20 years ago last weekend, the very first Festival of British Railway Modelling took place at Doncaster Racecourse. We loaded up my campervan and headed up there with Melbridge Dock. As I recall, a good weekend was had apart from a quickly solved issue with the expenses where they wanted to pay by cheque in the post and we preferred cash in the hand (and soon in the traders tills).
With the anniversary of the show upon us, I found myself loading up a hire van with two layouts, Melbridge Dock and Ruston Quays. I know I still have the camper but it's off the road and too small for 3 operators and 2 layout. In the middle seat was Chris Mead who had also been to the first show and was part of the group explaining how expenses are paid.
Because it was an anniversary, the first thing we found on arrival was cake. Quite a nice sponge washed down with a cup of tea. We set up in the foyer and then headed for the hotel. Doncaster always seems like the proper north to me but is only 2 and a bit hours from home. Even the traffic and collecting Chris only extended this to just over 3, so long enough to feel like a proper travelling show but close enough for a pain-free journey.
One slight snag was that I'd managed to leave the RQ control board at home. This isn't the end of the world as it only holds the point levers (still no practical DCC system - told you analogue was better) but still a little embarrassing. A couple of phone calls and we'd made arrangements for it to be brought up by a fellow club member visiting the next day. Thanks Steve.
Saturday opened with excellent crowds in front of both layouts. It might quarter of a century old but the Dock seemed to have at least ten people in front of its 6ft scenic section. My dad and Chris were kept busy all day talking about Sprat & Winkle couplings and Clyde Puffers.
Over on Ruston Quays, I left the shuttle unit to run trains and talked. Continuously.
My session in the lecture theatre was attended by around 50 people and quite a few found their way back downstairs later to ask questions.
By the end of the day we were all tired and headed back to the hotel and adjacent pub for refreshment. Main course eaten, Chris and I had to try the monster deserts on offer. Quite why a gooey cake thing 8 inches tall needs to be accompanied by two piles of cream is a mystery - almost as much as how anyone could finish a portion!
Day two was much like Day 1 except with less voice for me. I was very croaky by the end of the day and glad there wasn't a third.
Before the crowds arrived, I managed to borrow a non-working APT-E pre-production sample to pose in my station where it looks rather nice. Despite not being a production example, and lacking rivets and details, it felt well assembled and surprisingly heavy.
Shortly after the opening, I found myself presented with a Hornby HST power car which its owner said was squeaking on curves. The back to backs looked a little narrow on the problem bogie but when I went to fix this, one of the tyres came away from the plastic hub. A little superglue sorted this out and hopefully the model is now back in service.
All this means there was very little looking around the show on my part. I did manage a couple of trips out and took some photos. The layout selection seemed varied. One visitor angrily complained that nothing was moving on any layout but I suspect he was unlucky as even at the times quiet enough for me to get out I saw plenty of movement.
My favourite stand wasn't railway related - it was a hedgehog rescue group. Andrew the hedgehog was amazingly cute. He was born blind and so can't be released back into the wild but is quite happy to sit on the stand in his bed occasionally be handled so we could stroke him.
Trade seemed good and I left having spent some money. One stand I didn't get to was the Really Useful Box Company one which had a few boxes that looked good for potential micro layouts. They seemed to good business without me though.
So, a busy weekend but a pleasant one. Loads of chat and an elegant sufficiency of cake. If you dropped by to say hello, thanks very much, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
More photos on Flickr.