10 Mar 23 - Resident stories

All aboard!

What does Summerset by the Lake resident Peter Blackman have in common with basketball player Michael Jordan and singers Neil Young and Rod Stewart? They are all skilled in the art of railway modelling.

For Peter, his love affair with model trains began 73 years ago, as a 12-year-old in England. “I had a Trix Twin 00-gauge set that ran on three-rail track. It was called ‘Twin’ because the system powered one engine from the centre and one outer rail, and a second engine from the centre and other outer rail. I extended my railway over time and kept it on an 8ft by 4ft sheet of ply in my bedroom.”

When Peter married Beryl, the train set was packed away for a few years. “Suffice to say, Beryl didn’t want it in our bedroom,” Peter says wryly. Later, the couple’s three sons showed an interest, and the train set was resurrected and put on display in the house again. But space was at a premium, and the large set had to be put away as the boys got older. “No space anywhere was a big reason we left England,” Peter recalls. The family emigrated to New Zealand in 1974 and the trains were boxed up and shipped over, along with their other belongings.

Located in Glenfield in Auckland’s North Shore, the new family home had a basement, giving Peter the space to put up his model railway and build his 00-gauge collection once more. “The oldest model I have now is from 1956. It is a Triang Princess Elizabeth locomotive and tender. It cost the equivalent of just over $6, which was a princely sum in those days.”

Model railways have always held enduring fascination for their fans, thanks in no small part to the intricate details of the miniature worlds surrounding the tracks. The pastoral landscape around Peter’s railway is modelled on 1950s England, and he has a pamphlet explaining his layout. The bucolic green hillsides are made from screwed-up papier mâché covered in plaster of Paris, the grass is PVA glue covered in flock and Peter has used matchsticks to make the fences. “When I was young, I didn’t have any of the detailing,” he says. “Now this is the part of modelling that I really enjoy. I am currently trying to make it look like milk is going into the tanks of the wagons, so I am building a gantry out of matchsticks. One of the joys of railway modelling is – like so many things in life – if you can think it, you can do it.”

Peter’s train world is huge, and he has it on castors to move it around his double garage easily. Underneath his layout is space for him to store all his supplies. The trains are operated from a gap in the centre, where he has his digital control command. “They are also easier to operate now, as trains are digitally controlled. Each train has its own chip – so much technology goes into them now,” he says.

Peter is secretary of the Taupo Model Railway Club Inc., where he has been a member since he moved to the village three years ago. “There are currently 23 members, and we meet every week at the clubrooms. We help each other with techniques and visit one another’s layouts,” he explains. Incidentally, the Trix Twin engines are now on display in the clubrooms.

The key components of railway modelling are undeniably trains, tracks and motors. As these are all made overseas, the second-hand market in New Zealand is very strong. “I bought a whole host of stuff from someone in Hawke’s Bay who had a huge collection, including a box of fencing for $10 and a King Class locomotive for $100. That retails for over $300 new. I would always advise keeping the boxes for anything: the value of the item goes up so much more with the original box.”

Peter has lived in the Taupō village with his second wife, Susan, for three years. “We love it here. It took only three months from visiting friends here to moving in ourselves! I am now treasurer of the Residents’ Committee too. It was easy to integrate. People are friendly, and the village staff are excellent. Taupō is a buzzy place too. When Susan and I aren’t exploring in our campervan, I do something on my railway most days.”

So, what else do you need for railway modelling besides the engines? To ensure the trains run smoothly, Peter recommends a mirror to check the tracks are laid straight and a handheld vacuum cleaner to keep the tracks dust-free. And, he says, “Patience! Lots of PVA glue and newspaper, and money! You can be creative though; YouTube has some great model sites for inspiration.”

This is an article from the Summer 2022 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue