Monday, December 29, 2008

After a Holiday Break. . .

I'd not done hardly anything to the layout in the past three weeks. E-mails have gone unanswered, projects half-completed on the workbench are buried under other bits of correspondence. . .it's really a tough time of year to get anything done.

But this too will pass after January 01.

I'm looking forward to getting back after it.

I did solder in drops for as much of the layout as I have track laid for, and amused holiday guests by running a loco and a few wagons back and forth.

And I decided, in the interests of expediency and overcoming decision avoidance to just stick some N-scale Caboose Industries ground throws on the layout, until such time I really honestly decide how to throw my points.

Now, back to the never-ending party around our house. Be back after the New Year!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Decisions, decisions. . . .

DON'T make me use these!

Model railway design should encompass more than just benchwork, wiring, track planning and equipment--one should also consider just how the railway will be operated. The method of operation and its various nuances will influence things like how (even with DCC) electrical blocks are divided up, and how points will be thrown.

For lack of anything cheaper, easier to use, or more elegant in design, previous layouts I've built have used Caboose Industries ground throws to align the points. They're certainly cheap and easy to install, but there's no getting past that they're large, shiny, plastic lumps in an otherwise prototype-driven world--it's the price one pays for cheap and easy.

There've been lots of home-grown alternatives as the best way to throw points manually (i.e., without resorting to electric motors), ranging from hand-bent springs above the benchwork to inexpensive Radio Shack switches mounted below, attached to the throwbar with a piece of stout wire and manipulated through the fascia of the layout with a wire or dowel. One non-electrical solution is the Blue Point controller, which installs much like a Tortoise motor (and almost costs as much!) but is manually operated; another option for manual control is offered by Modratec using "wire in tube" connections. My preference is for manual control of points whenever possible--it just seems more realistic, from an operating standpoint, for train crews to actually throw points rather than just flipping an electrically switch to do the job.

Understanding "how" the New South Wales Railway operates should guide my decision. My cursory and admittedly flimsy understanding so far of NSWGR safeworking has led me to believe that nearly all mainline points are manipulated from a grouped "lever frame" where several points are thrown from one area. In some locations, these lever frames are located at the train station or staff office, and thrown by a station employee; at outlying areas at a station, train crews throw the points. Unlike US railroads, where train crews use a universal switch key to open locks at individual turnouts to set the points, the lever frames are unlocked using a "key" integrated into the same staff that gives them their authority to operate within a mainline track segment. . . thus, to be most realistic, I'd not use the Caboose Industries ground throws (which look horrible, anyway), and would opt for a model simulation of a ground frame (exactly what Modratec offers), or, barring that, at least grouping my point levers to locations on the fascia that would emulate what the prototype would do. . . ideally, they'd need to be unlocked using some sort of staff that also allows movement on the main track. Within shunting yards and away from the mainline and loops, single points are thrown, however, from levers adjacent to the points, much as in the US practice. And that's just the mechanical end of things--the modeler in me would of course want to feature the piping and levers and all that other stuff on the layout, even if static in nature, just to "look right." Then there's the issue of catch points, and . . . . .

This striving for prototype duplication leads somewhere else, too: how would one best model the staff system on a DCC layout? In reading descriptions of the operating rules and various scenarios on how trains were worked in the modeling press (and on line), it's clear that the staff safeworking system used in New South Wales is waaaaay different from what us Americans are used to. It would be easy, as a modeler living in the US, to just gloss over this difference: after all, if the trackage is based on Australian prototype, as are the structures and all the railway equipment, what harm will it do to run them just like we would here in the States? Modelers in the US are, after all, used to running trains a certain way. . .to learn a different way of doing so would really be a mind-blower! But if one does, indeed, strive to emulate the prototype with realistic track planning, judicious purchasing of equipment to match a specific time and place, the tabling of trains for operations to match what the real NSWGR did, etc., isn't it just dropping the ball NOT to model the safeworking system as thoroughly as possible?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

So while I go over and over in my mind on how to control the points on the railroad, let alone how I can create a model of an operating staff system, at some point, in order to get the damned thing operating, I'll have to make a decision. . .should I judiciously study if further, or just bite the bullet and go for a cheap, quick (temporary) alternative to use until the lightbulb goes off over my head, the "ah HA!" moment strikes, and I figure out the best way to deal with this?

Aussie modelers: what do YOU use to control your points?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Connecting the Top and Bottom

The Monster in the Corner, with test train. . .

Whew. Got the helix constructed, after three attempts. It's pretty solidly built--God forbid what will happen if (knock on wood) I get a plumbing leak in the wall void this thing occupies!
After two abortive attempts at building the thing, I took it down to the bare base and rebuilt it, taking care to measure the gradient on the climb upward, a task made quite a bit easier with my Husky "Professional 9"Multi-Function Digital Level with Storage Bag." This tool really made the helix possible to construct for an idiot like myself. Besides the usual visual bubble levels, this thing provides push-button access to a display that provides level in degrees, inches of rise to foot of run, and grade in terms of percentage.

Another view of the Helix. Sorry for the mess!

Husky digital level--invaluable for building a helix. . .

Irwin one-handed clamp: another must-have for helix construction.

The level helped keep us "honest" while laying the most important part of the structure, the sub-roadbed risers atop the base level. With the first level of roadbed secured to these at a constant 2.4% climb, it was mostly a matter of then adding level after level, separated by 3 1/2" high spacer blocks. Several blocks were held in place by clamps--including nifty one-handed clamps by Irwin--and each level's rise, in turn, could be measured and kept within limits.
It isn't perfect--you'd be amazed how little the difference there is visually between a 2.2% and 2.7% grade within an 18" run--but it is far more consistent than the first two attempts. Proof of this: a load test of a train of Auscision NGTY wheat hoppers behind a Trainorama 49 Class loco. The first attempt at the helix, complete with steep spots and a flat spot in front, found the loco barely able to take 9 cars and a brake van up the helix. The rebuilt version found it able to climb the grade with 11 cars and a van, and, with a bit of a running start, 12 cars and a van--a moot point, i'd guess, as the crossing loops will handle 10 of these cars, one loco and a van.

All that's left is cleaning up a couple of track joints, wiring track wiring feeders, and waiting for the upper benchwork to extend atop the helix towards the large circular sub-terminal. At that point, I'll secure the last 4 feet of upper level helix and work the vertical transition. Eventually, it'll all be encased by fascia panels. I'll likely add infrared detection sensors at the top and bottom of the helix for crews to be alerted when their trains are about to re-enter the visible portion of the layout.
The scene atop the helix should be visually interesting: a giant circular grain terminal, served by 2 tracks. A pair of tall concrete silo elevators will be adjacent to the circular structure, helping to hide the hole in the wall the mainline entering the helix makes. Here's a shot of the Grain terminal I'll be modeling.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

About the new 'North of Narrabri' photo. . .

Inspiration strikes in the strangest places. The other day, while entering the spare bedroom, I was struck at the silhouette image of a train in the staging yard against the south window. This evening, I set up a few locomotives and grain cars and had at it against the afternoon sky. With a little Photoshop magic wand action, I was able to tranform what was a piece of plywood, some track and a few models into an image of a 49 Class locomotive, FWH grain wagons in tow, trundling back to Narrabri ahead of a summer thunderstorm in 1979.

I'd never been there, certainly not 29 years ago, but through the magic of good models, a digital camera, and some computer software, anything is possible.

The Helix
It just gets better. After asking "what of?" on an internet discussion board, one theory was put forth that the helix flattened out where benchwork sections were spliced together prior to assembly atop the risers. This seemed to make sense, especially when I noted that splicer plates were stacked three-levels right atop each other. . . and their locations coincided with the dreaded "flat-spot." I didn't have flattening problems with roadbed sections "field joined" atop spacer blocks. So, back to the beginning. I've stripped the helix off the base, will reset the sub-roadbed risers, and reconstruct the helix roadbed, staggering the splices, using 1/4 plywood for the splice plates, and measuring the rise once again to see that the grade remains more consistent. I'm determined to get this right, despite the additonal hassle.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Staging trains. . .

Here's a photo of the upper-level staging yard (we'll say it represents "Werris Creek") in the spare bedroom adjacent the layout area. It only needs wire drops to the power bus and it'll be ready to go (when I get around to operating the railroad, that is!).

The Werris Creek yard contains five tracks--one 7' track (long enough for 12 FWH and 2 branchline locomotive), two 6 1/2' tracks (standard length of my crossing loops), and two 6' tracks. There is room to add a 2 1/2' track accessed via a switchback if it becomes necessary (long enough to hold, I'd suppose, a 3 car DEB set). The lower level staging, representing Moree, will only require four tracks according to the working timetable. Since its' low height above the workbench will significantly cut into my work space, half of the staging yard will be removable.

As you can also tell by the photo, the workbench--hell, the entire spare bedroom--is a real mess in the wake of the staging yard construction. But that's the way it is when I build something: get the project done, and let everything fall (literally) where it may in the meantime.

The M. C. Escher Helix
What about the helix, you ask? Isn't it done yet?? Nope.

Soon after my workgroup departed after the initial work session assembling the thing, I hooked up a DC power pack to the track and hauled out a representative train to test on the grade. I'd hoped a single Train-O 49 Class would handle 10 new Auscision grain hoppers and a guard van with little slippage, but such wasn't the case. The helix, it seems, has a flat spot that runs around 24" in length and significantly increases the gradient on ether end of the flatter stretch. I cna get the 49 Class and hoppers up the grade, but it requires a real touch with the throttle. I'd hazard that a 48 Class, when it becomes available, won't do as well, given its (apparent) lighter bulk.

Why is there a flat spot in the helix? Beats the hell out of me. I've disassembled it once already, remeasured everything half-a-dozen times, scratched all the hair off my head, and rebuilt it. . . same result. I'm guessing perhaps there's some formula i'm missing for the initial vertical easements for the grade that are translating slightly upgrade and causing the climb to flatten out. Until someone can explain this to me, this is, I guess, how it will stay. It's never as easy as it originally seems to be!

Vacation Planning. . .
Got my vacation dates from work set, and Lance and I have purchased Qantas tickets to Sydney out of Dallas-Fort Worth departing April 7 next year. We'll have two weeks to look around, take photos, take notes, watch trains, load up on Aussie hobby goodies and--we hope--meet several of the fine folks who've helped us thus far with our modeling projects from afar. Maybe we'll even be able to operate a NSW-based model railroad? Or two?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'round and 'round in the corner

Pearre, Shane and Frank--the "Pie Guys"-- get the helix going. . .

And here's what it looked like last spring. Progress!

It's been over a month since I last posted on this blog; don't take the lack of any reports as meaning there hasn't been any activity--on the contrary. While waiting to get some "experts" over to the house to help me assemble the critical helix linking the two levels of the railroad, I was busy with other things:

  • October meant the completion--at least for now--of the Namoi River bridge. It's "good enough" for right now to run trains over, as it has been painted and Micro Engineering bridge flex track attached atop. I've still got to add the guard rails, various details (such as nut-bolt-washers), etc to it, but that can wait until I go back at some point and scenic the river area. For now, it's operable, and at this point, that's good enough for me.
  • Also used plans of the Narrabri passenger station to make a rough illustration board stand-in structure, again, until i get around to scratch building a permanent structure. I built a very crude refreshment room, based soley on a few photographs.
  • Finally got around to fabricating and installing points on the upside of Narrabri West's yard, and laid the mainline down along where the station there will reside. I've got around a dozen points left to fabricate for the upper level, which, thank God, puts me well over halfway done for the upper deck.

The biggest construction milestone has been moving ahead on the helix. I'd never built one before, so this also has been a big challenge for my admittedly limited brain! The helix is 60" across with a 27" radius curvature linking decks 16 inches apart with four inches between levels. . .that works out, accounting for vertical easements on the top and bottom, at around a 2.4% gradient. A single 48 Class SHOULD be able to pull a 10 car grain train plus guard van around the helix. . .this is just an assumption based on what a 47 Class pulled in trials on a friend's layout. We'll see next March, I suppose!

This past evening, a number of my modeling mates, which call themselves the Thursday Night Pie and Jazz Society (which has nothing to do with pie nor jazz), met at my place to help get the helix built. Consider this the model railroading equivalent of an Amish barn-raising. I don't think our group has met in at least a year, so it was good to see those who could make it: Frank Treadaway, Pearre Davenport, Chris Atkins, Shane Murphy and Donovan Furin all gave up an evening to help the helix get around 70 percent completed. So far, so good. It appears my limited math skills worked this time. Thanks, guys!

Before building a helix, there's a ton of prepwork involved, so thanks to Lance Lassen's hard work, I had the basic parts ready for assembly: a free-standing frame for the helix to sit atop was constructed out of the "hole in the wall," four sections of helix benchwork, pre-assembled, with track laid atop them. I chopped a few dozen spacer blocks to uniform length and the railroad room was picked up a bit to make it semi-habitable. Most importantly, deep-dish pizzas were ordered to fuel the work crew.

All veterans of helix construction debate what's "good enough"--Chris, Shane and Frank.

I had been undecided whether to use "all-thread" steel rod in the helix construction over the less-fussy, cruder-looking, but quicker to assemble wood-block spacing method. Expediency won out over finesse, and after three hours of work, the crew had assembled three of the four levels of the helix as well as hung the "Werris Creek" staging yard benchwork in the adjacent spare bedroom.

Construction Timetable
The holidays are fast approaching, and with it, considerably less time to be devoted to playing with toy trains. I had set a goal to have the helix installed and ready for the lower-level benchwork to go in by Thanksgiving, and hopefully I'll meet this goal. December, rightly so, will be given to family pursuits, but I hope to sneak away to maybe instal switch motors on the mainline points, perhaps completing track wiring on track already laid, and installing the guys of the EasyDCC system. Then it's into 2009, with these monthly goals:

  • January: Complete benchwork and trackbed for Narrabri sub-terminal grain area; complete upper-level trackwork (with exception of loco depot); complete trackage and wiring in Werris Creek staging yard; build portion of lower-level benchwork that would allow a temporary "Moree" staging yard. Completion of these steps would allow tabled train operations to begin.
  • February: Complete lower-level benchwork and backdrops on Edgeroi-Gurley section; build lower-level staging yard; finish upper-level lighting valance and finish work exterior of helix.
  • March: Complete basic landforms and roadbed on lower level. Install lower-level mainline
  • April: Two week trip to Australia, beginning April 9. Install lower-level lighting and trimwork.
  • May: Finish lower-level trackwork with construction of goods, silo and stock pen trackage.

This should bring me to summer and its many diversions from the layout room. But by this point, the railroad will be fully operational, electrically and in terms of track plan. Everything beyond this is cosmetic: tidying up the visual impact of the layout and bookshelves, the commencement of scenery, and scratchbuilding of structure. But I can certainly take my time getting the last 30% of the layout completed. . .maybe I'll get around to actually detailing, painting and weathering locomotive and rolling stock?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Namoi River Bridge Pt. III

Branchliner 4914 crosses the unfinished Namoi River bridge with a rake of FWH.

After a week of off and on progress, the Namoi River Bridge has nearly spanned the 250-some foot gap between Narrabri and Narrabri West.

I hesitated making this too easy on myself. . . the simplest solution would've been just to plunk down $30 or so for a plastic Walthers kit that was generic in nature--North American, certainly not NSWGR. Another option was a laser-cut wood kit; given that I'd probably need four or five of them to reach across the river bed, at $30 a pop, this was cost prohibitive. A third option was to purchase the wooden trestle bents pre-made--again, they wouldn't have "looked" correct for NSWGR, and these were around $5 a piece, and depending upon the bent spacing, i'd have needed 10-15 of them.

But, armed with two sets of NSWGR plans provided by Ray Pilgrim, i decided to expand my modeling horizons and scratch build the structure. I needed to resolve conflicts between the two plans, namely, the actual plans for the bridge on the branch near Wee Waa, which featured 14' spacings between trestle bents, and a plan not specific to site in which the bents were 24' apart. I decided to go with the 14' spacings, but combined this with the 9'6" Korbel atop the bent pilings and two layers of support beams. The bents consisted of three pilings, consistent with NSWGR practice for trestles under 18' in height. Spaced 14' across, and including a bent at each end of the bridge against the wing walls, I'd need 18 bents for the 250' bridge.

Doing it on the Cheap
Material costs so far for the bridge have been minimal: under $40. The trackage will be a Micro Engineering Code 70 open deck trestle 36" piece of bridge flex track, which includes guard rail pieces, around $10.00. The rest of the cost is lumber, and thanks to Michaels, a local craft shop, these were exceeding reasonable: two $1.99 packages of 1/8" X 12" dowels; 15 1/8" square X 24" pieces of strip wood (at $.59 each); and from my local "last resort" hobbyshop, two packages of Northeastern Scale lumber, much more expensive--4" X 8" scale strip for the diagonal bracing, and 12" X 6" strip for the crossmembers which tie the pilings together. . .both for around $3.50 each. I've yet to price out the nut-bolt-washer castings, since i've not yet convinced myself I want to face the frustration level of adding them to the bridge!

Wood glue sticks to the strip wood and dowels, but not to the styrene trestle jig, where 18 bents were assembled on the workbench.

Making it hard on myself. . .
If I had been thinking, I would have held off doing any landform work in the bridge area before completing this structure. The best way to build the trestle would've been to assemble it on a piece of wood on the workbench, and after assuring everything was square and fit perfectly, installed the bridge on the layout, building the scenery around the bridge. As it was, I assembled each bent on the benchwork in a styrene jig, then assembled the bents on the layout in place, inserting the middle bent piling into a hole drilled into the stacked ceiling tile along the 31 1/2" radius centerline. This resulted in much more work and fussing to keep the bridge in alignment, and consistent with most of my other scratchbuilding efforts, the bridge has a couple of little dips in it and through one section along three bents the radius is abit less than originally called for. Before the bridge is "permanently" installed on the layout, I'll be sanding down a couple of high spots atop the support beams the trackwork rests upon. Being as this is a fairly light-duty trestle to begin with, the somewhat less-than-perfect quality of the bridge alignment just "adds to the charm".

After assembly in the jig on the workbench, each bent was moved to the layout, where it was positioned along a radius center line. . .

. . .and then the 12" X 12" support beams between the bents are glued into place. Small clamps have proved very handy (thanks, Mary, for the great stocking-stuffer!)

I've still got to finish the last three bents as well as "backfill" the scenery forms behind the not-yet-built wing walls. . .then there's the "detail work" of cables that bind the bent columns to the korbels and the NBW castings, and the painting and the weathering and the fitting. But, the majority of the heavy lifting is (I hope) done at this point.

So, i hope you don't mind a shot of a grain train on what's been completed so far. . .another mock up image to keep me motivated towards the end product. . .

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mood Music. . .

On the way: On Track Models Louvre Van. . .

. . .and the Auscision NGTY grain hopper.

I love the internet.

Can you tell? So, now when I'm slaving away making bridge bents for the Namoi River crossing, I can hear what's going on in Narrabri (that's Nair-a-bry, by the way), by listening to 2Max FM 91.3 "The Voice of Narrabri" on streaming audio. What book about Australia did I read that said that radio in the small inland towns is virtually nothing but oldies? Seems to be the case. But a nice mix of music you might not have heard in a while. How about Charlie Rich and "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues?" Doris Day and "Sentimental Journey?" "L.A. International Airport?" This is a better music mix that most so-called "hard country" stations in the DFW area. And the local chatter and adverts are learnin' me some pronounciatin'.

Got to get the bridge finished so I can link Narrabri and Narrabri West. I've got a railroad to run, especially when 12 of these and nine of these are coming in the mail in the near future.

Excuse me, Ross is coming up with "music for the truckies," 4-8pm on Fridays. Right now, it's a Marty Robbins song about the "Siege of the Alamo". . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Here's what I aspire my layout to someday even come 25% of approaching for quality,

Thanks, Ray, for the continuing inspiration. Now, i'll get back to struggling along with building a pile trestle (that plastic Walthers kit is looking better by the moment, but, alas, quite North American). . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Namoi Bridge, Part II

The 4914, once more, with a train of RU wheat wagons on a very spindly bridge over the Namoi River. . .a mock-up of the 240-some-odd foot crossing between Narrabri and Narrabri West on the North-West NSW layout. . .

I've been putting off working on the west bank of the Namoi River bridge area for a bit now. The first go-round on the east bank (up side) went well, but the ceiling tiles left a God-awful mess sur-forming them to shape. But, apparently I've got that figured out--liberally spray the tiles with soapy water as you carve along, and most of the dust is eliminated.

The other reason for pushing it lower to the list is because I've never built such a bridge before. One of my Aussie Angles came to my rescue with a great set of plans for standard NSWGR pile trestles with 24' pier spacings, so I really no longer have an excuse anymore!

Ceiling tiles stacked up on the west bank of the Namoi River. These have been roughly cut and cemented in place; when the glue is dry, they'll be contoured into riverbanks and the bridge approach.

So I spent a little time this afternoon cutting and gluing stacks of ceiling tiles on the west bank, roughly cutting them to contour. After several hours of letting the glue set up, I got out the rasp and did a little preliminary contour work. I'll hold off the rest until the glue fully cures.

I did start thinking of how I'd build the bridge. I came up with around 226' in length from abutment to abutment, and with 24' pier spacing, that came up to 9 piers. Since the height of the bridge would be below 18', I cna get away with the 3-post piers, seen in this view of a bridge near Wee Waa (if I could recall where I got this photograph, I'd either credit the photographer or thank him personally):

A pair of "candy" 48 Class Alcos on a passenger special in 1991 approaching Wee Waa, atop a three-post pile trestle. These appear to be much closer together than the 24' NSWGR plans I have. . .

There is some question when the actual bridges (there are two--one for the river itself, one for a flood plain) between Narrabri Jct. and Narrabri were rebuilt to the current concrete-and-steel-girder construction. Could it be before 1978? In this case, I'm going for the downtrodden-and-rustic look regardless of what the prototype used at the time. I like wooden pile trestles, and this is my layout's one big bridge. . .

I'd measured out the location of the piers and set some long drywall screws into the scenery, placing my section of Micro-Engineering Code 70 bridge track atop it. And. . .i couldn't resist. . .I once more mocked up a scene. I think this will be a fine looking scene: image it with a real trestle, static-grasses and other weeds, a small but muddy river, and a smattering of tall trees in the back of the scene.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The 49 Class arrives. . .

A different sound in the North-West today: EMD-powered 49 Class branchliner 4914 came downbound from Werris Creek Friday on a short goods train. . .seen here passing Edgeroi bound for Moree. . . .

EMD's were quite the minority in the North-West of New South Wales. The NSWGR was mostly an Alco railroad, especially on the lines out of the Werris Creek loco depot in the 1960s and 70s. The 49 Class--an Clyde-GM six-motor version of the popular EMD G8 export locomotive--were delivered to work between Parkes and Broken Hill, although they did occasionally trickle into Narrabri.

I'd been contemplating a purchase of one of the wonderful Trainorama models for quite some time, and finally gave in, the 4914 with thin-valence arriving last Friday, direct from West Ryde, NSW. After seeing a 49 class "in the flesh" so to speak, I must amend my earlier assessment of this locomotive as being uninformed: they're quite attractive little engines, once you get beyond the standard 3/4 view.

A group shot of my growing loco fleet was in order, so here's a 49 Class, a 47 Class, and a 44 Class--GM, Catepillar/Hitachi, and Alco--standing ready.

And, inspired by the Photoshop talents of Ray Pilgrim, I offer the photo at the top of this posting of the 4914, still in shiny Tuscan paint. Apart from the track, the trees, and the train, everything else in the photo is pasted in from somewhere else. Who needs a layout when you have Photoshop CS2?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Let There be Light!

The shadow-box effect in a darkened room. . .

Just got a package in the mail containing a few T4 "low profile" fluorescent lights I'd ordered on ebay, and I think they'll do quite nicely to light the layout.

I've always wanted a layout with a "shadow box" presentation--ideally a dark room with just the layout fully illuminated like a museum diorama. But, living in Texas, a layout built in any sort of "bonus room" will have a soaring 10-12' high ceiling. (The best space for a layout, I'm thinking, is in a basement with 7' or so ceilings, low enough to hang your lighting from not too far above the layout and lending itself to such a shadow box effect.) With the last two layouts I've built, I'd resorted to hanging cheap "Lights of America" dual T12 fluorescent tubes at the ends of chains dangling from the high ceilings--a lower-cost solution and alternative to building a valance above the layout (essentially constructing a whole other level of benchwork to attach the lighting to)--but one that doesn't look nearly as "finished" as the shadow box design.

With the Narrabri layout, the "finished layout room" ideal is one of my goals--no hanging light fixtures at the end of chains, and hopefully, no unsightly open storage area under the shelved layout sections. Eventually, the whole layout will be "finished" and blend into the room, which will someday also be used as sort of an upstairs home theater as well.

Size comparison: T12 tube on left; T4 tube AND fixture on the right. . . and the T4 puts out just as much light and uses 30% less energy. . .

Another size-comparison. . . .

Back to those T4 tubes. They're not commonly found in your neighborhood Home Depot or Lowes; usually you'd have to go to specialty lighting stores or perhaps an "indoor gardening" store (supplying, well, high intensity lights for those who wish to grow "whatever" inside away from prying eyes). The T4 (and nearly identical T5) lights are very small in size compared to larger T8 and T12 tubes, and provide as much or more light with less wattage. . idea for use as under-deck lighting on a model railroad. Other modelers have tried "rope lights" with very little light output as well as strings of LED lighting which currently is quite expensive by comparison. Some "expert" have used compact fluorescent lights in screw-in fixtures, but wiring all these fixtures didn't sound like something I wanted to get involved in; besides, the pattern of light produced by these CFL's, to me, were less desirable for a narrow, linear layout than fluorescent tubes are.

These T4 fixtures are truly compact, 3/4" across and only 1 1/4" deep, so they're perfect for under my thin-profile layout decks. And they're bright--the 28W 46" long tube provides just as much illumination (2900+ lumens) than the much thicker 40W T12 equivalent and uses 30% less electricity. Five of the fixtures can be daisy-chained together on the same circuit. I figure I'll need a total of 17 fixtures for the railroad, a total of around 750 linear inches. On-line searching has found fixtures than can illuminate the railroad for around $.71 an inch; around $500 for the whole railroad. . .a bit more than using CFL's and screw in bases, but with, I feel, a better quality of light. Lighting--good lighting--isn't cheap. Figure the cost of at least a few locomotives to do it right.

Fixtures attached to L-girder stiffeners along the front of the lighting valance. They can either be daisy-chained using short cords between fixtures, or butted next to each other using a small adapter.

With a half-hour of work, I had the first three "test" fixtures installed above Narrabri, and I was damned impressed by how they look. I've already ordered the rest of what I'll need to finish the layout, and I highly recommend these to others looking for an easy to install and compact lighting system for their shelf-type model railroad.

Good, even lighting--and lots of it. Sorry for lack of depth of field. . this shot hand-held without a tripod.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Motive Power of the North-West. . . .

48 Class 4852, assigned to Werris Creek loco, on the inspection pit at Narrabri West. These were the dominant locomotive in the North-West (Photographer unknown; apologies if the photographer objects). . .

Now that construction is well along on the upper level of the North-West NSW layout, it might be a good time to look at the locomotives and rolling stock that will populate the railway when it is up and operating. First, the locomotives.If you like Alco locomotives, you'd love the New South Wales Railway of the 1970s. Alco was the dominant motive power in NSW, with only a few token orders of EMD-powered locomotives denting the Alco dominance.

For photographs of these and all other classes of Australian locomotives, I truly recommend Brian's Loco Photographs.

48 Class
The prototype: The branchlines of New South Wales were dominated by 165 48 Class Alco-Goodwin DL-531 delivered in four batches between 1959 and 1970. The six-motor locomotives weighed only 170,000 lbs, and were powered by a six-cylinder Alco 251B. These locomotives killed off steam on the North-West branchlines; the locomotives working through Narrabri were largely assigned to Werris Creek. Even today, the surviving 48's, largely from the higher-numbered fourth series, toil on for current owner Pacific National. A handful of other older units survive in service for the smaller operators, many leased from museums. The model: Powerline has had a model of the 48 class available for over 10 years; however, the detail is clunky, the wheel sets equipped with "pizza cutter" flanges, and the drive. . .well, only one truck is powered. At least two third-party replacement underframes with six-axle drive are available, as are a slew of detail parts. However, all this will be rendered obsolete sometime next year when Trainorama delivers their first release of this locomotive. The early samples look very nice! I've got an initial three on order, and will likely order a few more when the Mark III or Mark IV versions are produced.

Detail photos of a test-run of the new Trainorama 48 Class, due 2009. (photo stolen off the Trainorama website)

49 Class
Amid the flood of 48's being delivered in the early 1960s, NSWGR turned to Clyde-GM for an equivalent EMD-powered branchliner, the 49 Class, or G8C model. Powered by an 8-cylinder EMD 567CR, 18 950-horsepower 49's were delivered between 1960 and 1964, largely as a political favor to keep Clyde interested in the New South Wales market. Weighing in at 180,000 lbs., they were largely assigned to operate between Parkes and Broken Hill, though they were occasional visitors to Narrabri. Personally, I don't think they're the most attractive locomotives in the world, but their chunky looks are distinctive. The model: Brass imports and white-metal kits of the 49 Class have been available for while, but Trainorama has delivered a superbly detailed and smooth-operating model early in 2008. I'm adding one to the roster .

47 Class
The wierdest of the trio of "branchliner" diesels in the NSW was the 20 Catepillar-powered locos built by Goninan in 1972-73. The locomotives were troublesome throughout their careers, prone to overheating. They were also occasional visitors to Narrabri, though assigned most of their careers to Bathurst or Broadmeadow (Newcastle). The 16-cylinder prime mover delivered 1130hp, weighing 180,000 lbs. Supposedly, the NSWGR was hard up for more branchline locomotives at the time to complete dieselization; Clyde refused to bid on an order, and Goodwin was unable to deliver additonal 48's in a timely manner. The model: The first of the trio of Trainorama NSWGR branchliner models--stunning. Wish I needed more than one!

44 Class
Operation of the 100 DL500B "world locomotive" Alco-Goodwin cab units was rare into Narrabri; but, i'll exercise a bit of modeler's license here. Essentially a cab unit version of an RSD15 with 1940 horspower output using a 251-series Alco prime mover. These units worked every mainline in New South Wales since their deliver commenced in 1957. Most were retired by the early 1990s, but a handful survive in service today for CFCLA and Independent Railway of Australia as well as heritage operators. The model: Though Lima has offered a rather crude model for years, Trainorama--who else?--offers a superb model. The 4464 was my first Australian model, and led me into this madness. . .

442 Class
Australian railways in the 1970s embraced the double-ended boxcab arrangement for locomotives. . .unfortunately. In New South Wales, the railway followed the national trend by acquiring 40 updated DL500B's, designated the DL500G, in 1971. Powered by the Alco 12-251C, these also produced around 2000 horsepower. The "Jumbos" were built by Goodwin, and, after it went out of business, Commonwealth Engineering (Comeng). They too served across the state on all mainlines before their demise in the 1990s. Several were scrapped, though most survived, either revived by operators such as Silverton, or used as rebuild fodder for CFCLA. The Model: I believe AR Kits/Lloyds Models produced a white metal kit, but the most popular version was produced by Austrains and is still occasionally found on ebay or Oztion. Austrains is planning to upgrade the model and rerelease it in 2009 or 2010. I'll be adding one of these for freight service when I can find a good deal on a used one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Namoi River bridge, blue skies, and points

Mocked up: 47 Class crosses "Namoi River" roughed in with ceiling tiles. . .

Crossing the Namoi River
Between the stations of Narrabri and Narrabri West on my model railway, the Namoi River must be bridged. On the prototype NSWGR, two lengthy pile trestles (similar to the one between Narrabri and Wee Wa) cross the river and its flood plain between Narrabri Jct. and Narrabri; the river helps define the area, so a model of the bridge--shortened considerably--is a signature element of the railway in Narrabri. Such a river crossing and bridge would be a first for me as a modeler, so building such a crossing on an otherwise nearly-flat upper deck was a bit intimidating to me. The bridge isn't that tall--less than 20' or so--and will be approximately 200 scale feet long.
Ceiling tiles carved to profile. . .

To model the sloping river bed and the approaches of the railway to the bridge, I'm following methods used by U.S. modeler Jim Six and using stacked layers of ceiling tile, shaped and sanded to a correct profile. The construction of the east bank of the river so far has been extremely dusty--when I complete the west side, I'll wet down the ceiling tile beforehand with soapy water from a spray bottle. But so far I'm impressed by how well ceiling tile contours. An alternative would be 2" thick extruded insulation foam. I mocked up the scene, once again, and posed my trusty 47 Class and a few FWH atop a thin board filling in for the not-yet-completed pile trestle.

Paint test--blue sky and Indian Red. . .

A deeper blue sky
The styrene sheet backdrop on the layout is re-cycled from the previous Walla Walla Valley. I never was happy with the shade of blue used on it however; while it looked great to the eye, it photographed nearly white. Since I had to repaint portions of the backdrop anyway following puttying and sanding of the new seams, I decided a slightly darker shade was in order. I photographed my 47 Class locomotive under the flourescent light with paint samples from the local home-improvement store in the background. From the photo, I chose a shade--Behr "Windjammer," from Home Depot-- that looked slightly darker than a near-horizon shade of blue, then blended that darker blue with the lighter blue paint I already had on hand. I'm pleased with the result. At some point, clouds will be added as well as landforms near the horizon.

Final choice: Behr "Windjammer" doesn't blow out in photographs.

Fast Tracks Code 70 #7 points in place. . .

Do-it-yourself Points
If I had my druthers, I'd purchase all my trackage ready-to-run. Thankfully, MicroEngineering offers great-looking Code 70 flex track. But when it comes to turnouts (points), I have to balance availability, esthetics of the product, and price in order to build a railway with nearly 50 turnouts. With the exception of a few crossing loop points that will be #8 frog geometry, nearly all the rest of the points on this layout will be a #5. And since I've settled on Code 70 rail for a more prototypic look than the usual Code 83 profile, my choices of ready-to-run are pretty limited. Actually, quite limited. As in, none. So that leaves me the option of buckling under and using Code 83, changing to a longer frog turnout, such as a #6, or sticking to my guns and going with the Code 70 #5 option--even if it means scratch-building the turnouts. Thankfully, I'll have a little help in the process thanks to the folks at Fast Tracks, who offer a nifty aluminum jig to hold components in gauge while you assemble a turnout using MicroEngineering rail, PC board copper-clad ties, and laser-cut ties to finish the model. They also offer a nifty tool that holds rail in place for filing into precise points and frogs as well. The initial prices is high for a starter kit (which includes the jigs, the filing tools, some rail, solder, contact cement and PC and wooden ties enough to get you going), but I figure by the time I've completed the turnouts I need the cost will be down to around $12-14 per turnout. Since Peco Code 83 #5 turnouts are going for around $25 a piece these days, this makes economic sense. And the turnouts look pretty nice, are very smooth-operating, and feature a much-nicer looking continuous rail from frog to points. My first turnout built using the jig was perfectly acceptable, and took around 2 hours. Now I've completed nearly 10 of them, they're even more nicely assembled, and I'm down to around 1'15" per turnout of construction time.

Two last Mock Up photos. . .
It's heartening to get to this point where I've got some track down, I'm ready to go with wiring, and no too far from putting down ballast, ground cover and dirt. Here's a couple final views at Narrabri:

Nearly ready for ground covering and structures: NSWGR 4716 leads 10 WHX wheat hoppers through Narrabri. . .

Going-away view as Guard Van passes the Keys Pty. Ltd. flour mill. On right distance is carriage shed spur; left distance is the station, and beyond that the goods shed.

Next: Locos and Rolling Stock--prototype and appropriate models. . . .

Benchwork begins. . .

Finally--some benchwork is added. The plywood/ceiling tile/l-girder structure atop the shelving brackets. . the styrene backdrop will be glued/stapled to the vertical wood pieces.
Most of the upper level of benchwork has been erected. I figured I'd at least get this portion of the railroad in place first, as it would determine the elevation from which the in-wall spiral would descent from--54" rail level above ground height. The rail height of the lower level would be "around" 16 inches below this--or 38" high. . .among the operations crowd, this would ensure a layout not tall enough on the upper level, and too lower for a lower level. But, double-deck layouts are strange beasts, fraught with compromises.

One key in double deck layouts is to make the thickness of the upper-level benchwork as thin as possible. In addition to the rack, and the roadbed and the benchwork itself is the under-deck lighting which must be hung from the underside of the upper deck as well--figure at least another 2" in depth for that, using T8-sized flourescent tubes (which though pricey, are ideal for this linear application.
The benchwork is 1/2" birch plywood, secured to the shelving brackets protruding from the wall atop 1 X 4" pieces. The "back" of the benchwork (i.e., against the wall) is shimmed up with thin wood strips to level the surface front-to-back; the whole thing is tied together with wood screws. The photograph illustrates this better than I could explain it:
A good look underside of the shelving brackets atop which rests the benchwork itself.

Close look at thin wood shims atop the wall-end of the brackets to keep the benchwork level. The upward cant of the brackets is the only downside, I feel, in using them.
To reduce the tendency of the plywood to flex, dip and bow, an L-girder (a 1 X 3" or 1 X4" stud abutting a 1 X 2" piece) is screwed parallel and along the front edge of the plywood. This also provides a sturdy base to attach fascia on the front of the layout.
The sub-roadbed is layered Armstrong acoustical ceiling tile--"poor man's homasote". I scoffed at its application when Donovan in Dallas used it on his layouts, but after seeing what a nice surface it gave Harry Bilger on his Moscow, Idaho layout up in Whitesboro, I was sold. This material can be stacked and contoured to make low-level landforms, and once you get the dust problem solved while cutting and planing it to shape, it's a great material to work with.
So, how thick is this upper level? Let's figure 1" for ceiling tile and plywood, and another 2 1/4" for the L-girder--that's 3 1/4", and the fascial will probably hang another 2 inches lower than that. . . 5 1/4". That'll leave 11 3/4" "clear" between upper and lower levels. As reknowned model railroader and editor Tony Koester would say, "not great, but adequate."

A long strip of .030" thick styrene sheeting used on the previous layout for backdrop was attached to the wall bracket uprights, and just like that, it was starting to look like a layout! All I was missing was track. . . structures. . . railway equipment. . .and fascia!

Here's a photoshopped test of several possible colors for fascia.

Speaking of fascia, with the first sections of layout in place, it seemed to be a good time to mock up the two levels and overhead light valance for a photograph and photoshop in the fascia as a test to see what color might work best. Do you have a preference?

Narrabri mocked up. It won't be long before trackwork can commence. . .
With the upper level largely in place, I couldn't resist the urge to throw down some pieces of flex track, position them about where they'd be in the Narrabri West yard, put down a few pieces of railway equipment, and mock up the scene. I often think about how scenes would look when I plan a layout, so when I reach a point to put a quick mock-up down, I don't hesistate to do so.
Next: build me a river bed. . . a deep blue sky. . .and a mystery package from Canada arrives. . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's get started. . .

. . .the old WWV layout has now come down, been consigned to memory, some of the track salvaged, much of the dimensional lumber disassembled and stacked for later use, the plywood layout top unscrewed, track removed, and stashed out of the way for later use.

The demolition begins. . .

First thing we'll need to do is make a bigger hole for that 26" radius spiral to fit into. That's 52" across for the track, plus another 6" or so for benchwork, making it nearly five feet in diameter. THAT will quickly chew up available space in a room, but luckily, the builders of our house for some reason left a 30" deep space for utilities--ductwork, drip lines from the overhead HVAC, and water pipes--between the "great room" and upstairs bathroom. We'd be foolish not to exploit it! So, armed with a hammer, a drywall saw and a jigsaw, let's open that sucker up!

Inside, the space is nearly clear, with the exception of two drain pipes from the HVAC, which were easy to reroute to provide necessary clearance for the helix. That might look like a big-ass hole in the wall. . .but, as some famous model railroader--Lin Wescott? John Allen? Donovan in Dallas?--once opined, "Shit! It's only drywall!" Indeed!

Looking better with a little new paint. . .

With the old layout removed and the hole opened up in the wall, I decided to pretty up the room a bit by painting over the old drab dark green/grey paint with something a bit more contemporary. . .most of which would be covered up by the new layout, anyway. But, two gallons of eggshell latex later, the room was looking pretty good.

Making progress on repainting the railroad room. . .

The plan for construction is this: build the upper level first; get the wall brackets and benchwork in place, lay in the backdrop and paint it, put down the roadbed and some track. That should keep me entertained most of the summer. Maybe by fall we can interest a posse in constructing the spiral to the lower level. And then by spring of next year, maybe we'll get the lower level in place. At some point will come the staging tracks in the adjacent bedroom, the lighting valance above the upper level, and finishing out the storage area below the lower level benchwork to look presentable.

And with the painting completed, construction begins--oy! A mess quickly overwhelms the worksite!

Okay, the hole is cut into the wall, holes from the old layout patched up and the room has been repainted. Heavy equipment has been moved into place (a kick-ass chop saw courtesy Matt Sugerman), and we've put the wall bracket hangers in place and mocked up a couple of "pretend" levels of the layout to get an idea of potential heights to place the two levels. At this point, it's a God-Awful mess in there. . .but we'll get around to that in a bit.

Next: a thin-profile upper level benchwork. . . .

The Layout Plan

As I move forward with construction on the layout, I guess a rough idea of the plan for the railroad may be of some use.

So, here it is (but please note this is an early plan and has since been modified a bit):

The layout is in two levels: the upper level will feature the yard at Narrabri West on the "long wall", and the "downtown" section of Narrabri on the "window wall," separated by a pile trestle across the Namoi river. Two rural "silo towns" are on the lower level, Gurley, along the window wall, and Edgeroi. The two levels are connected by a 26" radius, four-level spiral (i.e. "helix"), with a gradient of around 2.25%. Staging will be in an adjacent bedroom, two five-track staging yards stacked atop each other. The Walgett branch will be represented by a short branch to "Wee Wa", which I'm undecided upon whether to put inside the adjacent bedroom or on the remaining wall. I'd really like to keep this wall free of layout, as eventually it'll be occupied by a flat-screen telly.

Operations will be centered at Narrabri West. This terminal has a through mainline and parallel passing loop; trains can also be "marshalled" on two running tracks along the back side of the yard; two stub-end storage tracks are provided as well. The terminal is typically NSWGR: a two-road locomotive shed is provided (the prototype had three tracks), and the loco depot also features a 60' Sellers manual turntable. Out-of goods traffic is handled at a standard goods shed and loading bank. Livestock are loaded on a "sale yard track", and inbound shipments of fertilizer and bulk oil are recieved on private spurs.
One big feature of Narrabri West is the large grain sub-terminal which will rest atop the spiral to the lower level: carloads of grains from rural elevators (Wee Wa, Gurley and Edgeroi) will come here for storage, and outbound trains of grain for the port of Newcastle will be loaded outbound.
An important element of the depot will be the ancillary structures the railway provided for operations: a 12-room crew hotel and "refreshment room" will need to be scratchbuilt, as will several smaller buildings like the crew showers, chargeman's office and the like at the loco depot. These buildings will emphasize the Australian setting of the railway.
Next up: Let's get building this thing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here's what I'm aiming for. . .

. . .when modeling the North-West line: Here's an excellent photo of triple 48 Class--4857/4872/4870--ex Werris Creek engine depot, waiting out a meet at the crossing loop at Watermark, between Breeza and Gap, on November 11, 1969. The photographer is Colin Hussey, who happened to be the fireman on this grain train. Check out the predominance of BWH/FWH grain hoppers, along with a few of the newer cylindrical-side aluminum WHX cars, and especially how they weathered. And that certainly looks like some welded rail there, too!This train came from Narrabri. What an excellent view, and the track looks pretty tight at well!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Territory

The new Narrabri North layout is based on the New South Wales Railway "North-West Line," constructed from a junction with the Main North at Werris Creek northwest towards Moree and beyond to the Queensland border into cotton, grain, and livestock country in the late 1800's. The land is largely flat as a table-top, with scattered small mountain ranges in the distance. The area is often dought-stricken, but when the rains do come, the nearby Namoi River often floods, given the flatness of the surounding land.

Located around 300 miles northwest of Sydney, Narrabri, a town of around 6000, is the operating center of my layout, the junction of the mainline to Moree and the branches to the west. The railway facilities are actually located west of Narrabri proper on the branchline--this location is Narrabri West, and featured a small yard and a locomotive depot. With privitization of freight operations in the late 1980s, most of the yard was converted to containerized freight facilities and the engine facilities removed. Today, grain is hauled under contract to Pacific National, while the cotton and other containerized goods move in trains operated by Independent Railway of Australia, Patrick Portlink, El Zorro, and occasionally other contractors.

The whole story of railway development in colonial Australia is a fascinating one, the population centers of each state originally concentrated along the coasts and essentially isolated from one another. The railways were constructed not to foster national unity, but to aid in developing the states. Thus, there was no national goal to link one rail line to another, so standardization on rail gauge was of little importance. Queensland, for example, built their railways to 3' 6" gauge; New South Wales to the British 4' 8 1/2", and Victoria to a broad 5'3" gauge. This severely limited the usefulness of railways in transporting goods beyond state borders, and it wasn't until relatively modern times that interstate rail travel without a break-of-gauge was possible: a standard-gauge line was completed between Sydney and Melbourne in 1962, and it wasn't until 1969 that rail traffic could travel from Sydney to the west coast at Perth without changing gauges.
Such provincialism still exists, but since the 1980s, privitization of freight operations has been implemented, the states largely still owning the tracks themselves (most leased to the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a federal government agency responsible to mangment and maintenance of the rail lines themselves) and access to the network alloted to qualified operating companies--"open access" as we'd call it in the states.

The area served by the North-West Line is largely rural. The railroad was extended northwest from a junction with the Main North line at Werris Creek, reaching Narrabri in 1884 and extended north to Moree in 1897. A branch west from Narrabri was constructed in 1903 towards Walgett and eventually Merrywinebone. Traffic has always been based on agriculture; the region is a top wheat producing area, and since the 1970s cotton has become a major crop as well. Until the privitization of freight operations, trains carrying cattle and sheep to slaughterhouses near the coast were common as well. Into the late 1980s, the line was served by a daily mail train as well as an express passenger train from Sydney. Today, all that's left is the cotton and grain traffic, and a daily CountryLink passenger train serves the line as far north as Moree.

The North-West Mail trundles along north of Narrabi in the early 1980s behind a single 48 Class branchliner, an train of express and mail traffic (photo by the late Ron Preston, I believe). . .

During the era I'm modeling, the late 1970s-early 1980s, operations through Narrabri had continued much as they had during the era of steam operations (which had only ended in 1974 in New South Wales). Two passenger trains a day served the line. Freight traffic--that's "goods trains," in Australian--was relatively frequent, given the small size of the average train. True to its colonial roots, railways were still dispatched under rigid timetabling of trains; running times were to be adhered to, and train sizes were established by the tonnage specifically assigned classes of locomotives could be expected to handle over the line. In the late 1970s, as today, the backbone of freight operations was handled by the 48 Class Goodwin-Alco road switcher. Its light footprint was perfect for the thin rails in the area, and along with similarly-configured 47 and 49 class diesels, the 48's symbolized branchline operations on the New South Wales railway. Equipment was smaller in this era, as well--a modern aluminum grain hopper only carried 60 or so tons of commodity, and the two-axle S-truck open wagons (capacity 15 tons) and RU wheat wagons (capacity 24 tons) were still in service. Most trains were still under 1000' long. Perfect for modeling!

The all-important "Givens and Druthers"

There's a phrase used in model railroad planning, "Givens and Druthers." I have no idea what a druther is, but the concept is to basically outline several goals one is attempting to reach with the design of a new railroad.

Here's mine:
  • Faithful representation of the Northwest district of the New South Wales Railway, circa 1978-80
  • Around-the-wall benchwork, protruding no more than 30" into the middle of the room, allowing the middle of the room to be used to family activities
  • Double-deck design to maximize space
  • At least two rural switching locations with "crossing loops" (passing tracks)
  • Staging in adjacent bedroom
  • Helix connecting two levels with 26" radius curves, no more than 2.5% gradient
  • Small mainline/branchline junction, yard and locomotive facilities on upper level
  • Ability to accomodate trains up to 6 1/2' in length, which will represent a typical train of the era on this section of the railroad
  • Opportunity to eventually implement some form of staff-system operation per the prototype
  • Lighting valence above upper level, and lighting under each deck to provide dramatic layout lighting in otherwise darkened room during operating sessions
  • Thin profile benchwork on upper deck to maximize separation between levels (ideally 16-20")
  • Utilize untraditional methods of roadbed and scenery (i.e. stacked and sculpted ceiling)
  • Apart from a few locations, standardization on hand-laid #5 turnout geometry
  • Once benchwork is completed, rest of layout room must be clean and habitable for use by the rest of the family.

Why the change to Aussie modeling?

Changing of the Guard: NSWGR 47 and 44 Class locomotives cozy up to a Walla Walla Valley HH660 shortly before demolition of the WWV layout began. . .

By the end of January this year, I'd decided to make the switch to modeling Australian prototype. The idea to try something "new" in my modeling pursuits had been percolating for a while. I had been true to modeling the WWV since 2002 or so, when my small bedroom-sized freelance Pacific Northwest shortline layout morphed into a representation of the WWV--the concept was so close to begin with anyway that it was no big decision to do so. These were the first layouts I'd built in "adulthood." I'd dabbled with modeling over the past 20 years, always in HO scale, and building everything from Western Maryland F-units to Delaware & Hudson U30C's to Burlington Northern C636's and Milwaukee Road GP9s.

But it was the WWV that my modeling was most associated with (the layout was even featured in Kalmbach's Great Model Railroads a few years ago). The last version of the WWV had grown from a 10 X 11' bedroom in our previous home to a 19 X 17' bonus room in our current residence. The layout design was a faithful adaptation of the WWV's track arrangements in its two major towns, and included an active interchange with Northern Pacific as well as a parallel Union Pacific branchline that allowed three two-person switch crews to keep busy for a couple of hours on operating nights. It was an even better layout that the last one, and certainly very keen on intense operations (sometimes the switching gymnastics would completely stymie guest operators).

Which all begs the question "why switch? why completely abandon a layout, a knowledge base seven years in the making, over 100 very detailed and specific freight cars, and a carefully designed operating plan to model something you know nothing about--rural railroading in New South Wales, Australia?"

And a good question it is.

All I can call it is a "seven-year itch." I felt I'd largely gotten to the end of the road in researching the WWV itself. I had a lot of work ahead on the railroad, scratchbuilding many structures, scenery, etc., as well as the construction of a small peninsula allowing some rural running between my layout's two major towns. So it wasn't like the layout was done.

Our two sons are growing up quicker than I'd expected, too--and though our house is plenty big, I began to realize that the bonus room was too big a space to be fully devoted soley to my hobby pursuits. If only the layout would only hug the walls, allowing for the middle of the room to be free for use by the rest of the family. . .

About this time, co-worker Lance Lassen returned from a vacation to Australia last fall, bringing with him great photographs, experiences, and several HO-scale models of Australian prototypes. . . including a beautifully modeled Goodwin-Alco 44 Class for me! I'm a sucker for Alcos, and the fact that these are still operating down under today really piqued my interest. I read a few copies of the Australian foamer mag "Motive Power" as well as several books Lance had returned with, and I began to see how modeling a prototype on Australia would be just so. . .wild. . .that it might well be an enjoyable modeling challenge.

One of the books Lance returned with, Ron Preston's "48 Class: Backbone of the Railway"--about the branchline diesel workhorse on the New South Wales system--narrowed my interest to the Northwestern NSW branchlines in the Narrabri area. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to find trackage maps of the area, photographs of the rail facilities, and get in touch with a retired railroader and modeler who worked into Narrabri in the late 1970s and early 1980s--my period of interest. Colin Hussey provided me an amazing amount of information about how the railroad operated--from the traffic hauled to the types of cars used, to how the staff system of train control works, and even throwing in a bit of history on how the state railway suffered as a political football. Colin was kind enough to scan several pages of freight and passenger schedules of the period as well. Other Australians on internet discussion boards have been just as friendly and helpful, providing photographs and videos of the Narrabri area, and answering scores of questions in addition to just being cheerleaders for the project.

Lance has caught the Aussie bug as well; he didn't rip his whole railroad down and start over, but he converted his existing railroad to more closely resemble operations out of Werris Creek, NSW circa 2005, concentrating on the climb over the Liverpool range and the 'banker" locomotives shoving grain and coal trains over the 2.5% grade.

Lance and I are certainly rare birds--as far as I know, we're about the only model ralroaders in the United States concentrating on Australian railroads, which means hobby shops here in the States have virtually nothing we need (other than track!) for our Australian modeling. It pretty much all needs to come from overseas, via pricey postage, purchased mostly on-line. (And while Lance and I are among the few in the US, Australia is crawling with modelers of American railroaders, and their hobby shops are filled with American models. Go figure!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This is the start. . . .

of a new blog about the creation of my HO-scale model railroad, based on the New South Wales Railway in the late 1970's in and around the rural farming community of Narrabri, a few hundred miles northwest of Sydney.

One unusual feature of this model railroad is that it is located in Fort Worth, Texas, US of A. . . I'd guess that of the 200,000 or so model railroaders in the United States, less than a half-dozen of us are active modelers of Australian prototypes (there might be a few more out there who have pieces of Australian model equipment, but don't necessarily model Australian railroads themselves).

None of this would be possible, I think, without the internets. From 10,000 miles distance, it would be nearly impossible to keep track of what models are available from Australian manufacturers, and gathering information overseas by traditional land-and-sea mail would be extremely time-consuming. Thankfully, I've been able to make contact with several very helpful modelers and railroaders from down-under who've been more than generous with their time and materials they've gathered themselves over the years. And thanks to ebay auctions and manufacturers and hobby suppliers who don't mind dealing with the hassle of shipping merchandise overseas (and dealing with paypal or credit cards), I've been able to get a good start on equipping the railway.

My previous model railroad project, on the Walla Walla Valley Railway of Washington and Oregon, kept me busy for seven years. This railroad too was an obscure operation (I'm assuming that not many readers know much about the railroading in Narrabri, New South Wales, either!) and much of the time "working" on the railroad was actually spent in historical research of the prototype: how trackage was arranged, what customers were served, how the railroad was operated, what kind of railroad equipment was used on the WWV, etc. I'm only guessing that the Narrabri North layout will be just as research-intensive, as not only am I modeling a section of railroad I know NOTHING about, but it is a foreign railroad as well, and despite basic similarities in equipment and basic mission, railways in New South Wales are operated far more like those in Great Britian than they are in the United States! The WWV railway is subject of a dedicated website; I've decided to blog the NSW Narrabri North project.

So, check back in occasionally as I update this blog with observations and reports on the progress of my journey to Australia, set in a 17 X 19' room!