Muswellbrook V3.6

A slight revision of the previous plan was called for after I spent some time in the train room today taking measurements and thinking about possibilities.

While I didn’t do any modelling today I did spend some time thinking about my layout plan and decided to take a trip upstairs, check some measurements and test out an idea I’d had. All the changes in this plan are at the top of the page which is a spot in the room adjacent to a large, sliding glass door that sits high above the driveway I’ve recently had laid. This door will eventually have a vertical blind installed in front of it to allow me to control some of the light coming into the room, however it sits within a two-step recess within the wall. My original plan didn’t include the first of these steps s useable floor space because I wasn’t sure what would eventually happen at this spot. After the wall board went up it turns out there’s a convenient, shallow recess available for the layout to utilize.

The plan I posted yesterday had one major absence as far as I was concerned and that was the dual rail bridges that span the New England Hwy at the northern end of Muswellbrook rail yard. Both the Merriwa branch and the main line cross the highway at this point on twin adjacent bridges. While being able to reproduce the exact track plan for Muswellbrook would be nice, for me the most important aspect of getting the feel of a place into a layout is to reproduce the signature scenic elements of the location you’re modelling. In Muswellbrook these are the distinctive Art Deco Oak Dairy, the turntable/ roundhouse and the rail bridges that cross the road. The station building is a standard NSWR design that has had a rather large, ugly brick addition added at some point in its life and so for me getting this exactly right is less important. V3.5 of the plan had the Oak dairy in a spot that should have been reserved for the bridges but if it’s a choice between a purely scenic feature like a bridge and one that produces rail traffic I’ll chose to model the rail-side industry. It takes very little to prompt me to include a bridge on a layout but for me rail traffic trumps scenery every time. Another problem was that I had the dairy sitting on the branch rather than the main which is different to the prototype. However from a traffic perspective this was a minor matter. The fact that I’ve had to make the turnout to the dairy a facing point rather than a trailing one is going to make the siding a pain to shunt but I don’t want to let my operators off too lightly 🙂

What I’ve done with this plan is to add the shallow alcove next to the sliding glass door which is a space approximately 200mm deep and 2 1/2 meters long. Bulging the branch into this space has opened up a gap between the branch and main lines allowing me to cram in the dairy building and thus freeing up the curve out of Muswellbrook yard for the bridges. In carrying out these changes and checking measurements I discovered a mistake in the dimensions of the room in the previous plans that I’ve now fixed. I’d had the room as slightly longer and narrower than it actually is. This was less than 200mm but from past experience I’ve discovered that a dimensional inaccuracy as small as 50mm can cause major headaches if you’re trying to take advantage of every square centimeter.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this photo before but it gives you a good sense of what I want to build at the northern end of the yard. The main crosses the New England Hwy on the further of these two bridges with the old Merriwa line closer to the camera. Both are still in operation but the Merriwa line is truncated and used to access a coal mine near Muswellbrook. How could I resist modelling something as gloriously brutal as these bridges?




Trev’s Trains

At the end of 2016 I was relocated at work which allowed me to move back home and commence some planning and preparation for my home layout: the one I’d always wanted to build but never been able to as I was required to move every five years or so. In the lead up to the end of my time at that school I must have mentioned to one of the teachers that I was going to get a sign made up for the door of my new train room and it was going to read “Trev’s Trains”. I’d climb the stairs, shut the door and only come down again when I’d had too much of running my trains. At the dinner held to farewell me one of my wonderful staff gave me a gift that now hangs on the door of the train room. It seems as if the teachers at the schools where I’ve worked sometimes do listen to what I say 🙂

I decided to install the sign quite a while prior to the room being ready for trains.

Work on lining the train room has happened in fits and starts over the past two weeks but the process is drawing to a conclusion. When complete I should have an unpainted room that finally has the leak in the roof fixed (we’re pretty sure we’ve solved the problem this time), lit by six flourescent light fixtures. I have to get some blinds measured and fitted and I’m considering whether to have vinyl flooring installed, but generally speaking the main job for me will be painting the interior. After this all I really have left to get done is to have the lights and power outlets installed by an electrician. I’d guess about four weeks should see all that complete. When the weather starts warming up I’ll see whether I need an airconditioner installed. My guess would be that it will need one but I’m prepared to wait.

The plasterboard is probably one day’s work away from completion. Once that’s done the builder will come back and install skirting and two access hatches in the low, vertical walls.

While it was sunny outside, and as the plasterer hadn’t turned up, I decided to head upstairs and take a few photos of progress on the room. It was certainly apparent to me that the volume of space available for trains was less than I’d started with, but even without paint and no lights fitted it was amazing how much brighter the room was. It was also still cool up there in spite of the fact that I could feel the heat of the sun coming off the sheet metal as I climbed the stairs.

This is a fairly crummy early photo I took of the room on my phone but it gives you an idea of the dramatic change brought about by the plasterboard.

As I was going up there to take photos anyway I also took a set of layout legs that were leaning against the wall downstairs. I’d used these legs on my aborted attempt to set Morpeth and Queens Wharf up as a home layout about three years ago in a previous home.

These legs are 1.2 (4′) tall. If the top cross beam was to be used as a datum line for the height of the benchwork you can clearly see my problem. We haven’t even started to add the thickness of the benchwork modules and track yet and I’ve already touched the sloping sky.

The photo above clearly demonstrates my problem with layout height along this part of the room and it gets worse on the other side of the room because the line for the branch has to climb above the rail height on this side as it struggles to clear the storage sidings. And this is before I start to contemplate the fact that the rear leg doesn’t even touch the wall at this point. I suppose at least I don’t have a dirty great lattice beam slicing through the scene as would have been the case if I’d allowed the builder to push the ceiling further back toward the roof. The conclusion that I’m going to have to lower the layout by about 200mm (8″) (if not more) from this height is quickly becoming a foregone one.

This is the most recent version of the Muswellbrook layout plan. I’ve had to put a lot of new work into this plan and it’s all Ray Pilgrim’s fault! 🙂

With some salutary lessons being taught as the room’s lining has progressed I’ve put some more work into the layout plan. You’ll notice that it now sports some pretty colours and the branch’s minimum radius is now 1.35m rather than the previous 1.5m. This change has occurred to allow me to squeeze in a flour mill and petroleum siding to give the branch a more diversified traffic pattern. It may not be terribly apparent but my primary interest is branch line running and this layout is really just a short length of mainline that has a branch line running off it. The plan has essentially been an exercise in attempting to get away with as little mainline as possible and shoehorn in as much branch as possible. There was no flour mill at Merriwa and certainly not one with a petroleum siding conveniently located a small distance down the line, but there is just this arrangement in the midwest town of Grenfell.

This is a snip of the track arrangement of Grenfell. I snapped a few photos of the flour mill at Grenfell many years ago as I was driving through town in the late 90s. What hadn’t been apparent to me at the time was that the siding extended beyond the mill buildings and also served a petroleum outlet. What more could I ask for?

There were a couple of oil sidings at Merriwa but I was having a bit of a struggle fitting them in. I also had on my mind that there was a lot of unused floor space in the middle of the room where I could fit a nice big industry as long as I could find one that suited the location. Merriwa is four and a half hours drive from Grenfell but both are wheat towns and including this industry allows me to achieve all the aims I had for the end of the branch in a prototypical arrangement.

This photo shows the appeal of the mill at the end of Grenfell’s rail yard and it is typical of many that were dotted around the state in NSW towns like Gunnedah and Gilgandra. The fact that all these towns start with G is purely coincidental (I think) 🙂

After much thinking and cogitating I decided I really needed to check whether Ray Pilgrim’s fear (posted in a comment on the blog) that I didn’t have enough space for the branch to clear the storage sidings was well founded or not. I was well aware that it was going to be a close run thing but I am ever the optimist. I tend to favour grades of not much more than 1 in 100 (1%) which means a 1cm rise for every meter of travel. I like this grade because it’s simple, being based on tens so even my mathematically challenged brain can handle it. I’d worked out that there needed to be a minimum of 150mm (6″) clearance at the spot where the wheat silo is located. This allows 150mm of clearance between the rail head of the storage sidings and the top of the benchwork above. This would allow 110mm for the track and trains to clear the underside of the benchwork and 40mm for the roadbed and associated benchwork. Turns out Ray was right to be skeptical: there was very little chance of the line gaining sufficient height using a 1% grade. So I tested a 1.5% grade and the line does just clear the storage roads. I could probably push things a little harder with something like a 1.7% grade on the branch and I could even give the storage sidings a slight grade to help things along but I believe there is sufficient room (just).

Right on cue a couple of PECO curved turnouts I’d ordered from the UK turned up in the mail today. I unpacked them to take a look and I have to admit to being impressed in spite of my reservations about whether they will be a blot on my NSW railway landscape. They’re well made and nowhere near as ugly as the O-gauge points of old I’ve seen. They’re not a very close match to anything being used in NSW either but think of the hundreds of layouts built in Australia using the OO/HO equivalent and I don’t remember hearing too many adverse comments from people who have actually built layouts. As opposed to those of a more pure, theoretical bent who are quick to criticise the efforts of others without ever sullying the railway scene with a layout of their own. I can make and lay my own track, I’ve done so on my last two layouts. However both of these layouts only required about 5 or 6 turnouts: Muswellbrook needs about 25 on the scenic portion of the layout. I estimate about 4-5 hours work will be required for each point if I hand build them and that’s just for the plain #6 type. When it comes to the fancy curved variety that are needed for this layout the time to build one will probably double. That means about 150 hours to make the points required, add to this the track and you start to see why I’m contemplating using PECO turnouts.

Muswellbrook V3.4

While the rain we’ve had over the past couple of days doesn’t equal the downpour of late March in intensity or quantity, it did bucket down and it turns out the leak hasn’t been fixed after all. So I exchanged a few terse text messages with my builder and he’s going to get up on the roof with a hose and find out where the water’s getting in before any more work happens inside. I’m laughing on the other side of my face at the moment.

But with true Aussie stoicism I stayed warm and indoors today and noodled around some more with my track plan. If you can’t build at least you can dream…

This is V3.4 because there was a version in between that didn’t redraw almost the entire main line. It doesn’t look too different from V3.2 but there’s a lot of work in this version that isn’t apparent at first glance. I’ve shifted the wheat silo closer to the main line and cram in the Oak Dairy. I’ve also managed to use only one double slip on this plan which is a change from the earlier versions of the plan when I thought I had more space. I seem to remember there were three double slips on that plan.

The reason behind this most recent draft of the plan is that I wanted to see if I could avoid spending the next three years hand building switches by utilizing Peco curved switches. There are 4 curved switches in this plan (3R & 1L) and my intention had been to download Templot, draw out some templates for these (the outside radius of these was to be 2400mm with the inside radius to be set at my minimum radius of 1800mm). The dimensions of the Peco switches is 3098mm and 1727mm respectively so I couldn’t just drop these points into my previous plan to see if they would fit. I had to remove the track on all the approaches to the yard and redraw all the curves. While I was at it I redrew the main yard and just to add spice I added two extra lines to the storage roads.

The downsides (there are more than one) of using Peco switches, both standard and curved, is that they look very unlike anything on the prototype I model, the gap in the crossing is overly long and that FS wheels drop into as they cross, the sleepers require some work to make them look like wood and they’re expensive. However they’re well made, reliable and will allow me to have trains running in 2017, as opposed to 2027 and I have quite a few stored in a cupboard in my shed. There are approximately 24 switches on the scenic portion of the layout, making a total of 34 if you include the ones on the storage roads (although I have never had any intention of hand-making the switches for the storage roads hence the supply Peco points on hand to to lay these out). I’ve hand-built plenty of switches over the years and as such I have a pretty fair idea how long it will take and the number of hours of back aching work it will require to make that many, before you add in hand laying all the plain track. In spite of the expense I’m finding it very hard to resist the temptation to use Peco points on the layout. I’ve ordered two curved points so I can take a look at them, make an assessment and make some informed decisions. Hopefully this will be more accurate than my assessment that the leak was fixed! 🙂

If I go with Peco switches it may be that I limit these to use on the main line with the plain track being made up of ME code 125 flex track. I may end up hand making the 11 switches for the branch and I’m toying with idea of using code 100 for this. ME produce code 100 flex track to match so I can avoid having to hand lay all the plain track even if I do make the switches. I’ve deliberately avoided using curved switches on the branch.

Muswellbrook V3.2

It seems as if the elements are against me and everyone else this year. We’ve suffered another round of heavy rainfall over the past couple of days and it’s a long weekend! 🙂 However I stand on the battlements and laugh in the rain’s general direction because my shed has a new roof and as such (fingers crossed) my equipment is safe and dry inside, including lots of train gear.

As I can’t really do much actual modelling or construction until the room is completed, I’ve been noodling about with a layout plan using the interim measurements I’ve taken after the work so far and I’m reasonably happy with the way things look. It’s nowhere near as complicated or ambitious as the previous version however I’ve managed to shoehorn in a mainline yard, some off-scene storage, a full mixed branch line and a colliery siding. I just need to find some room for the Muswellbrook Oak dairy siding and possibly move the Wheat siding to the other end of the yard in Merriwa and I’ll be done.

I’ve put some more work into this plan and abandoned the idea of making the branch a coal only line. Making the Merriwa line a fully functioning, mixed branch is much more in keeping with my interests. I like the idea of mixing coal and wheat on the same layout and there aren’t too many places other than Muswellbrook in NSW where this happens. However I need the Merriwa line to achieve this.

A couple of friends agreed to come by and visit yesterday and I showed them both the previous plan and the work on the room so far. We sat and drank tea and coffee, looked at some models and poked around the upstairs area of my layout room, taking measurements and talking plans. As you do 🙂 There are many “lone wolf” modellers in the world I imagine but I can’t say I number myself among them: I tend to build my layouts on my own but I need to run ideas past other modellers and hear what they have to say about my schemes. For the cost of a few cups of tea and coffee and some biscuits I got to run my ideas past two people whose opinions I respect. They didn’t so much come up with new ideas, more confirmed what I’d already been thinking. I need a circle of track to run some of the big locos I have plans to build and I need a mixed branch. Everything else should hang off these two “must-haves”.

In a sense the branch is really where my interests lie; the mainline yard, 75′ turntable and colliery siding are really just there to take my modelling over the past 17 years a step beyond Morpeth where I’ve really just been modelling the branch but never had this connect with the outside world. I suppose you can call a fiddle yard the outside world but in this next layout I want to model a 3D part of it. Hence the need for Muswellbrook. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in the long run, I spend most of my time running a mixed goods up the branch, shuffling a few wagons about the yard and then running the train back down the line to Muswellbrook. Now that’s my idea of a fun! 🙂 I’ll probably only run trains on the main when friends drop by and if I decide to start running operating sessions. Something I haven’t had the opportunity to do for many years.

We’ll have to wait and see how that goes…


Progress Shot

The framing for the knee walls is in place but the job is far from complete. Electrician is coming tomorrow so the lights will be removed. I doubt I’ll be able to get any clear shots of the work after that as it’s gloomy enough already and 30 second exposures are straining the limits of my camera.

This photo gives a better sense of the planes that will be formed by the plaster board once it’s installed. I’ve asked the builder to install a small door on both sides of the room to allow access after the work is complete to the long space behind these walls. More for access reasons than for any practical need for more storage or to access trains.

I was originally looking at doing this work myself and while I feel I could match the builders quality of work I think the comparison has convinced me that getting even this far would have meant the job stretching on into the never-never. I roughly estimate that if I spent every free weekend on this job it would have taken me at least 6 months to progress this far. The danger would have been hat the work would have ground to a halt and I know from experience that getting a builder to pick up a half-finished job is very difficult.

Movement At Last!

It’s been something close to ten months since I first attended an open house to view my new home on a beautiful Spring day last August. I loved the house from the moment I saw it but what really caught my eye was a huge 9mX9m colourbond steel shed in the corner of the yard: double storey no less! Dirty saws and lathes downstairs, trains upstairs. The calculus made perfect sense, well at least to a train modeller 🙂 After the longest negotiation I’ve ever been through to finally settle on the house (I must admit to withdrawing the offer at one point so it wasn’t just the previous owners and my bank stuffing things about) I moved in about three months ago and immediately started what has seemed like a never-ending round of work on and around the house. OMG I’m sick of tradies! However today the builders arrived to start work lining the upstairs train room with plaster board and to repair and replace the roof on one side where it had a leak. In the morning I could have hugged them, although the air was very blue this afternoon when I discovered one of them had driven his car on my brand new turf! 😦

It being day one of probably four or five days work, the progress inside the room is not that far along but as is usually the way with builders and trades people, they managed to make a mess. The roof however is done so gone is the leak! 🙂 The curtains you can see behind the new work were masking four large skylights that used to sit in the ceiling on this side of the room. The seal around one of these is the area I have assumed was the cause of the leak so they all four were removed and I’ve had the whole roof sheeting replaced. I’m not exactly sure why the owner would go to the expense of installing what looked to be quite expensive skylights and then have them covered by curtains, blocking out almost all the light they brought into the room but that’s not an issue for me. I want the room sealed, water tight and I intend the lighting to be provided by the layout’s lights. I’d have probably had them removed even if one of them wasn’t leaking.

I got home a little early this afternoon and the builders were still in the shed making a heck of a racket. The major issues I want to address in getting this work done is that the unlined room needs to be insulated and I really wanted the walls smooth and able to be painted. The structure is held aloft by three large, and very ugly, lattice beams that run the entire length of the room: one at either end and one right down the middle of the room. Any layout I was ever going to build in this space was going to have this whacking great lattice beam intruding into the scenery. So the builder and I spent a good deal of time discussing how he might bring the ceiling down into the room sufficiently so that these would effectively disappear behind the plaster board. You can see what he’s done to get this to happen in the above photo. The blue channel that the plaster boards will be attached to has been secured to some wooden beams he’s added at intermediate points along the length of the room.

As you can see from the photo the roof of this building is a barn style and as such it intrudes into the space in a most model-train-unfriendly fashion. If you look at the above photo the length of timber on the floor just beyond the short ladder marks the line where the plasterboard will intersect with the floor. So before I’ve even started I’ve lost 900mm of my lovely floor area because I don’t plan on building my layout 600mm from the floor.

I’ve labelled this photo to give you some idea of what I’ll be dealing with in building a layout in this room. Imagine the thick read line that is not an arrow as the line where the plasterboard will run.

In spite of the knee walls already intruding into the space by 900mm I still can’t build a layout hard up against the wall that s formed because it’s only 1.1m from floor to ceiling at this point. I estimate that 1.5m is what I would ideally need for a layout with the track height about 1.1m from the floor and with a (vertical) backdrop behind this of about 300mm. The ceiling doesn’t reach a height of 1.4m untill you move a good 400mm or so further out from the wall. Does this matter in such a large room? Well this blog is isn’t called Morpeth in O-scale for nothing. With minimum radius curves needing to be about 1.8m my available 8.5mX7.5m space is quickly shrinking to the point where I can’t get the sort of layout I was planning into it. Does this matter? No because whatever space I have available I’ll design a layout to suit, however it would have been nice to have a bit more room. And yes I already have a plan drawn up for this new, more modest space but it’s all very much a draft and I’m not yet ready to publish it here. One of the decisions I need to make is whether I want a coal branch or a mixed goods branch. This second option would be a normal branch that ran to a town like the one on the Merriwa branch. What’s exercising my mind at the moment is that I don’t have the space for such a branch if I want the yard for the town straight. I don’t know of many stations in NSW which had a curved station platform. Even those I can think of (East Maitland on the Morpeth line and Condobolin on the main western) curved gently. The curve I would need to introduce to fit this in would be anything but gentle. I’ll come back to that in a later post when I’ve made some decisions.

Meanwhile back at Morpeth pier…

I built the pier at Morpeth without a set of plans so just about all the work carried out so far has been from a set of measurements I took of the pier at Coffs Harbour combined with guesstimates. One measurement I overlooked the need for was of the height of the pylons that sit in a row down the side of the structure. I have a prototype photo showing these at about waist height… this is what checking this dimension looks like 🙂