IT STARTED WITH A TRAIN SET
Tri-ang’s catalogues would tempt young modellers to expand their locomotive fleet.
David Brown describes how a Christmas present provided him with a life-long interest and career.
High on the Christmas present wish list for lots of boys and girls would be an electric train set. We might not have aspired to the career of being an engine driver but we could use our imagination and run our own train system at home.
As a child of the 1950s, we certainly had to use our imagination as there was not the large choice of perfect models available then to buy, let alone accessories and sophisticated control equipment.
My first train set arrived in the middle of that decade and, as I was only four at the time, it was decided that I wasn’t really old enough to play with it. I suspect that it had really been bought for the fun of my dad and Uncle Jack. To be fair, they had worked overtime to afford it, so it was only right they should gain some pleasure from it.
The train set in question was from Tri-ang in a bright red and yellow box with an illustration on the front that would not be allowed today under the misrepresentation of goods act or whatever. Certainly what you got inside the box was more modest than what was represented on the cover artwork.
It did represent the aspiration of what could be achieved if you had the money to indulge in just about every item the company produced. There would be a father figure (complete with a pipe) and a child or children enjoying this marvellous model world while mother was doubtless slaving away in the kitchen.
Inside the box you might have a humble tank locomotive with a couple of coaches or a few wagons, together with an oval of track, a battery or electric controller plus a
small bottle of oil to help keep the engine running well.
By the time this 1960s train set came along dad and his pipe were on the scene and a wider variety of models were available to put on the present with list. This 1950s box artwork is from a Tri-ang OO gauge electric train set shows two boys having fun
My first train set contained a British Railways liveried ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0 tank locomotive and three wagons. My dad and uncle must have bought some more items as there was a single point for a siding, a couple of suburban coaches and more wagons. There was also a station with brown and yellow plastic buildings and grey platform sections with white edges. The station nameboards and the signal box carried the name ‘Grantham^ which
was a nice touch as that was one of our local stations on the East Coast Main Line.
When I became more interested in the model railway (or after the adults had tired of it), I used my imagination and that ‘Jinty’ with the two carriages would do a certain amount of circuits and the train would be going from London King’s Cross to the north and stop at the stations I’d heard of in-between. It would then have to come back, of course.
The coaches had to remain in that solitary siding if a freight train was to run and vice versa. Mother made some little bags filled with dried peas as wagonloads and I would sometimes fill open wagons with real coal dust which would be fine until a derailment sent black dust across the floor. Oh yes, trains were run on the living room carpet then, it was a long while before a baseboard was bought for it. You had to keep your train and track clean from getting clogged up with carpet fluff.
Although the power controller had a label to say that it was suppressed, it would still interfere with the TV reception and Dad would soon insist that services were suspended as he wanted to watch the telly.
When I hit double figures, I got interested in real railways. With my cousins and friends, I would cycle the six miles to Essendine on the East Coast Main Line, north of Peterborough, at the foot of Stoke Bank. This was where Sir Nigel Gresley’s A4 Pacific No.4468 Mallard achieved its 126mph world speed record on 3 July 1938. The record still holds today and to mark its 75th anniversary a number of events are planned in 2013 including a gathering of all six surviving A4 Pacifics.
The days of the Pacifics had gone by my trainspotting days and I caught the end of the era with some grim looking steam survivors working alongside the gleaming new diesel locomotives.
I was inspired to expand my model railway set and new items were top of the ‘wants list’ for birthdays and Christmas, while pocket money was saved up for items I could afford. Because Tri-ang had made the most of using plastic in its models, they had always been cheaper than the more substantial Hornby Dublo trains. Some of those early 1950s Tri-ang models used poor quality materials are inevitably warped and look crude alongside later models. While Hornby was bought out by Tri-ang in the mid-1960s, the company in time became today’s Hornby Hobbies.
An annual ‘must have’ was the latest catalogue that featured enticing artwork with the model range set up in realistic settings and groupings, or so it seemed at the time. Hours of fun would be spent choosing what you would like from each page and while it was a modest range, there would be models from different parts of the country, a ‘Transcontinental’ range and even military and space age weapon-carrying vehicles.
In my hometown, Bourne in Lincolnshire, the shop selling Tri-ang model trains was a newsagent’s called Warner’s. Before Christmas there would be a display featuring model trains in a small back room, which was looked after by young Michael Warner, son of the proprietor.
This would have the desired effect of boosting sales of items in red and yellow boxes in the coming weeks. In time the newsagent’s was sold and the family firm developed its commercial printing business. The shop has been empty for a few years now but a mosaic tiled floor panel at the door still reads ‘Warner’s!
My mother worked at another newsagent in the town and one Saturday evening bought home a copy of a model railway magazine that had not sold. She doubtless rued the day she did that as that led to me being engrossed in such publications and getting lots of ideas above my station (excuse the pun).
In the 1970s I packed my bags and moved to London to work as a journalist and at the end of the decade, while working in the music business, was asked to help out with a book introducing model railways to young readers. So it was that my name appeared as author of The Usborne Guide to Model Railways, a colourful volume published in 1980.
By the late 1980s I was employed fulltime on steam railway magazines based at Peterborough. In 1992 I became involved in the launch of a new model railway magazine to be published in my old hometown. The managing director of the company behind the publication was Michael Warner, the same person who had run the trains at his father s shop all those years ago. The world seemed to have gone full-circle – a bit like some of those early train sets.
Now I still enjoy running and collecting Tri-ang model trains that bring back warm memories of those early years that sparked my enthusiasm for railways in general. I still earn my living working on magazines involving model railways and the real thing. And I still love going to watch and travelling on old trains.