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?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Sun God!!

I recommend the latest issue of Australian Railways Illustrated, if you're not on the subscription list. I just got mine in the post today, and if last issue's salute to the Indian Red/Brown/Tuscan/whatever-you-want-to-call-it era of the NSWGR wasn't tasty enough, this latest issue goes whole hog with a portfolio of classic Graham Cotterall color photographs.

Graham just turned 65, and has been seriously photographing railways, first in Queensland, later in New South Wales, since he was a teenager. He's bridged the gap from medium-format black and white to 35mm slides and today is still banging away with Canon digital gear. Though he experienced the steam era first hand, and its gut-wrenching transition years (and authored a black and white book about it; two, if you include "Units in Focus," the all-diesel volume from the era I model), he's still modern-as-today in his photographic interests: you won't find him track side at the steam museum triple-headers, I'd suppose, when there's a down goods train in good light on the Central West. When he's not trackside--and, I suppose, even when he is, giving cellular communications--he's a locomotive assignment manager for CFCLA and sometimes driver for Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

Now, I've never met Graham personally. We have a few mutual friends, though, and I'm fortunate to be on the receiving end of the latest stunning e-mail with a photo or two from him. We were going to get together in 2009 during my first visit, but he was on holiday with his family in Queensland, but Graham certainly kept Lance Lassen and I informed as to train movements we might be interested in photographing. He's sometimes called "The Sun God," for he seemingly never takes a photo when it isn't full-out sunny. The sun, we joke, just follows him around.

So, please, check out the selection of his work in the latest ARI (I'd provide a website link, but I can't find it in the mag anywhere!).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It all started under a tree. . .

My e-mail Christmas card. Click for the full effect. . .

It's been too damned long since I've updated this blog. So long, in fact, I've forgotten what format to publish this in! In this case, no news is no news, I suppose, since I've not touched the models since completing the first cement car last summer. But not working on the layout doesn't mean I've not been busy elsewhere: a great summer with the kids, visitors from Australia, and too much time doing computer-related stuff--mostly getting serious about scanning a good portion of my 30,000 35mm Kodachrome railroad slides dating from the mid-1970s, as well as jettisoning the old Wintel PC for a shiny new Macintosh. Yes, I'd drunk the Kool-Aide. And yes, it is a fabulous machine.

What's Santa putting under your tree? I'm keeping it simple this year: a couple terabites of computer storage for all those photos. And crossing my fingers my wife will brave international commerce and get me a copy of the Wheatley brother's new book. The "other" stuff I can get myself, and I'm waiting on some SDS RACE containers, some Austrains WHX wagons, and I need to get off my duff and order some resin kits from Ian up in Hornsby.

All this building and scheming and acquiring of model railroad stuff, for many of us, wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for the Holidays in the first place. There was always a Lionel 3-rail train under our Christmas tree growing up: my father, expecting to have a son for his first child, loaded up on Lionel trains in 1954, shortly before--oops! this was in the day before ultrasound--my older sister was born. It was another six years until I came along; and it took a dozen years, but by Christmas 1973 I was in full-blown infatuation with model trains. Our local hobby shop--the kind with erector sets, model trains and a slotcar track in the back (remember those? before the internet shut most of them down?)--had an AHM Union Pacific passenger train set for sale, and I literally had dreams night after night about owning that.

It wasn't a big surprise on Christmas day when it showed up under the tree: my father had spent many an evening and a couple Saturdays building me a basic 4 X 8 foot oval of track, passing loop, and industry tracks, fibre flex track laid down on a baseboard painted in glossy green enamel grass and black streets. Finally, my dad had someone to share his love of railroads with. He wasn't too pleased when I, imagination stoked by articles in Model Railroader magazine, began changing the track plan around and kitbashing buildings into something else. His pristine sheet of plywood was no longer pristine. No matter. My commitment to modeling began, whether my father was pleased or not. And it's led all this way over 37 years, layout to layout, dalliance with one railroad and then another. It all began with that Lionel train under the tree, and really got going with those hyper-speed AHM Union Pacific E-units.

To all of you who bother checking in and reading this occasional blog, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and all that stuff!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

PRX for your cement?

Needing a bit of weathering and good to go: the AR Kits PRX with Keiran Ryan walkway and ladder kit.

Just about finished with the first of two ARKits PRX code pneumatic cement wagons. This model represents a car from the first of three orders from Mittagong, circa 1979. It's equipped with interstate bogies and wears PTC teal blue ends and underframe.

These cars were just being delivered during my era of modeling, so they'll require only a light treatment of weathering. The supplanted the cylindrical ARX cars (not available as a model, but have at it with a CH or WHX as a source for kitbashing), but will look good riding the through goods trains to and from Moree, as they seemed to accumulate in small blocks. The cars are still going strong 30 years later, though beat to hell and now thoroughly caked in cement dust.

The ARKits model has been out a few years, and is an easy to assemble, if somewhat crude, representation of the car. You'll often see these show up on layouts in the pages of AMRM or at exhibition railways, usually assembled right from the box with hideously thick ladders and walkways. The underside of the model isn't much better--there's little attempt to represent anything more than a crude arrangements of plastic blobs for the air reservoirs, and missing entirely is the crazy maze of air lines running all over the place.

Thankfully, Keiran Ryan rides to the rescue with a nice brass etch of the walkways and ladders, both easy to place and assemble (his additional drilling jig for the walkway works like a charm as well). Using just the ladder and walkways will elevate this model considerably; he also includes corner stirrups and additional detail for the brake spider.

Most folks won't notice the lack of any real detail under these cars--why would they, unless your model ends up on its side, eh? However, the photos on Ryan's website for the detail features several views of the underside of these cars. . .taken, wouldn't you know it, of a car on its side after a dustup.

I decided to remove the plastic blobs and add a little more detail--air reservoirs from the AR Kits brake sprue, as well as brake cylinder and clevis. I added the brake chain, the rods for the handbrake, and a few select air lines running under the car. From the sides, it looks convincing enough without being completely anal.

I am not a fan of silver acrylic paints, as they often are very "grainular"in appearance no matter how well mixed. I fell into this trap once again by painting the car with Polly Scale Bright Aluminum. This didn't look too good, so I elected to strip the car and use Floquil laquer-based Bright Aluminum. Stripping the car was made easier by the lack of adhesion of the Polly Scale on the slick AR plastic. The Floquil paint went down very smooth and with a reflective lustre matching new aluminum. With a bit of dull coat from a can, it knocked off the sheen and gave the car the slightly oxidized look I was after.

This car is far from perfect; the roofwalk is a bit wavy and I goofed on the stand-off distances for the ladders to the roofwalk platforms (hint: they're different on each side). But it was a good learning experience and I look forward to the second car's construction. They look so cool, I might just need three or four.

Comparative "blob" underframe from AR Kits, top, and my somewhat detailed underframe treatment, bottom.

Visitors from Down Under. . .

I often joke that being one of the few Aussie modelers in the US means that it's very unlikely anyone visiting the layout will "count rivets" on me and tell me I'm doing something wrong.

Unless a modeler from Australia visits the layout, of course.

Which happens next week for the first time when we welcome John Gillies of Canberra to Texas. He's on a month-long holiday in the states with his three daughters, and we look forward to seeing him again (we met up in Gunning when I visited Oz in 2009). Now, John's too nice a guy to show me up and call attention to an inaccuracy in my Oz modeling, probably, but I luck out this time since he's a Victoria native and a modeler of US prototype to boot. Burlington Northern, it turns out. The railroad I grew up next to. So I'd try to be nice to John, too, and hold my tongue when I visit his layout on my next visit down under. Not that i'd have to--John's an excellent modeler and thorough researcher. And a helluva nice guy. As long as I don't wear a Geelong jersey (he's a Hawthorn fan).

We look forward to stuffing the Gillies clan with Mexican food. Maybe some agave? I wonder if he'd swallow the worm?

Welcome to our part of the world, John, Melissa, Caitlin and Thea!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Like Lay's Potato Chips. . .

Dunno if my Aussie readers are familar with the Lay's Potato Chip and its' ad campaign of many years ago, in which a snacker confessed that they were so good that "no one can eat just one!"

I'm thinking I'm that way about building rolling stock. I finish a few wagons, get the unmentionably messy workbench cleaned up. . .and then more arrive in the mail or just sort of "accidentally" fall off the shelf to work on.

So much for the vow to work on roadbed, points, laying track, etc.

My excuse: I'm waiting for more PC ties and rail to get back to track laying.

In the meantime, what's on the workbench:
  • two PRY/NPRY pneumatic cement hoppers from ARKits (delivered 1978-79, they're brand-new in the era I'm modeling. . .thus, I suppose they won't be too weathered);
  • AR Kits OCX 63' container flat;
  • Casula/Callipari OCY 63' container flat (traded Lance Lassen an unbuilt OCY for an AR Kits OCX).
The Cement hoppers will get the Keiran Ryan etched-brass ladders/roofwalk treatment as well as an attempt to improve on the "molded blob" brake components on the underframe.

The OCX/OCY is an interesting comparison between two nearly-identical pieces of equipment by different model manufacturers. And one is definitely better than the other.

But, photos and all that when I get 'em done.

Back to the workbench. And--can you imagine this?--there's live AFL premiership action via our ESPN2 satellite network between Richmond and Sydney Swans. If only I didn't get rid of that tube of Vegemite!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New toys! R-T-R and otherwise. . .

New stuff! Austrains ELX and Auscision KLY, and detailed old-school Trax/Casula TRC. . .

After a couple of months of true "modeling"--building kits, adding detail, painting, and weathering--of rolling stock and locomotives, it was pretty damned nice to open some packages from Australia the other day and taking out beautifully built, detailed, and painted ready-to-run freight wagons. Too easy!

New to the roster are a pair of Austrains Victorian Railways ELX open wagons (we Yanks call them "gondolas" and a pair of Auscision KLY 55' louvre vans. They're both perfect for my era, the ELX's dating from the early-mid-60's and the KLY's from the second order for these wagons delivered in 1975-76. The KLY's are from the same time frame as the WTY grain hoppers, which wear the "L7" two-toned blue PTC logo. The Aucusion KLY's wear the earlier "Rocking R" logo. I've never actually seen a photo of a second-order KLY with the Rocking R, and found it curious that both logos would be delivered simultaneously. I'm sure Auscision got it right, I've just not seen any photographic proof of it!

Both of these cars are spectacular models. I'm familiar with the quality of the Auscision stuff, so that was no surprise to me. This is the first rolling stock from the new-era of Austrains imports I've purchased, and was quite pleased as well. I'm going to have to come up with suitable loads for these ELX's to hide the lack of detail on the interior sides of the models--the only thing distracting from an overall "perfect 10" in my opinion.

Not all the packages arriving on the doorstop in this flurry of model railway purchasing were ready to run--Joe Callipari got my order together for 10 Casula "S" truck kits with proper .088" SEM wheelsets. I'm waiting for a pair of OCY container flat and a pair of PRY cement wagons from AR Kits and at some point the very cool new RACE containers from SDS models (perfect on the OCY flat on the headend of the North-West Mail!).

Workaday, not too flashy at all: a pair of detailed/scratchbuilt TRC using the TRAX/Silvermaz wagon body. Weathering is still to come.

TRC rebuild

Still lingering on the "to do" list of cars for May's prototype model exhibition but not finished on time were a pair of TRAX/Silvermaz (Casula) TRC refrigerator wagons. I'd purchased one on e-bay for cheap a few years ago and did a basic assembly (sides, roof, top, underframe with couplers and trucks) of it for use on the layout, and picked up another one new from Joe last April. When I finally readied to build one "proper" (with semi-scale couplers and reasonably complete underframe and carbody detailing added), I discovered that the underframe was basically a crude, inaccurate chunk of plastic, and figured I could do better. But where to get plans? I turned to Ray Pilgrim and Bob Stack, who were both gracious enough to scan two excellent Peter Jarvis articles on modeling this car from the June 1996 AMRM. VERY thorough treatment of detailing this very basic model.

I'd just about had the basic underframe assembled from plastic sheet and forms when Bob alerted me to a resin casting kit created by Ian Radcliffe and sold through his IDR line at Hobbyland in Hornsby, NSW. My timing was not quite perfect! The casting kit looks quite nice and hopefully should be readily available soon. (And those KHG brakevan and CF/KF four-wheel flat wagons he sells are my current infatuation!)

I followed most of the step-by-step directions in the article and came up with a quite nice model.

It certainly holds up well next to the Ready-To-Run Chinese wagons, and with the time and effort invested in it certainly gives me a bit more pride in ownership.

Cost vs. value vs. detail vs. modeling time vs. ultimate modeling satisfaction?

It's clear that Australian model railroading has moved light years ahead from what was available when the TRC was originally offered, probably 20 years or more in the past. It's amazing that the rough approximations of under frames not just on the TRC, but, for example, other kits like the Mini-Models BCW's were seen as cutting edge in their time. Amazing still is that these kits are still available new--the TRC from Casula and the BCW from Berg's, the marginally-detailed AR Kits WHX--for a considerable sum, $25+. Are these prices out-of-line for what you're getting, considering both the level of detail on the under frames (or lack thereof)? I'm guessing both of these kits have long since earned back their initial cost of development.

I'd certainly like to add more TRC's and BCW's to the fleet (that article in a back issue of AJMR about super-detailing the BCW really has my attention), but the costs of such crude kits give me pause before ordering more. But what can you do? You either accept that these are the only models of these cars available and pay the price, or you wait on the hope that one of the R-T-R importers will bring in a much-pricier--but much-better-detailed--car in the future. . .whenever that will be. What's the pride of ownership worth to me in a kit that I took to a much higher level of detail?

I'm not sure of my own answer to this one. I certainly like just popping a box open and having a nearly-100% accurate car, right there, in front of me, ready to go onto the tracks. At the same time, I like the fussing with wire, and styrene, and brake cylinder castings, etc. I appreciate that the "classic kits" are still available, and that small businessman/modelers like Ian Radcliffe are supplying smaller-runs of specialty modeling kits.

I do know that if I devote much more time to building up my fleet of wagons (let's see--10 S trucks, at least six more WHX's, and another half-dozen assorted Mini-Kits BCW's and AR Kits models on queue!) I'll never get the railroad itself built.

And the layout, now that i've got all these nice cars to run, is what REALLY needs the immediate attention!

That chunk of plastic on top of my model is the original underframe supplied in the TRAX/Silvermaz TRC kit. With the proper reference materials, I came up with something a bit better. . .

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A few diseasles. . .

It's wheat harvest time again, and 4464 and 4716 stand ready to continue their toil hauling the golden grain of the Northwest.

I know there's a certain segment* of the hobby committed to steam, and I have no problem with that. But I'm a child of the infernal combustion era, and to me, there's nothing better than walking through a loco depot filled with idiling locomotives, taking in their grime, their smell, their sounds. And while I've missed the era when varied 44's, 47's, 48's and occasional 49's all gathered at Narrabri West, it's certainly fun to try to recreate a time and place I never had a chance to visit.

Broadmeadow-based Goninian-Hitachi 4716 rolls by with a rake of RU's to shunt into the elevator siding. From photos on-line I've researched, these things really gunked up quite nicely, especially with oozing oil around the engine-room doors.

Not far behind, classic "world loco" 4464 departs with WHX in tow for the sub-terminal at Werris Creek.

Finally, it's 4914's turn to depart onto the Walgett line with empty open wagons for loading with cotton. The Clyde-GM branchliner, assigned to Parkes loco, is a somewhat unusual visitor this far north of Werris Creek. Where's the 48's? From the looks of things, somewhere in China!

*and you know who you are!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fruits of My Labors. . .

Goodwin-Alco 44203 leads grain train into Narrabri West. . . weathered with diluted acrylic colors, Isocol/ink wash, weathering powders, etc. I replaced the crude cast-on hoses on the pilots with brass castings and replaced the horns, all with Ozzy detail parts.

The weeds in the yard have had a few extra days to grow recently as I've been pretty dedicated to completing a reasonable number of NSWGR freight wagons and locos in time for this upcoming weekend's prototype modeling meet in nearby Keller.

All that's left are single 47, 44 and 49 class locos to weather, and I'll be ready to go.

So, would you like to see what a week's worth of weathering has brought to North of Narrabri? I'm guessing none of my readers will actually make the trip to Keller for the festivities, so feel free to click on the photo for a 1080p wide version.

FWH 32008. . . a PTC blue wagon, at least under the grime. The PTC blue quickly faded to light blue, then grey, but usually by then it was coated in a rusty orangey layer of dust, rust and wheat chaff.

NGBF 28734. . . a recent re-paint and re-code, this one hasn't had time to look like hell yet.

FWH 29009. . . rather restrained in weathering this one. That gunmetal grey sure aged well, far better than the PTC blue or SRA maroon.

WTY 36035. . . you've already probably read about these on the blog. This one was only given a isocol/india ink wash to give it that slightly-used look. . .

WTY 36129. . .this and the other two WTY's were given the isocol/ink wash as well as weathering chalks to bring up the weld seams dusted with "wheat dust."

WTY 35932. . .

WTY 36105. . .

WHX 30515. . .now weathered. Isocol/india ink wash, dry brushing of some rust, weathering chalks for wheat dust, used on all four of the WHX's. If I modeled a few years later, I'd have to add lots of grafitti, too!

WHX 30530. . .

WHX 30664. . .

NVFF 31793. . . the guard vans seemed to all end up with a blotchy, grimy roof, so this was a mix of sprayed-on acrylic washes and the reliable Isocol/ink wash.

Four RU's. . .I've got 17 of these ultimately to weather, so I didn't want to go too deep into it, but the isocol/ink wash, followed by several sprayed washes of grime and rust, followed by thicker brushed on washes of cheap "hobby acrylics" thinned in isocol built up depth in the weathering and was relatively quick and easy to do. . .

. . and while I didn't do this with any of these, yet, I do want to further explore the cool "alcohol white-out" that occurs when you apply a wash of rubbing alcohol over a car given a coat of Testor's spray Dullcoat--also called the Dullcoat Fade. It leaves a blotchy, quite realistic powdery-looking faded paint job.

CHG 9151. . .guess it still needs air lines added. I was tempted to really go hog-wild with aging up this fine Eureka model to more closely match the patched-up-in-plywood version illustrated in the Beckhaus' 1982 book. It's still an option!

FWH 28962. . .one more! This one, a bit more rusty. I should really fade out some of these cars and nearly remove the NSWGR lettering, don't you think?

GLX 29487. . . another case in which it's tough to tell this one's painted in PTC blue. Based on a photo I recieved of a similar dusty, rusty car in Lithgow. The roof was oversprayed in a lighter, faded shade of blue to reflect the effect of Australian sunlight.

GLX 29485. . . same weathering principles as the blue car. These sure seemed to rust up around the doors.

BDX 25395. . . AR Kits build up inspired by a photo supplied by Al Cutmore. I love the Rhombus loco!

K 23415. . . rather half-assed ink-wash and weathering powder attempt. Too red, but that's easy to fix. With a sawed-in-half Chooch gondola load. Hey, $7.95 gives you two castings, enough for 2 K trucks and a couple of S wagons worth of loads. Figure my pastoralists in the NW need lots of fencing wire!

GHG 39092. . .with the "arrows of indecision" logo, cried out of a grimy wash treatment, with a dusting of "earth" on the running gear.

* * * *

This isn't a finished scene, but it's in keeping with my "quick and dirty mockup" of future photographic scenes on the layout I tend to throw together when I finish a push of construction on the layout. Here we've got the trashed-out and abandoned VW Beetle dumped in the (imagined) Namoi River as a grain load behind a Jumbo departs for Werris Creek.

How do those gum trees look? I didn't build them, and they're not Auscision. The could've been Auscision, I guess, since i'd been hot to shell out big overseas bucks to stock up on their trees since Auscision announced they were in stock on their website. In stock, but no price information for several months. So I waited until the official information was released. . .and in the meantime, stumbled onto a big display of a great variety of trees in my local hobby shop the other day. The gums pictured are from JTT Scenery Products, of Garden Grove, California. I thought they might be manufactured in the US, but apparently these are "imported exclusively in the USA by Model Rectifier Company," according to the box. I'm guessing they're from China (perhaps the same factory Auscision's trees come from?). Their prices (US) are comparable to Auscision; an 8" gum (c.180mm) goes for $16.00 vs. Auscision's 200mm gum from between $18.95 and 21.95. JTT's 6" gum is $12.95; Auscision's medium or small gum trees (100mm) are around $15.95. The Auscision trees appear to have nicer detail on the trunk, and the range of Auscision trees available is truly breathtaking. I don't know what the hell an AM10286 is, but it's a cool tree and I'll probably find a way to get at least one!

While I no doubt will be purchasing several Auscision trees for foreground duty on the railway, I'll be buying the JTT products whenever I see them in the store for medium or distant use.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Here's the WHX's. . .

WHX 30515 sports faded NSWGR initials and a fresh patch with new car data applied.

So, that's done, anyway. The four AR Kits WHX's are now out of the paint and decaling process and have had some detail painting done; last steps are application of road grime and adding truck washers, etc., to get them to coupler height standards.

I'm very happy with how they turned out, despite early trepedation in getting started with this project. I don't think I'm going to want to go back and do the final six on the roster anytime soon, however. . .

The color, I thought, came out pretty good. No written-in-stone formula here, it's all a trial-and-error approach. This is what I mixed:
  • start with a base of Model Master Schwarzgrun RLM 70 Acrylic
  • add a bit of Polly S Grimy Black
  • lighten a bit with Polly S Undercoat Lt. Gray
  • add a dab of Polly S Rust
  • add any of the above to suit your taste
The final color under fluorescent light captures the slightly bronzy grey shade of highly-aged Aluminum metal.

After applying this base coat (which is now in a bottle marked "WHX Grey"), I gave a few very light, diluted wash sprays (highly thinned at low PSI) with the above Rust and Grimy Black. Afterwards, I drybrushed more rust to the car end platforms (where water tended to collect) and to the brake gear on these platforms. This will be toned down a bit with the final weathering.

In my many years of modeling, the finished result and sense of accomplishment in these four models are among my favorites (right up there with a near-scratchbuilt Great Northern outside post 50' boxcars from a few years ago). Doing something like this, while frustrating at time, really was a learning process as well as a motivator to continue further with my models. That in itself made it a great investment in hobby time.

A big tip of the hat to Kieran Ryan, whose etched-brass detail kit makes this car look that much better, and Andreas Keller, whose own WHX project served as a basis and inspiration for this one.

Now, nine days left to get a bunch of weathering of other rolling stock done!

Down-on view of the brake end of the WHX 30515. All that stuff on the car deck, while a real bitch to fabricate, sure looks nice, doesn't it?

And here's the ladder-end of the WHX 30664. I'd thought that Kieran Ryan ladder would be a beast to assemble, but it was one of the easiest parts of constructing this model!

A-end coupled to B-end. These will fit right in with the other high-end detail cars on the layout from Auscision, Train-O-Rama and Austrains.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Next stop, paint booth. . .

Here's the "busy end" of the WHX. Click on image for full-sized version. . .

All I can say is this: I won't complain about Auscision or Austrains charging $50 for an R-T-R car again.

For until you've slaved with optivisor, teensy wire, bits of white plastic forms, tiny drill bits, balky (in comparison) tweezers and used a steady hand with the soldering iron to hit a very small spot of brass instead of the much-larger plastic area next to it--all to add the brake rigging on an AR Kits WHX grain hopper--well, stopping that God Damned oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico seems like kid's play in comparison.

I figure I have around 6 hours per car of detail work invested in these four WHX's, and there's another six on the layout that haven't been so detailed, merely given the "basic" assembly (and that's perhaps 2 hours a car there). So, 8 hours of labour per car, and I haven't even painted, decaled or weathered them yet.

That Ready-To-Run car from China is looking like a pretty damned good deal, now, isn't it?

This was a bit more intense than I had hoped for, but after it was all done, i looked at those brake decks and thought, did I really do all that?

Painting is next, and then I'll upload a few more shots of these cars. They do match up well in detail with the Auscision WTY's, but it was a hard road getting there.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Dreaded WHX. . .

Look! Real modeling happening on my workbench! Early progress on the fleet of WHX wheat hoppers, specifically, the beginnings of the maze of pipes, hand-holds and air brake mechanism on the "brake" end of the AR Kits model.

Okay, so I chomped the big, thick bullet and decided to get started on making a credible fleet of WHX grain wagons.

Those Auscision WTY/NGTY/etc. cars really raised the bar on detail for a grain wagon. Placing these next to a basic AR Kits WHX wagon really lets one see the short-comings of the WHX kit. The WHX model is a good foundation for a dynamite model, though, if one wants to do the time, research, and most of all, fussy, detailed modeling--like Andreas Keller did with his stunning rendition of the AR Kits model. Modeling like that is truly inspiring, and though I got to see the model in person last April, I was unable to distract him long enough to slip it into my pocket so I could take it home and dissect his modeling method from all angle. So, a few photos will have to suffice. Ugh. That is a LOT of really nice work. Kudos, bro'!

And there's certainly a lot of "stuff" on the prototype WHX. Hey, look at this view of just half of the "brake" end platform. If that isn't enough to give you nightmares of little styrene, brass strip and brass wire parts, I don't know what is. It certainly was enough to keep me from going beyond the basic assembly of 10 of these cars 18 months ago.

But, again, that Prototype Modeler's meet is lighting a fire under me, and I vowed to get four of these cars ready in time for the show; it'll also give me a running start with getting my fleet of 10 done before Austrains delivers its version of the WHX sometime in 2010 (or 2011. . .). That too looks like it'll be a stunning model.

So using the excellent Kieran Ryan website detail photos and Andreas' model as a guide, I've set out into the first true "heavy duty" modeling I've done in a couple of years (defined as "something more than just repainting an R-T-R model").

I'm working on all four models at the same time, breaking down each task of detailing the model into smaller sub-sections. The "model engineering" in how to create each item is the most time-consuming. Once a good solution is reached for the first model, parts for the next three come along pretty quickly. After a few night's work, I've made good progress on the brake end platform. The main thing holding me up now is looking for a suitable stand-in for the Aussie equivalent to our "triple valve" in the states. I'm sure I've got a box of old Intermountain and Branchline models brake sets where I could harvest a triple-valve.

I've stocked up on various angles, channels, and strips of styrene, as well as the Kieran Ryan etched brass details kit (looking forward to making four ladders--yeah!), several sprues of AR Kits brake gear (not the stuff that's included with the basic WHX kit--the after-market sprue offered separately), and a selection of various diameter phosphor-bronze wire.

I don't expect this model to be an exact replica of the WHX. I've not got the 3-D modeling resources to pull that off, and my abilities aren't quite up to that level of detail. But I think I can make a reasonable facsimile that will be "good enough" for me and "complete enough-looking" to satisfy visitors. I'll try to keep it from getting to close to Andreas' model.

But so far, it's looking pretty good, and not as intimidating as it once was.

Using a jig, I added eight slices of 1.5mm styrene channel (Evergreen 261) on one side of each car for the slack-adjuster rod to ride through.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

One down, eleven to go. . .

Roof-down view on the first of the WTY fleet, 36129.

Actually, that's not quite true.

This is the first of the painted WTY conversions of the Auscision NGPF models to roll out of the shops here in Texas, with eleven more to follow. Though it looks pretty complete, it still hasn't been weathered, and you can't really model the WTY grain wagon without weathering it up to some extent!

The fleet started as undecorated NGPF's purchased with an eye towards modifying them to as-delivered WTY codes circa 1979. I'd procrastinated on getting started in modifying and painting them, instead putting my modeling efforts largely into building a suitable layout to run them on. But now that I'd got that monster under control, I have no further excuses.

Backdating them involved removing the air rams between hoppers, hopper discharge controls, and additional air lines on the sides and ends added to the WTY/NGTY's in the late 1980s. I replaced the supplied couplers with Kadee #78's, and will replace the too-thick wheels with Intermountain 36" .088" semi-scale wheelsets when available.

The shiny aluminum of the new cars in 1976-77 weathered quickly down to a dull medium grey by my modeling era, 1979-80, and I used a mixture of Floquil Polly-S Undercoat Lt. Grey and Grimy Black. The roof hatches are straight Undercoat Lt. Grey. The blue on the ends, grain hoppers, and discharge gates is a mix of Polly Scale D&H Avon Blue and GN Glacier Green--it's what I had on hand, and it looks pretty good to my eye. It's been lightened up a tad with a bit of white. Of course, most of the blue won't be visible once a couple of years of wheat dust and road grime are added. I used Ozzy Decals #1055B for the "L7" herald and created my own code board in Photoshop on an ink-jet printer.

The blue paint in hard-to-reach places necessitated removing the discharge gates (48 total on 12 models, most of them very securely glued at the factory). I also removed the side ladder (and didn't break one!), roof walkway and roof hatch assemblies to paint separately and make the job of masking the ends easier. Given the many, many parts on this model, I'd much rather wrestle with a few parts to remove, paint, and reassemble versus building this thing from a kit to begin with!

Most of this would not have been necessary had Auscision released the WTY/NGTY to begin with, but they didn't of course, though their advertising now shows they're in the pipeline. . .for an undetermined time in the future. I figure my working on them will help Auscision push a second-run up the production line.

I'm in an active model-building mode the likes of which I haven't experienced in a few years, attempting to get a number of NSWGR models built, painted and weathered to exhibit at an upcoming "Prototype Modeler's Meet" in Fort Worth in late May. I'm hoping to be the only one these exhibiting Australian models (ha!).

After a string of WTY (I'm aiming to present four at the exhibition), I'd like to work on completing:
  • 620/720 diesel motor car set (weathering)
  • 1 47 Class Diesel (weathering)
  • 1 49 Class diesel (weathering)
  • 1 44 Class diesel (weathering)
  • 3 RU wheat wagons (weathering)
  • 4 BWH wheat wagons (weathering, 2 grey, 1 each PTC blue and SRA tuscan)
  • 2 GLX/GLV louvre vans ( weathering 1 grey, 1 very grimy PTC blue)
  • 1 BDX open wagon (weathering NSWR rhomboid placarded grey)
  • 2 guard vans (weathering GHG/FHG )
Two dark-horse projects may or may not be ready in time: a TRC refrigerator car, which will need extensive underframe and brake component detailing; and one or more WHX wheat hoppers, which have been giving me nightmares thinking about fabricating the brake rigging on the very-visible end platforms.

I'll also have on display the on-going project to construct and power a Stephen Johnson models 400 class motor car.

That's a fair amount of modeling to complete in the next month. I'll certainly do what I can to best represent Australian modeling to this little part of North Texas.

Standard three-quarter view of WTY 36129, pre-weathering.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tax preparation will wait. . .

. . .just a little bit more as I goof off on the computer once again, and add a benign North-West afternoon sky through Photoshop and Flickr to pump up the realism on this shot just a bit more. Sure, no ballast or ground cover, but so far, so good. And thanks to Ray P. for inspiring me once more to take it a bit further with his contribution from the morning "inbox."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Goods Shed for Wee Waa

The afternoon passenger train back to Narrabri awaits its departure from Wee Waa. . . a cloudless day, no doubt blazing hot. The residents sure could use a little Ray Pilgrim Photoshop sky complete with cooling thunderstorm!

Moving right along with the Wee Waa structure project. Got most of the station completed, and turned my attention to a "standard" 60' NSWGR goods shed. Many of the sheds, especially in rural areas, were built to a standardized plan, but with many variations such as length, type of roof, and the attached office. Wee Waa was no exception.

The goods shed is another piece built from Evergreen styrene. Windows and doors were salvaged from the "on hand" pile. I've still got to build a ramp for the good citizens to wheel their goods up to the top of the platform. The building isn't weathered yet, and I'll need to weather the timber base as well as replace a couple of the pilings that have been knocked off. But it certainly looks the part, doesn't it? (Chris Nelson's website has a photo of the actual item, circa 1975).

Here's the "Country Railway Stations of NSW" view of Wee Waa. Seems the station master gotten fed up with the Galahs crapping all over his Holden and has chopped the big shade tree down. He's wearing a regulation white shirt since being written up by the inspector for wearing a non-standard green shirt on the last surprise visit. Still has to put a blue hat on, though. . .

Since our last visit, I decided on painting the station a faded shade of the standard station yellow used into to the 1970s. The actual station by the period I model--1978-82--was painted in a very light gray with white trim. . .utilitarian, and cheap to paint, no doubt, but rather drab! So, I'll throw prototype adherence to the wind in this case. I hand-painted a couple of light layers of a cheap acrylic paint found at local craft mega-stores and Wal-Mart, the Ceramcoat brand. $1.39 a bottle. The shade is "Butter Cream," and it looks like the faded yellow structures found throughout the Country Railway Stations of NSW books. I brushed it on since I was too lazy to haul the air compressor upstairs and set up the airbrush! But it went on smooth and even.

Much yet to do; my Sentinel 5-tonne goods crane has been assembled and it's just looking for an appropriate concrete base. And that station building needs a good earthen bank to sit atop; then there's the load bank, and . . . .well, enough to keep me busy.

All for now. It's approaching midnight, and "real world" railroading calls in 6 1/2 hours.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cardboard is nice, BUT. . . .

Ah, that's much better! 3/4's of the way done, the Skillion-roofed A-4 depot, similar to Wee Waa. Of course, the doors and windows aren't all in place, the piping to the water barrels isn't in, either, and it needs to be painted. . .

As much fun as I had putting together the basic walls, floor, and roof of the LJ Models A-4 Skillion roofed cardstock kit that made an appearance in the last installment of this journal, it soon became clear that cardstock kits, for the most part, are best when supplanted with strip wood or styrene enhancements. Let's face it, cutting and gluing four layers of cardboard together to make one beefy wood stringer for the foundation is a tedious and not-too attractive alternative to just opening up the box o'plastic strip for a more suitable replacement. And you'd still have to paint it.

So the more I thought about using the LJ kit as a core for the Wee Waa station, the more I decided I'd much rather start, um, from "scratch" and use the LJ kit as a template for an easier-to-build and much heartier styrene version.

I'm quite comfortable with a pile of Evergreen plastic, a paint brush, Xacto knife and straight edge, and a small bottle of M.E.K. for solvent--in fact, I rather enjoy scratchbuilding.

The "real deal," circa 2004, mostly boarded up and with most of the platform removed. . .

I used various Evergreen sheet and strip styrene stock along with Grandt Line doors (#5058) and windows (5117--slightly larger than those on the LJ models cardstock sheets), and scratchbuilt the "out ofs" cargo room doors.

Side elevation of rear of station. .

I have several view of the front and ends of the station at Wee Waa, but none of the "backside" that faces the aisle of the layout, so I went on the assumption Wee Waa was built to the "standard" A4 plan (there are a couple of small variations on the prototype vs. the LJ Models version,largely a window on the Out Ofs end of the station and a different-shaped window for the ladies bathroom).

3/4 rear corner view, of the station end with the additional window in the Out Ofs office. . .

Platform side of the station will be, of course, at platform level, with a 2:1 slope of the earthworks towards the station's back side, where it will be supported by wooden pilings. I've yet to add the earthworks to the layout at this point.

the other rear corner (down end). . .

There's still a bit more to do before it's done of course; I need to paint it, but am unclear as to what colors it wore in the late 1970s, though a tight platform view on page 33 of Vol. 5 of Country Railway Stations NSW by Train Hobby Publications shows it wearing a very pale yellow tint, with white trim--a much lighter shade than the yellow printed on the LJ cardstock. . .an effect of bleaching in the sunlight? A photo from the same period of Narrabri on the inside back cover of the same booklet shows it wearing a more rich shade of yellow, with yellow trim work as well as a yellow-painted galvanized roof. Should the metal roof at Wee Waa be painted? Yellow? White (to reflect sunlight, seen in many stations in this book series)? Or left natural metal? And what about the interior rooms? The big windows will at least allow the interior walls to be glimpsed, and I've modeled the open frame wall exposed in the waiting room--what color should these rooms be? Photos inside the Narrabri station staff hut I took last year show the pale yellow color scheme carried indoors as well.

These color questions help delay the painting, but I don't mind too much as I'd rather have a few more structures ready for paint in the same session than setting up the airbrush for one building to paint! The building will be painted, interior walls and windows separately, then final installation will take place, wit a big of detail painting coming before placing it on the layout.

Broadside track-side view. . .the side you'll never get to see once it's installed on the layout!

Like I said, I enjoy scratchbuilding. Off the top of my head, I came up with over 25 structures for this layout I'll either have to kitbash or scratch build. . .not that there's anything wrong with that. And few of them will be cardboard.