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A brief history of IMLEC

The history of the International Model Locomotive Efficiency Competition - or IMLEC, as most model engineers have come to know it - dates back to 1959 when a meeting was called at the Model Engineer  magazine offices to discuss the possibility organising an annual event to test the efficiency of miniature steam locomotives. However, its true origins can be traced back to around 1903; long before it was to become recognised as a competition in the true sense of the word: More of this later.

However, to first return to the origins of the competition, proper: In 1959 LBSC was consulted and later - in typical LBSC fashion - remarked that although he had been consulted, his views had been ignored. The then Editor of Model Engineer replied by saying that his response to the proposal had been negative. It is fair to say that LBSC was clearly against efficiency trials when he quoted a storey about two fictitious friends who took part in a club trial and then fell out afterwards over the result. Of course, most model engineers would say that he was possibly missing the point. However, he was heard to say that; “Aim for efficiency, by all means; but do it for your pleasure and don’t parade it at the other fellow’s expense! I would rather see all so-called ‘efficiency trials’ abolished and the time better spent in giving joy-rides to children!”. The following years have shown that both can co-exist for both the benefit of those interested in competition and those that derive pleasure in using their locomotives to give pleasure to children – plus adults too!

Despite this, soon a formula was agreed that was seen at the time as being an accurate way of measuring the efficiency of both 3½” and 5” gauges – the more common gauges of the time. This method was then drawn-up into a set of formulas and recommended for general acceptance by the various societies up and down the country. At this time, though, these rules did not take into account the calorific value of the fuel.

Printed alongside these published formulas was an indication that Model Engineer magazine was also considering the establishment of an annual national efficiency competition for passenger hauling steam locomotives of 3½” and 5” gauges based around these formulas; where It was expected that societies would hold their own individual trials early in the season and submit their two most efficient locomotives with drivers as entries in this national competition completion. Model Engineer magazine were to sponsor the completion as well as provide prizes for the winning entry – a tradition that continues to this day.

When this idea was published several societies indicated their interest in adopting the proposed efficiency formula; whilst some others went further by expressing their interest in Model Engineer magazines’ proposal for a national competition. The proposal went even further by suggesting elimination contests to be held on society tracks, with the winners going forward to represent their respective societies at regional or national finals, with a trophy and a cash prize of £25 being awarded to the winning society.

Despite all this talk it is interesting to note that it was a further ten years before anything further happened and on March 7th 1969, Martin Evans, the then Editor of Model Engineer, announced that a locomotive efficiency competition to be known as The Model Engineer International Model Locomotive Efficiency Competition was to be held.

The first IMLEC was hosted by the Birmingham SME in July that same year. With a fine silver cup together with second and third prizes being donated by Model Engineer magazine, it was hoped that most of the major model engineering societies would enter. Some individual entries would also be welcome. A further announcement on 21st March that year confirmed that twenty locomotives of 3½” and 5” gauges would compete for the Martin Evans’ Locomotive Challenge Cup and £25, a second prize of £10 and a third prize of two years’ subscription to Model Engineer. For the time, quite generous prizes!