James May's Toy Stories. On Monday 24th August 2009, James May – with a very large team of volunteers from the local community – laid a model railway track from Barnstaple to Bideford in North Devon in an attempt to seize the record for the world's longest model railway from the Germans. (The German record is 8½ miles.) While the distance from Barnstaple to Bideford is only 9 miles, a number of loops were added at Barnstaple and Fremington to raise the distance that the model trains would travel to 10 miles. This particular route was chosen because it met the many criteria set by James, and is now part of Devon County Council's popular 'Tarka Trail'. As such, the old railway has a tarmac surface which could accommodate the model train and the film crew's 'rickshaws', which will be seen in the following photographs.

Work started at about 9 a.m., but it was not until after 2 p.m. that the entire track had been laid. There were 600 volunteers altogether, organised into about 80 small groups. The 'permanent way' was supplied by Hornby, who delivered a huge quantity of their popular OO or 'dublo' gauge track in metre lengths. Unfortunately, the resistance of the rails meant that a single electrical input could not power a model train all the way, and there was an appreciable loss of power within about 250 metres. Therefore, 12 volt DC batteries were installed at regular intervals along the route in order to ensure that there was sufficient power all the way.

As reported in our News section (click here), James's attempt at the world was beset by vandalism. The idea had been to set off five model trains from Barnstaple at 10 minute intervals, but one of the five would not work, and three of the others failed along the way – at least one, sadly, due to deliberate vandalism. However, a Hornby model of a Japanese bullet train made it to Instow by half past midnight on Tuesday 25th August, where we understand that its tiny engine burned out. This may yet be enough to set a new record for the world's longest point-to-point model railway. Given the problems that James and his team had to put up with, this would be a good consolation prize.

The televsion programmes based on this and other equally crazy endeavours (see here) are due to be broadcast on the BBC on Thursdays from October. Keep an eye on the Radio Times!

Above: The first indication that most people had of James May's attempt on the world record was when they arrived to find the bus lane at Barnstaple station closed. The reason for this will become apparent below. The event was kept largely under wraps in order to minimise the crowds who attended. 24 August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: At the north end of Barnstaple station (which, incidentally, now enjoys an hourly service from Exeter), the team set up a model terminus. Unlike the model station at Bideford, this model was a work of fiction, for Barnstaple Junction never looked like this. The five model trains can be seen waiting to depart: the first one out was the train in the second road from the left. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Above: Immediately after leaving the model station, trains ran on to two bowstring bridges, seen here, which were made by the production team. These kept the model broadly on a level as it negotiated the platform ramp and ran out into the station car park, which has been built over the junction were the lines to Ilfracombe and Bideford diverged. Despite engineering works like this, the tiny models still had to negotiate some severe gradients, one of which can be seen in the distance in this picture. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Above: Quite a few camera crews were in evidence on the day. Apart from the production company, the local news programme, 'Spotlight', was represented, while several freelance teams turned up – hoping, no doubt, to sell their pictures on the open market. The cameraman here is moving his camera over a loop in the 'dublo' track. This can just be seen gleaming behind the traffic cone. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Above: Laying track on the bridge over the bus lane at Barnstaple station. This is the structure which required the bus lane to be closed for 24 hours. As can be seen, the day started wet and windy, but the weather forecast proved accurate and, by early afternoon, it was a beautiful summer's day. That, of course, caused problems of its own, because the heat began to buckle the track – the metal and plastic components expand at different rates! 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Above: The abundance of track gave a young lad ample opportunity to test the permanent way with his box van. The size of the pieces of tarmac visible in the background indicate just how small the models were. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Left: The first train finally set off from Barnstaple station just before 2:30 p.m. It is seen here at 2:32 p.m. crossing the bowstring bridge over the bus lane. The three carriages were Pullmans. As for the locomotive, it could be a model of a re-built West Country pacific, which would be appropriate given the location; but help would be appreciated (see the e-mail link on our Contact page). By this stage, there was quite a crowd, so our photographer was lucky to get a good vantage point. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
Above: Charlie from Plum Pictures – the television production company for 'Toy Stories' – is seen here leaving the car park at Barnstaple station in charge of one of the company's two 'rickshaws'. These have room in the back for both a cameraman and sound engineer. It was a boon to have the old railway to Bideford converted into a tarmacced cycle trail. 24th August 2009. (Jeff Vinter)