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Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport

In the early phase of planning Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway the management thought that 'kit bashing' would be easier than scratchbuilding. As a result several laser-cut rolling stock kits were acquired, with the intention of subverting them to something more Emett-esque.

And so an I P Engineering cattle wagon kit lurked for somewhile among the 'things to do next' pile. The initial intention was always to make this into a horse box, with a stable clock on the roof. In all honesty the Emett illustration which inspired this was taking the mickey out of cattle wagons. But what the heck.

But a horse box, even one with a clock on the roof (and it would be working… ), seemed altogether too mundane for a railway inspired by Rowland Emett. One of his illustrations shows three carriages 'themed' with stereotypes of Scotland, Wales and Stratford-upon-Avon (more details here). There were already plans for Scottish and Welsh coaches, to be pulled by an Irish loco, and the management had already prepared a Northumbrian-themed wagon. One of the regions conspicuous by its absence from that list was Cornwall.

For reasons that have already been lost in the proverbial mists, the management decided that the 'cattle wagon' would become the team transport for an ostrich racing team. Not that the management approves of ostrich racing. But it did seem a soft target for parodying. But what's Cornish about ostrich racing? An idle moment over a mug of coffee (we have many – but not as many as you might think… ) and the words 'Cornish ostrich' were typed into a well-known search engine. Lo and behold! The supporters of the coat of arms of the Duchy of Cornwall are a pair of choughs – holding large ostrich feathers in their beaks.

The mere thought of HRH the Duke of Cornwall (alternative titles also apply) brought to mind polo. And yet more lo and beholding, the search engine revealed that ostrich polo is (or maybe just was) a 'thing', at least down under. It was mostly played by ladies riding side saddle, known as 'ostriquestriennes'. You couldn't make it up!

Famed ostriquestrienne Fadile Bendaresith with her ostrich 'Ginger'

The motto for the Duketh Kernow is 'Houmout', maybe a typo scribal error for 'houmont'. It is said to mean 'courage' but the whys and wherefores of this strange word seem to go back to Edward I when he was Black Prince (ostrich feathers also to the fore back then) so wonky etymologies abound but hard facts elude. Whatever, the management of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway decided that this wagon, when it is assembled, with be signed up so folk are fully aware it is 'Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport'.

Seemingly Walt Disney knew all about ostrich polo back in 1936
– was it because Harpo Marx told him?
view the complete cartoon here

Once again thanks to Nigel for his historical acumen


The I P Engineering cattle wagon kit moved to the top of the 'things to do next' pile. The chassis seems quite basic after scratchbuilding Sir Toby, Gizmo and Gizmelda. The rather nice solid metal wheels were saved for something more 'locomotional' and Binnie Engineering spoked wheels substituted to be consistent with most other Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway wagons. For the same reason the whitemetal centre buffers were swapped out for (slightly modified) Binnie Engineering ones. I P Engineering's decidedly snazzy whitemetal bearings – complete with brass bushes – were retained. A couple of small blocks of wood were added to secure the LGB couplings.

The roof is entirely scratchbuilt, making inroads into the management's stock of lollipop sticks ('popsicle sticks' if you're reading this landward of 58° west).

Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport under construction
Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport under construction
Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport
Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport with two 'passengers'

Two suitable chronometers were sourced for the stable clock. Yes, the management is well aware that in the real world there would be one timepiece and two clock faces. You try doing that at 1:20 scale… Interestingly these Chinese-made (despite the aura-enhancing brand name 'Geneva') wrist watches are good old wind-up clockwork – when ordering the management assumed that battery-powered timepieces were the only ones available cheaply. Nevermind, at least there's no batteries to go flat. Although it did lead to a little head-scratching as to how to unassemble the clock turret to get easy access to the wee winding knobs. The answer is, of course, a sub-assembly under a removable cupola.

    Update: not only do these watches only need a few turns on the winding knob to keep them running for about six months, they also keep excellent time. And they were bought for less than £7 – for the pair, with straps!
Before fitting the sides straw was added to the floor. Well strictly it is raffia, chopped into suitable lengths. After painting with a suitable shade of mucky brown paint (burnt umber to those with arty aspirations) the floor was sprayed with Photomount before dropping the raffia on to it. After pressing down and shaking off the loose a second coat of Photomount was applied and more raffia added. After shaking off the loose again a 'top coat' of artist's fixative was sprayed on. The management hope enough will stay in place for the ostriches to be comfortable.

The inside walls were also painted with burnt umber. The outside and roof were stained with Colron light oak wood dye. This allows the subtle shades created by the laser cutting to show but darkens down the starker 'blonde highlights' to something more akin to pitch pine (which is what cattle wagons are made from). The aim was to create the look of an almost new wagon – nothing secondhand or overly used would be good enough for the Houmout Ostrich Polo team.

The team's logo appears on the sides, along with the flag of St Pirran, adopted in the nineteenth century as the flag of Cornwall. The especially attentive will note that the logo was printed on glossy paper. This is an attempt to replicate the printed vinyl signs widely produced by signmakers. The flag of St Pirran, along with other Cornish emblems, also flutters in the bunting.

A brace of ostriches arrived. They were slightly taller than expected so the roof had to be raised a smidgin.

As Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway rolling stock mostly rolls at or after dusk a small battery-powered LED was added into the cupola. This means the ostriches can be seen – at least when it's dark enough for the LED to make a difference.

update November 2019

Partly because this vehicle is decidedly top-heavy, it has never run well. So an LGB chassis was adapted to take the I P Engineering body. The chassis will be repurposed for something more stable.

Ostriches should not to be confused with emus or rheas. Though many people do. And, no Nigel, ostrich polo is not played on grass trimmed with a lawn moa – that's just a flightless fancy.

Just to avoid any confusion or ill-will, Houmout Ostrich Polo team has no connections with real-world Cornish ostriches.

The more astute reader will be aware that 'emmet' is a well-known word in Cornwall. It is not Cornish (as often stated) but from the Cornish dialect of English. The literal meaning is 'ants'. However when used by someone in Cornwall it usually refers to tourists, although the meaning has extended to anyone who is not Cornish. The connotations are pejorative. Whether Rowland Emett was aware of the usage of 'emmet' to refer to tourists is unknown – it may have arisen quite late in his life.

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Images and text copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2021