About Trevor Hodges

I'm an Australian railway modeller working in 1:43.5 (7mm) O-scale. I switched to O-scale over from HO modelling in 2000 and I've never regretted the decision. I have two layouts which both follow New South Wales prototype. Queens Wharf is a small, portable layout that is essentially compete and Morpeth is a larger layout currently under construction.

Not Watching Paint Dry

I’ve been on a break from work for the past two weeks. At a social gathering with my staff on the final Friday work afternoon we were talking about what we were going to be doing over the break to which I replied “painting my train room”. They all laugh at my eccentric hobby but they were also well aware that I was dead serious. I planned on painting my newly lined train room. I had thoughts that I’d knock the job over by Friday of the first week and then I could spend some time doing some other jobs around the house and possibly even make a small start on building the layout.

HA! That plan crumbled to ashes when I came to realise just how many hectares of wall board it took to line the room, of which each and every square cm needed to be painted. So it will come as no surprise if I reveal that while the painting of the room is now complete I made the last brush stroke at 6.30pm this evening (that’s the Sunday evening before I go back to work).

This just a quick shot of the completed paint job taken on my phone. I didn’t have the strength to walk into the house and get my camera! 🙂

The electrician came on Thursday and installed the lights and power outlets and some vinyl flooring is going down next Wednesday.

So as the job of painting the room was complete and will be layout ready within the next two weeks after final fit out, I decided that it was time to get the plan out and take a hard look at what I wanted to actually build.

This is getting close to the final plan. I have some tests to carry out on the curve radii to ensure that the locos I want to operate will navigate the curves but this plan incorporates almost all the changes I feel that I needed to make.

This version of the plan (V3.7) incorporates most of the changes I’ve been thinking about during the seemingly endless hours of painting. I’ve widened the aisle between the Shell depot and the Oak Dairy benchwork, I’ve moved the 75′ TT away from the door to provide a bit more clearance on entry and better reflect the arrangement at the real Muswellbrook but most importantly I’ve lengthened the yard at Muswellbrook. The main line loop has gone from just over 2.6m to just under 4m. This had been on the cards for a while but a friend paid me a visit on Friday and when he told me that a 2.5m long loop would only allow for a train that had 10 S wagons (with loco and van) I decided to bite the bullet and make the change. In drawing these changes I was forced to rethink the arrangement of the turntable and the approach line to this. I’ve lost the double approach to the table but shifting this further back toward the yard in this switch back arrangement mimics the arrangement of the engine facility at Muswellbrook. I’ve also penciled in a Garratt turntable arrangement here which mimics the Garratt triangle located on this line. This won’t have scenery but it will serve the dual purposes of acting as a shunting neck for locos accessing the table and will also allow for the turning of a Garratt. This is all a bit speculative but it would be nice to be able to represent the way an empty train would have arrived at Muswellbrook yard headed by an AD60 and while coal was being loaded the Garratt would have been turned and coaled on the triangle ready to haul the loaded train back down the Hunter Valley.

You might also note in the info box at the bottom left hand corner that the grade is now included (at 2%, providing me with 50mm more clearance over the storage roads from the last plan) and that the min radius has gone down to 1727mm. This is to accommodate the inner radius of curved Peco points. There’s not much point in saying the minimum radius of the layout curves are 1.8m when the radius on 5 of the points is 1.727m. So my use of Peco points is having a knock on effect to the rest of the plan. Hence the need for some tests I plan to carry out in the next couple of weeks to make sure the locos I want to run on this layout will negotiate these tighter than expected curves.

Wonder Woman With A Shopping Bag

I hate painting! Specifically the house painting variety, or in this case train room painting. I had set out over a week ago to have the room finished and ready for layout building by yesterday but the endless acres of plaster board were defeating me. Then Wonder Woman turned up with a plastic shopping bag on her head and she solved half my problems.

I think my partner Louise knew I was struggling to finish the painting of my train room when I gave myself a break and mowed the lawn. On a list of my 10 least favourite jobs, mowing the lawn would come in pretty high on the list, just above painting. So when she suggested she’d come over Sunday morning and give me a hand I was surprised and a little skeptical. Afterall she’s building herself a new home and her every waking moment, including 7am on a Sunday, is filled with the thousand and one things she needs to think about. And I do mean she’s building it herself: she’s an owner builder which means the guys at the local fastener shop all know her by name, as in “what are you after today Louise”, she’s nailed over 340 joist hangers into place in between building herself wooden steps, arguing with the concreter and running back and forth to Bunnings.

She said “I’ll be there at 7am, make sure the kettle’s on” to which I replied “ok”. Then she asked, “have you got a shower cap,” to which I replied a confused “no”. 7am on a Sunday morning, what sort of a time to be getting out of bed is that?!?! And I have no intention showering in a cap! 🙂 Anyway she rolls up, sets up a mysterious piece of equipment and proceeds to paint the ceiling. After we’d finished and got cleaned up we had enough time to hook up the trailer and head to the biggest Bunnings in SE Qld and still make it back in time for a 12 noon meeting with some young bloke she’s hired to work on her house build on weekends.

And if you’re wondering, yes that’s a plastic shopping bag on Louise’s head. Something about needing to protect her hair. At least this explains why she wanted to know if I owned a shower cap.

Now I can’t say exactly how long it would have taken me to roller the entire ceiling but I would guess at least 6-8 hours. Louise and her fancy little Wagner spray machine had the whole job knocked over in 2 hours. Of course she’d purcashed this in preparation for painting the new house she’s building. Me, I’d rather spend money on my trains 🙂

The only problem is I can’t tell her I’m writing this because she doesn’t know I took the photo and if she finds out I posted it my life won’t be worth living 🙂

A New Toy

I spent this morning shopping for paint. The colour scheme for the new train room didn’t take long to choose: white ceiling and blue walls. I want to install some cheapish vertical blinds on the windows so I paid a visit to a local paint and blind shop. They showed me the colour range in their “basic” vertical blind range and this was then paired with a Dulux paint colour that perfectly matches the colour of the blinds. I don’t expect the blinds to disappear but they need to be as unobtrusive as possible. The low backdrops I eventually install on the layout will take care of drawing operators into the scene in close up views but this colour matching will mean that the sky of the backdrops, the walls and blinds are all reasonably close in tone. Well that’s the plan 🙂

The plasterer spent the morning sanding down the final coat of joint compound. He cleaned up and drove off and that means the work is finished! Except for paint, as my partner Louise so helpfully pointed out. Thanks for always curbing my enthusiasm gorgeous 🙂

This shot shows the “before” effect of the work. The hatches to the vacant spaces behind the walls are now installed and there’s skirting boards right round the room. The blue paint will go up to the second horizontal joint with the field beyond will be white. This should help brighten the room by reflecting light down from the flourescent fixtures.

The blind and paint shop I visited happens to be next door to a really good trade outlet for tools (heaven) so I popped in their, just to have a look around you understand 🙂 I’ve been longing to buy myself a laser level for a number of years but I could never justify the price of purchase, especially as I wasn’t building anything that required one. They used to run to $600 or $700 for the cheapest type a few years ago but, as is the way of the world, I figured it wouldn’t be too long before the Chinese flooded the market with perfectly good generic laser levels and so it turned out. I picked up a new toy for under $AU150 and what a sweet little gadget it is. It’s self levelling and can be attached to a normal camera tripod if necessary. The most recent spirit level I bought a few years ago was half the price of this thing and while I wouldn’t be without it I have a feeling it will be getting far less use in this project than it used to. I don’t even need my glasses to see the levels! 🙂

While I would have loved to get my hands on one of the laser levels that throws a line right round the room this stationary type will more than serve my needs in building a layout.

Why a laser level? I’ve been involved in building something like 15 layouts over the past 25 years or so and I can’t think of anything that will be more useful in laying out and establishing the datum points for my new layout than this gadget. I can envisage at least half a dozen ways I can use it to ensure the layout is level all round and that the grades to a new level are smooth. OMG! I wish I’d had one of these 25 years ago. Most of the layouts I built in my first few years of modelling might have lasted beyond the prototype stage if I’d had one! 🙂

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…