Ken Saunders with his model railway in Tewantin.
Ken Saunders with his model railway in Tewantin. Contributed.

Distance no barrier for family of model railway fans

WHEN Ken Saunders was eight years old, his dad bought him a Hornby clockwork train engine for his birthday. It was the start of a passion for model railways that 70 years later is still with him.

This enthusiasm is shared by his nine-year-old grandson, Jared, who lives in Vancouver 12,000km away.

The little Hornby engine has grown into 14sqm rail layout and shipping complex in Ken's Tewantin garage and, through the miracle of cyber technology and cameras, Jared, in Canada, can access the site, play with the trains and share hobby time with his granddad.

Complete with a ski mountain, a boating lake, a coal town, a circus, a military airport, freight and passenger terminals, cattle, people and engines and carriages galore, the layout is a dream playground for boys of all ages.

"I was talking to Jared on Skype and I showed him some of the trains working," Ken told Seniors.

"Skype was limited in what I could let him see and, when he said 'I wish I could do that," the idea came to me that, if we can send camera videos over the Internet, why not train signals?"

A former radar technologist with the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force, Ken sought the help of his nephew Alan, an IT specialist who lives at Oxford in the U.K.

"It took some time but by co-ordinating Internet network programing at a Domain Name Server site (DNS) with a good home Internet Service Provider (ISP) we got it done.

"Jared can now do everything I can do here. He is too young for a mobile phone but he uses my daughter's to load the program and connect to his computer. I have to set it up for him at my end but he can make trains stop, go reverse, switch engine lights on and off activate the steam engine sounds and just run the show."

Ken is a member of a small club of fellow buffs.

"I was with Coast Guard Noosa and, while chatting to two other volunteers, we found out we all had had train stuff in boxes for years so we decided to help each other build our layouts.

"We now have 12 members all interested in model railroads. Four of them live in Gympie.

"We meet at one home once a month to view that person's layout and help build or repair it. It is very relaxed. Everyone seems to bring a skill or important knowledge to the club's events. We actually have a real engine driver."

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