He has long been known as a model railway enthusiast — even if at times he didn’t want to talk about it.
But now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory.
The rocker’s astonishingly detailed 124ft long x 23ft wide model depicting an American city and its industrial hinterland in the 1940s contains hundreds of buildings, from trackside switchman shanties to vast factories and skyscrapers.
Called Grand Street And Three Rivers City, it also features a railway station crossed by numerous bridges at rush hour. There are period cars and lorries as well, of course, as trains, and it is all surrounded by lush landscape and dramatically lit in the colours of late afternoon sunshine.
Next stop, Gasoline Alley: Sir Rod and two friends worked on elements of the layout while he was on tour, even booking an extra hotel room for their workshop
Rock island line: Coal wagons, warehouses and rugged city skyscrapers . . . ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly,’ says Sir Rod
Stewart’s turntable classic: This Forties Pennsylvania Railroad scene is accurate in every minute detail
Six-five special: Sir Rod Stewart with the huge diorama at his house in Los Angeles. ‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said
Sir Rod told Railway Modeller magazine that scenery and structure modelling, rather than locomotives, trackwork or electrics, are his forte.
‘It’s the landscape I like. Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean,’ he said.
This also extends to soccer fan Sir Rod referencing his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co.
The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks.
Yet, he was inspired by American railways because that is where he was living when he began the model in 1993. At the time, he had recently built a new house in Los Angeles and included an attic room specifically for the layout.
But he told the magazine, which features Sir Rod as its cover star in its new December edition along with an in-depth feature, he does not think American railways are better than British ones. ‘They’re bigger, the locos are bigger but not any better,’ he said.
While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring — he would take kits, tools and paints with him and book an extra hotel room for a workshop so he could pursue his hobby in between concerts wherever he was in the world.
‘We’d tell them in advance and they were really accommodating, taking out the beds and providing fans to improve air circulation and ventilation,’ he said.
Many a skyscraper was completed that way on afternoons before a show, and Sir Rod believes he may have never finished the model if he had not done so.
The 74-year-old’s now demolished childhood home at 507 Archway Road in North London overlooked train tracks (pictured: The tracks near his North London boyhood home)
While life on the road as a rock musician and its temptations has led to many contemporaries going off the rails, for Sir Rod railway modelling became an escape from the pressures of touring (pictured: Rod Stewart’s HO Scale Model Railroad)
Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye
Soccer fan Sir Rod references his beloved Celtic FC in the name of the Celtic Coal & Steel firm building. There is another nod to his Scottish roots with his Great Caledonian Steel & Iron Co
Now Sir Rod Stewart’s legendary layout — 26 years in the making — can be seen for the first time in all its finished glory
Despite its vast scale, he said ‘none of it was really planned’ and he ‘just winged it’, with the help of two friends.
His photographer and model wife Penny Lancaster, 48, also played her part. Sir Rod used photos for reference when making the layout and they would often stop to take pictures of a scene that caught their eye.
Sir Rod, whose hits include I Don’t Want To Talk About It, You Wear It Well, Downtown Train and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, said: ‘I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down.’
While Sir Rod acknowledged it took a while for him to publicly admit he was a railway enthusiast, he agreed in his interview with the magazine that attitudes now appear to be changing towards model railway making.
But he added that he was still wary about answering questions on TV about it because ‘it’s hard to talk about something so all- encompassing’ if he was meant to be discussing his music.
His passion was first inflamed when he was ‘eight or nine’ on a family holiday in Bognor Regis where he saw a ‘marvellous’ railway layout in a model shop.
He said his father had once given him the advice that ‘every man needs a hobby’.
‘Mine’s model railway,’ said Sir Rod, who had a toy railway as a child. When he wanted a station for it, his dad bought him a guitar instead, which many might think turned out to be a shrewd move.
His fortune stands at £190 million, according to the Sunday Times’ UK Musicians’ Rich List, and he has had nine No 1 albums and 62 hit singles in the UK.
Sir Rod said guests are stunned by his magnificent model railway when he runs it for them at his LA home. He said: ‘When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it a 110 per cent. For me, it’s addictive. I started, so I just had to finish.
‘I’m lucky I had the room. If I’d realised at the start it would have taken so long, I’d have probably said No! No! Nah!’
- Read the full article in the December edition of Railway Modeller magazine, on sale tomorrow.