According to Chris…
His grandchildren call him ‘Granddad Trains’ and he’s been a dedicated railway modeller since the 1960s but, despite popular legend, Chris Leigh doesn’t remember when dinosaurs roamed the Earth!
Chris Leigh guides us through the build process of last month’s cover.
Isn’t it strange how the impromptu often works so much better than the planned? For last issue’s cover, Richard asked me to reprise the December 1965 Model Railway Constructor cover, with the words: “really make it look wet and cold, the kind of weather that drives you indoors to a chair beside the fire.” I’ve never minded a challenge! The ‘Westerns’ were, by a large margin, my favourite diesels. My first sighting of one was in August 1962 when my brother and I were trainspotting at Iver. The previous week, Roger had been to Iver without me and reported seeing a strange new locomotive in ‘beige undercoat’. Its number was D1000 and it was on the Down ‘Cornish Riviera’. The following week I was with him, and we saw D1006 Western Stalwart. It was maroon and it looked fantastic. How could any teenage spotter not be interested? A trip to Reading General followed to see one at close quarters. I became particularly familiar with them standing at the platform end at Reading, as so many of the expresses stopped there. As we travelled further and my interest in stations took us to Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, I managed a few journeys with ‘Westerns’. Change, however, was swift in the 1960s. All too quickly the railway decided that it needed a new corporate image and the novelty of the ‘Westerns’ and, indeed, the whole Western Region diesel-hydraulic fleet was initially obliterated by a blanket coat of Rail blue, followed almost immediately by withdrawal. Looking back, one of my favourite images of the hydraulic era is a ‘Western’ standing at the platform end at Reading. It isn’t a particular ‘Western’ or a specific occasion. The two prototype photographs show it all too clearly. The first was taken in those early days, around 1962, and D1038 Western Sovereign is on a Down Swansea express. Six spotters sit along the platform edge. Despite how it appears, they are not in any danger – the track slewed away from the platform at that end. In the second photograph the spotters have grown up. It’s the twilight of the ‘Westerns’ and D1051 Western Ambassador has its number displayed in the headcode as it makes the Reading General stop with an Up express. The negative has gone missing and this cut-out print is all that I have left of that moment. While I was building the diorama for this month’s cover, I experimented with a side-on shot which, I think, captures well those moments with a ‘Western’ standing at the platform end (main picture, above). I failed to use anything to block out the cluttered background, and one figure has a huge moulding mark on his back, but the light and the atmosphere are just right. I cleaned up the figure and held up a background sheet, but somehow the corrected shot did not capture the atmosphere. Thinking back, neither of those prototype shots was planned. They were just quick snaps. Like the shot above, they are better for it. Note: I should add that my collection of model ‘Westerns’ was based around the Lima model with its horrible front ‘shelf’ until the Heljan version came along. I reworked the cab roof of one Heljan model to correct the shape, but then the Dapol rendering of the Class 52 finally got things right. The model used in this month’s picture is D1030 Western Musketeer. It is a much-reworked Heljan model, with reshaped cab roof, etched grilles and cast details. I bought it second-hand from a large collection of WR diesels acquired by Trains4u in Peterborough, mainly because it saved me having to open it up and fit a crew. The previous owner did a great job of the detailing, so thank you – whoever you are.
D1030 stands in the rain at the platform end. The picture was taken to show the boy in the puddle and the gushing pipe, but to me it captures a familiar scene.
Above: Some time in the mid-1960s, Saturday spotters line the platform edge as D1038 waits with a Down Swansea express.
Below: Fast-forward a decade or more and the ‘Westerns’ are on their way out, attracting adulation from fans at every stop.