Whilst I am putting in yet more wires on Hatton Parkway to get all the point motors working I thought that I'd take time out to do some musing (they can't touch you for it, you know).
Back in the days of yore there were model railways that put the emphasis on the railways rather than the model. This is something that is still big in the US - models of large sections of railway systems rather than a single station, or part of one. Currently the UK hobby seems to be concentrated on producing rather nice models of a specific location (be it real or imagined) rather than portraying how a chunk of the rail network works and interacts.
Those of you of a certain age, or more, will remember layouts like Jack Ray's Crewchester, Norman Eagles' Sherwood Section and Peter Denny's Buckingham - all of which were models of railway systems where trains went from place to place, in some cases with intermediate stops or alternative routes. Whilst the models were all individually built, rather than taken out of a box, none the less they weren't the stars of the show, instead they were just actors in the show that was operating the layout like the real thing.
Many people hold up John Ahern's Madder Valley, now preserved at Pendon Museum, as the first true scenic layout but overlook the fact that it was designed to be interesting to operate as well. The various industries gave a purpose to the freight movements and the various modelled communities gave a reason for the passenger operations.
The 'grand-daddy' of UK 4mm operations was Edward Beal. During the 50s and 60s he published a stream of articles and books about building 4mm models and how to use them to portray real operations. If you come across a copy of his book WEST MIDLAND: A Railway in Miniature I'd strongly advise sitting down with it. It is a fascinating read and whilst much of its content is dated it still provides much food for thought.
Today we are fortunate in that we can sit at a computer screen and order finely-detailed locomotives that run smoothly, accurate coaches and freight wagons to a constant scale and scale miles of track at the wave of a plastic card. We can add virtually any type of scenic embellishment we like, all without raising a sweat if we so choose. So where are the operating empires of today? Where are the layouts with four or five stations with freight terminals, branches and visibly different types of traffic?
Maybe it is just me, but the layouts I remember reading about in my youth that left the biggest impression were not the large 'railway in a landscape' single (or no) station scenic spectaculars, but the ones that replicated a significant slice of railway. Good narrow gauge does this - after all you can model a whole line and often get the spectacular scenery thrown in, US outline layouts (in the US) have it down to a fine art. Perhaps it is time for a few more of us in the UK to think about using the current crop of ready-to-play products to create models railways rather than model stations?
Now, where did I put my tin hat?