CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Great British Train Show (finally!)

In May 2018, I was reading a blog post by Trevor Marshall (whose current blog, The Model Railway Show, is linked to on the right) about a train show he attended in Toronto, Canada. Called The Great British Train Show and sponsored by The Platelayers Society, it was a train show featuring only UK-themed layouts, vendors, and displays. As someone who loves British Railways, this sounded fantastic. And Toronto wasn't that far a drive from Rochester, NY, my hometown, so it seemed a doable trip. In researching it I found out it was held every other year so I would need to wait until 2020 to go. But that was fine.

I had to get a passport because I hadn't been out of the country since 2003... when ironically I had gone to Toronto. My wife had to get one too. And we had to book a hotel. No worries though as we had plenty of time. However, come March 2020 Covid hit and the show was cancelled. So I had to wait until 2022. This was disappointing but it couldn't be helped. However, we were expecting the birth of our son Harrison in May and that made it very difficult to try and plan an international trip to go to a train show. It turns out he arrived a few weeks early in April, right before the show, so it was a good thing we didn't make plans. So, 2024 it was...

And we finally made it! Since it had morphed into a full-family trip, we decided to do some other things too like go to the Zoo and Aquarium. Unfortunately, about three hours in to our trip I realized I left my camera at home on my desk where my back-up battery was charging. Oops! My wife graciously offered to take lots of pictures, which was wonderful of her.

When we got to the show on Saturday morning at 10:00AM (well, we actually got there Friday morning and over an hour early but discovered I had written down the wrong day for the show!) the lot was nearly packed with cars. Though the building didn't look all that large, it was filled with stuff I had only read about in British train magazines. An entire ice rink was filled with displays, layouts, and vendors and I didn't know where to start. So I let Harrison take the lead and we went to the layouts featuring the most movement. Actually, we didn't get more than 10 feet in when he spotted Toby and Henry pulling trains on a large layout based on the Island of Sodor.

It was a nice layout, and like the original show it was done in Gauge 1 with scale models featuring what I assumed were 3D printed faces. Not shown in these pictures are Toby or Percy but they made appearances too. As we were walking around Harrison let out a loud cheer for the layout, and I could hear the layout's owner say "Now that's what this is all about!" And he was right. 

I got started on Thomas the Tank Engine in 1989 when Shining Time Station was broadcast on PBS. My son thinks he loves Thomas, but in reality we both do. Some things from childhood never leave you. They had a nice display of S.T.S. stuff from a guy named Adrian who has a podcast (here and here) and managed to get many of the surviving members on it for a reunion show. He also had actual props from the show on display, which was really neat. This might have been the highlight of the trip for me.

As we walked around we came across a 3.5" gauge train display. Normally, these trains are used outside in the garden and are considered the smallest "practical" live steam scale... you can actually ride on them. The were eclipsed in the 1970s and 1980s with larger gauges but as can be seen they are still are hefty. This gentleman started to build some but his wife would let them in her garden, so he just turned them into push toys. They are largely made of steel riveted together, with some cast and molded parts. What a wonderful bunch of toys for his grandkids to play with!

Next was a layout made of Trix Twin Railway products. These are OO gauge (roughly HO gauge) trains that run on three-rail track, much like Lionel O gauge trains do today. They have a certain tinplate charm to them and it was fun to see them go round and round. The third rail proved as advantageous to wiring them as it does to Lionel trains today.

A similar layout featuring Hornby Dublo trains was nearby. Also three rail, this system let two trains run on the same track by having one train pick up power from one outside rail and a second train pick up power from the other outside rail. Two transformers could be hooked up to the layout thusly.  

By far the most interesting layout on display in my opinion was O scale narrow gauge (16.5mm scale, or O scale trains running on 2 foot track... similar to what we call On30 in the States) modeling India's Darjeeling and Himalayan Railway. Having only seen a couple of models of these trains in larger scales before, and never set in a proper layout featuring Indian scenery and structures, it was fascinating to watch. 

Some O gauge clockwork (wind-up) trains were also on display and running. These were temperamental and any bump in the track could cause the very lightweight trains to derail. They only ran about 30 seconds per wind-up, which must have been frustrating for kids wanting to really play with their trains. I can see how electrically powered ones because so popular. But, the models were in excellent condition for bearing nearly 100 years old!

The show was sponsored by Rapido, who had a bunch of their current and upcoming models on display.

Some random shots of other layouts. Most layouts in Britain are small and usually feature a branchline terminus or an engine shed (to display lots of engines) as themes, with a hidden fiddle yard or treverser track off the side. There were another 10-12 layouts I don't have pictures of, including one in N scale finescale (crazy, huh) and many in OO and O gauge. 

One of the nicer O gauge layouts was Roweham" by Brian Dickey. Not only did it operate well and look great, but behind it serving as operators and/or hosts were three people whose blogs I follow (here, here and here) and whose links are on the right of my own blog. It was nice to finally meet them in person, especially Pierre Oliver who had done a lot of custom weathering of my D&H HO scale engines before he retired. Sadly, it was not a layout that my wife took pictures of... sigh.

One thing I noticed is that many of the modelers used hook and loop/link/chain couplers just like their real-life prototypes. While this did replicate a lot of "realistic operation" that everybody seems to strive for nowadays, it was frustrating to watch someone take 5-10 attempts to get one set of cars coupled together. And that was in O scale. They called it "fun" but to the audience I thought that there had to be a better way. Reaching over a backdrop with a tiny hook and flashlight (a necessity!) in attempts to snag the end loop of the chain and carefully drop it over the coupling hook on the other car was tedious at best. If operating by themselves from the front of the layout, I am sure it would have been easier. Thank goodness for Kadee couplers!

I could have spent literally all day here looking at stuff, but we had other things to do. Perhaps next time in 2026 I will budget an entire day of our trip to this show. I had an absolutely wonderful time and came home with a few goodies that I didn't need but thought would make nice souvenirs. These included book on the Great Western Railways for $3 (Canadian!) and three old Hornby O gauge timplate cars that I was told would run on Lionel O gauge track (they do). 

But those weren't the only trains we saw on the trip. The next day, we went to the Aquarium in downtown Toronto and across the street is the Toronto Railway Museum. We didn't go into the museum itself (a wedding was just ending), but we did walk around the exhibits outside.

They are also located right near the Toronto Blue Jay's baseball stadium, which means that people attending the aquarium or a ballgame can get exposure to trains along the way. That is a good thing.

Outside on display for anyone to see and touch were engines, passenger cars, and cabooses surrounding an actual, working turntable. A cleverly designed 7.25" gauge train snakes through the area, but it wasn't operating when we were there.

Another look at some of the displays. A giant 4-6-4 steam locomotive dominated the coal loading facility.

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