Sunday, 22 March 2020

Something to do during a lock down - Create a Repair Pool

With most of the population facing enforced isolation, the opportunity for work on one's layout has risen exponentially to the point where some might be scratching for things to do. Here's a suggestion for a simple task that can have a benefit further 'down the track' so to speak.

Any layout is prone to some damage during normal operations. We reach over the layout to clean track, remedy a derailment or perhaps assist an uncoupling that hasn't worked as it should, and invariably, things get damaged or broken.  For me, the scenic items with the greatest potential for such damage are telegraph and power poles.

In the days when I had a green skin, one of the things that we would frequently hear about was an entity called a Repair Pool. This was a collection of various items of equipment that could be borrowed by a unit when a like item owned by it required significant repairs. The idea of having spares on hand is not new and we probably all carry a collection of  repair parts such as wheel sets, coupler springs and the like. However, this takes the idea further to complete scenic items ready to be installed. 

Over the past 12 months, I have fabricated and painted a number of  extra telegraph and power poles to establish this pool. I needed to make two different telegraph poles, three crossbars for the mainline and a single crossbar for the two branch lines. All power poles have two bars.

Previously, when one of these is damaged, it would probably stay in place until several similar incidents make a repair worthwhile. Now if this occurs, the damaged item can quickly be replaced with a like item and repaired at my leisure. While it may take me as long to get around to repairing the damaged poles, at least visually, the layout is not degraded. The repaired item is returned to the pool and waits until it is needed again.

While I have limited my repair pool to telegraph and power poles, it can easily be applied to other scenic items such as trees or perhaps signals. That said, given the cost and complexity of signals these days, one might need to consider whether the repair pool concept is worth it.

The size of the repair pool is a question that each individual needs to determine. Over time I have tended to settle on 2-3 of each type. From experience, I have learned that the greatest potential for damage, around the junction of the Kingston Plains branch as I attempt to clean the tracks in the two cuttings and the coal mine siding where the four wheel LCH and and CCH sometimes misbehave as they are shunted onto the sidings. This experience has helped me determine the quantities required.

Having said all of this, I have to confess that the repair pool has not be used to any extent in the township of Philip's Creek itself because of the uncertainty of the future of those two modules(see 
Contingency Planning ). However, those modules which will continue on into the next iteration of Philip's Creek, the repair pool is used frequently - yes, I'm clumsy!

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Exposing a Vulnerability

Every now and then you learn a lesson about the layout you built that you didn't expect. It happened to me recently.

When I converted to  DCC in 2010, I purchased a NCE Powercab. At that time, the layout was a U shape with an additional staging yard at the end of the U. The tethered Powercab allowed an operator to stand in front of,  or at least see a train operating at any part of the layout. However, at times, operation was still challenging and around July 2013, in anticipation of a planned expansion of the layout, I invested in a NCE Cab06 wireless controller  Going wireless

Since then, this controller has been an integral part of Philip's Creek operation, allowing me to follow a particular train throughout its entire run and, where necessary, complete any shunting activities. This capability facilitated the extension of Philip's Creek and the use of 'compartments' to simulate a sense of distance.( Attempting to manage distance  ). I noted in that post that the wireless controller is essential to make this work. With hindsight, that may have been an overstatement because there are other ways that a tethered controller can be extended but probably not with the Powercab in its present form.

So, a few weeks ago, it came as an unpleasant surprise when the Cab06 started to malfunction particularly during the 'select a locomotive' process. After three sets of batteries, I was convinced that they weren't the problem. The main issue seemed to be an unresponsive key pad. The controller has always been slow to establish the link once a specific locomotive number has been entered but now it was even failing to register individual numbers as they were keyed in.

With some trepidation, I opened up the controller and examined the keypad mat and the contacts on the circuit board. The contacts on both were wiped with a dry cotton bud. This may have solved the problem because now the controller is again functioning  normally.

Although the problem now appears to be rectified, it highlighted a vulnerability in the operation of Philip's Creek. Without the flexibility of a reliable wireless controller, a significant element of the layout is difficult or impossible to reach. Both staging areas (opposite) can be reached with difficulty if the Powercab is passed underneath the baseboard but the Kingston Plains branch line (below) is inaccessible.

This means I need some redundancy, specifically another wireless controller. A second Cab06 is the obvious choice but, over the years, I have found the controller to be very basic and I miss the functions available on the Powercab. Although it costs significantly more, I'll probably target a Procab R, the wireless version of the Procab controller.

Of course, the DCC system as a whole is also a vulnerability. In the days of DC, over time, I accumulated several power packs and even more controllers, but after the conversion to DCC, the Powercab has been the core of the system. It is now 10 years old and has performed well over that time. Hopefully, it will continue to do so but, if it doesn't, operation of Philip's Creek will come to a grinding halt until a replacement can be sourced. Alternately, I may investigate the NCE booster option but this will have to wait finances recover from the Procab purchase.

In the meantime, it's back to 'business as usual' albeit now with my fingers crossed.

Monday, 16 December 2019

What's in a name?

One of the features of a prototypical layout is that you have some flexibility about the names of locations and businesses that form part of the scenery. Frequently, such prototypical modellers choose a scenario where an alternate history envisages an additional railway line built to actual locations within NSW. I have probably gone a bit further, inventing fictitious locations in a general area of the state, in my case the upper Hunter Valley. The consequence of this is that location names as well as fictitious businesses needed to be generated and this post describes the story behind why some names were chosen.

The layout name was easy to decide after a bottle of red wine. If Jacob could have a creek named after him, then so could I, even if it was just an imaginary location. Incidentally on very recent visit to the Barossa  Valley, I drove across Jacob's Creek. It was as unassuming in 1:1 scale as Philip's Creek is in 1:87 scale.

For other locations, I drew on links to the family connections. The small village of Mount Windeatt picked up my wife's maiden name while the township of Kingston Plains was chosen because we have lived in a township of Kingston in two parts of the world, Canberra and the UK.

The business names that have been used throughout the layout mostly invoke names from our family history. The one exception to this is the Royal Hotel, simply because it is one of the most common names for a hotel is regional communities.

In the Philip's Creek township, the two shops, Spencer's Fruit and Veg, and Buckingham's General Store are names from our genealogies. In the case of the Buckingham Brothers General Store, the type of business links to a distant uncle William Buckingham. Older readers may remember the Buckingham Department Store in Oxford St Sydney established in the 1920s. It was founded by William but destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1968 after the business had closed. My direct ancestor, Thomas, was William's brother and also worked in the company, hence Buckingham Brothers.

The three businesses in Kingston Plains also have links to our extended family. Coral's Milk Bar and Norm's Garage and Used Cars are named after my wife's parents who both passed away in 2016 and 2017.  Coral loved her chocolate milk shakes and Norm had a penchant for purchasing any used car that attracted his attention.

David Jones and Sons Butcher has a more convoluted link in the family history. Coral's father was illegitimate and we have never been able to identify the person. That is until recently, when DNA testing led us to the family of David and Emma Jones. David Jones was a butcher in Tamworth around 1900 and the DNA results indicate that one of their sons was Coral's grandfather. So quite deliberately, I located Coral's Milk Bar next to her unknown great grandfather's butcher's shop.

This is my final post for 2019 and as the year rapidly draws to a close,  I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all readers  a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2020 for you and your family.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Singleton Hunter River Bridge

Despite the closing comments in my last post ( Contingency Planning ), I have started work on a model of the Hunter River rail bridge near Singleton. How this model will be integrated into Philip's Creek has yet to be seen and, probably in the short term, it will remain as an independent diorama and possibly be used as a separate DCC programming track.  

The current bridge is the third in that location. Ray Love in his book 'Days of Steam' provides a brief description of the three iterations. These are also shown in the montage opposite found on the internet ( The first bridge, a five-span laminated timber structure (Images (a) and (b)) was built in 1866. It was replaced in 1902 by a five-span riveted steel Pratt truss structure (Image (c)). In turn, this bridge was replaced when the line was duplicated with a steel girder structure (Image (d)). I'm not sure when the duplication took place but I understand that it was well after my modelling time period of the late 1960s, early 1970s. Consequently, the 1902 Pratt truss version is the subject of my modelling effort. Since the post was first published, Col Hussey provided some additional information on the 1902 version which can be found in the comments section below.

My research to date for this project has been restricted. Life has got in the way preventing a visit to the Australian Railway Historical Society so I have relied on two photos, extracts of which have been reproduced below. The first photo showing a 60 class hauling a load of LCH/CCH wagons is from 'Northern Exposures' (p 128, photographer Greg Triplett).

The second showing a 36 class leading the Brisbane Express over the bridge is from Ray Love's book 'Days of Steam' (p67, photographer Ray Love). Ray's photo, in addition to showing detail on the truss arrangement and weathering, also gives a good indication of how the original piers were modified to accommodate the 1902 bridge.

I used these photos to estimate key truss dimensions by comparing the bridge elements with the equivalent HO scale locomotives.These were used to create a template for the fabrication of first two trusses. Each truss was built using styrene only with the major components of each truss using various  profiles all around 3.2mm wide. Cross bracing was a combination of angles and flat sections.

These two trusses will form one span of the bridge and have been used to develop construction techniques. They were also used to test  each span's load carrying capacity.  .

The following three photos show the construction sequence  The internal bracing was the most difficult to fabricate. I only fitted one of these every second bay and I can't determine from the photos whether that spacing is correct. However, the lateral bracing of the top chord is the most critical to resist the bending failure of the truss and this was easy to fit.

The final stage to confirm the viability of trusses was the load test. In something reminiscent of the famous load test of the Sydney Harbour Bridge albeit with significantly less potential consequences of failure, I used 6018, as the heaviest load the bridge will carry, to test the capacity of the span. It passed! A slight vertical deflection was noted but I don't think this will have any significant impact on the functionality of the bridge. Incidentally, I understand that the actual bridge was restricted to a single 60 class, so it's probably close to the mark.

I want this bridge to fit onto a single 1800mm module but  with each span measuring around 340mm plus the substantial abutments and approaches, a five span bridge will be too long. It's probably time to apply some modeller's licence and reduce the number of spans from five to three. But more of that later. In the meantime, it's time to build more trusses.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Contingency Planning (aka Daydreaming)

Like many Australians as we get older, I am facing the prospect of having to downsize our family home. With the inevitable march of time and children having left home, the downsizing needs to deliver three objectives, reduce the yard maintenance obligations, reduce the number of stairs that need to be negotiated as we get older and, finally, release some equity to top up a dwindling retirement saving balance. This is not something that needs to be done now, but should probably be achieved in the next three to four years. While that process is beyond the scope of this blog, there will inevitably be an impact on Philip's Creek. 

The challenge is to find a smaller home that will deliver our objectives while still allowing sufficient space to continue to operate a layout without too much compromise to its current concept of an imaginary section of the Main North with several branch lines. The layout currently occupies just over 16m2 of floor space in a third garage. It may be possible to de-clutter the current second garage and consolidate two garages into one which, hopefully, will fit Philip's Creek, tools, workbench etc. Alternatively, it may be possible to fit the layout into one or two spare rooms. Either way, it means that Philip's Creek will probably not be able to occupy the same foot print that it currently does.

As the layout was built in the expectation of regular moves (  A Well Travelled Layout ), I don't anticipate the need for a total rebuild. But to reduce its footprint, it probably does mean that the layout will have to become multilevel and some modules will need to change. Having finished a significant extension over the past few years, I'm loath to change these. Consequently, this leaves the original Philip's Creek station modules (shown left) as the most likely candidates for modification. I had previously planned to refresh the scenery on these to bring them to the standard of the more recently constructed modules, so a more extensive rebuild to these modules does not seem too far fetched.

It's way too early to speculate on the extent of changes but if necessary, Philip's Creek could shrink from two modules to one, reducing its length from 3.6m down to 1.8m. This probably means changing it to a simple passing loop that allows a 50 class to shunt 15-16 LCH/CCH wagons into the coal mine. The original LJ cardboard A3 station will probably have to go but the A1 building and short platform will be reused. Most of the township buildings could be relocated onto the 'new' Philip's Creek and of course, the creek will be there. Other  modules, unmodified, would be split between the upper and lower levels depending on the space available. The two existing staging areas representing  locations north and south would need be be rebuilt to fit into the revised layout somehow..

With these changes, I have been contemplating opportunities to extend the scope of the layout. I have always said that Philip's Creek's imaginary location is somewhere between Singleton and Muswellbrook. Recently, I have been considering the viability of  modelling the Main North rail bridge over the Hunter River as it was around 1970 and possibly even Singleton station. For someone who has always been a prototypical modeller with a focus on 'modelling the ordinary' this is a considerable shift and definitely full of new challenges but the opportunity to reproduce scenes such as this photo from Northern Exposures (p 128, photographer Greg Triplett) is very enticing.

However, as my mind canvasses these possibilities, somewhere in my subconscious, I hear Michael Caton's line from The Castle'....."Tell him he's dreamin'!"

Thursday, 11 July 2019

A Pair of MRC wagons

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, a project does not quite work out as intended resulting in a model that you know is a bit below par.

At Epping Model Railway Club's great exhibition at Rosehill, I came across a Trainorama special runout offer on their MRC refrigerator wagons. I was attracted to these as I wanted to increase the number of refrigerated wagons available to carry produce from the Aberdeen Abattoir through Philip's Creek to locations further south   These models were originally released around 2013 and I walked away with Pack C which contained two white roofed MRCs.

Trainorama MRCs as shown in December 2013 AMRM

I reread Ian Dunn's review of the model in the December 2013 issue of AMRM which highlighted a number of issues but, in the spirit of optimism that one has with a new purchase, anticipated that most of these could be overcome. That said, despite the forewarning,  I still ran fowl of the imitation Kadee couplers when one broke as I tried to adjust the tang. While I am able to live with the coarser wheel profile for the time being, I found that the casting on the inside of the bogie frame was a little rough, inhibiting the free running of the wheels. Some quick work with a file fixed this but I'll probably seek to upgrade the 2AE bogies if the opportunity presents.

The weathering became a bit of a saga. Another issue identified in the review was the prominent planking or more specifically, the depth of the grove between the planks. The review suggested that this could be toned down with significant weathering. My effort was probably less successful and seemed to highlight the planking rather than minimise it. It also made the wagons appear to be in a more degraded condition, like those at the end of their life in the late 1970s rather than 10 years earlier during the steam transition period. With the addition of some isocol alcohol, I was able to remove the excessive weathering although the highlighting of the joints between planks remained. I then applied a wash of white paint in an attempt to mute this. This also was only partially successful and, in reality, not too different to the original condition as shown in the AMRM photo above. I'll probably have to apply a few more washes of paint, probably antique white this time.

The roof also provided a challenge. In common with many 'ready to run' models, there was no representation of the malthoid strips that form the roof. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Malthoid Roofs, I prefer to get the roof appearance as close as possible to the original so these needed attention. Usually I would apply strips of masking tape but the access hatches and walkway made this more complex than normal. As an alternative I tried marking the joints between the sheets with a thin pencil line which I then rubbed with isocol alcohol to mute the impact of each line. The difference in appearance is shown on the adjacent photo.

Unfortunately, I then got a bit carried away with the application of soot and grime on the roof to the point where most of the joints were no longer visible. To mitigate this, I then highlighted several strips to represent repaired roof sections. At the end of this, basically what had been a white roof had become a black roof with a hint of malthoid strips.

I'll wait for a while to see if this outcome bugs me too much. If so, I'll revert back to my trusted masking tape method on the roof and work around the ice hatches. In retrospect, I probably should have done that in the first place.That'll teach me to cut corners!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

100 not out

100 not out is a great score for any cricketer. Alas for me who was not a good cricketer and almost hopeless batsman, it's something that I could never achieve. However, in the context of this blog, it is something that I can claim as this is my 100th post and still going. Mind you, it took some seven plus years to achieve, more a Geoffrey Boycott type of innings than David Warner. (My apologies to those readers who do not have a cricketing background or who are too young to know who Geoffrey Boycott is).

While Philip's Creek had already been in existence since 1996, the blog has tracked its expansion since it ceased its earlier nomadic existence. The photo opposite captures a scene from that earlier period and was the first photo of Philip's Creek published in the blog. It remains one of my favourites.  The three photo montages below show the changes documented in the past 100 posts. The first two photos show the original modules as at 2012 and now. The final slightly larger montage shows the additional modules that have been added in the same period. The montages also show the considerable amount of clutter that has been accumulated and stored under the layout including the lawnmower that appears not to have moved over over seven years. (hint, the yellow cover is very visible in the centre photos)

When I started the blog, the locomotive roster consisted of eight locomotives - it is now 17 (including one unpowered 44 class) . Most of these additions were the subject of specific posts as they joined the locomotive roster. Rolling stock has also increased significantly, particularly for block trains. Ready to run models have made a greater presence on the layout but kits together with some conversions still comprise the core of the roster, and many of these have been described in posts. 

To the readers of the blog, thank you for your support over the past seven years, a blog is nothing without you. A breakdown of the page views (shown in the table below) over the period yields some interesting results. Given the prototype being modelled on Philip's Creek, the percentage of page views from Australia is expected as is the percentage from the US, noting the popularity of the hobby over there. What is surprising is the number of people interested in the hobby in Russia and to a lesser extent, the Ukraine. 'Привет' and 'привітання'! I hope Google translate has got the right word for 'greetings'. Other bloggers have also noted this trend. The other surprise is the emerging 'Unknown Region' which I have only noticed over the past 12 months or so. I had thought it might be China but online advice suggests that this is incorrect. One of life's little mysteries!

United States
Unknown Region

Moving forward, the blog will continue to document developments and changes on Philip's Creek. However, as I have noted in a recent post, in its current location, Philip's Creek has probably reached its physical limit. There will probably be additions to the rolling stock roster as well as a refresh of the  older scenic parts of the layout which  will probably be the subject of future posts. Still we can't predict the future and, if the opportunity presents, blog posts may also address the further expansion of Philip's Creek.

Returning to the cricket analogy, will the blog manage to crack a double century? I don't know but I'll have a go.