Good scenery can make all the difference to a model railway and I had clear ideas about the setting I wanted to create. The secret, if there is one, is to think of the railway as a three-dimensional model rather than as a two-dimensional track layout that is dressed up. Hence my use of open-top baseboard construction indoors. The prototype was built through topography that had existed for thousands of years and, apart from parts of Eastern England, this was anything but flat. The pioneering railway engineers who surveyed their routes would try to minimise the earthworks and structures to keep costs down. A good model benefits from bold scenery but it should never look as if the railway deliberately aimed for the spot that required a magnificent viaduct just because it would make a great model.
I have drawn inspiration from the writings and work of John H Ahern, who has been a significant inspiration to railway modellers ever since he came to the fore in the 1940s and 50s.
In recent years, several manufacturers have introduced a wonderful range of road vehicles suitable for any chosen era and there is no excuse for having deserted roads and yards. However, it is too easy to get carried away and to forget that road vehicles were relatively sparse in the 1960s.
As a youngster, I went to school in Leicester and the Midland Red busses plied the route home, so Corgi Original Omnibus vehicles are represented in the D9 double-decker and the C5 single-decker. Barton’s busses were also local to the area although I remember they had a terrible reputation when I was young, and the yellow single-decker busses of H Boyer & Son ran between Mountsorrel and Leicester with their garage at Rothley. Boyer’s were absorbed by Midland Red in 1959 so I’m using a little modelling licence to have one in their livery but, when the Little Bus Company produced a suitable model, I couldn’t resist it.
Other vehicles were obtained from various sources. One vehicle I didn’t get when originally released was the Dublo Dinky Toys VW van. Besides railways, I am passionate about air-cooled VWs that I have owned and driven ever since I passed my driving test. I managed to buy a scruffy example at a reasonable price on eBay and was disappointed to find it was made at 1:87 scale (3.5mm to the foot). Meccano Ltd must have bought the mould from a continental manufacturer! I have found that too many manufacturers take liberties with the label HO/OO and the difference in size is very noticeable.
Another relic from my childhood is the Triang Minic Motorway system, very popular in the 1960s and early 70s. The original electric motors were a triumph of miniaturisation for the time and a good range of vehicles, roadway sections and accessories were produced. The Minic Motorways range had two aspects, one was a range of racing/rally cars like a half-size Scalextric, and the other was the range of cars and commercial vehicles that could be seen around the streets of the day. The track and vehicles were roughly OO gauge scale and sections with both road slots and rail tracks allowed the complete integration of the road and rail systems. Peco introduced a compatible flexible roadway system, Motoroad, in April 1965 after announcing it at the 1964 Brighton Toy Fair. It was only advertised in the magazine for two months and it was not a success. Maybe Triang considered it infringed their registered design and stopped it?
Peco published a companion magazine Model Roads and Racing for a few years. As its name suggests, it also covered slot-car racing. The first issue included an introduction by Stirling Moss and this corny cartoon by Jack Wheeldon. The first issue appeared in October 1963 and it became Miniature Autoworld from January 1965. I have every issue up to February 1966, after which date it was re-titled again to Miniature Auto and I stopped buying it. The magazine ceased publication sometime in 1968. Full history here at vsrnonline.com.
Triang stopped producing the Minic Motorway system in about 1974 but the system lives on with one place specialising in refurbishing original items and producing custom-made road junctions and other features. The Minic Road/Rail Shop on eBay claims to be the only shop in the world that deals exclusively in the Minic Motorways range produced by Triang. The shop claims to have several thousand pieces of track and other components in stock to create virtually any layout that you could imagine.
The modern equivalent is the Faller Car System that must be one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. It was just starting to gain ground during 2009 when I started to plan this layout but was well beyond my budget, the only British looking vehicle available was a basic Ford Transit van costing much the same as a modern ready-to-run locomotive and more than twice the price of a refurbished Minic Motorway vehicle. However, prices were falling somewhat by the turn of the year and will probably continue to do so a little. It is an excellent and very versatile system but most vehicles would need to be re-bodied to represent British vehicles. The economics might look marginally better if Faller made a basic rolling chassis available, although the price of a body-shell must be a very small part of the total. However, the roadway itself is very cheap, needing only the thin steel guide wire adding to what you would do for a normal street scene. Switchable junctions are available and are easy to make as a DIY project, there are examples published on the web using solenoids or servos, as well as other detection and control systems.
It all comes down to money. The minimum initial outlay for ten vehicles and a small road layout without anything fancy would be approaching £1000, and ten vehicles would look pretty thin on the ground on all but the smallest of layouts. For a decently populated road system with junctions and automatic control, the cost could very quickly exceed that spent on the railway rolling stock. It is a question of priorities and my priority is running trains. I think it will be a very long time before I’ll be considering a living road system!
However, a small section of a tramway might be an attractive option . . .
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