A nostalgia project that has taken six years to complete has become Britain’s biggest model railway – and it could soon go on tour.
Businessman Simon George, 53, yearned to recreate his favourite childhood spot from 1983 – a railway junction near Mirfield in West Yorkshire.
For the past six years, he has been finessing his £250,000 model of ‘Heaton Lodge’ – faithfully recreated after downloading hundreds of maps of the railway line in the 1980s.
Now, the model is set to be exhibited in Wakefield Market Hall from December 4 to 19, with the chances of a UK city tour after that, The Observer reports.
Simon George, 52, (pictured) has created what is said to be Britain’s biggest model railway by recreating the Heaton Lodge Junction in West Yorkshire
As a boy, Simon George (left) loved watching the trains rumble past at the busy railway junction in a hamlet near his home
The real life inspiration: Simon spent long days during his school holidays in the early 1980s, from the age of 12 to 15, sitting on embankments or perched on footbridges over the tracks at Heaton Lodge Junction, just west of Mirfield, West Yorkshire, (pictured) as he marvelled at the sights, sounds and power of the locomotives and goods wagons loaded with coal and steel
It was, he says, his favourite place, and — despite growing up to run a successful supercar driving experience company and own a Lamborghini himself — the happy memories of those innocent days, and the excitement he felt at seeing a train emerge from way down the tracks and waiting to see exactly which type it was, never left him
Mr George, who lives in Ripon, North Yorkshire, said: ‘I used to spend a lot of time there, watching the trains go past, and it left an indelible impact on my memory.
‘I don’t think there’s anybody daft enough to go to the extremes I’ve gone to in some of the detail that’s built-in.’
The model, which began in 2015, even includes a miniature 12-year-old Mr George, watching keenly as the rail carriages go past.
Two and a half years ago, he sold his share in a supercar driving experience company and threw himself into the project – called Heaton Lodge Junction, built in O gauge or 7mm to 1ft – with extra time spent on it during lockdown.
Other minute details include a tiny 1980s Tesco carrier bag caught in a tree and 5,000 custom-made brass fern leaves, each of them placed individually place and twisted into form. The model even emits fake diesel fumes and has all the sounds of the railway.
Mr George said: ‘I think if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to give it 100%.
‘As people walk through the door, they’re confronted by a really well-lit basement with an enormous model as far as the eye can see. It does knock them back sometimes. It’s a nice reaction.
Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train: Simon at the controls of his huge, 200ft masterpiece
More than seven years on, and after laying 2½ miles of O gauge track, taking pains to get houses, factories — and even individual trees and manhole covers in the roads — in the right place, installing 10,000 individual bracken ferns and other exact replica features of the landscape, his masterpiece is 199ft 8in long, 40ft wide
Simon sold his 50 per cent share in the events firm in 2018 to concentrate on his railway full-time and turn it into a business. Along the way, it cost around £250,000 to make — helped by sponsorship from Danish model railway company Heljan
Roll out the barrel: British Rail engineers have a chat by two discarded oil drums. They are just some of the many decorations Simon has created in his model recreation
‘It’s funny because when it’s up and running and you glance up, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up because it’s just like being back in 1983.’
Mr George plans to take the model on tour to cities across the UK, although it will require three trucks to transport it.
George Dent, editor of Model Rail magazine, said that lots of people are shy about their passion for model railways, with many large ones hidden in barns or large houses all across the country.
He said: ‘We know of some very famous people who have a closet interest in model railways, but they don’t seem to be keen on sharing it.
‘Rod Stewart might be open about his passion, but not everyone else is willing to admit to it, which is a real shame – especially in the present climate, when we’re all realising the benefits of crafts and hobbies.’