Four decades of model behaviour

Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group  picture shows...    Chairman Mike Cawthorne.
Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group picture shows... Chairman Mike Cawthorne.
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Viaducts, canals, rivers and railways - and all in one church hall. Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers a whole new world on a much smaller scale

IT’S not every day that a Great Western train passes as you stand in a church hall.

Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group

Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group

But here, at Carter Knowle Methodist Church’s hall, it’s perfectly possible to be standing within inches of a 1940s locomotive.

At least, it is on a Friday night.

Meet the members of the Sheffield O Gauge Group of model railway enthusiasts - named after the scale they work to.

For more than 40 years they have been building and exhibiting miniature masterpieces such as the Great Western.

Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group  picture shows...  Ray Hensher and  Chris Rule with part of  the clubs layout Edgedale canal basin.

Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group picture shows... Ray Hensher and Chris Rule with part of the clubs layout Edgedale canal basin.

But it doesn’t stop at trains. In fact, the group’s name is something of a misnomer, for as much attention is paid to the model train tracks as the trains themselves.

“The track’s 30 years old and the club’s 30 years old,” says club secretary Paul William Scott, from Dronfield, surrounded by an ambitious model train track, complete with model houses, model cars, model vans, model trees, model cobbles and even model flowers.

This is a miniature paradise, the land surrounding the railways in this world is spotless, peppered only with tiny daffodils or blooming buddleia.

“I like building engines,” says Paul, “it’s about recreating things you found exciting as a child and I always found trains exciting.

Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield  'O' Gauge Group  picture shows... Taking a break from loc construction Sharon Longden paints some trees.

Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group. Members of the Sheffield 'O' Gauge Group picture shows... Taking a break from loc construction Sharon Longden paints some trees.

“It used to give me a real buzz to see them rushing by. We lived in Walkley when I was growing up and I remember looking out of the window and seeing the trains in the distance. I’d make trains full-size if I could.”

Other model railway enthusiasts turn their attention to other elements of the hobby.

“Some people enjoy the model-making just as much, some layouts are very detailed.”

There are three major ‘layouts’ in the hall - each layout is a mini community in its own right.

Ray Henshaw, a former bank manager from Millhouses, who moved up to Sheffield from his native London in the 1970s with the Midland Bank, has created a layout with a canal, a lock keeper’s cottage - complete with a pet cat - a small track-side mill and a 1940s wagon.

“I like making models that are set in the 1940s, I can remember that era from being a boy. I was evacuated to Bury during the war and I can remember wagons looking like that.”

The attention to detail in Ray’s layout is staggering. The bark on the trees and their foliage look real and the roof tiles look as if they have been laid by a roofer just moments ago.

“That’s just watercolour paper,” he says, “but they are all cut out so they look like individual tiles.”

Towards the back of the room is another intriguing layout, belonging to Mick Cawthorne. Mick’s layout is an enormous 10-feet long. It features a pub - the Red Lion, a Georgian town house, a river, a crane, a warehouse, a viaduct, fish-cart, fishing boats, two engines, several people and a scrapyard.

But his detail doesn’t stop there. Mick, a BT engineer from Stannington, has even gone to the trouble of building a bar and pub tables within the pub. “If you peer inside you can there are even beer mats on the table, there’s a dart board too,” he says.

And just down the road from the pub is a stunning brick-built town house with a curved bay window.

“This is actually based on a town house in Weymouth - they’re all based on a Weymouth street actually, because I love the architecture down there,” says Mick.

And as with the pub, Mick’s obsession with detail doesn’t stop at the exterior. Inside the town house is a naked woman, posing for an artist who paints a huge canvas. “The house actually belonged to a court painter to Edward II,” he laughs.

Even the cobbles on Mick’s layout look real. “I make them out of DAS modelling clay and then the paint effect is a result of applying various layers of emulsion paint. You start of with a neutral brown wash of colour and then you layer it up with other browns and greys, but rub that paint off before it dries. When you rub it off it gets stuck in the cracks and this gives the appearance of real cobbles.”

Mick, like many model railway enthusiasts, has a dedicated room in which to prepare his mini-scale masterpieces.

“I work in a converted shed. But there are plenty of enthusiasts who work on the kitchen tables but most people have converted workshops or spare rooms. It’s just a question of fitting it in and how you fit it in.”

All the layouts at Sheffield Model Railway Enthusiasts have lights, as Paul explains.

“Sometimes someone will visit and the wife will come up to the attic and look at the layout under sufferance but then you turn the lights on and it makes all the difference.”

It doesn’t stop there. Mick’s layout is fitted with a smoke machine, that lets out steam when the engine passes. This is accompanied by a the correct engine sound.

“It’s all done with this,” says Mick, with a remote control. So, at the touch of a button Mick and his colleagues can relive the railway of the 1940s or 50s. They just need to figure out how to shrink themselves.

“It’s brilliant. It’s like you can create a tiny world,” said Paul.

The Sheffield O Gauge group will be exhibiting at the Sheffield Model Railways exhibition from March 31 to April 1 at Birkdale School.