Models have always fascinated me.
Not the scowling ones, with lip gloss and anorexia, but skilful reproductions of some aspect of the world in miniature. Railway modelling was my first venture into this world, though I soon crossed over into flying model aircraft. There are many areas in which people create miniature representations of real life, but the one that tugs most consistently at the public heart-strings is model railways. At least in the developed world, there is something in our collective memory that makes us associate “toy trains” with happy times.
Of course, the quickest way to alienate a true modeller is to refer to his (or occasionally her) magnificent obsession as a “toy train”. Aircraft modellers react similarly to the label “toy planes”. This weekend, Lower Hutt is hosting “Railex 2012”, a national exhibition of the railway modeller’s craft.
Regrettably, the venue chosen for the exhibition was the Lower Hutt Town Hall and Horticultural Hall. I say “regrettably” because the Town Hall is part of the civic buildings complex that has been shut down because it does not meet minimum standards for earthquake resistance.
Railex went ahead anyway, with all the exhibits planned for a much larger space now crammed into the horticultural hall.
As I said, railway models draw the crowds, so from the moment the doors opened at 10 am, the place was buzzing. In fact it was so crowded I had real difficulty protecting my camera and tripod at times.
Most of the layouts were beautifully executed, and most were made around some theme, geographic region, or period in history. Among my favourites was the British railway modellers layout. This excellent layout seemed to represent fairly consistently, the post war era in Britain. It appeals to me because it represents my last childhood memories of the land of my birth. Though most of the locomotives on display were pre-war designs, they were still around on the tracks of the Southern Region when I was at school there in the early 50s.
As in all fields, technology has come a long way since I had a layout. Wireless remote controllers, computer managed locomotive throttles and realistic braking, appropriate sound effects, all add to the suspension of disbelief and allow the hobbyist to be immersed in this miniature world. Even the roads on the layouts are now active, with trucks and buses trundling along following buried wires. In the image below, just to the right of the gantry crane in the yard, you can see a white truck rolling along the road (click to enlarge).
Another interesting layout was one representing some part of one of the American desert regions. Whereas British layouts tend to be compact and interwoven with the minutiae of urban life, American layouts tend to need more space, and long trains.
At the other end of the scale, bush tramways and logging railways are always popular, with enormous possibilities for representing the quirkiness of pioneering life.
As a hobby, it is predominantly followed by men, usually of advanced years. There are women, involved, and I watched spellbound as one young woman was doing meticulous work soldering the parts of a beautiful cast-metal kit of a heavy diesel locomotive. The thing that blew me away was the neatness of her workbench … something few men, especially me, ever achieve. Her tool kit was laid out like a surgeon’s instruments.
It’s a first world indulgence, I guess, that we each have our hobbies and our obsessions. For now at least, mine is still photography.
I may resume model making one day.