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On Being a Hoarder...

MRW Digest
Joined: October 30th, 2007, 10:37 pm

December 31st, 2007, 9:46 pm #1

On Being a Hoarder…

By Colin Peake

As I write this 2007 is drawing to a close, 2008 will soon be here and I really do wonder where the last year has gone. In miniature railway terms it has been a busy year, as highlighted in the last Digest. In these days of digital information sharing via the internet, it is easy to keep up to date with the developments on miniature railways near and far. Miniature Railway World’s own forum has become a key point of exchange of information between railway builders, operators and enthusiasts and is slowly building into a valuable resource of miniature railway history and development.

Possibly the author's first miniature railway picture, Belton House miniature railway seen in the late 1980s (Colin Peake)

History of course, starts today. Or was it yesterday? What we, the enthusiasts and railway operators record now, will always be of assistance to the historians of the future, in the same manner as the records of the past are used today by those investigating miniature railway history. Every photograph, video clip, record of a visit is of use as a primary source of information. The internet of course makes this easy, there has been a noticeable increase in miniature railway content on Photobucket, Fotopic and Youtube over the last couple of years which has opened up material to those who may be unable to visit lines on a regular basis.

One of the gems of the internet, the Oakhill Manor Railway seen after closure (Glen Fairweather)

I think it is fair to say that miniature railways, sat in size between model making and narrow gauge systems, have been overlooked by the vast majority of railway enthusiasts since the early 20th century. Seen as a novelty or oversize 'toy' trains by many, records of some lines and equipment have been scant. Even many enthusiasts of the narrower gauges appear to have regarded miniature lines as outside their field of enthusiasm for many years. Official records are also very thin on the ground, many lines in the past were built before the tightening of planning regulations in the UK and individuals were pretty much free to do what they chose with the consent of the land owner. Equipment built by individuals rather than large engineering concerns suffers from a similar problem in that many builders did not identify or keep full records of their work, making identification 50 years later a challenging task.

A postcard of Paignton Zoo. Bought in place of taking a photograph! (Author's Collection)

It is perhaps the perceived novelty of miniature railways that has in some ways produced one of the finest sources of archive material in the form of Postcards. In the age of the email and digital cameras it is easy to forget the popularity of the postcard in the past, as a regularly used form of communication and method of recording scenes of interest. Until the advent of the Kodak Box Brownie photography was prohibitively expensive to the masses, with bulky and expensive cameras and materials. Even with the advent of more affordable cameras, photographs were still often reserved for a special moment due to the cost of film and processing, whereas a postcard was a cheap, instant, mass produced method to have a photographic record of a place or scene. Even as a child I was encouraged to buy them rather than waste film! Postcard manufacturers were always keen to have something different on their cards, and this has resulted in a wealth of historic miniature railway scenes. In some cases a postcard is the only record of a particular line or location.

This time a picture was taken, Katie at Penryhn Point c.1983 (Richard Peake)

Collecting postcards can be a very expensive hobby, dealers are all too aware of the rarity of cards and the prices some purchasers will pay. In recent years, as in most walks of life, eBay has become a key marketplace and there are usually several miniature railway cards on sale at one time. Certain lines crop up on a regular basis, such as Ravenglass, Romney, Fairbourne, Southport and Southsea, but at other times something a little more unusual will appear, but very often sell at a high price! For the miniature railway enthusiast this can be frustrating, but as a simple record of a card without paying a premium it is possible to save an image from the site with a click of the right mouse button and saving to your own computer. I must stress however that any images saved this way are for personal reference only…

Another internet nugget, the now closed and lifted Littlecote Manor line, with the now re-rebuilt Sydney/Sian (Glen Fairweather)

It is also possible to also save for personal use images of interest found on websites and Fotopic or similar sites. Try wherever possible to save images as you see them, there is a great temptation to think that as it is on the internet, it will always be there. How many of us have not saved an image and later gone back to find that it has disappeared, or even a whole website has gone? In an attempt to get some order to proceedings on my PC I created folders for each of the lines I had pictures of. I also include them in my back-up routine to ensure they are not lost. What is on the internet is only scraping the surface of the miniature railway photographs taken over 100 years. I have included a few examples here of now unrepeatable scenes from the collection of Glen Fairweather and also a couple from my family collections. One day I must digitise more of them… There must be many more pictures in the collections of enthusiasts and no doubt countless others in family holiday albums waiting to be rediscovered. Sadly some no doubt never will see the light of day again and no doubt they will be those of the most historical interest.

Nicky Louise, now at Watford, on the now closed line at Kessingland in Suffolk (Glen Fairweather)

As well as the electronically stored material taking up relatively little space on my hard drive, I also have a paper filing system including snippets and articles from the mainstream railway press, which has actually produced a fair amount of material over the last 30 years or so, including the regular columns authored by Peter van Zeller and the late Robin Butterell in both Steam Railway and Railway World. At some point I need to improve my filing further and include other material collected over the years in the name of research into various lines and stock. More recently I have included items in my filing system from the more specialist sources such as Narrow Gauge News and The Narrow Gauge, published by the Narrow Gauge Railway Society (NGRS). Despite the temptation to keep all society publications intact I had to be realistic in terms of the amount of storage space I had to spare! My records have therefore been re-organised to focus on the lines I have the most interest in, sorted into alphabetical order. Whilst in an ideal world I would have kept all information on all lines, again I had to be realistic and make decisions based on what I thought I might need in the future. An advantage of NGRS membership is access to the society library which includes material on miniature lines and is perhaps an overlooked source of information. It is always worth asking, the worst case scenario is that there is nothing on a particular line or loco.

Another closed and lost line, the Gorse Blossom Miniature Railway (Glen Fairweather)

Hopefully you have stayed with me so far. Perhaps it is now time to make the point of this new years ramble? As miniature railway enthusiasts we owe it to the historians of the future to not only record what we see now, but to make the best effort we can to ensure that information from the past is not lost. Whilst there is information in various archives, such as the NGRS, National Railway Museum and local history collections, enthusiasts’ records and photographs are no less important. My hope is that the future possibility of a miniature railway museum brings with it the prospect of a central archive for miniature railway material. We can all do our bit, make sure our records and photographs are catalogued in an easy to follow format, and ensure that provision is made for the day you are no longer around.

In fact, you could call it a resolution… :rolleyes: A Happy New Year to all of our readers!

My thanks to Glan Fairweather and Richard Peake for permission to use photographs from their collections. Next month we shall be looking at miniature railway publications both past and present.

Announcing a new feature for 2008:

By Colin Peake

As a tribute to the late Robin Butterell, Mniniature Railway World Digest will be taking a look back over Robin's Small World column which was published in Railway World magazine between 1991 and 2001. This column has been identified by many of our readers as a huge influence in their interest in miniature railways.

The first column appeared in October 1991, introducing the feature and giving an overview of Milner Engineering of Chester and their replica of the Beyer Garratt K1 in 7 1/4" gauge. Appearing bi-monthly, the December 1991 column started the familar mix of news and details of Robin's own travels.

Travelling around the south Robin took in lines in Cornwall, Hampshire and Devon amongst others. Pictured was the rebuilt Severn-Lamb 'Rio Grande' from Longleat, a line which at the time was happily going about it's daily routine with little attention from enthusiasts. Little outwardly changed at Longleat for several more years after Robin's 1991 visit, however in 2005 there was news in the form of the arrival of Exmoor Steam Railway built 0-6-2T 'John Hayton', replacing 'Dougal', who retired to Evesham Vale. With the ball rolling, the line took delivery of another new loco in 2007, a 0-6-0DM built by Alan Keef. The Longleat line is now firmly on the miniature railway enthusiasts' radar through the unofficial website

Do you have any views, tips or ideas for maintaining miniature railway records and photographic collections? Miniature Railway World Forum members may respond to this Digest article. All responses will be checked by a moderator before appearing.
Miniature Railway World Digest
Edited by Colin Peake

Stuart Ross
Joined: September 29th, 2006, 8:23 pm

January 6th, 2008, 10:11 pm #2

A very intersting digest. I was building up agood selection of my own digital images a few years ago and lost the lot when my computer crashed as I had commited the cardinal sin of not keeping good CD - R back ups.

One of the big problems archivists find is with old photographs which show unidentified scenes. We have had a few mystery photos on the forum here. One thing those of us with photographic prints could all do on those wet and grim Sundays when we are stuck for somthing to do is on the back of our own photographs write with a soft pencil the caption. It sounds slightly daft but if our collections survive and are passed to others in the future it may just help identify a historic gem.


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