For the past umpteen years, a filing cabinet drawer in my small bedroom office has been filled with a dozen or so OO-scale locomotive models, and when I finally took them out to re-examine them recently, it seemed like looking back over a long-vanished era.
At the time, I was collecting Great Western and LNER models, and hidden away and all but forgotten were a GWR 5700 (or as some would say 57XX) 0-6-0 pannier tank, two 5600 0-6-2 tanks, a 6100 class 2-6-2 (Prairie) tank, a ‘Manor’ 4-6-0, a 4300 2-6-0 (Mogul) and a 5700 0-6-0 pannier tank.
The LNER models consisted of two 0-6-2 condensing tanks, two J72 0-6-0 tanks, a D49 ‘Shire’ 4-4-0 and a B17 ‘Footballer’ 4-6-0.
Looking underneath, I rediscovered that all the GWR models and four of the LNER examples had been made by Mainline in Hong Kong (the N2s were actually branded Airfix) and that the D49 and B17 had been made by Hornby in Great Britain.
Between them, they marked a gradual progression from basic to better, by far the best of the bunch being the impressively heavy little J72s, one in plain black and the other in white-lined apple green; the 5700, which boasted brake rodding and wire hand rails, but still relied on body moulding for the rest of the detail; and Hornby’s tender-drive B17 and D49.
Over time, plastic parts such as coal loads and cab roofs had become unstuck from the Mainline/Airfix models and the gold-painted safety-valve bonnets had faded – and the very basic tender attachments looked positively toy-like. The driving wheels also looked heavy and clumsy compared with the finely crafted components we take for granted on today’s ever more sophisticated models, but I would still be proud to run my old locos on another OO-scale layout.
The best of the Mainline bunch were the beautiful little J72s and the 5700, but I must admit that the Hornby models still seemed to have far more presence and majesty about them.
How things have changed! Miniaturised electronics technology has revolutionised the world of model railways, and this was only too apparent when Bachmann took over Staffordshire’s delightful Churnet Valley Railway on August 31 and September 1 for their Summer Press Day, followed by a special day for the Bachmann Collectors’ Club, which now boasts an impressive membership of 6000.
With features like DCC sound systems, 21-pin decoder sockets, cab, coach and directional lighting, conductive coupling, all-wheel pick-up, firebox flickers, sprung buffers and more livery/class variant options than ever before, model railways have entered a world of sophistication that could only have been dreamed of a few years ago.
Although pre-orders among enthusiasts have resulted in many new models being virtually bought up before they arrive in this country (the N-gauge Graham Farish GWR diesel railcars, a BR green example of which I have just been lucky enough to acquire for my ‘Meadowsweet’ layout from my local model shop, being one example) there is no denying that all this advancement comes at a cost that many, but certainly not all, can obviously afford.
Perhaps the future will also see new ranges of more affordable models coming along – and if they only compared with my Mainline J72s and Hornby D49 and B17, they would remain perfectly acceptable to many modellers, including myself.
Putting aside the subject of model locomotives and rolling stock, laser-cutting techniques have also brought higher standards than ever before to cardboard/compressed hardboard kit buildings and other structures, as evidenced by Metcalfe’s ever more finely crafted range of buildings and lineside structures, Scale Model Scenery’s war memorials, catenary spans and uprights and the solid laser-cut buildings by Petite Properties.
Talk about never having it so good – but as ever, we welcome your views for our readers’ letters pages.
Pete Kelly, Editor