Using Your 'Engineuity'
A 'One-track Mind'
My husband has a one track mind but sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting this article to be a little raunchy as it's actually about model railways.
Blame it All On Thomas!
It all started one Christmas in the mid-1990s when my husband decided to buy a Thomas the Tank Engine electric train set for our two sons, then aged five and eight. I had an inkling even then that he was buying it for his own satisfaction, but since grown men often get extremely defensive when you imply they're trying to re-live their own childhood, I kept quiet.
Sure enough, the day after Boxing Day, hubby bundled the lads into the car and headed straight for the nearest model shop to buy some extra track and a plastic, printed sheet to place it on. Before New Year arrived, my dining-room table was commandeered and covered with tubes of glue, pots of paint, various sharp implements and cardboard cut-out model kits of signal boxes, quaint country cottages and pubs.
By the time the boys had returned to school, an entire picture-postcard village had appeared on the lounge carpet in front of the television. ‘It's not staying there,’ I objected. But stay there it did.
More engines were purchased and then, no longer satisfied with the printed sheet, hubby disappeared into the garage, emerging a few days later with a solid board which he proceeded to paint in situ in the middle of the lounge; next appeared plastic trees, rustic fencing and authentic-looking moss. Tiny cows and sheep (all to scale of course) made themselves at home in the verdant paper-mâché hills while brightly-painted plastic people began to occupy the station. Boy, would I enjoy sucking them all up with the Hoover. ‘What happened to the people on platform two?’ hubby would often ask, concerned as to their whereabouts.
‘Perhaps they all got on the Intercity 125,’ I would reply gleefully, aware of their true fate.
‘There isn't a 125,’ he would answer in a supercilious tone.‘This layout is set in the age of steam.’
Smart ass! But when he told me how much his tiny, plastic people actually cost, I rushed off to sift through the vacuum bag and rescue them, in spite of my chronic dust allergy.
Admittedly, when completed, the layout was impressive but its inappropriate position made it vulnerable to damage. The level crossing was trodden on and broken and the buildings were frequently flattened by huge feet appearing out of the sky, reminiscent of old Monty Python sketches. Cows would end up with their legs in the air in the village pond and frequent child-induced collisions between Thomas the Tank Engine and friends began to loosen the track.
By Easter, the boys had had enough of trains and I was sick of them too. Gradually the layout was dismantled and the baseboard stored away in the garage for the next generation. I breathed a sigh of relief, now my lounge was beginning to resemble a living area again.
Was this the end of my husband's obsession with model railways? Far from it. It was hardly even the beginning.
After several trips to the DIY superstore and an absolute fortune spent on: ‘A few little extras’ to quote hubby's words, a new layout appeared - this time in the garage, rendering the car permanently homeless.
But this was no mere model village. There were sidings, cuttings, tunnels and an entire frieze depicting an industrial landscape which covered one entire wall. There was a seashore complete with boats, docks, lobster pots and fishermen and a bridge of solid construction spanning a realistically painted raging river.
‘What do you think of my new layout then?’ hubby asked proudly, as he prepared for his grand opening ceremony.
Oh, I'm really... quite chuffed!’ I exclaimed, in mock delight, but the play on the word was wasted on him.
Hubby began to spend every evening in the garage and weekends too, and if he wasn't there, it was because he'd gone to the nearest toy and train fair to buy more railway engines. In fact, he was just using his ‘engineuity,’ if I may coin a neologism.
Soon, stacked boxes full of engines began to appear all over the house and I reluctantly offered to part with some wardrobe space so they wouldn't create an eyesore or a death-trap. He soon started buying kits to build his own engines and my dining room table was once again enlisted for unnatural purposes.
No longer wishing to be known as a mere model railway enthusiast, hubby now declared himself a ‘miniature engineering expert.’ Secretly wishing he was constructing a space rocket for one instead of a locomotive kit, I resigned myself to supper on my lap - indefinitely. One evening, struggling into the kitchen with two bags of heavy shopping, I managed to tread on something which I'd assumed was just a piece of white A4 paper lying in the middle of the floor but the ensuing metallic crunch told me otherwise. I had demolished a very rare carriage kit which hubby had been painstakingly constructing all day and had just painted white. No amount of apologising would placate him so it was a case of hide the knives and lock myself in my study for the remainder of the week.
Whenever we went shopping, hubby would ask me to purchase glue and emery boards in vast quantities. The assistant at The Pound Shop would glare at me disapprovingly. ‘My husband is a glue sniffer with perfectly manicured nails,’ I explained.
As I was writing this article, listening to Classic FM, the hourly news bulletin stated that sales of Hornby train sets had almost doubled. ‘Something to do with the influence of the Harry Potter films,’ the newsreader went on to explain. But I could easily have submitted an alternative theory.
And where do we go from here? Hubby had threatened to build yet another, larger gauge layout to circumnavigate the garden. I suggested he move out altogether and buy his very own model shop with living accommodation above - preferably in another country - we rarely see each other anyway.
While he was sitting in the garage at the centre of his own little universe as his precious trains sped round and round the track, I was in my study trying to complete a novel. It occurred to me that I too was attempting to create my own world. Hubby had plastic people and cardboard houses to populate his painted landscape but the scenery I painted was inside my own head. I've invented characters, given them names, places to live and some purpose to fulfil. So, in our own vastly different ways we've both brought to life something that existed nowhere else. It's been our own personal escape from reality and perhaps we could even have collaborated if we'd put our minds to it. In fact, I was seriously considering setting my next novel in a railway goods yard and then I could dash off into the garage each time I needed some real inspiration.
The Layout in the Garage
Yet Another Engine!
The Largest Private Railway Layout in the World!
A Beginners Guide to Model Railway Layouts
© 2015 Stella Kaye