I suppose railways are in the family genes. My father's paternal grandfather was the foreman of the North Staffs Railway Carriage Works at Stoke on Trent in the early 1900s, and his maternal grandfather was Station Master at Fenton Manor station on the outskirts of Stoke – in fact my father was born in the Station Master's house in 1918. My grandfather served an apprenticeship in the NSR Carriage Works, as did his elder brother. Grandpa joined the RNAS in WW1, and stayed in the RAF after the war was over. 


Fenton Manor Station c 1920. My Great-grandfather, Station Master Jonathan Preston, on the right. (No, not the dog)


My father must have absorbed some of the railway atmosphere, although he joined the RAF as a fifteen-year-old in 1933. When I was four years old he started to buy me Hornby '0' gauge clockwork trains – I guess he started with a small set, and added track and stock. I can remember the maroon cardboard boxes they came in, as we used to lay it out on the carpet and pack it away in the boxes at the end of the session. We had a figure-of-eight with a siding, a Hornby loco and a couple of carriages, as well as a Chad Valley loco (definitely inferior) and several wagons. We also had the Hornby tinplate station building and a signal. When my father was posted out to Malta it was all packed away and left behind, and one of the first things I asked for when we came back three years later was my train set! When later postings came along my parents, who were both children of servicemen, operated on a 'slash and burn' basis every time we moved, getting rid of everything except clothes and a couple of small, portable toys, and the railway disappeared for ever.

Later on I did my stint as a train spotter, complete with Ian Allen loco number books, until sheer embarrassment led me back to normal life. When I was a teenager my younger brother was given a Triang electric 00 set, of which I was very jealous. I fiddled around in 00 myself, and bought Railway Modeller and Model Railway News, and dreamed of greater things, but another posting and house move put paid to all that. A couple of years later I joined the RAF myself, and realised the wisdom of not having too much stuff to cart around while I moved between training units at frequent intervals. In 1966 I was posted to Malta and things settled down a bit. On one trip back to the UK I came across Don Boreham's 'Narrow Gauge Railway Modelling' and for some reason decided that 21/- was worth spending. I still have the book, a first edition of 1962. I was full of plans for a layout, but lack of time and space prevented any realization, and other things occupied my time. I tell people that I went out to Malta with two suitcases and a trunk of uniforms, and came back to the UK three years later with the aforementioned suitcases and trunk, plus seven packing cases, a car, and a pregnant wife!

 Space was again a problem over the next few years, and my modelling urges were channelled into making plastic model aircraft. In 1972 another posting saw me moving with my wife and two young daughters to Lincolnshire, where we bought a house with a bit more room, and railway thoughts reared their heads again. Money was very tight, but I managed to save enough to buy a Roco HO9 train set – circle of track, loco and a couple of wagons, if I remember aright. At first I stuck the track onto a piece of plywood and kept it under the bed, but dreams of having a proper layout resurfaced – and that's how it all began.


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