Investing in others: Roweham

Over last weekend in April, I once again joined my friends to help my friend Brian Dickey exhibit “Roweham” – his 7mm (British O scale) Great Western Railway layout. This time, we were at The Great British Train Show – a two-day event held in the spring of even-numbered years in the Greater Toronto Area.

I really like the GBTS because there’s a large contingent of hobbyists in southern Ontario who model British prototypes, but we don’t often see their work at general interest train shows in our area. (Maybe it’s there, but it’s overwhelmed by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific layouts that dominate the train show circuit hereabouts.)

Things ran well (as they always do) and we received many favourable comments. But rather than provide a detailed show report, I’m going to use this post to describe how Roweham has become an example of how one can engage with and contribute to the hobby – even when one does not have the space or time to build a layout of one’s own.


Roweham is Brian’s vision, and he’s done all of the work on the layout. For exhibitions, however, it’s nice to have several people to share the work, keep an eye on things, give everyone time to take in the rest of the show, fetch hot beverages, set up and pack up, and so on. It’s a measure of how well liked Brian is that his modest layout – roughly 16″ deep by 16 feet long – attracts a huge group of helpers – including John Mellow, Ross Oddi, Pierre Oliver, and myself. That’s more than one operator per turnout!

We could simply show up. But that’s not how we roll.


It started with vests. Sorry – waistcoats. They’re not vests. I hate vests – those patch-covered horrors one sees at many train shows. A waistcoat, on the other hand, is classic. They’re worn for weddings, for goodness sake.

A few shows ago, Brian appeared in white shirt, black pants and black waistcoat, complete with six brass buttons embossed with “GWR” and a break-away safety tie. He bought his waistcoat/tie at Heritage Operations Processing System – a UK company that supplies gear to the many preserved lines in the country. Since then, others on the team have followed suit:

John, Brian and me at an exhibition in February.
Brian and Ross at the 2018 Great British Train Show.

We were definitely dapper fellows. And waistcoats – a modest investment – really kick the presentation up a notch. I think Brian is also flattered that we’ve made this kind of commitment. While all of us have our own home layouts, someone without a layout of their own could make a small gesture such as this as a way to express appreciation to the owner of a layout who regularly lets you play with his trains.


There are other ways to contribute, too. I’m enjoying Brian’s layout so much – and have an interest in British prototypes – so when Brian hinted that others would be welcome to run their own equipment on the layout during shows, I took the bait and bought a locomotive:

This is a Lee Marsh Model Company brass model of the GWR 517-class 0-4-2T. With its open cab and brass dome, it’s out of era for Roweham – but Brian’s cool with that and I just could not resist the antique design and colourful green-red-black paint scheme.

The model came ready to run, with a LokSound DCC decoder. My only updates were to lightly weather it and add a crew to the cab.

I have a set of Slaters GWR 4-wheel coaches to build and finish for this locomotive to pull. Perhaps I’ll get them done in time for the next GBTS…


As an aside, the crew was an interesting modelling exercise. The crew is from Modelu in the UK, which scans real people in vintage clothing and appropriate poses, then uses 3D Printing to create the figures:

I gave them a good scrub with rubbing alcohol on a tooth brush, followed by soap, then primed them and painted them using techniques I’ve been practising for wargaming figures. I’m enjoying exploring the use of washes and shading products that aren’t normally associated with railway modelling and will do more of this on future projects.


Granted, buying a brass locomotive was an expensive way to show my appreciation for Brian’s work. But there are cheaper ways – including building a locomotive from a kit, buying a non-brass model, or building some rolling stock. And it’s not on loan: I’ll display the model on a shelf at home when we’re not exhibiting Roweham. Brian has plenty of his own locomotives to enjoy.

Regardless, contributing a locomotive – or a complete train – to someone else’s layout is an easy way to get out of the armchair and more actively engage with the hobby. What’s more, such a contribution may actually give you the push you need to start building your own layout – the one for which you don’t think you have the time or space.

Although I’m not about to embark on a 7mm layout based on “God’s Wonderful Railway”, I am really happy that I have this chance to explore a different modelling subject and I look forward to working on the coaches* for my 517-class to pull.

Thanks for being an indulgent host, Brian!


(*In fact, I finished those coaches in early 2020 – just in time for the 2020 GBTS to be cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ah well – they’re ready to go should I ever be let out of the house again!)

“Ermagerd! I’m at the trrrn shrrr!”

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and amateur shepherd, training a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

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