Inspiration at the Manchester Model Railway Exhibition.
Memories of my first visit to a national show and a fascinating detour in 1967:
The year had not been successful for this modeller; having converted from Hornby Dublo 3 rail system to the more realistic 2 rail option in 1964, I was still striving to achieve an acceptable standard of ballasted track. 1967 had begun with the gradual replacement of fibre based flexible track, a bad choice at the time of conversion, with the far superior Peco Streamline, an operation phased to coincide with apprentice rate paydays.
Sat around a canteen table at Derby Technical College prior to evening class, a friend and I decided to venture north and view the “big time” at the annual exhibition staged by the Manchester Model Railway Society over a weekend shortly before the forthcoming Christmas celebrations. We could take advantage of my friend’s recently acquired wheels, four of them, to view in the flesh, some layouts of a standard we had previously only seen in the pages of specialist magazines.
Detour to Peak Forest:
On a dark and frosty December Saturday morning two excited lads left the Midlands in a turquoise Ford Consul Classic on their first trip to Manchester. North of Buxton the driver, a devotee of steam power to this day, turned off the main Stockport road continuing along a minor route heading deeper into the Derbyshire hills. Not questioning the deviation it was no surprise when the Classic was brought to a stand by a typical Midland Railway stone bridge. Below was the Derby-Manchester main line and Peak Forest railway station.
Looking in the direction of Derby the sun was just risingabove the hills, its light reflecting on the frost encrusted trees and buildings. Apart from the regular passing of Peak type 4 diesels still wearing green livery, hauling London-Manchester expresses of maroon stock, much activity in the marshalling yards of this remote quarry settlement was in evidence. Between the passenger workings two Stanier 8F 2-8-0 locomotives drew forward on to the main line, part of their shunting procedure.
It was these two 8F’s that presented us with a great photographic opportunity as the exhausts of both rose into the morning sky creating a pattern against the rising sun.
Back en route:
Unsure of the parking situation in Manchester, we decided to leave the car at Stockport Edgeley station and take a train; it would be an opportunity to travel over the viaduct featured in so many published photographs.
The walk from Piccadilly station to the Corn Exchange at Hanging Ditch, the venue for Manchester shows until the mid seventies, was an exercise in negotiating hundreds of Christmas shoppers, in fact the seasonal atmosphere added to the experience. The interior of the Corn Exchange presented itself as a rotunda with a mezzanine gallery giving access to various businesses; its capacity at that time would not have been adequate for current major exhibitions.
Two layouts remain in my mind, Mill dale and Presson, both modelled in 4mm scale.
Mill Dale, set in the Yorkshire dales, achieving slow running speeds in 009 gauge, the work of George Grainger and operated with assistance from members of the Macclesfield club had been featured in the April 1967 issue of Railway Modeller. Its track layout consisted of a number of spirals on a gradient focusing on a centrally positioned triple level trestle that each train passed over three times during its run between the two fiddle yards, high and low level. The locomotives on the day, diesel and steam, were Minitrains products. Apart from the immaculate operation of Mill dale, I noted the corporate turnout of the Macclesfield club members; all wearing grey nylon over-jackets bearing the club badge indicating the role that each particular member fulfilled within the club.
Mill Dale proved to me that realistic running was feasible in 009; it was not many paydays later that I purchased a Minitrains Baldwin and some Peco Crazytrack.
Presson modelled in EM gauge by John Langan and featured in the December 1962 issue of RM inspired me greatly; fiddle yard to terminus via a viaduct was, to my eyes, faultless running personified. The layout gave me my first taste of hand-built track, something for a later date. Its two operators situated at consoles, one at each end wore suits, complete with collar and tie, and at no time while I viewed the layout did a human hand intervene. Buildings and general surroundings were non-specific so that locomotives and rolling stock, (some built by eminent modellers such as Ross Pochin, Sydney Stubbs and Alex Jackson) representing any of the pre grouping companies would not appear out of place.
It would be another thirteen years before I was to take the plunge into 18.2 mm gauge but Presson certainly sowed the seeds.
In those days no Manchester show was complete without a display of members’ tramcars; highly detailed hand built models running on what I believe was gauge 1 track together with overhead wiring.
I recall two brand names in particular:
GEM was the trade name for a vast range of products supporting 00 and TT (3mm) in standard gauge and 12mm narrow gauge. It included locomotive kits, rolling stock and an 00 gauge flexible track system. The company founder George E. Mellor regularly attended at Hanging Ditch and I confess that it was his range of locomotive kits that introduced me to the LNWR; the range including two options of 4-4-0 that could be mounted on a Triang L1 chassis and two further classes of 4-6-0 suitable for the Triang B12 chassis broadened the scope for a locomotive stud.
Two made-up examples were displayed, both beautifully painted, along with a 5mm scale narrow gauge model of Talyllyn locomotive no 2 mounted on a Triang TT gauge chassis. In 1967 GEM offered a LNWR “Precedent” class 2-4-0 in kit form for £6-16-0d (£6.80), all complete except motor and nameplates.
Slaters in 1967 was a small company headed by George Slater who sat behind a table, set out with cutting mat, knife and the necessary bottle of Mec Pak, producing intricate models from his range of Plasticard materials; his skill coupled with the most nimble of fingers was as entertaining as the most impressive of layouts. His range of products also included model figures and small accessories.
Long live TT:
Leaving the exhibition hall, stepping out into the darkness with the temperature falling, our heads filled with ideas for future modelling and carrying one or two purchases, a model shop was spotted across the street from the exhibition venue. No harm in taking a look!
Stocks of the TT gauge model railway system introduced by Triang in 1957 were dwindling by 1967, before the products were discontinued the following year, much to the dismay of many 3mm devotees. N gauge was rearing its head. Inside the shop a man was being served at the counter, no browsing and checkouts in those days. The customer seemed to be quite excited; his every request made with great trepidation for TT items received a positive response resulting in a growing pile of boxes on the counter. This customer’s Christmas was confirmed but I wonder how his good luck in the model shop affected his seasonal family budget.
Back to reality:
The most eventful part of the homeward journey was the trip from Piccadilly to Edgeley on a London bound express made-up of the new XP64 carriage stock. Back home. having witnessed the cream of model railways in action, looking at the ex GWR terminus that evening, it still failed to deliver; however after attacking the ballast with some thinned grey paint, separating it in appearance from the remainder of the ground cover, the effect did improve and I believe, following my first visit to a top class show, the corner was turned in my own modelling experience.