Scrub On The Point

Other modellers may have found a simple, effective and relatively cheap way of adding thick scrub to a piece of their layouts but I’m not one of them. When I commenced building Morpeth (the portable section of my permanent layout) about 10 years ago I had a vision of a pier based on the one that stands at Coffs Harbour on the NSW north coast, the second station building that had the name Morpeth applied to it and a creek with really thick scrub and trees around it. I’ve lived in the bush (the thing we Australians call the “real” rural areas of our continent) for a good proportion of the past 33 years and I’ve got to admit that I’ve rarely (if ever) seen a creek populated with vegetation in the way I see it every day of my life as I simply drive around. I don’t know what people in cities see but I see creeks, well to be more accurate I don’t see creeks, because the trees and plants that surround them crowd in on them and block the view of the water. In fact in Australia you can tell where the water courses are by the presence of a wandering lines of gums. I wanted my creek to be scrubby in the way I know Australian creeks are scrubby. Today I finally finished the creek scene.

A couple of months ago I purchased a bag of trees from a Chinese firm on eBay. I could provide you with a link but just go onto eBay and search for model mulberry trees. You’ll find them for sale at around $8 for 5 and with free shipping. They look awful (they have glitter on the limbs for Heaven’s sake!) but they can be turned into something looking like a reasonable gum tree with a few snips, a bit of white and grey acrylic paint on the trunks and the application of some foliage mat. I use a Heiki product. I wanted to use these small (about 15cm high) trees to cheaply bulk up my creek’s foliage canopy.

I spent the first part of the week finishing off the small cabin I posted about last week. I made some brick steps for this model and started painting a white metal figure to stand on the small landing at the front of the building. I also started to review the scenery materials I had on hand and took to some cheap Ebay sourced plastic trees I’d purchased a few months ago with a set of flush cutters and paint. I wanted to use these to help me bulk up the scrub around the mouth of the creek on the real estate that surrounds the cabin.

In addition to deciding that the line at the entry to the pier would finally receive its final layer of scenery I also decided that the ship model needed to be secured to the “water” next to the pier. I wanted a way of bolting the wooden base of the ship to the scene to allow me to display the ship tied up to the pier but in a way that would also allow me to remove it as I worked on it. I settled on two small blocks of ply with t nuts driven into their upper side and with bolts coming up from below the water. The ply is glued in place because these small blocks will eventually be entombed inside the ships superstructure. The forward block of ply is under the deck of the fo’c’sle.

After fiddling around with securing the ship to the water I gathered my amazing collection of scenery storage boxes around me, mixed up a batch of PVA and water with the obligatory drop of washing liquid and made a start. I don’t have a technique for ground cover beyond painting the foam yellow, gluing on a thin layer of Woodland Scenics Earth Blend ground foam and then covering it all up with as much crap as I can throw at the area till I run out of time or scenery materials. That’s about as scientific as it gets. Lots and lots and lots of PVA used neat and then I just keep ripping up various mats and clumps and gluing till I’ve covered everything up.

The one feature I did want to capture on the area in front of the mill was some willows sitting near the water. They sat in front of the real Portus mill at Morpeth so I wanted the same look for my version. I purchased the two that now reside in that spot a couple of years ago and almost gave myself a heart attack when I looked at what I’d paid for them. I could have got 20 or 25 Mulberries for around the same price πŸ™‚

After temporarily positioning the 5 or 6 trees I was going to use in the area I pulled them out again and then set to gluing the thick mat of foliage I wanted to cover this part of the layout in place.

The plan is that Pioneer and an Ixion tank loco will come to share exclusive duties on the pier run. I haven’t yet chopped, changed and dirtied up the Ixion model but I’ll get to that eventually. This shot provides a good comparison with the photos I’ve posted in previous posts on the blog.

I’ll let the model do the talking for me with this one.

I have a great deal of admiration for modellers like Geoff Nott who who did (or do) a great job of capturing a forest setting deep in the woods with huge trees. While I don’t model a forest I still want my models to look as if they’re in a landscape that, while it may not sit under towering red woods, is no less densely populated by trees and foliage in various locations, invariably close to water. I’ve never seen a redwood but I’ve seen plenty of creeks in the Australian bush.


A Suitable Piece of Real Estate

As the SE Qld NMRA convention’s self drive layout tours and Morpeth’s visit to Armidale for the New England convention race toward me like a speeding goods train it seemed like a good time to actually finish the scenery on Morpeth. The layout does need a few projects completed, one of these was the now complete control panel, however before I moved to my current home 18 months ago, I hadn’t yet completed the last small patch of scenery where the pier module butts up to the main layout at a right angle.

This last small corner of Morpeth has sat unloved and minus scenery for over 3 years, around the time I made the mill building you can see in the right background. This shot shows the patch of ground prior to any work being done this week. The land-form is complete and I painted this and added a layer of basic ground foam the last time I worked on it but it’s sat like this for almost three years.

This section of the layout has been in progress for a few years but there’s nothing like a deadline to help get work moving. The small segment of shoreline and a short length of yet-to-be-ballasted track were crying out for a bit of attention. After this the last two jobs left to complete will be the portable train turntable/fiddle yard MkII, which will butt up to the layout just beyond the building you can see in the photo (where those wires are running on the permanent part of the layout) and the ship model and associated pier detailing.

I didn’t just want to cover this transition point with ground cover and foliage alone. I felt it needed a small feature to draw the eye away from the obvious 90 degree angle of the layout’s fascia. I’d got half way through assembling this hut over 2 years ago but it had sat in a container for the intervening years. So much time has passed had passed that I seem to have mislaid its roof and some details for the model so I was forced to scratch build a replacement along with a set of new steps. I’ll find the missing parts the day I complete this scene πŸ™‚

I set to work this week and completed assembling a small kit of a watchman’s hut that had been intended for the gap I’d left in the scenery when I last worked on the area. However I couldn’t just plant the hut, I also needed to fill in the gaps behind the retaining wall that hold the lead track out to the pier. It was the work of a few moments to fill these gaps and glue some paper towel over the gap but then I discovered that the inch or so of paint at the bottom of the tin I knew I had left of the colour I use for my ground base colour had set solid in the can. This required a trip down town for a new can. The mix had been written on the can when I bought it about 8 years ago so it took no time at all to fork out way too much money for this vital colour. I’ll be using the whole can and then some when I commence work on the permanent layout’s scenery.

This shot shows the hut in place in front of the freshly painted ground and newly laid ballast. It was so new that I’d only finished flooding the ballast with white glue and water about 2 mins before I took this photo.

I wanted to get this little section of ballast glued down because it normally takes about 36 hours to dry. I’m visiting a friend tomorrow so everything should be nice and dry and ready for a base layer of foliage and perhaps a bit of tree planting on Tuesday when I next get a chance to work on the layout as I’m very unlikely to get any work time on it tomorrow.

Morpeth Control

After taking far longer than I’d planned, the final wiring for the Morpeth control panel was completed today and given a full test. To be clear; this is the local panel for the yard at Morpeth, not a panel to control the entire new much expanded Morpeth Line. I think I’m going to have to christen the whole layout the Morpeth Branch and thus Morpeth will simply become a destination on the line, in this case the terminus. I haven’t yet managed to run a train on Morpeth partly because I have to trim the point motor actuating wires in a couple of places as they are still sticking up above the rail head. However the main reason I didn’t get to running a train is that I got diverted onto another task and didn’t get to it.

I’m quite pleased with the way the panel came up. After lots of experience with working on layouts that have nothing labelled I went all out and labelled everything that I felt was needed. The main line out of the yard is labelled “To Queens Wharf” so as long as an operator knows that they are heading to Queens Wharf as they leave town there should be no need to ask the fat controller how they get out of the yard. I’ve also labelled the main industries and where the station is located. All the routes are indicated by LEDs except the double slip. while there are ways to wire up routes with LEDs for these pieces of track they seem to require a Mini Panel and while there’s one located under Morpeth it had already taken too long to get this far. I decided to skip it and put in two simple SPST switches and hope the operators can work it out. Yeah that’s going to happen πŸ˜‰

I purchased an Alps printer many years ago and, while it has never received the use I had expected it would, for printing water slide transfers/decals in white there’s nothing to beat it in my experience. It requires me to get out an old laptop with Windows XP with a Word 97 on it to allow the printer driver to work on it but the look and clarity of that white lettering is certainly worth it. Remember the office assistant paper clip on a skate board in Word? (It must have been about as popular as Ja Ja Binks because it disappeared long ago) Well it pops up every time I turn my old Compaq laptop on to print decals.

After I’d got the wiring done and the novelty of flicking the switches and watching the LEDs go on and off wore off I moved onto repairing the final bits of damage to the pier I wrote about causing a few months ago. I’d chopped off the end of the pier module to get it to fit into the layout room but I’d never relaid the last few inches of track at the end of the pier or wired it up properly. One of the lines also needed a detector to be installed in contact with one short section of rail, so while I was spiking a few inches of rail and installing the wiring permanently I also installed the detector and ran the wires from this back the Mini Panel that sits under one of the modules. I’ve never programmed one of these before but John my DCC guru assures me it’s a snap. I can feel that dreaded cold tingle crawling up my spine I always feel when he says things like this πŸ™‚

Finally I stood and contemplated the yard at Queens Wharf and made the final decisions about how I was going to rip the track up at one end and relay it to give me more length in the passing loop at this location. The yard needs a loop that will allow a middle length train to pull off the main and at the moment it simply isn’t long enough. After the NMRA convention at the end of September is out of the way and I’ve got a few loco projects off the to do list I’m going to lift a crossover in front of the dairy in QW yard and relay these 1.2m further along the line. I’m also going to install a goods loop at this location as the extra length will allow for this.

Luxury! πŸ™‚

Morpeth Control Panel

I had a couple of friends over last week and told both of them to “bring something to run”. I had about 5 days before they arrived and was working on re-wiring a section my portable layout Morpeth. “5 days will be plenty of time to get this done,” I thought. I don’t have to look up the meaning of the words “falling short” because I know. A week later I reckon I’m almost where I needed to be for their visit but I still don’t have trains running round the layout so perhaps I do need to get the dictionary out πŸ™‚

The one truly wonderful thing above all others about having Morpeth incorporated into the larger, permanent layout is that I can still tip it on its back and work on the wiring for big jobs like this one. No crawling about under the layout!!! πŸ™‚

In a fit of exuberance I agreed to open the layout up for the SE Qld NMRA Convention in September, deliver three talks (one at the some convention on a day the layout isn’t open) and take Morpeth to a convention in Armidale, about 7 hours drive up onto the New England plateau from my home in the next few months. As Morpeth has only ever made one brief day long public appearance in 2014 I decided to agree to the layout appearing at the New England convention in November but before this happened I had resolved that the layout needed a control panel to control the turnouts. Hence the wiring job.

Now deciding you want to install a control panel and actually doing so are two separate processes and when my friends arrived to run trains last week it turned out that the second was a lot more work than the first and I was at least 7 days short of getting it done. I’d managed to get Morpeth into the condition you can see in the above photo when they arrived but I hadn’t even completed the re-wiring of the layout, let alone the construction of the control panel which was a completely new item. Up to this point I’d relied on the “temporary” solution of throwing the turnouts by entering their DCC address into the throttles. This worked fine but it was not terribly visitor friendly and so I felt a control panel was required. People just “get” switches whereas entering DCC addresses into the system can be a little overhwhelming. I would need to get an NCE Button Board to let me hook up my Switch 8 to some physical DPDT switches. Operators could still throw the turnouts via the throttles but a control panel would be “safe”. Then I discovered I had a Switch 8 Mk I I had under the layout and that Button Boards require a MK Switch 8! 😦 In addition to this I also needed to rewire the section of layout where the control panel was to be located because this is a portable layout and portable layouts have wiring requirements that permanent ones don’t. One such requirement is having to get the wires along the layout via plugs and sockets rather than just running the wires from one place to another.

There are probably many different ways to get your wiring to cross baseboard joints but I settled on using 8 pin DIN plugs and sockets many years ago and I’m still using them. I have a standard way of wiring up both the sockets and short jumper cables I use (there are about 8 or 9 such jumpers on the layout now) so all I need to do when I have to add some more jumpers is get my notes out and repeat the way I’ve wired them before. Here you can see three sockets on the left (two of which are new additions) and the single socket on the right. I only needed one socket before but getting the wires to the control panel which is located adjacent to the layout segment on the left means that two more connections are needed. I added the two extra sockets on the right after this photo was taken. The hole on the board next to the bottom socket is for later expansion if ever needed.

After I arrived back from my cross country jaunt to Canberra and all points frigid the NMRA open house and Armidale layout appearance were only a couple of months away rather than half a year away. I had most of the components I needed for the construction of the control panel so I grasped the nettle and got stuck in. The main design challenge for the panel was that it was on a portable section of a permanent layout. When in portable mode it would be in a spot that wasn’t really suitable for use in permanent mode. It needed to be easily detachable and relocatable and out of the aisle on the home layout. It was going to hang off the front of the layout and the aisle where it needed to be wasn’t really wide enough to allow passage of operators when it was in place. In an exhibition environment there are no such constraints but I did need to be able to remove it for transport. I’d considered making a separate stand for it but felt this was overkill for small a 300mmX220mm panel (12″X9″) so decided to hang if from the layout through the use of a French Cleat.

A French Cleat is no more than a length of timber that has been champhered along one long edge with a 45 degree cut. This piece of 12mm ply has the 45 degree cut on its inner side and is permanently attached to the layouts fascia. This small section of ply will fit into the layout trailer with no modification to the rack the layout sits on for transport. There’s a corresponding cleat on the back of the small, wooden control panel.

In this photo the panel is set in place. It’s a little difficult to photograph the inner cleat but the strip of timber you can see on the upper side of the rear of the panel housing has a corresponding 45 degree cut to the one attached to the layout. The panel simply lifts off when it needs to be removed. I can assure you that the panel itself is extremely secure attached like this. There are no screws of fasteners needed, it simply slots in place and stays there till I need to remove it. The electrical connection to the layout is made via more DIN plugs and sockets, the wiring for the two needed you can see in the photo. Why is it called a French Cleat? Don’t ask me, I’m just a railway modeller πŸ™‚

I’ve made a good deal of progress on the panels top and the wiring for the connections but I think I’ll leave that for another time.



O-Scale Cross Country

Last week I started a long anticipated trip to the southern parts of New South Wales and our nation’s capital and arrived back yesterday afternoon after 6 days and approximately 2200 kilometers on the road. I had been planning on making jokes about the Leyland brothers having nothing on me but then the news last week was full of reports of their fiberglass replica of Uluru burning down so I’ve thought better of that and will play a straight bat for this report on my cross country O-scale adventure.

After the most recent O-scale forum in Sydney I approached Brian and Fran Thomas and asked if they would mind if I paid them a visit. They readily agreed and said “why not come when the Malkarra model railway exhibition is held”. I got home and told the better half about this and she responded “why are you going to Canberra in August? It’ll be freezing!” I will admit to quavering slightly but if the hardy souls of the ACT can live through winter there then so can I. I lived in Armidale for 6 years, how much colder can it be than the New England? I contacted Brendan Griffin and asked if he could put up with me for a night when I arrived in his home town of Bathurst on the way. He also readily agreed and I decided to drop in and visit a friend in Armidale on the first night when I stayed in that town. If I’d managed to find a way of spending the night in Oberon (officially the coldest town in NSW) I’d have had the full set of frigid regional centers πŸ™‚

I packed Harriet (my little truck) and we set off. On the night of my stay in Armidale I spent some time discussing the route with my friends and they advised heading out to Gunnedah and going via Coolah if I wanted to get to Bathurst, but I’m made of sterner stuff and headed off grid (and it felt like off the face of the earth). I turned off the New England Hwy at Willow Tree and started climbing, and climbing, and I did a bit more climbing and then the tar ran out…

I have no idea where this is beyond the fact that the road had turned to dirt and the location is about half way between Willow Tree and Merriwa up a bloody great big mountain.

This is a picture of Harriet on the road raring to go. The only problem is that I had no idea if we were actually headed in the right direction.

After topping the ridge and starting down a bit closer to sea level I saw a road crew and asked if this was in fact the road to Merriwa and the guy said yes. “A bit further down there you’ll see a sign leaning a against a tree and it says “Merriwa 25km”. Thanks! πŸ™‚ I did eventually find my way to Bathurst and then promptly got sent on a scenic drive over hill and dale by Google maps in the town when I turned it on. I’d told Brendan before arriving that I was going to take a photo of his layout progress to help motivate him to get something started but alas my plan came to nothing because the room remains a layout free zone. However I did snap a shot of his now famous road bridge. When my issue of 7th Heaven arrived in the mail today I read all about this beautiful model but I had one up on everyone else, I’d seen it in the flesh. I filled in the layout behind in my mind, as he hasn’t actually started building it yet πŸ™‚

I took a photo of this model of a small road bridge that Brendan says will some day come to reside on his layout. That’s the layout he keeps telling me he’s going to build. Ah retirement, where does all the time go? πŸ™‚

After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast that I could have climbed to the top of and planted a flag on I was off to Canberra to hunt out Brian and Fran. After a seven hour drive I easily found their place and spent a wonderful couple of nights talking trains and attending the Malkarra exhibition. I also got to see Brian and Fran’s layout and took a few shots.

This layout is big although by O-scale standards it’s really only medium in size. It’s a couple of meters longer and wider than the room I’m building my layout in and has vertical walls all the way to the ceiling! The theme of the layout is predominantly South Australian but there’s a pretty broad mix of stock on the layout with the heart of this being the scratch built stock built many years ago by Fran’s uncle.

I attended the Malkarra exhibition on Saturday and got the opportunity to insult Phil Badger and David “keep your eyes on your wallet” Low so that made driving 2200km well worthwhile πŸ™‚ The exhibition is held in school and it’s been running for something close to 45 years in the same venue. It had a wonderful community atmosphere and some fantastic layouts even if most of them were HO. You can’t have everything I suppose πŸ™‚

I’d like to thank Brendan, Julie, Brian and Fran for putting me up and feeding me. I had a wonderful time and only got lost a couple of times.



The View From The Fo’c’sle

I don’t know why but whenever I try to come up with a title for a post about my ship model I always find myself falling for cliches and jaunty sea language, well it’s probably only jaunty sea language to anyone who’s sea going experience is limited to a trip across Sydney Harbour on the Manly Ferry such as yours truly. I blame my father who happened to be in the Marines during the second world war. I don’t think he ever spent much time actually at sea beyond traveling out to India and back for his period in the forces in the early 40s and his trip to Australia when he migrated here with my mother in the early 50s. He had a real ear for language so my childhood was filled with a mad mixture of Cockney, Indian and sea slang. I’d never heard common Australian slang terms (for those highly unenlightened times) like wog or “too right” before my first year in school, but if it came to heading down the “old Kent road”, getting your laundry back from a “char wallah” or “splicing the main brace” I was your boy! How the heck does one go about splicing the main brace I wonder? My father never did explain πŸ™‚

So how does a railway modeller approach the construction of a ship model? Well in spite of my own expectations, slowly and with a complete lack of comprehension of genuine nautical terms. And this despite my father’s seemingly bottomless pit of weird and wacky ship and sea related terms. I’m convinced he picked most of his nautical language up from English films from the 40s and 50s like Carry On CruisingΒ  and the Cruel Sea πŸ™‚ I’ve made intermittent progress on the ship but after taking a couple of small steps my attention would turn to other things and the project would languish. The main distraction has been building my new layout but I kept saying to myself that as soon as I got a train to run right round the layout I’d make a proper start on the ship. If you read this blog regularly you would have seen what happened the other day πŸ™‚ However there was more to my lack of progress than the distraction and enthusiasm generated by a new layout building project. I think what really pulled me up short was the unfamiliarity of the waters into which I was sailing, where all the language and terms were unfamiliar (I thought clack valves was a strange term at one time), none of the lines were straight and frankly the quality of the instructions and the kit components was less than stellar. However I got a train round the layout earlier this week and I have a trip to take the layout on at the end of the year: it was time to get serious!

Maddi is keeping lookout from the poop deck as I glue in the first of the hull bulkheads a couple of months ago. This was the first in a sequence of wooden parts that are fitted inside the hull, although they require a great deal of cutting and shaping before they fit snugly. The parts are laser or die cut (this is the term used in the instructions but I think they were written prior to the common use of laser cutters and haven’t been updated) but there are no tabs or slots included to aid positioning and the modeller is left to muddle through on their own. One of the real problems of this kit has been the fiberglass hull and and its almost total lack of symmetry. It’s nicely detailed (although if the detail is wrong or lacking it has to be admitted that I wouldn’t know the difference ) but the fact that each side of the hull seems to bear only the most cursory similarity to the other side means that nothing can be taken for granted and every major part needs a great deal of modification. When you add to this the lack of familiarity I have with the names of things in ship models (with the instructions making the assumption that the builder is totally familiar with all things nautical) it’s little wonder I kept allowing myself to become distracted.

I got the first of several bulkheads and the main fore deck glued into position a couple of months ago and have been fiddling about with the parts for the fore castle for the past couple of weeks. However with the first train having traversed the perimeter of the layout and with a rapidly approaching public display of Morpeth (the original core portable layout Morpeth is still theoretically exhibitable) coming up I really needed to stop feeling cast adrift, make my way to port and get something done. So I started by pulling apart one of the few parts I’d already assembled and started assembling it again. Properly this time. Avast ye landlubbers! πŸ™‚

While this photo shows the disassembled parts of the fore castle, which I’d glued together a few months ago, it also shows the first real detail I’ve installed from among the half dozen bags of white-metal castings that came with the kit. Thankfully these all seem to be quite decent quality and I felt on far safer ground in cleaning up and painting them. Yes those are my first portholes, of which this ship has at least 20 , along with some doors (or are they hatches?) and a ladder leading to the fore castle (not the poop deck as that’s at the back! I better say stern or I’ll get keel hauled!!! πŸ™‚

Now that I’ve made these small steps I’m going to keep going, I really can’t afford not to as this model is supposed to be the centerpiece of the whole layout. I’ll keep you posted, or wave a semaphore flag, or flash one of those light thingys all ships seemed to have fitted to the bridge in old B&W war movies. Let’s just hope it’s not an SOS sent from the radio room of the Titanic πŸ™‚

Till next time…