Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

London Festival The London Festival of Railway Modelling

Report #5

Time for some background info on the LFRM.

This year is the Festival's 7th edition. The number of visitors was growing and about 15000 people were expected over the weekend (counting the small fry who didn't have to pay to get in).

The train show was divided into four categories: Exhibitors (commercial displays), Layouts, Clubs/Societies, Demonstrations. The show venue was divided into two major display areas. The Great Hall, where I was located, had the organ, the stained glass window and a high, vaulting translucent roof which allowed natural light to bathe the displays as well as the food court . The West Hall, where most of the specialty traders and demonstrations were situated, had a low ceiling and no natural lighting. I feel sorry for the folks who got stuck there!

The Festival is, by any measure, a major train show. With 205 stands of varying size and 42 operating layouts, the Festival was as big as they come in the UK. For good measure, the Festival took place in one of the most beautiful exhibition venues I have ever had the privilege of visiting.

Two other things struck me about the Festival. First of all, Warners Group, the show sponsor, published a 36-page full-color show guide with a floor plan and full descriptions of all the exhibitors. It was on sale for 1 pound. Second, I was very impressed with the British attention to the quality of their displays. Almost all of the layouts had valences with hidden lighting. The layout fascias also invariably had a space reserved for all of the exhibition badges where that particular layout had been on display. The badges usually said something like this - As seen at NEC Warley Exhibition, Date. I noticed that several layouts had already pasted their Festival badge. My exhibitor badge was not quite as handsome but I had a souvenir nevertheless.

In my experience, the only North American show that comes close to the sophistication of the Festival (i.e. show guide, exhibitor badge, professional organisation, etc.) is the NMRA National Train Show.

Okay, now for some observations on the sights and sounds of the Festival.

Beginning my tour to my right and circling around counter-clockwise, I first came across the Hornby stand which was featuring their new line of OO live steam locos. Yes, live steam! OO is British HO so you can imagine the miniscule dimensions of these live steamers. I saw them in action at Sun Youth in Montréal just 7 days earlier and I can attest to the locos smooth operation and prototypical smell . The speed is controlled from a main throttle which operates on a DCC-like priniciple. The throttle commands the heating element (boiler) which in turn generates the steam to power the pistons. Amazing to behold. As a side note, I saw the throttle for sale at Harrod's for 300 pounds! Yikes! and Yikes again!

There were several OO, HO and N layouts in this area mainly of steam era British outline. For the most part, the layouts were shelf-style shunting designs. Some names were "Canada Road", "Abbey Road", "Littlewood", "Hammeston Warf" and "Dobson Bridge", the later being a large Gauge 1 modular layout. The workmanship on these layouts was variable although the operators were all very friendly and outgoing, none of this hiding from the public as we encounter far too often in North American shows.

I then entered a vendor area featuring G-scale (LGB and USA Trains). There were several book vendors, tool vendors, flea-market-type vendors in several scales but no "British railroad pocketwatch" vendors.

Next thing I knew I was standing in front of Ann and Brian Solby's creations. They had two layouts on display, the N-scale German Rhine-themed "Zweiburg" (scenery by Ann) and the Z-scale "Loosely Warren" (scenery and rolling stock by Ann). Here was where I encountered extraordinary craftsmanship and conceptual design. Ann was apologetic for her "poor" scenery! On the contrary, she had done a magnificent job with rock faces, vineyards, beaches and water surfaces. She should be giving workshops for gosh sake.

Both layouts were simple double mainline oval designs with only one side of the oval visible to the public. Valence lighting really brought out the highlights of both layouts. Ann's Z-layout featured British-outline locos and rolling stock, some of which she had painted herself. She had a small classification yard on the operator's side of the layout so that she could run a variety of trains. Most of her structures were bought used which kept her costs down.

Hopefully, you'll be able to read more about the "Loosely Warren" along with several photos in the May-June issue of Ztrack Magazine.

Moving along, I came across a well-known show layout built by the "Model Railway Club" of London called "Coppenhagen Fields". I had been told to not miss this layout but frankly, I wasn't all that impressed. It was grey and dusty and half finished, something that I personally don't enjoy seeing at a public show. I quickly moved on to the large Bachmann Branchline display. Bachmann is really big in the UK (HO and OO). For N, people tend to stick to Graham Farrish, who also had a booth.

Next up in my Festival tour was the "Model Railway Club" stand. Just by the name, you can tell that these guys know the meaning of "snobbism". I kept looking at name tags to see if I could nab Nick Freezer, the official layout coordinator from whom I never received the slightest sign of life in over three years of effort to contact him. I really wanted to share some of my thoughts on his communication skills but then again, maybe it was just as well that I got sidetracked listening to his father, Cyril Freezer, share some of his model railroading wisdom with several admirers. Cyril, you see, is the UK's model railroad guru. He is the author of a dozen or more books and is the member-emeritus of the "Model Railway Club". He looked to be in his late seventies or even older but his ageless enthusiasm for the hobby was abundantly evident from his animated conversation with his guests.

Next up was the British Railway Modelling stand (Warners Group Publishing). I wanted to thank Sally Beresford for her help in arranging my presence at the show but she was off running the show (floor manager in addition to several other tasks). I did get a chance to say hello as she rushed by, but that was all.

The rest of the display area in the Great Hall was occupied by vendors of all sorts. They seemed to be doing excellent business. I decided that I should take a quick tour of the West Hall while I had Peter doing my job at the VEW / Exporail stand.

The West Hall was about half the size of the Great Hall and much gloomier (no natural light). This was the place to find most of the demonstrations on car construction, scenery techniques and model railroad electronics with the MERG folks, the group that Peter had abandoned to give me a helping hand.

Most of the layouts in the West Hall were club layouts in a variety of scales. The most impressive, to my eye, was an On30 shunting layout called "Murphy's Quay". It was highly detailed and very well presented, just the way I like it. I later found out that there was a layout competition at the show but "Murphy's Quay" didn't take top honours although it would certainly have gotten my vote.

Also to be found in the West Hall was the stand for the "National Railway Museum" in York. The middle-aged couple who were on duty had spent several very enjoyable minutes with me at the VEW stand, chatting about the state of things at the National Museum and how difficult it was to find volunteers who would represent the Museum at train shows. Part of my mission for Exporail was to make contact with other major museums in order to establish information sharing and other linkages. I was invited to take part in the York Train Show which is held every Easter weekend. Unfortunately, after being rebuffed three times in 2001, 2002 and 2003 (after initially receiving a positive response from the organisers), I had finally gotten the message and taken York off my potential train show list. As Marthe says, "Why waste your time with groups that don't want you there?" Good question! Must be ego, I guess. I can't take No for an answer but Yes-No - Yes-No - Yes-No finally connects.

I had come full circle and had returned to the VEW / Exporail stand with coffees for Peter and myself. Peter had done such a fine job as crewmember and for saving the day with his loan of a throttle that I decided to add his name to the very exclusive list of VECRR life members (see the database if you don't believe me!).

There is more to tell, so don't go too far. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of the London Festival AdventureZ.

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

VECRR London Festival of Railway Modelling Sponsors

Exporail Micro-Trains Line Ztrack Magazine Märklin

Stay tuned for Report #6 of the London Festival AdventureZ | Return to London Festival 2006 Home.