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LMSS Masthead

Fostering Interest in Research & Modelling of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway

Donald Peter Rowland 25/03/1930 - 09/08/2021

Photo of Don Rowland with Rhuddall Heath 1987

Don Rowland with Rhuddall Heath 1987 - photo by Bill Roberton

Some personal thoughts on a great man from Jim Summers

That Don Rowland was a dyed-in-the-wool LMS man was not something of which I was aware when I first met him. In fact, you could be in his company for a long time before you began to suspect where his deepest company loyalties lay. That was typical of Don in so many ways. He was not a man to hold narrow views or prejudices, and even less to force any opinions on to other folk. What he did pass on, though, was railway knowledge and modelling expertise. Yesterday evening I looked at a North Staffs. van and a Scottish trader's wagon for Balgonie, which he gave me a long time ago. Then I looked as some complicated pointwork on a curve which he had built for me. Surely these show a man not only of wide interests but with a generosity of spirit. (He had incidentally built about 350 wagons in his time).

Don's name was first known to me through his pathfinding writings, such as Keeping the Balance, in which the dispensed knowledge was shot through with a rich vein of wry humour. How fitting that his last publication was entitled Twilight of the Goods, for it embodies the Don we knew. British Goods Wagons had been published in 1970, with its dedication "To all kindred spirits for whom the crash of buffers and the snatch of thee-link couplings is music to the ears". That book was the work of a notable pioneering trio, but the poetry of that dedication again seems to me to be pure Don. Like his British Railways Wagons - The First Half-million, these writings show a man who loved - and understood - all railways, of which the LMS happened to be a particular interest. Derek Jenkinson is quoted as saying no one knew more about the LMS than Don. That would have embarrassed Don, but was probably true, as Don really did understand what made a railway tick.

The LMS was perhaps inevitable, for his father was an LMS man and the family lived in Crewe, which had a notable station to entertain a growing lad. As his father was at that time a senior man in the investigation of accidents, Don was in a position to learn just how the railway really worked, and he could be taken for a professional in any discussion of the operation of railways. In fact he was a professional for a year before university, for he was booking clerk and shunter at Gordon Hill - that was ex-LNER accountancy methods and ex-LNER Quint-art carriages, but Don was happy on any railway. His writings on booking office processes are a valuable record, and emphasise how he saw the whole system as fascinating, even if the clash of buffers and clang of couplings on wagons sounded and looked more dramatic. And it was all worth recording by word and model.

Many of the illustrations of wagons for the aforementioned books had been taken by Don on his wanderings with a camera around Scottish locations, for he lived nigh on 50 years in Scotland, and became weel-kent in the modelling world (he was Chairman of the Edinburgh & Lothians Club in the famously historic Advocates Close in the Old Town of Edinburgh) and in the preservation world (he was Chairman of the Strathspey Railway Association). One of my colleagues remembers Don and Ken Northwood visiting Edinburgh Academy in the 1960s to talk about railways. It was a good time to be in Edinburgh, for he consorted with people such as Ken, W. Loch Kidston, and Sir Eric Hutchison. Don was in Edinburgh to study geography, but went on to work - still in Edinburgh - for Ferranti, the electronics firm. Some of our model layouts still run on wires which were legally superfluous to the firm's requirements: well, if it was good enough for military work . . .

Don had work study training with Ferranti and became a computer analyst when the firm set itself up seriously in that area. I have been pointing out that Don was never insular. As an example, he determined in 1971/2 that a 4mm NBR J37 was needed for the local model railway world - and he would do it in styrene. The problem was the curve of the tender raves, and his solution is worth recalling:
"I called on the resources of some tame mathematicians at work. Suggesting they might like to calculate something really worthwhile for a change, and the problem was explained. After a short deliberative period, dimensions were requested, which, by coincidence, I happened to have on hand, and I was soon in possession of the answer required. That evening a piece of styrene sheet was worked out as per instructions, cut to shape and tried. Lo and behold, it worked first time - great stuff, this maths". That last bit is so Don. Mind you, he once told me that the mathematician concerned had been looking for an afternoon off, which was duly granted.

My own good fortune in getting to know Don more closely began at the inauguration in 1985 of the East of Scotland 4mm Group of modellers, when he was already a well-established figure in Scotland. Don had the knack of making life a bit better, whatever the topic. Maybe it was that beaming smile. It will forever be associated in my mind with Don proclaiming "Greetings!" as he invariably did when he made his entrance to our meeting room. It was genuinely meant, and it lifted the spirit, especially if one happened to hear it when under the layout in a meaningless tangle of wires.

As with meetings of the HMRS, of which he was a President, and gatherings of the Scalefour Society, of which he was also a President, in our modelling group he gently imparted knowledge and experience. The two layouts with which he was involved were not in the LMS period, one was joint Cal./NBR (Bonnybridge Central) and one North British (Burntisland 1883), but that showed his lack of prejudice or obsession. While he could turn his hand to anything, his contributions to these were primarily in buildings. Outstanding on Burntisland 1883 is his group representing Forth Place, which features the Forth Hotel which housed the District Control Office (with adjacent Pool Room!) in LNER days.

Photo of Forth Hotel Modelled by Don Rowland

Forth Hotel by Don Rowland

My part in that model was to participate in a surreptitious exchange on Warrington Bank Quay platform of mysterious large box with snap-over catches and a large leather strap: on the CCTV it must have looked more than a little suspicious, but I got it over the border to Scotland safely. This was all necessary because that Forth Place group was built away from Scotland. In 1999, after 44 years of married life in Edinburgh, Don and Olive had moved south to Whitchurch (LNW) to be closer to their daughter, Elaine. There Don occupied one bedroom as his workshop and across the landing Olive occupied another, working skilfully on her delightful dolls houses. Olive and Elaine were a great support to Don in his hobbies, and he was always mindful of them and their interests. Indeed, as he grew more infirm, he would book himself into a care home, so that the ladies could go off on holiday together and not need to worry about him. .

That thoughtful helpfulness was ever a characteristic of Don. All his friends north, south and throughout the railway/model railway world speak of it. His knowledge and experience were never flaunted, but were there if sought. You could see them in the Christmas puzzles which he set for the Model Railway Journal. In Whitchurch Don participated fully in the Crewe area modelling group, and to the end was working on the radio control of model railways - he saw DCC as a fad - whereas the regular need for fuel and water (i.e. recharging a battery) was much more like the real thing.

In his final years Don found getting around ever more tricky, and he acquired a pony truck to assist him. A visit and conversation with him was still a delight, for he remained interested in railways old and new. After some spells in hospital earlier this year, he returned home, where he wanted to be, and died peacefully in his sleep on 9th August, his 91st year.

We have lost a great man, whose influence will long remain with us. We all offer our deep condolences to Olive and Elaine, craftswomen in their own right, who so nobly encouraged Don in his enterprises and shared him with us.

Photo of Don Rowland at Ladybank Hall . . . . with Bonnybridge Central

Don at Ladybank Hall . . . . with Bonnybridge Central - photo by Bill Roberton

A further recollection from Peter Tatlow

I am sure there will be many appreciations of Don Rowland recalling all he did for our hobby in both the prototype and model fields, but a less usual aspect comes to mind which I should like to share.

As well as a deep interest in wagons, one of the activities we shared was volunteering on the Strathspey Railway and during a stopover one weekend in September 1986, he persuaded me, much against my inclination, to act as booking clerk at Boat of Garten station. Sometime on the Saturday before the first train was due to depart, he carefully explained to me the mysteries and intricacies of issuing tickets to the intending passengers. It was just as well that there are only a limited number of fares on a short heritage line. In due course, he left me to my own devices, although I seem to recall he was about elsewhere on the station if help was needed. Then towards the end of the day he returned to take me through the closing procedures, cash up and achieve a balance, adding what one might do if there happened to be a small surplus! On the Sunday, however, once opened up, he had business elsewhere on the railway and I was left on my own to sink or swim until he returned on the last train to help close up.

I have never again been called upon to act as booking clerk, so the complicated procedures adopted by the railway management to ensure that it received the revenue it had earnt I have long since forgotten. Fortunately, Don took the trouble to write at length about the work of booking clerks on the LMS and this may be found in LMS Journal No. 32, pages 41 to 47. Just one example of the breadth of his knowledge of the railways.

PS If, on rereading the above-mentioned article, you are left feeling bewildered, this was nothing compared with the challenge facing the goods clerk with thousands of classifications, dozens of standard and exceptional rates, rebates, wagon returns, consignment notes, invoices, claim forms, etc. to be dealt with. I doubt there are many left now who can set down those procedures as a matter of history. PT

Photo of Don Rowland with NEFG Berwick 06/06/1999

Don with NEFG Berwick 06/06/1999

And from Michael Holland

I first became aware of Don Rowland from Model Railway News for August 1966 when his thinking and initial work on what became his iconic layout Central Cheshire, the first phase being called Wistaston Sidings, was explained. For some years previously, the huge variety of wagons, old and new to be seen on our railways, had fascinated me without really knowing much about them but Don's approach to properly constituted goods trains operated and shunted in a prototypical manner awakened my interest and from then on I was an avid reader of anything that I found written by him. This was followed by The World of Wagons as a series which commenced in Model Railway News in January 1967 to which I still frequently refer.

In conjunction with Bob Essery and Bill Steel, he co-authored The British Goods Wagon in 1970.

After MRN metamorphosed into Model Railways he continued to submit articles and into Model Railway Journal on its foundation, one of its highlights being his regular Christmas puzzle which tested any entrant's knowledge of how the big railway worked albeit often using an example based on Central Cheshire. All the place names used on that layout existed in the real Cheshire though apart from Tarporley, none had a railway and even that one was nearer to Beeston Castle.

As far as I am aware, his final work was Twilight of the Goods by Wild Swan Books in 2019.

While many books and articles have been written since, surely it was Don's work that led the way in raising interest in the humble goods wagon and train, certainly with his ability to relate the working of wagons on the big railway to the model situation.

Finally some thoughts from our Secretary, Arnold Tortorella

Don Rowland was simply one of the most important railway and model railway enthusiasts to actively participate in our hobby over the past fifty years. Not only was he a superb modeller, particularly to ScaleFour standards, but he was an all-round enthusiast for the steam railway era. As one noted historian once declared, 'No-one knew more about the LMS than Don Rowland.'

I first met Don in spring 1982, when I went along to attend an HMRS event in Glasgow. It was to be a workshop session or open meeting, and all attendees were asked to contribute on either a current modelling project or an aspect of the steam railway which they were currently looking at. Not being much of a modeller, I did manage to speak on telegraph poles and the then-current Airfix version in 4mm scale. However, Don and all the other attendees thanked me for my input and made me feel very welcome. That evening I sent off my application form to join the HMRS and have remained a member ever since.

Don was a first rate modeller and one of the first to move to P4/S4 standards. His layouts and models were always top drawer, and many graced the pages of the model railway magazines, such as MRJ and so on. His Keeping the Balance series from 1974 and published within Model Railways was an important ground-breaking series in terms of explaining how many locomotives, coaches and NPCS, and wagons each model railway layout should have. At time of writing, it has yet to be superseded, nor is it ever likely to be so.

Don was also a first rate speaker on the Meetings' Circuit in Scotland, being exceptionally knowledgeable about all manner of railway matters. One of his finest presentations was entitled, Home after the Fair, or Hame efter ra Fair in Glaswegian parlance. It dealt with the special workings, before, during and after the annual Glasgow Fair or Trades holiday, when the major engineering works and shipyards closed for the annual two weeks summer holiday in late July. Both the LMS and then BR had to put on many special workings, as had the Caledonian Railway before them, to accommodate the sheer volume of passenger traffic. Don also provided other excellent presentations including both freight traffic on the LMS and accidents on the railway.

LMS Journal first appeared in 2001 and thereafter Don became a regular and one of its most important contributors. The first article to appear from his pen was entitled, By the Book, and explained clearly and succinctly how the LMS and its Rule Book changed and evolved in response to experience and changing conditions. Other articles surveyed Fitted Freight Stock Working, Parcels Traffic, and the Booking Office. All these articles are a treasure trove of fascinating information and knowledge and are well worth reading and studying many times over.

Don was a keen follower of the L&NWR, being a member of the Society for that railway for many years. He was a regular contributor to their Journal and his articles always made for fascinating reading.

In addition to his enthusiasm for finescale railway modelling and the prototype, Don, despite not being a draughtsman to trade, also found time and skill to take up drawing work. Two of his drawings grace the pages of Historic Carriage Drawings, vol.three : NPCS, a work which was compiled in memory of the late Smokey Bourne, a colleague of Don's from the LMS Society.

Don was also active within the railway preservation/heritage movement, being an active participant and volunteer on The Strathspey Railway, located between Aviemore-Boat of Garten and Broomhill on former Highland Railway metals in Scotland. Many a time he could be seen working in either the shop or the booking hall, helping bring in the necessary revenue to keep the project financially secure.

Don was a regular attendee at the annual Model Rail Scotland show, as it is now known, in Glasgow, along with several of the smaller ones. He would always find the time to stop and chat, and never had a bad word to say about any other enthusiast. Don was a true gentleman and every conversation with him, along with the many, amazing snippets of railway information, which he could provide, were to be treasured. The World is so much the poorer for his passing.

Photo of Don Rowland 01/05/1999

Don Rowland 01/05/1999

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