Steam engines are chuffing merrily around lines that will never close because of leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow, or someone nicking cabling for “scrap” metal, or the legacy of Dr Beeching’s cutbacks.
In the idealised world of the Fylde’s scaled-down model railway, the ticket offices are in no danger of being shut down by accountants and, if diesel’s already a bit of a dirty word, what do they make of what passes for trains today, those “nodding donkeys” built on Leyland bus lines that we see so often on what’s left of our local lines?
Bit of a comedown from the mighty excursion trains many members of Blackpool and North Fylde Model Railway Club still remember thundering into Central Station of old.
Reg Lloyd turns 90 in January, and was a steam engine driver at 27 back in 1949 – mostly in the south although he’s done the big scenic runs in Lancashire too.
He’s lived the dream, as he’s the first to admit. “No job like it – it’s the best in the world,” he recalls. “But this is the next best thing for me now. It gets me out and about and talking about what I love with friends.”
This strangely parallel universe, inhabited by enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds, opens its doors to the rest of us this weekend for the club’s highlight of the year.
The 30th annual model railway exhibition is at Fleetwood High School, Broadway, Fleetwood, from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and 10am to 4pm Sunday. Admission £3 juniors, £4 seniors, £4.50 the rest of us. Just the ticket for a weekend treat. It also includes 17 trade stands including Hornby Scalextric.
You don’t have to be loco about steam engines or potty about Pacers to enjoy the exhibition of some 20 nationwide layouts, because it’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of club members – who could make Last of the Summer Wine funny again if they gave it a steamier seaside setting.
While they’re serious about what they do – those painstaking reproductions are meticulously crafted down to the last detail – they have a laugh alone the line.
The club meets monthly in north Fylde – the location may vary – with members toiling over their respective projects or layouts to the nth degree.
For some, the devil’s in the detail surrounding the actual layout, with former bobby and talented artist Gordon Whyatt pressed into service to provide the artwork for some of the displays – often painting alongside photographs of the area so it’s hard to see where the real thing ends, and art begins.
Others, such as super sculptor Ted McElroy, create their own features rather than buy pre-moulded stuff. It’s cheaper and more creative but time is invested on crafting tiny slates, bricks, trees out of scraps of plywood or model clay or silicone before painting and varnishing and putting them in pride of place.
And then there are Magneto-like boffins, tinkering with spare parts and soldering irons.
Club secretary Ian Donkin was six when he got his first clockwork train. Now a doyen of digital, he deploys high-tech trickery for the special effects for his Canadian loco layout. “I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I haven’t had a layout,” he admits.
Cheery Alan Cardwell, club chairman, admits the model rail fraternity may have an “image problem”, but points to the backgrounds of the predominantly male membership. “We come from all backgrounds, and age-wise we range from 35 to 89, and we all get on because model railways promote a real camaraderie.”
The showstopper’s a hugely ambitious and award- winning layout called January ’68, which depicts the death throes of regular steam. It’s set in a fictitious location in the region, one of the last bastions of BR steam, but look closely and you’ll see a couple of Black Fives, the Stanier Class engine which is said to have been the last to haul into Blackpool South.
l For more details, visit www.blackpoolandnortfyldemrc.co.uk