Model Rail (UK)
Behind the Backscene
Model Rail’s founding father Chris Leigh has a fear of spiral staircases and dreams of building a 4mm scale train ferry.
1. What is your earliest railway memory?
Seeing LMS 10000 come round the bend at Weybridge with the ‘Bournemouth Belle’ Pullmans behind it.
2. What is your most memorable train journey?
Toronto to Vancouver on the ‘Canadian’ in 2011.
3. Do you have a favourite railway station?
I have so many, but the unique Staines West has to top the list.
4. How did you get into the hobby industry?
I left school without a job to go to. I saw an advert for a junior editorial assistant in Model Railway Constructor magazine. I showed it to my dad and he said “Write them a letter.”
5. What did you do beforehand?
I was at school being glad that National Service had ended just before I would have been called up.
6. What hobbies do you have?
Aside from modelling ‘HO’ North American and ‘OO’ British, I don’t have much time for other hobbies, but I like doing DIY and gardening, though I’m getting too old for both!
7. Have you ever built a model railway?
Need you ask?! Have I ever FINISHED a model railway? Now that’s a different question!
8. Where do you find your inspiration?
All around me. I love making model buildings and I’m forever discovering new ones that I want to build. The ‘16XX’ got me looking at Dornoch station as a future project and then I discovered – just down the line – the exquisite Dunrobin Castle station. I’ve built Dornoch but I still need to build Dunrobin.
9. What model or craft projects are you most proud of?
I love making model buildings and I’m forever discovering new ones that I want to build
Oddly enough it’s all about boats, the dredger MV Wallbrook that I described in Model Rail (and George weathered for me) and the as yet unfinished MV Oldenburg, the Bidefordlundy Island ferry. Both models involved successfully torturing styrene sheet into seemingly impossible shapes. I’m also hugely proud of the working barge and barge slip that I built for Egham & Staines Model Railway Society’s ‘HO’ Canadian layout.
10. If you could build your dream model, what would it be?
A train ferry in ‘OO’ capable of being loaded with the ‘Night Ferry’ sleeping cars.
11. Who is your hero?
Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
12. What motivates you the most in your job?
Seeing my models in print. I started in this business by making models for Colin Gifford to photograph and I’ve always enjoyed seeing how good I could make a model look in a photograph.
13. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Being given a blank 96-page magazine and told to fill it with material that railway modellers would want to read. The result was the first issue of Model Rail.
14. What has been the best decision you’ve ever made?
To uproot my young family (children aged 11 and 8) and bring them 100 miles north from our home in Berkshire to Northamptonshire so that I could change jobs.
15. If you could change anything about the hobby, what would it be?
I would resolve the issues between the two major manufacturers and two retailers, as I believe it brings the hobby into disrepute, reflects badly on all parties and adversely affects their customers.
16. What was your big ambition as a child?
To follow my sister’s lead and emigrate to Canada.
17. If you had a time machine, where would you go?
To Savernake Low Level station in the summer of 1964.
18. What’s your hidden talent?
I don’t think I have any talents, hidden or otherwise.
19. Do you have any strange quirks that you’re prepared to share?
A pathological fear of spiral staircases.
20. What was the best advice you ever had?
If in doubt, don’t.
21. How would you like to be remembered?
As a nice bloke.