Railway Modelling

Haynes Publishing

Submitter: As the son of a model railroader and now a railroad historian who literally grew up learning to read in no small part with Model Railroader and Trains Magazines, I was delighted to blunder across this tome in a branch of my library system while looking for related materials nearby on the shelves, especially because the hobby itself appears to be on the decline, replaced at least in part by “train simulator” computer programs.

The problem with this otherwise excellent book?  It is British.  It is 100% British. Not only does it give an extensive but absolutely Anglo-centric history of the model railway (not “model railroad”–that’s the American term) hobby and British railway history, but it focuses strictly on British and European manufacturers, British prototypes, and British electrical systems. In addition, the technical lexicon, or jargon, of railways in Britain is completely different from American railroad jargon.  Places where tracks change paths are called “points” instead of “switches;” the cargo is hauled in “goods wagons” instead of “freight cars;” passenger coaches are “carriages;” what we could call the “caboose” is the “brake van;” the engineer is the “driver” and the conductor the “guard;” and so on and on and on!  It also helps to understand such terminology as “Pre-Grouping” (before the forced consolidation of over a hundred railway companies into four, known as “The Big Four”, in 1923), British railway “nationalisation” (in 1948), etc.  Even American rail historians and buffs knowledgeable about this stuff are in a tiny minority!

Now, I am a guy who actually owns British models, from back in the days when one actually had to hunt down sellers in magazine ads and send away for the stuff sight unseen from sellers in the U.K.  I partook in buying out inventory from one Massachusetts supplier in the early 1980s as he got out of the business of attempting to sell this stuff to Americans.  At that time, it was estimated that there were fewer than 200 modellers of British trains in North America, most of them in Canada.  As of 2016, the British Railway Modellers of North America has 330 members.
I am a “part owner” (life membership in the owning society) of three British Rail high-speed passenger diesel locomotives.  My computer basically has a toggle switch to flip from American to British spelling/usage, which gets used almost daily.  I am completely fluent in both British and American rail jargon, and have been for over three decades. This is actually a perfect book for ME.

But to absolutely anyone else, this is on par with having a book about motorcycle mechanics and riding that focuses solely on Russian or Chinese motorcycles and their history, or a comprehensive car repair manual for all the latest Citroens, Renaults, and Peugeots.  Or Opels, Rovers, Alfa Romeos, and Lotuses.  Or having a veterinarian-first-aid or pet-care book for Australian marsupials like wallabies, bilbies, quolls, and numbats.  It’s adequate, if not excellent for many general approaches and techniques (to use our car analogy, painting a fender, getting better petrol/gas mileage, or the need for rotating tyres/tires), but anyone interested in model railroading in North America would take one look at this book and either ignore it or give up on the hobby.

The only thing I can think of to explain this is that some well-meaning soul donated it to the library, or that some buyer in the library HQs saw it listed in a Haynes Publishing catalogue and took a chance.  (Haynes also does competent auto repair manuals and books on cars and car models, so…..)

Holly: This reminds me of the time I accidentally bought the “wrong” Supremes CD. A patron had requested music by the Supremes, so I randomly added a “Best of The Supremes” album. Mary was absolutely outraged when it came in that it was the “wrong” Supremes (ie. the post-Diana Ross era. To her point, that is blasphemy here in Detroit. My bad.) Someone at Submitter’s library probably got a request and randomly bought something that seemed to fit the bill, or maybe even came from the donation pile, but they didn’t look closely enough to realize (realise?) what they’d done. Collection mistakes are made. Once they are pointed out, though, you have to make them right. Weed this and buy something more regionally appropriate.

Railway Modelling back cover

00 gauge expansion

prototype passenger stock


  1. Americans are complaining about a book that’s 100% British when I, a Canadian, have had to read books my whole life that were 100% American. The horror. As a result I probably know more about the US than I do about my own country. But then again Canadians probably know more about the US than Americans know about… everything. 😛

    1. The problem, I would assume, besides the fact that many of the terminology is different, a lot of the electrical setup would be different and many of the things in the book would not be available/apply to American trains. It’s like having instructions for repairing a radio when you’re trying to fix a tv.

  2. No wonder it’s wholly British in scope; it’s a companion book for a British magazine, the unimaginatively titled “Railway Modeller”; I remember seeing adverts for the book in the back of each issue for a while. If you look closely at the back it doesn’t even have a price in US dollars, so I’m pretty sure this book was never even intended to be sold outside the British Isles.

    How on Earth did it end up in a US public library collection?

  3. I would say, if its not circulating dump it. Otherwise, it seems fine to me. I get requests about British culture, far be it from me to stop someone here from exploring British culture via railroad modelling.

  4. As Oscar Wilde observed, ‘the British and Americans have so much in common. Except, of course, for language.’ Or was it George Bernard Shaw who said that? (One of those famous Irish writers.) Noah Webster hated the British so he deliberately made ‘standard American usage’ as different as possible from what the Oxford English Dictionary suggested. In the case of railways/railroads it’s strange because obviously they are a British invention so many standards all over the world (including track gauges) came straight from Britain.

  5. Thus reminds me of a book I got from the library (in 1980s Virginia, mind) about video equipment and computers…and practically all of it was UK-spec, including pictures of computers that never made it to America (specifically what turned out to be an Amstrad CPC, which I thought was so cool at the time).

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