Some of the answer is in the words on our Home Page. Traditionally model engineers have constructed miniature versions of real or new and experimental mechanical machines and devices, usually but not always in metal, and then operated them in a realistic way. Items powered by steam have been and remain very popular subjects. Many types and sizes of model have been designed and built but from the early-mid 20th century there has been much focus on coal fired passenger hauling steam railway locomotives. This was spurred on by Lillian ‘Curly’ Lawrence, a prolific designer of locomotives writing under the pen name LBSC. Clubs were formed for mutual support and to build tracks on which members could run them. Other popular themes were/are steam traction engines, internal combustion engines, tools, and other machines. The passenger hauling railway locomotives and traction engines were/are something larger than a toy but smaller than full size, fired with coal in the same way as full size, and capable of pulling a driver and sometimes several passengers. Be warned; weights can vary from an easy to manage 15kg to over 100kg which is very hard to put into the car.

To make mechanical devices in metal requires a decent hobby workshop with (say) a metal turning lathe, pillar drill, a brazing kit, and lots of hand tools. Hobby sized machine tools and all the other tools can be purchased new or second-hand from a choice of dealers at a cost which would make our predecessors green with envy. Design drawings and parts, materials and castings for many models are available from our specialist suppliers. Simple models such as stationary engines may be completed fairly quickly but passenger hauling locomotives will typically take several years to construct. Whatever the model the skills needed were (are) often learned ‘on the job’ and many people with little or no previous experience have produced wonderful working models. Time and perseverance are what is needed, and great satisfaction can be derived from the process and even more so on successful completion.

A lathe purpose made for the model engineer. Looked after these will last a lifetime; this one is 35 years old. A Stuart Turner single cylinder steam engine; a suitable first project which could easily be machined on the lathe.

Over the years the total number of models completed has grown and they can now be readily obtained second-hand. Commercial companies have also been formed to manufacture (with varying success) either complete ‘ready to run’ models or kits of parts for home building. There has also been an upsurge in battery-electric powered railway ‘modern outline’ models, particularly in kit and ready to run form. These are easy to drive and need much less cleaning and maintenance than steam models (as is also the case with the full sized equivalents!). For a short afternoon ‘run’ they are ideal. These developments have made it possible to skip the lengthy construction phase and move directly to what many would consider the best bit; operating and maintaining a passenger hauling miniature locomotive or traction engine.

A set of wheels machined on the lathe; right at the start of years of enjoyable shed time. A battery-electric modern outline locomotive; a much quicker way to get going.

There are specialist magazines for the hobby such as ‘Model Engineer’ and ‘Engineering in Miniature’.

At PME there is interest in all forms of model engineering but be in no doubt that the track and various forms of passenger hauling railway locomotives are the main activities. If you want to run miniature trains in your garden or make boats or fly aeroplanes then other societies exist that will probably be more to your taste.

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