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.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Kingston Plains Stockyard

The movement of livestock by rail was common practice in my modelling period of the late 1960s to early 1970s and stockyards were  important transshipment infrastructure at many rural stations.  Consequently, the stockyard is a necessary scenic element to be added to the Kingston Plains module. Combined with the wheat silo, it  provides the primary justification for freight traffic on the branch line.

As with everything on the Kingston Plains module, space is tight so I had to adopt a fairly compact arrangement while hopefully still capturing the key elements of a yard, a place to load and unload livestock from vehicles, a smaller holding area that leads into the races and finally the races themselves. A visual impression of a larger paddock for overflow and longer term holding of stock has been incorporated into the backdrop.

The 'air photo'  above shows the general layout of the stockyard. The stock races and fencing came from a Model Train Buildings Sheep Yard kit. This is a laser cut timber product but there are a number of alternatives around, one of which is reviewed in the April 2019 edition of AMRM.  The kit that I used provides a fairly basic representation of the stock races but does include a reasonable amount of fencing. The vehicle stock race is a white metal kit which I acquired many years ago. The cattle grid, while not strictly part of the stock yard, is required to stop any stock straying into the silo area. It was scratch built using old code 75 track and some scrap styrene.

The races and fencing were painted and weathered with pastels and isocol alcohol before installation. One of the challenges of installation was the undulations in the ground necessitating short lengths of fence butted against each other at different heights. Getting the distance between the wagon and the race also took a bit of fiddling but was finally fixed into position only to find the K truck carrying the accompanying water tank fowls the race slightly.  Aw well, it adds to the shunting challenge.

A few things have yet to be added, a couple of shade trees, a water trough and, of course, a sheep dog!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Kingston Plains Backdrop - Substantially complete?

Following on from my previous post about two months ago, the backdrop at Kingston Plains is now substantially complete. There is a method in  this bit of pedantry. By telling myself it is substantially complete, it allows me to get on with other projects without too much of a guilty conscience. What it actually means is that the painting apart from a few foreground trees has been completed, all of the selected building photos have been located and glued to the backdrop, and the 'low profile' road bridge installed.

The painting continued the processes described in previous posts with the addition of nearer distance trees, fence lines and power poles. The latter two were drawn using a pencil with a ruler to assist the perspective and alignment. The painting process was slow and I now appreciate why major art works take so long to complete - it's so boring!! Sorry if this offends dedicated artists but I usually managed little more than half an hour before losing interest and looking for something else to do.

Two more photos of buildings were glued onto the end section of the backdrop to represent houses on the road leaving the village. The process to select and print these was outlined in my last post and they are probably a better perspective fit than the houses glued to the back of the township area. As noted previously, the township houses look right when viewed from track level but less so when viewed from normal operating eye level. However, they'll stay until I invest in a drone and can photograph more appropriate images.

The low profile road bridge was tied into the end section with the construction of a part embankment and painting the backdrop to simulate the remainder of the deck and fencing. The orientation and perspective of the image is optimised to be viewed from the other end of the module where I usually stand to watch trains entering and leaving the module. The image opposite shows a closer view of  the integration of the low profile structure and painting. 

I mentioned that I still have a few more foreground trees to paint and these will be complimented with additional trees on the module when I can pick this years crop of sedum . I am thinking that I will add a paling fence behind the milk bar to help conceal the join between the module and the backdrop. Finally, I'm still not happy with the road junction in the village so I'll probably fiddle with it a bit more when I get motivated.

As the work on the backdrop has progressed, I was also installing a stock yard at the far end of the module so the fencing in particular could be integrated with the backdrop . It too has also been completed although the fleeces on the sheep look very clean, so a bit more work is required there. The stockyard will be the subject for another post.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

More on Backdrops - Still a work in progress

I had hoped that I would writing about the completion of the Kingston Plains backdrop in this post but, unsurprisingly, progress has been slower than planned. So this post provides an update rather than a description of the final product.

The Kingston Plain backdrop is significantly more complex than the one behind the Hall's Creek module ( ). I needed the backdrop to give an impression of a larger community beyond the few structures that I could fit on the module. It also has to portray a rural environment beyond the town. In many respects, the backdrop becomes a two dimensional extension of the existing landscaped module, a combination of  shaped terrain and models of man made structures structures.

This backdrop is also a work in three parts:
  • at the right of the silo,  a rural vista which also shows how the goods shed and stockyard are integrated into the countryside;
  • at the left of the silo, additional houses forming part of the township; and 
  • the end section which shows a road across the railway linking the visual with the unseen part of the township in front of the module.
(No, not a model of Kansas - please ignore the yet to be located and apparently flying houses)

The natural features have been painted using similar techniques as those detailed in my earlier post. However, I have not included trees and other vegetation closer to township as they may need to be integrated with some of the man made structures. But the main challenge on this backdrop has been how to represent the man made features so that they appear at the correct distances between the back of the module and the horizon.

For a while, I contemplated the use of some low profile buildings for some of the buildings near the service station but these didn't provide sufficient depth. I needed the buildings to appear to be part of the painted scene. Having got the natural terrain to a reasonable point, it's a risky process for me to attempt to paint structures onto the scene. Apart from the challenge of painting an accurate representation of a building, the image needs to convey the correct distance and the right perspective. So, for these structures I decided to integrate photos of particular buildings into the backdrop. I have seen this technique used effectively on several display layouts but then again, it always seems easier for others.

The sourcing of suitable images required a bit of research. Initially I looked at real estate agent selling photos. The one thing that quickly became apparent was that the viewing angle becomes far more critical for structures that populate the fore and middle grounds. My track level is about 1150mm above the ground whereas my eye level is a further 500mm higher. While it's possible to occasionally crouch down to track level, most train operations are conducted with a downwards perspective on module. Consequently, there needs to be a slightly downwards perspective on any building photograph.
As this photo shows, most real estate agents photos are either taken at ground level or in some instances looking up. Images from these angles just don't look right when placed adjacent or behind models viewed from above.

An image taken from a drone will probably yield the best results but in the absence of such photography, I then tried Google Street View as a source of possible building photos. This has proved much more lucrative, if perhaps very time consuming. I needed to find buildings of suitable age and appearance on the low side of the street or perhaps, being viewed down the hill at a T intersection. In addition to images of buildings taken perpendicular to the street, I also wanted to find photos of houses where the road was diagonally disappearing into the distance as well as houses where the back yard was visible.

Once I had identified a suitable building, I did a screen capture and dropped it onto a PowerPoint slide. Here, with a bit of trial and error, it was cropped and resized to the size needed for the backdrop. as part of the experimentation, I usually created several images of different sizes on the one slide.

The slide was then printed and, in what was a literal 'cut and paste' exercise, the actual building was cut from the page and pasted onto the backdrop. The photo opposite shows three houses fronting the main road in Kingston Plains. A fourth building is hidden by the service station workshop.

While it sounds simple, there was a fair bit of experimentation to get the angle and size correct. This photo shows several buildings tacked into position on a road disappearing into the distance. By the way, the grass colour has since been toned down.

I am also aware that I will need to use some form of matt spray to protect the pasted image to prevent fading and moisture damage.

I mentioned earlier that I had chosen not to use any low relief structures in the township. However, I have installed part of a road bridge over tracks at the start of the Kingston Plains station. This allows me to conceal to entrance to the module as well as providing the appearance of a road link between the two parts of the town. The bridge is based on a drawing that I have of a standard road crossing on the North Coast line. Hopefully, road bridges were not too dissimilar on the Main North.

At present the bridge superstructure and deck have not been fixed into position as I need to paint the remaining portion of the bridge and abutment onto the backdrop. I also need to fabricate a portion of an approach embankment and paint the road leading up to the bridge. The home signal for the station had to go. The bridge would obscure it. Presumably it has been moved to the other side of the bridge where it can easily be seen by the crew of a locomotive.

The only man made objects that I have attempted to paint are the roads and these has been the source of considerable frustration. Getting the interface between module and the backdrop to look right is proving difficult and I'm also not yet satisfied with the roads as they disappear into the distant terrain.

All said, this is most definitely still a work in progress, more to follow!