Saturday, 7 October 2017

A thank you to supporters of 16mm scale steam

Four Bagnall Excelsior models have gone to their appreciative new homes.
16mm Wrightscale 0-4-0 models of the Bagnall Excelsior as it was used on the Kerry Tramway. THese were supplied to their customers once they were painted. Photo Malcolm Wright
Malcolm is starting a batch of Kerr Stuart ‘Wrens’ which will bring pleasure to future owners. Apart from thanking our customers and friends, we'd like to take a moment to consider what a live steam locomotive can offer.
Wrightscale 16mm model of 0-4-0 Kerr Stuart Wren with optional custom paint. Clearly, the superstructure is.very light and airy. Photo Malcolm Wright
In the first place, the owner has something unusual. Both Wren and Excelsior are quaint locomotives, among the smallest commercially available in 16mm scale.  This makes them oddities, yet the fact that they are unique is a joy in itself. A Wren and an Excelsior both ask and answer the question ‘why do I look like this?’
In brief, each was a designer’s way of packing the most power into the shortest and lightest frame-work. A light locomotive can run on light track. A short one can cope with sharp turns without derailing. These were the conditions faced by both the Wren and the Excelsior. Both were built with the lowest possible centre of gravity. The Wren had an exiguous roof much lessening the weight above, the Excelsior had water-tanks set low. Because the Kerry-style Excelsior was working in a forest, it had to have a balloon-stack chimney, the better to arrest sparks. The history and purpose of each locomotive is written into its appearance.
Ownership, admittedly, can be good or bad. We all remember squabbles about stuff and probably, even now with great annoyance, the sibling/ex-friend who deprived us of some fancied treasure. Idealists say that without property there would be no squabbles, fights and wars, making the world a better place. They are idealists and we listen to them respectfully. We should respect the nobility of those who have nothing but share everything.
Bearing all this in mind, ownership should be a good thing. According to no less an authority than Prof. Niall Ferguson, property rights have been among the factors which have driven civilisation as we know it. He calls these ‘Killer Apps.’ In the case of the 16mm craft, our collections of locomotives and rolling stock have presented challenges and educated us – in history, geography and science.
A full-size Wren does what a Wren does best; it conveys a train of skips to a dumping ground. The footplate is crowded with enthusiasts who have already spent part of the morning preparing the locomotive for her steam trip. Photo taken at Stafold barn by Jim Hawkesworth
There are other joys our possessions can bring. Things can keep us in touch with our happiest memories and with our friends. A locomotive on a mantelpiece immediately brings back happy summer evenings spent with friends - anecdotes, rivalries, shared jokes.
16mm scale has an association and so, beginner or expert, regardless of means, you can join like-minded people for weekemds and evenings of fun. The Association of 16mm narrow gauge modellers has a website and magazine, but, better still, they can direct you to 47 and counting Area Groups, let alone several Special Interest groups. You may think we are remote, but we are members of the East of Scotland Group. For more information, try
There is also the most unexpected joy of all. A load of stuff on a shelf is safe. Railways, unlike many treasures, are an invitation to action and action is risky. Doing things as opposed to merely owning them offers challenge and failures along the way. All 16mm enthusiasts remember the heart-stopping moment when a new locomotive is brought out for a run. There could be delight  or disappointment. The locomotive could steam around the track at a realistic speed, could hiss expressively and whistle with joy. It could  stay stubbornly still, rush away or limp. Then it has to be withdrawn and new remedies tried. The process requires imagination, careful planning and a sure touch. It brings together the power of hand and eye, personal skills and advice from the models community. Hours rush by, absorbed in the challenge. Let’s face it, success sets one apart, failure can bring us together.
That sort of success when it comes can be the sweetest of all.That, not its price, makes an object valuable.
Will it go or won't it? A group of pals look on with bated breath. Since the photo was taken, some of the friends have left us  forever. A look at the models bring back the good times and the happy memories they left us.

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