Returning to the fold

Modelling is one of those hobbies often taken up in childhood and dropped in adolescence, often taken up again later in life when time and funds allow.
Tony Stratford talks as someone who has learnt the lessons the hard way!

Perhaps retirement is looming or the children have flown the nest, releasing space to pursue something that you have been keen to rekindle since your childhood – building a model railway.

The Whitehall Hornby Dublo three-rail layout by Roger White and Don Hall at the recent Train Collectors Society exhibition. Tony Stratford

Nothing stays the same for long. Often we hear from potential railway modellers who find themselves confused by a hobby that is different to the one they last encountered in childhood. This article aims to help you avoid some of the pitfalls.

Brand loyalty – past

Back in the author’s early days, there were five main brands of model railways available. What you received was usually dependent on what the local toy shop, newsagent or even bike shop stocked. For me the local shop was very much in the Tri-ang camp, so Tri-ang Railways became my choice.

The early OO gauge systems had different coupling systems and also two-, three- or four-rail operation. If you had a Hornby Dublo system you could not operate on two-rail track as the wheels of wagons and coaches were not insulated and caused short circuits. Whatever system you bought, or received as a present, meant that you had to stick with it.

Toy or model?

Up until the 1970s the model railway items on sale in shops were undoubtedly toys, but the appearance in 1977 of Mainline Railways and Airfix changed things, offering scale models at affordable prices. Not surprisingly both were manufactured in Hong Kong before it became part of China. Airfix was absorbed by its competitor, Palitoy, owner of Mainline Railways, in 1981 when the Airfix company found itself in financial difficulty.

Hornby O Gauge at one of the Train Collectors Society events at Sandy in 2012. The society caters for all types of model and toy train systems with a TOMY system in operation in the background. Photo by Tony Stratford

Mainline Railways ceased to exist in 1985 but with the tooling remaining the property of its manufacturer Kader Industries; the company set up Bachmann Branchline in the UK in 1989, having released some of the previously available tooling for a short period through Replica Railways. The old Mainline models with improved chassis formed the basis for the initial Bachmann range. The old Airfix tools passed to Dapol and then to Hornby.

China remains very much at the forefront of model railway manufacturing today. There is no comparison between the toy trains of 50 years ago and the current products from today’s manufacturers, which are, in most cases, top-quality scale models.

For the full article, see September’s edition of Modelling – available now!

For a complete list of stockists and how to get your copy, visit: