A HISTORY OF 00 GAUGE - Part 3

Popularity and progression 1945-75

By Stephen Siddle


It was not until early 1945 that the first stirrings of post war life began to emerge. Frank Dyer and several others formed a new club at Barnet and were working on a tiny 2-rail OO layout even before the V2 rockets had stopped falling. By the autumn, the MRC were meeting in the Ambulance Room at Waterloo, where Peter Denny joined them in November 1945; in December, Hambling’s MRN advertisement stated “by the time this advertisement appears we should have stocks of META scale OO rail for the first time since 1940” and Peter Denny hurried off to buy his first dozen lengths of rail. But even a craft knife was an unattainable luxury in the late Forties – Ahern used a “cut-throat” razor blade and offered a design for a wooden holder to take the more modern thin double edged type, as well as giving guidance on re-sharpening razor blades on an oilstone to save expense. Card and wood were the staple materials for constructing rolling stock and buildings: card could be had as scrap, and ordinary cardboard boxes were then a good source of thick card, while modest amounts of thin stripwood and plywood could be readily obtained. But larger amounts of timber, such as were needed for baseboards, were another matter. Ahern could write in the MRN (1/47) “As matters stand at the time of writing, anyone is entitled to buy £1 worth of timber [a month]– that is a fact. If a timber merchant tells you he cannot supply unless a permit is produced, the assumption must be that he hasn’t got what you want and does not like to admit it”. But two years later this “allowance” had been cut to 10 shillings a month, and it took one modeller several years to buy enough timber to convert his loft, although this at least eased the financial burden: “Not the least of our present day shortages is a shortage of cash!”(MRN 2/50). Peter Denny built the boards for his first Buckingham Branch largely from wood salvaged from a pre-war Gauge O layout, and P.D Hancock began Craigshire on “a baseboard consisting of two old blackout frames supported upon a miscellaneous collection of tea chests and packing cases”.

Locomotives were built of metal, and if nickel silver or brass were not obtainable, tinplate (salvaged from empty tin cans) provided an acceptable substitute, though in the desperate days of the mid Forties a few brave souls experimented with cardboard loco bodies. Cardboard and strip or plywood were the staples for coaches and wagons, although underframes were normally soldered metal: Michael Longridge’s “Modelling 4mm Scale Rolling Stock” (1948) is based almost entirely on such techniques. Plastic was regarded as unsuitable for model use. A good range of not entirely accurate drawings was available from Skinley, but modellers often had to resort to building from nothing more than a photograph, and prototype information was hard to find as few relevant books then existed. Neither Longridge nor Ahern mention kits or RTR because in 1948 neither was available. Production of Hornby Dublo restarted only in the late autumn of 1947, and it was not until 1949 that anything other than sets was available; the Korean War led to further shortages of materials and only in 1954 did Hornby Dublo issue their fourth locomotive and first post-war design. Kits were regarded as a American idea at this time, but by 1950 ERG of Bournemouth was advertising its “Precision card parts” for OO rolling stock and CCW was offering a wooden component system for building coaches, while the first examples of what might be called loco kits were appearing from Larko, Rowell, and Kirdon. If you wanted a controller, you built it yourself: a spare element for an electric fire normally provided the resistance. Electric motors, or the lack of them, were a particular difficulty in the1940s, and those that were available were not up to today’s standards and were fearfully expensive: in 1950 a Romford motor cost £2 10s - £33 in today’s money - and as late as 1955 there was a controversy in the MRN as to whether any British motor was capable of pulling 9 coaches. It is sometimes suggested that Ahern’s Madder Valley did not work particularly well, but the fact is that in the 1940s model railways in general did not work particularly well, and one magazine editorial (MRN 1/50), after noting that it had become fashionable for exhibitions to include at least one “working” layout, offered some sharp criticism of the unreliability which exhibition layouts then generally displayed. .

But despite all the handicaps, the hobby moved briskly ahead. Fleetwood Shawe recalls that the trade revived very quickly after the war, and despite all the shortages, the range of goods available steadily improved: by the early 1950s support for OO was better than it had been pre-war, even if the heavy emphasis on service in retailers’ advertisements probably concealed a lack of stock. Conditions bred a certain pragmatism: when it was so difficult to build anything at all, a purist finescale rejection of all compromises was simply impractical, and even leading modellers were willing to accept some degree of approximation and occasional imperfections in the cause of building a layout. Indeed, when one recalls both how much Ahern managed to produce in a decade, and P.D.Hancock’s recollections of building freelance narrow gauge oddities in a few evenings, this attitude may have been an advantage. In the late Forties Peter Denny scratchbuilt an engine in seven days while recovering from flu. This pragmatism also manifested itself in a virtual absence of scale/gauge controversy from the appearance of the BRMSB standards to the end of the Fifties. For those who felt that OO was too narrow, there was now an officially recognised alternative, EM, if they wished to adopt it. In practice many liked the idea but few actually took it up: one who did was a young member of the MRC, Peter Denny, who became friendly with F.W.Chubb and Michael Longridge, both then MRC members. Thus the torch passed from the generation of the Thirties to that of the Fifties, and in due course Buckingham GC became one of the star layouts of a new magazine, the Railway Modeller, edited by another young member of the MRC in the late Forties, Cyril Freezer.

A new and very potent idea of the period was the branch line layout. The Madder Valley was in many ways the first example, but the idea also had been floated in several wartime articles: the objection “what do you do at the other end?” had been answered by another new idea, the fiddle yard, a non-scenic section representing the rest of the railway network. Buckingham Mark 1 featured a fiddle yard as early as 1948, and Maurice Deane invented another type, situated behind the terminus with a connection to provide a continuous run. Cyril Freezer, who publicised the concept of the branch line layout, explained its attraction many years later: “A branch line can be operated by one engine, two coaches and a dozen or so wagons. By modern standards that is a ridiculously small amount of stock…but in 1947 it represented at least a year’s hard graft.” Most modellers, like Cyril, Peter Denny, and P.D. Hancock were starting completely from scratch, and a small layout was at least an attainable project. “Since it takes much longer to build a big layout than it does to construct a small one, until about 1955 the great majority of models we saw were tiny ones.” (RM 11/71). And a branch line can be built in a very modest space as countless modellers have found over the last half-century: in the 1940s when wartime bombing had created an acute housing shortage this was an important consideration.

The late Forties also saw the great changeover from 6V 3-rail electrification to 12V 2-rail. A considerable amount of ink was spilt on the subject of 2-rail yet in hindsight one wonders if there was really an issue. A hardy few, like A.R.Walkley and Michael Longridge, had been working in 2-rail since the Thirties (Wimbledon MRC was a hotbed of it) and the principle had been widely adopted in America but for ordinary mortals the great difficulty had been the modification of wheels to provide insulation, as well as the fear provoked by wiring diagrams, especially as the early 2-rail diagrams were both unfamiliar in principle and unnecessarily complex in practice. Everyone was in favour of 2-rail in theory, and the only question was its practicality, but by 1946 insulated wheels to BRMSB standard were available from Romford and modellers entering the hobby after the war worked in 2-rail from the start. The two most famous OO layouts of the day, Beals’ West Midland, and Ahern’s Madder Valley were converted in 1944 and 1946 respectively and when Rovex brought out a 2-rail train set in late 1950 it became rather difficult to argue that 2-rail was too difficult for scale modellers to make work. For those still hesitant there emerged a half-way house, stud contact, in which the outside third rail was replaced by a row of broad headed pins between the rail: this was vastly less obtrusive but was soon obsolete except in Gauge O. The replacement of 6V by 12V (which had been a de facto Allied wartime standard for low-voltage equipment) seems to have passed almost un-noted. The advantages were obvious, in that the same amount of current would carry twice the power, but despite the fact that it must have required the replacement or rewinding of practically every motor, the issue is hardly discussed. Perhaps so many modellers took up the hobby from scratch after the war that the changeover happened almost automatically.

The decade after the war was a period of dramatic expansion for OO, to the point where OO almost was the hobby. Gauge 1 had been in decline well before the war, and in March 1947, a proposal from Capt. W.R.Warrell led to the formation of the Gauge 1 Model Railway Association, in which remaining modellers in the scale banded together to ensure its survival. In this they were successful, but for several decades Gauge 1 modellers remained a tiny fraction of the hobby. For O gauge, the ten years to 1955 were like the retreat from Moscow. Before the war it had been the dominant scale; in 1951 a questionnaire in the Constructor showed 35% of respondents working in 7mm and 53% in 4mm, and when the exercise was repeated in 1961 (with 50% more replies) the figure was down to 10%, with 65% in OO, 6% in EM, and 13% in the newly introduced TT3. In the late thirties almost all the new entrants to the hobby had gone into 4mm, and after the war there was a huge loss of existing O gauge modellers as people came home and, like Peter Denny, sold up derelict coarse scale O for what they could get and went 4mm. The classified columns of the MRN in particular were clogged with adverts- as one (MRN 6/50) put it baldly, “Large O Gauge layout, mostly L.M.C, all as new, cheap for quick sale. Send for list”. Much equipment ended up in junk shops where surviving O gauge modellers picked it up at bargain prices. Hornby never resumed production of their larger, more authentic Gauge O items after the war, and one by one the big names of pre war Gauge O went under: by 1955 the continued availability of even basic components was in serious doubt. Following a letter from W.Loch Kidston, an Edinburgh solicitor and armchair modeller with a remarkable knack of founding things, a meeting was held which led to the formation of the Gauge O Guild to ensure continued supplies of the necessary components for O gauge modellers.

O gauge survived but it was not until the 1980s that it was to enjoy a major revival. Some of the reasons for its decline can be seen in the two Constructor surveys of the period. Gauge O was still overwhelmingly coarse scale and, to a large extent, clockwork: one of the Guild’s first major projects was to provide a supply of replacement springs for its members and even in the early Sixties, two rail electric layouts were a small minority in the scale. Scenic layouts were rare, space was a problem, trade support increasingly limited, and new equipment was very expensive. Up until the Seventies Gauge O retained the image of being rather crude and archaic, locked in a pre-war world, and fit only for the garden. The Age of Mammals had arrived, and the dinosaurs were in retreat.

Scale societies are normally founded either as lifeboats (like the Gauge O Guild) or as groups of pioneers to propagate a new scale, and in both cases the supply of components is generally the original focus. 1955 saw the foundation of another scale society, this time of the second kind. EM gauge had been launched with high hopes in 1942 as the way out of the HO/OO controversy, but it soon became obvious that the vast majority of modellers, including a great many who had come into the hobby since the war, were sticking to OO as were all the manufacturers of “proprietary” (i.e. RTR) equipment; indeed by 1955 it is probable that four out of every five modellers were working in OO. The immediate spark for the formation of the EMGS was a letter in the MRN in 1954 under the title “Whatever Happened to EM Gauge?” The writer wondered whether anyone was still modelling in EM and several active EM gauge modellers (including Peter Denny) replied saying that the gauge was very much still alive; as a result of this correspondence the formation of a society for EM modellers was proposed. The immediate result of the EM Gauge Society was to give the gauge a much higher profile, and over the next few years EM rapidly became recognised as a serious alternative for the finescale-minded 4mm scale modeller.

Throughout the 1950s, the premier boy’s toy was the train set, and the train set was OO. There were three major ranges: Hornby Dublo (Meccano Ltd), Trix, and the new and rapidly expanding Triang Railways, made by Triang’s subsidiary Rovex. Trix, with its largely unchanged pre-war product, was very much the third out of three and it experienced several vicissitudes of ownership, leaving the real battle between Hornby Dublo, product of Britain’s grandest and most famous toy company, and Triang. Triang’s system exploited the new technology of plastic injection moulding to the hilt, and once Triang had taken over the original Rovex company its development was rapid. It was 2-rail from the start, utilising the insulating properties of plastic, and although some of the early products were toy-like a steady process of improvement and replacement meant that by the end of the decade Triang products were reasonable models of actual prototypes exhibiting respectable levels of detail, albeit often compromised to allow the use of existing standard components. By contrast Hornby Dublo was 3-rail, and made of lithographed tinplate and die cast metal, although in some quarters metal was equated with quality and plastic regarded as cheap and nasty; Meccano had pretensions to being an engineering firm rather than a toy company, and Hornby Dublo was largely free of Triang’s standard component compromises. But in the early Fifties the pent-up demand was enormous, demand exceeded supply and the train-makers could sell all they could produce. In 1954, the initial production run of Hornby-Dublo’s 2-6-4T was 100,000 units while Rovex (Triang) moved into a new factory at Margate which immediately had to be doubled in size because it proved inadequate. But then in 1954 there were only 11 RTR locomotives with any claim to be scale models on sale in Britain.

For some years the “scale” side of the hobby took little notice of all this. Attitudes in some quarters are vividly illustrated by an episode witnessed by a DOGA member in Hambling’s one day in the Fifties. Someone was rash enough to enter this scale model shop to ask for a Triang train set. The gentleman behind the counter (believed to be Arthur Hambling) informed him furiously, “There is a toy shop in Regent Street,” and physically bundled him out of the shop! RTR did not appear in Hamblings catalogue until the mid Sixties, and then only in the form of Arnold N gauge. Scale modelling meant scratchbuilding, leavened with the odd kit, and in many quarters it was viewed as a branch of model engineering, separated by a great gulf from playing with toys on the floor.

Neither railway modelling, nor train sets, were cheap in the Fifties. In 1950, the newly released Graham Farish Black 5 cost 71/6 (£67-92 today) and the model was not a patch on today’s superb Hornby model, while a handbuilt “scale” 3-rail Black 5 from Tyldesley & Holbrook cost an eye-watering 26 guineas (£518-70) and one of the first kits, Kirdon’s LMS 4-4-0, cost £6/5/1 (£123) with mechanism. In the same year Exley’s OO coaches cost 45s (£42-20) each complete, Farish’s plastic Pullman cost 27/6 (£26.15) and a crude generic LMS coach from Coachcraft cost 16/6 (£15.68) Three years later, Triang wagons cost a more reasonable 3/11 (£3.10 today), while in 1956 Triang coaches could be had for 9/3 (£7.37), their Hornby Dublo competitors retailed for 15s (£11.95) and Exleys were down to 35s (£27.90); if you had the skill to built them ERG card wagon kits cost 3/9 each (£3.10), the new whitemetal shunter’s truck from Wills cost a heavyweight 6/11 (£5.55) and PECO Wonderful Wagons as much as 8s including post (£6.37). At this period one normally bought from a model shop, not directly by mail order, and manufacturers’ adverts were peppered with such phrases as “Ask your stockist for…” and, “Ask your META dealer”, although as many major model shops like Bonds and Hamblings produced their own products, the distinction was somewhat blurred in practice. By this date one major difficulty was a thing of the past, at least in OO, as ready made track using pressed fibre sleepers was available from Wrenn, GEM, PECO, and Welkut; in 1956 a yard of steel flexible track cost 4/8 (£3.72) and points could be had for 10/9 (£8.57). When converting contemporary prices into their 2002 equivalents it must be remembered that living standards and disposable incomes were much lower in the Fifties than they are today, and £10 to build a model railway could loom comparatively large in a household budget. Triang’s new 2-6-2T might seem quite reasonably priced at 54s in 1956 (£43.00 today) with an extra 12/6 for conversion with scale BRMSB wheels, but most modellers would have had to save for several months to afford it. Scratchbuilding was not only cheaper; it also helped spread the cost of modelling in the family budget.

During the 1950s exhibition layouts and exhibitions as we know them today did not exist. There were clubs but they were still relatively few: even major towns like York could be without a club as late as 1960. The focus of the hobby was on the permanent, long-term home layout, and its main forums were the three magazines. The Railway Modeller, founded in 1949 and from 1950 owned by PECO and edited by Cyril Freezer “For the Average Enthusiast” as the cover slogan had it, rapidly became the most important. It was largely a OO magazine with a leavening of EM, and it featured a description of a “Railway of the month” in each issue. Some of these layouts became regulars in the magazine, and readers followed news of their latest developments much as news of the Madder Valley had been in the Forties. The greatest of these was Peter Denny’s EM gauge Buckingham Branch, but not far behind it in fame, frequency of appearance and longevity came P.D.Hancock’s Craigshire.

P.D Hancock was a young modeller from Edinburgh, and his layout, built in the bedroom of an Edinburgh tenement flat, was perhaps the finest example of the “bedroom branch line” that was (and is) the staple of so many space-starved modellers; indeed part of its attraction was that this celebrated layout was built in a 13’6 x 10’6’ room under conditions that many ordinary modellers could recognise as their own. Craigshire was in many ways the direct heir of the Madder Valley, but there were two major differences: Craigshire was emphatically Scottish and the Craig and Mertonford Railway was 9mm narrow gauge, certainly the first 009 layout ever built and probably the first significant British narrow gauge layout. This might seem to exclude it from the history of OO, but Craigshire always had its OO standard gauge section and in the late Fifties this grew from a scenic feature into a side of the layout equal in importance with the narrow gauge, while from 1956 onward Craig also boasted a scratchbuilt OO tramway. Like Buckingham, Craigshire was three times completely rebuilt; like Buckingham, it was a staple of the Railway Modeller from the early 1950s to the late 1970s; from 1960 onwards it, like Buckingham, was that glamorous thing, a pre-Grouping layout; and like Buckingham, it was the subject of a PECO book (Narrow Gauge Adventure, Seaton 1975, 2nd ed 1980); indeed for a short period in the mid 1950s the main station building at both Craig and Buckingham was a version of the same J.H Ahern design!

P.D.Hancock was by preference a scenic modeller and both his townscape and landscapes were thoroughly characteristic and highly atmospheric: indeed in some respects both Craig’s trams and the freelance rolling stock of the CMR were as much scenic features as operational ones. But Craigshire was entirely free from the tweeness and improbability that characterised much late Sixties 009: this was no rabbit warren layout but an entirely convincing small but busy Scottish narrow gauge railway. When Craigshire went pre-Grouping in 1960, it was a serious effort to create an evocation of the Edwardian NBR, with a scratchbuilt Scott and NER M1 and versions of several other NBR classes concocted by “butchery” out of seemingly unrelated proprietary locos in the fashion of the time. There were locos P.D.Hancock probably couldn’t manage but that only made Craigshire more relevant to the ordinary modeller: here was no effortless impossible perfection but a fellow modeller struggling with familiar problems and limitations, and overcoming them spectacularly. And at the end of the day the quality of what he achieved in terms of appearance and atmosphere was very high. Craigshire might not have stood scrutiny with a vernier against a detailed set of prototype drawings but in other respects it achieved “infinite riches in a little room” and richly deserved its fame.

Two other famous OO layouts of the Fifties were also built by members of the recently formed Edinburgh and Lothians MRC (another organisation founded by Mr. Loch-Kidston). The late Ken Northwood’s North Devonshire Railway was a very different kind of layout to Craigshire. Begun in 1951 in a 27’ x 17’ attic, this was probably the first big post-war mainline layout in OO, and represented that most popular prototype, the inter-war GWR. It was notable for popularising many practical ideas that went on to be widely adopted in the hobby – the electric pencil method of point operation, pin-point bearings, tender-mounted motors driving the loco via a shaft and universal joint, hidden storage sidings forming a reversing loop to name a few, while it also featured two ideas of Fleetwood Shawe’s which went on to gain wider currency: ”floating” track laid on a soft underlay, and automatic couplings operated by an electromagnet between the rails. Like other famous layouts of this period it developed over many years, a second version of the NDR being constructed in the mid Seventies after Ken Northwood’s retirement to Devon, and appeared regularly in the magazines over several decades. That it featured a large range of typical GWR locomotives and rolling stock might seem unremarkable today, but in the mid Fifties there were no GW locos available RTR and very little stock, kits were few and far between, and to build up that kind of collection required a lot of work and some ingenuity. The problem then was not to select the best items for each aspect of the layout from an array of products, but to find any products suitable for the layout at all, and modellers were glad to make use of any commercial products available even if they were not absolutely correct or required some adaptation for the task in hand.

The NDR provided locomotive running rights both to P.D.Hancock (Craigshire being a bit small for things like a scratchbuilt NER 0-8-0 to stretch their legs) and to another well-known modeller of the time, John Charman, who worked under even more severe space limitations; his portable OO branch line layout, Charford, began its life in a caravan in the mid Fifties and subsequently went through a rapid series of RAF married quarters. Originally consisting of two boards 6’ x 1’3”, later expanded with a corner section into an L shaped layout, it depicted a Southern branch line in Dorset: in a period when every second layout was a GWR branchline, this was a breath of fresh air. Like so many layouts, Charford was fictitious, although it featured operation to a detailed timetable. It was in no sense finescale, featuring a double slip in the station throat, an early Airfix signal box kit and a station building concocted out of Bilteezi parts, but its locos and rolling stock were authentic and representative, and were largely scratchbuilt with a leavening of the basic kits of the period. In the Fifties there was no such thing as “shake the box” modelling, and if you wanted a reasonably authentic layout some skill and a lot of work were necessary to achieve it Perhaps the great attraction of Charford was that it was the sort of layout a lot of ordinary modellers found themselves trying to build, only executed with a lot more ingenuity, flair and skill: if John Charman could manage all this in such unpromising circumstances then the contemporary reader of the Railway Modeller might well feel that there was hope for him too.

In many ways 1957 stands out as something of a watershed, the end of the post-war Age of Scratchbuilding and the beginning of a new era of kits and scale RTR. In March the Railway Modeller carried a 6-page feature announcing the arrival of Triang’s new 3mm scale TT system, the first new commercial scale in Britain since 1921. OO was no longer the smallest commercial scale available and the overwhelming dominance of 4mm scale and OO began to be eroded: within four years the Constructor survey was to show one modeller in eight working in 3mm. At the MRC’s Easter Exhibition the following month, K’s released the first complete 4mm British outline whitemetal loco kit, their GWR Collett 0-4-2T; MRN devoted a two page article entirely to this revolutionary product, which used a new technology of centrifugal casting in rubber moulds that enabled a small manufacturer to turn out moderate production runs with low tooling costs. In a decade, K’s released 26 whitemetal loco kits and their great rivals Wills released another 27 between 1959 and 1966, all of which remained continuously on the market, making it possible for the first time for ordinary modellers to possess a varied and authentic locomotive stud without having to scratchbuild.

These early whitemetal kits were seen as something of a second-best: reviewing Wills’ new E2 kit (RM 4/60) Cyril Freezer noted, “It must not be forgotten that the prime essential of a locomotive kit is to enable the unskilled to extend his locomotive stud – the skilled worker can, and does, work from scratch”. This was the path down which the novice then took his first steps into more advanced model making: assembling a Wills Bodyline kit with early glues like Pafra or Evostick to fit on a Triang or Hornby-Dublo chassis, and probably finding that the glue started to fail after a year or two, leading to a resolve to learn soldering. Wills’ stand was one of the highlights of an MRC Easter Show at Westminster in this period, with the latest kit, just released at the show, on sale, and Bob Wills sitting behind the stand demonstrating the black arts of whitemetal soldering to a prospective purchaser in his late teens or early twenties. As like as not, this purchaser would have been the lucky recipient of a Triang or Hornby-Dublo train set half a dozen years previously, who was now making his first ham-fisted attacks on proper modelling such as he read about in the Modeller or the other magazines. For a generation of modellers like Tony Wright and Iain Rice these were the rites of passage into the hobby.

And in October 1957 Hornby-Dublo launched their great riposte to the competition from Triang with the release of a new model of the GWR Castle fitted with the novel Ringfield motor mechanism. This was the most accurate RTR loco yet, powered by the best mechanism on the market: anyone modelling a GW main line needed one, and from that time on there was no point in scratchbuilding a Castle: you merely needed to re-wheel a Hornby-Dublo model. “Bristol Castle” alone would not have made this introduction a watershed, but the point was that she was not alone. In February 1958 came the first of Hornby Dublo’s new “Super Detail” SD6 wagons, in which lithographed tinplate was finally out and state of the art injection-moulded plastic was in: these were the most detailed and accurate authentic RTR wagons yet produced. Two more locomotives (8F and Class 20) were announced by Hornby Dublo in March, the second and third SD6 wagons appeared in April and May, and for the next six years a flood of new models of unprecedented detail and accuracy poured onto the market from Hornby Dublo.

Given Triang’s new commitment to TT, it is not surprising that their OO range had a quiet year in 1957. But thereafter they met fire with fire with a string of new, more detailed and more accurate steam and diesel locomotives, a range of scale-length Mk1 coaches which is still in production today, and extensive retooling of their range of wagons, their track and their lineside accessories. Perhaps the most astonishing Triang releases were two pre-Grouping Singles with matching coaches: the GW clerestories in particular were to be an invaluable resource for scale modellers for two decades. Trix attempted to respond as well, retooling to release accurate scale models to a non-standard 3.8mm scale, a discrepancy which deterred many modellers from buying them. By 1964, Triang were offering 21 authentic British-outline locomotives, Hornby-Dublo 13, and Trix 10,all of them for 12V dc 2-rail, and extensive RTR ranges of more or less accurate contemporary wagons and coaches were readily available to the OO modeller.

The cornucopia of accurate new models did not end there. Airfix had begun to produce injection-moulded plastic kits in the late Forties, but it was another ten years before similar kits of railway subjects began to appear. The pioneer was a doll maker, Rosebud, which decided to diversify into the field: the first Rosebud Kitmaster kit, for the 08 shunter, appeared in April 1959. Rosebud Kitmaster lasted a mere 3 ½ years before the undercapitalised parent company sold it to Airfix, but in its meteoric career it issued 34 kits, of which 21 were British outline 4mm scale; all were detailed, highly accurate even by today’s standards, and unpowered. The first modern plastic wagon kit was Ratio’s Iron Mink, of 1959, which cost 5/10 (£4.35 today), but in July 1960 Airfix entered the railway market with kits for the new class B tank wagon and Presflo cement wagon at a mere 2s (£1.45) each; in a little under 3 years Airfix released a total of 15 rolling stock kits while their Trackside range came to number 29 items introduced over six years. These new Airfix wagon kits were not merely more accurate and detailed than any 4mm wagon kit ever seen before, they were so cheap that even a teenager could afford them, and so simple to assemble that even a teenager could build them successfully. PECO offered card interiors for Rosebud Kitmaster coaches, various specialist traders produced motorising kits for Kitmaster and Airfix locomotives, Superquick launched a new range of sturdy readily constructed card building kits and in 1964 came the news that PECO were introducing a new 16.5mm gauge Universal track system using injection moulded plastic which, unlike pressed fibre, would not swell and go out of gauge in the damp. Truly the OO modeller had never had it so good.

The practical effects of all this were that as Cyril Freezer observed “In OO we have reached the stage where one is no longer forced to make anything to complete the picture”(RM 1/61), and that it was increasingly unusual and even eccentric for a model railway to be built without some use of commercial products. Even the MRN, which was strictly a “scale” magazine, found itself compelled to notice them, introducing a new series on commercial products of use to the “serious modeller” with the remark, “Did you know that there are now about a hundred different OO wagons on the market now, as kits or ready to roll?” (MRN10/63). The layout that typified this new approach most was perhaps Mac Pyrke’s Berrow Branch: beginning in the mid Fifties as yet another L-shaped branch 8’ x 5’ with a strong dose of proprietary stock, it grew to a U shape, was cut back to an L, and developed throughout the Sixties, steadily growing in sophistication and refinement. On the scenic side it was of course basically scratchbuilt, but the fact that it used commercial track, that it featured a Triang Jinty and 3F (both of which were entirely authentic for the prototype modelled) the new Triang DMU, kitbuilt Airfix wagons and coaches from Triang (both converted suburbans and their new scale Mk 1s) along with several scratchbuilt ex LMS locos and buildings based on Ahern designs, shows which way the wind was now blowing. Half a dozen years previously everything on a OO layout had had to be scratchbuilt: now much of it could be adapted proprietary products. The Berrow Branch was the first notable layout to depict that popular prototype the S&DJR, but it is striking that when built it was also a contemporary model, representing the line as it was then operating. In 1961, the traditional steam age branch line was a normal everyday part of the contemporary railway scene; most modellers modelled contemporary railways, and the models in the “proprietary” ranges were virtually all in contemporary BR liveries – in 1961 Triang’s singles and their GW clerestories stuck out a mile precisely because they were historic models.

It is true that the changeover from the Big Four to BR black had been somewhat hesitant: in 1950, JN Maskelyne noted that at the MRC Easter exhibition “the number of models in B.R. colours, out of a total of over three thousand, was precisely three”, (MRN 6/50) and the same year saw the formation of the HMRS. But ten years later the Big Four were a fading memory. In the Fifties and early Sixties, “historical” meant pre-grouping, and going pre-grouping was then a serious challenge, since the period was beyond most modellers’ personal experience and written sources were then very thin on the ground. Often it was necessary to draw on the memories of older enthusiasts who had actually been there and even the basic liveries could be hard to establish. The frequent prototype background articles in the magazines were an important part of their contents: such information was then simply not in print elsewhere

The hobby was booming but this was not to everyone’s taste. The MRN had become a little old –fashioned, somewhat out of the current that bore the Railway Modeller onward and Maskelyne’s successor, Roy Dock, took it in a new direction. What he did was to make the MRN a haven for minorities. It had always been the natural home of Gauge O: he made it equally a home for EM, 2mm, S, and all forms of model engineering and advanced and experimental modelling; by contrast mainstream OO and TT, the bread and butter of the Modeller, appeared only in small doses. And it was in the MRN in 1962-4 that scale/gauge controversy at length revived after twenty years of peace. The spark was a series of letters from a former EM gauge modeller, Malcolm Cross, announcing and defining a new finer gauge of 18.8mm or 18.83mm, “EEM”; this sparked off an extended correspondence, several articles, and at least one editorial commenting favourably upon his work: a remarkable amount of coverage for a theoretical concept which had not even produced a single item of rolling stock let alone a layout! Amongst the reaction was an article from the late “Smokey“ Bourne, “In Favour of EM” (MRN 12/63): this expressed considerable doubt about the practicality of EEM, but some of his other remarks are very striking. “Since then [1942], if anything, the range of basic supplies has become worse and I certainly can see nothing commercial which looks like improving the situation, certainly not in the direction of finer standards…. [EM] is a working gauge which can be operated by anyone who has the slightest pretension to being a railway modeller… owing to the advent of better standards among toy train manufacturers, EM is increasingly recognised as the differential between toy trains and model railways, and OO gauge is a dying standard. Any model-maker who has pretensions at or about 4mm scale really has only the choice of EM or HO”. We seem to be in a very different world from that of the Railway Modeller and the burgeoning catalogues of Triang, Hornby-Dublo and the kit manufacturers; and not the least striking thing is that, in the pages of MRN, Bourne was not an isolated voice. Indeed in terms of the MRN debates, he was a moderate, writing specifically to express doubts about the ultra-purist EEM project. The great gulf between the toy trade and the scale modeller was closing and bridges were appearing across it, but many working in EM seemed to want to reopen the gulf and cast the bridges down. It was in MRN at this time that the phrase “serious modeller” first appeared to describe those on the finescale side of the divide, and it is striking that at a time when a flood of accurate commercial products began to open 4mm modelling to everyone, these modellers latched onto a project that would necessarily lead the hobby right away from mass-market products and back to highly skilled, hand-built “experimental” modelling. “EEM” was to have immense consequences, but for the ordinary modeller these were still a decade away. In 1962-4 these were still isolated voices.

As the train-set boys of the Fifties graduated into the ranks of the scale modeller the hobby had boomed. In April 1960, Railway Modeller was boasting its circulation had risen to the unprecedented height of 50,000 copies but by January 1961 it had reached 56,000 and was out and away the leading magazine featuring the most famous layouts of the day. These years also saw the peak of the long Fifties train-set boom. But in 1962 the tide turned and sales of train-sets began to fall as new toys, notably slot cars, came to prominence. Throughout 1962 Trix’s owners were seeking to sell the company, and Hornby Dublo severely reduced its programme of new products: the flood of new items introduced over the previous five years was translating into ever rising stocks in the stores at Binns Road. Triang, too, felt the wind blow cold: by 1964, sales of the new TT range were down to 1/6th of their 1960 peak and Triang had had enough, announcing that there would be no further introductions in TT but that they would maintain the existing range for five year “to stabilise the gauge”. In fact only small amounts of Triang TT were produced after 1964, and the following year, faced with the effective end of commercial British outline TT, modellers in the scale got together to establish the 3mm Society to ensure a future for their chosen scale. Another lifeboat had been launched.

But this was not the worst. In 1964, the mighty Meccano Ltd collapsed, crushed under the weight of unsold Hornby Dublo and the accumulated tooling costs of so many new models without standard components, launched onto a saturated market. Their products and production methods had become too expensive, and poor commercial judgement had hastened the end. Triang took them over, and promptly ended production of Hornby Dublo. When Airfix bought out Rosebud Kitmaster late in 1962, 25 out of 35 kits in the range disappeared forever. The later Sixties were in fact the only period (other than wartime) when the range of 4mm RTR available actually contracted: in 1964 you could buy a reasonably comprehensive selection of Southern RTR but by the early Seventies changes to the Triang-Hornby range had reduced it to a very patchy coverage. Trix faded slowly away during these years; while nearly all the Hornby Dublo range eventually reappeared under the Wrenn brand in the late Sixties, Wrenn did not develop new models, and in practice Triang-Hornby had a near monopoly of British outline RTR. This was not particularly healthy as the quality of British outline RTR showed only a modest improvement over the next dozen years: if anything can be blamed for the poorer mechanical quality of today’s British outline RTR when compared with overseas models, it is the stagnation of those years when British outline RTR largely marked time.

Nevertheless the period after 1964 was one of continued quiet progress for 4mm modelling. Cyril Freezer noted, “Attendance at this year’s Model Railway Exhibition was down…Yet, despite this fall, all traders I spoke to had actually improved on last year’s sales figures, which seems to indicate that serious interest in the hobby is greater than ever.” (RM 6/65) The range of commercial products available in 1967 was vastly greater than it had been ten years previously, and modellers were becoming adept in exploiting them; commercial support was now available for virtually all aspects of OO railway modelling but the choice of commercial products in each category was still limited. Thus a recognised hierarchy emerged: if your skill was limited your layout featured the same, not entirely appropriate, models as a hundred other layouts and the result was somewhat clichéd and hackneyed and it was only as your skill increased sufficiently to tackle kits and even scratchbuilding that it became possible to build an individual and reasonably authentic representation of a given line. Certain proprietary products became notorious: Superquick kits were a particular cliché and the Superquick low-relief buildings eventually came to blight any layout on which they appeared. The gaps in availability of stock at this date were still huge: even when kits were taken into account only the highly standardised interwar GWR was well covered, and a truly authentic model of any of the three other groups required a considerable amount of scratchbuilding. Only a handful of pre-grouping classes were available at all and in the late Sixties new whitemetal kits had slowed to a trickle: one senses that the novelty and appeal of the Nu-Cast range which began to appear in the early Seventies was that it offered pre-grouping LNER steam from the North of England, something not on the radar at Wills or Ks.

This was the golden era of “butchery” and conversions, the process by which proprietary models of one thing were carved up, modified and re-arranged into a plausible if approximate likeness of something else which was not available from the trade: in this respect an MSWJR 0-4-4T from a Triang Jinty must represent something of a high water mark. (RM1/78) The “butchery” route was less demanding than traditional scratchbuilding, and it enabled modellers of moderate skill and considerable ingenuity to individualise their layout with models that were different from the next man’s. It was heavily dependent on a new material, which had rapidly become one of the most important in the modeller’s cupboard: plasticard. Originally introduced by Slater’s in the mid Sixties, plastic card revolutionised the scratchbuilding of rolling stock, enabling modellers to produce scratchbuilt vehicles comparable with the new injection-moulded kits and RTR: cardboard and plywood now became obsolete for these tasks. Plastic card also proved to be a new material for architectural modelling, pioneered in the late Sixties by Vivian Thompson with various authentic Southern structures on her Eastbourne layout, and taken up in the Seventies for non-railway structures by Dave and Sheila Rowe with their Axford layout, which was as much a Devon architectural diorama as a working layout. Not surprisingly, both layouts were OO.

So the scale side of the hobby continued its steady development with increasing support: by the early Seventies Cyril Freezer could produce a popular series for the Modeller named “Proprietary to Scale” highlighting the accurate authentic models available in the proprietary ranges. But this was also the period when by a strange development the hobby became almost completely estranged from the real railways. For these years were a period of utter gloom on the prototype as steam was sent to the scrapyard and the Beeching Report spelt doom for much of the network. Enthusiasts turned their back on the network in despair and disgust and it became de rigure to put down the camera if a diesel came in sight; diesels were tolerated only when they crept into a shot recording yet another line shortly to close. It is difficult now to recall just how deeply BR was hated by enthusiasts in the early Seventies, and how any comment about the contemporary railway scene that was not entirely negative was likely to be regarded as faintly immoral or a betrayal of the cause.

The new traction had been modelled in the early Sixties – indeed in 1964 Cyril Freezer wrote a series of articles on the modelling potential of recent developments entitled “The Modern Image”. But in the climate of the late Sixties modern image modelling withered and almost died. A model railway magazine of 1970 has a very familiar look: the layouts and articles are similar to those of ten years before, only more numerous and more sophisticated, and virtually everything is still the steam age railway. But the steam age was over: this was no longer the contemporary railway. Every layout, almost every model or article in the magazines, was now historical. Triang-Hornby almost single-handedly kept the possibility of modelling the contemporary scene alive throughout the period, with a modest range of diesels and stock that was just about broad enough to permit a layout. But the bulk of their range was still steam and the big development was their introduction of pre-nationalisation liveries. When in 1971 Triang-Hornby introduced a model designed to set a new standard in British RTR locos, it was of BR’s last steam engine, Evening Star. There were no modern image kits on the market and as late as 1976 the Modeller could publish an article on building a Class 47 bodyshell from papier-mâché cast in a home made plaster mould. In 1976 a diesel locomotive article in the Modeller stuck out like a Martian: this was not what the hobby was about.

One further major development of this period was the model railway exhibition. There had always been a handful of exhibitions in major cities but in the early Sixties they were still few and far between, and as late as 1964 the Modeller did not think it worth featuring a list. By the late Sixties shows were proliferating and an Exhibition Diary was a monthly feature but it only ran to half a page; a new phenomenon, the exhibition layout had emerged and readers of the Modeller could be invited to see Mike Sharman’s original mid Victorian layout on its next appearance at York show. Prestige and status still lay with the long-term home layout like Buckingham or Craigshire but the times were definitely changing. Modellers could now see certain layouts for themselves: it was no longer the case that they could only read about them in the magazines.

1920-39

1939-45

Sources and Authorities

Return to the Double O Gauge Association web site