Mike Hughes, London cabbie, Taxi Charity volunteer and Poppy Cabs Coordinator talks to TAXI about his lifelong hobby...
“My love affair with trains started when I was just a toddler growing up in the South Wales valleys and has carried on throughout my whole life. But my greater love was kindled when I first went to Canada in 1980 and saw the freight trains and continues today.”
Mike fills his free time with his hobby – or as he says ‘his first love’, modelling railways, which sparked from his first encounter as a toddler, seeing the local trains stop outside his railway-side home in the valleys of South Wales and visiting various railways in the UK.
It was however, on a trip to Canada, where he saw the long freight trains that cross the North American continent, that saw him purchase his first American style model.
The Model Railway Club
Mike joined The Model Railway Club (Britain’s oldest model railway club), after attending a show in the early 70s. At that time, he based his modelling on UK, mainly Great Western Railway prototypes. He visited the Model Railway Club’s headquarters off Pentonville Road and was a regular helper at exhibitions, demonstrating modelling, while also learning from the more experienced modellers he worked alongside.
After moving with his wife and two children to Worthing in 2000, to a house that had the space for a model railway, he has boarded out the loft, had full electrical ring mains professionally installed, and now has a large model railway based on American and Canadian prototypes circling the entirety of the loft.
An operation to replace his knee joint, damaged in an accident in 1975, was performed in 2005. During his recovery, he used the time to relearn and update his modelling skills. He did this by planning and building what became his portable exhibition layout which he named Lynneton Yard, after his wife Lynne – which over the years has been viewed by thousands of people across the UK.
National Model Railroad Association
Mike accepted an invitation to join a Worthing based Model Railroad Club specialising in modelling all aspects of American prototypes and exhibited his portable layout several times. It was this local club that introduced him to the National Model Railroad Association
(NMRA) British Region.
Shortly after joining the NMRA, a request was put out for a new Publicity Officer for the British Region. Mike met up with the Vice President of the Region and after some discussion realised that there was a need for much more than simple publicity. Mike wrote a proposal that was accepted by the Board of Directors and was appointed Marketing Coordinator for the British Region. Mike said, “There was much work to be done. The Region had gone through a degree of upheaval and had become fractured. It needed to be brought together so that it could move onwards”.
Mike had a five-year plan which included a complete overhaul of the original 1945 logo, introducing the ‘sharing know-how’ strap line, preparing a communication strategy to give members a new point of focus and helping to bring the NMRA British Region more into the focus of railway modellers.
The five-year plan took seven years to fully implement, and when complete Mike felt the time was right to move on: “I felt that, although there was more, I could do, my skills were rooted in a printing background and it was time to move aside to let those with digital expertise take the Region forward”.
The Taxi Charity, Poppy Cabs & mental health
More importantly, it meant that Mike had greater time to devote to coordinating the Poppy Cabs service and to become a volunteer driver for the Taxi Charity. It also freed up time to work with regular visitors to his own loft layout.
Steady progress has been made and under normal conditions there are weekly visitors who come to work on building the layout or, as Mike says, “just play trains”, including operating as the real-life railways do.
“During the pandemic lockdowns, having a hobby such as building a model railroad gave me something to focus on, helping my mental health at what has undoubtedly been a trying time for many taxi drivers and their families. I’m looking forward to getting back to near normal and hope to see others at exhibitions later in the year as lockdown restrictions ease.”
Mike is not alone; model railways and model-making have boomed during the pandemic.
Hornby, that stalwart of the British hobbyist industry, said it had seen far higher sales between April and August 2020 than expected and Peco, which makes tracks and scenery, is struggling to keep up with demand, while hobby shops have reported a huge increase in customers.
Model railways also have the stamp of celebrity approval. Rod Stewart was proud to show off his extraordinary reconstruction of an American city to Railway Modeller magazine in 2020. Rod’s layout of 1940s cars, trains and skyscrapers is 125ft by 23ft, and he is reportedly shipping it back to Essex from Beverly Hills.
About Mike Hughes
Mike Hughes, 73, first became a London taxi driver in 1977 after leaving the police following an injury sustained in a motorcycle accident in March 1975. He left the taxi trade after four years to start a printing business in Gosport, Hampshire. Fortunes fluctuated over the years with business going up and down until the recession of the 90s saw the collapse of some of Mike’s major clients, forcing the closure of his business. Having failed to renew his licence, Mike could not return to taxi driving in London without first re-taking the Knowledge.
Instead, he did the local knowledge for Brighton and Hove, driving a Brighton taxi for nearly 6 years. During the last 36 months of his time driving in Brighton he re-took the London Knowledge and has been back driving a taxi in London since 2004.
Mike is Independent Coordinator for the annual Poppy Cabs free taxi service for veterans going to and from the Remembrance Sunday service and parade at the Cenotaph and has been a volunteer driver with the Taxi Charity for more than five years. During that time, he has taken several veterans to events in Normandy and Holland. It is common for Taxi Charity volunteers to form close friendships with veterans living near them. In recent years Mike has been supporting Lancing resident, 101-year-old Major Edwin ‘Ted’ Hunt, taking him to Holland and Normandy several times, as well as recently ferrying him to his Covid vaccinations.
Mike has a photo site which is arranged in albums where, among
other things, you can view his model railway work, visits to Canada for
inspiration, NMRA visits and also Poppy Cabs related pictures: