Burgess Hill Model Railway Club; 60 Years Old & Still Rolling On
By Roger Linn
Trevor Summerfield is first and foremost an enthusiast.
He is also the Treasurer of the Burgess Hill Model Railway Club, although in the nearly 50 years he’s been involved with the club he has also been, at various times, Chairman, Secretary, Honorary Vice President and probably cook and bottle-washer too. That’s how it is with small societies.
He was introducing me to the club’s annual exhibition in the unlikely surroundings of the Burgess Hill School For Girls – not many of whom, I imagine, build model railways.
Trevor was keen to banish any preconceived ideas I might have had about ‘anoraks’. “We love the hobby,” he said, “because it involves so many aspects of what you might call DIY.
There’s carpentry, electrics and electronics, painting, design, model making… I could go on,” he grinned.
Then, of course, there’s the historical research, because these enthusiasts are passionate about getting the details right. When a layout is designed, the builders set it in a particular place at a particular period in time.
As I learnt when I toured the exhibition, some of the scenes are amazingly complex. The technical railway detail has to be right, of course, but it is equally important that the total environment of the place and time are depicted accurately.
Studying these dioramas, you can see that even the tiny figures in the landscapes are dressed as they would have been – and the vehicles, the advertising hoardings, the street lights and the buildings are all contemporary to the period too.
The layouts would be impressive enough as static displays, but the scenes are brought to life by the busy movement of the engines and rolling stock. Some of the models on display were tiny in scale and they seemed to fuss about on their railway business, clicking and clattering hither and yon, picking up coaches here and delivering wagons there.
The largest engines in the show were on a layout depicting the Darjeeling and Himalaya Railway. They appeared to be very important beasts indeed and, faithful to their originals, they were smart as paint. Shrouded in steam and noise, they sped round and round the tracks, always heading for some imagined, far off but never to be reached destination. I have to say that small children were not the only spectators who were completely spellbound by the spectacle and I was beginning to understand the enduring appeal of model railways.
The Burgess Hill Model Railway Club is a particularly good example of the long-lasting nature of the hobby having been founded in 1951. It sprang out of the splendidly-named Burgess Hill Model Making Society (for the furtherance of Arts & Crafts). Their first show in 1952 comprised model aircraft as well as trains and raised fifteen shillings and sixpence, representing around £20 in today’s money. Gradually, the aircraft membership declined and the railway section went on to form their own club in 1954. Interestingly, Trevor told me that there were 20 members in that original club and now, some 60 years later, although Burgess Hill’s population has grown spectacularly, there are still only 20 members.
I’m guessing they’re different people. I spoke to several of today’s members as I went round the exhibition, hoping to discover more about the appeal of model railways. Some, it transpired, were set builders, absorbed by the challenges of creating the kind of intimate detail that makes their layouts so intriguing. Some took their greatest pleasure in designing, building and running the rail network. Some are ‘techies’ pure and simple for whom the complexities of the electrics and electronics are the aspects of modern model railways they find most inspiring.Some are engine and rolling stock builders, and some – though they might not readily admit it – just like playing trains and demonstrating them to the public. In fact, the club has a layout specifically designed to let the public have a go and encourage kids to try their hand at shunting. It’s called ‘Bash Street Goods’ and the trick is to correctly position the right wagons into the right sidings by selecting and setting the points correctly, while moving the train very slowly forward. Even with expert help, I was useless at it.
There were some 18 layouts of varying degrees of complexity in this year’s exhibition. They depicted different scenes ranging from the Swiss mountains to an American goods yard, and from an English coastal town in the 1940s to the Himalayas. Many of them had come from model railway clubs around the southeast of England. Burgess Hill, in turn, take layouts to other club exhibitions whenever they’re asked.
The club meets in its own premises in Burgess Hill twice a week where members work on the three layouts currently under construction. Some members, although not all, have their own layouts at home and, of course, the help and advice available to them from their fellow members is invaluable.
It is a busy, friendly small society and Trevor was keen to emphasise to me that new members do not need to have their own model railway layouts. All they need, he says, is to “have and share a real enthusiasm for the hobby.” That way, the Burgess Hill Model Railway Club will still be flourishing in another 60 years.
BURGESS HILL MODEL RAILWAY CLUB