Hilton & Mears like a blog post…

“Busy all the time” takes on a whole new meaning when you factor in time zones but through those busy days are moments where a quick message bounces between Messengers. It’s kind of beautiful in a way that reminds us both of the complexity of life and that it continues. Wonderful exchanges still occur. Rather than distill or edit, I’ll start with a message I got from Chris last weekend. Consider this a conversation between friends…

I’ve just made some tea and am settling in, again, with your book. I’ve read through it to read it and read through it just looking at the pictures and sketches and thinking about layouts. This book is a win. I’m so grateful for it. 

You know the book is as much down to your support and our conversations as it is to Simon for publishing it and me for writing it. It’s the result of our collaboration and conversations, and I am just happy that is is out there, more widely available than my blog, spreading some small layout thinking. Anyway, there is something you touched on recently about us both being ‘model rather than prototype driven’ has been ticking over in my mind whilst I’ve been on holiday and I pondered it today sat on top of the cliffs at Trefin.

I make model railways, not models of railways. I love the art of model railways and accept their shortcomings as a pay off vs the energy and passion I can put into their small forms, and the art too, of playing with them and the joy this can bring. If I made models of real industrial or light railways not much would happen and despite their relatively small scope I’d still need loads of space (and time).

Embracing the art, rather than being a slave to the prototype is how I view the world. I wonder, if the same applies to you?

In short, yes. Not just “I started as a model railroader” as a prelude to pass time until I graduated to real trains but given the choice I still choose the models. It’s not that real trains don’t motivate but there’s something visceral about model trains that just connects, even calms, my soul and provokes my curiousity. I read a lot about how people use model railways as a way to connect or reconnect with an era of real life or escape into a fiction of it. 

You’re right, I don’t see you nor myself there. I don’t remember but the crumpled prints of my childhood show 3 year old me lying inside a circle of track in Grandpa’s lounge watching a train circling, care free, lying on my tummy, legs kicked up, watching it immersively at eye level. Others show a contemplative face, a touch older, playing with my own train set. My earliest memories of trains are of model trains, closely interspersed with the prototype yes, but led by the model, the recreation, the play. Yes, the prototype excites me, it fuels my interest and creativity – but I see that as energy for the art of building more model railways. Models always came first, they always will.

I think the hardest part of this to write is phrasing how that correlation between the prototype and the model works both ways. Like so many kids that started when I did the trains weren’t choices but the ones that came in the box. My first train set had a Life Like F7 decorated for CP Rail. In a lot of ways that might be the most realistic model I’ll own. “Realistic” in this context is really a lot like going trackside. I don’t get to chose what engines CN uses and I love when CN gifts a GP9rm to work here on the Dartmouth Sub. That joy isn’t tempered by the attributes we would insist must be present when evaluating our model work. I think my challenge, to me, is to find that balance and not be bogged down by what isn’t there or presently possible.

I sure like: “My earliest memories of trains are of model trains”. I see myself in that too. There’s an alternation in my life where my interest in model railways fed a curiosity to see real trains which in turn directs an interest in model trains. “real trains are bound by constrictions that don’t apply to our models”, I think that’s where my style has begun to catalyze in these last few years. In a way, a sense of caricature in the work informed by the real thing so it looks familiar. 

Ah, the caricature! This is the key of my modelling, recognising the power of the quality caricature. Taking a definition of the term “a picture, description, or imitation … in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect”. Now if I add my own spin, taking the meaning of the word more purely, it is to exaggerate. Why is this useful in model making? If we can choose which are the defining characteristics of a prototype and emphasise (exaggerate through higher detail rather than in scale or proportions) those that really help to define the item. The other details can be more softly or simplistically represented. This is art, the art of the model maker. I’d suggest this is why a perfect scale replica can be appreciated for its technical mastery, but does not stir the soul.

I think that’s what I love so much about your work. It’s one thing to just make good models but another to make them in a way that makes them feel like they have the right voice and are true to the spirit of the thing that inspired the miniature tribute. Modelling not as a process of just miniaturizing things but doing so, so that that attractive quality is not reduced along the way.

Recognising which elements we should exaggerate and which we should allow to become the supporting characters, that’s the art here, and one you are very adept at practicing in track and ground work. The life your track exudes despite lacking the highly technical representation of real permanent way. We find the same things in reality attractive, where the prototype itself has weathered away from perfection, and representing this ‘life’ in miniature, is that our real muse?

Another way it’s art. Not like art as in sculpture or paint but performance like art. How the movements of one artist inspire another. Like we hear music and it makes us want to play music to explore what we heard and to play music that connects back to what we heard to enrich the memory of that feeling. To dance in a way that is practice so one day our bodies move in a way that feels like how it felt to watch that first dance.

The art of model railways. Using this craft to express our connection to trains. There is no right or wrong approach, but understanding where the artist is coming from, the experiences that have shaped their finished work is as much, if not more important than the methods used. I hope through exploring these subjects we encourage others to think about these when viewing others or creating their own work – and to encourage a deeper conversation and hence connection with what, as I say in the book, is undoubtedly the greatest hobby in the world.


These Hilton & Mears posts are a conversation we’re having across blogs. James writes here and, well, I write where you’re already reading this. I love sharing this space with friends–it fills it all with a feeling of why that feels good. Here’s some recent posts in our H&M series:

New York Rome’ance…

New York, New York, there is just something special about classic shortline railroading in the region. Smoking Alco’s and infrastructure that has seen better days, ex-mainline low slung GP9s crawling…

Keep reading

Capturing a moment

I recently came across an interesting photo book whilst shopping for something else and to meet the minimum order requirement added it to the basket. Sometimes taking a punt on…

Keep reading

thursday afternoon

Were not these branchline memories themselves a sign of our own changing humanity? Held in our stories with the fondness of memory like a great aunt we look forward to…

Keep reading


Categories: hilton & mears duo

3 replies

  1. I felt like I was part of the conversation! An enjoyable read and thanks for sharing.
    Eric

  2. Sooner or later we’re going to have to sit down and record one of these!

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