Friday, July 03, 2009

Book Review: A Train is for life by Pete Waterman

My first impressions of this book were formed at the Warley exhibition when it launched. The stand was full of people snapping up their signed copies and I just thought it would just be a rich bloke showing off his models and those buying it were collectors who just wanted some association with the most famous railway modeller in the UK. Quite why anyone would want to add it to their library was a bit of a mystery, but then so is Heat magazine so I'm perhaps not that good on celebrity culture.

I should at this point say that I actually like Pete Waterman. I've met him a few times and even been to see and operate his famous Leamingon Spa layout. He's very down to earth and best of all, a very good model maker. His teak coaches are some of the best I've seen. This isn't a case of chequebook modelling - he and his friends actually get their hands dirty. The stock doesn't just sit in a glass case either, it gets used on the layout and you have to drive it. Taking a train of 12 coaches up the back of the model with something GW on the front is a touch scary the first time you do it but soon becomes normal. In fact the whole set up is so normal that you can imagine it's housed in a garage, not a barn, with all the usual garage junk on the ground floor. It's just that Pete's garage junk is more interesting than most of ours.

Anyway, back to the book. Because of my preconceptions I hadn't even picked up a copy for a browse until one appeared in the railways section of our local library. I took a look and immediately added it to the pile to be borrowed.

There's no doubt that this is what is described as a "coffee table" book. There are lots of pictures and not too many words. The photos, are all of excellent quality and in the main, showcase different locomotives. The descriptions are perhaps a touch short, but very informative. You learn a little about each real loco, the section showing the differences between the LMS "Twins" 10000 and 10001 being particularly interesting for me as I will be building a model of at least one of them one day.

The thing is that for the purposes of model making, this is a very useful book. I know you are supposed to return to the prototype every time but sometimes those old pictures are muddy exactly where you need them to be clear to see some detail. So when people have gone to great lengths to do the research, there is a something to be said for using their models as a guide when these locomotives are so clearly pictured. The angles on these pictures are often more use than the traditional 3/4 view from a station platform too.

The prototype choices are catholic with lots of different companies and eras represented. It's not going to be a replacement for proper source material but if you like variety then it has a place on the shelf. All the model making is of the highest quality and very inspirational. I've not seen such a body of work by the countries best model makers in one place before. This is all presented without a hint of showing off, it's just how these things are. How many wouldn't build a similar collection if the funds were available ? Personally I aspire to owning a Guy R William model loco. But then I aspire to owning a Canaletto and I don't think that is going to happen either !

All in all, this is a very good book. If you thing Pete is just a rich and famous bloke who plays at trains then it will change your mind, the title and text explain how once you are infected with an interest in railways it never entirely leaves you - I bet plenty of us know about that !

You can buy the book from Amazon. It would make a great answer for that "What can I get your for birthday/Christmas" question.

Or just borrow it from your local library.

And Pete has a blog.

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