VIDEO: Society celebrates the golden age of model engines
Clouds of steam fill the air in an idyllic glade which is a mecca for those in the know and a hidden jewel waiting to be discovered by others.
The location is a trainspotter’s paradise, frequented by miniature steam locos and traction engines.
These little gems have been lovingly built or restored by their owners who make up the 220-strong Chesterfield and District Model Engineering Society.
Membership secretary Pete Nash said: “There is something about a steam engine - it’s like having a young child. It can explain to you what it needs in the way of water and food, every journey around the track is a different journey, every loco is a different engine. Nothing is a constant so you can’t get fed up of driving an engine.”
Families never tire of visiting the site behind St Peter and St Paul School on Hady Hill, Chesterfield, which is a scaled-down version of a railway network. Four tracks carry varying sizes of vehicles which are powered by battery, petrol or steam. There is a station building, footbridge, a 57ft tunnel, 100ft viaduct and diamond crossings surrounding a picnic area.
On average, 5,000 visitors pour onto the site at public open days throughout the year. This Sunday, June 26, is a particularly special day for the public as the society will be celebrating 50 years at the site.
Pete said: “We put these on as a thank you to the public of Chesterfield. They have helped us a lot by coming up to our open days, buying ride tickets and refreshments.
“I always say that we’re open to children of all ages, from babies in arms to grandparents to people in wheelchairs.”
But despite the popularity of the open days, there are still those who don’t know that the site exists. Retired mobile crane driver Pete, 60, who lives in Newbold, said: “Many times we’ve had people come from Hady who say ‘we’ve lived here for 15 years and we didn’t know you were here. It is a hidden gem.
“When I joined 33 years ago, I knew it was here but I couldn’t find it at first - I called it a secret society.”
Keen model engineering enthusiast Dave Penney is among the society’s members and the proud owner of a very special model.
He went to Tasmania to visit his daughter and found a rare steam locomotive built in Chesterfield.
The Markham Coffee Pot was built in 1898 and was one of three shipped to the country where it was put to work hauling logs in the Tasmanian bush for 50 years.
A bushfire destroyed bridges leading to the site so the machine was left abandoned for many years before being recovered and taken to a museum in Glenorchy.
Dave, 71, of Chesterfield saw the loco during a visit to the museum. He said: “Fortunately it was stripped down so I could measure and take photographs of everything.
“I spent six years building a unique model, helped by Peter Richards. People don’t normally get to see it - it’s never been to an exhibition.”
Steam is in the blood of Peter Nixon, who lives in Newton. He said: “My dad worked on steam locos as an engineer at A Winning Colliery and I’ve been messing about with steam ever since.”
He’s built five engines, making all the parts himself apart from a pressure gauge and some of the valves.
The 71-year-old granddad from Newton has a three-inch scale Burrell traction engine, a three-inch Suffolk dredging tractor and a five-inch Sweet Pea contract loco among his collection.
One of the society’s youngest members, Daniel Newton, was introduced to the hobby at a very early age. He said: “My dad subjected me to my first steam rally at the age of six months.
“At the age of twelve, I got full marks in my SATS and my parents asked me what I wanted and I said a steam engine. I got a little toy engine about six inches square and it went from there.”
He bought a rusty two-inch scale Burrell steam roller which he restored to its former glory and then did the same for a three and a half inch Rob Roy steam locomotive.
Daniel, who lives in Blyth near Worksop, said: “It’s been a massive learning curve.”
He visits steam rallies up to 20 times a year when he is not working at a children’s nursery.
The model engineering society grew out of an exhibition in the summer of 1932.
The successful display at Durrant Road fuelled a rallying call from Mr G.C. Horden, of Eyre Street, Chesterfield, for people with an interest in model engineering.
Not much is known about the early years of the club, which closed for a time during the Second World War. It reformed in 1947 when a meeting was held at a pub in Brampton. Interest at that time was in small petrol and diesel engines for model boat and aircraft use with members using Walton reservoir to sail boats.
In the early 60s, the hunt was on for land to build a track for members to steam their railway locomotives. After ruling out a site off Saltergate because members realised it wouldn’t last long before it was wanted for development and a sloping site at New Whittington, the society was offered a woodland base in the grounds of the then Frank Merrifield School at Hady Hill.
Members’ first project at the site was to build a 465ft track which was finished just in time for the school summer fete. They carried 410 passengers and made a ten pound donation to the school funds. The original raised track was extended to 1100 feet in the late 80s and ten years later the society bought their part of the school grounds. Ownership meant track building began in earnest and a 2,500ft ground level track was added.
Five years ago, the society built a new workshop, stores and toilet block which cost nearly £80,000.
Latterly, tasks have included laying new sleepers, replacing timber work on a 100ft viaduct and boarding on the garden railway which have been done by work parties grafting on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
The society is on the lookout for members with a variety of skills and not necessarily an engineering background. Anyone who is interested is invited to come along to the Hady site or find out more details on the website www.cdmes.co.uk.