Those lovely model cab details – but what does everything do?

Anyone who models the steam era cannot have failed to notice the ever-growing complexity of cab detailing in recent years — but what are the real-life functions of all of those levers, gauges and pipes? Craig Amess visits the Swindon & Cricklade Railway to find out for himself on the footplate of 56XX 0-6-2T No. 5619.

Whether it’s the Gifford-patented injector that lifts water from tender to boiler; the gauge glasses indicating the water level in the boiler; the regulator handle that controls steam pressure entering the cylinders; the vacuum brake ejector; the steam pressure gauge or the reversing lever that controls not just the direction of travel but also the ‘cut-off’ function that provides the most economical use of steam in all driving conditions – one of the most enjoyable ways to learn about them all is to take part in one of the many footplate experience courses run by our heritage railways.

Happy days! Driver Joe Titcombe and Craig watch from the cab as fireman Paul Davies (left) and Gareth Evans, of sister publication Heritage Railway, stand beside 56XX 0-6-2 tank locomotive No. 5619 at the Swindon & Cricklade Railway.

Even if you don’t take it all in at the first go, getting behind the regulator of a real steam engine (or indeed the controller of a favourite diesel-electric or diesel-hydraulic locomotive) is always a dream come true – and such dreams are available in a wide variety of packages, covering all gauges, locomotive types and levels of learning.

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Different prices are charged for different sessions, some of brief duration and others taking days and even including practical classroom sessions, but some of the more affordable experiences are available from just £5 per head. Some of the sessions sell out quickly, so it’s worth booking well in advance.

I developed a keen taste for railways after starting work in Mortons’ advertising department, first with Heritage Railway and then The Railway Magazine, and on October 15, along with HR’s deputy editor Gareth Evans, I was invited to the Swindon & Cricklade Railway in Wiltshire to sample a most enjoyable footplate experience on the line.

For the full article and to view more images, see the January 2019 edition of Modelling – available now!
For a complete list of stockists and how to get your copy, visit:

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About the Author

Sam Hewitt