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 🙂

Glasscase or Nutcase…

Before I get too deeply into this pre-christmas missive I’d like to wish those of you who are regular readers a merry Christmas and hope that you’ve been good enough for Santa to drop something hobby related under the tree for you. A friend told me the other day that he’d bought a loco kit so his wife could give it to him for Christmas. Now in my opinion that’s a good idea!

Quite a few years ago, when I was still modelling in HO, I built a layout in a shed called Trundlemore. This was at a time that was very much pre-digital photography so I don’t have any photos of this layout that I can easily share, however I do have one taken of a layout I helped build called Upper Hunter and this layout was the recipient of a section of Trundlemore so this will have to work as a stand in to give you an idea of the way a part of the layout looked.

This is a shot of Upper Hunter, the layout built by the Wyong & District Modle Railway club. The coal mine was recycled into UH from my layout Trundlemore after I tore my layout down. Everything behind the double mainline is pretty much directly lifted from Trundlemore.

This is a shot of Upper Hunter, the layout built by the Wyong & District Model Railway club. The coal mine was recycled into UH from my layout Trundlemore after I tore my layout down. Everything behind the double mainline is pretty much directly lifted from Trundlemore. The locos are mine too if I’m not mistaken.

Trundlemore was quite a simple concept in that it essentially represented a yard with two wings extending from either side: at the end of one wing was a turntable/roundhouse scene and at the end of the other was a coal mine scene. Trains rounded a corner, entered the yard and then exited the layout at the other end of the yard. There was almost no plain track running through empty scenery and this is a pattern that followed me into my O-scale layouts: all three of my small O-scale layouts have essentially been all yard and no landscape.

The reason I mention Trundlemore is because this layout has been on my mind recently as I’ve worked through a range of options and possible concepts for my new “permanent” layout. No one need fear that I’m contemplating a switch back to HO, I’m far too deeply in love with O-scale to ever seriously consider a major project in the smaller scale. Having said that however I recently purchased my first HO loco in over a decade. This loco may never be used on a diorama or layout but instead will probably wind up in a glass display case; the same display case I’ve vowed will never contain any of my O-scale locos. I’m a runner not a collector! 🙂 The reason I’ve had Trundlemore on my mind is that, as I’ve narrowed down what I can achieve in O in the space I’m likely to have available, the outcome has increasingly come to resemble Trundlemore in concept and operating procedure. My new layout room is likely to be something like 50-70% larger than the space I had available for Trundlemore so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that what will fit is likely to be conceptually similar. I haven’t set out to plan to re-build a layout that mirrors something I tore down about 15 years ago in a different scale, but as I’ve worked on what I’d like to achieve with the new layout it turns out that many of the same conditions apply:

1. I tend to be a one man band so any layout I build will need to be achievable by me working alone, even if that’s over an extended period of time.

2. I don’t want to spend endless hours building rolling stock kits. I’m ok building kits, after all one of the reasons I work in O-scale is because it requires the modeller to build things. However I’m not what I would describe as the world’s most enthusiastic rolling stock modeller so the idea of spending a large percentage of my time building up a huge roster of models simply doesn’t appeal to me.

3. I want plenty of opportunities to make structures for the next layout. I don’t mind looking at open countryside but I don’t really want to model too much of it. So a single yard with a short length of track either end running into a fiddle yard will suit me fine.

4. As I’ve said before I’m a runner, not a collector. If I build or buy a loco or loco kit I want to run it in an appropriate setting with a reasonably accurate consist.

5. What I do like modelling is urban railway and industrial infrastructure: factories, industrial sidings, roundhouses etc, with bridges thrown in for good measure. The problem is that these are often built on a massive scale in urban environments and this becomes all the more acute in O-scale. I find myself looking for an urban/industrial setting but without the sheer scale an urban setting implies. I’m looking for a railway setting that is large enough to be a natural setting for the larger locos that I’ve acquired in the last 5 years but not so large that I would need a football stadium to model it.

Enter Muswellbrook.

This is a shot of the roundhouse and 75' turntable at Muswellbrook. This infrastructure was all still in place until quite recently before some government vandals decided to tear it down.

This is a shot of the roundhouse and 75′ turntable at Muswellbrook. This infrastructure was all still in place until quite recently before some government vandals decided to tear it down.

Over the last few years I had been gradually acquiring (or have on order) a number of locomotives that would never be at home on Morpeth. I’ve been modelling Morpeth for over 10 years now and have been quite happy with the outcome of this modelling activity. However I have to admit that the developments in my chosen scale over the last few years have made it extremely tempting to step things up a bit when the next iteration of Morpeth is complete. I made a critical decision a few weeks ago that I wanted to be able to turn my NSWR 38 and 36 class locomotives on a turntable and that the 60′ model I own would not be large enough to handle this task. I also made the decision that if I was going for a larger turntable then I would need a prototype location to accommodate this and this would imply a large step up in operating intensity. The locations of most 50′ & 60′ turntables in NSW were at the end of branch lines: the problem for me is that I’d been working in branch line mode for 15 years and I wanted something a bit more ambitious! But I didn’t want to get so ambitious that I couldn’t build this layout largely on my own.

This shot shows one of the collieries dotted around Muswellbrook and surrounding district. This one happens to be within spitting distance of the turntable. This photo would have been taken from the road overbridge that can been seen in the previous photo.

This shot shows one of the collieries dotted around Muswellbrook and surrounding district. This one happens to be within spitting distance of the turntable. This photo would have been taken from the road over bridge that can been seen in the previous photo.

Don’t get me wrong, Muswellbrook is big! And the chances of me getting anything approaching the full prototype yard into my layout space is zero. However no one ever said you can’t compress things a bit (or a lot) and I have a fairly good concept worked out that focuses attention on the loco facilities rather than trying to reproduce the full yard. How this will interact with the mainline remains to be developed as a concept, however I know I can get a representation of the loco facilities into a reasonable space so this is a good starting point.

This is not a layout plan. Rather it is a cleaned up scan of the loco facilities from the NSWR track diagrams. This is in scale: I counted up the dimensions indicated on the original diagram and converted them into scale dimesnions. This facility could fit into a 7m long room as indicated at the bottom of the page.

This is not a layout plan. Rather it is a cleaned up scan of the loco facilities from a NSWR track diagram of Muswellbrook yard. This is in scale: I counted up the dimensions indicated on the original diagram and converted them into scale dimensions. This facility could fit into a 7m long room as indicated at the bottom of the page.

I haven’t yet reached the stage where I want to draw up a scale track plan of what I might get into the space I’ll have available, this will come later. What I wanted to know is whether I have anywhere near enough room to get the centrepiece into the space I’m likely to have available. Who knows, I might have more or less space available after the room is built. However unless I can be fairly certain that the main focus of the layout will fit there’s no point in continuing. Having worked out that I can fit the loco facilities into my available space, I can use a bit of judicious squeezing to par this down to what might work in a model railway. I want this to be more than a static display of my locomotive fleet, I want this layout to be conceptually connected to a railway that exists beyond the walls of my layout room.

Who knows, maybe I won’t have to decide between the display case and becoming a nut case 🙂

A Chapter Closes

The last three weeks have been some of the most personally confronting of my life. So much has changed for me in such a short time and I would not have believed a few weeks ago that I would be contemplating selling my home and relinquishing my train room. The irony of where I’ve reached in the building of my layout literally makes me smile; I had planned to have the Queens Wharf basically rebuilt to stage where it could essentially be “plugged” into the new enlarged plan and be compatible with Morpeth and I had planned to finally do something about the woefully inadequate storage and arrangement of my papers, books and modelling materials. As of today I have essentially reached exactly the stage I had hoped to and now I have to essentially stop and adjust my plans.

While Queens Whrf is not realy finished it is refurished; trains are running, the new track is wired up, the backdrop is installed and h fascia is painted and in place. The final stage will be to shift the statio platform down th line and to fill theholes in the senery. You can see my new bookshelf in this shot.

While Queens Wharf is not really finished it is refurbished; trains are running, the new track is wired up, the backdrop is installed and the fascia is painted and in place. The final stage will be to shift the station platform further down th line and to fill the holes in the scenery. You can see my new bookshelf in this shot beyond the central leg.

A couple of people I’ve told about this change of plans have reacted in quite a dumbfounded way and this is not hard to understand. Haven’t I just had the train room lined and painted? Haven’t I just had a hole cut in the wall to let trains run through? Haven’t I just spent the last 6 months chopping up my layouts to get them to fit into he room? Well…yes! But no one ever said you could plan life. In having my train room lined and painted I had expected to have about 5 more years to work on the layout there but the sudden death of my mother has changed all that. It may take a couple of years but my partner and I have decided that over the next two years we’re going to build a new home together. This might not be such a big change if I had little expectation of a new train room but she’s been unreasonably generous in our initial discussions and I find myself facing the prospect of a bigger room with no stairs intruding into the space. So it’s not so much that I’ll be pulling the Morpeth Line down in the next two weeks, in fact that’s unlikely to happen for at least 12 months (anyway it’s built in sections that can be reassembled in the new space). However what my recent progress has taught me is that even if you think a modular layout will fit in a new room it still needs a nip and tuck to get the most from it. Quite suddenly, and very unexpectedly, I don’t feel I can continue working on the layout without half the effort being wasted if I have to rip it all up again in about 18 months time.

So have I decided to follow Trevor Marshall’s suggestion in his Port Rowan blog and take up macrame when his sewer pipe started leaking into his basement? 🙂 Well no, I’m not but equally I’m not exactly sure what hobby activity will fill the next two years when I’m not slaving and toiling getting the new house built. My immediate reaction was that I’d probably build a couple of locomotives and some rolling stock and this could certainly be one productive pathway. However if I do end up selling my home I will be living a slightly more gypsy like existence than I have over the last 5 years and I’ve learned from experience that undertaking one of the more complex tasks this hobby has to offer while living in unsettled circumstances is not necessarily a sensible plan.

So what to do? Well having been provided with the approximate dimensions of my new train room by the better half I’ve already nutted out a plan that will give me pretty much enough layout to keep me busy until my 120th birthday. As I plan to live till I’m 140 this should work out fine. As I won’t have anything to write about maybe I’ll just close the blog down for a couple of years. I have a feeling no one will notice. Well that is no one except a certain manufacturer who obviously scours my every post looking to see if I’ve mentioned his outstanding range of photo backdrops. You see when I said in a recent post that I had purchased my new backdrop from Wuiske Models what I should have mentioned is that these are a joint production between Wuiske Models and Haskell Co. Jump online and buy a few meters of these excellent products 🙂

Hole In The Wall

What sort of post can I make about an absence? When I got home today I found a hole: it was a neatly trimmed hole but a hole none the less. If you go back and look at the plan I posted a few weeks ago in Destruct Construct you’ll see that the plan shows a piece of track bisecting a circle in a space labelled “garage”. This is a representative drawing for a train turntable I built last year. This turntable allows operators to turn complete trains that are 1.5m long (5′) without any lifting or touching of the stock. 1.5m hardly allows for long trains however this limitation is one compromise that needs to be made if the stock is to be free from possible damage from operator’s fingers. This limitation on length was imposed by the length of my trailer: Morpeth was designed as a portable layout intended for exhibition. As the length of the turntable is limited to 1.5m this means the trains will also be limited to this length.

If you’ve read the Destruct Construct post you’ll already know that the plan posted along with the text was my solution to getting a fiddle yard into the plan. Earlier versions of the plan had seriously toyed with the idea of not including off scene storage. However I knew in my heart that this wouldn’t work for my long term plan to run this layout as an operating model railway, so the solution reversed the operating scenario: originally trains were to enter the scenic portion of the layout via Queens Wharf and end their journey in Morpeth yard. Essentially what I’ve settled on makes QW the terminus of the line with Morpeth a station stop along the line. This is not an ideal situation but it has the great advantage that it utilises the layouts I’ve been working on for the past 8 years and it also allows for off scene storage. The fact that this storage is in an adjoining room is an added benefit because it separates the non-scenicked fiddleyard from the rest of the layout, thus helping to add authenticity to the operating experience by not having the storage visually intrude into the operators view of the layout as they run a train up the line.

The one problem with this plan was that it required a hole be cut in the brick wall, the wall that I had so recently spent good money dressing up with plaster board and paint.

This photo shows the hole as it appears prior to filling, sanding and painting. It will eventually disappear behind the layout's backdrop but I still want to dress it up and paint it.

This photo shows the hole as it appears prior to filling, sanding and painting. It will eventually disappear behind the layout’s backdrop but I still want to dress it up and paint it.

When I got home from work today I found myself the proud owner of a hole. As you can see from the photo it’s not just any hole: it’s neatly trimmed in pine to help it look sleek and professional and it will be painted in the next week or so. The significance of this hole in the wall of my train room is that it will allow trains to be made up on the train turntable and then enter the scenic portion of the layout via the opening. I hope you’ll agree that this is a far preferable scenario to having the storage in the train room or worse still, not having any storage at all.

Of course that pre-supposes that I will leave the fiddle yard arrangements limited by the restrictions of the short train turntable. With a new space available for the storage and turning of trains that is not restricted by the dimensions of my 5’X7′ trailer, who’s to say that I won’t come up with some other, more imaginative way to store and turn trains. We’ll have to wait see about that possibility hey? 🙂


Destruct Construct

One of my favourite television programs is a US show called This Old House in which a bunch of blokes tear down and then rebuild someone’s house for them over about 10 weeks of episodes. One of the main personalities in the show is a bloke by the name of Tom Silva who is the building contractor in the show. Tom is a very clever man and one of my favourite sayings of his is that “ya gotta destruct before you can construct”. Well I’ve been destructing my layout over the last few days in the hope that one day I’m going to be able to construct something new and improved in its place.

I was pretty sure that having the layouts set up in the train room would help to clarify the plans I had been formulating for the new permanent layout that I’ll work on over the next couple of years and this has turned out to be accurate. I knew the basic outline of what I wanted to achieve in the available space but after weeks of doodling with plans I just couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction. The folder I keep the plans I draw in has 12 files in it. That’s 12 different versions of a plan that will essentially be a single line of track joining two pre-existing layouts! The problem stemmed from my own requirement for a fiddle/storage yard of some sort. I kept telling myself that I could live without off scene storage but the reality was that I couldn’t convince myself to believe this.

About a week ago I had both layouts up on their new bench-work and I was sitting looking at them while I gnawed away at the same fiddle-yard bone when I had a small light bulb moment: if I couldn’t get the fiddle-yard to fit on the end of Queens Wharf because of the stairs, why not flip the operating scenario 180 degrees and place the fiddle-yard on the end of Morpeth instead. All this would require was a small hole to be knocked in the wall and the turntable to be re-located to Queens Wharf. It would also mean that the stations were in the wrong order but then I never was too caught up with the need for exact prototype fidelity, so what the heck?? There was an almost audible click when this idea came to me. It solved about three problems in one fell swoop, not the least of these being that the 60′ turntable at the edge of Morpeth yard was giving me a real headache and I had decided that I needed to pull it out to take a proper look at it and come up with a fix. If I couldn’t fix it I was planning on taking it down the local park and using it for frisbee practice! 🙂 As I was going to have to pull it out to move it I decided this may as well happen while it was in transit to its new location. I did some work on the turntable yesterday, and I think I’ve sorted out the problem, but it really needs a test in its new location before I decide I’ve addressed the problem permanently. If the turntable was exiting to stage QW, then the engine shed could be moved to a more logical place, namely the space vacated by the turntable. So out came the engine shed and it now sits on the sidelines waiting to be relocated.

This plan shows the track arrangement I've finally settled on. The extension into the garage is portable and will only be in place during operating sessions. Morpeth's train turntable will be pressed into service in this spot but it will still be available for exhibition use on the odd occasion when Morpeth makes a public dsiplay of itself. The builder was called back in the other day and he's going to cut the small hole in the wall that this plan requires in about a week.

This plan shows the track arrangement I’ve finally settled on. The extension into the garage is portable and will only be in place during operating sessions. Morpeth’s train turntable will be pressed into service in this spot but it will still be available for exhibition use on the odd occasion when Morpeth makes a public display of itself. The builder was called back in the other day and he’s going to cut the small hole in the wall that this plan requires in about a week.

I had pretty much the whole day to work on the layout so I got stuck in. After putting the locomotive turntable back together I got to work on modifying QW to allow it this to be fitted in its new location. Approximately 80% of the changes are on the goods shed half of the layout. This half is having a new point laid, the loading bank removed, a new goods siding laid with a yard crane, a new backdrop and about 500mm of extensions “cut & shut” into the track plan. I spent the first hour pulling out electrical components and wiring that were cluttering up the underside of the layout. It was a bit of an archaeological excursion to be honest. I found the remains of several past electronic schemes that had been installed gradually over the years. It’s a wonder the layout ran at all! 🙂 Once I’ve gone through the same process on the other half of the layout and laid all the new track, I’ll come back and completely re-wire the whole layout to the same standard as that on Morpeth. This was going to be needed even without changing the location of the locomotive turntable.

After the wiring was basically reduced to a shadow of its former self I pulled the detail off the front side of the module I and pulled up the goods line that ran to the loading bank, which came out with a bit of gentle persuasion. I cleaned up and then began installing the new bench-work. I had already installed the extensions for this section but today I added a small box like extension to the front of the layout for the turntable to sit in. I also had to rework the backdrop I’d installed the other day when some friends were over to give me a hand. Thanks guys! 🙂 After everything was installed I managed to lift the layout back into place on the new benchwork but not before reinstalling the lighting fixtures I’d had to remove when I pulled off the old backdrop.

The next step will be to build a new point for the goods line and to lay all the small sections of track that I’ve made room for. I have most of the materials on hand that I need to build the new section of benchwork for the track that joins the two layouts but I’m running out of time to make a start on that before the end of the school holidays. Still, being able to choose what you do and the order in which you do it is one of the great joys of this hobby isn’t it?



Plans Vs Reality

I reached a milestone today by officially “completing” the centre module of my layout “Morpeth”. I know we all say that a layout is never really finished but for this phase of the layout’s development the word complete applies: I simply must get on and do something on the final and most challenging of the three modules. No more work will happen on this module, so for all intents and purposes it’s complete.

As I worked towards this milestone it became increasingly obvious to me that I’ve never posted a track plan of the layout. I’m well aware that when I talk about the station module or the turntable module, as a reader, it must be fairly confusing. We all get so caught up with our layouts, and know them so intimately, we sometimes lose sight of how confusing a layout can seem to someone who is unfamiliar with it, even one as relatively simple in its track arrangement as Morpeth. This brings to mind an operarting session I hosted on my long dismantled HO layout Trundlemore. I’d invited a non-railway modelling friend over to participate in the operating session to whom I carefully (and probably condescendingly) explained the operating sequence, the timetable, what a fast clock was and all manner of what to him must have been completely new terms and concepts. When I finally drew breath he asked me the simple question “where’s Trundlemore”? He was referring to the one and only station on the layout! I’d been so caught up explaining the finer points of operating a model railway that I’d completely overlooked the most obvious and simple of details: I’d failed to put a station sign on the platform to identify its location. He dealt with the complications of running trains on the layout with ease but he wasn’t a mind reader. The location of the station was obvious to me but not to a visitor!

There’s actually a very simple reason why I haven’t posted a track diagram of the layout up till now: I didn’t actually have one. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of plans of the layout, but not one that accurately reflects the final arrangement of the track and structures as I’m building the layout now. The “final” plan I will post with this text is actually version 5 of the plans I drew for the layout: there would have been dozens of iterations of the plans I developed in addition to the ones that actually got drawn. I’ll also post version 4 to show how the final steps were taken.

Just a note before I start: I draw all my track plans using a terrific little track design program called Trax 3, which comes with a book by the UK author Jeff Geray. The version I use was published in 2011 and you can track it down by googling his name. This program lacks the bells and whistles of the big CAD programs but it lets me do everything I want, it loads in a flash and it has a very gentle learning curve. I don’t doubt I could do a lot more with a more complicated program but the various versions of the Trax program I have used has suited me fine for a good ten years and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Version 4

Version IV

Click on the plan for a larger image

After I decided to post a track plan of my layout I went back and looked at some of the earlier versions of the plan and I suddenly remembered why the layout has some key structures placed in the positions they are and not where they should be if I had been trying to emulate their positions on the real Morpeth. It’s obvious to me that this track plan is nothing like the real Morpeth, but a mistake I made in calculating the amount of modelling space available meant that things are a lot less prototypical than I’d hoped for. Version 4 of the plan includes two elements that were a “must have” for me; the 60′ turntable and a spot for a wharf and a ship model. These two elements meant that everything else was going to be really squeezed but essentially the station, goods shed, engine facilities (coal and water), weighbridge and crane are quite close in their arrangement on the real Morpeth.

The mistake I made in planning was to not take into account a pocket for the lighting rig that would eventually sit at the rear of the backdrop. This simple error led to me having 50mm (2″) less width to play with in the critical area between the backdrop (where the goods shed was to go) and the turntable. There was literally no space to play with in this area so what was originally going to be a building “flat” was now going to be a building “pancake”. In spite of hair pulling, thinking, lots of swearing and a couple of beers I couldn’t come up with a way out of this problem that I found acceptable and this meant I had to swap the position of the loading bank and good shed. This plan is not exactly like Morpeth but all the main structures are essentially in their correct orientation so this small mistake had major consequences for the final look of the layout.

Version 5 (Final)

Morpeth MkII Plan Final

Click on the plan for a larger image

This final plan is the layout as it is being built. Note that the loading bank and the goods shed have swapped positions from version 4 and that there is now an engine shed marked on the layout. This location on the earlier version was left blank. The engine shed was an already completed model from a previous layout that had been sitting in a cupboard for years and I really wanted to fit it somewhere on this layout. I hate to see a good model go to waste, so it now resides on the centre module. The swapping of the goods shed and the loading bank means that I have a layout that is much less prototypical than I’d intended (and was in fact possible) if I’d been a little more careful in the planning stage. There was never really room for the turntable and the engine shed on the far left hand end of the layout and I was pushing it as it was. The 50mm that went missing was simply the final nail in the coffin in that plan. By the time I’d discovered the missing 50mm I’d committed to the module sizes and by that time there was no turning back. If I’d made the discovery a little earlier I may have been able to re-arrange things by stealing a little bit of real estate from one or both of the other modules. The absolute outer dimensions were set by what was available in my trailer, but I probably could have juggled the size of the modules a little and robbed enough width to fit the goods shed into the spot I’d originally allocated. Oh well, you live and learn!

The goods shed and the wharf models are marked, not because they exist, but simply because I’m certain that this is what is going in these spaces. The bridge to the right of these is also a given: in fact I’ve commenced work on the bridge and this is the first model that will appear on this third module. What will be built for the blank spaces either side of the track to the right of the bridge are yet to be settled. The space in front of the track would be a good spot for the Portus Flour Mill, a big stone building that once sat on the banks of the Hunter river, adjacent to the last of Morpeth’s three stations.

This photo shows the approach to the Portus Flour Mill. If this is the building that eventually ends up on the layout it will be the other side that will be visible.

This photo shows the approach to Morpeth rail yard. The Portus Flour Mill is the large industrial structure in the centre of the photo to the left of the track. If this is the building that eventually ends up on the layout the other side of the structure will be the elevation that will be showing in addition to the side facing the river.

The real modelling challenge will be dealing with what is going to go in the corner of the layout to the rear of this mill structure adjacent to the fiddle yard. I want something that will run from the right corner of the goods shed to the far right hand corner of the layout. Looking at this photo provides me with the sort of inspiration I need to start to see what might fit: a long overgrown bank with a motley collection of small, semi-industrial buildings along the top would certainly be in keeping with the overall Morpeth look. This photo also gives you a clue as to why I model my scenes so shaggy and overgrown.

The next step will be completing the bridge model I’m currently working on. I can think about what will go in the gaps while I work on this model and the goods shed.

Morpeth Mk I Layout Plan


Morpeth Mk I Layout Plan

This plan shows the layout as it was planned. I find it interesting to see that I had planned to include a second station which was to be Raworth at the entrance to the layout. I’d also forgotten that I was planning to include a model of a derelict house that I’d taken some photos of on a trip round the New England (NSW) district.

Queens Wharf Plan


Queens Wharf Plan

This shows the basic track arrangement of QW. The design is essentially the smallest run round loop I could fit into the space I had available. That space was dictated by size of my car at the time I built the layout, a Toyota Camry station wagon. I transported the layout to a couple of exhibitions in that car but at that stage it didn’t include the fiddle yard.