By Greg Allen-Pretty
A hobby being pursued during the Covid-19 lockdown is gaining national and international attention by model railway enthusiasts.
Proprietors of Walhalla’s Star Hotel and Greyhorse Cafe, Russell Wright and Michael Leaney, have been quite creative by building a very accurate re-creation of the Lynton & Barnstaple narrow gauge railway and the Woody Bay station.
The project actually began when Russell bought two carriages five years ago but really came to life this year – first by Michael while Russell was away in East Gippsland with the bushfire effort, then by both in the lockdown.
“We visited the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway while on holiday in the UK in 2015,” Michael said, “and while we were there, the last two carriages were for sale in the shop… and Russell bought them.”
“And that was the end of that! That was the spark that ignited what we have now.”
Russell added, “Since 2015 there have been releases of different models, all based off the same railway, and I have slowly collected all the different pieces as they’ve been released onto the market.
“Then we actually started construction of the layout during last summer, when Walhalla tourism died off due to the bushfires.”
Each of them brings something different to the project.
“I’m more into the technical side of how it’s actually going to physically work,” said Michael, “and looking at things like the perspective and how it’s going to look real.”
“I have to think it all out in advance. It actually takes a lot of planning to get everything in the right places and working correctly. You can’t just throw it together.
“If something goes wrong, you can’t just go back because it upsets everything else you’ve done. It has to be thoroughly planned,” said Michael.
Meanwhile Russell is the rolling stock expert and creates the decorative and scenery aspects of it.
“I’m the one that does all the trees and hedges and the flowers and people. All that little fiddly stuff!” said Russell.
“I need patience, and a good pair of tweezers!”
VIDEO OF THE RAILWAY IN ACTION BELOW
Even though recreations of the Lynton & Barnstaple narrow gauge railway have become popular in the UK, Russell and Michael don’t know of anyone else building these models in Australia.
Photos published by Russell on social media have attracted a lot of attention.
“We get a lot of comments online about it from the United Kingdom,” said Michael.
“They think it’s amazing that someone in Australia would recreate this model.”
Russell added, “We have already been invited to an exhibition in Melbourne in 2021, which is really cool because it says a lot about the standard we have built it to.”
“To get into some of these exhibitions you have to have a very high standard presentation and skill.”
“It’s basically a friendship agreement between the two railways because they have a very similar history,” Michael said.
“Walhalla’s railway began in 1910, Lynton & Barnstaple was in 1898. They both only ran for 35 years or so, and both were unmitigated disasters.
“Their purpose for being built just wasn’t there and the Lynton & Barnstaple struggled on and eventually closed in 1935.
“It was always a bit of a joke railway because no one knew why it actually existed and it was surrounded by standard gauge railway, and there’s this funny little narrow gauge railway in the middle of nowhere.
“In the same way, you could say the same happened at Walhalla because it arrived too late, just a couple of years before the mines closed down.
“It struggled on for 20 years, although it had no purpose.
“But despite all that, both railways travelled through spectacular countryside, and people were very passionate about them.
“So the twinning was created a couple of years ago because of their common history of boom and bust, and then they’ve both been recreated,” Michael said.
It seems Russell and Michael’s Lynton & Barnstaple model railway is just the beginning. They have now started work on a Barcombe layout.
“Barcombe goes back to my teenage years,” said Russell, “when I started collecting OO scale models.
“Barcombe is on the former Lewes and East Grinstead line, now the Bluebell Railway (UK), and that’s what I’m basing my latest build on.”
Russell said he has lost count of how much rolling stock he has accumulated. He has bought many locomotives and carriages over the years, just waiting for a project like this.
“I have probably spent up to $10,000 over time, and that’s everything. That’s all the electrics, all the track, the scenery, locomotives, the models and figurines. But the expensive bit is the locomotives. They can be up to 400 pounds, or 800 Australian dollars.
“Even a tiny piece like that little fox hiding in a hedge is six pounds.”
To put the expense into perspective, Michael uses the example of other popular past-times, like mountain bike riding, where enthusiasts can spend far more than what the boys have.
They admit they have started something that will be hard to stop. First Woody Bay station, now Barcombe, then who knows what else. They enjoy the challenge and derive great satisfaction from their creations.
And the appreciation and wonder of spectators will only increase as word spreads about Russell and Michael’s model railways.
Russell’s photos on Instagram: @little_woody_bay_railway
There is a selection of photos below this video by Russell. See the model railway in action!
Photos below from Little Woody Bay Railway on Instagram. Used with permission.