Trainspotting in Miniature

British Railway Modelling Augusta 2001

We’ve been on a bit of a hobby binge lately here at CE, in which we discussed the artisans who build near-perfect replicas of cars and the gently mad world of book collecting. We also did stamp collecting once, but that was quite a while ago.

I’ve never really been a miniature train enthusiast but, as a child had a couple of HO-scale locomotives, some wagons and some props that I’d inherited from my father, who really wasn’t an enthusiast either, but dabbled for a few months.  I understand the attraction that building a miniature world could have and even pored over an old Märklin catalog for hours as a kid but never really had the time, among my hundred other interests, to really get in deep.  Being a polymath and poly-interested-in-everything has its sacrifices.

But, as I mentioned last week, I went to the Anglican church jamboree… and they had an old edition of British Railway Modelling sitting there (August 2001).  So, of course, I bought it.

And went down the rabbit hole.

Model train layout

I have a certain amount of experience with modeling, and am also trained as an engineer, so I’m not exactly just off the turnip truck, but a read of this publication quickly set me straight.  Model railroading is just as packed with specialist terms and products as any other hobby practiced by a small group of alchemists sequestered in attics and basements without any significant contact with the human race.

First off, apparently the British have their own scale which is slightly different from the worldwide standard HO scale…  OK, I can live with that.

Then there is the fact that, of course, trains that come straight out of a box are inferior to those which are sold as small resin bits and assembled and weathered by the end-user.

So far, I managed to understand what was going on, but there was a whole bunch of other stuff going on, some of which assumed knowledge I will never have.  I’d say that only about 80% of the contents were things I could easily comprehend…

After reading Chapman’s Homer and Joyce without too much trouble (although, admittedly, Finnegan’s Wake is still on the to-be-read list), it’s nice to know that there is still literature out there that can leave me wondering what the hell that was all about.


Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist.  You can check out his novel, Siege, here.



Of Wizards, Geniuses and the Rest of Us

Most people have a hobby (albeit of late those hobbies seem to include a lot of staring at phones and TV sets).  We’ve discussed stamp collecting (of all things) here before, but now I’d like to talk about a very different hobby… but not about the hobbying aspects of it.

A lot of people (especially male people) of a certain age built plastic models as a youth.  Though it’s not as popular today as it was a few decades ago (too many video games to play), some still do.

But, like in every pastime, there are dabblers and there are artists, and perhaps the best-known builder of automotive miniatures in the world is Gerald A. Wingrove.  A quick look at his webpage (linked here) will allow you to understand what I’m talking about. The man is an artist in every aspect of his work, from the selection of his subjects to the materials and techniques he uses to build them and, perhaps most importantly, to the results achieved.  With the correct background, his models really can be mistaken for the real thing.

As a person who’s built a number of model cars and planes in their life, I am uniquely qualified to say that most scale models emphatically do not look like the real thing from the right angle (or from any other angle for that matter).  Not even the ones in museums.

You can usually tell that some panels are too thick, or the paint isn’t quite right, or something is stuck on at an odd angle (and don’t get me started on what my own builds look like)… but not on Wingrove’s.  He truly is a master.

The Complete Car Modeler 1 by Gerald A. Wingrove

And a generous one at that.  I recently read his book The Complete Car Modeler 1.  This book is both uplifting and depressing at once.  Uplifting for many, many reasons, including the fact that Wingrove shares all his secrets and techniques in a display of generosity not often seen.  Also encouraging is that the techniques don’t seem to be overly expensive.

Depressing?  Well, anyone who’s tried to become a true craftsman in some discipline knows that that particular dream is often incompatible with the pressures of daily life, and requires the sacrifice of other pursuits.  In my own case, there are other things I’d like to master first, so this one will likely remain a distant ideal unless things in my life change quite a bit.

But it’s nice to see that it’s possible, with just a little (all right a huge amount) of effort and dedication.  If you’d like to build beautiful models indistinguishable from the real thing, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

And if you do so, send me pictures – I’ll post them here!


Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over 200 short stories in print.  His latest science fiction novel is Incursion.  You can buy it here.