Model trains take the strain

OGauge Railway Exhibition: Audrey Groves (nearly 2) and mum Loretta Chantry-Groves looking at the Edgedale layout
OGauge Railway Exhibition: Audrey Groves (nearly 2) and mum Loretta Chantry-Groves looking at the Edgedale layout

RAILWAY modelling is a growing hobby.

Hornby, the famous British model-making company, recently recorded a large increase in sales and profits, partly due to increased sales in Europe.

O Gauge Railway Exhibition : LtoR - Group members Paul Scott, Ray Henshaw, Mike Cawthorne

O Gauge Railway Exhibition : LtoR - Group members Paul Scott, Ray Henshaw, Mike Cawthorne

Ray Hensher, of Sheffield 0 Gauge group, is clear about the growing attraction of building scale models of railway landscapes.

“People like doing something relaxing. So many people are stressed out at work, and model railways are good for people, because when you’re doing this you can’t be worrying about your job. For me it was an absorbing way to calm down after a busy day at the bank.”

Ray has now retired from his job as a manager at an international banking company and he reflected that the hobby does tend to attract the retired, although the group does have some younger – and teenage – members.

Saturday saw the 0 Gauge Group’s first-ever Open Day exhibition at its base in the church hall of Carterknowle Methodist Church and one of the day’s aims was to show the 20-strong group’s work to potential new members.

“We’ve never done an open day like this before, even though we’ve been here for about 35 years,” said Ray. “We wanted to show people where we are, and we’ve been amazed at the number of people who’ve come, it’s much better than we expected. The primary thing was not to raise money, the main thing was we just wanted to show off!”

The group had five layouts on display, some of which had been fine-tuned over many months especially for the day. Visitors young and old marvelled at the hand-built depictions of railwayside life a generation or two ago, complete with artists, police officers, cats, dogs and obligatory cheerful young urchins. Scores of contemporary youngsters seemed just as interested on Saturday.

The 0 gauge scale is slightly larger than the traditional 00 gauge model railway, with a scale of about 7mm to a foot, said Mike Cawthorne, which makes the trains twice as long but four times as big.

“It gives them a mass and momentum. And it’s also good for our eyesight because at this size we can see what we’re doing.”

In the past, the larger scale meant that modellers had to make most of the layouts themselves, including the trains and coaches. This makes the 0 Gauge hobby very much a team effort, with different craftspeople (craftsmen usually) looking at electrical issues, track construction and landscape modelling.

“This is one of the fascinating things about it,” said Paul Scott. “There’s the constructional side, electrical engineering, architecture, social history and all that draws people in. It’s so varied, and there are so many things to learn, so many areas you can take an interest in.”

Paul became hooked on the larger-scale model railways as a boy and has stuck with the hobby all his life until his recent retirement.

“I’d get home after a day’s work and I’d be like a nervous wreck, then I’d get my modelling out, and you have to concentrate on the models, and the other things that were bugging you disappear from your mind.”

There are younger people joining now, said Mike Cawthrone. “The interest has slowly changed and modern locomotives attract younger people.”

New technology has also helped and the increasing availability of ready-made products in the larger scale.

His own layout included specially-made digital sound recordings of the locomotives in action and smoke effects from houses and machinery.

“Sometimes the smoke is intentional and sometimes not,” he noted after an unfortunate incident with a model crane earlier in the day.

Almost 300 people of all ages visited on Saturday, and the group will now decide whether to hold open days more often.

Railways – especially steam railways – are still seen as romantic and exciting, said the 0 Gauge modellers.

“There’s a bit of nostalgia in it,” said Ray Hensher. “And people are interested in miniature worlds, whether it’s dolls houses or railways.

People like to see a world in miniature that they’re in charge of.”