About The Bedford Model Engineering Society
To Promote an interest in model engineering and the design and construction of models, tools and apparatus of all kinds amongst its members and the public.
The Bedford Model Engineering Society in its present guise was formed in 1948 to promote interest in model engineering of all kinds, be it static or on rail, road or water. For many, model engineering is about building and driving steam locomotives. However interests in the Society range from clock making to building half size steam lorries. Many of the members have no formal training in engineering, they are just a group of like minded people who love to build things, usually out of metal but all manner of materials are often pressed into service. One of the best things about the Society is the depth of knowledge that many members have and their enthusiasm for sharing it. So, whether you are starting out on something small, or want to get a 7¼” gauge Mallet locomotive up and running, you can be assured of lots of help and advice.
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History of the Society
There is evidence in copies of old Model Engineer magazines that Bedford MES existed in some form well before the Second World War but it was formally established in 1948. During the 1950s it was amalgamated with the Bedford Model Boat Club, but unfortunately during the 1960s membership dropped to a very low level, nevertheless it did still survive.
In 1968 a small number of model engineers in Bedford got together to form the present Society. They decided that this would be an entirely new venture and would cover all aspects of model engineering. Initial meetings of the new Society were held in the homes of enthusiasts, then, as numbers increased, meetings were held in the Guild House in Bedford.
In 1971 it was decided that the Society needed to find a permanent site where it could have a meeting room of its own with space for a railway track and room to run traction engines. Members constructed a portable railway track, and this was used at fetes and other local events in order to raise some much-needed funds.
A suitable site was found in Wilstead, on land at the rear of what was then ‘The Rose’ public house. On this site an extensive elevated track was built. Over the next four years the members, whose number had grown to nearly 100, constructed their own brick-built clubhouse together with a raised railway track on which to run 3½” and 5″ gauge locomotives.
Due to the small size of the site no running was done for the public. However, many events were held there to which members of other model engineering societies were often invited. In 1976 the Society joined the Southern Federation of Model Engineering Societies and in 1979 the Society hosted that Federation’s Spring Rally. Flushed with success in 1980 the Society went on to host the International Model Locomotive Efficiency Competition (IMLEC), the prestigious event run by the Model Engineer magazine. Every August the Society held a two day Miniature Traction Engine Rally which soon became a major fixture on the model traction engine event calendar.
In 1986 the Society doubled the length of the track to over 1800 feet. In 1990 the Society was gifted 200 feet of 7¼” gauge track and a start was made on a dual gauge 7¼” and 5″ ground level track of about 130 feet in length. A couple of sets of points were added and a petrol powered club loco acquired and prospects were looking good.
Sadly, in 1992, the public house became an uneconomic proposition for the landlords and a decision was taken to close it. Thus the Society had no choice but to vacate the site.
The hunt was then on for a new site. Eventually this was found about a mile south of the Wilstead site. Following negotiations with Whitbread Estates the Society moved over the New Year of 1993 to its present site on what was then operating as Summerfields Fruit Farm.
The Fruit Farm being a commercial pick-your-own operation a degree of public operation was a condition of tenure. With the main fruit being strawberries we were expected to run a train service from the car park up to where the fruit was being picked during the strawberry season. This required the Society to run an up and back service on five or six consecutive weekends during June and July. In return for this the Society was offered a 3 acre triangular site, located some 900 feet from the car park, on which they could build an elevated track which would not involve any public running commitment by our new landlord.
Part of a disused barn was offered to us for use as a clubroom and workshop; this had previously been the farm stables and waggon barn. The two rooms both had an uneven granite sett floor, various stable type fittings, a tack room and a tiled roof ‘that had more holes than a collander’! After fairly extensive refurbishments by the members to make it habitable they were able to move in with some degree of comfort.
By the start of the strawberry season in 1993 around 300 feet of ground level track had been laid, from a makeshift station in the car park, alongside the farm track towards the picking area, and a passenger service was started. In stages over the next two years the track was extended towards the top of the hill. The first section took the track another 100 feet further on to an area where a two road station with a central platform was built. This allowed the operation of a three-train passenger service.
An elevated track of around 750 feet in length was built on the triangular area at the top of Hammer Hill. Due to its exposed location this soon became known as Winterfield and the name continues to apply to the raised track system.
When in 1996 the Farm Shop suddenly closed, the owners of the site, who were facing a drop in the wholesale price of strawberries, decided to close down the fruit growing business. The society’s lease still had six years to run, and as the railway did not require any involvement by the landlord’s employees, BMES were allowed to stay on.
This was a major moment in the society’s life. With all the other ventures on the site closing and leaving BMES as the sole occupant, a decision had to be made whether to leave or stay. It didn’t take the members long to decide to stay, but they realised that their approach would have to change. The small income that had been obtained from giving rides to the fruit picking public had enabled the operation to be financed, but the railway would now have to be rapidly improved. The decision was made to extend the ground level track all the way to Hammer Hill as quickly as funds and labour would allow.
A major obstacle to progress was a drainage ditch that would have to be crossed. As it could not be filled in, a bridge had to be constructed. So over the period of a cold winter a bridge was built and the ditch was crossed. It was not long before the single track had reached a new station at Hammer Hill, where a reversing ‘wye’ was added so that trains could return to Haynes End with the loco at the front rather than reversing all the way back down the hill.
As the popularity of the railway grew the track was developed to cope. The single track from Haynes End to Hammer Hill was dualled, allowing uninterrupted running of trains in both directions. More track was laid around the area at Hammer Hill and a new station building was added to provide an operating base for staff at Hammer Hill. Footbridges were added, a new carriage shed was built and a new dual-level loco preparation area was built that incorporated a second turntable.
At Haynes End the station area was expanded, twice. A bigger signal box was built to cater for the increased complexity of the tracks in the vicinity of the station. A new workshop was added behind the engine shed. The original buffet was replaced twice, each time with a bigger and better one.
Development of the railway continues to be on-going to meet the needs of members and visitors alike. What you see today at Summerfields is almost entirely the work of the members of the Society, both young and ‘not so young’ who, as well as their main interest in model engineering, seem to enjoy small scale civil engineering challenges as well.
While all this has been going on, others in the Society have been keeping the traditions of model engineering alive. The hobby embraces more than the steam locomotives and traction engines so often seen. If it can be modelled you can be sure that a model engineer somewhere is beavering away in a workshop, doing just that. To progress many models special tools are sometimes required in order to carry out some particular operation, and, for many, making this tooling is as satisfying as making the model itself.
Regular meetings are held on the second Monday evening each month, when speakers and demonstrations are often arranged. These meetings may take the form of a discussion on a particular topic of model engineering interest, or a help session when all sorts of advice is offered to members to help solve their problems.
Each summer, over a weekend, a miniature traction engine rally is run to coincide with one of the railway public running days and this is normally well-attended by members and visitors alike. Similarly, a Locomotive Rally is held over the first weekend after the Late Summer Bank Holiday and visiting locomotives from around the country and mainland Europe may be seen. Exhibitions of members’ work are also held, usually on alternate years, to show our visitors, and other members, what it is that can be achieved and what makes this hobby so appealing.