Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on producing the components for my small Manning Wardle locomotive rebuild. This has been going exceptionally well and things had reached a stage where I was ready to assemble the new chassis earlier in the week. At this critical juncture, with the components ready to assemble, I decided to start getting serious about planning a layout to be constructed in a room, in a house that isn’t even built yet! I could pretend that I like to string things out and savour that hovering moment just before I take a major step in a project I’m enjoying but this would only be half the truth. It would be more accurate to say that the next steps in the rebuild of my MW are ones that can’t easily be reversed and I prefer to sit and think about exactly what I’m going to do before committing myself. Ok I chickened out and went off and did something completely different for a while.
As I sat at the computer and drew circles inside a box the size of my train room it became apparent that I didn’t really need more length to the room but an extra 200mm (about 8″) would make things a heck of a lot easier. So I put on my best puppy dog expression and asked the better half if I could have an extra 200mm in width and she said she could live with that, but she added that I shouldn’t try getting anything else past her! Dimensional flexibility was officially off the agenda. She also asked if I had a tummy ache so obviously the puppy dog face wasn’t having the desired effect 🙂 The dimensions of the room aren’t so much restrained by the size we want the house to be but by the bureaucratic requirement not to build closer than a certain distance from the boundary fence due to bush fire hazard reductions. So all my planning and thinking may yet come to nought because we barely have space for a decent sized closet let alone my layout room.
If it’s not bestowing a high-sounding title that ill befits my jumbled thinking and doodling, my layout planning “process” tends to be carried out in the moments my mind is free: in the car driving to and from work, as I drift off to sleep and in the shower. For approximately 15 years I’ve been working on a small appendix of a railway line as my inspiration with a well-defined set of buildings, rolling stock and locomotives that needed building. The clearly defined infrastructure boundaries of the Morpeth line allowed me to work within an admittedly limited mindset that has become as comfortable and familiar as an old pair of slippers. I’d almost reached the stage where I didn’t need to go back and check my research materials when I was planning something on the layouts I built around the Morpeth line because I already knew what I would find there. Now everything has changed. In even starting to plan a new layout around a different prototype location all of that comfortable familiarity is missing. It’s both slightly uncomfortable and energizing to really come to grips with the challenges and opportunities of a bigger canvas and a step up in the operational capabilities of the motive power and rolling stock that were at home at Muswellbrook.
I didn’t just pluck Muswellbrook out of thin air. I’d made a couple of visits to the yard there a number of years ago and was aware that at least one other attempt had been made to plan out a layout based around the location in O-scale. I was also aware of a modeller who was working on the same location but in HO. You can visit Ian Phemister’s blog about the HO layout he’s building of Muswellbrook here. So I was aware of Muswellbrook and had always been interested in the location. I’d also read a couple of prototype articles on the location in Byways of Steam and Australian Railway History over the years. When I started to get serious about trying to settle on a location to base my next layout around the southern half of NSW never really entered the picture. I’ve lived in a lot of locations around NSW but they all seemed to be in the northern and north-eastern half of the state. I was familiar with the railways of the Hunter Valley, New England, North Coast and the Central West, so the chances of me picking a location in the south were extremely remote. On a couple of occasions I’ve organised trivia nights to help raise money for the schools I’ve worked in. Most of the time I’ve been responsible for setting the questions for these events. Picking a location to base a model around reminded me of compiling trivia questions. It’s easy to think of questions that anyone can answer, just as it’s easy to come up with questions that no one can answer: the trick is coming up with 100 questions that your audience will find challenging but hopefully not impossible. There are plenty of absolutely enormous prototype railway sites that would be fascinating to model but impossible to fit into three lifetimes, let alone a 9mX6.2m room. It’s also reasonably easy to find bucolic, out-of-the way branch lines that might fit into a smaller space but may only have seen one train a day (if that). Not a great deal of operating potential there I’m afraid.
So, taking my chosen (northern) half of the state of NSW, I was looking for a “just right” prototype location with the following:
– I wanted a locomotive depot with a round house that I could model, one with five or six stalls.
– I wanted a good mix of traffic – coal, wheat, livestock and passenger trains and dairy if I could get that too. I didn’t just want these trains passing through the station, I wanted most if not all of this traffic to be generated in the district in which the layout was set. Plenty of shunting and local movement, not just a race track. Where else can you get this mix of traffic in NSW other than in the Hunter Valley?
– I wanted somewhere that would allow me to realistically run and house AD60s, 38s, 36s (my favourite steam loco class), 59s (my second favourite class) plus all the usual smaller classes such as 50s, 32s and 30Ts and if I must the occasional box on wheels. I wanted my operators (in future operating sessions I intend to hold) to interact with the locomotives, not just open a throttle and watch the train run in a circle.
– I wanted the location to be the junction for a branch line. I didn’t necessarily want to model too much of the branch line (been there, done that) but I would like to see the track formation for the junction on the layout and see a train disappear up the line.
– I wanted a continuous run to allow me to watch a train run when I was in the right sort of mood.
As I had considered modelling Muswellbrook in the past it surprises me that it took me about 6 months to finally settle on it as a stong possibility and begin doing some serious thinking and planning for a layout based on this location. I’ve spent about three nights this past week working on a progressively more detailed plan for Muswellbrook in a 9mX6.2m space. I’ve been sending friends various versions of the plan and trying to resist acceding to their suggestions and feedback, and in the end following their advice anyway 🙂 The plan below is just the most recent version of this process: it certainly won’t be the last interation but it does fulfill the need I had to know whether I could get the type of layout I wanted into the space I had and base it on Muswellbrook. I’ve changed the name to Musclebrook for the sake of this exercise: I’m going to sit on this name and decide whether I feel comfortable with changing it back to Muswellbrook later. And for those of you not familiar with the real Hunter Valley town, the name Muswellbrook is pronounced Musclebrook, hence my name for this layout. All three towns are deliberately misspelt.
Overall I’m satisfied with this plan, with reservations. I’m never very happy with storage lines tucked in under other parts of a layout and it would appear, on first examination, that the storage on Musclebrook will be under the branch line at Gungul. However the benchwork at the site of Gungul will be extremely narrow, perhaps as narrow as 150-200mm and as such only part of the storage will be hidden underneath. Not perfect but the alternative would be a choice between storage or branch line? That isn’t a choice I’m prepared to make. After much wrestling with radii I’ve managed to keep the mainline to radius 1.6m or above, with 1.2m on the branch line. The 1.2m is a lot tighter than I’d like and it will prevent running AD60s and 38s up the line, but when was the last time a Garratt or a 38 ran to Merriwa? When was the last time anything ran to Merriwa?
The Garratt turntable may confuse some readers. For a time at Muswellbrook there was a turning triangle in use to turn AD60 Garratts. It ran down past the depot and out onto vacant land that is now the Muswellbrook golf course. I can’t reproduce the triangle but with a 900mm long turning device I can reproduce the traffic. The circle entitled “Garratt Turntable” isn’t really going to be a turntable as such. It will be a one line turning table that will reproduce the effect of the triangle. It won’t jut into the aisle as shown by the circle, that’s just to help me determine how far I needed to set the thing from the wall to allow it to rotate. Another feature I’m quite happy with is being able to reproduce the empties in/loads out traffic on the coal loader. This is a well-known John Armstrong suggestion and is relatively easy to institute if the arrangement is planned in from the start. An empty train comes up from staging and runs into the yard and then run under the coal tipple down to staging. A second train, sitting down in staging but with a string of full coal hoppers this time, runs back up the line as if it were the same train. Neat hey? There is only one big hair on this plan. If I had my way I would reproduce this traffic using a Garratt but in the above scenario I would need one Garratt on the inward (empty) journey and one of the outward (full) journey. Two Garratts!!?? Glenn will be pleased 🙂