Bill and Jason’s Excellent UK Adventure

In November 2014 Rapido Bill and Rapido Jason did a whirlwind tour of small bits of the UK. As they travelled, Jason kept a travelogue of their journey and their thoughts on UK railways, UK society, North American locomotive builders, model railways, and lots of other stuff. We’ve put them together into one blog for an entertaining and often irreverent read. You can click on each image for a larger version, then close that window to come back to the blog. Enjoy!

DAY ONE:

Bill and I are now in the UK.  The flight was just luuuuuvly.  Seven hours of turbulence so bad that once Bill forgot to put on his seatbelt and ended up on in a lady’s coffee four rows ahead.  My plan was to get a lot of work done on the plane, and now my proudest achievement for the flight is not being sick the entire time.

Air Canada now lands at Terminal 2, which I am convinced is actually in Croydon. After walking underground from Croydon, we caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington. We then boarded a lovely HST to Reading…

Bill-in-UK

Bill loves HSTs as much as I do, but I could hear him muttering something about blue and yellow being the only proper colours. We stayed at a musty, stuffy little hotel that is supposedly one of the best hotels in Reading. Well, there are a lot of nicer hotels in Reading but this was the top hotel that we could afford. Why are Reading hotels so expensive? What fancy people are staying in Reading?

We headed back to the station and discovered that it had been eaten by a footbridge. Here is the footbridge that ate Reading:

Footbridge-ReadingIt seems that every time I am in the UK, I end up on a lot of Voyagers. Maybe that’s because I always go to Birmingham, and if you are going to Birmingham from anywhere other than London there is a decent chance you will be on a Voyager. I love Voyagers. I know I’m in the minority here, but I think they are neat trains and I love the raw feeling of power as they accelerate under your bum.

I do tend to travel first class, because being from Canada I can afford it. We get this thing called a BritRail pass, which is about £300 for an eight-day first class rover anywhere in the UK. If you are from the UK, you can’t get it. Hard luck. A BritRail pass is one of the many benefits of being from Canadia…

Voyager

Our destination was Shrewsbury, but of course a stop in Birmingham necessitated some serious foaming at the mouth. There are few stations as amazing as New Street when it comes to trainspotting, and if you are thinking a lot about the Pendolino (as we are these days) then it really is a good place to be. Click here for the Rapido Pendolino.

Pendos

Shrewsbury is a stunning town. Let’s get the railfanning out of the way first – here’s a view of the eastern approach to the station taken from Shrewsbury Castle. All of the people that I have told over the years to make their track plans more realistic can now tell me to go stuff it. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes, I would have believed it was completely made up.

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But the real reason for coming to Shrewsbury was to step back in time. I am a huge fan of the Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters. Peters brings 12th-century Shrewsbury to life and I felt like I already knew the town well as we wandered around the familiar streets. One or two things have changed in the 900 years since the Cadfael stories… The skirts are definitely shorter. Holy Moses – what’s with scantily-clad young women standing around outside clubs in the UK? Don’t these girls get cold standing out there in their tiny skirts? Do they not realize they should be judged by what is in their brains and not by their bodies? What ever happened to women’s lib? But I digress..

(You realize I brought that up just so I could show you this photo. Those girls in tiny skirts should probably stay well away…)

Shrewsbury2Shropshire Council offers guided tours of Shrewsbury for Cadfael nuts like me. Our tour guide was the lovely Marina Trivedi, an expert on the history of Shrewsbury and the entire region. She took us to many of the places frequented by Cadfael in the novels and firmly placed the fictional stories within the context of local history. You can book your own tour here.

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Ellis Peters was a historian as well as an author and her depiction of 12th-century Shrewsbury was spot on. There really was an Abbot Radulfus at the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury in 1140, and the civil war between the Empress Maude and King Stephen happened just as it is depicted in the novels. Many of the supporting characters are also based on real people alive at the time – it’s hard to fathom the amount of research needed to weave such a flawless web of historical fact and fiction from an era so many centuries past. If you haven’t read the Cadfael mysteries and your interest is piqued by my description, give them a try. Don’t just watch the TV show – it’s a bit rubbish.

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One of the greatest things about this trip to Shrewsbury – and the UK in general – is the sense of history in just about everything. In Canada, if something was built before about 1920 it’s considered positively ancient. We have hardly any buildings remaining from the 18th and 19th centuries because we have a colonial mentality – if it’s old it’s in the way of progress so we should tear it down and build something new and better. Our historical designations are so full of loopholes that many significant structures from Canadian architectural history end up being torn down even after they are deemed important enough to save.

I know many Brits feel that progress in this country can be constrained by the desire to preserve the past, but as a history buff and railfan I am extremely envious of how the United Kingdom respects its heritage and invests significantly in preserving that heritage for future generations. You guys don’t know how good you have it.

DAY TWO:

The second full day of our UK adventure started at Shrewsbury station. Bill and I have been amazed at how many young people live, work or study in Shrewsbury. There are young people everywhere, and approaching the station at 08:30 this morning we were truly and properly fighting a crowd made up mostly of young people.

I’m also amazed at how these young people take such care in how they look – all made up and in such artful outfits. When I was that age? I would pick up a shirt from the floor in the morning and if it wasn’t stained and it didn’t smell, it was good.

1-ShrewsburyShrewsbury – a mid-size town in Shropshire – has a railway station that is almost the equivalent of the majestic Windsor Station in Montreal, birthplace of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Britain’s railway history is astounding. The fact that the station is a hub of activity today is evidence of the success of Britain’s passenger rail services. Do you know that there were 1.6 billion trips on Britain’s railways in the last year? In Canada that number is probably closer to 60 million, the vast majority on Toronto-area commuter trains.

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There is always something to see at Shrewsbury station, especially if you like DMUs and the plumes of blue smoke and stink that come from them. (I really do, actually.) Here a 170 from Birmingham engulfs a waiting 150 in blue smelly stuff. Yum!

2a-Shrewsbury

Our train to Crewe was running late because it was behind this freight. The Class 66 is a bittersweet engine for me. I think it’s a great locomotive and I am proud that most of them were built in London, Ontario. But the latest locomotives delivered for GB Railfreight (and the last of the class to be built) were constructed in Muncie, Indiana.

I read Rail magazine every month, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read Stefanie Browne’s congratulatory feature on the Caterpillar factory in Muncie. The General Motors plant in London was producing locomotives since 1949. It was sold to American private equity firms in 2005 but continued to build locomotives for the world, enjoying millions of dollars in Canadian government tax breaks to do so.

Then Caterpillar bought the company and within two years shut the plant down, put 500 hard-working people out of work, and moved all of its locomotive production to Muncie, Indiana. Why? Because the Ontario workers were unionized and Caterpillar wanted to give them a 55% pay cut. Muncie was happy to have Caterpillar come to town and pay $12 to $14.50 an hour for its people to build locomotives – even though Caterpillar was making a sizeable profit building the locomotives with unionized labour. That’s the key issue here – they were already profitable.

This is lowest-common-denominator capitalism and states like Indiana are complicit in the impoverishment of their inhabitants. Caterpillar is hugely profitable because it could not give a toss about people’s livelihoods. If you are the CEO of Caterpillar and you are reading this, get stuffed.

Back to the trip…

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We met with our friend, Terry Wynne, at Crewe station and promptly boarded a Voyager for Wales.Terry worked for British Rail for 40 years and was responsible for the printing of the national timetable. Terry thus knows everything about everything. He is very useful to have around when writing a blog post like this one. If there are any factual errors here it’s because I didn’t ask Terry first.

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The north Welsh coast, like so much of Wales, is stunning. Of course, I was busy designing a Pendolino advert so I missed most of it. But I’m told it’s quite nice… Our destination was Bangor.

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Strangely, nobody shouted “GO HABS!” at my Montreal Canadiens sweater the entire time I was on the train or in Wales. “Habs” is the nickname for the Montreal ice hockey team. I was under the impression that there were fans of the Montreal Canadiens in every connurbation around the globe.

Now, if anyone in the UK wants to become a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I can arrange it. Just send me £1000 in unmarked bills and I will send you an exclusive Montreal Canadiens fan pack comprising seven hockey cards, a replica hockey puck, and a serviette that someone told me was once used by star defenceman P.K. Subban.

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Actually, Bangor station makes such an excellent layout that for a while we were convinced that it wasn’t real and that we had been shrunk to 4mm scale. It’s got totally unrealistic tunnels at both ends with a pretty station and some points in the middle. The Virgin Voyagers arrive from Birmingham, drive into the fiddle yard hidden in the tunnel, and then return to the station. It really is most unrealistic. I mean, what real place works like that?

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We had to hire a car in Bangor as the train doesn’t yet reach the Nant Ffrancon pass. Bill and Terry had to endure my driving again – it was OK except for the bits where we were on the wrong side of the road or trying to climb a 1 in 3 gradient in fifth gear. Did I mention I usually drive an automatic?

On our way to Nant Ffrancon we stopped for some photos. I took this one of Bill before the wind blew him down the valley. We spent four hours looking for him.

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After recovering Bill we headed up the pass and had a picnic. This was great, except that the wind kept blowing the food out of our hands before it reached our mouths. Chasing around the mountainside trying to catch airborne potato crisps ensured that we all got our exercise for the week.

Now why go to the Nant Ffrancon pass of all places? Of course, because Doctor Who was filmed there in 1967. It’s Tibet.

9-1-TibetNant Ffrancon stood in for Tibet in Doctor Who and The Abominable Snowmen, one of my favourite stories of which, sadly, only one episode still exists. Norman Jones makes an excellent warrior monk even if he doesn’t look or sound remotely Tibetan.

After lunch Bill and I were strolling when we discovered that one of the Yeti had been left behind and this one was very much alive!

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When I lived in the UK (cough) years ago, once a month my friend and I would travel to a different place where they filmed Doctor Who. This is an excellent way to see the British countryside as they filmed Doctor Who just about everywhere. We ended up at Ironbridge, the Cheddar Caves, the Rollright Stones, East Hagbourne – all the classic WHO locations. Sometimes you could still find Doctor Who memorabilia lying around, like TARDISes or Skarasens or whatever…

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Or sometimes it’s only a model.

If you live in the UK and you have never been to Tibet, I highly recommend it. Nant Ffrancon is only a 20-minute drive from Bangor and makes a great day out. Remember – we’re from North America. UK distances mean nothing to us. Nant Ffrancon would make a great day trip from Basingstoke.

Before leaving Tibet, Bill caught this incredible photo. His phone has a setting called “take better pictures than Jason.” I kept tossing his phone out the car window but he caught it from the back window every time. Git.

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Just south of Tibet are the Swallow Falls. We paused for a selfie – Terry was sleeping at the time.

11-WalesBefore leaving the Swallow Falls I noticed a small plaque discreetly placed beside a bench on one of the lookouts. Every place in the UK is filled with stories, and sometimes those stories are brought very clearly into focus as this was for me.

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The Swallow Falls were just another scenic spot for us, but for one mum and wife, this place held a special meaning. Obviously she is very much missed by her family and, tears welling up, I had to call my wife. My wife, Sidura, who had just finished trying to get the three kids to school on frozen and slippery roads. Sidura, who had to singlehandedly wrap the mattress in plastic that Sears wrongly delivered or they wouldn’t pick it up to deliver the correct one. Sidura, whose car door had frozen in the sudden chill that’s gripped Toronto and who had to climb in through the passenger side door. Sidura, who is dealing with all of this while her husband traipses around the UK taking pictures of TARDISes. She told me to go jump in the falls.

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We continued south to Betws-Y-Coed, one of many Welsh place names I will never learn to pronounce correctly. I kept getting caught on “Tussey,” which is a North American word for bum. There is a sort-of-a railway museum there with a great miniature train ride. And the only passengers were three grown men making fools of themselves.

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The museum looked like it had been assembled with great care in 1978 and not touched since. The displays were peeling off the walls and the model trains had mostly derailed and were covered in dust and cobwebs. The model shop is nice and the miniature train is worth riding, though. You can do that and then go spend money on tat in the tourist traps across the tracks. £16 for a seven-inch Charlie Brown plush? You’ve got to be kidding.

15-WalesWales is filled with little gems such as this small family chapel hidden up the hill and in the woods. We would have driven right past it except that it is Terry’s family chapel! That’s neat. He can trace his family back hundreds of years.

Me? I can trace my family back to 1909, when my great grandfather arrived on a boat in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “What’s your name?” the immigration officer asked him. “Mordechai Torkelovitch,” he answered. “OK. Now you’re Max Herman. M-A-X H-E-R-M-A-N. Welcome to Canada.”

On that note, it’s time to turn in. Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor? There was some guy named Jack looking for a cuddle on the Class 175 back to Shrewsbury but we kept well away from him.

What a long day this was. Tomorrow? The Welsh Whisky.

DAY THREE:

1-Prince-Rupert(Prince Rupert Hotel photo)

We’re staying at a wonderful hotel in Shrewsbury called the Prince Rupert Hotel. Our rooms are in the old part of the hotel, and date from pretty close to Brother Cadfael’s time – so had Cadfael been a real person he could have stayed at somewhere like the Prince Rupert. I bet he made good use of the wi-fi.

There are exposed beams in the ceiling and walls, and – most importantly – the bathroom is more 2012 than 12th century – so it’s a great place to stay. A full English breakfast is included with your room. Not much use to me but much enjoyed by Bill, the omnivore.

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When Sidura and I were newly married we went to Gibraltar for the wedding of a couple of friends of ours. Everyone stayed at a lovely hotel called the Elliot. We stayed above a pub, with no air conditioning, no outside window (it opened to an inner courtyard), no working fan, and the AC unit from the pub blowing hot air into our room. It was the middle of summer. Being able to stay at the Prince Rupert feels like I’ve finally learned how the other half lives.

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Our third day began, much like the last one, at Shrewsbury station. I love Voyagers, but I can’t seem to avoid Class 175s. If there was ever a DMU that I would describe as unremarkable, it would be the 175. At least the 170 has some neat, futuristic curves. The 175 takes those curves away and leaves the face looking like what can best be described as a backwards shovel.

But if you are exploring Wales, chances are you will end up on a 175.

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The only redeeming feature about 175s is that, if you squint and don’t look at the ends of the car, they do actually look like loco-hauled stock. OK – that’s pushing it. Bill was in such a deep sleep on the 175 that some highly attractive 20-something dancing girls sat all around him and he didn’t notice. Sorry, Bill, did I forget to mention that?

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Cardiff is a Great Western station through and through. Apart from the rather obvious GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY emblazoned in stone above the entrance, the little details throughout the station scream GWR and BR Western Region. Once again, riding Britain’s railways is a journey through history.

We boarded our train to Aberdare – and experienced first hand why these 143s and 142s are called Nodding Donkeys.

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In contrast to what a lot of people say, I had no complaints about the ride quality. It was certainly better than the 150 we took later on.

The train was headed for Aberdare in the Welsh valleys. I associate the Welsh valleys with coal mining. I kept looking for a twee village called Llanfairfach with a visible pit shaft, wheels turning as the elevator went up and down, and some guy named Dai Evans or Cliff Jones waving to me from the pavement and calling me Boyo.

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(Wales Online photo)

Instead I saw a lot of young mums with piercings. And I mean a LOT of piercings. This was not the 1970s Doctor Who episode I was expecting (The Green Death). Rather it was Invasion of the Body Scratchers.

Two young mums boarded the Class 143 at different stations and ended up across from each other. They were properly young – couldn’t have been more than 21. One was on her own with her newborn in the pram, and the newborn started to cry. She hushed it and gave it some milk, which seemed to do the job. But I wanted to shout, “The kid is crying because you have four million piercings and you look like something rejected from the cast ofNightmare on Elm Street for being too scary!”

Actually, I give her credit for being very attentive and a very good mother, talking to her little one all the time. She knew what her newborn wanted immediately when it started crying. I was the one who was scared as I have a magnet somewhere in my bag and I thought the whole bag would fly across the train and attach itself to her face.

Another mum came on with boyfriend/husband and two year old – with the same weird piercings under her mouth that the other mum had. I guess I am old fashioned in thinking someone coming on the train packing that much metal would be an awful parent. I was completely wrong. She was also very attentive to her boy, as was her partner.

I learned two very important lessons today: never judge a mum by her scary body art and I am not living in a 1973 Doctor Who episode, however much I believe I am.

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The service ended at Aberdare, in the Welsh valleys. Now here’s the weird thing. There are a lot of Welsh people in the valleys. But there didn’t seem to be any Welsh people in northern Wales. I think more of the people from the valleys should move to Bangor to even things out. I’ll start a campaign.

The real reason we were in this part of Wales was Welsh Gold, otherwise known as Penderyn whisky:

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http://www.welsh-whisky.co.uk

The people at Penderyn were very surprised that I came all the way from Canada just to visit their distillery. Actually, I think they were more surprised that we’d come all the way from Shrewsbury. “Shrewsbury? Such a long way? Let me get you a cup of tea!” And someone from the office – probably the vice president or something – went and made me a cup of tea.

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I’ve been to numerous distilleries around Scotland, and I have to say that Penderyn was the best of the lot. It wasn’t contrived; it wasn’t kitschy; it didn’t shove its pedigree down your throat; it wasn’t filled with tourists just doing it because that’s “what you do.” It is a small company with only 28 employees, one mash tun and four stills. And they make really, really good whisky.

The tour was intimate and informative. Mia, our tour guide, also runs the shop. She probably does the bookkeeping and designs the labels too, for all I know! She sat down with us while we were enjoying our whisky tasting and pretty soon a couple of other people who work at Penderyn had joined us to shoot the breeze.

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Going to Penderyn, for me, would be like a Birmingham City fan being invited to visit the dressing room and chat with the whole team. I think the people at the distillery were surprised that they have such a huge fan. I resisted the urge to start asking for autographs. I mentioned that I had bought 12 bottles of the Portwood and still had four left. They told me that I had more than they did, as they sold out and everyone agreed it was their best whisky yet!

Their peated cask whisky is to die for, as is their new Dylan Thomas commemorative edition. I strongly recommend you give Penderyn a try. It doesn’t taste like Scotch. It has a taste all its own. People who stick up their noses at Welsh whisky – like that toff at the duty free shop in Terminal 2 last June – should be chopped up without sedation and fed to an Aridian Mire Beast.

Of course, tasting so much whisky in the middle of the afternoon on an empty stomach meant that I was bit loopy afterward. In the taxi back to Aberdare, I started jumping up and down (as much as you can jump when belted into a taxi) because I finally found what I’d been looking for all day… a SLAG HEAP!

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The taxi driver, Victoria, informed us that she still heats her house with coal. And she also informed us that she’s been with her boyfriend for seven years and he’s very shy so he won’t propose because he doesn’t want to make a fuss and her oldest guy friend has been in love with her since they were in school and he got into a fight with her at the Turkish kebab place because she didn’t want to be his girlfriend and now he’s engaged but he told her he still loves her and not his fiancee and she feels totally awkward around him and she and her boyfriend are trying for a baby and maybe when they’re 30 they’ll finally get married and…. it was an interesting drive back to Aberdare.

By now we’ve been travelling pretty much nonstop since the weekend, and we’re running out of steam. I caught about three minutes of shuteye on our Class 150 back to Cardiff…

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…and as I am writing this Bill is unconscious across the aisle on our CrossCountry 170 to Birmingham. I’m sitting right above the horn and the driver thinks he’s in North America. He’s been tooting freely the whole way from Cardiff, pretending we have to blow the whistle for level crossings, and my feet have lost all feeling! You haven’t lived until you’ve had a VERY LOUD HORN blown a couple of feet under your toes. Who thought it would be a good idea to put the horn down there? Someone who levitates, obviously.

(If it isn’t under your feet, it certainly feels like it.)

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Quite late in the day my phone informed me that today, 20 November, is Bill’s birthday. And he chose to spend it traipsing around the UK with me in DMUs and tasting whisky. Happy birthday, Bill, and thanks for being a great travelling companion.

Tomorrow we head for Birmingham (again) and the NEC. Please visit us at the Locomotion booth E22, though my apologies in advance if one of us is asleep under the table. I’ll upload the show report and the final instalment of our journey next week.

AND THE REST:

On Friday we headed to Birmingham and the NEC – National Exhibition Centre – for the Warley Show. The Warley Show is easily the biggest model railway exhibition in the UK and is akin to Trainfest or Springfield. There are manufacturers, dealers and layouts galore. There are usually a few pieces of full-size railway equipment scattered around as well. When I went to the show one year in the early 2000s Virgin Trains had even brought a Pendolino power car!

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Warley was a tremendous success for us, as it was the first opportunity for so many modellers to actually meet us in person and confirm that we were human and didn’t smell too bad. We smelled fine once they turned the heat down, but the human part is still up for debate.

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People were happy to forgive the clunkiness of the first APT-E test samples (the paint looking like it was applied by a drunk Venus Flytrap) and were impressed by the level of detail on the model. I admit, for a first sample even I was impressed by how the detail came out. It’s going to have some really nice FLASHING LIGHTS! (The interior will be fully painted in appropriate colours in production.)

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The big difference between UK shows and North American shows is the layouts. British layouts are rarely large modular layouts with a meandering mainline.

Most British exhibition layouts are small – anywhere from about four feet long to 12 feet long (though many are quite larger and some are quite smaller!). This gives the layout builders the opportunity to get very serious about detail. The detail in these layouts is really superb. I am especially enthralled with the town/city scenes as in these the layouts can really come to life.

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Tanners Hill by Steve Farmer. Yes, this is N gauge.

British layouts are also rarely roundy-roundy layouts. They are much more like stages with the trains as the actors. To emphasize the theatrical element and to enhance the layout viewing experience, there is often an excellent lighting rig set up – absolutely necessary for good viewing in a cavernous exhibition hall.

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Ian Lampkin’s Banbury, another magnificent N gauge layout.

And most UK modellers actually build a layout or two (or ten), whereas I’d say more than half of all North American modellers are “planning to build a layout one day” but never actually get around to it.

6-St-IvesTremendous modelling in 13.5mm to the foot – St. Ives by the late Michael Heaven 

So is the UK approach to modelling the way to go? Certainly not for me.

Because of the nature of real British railroading (mostly passenger trains in fixed formations) and the limitations of size (you can rarely fit a large yard and a station on one layout, let alone a long mainline), the vast majority of British modellers miss out on what I see as the most rewarding aspect of railway modelling: operation.

Dan, Bill and I all take part in regular operating sessions on layouts. I find the yard job particularly rewarding, sorting recently arrived cars for their onward departure to different destinations. My layout is passenger focused, but I quickly learned through operating sessions on other layouts that running a through passenger train over the road and stopping at stations occasionally is remarkably tedious. That’s why most of my layout is focused on Spadina Coach Yard and Union Station in downtown Toronto, in which passenger trains are assembled and broken down.

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At Spadina Yard c.1980. A switcher is sorting cars on the right while the Turbo (centre) and Tempo (left) receive daily maintenance.

On an operating layout, the operators have a list of what they need to do, and they set about doing it. Sometimes it involves running through trains but often it involves switching/shunting and that is where so much of the enjoyment lies. Does it sound like work? It is, but of the fun variety. When you meet the challenge of switching a particularly tricky industry, or you think on your feet to assemble the right combination of passenger cars and locomotives to provide the required service, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

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An S-13 switcher (shunting engine) shoves a rake of passenger cars to Union Station where they will be coupled to their locomotive, 1980.

In my view the truly great layouts combine the visual majesty of UK layouts with the operational intensity of North American layouts. That is what I hope to achieve when my layout is finished in about thirty years!

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My Kingston Sub layout under construction. You can see all three decks here. The bottom is the western approach to Union Station (downtown Toronto). The middle is Pickering (just east of Toronto) and the top will be Brockville (eastern Ontario). This is far removed from the typical fiddle yard and terminus exhibition layout!

 Back to Warley… There were some very strange people there. And I used the term “people” quite loosely. A couple of times I thought my life was truly in jeopardy.

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Actually, I snuck out on Sunday to see the Memorabilia show, now known as Comic Con. It used to be a small affair filled with guys and, er, more guys rifling through musty boxes of comics and annuals. I found many Doctor Who hardbacks and annuals at great prices back in the day. Occasionally we’d meet someone like Philip Madoc or Dave Prowse. Now it’s a massive event, and it’s filled with gorgeous 20-year-old girls wearing very revealing costumes. When did sci-fi and comics start attracting gorgeous 20-year-old girls? If these girls had been at Memorabilia back in 2001 it would have caused everyone in attendance to die of a heart attack, albeit a very pleasurable one.

I found a 1972 Countdown Annual, a 5″ tall Gellguard (from “The Three Doctors”) and a plush Dalek, but most importantly, I MET ROMANA!!!! As I was busy going “guh…. guh…. guh….” I forgot that I had a camera in my pocket and another one in my bag. So here’s a photo of Romana, Lalla Ward, when she was on Doctor Who:

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Two people were invaluable to us in the presentation of the APT-E sample. Terry Wynne, one of my best friends and an active member of the British NMRA and the Crewe Heritage Centre, came on his own time to help at the stand. A railwayman for 40 years, Terry is extremely knowledgeable about trains, about Rapido and about railway modelling in general, and everyone who spoke to him was most impressed by this respectable member of the team.

Terry exhibited far more patience with people than I did, especially with the guy who kept calling me “Miss.” I hit that guy over the head with the APT sample and it took Terry ages to fix it.

12-Terry Terry enjoys one of my favourite Voyagers…

The show was well and truly stolen by Kit Spackman, otherwise known as “Mr. Tilt.” Kit also volunteered his time to help us promote the APT-E and he regaled literally hundreds of people with his fascinating stories of what really went on during the course of the APT-E project. There were several people who probably did not get to see as much as they had planned to at Warley because they were so captivated by Kit’s stories that they hung around our booth literally for hours.

I pity the poor old fella who suggested that the APT-E was “that tilting train that was a failure.” Kit quickly set him straight and only kicked him once.

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Kit (on the right) with a new APT-E fan. 

Thank you to Kit and Terry for your time, your enthusiasm, and your help. We could not have done it without you.

Our flight back to Toronto was scheduled for Monday afternoon, and Bill and I had a tonne of work to do. Seeing as we had passes, we decided to spend the day on the Pendolino. We boarded the “down” 08:53 from Birmingham International. What’s with that? Going north is “up” on the map, and most of Scotland is at a higher elevation above sea level than London.

Going “up” to London is a load of rubbish and serves to maintain the hegemonic relationship between London and everywhere else, but especially the North. This is most blatantly exemplified by TransPennine Express losing nine Class 170s to Chiltern commuters.

What’s going down to Chiltern:

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What Northerners will be getting in exchange:

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From now on, you travel “up” from London when you go north. And if you have a problem with that, move to Sheffield.

(And if you are travelling from London to the West Country, you are now going “left” from London. Such a better system, don’t you think?)

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Bill takes a break in Lancaster. 

We took a Pendolino “UP” to Lancaster, got off, and took a Pendolino “DOWN” to London. Lancaster is a lovely station. It looks like a castle! But I do question the Lancaster Station staff’s view of their customers’ intelligence. Do they think that passengers are such noddies that we need to have a sign with a full-scale illustration of the buttons in the elevator, explaining what they do? Of course, I pressed the sign rather than the real button and was confused when nothing happened. (*Cough* That, um, really did happen.)

17-Lancaster

Ah, Pendolinos. They look sharp. They have revolutionized the West Coast Main Line. They are fast. They are sleek. And they make me nauseous.

18-Lancaster

Trying to work while sitting backwards on a Pendolino is a bit like trying to work in an airplane flying upside down in a 100-knot wind. The hunting over the trucks made the day’s earlier meals go hunting for my mouth, and every time we tilted this little old lady with a “doddery posh” accent and a massive dog kept falling into people’s seats. Listening to her make her way from the toilet to her seat was an unwanted form of human echo location. “Oh, pardon me!” “Oh, excuse me there.” “Oh, goodness!” “My, didn’t expect that one.” “Ooooh!”

I eventually decided to look out the window and try and get a good view of the ventilation shafts in Kilsby Tunnel. Have you ever done that? I always imagine I’m in that JC Bourne lithograph from his series of images of the London & Birmingham. One time in a Mark 2 (back in the day) we stopped right at a shaft and I stuck my head out the door window, hoping to catch sight of 1838-vintage tools left behind by the navvies. Somewhat surprisingly, I couldn’t see any.

19-BourneI do still love Pendolinos. I think they are gorgeous and sexy and I am happy to make a model in N gauge. But I have new rules for riding Pendolinos in future: 1. Face forwards. 2. Take an HST.

The flight home was a lesson in what not to do in future. I have a metric zillion Asia Miles from Cathay Pacific and a lot of them expire in a few months. So I used points to arrange for Bill and me to fly home business class on British Airways. Whoa! Business Class! This was gonna be awesome.

Whoever designed BA’s business class interiors on their 777 fleet needs to be stuffed in the last seat in economy class for a 47-hour flight twice around the planet. The seats are about the same width as standard class in a Voyager and, to fit more people in, half the seats are facing backwards. If you want to stretch out and the guy sitting backwards wants to leave his seat, he has to climb over your legs. The lady near me had trouble climbing over my legs so instead she climbed ON my legs. When I got home Sidura asked me why I had footprints on my trousers.

One final thought before I end this meandering travelogue. The Warley show is in Birmingham (well, pretty close) and I used to live there. So Sunday night after the show I rode the train to New Street and boarded the Bristol Road 63 bus to Edgbaston so I could visit with some old friends. It was like entering a time warp.

21-Lancaster You don’t see this in Canada…

When I lived in Birmingham my life was headed in the wrong direction. I didn’t want to be an academic, but I found myself taking that career path. I was lost. I enjoyed being in the UK, I appreciated my wife’s support and the friends I made, but overall I was very unhappy with my life. I remember breaking down one day in the shower and saying to myself, “I hope when I have kids that they get to do what they want with their lives.”

Here I was, more than ten years later, riding the same bus I used to ride every day. Apart from the constant that is my wife, Sidura, just about everything else in my life has changed. I live in Canada, I am doing what I love, I have a beautiful family, I have a beautiful home, and I know I’m on the right path.

But riding that bus made me wonder how things could so easily have turned out differently, and much for the worse. If I had stayed on that career path, would Sidura and I have ever been able to have a large family? If I had not tackled my unhappiness, would I have been able to be a good husband and father? What would our future look like if I didn’t have the guts to jump ship?

If there is one lesson I have learned from the Rapido adventure of the last ten years, it is that it is never too late to make a change. If we’re unhappy in a major aspect of our lives, it will reverberate throughout all we do and have unexpected repercussions. I am very lucky to have an amazingly supportive wife and that I found the strength to overcome my fears and actually do what I’ve always wanted to do.

Upstairs on that 63 bus, I briefly glimpsed the alternative life I might have lead had I not found that strength. Thank God I found it.

20-63

I was too busy thinking to take a picture, so here’s a stock photo of the 63. Picture it at night on a quiet Bristol Road and you get the idea.

Another UK trip is complete, and this one was our most successful one yet. Bill and I had a smashing time and it was wonderful to put so many faces to names at Warley. Until next time…

Click here for Rapido’s UK web site.

Click here for Rapido’s North American web site.