Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers

Konect Livingston, Bathgate, Calders and Balerno October 2014

By Helen-Jane Shearer

“Just to get one thing straight...they are not steam trains, they are steam locomotives.”

I'm at the 120th birthday open day celebrations of the Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers (ESME), watching an array of steam, diesel and battery-operated vehicles take families for rides around the tracks which are sited on a local private estate. Off to one side there's a turntable were the engines start from, and where members of ESME are tinkering - twiddling a knob here, tightening up a screw there.  

There is something very beguiling about miniature models, whether you're an engineer or not, from the tiny yet extremely hot furnaces of the steam locomotives to the little pistons fluttering up and down. I spoke to a member who was steaming up a locomotive that he has skilfully hand-crafted over the course of about 10 years – a project that his father started and that he has completed himself, carrying out all the work from rolling the tin for the body, turning each brass component and weaving the tiny pipework.

Such a vehicle represents a lot of skill, not to mention time. Not everyone can manage that but you can buy kits in sections, adding to your model as and when you can afford it, or buy a second hand locomotive. The Society also owns four locomotives so members can learn to operate one even if they do not own their own.

It's definitely not just about steam though. The Society has a broad interest base and is lucky enough to have recently purchased an 11.5 acre site through club funds and member donations which has since been supplemented by a lottery grant. They have great plans for the site which will be the largest model engineering centre in Scotland, and unique in that it will cater for a broad range of interests – railways (three gauges), traction engine roads, an area for radio control cars and even a pond for radio controlled boats. There will be fully-equipped workshops where members can work on their projects and share expertise. The ultimate goal is for it to be a visitor attraction, and although that is a few years down the line provision has been made in the new plans for a car parking and picnic area.

The Society has a lot to offer members and in particular is keen to encourage Duke of Edinburgh students to consider an engineering project to gain the skills section of their awards. They would be able to complete a project with the expert help and guidance of the experienced member engineers. The goal of the Society is simply to encourage and develop the skills and art of engineering through the construction of miniature, small scale and experimental prototype machines. It provides facilities and training where needed in the skills of machine turning and milling of metal and engineering materials, the use of hand tools, fitting, brazing, soldering and welding, pattern making and casting, and interpretation of engineering drawings.

It's a family-friendly club and new members are most welcome, regardless of background experience. For beginners, you could get a few bits from ebay for constructing a radio-controlled car, boat or plane; you might be interested in clock-making; or for a bigger project you could perhaps bring along an old lawn-mower engine and make a go-kart. The possibilities are endless and you will find a warm welcome at the club.

Besides its permanent tracks, ESME has portable tracks that it takes around to gala days and charity events. Established in 1894, the Society is, as far as we know, the oldest miniature engineering club in the world. Given Scotland's engineering history this is perhaps not surprising. It is exciting times within the Society now and with the new site in progress there is a lot of work to be done, starting with clearing the area of its dense but unhealthy pine and larch (work has started and the timber is being sold) and, once enough space has been cleared for the first tracks to be laid, steam power will of course be used to pull the timber out!

ESME meets every Monday evening at 7.30pm at Broxburn Scout Hall. There are talks from guest speakers, model displays, trips and the chance to talk and swap expertise.

For further information or to get involved in any way please contact the secretary, email secretary@edinburgh-sme.org.uk

Local companies interested in sponsoring work on the new model engineering centre are invited to contact Peter Arnold (Publicity and Marketing) tel: 0131 336 1254 or email peter.arnold@edinburgh-sme.org.uk. Expertise and support is welcome in a wide range of areas, from site clearing and construction (on-site portacabins) to website development and community engagement.

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