Glorious Garratt

Quite a few years ago I attended my first model railway exhibition with my layout Queens Wharf. I retain a very clear memory of a conversation with an older gentleman at that first outing about the layout and O-scale in particular. Come to think of it, describing this exchange as a conversation is slightly misleading: it would be more accurate to call it an interrogation. This man shot a few questions at me about what was available in the scale and in answer I pointed at various items and described for him which had started life as a kit and which had been scratchbuilt. He asked the occasional clarifying question but throughout my description he maintained a highly skeptical expression on his face. I studiously avoided any mention of my one and only locomotive – a scratchbuilt/kitbashed NSWR 48 class – which was running flawlessly up and down on the layout as we spoke, but the question inevitably came, “what about the locomotive?” he asked. My shoulders slumped as I had to admit that this locomotive was in fact a scratchbuilt body on an Atlas mechanism. He raked his gaze over the layout one last time, looked me up and down and said “so you’ve got to be able to scratchbuild!”. The tone in his voice as he said this was reminiscent of Albert Steptoe from the 60’s TV comedy Steptoe and Son as he dismissed one of Harold’s harebrained plans. I hung my head in shame as he turned on his heel and strode away. I had been caught out in my guilty secret: yes, to work in O-scale you had to scratchbuild some items. I am just kidding. What I really thought at the time was, “you silly old fart”! πŸ™‚

That incident happened almost a decade ago and has stayed with me as illustrative of a set of attitudes held by some modellers about this hobby in general and O-scale in particular. In spite of never having tried to scratchbuild, of for that matter kit build, anything they are convinced the skills for such and undertaking are beyond them. As such, any scale or gauge combination that requires craft skills much beyond screwing on a coupler is bound to the preserve of know alls and elitists. I stopped thinking I knew it all sometime in my mid teens and if being fascinated by fine modelling – as opposed to drooling over the latest r-t-r offering – in any scale, gauge or prototype and scratchbuilding the occasional item makes me an elitist then I’m happy to admit to being one. I’ve come to the conclusion that, upon seeing a layout in a scale or gauge that is somewhat novel, a fairly large proportion of us don’t really want to be convinced to go outside our comfort zone and try something new or different: all we really want is for our prejudices to be confirmed. The gent I had that conversation with wasn’t really interested in my scale and gauge choices, all he really wanted was to validate his own choices. Nothing wrong with that: I have my own choices validated by many of the layouts I see at exhibitions I attend.

Things have come a fairly long way over the last 10 years in my chosen O-scale (1:43.5). The reason I had a partially scratchbuilt locomotive running on Queens Wharf was for the simple reason that, at that time, there were no commercially available kits or r-t-r diesels available. When the Bergs/O-Aust NSWR 48 came out some time around 2007 I wondered what this would mean in terms of the numbers of modellers coming into O-scale. Would it mean a sudden surge in adherents? How do you define a surge? I have a theory about this (I have theories about lots of things) πŸ™‚ I don’t know how many 48’s have been sold over the intervening years but my guess would be not as many as the manufacturers had hoped. However, no matter how many were actually sold I would guess that a good proportion sold to people who were already operating in the scale, some went to people who liked/loved that particular loco and saw the opportunity of placing the completed O-scale model on the mantelpiece with only a small number being sold to people who had decided to take on O as a new venture in modelling.

We all know that the release of a new locomotive is the key to driving involvement in the hobby: there are many different ways to do this hobby but I don’t know of a single railway modeller who doesn’t own any locomotives. Locos are the sexy bit: the key that unlocks the dream. When someone attends a model railway exhibition or visits a fellow modeller’s layout and sees something that catches their eye it lets them envisage what’s possible. Seeing O-scale locomotives running down the line on a layout like Arakoola is an extremely powerful and authentic advertisement for this scale and I have a sneaking suspicion that many seeds are sown in the backs of quite a few modellers minds when they watch the trains roll by. How do you define a surge? I think it’s a bit more like the tide coming in than a wave crashing on the shore; it takes a bit more time and isn’t quite as spectacular but it’s powerful and more or less unstoppable.

Does the release of “iconic” locomotives in r-t-r or kit form lead to more people working in a scale? Cleary the maths isn’t a simple equation but it must play a role. When I had that conversation referred to earlier in this post there were only two NSWR steam locomotive kits available and no diesels: today the landscape has been transformed. There are something like a dozen locomotives available in either r-t-r or kit form. A modeller could take up modelling in O (both 1:43.5 or 1:48) in standard gauge (whatever that means in this country) and successfully represent a prototype from at least four Australian states without ever having to scratchbuild a locomotive. There may not have been a surge in O-scale modelling over the past decade but somebody out there must be buying these locos. When someone from outside the scale looks at O-scale and considers their options then the variety of what is available must play a role in helping them decide whether to take the plunge. Many of us may be satisfied with small shunting locos and a couple of metres of track, but let’s face it: there are a heck of a lot of us who won’t be satisfied with anything less than named passenger trains and long strings of wagons hauled by behemoths.

If I’m right, then recent developments in NSW O-scale should be making some of us rub our hands in glee. You don’t get much bigger or behemoth like that the NSWR AD60 Garratt and I’ve recently seen some photos of the Model-O Kits pilot model of this loco which would make any steam power fanatic salivate. You can see a video of this model moving on a short test track on Youtube at and I’ll post a couple of photos of the loco here on the blog. I must admit that this particular class of loco in model form and I have a bit of a history. When working in HO I’d purchased a Garratt from Lloyd Sawyer and it sat on the shelf unbuilt for a few years. When I switched over to O-scale in 2000 the Garratt kit was the only HO kit I hadn’t managed to get around to building and it was eventually sold off unbuilt on Ebay. I’ve had a bit of a thing about this particular class of loco ever since. I have absolutely no need for a huge locomotive like a Garratt on my layouts but the release of this kit might allow me a little bit of closure. A 1:43.5 Garratt might be a good stand in for the HO version I never got around to building. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it πŸ™‚

The photos and video of the pilot look absolutely phenomenal. DJH in the UK do a wonderful job on these projects. The locomotive is beautifully detailed and it seems to move smoothly and powerfully down the track in the video. It pays to keep in mind that this thing is approxiamtely 850cm long in this scale. That’s pretty close to a yard! All it needs is a DCC sound decoder and a bit of weathering to finish the job. Glenn from Model-O kids must have been a very good boy this year to have received such a fantastic christmas present. I’d like to know how Santa managed to get such a big package down the chimney πŸ™‚

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