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.

New Setup

I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of weeks settling on a plan I felt I could live with that incorporated my two, small portable layouts; Queens Wharf and Morpeth. It was not settled that I wasn’t going to change the modelling course of the past 14 years and start to model another location but today I think I’ve finally settled the argument I’ve been having with myself for the past few months and Morpeth won out. What was occupying my mind wasn’t so much whether I wanted to use the portable layouts but rather whether I could get them both set up in my new train room, linked by lengths of “bridging” layout to connect them in a coherent whole and be satisfied that this would be operationally coherent. Any layout I build will have a coherent and explicit operational plan and I was far from convinced that I could get this using the layouts in the limited space available to me. As I’ve detailed here in past posts I did some curve tests, lined and painted the room after making it weather tight and over the past couple of weeks I’ve been setting up parts of the layouts to test clearances, lighting and heights. Today I finally set up both layouts in their final positions and satisfied myself that there isn fact enough room to get to and from the two operating areas on each side of the room. Because both layouts already exist and have not been custom-made to fit the available space, this as far from certain and I wasn’t prepared to go to the time and expense of making a start and begin building the layout without testing whether I could achieve my main goals of a scenically complete and satisfying Australian scene combined with a challenging operating scenario.

I’ve been gradually working on building the stands to hold QW and Morpeth off the ground over the past few weeks. QW was essentially complete this past week and yesterday was Morpeth’s turn. Some of the components in these trestles were recycled from the last go I had at doing this same exercise but everything had to be lowered to fit into the new space so I estimate I saved myself very little time over having to start from scratch. Note the small patch of blue masking tape on the floor under one of the legs of the closest frame. There’s another patch at the other end.

I’ve been fiddling and developing the final plan over the past two weeks and I’d reached the stage where I had the curves at a sufficiently large radius to allow a test set up this weekend. In other words I was prepared to commit to cutting up wood and setting the layouts up to see if I could get my portly frame around them to allow operation in the future to be possible. I built the benchwork frames yesterday in preparation for the arrival today of my friend Peter Krause who had agreed to come down to be instructed what to do and generally act as my lackey for the day. It’s a long way to drive to be ordered about 🙂 Thanks Peter, I couldn’t have got much done on my own.

I started the morning early before Peter’s arrival by marking out where Morpeth was going to stand in the room. I measured the plan and transferred two critical dimensions to the floor of the room and marked these with blue masking tape. When Peter arrived we dissembled Morpeth and shifted QW to the other side of the room to its final position. We also cut up some MDF, applied a photo backdrop and installed this into the gap in the new section of layout of the new, extended QW. QW is the layout against the wall in the distance in the above photo. We leveled the benchwork frames using my new laser level by adjusting the feet at the base of each leg. After this we carried the new benchwork frames for Morpeth upstairs and placed these in the locations indicated by the masking tape. I managed to get these marks almost spot on and the feet ended up within millimeters of the masking tape marks I’d placed there this morning. I told Peter what I estimated should be the distance between the track centres of each layout and I was within a few centimeters of what I’d guessed they were. He had the gall to check my guesses by measuring it! 🙂 I was very chuffed. With a bit more measuring, shifting and adjusting we lifted Morpeth into position on its new, lower benchwork.

This isn’t an optical illusion. Morpeth is supposed to be set at an angle to the wall and QW. If I hadn’t placed it like this the layout would never have fitted into the room. The end I’m standing at to take the photo will eventually be closed to foot traffic by a curve of track that will connect the two layouts. The long patch of light wood in the middle of Morpeth is the new shelf that will allow a place for tools, eye glasses, coffee mugs and packs of myriad screws on something other than the surface of the layout! 🙂

After bolting the layout segments together, installing the light pans and screwing into position a small shelf I’d made for the front “set in” edge of Morpeth, both Peter and I were buggered and we called it a day. I have an electrician coming to tomorrow to see if we can’t sort out a solution to QW being so dark and muddy. I like my layouts bright! 🙂


Filling Gaps

I had a whole precious Sunday today to devote to modelling largely free from domestic chores and family commitments. Yahoo! So I decided I was going to make a new segment of the layout to fill the gap created in Queens Wharf by extending the loop, lay some track and perhaps even have time to take a photo of the new loop with a loco sitting in situ. Ha! I say with lofty disdain. I didn’t even get close 🙂 Four hours work and all I managed was the first step: get the new benchwork completed for the gap and commence getting this installed.

Before I could do anything new on the layout I had to deal with the backdrop…

To make any sense of what is to come can I ask that you note the height of the sky backdrop above the vents on top of the large brick building on the right hand end of the layout. The height of the backdrop above rail height on QW was set about 15 years ago when I built the layout, approximately 300mm (12″). All that’s changed in that time is that about 3 years ago I applied a new photo backdrop to the pre-existing board. This was trimmed to the height of the backdrop that had originally been painted by hand by yours truly. However as usual with my new train room that sloping ceiling was causing me problems and I needed to lower the backdrop so the layout could be pushed closer to the edge of the room so I didn’t have to make the layout any lower.

First order of business this morning was to remove the old backdrop so I could evaluate how best to chop 70mm from the top of the boards. I’ve fretted over this step for a couple of weeks. It would seem logical to simply cut the required slice from the bottom of the board (this is 6mm mdf btw) but doing this would mean I’d lose all the trees and foliage down below the layout edge. I needed a way to remove the 70mm (21/2″) from the top of the sky. I wanted to lower the backdrop, not lower the horizon.

In the end I took a chance and ran the back drops through my table saw (A Triton) face up. This worked a treat with no ragged edge on the sky but I will admit that having a nice sharp saw blade is the main reason for this. I was expecting to damage the backdrops and have to start again which would have been expensive and problematic as this particular backdrop has been discontinued. Note that there is less sky showing above the vents.

After a bit of measuring and fiddling about I cut and assembled the parts for the new section of benchwork. It’s only 1.2m in length but that’s all passing loop! 🙂

After a few hours work this is as far as I got: I had a new frame to lengthen the layout but I’m a long way from laying track. Still this section of layout is fairly close to being track ready. All I need to do is cut and install a length of back drop, cut up some ply for a roadbed, install some new roadbed for a point and then lay and wire the track. Ok, so maybe I was being a bit optimistic this morning! 🙂

While I could have simply bolted the new section of benchwork in place I decided to stay with the portable nature of QW and went for discrete sections using locating dowels and my usual method of using T nuts and bolts to hold the sections together. I’ll cut up a new section of backdrop next weekend and apply the backdrop to this before it’s installed.

Well that’s it for the photo-essay. Nothing terribly sexy to show this week but it feels good to be finally adding something to the layout rather than chopping things up and squeezing them to fit.

Off The Floor

I’ve had my father-in-law staying with me over the past few days. He’s an ex-locomotive fireman, driver and train inspector who worked on the NSWR for over 40 years in the Riverina region. He’s a lovely bloke, very Australian, in the best sense of the word, with a great love of bush poetry from the likes of Lawson and Patterson and he really loves a yarn. Getting him talking is easy, it’s stopping him that’s the real problem 🙂 However, in spite of this I managed to get some work done on the layout this weekend and it was time to cut some wood and get Queens Wharf up off the floor. I’d been thinking and cogitating over this step for a number of weeks because I knew I wasn’t going to like the height of the layout after I’d decided on the compromise between the height of track above the floor, the height of the backdrops and the distance I was prepared to allow the layout to sit out from the walls. If I’d been building these sections of layout from scratch I probably could’ve managed the issue a little differently, shifting the taller structures to the front and possibly lowering the backdrops and trees a little. However, in the end this was only going to give me a few more inches of height. The room I’m building this layout in has sloping ceilings and there isn’t much I can do about this: raise the layout to the height I’d prefer and I’d have to use curves that would have been at home on a HO layout, lower the layout to the point where I can get decently broad curves and I wouldn’t need to build benchwork because the layout would need to be on the floor. Still I’m in this hobby to make decisions and present myself with a series of problems to solve. It would be boring if this stuff was easy. Well that’s what I keep telling myself 🙂

Even without something to gauge the height of the benchwork against, you can tell this is less than an ideal height. Rail height is approximately 1m from the floor, about 300mm (12″) lower than I’d prefer.

I had the layout sections of Queens Wharf already in the room, I’d purchased the wood I was planning to construct the benchwork from a few weeks ago and I had a design nutted out for the benchwork units because I’d developed it a couple of years when I used something very similar in my previous home layout. On that occasion I’d started to set both Queens Wharf and Morpeth up as a permanent layout but had to abandon the scheme when my career took an unexpected turn and I sold the house the layout was being built in.

While I’m a real fan of Linn Wescott and his L girder benchwork, I must admit to only having the space required for its use on one occasion; in this application and in all the other layouts I’ve ever built I’ve never had the room to justify its use. I use his idea of the L-girder but these have been turned over and used as rails on which my pre-existing modular layouts will sit. I found it interesting to be reading some of Pelle Soeborg’s thinking behind his most recent modular layout today in MR and finding that I’d come to many of the same conclusions he has about wanting to be able to pull the layout apart at some point down the track with minimal damage. I may not be the one pulling the layout apart but I do want to allow for this if it ever needs to happen. I’m going to preserve the breaks in the backdrops and track where possible to allow the sections of layout to be unbolted and removed from the room in blocks.

After doing some calculations and checking heights I commenced cutting the 2x2s for the leg units. These all have adjustable feet on them to allow for an uneven floor and the floor is uneven, I’ve already checked. The leg units are recycled from the previous aborted attempt to set these two small layouts up as a home layout so the really hard jobs had mostly been done. I already had the leg units made and the adjustable feet installed, all I had to do was disassemble them, cut the 2x2s to the shorter length this room required and reassemble them. I then made up four 2.4m long L girders and screwed these into the tops of the leg units. The last step was to cut some diagonal braces to provide a bit of support to the legs and then haul the resulting units upstairs. Ever since I decided I was going to set Queens Wharf up as a home layout I’ve always planned to extend the passing loop at this location to allow for the passing of reasonably long trains. After consulting my plan I’ve decided that I can extend the loop by 1.2m (4′) essentially doubling its length and making it far more practical.

This photo clearly illustrates my dilemma with the height of the backdrop and the sloping ceiling: lower the backdrop and I start cutting into the scene, raise the benchwork and I lose the ability to have what I feel are reasonably broad curve radii because this pushes the layout further out from the wall.

Now that the benchwork for QW is built I’m going to spend a few weeks sitting and looking at it for a time to see whether I can live with it or whether it prompts a re-think of the plan.

I think this photo illustrates the problem with the layout height. I’m used to a layout that sits about the height of my armpit and to get a similar view at this height you really need to be sitting down. As I grow older it’s quite possible that sitting down while I shunt the layout may become a necessity rather than a luxury. Luckily my bald patch isn’t too apparent in this shot 🙂

My house guest told me quite a number of stories of his time on the railways and most are pretty funny. One involved a driver by the name of Speedy and his mate who were working the goods yard at a station near Hay in southern NSW. Evidently the usual station master was on leave for a number of weeks and his replacement had a very attractive, young wife by the name of Darlene. Most NSW stations provided accommodation for the Station Master adjacent to the station yard so these houses and their surrounding yards could be seen from the line. On this particular day Speedy and the fireman were propelling a string of wagons into the goods shed which was a “through” design with doors on either end. The doors on the far end were shut and the shunter was down that end of the line using hand signals to direct the crew. Evidently Darlene was out in the yard of the Station Master’s residence hanging out the washing and she was dressed in a pair of quite revealing shorts. Speedy was watching her from his side of the cab as she bent to pick up items of clothing and he called the fireman over with a “take a look at this”. The train was still moving as both of them stood glued to the scene with the shunter on the ground near the end of the train wildly waving his arms about and shouting for them to stop the train. Of course the inevitable happened and the wagon at the rear of the train hit the rear goods shed door, smashing through it and propelling several wagons through the other side.

Both men were hauled up before the local train inspector and questioned about what had happened. Speedy told him, “I couldn’t see the shunter, he was on the other side of the wagons.”

So the inspector turned to the fireman and asked him why he hadn’t seen the shunter’s signals. He replied, “I had a cinder in me eye.”

“Why couldn’t you see him with your other eye?” was the next question.

“Let me poke you in the eye and we’ll see how well you see out of the other one,” the fireman replied.

They both got away with it…

Queens Wharf Comes Home

Something like 3 years ago I was in a situation where I had sold the house I was living in but didn’t have the space to store my small portable layout Queens Wharf in my new home. I asked Phil, a modelling friend, if he could store the layout for a time and he agreed. I constructed a wheeled, wooden rack which the layout could be stored on in Phil’s garage and so, just before I vacated the house, we loaded QW into my trailer and transported it the 15km to its new “temporary” home. I’ve put the word temporary in inverted commas because at the time I really had no idea whether this new home would actually turn out to be temporary. In fact my memory tells me I offered to give Phil QW at the time for just this reason: I had no idea whether or when I’d have enough room to take the layout back. To give Phil the full credit he deserves he said “maybe” to the offer to take the layout and never once asked when I would get around to removing it, thus allowing him to get on with building his own layout. It’s HO so I never felt all that motivated to get QW back. If he’d been working on an O-scale layout that would have been different 🙂

Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve got Morpeth up and running in the new train room, I’ve been going through a thinking and planning process of what I really want in the new space and I must admit to being more than a little torn. By changing prototype locations I will essentially have to start from scratch: new layout, new operating intensity, new locos (something like 12 of them), endless rolling stock kits to put together. Hey didn’t I get out of HO to avoid this scenario? If I stay with the Morpeth line I stay with a modelling theme I’ve been working on for something like 17 years. I almost have enough rolling stock and locomotives to populate the layout now. Even if I developed a bit of a “what if” scenario and added a bit of industry and some rail sidings that didn’t exist on the real line, all I would be doing is developing something I’ve already started rather than starting from square one. What to do?

I’ve been working on this plan on and off for 2 weeks. It has allowed me to test whether Morpeth and QW can be squeezed into the new train room and allow an operating scenario that will satisfy me. I envisage trying to keep 3 operators busy for a couple of hours. You might notice there is no provision for a continuous run.

Of course the answer to that question is to draw a plan and see if things will fit. The biggest problem I faced with this scenario is that Morpeth (the exhibition layout) was built to fit into a trailer on an aluminium rack, not into an 8.5m long room. Getting it to sit in a room at the heart of a permanent home layout at the end of the Morpeth line (as opposed to being a portable, exhibition layout) has not been easy. In going though a similar exercise three years ago when I tried to get both layouts to fit into a “permanent”  arrangement in my previous home I’d chopped 150mm (6″) off the end of one of Morpeth’s three modules in an effort to ease the radii on the curves. As I was never comfortable doing so this time round I set as an absolute minimum condition that I was not going to chop the layouts about. They’d suffered enough damage at my hands already: if they were going to fit into the new train room then they were going to do so without being chopped up. I was willing to add and enhance scenes or passing loops but I wasn’t prepared to chop them up. This applied to QW too. I also felt that I wanted to retain the ability to exhibit Morpeth if I chose to so this would mean any changes would have to work around the need to allow Morpeth to be dismantled, transported in my trailer and worked as a stand alone exhibition layout.

The first and most obvious victim of this plan is the pier module. No matter how I twisted and weaved about I just couldn’t get the pier module to fit into the plans I was drawing. So my answer to this was to stop trying and make the curved line that takes a locomotive out to the pier into a new industrial siding. The pier will continue to exist in exhibition mode, it will be stored in the trailer. I’ll just have to build a small add-on for when Morpeth is in home layout mode. It will hitch up to the layout using the same hardware as the pier and so nothing on the main layout will need to change.

Phil and I loaded QW into the trailer on Saturday morning and hauled her to the new home I’ve recently purchased. We got her out of the trailer and carried her upstairs to sit on the floor waiting till I can find the time to build some benchwork for her to sit on.

I have no benchwork as yet to store QW on so at the moment she’s sitting on the floor. If she ends up being used as part of a bigger layout I’ll extend the passing loop by adding a new section between the two modules. This will sit in the spot where the gap between the two parts appears in this photo.

While Phil and I were in the shed moving things about we took the pier section of Morpeth upstairs and hooked this up to the main layout. I have a feeling that this is the first time I’ve had the entire layout assembled together in one unit. I’d set up each part of the layout separately and also had the pier and the section it butts up to connected up while I did the initial work on it but this is the first time the whole layout has been assembled and operable. As I’ve started on the ship model I needed to have the bridge and pier sections hooked up again so I can finish the scenic work on the boundary between them. Taking the pier module upstairs and connecting them up was a sensible thing to do. I can work on the ship at my modelling bench in the house and take it out to the train room if I need to.


While I’ve had various segments of the layout set up over the last couple of years I’m pretty sure this is the first time the whole layout (minus the fiddle yard) has been set up and run since the start of 2014. Since then there have been major developments in the design that weren’t included in that set up.

As we had the layout set up and running Phil took the opportunity to test one of his loco projects as he doesn’t have an O-scale layout at home. So he got his new 48 fired up and ran it back and forth while I set up the camera and took some photos.

Phil had been working on a 40 class loco but when this stalled he decided to build a 48 from a kit. This is the result.

Ship Ahoy Again

After a couple of months away from the modelling bench as I struggled through a drawn out home renovation I finally found myself with a Sunday somewhat free from household tasks so that I was able to get some modelling done.

The pier is essetially finished but it lacks any real scenic detailing in terms of junk and trains however I can now move onto the ship. I decide to put the water and sky into the background of this photo mainly because of the clutter in the background which was annoying me.

I did essentially three main jobs today:

  1. I stained up the final batch of timber ready to be glued into place and then glued three different batches of piers and trim into position.
  2. I applied some 21/2″ NBW casting along the new edge trim. These are the only NBW castings I’ve used so far on this model. As most of the castings I could have applied would have been under the deck or hidden behind the ship I decided to save myself the trouble and left them off.
  3. I painted some white metal bollards supplied to me by renowned UK modeller Gordon Gravett. He was kind enough to offer them and I wasn’t dumb enough to say no.

After my most recent house move I had to unpack the ship model kit and take a proper look inside the box. I’ve had the kit for a few years and I have looked at the contents in the past but I’ve never opened up the packs inside and taken a good look. I also read back over an article in the UK modelling magazine Model Railway Journal issue #31 where a modeller describes his work on the same kit. I haven’t actually started on building the ship but this will be one of the next jobs on the shortening to do list. Aside from a small cabin I need to make for the shoreline and a bit of basic scenery cover the layout is pretty close to being complete. There is still the small matter of the ship to build and the new fiddleyard turntable to design and make but I’m finding it quite disconcerting that I’m about to start construction on the ship. I’ve been thinking and planning for this for so long that it doesn’t seem quite real.

The Traymobile

Growing up in the 60s and 70s I have some vivid memories of the decades that style forgot and nothing better epitomizes the aesthetic of this era for me than my father’s taste in furniture. I know it can be quite trendy at the moment to fit your dwelling out in furniture and fittings from this era but I had to live through this aesthetic disaster. Having a father whose tastes ran to the modern, but who only had a budget for the modest, meant I grew up in a house decorated in what can best be described as Austen Powers chic.

One item of furniture in our home that is seared in my memory was an object familiarly known as the “Tray Mobile”. This thing looked something like the rear end of the Titanic on wheels with a twist of the Art Nouveau thrown in for good measure. It was supposed to be mobile, however the one time my father tried to serve drinks from it in safari mode the whole show almost took a swan dive in the middle of the living room and as such it was consigned to immobility in the corner of the dining room, where it sat forlorn and unloved, never to venture forth again. It probably now graces the corner of some metro-sexual city trendoid’s shoe box apartment where it has found a new lease of life as an object d’ art centre piece. God knows it would be far too valuable (and unstable) to actually push food and drinks around on. Why anyone would want mobile food is beyond me anyway: isn’t that why we have drive through? 🙂

My traumatic childhood came to mind today as I built my own version of the tray mobile: a mobile work table for the new layout room.

The new mobile tray workstation sitting in front of Morpeth and ready for action. The trays are 400mmX450mm and the legs are approximately 900mm long. I bought some little nylon trundle wheels from Bunnings this afternoon and these seem to work a treat. I applied a bead of trim timber around the edge of the top shelf to provide a modicum of safety for items that might be sitting on the upper level.

I’ve been thinking about building a work table like this for a number of years. Last week when I got the layout set up and started pottering about it quickly became apparent that I had no horizontal surfaces upon which to lay tools and the like while I worked. As Morpeth has in place an almost completed layer of scenery I didn’t have the modellers usual place to spread junk, namely the surface of an unfinished layout. So this was my response. Having to spend half an hour curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the room at the memory of my father’s taste in furniture not withstanding, this little project has been on the to do list for quite a while and it was a simple, very enjoyable project. Best of all it was made from scrap timber that had been sitting around the shed for a while. So aside from the wheels it essentially cost me nothing to make and took no more than 2 hours to assemble.

Morpeth Shakes Off Some Dust

I had a couple of train friends over yesterday to give me a hand on running some curve tests to see what locos would run around the curves on the new layout I’m thinking about building. The larger locos with outside cylinders are suspected to have issues with curves with a curve radius much smaller than 1.8m (6′) but there are so few actual layouts around in 1:43.5 where I could see the locos I plan to run traversing curves less than this I determined that the only way I could be certain what would or wouldn’t run was to systematically test some locos on some curves.

Phil and Peter working together as a well oiled machine to lay the tightest of the curves (1.2m or 4′) for the tests.

After we ran the tests I managed to convince them to help me haul Morpeth up the stairs to the freshly painted train room. Phil and Peter helped me get the three completed sections of Morpeth up onto its stands and then I spent some time today cleaning the track, vacuuming the dust up and determining that the poops we found yesterday near my O-scale cows weren’t from rats but from a bearded dragon which had been in residence in the workshop a few months ago. There was a bit of very minor damage to a couple of trees which will mean a little re-forestation at some point but other than the layout seems to be in remarkably good condition.

This is the first time the layout has been set up in a complete state since March 2014. Aside from siding peeling off Parker’s Junk Yard and the lizard poo there was only some minor damage to a couple of tress which just need to be reinstalled.

I hooked up the main DCC system this afternoon and cranked it up to run a train. It was a real pleasure to just run my 20 class and a scratch built CCA back and forth a few times and take a few photos. We underestimate the mental health benefits of simply running a train at our own peril.

This photo represents a normal day on the Morpeth line and it’s only taken me 15 years to be able to get all the elements together to be able to pose such a train in this way 🙂

The only problem created by running a train on an almost completed layout in my brand new train room is that it’s very tempting to think “why not just set Morpeth up permanently?” It would be very easy to draw up a plan, make a few adjustments and use Morpeth as the core of my new layout. Why change locales after all these years? And with a bit of judicious shoe horning I could probably find time for the bridge scene I’ve been hankering to build for a few years. There’s no room for a rail bridge on my version of Muswellbrook.

I don’t like exhibiting very much anyway… 🙂