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.

Remembering the Great East Thompson Train Wreck

In July 2013, an Alvia high-speed train travelling from Madrid to Ferrol derailed and crashed near to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The incident claimed the lives of 79 people, injuring 139 more and sent shockwaves across the world. In the 21st century, all modes of public transport are designed to be safer than ever, none more so than train travel. The advancements in technology have ensured that stepping onto a train has become so routine and accidents are minimal.

This is why the Spanish crash was such a shock to the general public who were baffled as to why a train, complete with experienced drivers, could somehow crash and leave tens of people dead. Thankfully these occurrences are few and far between nowadays but in the early days of train travel, unfortunately accidents happened more often.

In the winter of 1891, four trains collided in East Thompson, Connecticut claiming the lives of three people. What was named the Great East Thompson Train Wreck became one of the most extensive train crashes in US history.

The people of East Thompson awoke on the morning of December 4th, 1891 to a foggy scene. It was typical for this part of the US to be blanketed in this morning dew. The day was only a mere six hours old when this sleepy part of Connecticut became the scene of something that would forever be remembered in US transport history.

Nearby Putnam, Connecticut was a major station for the New York and New England Railroad (NY & NE RR). In the early hours of the day, the Long Island and Eastern States Express arrived from Hartford and requested to change engines for the remainder of its journey to Boston, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the Norwich Steamboat Express passenger train, with 75 on board, and the Express Freight #212 with 11 cars were also bound for Boston. It left the Putnam dispatcher with three trains to organise heading to Boston.

The Long Island and Eastern States Express was told to go on eastbound track #2 once the new engine was ready while the passenger train would take the westbound track #1 to East Douglas, Massachusetts. The freight train would follow the Long Island and Eastern States Express. There was one problem though – the dispatcher had failed to remember the local Southbridge Freight sitting on the tracks in East Thompson, Connecticut.

Moments later the Southbridge Freight was hit head on by the Express Freight #212 causing the former to burst into flames. This was not the end of the drama as the Long Island and Eastern States Express came hurtling into the melee killing an engineer, however quick-thinking conductor Frank Jennison was able to prevent more lives being lost by turning off the valves for the gas lighting.

A flagman attempted to tell the Norwich Steamboat Express train to stop but it was too late and that locomotive ploughed into the wreck. Amazingly enough only three people lost their lives in this incredible crash.

However, with 500 feet of burnt out, twisted wreckage and debris now strung across the tracks it became one of the most memorable train crashes in US railroad history.

Mamod’s love affair with the Saddle Tank

Mamod, and its customers, has had something of a love affair with the Saddle Tank ever since the first one rolled off the production line in 1980.

Back then it was the RS1 and RS2 but since then there has been an affinity with a model that has captured the hearts of its customers. The Saddle Tank has gone through a number of different incarnations since its launch in the 1980s. One of most memorable is the Brunel engine which took a completely different slant on model steam engines with an upright boiler.

However, before we move into the modern day, let's take a step back through history from the beginnings of the Saddle Tank and see how it has evolved over the years.

The beginning

The first Mamod Saddle Tank was launched during the Malins era. The RS1 and RS2 were released in 1980 and were first launched in 0 gauge with a small range of rolling stock and track. It was the first-ever mass produced live steam set to be sold in the UK. The engine struck a chord with the modelling community and was embraced.

Such was the popularity of the RS1 and RS2, Mamod followed it up with the launch of the RS3 in 1981 and the SL1 kit in 1983. Armed with a pair of double acting oscillating cylinders connected to a rotary reversing valve, they were also well received by modellers. Among the final models of the Malins era was the limited edition in SL6, which became a relic of their tenure.

A change of approach

As the Malins reign came to an end and Mamod entered receivership, the future was bleak. However, once the Terry family came in, they were able to not only steady the ship but then launch more Saddle Tank models. As the years went by design engineers at the company's Smethwick plant were able to revive the Saddle Tank engine.

Among the new models was the MKII which was one of the first Saddle Tanks to be created since the 1980s. However, one of the most popular models was the Diamond Jubilee Saddle Tank. To coincide with Queen Elizabeth II's 60th anniversary on the British throne, Mamod released a model Saddle Tank train which ran on tracks.

The model remained a huge success right up to when the final units were sold in the latter months of 2014. When it comes to era-defining Saddle Tank models, nothing compares to the Brunel engine.

While previous efforts had seen a horizontal boiler, Mamod decided to introduce a vertical one for the Brunel. This proved to be a huge success with its demographic and is currently one of the best-selling models in Mamod's portfolio.

So what next?

Anticipation is already building for the latest Saddle Tank. It has been a number of years since Mamod has brought a new model to the table and this latest version. It will no doubt continue the proud tradition of launching successful Saddle Tanks over the past 30 years and this love affair with the Saddle Tank.

Are the younger generation embracing steam?

In our Why I love Mamod series we have focused on the seasoned pros of the model steam community but what about the younger generation and is the hobby translating well into the 21st century?

During the last feature with 17-year-old Callum McGrory he explained his love of model steam engines and despite his age is totally fascinated with them. Young people have so many avenues for entertainment open to them at the moment with the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets so embracing steam may not be at the top of their list of priorities.

Sadly, the days of children playing in the street until the sun goes are on the decline and even young children now have their own mobile phone or are logged on to some kind of social media website. However, Callum believes that having a hobby such as steam modelling is still viable in this environment.

The Buckinghamshire teenager has been collecting Mamod models since the age of ten and loves nothing more than firing his favourite TE1A engine or the newer Mamod Challenger. He believes that more and more people of his age are becoming interested in steam as the heritage movement becomes bigger.

Heritage railway lines are a huge part of the nation's steam community and Callum thinks that as they continue to expand they could attract more young people. Embracing the internet is one way in which the steam community can boost its profile and attract the next generation to the hobby.

Callum is already a member of unofficial Mamod forum as well as the Beds and Bucks Internal Combustion Stationary Engine Club. Organisations and societies of this ilk he believes can introduce young people to steam and give them some great ideas about which engines to buy into first or how they can expand their collection.

Explaining the advantages of steam modelling, Callum says: "I do believe that in the past 10 or so years there are more young people getting into proper hobbies but whether that’s because I’m just getting a bit older I don’t know.

"An advantage would be the pure simple pleasure you get from it. if you’re all steamed up (pardon the pun) after a long day you can come home and relax the throb of a Mamod!"

However, he admits that it is not all plain sailing and people need to be fully committed to the hobby if they want to get the best of their steam engines and collection. It is a very time-consuming pastime and also one that may not suit everyone's wallet.

Callum adds: "Unfortunately it can get quite expensive but I do believe the price is a fair price considering the work that goes into each model."

While the world seems to be moving at an extraordinary pace and new technology keeps on being developed, for people like Callum nothing will beat the thrill of firing up a model steam engine.

Who knows maybe in ten years time youngsters are embracing steam models and ditching the iPad? One can dream.

Meet the Mamod team: Design engineer

When purchasing any form of product the most that the average buyer will see is the finished article.

While they will appreciate the time and effort that has gone into making it, they will never properly understand the processes that have gone into it. At Mamod, a dedicated team painstakingly puts every piece together to ensure that the steam models which are sold to the consumer are the very best they have to offer.

Since the Terry family took over the company in the early 1990s, Mamod has come on leaps and bounds and remains a popular brand across the UK, and even further afield, to this very day. So who are the people behind the Mamod brand, in the first of our series into the workings of Mamod we start with a key job role – design engineer.

The job of design engineer is a vital one to the way Mamod operates. It forms the basic idea of a new product and then can put the wheels in motion to get a project off the ground. The company has had the same design engineer for over 20 years and despite him originally wanting to a be train driver, he has helped to bring some of the most memorable engines through.

Starting out in engineering in 1992 they held down a position at fellow engineering company Thomas Johnson. At the time they were tasked with checking the tools when they arrived and then to establish a plan of repairing and refurbishment. This ensured that the firm would be able to identify why certain products did not work.

Moving to Mamod in 1996, they originally started in the tool room before moving across the quality control and eventually becoming a design engineer. The role has allowed them to become creative and with the years of experience assessing what does and does not work for certain engines, it was a perfect opportunity to build some new and exciting models.

Under their stewardship, Mamod has produced some innovative models not seen before in the steam world, none more so than the Brunel. This model, which has an upright boiler as opposed to a horizontal, was a first for Mamod and one that the design team was especially proud of.

It was not just a case of being pleasing to the staff but it also resonated with the public and has since become one of Mamod's most popular models. There have been obstacles along the way, such as when working with the Diamond Jubilee locomotive, but with a number of tweaks or sometimes major overhauls the designer has been able to amend any problems that may have occurred.

So what does the future hold in the design side of things more Mamod? Well, the design engineer believes there will be a shift towards new and better high spec engines as well internally fired engines and maybe even electric models.

But what is the best part of a design engineer's day? Quite simply "going home, coming up with an idea and designing it before seeing it go into production".

Why I love Mamod – Callum McGrory

Mamod is a well known and celebrated name among the model railway community and has built up a significant following since they were founded way back in the 1930s. In this series of articles we will be meeting the people who have grown up with Mamod and have bought models throughout their life.

Our latest interviewee is 17-year-old Callum McGrory, who provides an insight into how Mamod is being received among the younger generation.

Many people will look back fondly on their childhood and the simple days where they used to play with their toys till their heart's content everyday. A large proportion will remember their first ever train set. Whether it be the classic wooden sets or the more exciting battery-powered Tomy sets, these simple toys could provide the basis for a lifelong hobby.

This was the case with Callum, who developed a keen interest in steam models after receiving his first Mamod product at the age of seven. At this young age, his dad gave him a 1988 TE1A and this kickstarted a hobby that remains to this very day. Over the years, Callum has amassed a collection of six engines and two accessories but the TE1A still holds a special place in his heart.

It was his dad that first introduced a young Callum to the world of steam. From an early age both father and son would work on engines together with the focus being on a SE2A, which "still runs like a champ".

The TE1A was something that intrigued Callum and he was keen to see this engine in full flow. With the addition of a new sight glass, drive band and O-ring, the pair managed to get the engine steaming for the first time. The little engine chugged its way happily up and down their garden path as a proud father and son looked on.

This was the moment that Callum was hooked. Since then he has spent many a day improving the engines and ensuring he can get the very best out of them. Like for many older generations, this is where the hobby blossoms and is something they continue for the rest of their lives.

During his relatively short time collecting Mamod products, Callum has seen somewhat of a shift in the perception of steam engines and he thinks that more young people are becoming more involved.

"The older generations seem to be purchasing these great products. But I do believe that in the past ten or so years there are more young people getting into proper hobbies but whether that’s because I’m just getting a bit older I don’t know," Callum explains.

As the younger generation become more interested in the workings of steam engines, this has prompted an increase in popularity in general. Callum believes that a key component of this is the role of the heritage movement which is inspiring youngsters to pick up their first steam model.

So why is steam so attractive? It provides "that heart warming fuzzy feeling", Callum concludes.