12 Jan Jason’s 2017 Mystery Tour – Day 4

Rapido UK Blog / January 12, 2017

Jason’s 2017 Mystery Tour

By Jason Shron

Follow Jason’s Magical Mystery Tour from start to finish:

1 – Roll up for the Mystery Tour!
2 – Reading to New Street to the wilds of Cambridgeshire
3 – In Stockton and Darlington country
4 – Yorkshire to Birmingham via the Wythall Transport Museum
5 – Driving and being run over by buses in Manchester
6 – Crewe-Sheffield-London-Leamington Spa… in one day!
7 – Adventures in Birmingham (via Peterborough)

The journey continues…

Finishing up in Darlington I headed to Leeds on a Transpennine Express class 185. I have to say, for a wee DMU the train was very comfortable. The first class compartment was nice and cosy and everyone was posh and lovely, except for one fellow who may have had a first class ticket but I’m certain he took his last bath when “I Saw Her Standing There” was #1 on the charts.

I’ve been to Leeds several times but never as a tourist. This trip would be no exception. I had to meet up with Charlie Petty from Realtrack Models to discuss our forthcoming 4mm Class 156 project.

Last time I was in Leeds station the whole place was under construction with hoarding everywhere. I now see that all of the construction was in order to erect a big poster of a piece of toast with arms and legs. It would have been a lot cheaper and quicker just to use real toast.

Charlie and I argued. A lot. I wanted to make the OO gauge Class 156 gold-plated, package it in a fancy wood presentation box, call it “Fuscia Label” and increase the RRP to £500. Charlie instead had some insane idea of actually making the model affordable. What a nutter.

In fact, the arguments got so intense that we decided that only way to settle it was to have an arm wrestle.

In all seriousness (because I am never not serious), we were working out some of the details for fitting sound in the 156 and discussing the schedule for delivery of the first batch and for announcing the second batch.

The UK model train industry, as we know, is structured around exhibitions. The manufacturers are expected to make announcements at the big exhibitions: Warley, Glasgow, York, etc. This causes a mad scramble to have a whole bunch of new announcements ready and the factory is overwhelmed trying to get samples out the door.

In this age of online communication, surely we should be able to make new announcements whenever the latest samples are ready and not have to rely on shows. I’m going to work on changing that. Rapido’s APT-E was one of the first models in the UK to be built entirely on the pre-order system and that was a success. Let me see what I can do about this as well.

Charlie and I ate lunch at the Jewish community centre of Leeds. Charlie decided to get into the spirit of things…

Do you like Charlie’s “kippah”? He enjoyed the lunch at the Jewish community centre so much that following our meeting he moved to Golders Green and changed his name to Shloimie.

After “schlepping” from Leeds to Brum on another Cross Country Voyager I needed to put my feet up, so I met up with a friend at the Wellington on Bennett’s Hill. I highly recommend this pub. It’s a proper working man’s pub that hasn’t changed much since the 1940s. I can just imagine the office workers on Colmore Row in the 1950s stopping in for a pint before heading home on a local slam-door stopper.

I took one of the ubiquitous West Midlands Class 323s to Alvechurch where I stayed at a lovely B&B called Rectory Cottage. I am always amazed in the UK at how you can travel a few miles out of town and you’re smack in the middle of rolling fields. Here’s the view from my room:

My very large and very comfortable room only cost £45 for the night!

There is method to my madness. I stayed in Alvechurch as it is close to Wythall, home of the Wythall Transport Museum. Wythall is a hidden gem. If you are a Brummie Bus Nut like me, this place is a little piece of heaven. For all Midlands buses, actually. They’ve got lots of Stratford Blue, Midland Red and others.

I was honoured that the chaps at Wythall opened up for me in the dead of winter, but I was even more honoured to be given a tour by Malcolm Keeley. Malcolm is the O. S. Nock of Birmingham buses. He literally “wrote the book” on Birmingham City Transport and Midland Red, and his most most recent book – Birmingham’s Blue and Cream Buses – is one of my favourite bus books (and I have a lot of bus books). I read it cover to cover last month and I was a bit of a gushing fanboy when wandering the museum with The Man Himself.

Here’s a picture of Malcolm in front of Birmingham “Standard” Guy Arab IV #2976.

You know, the “Birmingham front” – as introduced by Birmingham City Transport in 1950 – was called the “New Look.” A lot of people think (assume?) it was Manchester that first put “tin fronts” on their buses. In fact, it was Brum. Well, technically it was Midland Red. BCT actually contacted Midland Red to check that there was no copyright issue as Midland Red had been enclosing their radiators since 1944. The BCT “New Look” was iconic. I really think someone should make a museum-quality model of that “New Look” bus. A model that has more detail than any other British bus model ever made. It should be done by someone with expertise in buses called “New Look.”

I can’t cover a visit to Wythall without at least a token Midland Red photo.

That’s a D7 with the typical Midland Red enclosed radiator. You see the BMMO (Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited) logo? Here’s another bit of British bus trivia with a Birmingham twist. Leyland made a batch of 100 PD2 Titans for Midland Red in 1952. The BMMO logo fits in that space at the top of the grille. From then on, when a bus company anywhere in the UK ordered PD2s with an enclosed radiator, they almost invariably got a BMMO front, complete with the space for the BMMO logo. Ha! Score another one for Birmingham!

Wythall has an extensive workshop – it’s an entire shed the size of an ice hockey rink! Here Dave Taylor shows off a tiny slice of it.

Why am I spending so much time writing about buses? The main reason of course is that I love classic buses. While I have always loved North American New Looks, I’ve only recently discovered the colourful world of classic British buses. My passion for them was kickstarted by a spur-of-the-moment purchase of a Sunstar Routemaster three years ago and I was hooked. I’ve been devouring bus books and subjecting my friend, family and employees to minute bus anecdotes like “Did you know that Birmingham’s single-deck Fleetlines were purchased exclusively for the 27 route to Bournville because of that low railway bridge? Isn’t that fascinating?”

Some train guys may be muttering “blooming bus crank” but actually train and bus enthusiasts are 100% cut from the same cloth. Bus enthusiasts and train enthusiasts – especially those involved in restoration and preservation – share a passion for public transport and for preserving our transport heritage. We’re also tilting at windmills a bit. It’s no surprise that many of us love both classic trains and classic buses.

It’s best that we work together to further the cause of transport heritage preservation and to increase interest in heritage preservation among our children and grandchildren. Similarly, all hobbyists – whether a railway modeller or a bus collector – need to work together to ensure that hobbies in general have a secure future. I’m not too worried about the UK, but in North America traditional men’s hobbies as a whole are seriously under threat.

That’s it for now. More to come…

NEXT: Driving and being run over by buses in Manchester

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