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.
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 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 general idea.
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 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?
- The track at this point crosses a board join
- The track crosses the board join at an acute angle
- The track at this point crosses a board join at an acute angle that is on a curve
- 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.
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 sections with the cut following the edge of the layout fascia.
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.