What is going on in the heads of the Tiny Railway People?

I usually find railway layouts in magazines and exhibitions less of interest for the trains running up and down and more of interest for the scenery, the people and the tiny vignette details. Some model railway enthusiasts obviously have less interest or time for this aspect of their hobby.

(Above) Character sketches of Airfix OO HO Civilian figures who survived in my collection. Figure range: http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=366

In my 2006/7 scrapbook, on another long train journey for work (everything outside the West Country is a long journey) I scribbled and sketched down ideas about the people I saw in passing, how they were grouped or separate etc.

Hobos. Senior Citizens. Rebels. Lovers in Action (!) – Scrapbook page of tiny railway people from various magazines c. 2007/8

This was no doubt inspired by reading a railway modelling magazine with layouts and figure ranges pictured. If there are no interesting military modelling, wargames, toy soldier or history magazines that month on the station bookstall, I would sometimes choose a railway modelling one. They often had useful transferable  tips on modelling, painting and weathering techniques, terrain and scenery design articles or some interesting history stories.

I do think that the shortened categories or stereotypes of human behaviour listed in the figure ranges is quite amusing – not quite all of human behaviour is yet here. I wonder what is missing? I will post on this another time.

Looking up at real life whizzing past the hurrying window, slicing through town, countryside, back gardens etc then looking back at the magazine’s railway layout pictures, gave an interesting switching perspective. Big, small, messy, neat, detailed, empty. Real, fake. It is the scale distortion joy or joke of the old fashioned model village or tiny people artists like Slinkachu.

Thoughts of what is going on in the heads of Peco Modelscene passenger set B is almost a Creative Writing stimulus exercise?

Still available the Peco Passenger Set B

On long journeys I would read both the adverts and the articles,  taking a long, close, in-depth look at the photos, people, backdrops and details, trying to read between the lines at what is really going on when nobody is looking. If you could speech bubbles or thought bubbles above their heads, what would be in them? What preoccupies them in this frozen slice of imagined life or time as trains run past? Why no moving people?

I blame much of this Michael Bentine’s Potty Time,  The Borrowers, The Twelves and other such stories of tiny people come to life but who freeze when there are “human beans” around.

Looking at the characters or Railway people types which appear with wearying regularity on layouts worldwide such as Passenger Set B, I wonder:

  • What is in the letter that the lady in yellow is about to post?
  • What is in the letter in his hand that the postman is about to deliver? What other things are in his bag?
  • What is in the bag or briefcase carried by the first man on the left?
  • Where is the sprightly cheerful lady in black and red heading off to? Who will she meet?

I notice a few Marple type figures amongst these Peco and Airfix figures. During Lockdown, I have been listening my way through the Agatha Christie BBC dramatisations of Poirot and Miss Marple (via my online local public library download).

Marples and Miniatures ? Murderer? Murdered? Miss Marple?

What’s in the envelope?

What is in these envelopes in people’s hands, the postman’s bag, the postbox on these layouts?

It reminds me of some lines from Night Mail by W.H. Auden, the rhythmic poem set to music to accompany the Thirties GPO Film Unit documentary:

“This is the night mail crossing the Border,

Bringing the cheque and the postal order …”

“Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,

The shop at the corner, the girl next door…”

“Letters of thanks, letters from banks,

Letters of joy from girl and boy,

Receipted bills and invitations

To inspect new stock or to visit relations,

And applications for situations,

And timid lovers’ declarations,

And gossip, gossip from all the nations,

News circumstantial, news financial,

Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,

Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,

Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,

Letters to Scotland from the South of France,

Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands

Written on paper of every hue,

The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,

The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,

The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,

Clever, stupid, short and long,

The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong …”


You can watch this classic and stylish Thirties GPO Film Unit documentary free at the BFI site here:




Some of the classic (or wearily familiar) Airfix passenger ranges are still available from Dapol, but sadly not the early 1960s Airfix Civilians set. http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=366

Dapol still make (and mail order) these former Airfix sets in hard grey plastic:

1971 Airfix set S42 Station Accessories Figures,


1970s? Platform Figures http://www.plasticsoldierreview.com/Review.aspx?id=1162

and the useful early 1980s issue Track Crew that I painted recently in my Navvy Battle preparations


Navvies backed up by Victorian Civilians from the Airfix Waggon Train set.

Next post: I will add some alternative suggestions from my notebooks for railway modelling figures of some character stereotypes and modern civilian figures that I don’t think are yet made, but reading through some of the more bizarre figures on the Preiser lists, I’m not so sure …

Blog post by Mark Man of TIN 23 April 2020


Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

8 thoughts on “What is going on in the heads of the Tiny Railway People?”

  1. What an enjoyable post. I am a tad overwhelmed by the train knowledge side of model railways and particularly like the folk and scenery. Don’t get me wrong I like model trains but don’t have the desire or in depth interest to be a rivet counter. Models railways can be another country!
    Great links and things to muse upon from today’s post.


  2. Just passing by on my way through the rabbit hole:
    I woke with the phrase, ‘RIP, Counterpane’ knowing that it referred to the sudden death of a someone’s cat but I don’t know whose. Good name, I thought. And then in these days of social distancing what do I do but head to the web.
    I’m sure you can guess how I entered your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading about FMS, and other topics. Although not a gamer myself, I know a few from that culture. I appreciate your many literary references, known to myself or not.
    I depart after coming across Auden’s “Night Mail” which serves as a reminder that I am writing letters today. I plan to share it with other anglophiles of my acquaintance. Thank you for a fascinating distraction.


    1. Thanks Petronella. Ah, you found me by accident through (The Land of) Counterpane, that lovely childhood poem about and by Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS Childs Garden of Verses) about his childhood sick bed. Many writers had an ImagiNations / toy soldier inspired slant, RLS, H G Wells, The Brontes through to modern writers like George (Game of Thrones) RR Martin (still not read or seen any of his work). Making my way though Isabel Greenberg’s Glass Town (graphic novel on the Bronte ImagiNations) and Anthony Hope’s swashbuckling The Prisoner of Zenda – both good for the Forgotten Minor States.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I visited several sites referencing RLS, then clicked thru a few of your posts after landing. I’m now curious about Isabel Greenberg and may venture back to Prisoner of Zenda. I didn’t follow GoT either. Currently am rereading Swallows and Amazons to visualize summer adventure. I started the lock down by reading all the Ruth Galloway mysteries I could find electronically: it was interesting to cover 10 years of character development/writing in just a few weeks.

        Anyway, thanks again for your descriptive writing. Be well.


      2. Swallows and Amazon – the original 1970s children’s film – is charming and worth tracking down. The recent film was far fetched and too “bolt on” a bit of Ransome autobiographical (Russian spies etc). I can see some of the Naval gamers enjoying this book. It was one of my Late Dad’s favourite books of his wartime evacuee childhood and is part inspiration to my non aggressive scouting and Snowball Fight rules for Scouting Wide Games for the Tabletop project. https://tabletopscoutingwidegames.wordpress.com
        I like the Baden Powell “Cloak of Romance” idea for Wide Games with stirring yarns as inspiration: smugglers, pirates, injuns, cavaliers etc. https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/27/easter-eggs-wide-games-and-the-cloak-of-romance/
        Most gamers I know are usually part inspired by historical fiction sci-fi or fantasy books.
        Have not read Ruth Galloway but reading box sets in order is always interesting from Tintin to Harry Potter – going back to the starter novel is always interesting for story set up, character development. I am listening my way through Agatha Christie mysteries and reading through Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman books for her centenary.
        The original book of Treasure Island by RLS is surprisingly good and dark in places. I am also going back to read Gullivers Travels (the original) for a future Lacepunk gaming project, as they have satirical Forgotten Imaginary States with pointless imaginary wars.


  3. Sorry, that reply got away from me (and I can’t seem to delete it)…

    Re Agatha Christie: I recommend Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express”. I found it very atmospheric. Can’t recall if I ever saw the 1974 version but for the 2017 version the scenery is as much a character as the the people. What a lovely way of travel.

    I haven’t seen any of the Swallows & Amazons films, but gathered the same impression from the reviews I read. Don’t know if I’ll pursue any film since I do enjoy the books so much.


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