Tag Archives: Bridport Town

Are Model Railways a form of Fanfic?

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugDavid Taylor’s Bridport Town

Despite being a long-standing science fiction fan, I have trouble seeing the point of knowing the finer points of Dr Who or Star Trek continuity, let alone that of the endlessly retconned comic-book superhero universes. Such things are the meat and drink of some corners of geekdom, but I find that obscure knowledge of media franchises does nothing for me at all.

After all, when the actual creators don’t give the appearance of caring two hoots about continuity, why on Earth should I care?

On the other hand, historical research for a model railway can be a fascinating subject, and for me that fulfils the interest in obscure minutia. For example I’ve recently seen long and detailed discussions on which Southern Railway Bulleid coaches ended up on the Western Region in the 1960s, and what liveries they were painted in. Someone even found photo of a brake composite painted maroon taken at Bere Alston in Devon, to settle discussions over whether such things existed.

And with trains, what is and isn’t canon is pretty unambiguous, much as some people would probably love to retcon Dr Beeching out of existence.

It struck me that in SF&F terms, railway modelling is a kind of cross between fanfic and cosplay. There’s an element of secondary creation in designing a layout, especially an exhibition-standard one, and there an obvious craft in building it. And operating it in public becomes a form of performance art.

There are plenty of layouts which attempt to reproduce a specific location in miniature, sometimes with compromises due to space; Jim Smith-Wright’s ambitious finescale model of Birmingham New Street is a great example.

But there are plenty of others that evoke a sense of time and place without being based any actual real-world location. There are layouts based on lines proposed during the in the 19th century railway mania but never actually built. And there are those based on an actual route, but with a fictional station, frequently an amalgam of features from several real stations in the chosen area.

To be convincing they have to follow the distinctive architecture and operational practices of whatever railway company they’re based on, feature the rolling stock that ran in that part of the country in whatever time period the layout is set, and of course capture the essence of the landscape through which the railway runs. If you think of it that way, it’s has an awful lot in common with fanfic’s knowledge of setting and characters.

A few examples to illustrate what I mean.

Warley 2013

This layout is a good example of a ficticious station on a real route. The Highland Railway architecture, the wild, barren landscapes and the class 26 locomotives immediately identify it as the Far North lines in Scotland in the 1970s, as surely as Imperial Stormtroopers denote Star Wars.

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Similarly, Stoney Lane immediately screams “South London”. Every building on this layout is based on a real south London building, and the layout’s builder has even drunk a pint in each of the layout’s four pubs.

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Bridport Town is an excellent example of model of a “might-have-been”. There never were any 2′ gauge railways in Dorset, and this ficticious railway is created out of the whole cloth. Even some of the locomotives are based on drawings of locomotives proposed but never built. But with non-railway structures based on real-life buildings in the area, the whole thing has a ring of authenticity about it.

So, does the fanfic comparison hold any water?

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What I Did On My Holidays

I know it was months ago, but I’ve finally got round to sorting out the hundreds of photos I took during my spring holiday in the west country.

King Edward I at Coryton Cove, Dawlish

Just after I arrived at Dawlish on Sunday afternoon, what should I see but a kettle! King Edward I on a return excursion from Paignton, with a full rake of chocolate and cream coaches, only slightly spoiled by one of them being an anachronistic Mk2

EWS 67s top-and-tailing at Dawlish

The following morning saw another “real train”, top-and-tailed 67s on the daily Cardiff to Paignton, locomotive hauled because of a shortage of DMUs. I wasn’t 100% certain that it had survived the May timetable change, but the appearance of noted railway photographer Colin Marsden just before it was due was a sure sign it was still running. The rear loco is newly repainted in DB “Traffic Red”.

Rusting winch at Dawlish

This winch has seen better days, but makes a good still life.

The Globe Inn, Lostwithiel

The Globe Inn in Lostwithiel, looking across the 700-year old bridge across the river Fowey. Lostwithiel has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, but last spring the weather was glorious.

The Night Riviera at Lostwithiel

Your choice of entertainment in Lostwithiel on a Wednesday night: Karaoke night at The Globe, or go to the station to watch the Night Riviera pass through at 11pm. For anyone who might be interested, I took this at 125th of a second at f1.4, and at 3200ASA. The train was doing something like 50mph.

Olivia Sparnenn at The Acorn, Penzance

The very lovely Olivia Sparnenn of Mostly Autumn at The Acorn Theatre in Penzance. A clue as to why I holidayed in Devon and Cornwall rather than Benedorm or Barnetby!

Bridport Town at the Exeter show

Saturday was the Exeter model railway exhibition. This layout, Bridport Town, was built and operated by a Mostly Autumn fan who’d been at the gig in Penzance two days earlier. One thing I like about this layout is it gives me an excuse to use the word “verisimilitude”.

Traction Engine at Exmouth

Late afternoon in Exmouth, and what should I see but another kettle!.

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Warley 2010

I’ve been going to the Warley model railway exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham for years now. It’s a big commercial show with huge crowds rather than one of the more friendly local or specialist shows, but it’s size means it’s a also a gathering of people you haven’t met for years.

There were a lot of great layouts in all sorts of scales, eras and nationalities. I know some people are only interested in layouts in their own gauge, or aren’t interested in anything outside of a certain region or era, but that way you can miss out on some great modelling.

“Aberdare” was one such example. This was a pre-grouping Taff Vale in finescale 4mm, with a very interesting track plan, and the strange loco depot design with two separate engine sheds because of the narrow site in the Welsh valleys. Another one I liked was the compact HO Danish layout “Havnegade”, set in the late 1960s, reminding me of a family holiday in Denmark around that time, with GM Nohabs in the original maroon livery and those distinctive 5-axle diesel railcars. Closer to my own modelling interests was “Loch Lochy”, making it’s exhibition debut, Scottish blue diesel N, very nicely modelled. And in 7mm scale, a massive “parade of trains” style layout of Barmouth Bridge. Somewhat truncated of course; the real bridge is nearly a mile long!

I also loved the TT3 layout – This was very much not a detailed finescale model, but very typical of the sorts of layouts people built in the 60s and 70s. Indeed, it reminded me very much of a layout I built around that time! My TT3 stock is still in my parents’ loft somewhere!

One of the big hits of the show was “Blackmill”, a large contemporary layout based on Blackburn in Lancashire, so popular you couldn’t get near it all day. Even at 4:30 in the afternoon, at a time when the crowd starts to thin out, it three deep in front of this layout. Ditto the Model Railway Club’s massive “Copenhagen Fields”, 20 years in the building and still far from finished.

Bridport Town

While I’m not really into narrow-gauge steam layouts, Bridport Town is one I’ll make an exception for. While fictitious, it has a verisimilitude that all too many narrow gauge layout lack. I think one element, apart from the superb level of modelling, is that all the locomotive fleet doesn’t include anything that’s uniquely associated with a specific British line. For example, the 4-4-0T is (I think) a proposed but unbuilt design by Hunslet for the Lynton and Barnstable. And those ex-War Department Baldwin 4-6-0Ts ran on a great many lines.

Sadly my bank balance too a bit of a hammering; Messrs Dapol and Bachmann had too many shiny things on sale, including the new Mk1 coaches and some weathered Silver Bullets.

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