Digital Archaeology

With Christmas day almost upon us I’ve suddenly realised that it’s been a while since I’ve made any posts. I have some legitimate excuses as to why this is the case – the scribing of bricks onto DAS modelling clay hardly makes for gripping reading – however the rush of events at the end of the year has also kept my attention on other things, not the least of these being a promotion at work which means a I’m finishing up at my present school and starting as principal at a new school at the end of January. The appalling events in Newtown in the US had a particularly stong impact on me as they coincided with my saying goodbye to the wonderful kids at my present school, some of whom claim to read this blog. What can you say about such a tragedy? My thoughts are with the families of the victims.

The effect this career move will have on my modelling is, at this stage, an unknown quantity, but I do have plans to set up a modelling space where I’ll be living during the week. I’ll be at home on weekends and school holidays, so I’ll still have access to my workshop but I envisage that this will impact on my ability to get my layout ready for the Aus7 ExpO in 2014. Still, I have two modelling desks, one of them is coming with me.

In my present home I’m lucky enough to have a 21’x16′ space devoted entirely to a modelling workshop where I have all my tools and materials ready to hand; it’s the ideal space for train activities as it’s “in” the house (i.e. not a detached shed) but conveniently located under the living area, adjacent to the garage: I can make a mess without messing up the living space. When I moved into this house I deliberately chose not to build a permanent layout in the available space even though this was supposed to be “the last move”. That resolution lasted 3 years! 🙂 I think the point of this is that, if you put your modelling off till the day when circumstances are ideal and all the planets align to allow you to get on with your hobby, then you’ll never get any modelling done. Do something now, you never know what’s round the corner! As my portable layouts demonstrate, I’m also a stong advocate of making arrangements that allow you to take your layouts/modelling output with you. This has the added benefit that if you want to you can also use this arrangement to take your layout to shows and exhibitions, an experience that I believe all railway modellers should undergo as a character building exercise 🙂

I’ve been making steady progress on the model of Morpeth station, although the results so far are not particularly spectacular or noteworthy. For this post I decided to go back and look at the photos I have of my first attempt at making a model of this building, so a little digital archaeology was in order. The folder that contains the photos I took of this earlier model has Aug, 2002 on it, so the photos are over 10 years old. This is the stone age in the context of digital photography and indicates that they were taken with my very first digital camera, so the photos are quite small and of fairly low quality. I bought my first decent digital camera in 2003.

I think to put this earlier model and the new one in context I need to post a photo of the original building. So the black and white prototype photo I’ve posted is one I don’t hold the copyright to which, if it belongs to anyone, is probably the property of the NSW branch of the ARHS. I take copyright of photos seriously and if you object to me posting this photo please contact me and I’ll take it down. However I think posting the photo helps to illustrate the flavour of the building I’m modelling for those who are reading this but who don’t have access to a printed version of the original. It also demonstrates the similarities and differences in the building I’m constructing and between my first and second attempts at it.

The prototype photo was taken by C. C. Singleton in the early 1950’s, just prior to the closure of the line. For my purposes you should ignore the picket fence on the platform (possibly to enclose children as the station may have been used as a residence after it was closed in 1893), the false wall with window also on the platform (possibly a wind break) and the dilapidated condition of the awning and the platform. It is eccentric elements such as these which originally drew me to the Morpeth line as a modelling subject however, ironically, when I came to building a model of this particular structure, I found I couldn’t include them. Why? This building is actually the 2nd Morpeth station; it was replaced as the active station when the 3rd and final station was opened in 1893. As such this building ceased to be used as a station and began being used for different purposes (possibly a residence, offices and storage) between the late 19th to the mid 20th centuries when it was finally demolished. As such it fell into the state you can see in the photo; full of character and fine for an out of use station, but not much good as a station that was still in active use, as it would be on my layout. The NSW government allowed/allows a lot of infrastructure to fall into disrepair but even it wouldn’t have allowed a station in active service to fall into this state. Well I don’t think it would 🙂 I don’t have space for two stations on my layout so I have a choice: build the station in a condition that it would have been in if it were still in active service or build the 3rd station that opened in 1893. This station won!

In spite of the modelling decisions I’ve made concerning the condition of the building there are some elements that I wanted reflected in this model that weren’t present in my earlier model. These are:

– The platform facing on the original model was built with the brickwork at 90 degrees to the track. The prototype platform face had a slope of 8 degrees and the new model has been built to reflect this. This slope is very apparent in the b&w prototype photo.

– At some point in its history the building was altered to join the main building to the toilet block with a new brick wall, an extended roof line and a new window installed in what was the exterior wall of the toilet block. If you look very closely you can just see a subtle difference in the brickwork between the main building and what was the toilet block. In addition to these alterations to the brick structures there was a small clapboard “hut” added to the end of the building and extensive additions made to the rear. Being perverse I decided to build my model to reflect the original, beautifully symmetrical lines of the 1870’s building as constructed. Why? Because I’ve already built a model of the station as altered, I wanted this new model to offer new challenges.

There were subtle elements to the structure that I didn’t include in my original model that were a must have this time round:

– I failed to inset the windows and doors into the brickwork. This time round I decided to use a system of representing the brickwork that would allow this signature element to be represented in a realistic manner, namely scribing the bricks into a thin layer of modelling clay. Representing this feature using flat styrene sheet is a real challenge as getting the bricks to match up at the corners is very difficult in my experience.

– The  original model had no window lintels or sills. If you look at the b&w photo for even a few moments you’ll see that the lintels sit flush with the surface of the bricks while sills that sit proud. These are made from big lumps of sandstone and, again, would have been challenging to represent realistically in styrene sheet. Through scribing into modelling clay these are relatively easy to represent.

– The awning on the original model was constructed in styrene and the underside of this structure was made with plain, white styrene. The very first low angle photo of the station made the lack of a wooden awning structure very apparent. This new model would be made with full wooden support structure, although it won’t be made in such a state of disrepair as is apparent in the b&w photo.

– The first model did have a “skirting” strip along the bottom edge of the building however it was made from styrene strip and, to my eye, it was far too neat and straight. On the new model this skirting strip will be represented by the application of a strip of DAS run along the base of the buildings. Well that’s the plan and while it produces a nice “rustic” skirt, it’s proving to be one of the most challenging elements of the build so far.

That’ll do for the time being. I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. I hope Santa leaves some nice modelling presents under the tree.

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