A model railway

Across the country there is a lot of debate about the future of the National Trust.  Should it keep the properties it looks after as a shrine to a bygone age, with only a certain appreciative few able to access the properties? Has it got the right policies in place for acquiring new property? One recent example in Cumbria would suggest not.  Should the NT split in two with one organisation  looking after properties and one looking after countryside? Yes sir, a great deal of debate. Which I do not intend to indulge in.  Instead, I will mention that I was at Dapdune Wharf on Saturday, which was an example of people getting it (mostly) right, with a nice festival, activities and all the trimmings.  As I was leaving, I overhead a couple of the volunteers trying to decide if it was as busy as last year. I think it probably was.  But that’should not what I’mean going to talk about today.  I’mean even going to avoid cheap jokes as the expense of the Morris dancers: the stick and bucket dance was not in evidence, but I don’t want to aggravate them…

One of the other displays was by the local model railway enthusiasts.  I have to admit that I’ve never really ‘got’ model railways.  I like building things, and given the time I’d probably  get very creative with scenery and the like. But there is always the nagging feeling of ‘what next?’.  I’ve built the layout, I’ve installed wiring to control signals and…I’m just going to run the trains round the track? I’m going to pretend to shunt trucks and coaches? Ermmmm…

But like Morris men, I’m very glad that someone is enthusiastic and prepared to put in the effort, pay painstaking attention to detail and all the rest of it – I do think we would all be a little spiritually and culturally poorer if they weren’t on track. (Sorry).

One of the trains they had running was a little model of Thomas the Tank Engine.  The Railway Stories (it’s only the TV show, and associated merchandise, that puts quite so much emphasis on Thomas as the star), began life as amusement for a sick child, but stories that came from the imagination of a steam enthusiast.  Awdry was a stickler for detail and was very dismissive of the first illustrator of the stories – so dismissive that he made the publisher issue reprints of the first books with more accurate illustrations when a new artist was engaged. Thomas is, though, #1 – he predates most of the other engines on the Island of Sodor, having actually helped to build the (main) railway – you’d thing he’d be a bit steadier with that experience behind him.

Anyway, I was looking at this model railway running – half a dozen trains running up and down 3 or 4 metres of track, including a station,and started having a little daydream of having won the lottery and setting up a scale model of Sodor. Yep, the whole Island. All the railways, the ports, the villages and towns…Surely it couldn’t be that big?

So, it turns out that Sodor* is actually a lot bigger than I’d realised. Which does actually make sense given that Sir Toppham Hatt (The Fat Controller) keeps (re-)opening branch lines and that there are several other significant lines on the island.  I couldn’t  find (easily) a statement of the land area, but the principal dimensions are supposed to be ~100 km at its widesthe and 82 km North-South.  It’s described as being roughly diamond shaped, although that would make it a very odd diamond to my mind.  Eyeballing it, I’d estimate that it’should about 3/4 landmass, if you put a box 100 x 82 km over it, so that gives about 6150 km^2.

*In the words of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman,  for the benefit of young people and Americans… For those who haven’t delved deeply into the lore of Thomas and Friends, The Island of Sodor is a fictional location, located between the British mainland and the Isle of Man. The island was so called because Awdry discovered that the diocese is of Sodor and Man. There is a lovely lot of history that gets us to that point, but the key thing is that the island doesn’t really exist.

Right-o. The problem, with that of course is that it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of getting a feel for it. I suppose I could convert it into Olympic swimming pools, but that feels a bit pointless somehow… So the next step is to think about how much land we’re going to need.  I had a very useful tweet-exchange with @drmarkjwhiting, who does actually know a thing or two about model trains. He educated me on the difference between scale and gauge – which is not relevent to the sums I want to do – but he did say that N gauge is about as small as you’d want to go, in his opinion, if you still want reasonable detail.  This is good, because I’d started with OO, which is a bit bigger, and had come up with some numbers that scared me… In the UK, N is 1:148 so our 100 X 82 km becomes 0.675 km (I need to work out how to put dots over all three numbers to indicate the recurrrence) X 0.554 km giving 0.374 km^2: that actually feels reasonable…

Again, it’s hard  to tell how long the lines actually are, but eye balling and allowing for up and down tracks, sidings and all the rest of it, I think you’d probably want about 3.3 km of normal straight track, the same again of curves and other fairly standard stuff. This would come to about £56k at current prices. You would probably spend the same again on the more expensive track items, not to mention all the scenery, baseboards – oh and the trains of course! But you know what, as a hobby to keep an eccentric millionaire occupied, it might just be worth a crack…




2 thoughts on “A model railway

  1. Himself & I had that same NT discussion whilst strolling through the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, following a previous visit to Dapdune Wharf! Like you, I’ll not re-visit that argument here. As a tomboy, I longed for the type of model railway my friend Ian had, which his sister & I were not allowed to touch. So I am utterly charmed by the idea of a life-size Island of Sodor and its associated Railway. Now I just need to obtain the fortune to realise the dream …

    Liked by 1 person

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