Where the club meets

Tuesday nights from 7:30pm until 10:00pm

The EBMRS
The Roundabout Club
Sandy
Bedfordshire
SG19 1EL

A short history of the EBMRS

The East Bedfordshire Model Railway Society was founded on 17th March 1961. Over the years, members have come and gone and, hardly surprisingly, none of the founding fathers appear on the current membership list. However, two of our members did join within the first few years of the club’s existence and five have been members for over thirty years. Enthusiasm for railway modelling has remained high and members are always encouraged to tackle new challenges and improve their modelling skills. What follows is a short account of the history of our club to date, including some of the articles we have written over the years to describe how our layouts were constructed. We hope you enjoy reading about the EBMRS.

Early Days

The club started out as the Biggleswade and District Model Railway Society and the first duty of the officers of the Society was to secure premises for a clubroom. By Whitsun 1961, a suitable room was found at the rear of the Conservative Club in Biggleswade and work commenced immediately on the club’s first layout. This was a model of Sandy GNR and progress must have been fairly rapid as, barely five months later, it appeared as an unfinished, but working, exhibit at the clubs first annual exhibition at The Drill Hall, Biggleswade.

The early membership list was graced by some well known names in model railway circles and included Bob Essery, ‘the wagon builder’ of West Herts EM Group and LMS Society fame, and our first President was none other than Cyril Freezer, one-time editor of Railway Modeller and respected author.

One of the first local activities that the club was involved in was when BR closed  the Bedford to Hitchin branch of the MR. The last passenger train ran on the line on 30 December 1961 and the loco, Standard 2MT 2-6-2T No 84005, was adorned with a headboard constructed by club members to commemorate the occasion. We still have the headboard on display in our clubroom.

It wasn’t long before club members started branching out into the manufacture of model railway items. The August 1962 edition of Railway Modeller carried an advert for 4mm scale hand-built signals produced by the club’s Honorary Secretary, Keith Dann. He advertised that he could “produce any conceivable signal in 4mm” and that they would be provided with lighting(!). Prices started at 17/6 (87.5p). I think I’ll order a few!!

A year later he was also advertising bespoke metal parts for scratch builders made from copper sheet using a process he described as ‘electro – deposition’. A Belpaire firebox was offered at 10/- (50 pence).

Another early layout was Whitmouth Pier. This was built in the late 1960s and, as its name implies, it was a model of a station on a pier. The wooden supports for the pier were mounted on a sheet of patterned glass to represent the sea and this layout was exhibited at IMREX some time around 1970.

Like most of our early layouts, trackwork was Peco Streamline and rolling stock was out-of-the-box proprietary from Triang and Hornby. This was about the time that Graham Farish started to produce better quality, freer running models and we enthusiastically welcomed the new stock onto the layout.

However, this presented us with an unforeseen problem whilst exhibiting at Kettering. The first train of the new stock drew proudly into the station, the loco uncoupled, and the whole train ran back off the pier and returned itself to the fiddle yard! This was accompanied by hoots of laughter and the sudden realisation that the old fashioned, poor-running stock had simply masked the fact that the layout wasn’t level. A valuable lesson had been learned.

New Premises

In the early 70s the club relocated to a loft at the rear of the Lord Roberts public house in Sandy. This was very handy when refreshment was required, but was less than ideal in other respects. In particular, the method used to get into and out of the clubroom was somewhat unconventional, to put it mildly. The only access to the clubroom was via a ladder! This was dangerous enough at the best of times, but how members managed to manhandle an 8 foot baseboard from our then current layout, Longwood Junction, into and out of the clubroom doesn’t bear thinking about.

Mercifully, our stay at the Lord Roberts was fairly brief and 1975 brought about another change of premises and we moved to the former cinema projection room at the old Town Hall building in Sandy. However, an enormous mercury arc-rectifier contained in a breeze-block room with a concrete floor occupied a large part of the room and had to be dismantled before we could even think about model railways.

We managed to dispose of the breeze-blocks and concrete, but the rectifier itself was contained in a steel cabinet within this room. As we were reluctant to dismantle it ourselves we decided to get it to ground level and arrange for a scrap merchant to collect it. Rather than struggle down the twisty clubroom stairs we thought the easiest way down would be via the fire escape and six of us slowly lowered it with ropes down these rather spindly stairs hoping they would take the weight. At the bottom of the stairs was a door which our then secretary Trev Colby was holding open. As it turned out, this was not a wise move!

Due to its considerable weight we ‘slightly’ lost control of its planned steady descent and it pinned Trev to the door. He was not amused, but we graciously thanked him for stopping it before it carried on through the floor and into the bar below. That would almost certainly have marked the end of our occupation of our new premises but, 36 years later, we are still there.

Progress

We have successfully submitted several articles for publication and our first was written for Your Model Railways magazine in 1985 to describe our next exhibition layout, Mulgrave Town; (to see the article, click here ). This was a 36 feet long, terminus to fiddle yard layout and, as before, was laid with Peco Streamline track. By now we were starting to introduce more kit built locomotives and stock and running was reliable enough to encourage us to develop a two-hour sequence timetable for use at shows. At the end of the sequence everything was back in its starting positions and we ran through the whole thing again and again until the show finished.

One constructional technique from Mulgrave Town that we definitely did not want to perpetuate on subsequent layouts was the way we arranged the track at baseboard joints. We did not lay the track right up to the joints but, instead, had short removable sections of rail that were held in place by fishplates.

The intention was to avoid damage to the rail ends when loading the layout into cars and vans for transportation to shows. However, Mulgrave Town occupied nine baseboards and, with several tracks crossing each joint, we had dozens of pieces of rail to fit before we could run any trains. Additionally, because of the proximity of pointwork, etc, to the baseboard ends, not all the bridging pieces were the same length! We had to lean on the baseboards in order to fit them (assuming you could find ones the right length) and this didn’t do the scenery any good, and it was almost impossible to slide the fishplates in place without incident. Either they would be so loose that they didn’t conduct electricity, or they were so tight that the pliers slipped as you tried to fit them and you grazed your knuckles on the ballast, to the accompaniment of much bad language.

The final straw occurred when we were setting up the layout at Meldreth, near Royston, when someone casually asked where the tin was that contained the bridging pieces. A deathly silence ensued. We had left them behind and one of our members was despatched hot-foot back to the clubroom at Sandy to find them.

It made us about half an hour late in starting operation and our patience was exhausted. The bridging pieces were summarily replaced by permanent sections of rail soldered to brass screws at the baseboard ends. The rail ends didn’t get damaged after all, track alignment was maintained, erection of the layout was much quicker and we no longer had to explain the existence of blood stains on the layout to the visiting public.

Improving Standards

Mulgrave Town was successful on the exhibition circuit, but at about this time one of our members, Pete Relf, was toying with the idea of easing the club away from the comfort of Universal standards and Peco code 100 trackwork and moving to finescale OO with code 75 rail. He already had a large amount of beautiful GWR finescale rolling stock and managed to persuade the committee to let him build a small GWR branch terminus to run it on.

In no time at all he presented us with a set of baseboards, complete with track, hand-built pointwork and all wired up and ready to go. It ran perfectly and the rest of us immediately realised that the finer standards brought not only a better appearance to track and stock, but greatly improved running as well. This layout was Ambleddwyn and was described in Your Model Railway magazine in 1987; (to see the article, click here ). It was 20 feet long and was a typical GWR branch terminus. However, one particular incident persuaded us to change one operational aspect of the layout.

Ambleddwyn was designed to use three-link couplings but, unfortunately, not all members had used couplings from the same manufacturer and some of the links and hooks were incompatible.

We were exhibiting at Peterborough and I was having some difficulty uncoupling two wagons; the link on a tarpaulined wagon had got jammed into the hook of a coal wagon. I struggled for seemingly ages to get them apart. I eventually managed it but, overwhelmed by my success, I whipped my uncoupling hook away and was horrified to see it catch under the securing ropes on the tarpaulined wagon. Unfortunately, this wagon was still attached to the rest of the train and I was left triumphantly holding my uncoupling hook aloft, with four wagons dangling off it! The decision was made forthwith to abandon the three-link couplings in favour of Sprat & Winkle Line automatic couplings from MSE and, although they lack the prototype appearance of the three-link couplings, it is a decision we have never regretted.

Over the years this layout developed into Cheriton Bishop and was fully described in the February 2011 issue of BRM. It is still popular on the exhibition circuit and, amongst many others, appeared at the last IMREX exhibition at the Horticultural Halls, Westminster in 1995 and at Warley in 2006. It won Best Layout in Show at Cambridge in 1985, the MSE Prototype Signalling Award at Blackburn in 1999 and was Highly Commended in the 2012 British Railway Modelling Awards.

Fired with a new-found enthusiasm for finescale OO, a couple of us drew up a design for a much larger layout. This was to be a large BR (ER) five-platform terminus with end loading bays, complicated pointwork, a double-track main line and a branch line. But a major problem was just around the corner. The membership of every club fluctuates from time to time, but EBMRS has always been a small club and, when career pressures moved several established members away from the area in quick succession, we suddenly found ourselves with a membership of only five.

The new ER terminus was an absurdly ambitious layout for such a small group, but enthusiasm for the project was high and we reckoned that, between the five of us, we probably had sufficient expertise to give it a go. The club attracted a few more members along the way but it still took us over five years to get it fully operational and probably a couple more to make the scenery presentable, but the effort was worth it and we are pleased with the result. We wrote constructional magazine articles for Model Railways in November 1987 , February 1989 and February 1991 as well as full descriptions of the layout that appeared in British Railway Modelling in 1995 and in Hornby Magazine in 2008.

This layout is based upon a projected, but never built, extension to the Lancashire Derbyshire & East Coast Railway to Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire. It is a 37 feet long terminus to fiddle yard layout and features a working level crossing and turntable, buildings with interior detail and lighting, magnetic uncoupling and an intercom system to enable the signalman to discreetly talk to the other operators. 

The trackplan is very complicated and it is possible to have six locos moving at once, so operation is under the strict control of a signalman. We realised at the outset that it would be very difficult to keep tabs on everything that was happening, so we built a logic circuit into the control system to eliminate the possibility of selecting conflicting routes. This has been absolutely invaluable as things can get pretty hectic at an exhibition and it is easy to lose concentration if a member of the public asks a question at a critical moment. Sutton still appears regularly on the exhibition circuit and, amongst other events, was at Warley in 2003 and The National Festival of Railway Modelling in October 2010.

Branching Out

Stepping back a little in time, a new chapter in the history of the club began in 1998. We were exhibiting Cheriton Bishop at Chatham Dockyard when we were approached by some guys from the Mechelen Model Railway Club in Belgium. They also had a stand at the show and, during a long and convivial chat, asked if we would consider bringing Cheriton Bishop to their 25th Anniversary show the following year. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance.

They were perfect hosts and, as well as arranging accommodation for us, they took us out for drinks and meals, entertained us at their clubrooms, took us on a visit to a local brewery (always appreciated) and drove us to Antwerp for a night out. The exhibition went well and we had an absolutely wonderful time.

The Mechelen trip gave us valuable contacts in Belgium with the result that we were also invited to exhibit at MOMA in Brussels in 2001 and at Euromodelbouw in Genk in 2005. This latter show was our first two-layout exhibition; we took both Cheriton Bishop and Sutton........and every current and former club member we could muster to operate them.

Continental shows can be huge and are frequently not confined to model railways. At Brussels, for example, there was a large area netted off in the middle of the hall where exhibitors could race model cars and where flying demonstrations took place using model aircraft and helicopters. There was also a massive tank of water where radio controlled ships were demonstrated. It even had an underwater obstacle course for model submarines. At Genk we were periodically buzzed by 15 foot radio-controlled replicas of the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg. A great spectacle and very entertaining, but I wonder what modern UK Health and Safety inspectors would make of it!

What Next?

So, what of the future? We have just started work on our next exhibition layout, which will be based on Finchley Road & Frognal station on the North London line in 1960. It will be a 24’ x 12’ continuous circuit and all the buildings and structures will be faithful copies of those that actually existed in the area at that time. This location was chosen because we fancied modelling an urban scene for a change, and because of the huge variety of stock that used the line, including transfer freights to and from the Southern, Western, Midland and Eastern Regions and four-rail electric multiple units from Broad Street and Richmond.

This will also be built to finescale OO gauge standards and, if past history is anything to go by, progress won’t be particularly brisk, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear at an exhibition. However, we will get there in the end and hopefully it will be as successful as our previous layouts have been.

One interesting development over the past few years has been the resurgence of the ready-to-run market. Modern offerings have greatly improved running and levels of detail that are difficult to improve upon for the average modeller. The advent of CAD has made it possible for manufacturers to economically produce an ever expanding range of prototypes and a seemingly infinite variety of versions of the same locomotive or coach. 

I am not sure that things have completely turned full circle yet and many modellers will still prefer to build their own locos and stock. However, there is no escaping the fact that the OO modeller has never had such a wide range of high quality and reliable models to choose from.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, has it all been worth it and are there any advantages to being a member of a club as against building a layout on your own at home?

Well, in a club there is always someone on hand to help or offer advice when you encounter that insurmountable modelling problem; members are always helped and encouraged to tackle new challenges and improve their modelling skills; we have exhibited throughout Britain and into mainland Europe; and our combined skills have allowed us to build and operate much larger and more complicated layouts than would ever be possible at home.

Anything else? Oh yes, and I have made some lifelong friends and have had a damn good time along the way.


Bern Munday
Chairman
East Beds Model Railway Society. (2012)