GET ON TRACK WITH THE HRCA
Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Love model railways? Ann Evans meets up with the Hornby Railway Collectors’ Association.
Did you have a trainset when you were little? And has that love of trains stayed with you forever? It’s certainly a passion that many people have never grown out of. And one group of avid model railway enthusiasts is the Hornby Railway Collectors’ Association (HRCA) who celebrated their 50th anniversary in May 2019.
The HRCA has around 2,300 members in the UK plus members all over the world – South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, America and Europe. This particular band of enthusiasts specialise in Hornby trains from the start in 1920, in particular the ‘O’ gauge, Dublo and Acho ranges, as manufactured by Meccano Ltd in the British factories up to 1965 and overseas up to 1973.
This love of model railways is something that’s been passed from generation to generation since model railways were first invented – which was back in 1891 when the German company Marklin invented a wood and metal trainset.
Not too long afterwards here in the UK, inventor and politician Frank Hornby (1863-1936) was creating toys for his three children in the workshop of his Liverpool home. He came up with the ingenious idea of perforated strips of interchangeable metal which could be held together with nuts and bolts to make all kinds of constructions. His invention became Meccano, possibly the most iconic toy of all time, although it was patented in 1901 as ‘Mechanics Made Easy’.
Hornby trains first appeared in 1920, they had a clockwork motor and were made with metal pressings held together by Meccano nuts and bolts. They were ‘O’ gauge in size and were an instant hit. Within five years Hornby electric trainsets which operated from the mains supply were on the market. Hornby switched to a safer system with models working off a 6-volt DC source by 1929.
I asked Michael Foster, Vice Chairman of the HRCA and author of The History of Hornby Dublo just what the appeal is with Hornby trains. He explained, “These were not just like Dinky toys that you would push around, these trains worked! And they were so realistic.
“If you look at the quality of Hornby Dublo it has never been surpassed. And that’s the thing with the original Hornby, the quality was absolutely superb – the mechanics, the strength and engineering, it was childproof. It has lasted a hundred years and there’s no reason it won’t last another hundred and beyond that.”
The HRCA welcomes new members. “It’s really a society of friends,” said Michael. “Also, our society is very entrepreneurial. If a collector has a question or needs something for their train, there is always somebody there who has the answer. The society has people and engineers who can make these parts or know where they can be obtained. We have a thriving spare parts industry, a sort of cottage industry of people who can supply new parts for engines that might be 100 years old. Also, it’s the joy in getting some wreck of a carriage, cleaning it up and bringing it back to its former glory. It’s very rewarding and inexpensive.”
Every five years the HRCA holds a large exhibition to celebrate the foundation of their association in 1969. It also runs auctions three or four times a year featuring around 500 lots at each auction. They rotate the venues which take place at Retford in Nottinghamshire, Barrow upon Soar in Leicestershire and Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire.
They also hold regular meet ups all around the UK where members can run trains, buy, sell and swap items, ask questions, get advice and enjoy a social occasion with like-minded train enthusiasts. Additionally, members receive The Hornby Railway Collector journal ten times a year. There’s also a member’s forum on the website where everyone can keep in touch.
So, if you’ve never stopped loving your old Hornby train set – or there’s one up in your loft, now’s the time to oil those axles and set off on a new track.
For more details about the Hornby Railway Collectors’ Association, go to: www.hrca.net