In Memoriam – John Richards

We modelers are holding good at holding reality at bay most of the time. We model vanished or fictitious worlds (or both), we use cunning and guile to disguise the reality that, even at scale, our models are not a true facsimile, but only an impression of reality. Inside that world, time stands still and rust and decay are banished (unless useful for effect).

But every so often, the real world intrudes into the model world in spite of all our attempts to keep it out. And this has just happened to Port Dinllaen Lines.  My father, John, who planted the seed in the mid-1960s by taking me as a 4-year-old to the Rempstone Traction Engine Rally, and on the Ffestiniog and South Devon Steam Railways, and then paid for a subscription to Railway Modeller when I was 10, travelled on to that unseen terminus in the sky on Christmas Eve.

For you see, his was the driving force behind my having an interest in trains, just as his father had been for him. As a boy, before the war, his father had given him a live steam loco and a oval of track. It was powered by paraffin and had a tendency to fall over and endanger any drapery or clothing with an immolating fire. It is amazing to think that our hobby has come so far since then. My dad bought me a train set with a Hornby “Jinty” in the late 1960s with three trucks and about 1 point – which he considered very modern with its 12V DC controller where you could reverse without touching the engine and scalding yourself. But that looks very basic now.

I had the pleasure of showing him and my brother the “bare-bones” Port Dinllaen finally actually running trains about a month ago on what proved to be his last trip West. He was amazed by DCC with consists and remotely controlled points driven by computer. He never knew, or was too embarassed to question me about it, but the happy accident that placed the layout in Wales was not really an accident at all; it was my tribute to the land of his birth, where he had taken his holiday for 86 out of 87 years. It was an excuse for me to bond with him because my Welsh is terrible and his was not and to have something we could chat about over Skype every week (and an excuse for me to be working on the layout – “I’m talking to my Dad, honey!”).

But now my muse of passion for trains has gone out and with it my connection to someone who remembered things as they really were in the early 1960s in Wales. Dad was a great story teller, but it often took a lot of digging to trigger a new recollection – which happened best when he was chatting to his brother, who now lives in Canada. I took him up for a visit at the start of December, and in a conversation there Dad, for the first time that I recall, talked about traveling alone to London to boarding school as an 11-year-old boy, just as the Battle of Britain was starting, traveling down the line from Denbigh on the LMS to change over to the GWR at Corwen with a two hour wait (the two systems timed their services to just miss each other to discourage changing systems) and on to Paddington. He had told me that he was “evacuated towards the bombing” before but never any details of that trip And then suddenly he added that he had also travelled to Aberystwyth by train to see his grandfather (another clergyman) who lived there, just after a huge storm had messed up the promenade. He travelled the LMS line to Afon Wen and then the GWR Cambrian Coast Line, he believed. And then he said, “but I should have liked to have travelled via Port Dinllaen” I asked why and he said “to see the LNER engines as well”. You see, for him, the fiction I have created for PDL and the reality he knew had seamlessly blended together in his mind and he was talking of my system as though it was part of reality.

So, I am taking a moment to remember my Dad, who planted the seed and nurtured it, but never had a real model railway of his own. I’m raising a glass to his memory and will certainly think of him whenever the Port Dinllaen train announcements are played – because he recorded them for me in his authentic North Wales accent.

I like to think of him together now with his father and grandfather chatting away with my clerical modeling heros, the Revs Denny, (Tubby) Boston, Awdry and Beale, comparing notes and arguing the merits of engines.

R.I.P. John Morgan Richards, my Dad, 1929-2016

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