Chris Rapley: trainspotting

Chris Rapley remembers the development of childhood interest in trains through the 1950s and 1960s.

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My father bought me an O gauge Hornby track, which was just a basic circle with a wind up clockwork engine on it. And certainly as I got older my father was very happy to indulge me in first of all a Trix twin electric railway set, which was not so realistic because it had two rails that the wheels ran on and it had a central rail to pick up electricity for the motor, which was not so realistic. And then we upgraded to Hornby, which had just the two rails and insulated sleepers so that you could deal with it that way. And of course, you know, wiring that up, I was given – my father bought two big half table tops and they were assembled in my bedroom and I was given complete freedom to, you know, construct and deconstruct the thing. So I had many, many happy hours. And of course it teaches you a little bit about simple electric circuitry and so on. But walking along this abandoned railway in the Limpley Stoke Valley was wonderful, first of all because it gave you access to the countryside in a way that was marvellous, ‘cause it sort of cut through things and you could then get off it and go and explore. But also it was – it was safe. But it was fascinating because there were little marshalling yards and places where you could still attempt to change a point and so on, which gave you a sense of access and privilege, sort of forbidden pleasures really ‘cause, you know, the real railway lines were obviously out of bounds. And I – I am happy to admit that this grew, to the point when I was a teenager, where I became an avid train spotter and, you know, a Great Western Railway enthusiast. And used to go to Swindon Works on organised tours to see them, you know, constructing and repairing steam engines, and later on diesels. But also we would watch the Great Western Mainline going into Bath Spa from a place called Sydney Gardens, which was a park near where one of my friends used to live, and we would train spot there. But my parents were quite happy to give me whatever the money was, or allow me to use my pocket money, to go to Bristol Temple Meads and train spot there and so on. And so it – it sounds very nerdish. It was, I suppose. But there were a group of us who could tell you anything about the tractive effort or the age of build or the size of driving wheels and what have you of pretty much any Great Western Railway engine at the time. And that was an area of great expertise. And of course there’s a kind of nerdism, because you’re always trying to see the complete set of king class or county class or castle class engines or whatever. It was great.

  • Interviewee Chris Rapley
  • Duration 00:02:48
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 2/1/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/40

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