One of the things that surprised me the most was the sheer variety of different prototypes that the layouts were based on: modern British to early steam, Japan to Australia, Austria to the US and everything in between. I had never seen such a variety of layouts at one show before and exhibitors had travelled from across the UK for the event. Many of the layouts had recently been featured in model railway magazines and I enjoyed being able to see them for myself.
Something which really impressed me was that many of the layouts (there were, according to the guide book, over 45) were either displayed near the Racecourse pavilion's large windows or had their own lights, ranging from builder's spotlights to diffused lighting fitted above the layout complete with fascia. This made photography much easier and allowed the skill and work of the modellers to be seen in the best possible light (pun intended). I have never seen layouts with lighting like this at Canadian shows and I would encourage modellers to start adding lighting, it really adds to the feel of a layout. Here are the layouts which I felt stood out in a very high-quality crowd.
It takes a few tries to be able to properly pronounce the name of John Illingworth's layout, but it is a delightful snapshot of German life in O gauge. Based on the 1960s, it models a fictional town in the last days of steam. Little details, like the sounds and the figures, made this layout a fun one to watch.
Roger Nicholls has captured a busy limestone quarry, complete with heavily-weathered rolling stock in a very small space. His OO layout also features very ingenious uncoupling ramps for use with tension-lock couplings: little tufts of long grass lift the coupling hook and thus uncouple the wagons. Clever!
Coyote Creek Railroad
This was my favourite layout at the show, not only because it made me homesick (quite a feat when I have never visited the US southwest), but because Ruth and Clive Monks were so much fun to talk to. This HO layout was built to capture Arizona scenery with the trains being secondary, a refreshing change from layout trying to cram too much track into the scenery. Using actual desert materials, they have done a brilliant job of capturing the essence of mainline American railroading dwarfed by its surroundings in the cactus-filled part of the continent. They also had one of the most effective uses of lighting at the show, using spotlights to make the rock glow.
From one hot climate to another, Dave Dawes' N scale layout depicts an Australian broad-gauge line and uses a lot of modified stock to accurately represent Australian trains.
Another American layout, this one showing how much detail you can fit into O scale. Unlike Lionel's toy-like models, the Shipley MRS's layout features highly-detailed L&N locomotives that just look big and powerful, showing how much can be done in the larger scales. This layout was very popular and its fast-paced timetable kept my interest for a long time. The working train order signal at the station was one particularly effective touch.
The "cover" layout for the show is an example of what I like to call 'British social realist modelling' at its best. Basically the social realist school models contemporary Britain - no nostalgia. Broken windows, security fencing, graffiti, gangs, police, gritty and so forth. What I really liked about Mick Bryan's and Peter Taylor's layout (apart from the very effective apartment buildings) was the amount of rolling stock - it was like watching a 3-D model railway catalogue!
Think Z scale is tiny? Try T! Crazy tiny at 1:450, need I say more?
Widnes Vine Yard
I idolized Widnes Vine Yard years ago when I was still modelling modern British railways, but I had never expected to actually see it outside of cyberspace. Another gem of the British social realist layouts, the Wirral Finescale Modellers' OO layout also features working interlocking signals. Even the tiny track-level shunting signals work. Another excellent selection of rolling stock helped make this layout very popular with the crowds.
As you can see, there was something for everyone at the show. I haven't even focused on all the different steam layouts (including a club trying to resurrect the ill-fated Hornby live-steam range). They were just as good as the diesel layouts (if not better in some cases), but I didn't find the steam as compelling for me personally. I am very pleased that I managed to see this show and it is worth a visit should you happen to be near York around Easter. The £8 admission price was well worth it and the full-colour glossy show guide was incredible value at £2 (although it would be even better with more careful proofreading).
Many manufacturers were also at the show. If I still modelled modern British railways, my wallet would have been in serious trouble. Thankfully, there wasn't much Canadian stuff for sale (although lots of US and European) and I left the show with lots of photos and happy memories and only one freight car.