club and private model railways; is there a difference?

One of the most outstanding model railways ever built. Copenhagen Fields by the Model Railway Club

One of my friends swears blind that he can always tell the difference between a club built model railway and ones built privately just by a quick look at them. The statement intrigued me so I thought that I would look a little further into the differences, if any.

I recently gave a talk to a new model railway club and tried to discover what was wanted by the members for their layout project.

Some wanted 7mm/ft while the rest wanted 4mm/ft except one who only wanted 2mm/ft.
One wanted a shunting layout using screw link couplings
Some wanted OO scale while others wanted EM gauge
Some wanted Great Western while others wanted Shropshire and Montgomeryshire

and so it went on. In fact, no two people could agree to one single thing. The poor old chairman had to agree to everything just to keep the members in the club. No great feat of imagination is required to visualise the end result.

The eventual fate of this club layout will, of course be that it pleases no one.  The club will then find itself deep into its first crisis. By then, it will become apparent that some members contribute significantly while others are quite useless. The next layout will be guided by the influential members and will be better than the first. And so it will go on, and in the end, the latest club layout might be worth looking at.

If the club grows, new members will have to accept the current project and will have little say in its evolution. It is only when a club has become so established that members can be ruled with an iron rod that one can expect a cohesive result. This is the case with the Model Railway Club and is why Copenhagen Fields is such an exceptional layout.

It is clear that the project leaders of this layout were clear on what skill sets members possessed. Experts were appointed to oversee each and every aspect of its conception and as a result, there is not one single element of the project that falls short of expectations. Needless to say, this club was founded more than a hundred years ago.

To sum up, to build an exceptional club layout one needs to have;

1. Firm direction
2. sensible allocation of jobs to those with the most suited skill sets
3. excellent person and project management
4. single mindedness to maintain the design concept

The private layout

A very small number of private model railways are extremely well funded and professionals can be brought in to build to a very high standard. Pete Waterman's Leamington Spa is such an example.

Pete Waterman's Leamington Spa

What is arguably the best model railway in the World was begun by Australian Roye England. Inevitably, the scale of the conception exceeded Roye's life span and the layout is thankfully being finished by the Pendon Trust.

the exquisite Pendon

Most British Railway Modellers have little space and limited time and money to spend on their creations. There are notable exceptions of course, Roy Jackson's 'Retford' project is a case in point. Most private modellers are not prepared to spend many years on one project either. One exception is Pempoul, by Gordon and Maggie Gravett who spent 17 years building their masterpiece.

privately entered gem, Pempoul; Reseau Breton in 1:50 scale

The private builder has the advantage of being lord and master over the layout being built. This generally avoids the hotchpotch of modelling styles one often sees on club layouts. The privateer, however will very likely have blind spots in his modelling techniques. This often results in certain aspects of the layout being built with care and knowledge while other aspects are passed over with a very broad brush. Very few modellers are equally skilful in woodwork, rolling stock construction, scenery, trackwork and wiring. The ideal situation is when a builder is able to recognise his weak points and reach out for help from others.

So there you have it. My friend is probably right in many instances but there are some very notable exceptions.