By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Remember those model railway sets Santa used to deliver every Christmas? Well, those little boys grew up, retired, and went back to playing with trains in St. Jacobs, Ontario.
St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway co-founder Frank Dubery’s grandson, Mike Craig, proudly oversees 2,400 feet of O gage track winding its way through a thriving (handcrafted) model community. A freight train snakes through a tunnel, a passenger train arrives from behind perfectly proportioned commercial buildings, the show hall dims, and 400 miniature lights twinkle in buildings. Tiny passengers glide serenely by in lighted carriages.
From the control office above the sprawling country scene, Mike carefully negotiates the intricacies of this family work of working art.
When visiting St. Jacobs, make sure you put this railway on your itinerary. Find detailed information online at http://www.stjacobsmodelrailway.com
On a larger rail scale, Britain’s National Railway Museum celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Like the model railway in Ontario, the British museum reminded me that few modern-day children have experienced the thrill of riding the rails.
Digging into the National Rail Museum site I find that it’s the largest UK rail museum, houses ‘300 years of history and 1,000,000 objects that changed the world’. Next July a First World War 100 year commemorative anniversary exhibit will open at the NRM. Ambulance trains will be among the many highlights. I’m guessing those alone will be worth visiting.
Something I am familiar with is the locomotive legend, the Flying Scotsman. Having undergone a £4m restoration project, the famous steam engine is scheduled to make its inaugural run from London Kings Cross to York next February. You can follow the final pictorial details at www.nrm.org.uk/flyingscotsman
As a child travelling between Scotland and England I was one of the league of ‘train spotters’ glued to British Rail carriage windows clutching booklets containing pictures of the most famous trains and lists of numbers of all the trains in the systems.
Steaming into ancient Victorian stone stations we’d note train numbers in a notebook, before entertaining ourselves by crossing them off in official Train Spotter books purchased from WH Smith’s for about a shilling and sixpence (25 cents these days?). The Flying Scotsman featured prominently in the books. Being lucky enough to spot it generated general jubilation. What an easy way to keep kids entertained and making friends on a long dusty journey. Of course, nowadays trains could be tracked electronically thereby eliminating the need to converse with anyone, or even glance out of the window.
London’s King’s Cross opened in 1852. It’s been upgraded, of course, but whenever I’m there I feel as though I’m on the verge of a great adventure…or a missed train.
Saltcoats Central, the Scottish North Ayrshire station we often departed from when I was a child, was opened in 1840 and actually was moved twice – once in 1858 and again1882. It’s a grey, stolid sort of station. Beauty isn’t one of its attributes, but my memories surrounding it linger on.
I’ve traversed Canada from Montreal to Vancouver on VIA Rail (the CPR route) for the princely sum of $99 one-way, rattled around assorted destinations throughout Europe, and chugged through South Africa from Johannesburg to Durban or Cape Town more than once.
Last summer my two-year-old Albertan granddaughter excitedly waved to trains rolling through White Rock. She’d be much more excited to actually climb onboard. For now, though, the Bear Creek Park Train, or the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Interurban will have to suffice.
As I write this a distant train whistle blasts through the night. I think of train dining cars complete with silver service, white-jacketed stewards, kippers and scrambled eggs, businessmen hidden behind The Times, or Telegraph, and English countryside zipping by. Doubtless that costs a bonny penny these days, but I think dining on rolling stock takes the cake. The same goes for coffee and croissants at high speed on France’s TGV, or snacks on Swiss Rail twisting hither and yon around Alps and through mountain tunnels. No wonder Agatha Christie planted her famous sleuth, Poirot, onboard the Orient Express. I wonder if the Amtrak Cascades service to Seattle would offer the same allure. Perhaps we’ll meet onboard and find out.
– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a retired editor and photographer