First there was Jennie Rylance in 1965. Then Dee Harrington in ’71. Then, famously, there was Britt Ekland in ’75, Kelly Emberg in ’83, Rachel Hunter in 1990. And now there’s Penny Lancaster, the model and photographer with whom rock legend Rod Stewart has been living since 2007. Six of the 8 women Stewart has been with over the past 50 years have been models. But despite his track record, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s not models he’s been collecting, but model… trains.
Rod the Mod’s 5-decade long career has garnered him several number 1 albums, 31 Top Ten singles in the UK (16 in the US), two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a handful of sprawling homes.
His latest purchase is a 10-bedroom, 18th century manse in Essex called Durrington House, not too far from his other Essex home, the one where Winston Churchill used to live. These are in addition to the 28,000 square foot mansion he owns in Beverly Hills. Peering into the windows of any of his houses, you might say that they are less like homes and more like storage space for his various obsessions. Like many of the rich and famous, Stewart has a penchant for collecting. He collects just about anything: pre-Raphaelite paintings, marble sculpture, 18th century furniture, soccer shoes (he’s a passionate footballer), Ferraris, silver picture frames… and model trains.
In fact the 3rd floor of his Beverly Hills home is devoted almost entirely to a spectacularly sprawling layout modelled after Manhattan and Chicago of the late 1940s, complete with buildings, cars, storefronts, characters, and of course the train terminal that housed the Pennsylvania and the New York Central lines. He calls this set the Grand Street and Three Rivers Railroad. Each piece and every element is built in painstaking detail by Rod’s own hand. In fact, he’s been known to take his obsession on tour, packed in special cases, setting up shop in a hotel room where he returns between shows to work on his train set.
While he’d been drawn to model trains for most of his life, he only became a serious modeller about 20 years ago. The set in his Beverly Hills home is not his first; he also has one in Essex, a replica of British Rail’s East Coast Line that flanked his childhood home, and the newsstand that his parents owned, in 1940’s London.
Anyone can collect cars. And many celebrities do. Jay Leno’s got a bunch, as does Jerry Seinfeld (each episode of his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee features a different classic automobile with Jerry outlining some of each car’s salient features). Even Justin Bieber’s been working on a car collection (even though he’s only been driving legally for about 3 years). And make no mistake, Rod Stewart certainly does collect cars. He’s owned a handful of Ferraris, Porsches, and Lamborghinis, some of which he’s recently divested himself of. And cars do indeed remain a passion for him. But model train collecting is a special kind of passion that calls on an almost Zen-like concentration, affording Stewart the kind of meditative relaxation a tireless rocker would need.
Stewart finally outed himself to the train modeling community just a few years ago, inviting Model Railroader Magazine to view and photograph his ensemble. He’s since been on the cover twice. He once said that he would rather been in a train magazine than in a music magazine. And, indeed, he will grace the cover of Model Railroader once again this February, when they feature his finally completed layout. Readers will no doubt be excited to see the new additions that Stewart has built and incorporated into the Grand Street and Three Rivers layout since he was first featured seven years ago. Perhaps, now, Stewart’s cover version of Tom Waits’ Downtown Train will take on a whole new meaning. Perhaps the song has always appealed to the train collector in him, reminding him of his childhood home. But there is surely a new significance to the opening line to the Curtis Mayfield classic that Rod sang with Jeff Beck in 1985: People get ready; there’s a train a-comin’.