Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Railway

Do you remember the film musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? The movie was about a car of that name. Here’s the car as it appeared in the 1958 movie:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as she appeared in the movie of the same name

So where’s the railway bit? Bear with me – I admit it is a bit tenuous.

The movie was loosely based on the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car which was a children’s book written by Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) for his son Caspar. The book and the subsequent movie were inspired by the exploits of Count Louis Zborowski who Fleming greatly admired. The Count was a racing car designer and driver. It was his car, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that the car in the movie was based on.

And it was some car.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #1 at Brooklands

Count Zaborowski in Chitty

Count Zborowski in Chitty

Zborowski’s first Chitty, a chain-drive lengthened Mercedes chassis with a 23 litre six cylinder Maybach aero engine (mounted backwards) caused a sensation in 1921 when on its first day out at the Brooklands Easter meeting it won two races and came second in a sprint behind another of Zborowski’s cars. Chitty’s first win was the 100 mph Brooklands Short Handicap at a speed of 100.75 mph. My Element has a 2.4 litre engine. Which means the engine capacity of the first Chitty was the equivalent of 10 Elements. The back of the car was filled with 700 pounds of ballast to keep the wheels on the ground! The car made so much noise it was banned from the town of Canterbury.

Ok, Ok, so what’s the connection with a railroad?

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR – a 14 mile long 15 inch gauge railway in Kent, England) was the culmination of the dreams of two men; Captain J. E. P. Howey — a sometimes racing driver, millionaire land owner, former Army Officer and miniature railway afficionado and Count Louis Zborowski — eminently well-known racing driver of his day and considerably richer, even, than Howey.

The Count was keen to build a fully working express railway using the 15″ gauge, and Howey — well known in miniature railway circles for owning large locomotives of that gauge — was inspired by the vision also. To try to fulfil their ambition the pair attempted to purchase the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in the Lake District of England, but to no avail.

Despite this setback, the Count ordered two pacific locomotives, Green Goddess and Northern Chief, to be designed by the leading model engineer of his day, Henry Greenly and built in Colchester by Davey, Paxman and Co. and which would run on the miniature express line the pair were determined to build.

The Northern Chief – another outline two-cylinder 4-6-2 Pacific locomotive

Before they were delivered however, the Count was killed while racing at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix. Howey was left with two locos and the task of finding somewhere to run them. He commissioned Greenly to help him, and it was he that came up with the site of the Romney Marsh and the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Got the connection?

So when you go there (a must) do remember to tell your companions the connection of the Railway to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


15 inch Ridable Railways in California

Not long after I posted the blog below I got an e-mail asking if there were any 15 inch railroads in California. My answer was “two” and did a quick internet search and found two others. I would be quite happy to be corrected if I have missed any.

Redwood Valley Railway

The one that I know is the one in Tilden Park at the back of Oakland, the Redwood Valley Railroad. When we lived in Marin this was one of our favorite places to go ‘cos not only is there a 15 inch railway there is also a very large G scale raised track there with lots of live steamers.


Joshua Tree and Souther Railroad

Bill Shepherd, one of our founder members, volunteers at the Joshua Tree and Southern Railroad which is a 15 inch gauger but which, as the name implies is at Joshua Tree in southern California a long way from Fort Bragg. Alas, I have not been there – it’s another on my to-do list.



Hillcrest and Wahtoke Railroad

The two I found (and to which I have not been – they are now on my to-do list) are the Hillcrest & Wahtoke Railroad and the Orland Newville & Pacific Railroad‘. It would be great if anyone with any first hand experience of these would give me a heads up. From the pics they both look great places to visit.


Orland Newville & Pacific Railroad

15 inch Ridable Railways

I had an e-mail from my Geordie friend (see blog on the world’s oldest railroad) saying that he was mildly disappointed at a recent visit to the Wicksteed Park railway in Northhamptonshire in the Midlands in England. He found that the locos there were not real locos (i.e steam powered) but were diesel powered. He did admit they were very convincing and that his grandkids had a great time.

Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway - look at the engineer sitting down in the cab!

 In a “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” exchange of e-mails I put him onto the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway – if this is not on your bucket list it really should be. It is a fabulous ride on one-third replicas of  famous UK steam locos. He responded with the Ravenglass and Eskdale Raliway. One visit to their website and it went straight onto my bucket list. Just have a quick peek at their roster– they are all one-third “real life” locos and corkers too.

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway - River Irt

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway - River Esk

Sausalito Ferry before The Golden Gate Bridge

The Sausalito Ferry Terminal

San Francisco Bay looked wonderful yesterday as we went barreling past Sausalito at 70 mph on Route 101.  When we lived in Kentfield I used to take the ferry to work from Larkspur (a few miles to the north of Sausalito)  to the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

The Larkspur ferry though is a recent affair. In the “good old days” before the Golden Gate Bridge the ferries plied from near where Pier 49 is located in San Francisco to Sausalito and Tiburon.

From the Sausalito terminal you could ride the electrified commuter line to Mill Valley, to San Rafael and past where we used to live in Kentfield en route to Fairfax. This first photo is likely taken from where Route 101 now runs when it passes Sausalito.

San Francisco Ferry Terminal

Mill Valley Depot

Ferry Boat “Eureka” which used to cross the Bay is beautifully preserved at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. When we lived in Kentfield we visited the Tiburon Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum several times to see the wonderful ferry boat models they have there.

Molalla – Been there?

I haven’t. Do you know where it is? No? Good – same as me.

Molalla is in Oregon just south of Portland. Molalla is the home of the of the Pacific Northwest Live Steamers. They are the proud owners of a 7-1/2” Gauge railroad on four acres in the back of the Shady Dell Subdivision (east of Molalla, Oregon). The grounds are owned and operated by Pacific Northwest Live Steamers (PNLS).

Here’s a picture of the PNLS in action.

Bill Shepherd, a co-founder of our club, has been engaged by the PNLS to build an engine house. We have given  Bill a digi camera with an 8gb chip and asked him to use it to keep a record of his work. Hopefully Bill will also use the camera to take pictures of the live steamer he is going to collect from the Chicago area and bring back to California  in the next few weeks.


Southern Pacific modelled in the 1950’s

Two cab forwards in their kitbashed engine house

Sean Hogan, one of Fort Bragg’s finest lawyers, is also into model railroading. His HO layout depicts the Southern Pacific’s operations as they existed in the 1950’s. This enables Sean to have both diesel and steam  operating just as they really did in the 1950’s.

Sean was kind enough to invite me over today to see his railroad in operation. I took lots of photos which I will add as a layout page when Roger Thornburn returns from his Hawaiian vacation. Here’s a sample to whet your appetite.

Cab forward passing the yard and oiling facility

City Hall, Police Station and Museum

Which is the World’s Oldest Railroad?

You know, of course. I was wearing my, “Still Plays with Trains” sweater when I was asked whilst scooping ice cream at our summer job. The gentleman who asked had a broad Geordie (north eastern English) accent and seemed very pleased to tell me when I (of course) didn’t know. It turned out that he volunteered on the Tanfield Railway. Last week, out of the blue, he sent me a photo of a saddle tanker of which we had talked.

When the Tanfield Railway – or waggonway as it was known at the time – was built in 1725 it was a revelation. It was a massive engineering feat unlike anything else in its era, or indeed, since the Roman Empire had laid a network of roads across England.

The waggonway was first laid down more than a quarter of a century before the first railway officially sanctioned by the English government (the Middleton Railroad), over 75 years before the first steam locomotive and a whole 100 years earlier than the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the Tanfield Railway is the world’s oldest railway.

I’ve added The Middleton and Tanfield Railroads to my bucket list!!

Model Trains and Chemotherapy

Whilst driving down from Fort Bragg to Stanford University Cancer Clinic last week for four days of tests/consultations/chemotherapy I vaguely remembered that there was a G Scale model train in the children’s hospital there (the Luclille Packard Children’s Hospital). We had an hour between tests and so went looking. No G Scale train but we did find a meticulously detailed self-contained HO layout about 12 feet square under an arched roof. Inside are two non-connected oval railroad track loops. The scenery is inspired by Northern California’s Southern Pacific rail line, featuring mountains, a lake, the ocean (beach and underwater), fields, and a small seaport town. Each of the four sides has two large plastic buttons which wife Sarah pushed with great delight which do something: create a sound or flash model street lights. It is a huge magnet and brings great enjoyment to all who pass by or come to look. See the pics below.

As we left the train and walked down the corridors to the exit I realised just how lucky I was. Sure, I have cancer but I am 68 and have had a great life with great kids and played a lot of trains. And here were kids struggling with terrible illnesses at the beginning of their lives. A very humbling and moving experience for an old geezer.