I’ve come to realise over time that my planning and thinking about the layouts I build is directed and shaped as much by the type of layout it is as the prototype it depicts. The reason this has been on my mind recently is that I suddenly came to the realization that the scene I’m currently working on is the first engine facility I’ve built since the one on my last HO layout, Trundlemore. The engine facility on that layout depicted a “mid-sized regional” locomotive depot with a turntable, six stall engine shed and associated infrastructure. All the models on this layout were built at a time when I’d barely laid eyes on a prototype loco depot and I’m far too young to have seen the real thing in operation. In spite of this, these facilities have an enduring fascination for me and fall into the “must have” category of what I want on a layout I build. Just to “out” myself; I’m a steam nut through and through and barely tolerate diesels on my layouts.

Queens Wharf was far too small for an engine facility and it really depicts a through station anyway, in spite of it being presented to the public as a fiddle yard to terminus design. When it eventually finds a home on a home layout of larger proportions it will be converted to through running and be extended so that its yard operates more prototypically. In addition to this, and in spite of its name, QW does not in fact depict a wharf. There once was a wharf near this station on the Morpeth branch (a coal loader in fact) but the model was not designed to depict this. A separate wharf existed where the line terminated at Morpeth and so my vague concept of the layout I would build one day always included a wharf and for me this had to include a ship model.

What shaped the concept I had for this layout into a concrete plan was the availability of two models: a kit for a ship model that could be used in the wharf scene and a correctly scaled NSWGR 60′ turntable. I’ll leave the ship model for another time but, as might be expected, the turntable came to be a crucial element in the planning of not just this scene but the entire layout. A few years ago a r-t-r model of a NSWR 60′ turntable came onto the market and for me this was a must have. In spite of the fact that the Morpeth line terminated without employing a turntable, I decided that the inclusion of this facility was essential for operational interest. Once this decision was made all that was left was to try and work out how I was going to fit this model into the plan. No easy task when you’re playing about with a layout that is only 680mm wide and the diameter of the turntable is 470mm.

The final plan of Morepth MkII just managed to get the turntable into the design with just enough room for the two lines beyond it that I wanted to include. The limitation here was nothing to do with the depth of the scene, it was a simple matter of what would fit into the available transport. As I juggled and played around with the arrangement of base boards in the early planning stages, fitting the turntable and ship model into their respective locations came to shape the entire design. In the end the three sections are not of equal depth and the layout ended up with a quite distinctive bow tie shape. I had to rob depth from the centre module to provide real estate to the two end modules so I could fit the turntable and ship onto the layout. In the end I managed to achieve a workable design, and as the module with the engine servicing facility comes together I’ve devoted a fair bit of time to planning how I want to present this layout to the public because from the start, it has been designed as an exhibition layout.

Unlike my HO layout Trundlemore, this layout is essentially designed to be viewed by an audience that, while it will include modellers, will also be made up of the general public. Because of this mixed audience I want this section of the layout to be accurate and have atmosphere. To my eye NSW engine facilities had a particular “family” look and were made up of a set range of basic elements: a turntable (one of a series of unique designs belonging to the NSWR system), a method of delivering coal, a water column, an ash pit, a water tank on either a timber or steel stand, a storage shed or hut of some type and an engine shed if locomotives were to be housed overnight. In addition to my desire for accuracy, I also wanted this scene to contrast with the other end of the layout which will be very built up and include at least three major structures, a wharf and a large ship model. In contrast, the engine servicing module has one major model, the turntable, which is buried in the ground and is surrounded by a cluster of small, low models that depict a “typical” NSW engine servicing facility without an engine shed.

Over the last month or so I’ve gradually worked my way through a list of models that will populate this section of the layout. I counted them today and there are ten models that make up this cluster and while none of them is particularly dramatic or earth shattering they need to be given as much attention as the signature structures that will be built to populate the rest of the layout. Their impact will be in their collective detail, not in their impressive size or the materials they are constructed from. The dominant material that has been used in their construction is stained strip timber with some styrene and corrugated aluminium mixed in. I’ve gone through a lot of wood in building these models and my container of rubbing alcohol and india ink has taken a bit of a hammering over the last few weeks.

When constructing a scene I work in a very specific sequence and the first step in this process is to complete all the models that will make up that scene. After I have the models built and ready to install I will put on a basic scenic layer, cover this in foliage and only then will I ballast the track. As the ballast is put on the track last on the prototype, I can’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be the case on my layouts. After this I’ll install any trees in the scene, fences and complete the scene with weeds and details. The buildings and structures will be incorporated into the landscape as the sequence is stepped through.

While I’m striving for an accurate model I also want the scene to have a particular look and feel: the look I’m after could be described as “dinky” but I prefer to use terms like rustic and full of character. I’ve long been an admirer of narrow gauge modellers in their ability to conjure up scenes brimming with character and rustic charm. The thing that probably stops me from taking up narrow gauge modelling is that I happen to be enamoured of a standard gauge prototype. So the question I confront is how to work in a well known, SG prototype and yet pack my scene with NG style character. My answer to this dilemma is to work within a specific prototype but look for structures to include that strike me as being choc full of “character” and that actually existed somewhere on the system. I’ve expanded and developed the engine servicing facility that existed at the real Morpeth and mixed in buildings that may not have actually been at Morpeth. An example of this is the storage shed model I’m currently working on, the grey shed you can see in the photo: it is actually a rendition of a building that stood in the yard at Oberon NSW, about 400km from Morpeth. I fell in love with this building the moment I saw it in a book and kept it in mind in case I could ever fit it into a scene. It fitted a small space on my new layout of Morepth perfectly. Why should NG modellers have all the fun? 🙂

I took some photos today to examine the progress I’ve made: you can take a look at one of these yourself.

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