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.

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.

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.

Thinking Through A Rail Siding

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been steadily working on the refurbishment of Morpeth’s scenery. About two years ago I had made the decision to install both of my modular layouts Queens Wharf and Morpeth into my train room. As neither of them had been designed as permanent layouts and did not fit into the available space I had at the time I made some modifications to both of them to fit them in. While I was making these changes I took the opportunity to reverse some decisions I’d made early in their development. One of these was to move a scratch built engine shed on Morpeth from its position in front of the station to a far more logical place down the line in the engine servicing facility. The result of this change was to leave a hole in the scenery about 45cm long by 150mm wide across the lines from the station platforms. See my previous post for a photo of this hole.

Personal circumstances resulted in the plan to move the layouts into the train room being abandoned however I decided to move on with Morpeth’s development as an exhibition layout.

While I had made the decision to move the engine shed to a more “logical” location, the move also resulted from my dissatisfaction with how much the engine shed had screened the view of the station. I’m all in favour of strategic view blocks on layouts to make the viewer see the layout in the way the builder intended, however the engine shed was a step beyond controlling the view to almost overwhelming it. So in being presented with an opportunity to fill the new opened space for an industry siding I didn’t want to repeat this same mistake by allowing the newly installed scene distract from the overall station scene.

This plan is the most recent development of Morpeth's plan. It takes into account the changes I made to the original plan in trying to get it into the train room of my old home. The engine shed's new location is on the far left and its replacement Shell Depot is located across the rail lines in front of the station.

This plan is the most recent development of Morpeth’s plan. It takes into account the changes I made to the original plan in trying to get it into the train room of my old home. The engine shed’s new location is on the far left and its replacement Shell Depot is located across the rail lines in front of the station.

I’ve spent about 6 months thinking about what sort of industry I should install on this siding. It had to be small, low and out in the open air with minimal or no buildings if I could get away with it. I’ve considered most options but an oil siding was always likely to win out because, while there was never an oil deport at Morpeth, I have some nice yet-to-be-built kits for oil tank cars and I also knew that I could model the siding for such an industry in a minimal space with a bit of chain link fencing, a patch of sand and sign.

This photo shows the way I've filled the empty space left by moving the engine shed from this location. The fence is brass rod and  plastic fly screen wire. I Photo-shopped the sign from a Google search and printed it onto paper on a colour laser printer.

This photo shows the way I’ve filled the empty space left by moving the engine shed from this location. The fence is brass rod and plastic fly screen wire. I Photo-shopped the sign from a Google search and printed it onto paper on a colour laser printer. The oil unloading piping is some code 100 rail and 2.5mm brass rod painted sliver. The only really challenging aspect of the whole scene was turning up some small brass “valves” on my lathe. These have some ModelOKits 19 class release hand wheels soldered into their tops.  

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to gradually fill this scene in. The fencing I was planning to use had been sitting unused after it was removed from Morpeth MkI over 12 years ago. Of course when I actually came to try installing this fence in this new location only about half of it was any use so this required the manufacture of some more that was appropriate for this location. The sign and the outlet piping are made up following the lead of the articles that have appeared in AJRM over the years and from Google searches. It was far more common for small, regional oil dept sidings like this one to have the piping on the outside of the fencing but I like the enclosed look of having the pipe inside the fence. The only other addition was the installation of a sleeper over the end of the siding to prevent wayward wagons from rolling off the end.

I would have liked to pose the above photo with an oil tank wagon I built many years ago but after searching high and low I couldn’t seem to lay my hands on it. I did find lots of other missing stuff that I hadn’t seen for a while though 🙂 I visited a friend’s place yesterday and asked him if I happened to give him the wagon. He said yes. A senior’s moment? Probably but at least I had some vague memory that I’d given it to him so I’m not completely without hope! 🙂


Tinkering With The Plan Pt II

Ok, so I was going to leave things “as is” for a while to chew over my options wasn’t I? Well it’s the Easter long weekend and the better half and offspring are about 1500km away visiting her father so I have plenty of option chewing time available. I made contact with the Svengali of silos Keiran Ryan and he provided me with some footprint data for grain silos in 7mm/O-scale (1:43.5). I also had contact from Ian Phemister  who is building an HO version of Muswellbrook and Merriwa. I paid a visit to their blogs again. I even managed to do a Google search of wheat silos and found some photos of Merriwa’s silos. The photos below were sent to me by Keiran.

This photo from Keiran shows the Merriwa wheat silo from the rail side.

This photo from Keiran shows the Merriwa wheat silo from the rail side.

Another shot of the wheat silos at Merriwa from the other side this time.

Another shot of the wheat silos at Merriwa from the other side this time.

I spent some time today transferring the footprint dimensions of the grain silo at Merriwa to the layout plan to see if I could get a prototype sized silo to fit in the yard. Keiran quipped that he wasn’t sure I’d have the space considering the restirctions my partner had imposed on me re the room size. At the same time he mentioned that he was in the process of developing a 7mm scale kit for a standard S008 NSW silo. He suggested that this might be a better option. See photo below:

This is a photo of an S008 silo I got from a Google search. It came from the Bolivia blog.

This is a photo of an S008 silo I got from a Google search. It came from the Bolivia blog.

I’m not against the idea of swapping the silos at Merriwa from a model that closely follows the prototype to the smaller S008 variety, however I was considering an S008 for the loop at Myanbat. As there was no silo at the prototype Myambat it doesn’t really matter what type of silo appears there, but I don’t really want two of the same design on the layout, especially when there really was one at Merriwa.

This is a section of the plan but with the focus just on the area I've made alterations to.

This is a section of the plan but with the focus just on the area I’ve made alterations to.

I’m glad to say that the silos will quite happily fit onto the layout. Keiran makes his silos with PVC pipe and the type needed for a reasonably prototypical 7mm scale version of the silo at Merriwah will have to have an outside diameter of 220mm approximately. The three circles inside the large rectangle are exactly 225mm dia. As you can see if you’ve looked at the plan I posted yesterday, I’ve placed the silo at the back of the yard which is not where the prototype silos where but then I’ve flipped the whole yard anyway so placing the silo in the wrong place is no great sin. The 1.5mX440mm dimension of the rectangle is the size needed for all the drains and other items around the silos plus some space for the driveway up to the wheat truck unloading point which would be between the silos and the backdrop. To be honest I can’t see any real point in modelling this side of the silos because anything there won’t be seen as it will be behind the silos. I’d rather represent just the front face of the silos on the rail side.

Many years ago I modelled one of Kerian’s HO S008 silo kits and the model came out very nicely. If and when he produces the kit I’ll have another bash at the O-scale version but I face the same dilemma with the silo at Myanbat as that at Merriwah: the logical place to site an S008 silo at Myanbat would be on the loop, not the main, and this is on the wall side of the line. If I were to model the whole silo with the truck unloading driveway I’d have to site it on the aisle side of the track. So I’ve drawn in two footprint boxes: one on the aisle side at full size (626mmX335mm) and one on the wall side at half this depth (626mmX167,5mm). Again, if I can avoid modelling the rear side of the silo then I’m all for this. I’m primarily interetsed in the rail served side. In this scale just about all my buildings are built as flats. I can’t see why a grain silo should be any different.

Tinkering With The Plan

The house plans for our new place are about to go off to be drafted into proper scale plans. I think I must have been feeling the pressure of this significant step in the home building process as I saw my chance to try to squeeze a bit more floor space into the plan in the train room slipping away, but the better half remained rock like in her opposition to making the room any longer, at least until the plans are drawn and the footprint placed on a scale drawing of the land. I went home two weeks ago and looked long and hard at the un-scaled draft of the house plan and then took a look at the layout plan for Musclebrook the layout, which is very much to scale and based on the agreed dimensions of the room, and came to conclusion that I really didn’t like some elements I had been forced to include because of the length of the room. The most prominent of these in my mind was the two long curved points at either end of the Musclebrook yard. I’ve only used a couple of curved points on layouts over the years and these were on HO layouts. My feelings about curved points is coloured by the very poor performance I got out of one on my last HO layout where every second locomotive derailed on the point. When the room was dark a couple of my steam locos would put on a fireworks display of sparks that played merry hell with my DCC system.

I came out fighting, putting up a manly struggle with the better half, saying I simply had to have an extra metre added to the length of the room! I was immediately put back in my box and had confirmed, if this were ever in doubt, that I needed to get with the program :-). The room remains 9m long on the plan that will be drafted over the next few weeks. I went back to my dog kennel where I live during the week to lick my wounds and consider my options. Now while I haven’t yet got my way on the length of the room I did espy on the latest iteration of the home drawn plan that I’d been magically allocated 6.5m of width when I’d only asked for 6.2m. A whole extra 300mm (12″) of space! Never look a gift horse, or a partner who is holding the drafting pencil, in the mouth I always say! So I set to, seeing if this small extra slice of floor space would provide me with any opportunities to remove those two long curved points from the layout plan.

This is the re-drafted version of Musclebrook with the extra 300mm added to the floor plan:

This is the redrawn version of Musclebrook with an extra 300mm added to the width of the room. I'd asked for 1000mm added to the length but beggars can't be choosers! :-)

This is the redrawn version of Musclebrook with an extra 300mm added to the width of the room. I’d asked for 1000mm added to the length but beggars can’t be choosers! 🙂

Before I go into the detail of what this plan contains I think it might be worth providing anyone reading this with an easily comprehensible guide to the scale of this plan. If you look at the label “Road Overbridge” on the upper right hand part of the plan, this road is represented by two angled lines. It probaby pays to be aware that these lines are each 750mm long, that’s 2’6″ in old money. I know this because the track drawing software I use allows me to draw lines to exact scale lengths. This length is significant because it is about at the extreme outer limit of what I’d like any benchwork to be in terms of depth. So if you try to imagine the benchwork that will be required to hold up the 75′ turntable , from the right hand wall to the end of one of the tail tracks in the roundhouse, this is going to have to be about 1.5m wide, or 5′. The turntable and roundhouse will sit out on a short peninsula that extends from the main benchwork into the operating space.

Siting the turntable in the position it now occupies,  as opposed to further down the line as in the old plan, creates other issues with the width of the benchwork. For example, the bottom right hand corner starts to get very wide because of the lead tracks to the turntable having to be the radius they are. The distance between the word “Coal” to the lower left of the turntable and the corner where the “Colliery” building sits is getting on for 2m wide.This is far too wide to allow this scene to be housed on one, solid mass of benchwork with continuous scenery. There will have to be an access hole in this corner to allow for maintenance and track cleaning. This will be interesting 🙂 You might ask why I don’t push the lead tracks to the turntbale closer into the corner. The restriction here is that the inner mainline track at this point is already at the sharpest I’ll allow it to go (1.6m radius). These curves are designed to allow fairly large locos to traverse them, 36 and 38 class, and there is no point in keeping the mainline above a minimum radius and then pushing the turntable lead tracks down to a radius where the same locos which were travelling around the main can’t get to the turntable.

So now we have a sense of scale I’ll talk about details. My prime aim in this plan is to remove the two long, curved points from the mainline leading into each end of the scenicked main yard at Musclebrook. I’ve managed this through the use of three sets of double slip points, one adjacent to the 75′ turntable and two at the Merriwah end of the yard. My preference would be to use standard points at these locations, I like double slip points on main lines only slightly more than long curved ones, however they are shorter and more easily built that the curved variety. It needs to be borne in mind that all the points on the “visible”, scenicked portion of the layout have to be hand-built from either code 125 (mainline) or code 100 (branch line) rail. The crossing angle of the curved points on the old version of the plan were 1:21. I have two #6 Fasttracks filing jigs for code 125 and code 100 rail but I don’t own one that would allow me to file a #21 point frog. In fact the biggest one Fasttracks makes is #12. As I pondered how I was going to hand make a point with such a crossing angle I became convinced that I needed to alter the plan. This was the reason for my request for an extra metre to be added to the room. The extra 300mm may not be a perfect solution but it allowed me to squeeze in a point down near the 75′ turntable and this allowed me to remove the long curved point at this end of the yard. Two double slips at the Merriwah end of the yard allow me to achieve the same at the other end.

The effect of installing the double slips at the Merriwah end of the yard is to foreshorten the third yard track to a point where it is little more than a runaround track. However by adding a curving inner stock siding on the Sydney end of the yard I’ve overcome this shortening and also followed the prototype: there was a similar stock loop at the real Muswellbrook. A second prototype feature I’ve decided to try out is to make the lead into the 75′ turntable a switch back as per the prototype. While I would always prefer to follow the prototype this does cause real issues with the depth of the benchwork at this location. I’m going to leave the turntable on the plan at this location for a while and chew it over. I have the floor space to arrange things like they are shown on the plan, I just have real concerns about my ability to crawl under the benchwork and reach a stalled loco at this location when I’m 70! Should I worry about what’s going to be happening in 16 years time? You bet! I plan to be playing trains at 110! 🙂

Adding some extra length to the layout room has not been ruled out entirely, it’s just on hold till we see whether the house will actually fit on the block of land. If I had an extra 1000mm there are all sorts of things I could do with it but the most pressing is to lengthen the straight yard tracks in Musclebrook yard and see if I can’t squeeze in an extra loop. Each standard #6 point is about 500mm long in O-scale so it’s quite feasible I could get two more points inserted each end of the yard to create a fourth loop track. The real Musclebrook had five yard tracks so I’d be getting closer to the real arrangement if this could be achieved.

Another item high on the wish list would be a second petroleum siding. Muswellbrook had four or five of these and I’ve only managed to include one so far. This is partly because of the way I’ve shortened and squeezed in the station building and goods siding. One of the oil sidings was on the other side of the station so there’s no way that’s going to fit. Another of the oil sidings was a few hundred metres down the branch line right behind where the dairy is currently sited. On balance I’d rather keep the dairy to provide for a more mixed traffic pattern. If I could lengthen the line in front of the main goods shed I could probably fit in a point just about where the goods shed is located on this plan and curve a dead-end siding partially into the corner. But like the change in location of the 75′ turntable, I might leave things as is for a while and chew over the implications of this. I bought two of the new 10,000 gal tank car kits from O-Aust while I was in Sydney last weekend attending the Aus7 Forum. If I can cram in a second oil siding into this layout I have a feeling that it will appear with Ampol signs to match the decals that came with these new kits 🙂

One final change on the cards might be that Myanbat acquires some basic lineside industries including a grain silo. One long neglected source of traffic on my O-scale layouts has been grain so adding a grain silo to the loop at Myanbat wouldn’t be too hard to justify, along with a stock race and possibly a short loading bank. This layout is going to be operated with the locos and rolling stock earning their living. Having a couple of grain loading points on the branch will help broaden the mix of traffic. There aren’t too many other locations in the state of NSW where stock, coal, grain and dairy can all be credibly modelled in reasonably close proximity. I would like to make the most of the possibilities: and it might give me the motivation to get the four unbuilt Waratah RU hopper kits out of the cupboard to build them. These can now be acquired from ModelOKits.

Version 2.5

I’ve been extremely busy since my last post but I decided to call it quits a little early this afternoon and took a little time to make some tweaks to the Musclebroook plan I posted last time. A read the comments and started to realise that almost all of the suggestions were things I’d thought of already. The one exception was putting the large Garratt turntable underneath the benchwork of Merriwah. This hadn’t occurred to me and it does make sense to place this partially under the benchwork. The benchwork of Merriwah is already set above that of the turntable scene and dropping the turntable scene a couple of extra centimeters to make the clearance available a little more generous was an easy fix. There’s room to lower the benchwork a little so a spinning Garratt won’t bang its steam dome on the underside of the benchwork. So I’ve re-drafted the plan:

This is a redrafted version of the plan I posted a couple of weeks ago.

This is a redrafted version of the plan I posted a couple of weeks ago.

I appreciated Chris’s suggestion that I look into the ammunition siding at Myambat. I’ve managed to find a track plan of this Commonwelth siding and I’ve added this to the plan and changed the location from Gungal to Mayambat at the same time. This is a perfect, “out-of-the-way” type of industry that only received the occasional wagon load for this location on the layout and it allows the inclusion of a couple of different types of wagons that otherwise wouldn’t probably make an appearance. At the same time I’ve taken the opportunity to add some gentle curves into the branch line trackage at Dan’s suggestion. I would have included these anyway but drawing straight lines is less work when you’re busy so these didn’t make them onto the last version of the plan. See I do listen Dan 🙂 I’ve also taken the opportunity to add a small extension to the stock siding at Merriwah and label this as a Shell siding. I like tank wagons!

I got Peter K from O-Aust to send me an LCH coal hopper kit to make an assessment of whether it would be suitable to create the coal train/s I have planned for this layout. Generally speaking I’ve found the castings of high quality and the problem I’ve heard about these wagons having a fragile brake assembly has been overcome by supplying this part of the kit as a brass casting rather than a urethane one. They’re expensive at $140 per kit but I reckon I might be able to squeeze a discount out of Peter if I buy multiples. We’ll have to see about that 🙂


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on producing the components for my small Manning Wardle locomotive rebuild. This has been going exceptionally well and things had reached a stage where I was ready to assemble the new chassis earlier in the week. At this critical juncture, with the components ready to assemble, I decided to start getting serious about planning a layout to be constructed in a room, in a house that isn’t even built yet! I could pretend that I like to string things out and savour that hovering moment just before I take a major step in a project I’m enjoying but this would only be half the truth. It would be more accurate to say that the next steps in the rebuild of my MW are ones that can’t easily be reversed and I prefer to sit and think about exactly what I’m going to do before committing myself. Ok I chickened out and went off and did something completely different for a while.

This photo shows the various parts for the MW rebuild project laid out in their relative positions prior to assembly.

This photo shows the various parts for the MW rebuild project laid out in their relative positions prior to assembly.

As I sat at the computer and drew circles inside a box the size of my train room it became apparent that I didn’t really need more length to the room but an extra 200mm (about 8″) would make things a heck of a lot easier. So I put on my best puppy dog expression and asked the better half if I could have an extra 200mm in width and she said she could live with that, but she added that I shouldn’t try getting anything else past her! Dimensional flexibility was officially off the agenda. She also asked if I had a tummy ache so obviously the puppy dog face wasn’t having the desired effect 🙂 The dimensions of the room aren’t so much restrained by the size we want the house to be but by the bureaucratic requirement not to build closer than a certain distance from the boundary fence due to bush fire hazard reductions. So all my planning and thinking may yet come to nought because we barely have space for a decent sized closet let alone my layout room.

If it’s not bestowing a high-sounding title that ill befits my jumbled thinking and doodling, my layout planning “process” tends to be carried out in the moments my mind is free: in the car driving to and from work, as I drift off to sleep and in the shower. For approximately 15 years I’ve been working on a small appendix of a railway line as my inspiration with a well-defined set of buildings, rolling stock and locomotives that needed building. The clearly defined infrastructure boundaries of the Morpeth line allowed me to work within an admittedly limited mindset that has become as comfortable and familiar as an old pair of slippers. I’d almost reached the stage where I didn’t need to go back and check my research materials when I was planning something on the layouts I built around the Morpeth line because I already knew what I would find there. Now everything has changed. In even starting to plan a new layout around a different prototype location all of that comfortable familiarity is missing. It’s both slightly uncomfortable and energizing to really come to grips with the challenges and opportunities of a bigger canvas and a step up in the operational capabilities of the motive power and rolling stock that were at home at Muswellbrook.

I didn’t just pluck Muswellbrook out of thin air. I’d made a couple of visits to the yard there a number of years ago and was aware that at least one other attempt had been made to plan out a layout based around the location in O-scale. I was also aware of a modeller who was working on the same location but in HO. You can visit Ian Phemister’s blog about the HO layout he’s building of Muswellbrook here. So I was aware of Muswellbrook and had always been interested in the location. I’d also read a couple of prototype articles on the location in Byways of Steam and Australian Railway History over the years. When I started to get serious about trying to settle on a location to base my next layout around the southern half of NSW never really entered the picture. I’ve lived in a lot of locations around NSW but they all seemed to be in the northern and north-eastern half of the state. I was familiar with the railways of the Hunter Valley, New England, North Coast and the Central West, so the chances of me picking a location in the south were extremely remote. On a couple of occasions I’ve organised trivia nights to help raise money for the schools I’ve worked in. Most of the time I’ve been responsible for setting the questions for these events. Picking a location to base a model around reminded me of compiling trivia questions. It’s easy to think of questions that anyone can answer, just as it’s easy to come up with questions that no one can answer: the trick is coming up with 100 questions that your audience will find challenging but hopefully not impossible. There are plenty of absolutely enormous prototype railway sites that would be fascinating to model but impossible to fit into three lifetimes, let alone a 9mX6.2m room. It’s also reasonably easy to find bucolic, out-of-the way branch lines that might fit into a smaller space but may only have seen one train a day (if that). Not a great deal of operating potential there I’m afraid.

So, taking my chosen (northern) half of the state of NSW, I was looking for a “just right” prototype location with the following:

– I wanted a locomotive depot with a round house that I could model, one with five or six stalls.

– I wanted a good mix of traffic – coal, wheat, livestock and passenger trains and dairy if I could get that too. I didn’t just want these trains passing through the station, I wanted most if not all of this traffic to be generated in the district in which the layout was set. Plenty of shunting and local movement, not just a race track. Where else can you get this mix of traffic in NSW other than in the Hunter Valley?

– I wanted somewhere that would allow me to realistically run and house AD60s, 38s, 36s (my favourite steam loco class), 59s (my second favourite class) plus all the usual smaller classes such as 50s, 32s and 30Ts and if I must the occasional box on wheels. I wanted my operators (in future operating sessions I intend to hold) to interact with the locomotives, not just open a throttle and watch the train run in a circle.

– I wanted the location to be the junction for a branch line. I didn’t necessarily want to model too much of the branch line (been there, done that) but I would like to see the track formation for the junction on the layout and see a train disappear up the line.

– I wanted a continuous run to allow me to watch a train run when I was in the right sort of mood.

As I had considered modelling Muswellbrook in the past it surprises me that it took me about 6 months to finally settle on it as a stong possibility and begin doing some serious thinking and planning for a layout based on this location. I’ve spent about three nights this past week working on a progressively more detailed plan for Muswellbrook in a 9mX6.2m space. I’ve been sending friends various versions of the plan and trying to resist acceding to their suggestions and feedback, and in the end following their advice anyway 🙂 The plan below is just the most recent version of this process: it certainly won’t be the last interation but it does fulfill the need I had to know whether I could get the type of layout I wanted into the space I had and base it on Muswellbrook. I’ve changed the name to Musclebrook for the sake of this exercise: I’m going to sit on this name and decide whether I feel comfortable with changing it back to Muswellbrook later. And for those of you not familiar with the real Hunter Valley town, the name Muswellbrook is pronounced Musclebrook, hence my name for this layout. All three towns are deliberately misspelt.

Version 2.4 of the plan in all its glory.

Version 2.4 of the plan in all its glory.

Overall I’m satisfied with this plan, with reservations. I’m never very happy with storage lines tucked in under other parts of a layout and it would appear, on first examination, that the storage on Musclebrook will be under the branch line at Gungul. However the benchwork at the site of Gungul will be extremely narrow, perhaps as narrow as 150-200mm and as such only part of the storage will be hidden underneath. Not perfect but the alternative would be a choice between storage or branch line? That isn’t a choice I’m prepared to make. After much wrestling with radii I’ve managed to keep the mainline to radius 1.6m or above, with 1.2m on the branch line. The 1.2m is a lot tighter than I’d like and it will prevent running AD60s and 38s up the line, but when was the last time a Garratt or a 38 ran to Merriwa? When was the last time anything ran to Merriwa?

The Garratt turntable may confuse some readers. For a time at Muswellbrook there was a turning triangle in use to turn AD60 Garratts. It ran down past the depot and out onto vacant land that is now the Muswellbrook golf course. I can’t reproduce the triangle but with a 900mm long turning device I can reproduce the traffic. The circle entitled “Garratt Turntable” isn’t really going to be a turntable as such. It will be a one line turning table that will reproduce the effect of the triangle. It won’t jut into the aisle as shown by the circle, that’s just to help me determine how far I needed to set the thing from the wall to allow it to rotate. Another feature I’m quite happy with is being able to reproduce the empties in/loads out traffic on the coal loader. This is a well-known John  Armstrong suggestion and is relatively easy to institute if the arrangement is planned in from the start. An empty train comes up from staging and runs into the yard and then run under the coal tipple down to staging. A second train, sitting down in staging but with a string of full coal hoppers this time, runs back up the line as if it were the same train. Neat hey? There is only one big hair on this plan. If I had my way I would reproduce this traffic using a Garratt but in the above scenario I would need one Garratt on the inward (empty) journey and one of the outward (full) journey. Two Garratts!!?? Glenn will be pleased 🙂

In A Spin Over Turntables

From the start of my work on Morpeth I was fully intending to install a 60′ turntable I had purchased a number of years ago. This was a good visual representation of a NSWR 60′ table and as it would look at home at a location such as Morpeth I considered it well worth the money I paid for it. I won’t name the company who produced this turntable, anyone familiar with the modelling scene in NSW would be well aware of the company I’m referring to. Especially those 7mm modellers silly enough to buy one along with muggins because the truth is that everyone I know who owns one has had the same problem as me trying to get the thing to operate reliably, or to operate at all.

I've deliberately chosen this early photo to let you get a good look at the turntable in question.  No pretty scenery to doll up the scene.

I’ve deliberately chosen this early photo to let you get a good look at the turntable in question. No pretty scenery to doll up the scene.

I’ve done a bit of tinkering with the turntable and I think I can get it to operate a bit more reliably but to be brutally frank, I shouldn’t have to! This thing cost me well over $AU700 and for that sort of money it should work reliably for years. I’ve barely managed to get the thing to turn a full circle more than once in the time it’s been on my layout and in this sense it was barely used before my plans changed and I uninstalled it from its position on Morpeth. This is not a toy and its price reflects this and as such it should work and it doesn’t! And all my friends who have them have had exactly the same experience: about 6 of us in total! I had assumed that this was confined to the O-scale version of this brand but then an acquaintance recently told me that exactly the same thing had happened to him with the HO version he had of the table and that another modeller had two of them sitting installed on his HO layout, neither of them operated and they were static displays.

The problem for me is not so much the inoperability of the turntable I have but where I can get one that operates for me the way I want it to: namely with a high level of reliability and accuracy? I am slightly less worried about the exact prototypical look of any turntable I use but it must operate. A few weeks ago a few planets lined up and I bit the bullet and purchased a 24″ turntable from Millhouse River Studios a US outfit who claim to make the Humvee of O-scale turntables. At 24″ this table is more like a 90′ NSWR table than a modest 60′ model but to be honest I really don’t care. As long as the thing works and accurately puts my locos where I want them I’ll live with it being a bit big and not quite having a prototypical look.

The table I’ve ordered has been made and is at the time of writing in Florida, on its way to MyUS, a company that batch ships packages in an attempt to avoid extortionate US postal charges. I’m not sure why this works in keeping costs down but I’m assured it does. I’m expecting the package to arrive in the next week or so, all 38lbs of it. That’s about 17 kilos! The thing must be made from iron 🙂

For me this purchase is a bit of a watershed as it means an explicit move away from the gentle, quiet world of branchline modelling I’ve been in for the last 15 years. You don’t use a 75′-90′ turntable to turn Manning Wardles. Does this solidify the move to modelling a location like Muswellbrook? To be honest I’ll really have to wait and see about that. The reason for the purchase had more to do with a little money coming my way and an attempt to beat the plummeting Aussie dollar than it did with taking on a new modelling challenge. However, as I said in my post on the idea of modelling Muswellbrook a month or so back, I really don’t buy locos to sit on a cabinet display shelf, I buy them to run on a layout. As so much tempting stuff has been coming onto the market recently in kit and rtr form, I feel like if I’m going to own them, I really need to build somewhere to run them. But I also want somewhere to turn them! 🙂