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A tribute to Peter Jones

By Marc Horovitz | April 10, 2012

An editorial to the late GR contributor, along with his final magazine column

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Peter Jones, 1944-2009
As many of you know by now, Peter Jones has passed on. He leaves behind a sparkling legacy, having provided inspiration for so many of us. Peter had a uniquely brilliant approach to garden railroading and a compelling, evocative way of presenting his ideas. I have had the pleasure and privilege of bringing these to you for more than a quarter of a century.

Peter was born on October 21, 1944—Trafalgar Day—in Portsmouth, England. His birth was celebrated with a bottle of champagne, which was poured over the newborn. This, in retrospect, seems somehow fitting and proper. He grew up with a love of railways. As GR readers know, the first incarnation of his now-famous Compton Down Railway appeared in 1949—60 years ago—when Peter was five. He married Judith in 1964 and they ultimately settled in southern Wales to be surfers. They never left.

Peter was involved with railway preservation. While working at this, he suffered a serious back injury. This put him out of the running, work-wise, but left him free to pursue his garden railway and to fully develop his approach to the hobby (as well as to expound upon it in print), much to our collective benefit.

The other day I brought out my file of Jonsian correspondence. It approaches two inches in thickness. We started trading letters in 1982 or 1983. Peter’s first article—a description of the Compton Down—appeared in the May-June 1983 issue of the Sidestreet Banner, GR’s predecessor. His first “Scribblings on a workshop wall” was in the November-December issue of the same year and he has been with us ever since.  

I had the pleasure of visiting Peter in his natural habitat two or three times over the years. He always claimed to be no great modeler. While he may not have been the best model builder, when it came to actual modeling—that is, creating in miniature the essence of what was real—he was unsurpassed. His theories about color, texture, and proportion have been well documented in these pages. Actually seeing them fully realized in the form of his living railway was an uplifting experience.

Anyone who is an active modeler knows that ours is a largely solitary occupation. Peter had a small shed in his back garden, near the railway, in which he worked his magic alone. I recall sitting outside his shed with him on one warmish day, atop a low stone wall. As we quietly chatted, Peter began slowly gathering small twigs, leaves, and other organic detritus, which he then set alight (fire and smoke were always important design elements on the Compton Down). As this miniature fire blazed away between us, he remarked that he would sometimes do this just to pass some time, attempting to keep the tiny pyre going as long as he could, just by stoking it with whatever natural material lay close at hand. This somehow epitomized both his unusual creative genius and the lone-ness (but not loneliness) of our mutual pastime.

Peter knew that he was gravely ill, and so wrote a final “Scribblings,” which you can download using the link near his photo. His departure from these pages will leave a distinct void. It is said in the corporate world that no one is irreplaceable. But Peter Jones is.

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