Saturday, April 29, 2006

National Railway Museum - York, UK

National Railway MuseumYork, YorkshireFor me trains, especially steam trains and England are synonymous. There are many preserved railways still in operation up and down the country and it's possible to take a vacation that is geared to these excursions which I was lucky enough to do a while back. This trip my time was more restricted and because I was traveling in the winter most were shut down for the season.  George Stephenson is considered to be the inventor of the first practical steam locomotive engine for railways. Stephenson was extremely poor growing up and received little formal education. He worked in local collieries or coal mines and was self-taught in reading and writing. In 1812, he became a colliery engine builder, and in 1814 he built his first locomotive for the Stockton and Darlington Railway Line. Stephenson was hired as the company engineer and soon convinced the owners to use steam motive power and built the line's first locomotive, the Locomotion. In 1825, Stephenson moved to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, where together with his son Robert and Henry Rooth built (1826-29) the Rocket.

National Railway MuseumIn 1829, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway offered a prize of 550 Pounds Sterling to any company or individual who could build a locomotive that would weigh less than six tons and could pull a load of 20 tons at a rate of ten miles per hour. Of the five engines entered in the October 1829 trials, only the Rocket completed the course, exceeded all the requirements and performed without incident. For this achievement, the L & M bought the Rocket from Stephenson and soon thereafter ordered four more for their passenger service between Liverpool and Manchester, thus providing the first rail passenger service in the world. A copy of the Rocket is now on display at the National Railway Museum in York which I had the pleasure to visit for the second time.

Besides a wonderful display of rolling stock the museum has opened up its workshop as well as backroom collection. There you can find many models of railroads and a vintage layout used to teach railroad operation.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Glacier Express

From St Gallen I traveled to St Moritz. Considered a jet-set ski haven and brilliantly situated in the Alps, St Moritz is itself architecturally undistinguished. All the major high-brow stores have their locations here so if you wish to pick up the latest creation from renowned jewelers, Cartier in between ski runs it only takes money. Besides German you'll hear Italian which along with French and Romansh make up the four official languages of Switzerland.

St Moritz also serves as one of the starting points of the Glacier Express where I find myself this morning. Playfully called the "slowest express train in the world" it actually started rather briskly at 9:02 in the morning. A few minutes later we made our first stop reminding us that this is at its root a working train yet one provided with special "panorama cars" with picture windows for us the wide eyed tourist. As luck would have it the weather did its part and it turned out to be a beautiful day with the sun shining over snow covered alpine meadows ... a glorious day for a train ride with each turn, tunnel and bridge a new picture is presented.

Each small village begs the question, how do these people make a living and what sacrifices must be made to live in such a beautiful locale? Mother, father, sister, brother each was carrying skis or pulling on toboggans, even grandparents seemed not immune to sliding and slushing in the snow. Hills were dotted with ski lifts and pathways turned into luge runs. Feeling removed from reality in our air-conditioned cars we longed to join the crowds. Of course playing in the snow is a lot different then having to live in it but I would rather guess that you would be hard put to gather any complaints from the local people, at least none that they would admit in mixed company! We sat gape jawed at the images seen through the windows, it seemed too perfect. I have often remarked that train travel delivers you to the backyards of society. A view a little to personal, the side of a house hidden from the street was bared open to the train traveler. On the Glacier Express all that was turned on it's engine and you were presented with the best of what was on offer.

The three railway companies of that period the VZ later the Matterhorn Gotthardbahn (BVZ), the Rhatische Bahn (RhB) and the Furka-Oberalp Railway (FOB) respectively took advantage of the tourism potential at hand with the opening of the route between the Valais and Graubunden in 1926 followed by the introduction of the through coaches Brig - Chur and Brig - St.Moritz met with a lot of interest amongst the traveling public. Yet unless they wished to be snowed in during the winter the Furka alpine route would take another 50 years before it could stay open all year long.

June 25, 1930 saw the opening of the connection between Visp and Brig allowing the Glacier Express to operate between Zermatt and St.Moritz for the first time. To cater to the well healed travelers elegant salon coaches and dining cars were introduced on the route between St.Moritz and Disentis. Whilst the VZ and RhB were already equipped with state-of-the-art electric locomotives the "Crocodiles". The Furka-Oberalp Railway was still working with steam engines (HG 3/4), which were sent to Vietnam in 1947 only to be recalled back to Switzerland during the 1990s by enterprising promoters of the Furka alpine route for nostalgic steam-engine trips that today are more popular than ever.

At the beginning of the 1940s the Furka-Oberalp Railway was converted to electricity and on September 1, 1942 the through electric route Brig ? Disentis was officially celebrated. With the turmoil of the Second World War, express traffic was withdrawn from 1943 onwards to be reintroduced with slight changes in 1948.The Glacier Express also benefited from technological advancement during the 1950s and 1960s: faster engines produced shorter traveling times even for the "world's slowest express train". Construction work on the Furka basis tunnel between Oberwald and Realp began in 1973 and service could finally start through the tunnel on 26 June 1982: the Glacier Express now runs all year round! Today tourists are carried in modern air-conditioned panorama coaches.
 

57th International Toy Fair

57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg Like most boys growing up in the United States my first train set was from Lionel. Who actually got the set, my brother or myself is a mystery lost in time. What is known is that I was the one that caught the lifetime addiction. It lay dormant for then next few decades but re awoke while I was stationed in Germany. Not able to purchase anything during that time on a soldier's income I saved the impulse till my finances had sufficiently improved. What did occur was that I developed a love for all things German and I vowed that if I ever were to build a layout it would run German trains.
 
My first real layout used Kato track and was built in the bottom part of a trundle bed. Needless to say since it wasn't my own bed operating sessions had to be arranged! After my last move the layout went into storage until my attention shifted from slot cars back to model railroads. It might never happen except for two things. When rooms were allocated in our new room I was given one of the bedrooms and the washroom. The washroom is still waiting to be fitted into a darkroom but the bedroom was built into a library with dark cherry wood floors and built in bookcases. The built in bookcases were soon supplemented with modular bookcases also dark cherry. This would form the foundation for my new layout. 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg
57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg
57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg

 
My work takes me all over the world but the majority of my contracts are in North America. It just so happened that my last major contract was in Vancouver, Canada. I mention this because one of the leading retailers of European (German) model railroad equipment is located in Langley, BC. Which was approximately 45 minutes and $500 dollars from my apartment downtown. I don't think that I ever left his store with less than a half century debit on my check card! It all started with a DCC starter set from Fleischmann and degenerated into additional locomotives from Minitrix. Soon I had a halfway decent roster looking for a permanent layout to run on. The trundle bed was no longer an option but my library offered an answer to my dilemma. I would build my empire on top of a set of bookcase that I have along one side. Designing what I am sure is an over-complicated track plan I vow to have everything up and running before I add scenery but unlike my fried Doug, scenery they'll be, since that's one of the areas I enjoy best. This weekend I will begin the installation of my yard which includes a turntable, a six-seven stall roundhouse and various service tracks. I will build the layout as a set of modules and wire each one before progressing to the next. I will also eventually have working catenary on DC.
 

I was staying outside of Nurnberg in a small Gasthof and Monday would be my first day at the Fair. After a few beers I was able to was the "taste" of English food from my mouth as well as my memory. I rented a minivan, or at least that's what they gave me and I was on my way bright and early. I was able to score a press pass thanks to the last minute efforts of the afore mentioned expat South African, I had a vendor pass tucked away just in case. The exhibition hall is quite large and is used for several international as well as national trade fairs. This was the 57th Toy Fair and is used by many toy manufacturers as a stage to announce their new toys. The other main purpose of the fair is for manufacturers and distributors to meet with their clients, toy stores as well as hobby shops.  At the beginning of year train shops must order their inventory for the rest of the year with regards to new items. There's quite a rush on and it must be nerve wracking for the shops to have to guess what they will sell regarding inventory that is brand new. There is a quota system with some manufacturers I think including LGB and Marklin where you are judged on what you sold the previous year. How well you did will move you up the line in getting the new stuff. Obviously you'll still be ordering later in the year but availability on exclusive items will be at a premium and to stay in the good graces of your more demanding customers they'll expect their new toys or go somewhere else. 

It's hard to describe the Toy Fair as anything but huge. There must have been close to a dozen halls. I would concentrate on the model railway and hobby construction areas. All the major brands were here of course, their displays running into the millions. In fact despite the dire reports regarding the hobby in Germany this seemed where the fanciest displays were led by LGB. This year one hall was devoted entirely to official 2006 World Cup toys launched on the market by soccer's world governing body FIFA, which is expected to earn some two billion euros ($2.4 billion). I didn't want to visit this hall as I'm trying to ignore the Cup until the semi-finals so I won't get disappointed by the perennially under-achieving Dutch team. So I'll have to take their word for it. I did of course visit the halls display Model Construction / Hobbies, Model Railways & Accessories, and Mechanical & Electronic Toys. That was enough to walk myself lame after only 2 days. According to the organizers there are two product groups at the International Toy Fair in Nürnberg that are visited by almost every (male) buyer, even though he has nothing to do with them professionally: Model Railways and Model Construction.  With development costs of around 1 million euros for a new locomotive this means the manufacturers are faced with enormous investment costs every year. A share of some 60 % for manual work is a burden on the production costs and leads to the situation today where even large manufacturers have an increasing number of parts or whole models produced in Asia or Eastern Europe. It also means that these people take their toys seriously. One thing I noticed was that there is a thriving market at the museum quality end of the train hobby spectrum. Manufacturers such as KISS Micro-Metakit Dingler Regner displayed models that were breathtaking. It's a good thing none of them model in N or I would have left my wallet in Germany.

57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg 57th International Toy Fair Nürnberg