Railway Modelling to help prevent Dementia by David Powell

Readers of the Railway Modeller may recall an article in the April 2016 issue on hidden health benefits of railway modelling.  This discussed coping with stress, through being involved in a pastime where you have total control because you make the rules, and helping to prevent dementia.  As a result of a friend of a friend I have been invited to present some notes on the latter aspect which may be of interest to tinplate tinkerers who are also followers of Tony’s fascinating website.

To set the scene, I am a long term average railway modeller currently dabbling in 4mm 00 DCC with a 7mm project based on Col Stephens railways currently on hold in the loft.  I am a past secretary of a model railway club and part of the all-volunteer team which puts of the National Model Railway Exhibition at the NEC in the autumn.  I am also very aware that, although new blood is discovering the fascination of model railways, we are, to put it crudely, an aging hobby.  Also, I must declare that I have no medical training and my analysis arguing that railway modelling can help prevent dementia is based purely on observation and analysis, with a little bit of help from a great jazz guitarist!

In the past, talking about the viability of our pastime, often brought sad news of departed colleagues.  Although cancers, heart problems etc. featured, I became aware increasingly that dementia did not.  In 2015, I proposed that ‘they’ investigate why modellers appeared to avoid the disease.  Failing to get any useful response, I have been pressing on.  in the margins of the 2015 NEC Show, I interviewed representatives of 20 UK model railway clubs, a combined membership of some 1,100 modellers and an average age around 65.  According to the experts, my sample should have produced 40 or more cases of dementia.  However, I logged just 4 (and then only ‘possible’) cases.

As to how and why?  Key common factors I observed were that railway modelling involved a variety of handicraft skills: painting, soldering, operating etc., and concentration.  The ‘why’ came from the teaching of “Django” Reinhardt.  He demanded that his guitar students practice and practice to move the dexterity needed to play from the neocortex part of the brain (in my thinking, the brain’s front office) to the limbic system, the brain’s back office.  A bit like learning how to tie shoelaces!  Being an occasional pastime, the lack of continuity plus the variety of skills, means that when railway modelling, we must concentrate to avoid mistakes whenever we fettle or operate a point lever so that controlling our dexterity remained in the ‘front office’, the neocortex.  To my simple mind, if brain cells are unused, they risk decay or atrophy, and atrophy of the neocortex is more commonly known as Alzheimer’s disease.  Therefore, much of the dexterity and concentration involved in railway modelling and operating continues to exercise the neocortex and it was this that was preventing dementia.

Another factor in the NEC research (which I had missed initially) was that all the ‘subjects’ were active members of model railway clubs.  Being part of a group means concentrating to listen and read body language etc.  As with dexterity, much of this interaction, especially when only carried out occasionally, i.e. at weekly meetings, should continue to stimulate the neocortex brain cells as well as reinforcing involvement in the hobby.

Independently, although not based on isolating a dementia resisting social group, an American Mayo Clinic Study of a sample of 256 people ages 85 to 89 published in 2015 also concluded that those who participated in arts and crafts and who socialized in later years may delay the thinking and memory problems that often lead to the dementia.

One of the key elements of railway modelling as a dementia preventing lifestyle is dexterity requiring concentration.  So in addition to fiddly point levers and careful use of the controllers to avoid disasters, I was very pleased to note the many articles on Tony’s web site related to fettling scenarios, such as converting stock from 2 rail to 3 rail as well as all the activities needed to build a layout, e.g. base board carpentry, scenic backgrounds etc.

Now this is where I have to tread carefully with readers who are seriously into Frank Hornby’s wonderful world of 3 rail tinplate Hornby Dublo.  And, I will admit to owning a 3 rail Sir Nigel Gresley and some tinplate track sections!  The potential minefield is the issue of renovation and restoration, including touch-up painting, of vintage tinplate models!  On one hand, this could be excellent for dementia preventing concentrated dexterity.  However, for those who see this as sacrilege (which I respect) can I please ask you to enjoy operating, building the layouts etc.  Furthermore, if you are more a collector rather than a modeller, could I encourage you to explore or make more of other areas which combine dexterity and concentration, remembering that we are trying to exercise the ‘front office’, the neocortex.  So, playing a musical instrument?  Out – that’s the limbic system being exercised.  Texting grandchildren? Ditto!  Bad news for those who can touch type but good news for those who like me can only type with two fingers while staring at the key board!  Good news if using clippers and other dangerous tools while gardening or wielding knives while following new recipes using a raft of hand skills in the kitchen.  One simple test to confirm that concentration is present and essential when using your hands is that you can’t have a conversation at the same time the task you are engaged in safely and without any mistakes?

To return to those readers who are predominantly collectors, a railway related area which is crying out for volunteers is the heritage railway sector.  This occasional pastime ticks the box for requiring mainly vintage pre-computer hand skills as well as engaging in a social group or team.  Furthermore, this is the next sector/social group where I am hoping to collect some hard numbers to back up my assertion that this pastime is also good for dementia prevention. Alternatively, get more involved with a local model railway club and build stock or scenery for the club layouts.

When outlining the above, the response is often ‘makes sense – why aren’t ‘they’ taking it up?  Good question; pragmatic answer.  Currently dementia research and its funding is dominated by pharmaceutical companies and the care home sector.  Neither sector is interested in reducing potential future revenue.  Even ‘prevention’ is concentrating on finding a drug for an immunisation strategy.  The other barrier is that new research will only be considered where research is already underway!  Support, especially funding support, requires academic supervisors to sponsor the new work and related papers already published in journals which will in turn cite the new work.  My proposals based on individuals avoiding the disease did not fit with existing research which concentrates on those with the disease.

Meanwhile, I will continue to nibble away at communities, organizations, opportunities as they arise, to encourage pastimes which involve dexterity, concentration and, ideally, social groups, to try and reverse the dark dementia clouds being forecast by the main stream of dementia research.

David Powell


69550 is the running number of the last but one 0-6-2T engines made by Mecanno for their Hornby Dublo range. First introduced in 1938 at the beginning of Dublo, the 0-6-2T engine was based on the LNER N2 but never designated as such by Hornby, probably because they introduced the same loco in LNER, LMS, SR and, slightly modified,  GWR liveries.

All these models have no coal in the bunker. This continued after their re-introduction post WW2 and also into the change to BR, Then in 1961 they produced a BR version with coal in the bunker as 69550 in 2 rail but continued with 69567 in 3 rail. This version has a small area under the safety valves (the same as all previous 0-6-2Ts) It was available in both early and late BR livery. The final fling was in 1963 when they changed to a large area under the safety valves. Production ceased at the end of 1964 when they were taken over by Lines Bros (Triang). The running numbers did not change.

So this is one of the not very rare 1961 versions, a 2 rail body on an old 3 rail chassis which is very playworn and with no front coupling but after a minor service it goes like all these engines, fast and strong and it was a bargain, so a useful addition to the loco roster.


Trix, scale and gauge

This little dissertation is mainly for newcomers to HD 3 rail – old lags can skip this one.

Trix started with 14V AC locos before the war and continued with these immediately after the war. AC locos will run on HD track but will not reverse but Trix locos have very large flanges and will not run through HD points, Post War Trix introduced Trix Twin running on 12 volt DC and 3 rail but the 3 rail was different to HD and allowed two locos to run on the same track. Trix then realised that their large flanges were a problem and introduced scale wheels which will run on HD track and convertible wheels which had a plastic large flange which could be removed to produce scale wheels.

For a detailed explanation of Trix operations go here


The ‘Scale’ is the ratio of how the size relates to reality. HO = 1/87 scale  (3.5mm/ft) OO = 1/76 (4mm/ft) scale. The UK is really the only market that uses OO scale, Europe and the USA use HO but UK OO scale trains run on HO track gauge


Gauge is the distance between the rails. Standard gauge is 4ft 8 1/2 inches (1435 mm) which is the norm for the UK, Europe and much of the rest of the world. HO track is 16.5mm wide which equates exactly to the scale for 1435mm standard gauge.

So HD trains are to OO scale but run on HO track and this has stayed the same until the present day. For OO trains to run the correct scale track it would have to be 18.9mm wide. A mismatch that just has to be ignored.

And then along comes Trix which makes its Trix Twin trains to a scale of 1/80 (3.8mm/ft) but still run on HO track. This scale is unique, as far as I know, to Trix Twin trains

And here is the difference.

The Black 5 loco is an HD Neverwazza – Bristol Castle chassis, 8F motion 8F tender and Grafar body, behind is the Standard 4. The prototype Black 5 is a foot longer than the Standard but the model is a lot more than a scale foot longer and also wider. The Trix Standard 5 looks good runs well and fits in well when it is on Southern metals with Trix Mk 1 carriages behind it.


Early 2017 News

Looking at my posts I have written nothing since May last year, That seems unbeleivable but then I have had no new trains since then. The slogan for this site used to be “more track, more trains” but I have run out of track so there have been no more trains. On my layout all engines and rolling stock has to be on the rails and ready to run at any time, nothing in boxes or under the counter, so when you run out of rails you are stymied unless you have a breakdown.

In the meantime I have serviced and repaired a couple of 2-6-4T’s to keep them running OK and I also bought another 0-6-0T to be 3 railed and put under another body but this is still in the “to do” box.

However my Hornby Black 5 3 rail conversion has once again succumbed to tender drive problems and is unable to pull anything but itself which could probably be solved by some new tyres but there was an opportunity to replace it. Luckily there was a Trix Standard 5 available with “scale” wheels, allowing it to run on HD track. on Ebay and a successful bid was made. It arrived today. It is in very good plus condition, runs well, pulls a good load and is a very good addition to the fleet

Many years ago I had one of these but it had a handbuilt chassis with a Triang Motor and a very knacked motion. It finally ended its running when the drive gear wore out and the motor just spun. I always fancied another and now I have one.

This continues my Southern theme on the layout as the Standard 5’s replaced the Southern King Arthur class locomotives with some of them even being renamed as King Arthur’s. The Trix one has no name and as it is the original number 73001 is unlikely to have run on Southern metals but close…..

When buying Trix engines for HD track you have to make sure that they have “scale wheels” becaise the normal cheese cutter wheels will not run through the points of HD track.

I have now attached my Trix Southern coaches to this engine and it looks great – I will take some more pictures.



New on the Layout

I have added yet another 2-6-4T this time one is repainted as GWR. Its a fictitious livery but looks great and Wrenn did make one.


The green is very well done but the paint on the smokebox could be improved but it looks OK from the normal viewing distance


The other loco is a Graham Farish into which I have inserted a HD 0-6-0T chassis which of course is converted to three rail. The chassis needed a bit of hacksawing to get it in the body but then fits well. I still have the original chassis but will need to replace the plastic sprocket which has literally worn away – common with these locos.


The GWR loco in the background is a small Prairie tank made by Lima which I have had for some time.

All three are very good runners


Trix Twin Tales


Surprisingly I have forgotten to record the purchase of a Trix Twin (TT) 0-6-2T tank loco earlier in the year. Now buying TT locos is a tricky business. Pre war and early post war were 14 volt AC which, like Marklin will run on HD track but won’t reverse but , more importantly, they all  had large flanges on their wheels and will not run through HD points. In 1957 they moved to 12 Volt but still has “cheese cutter” wheels. However they then started producing “scale” wheels which can be used on HD track with points. They also seem to have made “convertible” wheels but what they are exactly I am not sure.


I bought my loco from Steve White, www.trix.co.uk/ , who offered it at a very fair price and gave me excellent support.


The loco is the Trix equivalent of 3 rail but nowhere near the same as HD. The wheels are insulated, the loco picks up power from two side pick ups and returns it through the centre pick up. Getting the side pick ups to run through HD points took a lot of careful adjustments but was finally successful. This engine therefore has 3 pick-ups and this extra friction does restrict it’s load carrying capability but it is a good smooth runner with a couple of carriages or a short goods.

The second picture clearly shows the outrider pick-ups.


I am basically a Southern man and I like green BR(SR) carriages but these are so expensive. Boxed they go for £70 plus and unboxed still fetch £40 plus. I do have a 3 carriage rake of them pulled by my Dorchester but more would be nice and that is where Trix comes into play. They make some very nicely detailed BR(SR) green carriages, which of course have peco coupling and therefore fully compatible with HD.


 They have plastic sides rather than the tinprint of the HD ones but do match the Pullmans which were all plastic.


They also make a Buffet car which fits in nicely. My buffet car has had it’s bogies replaced with HD ones but I fail to see the reason. The original bogies on all the other carriages run smoothly through points, reverse with no problems into sidings so why bother to change them as all it does is make the carriage run a little higher.

The really good news is that this rake of 2 composite and one 1st/brake cost me £20 plus £4,99 postage as a “Buy it Now” and they were in very good, unboxed condition and look great running behind my Schools class and 2-6-4MT’s both in black and Southern Green. They are obviously incorrect as Southern carriages but they are welcome on my layout – the colour counts.

So if you want cost effective and very smart, good running carriages I don’t think that you can go wrong. I have all I want so you won’t be outbidding me at least.


Richard’s Layout 2

Some more pics from my layout.

Barnstaple 3 rail conversion
Barnstaple 3 rail conversion

Barnstaple showing how 2 rail wire pickup trapped under insulation block to deinsulate  wheels.

IMG_0902I hand painted the LMS N2 tank myself, using flat brush and thinned Humbrol  enamel, mixed to get right shade! Transfers courtesy of Dennis Williams.


Gaiety body with R1 chassis
Gaiety body with R1 chassis

The GWR pannier was a scrap JVM body on a shortened r1 chassis. Brass Cab side Number plates by Geoff Burton of Kings Cross plates.

Amazing the expertise people have which helps guys like me!

Richard’s Layout

Got my Barnstaple working fine now – thanks to you and all your step by step advice!
Here’s a few shots of my layout – it is 8 x5 ft, based on a plan I found in an old HRCA mag.

Barnstaple 3 rail
Barnstaple 3 rail

The LMS N2 tank I did as a renovation attempt on a scrap body, the Silver King I had as a

N2 Repaint
N2 Repaint

boy and still goes fine, the Farish Prairie was dublo wheeled and 3 railed for me by Dennis,

Duchess of Montrose
Duchess of Montrose

dublo surgeon. Runs ok but very noisy!

Silver King
Silver King

Have found great pleasure in fixing old models, usually not too bad as so well made in first place!
Many thanks

David M’s Layout

I received an email from David M about his layout and I asked him to send some pictures.

So here are his pictures and the letter he sent to accompany them

“I have enclosed a few shots of my model railway that is still not completed after 27 years. We are Hornby Dublo 3 rail as I have always been impressed with the sheer heft of the locos and diecast rolling stock. A chap at a car boot sale in 1988 advised me to go to Maroway at Sheffield after I looked at some Dublo he was selling. There I found a few Wrenn 3 rail points and the owner, Mark Weaver, found a box of 12 yards of track labelled with a Sheffield address and postmarked 1956. I bought the lot.

I decided on a single track branch line that would enable me to use my limited stock of track to layout long sidings. This we aare fiddle yard to fiddle yard with a station area along one side for shunting etc.

Elmton is a very small village over Bolsover way. I chose the name as I liked the sound of it. My partner and I visited a few years ago and had a meal in the pub. The Landlord was tickled pink that it was also the name of my little railway”.

The pictures follow  – click on a picture to get the full sized version

Goods shed and station pilot with Engineers siding at the back
Goods shed and station pilot with Engineers siding at the back
Elmton LMS Station building
Elmton LMS Station building
View looking South
View looking South
View looking North
View looking North
Station and Goods Area
Station and Goods Area
Hoods shed and Hish Street above
Hoods shed and Hish Street above
David on the control panel and the phone
David on the control panel and the phone
Engine shed with mainline disappearing into the distance
Engine shed with mainline disappearing into the distance
Overview of Station area
Overview of Station area
Road overbridge with engineering works above
Road overbridge with engineering works above


Bo-Bo – an update

The saga of the Bo-Bo was in a previous post which after a lot of work was still running and stopping erratically. Well so was someone elses on the HRCA forum. One improvement suggestion was to check that the pick up sleeve was flush in the pick up mount as if it wasn’t then the pick up at its lowest position would still be a little high. Off came the body for a check. Lo and behold that was exactly the position – the top of the pick up sleeve was showing when you lifted up the plunger. A sharp thump with hammer on screwdriver positioned on the sleeve pushed it down perfectly.

Onto the track, Excellent running everywhere over points, X crossings and bends. It is still not the best running Bo-Bo I have but it will easily pull 10 wagons at a realistic speed.

Thanks to the HRCA forum I now have a good runner.

Now what’s my next maintenance job.,