Friday, January 29, 2010

The guard working Branch Line Goods Train #695 awaits departure from Wee Waa sometime in the early 1970s. The station master's 1958 Holden FC is parked under the shade tree next to the station.

With one operating session under the belt, I guess it's time to do a bit on the scenery/structures front before the next one. So, to accelerate the process, i'm assembling a few L J Models cardstock models of NSWGR prototype structures, including an S008 silo, a G2/3 goods shed, and an A4 station.

The A4 is perfect, in fact, for two of the stations on my railroad, as these were built at Gurley (peaked roof version) and Wee Waa (narrow skillion version) on the prototype.

You can get as involved as you'd like with the LJ models. An old Australian Branchline Modeler magazine showed how individual boards could be scribed onto the cardstock walls and the models repainted, super detailed, etc. Or, you can be content with four walls and a roof. I'll probably go "halfway" for now on these. . .until I decide to max out the detail using styrene trimwork or not.

This afternoon, I put together the basic "box" for the Wee Waa station, and it looked so good at 25% done, I thought i'd get a loco and a guard's van and some scenery material scattered down on the baseboard and snap a piccie or two. And I'm amazed how good it all looks, even in this admittedly crude form. I'm sure I'll revisit this scene later when details and scenery are futher down the road, but for now it's definately motivated me to keep moving forward.

For now, here's two versions of Wee Waa, as you'd probably see it as you drove up to the station circa late 1960s. The guard bides his time on the station platform awaiting the departure to Walgett of Branch Line Goods train 695. The station master's well-maintained 1958 Holden FC sits in the shade, out of the harm of the sun but a prime target for roosting galah's, who are sure to shit all over the car by the end of the day.

Version with Clyde-GM branchliner 4914. . .

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Milestone Met: First Operating Session.

Branchline goods trains 695 departs Narrabri for Wee Waa behind a 47 class. Just peeking into view in the background is the Narrabri shunter with a 49 Class EMD.

Well, that's done.

After 18 months of construction, I had the "Pie Night" guys over for a little operating session. It went about as good as could be expected, I guess, considering I'd immediately lost 30% of my "throttle capacity" due to some sort of issue with the radio throttles. This cascaded into tossing my "schedule" out the window, as I was unable to run the trains I'd planned in the sequence desired.

Our group of Norm Bruce, Frank Treadaway, Donovan Furin, Lance Lassen and Randy Nelson showed up anxious to take a throttle and run. Lance brought a throttle, to add to my three, as well as two NSWGR locomotives (allowing me to avoid the ignominity of using some Union Pacific Atlas locomotives to fill out the roster, thank God!). But clearly those 18 months without operating a model railway left me less than familar with the intricacies of EasyDCC and radio throttles. It was easy to run three throttles at a time, but couldn't acquire locomotives when a fourth throttle was turned on.

Randy switches the branchline goods at WeeWaa. Check out that snazzy new Holden--just arrived today from Casula!

Frank assured me that all my worries would vanish if I just opened up my wallet for a couple hundred dollars of software upgrades from CVP. I was hoping he wasn't going to say that! I'm hoping just re-reading the set-up documentation will help alleviate a recurrence. . .

Aside from the radio throttle problems and subsequent schedule snafus, the session went fairly well. Track was clean. No mysterious shorts appeared. The points did their things without derailing equipment. . .even the little S trucks stayed on the rails. These are all encouraging signs. I was honestly sweating the mechanical potential for disaster more than the electronic. Lance bailed me out by bringing along a nice Indian Red 49 Class and a "Red Terror" 44 Class, allowing me to avoid the ignominity of having to roster a pair of Atlas Union Pacific SD24's to fill the loco roster shortfall! And while we didn't have enough throttles to keep everyone running trains all the time, Lance's Aussie Railway Porn videos entertained those without trains to run--they seemed to enjoy, for example, watching the Ardglen Bankers almost as much as running the North-West mail.

I've got aways to go to feel comfortable with the layout. I'm still dealing with coming up with a good system for paperwork and dispatching the trains. And I've still got to more fully develop my roll during these session as Station Master/Controller/Benevolent Dictator.

But, it's a good start. And none of this would be possible, of course, without my fellow Pie Nighters, as well as model railway friends foreign and domestic who've helped me reach this point. I'm excited about what lies ahead.

While Lance and Norm grind away in Narrabri West, Frank, Randy and Donovan enjoy some Aussie Railway Porn Videos. . .

Thanks, Joe!

Only a few hours before my mates stopped by to run trains, a nice-sized box of stuff arrived overseas from Joe Callipari at Casula Hobbies. Joe really helped me out last April by putting together a sizeable order for me to be ready when I popped in his shop to pick up almost more stuff than I could fit into my suitcase. His assistance and service, and good-nature in fielding my inquiries, were much appreciated, and I certainly didn't hesitate last week to turn to Joe and Casula for fill another order. Once again--first rate. And the Casula website has a lot to do with why I turned to Casula in the first place: among the Australian model railroad shops I'm familiar with, the Casula website is the most complete and easiest to use. And that really helps from 10,000 miles away.

Railroading Back in the Day

My work e-mail filter apparently blocked a message from Ray Pilgrim the other day alerting me to a couple of amazing You Tube videos, from around 1974, showing "how it was done" shunting the goods sheds at Darling Harbour--back before it was condos and museums and other tourist attractions.

The movies are here and here.

This really is a wonderful film, not just for the enthusiast of New South Wales railroading, but for fans of railroading in general. Watching the group of 20-something shunters work as a team to bang cars around really reminded me of my own experiences watching railroaders work 30 years ago. That was back when railroading was a "craft" and one didn't come to work carrying a 20 lb. book of rules.

Most appropriate was this quote from one of the shunters, words that ring as true today as they did in 1974: It's okay, the railway will let you break every rule in the book, as long as you get the trains out on time--they'll let you break any bloody rule you want, until something goes wrong, then they'll hit you with the rules!

Thanks, Ray, for passing these links along. Thanks also to the film crew who deemed the daily routine of a shunting crew to be of sufficent interest to record this slice of life for all time. And thanks to the shunters, themselves--looking at their work from a 2010 perspective, it's amazing how loose and wild the work rules were (let along those long Barry Gibb-like hairdos!). No steel-shanked boots? No high visibility vests? No safety visors? No shirts? Oh, I guess thanks also to the railway for allowing the cameras on the property in the first place.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An exercise in daydreaming. . . .

Step off the train, walk up the hill to the pub for a cold one. . .and home is just another block away. . .

Occasionally--more now, I'll admit, than I used to--I'll get in a fit of day-dreaming, wondering "what if?"

What if I won the lottery? Inherited a few million from a long-lost relative? Or I was retired, and had the means to move where I wanted to?

Why not, indeed?

I got to thinking about that little country village of Tarana, in the Central West of New South Wales, maybe three hours west of Sydney in the lush, green rolling hills not too far from Lithgow. To me, it's a place that inspires day-dreaming.

The old country church in Tarana, just a couple blocks from the railway station (real-estate agent photo)

And just maybe. . .does it have to be a daydream? I see a real-estate agent has posted a listing for an old church in Tarana, converted into a country home. For around $500,000, I could make this little dream a reality.

In perfect harmony with its surroundings: Tarana station. . .

How great would that be, to leave all this hustle and bustle here in the states behind? The crazy divisiveness of our political philosophies? The crime and uncertainty and all that other bullshit. Just sell off all our stuff and start off for a new life!

There are worse places to be than Tarana. As long as I could get a good internet connection, I'm sure I'd find a way to make a living there. The landscape is breath-taking, reminiscent of the rolling, oak-studded hills of the Tehachapi Mountains in California. It's far from a busy highway, the narrow two-lane bitumen roads weaving and bobbing across a green lanscape given largely to sheep.

And there's the railway, still a presence in town with its preserved dual-road railway station, footbridge and watertank. The duplicated main track has been reduced to one mainline, and traffic is just a fraction of what it was two decades ago, but the XPT to and from Sydney calls on Tarana daily (eastbound in the afternoon, westbound in the morning), so there's your connection to the greater world. There's shopping in Lithgow nearby, and of course, the legendary horseshoe curves and gunzeling opportunities galore just up the hill in Sodwalls.

Apart from a retired up mainline, Tarana hasn't changed much; the 44 Class on the RTM special might as well be leading the old Central West Express. . .

Why not? indeed. I stood on the footbridge last April as the RTM special blew Alco exhaust in my face, and looked around, and thought, I'm in heaven. I wonder if the rest of the blokes who live here know how good it is?

Retirement is a bit more than 15 years away. . . wonder if that old church will still be on the market?

Off the main roads, a wandering two-lane (if you're lucky) bitumen. . .

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reaching Mancave status. . .

Here's the layout room (click on photo for full-sized view). Plop down for a little telly, or grab a throttle and work the "Yo-yo shunter" at Narrabri West. . .
Excuse the poor photoshop job here, folks, but I wanted to at least share a panorama of the layout space before I drop off to sleep. It's been a good weekend of work on the layout--I finished the trackwork in Wee Waa and wired that up, tuned up a couple of stubborn points and point mechanisms, cleaned up the workbench and layout room (both really needed it!) and started to put together some train consists for next week's operating session.
So, here's the layout as it exists tonight--no scenery yet, but rolling stock and trackwork and lights and backboards and for the rest of the family, a couch and flatscreen. And, hope you catch that Australian flag. Not sure what'll be on the telly the night we operate. . .a fast clock or Kath and Kim?
All for now. Gotta work in the morning. Rules test, which is a bit of a crock to have it last all day since all but the last hour of it is review and the damned thing's "open book" anyway! Maybe tomorrow I'll get around to vacuuming the dust and accumulated little bits of debris off the layout, and put some quick and temporary wiring on the lower level trackage so we can use that as well.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Not for Lack of Trying. . .

Most of the track is in at WeeWaa; that's a "stand in" Walthers metal building where the goods shed will eventually be placed; to the rear, the location of the S008 silos. In the foreground, the platform is marked out along with the narrow A4 station area.

Bloody'ell! It's been 2 1/2 months since I've posted on this blog. And despite appearances, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, given up modeling, or joined a Monastery. I figured come Thanksgiving holiday, I'd shut down work on the layout til after the first of the year, and that's exactly what happened.

Before Christmas, I did manage to move a couch upstairs and install a 46" flat screen telly on the empty wall in the layout room. And to christen that, I had a dozen friends over to watch train photos. . .we had the usual Kodak Carousel projector for those "old school" photogs whose piccies are actual pieces of film, but it was the first time I'd hosted a photo night where digital images were the majority. And, they look GREAT on the new television--er, monitor. Whatever you want to call it.

Now that the calendar has turned, I'm back after it on the construction end, motivated somewhat by an announced "first" running night later this month. Gulp. Besides the work on the layout that's needed to get it operable for a group of friends, I've got the paperwork and car movement stuff to worry about as well.

So far, the attention to the layout has shifted to the guest/computer room and the WeeWaa portion of the layout. The length of the benchwork is only a little longer than 8' and around 15" in depth; while not exactly huge, it does provide a little space for a running track with loop and a siding for a goods shed/load bank and grain silo. There's a space for a stub siding in front (the remnants of the lead to a branchline loco depot?), which will not be used for livestock loading and a place for the rail motor to lay over between runs to Narrabri. I'm guessing the "branchline train" will be one of the most popular operating positions on running nights.

I got most of the trackwork in this weekend, with point controllers installed and the electricals soldered in. I've got a set of crossovers yet to build and the points for the ex-loco siding, but these will wait til I get PC board ties to complete the job.

Structures and the beginnings of scenic treatments are next on the agenda; I've decided permanent scratchbuilt styrene structures will have to wait for a bit, so i've ordered a few of the LJ models cardstock kits in the meantime. Pretty soon, Post willing, I'll be assembling a couple of the S008 silo kits as well as an A4 skillion station and G3 goods shed for WeeWaa. Platform faces and bumper stops are also ordered.

For now, I'd like to get WeeWaa somewhat complete before going much further on the lower level, where benchwork and backdrop are in place but roadbed and trackwork only temporarily set down. The benefits, right now, are quicker to realize for better operating sessions by having the branchline terminal in place to hold the interest of a crew shunting the little town.

Thanks Shane. . .

A shoutout to the Argyle Eagle, Shane Murphy, for once again opening his layout to several of us to come and operate. Shane's one of the easiest-going cats you'd ever want to meet; he's also got a bit of a screw loose, not that it's a bad thing, and doesn't take the hobby too seriously. An operating session at his layout, which is something like 15 X 90" and double decked, is bound to, at somepoint, feature a freight train with a flatcar hauling King Kong around. Quirky, yep, but it certainly keeps things lively.

While he models mainly the Missouri Pacific/T&P and Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroads, he's not so anal retentive to not allow us visitors the chance to bring our own equipment. . .so for the past couple of years, running at Shane's often has an Aussie flavor courtesy yours truly and Lance Lassen. Two nights ago, we descended on Shane's with more Australian equipment. Lance brought 12 Auscision NSW grain hoppers and new Auscision A and B class bulldogs (in Freight Australia, Southern Short Haul, and CFCLA liveries) and I assembled a 26 car train of RU and BWH's behind a 49 Class and a 442 Jumbo. When I get a video file from a friend of the cross between these two trains, I'll post 'em up. One thing others noticed about the Australian equipment: it usually ran much smoother than the American equipment on the layout. Y'all should be proud!