The Good Oil

As I planned and finally began to build Morpeth over the last 5 or 6 years one of the industries that was always very high on the “want” list was an oil depot. The models that were on the “must have” list were the station and the pier with accompanying ship, everything else was negotiable. There was never an oil siding on the Morpeth line but I wanted one mainly because I like oil tank cars and have some unbuilt kits in the cupboard. I’ve been trying to shoehorn an oil depot onto the plan from the start because I want somewhere to park them when these kits finally get built.

If you’ve ever planned a layout and got to the stage where you’re struggling to turn that plan into a reality, you’ll know how easy it is to write “oil siding” or “steel mill” on a plan next to a siding. You’ll also be aware how difficult it can sometimes be to turn these words into enough real estate to allow a model to actually come to reside as a scenic feature on the layout. I had written the words oil depot on a siding on some of the early versions of my plan however as work got underway this siding got snaffled as a spot to locate the engine shed. There were some very good reasons why this happened: the engine shed was built and complete and sitting in the same cupboard as the unbuilt oil cars, it fitted the spot and I’m working under the gun of the Aus7 ExpO next March and anything that can save me some time in getting a scenic layer on the layout is very tempting. Of course the fact that the engine shed is a model of the shed that actually sat in the yard at Morpeth was another big attraction to find a spot for it.

The  only problem with this outcome was that there was now no room at the inn for the oil depot: I’d run out of spare sidings.

From about the time I had actually assembled the parts for the three scenic modules of Morpeth I had been considering the best location for the wharf and the associated ship model. The the most straightforward location would be to place the ship along the front of the module and utilize the siding that leads into that spot for the wharf. However at the back of my mind has been an alternative plan which frees up some of this real estate, possibly for an oil depot and siding, and pushes the ship out onto a brand new module that sits at 90 degrees to the main layout. What had prevented me from settling on this solution was that I couldn’t be sure that I could transport a fifth module in my trailer. There was some available space in the trailer and this was available due to the fact that the train turntable/fiddleyard module is devoid of scenery. This space is empty and might be available to transport something however I couldn’t be sure till I had built the fiddleyard module itself. As I’ve posted on this blog, I built the fiddleyard earlier this year.

My original plan had been to make the point where rail and ship interchange a bank-side wharf similar to the one that sat on the river in the Northern Rivers town of Lismore. Ironically I drove through Lismore today and noticed some timber piles jutting from the water as I crossed the bridge over the Wilsons river. I must go back and get some photographs soon before some do-gooder on the local council decides to make the river safe for morons on jet skis. This was a similar arrangement to that at Morpeth. However in spite of this prototypical and perfectly doable arrangement I’ve decided to make a change to the plan and build a new module to utilize that empty space in the trailer.

Having decided that this is what I wanted to do there were one or two minor road blocks that needed to be overcome. The first of these is that you can fit what I know about piers and wharves onto the head of a pin along with room left over for several angels. I needed some prototype photos and dimensions and strangely enough wharf and pier plans don’t seem to be all that readily available by Googling. On a recent trip to Sydney I decided to stop off in Coffs Harbour and snap some photos of that fair city’s famous pier which still juts out into the ocean. Luckily no one ever got around to making the local hoons and drop kicks safe from this structure, although I imagine it was a close run thing. When I got there it was stinking hot and the pier was swarming with kids delightedly jumping into the water and swimming to shore. Most unsafe! Boy it looked like fun 🙂 Discretion became the better part of valor and I decided not to do an impersonation of an old perv snapping photos of kiddies in their cozzies. I could just hear myself trying to explain to the local cops that the reason I was taking photos was that I was a train modeller who planned on building a model of the pier. Yeah right! 🙂 I chose to snap my photos and run my tape measure over the timbers of the pier on the return trip, which would occur much earlier in the morning when the pier wouldn’t be cluttered with screaming juveniles.

This visit to Coffs Harbour finally convinced me that I really wanted a similar pier on Morpeth. Now I know that Morpeth is supposed to be a layout based on a prototype however I can still mount a case for not being drummed out of the Loyal Order of Modelling Pedants because it just so happens that there was a very similar pier a little further down the line from Morpeth at Queens Wharf. This structure wasn’t as large as the one at Coffs Harbour but then my model wasn’t going to be that large either. Most importantly, the wooden pier at Queens Wharf was curved and my model was going to have to be curved if it had any hope of fitting onto the layout. And if you’re wondering the answer is yes, this is the pier that provided Queens Wharf with its name. Ok, ok it is a little ironic that I’m going to build a model of it on the wrong layout but then Queens Wharf and Morpeth are only about half a kilometre from each other so it isn’t that much of a stretch! Anyway it’s my layout, so there! 🙂

The next challenge was coming up with a plan for getting the ship to fit into the small amount of space available in the trailer. I could get the new module and pier to fit but the ship had masts and it was at least 300mm too tall. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine shortening the masts sufficiently to squeeze them in and trying to build the model so the masts and the associated rigging were removable was a nightmare too horrible to contemplate. So I decided that the only satisfactory way to overcome this problem was to have the ship built as a separate module and transport it in its own dedicated transportation box that will sit on the backseat of the car. At this stage the back seat qualifies as unused space but I better hope I never need more than one helper to transport the layout because they’ll be travelling in the boot with the luggage and the rolling stock! Of course having the ship as a separate model on its own base will mean that the sea’s surface will have gaps in it but any smart Alec who points this out will be ignored with the lofty disdain for which I am famous! 🙂

This plan shows the proposed extension to the layout. The oil depot will be on the front edge of the layout with the rail siding on the opposite side of the pier siding. This is a slightly unusual arrangement but not completely unknown. Oil sidings were occasionally somewhat removed from the depot with the load piped to the storage tanks.

This plan shows the proposed extension to the layout. The oil depot will be on the front edge of the layout with the rail siding on the opposite side of the pier siding. This is a slightly unusual arrangement but not completely unknown. Oil sidings were occasionally somewhat removed from the depot with the load piped to the storage tanks.

The final challenge was getting the curve to the pier up to a reasonable radius. My first attempts to reconcile the need for a reasonably believable curve and the need to fit it in had me scratching my head but eventually I decided that a radius of 1000mm was as broad as I could go. I did consider placing the pier module at an angle to the main layout to help ease the radius but this has its own problems I won’t bore you with here. In the end I decided that I could get away with a tight radius simply because the only loco that would be running on this siding would be something with an extremely short wheelbase. Something like Pioneer my Manning Wardle or an Ixion loco shuffling back and forth along the siding automatically with a crane model sitting on the isolated section of track. I might even go to the trouble of animating this model so that it can move its boom back and forth. All this should keep the punters happy. Plus I found some space for the oil depot and siding I was after.

So in the end I made what for me were some radical decisions but none of these were off the cuff: I’ve been planning something like this for years and all I needed was the layout to actually exist before I went to the trouble of drawing up a plan. And finally I sent the plan to my mate Trevor in Canada and he said he thought it was a good idea so if it turns out badly I’m going to blame him 🙂

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