Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

London Festival The London Festival of Railway Modelling

Report #1: Saturday, April 1, 2006

Dear fellow Valeasians,

The VEW, yours truly and the missus are safely back from an exciting week in London, England where we bravely defended North American Z-scaling at the London Festival of Railway Modelling, or LFRM for short.

First of all, we spent a sun-filled week in London, something quite unusual for this time of year, or any time of year! The trek to the venue very early Saturday morning was also an adventure. I had studied the London tube map and consulted the hotel concierge for his suggestions on the best route to Alexandra Palace. The Palace was ten stops from the hotel (located 5 minutes from the Victoria Station and Underground) but I needed to transfer from the Victoria line to the Picadilly line at some point and I had three transfer stations to choose from. The general consensus was that I should change lines straight away at the Green Park station.

It was a good thing that I had ordered the custom shipping case with rollers and a collapsible handle because there was a good deal of walking involved in the London tube system. There were also a good deal of staircases! My arm was sore for 4 days after the show from lugging the case down and up staircases. Fortunately, there was a very long escalator at the Wood Green station (my exit for the Palace). The entire trip took 55 minutes from the moment I left the hotel.

Of course, I was totally lost when I reached the street at Wood Green. As it happened, I had been followed by a middle-aged couple who looked like they might be model train fans. When they came up beside me I asked if they were going the the train show. YES! From that point on we became fast friends (for the day, at least). They had already attended last year's show so they knew all about the shuttle bus that ran from across the street (but far enough away for me to not know where to go to find it).

My new friends from Bournemouth led me to the shuttle bus where I had to convince the driver to open up a luggage bay to transport the VEW. The drive up to the Palace was lovely, narrow streets, beautiful parkland and a steep hill up to the main entrance of the exhibition hall which was aptly named "Palm Court". The weird thing about this bus trip was the fact that I had found a seat directly behing the driver on the "right" side of the bus and watched, spell-bound, as we negociated our way to the Palace drving on the "left" side of the road. The streets were very narrow, and in some places, not wide enough for two-lane traffic. I hold London bus and cab drivers in the greatest esteem for their daring and driving talent!

The Alexandra Palace is a striking and majestic building, set on the top of a hill overlooking greater London. The view from the Palace was remarkable. The inside of the Palace was also remarkable. The ceilings and walls were painted with frescos and the main exhibition hall was adorned with a huge wind organ and a very large stained-glass window opposite the organ. It was in this "Great Hall" that I had a six-foot space waiting for me. My spot was excellent. There was lots of room all around for the public to circulate and to gather to see the layout. I was about 20 feet from the "Model Railway Club" of London and about 50 feet from several magnificently detailed layouts, one of which was a superb Z-scale British-outline creation called "Loosely Warren", the work of Ann Silby.

When the moment came to open up VEW, I was pleasantly surprised to see that only a couple of trees needed to be repositioned. My larger dinosaurs had come loose which I should have expected since they are all pewter casts and quite heavy. Lesson learned! The biggest surprise came when I plugged in the layout to the 1800 watt 240v to 110v voltage transformer. The halogen light worked for about 5 seconds, then nothing! I had a big problem!

After some frantic testing with my voltmeter, I discovered that my voltage transformer had blown a fuse. Why? There had to have been a short circuit somewhere in the layout control circuitry. Where exactly, I couldn't determine at the show. The show was opening to the public in 5 minutes...just enough time to populate the layout with rolling stock and plug in the halogen which still worked after I replaced the blown fuse.

So, there I was with a still life on display instead of a working layout. I felt aweful but resigned myself to put on a big smile and do my best to compensate. Thank god I had DINOSAURS and brochures.

It didn't take long before I had a visit from Tony H-Ellary, or at least I think it was Tony H-Ellary. He was so excited to see me and the layout that he only introduced himself much later when I asked with whom I was having the pleasure of speaking. His answer was Tony. His last name is my assumption based on certain clues I gleaned during the day. Interestingly, Tony wasn't bothered at all by the fact that the train wasn't working. This boyed my spirits and I became even more determined to make the best of things. After all, there I was at an astounding train show in the heart of one of the world's greatest cities.

Time to take a break...there's lots more to tell including how a good samaritan saved the day and learning to understand the British reserve. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Respectfully submitted by
Jeffrey MacHan
Chief Imagineer - VECRR
International Ambassador - Exporail

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