How do you boil down the best elements of a model railway exhibition into a few words?
You can't. The best I can do is tell you what caught my eye as I wandered the aisles of the Warley show last weekend. Every enthusiast is different and with such a wide variety of different models on show, there really is something for everyone, even if you are a 1970s Tom Baker Dr Who lookalike that's wandered out of the next door ComiCon event!
With no layout to bring to the show, I was able to travel to the NEC by train on Friday and Saturday. Directed by security to the side door, I came in with all the other exhibitors to try and find our stand. It was a lot easier than I expected - our new display is amazing, surely the best we have ever had.
Being tall, you could see us from a long way away, handy in a big event as it makes finding your bearings much easier. The club has recognised this and visitors find big boards with maps on dotted around the venue - much like those found in major cities. All the details of layouts and trade stands are shown so it shouldn't be too hard not to get lost. Despite this, helpful people wearing bright yellow t-shirts also wander around during the day to assist those trying to find a particular stand.
Friday is, of course, set-up day. The club has been in marking up for the floor the day before but for most of us, it's our first chance to get a look at the event as it comes together.
The detailed planning for Warley starts almost as soon as the doors close on the previous years event. With hundreds of stands to fit in the space, it's amazing that things work as well as they do considering all the different demands faced. For example, over a thousand seats are provided around the hall, yet at busy times of day, they can all be in use. Those same periods also see the aisles crammed with eager visitors. Obviously, the solution is more chairs and wider aisles - but then there wouldn't be enough space for all the layouts and trade stands. Renting more hall is an option, but the cost of the NEC is terrifying and needs to be recouped from somewhere, would we stand higher ticket prices?
My feeling is that they get things about right. You can't keep everyone happy, but judging from comments on RMweb and elsewhere, most visitors enjoyed their visit.
Anyway, while I don't have to set up our stand, I still had plenty of work lined up. As you'll see elsewhere in this newsletter, Andy York and I did our best to film as many interviews as possible. We are always on the lookout for new products we know readers like to hear about and the week running up to the show had seen a flurry of press releases announcing the latest items to be launched at the weekend.
In addition, we were on a mission to cover the aftermath of the Great Model Railway Challenge. Winners Aberdeen had brought along to layouts and the Basingstoke Bodgers had theirs as well. We know this series has generated a lot of good publicity for our hobby - several shows report significant increases in visitor numbers and even Warley saw the highest number of advance ticket sales ever. The results of our efforts are also in this issue - we especially enjoyed gatecrashing another magazine's stand to chat to the Basingstoke team and then a certain stern judge!
Saturday dawned and after a very early start, the show was looking pretty complete with only a few stands still moving in. Smaller traders will normally try to set up on the first morning to save the bill for a nights accommodation - a big part of the costs involved in attending a show. They also benefit from clear roads to travel on and the knowledge that bacon butties are on sale in the hall for early risers.
Obviously, I decided that the model had been named after me and so was straight on to my shopping list. Well, could you resist this? Best of all, I have a feeling that the model can be incorporated into a future BRM project next year. If not, I'm going to build it anyway because it looks great, although I think my model will have a brick finish instead of the stone effect shown on the sample.
But what about the layouts?
Too many to list I'm afraid, and if I'm honest. You'll see dozens of photos over on RMweb. The magnificent Liverpool Lime Street was one of the stars. Our designer, Ruth, was determined to see this for real having laid out the pages when we featured it in print. As soon as my pictures appeared on the BRM Instagram account, she commented "Love Liverpool Lime Street! Looked amazing when we featured it in BRM! Please take me to see it this weekend!". You'll be pleased to know that she wasn't disappointed.
You'll know that I like an unusual prototype and so the area that caught my eye was the MOMING section.
MOMING? MOdeling MINimum Gauge apparently - that is models of prototypes with a track gauge of less than 2ft in any scale. Normally this involves using OO or N gauge mechanisms topped with much larger scale bodies.
The results are usually very attractive and unusual. A particular favourite with the entire BRM team was Derwent Road by Bill Flude.
Using a track gauge of 9mm (N gauge) with 7mm scale bodies, the model represents a fictitious 18" gauge line running through a 1960s and 70s housing estate. Set in the mid-1980s, the line still has commercial sand trains but a preservation society also uses the tracks for passenger trains.
Despite being 6ft long, there is loads to see. The larger scale allows plenty of detail in such a tiny space. We liked it so much that I shot a set of photos on Sunday morning for a future article and later on our DVD film crew descended to record the model running and a chat with the owners.
This was only one of the cracking layouts on show. I doubt that it's possible to give each one the attention it deserves in a single day, so the only option is to take a look at the floor plan before the event and mark out those layouts and traders you really must see - but don't forget to leave time for those model you don't know and find yourself drawn to as you walk through the hall.
While running around, I grabbed a few snaps which I've put up on Flickr - sorry I didn't get to photograph more of them!
It's not just models that are released at Warley, there is plenty of reading matter on offer too. Books make excellent Christmas presents, not least because they are so easy to wrap.
Last year, I built a model showing part of the filming of the Ealing Comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt as part of the Cke Box Challenge. With this in mind, spotting Simon Castens new book On the Trail of The Titfield Thunderbolt, I couldn't resist a flick through.
My timing was excellent as the author himself was on the stand and passed me a copy for review in a future BRM.
Being able to chat with those behind the products we buy is a big benefit of attending a show. Even the largest manufacturers bring along the product designers and they are always happy to provide an insight into the work required to bring us something to carry away at the end of a show.
Talking of which, there were a lot of heavily laden modellers leaving at the end of the day. The most memorable sight for me was someone with what looked like a paper potato sack bulging with lengths of O gauge track poking out of the top. That's a model that's going to move on by leaps and bounds in the next few months.
So, when I wasn't pointing cameras at people, what did I buy?
Well, as you might expect, my purchases were a little oddball. For a start, I didn't actually buy a Heljan 1361 tank loco, but one has come my way.
Ben Jones, ex-BRM editor and now working for Heljan presented me with this rather sad example. It's not got a motor and the valve gear is looking a bit poorly on one side - but he challenged me to do something useful with it. I'm tempted to say "Answers on a postcard" but there are a few plans forming in my head.
"Seconds" are a popular feature of Warley. For years, the Bachmann stand was a veritable scrum just inside the door. It's not moved to the back of the hall, but still exists. Those rushing in just have to run a little further. It's been joined by Heljan and Oxford Rail, both turning faulty and returned models into a bit of cash and providing modellers with material for projects in the future.
Let's face it, we all love a bargain and many of these models won't take that much work to repair them, it's just not economic to do this if your time has to be paid for. All three stands reported brisk business over the weekend, so lots of people obviously feel the same.
Elsewhere I managed to avoid the temptation of a mint, boxed Hornby Australian XPT set (XPT was developed from the British HST, although a lot more than the model would suggest as it's just a repainted HST. Rare though, especially in this country) and Triang Giraffe car, even though the giraffe (Called Georgina apparently) had both ears, a very rare situation as the box design usually knocks one of them off. I have a train of eight and you have to stop somewhere.
Most of my purchases came from the LMS Patriot project who were selling items to raise money toward the latest stage of their new build locomotive. A BR warning sign will look great on my door, and there were also some books I've not seen before.
Sammy the Shunter is a locomotive with a face who heads of on adventures. From a little research, he seems to date from the same era as the more famous Thomas, but he journeys all over the world rather than living on a small island.
Published by Ian Allan, the books are a similar size to the Railway Series, but less lavishly illustrated. Perhaps this accounts for their disappearance?
One thing I do remember, is that in the 1950s, there was a famous O gauge (I think) model railway which featured Sammy. He would misbehave and the owner would be forced to chase him around the layout with a rolled up newspaper. Hillarious for kids at the time, though perhaps frowned on nowadays.
Can any reader fill in more detail for me?
Anyway, Warley 2018 - what a show. There seemed to be more visitors than ever before. Those who came seemed to spend money according to all the traders I spoke to. Even on Sunday afternoon, I struggled to get near most of the layouts such were the crowds.
One final highlight. The Great Model Railway Challenge loomed large this year and knowing that the Aberdeen club's winning layout featured a railway through the clouds, I couldn't resist taking along the perfect locomotive to run on it - the very Flash Gordon looking Tri-ang Battlespace Turbo Car.
Thanks to the guys who let me pose my model on their layout. It really is unlike any model railway I have ever seen before.
I must also thank everyone who visited us on the BRM stand for a chat. Sorry if there were so many at one time our conversations were cut short. The whole team really enjoy the chance to chat and your comments and suggestions will be bourne in mind for future issues.
Next month, Christmas approaches and with it the National Festival of Railway Modelling at Peterborough. Yes, we are back on the road - see you then!
Phil Parker (email@example.com)