Rod Stewart is probably the world's most famous model railway enthusiast, but a new kid on the block may be on his way to taking that crown. For sheer size, there's no contest.
Simon George spent many hours as a child watching the trains rumble back and forth near his home. He loved those carefree childhood days and decided, once he was an adult, to create a scale model of the Heaton Lodge Junction in West Yorkshire - just as it looked in 1983 - the way he fondly remembered it.
Last weekend, having given up his job to dedicate every waking hour to the project, the 53-year-old unveiled what eventually became Britain's biggest model railway – an astonishing labour of love that recreates every detail, from a Tesco carrier bag caught in a tree to manhole covers in the roads. He's certainly got a novel answer to the question: what did you achieve during lockdown?
Included in Mr George's scale model of the 1.5-mile line is a figure of a 12-year-old boy hanging over a fence. That figure is his 12-year-old self, based on a black and white photograph he serendipitously discovered while researching the project in 2014; just one of 400 photographs found online alongside his own images and memories as he made a pictorial map of the area.
He started making the model at home, focusing on one small section at a time. When it became too big, he realised the project was going to need serious investment in terms of time, money and space. So, in 2017, he sold his share of a supercar driving experience company and leased the basement of a large mill to house the track, which he then focused on full time. The Covid pandemic and lockdown gave him even more scope to concentrate on the project.
The completed model, which cost around £250,000, features scale models of 30 trains running on 1,500m of track to a specific timetable displayed on arrival boards. It took two friends three years to create the software that makes the railway fully automated.
For such a vast model, moving it out of the mill so it could go on public display, was another major accomplishment. He designed and commissioned 40 purpose-built handcarts to transport it in three lorries, and the track is on now on public display at Wakefield Market, Yorkshire, until 19 December. His hopes to take the model railway, all 1.5 miles of it, on a national tour next year.
"Sometimes I look up and, for a split second, I'm back there in 1983," he said. "The lights, the sounds, the smell of the fake diesel fumes – it's deja vu."
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