Another outing for my insomnia had me scrabbling for the television remote, and Lo! I struck pay dirt!

I’m very fond of James May, aka Captain Slow, the posh buffoon off Top Gear. He has an air of perpetual mild bewilderment, and also a distinct streak of nerd. He’s a big one for understanding how things work, technical specifications, all that guff, and oddly enough, so am I.

I missed the start of the programme, so haven’t an earthly about why he decided to organise a race between Bideford and Barnstaple, a distance of about ten miles. Just to make things interesting the race would be between OO/HO model trains.

There were three classes involved. Shop-bought steamers. Shop-bought diesels. Lastly there were to be locomotives that didn’t work by the usual lecky from the track powering the motor that drives the wheels.

Did I mention that a team of Germans turned up to join in the fun?

It was British bonkersness from the start, with even the Teutons, a race not noted for frivolity, being delightfully mad. Firstly some Brit boffin developed a track laying machine, but only after Captain Slow had explained the technical pros and cons of two different types of track. The machine didn’t work too well, but hey ho, by the time it got dark there were two sets of track laid down the disused railway linking the two towns.

For the steamer, James chose a rather pretty Flying Scotsman he’d had since childhood, complete with the as-advertised ‘authentic chuff chuff noise,’ while the Germans opted for a brutal looking loco from the same era as the real Scotsman. The diesels saw an Intercity 125 pitted against something I can’t recall now.

The alternative locomotives were completely mental. May’s team opted for a loco with a ducted fan powered by the current from the track. That fell over within about 10 yards, so they switched to Plan B, which was powered by hydrogen fuel cells that used hydrogen derived from water using solar power. That made it to the finish line. The Germans went for a two stroke model aero engine driven by alcohol derived from sauerkraut. It worked in testing, but on raceday it hurtled off the startline in fine style, got about five yards, and then blew up. Knall! Gott verdammt!

The Germans had elected to run their steamer on 17V instead of the factory 12V. It went like stink, then they had to rein things in as mechanical and electrical stresses took their toll. They had to rebuild the gears on the diesel twice, but even so still beat the plucky Brits.

But we pulled it out of the fire, because all three of our trains finished. The Flying Scot beat die Brute, and although the Intercity 125 got soundly thrashed, the Deutsche alcopop powered engine spread its mechanicals all over the first straight as described.

2-1 to the home team. What a delight.

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