As It Happens

25 years in the making, model train display destroyed by vandals

After they were the target of devastating vandalism, Market Deeping Model Railway Club has been flooded with public donations to help the club get back on track and rebuild.

Donations have poured in to help the U.K. club, including from Sir Rod Stewart

Vandals completely ransacked the Market Deeping Model Railway Club's display. They overturned multiple layouts and destroyed years of work. (Peter Davies/Market Deeping Model Railway Club)

Update: Since this story was published, four 16-year-olds have pleaded guilty to criminal damage for the model train vandalism, the Guardian reports. Three boys have been given 12-month community sentences and fined £500 ($808 Cdn) each. They told the court they destroyed the train after sharing a bottle vodka on a pre-exam night out. The fourth defendant will be sentenced on Sept. 2. 

Read Story Transcript

"A scene of absolute devastation."

That's how the Market Deeping Model Railway Club has described an act of vandalism that wiped out the elaborate model train sets on display for their annual exhibition. Priceless models were lost — some of which had taken 25 years to craft. 

The annual event has been held in Stamford, England, for the past 12 years but has now been cancelled.

Police have arrested four people they say caused the damage.

Peter Davies is the chairman of the club and was one of the first to witness the wreckage.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Davies about club members efforts to start rebuilding and how those efforts have been boosted by the generosity of fans from around the world who share a love of miniature train sets.

Here is part of their conversation.

Peter, how would you describe the public reaction and support you've been getting since this incident?

It's absolutely amazing. We've never encountered anything like it. But then, there's never been a disaster quite like it. The public response has been wonderful and, honestly, truly humbling.

Davies says the vandals used hammers to destroy the individual models and overturn the layouts. (Peter Davies/Market Deeping Model Railway Club)

How much have these been donated so far?

The public donations are somewhere of the order of £86,000 [$146,000 CDN]. 

But in addition to that people have offered us model railway layouts, rolling stock of all sorts, skills, time. It's just been amazingly wonderful.

You said you've never seen a reaction of support like this but you've never seen such a disaster before. Can you describe what you saw of this vandalism?

Well, the best thing I can suggest to you here is that if you stand at the door of your main living room, and you look around at all the lovely things around — you've got pictures, you've got ornaments you've got furniture — but instead of it being in its place, it's matchwood and glass bits.

Well, that sort of feeling is what it was like because what I saw was total devastation.

Everything had been attacked by hammers. People had been kicking things around. The layouts had all been jumbled up and broken. They are a total write-off.

Davies says some of the models took decades to build. (Peter Davies/Market Deeping Model Railway Club)

Before this happened, maybe just describe for people what the display looked like? 

Well, five layouts. One of them was an old gauge layout. That was something of the order of seven to eight metres long, maybe a little bit longer, and about half a metre wide.

It was beautifully decorated with wonderful village scenes and so on. Good sheds and lots of stock. Lots of locomotives and wagons and so on, ready to roll the next morning.

[There was] a layout we built specifically for young people to operate in the exhibition so they can get a feel for operating a model railway and entice them into the hobby.

Another layout we had was turned upside down and walked on.

It's just too horrific to talk about really.

For people who don't know what these model railway displays look like, these are extremely elaborate detailed installations, aren't they?

Yes. We're talking miniature worlds really. If you can imagine anything in the real thing. Well, miniaturize it, and there you have it.

So, the locomotives all work. They're electrically powered. All the signalling, all the detail of stations and station halts of villages.

For example, on the layout I was working on, we had a village scene with a church and a wedding and a balloon-seller, kiddies in the school yard doing may-pole dancing — all of it is just trashed.

Davies says pop star and model train fan Sir Rod Stewart made one of the donations. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

And how long would it have taken the people who created these scenes to have actually constructed them?

Yeah ... one of the layouts had taken 25 years.

Another one was 26-years-old and had been worked on to bring it back into condition and had been added to only in the last six to nine months.

These things take an enormous amount of time to create.

When we talk about this in terms of years or the hours put into them, that's only part of the story. It's the love and the passion and the detail — all of those things that the people who created these settings had invested in them. Isn't it?

Absolutely. You know there's a lot of imagination goes into creating the scenes in the first place. A lot of planning and then a lot of building.

It's just mind-blowingly horrible.

The money that's been donated so far by people, most of whom you don't even know ... and Rod Stewart, the pop star, being one of them. Do you have any idea why he is providing funds?

He's a railway model man. He has a huge model railway of his own. He spent many, many years building it and he, like the rest of us, loves model railways.

You know, creating these little model worlds and seeing them operate is something very special.

You put a lot of dedication into making it work, and when it works, there's quite a thrill in it.

Written by Ashley Mak and John McGill. Interview produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A edited for length and clarity.


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