More Benchwork

I have something like 18 people visiting the layout next weekend and I’ve been trying to get something complete for them that will make the long trip they’re making to see it worthwhile. I’m not having much success. I didn’t touch the layout during the week although this is pretty normal but nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline with visitors coming or an exhibition on the horizon. I doubt I’ll get any new track laid prior to the visit but I’d assumed getting the benchwork between QW and Morpeth completed shouldn’t be beyond me. I raced to town early to shop for food and get a hair cut and for some reason the lady who does my haircuts decided that this morning of all mornings would be the one where I’d be left waiting for almost an hour. She spent an age tucked away in an alcove working on some woman’s foils, whatever they are. I asked her if the hair had fallen out and whether she was gluing it back on, one hair at a time! 🙂

This photo shows the plate that connects the end of Morpeth to the new storage yard. This is the first time the old layouts have been physically connected to the new. A small but significant milestone.

As usual I started work by finishing the jobs I didn’t complete last weekend and that meant leg struts and cross braces (the boring bits). I then cut and bolted/screwed a piece of 250mm wide pine to the end of the storage yard and the benchwork holding up Morpeth to finally allow me to say I’ve got the old layout connected to the new. It’s all down hill from here 🙂

Using my new handy-dandy laser level I was easily able to mark out the dimensions on the timber I needed to cut. Doing this by conventional measuring would have been a long and involved process of trial and error as one end of this section of benchwork is set at 19 degrees which means no easy datum to measure from.

I’d previously tested the angle required at one end of Morpeth that would allow me to run the new benchwork parallel with the wall and this was 19 degrees. However cutting the other end of the benchwork to length is no easy matter if it needs to match the benchwork that can be seen in the far corner in the above photo. However with my new laser level this job was a snap because it has both horizontal and vertical axes and as such all I had to do was set it in line with the end of the far benchwork and draw a mark on the pine I’d set out on the floor where the green laser bisects the wood. The line that’s running up the ceiling on the photo continues along the floor so it exactly matches the length of the benchwork at the far end of the room. Neat! 🙂

All I had to do was mark and cut the wood, screw the frame together and then install the legs making sure it was level. I like a job where I don’t have to think too much. 

Of course it was half way though this job that I ran out of wood and took a trip to Bunnings to get supplies. It’s time I decide what I’m going to use as track underlay to raise the track slightly to give it a ballast profile. I could probably get away with laying it straight onto the wood but I’m still wedded to the idea of having something under the track. I don’t want to use cork as I find it difficult to get in sufficient quantities and it can be difficult to keep in place while the glue goes off. What I wanted was something such as dense foam with a self adhesive side that would allow me to peel and stick it to the road base. It would preferably be about 30-35mm wide so I could lay it in two strips and this would bring it out just proud of the end of the sleepers. What I found was a product called purlin tape which is laid under corrugated iron roofing to reduce the sound of expansion and contraction.

This 20m long roll of purlin tape is 25mm wide and 3mm thick. It’s a dense foam product that should work well as track underlay. At 25mm wide it’s not quite wide enough for what I’d like to do with it but I can either lay a thin strip down the center of the line or leave a 1cm gap down the center to bring the edges out just proud of the sleepers. I’ll do some experiments.

 

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Light Boxes: The Penultimate Chapter

As is so often the case with “small” layout jobs, the installation of the layout lighting in my new train room has taken far more time and effort than I’d anticipated. I had planned to work on some new benchwork this weekend, I even made an early Saturday morning visit to Bunnings to buy timber and some fittings to allow this to happen but the final installation and painting of the lighting boxes has taken up all my available free time. My plan was to make up two ladder frames for the storage sidings that lead out of the turntable, mount these on legs and top them with some ply but aside from buying the timber I’ve not managed to cut a stick.

Before I could install the face plates for the lighting boxes they needed a hole cut for the installation of the lighting fixtures. In this case it needed to be 90mm dia. holes. Luckily the electrician loaned me one of his hole cutting saws to cut the required openings.

The electrician not only dropped off a light fitting for me to test last week. He also loaned me a 90mm round hole cutting saw that I could use to cut the required opening in the MDF face plates I had ready to be installed in the boxes. I told him I wasn’t having him cutting holes in MDF upstairs in the train room in the process getting dust everywhere and all over the layout. I was going to do this job myself downstairs in the workshop where the dust wouldn’t matter. I mounted the hole saw in my drill press but a 90mm dia hole was a real challenge for the drill’s arbor. The drill kept stalling and the chuck kept dropping out onto the work piece as I tried to cut the ten holes. With a bit of perseverance I managed to get the job done and installed the plates into the boxes. With the pre-cut holes in the plaster board completed all that was required was to fill the screw heads, sand these back and then paint two coats of blue onto the boxes.

I started the painting of the boxes by running some blue masking tape on the white ceiling where the two colours meet to preserve the neat cut line. I then filled the holes left by the counter sinking for the screws and when the filler hardened I sanded this smooth. I’d previously filled and sanded the holes that I was able to prior to the installation of the boxes so this simplified the job but it was still hot work in the humid conditions of the train room with my head close to the ceiling. Today I came back and painted two coats of blue onto all ten boxes and now they are ready for the installation of the light fittings.

I could have come back and filled all the joints between the planes of the various sections of MDF I made these boxes from but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered: this is a room for model trains not a reception room in a royal palace. So while the boxes do show a few gaps and joints here and there from my less than perfect joinery I’m happy enough with the result.

As I sat and looked at the result of this small marathon of a job I did put some though into whether I wouldn’t have been better off with a continuous pelmet running almost the entire length of the room. It would still be relatively easy to install a single, long plank of 6mm MDF to the front of the boxes to provide a neater, continuous sheet across the lighting boxes but I don’t think I’ll go to this extent. The idea of the lighting is to throw light onto the layout and draw the viewer’s eye to the trains. I’m not sure that a long, continuous pelmet would achieve this any more successfully than the row of isolated boxes. With the amount of work and time this “small” job has taken up I’m not sure its something I want to devote any more time to.

The Cruel Sea

Things have progressed sufficiently on the mill structure that I’ve commenced initial work on Morpeth’s fourth and final scenic module: the river/pier module. I’ve been very lucky over the past year or so to have been swapping emails with renowned UK modeller Gordon Gravett, who tells me at one time scratch built ship models for a living. I’ve been sending him photos of my progress and he’s sent back a few of various projects he’s working on, including the following shot of a ship he built at some point in the past.

This photo sent to me by Gordon Gravett was well timed because it confirmed for me a decision I'd already made about the colour of the water i plan to include on my layout.

This photo sent to me by Gordon Gravett was well-timed because it confirmed for me a decision I’d already made about the colour of the water I plan to include on my layout.

What really caught my eye in this photo wasn’t so much the ship model, which is excellent, but the colour and texture of the water. As far as I can gather the base colour of the water is black with a layer of clear gloss “texture” applied over this to provide a ripple effect. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what colour to make my water as over the years I’ve seen lots of different colours applied to reproduce water at depth. However the one “colour” that always seems to me to be the most effective is black (and yes Lindsay, I know black isn’t a colour) 🙂 and I had already decided that I was going to use black as the base colour when this photo was sent to me by Gordon. I love having my prejudices confirmed 🙂 Why black? Well the reasons are many and varied but I have a feeling that the reason black works so well as a “water” colour (well at least for me) is that our eyes tends to delete black when we are looking at it and all we tend to see is the reflection from the lighting and the shadows cast by objects which sit upon its surface. Of course it needs to have a high gloss finish, but the shadow reflected in the surface of the water in the photo above looks very realistic to me and if it’s good enough for Gordon Gravett, one of my modelling heroes, then it’s good enough for me.

I'm about 1/3 of the way through the preparation of the surface of my water in this photo. This shows the river module masked off and after having two coats of spay primer applied. This brings up the divots and gaps in gloious, annoying detail so I've appplied a second round of polly filler (the pe mixed type) to the surface. This will be allowed to dry overnight and I'll come back and sand it all back off in the morning before applying a third coat of primer. This will continue till I'm satisfied that the surface is reasonably flat and dent free.

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the preparation of the surface of my water in this photo. This shows the river module masked off and then two coats of spay primer applied. This brings up the divots and gaps in glorious, annoying detail so I’ve applied a second round of Polly-filler (the pe-mixed type) to the surface. This will be allowed to dry overnight and I’ll come back and sand it all back off in the morning before applying a third coat of primer. This will continue till I’m satisfied that the surface is reasonably flat and dent free.

I spent today working on the wooden surface of the water on the river module. I’ve decided to use spray paint from cans to achieve the base colour of the water and I began today by dragging the river module out to the garage and filling all the holes in the fascia and the water surface, which started life as two small sheets of 6mm ply. Normally I would be pretty slap dash about this sort of thing but I decided that this particular part of the project probably called for a bit of effort and a proper sequence of work in an attempt to get the surface flat and smooth prior to the application of the base black colour, which will be from 2 1/2 cans of Dulux DuraMax Satin Black. I filled and sanded the surface of the ply “water” and then sprayed on a thin coat of Rustoleum grey primer. I lightly sanded this first primer coat after 2 hours, took a trip to Bunnings for more paint and sprayed on another coat. When this dried I applied a second round of spak filler to the holes and gaps around the edges and along the line where the two ply sheets butt up against each other. I’ll never get this surface completly flat and smooth but I can certainly improve on the cratered moon surface that currently exists. As with a train model, nothing drags a less than perfect surface into the cold light of day better than applying grey primer.

So far I’d mark this assignment Gordon G 10/10, Trevor H 2/10 🙂

Strips Of Wood

I haven’t made much progress on the layout this week however I did reach the point where I could make some calculations about the materials I’ll need for Morpeth’s pier today and the results came as a bit of a shock. I was able to install the risers for the length of track that crosses the join in the modules today and things went as expected.

This is a shot of the curved roadbed in place with the risers secured with screws and bolts. I don't glue anything in place in case I want to change something later. As long as there's a bit of

This is a shot of the curved roadbed in place with the risers secured with screws and bolts. I don’t glue anything in place in case I want to change something later. As long as there’s a bit of “meat” in the materials being secured I don’t find I need glue.

My roadbed for this project is made up of a 9mm ply sub-road with a track base of a further piece of 4mm ply to which I glue the basswood sleepers (ties). I do the track in this way because it allows me to glue the sleepers to the piece of 4mm ply at the workbench and then screw these lengths of inflex-track to the sub-roadbed. After I’ve installed the 9mm sub-road I will measure and cut the thinner 4mm ply to match the track and then cut this out of a larger sheet with a jig-saw. I glue the sleepers in place, lay some rail and then slip the length of track in place on the layout. I started doing my track this was to match the hand-made points I was constructing on pieces of 4mm ply. The track needed to be sitting on the same base.

I’m going to take this use of ply one step further and make the pier out of a sandwich of 4mm ply and different sizes of Mt Albert stripwood. I’ve drawn the curve of the track out into the water, between the end of the track that is running on “dry ground” and the deck of the main pier on the “water’s” surface. The pier will be reached by a series of seven small trestles that are the width of plain track. Once the curve of this length of track (about 600mm or 2′) straightens out the pier widens into a straight length of “deck” that runs approximately 1.2m (4′) to the end of the module. The ship will sit next to this wider length of pier.

I’ve spent about 4 years thinking about building this pier, not continuously but on and off as the time when I have to make a start on the model itself approached. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been to Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast of New South Wales and taken photos and measurements of the pier there and I’ve also been pondering the various technical problems that need to be overcome to build a model of this size and complexity. I don’t do major sets of drawings, not only don’t I have the technical skill, I’m also too lazy. This model will be made of three major components: one large deck, fourteen sets of trestle legs under the deck and seven sets of smaller trestle legs under the track that leads to the deck. That’s it. I’ll make jigs from styrene to allow me to make up the two different types of trestles but I can’t see any advantage in making up a set of detailed drawings. Any problems I encounter along the way I’ll deal with as they come up.

I got all the stripwood I've been buying for this project out today. There was a lot less than I thought! :-)

I got all the stripwood I’ve been buying for this project out today. There was a lot less than I thought! 🙂

Over the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been buying packs of Mt Albert scale lumber in the three main dimensions my research told me I needed. These are 12″x12″, 4″x12″ and 3″x12″. I haven’t purchased these in any systematic or directed way, I just take the opportunity to buy whatever I think I need and what I find is available from the one or two retailers I purchase from at the exhibitions I regularly attend. I knew I’d be under stocked for the project but today I did some proper calculations and boy oh boy, is this project going to eat strip wood! 🙂

The deck for the main pier is approximately 1.2mx220mm and I plan to “deck” this with strips of 3×12. I need 42m of the stuff and I’ve got 4 or 5 packs of 5 pieces! The 3×12 will also be used for the bracing on the trestles which are really just a row of posts (8mm dowel rod purchased from Bunnings) held together with braces of the 3×12. However the 14 trestle legs require another 19m of the same type of timber. I took a look at the Mt Albert site and they do bulk orders so I’m going to buy 115 lengths of 3×12 which is the variety I need the most of. 42 meters! I bought myself a new bottle of India Ink for this project about two years ago so I could stain all the wood: I might need another bottle! 🙂 Buying the wood in bulk should be a lot cheaper than buying it in packs of 5 pieces.

Finger Gauge

You may have noticed I’ve made a lot of posts on the blog recently. This wasn’t planned but I tend to post when I’m doing something I really enjoy. As doing wiring and benchwork are two of my favourite things I’m like a pig in mud at the moment, hence the posts 🙂

Many years ago a modelling friend of mine asked me how I managed to avoid bumps in my sub-roadbed. I replied “the finger gauge”. If you can feel a bump with the end of your index finger between one section of sub-roadbed and another then your trains will feel it too. As is the way with these things you will only discover the bump after the track is laid, scenery is in and you have some friends round to display your newly completed section of layout. Have you ever said to friends visiting your layout: “the trains ran perfectly over that section of track yesterday”? If you have (and I defy anyone to tell me they’ve never said something like this) then you haven’t paid sufficient attention to the finger gauge.

One of my absolute, non-negotiable rules is that when two pieces of ply (acting as sub-roadbed) butt up against each other there must be no discernible difference in the level of their top surface. If I can run my finger over the joint and not feel even the slightest bump then I’m happy. If I can’t do this then I bloody well keep fiddling and working till I can’t feel a bump. These bumps always, always, always transfer themselves up into the track and will affect running no matter what scale you’re working in. A layer of cork and flex track will not make the bump go away! This is true for both home layouts and portable ones.

In my experience you can’t rely on the thickness of ply to remain consistent between batches or even on a single sheet. A designated thickness is not an absolute, it’s merely an average. 12mm ply (1/2″ for those of us still in the imperial mind-set) is likely to sometimes be 12mm thick but the next sheet of 12mm ply may be 12.2mm thick, or 11.8mm thick. You can’t be sure and you should never, ever assume that all the sheets will be the same thickness or even that one sheet will be 12mm thick around its whole perimeter. A sheet might be 12mm thick at one end and 12.3mm thick at the other. That .3mm will cause you no end of problems if you ignore it and rely on the manufacturing tolerances to be perfect because sub-roadbed is secured down to a surface, thus making the underside the datum with the top surface left to reflect the differences in the nominal thickness of the material. This is ply I’m talking about, not MDF, but then I’ll never again use MDF a sub-roadbed after what happened on Queens Wharf.

If you look at the short length of curved ply I posted a photo of the other day you’ll see that it crosses a join between two sections of layout. I have spent the last couple of days getting the tools and materials I need to turn this length of ply into a section of sub-roadbed that I could cut and with no discernible bump across the joint. The problem with this part of the project was that it already had a ply scenery base down (the surface of what will become the water of the Hunter River and the stream that joins it at this point) and I didn’t want to go cutting holes into these pieces of ply. So this presented me with the situation where I couldn’t allow for slight differences in sub-roadbed thickness by adjusting a riser’s height (as per L girder or box frame benchwork). This short length of critical sub-roadbed would be held up by three small blocks of 3×1″ pine and to avoid bumps at the join these would need to be cut extremely accurately. The best way I know of to make such cuts is with a compound mitre saw with a nice, sharp blade. I happen to own just such a machine but it was 1 1/2 hours drive away in the garage at my partner’s home. So yesterday morning I made the trek over to pay her a visit, listen to her complain about work, say hello to the kids and headed back home after loading the saw into the boot of my car. Without telling me my 17-year-old step daughter appeared in the kitchen minus her beautiful, long blonde hair, having had it chopped to shoulder length. She ignored my devastated expression and complained that people were telling her the new do made her look younger. I thought “just wait a few years, that won’t be something you’ll complain about!” 🙂

This shot shows the new work in place but prior to being secured permanently in place. I've added in the two sections of MDF fascia I describe in the main text and the cut line and notch can be see where I've labelled them.

This shot shows the new work in place but prior to being secured permanently in place. I’ve added in the two sections of MDF fascia I describe in the main text and the cut line and notch can be see where I’ve labelled them.

Today I got stuck into the good stuff after a trip to Bunnings in the morning to pick up some supplies. Because I’d installed the MDF fascia in this spot prior to final arrangements being settled I had cut the profile of the fascia in a way that didn’t suit the situation I’ve now settled on for the track crossing the layout joint. I wanted to fascia to rise up to just below the sub-roadbed and so the first item on the agenda was to cut two sections out of the original fascia and install two new sections that raised the profile. In doing my final checks I also realised that I’d cut things a little too fine on the inside of the curve and it hung over the edge of the layout right at the point of where the sections meet. I didn’t want to re-cut the curved ply at a larger radius and I couldn’t shift the river module over a centimeter easily so I decided to simply notch the sub-roadbed and disguise it with scenery. I can install a little fence or something here if I think this is a problem but I don’t mind the trains running that close to the edge: live dangerously I say. It would only be a problem if there was a bump in the sub-roadbed and I was going to make absolutely sure there wasn’t going to be one! 🙂 I also discovered that my original cut line for the join was out by a considerable margin (you can see the original line in the photo. It’s the light black line in front of the dashed line labelled “cut line”). I drew a new line and cut the curved ply into two sections so that the edges aligned with the layout edges.

I've included this photo with the roadbed to illustrate the pine blocks I cut today to hold the sub-roadbed in place. These will eventually be secrued with short lengths of 1X1

I’ve included this photo without the roadbed to illustrate the pine blocks I cut today to hold the sub-roadbed in place. These will eventually be secured with short lengths of 1×1″ pine screwed into the ply surface of the river.

After a bit of measuring and fiddling about I managed to get three short pine blocks to sit in the spots they will eventually be placed in permanently to hold up the ply sub-roadbed. After I was happy with their length I cut the sub-roadbed and immediately the length of ply sitting on the plain river module dropped below the piece on the module with the scenery. Not only was it lower, it was ok at the far side and was dropping at the point nearest the fascia. So I’d discovered my ply river’s surface wasn’t absolutely flat and that there was a slight drop at one corner. This translated into a bump which would have eventually shown up as a difference in rail height on a curve, at the very edge of the layout and in possibly the most prominent spot in on the entire layout. I could foresee a loco plunging to a concrete floor at some point in the future. A cut another piece of pine, added about 2mm to its length and made the cut 1 degree from square. To my surprise this fixed the problem first go. These blocks are too short to safely adjust by cutting small slices off their length salami style so each adjustment to length required me to cut a new block.

The point I’m trying to make with this post is that I wasn’t surprised by this drop in the roadbed, in fact I’d have been really surprised if there hadn’t been a difference in height. You have to start with the assumption that things will not match up at critical spots like this and then plan with this in mind to get the level of your sub-roadbed as perfect as possible. If you assume perfection on the part of the raw materials that go into your layout the end result will be poor running.

Will things shift and move later and cause problems? Possibly, but I can say from experience that if you have a problem in the sub-roadbed that any shifting will only make this worse. Ignore these bumps at your peril. The idea is not to build layout modules that are so heavy and robust that nothing will move: the plan should be to build a layout where the inevitable shifts and changes are accounted for and accommodated. This is just good design practice, not rocket science. My layout sections are made from at least 4 different materials and these all have different rates of expansion and contraction with possible dire consequences. However in my experience the only time I’ve ever had real problems with track going out of alignment is when the rail couldn’t move a little along its length (on soldered points) or when I ignored bumps in the sub-roadbed. You need to design in and plan for the inevitable movement of your track, not try to build things so that you force the track to remain in place. It will move no matter how robust your framework.

My track is hand laid, I live in a sub tropical climate and the ends of the rail are not held in place with anything other than the track spikes I use to hold all my rail in place. No soldered pads, now brass screws and no built in provision for adjustment. I’ve had this layout for 5 years and there hasn’t been any movement in the rails that have adversely affected running. Don’t ignore the finger gauge.

A Critical Decision

Over the past 5 years, as I’ve worked on my current layout Morpeth, I’ve had one scenic element in mind as the item I most wanted to include. This was the wooden pier that jutted into the Hunter River at Queens Wharf, about a kilometre back up the line from Morpeth. What attracted me to Morpeth as a modelling theme is a complicated topic and I’ve covered some of those reasons here, in the pages of 7th Heaven (the quarterly magazine of the Aus7 Modellers Group) and in my column In the Loop in the Australian Model Railway Magazine. While the reasons for choosing this line to model may be complicated, one very large part of it came down to the pier and the opportunity to model a ship and the land/sea interchange that once existed at Morpeth.

The wooden coal staith at Morpeth was well and truly gone by the 1940-50s period I model, but I don’t really mind this: I have a fully paid up modellers license and I can model what I like.

This is the only picture I'm aware exists of the coal staith that used to stand at Queens Wharf. You can just see the level crossing bisecting the rail line in the lower left corner. The white gate is a railway gate. It is this structure that I aim to imagineer on my layout of Morpeth.

This is the only picture I’m aware exists of the coal staith that used to stand at Queens Wharf. You can just see the level crossing bisecting the rail line in the lower left corner. The white gate is a railway gate. It is this structure that I aim to imagineer on my layout of Morpeth.

Now I’ve never been shy about shifting things about on my two layouts of the Morpeth line but I must admit to taking a great many liberties in relocating the pier I’m going to model from Queens Wharf about a kilometre up the line to within the confines of Morpeth itself.

This map scanned from the pages of Byways of Steam and having appeared in an early issue of The ARHS Bulletin magazine shows where the original coal staith existed on the prototype and where I've shifted in (approximately) on my layout. the rd box approximates the part of Morpeth I'm modelling and the curve of the pier I'll be modelling in red.

This map, scanned from the pages of Byways of Steam 14 and having appeared in an early issue of The ARHS Bulletin magazine, shows where the original coal staith existed on the prototype and where I’ve shifted it (approximately) to on my layout. The red box approximates the part of Morpeth I’m modelling and the curve of the pier I’ll be modelling in red.

Now up to this point everything has been speculation and vague plans: I’ve got the kit of the ship I want to model, some plans and photos of piers and I even have the base module I’m going to build the pier on. However what I don’t have is an exact plan of the pier and I most definitely haven’t settled on how I’m going to get the track to cross the join between the two modules without creating a large bump in the rails. What I’ve decided to do is alter the pier’s use somewhat from an a coal staith used exclusively to load coal onto river barges to a more general purpose pier, similar to those which jutted into the sea at Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay further up the coast. While sadly the pier at Byron is gone, the one at Coffs Harbour stands to this day and can be readily photographed and measured. So that’s what I did a couple of years ago on one of my infrequent trips to Sydney to attend the Oct Liverpool model railway exhibition.

I took this photo, along with a couple of dozen more, a few years ago to give myself a record of timber dimensions and general arrangements. My pier will be much shorter than this but it gives you the generla idea.

I took this photo, along with a couple of dozen more, a few years ago to give myself a record of timber dimensions and general arrangements. My pier will be much shorter than this but it gives you the general idea.

You have to imagine the pier of Coffs harbour not looking all clean and quiet and empty of activity with one lone fisherman standing on it. The way 'm going to model it is far my like this.

You have to imagine the pier at Morpeth not looking all clean and quiet and empty of activity with one lone fisherman standing on it. The way I’m going to model it is far more like this…

As I’m just about to finish J Parker and Sons I was beginning to look at the adjacent block of land that adjoins the entry to the pier and I made a critical decision about the way the tracks will cross the join between the two modules.

This is an updated plan of the layout which includes precise locations and sizes of critical elements. The previous versions have all been fairly speculative concerning this end of the layout because I hadn't yet built the models or the module. I've now done this so I thought it timely to update the plan and see if everything actually fitted.

This is an updated plan of the layout which includes precise locations and sizes of critical elements. The previous versions have all been fairly speculative concerning this end of the layout because I hadn’t yet built the models or the pier module. I’ve now built these so I thought it timely to update the plan and see if everything actually fitted.

So now we’re getting down to brass tacks. I want a pier/jetty and I want a ship but I also want trains on that pier: if I can’t have a small loco and wagon or two shuffling back and forth on the pier then I don’t want to continue with the plan. When you’re standing looking at the layout as a member of the public you’re essentially standing in the Hunter River and the pier juts into this space with the adjacent ship models on either side. The critical spot I’m going to be referring to is marked on this plan with a big red A. Why is this spot a “problem” that needs a blog post to explain what I’m doing to address it?

  1. The track at this point crosses a board join
  2. The track crosses the board join at an acute angle
  3. The track at this point crosses a board join at an acute angle that is on a curve
  4. The track at this point crosses a board join with all of the above on a spindly wooden pier.

Taken together all of these conditions add up to a “problem” and this problem has been the subject of much thinking and planning over the past few months as the work on the other projects on module 3 progressed. I essentially have two options: I can either start the pier near the word “radius” on the plan or I can cross the board join on a solid piece of ply wood and the commence the pier on the other side of the join so that the entire jetty structure is located on the one board. I’d been wondering and planning out what might be best when I was invited to take the controls of John Parker’s Valley Heights layout at the recent Liverpool exhibition. He faced the precise problem I face here, a model trestle crossing a board joint. John didn’t have much of a curve to contend with but he had the added complication of a difference in grade. Over the October long weekend I took a good look at the way he had implemented his solution to this issue and what I saw didn’t fill me with confidence. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with John’s modelling but the rails did seem to have shifted from when John laid them and he did say to me at one point “I must take a look at that” or words to that effect. Originally I’d thought to cross the board join at this critical point using modelled piers but looking at John’s timber trestle convinced me to play it safe and commence the model just the other side of the join with a nice solid track base allowing the rails to get to the pier.

Because I'd always planned to add the abutment for the pier on module 3 I needed to change tack slightly to allow me to install a sub road bed of 9mm ply to the existing track. This shot shows the ply lip installed that will allow me to butt the curved road bed up to this track.

Because I’d always planned to add the abutment for the pier on module 3, I needed to change tack slightly to allow me to install a sub road bed of 9mm ply to the existing track. This shot shows the ply lip installed that will allow me to butt the curved road bed up to this track.

Now because the join between modules was no longer going to be model trestle legs that would sit in the water, but rather a solid rock jetty or earth bank like structure that hides the ply subroad bed, I face the challenge of what to do about the stream bed that crosses this part of the layout at a right angle to the track. I’ve marked the new course of the stream bed in blue on the above layout plan. It will have to bend slightly on its journey to the river.

This photo shows the length of 9mm ply I cut to shape today. It will eventually be cut into two section with the cut following the edge of the layout fascia.

This photo shows the length of 9mm ply I cut to shape today. It will eventually be cut into two sections with the cut following the edge of the layout fascia.

This shot gives a better idea of the stram bed dilema that cropped up when i altered my plabs for the way the track will cross the board joint at this location.

This shot gives a better idea of the stream bed dilemma that cropped up when I altered my plans for the way the track will cross the board joint at this location. It will need to bend to the right as it will no longer be able to flow under the trestle. The trestle won’t be modelled until it’s well and truly over the join between the modules.  It will commence about where the end of the ply closest to the camera sits in this photo.

So faced with what was always going to be a bit of a challenge scenically I retreated and decided to go with a safer option. I have a feeling that I could have made the trestle cross the join successfully and that it would have worked ok. What I couldn’t convince myself of was that I could do this and adjust it later if things started to shift and move. This almost always happens with models but is far less likely with the solid ply roadbed I’ve decided to go for. No matter how successful I was in getting the track to line up a model trestle crossing the joint here would have always been vulnerable to damage. Remember, this is an exhibition layout that will be bumping about in a trailer on the way to and from shows. I have to travel about 900km to get to Sydney by road. The layout needs to be robust to survive that sort of travel. And I plan to take it to Melbourne some day, add another 1000km, one way. A trestle made from basswood sitting up against a module edge would be asking for trouble.

Morpeth MkIV

I’ve been referring to this version of Morpeth as Mk IV to myself through such things as labelling the folder where the photos I’ve been taking have been stored on my computer. It’s far too complicated to outline the details of Mks I to III here. I’ve made reference to the earlier layouts and iterations of these layouts on this blog but I wouldn’t bother trying to hunt these posts out, that’s all ancient history now. What is worth mentioning is that I did a lot of work on Morpeth in the lead up to the Aus7 ExpO which was held in March 2014. I worked on the layout quite intensely in the lead up to that show and once I arrived back home the layout sat essentially untouched for a time before I decided to try installing it at home as a semi-permanent layout. I made some damaging changes to Morpeth Mk III to get it to fit and then personal circumstances led me to selling the house I as living in at the time. So these half-implemented plans went from being planned changes to planned damage. As a result of moving house I packed the layout in its dedicated trailer, towed that across the range of hills that separated me from my old home about 100km away and there it sat, inside the trailer while I built my Z20 class locomotive and put some rolling stock kits together.

Now you might ask why it’s taken me so long to start working on the layout again, especially as it was approximately 75% complete in March 2014. It would only have taken a good push along for another 12 to 18 months to get it “finished”. This is a very pertinent question. Perhaps the most important thing stopping me from pushing straight on with finishing Morpeth was the June 2009 issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine magazine which has a very nice photo of my previous layout, Queens Wharf on is cover. I’m very proud of this cover as it was the first that featured a layout built by me, so proud in fact that a framed copy of it hangs on the wall above my workbench. Now while I’m proud of having my layout on the cover of what I consider to be Australia’s premier model railway magazine there is something that grates with me and it’s that at the time the photo was taken I didn’t own a steam locomotive that could be used in the photo. As such the 32 class steamer that does appear was borrowed from a friend. Now there’s nothing wrong with the 32 class (thanks for the loan Paul) and I actually don’t have a problem with someone else’s loco appearing on my layout in a photo on my first and hopefully not my last magazine cover. However I do have a problem with the fact that I hadn’t yet built a steamer of my own that could have been used. Not because I couldn’t build one but simply because there always seemed to be other things (both modelling and life things) to be getting on with. At the time the cover appeared I made a promise that no layout of mine would ever appear in public again without at least one steam loco built by yours truly gracing its rails. I had to make an exception for the Aus7 ExpO in 2014, it was initiated and organised by the O-scale modelling group I happen to be president of. 2002 was and my 19 class loco are the result of that resolution to build some steam locomotives.

So we get to 2014-2015 and I’m implementing a plan to install Morpeth at home as a “semi-permanent” layout and just after I chop 150mm off the end of one of the modules and rearrange a couple of the buildings’ locations personal circumstances lead me to come to a full stop! In the house move I also managed to drop a desk lamp on one of my buildings doing a pretty thorough job of rendering it back to its constituent components; some paint, a large decal and of a pile of plaster chips and dust.

I have a bit of a weakness for building kits and this was the original brick building that sat on the bank at the rear of module 3. It started life as a Donetown Deco building marketed as Archie's Bar. On my layout it first of all became a billboard for Rosella tomato sauce and then it became a pile of plaster chips after I dropped a desk lamp on it!

I have a bit of a weakness for building kits and this is an “in progress” shot of the original brick building that sat on the bank at the rear of module 3. It started life as a Downtown Deco building marketed as Archie’s Bar. On my layout it first of all became a billboard for Rosella tomato sauce and then it became a pile of plaster chips after I dropped a desk lamp on it! After it was damaged I decided it couldn’t be saved and I tossed it in the bin.

This past few days I’ve reached a bit of a milestone in that I’ve managed to get back to where I’m not just fixing planned damage on Morpeth but actually starting to make some genuine progress toward finishing the layout and getting it ready for a public showing. One of the biggest changes I’ve been planning to make is to turn my train turntable from its original purpose into a 4th scenic module. This module appears on the plan I posted a couple of days ago and it consists of a 2mX600mm slab of river that will eventually hold a long wooden trestle up on which will sit a ship model I’ve had stored away for about 5 or 6 years and onto which I have been dying to get my hands!

This photo shows the train turntable in the process of being dismantled. I've already removed the table and other hardware and soon will move onto cutting down the sides and installing a solid table of 7mm plywood which will serve as the Hunter River's surface.

This photo shows the train turntable in the process of being dismantled. I’ve already removed the table and other hardware and soon will move onto cutting down the sides and installing a solid table of 7mm plywood which will serve as the Hunter River’s surface.

The change of use for the module in the photo above is not that the turntable didn’t work, in fact anything but: it was a remarkable success. However it was big, unnecessarily big in fact, and required one full parking slot in the trailer that houses Morpeth. In thinking over what I wanted to do with the layout and what possible redesign work could be carried out on the train turntable, I made the decision that I could make better use of this module as a fully scenicked entity and that a new slimline train turntable could be made and fitted into one of the 100mm high utility slots at the bottom of the trailer rack. I have convinced myself that I can make the train turntable work in a slim form, all I have to do now is make it. That will happen further down the track.

Peter and Phil, two very hard working friends of mine dropped by on Wednesday last week to give me a hand on re-purposing the turntable module I was a little worried I wouldn't get everyting done on the two days I had available for this work but with their help we got the whole job done and even had time to dawdle over a cafe lunch. Thanks guys, I never would have finished this on my own.

Peter and Phil, two very hard-working friends of mine dropped by on Wednesday last week to give me a hand on re-purposing the turntable module. I was a little worried I wouldn’t get everything done in the two days I had available for this work but, with their help, we got the whole job done and even had time to dawdle over a cafe lunch. Thanks guys, I never would have finished this on my own.

The work was carried out at my partner’s home in her double garage as I don’t have the space to carry out such work in my abode. The only problem with working in her shed is that there’s no power or lights in the shed so taking decent photos is a bit of a challenge. The work went swimmingly and by the end of the day we were able to pack the new module back in the trailer ready to be hauled back over the range.

While you have to squint and squeeze your imagination really hard to see it this module will eventually come to represent the Hunter River. Module 3 can be seen in the backgroundat right angles to the re-purposed turntable module.

While you have to squint and squeeze your imagination really hard to see it this module will eventually come to represent the Hunter River. Module 3 can be seen in the background at right angles to the re-purposed turntable module.

Over the past couple of days since arriving home I got some wiring upgrades done on the station module before I packed it back in the trailer. This is the module with the Shell Depot on it that I posted about last week. While some track needed to have wires reattached I also wanted to cut some rail gaps and install some NCE BD20 block detectors that I plan to use in conjunction with an NCE Mini-panel to allow a couple of locomotives to shuttle back and forth on the layout. The plan for this is that I would like to be able to have the option to have something moving on the layout automatically to take the pressure off the operators at exhibitions. With block detectors and a bit of basic programming I should be able to have a small tank loco shuttling back and forward on the pier and a railmotor doing the same thing from the fiddle yard to the station. Spending 3 days moving trains back and forth on a fiddle yard to terminus layout gives you a new appreciation of tail-chasing layouts.

So today I swapped module 2 for module 3 in my workroom and got to work looking at what I needed to do to complete this module before I could move on and get to work on the pier and ship models, to say nothing of the yet to be built slimline train turntable.

I have been aware for the past 3 or 4 weeks as this stage in the layout work approached that I would need to start by finding a replacement for the brick building that originally stood on the bank a the rear of module 3. I've decided that the Outback Model Co kit of the small country church would fit the bill. This photo shows a a test of the kit in the same spot after a bit of judicious scenery "remodelling".

I have been aware for the past 3 or 4 weeks, as this stage in the layout work approached that I would need to start by finding a replacement for the brick building that originally stood on the bank a the rear of module 3. I’ve decided that the Outback Model Co kit of the small country church would fit the bill. This photo shows a test of the kit in the same spot after a bit of judicious scenery “remodelling”.

I’ve lived all over the state of NSW in the past 30 years and I’ve seen at least 5 or 6 examples of the church that is represented by the Outback Model Co’s kit of St Agnes’ church. After taping together walls of the kit with low tack blue masking tape I plonked the resultant box in the space left by the previous building. It is perfectly sized for this small space: very Australian and very appropriate for this space.

This recently repainted chuch is just one example of the St Agnes' kit produced by the Outback Model Co. It fits the site perfectly when this was made vacant by the damage to the previous building.

This recently repainted church is just one example of the St Agnes’ kit produced by the Outback Model Co. It fits the site perfectly when this was made vacant by the damage to the previous building. This example is situated in Nevertire in central west of NSW.