Saturday 10 January 2015

Gilbert : Filbert : Dilbert : Wilbert

Gilbert Harding, a bit of a nut ...
... fondly remembered as the irrascible but marginally eccentric perceptive panellist of "What's My Line".

Filbert, a bit of a nut ...
... and an alternative name for the hazelnut. So named because it will mature on or near St Filibert's Day, August 20th (probably!).

Dilbert, a bit of a nut ...
... and favourite cartoon character.

Wilbert, a bit of a reverend railway nut ...
The Railway Series is a set of story books about a railway system located on the fictional Island of Sodor. There are 42 books in the series, the first being published in 1945. Twenty-six were written by the Rev. W. (Wilbert) Awdry, up to 1972. A further 16 were written by his son, Christopher Awdry; 14 between 1983 and 1996, and two more in 2007 and 2011.

Nearly all of The Railway Series stories were based upon real-life events. As a lifelong railway enthusiast, Awdry was keen that his stories should be as realistic as possible. The engine characters were almost all based upon real classes of locomotive, and some of the railways themselves were directly based upon real lines in the British Isles.

His hero is Thomas the tank engine but many more locomotives appeared in the stories.
How many can you name? One character was a GWR saddle tank locomotive called "Duck".
His avian nickname (real name "Montague"), we learn, is because he was reputed to  "waddle" along the track, although he actually ran normally.

The truth about the real duck was remembered by fbb from a magazine article. [Source "Railway Modeller" magazine as read by fbb in his youth; circa 1853?]. The real (but model) OO gauge engine ran on the Rev's very own model railway. But it was slightly faulty and did wobble (or waddle) along the track. Its nickname stuck and eventually became a character in the books.
The original “Duck” at work on "Ffarquhar" (Rev's layout)
in the pages of Railway Modeller 1959 

fbb was 14. Help! That was 55 years ago and the old bloke remembers it. Spooky. fbb did once meet Rev Wilbert, briefly, at a model railway exhibition in London. The Rev said "hello". That was the end of their encounter.

Wilbert's son, Christopher,
for whom the original stories were written, took on his father's mantle and turned "Thomas" into a world-wide business. Many preserved railways have "Thomas" weekends to lure in the kiddies, complete with a real life Fat Controller ...
... as here on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. But, surely, not fat enough? To avoid claims of "fatism", the corpulent controller was later named in the books as Sir Topham Hatt; he also acquired a "Lady Hatt" and am extended family for the "Thomas and Friends" TV series.

"Thomas" is now a massive global business. But fbb has a confession to make. He never read the stories as a child! These tragedies of history caused deep scars in the chubby one's personality and much regret ever since.

So it was that, last week, fbb's model railway took delivery of "Toby the Tram Engine", produced by Bachmann mainly for the American market and far from easy to obtain in the UK.
Needless to say, Toby is based on real life. His role in reality was as part of the Wisbech and Upwell Tramway. The line opened in 1883, closed to passengers in 1927 and to freight in 1966.

We might well take a further look at Toby's full-size counterpart tomorrow.

In the meantime, what was the bus called?
And, perhaps a more challenging challenge, who, or what, were Bulgy and Bulstrode? As it is oh so easy to use the interwebnet to find the answers, fbb will be offering no lavish prizes; let it be a personal achievement to answer without on-line or printed help, just the good old human brain.

As it is available on YouTube, please feel free to enjoy a full episode, all about Toby.
The storyteller is, of course, Ringo Starr.

And he "three chime whistle" was particularly common in the USA; it consists, usually, of one tube with three whistles built in, sounding together in a melodious chord.
fbb's Toby has a non-working bell.
And in case you might wonder why fbb is rapidly recreating a missed Thomas-loving childhood (and you were wondering, weren't you?), the idea is to recreate something of the "Thomas" event atmosphere on the "Peterville Quarry Railway" to entertain its miniature younger visitors. Special "fun" passenger vehicles are being constructed for Toby to haul.

Sad, isn't it?
Talking of Expensive Fares
in Cornwall ...
 fbb reported on a massive (?) fares reduction on First's competitive services from St Austell. At about the same time, "the team" in Greater Manchester announced:-

The press release was accompanied by a pretty picture.
In terms of running time, for example, Firsts route 42 (ex Finglands) takes 30 minutes. The same time on First Kernow's 24 will cost you £3, the same distance (as the Cornish crow flies) £4. What's the difference? It might just be competition with Stagecoach in Manchester!

Such are the joys of "market forces".
 Next rail blog : Sunday 11th January 


  1. It's not just the competition that makes fares different in Manchester and in Cornwall. Merely the fact that the former is a densely populated urban area with lower car ownership should mean that any bus in a city will always have more potential passengers than in rural Cornwall.

    Since the costs of operation in both are broadly similar, it is possible to offer lower fares an urban route because there will be more passengers from which to recoup the costs of operation - ergo they get lower fares than their Cornish counterparts. And the lower competitive fare is a gamble - does cutting the fare by 40% generate the 70% more passengers needed to maintain the same level of revenue?

    Cut to East Didsbury on a Sunday afternoon in May, and most of the frequent Stagecoach double deckers were at least 70% full. Not so First's 42s, which as a then recent introduction, had probably missed out on that term's student ticket purchases. Might be different now.

  2. Equally, would buses in Fowey attract more passengers if they WERE cheaper. The balance is difficult and a commercial gamble BUT the numbers of fare payers (as opposed to old crocks) seen on my visit was very small indeed. (6 between 1027 and 1604!).

  3. It's a while ago, but in the early 1980's LCBS tried reducing fares by 50% on a route (the 464 - which wasn't paralleled by any others) to see just how the demand was affected.
    Fares income did rise, but not by as much as the fares reduced. To be fair, this is a quiet town route in Oxted (now the 594), so the result could have been predicted, but as fbb says the balance is difficult.
    It's probably better (as Stagecoach tend to do) to offer cheap weekly/monthly tickets . . . at least the money comes in upfront, and if the ticket isn't fully used it may be a better deal for the operator.

  4. greenline727 - out of interest, did the fares income rise, or just the number of passengers? If it was the former, then I should have thought that the company would have been happy (provided no additional costs were incurred). If it was the latter, then presumably the total revenue would actually have fallen - and that seems to be implied by your wording. From my recollection of similar experiments elsewhere around that time, it was generally the latter result - which is why most of these experiments were not pursued further.

    1. Apologies . . . now I read my post, the wording is a tad ambiguous!
      The number of passengers did rise, but the total fares revenue dropped. I can't remember the figures now, and I'm not at all sure that they were ever published, but I was working for LCBS then, and the experiment was quietly dropped, which we all took to mean that it wasn't successful.
      It's the old story . . . 100% increase in 100 isn't very much, but 100% increase in 1000 is substantial.
      These experiments can only really work where there is a large unsatisfied passenger demand; and if the experiment doesn't work, then it can be a lot of revenue to lose!

    2. Thanks for clarifying that! I think that was the usual result of such experiments in the 1970s and '80s. As you say, discounts via season tickets are probably more effective, as they encourage loyalty as well as bringing the money sooner (and in a more efficient manner).