The pulling power of model trains

Oldest and youngest – Damion Wilson and John Bracey with friend Thomas.

He’s 16, a model train fiend, and likens himself to the fictional and anthropomorphic James the Red Engine from TV’s ‘Thomas and Friends’.

“Yeah. He’s a bit like me,” says Damion Wilson. TV’s James is a tender locomotive proud of his sparkling bright red paint and shining brass dome.

He considers himself a smidgeon superior – should be pulling coaches rather than lowly trucks and is better than other trains who are weak, slow or dirty.

“I try to keep myself shiny too,” says James who can boast clean, tidy and handsome young lines. “And I don’t like doing jobs I don’t like doing.”

Damion is perhaps the youngest member of the Tauranga Model Railway Club which is holding its big annual bash at Mount Maunganui College on the weekend of Saturday January 18 and 19. “Trains are cool even for young guys – they come alive, have their own personalities - come and check them out.”

If Damion is the brash James the Red Engine, then 84-year-old Model Railway Club life member John Bracey would be the Sir Ronald Matthews – a sleek and dashing 60001 A4 class passenger locomotive which was all class. “Thomas is not for the purist modeler, not for the serious-minded modeler,” says John.

John Bracey has a model ‘Sir Ronald Matthews’ – “It’s a sound locomotive, they have all the sound features like steam and guard’s whistle, three or four hundred dollars each.” Sir Ronald will probably be showing off at the Tauranga Model Railway Club show next weekend too.

The close-to-oldest and youngest trade banter in front of The Weekend Sun. But from the youngest members there’s only deep respect. “The old guys have the wisdom and experience and I get to learn a lot of things about something I love,” says Damion.

John Bracey knows Damion is hooked for life. That’s because, like him, the seeds were sown early. “I got my first train – a Hornby clockwork train when I was about seven. Wind it up with a key and four times round the track before it stopped.” That was 74 years ago and John still has it.

He says his hobby has given his entire family many hours of pleasure. His wife does all the scenic modelling. This is a team.

And many decades later, when Damion was just two, his mother bought him a Thomas the Tank engine model railway set. She didn’t know she had triggered a 15-year fixation. “I have been an enthusiast ever since. And I am very proud of her for doing that,” says Damion. As he talks, another package has just landed in Tauranga from the United States – another Bachmann Thomas the Tank Engine. A young man can’t have too many.

Even the purists at the Tauranga Model Railway Club know Thomas has more pulling power than a KiwiRail DL diesel-electric. He’s a crowd generator. When Thomas is scooting round the layout at the club’s annual show young imaginations are drawn and captivated.    

“He’s especially popular,” concedes John Bracey. “Put Thomas on the tracks and he is a winner.”

Thomas is even the main selling point in the show’s promotional blurb. “Come and see Thomas the Tank engine and friends, drive a train yourself, see old Katikati railway station as it once was, enjoy models of the English or NZ countryside...”  There’s also an opportunity to buy scenic material, train sets or special model tools.

The Bay’s premier model train show is on at Mount Maunganui on Saturday, January 18 and Sunday January, 19 between 10am and 4.30pm.

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