Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Essential Library

Safe Hands, signalman Vic Smee, Kankool, May 1965. Photo copyright Robert and Bruce Wheatley

My wife Mary treated me great for Christmas, for she braved the rigors and fears of overseas credit transactions and two-week shipping times to give me the Wheatley brother's Railway Portraits Volume Two.

What a wonderful book, just as their first one was. Besides the quality of the images, their photography from the final days of steam railroading on the NSWGR appeals to me in so many ways--their ability to capture a moment, composition, and story-telling qualities, sure, but the humanity of the endeavour of operating the railway comes through in each photograph. I feel a connection to the people in the photographs, but also to the photographers, for how they came to make these photographs is very similar to my own early days trackside. While Robert and Bruce made themselves a fixture in the loco depots and platforms of the railway in the late 60s and early 70s, I too took up a camera in my mid-teens and spent a couple of intensive years photographing in black and white a railroading way of life that was doomed: the last years of the legendary Milwaukee Road in the Pacific Northwest of the states.

We certainly shared similar experience: late night photo sessions trackside in freight yards; roaming the locomotive shops as heavy repairs were being done; asking for cab rides; nagging station staff for train movement information; and, when the photography was all done, coming home and developing those black and white images in a makeshift darkroom in Mom's laundryroom.

Though I'm not a steam guy, per se (though the texture and detail in adding steam locomotives are certainly tempting to model!), much of the infrastructure and process of operating the NSWGR in 1965 was the same as it was in 1978-80, my modeling era. Thus, the photographs are a deep well of information to dissect and apply to my modeling.

Not only do I have the disadvantage of modeling an era now 30 years in the past, I model a location I really have no intimate knowledge of--so recollections of those who were there and books and photographs are mostly all I have to go on. That said, developing a library to assist my modeling is essential.

What are my essential titles in my Australian railway library? In no particular order:

  • Railway Portraits, Vol. 1 & 2
  • Day of the Goods Train, Ron Preston, Eveleigh Press: the nuts and bolts of operating goods trains, from infrastructure to goods sheds, wagons and air brakes to telegram messages.
  • From Grease to Gold Braid, Ken Ames, Iron Horse Press: for this Yank, a great autobiography of how "coming up through the ranks" worked in NSW. The lifetime career of a station master, his training, assignments and responsibilities. Drags a bit at times, but lots of nuggets of information I can apply to the model railway.
  • 48:Backbone of the Railway, Ron Preton, Eveleigh Press. The essential book on the essential NSWGR branchline locomotive. Really what inspired me to model Oz railways in the first place.
  • Units in Focus, Mead, Cotterall, Renton, Roundhouse Press. I've borrowed Lance Lassen's copy of this long out-of-print 1980 title so long he probably doesn't remember I have it. Precisely the era I model, and a fascinating mix of locos and freight loading back when trains were short and guard vans still rode along for the ride. Many great views of wheat trains out of the North-West. A companion title to Cotterall's earlier end-of-steam book.
  • Country Railway Stations: New South Wales series, edited by John Sargent, Train Hobby Publication. Chances are there's a station depicted in this six-volume series that you're currently modeling. Invaluable color resource depicting structures, paint colors, track arrangements and trains.
  • Branchline Modeler/Australian Journal of Railway Modeling,Vol. 1-10: Thank God these are still available. In depth coverage of modeling projects and topics, the likes of which you won't find much anymore in the current leading Australian railway modeling magazine. And not one article on recycling old film canisters or paint can lids! Hopefully, this magazine will come back in the near future.
  • Modeling the Railways of New South Wales, Convention Notes, 1986-2007. A full CD-R chock full of varied notes on convention topics; sort of a more organic version of AJRM on PDF.
  • Freight Wagons in New South Wales, 1982 John Beckhaus, AHRS, 1982. I've got to hand it to the "Mexicans," as they have probably a half-dozen titles on rolling stock: passenger equipment, two-axle and bogey freight wagons, etc. covering the Victorian Rail fleet. This thin thirty-year-old glimpse of the NSW PTC freight roster will have to do, I suppose. Not particularly well-illustrated given the constraints of format, but a snapshot of the fleet right at the tail end of the transition from two-axle equipment to modern bogey freight cars, just as the four-letter Australian-wide code system took over. I've scanned it to PDF's and store it on the hard-drive for easier access.
  • A Bulldog Odyssey, Bamberry. While these gorgeous EMD's were never found in Narrabri, and the book covers NSW only as part of a continental view, the color photography within its pages is stunning and inspiring.
Any titles on here I've missed that would further help me understand and model the North-West, circa 1978-80? What titles have inspired you?


Darren said...

Hi Bek,

You can never underestimate the usefulness of having a decent reference library.

You have the challenge of modelling an area from another country, my problems is modelling an era before I was even born!

I think this is where my love of the steam era comes from, trying to recreate something I never actually saw.

My reference library reflects the 50's through to the 70's in the main and contains the following.

* Australian Model Railway Magazine - every issue from 1977 onwards plus a dozen random ones from earlier years.

* Branchline Modeller and AJRM 1-10.

* Australias GoldenAge Of Steam.

* Seasons Of Steam by Laurie Andreson.

* Four Decades Of Railway Photography by Fred Saxon.

* Early Diesel And Electric Locomotives Of The NSWGR by M.Morahan.

* Steam In The Sixties by L Crow, D Mclean and R Selems.

* Chasing Australia Last Steam Trains.

* Full Steam Across The Mountains by Phil Belbin and David Burke.

* The Lithgow Zig Zag.

* 38 by John B. Thomson.

* Day Of The Goods Train by Ron Preston.

Day Of The Passenger Train by Ron Preston.

* Flyer by the N.S.W. R.T.M.

* The Richmond Vale Railway by Ron Preston.

* Locomotives of Australia by Leon Oberg.

* Steam on the Illawarra.

* Rail Views New South Wales

* Byways Of Steam no.10 and no.12.

* Railway Album No.2
* Railway Album No.5
* Railway Album No.7
* Railway Album No.9
* Railway Album No.10

* Newcastle Express.

* Rail Scene New South Wales Volume 12 by John Sargent

* Railways of NSW - In Steam, Short North by Ron Preston.

* Railways of NSW - In Steam , On Southern Lines by Ron Preston.

* Memories Of Steam by N.S.W. R.T.M.

* West By Steam by N.S.W. R.T.M.


Darren said...

Hi Bek,

Me again.

I should have added that along with your own personal reference library, don;t forget some of the online references.

I'm a big user of as there are a surprising amount of railway related photo libraries that ave been uploaded covering NSW operations from the turn of the century.

A quick search for Narrabri brought up the following results which you might like to check out.

Some contain trains from your era, and some are just great for getting the lay of the land, the colour of the fields, the colour of the track and ballast etc.

A general search for Narrabri goves a big list but there are soem great shots which lead to the authors own collections.

More rail specific collection featuring Narrabri

Typical Mid 80's shot featuring a 48 class.

August 1981 on a road trip to Narrabri. Wee Waa

two 80cl on the front, waiting for a path at Narrabri West.

Grain Silo, Narrabri NSW

Two 48s hauling empty grain wagons north towards Narrabri from Baan Baa on a Sunday morning in September 1974.

If you've got some time to look there are many more like these all there for the taking.


IainS said...

I can never resist a chance to discuss reference libraries - I got the DVD containing all the issues of Railway Transportation 1951-1974 which gives contemporary news on the changes to the railways of Australia and New Zealand during this time. Well worth purchasing from the ARHS NSW bookshop.

Unfortunately, Darren, it documents the introduction of the diesel!

Also I have a big collection of the Train Hobby books as well as the Byways of Steam series.


Darren said...

Hi Iain,

I have nothing against diesels, I'm very much looking forward to my two 40 Class (one green one red) arriving from Eureka.

Part of the reason I like that 50's to 1972 era is that steam and diesel very much co-existed. So I can still run 40's, 42's, 43's, 44's, 45's 46's, 48's and 49's alongside 32's, 33's, 35's 36's, 38's and Garratt's.

What more could one ask for in an era?


Ray P said...


While crusing through the Flickr Narrabri link posted by Darren in his second comment I found this shot of Wee Waa station yard in 1981, it should be very useful for you, assuming that you haven't already tracked it down.

Back to commenting on your post, you have the same response to the Wheatley's books as I do, the depth of information, aspects of the every day small jobs being done and the emotional content portayed by their photos is immense.
I enjoy looking into the background or to the side of the object being photographed and findin those little gems that help to put flesh on the bones of the NSWGR.

Ray P

BEK said...

Excellent links, Darren! And, Ray, I've already downloaded that Wee Waa photo. Perfect! That's the scene I'm modeling.