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.

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.

Foundry Roof

Over the past two or three weeks I’ve been making steady progress on the Stoney Creek Designs foundry kit that I wrote about here in my last post.

This photo shows the progress I've made on the foundry building that I've been working on. It's a nice little building kit and has been a real pleasure to assemble although I've found it a fairly expensive exercise.

This photo shows the progress I’ve made on the foundry building that I’ve been working on. It’s a nice little building kit and has been a real pleasure to assemble although I’ve found it a fairly expensive exercise.

Being of US origin the kit is of course nominally 1:48 rather than the 1:43.5 scale proportion I work to but I don’t mind that the building is a slightly smaller proportion in this context. I have a tendency to deliberately place objects at the front of my layouts to mask unrestricted views of the track and having a building of slightly smaller volume allows for this effect without the building overwhelming the scene. This building has a wonderfully interesting set of roof lines mixed in with industrial smoke stack and I like the way these hard geometric lines will break-up and disturb the natural undulations of the river banks and tree canopy that sit adjacent to this scene. I have replaced the original tar paper roof of the brick office part of the building with a small peaked corrogated pitched roof but aside from that the building is pretty much straight out of the box. There was a tall industrial chimney on the banks of the Hunter River that Morpeth sits on not too far from this spot and as I doubt I’ll be able to reproduce that particular very tall chimney, the smaller one included with this building had a lot of drawing power for me. It gives this part of the layout a nice industrial flavour without chimney having to be an item I need to remove from the scene for storage which is what I would have to do if I tried to model the tall chimney from the mill. The mill is the next building on the to do list for this part of the layout.

I’ve followed the instructions for this kit quite closely in both the construction sequence and the colouring of the components. Like any kit the parts to this do need to be assembled but I’ve found that this isn’t the main task in the construction of this building. What has taken the most time has been preparing and colouring the parts. The instructions specified a range of colouring media that I had not tried before and because one of the reasons I had for building this kit was to learn some new modelling techniques I spent a good deal of time tracking down the colouring media specified in the kit’s instructions. Two types of colouring media that were new to me were Pan Pastels and Vallejo Air air brush paint and I spent a lot of time and money searching and buying both online and at my favourite hobby shop.

Vallejo paint should be available at any well stocked hobby shop and I picked up the colours I wanted from Hobbyrama in Brisbane, which has a fantastic range of paints. What I like about the Air range of this brand is that you can place the paint straight in the air brush cup and use it without thinning. Coverage is good and I like that it has a nozzle incorporated into the bottle thus making it easy to dispense. I’d read about Pan Pastels in the past but I had hesitated to buy any because wherever I looked they always seemed to be extremely expensive. I wanted about 8 or 9 colours and I simply couldn’t seem to get the colours I wanted at a reasonable price. You can get kits that bring the price down quite a bit but these always contain colours I knew I wouldn’t need and some outlets were selling the individual colours for as much as $34 per small pan of colour! I kept searching this time and the best outlet in terms of range and price I found was an art supply shop (combined with a newsagent) in Adamstown, Newcastle, NSW. You can find the link in the list on the side of the main page of my blog if you’re interested. The pastels are a very interesting product and deserve to gain a good following in the model railway community for the weathering of buildings and rolling stock if the prices are brought down to a reasonable level. I bought a few of the individual colours at $11.60 per pan and the kit set I bought was for rust and dust so most of the colours will come in useful. These pastels are extremely flexible and easy to apply and control is much better than I’ve had with products like Carr’s and Bragdon weathering powders. They can be applied and then rubbed off with a standard pencil eraser to get different effects and the range of colours is excellent. But the price! Ouch! The mortar lines in the building above were done with a colour from the Pan Pastels range.

Generally speaking this has been an enjoyable but quite expensive exercise so far. I bought quite a few products that I haven’t actually used and I purchased some items online and paid quite a bit for postage because that’s the only way I could get my hands on them. When added to the not inconsiderable cost of the kit it would have been a lot more cost-effective to build something from styrene from scratch, but I probably wouldn’t have learnt so many new techniques or had half as much fun.

So it’s a balance…

Tributes and Turntables

I spent a little time yesterday reading Trevor Marshall’s blog and he made reference to Marty McGuirks blog post about rethinking some design elements on his Central Vermont layout. The part that I got me sitting forward in my chair as I read it was a couple of paragraphs on the way he had sited his turntable in the corner of a room and how this was causing some real issues in terms of access and reach. He and his operators simply couldn’t reach the turntable, the result being that it simply didn’t get used. This made me chuckle because when I’d arrived home from work yesterday afternoon there was a card in my letterbox indicating a large parcel was waiting for me down the Post Office. When I went down to pick it up the lady who’d gone out the back disappeared for ages and eventually she turned up with an enormous box that looked like it contained a medium-sized flat screen TV. I knew what the box contained, it was my Millhouse River turntable from the US. What had me smiling at Marty’s post was that the box was still in the boot of my car as I sat reading the post yesterday evening. I’d almost given myself a hernia getting in into the boot: I’d decided that getting it out again could wait till later in the evening 🙂 After reading about Marty’s travails I decided I’d better go out to the garage and haul the box inside. What I found when I unpacked it just enough to take a look at it was something wonderful to behold.

This shot gives a pretty accurate impression of the turntable. I've got no intention of taking it out of its box because it's unlikely to be installed on an actual layout for quite a while. Anyway it's heavy: I'd probably do myself an injury trying to lift it out on my own!

This shot gives a pretty accurate impression of the turntable. I’ve got no intention of taking it out of its box because it’s unlikely to be installed on an actual layout for quite a while. Anyway it’s heavy: I’d probably do myself an injury trying to lift it out on my own!

I’m no expert on these turntables: I just own one now, but I’m yet to have any experience of how well they work. I can say from my quick glance that the workmanship looks superb with a fully welded aluminium pit and a beautiful weathering job applied at the factory. I made a special request to have ME code 125 track installed on the table as this matches what I use on my layouts and the owner delivered on this request. Evidently this was the first time anyone had made this request for rail of such small size. This probably reflects my impression that O-scale in the US is often seen as a bit of a “toy” scale with track that has big chunky rail. The turntable is supplied with a bag of brass detail parts which allows the modeller to dress the thing up with handrails and motor parts. I will leave these packed in their bag until I’m ready to install the table on a future layout.

This photo gives the viewer some sense of scale to judge the size of the turntable. That's an Auscision 1:43.5 49 class sitting on the table.

This photo gives you some sense of scale to judge the size of the turntable. That’s an Auscision 1:43.5 49 class sitting on the table.

A few months before she passed away my mum was being subjected to one of my regular verbal tours of what I was up to in my hobby. Over the years she had watched as her boy grew and developed but never seemed to outgrow toy trains. Looking back on it I’m not really sure what she made of my hobby but as she got older I imagine her increasing deafness came as a blessed relief from having to listen to me rabbit on about it 🙂 On this particular day I’d been banging on about my poor performing turntable and how I’d discovered a company in the US called Millhouse River Studio and how great their turntables looked on the web site. She turned to me and said, with the blinding logic of a woman, “why don’t you buy one”? That shut me up! I paid for this turntable with a portion of the money I received from her estate: I could never really have justified the cost from my normal hobby budget. So in this sense I see this turntable as a bit of a tribute to my mum. She never could see a reason not to do what you wanted and I really wanted this turntable 🙂

Decision Made

This afternoon I started working on the last of the modules that make up the two small layouts I have built over the last 10 years. This module is the smallest and I suppose could be described as the station module of Queens Wharf. When I started the process I had in my mind the intention of setting up both layouts in my train room in a way that would allow me to run some trains back and forth along the line in the format that I find most appealing, namely a point to point plan with a fiddleyard at one end and a terminus at the other. I find this appealing for the reason that this is the way railways operate in the real world: trains enter onto a line, they run to the end of it and then they turn around and run back down the line.

Now theory is fine but none of us is immune from ambition: given the time, space and resources who among us would resist the temptation to make our mainline a bit longer, our model buildings a little larger and our scenery more spectacular? I can draw a length of track on a plan to join two yards but this two-dimensional exercise removes me from the echo chamber of the floor space of my train room. The visceral experience of standing and working in the available space triggers ambitions to make improvements and to maximise the modelling potential of the process.

Yeah, yeah, that’s all just a fancy way to justify the fact that I spent the afternoon ripping into Queens Wharf by doing a bit of crow bar modelling 🙂

This photo shows the results of the judicious application of that common modelling tool the crow bar. This is the rear side of the station module of Queens Wharf with the backdrop and the entire rear scenic section removed.

This photo shows the results of the judicious application of that common modelling tool the crow bar. This is the rear side of the station module of Queens Wharf with the backdrop and the entire rear scenic section removed.

It must be over ten years since I had installed the scenery on this module and I had no memory of how it was attached to the benchwork. It turns out that the complete slice of scenery was sitting on a sheet of 3mm MDF and this had been secured to the cross members by the use of two panel pins per beam. When I started to investigate the possibility of getting the station off without damage it almost leapt into my arms.

I placed the slice of QW's scenery on the benchwork so that it was safely out of the work area while I took this photo. This is not where the station scene will end up when it is re-installed on the layout.

I placed the slice of QW’s scenery on the benchwork so that it was safely out of the work area while I took this photo. This is not where the station scene will end up when it is re-installed on the layout.

I started work on the layout this afternoon with the aim of removing the fascia and backdrop from this module. I also wanted to investigate whether I could get the station and surrounding scenery off the module without damaging it. By the end of the day I’d made a series of commitments to the way my new layout is going to look and operate.

You gotta love change! 🙂