Published: 15:01, 25 July 2018
| Updated: 15:03, 25 July 2018
Imagine driving your own train around a track? For some, it's the ultimate big boys' toy.
It's what Sheppey Miniature Model Engineering Society's 50 members can do on their third-of-a-mile circuit at Barton's Point Coastal Park, Sheerness.
They have been giving rides to youngsters, and their parents, for the past 40 years but many Islanders are still unaware they exist.
"It's Sheppey's best-kept secret," admitted treasurer Nigel Ingram.
The retired HSBC bank manager from Sittingbourne has to balance the books.
It costs £4,000 a year to maintain the track, pay for insurance, repair vandalism and add new attractions.
But there is only so much the £1 rides can pay for.
Now the Sheppey Pirates' annual landing and water-fight has been cancelled (a new Pirates' Pitch Party will be held at the Sheppey Rugby Club next Saturday, August 4) the committee is bracing itself for a £700 financial hole.
The club is in danger of being derailed.
Mr Ingram, 68, said: "The repercussions of losing the Pirates will hit us hard. We want to remind Islanders we are still here and should not be forgotten."
So they are pulling out all the stops this weekend (July 28 and 29) for their 40th anniversary bash.
On Saturday, visiting clubs from across Kent will run their own locomotives on the raised model railway track.
There will be 11 steam traction engines from miniature to half-size and there will be sweet treats for youngsters riding the trains and a limited number of 40th souvenir gifts for the "big kids."
Steam punk group Great Kentspectations will be on site both days with its tea-pot racing.
There will also be model boats sailing on the boating pond which has been specially refilled with 6,380 gallons of water for the anniversary.
Sheppey FM roadshow will be present.
Members come from all walks of life, including a lorry driver and a real train driver.
Among them are former London cabbie Mick Culverwell, 68, from Halfway who has a radio-controlled model tug;
Musician and actor Rodney Atkins, 74, from Wards Hill, Minster, who is building a replica of Lord Nelson's flagship the Victory;
Martin Nealey, 69, from Southsea Avenue, Minster, who drives a £32,000 road-legal scale model steam traction engine;
And Ian White, a 57-year-old paramedic with the London Ambulance Service from Minster. Ian has a Class 29 British Railways diesel train which is so detailed it even has a model bacon sandwich in the cab for the driver.
But it's not all about chaps.
Mum-of-two Akeza-Maria McCallister, 31, from Faversham runs a pink locomotive.
Her dad Phil Harpum, 68, who worked at Sittingbourne's brick fields before retiring, has five trains including the popular Halloween Special made from an old coffin.
For details, visit the club's website www.sheppeymodelengineering.co.uk
The Sheppey Miniature Model Engineering Society was created in 1978 by two teachers, Les Bryant and John Wheeler, and engineer Ken Halls.
Chairman Bob Dawson said: "The three asked newsagents for the names of anyone ordering model-making magazines and invited each one to attend a meeting at the Ship Inn, Queenborough (now the Aviator)."
Further meetings followed at the Sheppey Comprehensive School in Minster (now Oasis Academy) and Sheppey Yacht Club in Sheerness before moving to the Sea Cadets' site at Barton's Point.
Members built a five-inch portable track to give rides at fetes and open days to raise money to build the current raised permanent railway line.
In July, 1985, the society was given a licence by Swale council to build and operate the track along with a circuit for radio-controlled cars. The model boating lake came later.
Members acquired an old railway boxcar for a station building and built a timber clubhouse which was destroyed in an arson attack in 1998.
A replacement now stands next to the station.
Most members have their own locomotives. The club's carriages are kept in a low-level store.
The railway runs Sunday afternoons during the summer plus bank holidays and Saturdays in the school holidays.