Model trains coming to the Claremont Showgrounds in early June

A rural landscape at a railway crossing

Billows of steam from a train rushing below a railway bridge I’m standing on with my grandfather in the U.K. It is an indelible life-long memory.

And while train spotting in Western Australia has undeniably become a very niche hobby, there is still a group of dedicated enthusiasts just as entranced by the romance of rail.

Garry Pilmoor admits to being one of those people. He has been a member of Perth’s Australian Model Railway Association (AMRA WA) for more than 36 years and says steam is part of the romance that attracts him to all things trains.

“I’ve been a model train person for most of my adult life,” Garry says.

“Model railways have always been something of a closet hobby. We tend to be loners at home with our little train sets and as much as we hate to admit it, we still play with toys.”

Garry will be among the group sharing his enthusiasm for his hobby at the AMRA WA model rail exhibition at the Robinson Pavilion at the Claremont Showgrounds from June 3 to 5.

The exhibition makes its return, after a three-year absence, with more than 50 layouts of model railways from tiny N scale through to large garden scale on display, with exhibits from a wide range of WA model associations and traders.

There will be displays from WA rail heritage groups, layouts for kids and kids at heart to operate, retail stalls for model railway and hobby needs and Lego will be there with quite a substantial display.

In past years, they have built models up to 10m long with all sorts of Lego trains running.

There will be British, American and some Australian train models on display ranging from larger steam models through to the Hornby style models.

“It will go through to the N gauge which is the smaller stuff that we older people can no longer see,” Garry laughs.

U drives and shunting puzzles will give youngsters a hands-on experience.

“There are layouts with controllers that the children can use. The intention is for the children to get involved and to drive the trains.”

Garry says the children get very excited. 

“Just watching the kids’ faces and being involved is fantastic.”

While there are some younger people getting interested in model trains, Garry says today’s distractions of iPads and smart phones and all the technology at their disposal make it difficult to attract youngsters to the scene.

But he believes modelling has plenty to interest them.

“There’s a myriad of skills, you learn carpentry, you learn electrics, we came up making model planes out of plastic, those sort of modelling skills they can learn in model railways, you can do the scenery, make the hills and paint them, do the trees and make the buildings.

“Nowadays you can make your own rolling stock if you are that way inclined and the club has a very substantial library available which includes plans of rolling stock and there is a myriad of videos, so the ability to find out information is great.”

While the exhibition will have plenty of attractions for the youngsters, including ride on trains, the displays will include something for everybody. 

“It will be a show as good as we’ve had in the past and we look forward to people thoroughly enjoying what’s available.

“This year we have a new model of East Guildford back as it was in the 1950s and it will still have the flour mill in the background, it will have the Millar’s Timberyard as it used to be, which is all long since gone now and you’ll see the East Guildford station with trains running through it and the station as it still is today.

“It will be a lovely historic display for everybody to see.”

AMRA WA has been going for 50 years, starting back in 1972, originally from a church hall in West Perth, then moving to the former Perth station master’s house on the corner of Beaufort and Roe Streets in Perth in 1973, then in 1977 to the Meltham Railway Station buildings.

In 1989 it moved to its current site at Moojebing Street in Bayswater where the club built its own premises.

The building and its trains are open for visitors on Saturdays from noon to 5pm.

The club incorporates a wide range of special interest groups and even has the facilities to run live engines with a track outside where people can run live steam engines, fired up like the real things.

The model train exhibition will open from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, June 3, and Sunday, June 4, and 9am to 4pm on Monday, June 5. Family entry is $40, adults $20, concessions $15 and children $10. There are no door ticket sales.

Parking will be available at the showgrounds for $10 per car.

Entry to the fun family event will only be available through online booking at expo.amra