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The history of Rail Racing by Jeff Davies
Purchase through Pendle Slot Racing
 

 

Jeff Davies' new book on rail racing concerns a long forgotten segment of the model car racing hobby popularly known today as slot car racing. In so doing he has written a book about a time when toys were built and not just turned on. Cars that were turned into reality through the efforts of their creators' own hands The rail car he talks about cannot truthfully be called the father of slot cars, perhaps an older brother would be more appropriate. The book, actually more like a special edition magazine of 79 pages is written as a set of articles. The “Speed Controller” is an old telegraph key, giving the driver “on-off” but no brakes.This causes the book to jump around a bit but the advantage is that you have the sense of joining the author as he makes the rounds and visits with old and new friends. Nobody it seems has more passion than Jeff in his quest for answers to the questions that will allow him, if only for a brief moment in time to resurrect rail racing. This effort culminated with a memorial rail car race at Brooklands, the birthplace of motorsports in England.  Through a rich combination of fuzzy old b&w photos mixed in with modern digital images we see just out of reach not models but rather sculptures. I mention out of reach because I want nothing more than to hold these little beauties in my own hands. Because the vast majority of these cars are hand-built they reflected a personality unknown to modern day mass-produced cars. In a stable of Bugattis each a litle different you had a truer representation of the Scuderias of the past that managed the mechanical duties for a rich cliental of amateur racers.

The book is divided into several sections including beginnings, cars, chassis, tracks, races and profiles of individuals who played various parts both big and small in the hobby. Rail guide and pickup - How it all worksThe beginnings of rail racing are found in diesel cars first operated by tether but also on special tracks with raised rails to guide the cars on their merry way. The problem with a diesel car was that they were smelly and once started the driver had no control over it's speed. These cars were 1/12 scale with metal bodies and could prove quite a healthy projectile were it to leave the rail. Diesel Cars at the line ...We meet Alban Adams who claims to have invented slot cars and ran a commercial diesel rail racing track in Blackpool, England in 1953. Adams can rightly be called one of the hobby's pioneer entrepreneurs who would later start MRRC. Like any self respecting businessman the litigation hammer was always in his toolbox as related in this excerpt from the book:
 

In 1954 the Southport Model Engineering Society (SMES) used a portable diesel rail car track as part of their annual exhibition to raise funds for the society. Alban Adams felt quite rightly that this breached his patent on the guides on their cars as he had made it clear that any club using this system for commercial use had to pay a portion of their profits to him as a royalty, and threatened legal action against the society if they continued to use a diesel rail track for the 1955 exhibition. This forced the society to look for a replacement model racing car attraction. The solution to their problem was an electric rail racing system inspired by the discussions in the recent edition of Model Maker. And so, electric rail racing came to be in this country. This eventually led to slot racing, so Alban Adams was right after all - albeit indirectly. 

The electrifying of the rail allowed the society to circumvent any patents Adams could claim. This also allowed for the addition of speed controllers, initially no more than on/of switches and the hobby as we know it was off and running. 

To be continued ... here


Jeff Davies was born in Wales in the 50s, just as rail racing was about to come into existence for the first time. He trained as a motor mechanic with British Leyland and ended up as a road tester at the age of 21.

Following this, he and his brother ran a classic car trading garage in the 70s for a few years, using this as a perfect excuse to drive just about everything he'd ever fancied owning. In the 80s Jeff briefly earned his living as a professional slot car racer, organizing and running the National Tyco HO Slot Racing Championship before suffering a serious car accident. He has participated in several Land's End to John O'Groats charity events,
driving from one end of the country to the other between dawn and dusk without using motorways.

Overall, it can fairly be said he is car obsessed, having used everything from Porsches and Ferraris to a purple bubble car. In 2000 he reintroduced rail racing in the U.K. This is the story of that effort.

 

 

 

 
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