Friday, 29 November 2013

Unusual Railway Pubs - Retro Memories by Bob Barton

Writer Bob Barton, author of ‘Unusual Railway Pubs’ (Halsgrove Publishing), explains how an interest in model trains led to him travelling full-size tracks and playing pub games. Read his memories and then enter our prize draw to win the book and a Hornby train...

I've loved model trains for as long as I can remember. Grandad nurtured my interest, getting the eight year-old me a Hornby Dublo electric train-set one Christmas. He  then got the bug and built me a room-size Tri-ang Hornby layout, which he enjoyed as much as I did. I liked the realistic scenes and couldn't understand why school pals wanted to deliberately crash the trains. The Pullman express would be set up to go steaming into the back of a goods train, sending wagons flying in all directions and plastic people dying at frightening rate. As an accompaniment, a vinyl sound effects record would be interspersed with Beatles singles on my parents’ Dansette record player.

This was around 1964, long before electronic games hit the shops. Instead we had to combine three-dimensional objects with lots of imagination. Shortly after, Rovex (the company behind Tri-ang Hornby) did cotton-on to the demand for drama by bringing out some items of fictional military rolling stock. Called ‘Battle Space’, the range included spring-loaded missile launch wagons, a box car which exploded while on the move; another had a pop-up sniper in the roof. There were working searchlight wagons and low-loaders from which a helicopter or satellite would take off. Mates and I set up scenarios such as our train patrolling the West German border and being hi-jacked by the Soviet enemy (the Berlin Wall had yet to fall). Grandad’s enthusiasm grew with mine, his police pension regularly being stretched to the limit in Seymour’s model shop at Harrow-on-the-Hill (no bargain eBay purchases then). I was devastated when he died suddenly aged 70.
In the 1968 catalogue, Tri-ang Hornby advertised its trains jointly with Minic Motorways. Moving trains and cars could be combined on townscapes of tracks and highways. Minic was similar to Scalextric except it used the same 00 scale as the trains. It had level crossings where we engineered heart-stopping near-misses between steam locomotives and Porsches (please don’t try it on the real railways). Of course this was before the age of the microchip. The height of technology at that time was the R406 Automatic Train Control set. One train could be used to start and stop another and control signals and points, using a solenoid relay that the train tripped using trackside contacts.
There were board games as well and my favourite was ‘Go’, the International Travel Game by Waddington’s. You could travel the world by train and ‘plane, exchanging currency and buying tickets as you went. But real journeys beckoned. Grandad had done with travelling and dad was wedded to his car, so I had to wait until I was about 13, old enough to take long distance trains by myself or with schoolfriends. It engendered a wonderful sense of freedom to travel the country, checking timetables as I went. Mum’s Marmite sandwiches accompanied me to the wilds of Cornwall, North Wales and the Scottish Highlands. If you knew which rover ticket to buy (at half fare) you could travel hundreds of miles for little cost. There were more trains at night in those days, so there was no need for expensive hotel rooms.
Starting work at the age of 16, I was introduced to the world of pubs and, for a while, was a keen darts player. Pub games are a world of their own, with toad-in- the-hole, devil-among-the-tailors and several varieties of skittles also played widely then.
In later years. whenever I was travelling on business I went by train if possible: it was interesting checking out the pubs and refreshment rooms on the stations. Many hailed from the early days and were very ornate, though run-down. It was the era before today’s real ale and craft beer revolution. Today historic stations have been smartened up but even a decent coffee was hard to find back then.
When I was made redundant from my job as a press officer in 2007 I was looking for a project and decided to combine my twin interests of trains and pubs. I researched a guide to the best railway pubs, which no one had done before. Published by Halsgrove in 2013, ‘Unusual Railway Pubs’ ( also provided an excuse to travel on some of the preserved heritage railways, which often have great pubs with steam trains passing outside.
Models and pub games are a feature in some railway pubs. Among those in my book is one, on the line from King’s Cross, with an 0 scale model railway running below the ceiling and tunnelling through a wall. Another, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, is a cross between a railway museum, model shop and games room. Yet another is a brewery in a quirky Lincolnshire windmill. As well as relaxing with a drink in the circular bar, customers can try their hand at traditional pub games now rarely seen, such as shove shive, target bowls and cheese skittles.  
Win a copy of Bob’s book and a retro Hornby train in the free-to-enter draw on

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.