A Stupid Undertaking: Seventy Years Playing with a Train Set book

A book by Ralph Holden
A Stupid Undertaking: Seventy Years Playing with a Train Set
by Ralph Holden
53 Stroud St. Nth
Cheltenham SA 5014
88 pages, 63/4" x 91/2", softbound, color and b&w photos
Price: See text
Ralph Holden, as long-time readers may recall, had a column in Garden Railways entitled “A letter from Australia,” which ran from December 1993 through December 1998. In these articles, Ralph would invariably link his garden railway, the South Australian Railways, Eyre Peninsula Division (SAR-EPD), to the full-size railroading world. His model railway in the garden is one of the very few that I’ve ever come across that is closely based on a working prototype.

A Stupid Undertaking is not only the story of Ralph’s garden railway, it is his personal story as well. The title of the book refers not to his own efforts in the garden but to a parliamentarian’s reaction to the proposed building of the prototype that Ralph models. The book begins with a description of his first experiences with a Hornby 0-gauge train set as a boy in the 1940s, and traces all of his railways leading up to its present incarnation.

The author, an Anglican priest, received his first assignment in 1963, to a place that was surprisingly remote, primitive, and difficult to get to, even in what we would consider to be relatively modern times. An automobile journey from Adelaide, the nearest large city, was long, circuitous, and arduous. A boat journey was more direct. The railway, when it was built, became an important link to civilization. It was a portion of this railway the author chose to model.

This charming book tells the whole story. The 1:32-scale SAR-EPD evolved over the years into a raised railway that occupied much of the author’s back garden. He describes its construction (including drawings), its locomotives and rolling stock (all scratchbuilt models of specific prototypes), and its operation (much like the prototype’s). Live plants include trees in standard-size removable pots, let into the baseboard of the railway. If one should die, it’s just popped out and replaced by another. All trees are scrupulously pruned to remain in scale.

The book is printed on high quality, glossy paper. Photo and illustration reproduction is excellent. This is a wonderful little volume that accurately chronicles one man’s passion in great detail. We seldom run across someone who has retained relics from all past model-railway endeavors, then compiles them into a book that is not only an easy read, but an entertaining one as well.

The price of the book is $15 US, which covers air-mail shipping to the US. The author asks that you just send a ten and a five (cash) to the above address—that’s the easiest and most direct way to get one.


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