Mod­el­ling Lives

Tales from the world of pro­fes­sional model-mak­ers. Bachmann PR Man­ager Den­nis Lovett won­ders if the hobby has be­come too se­ri­ous for its own good.

Model Rail (UK) - - Contents -

For­mer Bachmann PR man Den­nis Lovett won­ders if the hobby has be­come too se­ri­ous.

Model Rail­roader, the stal­wart of US model railway pub­li­ca­tions, car­ries this slo­gan on its cover: “Model Rail­road­ing is Fun!”. Is our hobby in dan­ger of be­com­ing too se­ri­ous? The Chan­nel 5 TV pro­gramme The Great Model Railway Chal­lenge has been lam­basted by some for show­ing the hobby in bad light. I take the op­po­site view. Our hobby is on prime-time TV and re­minds us all that it’s about en­joy­ing our­selves and so­cial­is­ing with like-minded peo­ple – hav­ing fun. If it suc­ceeds, then model railway clubs across the na­tion will have an op­por­tu­nity to gain ad­di­tional mem­bers. Many of those watch­ing will have had train sets. Per­haps, like me, they are ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment and look­ing to rekin­dle their in­ter­est. I have met many such peo­ple dur­ing the last 13 years work­ing for Bachmann, all try­ing to get their heads around the fact that the hobby to­day is very dif­fer­ent from the one they left as young­sters. Back then cou­plings, wheels and even track sys­tems were dif­fer­ent – you de­vel­oped brand loy­alty be­cause noth­ing else worked with yours! Now we must ex­plain NEM cou­pling pock­ets or DCC sock­ets. I have at­tended count­less ex­hi­bi­tions over the past 50-some­thing years but a com­mon sight has been peo­ple be­ing very se­ri­ous, al­most to the detri­ment of their own en­joy­ment. An ex­hi­bi­tion should be a show­case event for a lo­cal club or other or­gan­i­sa­tion. If the timetable fails to work, we are not go­ing to be dragged in front of a Transport Se­lect Com­mit­tee to ex­plain its fail­ings – this is not the real railway where they do have to take timeta­bles very se­ri­ously! Have you no­ticed that some beau­ti­fully mod­elled lay­outs of­ten fail to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of the vis­i­tors for very long? It may be that the railway in ques­tion only had four trains a day, but such his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy is lost on the ma­jor­ity of on­look­ers. Con­trast that with a vin­tage train set, with Tri-ang or Hornby-dublo trains whizzing around in all di­rec­tions. They’ll at­tract large crowds and any ‘op­er­a­tional mishap’ – a crash – will de­light any chil­dren watch­ing. As you get older you be­come more nos­tal­gic and, over the years, I have added to my col­lec­tion with the things I al­ways wanted – but couldn’t afford – when I was younger. We had great fun launch­ing he­li­copters, watch­ing duck­ing gi­raffes, fir­ing rock­ets or try­ing to race the train with our Tri-ang Minic Mo­tor­ways cars. The toy ele­ment has been re­moved from main­stream model railway man­u­fac­tur­ing. Tri-ang Rail­ways prod­ucts were toys, rather than mod­els. The prob­lem fac­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers is that any­thing they make that’s less than se­ri­ous draws ridicule. Key­boards go into over­drive and fo­rums into melt­down. I well re­mem­ber the furore when Bachmann pro­duced its Un­der­ground Ernie range. The track only had two rails, rather than four, as per the Lon­don Un­der­ground, and the trains did not rep­re­sent real trains. ‘Ernie’ was an at­tempt to in­tro­duce trains to a new and younger au­di­ence on the back of a tele­vi­sion se­ries. It failed not be­cause of the qual­ity of the mod­els, or in­deed the pro­grammes them­selves, but be­cause only 26 episodes were made. By com­par­i­son, more than 500 episodes of Thomas & Friends have been broad­cast. Get­ting model rail­ways onto main­stream tele­vi­sion is a ma­jor boost for the hobby. Last year, when the live steam lo­co­mo­tive that starred in Chan­nel 4’s The Big­gest Lit­tle Railway in the World at­tended ex­hi­bi­tions af­ter­wards, they all recorded sub­stan­tial in­creases in num­bers. Hope­fully, 2018’s War­ley will ben­e­fit from The Great Model Railway Chal­lenge, as the win­ning team and its lay­out will star at the Bachmann stand. In the mean­time en­joy The Great Model Railway Chal­lenge for what it is – a TV pro­gramme for the gen­eral pub­lic about some­thing we care about.

The prob­lem fac­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers is that any­thing they make that’s less than se­ri­ous draws ridicule. Key­boards go into over­drive and fo­rums into melt­down

Lau­rie Calvert led Team Steam­punk in the third episode of The Great Model Railway Chal­lenge. His sci-fi/fan­tasy lay­outs, typ­i­fied by ‘Cato Pass’ (MR253), are pop­u­lar with young and old mod­ellers alike, ei­ther at ex­hi­bi­tions or on­line. CHRIS NE­VARD

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