Portus Flour Mill (or Rundles)

One thing that has always intrigued me about the scale/gauge combination I work in is that it seems to attract a fairly high proportion of locomotive builders and relatively few scenic modellers. Is there a gene that directs metal turners and rivet counters toward standard gauge and scenery buffs and layout builders toward narrow gauge? I enjoy both so I don’t pick sides but there is one thing I like about scenic modelling over turning metal in a lathe, it’s great to be able to cover up your mistakes with a strategically placed shrub 🙂

Over the weekend I was able to essentially complete the bridge model that is sited about 250mm after a train enters the layout from the right hand end (if you’re standing, looking at the layout from the front). I’ve yet to install the various components of this model, these will go in when the scenery around the bridge nears completion. Now that this stage is essentially complete I have to deal with the issue of the hole in the sky that sits just to the right of the bridge. I had not made a final decision about what was I was going to do about masking this entry point for trains but there are no tunnels on the Morpeth line so using this standard modeller’s trick to mask an entry was out and that really only left a structure or natural view block like trees.

The main problem with disguising this hole in the backdrop is that any viewer standing, looking at the scene is essentially standing in the Hunter River. The ground on the front edge of the layout is a narrow strip of river bank which lies between the rail line and the river and there were only really two suitable structures that have any sort of view blocking potential that sat on the correct side of the line between the rails and the viewer: the wooden pier for the road bridge that crosses the Hunter River at Morpeth and Rundles Mill (sometimes referred to as the Portus Mill, depending on the era). The bridge pier would have been a nice scenic feature but to do it justice I would have been forced to model the buildings and roadways around it and there simply isn’t room for this in the space available. Anyway I want to keep this structure for a layout in the future! This left the mill building and luckily it is an almost ideal structure to act as a view block.

Rundles Mill was (it no longer exists) a large, masonry building that sat on the Hunter River and had its own wharf access. I’ve never been able to determine whether it was directly rail served through its own siding, but it seems logical that it had some interaction with railway because it sits so close by it. Road access to the mill was via a rail crossing of the line just to the east of the final Morpeth station (there were three stations that sported the name Morpeth over the life of the line). The wharf on the river side of the mill was very small and rickety in the one photo I have of it so access to the mill via this might possibly predate the railway being built. In photos taken which give a more panoramic view of the river and Morpeth town it looks as if there was originally a single building, later extended with an addition that essentially doubled the size of the overall mill complex. The mill also sported a substantial brick chimney on the station end of the building and I’ve put a good deal of thought into how I might reproduce this signature feature. The limiting factor in the height of any chimney is that my backdrops are only about 380mm high and the roof of the building will sit just short of this height when complete. The chimney on the prototype structure rises well beyond the height of the roof so any model chimney looks like it will need to be able to be removed for storage and transport of the layout.

After I completed the bridge over the weekend I had a bit of time to sit and ponder how I might go about fitting the structures around where trains enter the layout from the fiddleyard. I have a building that will sit in the corner which is recycled from my first Morpeth layout. This model  has travelled with me through three different house moves and will now find a home on my most recent iteration of Morpeth: it was sitting in a cupboard waiting for its turn to re-enter service and in a way it closes a chapter of my modelling development as it is the last item from my first version of Morpeth to find a home (or be junked). Having said this I will have to do some major surgery to get it to fit into the space available and I will write about how this turns out in future. I also got the ship kit out that I plan to use on this module and spent a good deal of time setting this up to have its bottom removed so it can work as a waterline model. For me the ship, wharf and mill means I’m really starting to get to the exciting projects on this layout. I’ve been looking forward to assembling the ship kit for about 7 years, ever since I purchased it. I plan ahead! 🙂 I will also write about how this cutting operation goes when I have completed it. The plan is to cut a slice off the bottom of the hull using a band saw. I’ve mounted the hull on a wooden holding frame to give it some stability and to ensure the cut is at the correct angle but it goes without saying that I’ve never done anything like this before and to say I’m nervous is a bit of an understatement!

I never take too much for granted in my modelling so I got some pieces of scrap card out and cut them up to construct a mockup of the mill over the weekend. These were just thrown together with some masking tape to give me some sense of the space the 3D shape would take up. The plan is that this building will sit on a foundation of rocks (molded in plaster) and sandstone wall (made from individual pieces of shaped DAS modelling clay). The foundation will sit in the water with the building sitting on top of this. I will start by making up a foundation frame from wood that will allow the model to be constructed separately to the layout at my two workbench (one at home in Murwillumbah and one that I work at during the week when I’m living in the unit). This frame will be made to fit the available space and will be attached with a couple of screws from underneath. I’ve found that not gluing a structure into place has one big advantage: as in the case of the engine shed you can see in earlier photos I’ve posted and the building that will go into the corner, this allows you to release them from an earlier layout intact and recycle them into later efforts. Saves time and energy! 🙂

I’ve decided that the mockup is ok heightwise but I would prefer it to be a little shorter, not blocking quite so much of the view of the rail line. I want this building to have the feel of a massive structure: it needs to take up some space. However I don’t want it to seem out of proportion with the rest of the layout. I will do some judicious trimming next weekend and take some more photos until I get it where I want it. This will then provide the rough dimensions of the final building that will probably be made from a combination of wood, DAS and styrene. DAS! How did I ever live without it? 🙂

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