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The Ghosts of Flaxborough




A very long time ago, I read an article by Cyril Freezer in the Railway Modeller. It was called "Modern Image is Easy" and if you judge by the impact on my modelling it must have been the most important magazine article I've ever read. At least it's the only article that has ever resulted in me scrapping my layout, selling up my stock, and completely changing direction in my modelling.


Mind you I was a highly impressionable young teenager at the time.


I was then attempting to build what can be classed as a trainset, which was supposed to be a GWR/LMS joint operation, and a branchline. It was GWR/LMS because those were the cool companies in those days , unlike dowdy difficult and neglected things like the LNER or SR, where you needed to be a scratchbuilder of the calibre of Frank Dyer , Barrie Walls, Iain Futers or Nigel Macmillan to be able to make a go of a serious model. At that age I couldn't build a wagon kit tidily. It was a branch line - because that's what you did, as evidenced in the Railway Modeller. And it was steam because it hadn't occurred to me that you could model anything else. In those days even modelling BR steam was a case of "why would you want to model a depressing period of decay like that?"


It was a startling revelation to find the editor of the Railway Modeller arguing in detail in a 3 page article that it was not merely possible but straightforward and attractive to model contemporary BR . The attraction of modelling a railway I'd actually seen, rather than one that had effectively vanished about the time I was born and I would never experience, was immediate. The East Lincolnshire line had closed in 1970 so I hadn't seen a lot of the contemporary railway, but I'd seen something . The thing was out there, and getting to Grimsby or New Holland or Market Rasen or even Kings Cross was a great deal more practical than acquiring a TARDIS and visiting the 1930s.


And CJF had explained in detail how it could be done. There were even layout plans, taken from his 60 Plans for Small Railways - one of these (that marked 3) purported to fit a continuous run in 6' x 4', and I came to the conclusion that a version could be done in 10' x 8' in the loft. I didn't much like the through terminus Cyril Freezer had drawn so I thought a few loop lines tricked up like a station would act as a sort of fiddle space.


So I got parental permission and funding for some lengths of half inch chipboard about 18" wide to be supported off the roof trusses on metal shelf brackets There was no baseboard frame - these were effectively crude shelves. My existing rolling stock - three engines, some coaches and wagons - was sold. (There seemed no point trying to sell the few kits I'd attempted to build. Three wagons were much later rebuilt and recycled for the boxfile, one Ratio coach eventually went in the bin, another has just been completely rebuilt for Blacklade, and that just leaves a badly built GW 4 wheeler which I 'm considering rebuilding as engineer's stock.)


With the modest proceeds I had a model railway spending spree. My birthday produced a blue Wrenn class 20, and the rest of the funds went on a blue Airfix 31 - the latest thing in RTR diesels then - three or four coaches and three "BR vans": my first venture into the world of the discount mail order box shifter, bought from a prominent advertiser of the time, Eastbourne Model Centre. I soon discovered that the "BR vans" were not like the ones that took malt from ABM Louth - they were pre-nationalisation types, and further investigation suggested there weren't any of those left. But I was stuck with them , even if they weren't authentic.


Cyril Freezer had claimed that an authentic modern BR train could be made up with a van , two brake seconds, an FO, and a catering vehicle; and that a mix of Mk 1 and Mk2 stock was authentic. I duly bought a pair of Hornby Mk2 "BSK"s and an Airfix Mk2D FO . An old Triang Hornby Mk1 RMB was found on a junk shop, and repainted rather roughly into blue-grey with Humbrol enamel (I remember freezer tape was used as masking, the catering red stripe was actually a narrow strip of the original maroon self-coloured plastic, the corners of the grey weren't rounded and there was no lining. Or numbers and branding). I also acquired two Lima BGs, and a pair of their CCTs - I thought I could add a parcels train to the mix. The idea was that with a BG and RMB I had an InterCity rake, with these cut out and a 31 on the front I had a semi fast/local train. My express loco was to be a second hand Triang Hornby 37 , bought for a tenner from the junk shop. It barely ran. I eventually took it to a model shop I'd discovered near Grimsby station to be sorted out. They did their best , but it was still pretty rubbish . I bought a new Lima 08.



It was a badly flawed project. Nobody in the family had ever had a model railway, I didn't know any other modellers, there were no local clubs, no local model shops and in those days of course no internet. I was totally on my own bar a few copies of a monthly magazine, and I had no real idea what I was doing. I was under the impression that Brasso would be an effective track cleaner. After all it is sold for polishing metal and rails are metal... The whole thing ran like a dog with frequent derailments. I'd reused every Hornby point I'd ever bought - it's only now, many years later , that I wonder if there might have been some back to back issues in there somewhere , and whether some of the points may have been a bit coarse for some of the wheels. I remember I ultimately rewheeled the Hornby coaches with wheels sold by a model shop in Grimsby - Romfords no doubt. Were those really going to run happily through 1970s Hornby trainset points?


About 18 months into the project my father was seconded out to the Australian branch of his company, and progress stopped.


We spent most of the next few years in Sydney, where I found a 1500V dc suburban railway with a 15 minute frequency service on my doorstep , and in due course acquired a NSW Student Railpass for use on the same. A chance find of a months old copy of the Model Railway Constructor on the bookstall on Wynyard station ramp led to modelling restarting in the form of a small tram layout , which went through 2 versions , the second of which boasted two BEC kits and worked quite well though it ate card buildings and came back asking for more, and I never did get more than a few centre masts without wires up.. An attempt was made to resurrect Flaxborough when we returned home about 9 months before university, and during holidays , but it didn't work well, progress was limited - and when I moved south to start work the project was quietly abandoned . Modelling restarted about 2 years later with Ravenser Mk1


However this was not quite the end of the matter, because I was a good little boy, kept my stock boxes and packed everything carefully away in cardboard boxes in the parental loft (beneath the derelict remains of the layout). Those boxes eventually ended up in my own flat - and as I don't like wasting stuff , the stock is very slowly resurfacing.


The Wrenn 20 and Lima 09 were reused on Ravenser - where their mechanical limitations became abundantly obvious. The Airfix 31 which was probably the best of the locos is now being detailed up for Blacklade. One of the two CCTs has already been comprehensively upgraded, and another awaits its turn. An Airfix LMS van which suffered my first attempt at weathering was reworked for the boxfile, and a Mainline Mink is now earmarked for reworking as a tail load parcels van for the steam period on Blacklade.


Other stuff will surface in due course. The two Lima BGs are earmarked as donor vehicles to take a couple of pairs of Comet sides when I pluck up the courage to face attempting blue/grey with spray cans . I don't suppose there'll be a lot left of them when I've finished but at 64' there's not much else to be done . There's a Lima Mk1 SK tucked away somewhere - which raises the question of whether the secondhand Kitmaster SK kit someone gave me should be built as a TSO instead. Most of the TTAs I got for 50p each second hand have now been reworked , and at some point I may get round to reusing the body of the 37 with an Athearn PA1 chassis and some Dave Alexander bogie frames ( both already stockpiled) under it .Whether the Mk2s are really worth the huge effort of upgrading is moot. I started , got seriously discouraged - I'm not sure I'll finish


There's one other ghost, a slightly more subtle one. The tram layout, allegedly 4' gauge, was set in a Midlands county town, which was supposed to have a GC and MR presence (E Midlands county towns generally did) . I had a copy of the East Midlands volume of Great British Tram Networks, and Leicester, Nottingham and Derby were very much in my mind. There was supposed to be a city centre tram terminus and a depot outside the lesser , MR, station, serving a secondary group of tram routes , and this was allegedly what was being modelled. The town was called Blacklade, and the square outside the MR station in which the trams terminated was named after my initial misreading of the name of one of the stations on the North Shore line. The real station is Artarmon, but I quite liked my version.... When I needed a backstory and scenario for a small rundown terminus in an East Midlands county town , it was easy to blow the dust off the fiction.


I seem to have mislaid the layout photo I was going to scan... (Which is why this post has been an awful long time in draft)

Edited by Ravenser

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