The gift of Steam for Christmas

I was 6 years old when my sister and I got our first Mamod steam engines, gifted to us for Christmas by our father. In the true nature of kids at Christmas, we tore open the boxes containing our gifts. As we revealed our very first steam engines, our first reactions were not that of wonderment and awe but of typical sibling rivalry as we began squabbling over whose engine was best – and of course by best, we meant biggest! My sister had been given a silver limousine while I had received a fire engine… I had won! We poked and prodded at them a bit, removing the canopy and extending the ladder but it was certainly not how my admiration for steam ignited. After a demonstration from my father of how to fill the boiler and fire the engine, we watched as they chugged round in their faithful circles and all too quickly, they were placed on a shelf and began their next 20 years of gathering dust.

This may not be the common story told frequently among steamers but that is perhaps why the past time of model steaming has been kept alive throughout the generations… because it hasn’t been relying on the likes of me. Very much apart from yours truly exists a population of enthusiasts who have dedicated many years to this traditional pastime. One thing made apparent to me was the level of involvement and devotion it takes to be a steam enthusiast, the evident dedication is on a par with hobbies of a much larger scale. Most hobbyists will start off small, perhaps a hand me down engine or a Christmas gift as I was given. But for many this is simply the beginning of a lifelong captivation. During the course of my involvement with Mamod, I have been lucky enough to have contact with some of these enlightening people and I have even had the opportunity to meet a few.

Callum was one such child who was given the gift of steam by his father at the tender age of seven. Callum kick-started his hobby with a 1988 TE1A and ten years on he still nurtures this enthusiasm for steam. He has amassed a total of six engines in his collection. Callum told us of fond memories he has of him and his father, working on an old SE2A which still “runs like a champ”. From an early age father and son would work on engines together and with a little work, the pair managed to get an old TE1A steaming for the first time. Callum also has an impressive eye for photography and has shared with us some striking pictures which we will be sure to publish for you all again.

One of the events I was lucky enough to attend was the Winterbourne House Traditional Toy fair which was organised by Lee, the curator of Winterbourne and Mamod fan. Lee falls into the pool of people who picked up the hobby in the more recent years and in this short time, has collected around 25 Mamod models. Confessing a love for pre-war machines, he was originally drawn to the Traction Engine. It is a pastime he is lucky to share with his son who was in the process of creating a wood yard diorama which uses a traction engine to drive the saw. The main appeal of Mamod for Lee is the company’s embracing of yesteryear and bringing some much loved engines back to life. The steaming hobby offers Lee a distraction from his busy work life and a chance for father and son to spend time together doing what they love.

Whether it be the “heart-warming fuzzy feeling” as described by Callum or the “desire to learn a new skill and take a trip down memory lane” as suggested by Lee, the world of steam is about more than engines. It’s about traditions, nostalgia, a community founded in shared passions. For me personally, it’s about a growing respect for those that I’ve met and those I continue to work with and I am very grateful to be involved.

Preview: Norwich Model Railway Club Exhibition

The nights are starting getting lighter and people are seeing their general mood lift as they can spend more time outside.

While many enjoy the winter period, it is the most preferable of months especially when living in the UK. The nights can seem to last for a long time while the minimal sunshine people do get to enjoy is usually hampered by freezing temperatures or howling gales. There is then, of course, the rain which seemingly pounds the British Isles on a daily basis.

So what a relief it is when the clocks go forward and people are making their way from work still in daylight and sometimes even having the luxury of not having to take a jacket or big coat to the office. Spring has almost sprung so it is no better time to get out and about to enjoy some of the various events happening in the UK during this period.

The steam and model railway community is making the most of this time of year and there are a host of rallies happening all over the country. However, in a small corner of Norfolk there is an annual exhibition that is looked forward to every year – Norwich Model Railway Club Exhibition.

It returns again this year and will be held at Hellsdon High School on Middletons Lane on April 11th. The club itself has been going for over 50 years after originally being formed in 1958 and these exhibitions give members an opportunity to show off some the intricate and impressive layouts they have been working on throughout the year.

This year’s event will see a cavalcade of different layouts created by some of the members. They range across all types of gauge including OO, N, OO9, and HOm and shows off the skills honed during their time with the group.

For example, Dave Smith will be bringing his N gauge Hansell Road layout, Eric Ransbury will be showing off his OO gauge Barsham Junction and there is a guest OO gauge Thomas layout from Roydon & Diss Model Railway Society. The Norfolk Mardlers and Advent Modellers are among the confirmed guests to be giving expert demonstrations for the various visitors.

A series of traders of announced their attendance for the event including Bob Pearman Books, Bure Valley Models Shop and Squires Tools are just some of the companies set to feature at the exhibition.

Admission is £5 for adults, £4.50 for concessions with accompanied under-16s going for free.

About the group

The Norwich Miniature Railway Society was founded in 1958 and been involved in the business of building layouts and the study of evolving prototype railways ever since. Among the first models to be produced by the group was a GER Class F7 2-6-4T and GER Class J15 0-6-0. Over the years, the society has developed a host of different models and layouts.

Obviously over the years, the group has had to modernise but it has always tried to stay loyal to its roots which is evident when visiting the exhibition.

Bringing the marine engine to life

The marine engine is the latest model to come off the Mamod production line but it has been a labour of love to get to this stage.

It was an interesting choice to revive the marine engine, which had proved popular in 1940s and 1950s but support and intrigue had dwindled since then. However, recent years have seen an increase in demand and repeated calls for the marine engine to be reintroduced, as modellers looked to move away from the traditional railways and back on to the water.

For Mamod it was not just a case of bringing back the original engine, a completely new strategy was required to ensure that the marine engine was a success. So it was a case of heading back to drawing board and planning out a design that would appeal to the company’s customer base that were becoming increasingly nautical.

Getting started

Although it may be stating the obvious, the way a marine model is designed is much different from one that can be used on land. Mamod needed to choose materials that were not prone to react with the water. The company opted for brass and stainless steel as opposed to just normal steel as that is too reactive to water.

Focus on remote control

One of the key selling points Mamod wanted to create was a remote control. Engineers determined that the model could prove more successful if collectors could drive their boat on open water, without the need to be good swimmers to simply retrieve it. The remote control posed another challenge to the design of the model and the engine needed to be adapted to fit the common type of servos.

Designing the engine

Once it had been determined what materials to use and how to integrate the remote control function, Mamod engineers then went about designing the marine engine itself. One of the main factors was the prop shaft and how it would be attached. Should the engine be installed horizontally it would require a traverse attachment whereas vertically means the prop shaft needs to go backwards and out the stern.

The former is the most preferable way of constructing a boat engine but it is not widely used. The main concern of the designers was ensuring the crank shaft was as low as possible, if this is achieved then the prop shaft will not need to be angled in order to reach the water and avoid a loss of efficiency.

Mamod to chose to build a much thicker crank shaft than standard models to compensate for the lack of a fly wheel. A bigger cylinder was introduced which ensured more steam could pass through and therefore generate more power. However, to offset this Mamod needed to use a vertical boiler which is much more efficient at reheating coils.

As engineers were aware of the importance of the hull, the base plate of the marine engine needed to be narrow so it could fit. This was an arduous process with a series of redesigns of the configuration of the components.

However, this intensive labour of love eventually bore fruit when Mamod was finally able to unveil the finished product.

Brunel engines steal the show in Peterborough

Crowds flocked to Peterborough Arena on Saturday (April 12th) to attend The 16mm Association National Garden Railway Show.

The event celebrated everything model railways and saw over 85 traders and exhibitors attend to share their expertise and insight with enthusiasts. While there were hundreds of different models on display there was one group of engine that stole the show – Mamod’s Brunel engine. The Brunel Vertical Engine has long been a favourite among collectors and Peterborough provided the perfect location for it to be promoted once again.

While most of the talk before the show was of the upcoming Telford Train, the Brunel was once again a popular item with many collectors eager to get their hands on the model. Three Brunels were purchased throughout the course of the day while another collector picked up a Mark II model from the Mamod stall and the Telford was on display for the first time in its new format.

Mamod engineers have been working hard to finally get the “runaway train” ready to be sold and this was just a taster of what is to come throughout the rest of the year. There was much interest in the new designs of the Telford and visitors were intrigued to see the proposed slide valve when it is completed. However, the company admitted that there are some teething problems with this design so it could be a while before the full version is launched.

Away from Mamod, there were a whole host of electric and steam trains on display. Traders and exhibitors managed to create a wide array of impressive layouts which drew in various enthusiasts. Alongside the electric and steam models there was also a number of wooden train kits that featured various carefully designed engine and carriages.

The focal point of The 16mm Association National Garden Railway Show was a train named Alice. This Quarry Hunslet Locomotive is the sister engine to Holy War and was built in 1902 and worked at Dinorwic Quarry in Wales until 1960. Like with many steam trains, the dawn of the electric and diesel era put an end to Alice’s use as a working steam train and has been subject to restoration projects for a number of years.

Bala Lake Railway volunteer worker Chris Scott is the person responsible for bringing Alice back to her former glory. Mr Scott purchased the remaining parts of the train in 1987 and spent years working at Ffestiniog Railway restoring Alice and in 1994 the engine returned to steam. It is still used today by Bala Lake Railway as well as being toured around the country at various events such as The 16mm Association National Garden Railway Show and other regional demonstrations.

The Peterborough show was hailed a success by organisers and it also gave an opportunity for some of the younger generation to join in with model railway collecting. With various clubs signing up new members, youngsters are being able to start themselves off with a hobby that can last a lifetime.

Luton Model Railway Club recreates Great Train Robbery

It is perhaps the most infamous incident of the UK’s railways and it has now been immortalised in model form.

The Great Train Robbery was one of the biggest heists in the country’s history as a gang of robbers, led by Bruce Reynolds, stole £2.6 million from a night train travelling to Glasgow through Buckinghamshire.

Now the Luton Model Railway Club has brought the famous tale back to life with an impressive layout. The club explained that while they did not condone the actions of the men involved, the event is “part of the national consciousness”. Members of the club have recreated the scene of the crime complete with bags of money being unloaded from the Royal Mail train and robbers making their getaway with the stash.

The robbery was a carefully planned move and saw gang members stop the train on a bridge between Linslade and Cheddington at 03:00 BST on August 8th, 1963. They broke into the High Value Package coach, stealing 120 mailbags with over £2 million in used banknotes, equating to around £41 million in modern day money.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Great Train Robbery and it was even immortalised in a two-part BBC drama, starring Jim Broadbent. The group believed that the significance of the milestone was enough to recreate the incident in model form.

Nigel Adams, member of the Luton Model Railway Club, said: “We have tried to portray this event in a sensitive way, taking due regard for the injuries sustained by the locomotive crew on the night.”

“The diorama features sound and lighting effects to portray the account of the event. There are 15 figures on the display, although we have taken care to present them as just that – figures on a model.”

The display was on show at Stopsley High School, Luton on Saturday (April 12th) and will be at the National Festival of Railway Modelling in Peterborough in October.