam power
would transform tramways like Wylam, but also how such railways
would link up to form a network that would spread across the whole
world. It's no co-incidence today that the 'standard gauge' of
railways is also known as the 'Stephenson Gauge'.
Model railways have been a fascination for small children (and large
ones too) ever since that time and one of the earliest model
locomotives still existing is attributed to him. The study of models
is one way to improve our understanding of how these revolutionary
ideas came about and for me, this has taken two distinct forms: Firstly,
the construction of models of the earliest railways from
contemporary materials, and Secondly the restoration of some
of the earliest surviving commercially produced railway models to
working order. This second avenue of interest has crystallised into
the restoration of an almost entirely lost model railway scale,
Gauge 2, dating from before the First World War.
(A note about Gauges and scales: The Track Gauge, or the distance
between the inside edge of the rails, is the way that railways are
characterised. Stephenson gauge is roughly the gauge of the wooden
waggonway outside the young Stephenson's window - 4ft 8 1/2 in, or
1435mm. The scale of course is 1:1, or full size. Gauge 1,
referred to below, is a track auge of 1 3/4 inches, or 45 mm, and
the scale associated with this gauge is 1/32 f full size, or in my
case 10mm/ft. Gauge 2 is 2" gauge with a scale of 7/16" to the
Early railways in Gauge 1.
can see examples of scratchbuilt locomotives and rolling stock from
the earliest railways and especially the first Inter City railway in
the world, the London and Birmingham Railway, engineered by George
Stephenson's son, Robert. These models are produced from
contemporary material, much of it in the form of original editions
that I've been able to acquire. These models are unusual and often
unique, as in the case of Edward Bury's locomotives for the
L&BR, which are rarely modelled. All of these models are made
with the help of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and many are 3D
printed, perhaps the first entirely complete locomotives and trains
produced with this new technology.
The Gauge 2 Model Railway.
forgotten today, this scale had a brief flowering before the First
World War when entire ballrooms could be converted into houses for
model railways and youngsters (and their fathers) had a desire for
something a little chunkier than gauge 1. In a time of stringency
after the war this scale went out of favour and was largely
abandoned in the '20s and 30's. The last known gauge 2 model railway
was taken up in the 1960's and since then, locomotives and rolling
stock have been confined to collector's shelves. Until now.