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.
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 nearone 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 Stations1830 -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 Railwaysystem 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. ChristianWolmer has written an interesting history of railways at war called Engines of War.
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:
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)
According to Wikipedia: “Shoo Fly” is among the songs (“John Brown’s Body” is another) claimed as compositions byT. 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”
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.
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:
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.
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 …
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 …