WW1 Desert Railway Raid by Grid Based Wargaming blog post

Who doesn’t love a good old ‘railway ambush’ scenario, whether it’s the Wild West, East Afrika or the Middle East?

Screenshots from Peter’s Gridbased Wargaming blog post


Interesting Post / scenario. With the desert terrain, an austere but atmospheric visual feast …

Link and screenshots posted by Mark Man Of TIN, 21 May 2023

For my own desert trains scenarios, see



My First Railway, The Red Railway?

My very first railway was a push-along engine on this magnificently red tracked plastic layout with bridges and buffers and probably a turntable in bright primary colours.

It was known simply in the family as “The Red Railway”.

I could not remember who made this – it was ‘old’ and playworn by the time I played with it in the early 1970s, having gone through several members of the family in the mid 1960s.

Being rapidly set up on table or floor it must have featured in many wargames with small Airfix soldiers, as there were open freight wagons that you could put your figures inside. Instant armoured train!

I have a vague memory of playing with the tiny Airfix British Commandos and this railway system.

No fiddle or fuss, no electric, no batteries. Simple.

Once I had finished gaming with it in the 1980s, it went on to further use by young nieces in the 1990s. I lost track of it after that, but after thirty years family service, it probably ended up in a charity shop. It might still be in use somewhere!

As I had no surviving childhood photos of this railway system, I thought an internet search would turn up a photograph or two of this railway and eventually a maker’s name.


The railway it appears was made by British toy firms Mettoy / Playcraft of London, Northampton and Fforestfach, Swansea.

Image source: eBay source finalcapri280

Further eBay and internet research reveals some half remembered details – the covered bridge, the funny ‘pieces of eight’ track connectors, reversable track, the level crossing …

… the covered bridge type engine shed, the points and the turntable.

Oddly I don’t recall a station or platform or buildings, until I spotted these on Worthpoint

A glimpse and memory of a station building and platform, along with signal box.

A further eBay search revealed a boxed example! Playcraft Junior Railway Set B 9521

By the time I encountered this family railway such a box was long gone. It all came out of and went back into a normal cardboard box.

Looking at these internet pictures again of my first railway system brings back very strong tactile memories of assembling buildings, connecting track and changing points levers.

One eBay listing reveals a still bagged unopened covered bridge type engine shed 9538 with faded header …

and usefully a listing of different “low priced accessory packs” that could be bought in 1970.

Some more interesting 1970s packaging or repackaging from Child Guidance Toys. I could easily have been that boy!

Contacts of Set D

… and small details of the turntable levers – I remember these and the strong bright red green yellow blue plastics.

Other versions or makers include Toltoys and Child Guidance Toys (USA, very worthy sounding)

Translated into the language of the American Railroad – caboose, car barn, bumpers, yoke and switch with track in handy silver grey.

Here’s what it all cost (UK trade prices) per trade box in April 1975 (blurry detail from eBay source)

5 Junior Railway box sets appear to have been sold (L9520 to L9524, Sets A to E) and intriguingly L9580 a Battery Operated Electric Train that I don’t remember …

Alarmingly the track for my “Red Railway” also came in yellow in a Dick Bruna Sunny Farm version.

The RM Railway Modelling Web features a section on these toy railways and a possible glimpse of the battery powered locomotive?


We now know a supposed railway “gauge” for my first Red Railway of 1 1/4″ track gauge.

The Dick Bruna Sunny Farm Railway and buildings …

The Mettoy Playcraft Junior Railway appears to have been a 1960s plastic ancestor of the now widespread Swedish wooden Brio Railway (1958 onwards) and its various wooden spinoffs.

Anyway that was my First “Red Railway” which overlapped for a short while with small Airfix toy soldier game scenarios …

Blog posted by Mark Man Of TIN, 22 March 2023

Early Railways Shire Book 1569 to 1830 and other early railway titles

Another excellent Shire Library book, a short illustrated introduction covering the earliest days of mineral tramways from horse-drawn tramways into the experimental steam era.

Book Blurb “In the popular mind, the history of the railway begins in 1830 with the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. In fact, by that time the concept of the railway in Britain was already more than 250 years old. The interim is a fascinating but little-known period of experimentation, improvement and invention which included such remarkable oddities as an Elizabethan version of the ‘Scalextric’, an early ‘JCB’, and an engine fitted with steam-powered legs. Innovations such as iron rails, inclines and the pioneering locomotives were gradually introduced, so that by 1830 the basic principles of the modern railway were already in place.

Never again would the industry see such fundamental development, and it is this heady and industrious period that Early Railways examines, in fascinating detail and with lavish illustrations.”


The authors Andy Guy and Jim Rees were involved in the Beamish Living History Museum 1825 early tramway recreation and the National Railway Museum at York.

Although I am not a railway modeller (but come from a family of railway modellers), I grew up on the edge of London near one early railway which is covered in this book and near a famous later railway tunnel where many navvies died.

Early inventions and incarnations of now familiar things fascinate me, including the ‘also rans’ and failures.

Jack Simmons‘ scholarly book on The Victorian Railway (Thames and Hudson, 1991/2009) is very good for this, as is Gordon Biddle’s Victorian Stations 1830 -1923 (David Charles, 1973) and the early part of the Victorian Farm team’s TV series Full Steam Ahead. All books worth a review on this blog sometime.

These books chronicle the many ways in which the “vandalism” of railways changed our towns, our countryside, our culture and the world.

Tunnels had to be dug, viaducts built Roman style and track had to be laid leading to the strange and riotous life of the navvy camps The navvies had already done the same for the canals and inland waterways, which were often eclipsed by their new upstart neighbour running alongside them.

Stations had to be built and carriages designed for people, often mimicking the stage coaches and infrastructure of the mail coaches of the day.

eBay image source: my copy of this unusual subject for a Britain’s figure is boxed away in storage somewhere!

I live in the Southwest UK and 150 years on still travel from a Victorian station on a Great Western Railway system of bridges, lines and tunnels created by Brunel.

Cornish inventors like Richard Trevithick, William Murdoch and Goldsworthy Gurney tried creating both steam cars or wagons and engines for roads.

If it had worked in the late 1820s, the post Napoleonic and Crimean era Victorian British Army could have ridden to war on a Gurney steam car or steam drag and dragged its guns there with steam. Instead Brunel built the “Crimean Railway” or tramway. Christian Wolmer has written an interesting history of railways at war called Engines of War.

Goldsworthy Gurney steam drag, 1820s (Wikimedia source)


Before dying aged 18 / 19 in the trenches in the final year of WW1, my Great Uncle had been a fit young “steam waggon stoker” in this road steam version of a locomotive and lorry, a curious and rare “steam hybrid” that I got to look around recently at a local steam fair. The internal combustion engine, road freight and diesel lorry eventually won over that rival or competitor. The world with its vanished branchlines is probably poorer for it.

Before this Victorian era, there were rail ways or tramways across my current landscape. I now live in a village like much of its area and road network still awkwardly shaped in parts by its early 19th century life as a horse tram and steam Mineral Tramway and docks for the Cornish mines, like many such tramways in Devon, Cornwall and the North. I still work in the shadow of a stone railway viaduct to a coastal town that owes its seaside heritage and modern trade to a mineral tramway that ended up shipping in tourists and holidaymakers when the minerals petered out.

Pull the Emergency Stop Chain now! Woah there!

Caught myself there before the railway madness in the family descends full steam ahead on me …

If you search early railways, you will find a range of interesting books including this one:


If you hanker after early tramways and railways, be warned, there is not much off the shelf Or ready to run engines and rolling stock. You’ll have to build lots of fiddly twiddly stuff.

Good to know that the original Airfix Stephenson’s Rocket kit (static model) and railway labourers are still available from good old Dapol:


Almost steampunk, two of the odder Airfix figures with their fine top hats.

They could join my Victorian policeman conversion (can you recognise the original Airfix figure with a ‘straw’ top hat?) sorting out those riotous navvies.

The sign reads “Stop Now! This (rail) way madness lies …”

Blog Post Script

I have Mr. Bob Cordery to blame for this post, having posted about his Diddly Dums.


One of the comments on his blog jokily mentioned Beware joining the “chuff puff loonies” so it’s obviously not just my family curse.

Blog posted by Mark Man Of TIN, 18 February 2023. Toot toot!

4mm Cowes Single Box illustration

I stuck this illustration (from Railway Modelling magazine? c. 2012?) in my scrapbook as it reminded me of modeller Stan Catchpol’s column in Military Modelling magazine in the 1980s.

Drawn by Ian C. Robinson

I like the Lilliputian / Borrowers aspects of the tiny railway people coming alive to build your ‘model’ railway / their normal railway …

Blog post by Mark Man Of TIN, 4 December 2022

Shoo! Fly! and Company G? Railways Magazine January 1942 WW2 and ACW

Two interesting pages from a random issue of Railways magazine Volume 3, No. 21 January 1942 which I scanned before I passed them on.

Above is a 1941 era Cruiser tank “en route to embarkation points” – official LNER photograph – and obviously a propaganda shot. such open daytime shipping shows our allied armoured might, replacements only a year and a half after the disastrous loss of tanks at Dunkirk and the Fall Of France in May 1940.

And now from WW2 to the American Civil War (amongst the early Wars to use railroads)

“Shoo! Fly! don’t bother me!

For I belong

to Company G!”

This 1860s minstrel song instrumental can be heard here on this Library Of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/afcreed000121/

According to Wikipedia: “Shoo Fly” is among the songs (“John Brown’s Body” is another) claimed as compositions by T. Brigham Bishop.

According to Bishop’s account, he wrote “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me” during the Civil War while assigned to command a company of black soldiers.

One of the soldiers, dismissing some remarks of his fellow soldiers, exclaimed “Shoo fly, don’t bother me,” which inspired Bishop to write the song, including in the lyrics the unit’s designation, “Company G”


Wikipedia also mentioned a Spanish-American War troop connection in the 1898: “when flies and the yellow fever  and mosquito were a serious enemy.

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album

(about 22 minutes) in on  Join Bing and Sing Along  (1959)

and its the second track on the Disney Children’s Songs album No. 3https://youtu.be/49kPW5E9L5E

… notably without the Company G part.

So Shoo Fly – temporary railway loop or American Civil War minstrel lyric sung by black (Union?) Soldiers (of the USCT US Coloured Troops?)

And the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B? That’s another story, another war and another Company.

Blog posted by Mark Man Of TIN, 7 October 2022


I have not followed this Anne Parrish link up for The Perpetual Bachelor (1925) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Parrish

Railway Civilians – Steam Fair Haul 2022

In £1 packets, I picked up every one they had on a railway modelling stall at a recent West Country Steam Fair, my first Fair since the pandemic and 2019. This haul was £8 worth.

I have not yet posted the 54mm plastic figure haul from 2018 – one for a rainy day!

Plastic Soldier Review http://plasticsoldierreview.com/review.aspx?id=366

The 1961 Airfix Civilians set designed by John Niblett. Its box art of urban Britain is just about how I remember it as a late 1960s / early 70s child. These Civilian figures have not been available since 1973 to 1975.

I grew up with a few of these civilian oddities mixed in as ‘personalities’ mixed in with my motley mix of HO/OO toy soldiers.

I like the description of the characters on the box back –

Image from Airfix’s Little Soldiers, Jean-Christophe Carbonel – I like the silhouettes of the figures.

The struggling postman with mail sack has lots of character. It’s good to be able to name and identify poses – although some are not now quite PC? (2 Fat Men)

These Station Accessories and mix of railway figures and workers are often not listed with military figures in some Airfix reference books. They feel a little forgotten, less familiar or undiscovered.

Plastic Soldier Review ‘Station Accessories’ review page:


Image source: the lovely Dapol website – pure Airfix purchasable nostalgia

Wonderfully Airfix Railway figures are all still available from Dapol in hard grey plastic including this old 1960s Platform Figures and Accessories set.

These are slight and slender (HO 1:87 maybe according to Plastic Soldier Review?) in comparison to the chunkier 1961 Airfix Civilians above and later 1970s Airfix. This is in the same way perhaps that first version 1960s Airfix figures such as Infantry Combat Group, German Infantry, 8th Army and Afrika Korps are small compared to their 1970s larger Airfix second versions.

Worth mentioning that those familiar Airfix building kits – the thatched cottage, Church, windmill, Tudorbethan house and others – are still available from the same Dapol website.

Other former Airfix figures still available from Dapol:

Airfix Platform Accessories (and figures)


Airfix Railway Workmen


Airfix Platform Figures https://www.dapol.co.uk/shop/model-accessories/self-assembly-oo-kits/c008-platform-figures-set-of-36-510

Blog posted by Mark Man Of TIN on 31 August 2022

Shad(ow)y Characters

These are some of the shad(ow)y railway characters that turned up in Lockdown April 2020.

I think they look quite striking in dark painted undercoat, like mysterious silhouettes or Cluedo game pieces from the 1920s and 1930s.

They were bought as civilians and NPCs (Non-Player Characters) for my Scouting Wide Games and snowball fight projects to go alongside my LBB30 STS Shiny Toy Soldiers 42mm range Boy Scout figures.

These plastic figures needed a bit of height to be adults alongside my strapping Boy Scouts, so I mounted the adults on 1p MDF and penny pieces.

A bit of research suggests that they are hard to find ex-Lionel Railway stock (USA). Now out of production and widely sold out (including from my original supplier below), they were sold or marked as O figures.


DMZ Post No. 3 – Tank Engine Tuesday

In place of the promised tankettes and Tankette Tuesday, here is the DMZ demilitarised version: Tank Engine Tuesday

DMZ? https://manoftinblogtwo.wordpress.com/2022/02/24/some-more-peaceful-or-non-lethal-tabletop-strategy-games/

Tank Engine Tuesday? No that’s not engines for tanks. I once saw a Matilda tank engine for sale on EBay and thought for a moment, it’s a start. A Matilda Tank on the Front Lawn would certainly be a conversation piece …

Anyway a DMZ demilitarised look at my occasional Sidetracked blog, where my gaming life sometimes overlaps with railways and model railways.

Ben, this lovely beast of a Tank Engine is still lurking in the family toy cupboards, along with this vintage handmade station with its tin and card adverts

According to the authoritative https://ttte.fandom.com/wiki/Bill_and_Ben

“Bill and Ben are based on the Bagnall 0-4-0STs “Alfred” and “Judy” of Par [Docks] in Cornwall, who are both preserved and in working order at the excellent Bodmin and Wenford Railway in Cornwall.”

“According to the foreword of Thomas and the Twins, Alfred and Judy are both Bill and Ben’s twins. Alfred was once repainted yellow for a Days Out with Thomas event, to resemble Bill.”



Railways are one DMZ demilitarised and relaxing modelling way of keeping the crafting modelling hands busy during current disquieting events.


Its an occasional itch – I come from a Model Railway Family (we’re all about 1 inch tall, made of plastic and don’t move around much).


Peter Dennis’ versatile civilians from his Little Wars, 54mm Paperboys – great passengers!


One of the attractive sections of H.G. Wells’ Floor Games (1911) is the ‘lectric, or clockwork engines, the photographs of the cities and islands by his wife Amy Catherine (“Jane”) Wells and the charming drawings by illustrator J.R. (John Ramage) Sinclair.

Floor Games 1911


The most attractive parts of railway modelling has always been the scenics and especially the figures, often a useful (but sometimes expensiv e source) of civilians for my DMZ Demilitarised Games – snowballers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts / Guides …






Some interesting DMZ reading and viewing


Why not Do a Snooville? I remember this at the time from the family Railway Modeller magazine! https://sidetracked2017blog.wordpress.com/2019/10/13/do-a-snooville/

Much as I like British railways and vanished quirky branch lines, I also like American railroads, Mixed Train Daily and Short Lines (Hello citizens of Bowdon!)



I also like pop up instant railways

whether in a tin,


a pop up book https://sidetracked2017blog.wordpress.com/2020/05/22/pop-up-railway-americana/

or a Wild West battery train set and birdhouse trackside station


Set up and taken down in minutes. Instant fix. Quick joy.

Even a quirky pen and ink digital railway?




Why not take it around in a suitcase?



Taken from my occasional blog – https://sidetracked2017blog.wordpress.com/

Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN, 1st March 2022

“Some suggestions for toymakers” 1911

Some charming figures – Illustration by J.R. Sinclair from H G Wells’ “Floor Games” of 1911

Cheap and charming civilians, especially period ones in 54mm, are still hard to find. Not much has changed since 1911 then!


Working again researching and blog posting about H.G. Wells’ book “Little Wars” of 1911, I was reminded of this great illustration page of characters.

This book was expanded by H. G. Wells from a small end section of “Floor Games” of 1911 into two magazine articles and the famous book.

The charming railways section of “Floor Games” is explored and illustrated more here:


Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 5 December 2021

Now with Added Trains …

A Russian Civil War armoured trains gaming scenario from the Wargaming for Grown Ups website: