We’ve finally got the track glued down and everything up and running on our N-gauge ‘St Ann’s Cove’ project layout, and the first Bulleid Light Pacific-hauled train has already called at the seaside station.
Having been brought up in the north-west, I knew nothing about these locomotives and their much larger ‘Merchant Navy’ stablemates until, in 1961, a friend and I who were both 16 and had just left school cycled from Warrington to Bournemouth to visit an aunt who lived there. It took us two days flat each way, spending cold nights in a pup tent, and no gears on either bike. Oh what I wouldn’t give to be that fit again!
One day during the four days we stayed with her, knowing of our railway interest (and no doubt wanting us out of the way for a bit) she bought us each a day-return ticket to Waterloo.
We’d always yearned to see what these Southern engines looked, sounded and performed like – and were mightily impressed by the beautiful-looking rebuilt ‘Merchant Navy’ Pacifics and their smaller ‘West Country’ and ‘Battle of Britain’ stablemates in both their original and rebuilt forms.
Fast forward to this year’s Remembrance Sunday, marking 100 years since the signing of the Armistice in 1918, and I found myself at Bury’s Bolton Street station, on the East Lancashire Railway, for a couple of trips along the heritage line with a brother and an old mate of ours.
The station was busy because several special parties had been arranged to mark the historic occasion, and I was delighted to see that our engine was none other than air-smoothed ‘West Country’ Pacific No. 34092 City of Wells, which arrived in a shroud of steam which cleared to reveal a bright poppy wreath on its smokebox door.
What memories its departure for Rawtenstall evoked, the ear-splitting hiss of the cylinder drain cocks quietening down to reveal the soft, steady blast from its chimney as it accelerated smoothly away, leaving a trail of pure white steam in its wake.
A well-managed Bulleid Light Pacific is a truly magnificent steam generator.
The most poignant moment came when, at around two minutes to eleven on the return journey to Bury, the train came to a gentle halt somewhere along the line and everything fell totally silent.
Even Elsa, my rescue dog, who now has to come everywhere with me, seemed to sense that something out of the ordinary was happening, and lay quiet as a mouse on the floor between our compartment seats.
I remembered that sepia-tinted picture of my Great Uncle Peter, after whom I was named, on a mantelshelf in my grandparents’ terraced home in Roome Street, Warrington, who fell in that bloody conflict, and my travelling companions seemed lost in similar thoughts.
Then, out of the intense silence, a shrill whistle sounded and we got under way again. It certainly was a Sunday to remember!
Sometimes in this job, a little humility is required, and after the last issue was printed, I was horrified to learn that I’d misheard the name of Channel 5’s Great Model Railway Challenge star Callum Willcox on the phone and called him Colin in our news piece about the Swansea show.
The only thing to do was ring him immediately, apologise and suggest paying him a visit to write a feature about him. “Oh, that doesn’t matter, Pete,” was his immediate reaction.
“There’s no need to come all the way down here just to see me, but I’ve just finished writing a piece about my ‘Amiens’ layout, and I can send that instead if you like.”
His write-up duly appears on page 40, and the expertise shown by himself and all the team in their winning debut in the first Challenge programme is clearly evident in the pictures.
We can rest assured that the future of our hobby is safe in the hands of modellers like Callum.
After some initial misgivings, I warmed to The Great Model Railway Challenge and everyone involved with it as the series progressed. Congratulations to the Aberdeen Model Railway Club on winning the final on Friday, November 9 – and I’m delighted that a second series is being planned.
Pete Kelly, EditorEnjoy more of The Railway Magazine Guide to Modelling every month. Click here to subscribe.