Sunday 10 July 2016

Trains in the garden

It all started with the Boy complaining that the train table in his bedroom was too small. He wants more tracks and, to be fair, I can see his point. Two ovals and three sidings on a 6’ x 4’ sheet of plywood afford limited opportunities for creative play in 00 gauge. We could buy him a bigger baseboard but there isn’t room for anything much bigger than 8’ x 4’, and with the best will in the world I can’t see that making a massive amount of difference towards fulfilling his ambitions for a locomotive roundhouse, turntable, marshalling yards, tunnels, bridges and so forth.

So in a moment of madness I said, “We could always build a railway in the garden.”

In truth, this has been a not particularly secret ambition of mine since I was a small boy myself. At my parents’ house in Longbenton it got no further than constructing an embankment through the rose bed, which I had to keep explaining away as a novel decorative feature. The tracklaying gang never materialised owing to pocket money budgetary constraints.

In my own house in Northumberland I went as far as to design the back garden with raised flower beds specifically intended to accommodate model railway tracks. There is even a hatch into the conservatory, through which trains were intended to steam to an indoor station complex. But as with so many grand Victorian railway schemes, progress rapidly ground to a halt owing to a critical lack of funds. Combined, in my case, with indolence and technical incompetence.

Back then I also lacked the wonderful excuse of having children to play with the trains. Now that that gap in my life has been filled, it is surely now or never for a garden railway.

But what sort? The Boy’s first thought was simply to extend his 00 gauge network outside. Which would be handy in terms of the capital outlay required, but seems slightly impractical when every falling leaf would carry with it the risk of a catastrophic derailment. Something chunkier, perhaps with the possibility of using actual steam motive power, would surely be preferable. Though sadly neither the length of the garden or the depth of my pockets are compatible with building the sort of thing on which even small boys can ride.

As a starter for ten, I bought a book and a set of DVDs from a garden railway specialist shop (yes, there are such things) in Buckinghamshire. Those DVDs have now been watched so many times that I know every scene, and every word of the commentary, off by heart.

The Boy is wildly enthusiastic. His younger brother, who usually claims only to be interested in cars and animals, has discovered that he quite likes trains after all. Even more remarkably, Mrs H has started making positive noises about how we could run the trains along a dwarf wall around the lawn that would blend nicely with the garden, and stable them in the shed when they are not in use.

As an incentive to get started, I received from the boys a £100 gift voucher from the garden railway shop for my birthday last month. And serendipitously this week Mrs H and I found ourselves attending the opera at Garsington and staying with friends who live only about five miles from the shop. After a long and fruitful conversation with the proprietors we came away with an LGB starter set, some extra track and a supply of steam oil, and we are now the proud owners and operators of a small oval railway on the lawn.

The Boy is eagerly telling his friends that we will soon have five, six or seven tracks heading all over the garden, and stations representing different countries.

I think this is highly unlikely. But given time and perhaps a lottery win I think we may reasonably aspire to have a garden railway worthy of the name within the next year or two. Watch this space for further reports.

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