Thursday, 16 March 2017

Contract out your fencing

Fences are a fact of life in both urban and rural environments and in my quest to 'model the ordinary', they are certainly a feature that should be included as part of the scenery. Several of my earlier posts have discussed some aspects AND the frustrations of modelling fences.

As I mentioned previously, the tedious nature of the task, particularly when building a standard barb wire fence quickly dents the enthusiasm. Consequently, the task frequently gets put in the 'too hard' or 'lower priority' basket. To overcome this, I decided to call in some extra help and engaged a fencing contractor, Paddy's Fences to finish the task.

While I had been contemplating this solution for a while, it all fell into place when I found some castings of barbed wire coils manufactured by Model Train Buildings  ( ) at the recent Forestville Exhibition. The figures came from  second hand stalls at other exhibitions and the Holden ute was purchased a few years ago.

The contractor's name acknowledges a recent visit to the layout by an eight year old great nephew. While he seemed to enjoy running the trains, he definitely enjoyed playing with the red ute. Paddy's favourite ute became the workhorse for Paddy's Fences.

I haven't recorded the time spent building this little cameo but it is definitely a lot less than would have been expended running and tensioning all of the 'wire' myself!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Operating Philip's Creek

Despite Philip’s Creek being in existence for around 20 years, it is only in the last few years that I have given much thought as to how the layout may be operated in a way that is a vague approximation of operations on the Main North during the steam/diesel transition era. However, before I could put anything in place, I had to get my mind around a few things.  

Firstly, I needed to recognise that the layout is built around a single station somewhere on the Main North albeit with two small branch lines that join the mainline in the vicinity of Philip’s Creek. It can never be a long main line run with several major stations with industries providing destinations and a demand for freight and passengers. For Philips Creek, other destinations are represented by the staging yards at either end of the point to point layout. The only industries on the layout are the coal mine at Philip’s Creek, the timber mill on the Mount Windeatt branch line and wheat silo on the as yet unnamed branch line. So rather than some form of timetable for the whole line, I am pushed towards operating a defined or set sequence of trains passing through the station including any necessary actions associated with goods collections and delivery.

The second issue I needed to resolve was an approximate location for the fictitious Philip’s Creek on the Main North. I have always wanted to incorporate coal, wheat and timber facilities into the layout and this desire does influence Philip’s Creek’s approximate location. While one more coal mine near the Main North does not indicate a specific area in the late 1960s Hunter Valley, it probably does set a northern limit around Muswellbrook. However, the desire to incorporate wheat and timber does narrow the possible locations. I am not aware of any wheat silos being linked to the Main North by rail south of Singleton. Similarly, the southernmost timber milling that potentially could be connected to the Main North is the former state forests approximately east of Muswellbrook in what is now the Mount Royal National Park.  

Consequently, for operational purposes, I have located Philip’s Creek somewhere between Muswellbrook in the north and the Hunter River bridge at Singleton in the south. An additional coal mine in that vicinity is not unrealistic and a second branch line just south of the current Merriwa branch line is possible. While I am not aware of any rail links to the state forests around Mount Royal, it is a feasible scenario.

Locating Philip’s Creek in the area between Muswellbrook and Singleton has lead to a few constraints and assumptions. 

It defines the tonnage that each locomotive can haul based on the Working Timetables for the Northern District. Fortunately, a very kind person has uploaded a selection of these working timetables to the internet and they can be found at

I also understand that in the late 1960s, the capacity of the Hunter River bridge at Singleton limited the Class 60 Garretts to a single locomotive, thus restricting the amount of coal moved south from Muswellbrook in one train to 1150 tons (Working Timetable for Goods and Passenger Trains also Loads for Trains p363. 1200 tons permitted in some circumstances). Trains pulled by a Class 60 heading north were restricted to 650 tons (ibid p361 up to 775 tons in some circumstances).

To ensure my FO carriages get an outing periodically, I have also assumed that local passenger services run from Newcastle to Muswellbrook, rather than Singleton as I understand they did in the 1960s. In addition, the lack of turning facilities at Philips Creek means that wheat from the branch line must proceed to Muswellbrook before being sent south to Newcastle and beyond. Finally, as a major crossing point, the length of the Philip’s Creek crossing loops will dictate the length of some trains particularly wheat trains moving along the Main North.

The following spreadsheet extract shows a sample of the sequence developed to date. Currently there are 33 separate activities.

For most activities, the Up and Down trains cross at Philip’s Creek. However, the red and yellow cell colourings flag movements where extra attention is required. They are a consequence of limited space in the staging areas at either end of the layout. Because of the staging area space restrictions it is necessary for the longest trains to cross at Philip’s Creek so that each can occupy the space vacated by the other (red cells). Not ideal, but it is a necessary compromise. Even with this adjustment, overcrowding does occur and so several optional pick-up goods have been scheduled to permit a rebalancing of rolling stock (yellow cells).

There are no specific timings associated with the sequence and each item is run and ticked off when time permits. When complete, the sequence is restarted.
The choice of locomotives for each activity is dependent on availability of suitable locomotive at the respective staging area. The estimated load for each train will normally determine the locomotive’s suitability however, there are a few usual combinations reflecting usual operations as captured in photos taken at the time:

·         6018 usually hauls the coal train between Muswellbrook and Port Waratah;
·         A double headed diesel combination of 44, 45 or 442 usually hauls the block wheat trains to and from Werris Creek;
·         The local passenger service is usually hauled by 3390 or a 48 class;
·         The mail train is usually diesel hauled;
·         5248 usually hauls the wheat train on the branch line;
·         5069 usually hauls the coal train (usually a mix of CCH and LCH) to and from the Philip’s Creek coal mine;
·         The 30 class is permanently allocated to the Mount Windeatt branch line

 So, at this point in time, I have process that provides a form of operation that works reasonably well for block loads (wheat and coal) and passenger services. However, the composition of pick-up goods trains is still a ‘hit or miss’ affair depending on what happens to be in each staging area at the time. It doesn’t take account of any demand for specific loads or the need to relocate empties for future loads. I know some modellers use a card system to address this but this is something that will be tackled at a future time if and when I get motivated.

In the meantime, at least now I have some structure and reason why specific trains move through Philip’s Creek rather than ad hoc running based on whatever takes my fancy on the day. Hopefully this also means that most of the rolling stock, locomotives, carriages and wagons at least get some use periodically.