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Part 1 - In The Beginning....

In the beginning was the Railway Modeller and it was not just good, but terrific!  Specifically, the August 1973 issue.  I have it still.  The “Railway of the Month” described Charles S Small’s Lake George & Boulder railroad.   If you can get a copy, do so: it remains an inspiring read.


For some years, I had been aware of large trains that trundled around Manchester’s Beatties model store at ceiling level.  In my youthful arrogance, brimful of rivet-counting knowledge of N-scale German railways from the likes of Fleischmann, I instantly dismissed this “Big Train” as crude and toy like.  For a start, who on earth would buy something that had the maker’s initials embossed on the side of most vehicles and seemed to consist mainly of diminutive Austrian tank locos at astonishingly high prices (even at 3 Deutschmarks to the pound...)?



That 1973 issue of Railway Modeller showed what those little locos were really about.  The LG&B line of Mr Small was in the garden (shock, horror!), had locos climbing insane gradients and even featured overhead electrification.  I didn’t have a garden, was heavily committed to my N gauge and certainly didn’t have the kind of money LGB needed.  Clearly it was not for me.  Yet I kept reading the article, despite myself.   A seed had been sown....


Let us now fast forward 25 years.  It is 1998.  Over the years I’ve acquired a wife, daughter, hair-loss and garden in roughly that order.  I still have the N-scale, but it’s in England while my family is living in France since I’m on a foreign assignment for my employers in France.   I am bored (suburban Paris is like suburban London, but with smellier drains...) and suffering model railway deprivation.  I had got to know the whereabouts of most of Paris’ model shops and habitually lurked in one or two on a Saturday morning.


On one of my Saturday outings, I spotted an LGB set at a rather reasonable 990 French francs.  Exactly 100 UK pounds at the time.  The loco was the one I remembered from the 1970s, but with much improved valve gear and no raised lettering.  Four diminutive bolster wagons carried track pieces which augmented the classic oval.  Experts will have guessed that I walked out of the shop carrying a 30 years of LGB starter set.  Set on the floor of our rented living room, the set met with instant approval from my daughter.  “It’s Percy!”, she exclaimed.  Making dad’s night time stories all involve a certain Thomas was paying off!


A happy daughter means a happy wife.  A happy wife means many things are possible, but most importantly permission was forthcoming for another, identical set, some more wagons of the Toytrain variety and some points at (crikey!) a cool 25 quid each.  The classic strain between pocket and desire which G Scale generates was there.  In short, I was well and truly bitten by the G Scale bug.


So during 1998 and early 1999 the LGB expanded.  It became a permanent feature of the lounge floor, to the bemusement of visitors who were forced to arrange their feet accordingly.  I only have one picture of that first layout, complete with various add-ons which I swear are my daughters.  Honest.



Not pictured is the third loco, a green Schoema diesel which came as part of the first LGB MTS starter set.  Two engines on the track at once, with independent control.  Very cool and cutting edge, provided you could ignore the horrid screeching from the Stainzes which had no chips!   Again, I was hooked: it was just a matter of finding a way to get the chips in a Stainz and the £38 (in French francs) per chip. 


By the time my assignment ended in 1999, I had already obtained permission to set things up in the garden when we returned to the UK.   I think my wife remembers this both as the thin end of a very considerable wedge and the only way she would ever get her living room floor back....


Now – into the wild green yonder!