Friday, 5 June 2020

Building a few Poplars

One of the consequences of the mess making described in my last post was that a number of trees had to move. Gum trees were relocated to other heavily timbered areas but a row of trees along the road leading from Philip's Creek was ditched (see adjacent photo). These trees had been a generic commercial product of no specific prototype. The only reason that they had been installed on the layout originally was because they were a gift from one of my children. However, over many years, these had degraded to the point that they were no longer fit for purpose. They had to go and question turned to what would replace them. 

One possibility for a replacement tree was the ubiquitous poplar. One commercial website describes them as:
"Large, stately trees which are widely used for street and avenue plantings, parks and gardens, large properties, shelter belt planting and along driveways. Poplars are probably best known by the stately Lombary Poplar, widely planted in temperate Australia"

I have been aware of poplars from a very young age. Probably, the earliest memories from the 1960s were the extensive plantings on the Federal Highway and around Canberra. That said, I don't recall seeing many poplars on exhibition layouts but maybe I was focused on other things. I was able to purchase two models of poplars recently but wasn't too happy with the leaf colour or density of the foliage. So I decided to have a go of making a few to supplement the commercial product.

Construction of the trunk and branches was fairly simple using the common twisted wire technique. I used two sizes of wire; about six strands of 0.5mm diameter for the trunk and main branches, and a very fine fuze or armature wire intertwined for the smaller branches. The twisted wires were given a thin coat of Shelley's filler and each tree was sprayed with grey primer followed by a light spray of burnt umber.

In keeping with my usual practice foliage was fixed to the branches using spray glue but I'm sure readers will have their own preferred techniques. I used Woodland Scenics course turf - light green to simulate the leaves.

With the benefit of hindsight, I probably didn't need such a long trunk as the foliage on prototype trees starts at ground level as the photo opposite shows.

The process was a bit laborious but not difficult and I'm reasonably happy with the result, although I note that the foliage on the two commercial trees is thicker (see trees 1 and 4 -left to right on the photo below).

With the small stand of poplars finished, it's time to get back to the more extensive but certainly more mundane fencing of the newly terra formed area.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

What Happens When One Gets Some Spare Time

One makes more mess!!

I have always said that there are two constant threats to our hobby, time and space. Other challenges may come and go depending on an individual's personal circumstance but insufficient time and limits to space seem to be an ongoing issue for all modellers. However, unexpectedly, over the last two months,  the corona virus has reduced the impact of the time constraint.  Like many others, my plans for the next few months have been disrupted. We had expected to be in another part of the world at this time but cancelled plans meant that there is a bit more time to do things on Philip's Creek. The upgrading of the repair pool ( Create a Repair Pool ) was a simple job quickly completed, and the mind soon turned to more substantial projects.

The need to downsize the family home continues to drive long term planning and the prospect of having to translate Philip's Creek into a multilevel layout has dominated my thinking over the past few months. Access to the lower level tracks for cleaning and maintenance has lead me to review any higher topographical features that could impede that access, which brings me to the sidings in the first photo.

In Philip's Creek's original and shorter oval form, the siding was actually the main line leading to the staging area. The high features on either side to the track were intended to conceal the transition between the sceniced areas and the staging area. I continue to use this device elsewhere but as the layout was extended, it was no longer needed here. The original mainline became a siding, initially for the coalmine and then the very basic locomotive facilities shown in the photo. The justification for a significant cutting was gone and the major cutting here looked a bit artificial. However, there were other things to do and this job slipped to the bottom of the pile. Gradually, that pile has diminished and the time has come to rectify that artificiality.

So out came the excavation tools to get stuck into more terraforming! Well sort of. My usual tools for this activity are a long bladed knife and the rasp shaping tool. However, for the 'bulk earthworks' contemplated, I found it easier to remove one or two layers at a time using a cross cut saw, basically the reverse process to the way the styrofoam was installed initially. Once the approximate level was achieved the final shaping with the usual tools came into play.

To finish the scenery, I'll use similar processes as those I detailed in my 2014 post
( Terra Forming ) but even now, the area has been opened up considerably as these 'before and after' photos show.

And when the final scenicing is done -  what's next?

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'!"