How it started
My first memories of railways go back to my childhood during the mid 1950s. They include the giant wheels of a Netherlands Railways 3700 class 4-6-0, shunting on the embankment at The Hague, the loud hiss of the air escaping from the brake valve of an electric multiple-unit under the overall roof, and the blue electric trams between Haarlem and The Hague, seen from the train.
Interest in railways came quite naturally, with both my grandfathers serving as railwaymen from the early 1920s until about 1960. I still vaguely remember a visit with my Granddad to the electro-mechanical signal box that once spanned the eastern entrance tracks to Amsterdam Central station. My father served his apprentice days as a mechanical engineer in one of the MPDs at Amsterdam during the grim war years, and he remembered being shot at by the RAF when he served on the goods engines to Haarlem (he said the RAF pilots usually were so kind to 'buzz' the train as a warning before opening fire, so the crew could jump off, as opposed to the Americans who attacked at once!). Then came the 1944 railway strike to support the Allied effort against the Germans, when railwaymen had to hide from the German forces. These memories, also, were related to me as a boy.
Later we lived in the town of Enschede in the east of the country near an industrial branch serving several cotton mills. These were worked by an 0-4-0 diesel shunter which had an exhaust-powered whistle. The spluttering sound of this device is etched into my memory. I must have been about ten years old at the time, and not much later I used to go to the shunting yard where a bigger 0-6-0 similar to the British class 08 was breaking up trains. I was intrigued by the loose shunting operations and used to copy them with my train set in the attic.
There was a cross-border service to the German town of Gronau which at first was worked by a German class 64 2-6-2T and steel six-wheelers. Later a maroon coloured battery electric multiple-unit came, which was replaced by a BoBo diesel and bogie coaches, two of which were always attached to the rear of the express to Amsterdam. When we went cycling to the town of Oldenzaal across the railway to Bentheim, once I was lucky to see a German Pacific come hurtling by with an international express. It was there and gone before I knew...
With all these early impressions, perhaps it is not very surprising that I started modelling railways after being given an old locomotive and a few goods vehicles and old tinplate track by my father. In the early years, perhaps 'modelling' wasn't the right word, but I learned many of the basic skills, like layout wiring, at that age.
Tracklaying work at Hoofddorp near Schiphol Airport, 1985. The work being supervised by my brother Marcel, he invited me to come and have a look. Photo made at three in the morning.
Apart from my modelling interest, I started photographing prototype trains whenever possible (and I still do, occasionally, see photo above). This was particularly the case when, in the middle and late 1960s, we as a family went on holiday abroad. Very clear in my memory remain a number of trips to Britain and the first impressions of Welsh narrow gauge which would have a definite impact on my railway interest. Later I went to sea, and in many foreign ports I was lucky to see narrow gauge steam still at work in daily revenue service, even being able to travel on locomotives in harbour yards. It is no surprise that something of this is reflected in the model railway I built and developed over a thirty-year period: the Craigcorrie & Dunalistair Railway.
The theme develops
At the end of the 1960s I visited Scotland and Wales several times on holiday. I travelled by train and boat but lacked the chance to investigate the area in detail. Therefore my impressions were limited to views from the train, by the ferry landing stages along the Clyde and by studying books and magazines. The theme of the C&DR, a coal-carrying railway in the Scottish Highlands, with elements from the Campbeltown & Machrihanish and the standard gauge West Highland line, evolved shortly afterwards. Originally I wasn’t quite certain whether to choose Wales or Scotland, as both had something to say for themselves. Scotland offered the unspoiled landscape and wide open spaces, and Wales the widespread mining background that interested me as well. Had I been exposed to the Southwest of Ireland at the time like I have been over the past decade, there might have been a chance of the C&DR landing in Co Kerry or Cork.
My resources were very limited: where today we can use Google Maps for a detailed landscape contour, and Streetview to have a 360 degrees view of any location, I only had photos and a few maps, and examples built by other railway modellers. So the theme evolved from a number of separate elements that were thrown together in a dim and distant imaginary location in the West of Scotland. I followed the example of several narrow gauge modellers who during the 1950s and 1960s had written about their work in the modelling press. For years I worked in isolation, without much else than that to inspire me. Around 1980 however I did buy the Model Railroader magazine for a few years and was influenced by the American style of layout design (like double-deck layouts) and landscape modelling. In the mid-1980s I was given a subscription to the Railway Modeller and Continental Modeller magazines, both of which I still have, and in the early 1990s I was approached by the late Reinier Hendriksen to join the 009 Society.
Where to locate the C&DR…
Since I heard of Mick Thornton's and Tom Dauben's work to survey a real route for their imaginary railways, one on Mull and the other on Skye, I have tried to find a 'real' location for the C&DR in the West of Scotland. With a little bending of the truth a possible route can be traced to the north of Loch Sunart, from Kilmalieu on the shore of Loch Linnhe to the centre of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, with a branch along the shore of Loch Shiel to Glenfinnan on the Mallaig extension of the West Highland line. Real place names might be changed, like Dunalistair (Kilmalieu) and Rae Bridge (Polloch), with Inverlochan Moor in the remote centre of Ardnamurchan. Where to situate Inverlochan colliery and the terminus of Craigcorrie is best left alone. Geologically the presence of coal in Ardnamurchan is very doubtful. The branch along Loch Shiel to Glenfinnan is rather more likely. But as I never built anything of that nature, for the moment I will let it be. If you're interested, here is amap of a possible location for the C&DR .