Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Yeah, I'm Still Alive. . .

I know it's been a good long spell since I last updated this blog--but I don't feel too bad in comparison to some of the slackers whose blogs I regularly check--but just a quickie here to say that I'm still alive and while North of Narrabri has got a fine layer of dust upon it, it won't be long until I pick up the pace and get back into the layout room. A visitor from Canberra will be here in a bit over a week, so that's inspiration to get the layout room habitable and the railway operable.

Sometimes, life intervenes. Sometimes, interests wane a bit and you wait for the right inspiration to bring you back to them. I've been fortunate to be blessed with a great wife and two, er, interesting sons. I've also been fortunate--or maybe cursed--by being a guy with a good many interests. Unfortunately, these interests pull at my spare time. I've only got 24 hours in a day just like everyone else. I'm lucky that my job doesn't demand more than 40 of them each week.

I will allow that more of my time that I'd like to confess to has been squandered in front of a computer for the past several months (damn you Steve Jobs, for your iPad!). My photography interests--more often meaning the archiving, scanning and cataloging of over 30 years of railroad photography--has eaten up a bit of time. And after seven years in our home, Mary and I decided to dedicate the last half of the summer to fixing it up a bit, painting rooms, redecorating, getting some projects done that should've gotten attention awhile ago. All the while considering whether it' might be time to move to a new/old house. There ya go: another new hobby, that of mid-century architecture and furniture. Like I said, there's only so much time.

I'm aware than many of us of the train persuasion also enjoy other types of transportation--if it moves, I'm probably at least marginally interested in it. And I know a couple of you out there shut down the layout at night and squeeze in a little virtual flying. So for those who love the vintage war birds or just love aircraft, here's a photo from last weekend's airshow at Alliance Airport, about five miles from my house. Two of my favorite fighter jets did a "heritage" flight for the show, and here's Friday's practice trip, with a privately-owned F-86 Sabre Jet paring with a still-active U S Air Force F-4C Phantom wearing South East Asia camo. I don't think these two jets were active concurrently; but being as the F-86 dates from 1949 and the F-4 as early as 1958, I think you could still call these "steam era" jet aircraft!

Monday, July 2, 2012

So, how does it pull?

Now that I've got a Powerline new 48 Class as a guinea pig to compare to the other two branchline locomotives on the layout, Trainorama's 47 and 49 class, I'm naturally curious as to how much grunt the little locomotive will have. My crossing loops are 6 1/2 actual feet long, sufficient for a single branchline locomotive, 10 WTY-code grain wagons, and a guard van. So, it'd be nice if a train of this size can be pulled by a single PL 48 up the 2.5% gradient of my corner helix.

On a scale, the three classes weigh in as follows:
  • 49 Class, 271g
  • 48 Class, 260g
  • 47 Class, 251g
Earlier testing of the 47 and 49 classes found that each could sufficently handle the grade solo with the following trains:
  • 13 FWH (Tranorama) wagons + van. Weight of 1097g, a "scale" tonnage of 895 tonnes.
  • 9 WTY (Auscision) wagons + van. Weight of 920g, a "scale" tonnage of 753 tonnes.
  • 10 WHX (AR Kits, weighted approx 82g per car) + van. Weight of 903g, a "scale" tonnage of 744 tonnes.
The PL 48 nicely handled the grade with 12 FWH wagons + 2 heavy Austrains WHX cars+ van; it also had no problem with 10 Auscision WTY + van. For its weight, it easily matches the Trainorama locomotives in pulling ability, and the loco depot shouldn't be shy about assigning it a full load on assignments out of Narrabri.

LATE UPDATE: Felt compelled to try to give an 8 car rake of Austrains WHX cars (151 grams/each) and a van up the grade, and it just managed. . . 1208g plus the van. . .these roll quite well also.

Curious: anyone know the tonnage rating of a single 48 class on the 1:40 Ardglen grade? I'm guessing the model is pretty comparable.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Long Dry Spell. . .

Welcome to Narrabri, 4865! Finally, a reasonably well-done DL531 to join the Clyde-GM 49 Class and Gonian-Hitachi 47 Class. Now, all I need is about five more, and I'll be set!
Wow. It's been awhile since I've last posted to this blog. I'm not AWOL, although I certainly wouldn't have minded setting down roots during my last visit to Australia and sending for the family to join me.

Since returning from three great weeks in New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and South Australia, "real life" has kept me quite busy--quite busy enough to push the voluntary "demands" of writing a blog on model railroading Australian-style to the back burner. The kids have been busy with school, with baseball practice, with (now) summer vacation. We briefly toyed with the idea of buying a new house, then decided that we'd probably be better off fixing up the one we already have. And, frankly, after three weeks away from my wife and kids, I felt that maybe I should just tone down the hobby pursuits just a bit to be fair to the ones I left behind.

But, I'm back now. And ready to pickup where I left off. . .which was. . .where, exactly? In terms of modeling the North-West of New South Wales, I full admit dragging my feet the past couple of years. Certainly, doing research on just what Lance Lassen and I should prioritize during our latest Oz adventure took up a good amount of time (don't want to waste precious time on holiday spinning our wheels, you know). And frankly, progress on the layout had been stalled for awhile: I found a couple of design flaws that, while not major, were significant enough to keep me from wanting to get after them. And, I was getting disheartened as the years have rolled by and the signature motive power needed on my layout--the ones I'd paid for over three years ago--still hadn't materialized.

I wish I could've said that we were lucky with the timing of our trip and I was able to bring home the three just-released 48 Class locos Trainorama was producing--but the realities from the factories in China didn't allow that to happen.

But, fortune did eventually shine on me, if only a little bit. The new Powerline 48 Class have just been released, and while Lance and I certainly were impressed by the pre-production samples we saw in Melbourne in February, I wasn't totally committed to purchasing one or two as a stop-gap until the Train-O's arrived. But a couple of weeks ago, a mate in Canberra, Brad Hinton, offered me an 'extra' PL 48 Class he ended up with--4865. A perfect number for a Werris Creek depot locomotive. And the transaction would be painless--I'd transfer appropriate funds to him, and another modeler from Canberra, John Prattis, would carry them to Texas for me en route to the NMRA convention in Michigan. How could I refuse!

So, now I have my first 48 Class on the layout. Still outnumbered by the pairs of 44, 47 and 49 class, but it's a start. My motivation to recreate this part of the NSWGR circa 1978 has been rekindled. Now the six- or nine-month wait until the trio of Train-O's I'm waiting for seems a bit more bearable. And if this PL 48 Class is deemed worthy, I may well add another couple to the roster before the NEW Trainorama delivers their version.

What about the Powerline Model?

I've certainly been critical of the pre-production photographs of this model posted to the "Model Railways in Australia" Yahoo group (clearly a Powerline-backed discussion group), to the point that I'm sure Ian Comport didn't want to hear any more my criticisms.

But, I'll have to eat my words on several earlier criticism, and while this isn't an "A+"  release, I'd give it at least a solid "B"--maybe a "B+" if I had greater confidence in the decoder.

Here's a few of my impressions of the new Powerline 48 Class:

1) It is a beautiful model. Proportions look great. Detail is wonderful for the most part very nice..  The earlier concerns I had about the hand rails and blobby air horns are mitigated somewhat by the final result. The cab mirrors--especially-- and windshield wipers are still way too clunky, and cry out for after-market replacements--with the great quality brass and stainless etchings available, why are these items to blobular and toy-like? Speaking of etchings: Why not an etched radiator grille? The molded radiator is quite flat--giving it a wash of black paint improves its "depth."

2) Underframe detail is great--as long as you don't have to remove the carbody! Still matching some parts up that fell out/came loose with the holes they came out of!

3) Carbody removal, as rumored, is a bitch. Really, four underframe screws AND two coupler screws to hold the carbody in place is a little excessive. I'm going with just the two coupler screws. . .not likely the carbody will be in danger of slipping off without 'em! No reason in this day and age to so tightly engineer the product to make basic maintenance of the mechanism a reason to destroy nice detail.

4) The decoder seems to be just adequate. I'll keep it in until I decide at a later time to put sound in or not. What WAS funny to me was that after struggling to remove the carbody to flip the DCC switch and then struggle to put it back in place, one of the plastic tabs that hold the carbody to the sideframe of the body was in JUST the right position to push the switch back to DC! So, had to go through it a second time. What's needed is a slightly shorter switch lever. . .or, even better, engineer the DCC board so the switch is located under the removable roof hatch on the carbody (between exhaust stack and the fan), or even behind a stepwell or under the fuel tank! And it is noisy. And given the history of Powerline's decoders in the T class, I'm not hopeful about this one.

5) Oh, the fan. Whimsical little thing to include on the model. . .has its own little tiny electric motor, and, mine, at least, makes a horrible humming noise. After I got the DCC switch in the right position, I STILL thought I was on DC given the hum the engine makes while on the layout. I'm guessing I'll lose the fan motor in the DCC sound install. Seriously, as good as the model is otherwise, to have this toy-like feature is beyond me. Actual radiator fans move quite slowly (okay, the electronic wizards among us will no doubt add a resistor to the small motor to slow it down). Most of the time, radiator fans don't move--another reason to add this to a DCC function.

6) The green plastic blob crew have been excised from the cab. Two deadheading crewmen in a Train-O 44 have been moved to proper positions in the 48 class. Much better.Hopefully they won't file a union grievance about the brightness of the lighting in the locomotive cab.

7) Buffers: Seriously, I don't care if they're sprung or not. I removed the springs and shortened the alignment pins so they don't impede on the carbody removal process.

8) End sill steps: Wow. Four of the 12 etched steps came loose from the stairwells while removing the body. I appreciate the detail on these, but Lifelike in the US was able to offer cast and better-secured plastic steps that look just as good. It wouldn't be an issue, I guess, if you didn't have to gently spread the ends of the underframe in order to remove the body.

9) Paint and lettering is first-rate. The tuscan red may be a bit orangey compared to the prototype, but it comes close to the shade used by Train-O on the 49 class. Not a close match to what is considered "correct" indian red on the 44 class. But, there's always variation in paint; if I have a couple Powerline 48s in the with Train-O 48's dressed in what I assume will be the proper shade of Indian Red , the subtle variety will look nice. Silver cab roof? May well have been done to the 48 class, but the Preston book didn't mention any so painted and haven't seen a photograph of one that was.

10)Plated wheels: Powerline blew it on this. Comport admitted as much when he said the second run would have blackened wheel sets. Even so, an easy fix. At least there aren't Pizza-Cutter flanges.

11) (Narrow gauge concern): The gearbox is full-width to the standard gauge wheel sets. Not a concern for me, but thinking down the road some SA modelers would want to be able to put 3'6" wheelsets for their railroads, and this model won't allow it.

While falling short in a few areas, it will certainly hold my modeling interest until the Train-O 48's arrive and I can make a comparison.

But having an honest-to-gosh good-running 48 class proper for Narrabri is enough to finally get my butt off the chair and back to working on the layout. For now, little 4865 no doubt pines for a few more sisters, but that time will hopefully be coming soon.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's a Small World (after all)!

Direct from Melbourne to a computer near you: Bunbury St. Rail Cam

The clothes are sorted, the reservations have been made, the travel documents all printed out and safely stored, and the last shift at work for the next 20-some days have been completed. All that's left is to finish packing, weigh the bag (must no exceed the weight limit!) and head to the airport tomorrow night for the beginning of my second trip to Australia.

My travelmate Lance Lassen--with whom I partnered with on my first visit in 2009--and I really began preparation for this trip about a year ago. But planning has been pretty low key until the couple of months, when we got serious about learning a bit more about railroading in Victoria and South Australia, two states I've not visited before but which will figure heavily in this go-round.

It's amazing when we think about it, but we're leaving with a list of nearly 30 contacts--fellow modelers, railroaders, and railfans. All of us share a passion for Australian railways, and while many of them know each other, none of them know everyone else. Lance and I have become the "Kevin Bacon" in the equation, a la "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" (Google it.).

We'll be gone for three full weeks--and they will be three FULL weeks, with no slack days in there to lie on a beach or look at Koala bears. As I like to say: I'll sleep on the plane. The fact that two Americans can put together three weeks of near-constant activity chasing trains, photographing trains, driving to see more trains, visiting hobby shops, visiting layout, visiting friends, and, oh yes, eating quite a bit of great Aussie Bar-B-Que--well, it's something that pretty much would have been impossible 15 years ago. And for this, we have the wonder of the Internet to thank.

Now, this isn't meant as a slam against Australia, but when you compare rail traffic in the US to that down under, from a sheer volume standpoint, the United States rules, hands down. We've got the population, of course, but we also have a higher percentage of the population living away from the coast. Consequently, a good deal of the rail traffic in the US which isn't grain or coal is merchandise moving to consumers far inland. That isn't, by and large, the case in Australia. Which is a way of saying that if you want to be busy watching trains in Australia, you're going to have to know where to go and when to be there--that is especially true in Victoria, where the policies of state government in the past have really decimated the rail freight franchise there. In the United States, go to a mainline, and chances are you'll see a train before too long.

Here's where the internet comes in handy: for the past couple months, Lance and I have been able to innundate ourselves with information on Australian freight railroading. On line, one can see track diagrams, signal diagrams, operating rules, train make up rules, and freight schedules (all of that stuff is closely controlled by railroads in the US--security and terrorism, ya know!). The rail enthusiast gravevine is fully alive and well: very few train movements go by unreported, and besides tabular recaps of trains on internet news groups and websites such as Gheringap Loop, for railfans in Victoria (where traffic really is sparse), there's popular real-time web cams at the busy Bunbury St. tunnel in Victoria and on the mainline west of Melbourne in the little town of Stawell. None of this stuff would've been available to see a decade ago from the comfort of an old used office chair in Fort Worth!

Through the world-wide interwebs, we've been able to ask questions, make acquaintances, and build friendships across the miles. We've got friends as well as near-strangers offering us accommodations on our journey--something I don't think we'd see from fellow Americans.

Well, it's all a lot to ruminate about, and it's being done while I should be packing. But even before we've left the ground, I'm sure Lance would agree with me that from an information and personal communication standpoint, this trip is already a success.

One sleep to go. Sydney (and Melbourne, and Adelaide, and for that matter Tocumwal, Tailem Bend and Dubbo) here we come!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dreamtime Downunder. . .

There isn't a lot of freight traffic remaining on Victoria's vast Broad-Gauge network, but what there is. . well, it's quite photogenic: A fine Jamie Fisher snap of Pacific National up Tocumwal-Melbourne service let by A78-P22-A81, Mooroopna, Victoria, 19 December, 2011. For us Yanks, the thought of a double-ended turbo-charged F-unit blows our minds!

It's been FAR too long since my last posts--just over THREE months! And, sad to say, apart from a few quick efforts at weathering the new Columbia Models BCW wagons, I've done little if any modeling in that period. Jeez, the workbench hasn't even been cleaned up from the last bit of modeling I engaged in.

I guess lots of that time has been daydreaming about a place where the Bulldogs still roam free. And in doing a little extra work on the side to pay for the opportunity to bring those dreams to realilty.

And the time before we leave on the big 747 with the Kangaroo on the tail for the 20 hour flight is coming up quicker than I can imagine. It was just coincidence that last Friday, while I drove Mary and the boys to visit family east of us, we passed the north end of Dallas-Fort Worth airport at ten minutes to 3p.m.--the exact instant the daily Qantas non-stop from Sydney swooped right over our heads, flaps down and fuel nearly spent. A flight we'd be on in nine weeks to the day returning from Australia. Six weeks to the day until we leave.

My fellow down under gunzel work-mate Lance Lassen and I bought the tickets in the first quarter of 2011, when Qantas was running a sale that got us round-trip for less than we paid for the same flight in 2009. This time, we're spending three weeks in Oz, a week more than in 2009. We're still expecting to keep way more than busy railfanning, taking in a footy game in Melbourne, visiting hobby shops, museums, bookstores, model railroads and, best of all, friends. This time, though, we're going to pay a bit more attention OUTSIDE New South Wales.

Okay, then how about a single-ended Victorian bulldog? In this case, Victorian S-class S313 leading a pair of blue-and-gold T-class, all leased from railway museums, on the pointy end of Up-bound El Zorro Delinquin-Melbourne train 9072, a Monday-Friday schedule, seen at Moama on 22 December, 2011. Again, Jamie Fisher nails it!

What could be better than NSW railways? With a record wheat-harvest expected in Victoria and South Australia, the railways there are quite busy for the first time in many years. While the 2009 trip to NSW concentrated on Alco-powered relics, we're starting off this trip in "Mexico," hoping to get a good amount of piccies of glorious Bulldog locomotives employed hauling wheat on both the broad gauge and standard gauge.

Operators P&O Trans-Australian (POTA), ElZorro, Pacific National, and Genesee & Wyoming Australia are scrambling to find power to keep the empty grain wagons rolling to port, and in Victoria and South Australia, as in New South Wales, you'll never know what you'll find. There's lots of new high-tech power on Hunter Valley coal trains and on cross-continent intermodal trains, but CWA's beautiful orange and black CLF/CLP and GM's are busy on the grain haul in and out of Adeliade. Next state over, former Victorian Railway B and S class EMD's are on home rails, some still in heritage paint and leased out by preservation groups, teamed with other former Victorian locomotives--X and C and G and strings of little T class. It's a great show!

Of course, our appetites have been justly whetted with regular dispatches through e-mail of photographs of these tasty photographic subjects. How can we resist? We're still hoping during the other two weeks of our holiday to see 48 class on rural branchlines in NSW and 44 class on trip trains and the odd standard-gauge bulldog as well running around. And it'll be hard to pass up at least a cursory look at all the colorful new paint schemes adorning cookie-cutter (ugly) new locomotives hauling coal in the Hunter Valley to and from The North West, where Lance and I will try again to at least tear ourselves away from the gunzeling long enough to take some "infrastructure photos" of the locations we're modeling in HO scale, the Narrabri and Gunnedah areas.

In the meantime, until we climb on the big 'roo February 17th, I've got a few more slides to sell, got a new camera to learn how to operate, and we've got timetables and Google Earth to peruse. And dreams of Bulldogs in the Malee and Rivernia country.

It won't be long now!

Lastly, but certainly not least, GWA GM38, still in Australian National paint, paired with an ex-NSW 422 class trailing the tail-end of train 1341S on the Loxton branch at Veitch, South Australia, 7 October, 2011--another fine photo by Jamie Fisher.

All Jamie Fisher photographs, Copyright 2011, and used with permission of the photographer.