Hornby Model Railways

Model Railways for all Generations


The Enduring Magic of Hornby Model Railways

Bertie Bell on Aug-24-2010

Men and boys of all ages and for generations have enjoyed building, playing with and collecting transportation models. For some the pleasure is in model cars, for others it might be model planes or boats. But the firm favourite across the generations remains the model railway. Whether driven by nostalgia or by habit we collectively have a love of Hornby Model Railways. It is the Hornby name that we look for first when we start out with or when we return to this fascinating hobby.

Models are a way of representing our world in miniature and for some inexplicable reason we are all fascinated by miniaturisation. Perhaps it has to do with being in control. The modeller builds a world of his own and it is a world over which he rules supreme. It is a world in which he can immerse himself in his own fantasy. A gentle and therapeutic private place which he only has to share with an inner circle of invited guests.

It is not really surprising that we choose model railways as our hobby. There is and always has been a sense of romance attached to the railway engine. There is a sense of power and freedom associated with this living, breathing machine. We love its sounds and we love its smell. The very thought of the steam train puts most men and boys in a happy place. It is perhaps just a man thing. 

Although our women folk don’t really understand this attachment to the railway engine, they are more than happy to go along with it and possibly even support it because it does not represent any form of threat to them or to their world. While their man is upstairs playing with his Hornby model railway he is neither very far away nor is he under their feet!

The son or grandson is often used as the justification for the initial dive into the world of the model railway. The sense of nostalgia and wanting the new little man in the family to enjoy the very thing that Dad amused himself with when he too was a little boy is quite a powerful force. Because the youngster is involved the deep seated desire to play is supported and encouraged by Mum because she sees it as a bonding process and being good for the little chap to spend time with his Father or Grandfather.

So it really is good news all round. Hornby model railways provide an agreeable pastime for chaps of all ages. A model railway promotes peace and harmony in the household and answers that age old dilemma of what to buy him for Christmas or his birthday. Long live Hornby Model Railways!

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B4 Shunting Loco 30096 Normandy

Bertie Bell on Dec-1-2010

One of my interests has for many years been the collecting of photographic negatives. Whilst the subject matter of those negatives covers a very broad church, the focus has tended towards those concerning transport.

I buy my negatives singly and on occasion as collections. I have purchased as widely as an entire lifetime’s archive from a retired Lymington based marine photographer and a collection of many thousands of negatives of the English Electric Lightning frontline fighter plane, a collection which is reputedly the most comprehensive archive of its kind, down to single negatives that have cost but a few pence.

Yet of all those subjects, the subject that most captivates me is the Steam Railway Engine. I am not alone in my quest for these negatives. Collectors pay high prices for negatives of rare or particularly interesting engines. Of course, as railway enthusiasts have always taken photographs of trains there are still plenty out there as yet unfound and I will continue to build my collection.

The interest is always heightened in a negative if it is accompanied by a note of the what, where and when of its subject, and it is that which brings me to this article.

I have in my collection a 35mm negative taken of a rather anonymous looking shunting loco in Southampton Docks. I had purchased the negative some years ago thinking the engine was in a scrap yard somewhere. It was only some time later that the photograph was identified as having been taken in Southampton Docks. I recently posted an image from that negative onto my Facebook page as I have a number of Facebook friends interested in railway engines.

To my surprise a good friend of mine identified the engine as being London & South Western Railway class B4 0-4-0T 30096 Normandy, which was built in 1893. But of greater interest still, he tells me that the engine is still intact and held at the Bluebell Railway awaiting overhaul having been in regular use up until 2006.

Normandy is described on the Bluebell Railway website as being a deceptively powerful but compact shunting locomotive which spent most of its working days in Southampton Docks. After disposal by British Railways it was used again in Southampton shunting on a private wharf. Eventually sold to the Bullied Society, Normandy was moved to the Bluebell Line. The engine was at one time described as “the reason we don’t need a diesel”

The use of that image has now been gladly offered to the Bluebell Railway should they wish to use it in any way they see as fit.

In its small way this example demonstrates the power for the good that the internet can be. I now have identification and a history which brings to life my negative, and potentially an image taken from it can give pleasure and perhaps more to other railway enthusiasts. So, collecting negatives is not a negative hobby, is it?


Visit to The Model Railway Shop

Bertie Bell on Oct-30-2010

Whilst I have always understood the inference of the saying – like a child in a sweet shop – I can now honestly say that I know exactly what that saying implies. For the first time in many years I recently had the pleasure of entering the hallowed grounds of a specialist model railway shop.

I walked through the door to be confronted with rack upon rack, stacked floor to ceiling with brightly coloured boxes containing a treasure trove of model railwayana. Not engine name plates and station signs as the term railwayana might imply but as complete engines with rolling stock and whole railway stations, all brand new and all in miniature. From this place I could walk out owning my very own new replica locomotive, my own Tornado if you like, and I could have carried it out under my arm there and then.

Glass cases displayed everybody’s firm favourite steam locomotives, the blue Mallard, green Flying Scotsman and red City of Lancaster alongside countless others. Standing alongside the engines were displays of rolling stock offering an almost endless choice of passenger carriages and freight wagons. To one side the choice of scenery was breathtaking. From this section one could select and deploy the wherewithal to develop an entire landscape, elevating a basic train set into a comprehensive model railway layout. Houses, bungalows, shops, pubs and churches all offered in perfect scale. I even spotted a model corrugated nissen hut and Anderson shelter!

Of special interest to me was a display of 00 scale cars, vans and lorries. Somehow these little fellows really caught my focus. The character that each car and van would have had in my youth has been faithfully reproduced in miniature. The Morris Minor Traveller with its wooden finishers, the Bedford Dormobile style vans, Humber Super Snipe Estate and even a Green Goddess fire engine. I could own that Jaguar Mk11 I had always coveted and I could park it where I liked on my own piece of real estate alongside my own railway station – and I wouldn’t get a parking ticket!

The magic of this model railway shop left me not knowing which way to turn. What should I look at next? Which engine would I set up with which carriages? Should I go down the route of live steam? There is absolutely no doubt that seeing and touching this world of model railways in the flesh, so as to speak, instils an excitement that browsing books and the internet just cannot deliver. The detail, the realism, the variety is astonishing.

The mental imaging of the layout I could create for myself had to be pushed aside though. With great willpower and with some regret, I returned to the matter in hand. I HAD come here to make a purchase and it came in a blue box. This purchase was not for me, at least not directly….. “Could I have a Thomas and The Great Discovery train set please?”

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Christmas Day and the Hornby Train Set

Bertie Bell on Oct-6-2010

Having finally convinced the powers that be that it’s not too early to be thinking about buying the grandson his Hornby train set for Christmas there comes the delicate issue of choosing which train set the young man should receive on that very special day.

As the family expert in the matter of train sets and model railways it is incumbent on the head of the household to take on this duty despite the weight of responsibility carried with it. Were one to be derelict in this duty and fail to make the right choice the implications could be both catastrophic for Christmas and far reaching as far as one’s perceived judgment is concerned over the longer term. So it is a duty to be undertaken with due solemnity and one not to be taken lightly.

Ever one to do what has to be done, and to do so without complaint, a rescheduling of those jobs of lesser importance such as fixing that dripping tap, re-hanging that broken door or decorating the bedroom has to be undertaken forthwith. Having now moved the most important item, the acquisition of a Hornby train, set to the top of the to-do list it is time to undertake a modicum of careful market research.

A visit to the local magazine store to pick up a handful of railway modelling publications will certainly be enhanced by the opportunity to have some quiet time flicking through them over a pint or two in the local pub on the way home. Research carried out in this fashion can be extremely productive although it does have to be noted that the plans for the layout may well expand with successive pints!

Now armed with a little up to date background information a field trip to the local model shop is vital to establish a true feel for the options available within the assigned remit. This expedition can be time consuming and because of the level of concentration required is best conducted as a solo operation. There is little doubt that one’s other half would find the focus on the job in hand whilst carrying out this exercise in due diligence, to be all consuming for her man. It is more than possible that the lady might in consequence be left feeling that she was being somewhat overlooked. Best therefore that she remains at home continuing with her own duties and leaves the matter of train sets to the expert. Difficult though this task is and heavy though the burden be, there will be no flinching from the responsibility that this decision carries. Every effort will be made to ensure that this is going to be a very special Christmas for at least one member of the family this year.

It is wise to refrain from actually making any purchase at this time. A comprehensive mental review and reflection on the options revealed during this period of intense study is now appropriate. This is often best achieved whilst sitting back, feet up and eyes closed in one’s favourite armchair. Any suggestion that you are merely taking an age related afternoon nap should be swiftly rebuffed. The true nature and importance of the mental process being undertaken whilst in this seemingly relaxed pose should be made clear. A final and far reaching decision is being carefully analysed.

Come the day and come the hour. It’s time to commit all that research and effort to the task of fulfilling the mental order book. There is a warning here. This is definitely a journey to take alone. It is also wise to have a goodly supply of ready cash secreted about ones person to supplement the credit card. Be sure to get those purchases arranged in two bags. Going home will be reminiscent of a passage through customs. There will be baggage to declare and a baggage to perhaps forget to mention.

Having secreted away the undeclared purchases until the right moment presents itself; it is time to put on the slippers and return to the armchair, perhaps pausing by the drinks cabinet to pour oneself a well deserved malt whisky as an appropriate reward for a job well done. Soon one is likely to be observed lying back with a wry smile and eyes closed to the world whilst dreaming of Christmas day, the grandson and the Hornby train set.

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Size Matters for a Hornby Layout

Bertie Bell on Sep-22-2010

Looking back through the mists of time to our first train set will for most of us older boys bring on a warm glow as we re-live happy memories of a 00-guage Hornby layout on the living room carpet. Yes, there were some 0-guage layouts to be seen then, but in the 1950’s and 60’s there is little doubt that Hornby Dublo reigned supreme.

The model train set market today, certainly here in the UK, is still dominated by our traditional 00-gauge layout with the newer N-gauge fast gaining in popularity. For the uninitiated amongst us these two gauges roughly translate as small trains and even smaller trains still. There is plenty of choice and plenty of supply to be had in either range allowing, or perhaps I should say encouraging us to start building an entire railway world in miniature. In this private world of the miniature railway and unlike in the rest of his life, the modeller makes his own rules and he rules as king. Here nobody is going to question his choice or challenge his authority. As the creator he reins supreme.

The scale of a layout may quite possibly end up being dictated by the available space on which it is to be built. Ideally an attic room is likely to offer the biggest undisturbed real estate potential, but a spare bedroom will come a close second. Many of us older boys have a bedroom we can reclaim from a youngster who has now fled the nest. Whilst size of space will likely determine the scale of development, the scale in which you model will of course be largely a matter of personal or practical preference.

A Hornby layout in 00 gauge would have to be my own choice. Whilst the smaller size N-gauge has a distinct advantage in that in a given space a more complex and realistic layout can be created, the rolling stock can present a somewhat greater challenge to bigger and, dare I say, less nimble fingers. It is also true that at this time 00-gauge does still have the widest accessory choice available.

A 00-gauge Hornby layout offers everything the returning modeller could possibly want. Because it is the most popular gauge there is a very comprehensive range of engines and rolling stock available from a model shop in almost every town and city, as well as across the internet. Whilst larger than N-gauge it is small enough that an interesting layout can be achieved and still look realistic, whereas larger gauge layouts can often start to lose their realism in a confined space.

So size matters a great deal to the railway modeller and the matter of size is a matter of personal choice. For the boys of the fifties and sixties the warm glow will still be best ignited by the Hornby layout in 00-gauge. The only question is, with so much choice where do I start?

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Be Proud of Your Model Railway

Bertie Bell on Sep-8-2010

There are some adults who may be reluctant or even find it embarrassing to admit to having a model railway of their own. They find the idea that perhaps they might be thought of as a little nerdy or even as an anorak somewhat distasteful. Might they be accused of having a childish mentality and are just playing with toys? Well, they might, but only by the ill informed or those who are maybe hiding their own suppressed passion for model railways in fear of ridicule.

Since Stephenson built his “Rocket” men and boys have been fascinated by trains. Very few of us could ever aspire to having a full sized train of our own. But a model railway, well that’s a different story. Few men could say that at some time in their lives they hadn’t had a model train of one sort or another. As boys we either had a model train given to us or we made one. The luckier ones amongst us went further than that and had a complete model railway layout to call their own.

The popularity of railway modelling is well demonstrated by the number of monthly publications on sale. There is an enormous range of books offered on the subject through high street booksellers and on line through the likes of Amazon. These books and magazines are not written for boys, they are aimed at an adult market with money to spend. The hobby is covered in the minutest detail with articles written by lifelong railway modellers. Adverts are displayed page after page with everything from Hornby train sets and live model steam engines through to the tiniest of scenery offerings.

Are those who find their relaxation in railway modelling from a minority group of sado’s? I think not! Many would be surprised to know that some of the best known celebrities indulge themselves in this absorbing hobby. Would you think Rod Stewart to be a nerd? Well Rod is a railway modeller. He has had his own model railway layout featured in one of the top railway modelling magazines.

Phill Collins of Genesis fame is a railway modeller too. In the basement of his Geneva home he has what has been described as an incredibly detailed layout all put together with his own hands

What about Pete Waterman the British songwriter and record producer? Not only does he enjoy railway modelling, he owns his own model railway company, “Just Like The Real Thing”. To go even further he has his own full sized locomotives too!!

Other well known names to have enjoyed railway modelling include Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, Sam Posey, Johnny Cash and even Winston Churchill.

There are model railway clubs and groups all over the world. These enthusiasts often build fabulous model railway layouts as club projects and display them at shows and exhibitions to the delight of hundreds of visitors.

If we are special, well it’s because we know what we enjoy and we are not afraid to say so. We are and always will be proud of our model railways.    

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The Hornby Train Set Option

Bertie Bell on Aug-31-2010

Returning railway modellers might well be reluctant to invest in a boxed Hornby train set for themselves. They would probably view a train set as being the province of the complete novice or in fact something aimed principally at the junior end of the market. That may well be true but some of the Hornby train sets can actually make a solid platform (no pun intended!) on which a sophisticated layout can be developed.

For a youngster though, there is little doubt that a Hornby train set is the right entry point into the world of the model railway. The investment made in a train set has the potential to ignite a lifetime hobby. A hobby that could well go on to provide many years of pleasure and interest for that youngster well into his adult life.

The major advantage to a boxed Hornby train set is that it has enormous visual appeal and it can be assembled and live in no time at all. For young people immediacy is everything. Interest can and will wane very quickly if their new engine is not soon racing along the track. The boxed set can soon be assembled on the lounge carpet as it generally only requires a space measuring about 6ft x 4ft. At the end of the session it can just as easily be packed away again ready for the next time.

The adult modeller on the other hand is likely to have somewhat more ambitious plans in mind. A permanent layout constructed in the attic, spare room or even a garage or shed. His will be a layout developed over a prolonged period of time and built with great care and attention to detail. For the railway modelling enthusiast the planning and construction of the railway system provides as much or perhaps even more enjoyment than the running of the trains around the track once it has been built.

Whether as a father or as a grandfather, there is a lot of pleasure to be had in buying a Hornby train set as a Christmas or birthday present for the young man of the family. We all enjoy a bit of nostalgia and many of us can recall our own excitement at receiving our own first train set. Well now it’s our turn to be the provider. It is up to us to bring on the next generation of railway modellers. But my goodness we can enjoy choosing and buying that present. With a bit of luck we might get to enjoy showing how it’s all done too. Bring on the Hornby train set!    

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