MINIATURE locomotives are inspiring the engineers of tomorrow at a site that has been a fixture of the North East for more than half a century.
Model steam trains whizzing around loops of track have been a feature of Exhibition Park in Newcastle for over 60 years, but for the first time children can get in on the action too.
Talented engineers who have spent decades putting together scale models of the famous Flying Scotsman express engine and the east coast line Mallard train hope to inspire the next generation of enthusiasts.
Linda Nicholls, secretary of the Tyneside Society of Model and Experimental Engineers, said: “We have been here since 1947, and we get lots of families coming who say they remember the trains from when they were little.
“We’re going to be doing free rides for children from now on. Children love Thomas the Tank Engine, so it gives them a fun ride, but also it’s the heritage of something that’s a dying art and the knowledge of how to make the engines.
“If we can help some budding engineers learn more from the experts we have here, then that would be brilliant.”
The club, which has over 100 members, was set up after the Second World War by a group of engineers from across the North East.
Some scale replicas have taken 25 years to build and show off the best of the region’s railway heritage, including replicas of many past east coast line trains.
Engines are powered by coal just like the originals, and the club’s charismatic drivers top up their locomotives with fuel as they loop around the tracks. Linda, whose husband Brian built a model Wren class engine, said: “All the members have workshops at home where they’ll build their models from scratch with their laithes, drills and milling machines.
“For the younger ones, though, it can start as simple as learning how you use coal, how it makes steam and how that powers the engine.”
She said with the park’s Military Vehicle Museum closing, which is where the club is based, people are starting to forget the track is still in operation.
“The whole place is a hidden gem right in the middle of Newcastle, but people aren’t coming to this end of the park anymore. We’ve been here since 1947 and we’re hoping to get new people to come and find out about what we do,” said Linda.
Retired engineer Ian Spencer, 66, from Gosforth, who has been coming to the club for 50 years, said: “I came as a teenager, and I’ve been back ever since. Some of us are professional engineers but you will find all sorts of people here – doctors, dentists, professional railway men and teachers. Part of the satisfaction is making the models but the other half is bringing them down to the park to drive them.”
Mother-of-two Alison Millar, from Low Fell, Gateshead, said the trains have captured her three-year-old son Oscar’s imagination.
She said: “We’ve done the Tanfield Railway, but it’s nice to have a local thing like this to pop down to.”
Free rides for children are available at Exhibition Park on the tracks near the Military Vehicle Museum on the first Sunday of every month.