Tuesday, 29 March 2022

Hunter River Bridge - Piers and abutments.

It seems that several modellers are completing long delayed models. Maybe not completing but my Hunter River bridge model has also seen a bit of recent progress. I had first mentioned its construction in October 2019 but progress has taken a back seat to other tasks associated with moving and reassembling the layout. That post focused upon the construction of the trusses whereas this post concentrates on the construction of the two intermediate piers and two abutments. As I had noted previously, my modeller's licence requires the bridge to be shortened from five spans to three.

Originally, I had contemplated a potential a 3D printed solution but I struggled to develop suitable graphical images. So instead, I reverted to a first principles physical model using shapes cut from a sheet of  XPS Handy Panel foam board. As I mentioned, this product is easily sawn and shaped with little mess. With care, it can even be screwed.

The piers were fitted to a sheet of thin sheet of plywood. When complete, the bridge will replace a temporary section on the layout.

The photos opposite and below show stages of the construction process. A piece of timber, visible in the second photo, was inserted into each column to assist securing it to the ply and provide additional support to each of the trusses. Most of the cutting was completed on a band saw and glued together with PVA glue.

I applied several coats of Uni-Pro Smooth Coat to cover the foam board. This is intended to seal the foam and create a surface in preparation for whichever finish is applied.


I have wrestled with a method to finish the piers and abutments. Ray Love's photo opposite (Ray Love 'Days of Steam', p67) appears to shows the piers and abutment constructed out of sandstone blocks. At this stage, I anticipate applying a suitable printed paper product unless other solution emerges. 


The photo below, a reprise from my January post, shows the bridge sitting on the track above its final location. Once the support structure has been finished, I'll fit the trusses and track before lowering it into position.  But now, it's still a work in progress but as I said earlier, nothing happens quickly at Philip's Creek!

Friday, 28 January 2022

Services can now resume

A few days ago, I completed the trackwork and associated wiring for the remodelled Philip's Creek station. This means that the railway has now returned to approximately the same operational condition that it was in August 2020 before the downsizing move. Yes, there is a lot of scenery to complete but the core element of the layout, track laid, wired and operational, has been finished. Whilst there are a few more sidings to complete, trains can once again travel between the two staging areas representing Singleton and Muswellbrook.

This milestone was reached more with a sense of relief rather than achievement. By this, I mean relief that Philip's Creek has survived the downsizing albeit in a new configuration, relief that the layout fitted into the new space as planned and finally, relief that I still had enough energy and enthusiasm to make this happen in a reasonable time after moving.

The two photos below show both ends of the Philip's Creek station area. Philip's Creek itself can be seen on the right of the left hand photo. Incidentally, the astute observer will realise that the header photo for the blog can never be redone as that side of the module now abuts a brick wall.

Once again, 4856 got the honour of making the first run between the two staging areas hauling a rake of RU wagons from Muswellbrook to Singleton.

The obvious next question is 'OK, now what?"

Now that the layout has been reconnected, I'll operate the it for a while to ensure that the new track and electrics work as well as testing the hauling capacity of some locomotives on the helix. Once I'm happy with the operation, I'll start work on the scenery. However, in the interim, I'll start work on repairs on the other modules which sustained minor damage during the move and the reconstruction. 

And maybe finally make some progress on the long stalled Hunter River bridge!






Saturday, 4 December 2021

A Tale of Two Bridges - Joining the Branch Lines

Alas, this is not a post about my model of the Hunter River Bridge. That project is languishing as work continues to focus on reconnecting modules of the layout following the house move last March. With the completion of the helix ( The Helix Part 2 - Lessons Learnt ), the effort has now turned to linking the helix to the branch lines of Mount Windeatt (lower) and Kingston Plains (upper). As the gap between the helix and branch line modules is actually the main passage to the central part of the layout, it was necessary to construct two bridges to facilitate these links. The bridges, as de facto extensions of the helix, are part of the 'back of house' portions of the layout and will not be sceniced. 

The lower bridge is a lift out section. I had intended to build a lift up bridge like the upper level, but I used two timber dowels to locate one end and this impeded the necessary rotation of the bridge. As I was lifting the bridge out to facilitate the additional filing, scraping and chiselling to make it work, a voice in my brain kept saying that this was the solution, so a 'lift up' bridge became a 'lift out' bridge. I installed micro switches at each end to cut the power on the approaches when the bridge is not in place. At about 1100mm above floor level, this bridge is frequently removed to facilitate access to the main elements of the layout.

With the lower bridge lessons in mind, the upper level structure has been installed as a lift up swing bridge, no dowels this time. This time, there is only be one cutout switch controlling the approach from Kingston Plains. If  the bridge is raised and a train approaches from the helix, there will be a collision but not a cataclysmic plunge to the concrete slab below. This bridge is around 1500mm above the ground and probably won't be raised as frequently as I have found that it is possible to walk underneath with only a relatively small bend of the head. Regardless, it can be raised if necessary.

The photo above attempts to show how these bridges are incorporated into the layout. The two branch line stations can be seen on the right, Kingston Plains on the upper level and Mount Windeatt on the lower. The edge of the helix can be seen on the left. One backdrop on the lower level has not been installed and the Singleton staging area behind Mount Windeatt is visible.

The sequence below shows 3123 bringing the first passenger service from Mount Windeatt approaching the helix.  With these links restored, focus will now turn to relaying the track at Philip's Creek itself.

Given my blogging performance over the past few months, this will probably be my final post for 2021 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 (and back to normal) 2022 for you and your family. 

Monday, 11 October 2021

Why nothing happens quickly at Philip's Creek

As an aside, I thought I'd depart from the usual topics to show why it has taken so long to build Philip's Creek. The photo opposite, courtesy of my wife, was taken in 2019 when I had started to construct three Casula Hobbies TRC kits. I finally finished the third kit a few weeks ago, see photo below.




Friday, 24 September 2021

Building a Helix - Part 2 A few lessons learnt - Updated

Well, it wasn't quite a 'golden spike moment' or the completion of the transcontinental railway or Adelaide to Darwin link but last week, I finished the helix linking the lower and upper levels of Philip Creek. To mark the occasion, 4856, the oldest locomotive on the roster, collected a few wagons from the upper level and moved them to the lower level.

The concept of using an octagon shape to support the helix worked. I found it easy to cut and shape 540 x 125mm rectangles. Sure, the mitre saw got a serious workout but it was better than cutting circular strips. Originally, I intended to use 100mm wide strips but I found it needed to be wider at the octagon nodes. I wasn't too worried about getting the octagon geometry exactly correct. It was more important to get the circle within it laid out in preparation of the track laying. 

I did spend a fair bit of time getting the grade correct using a combination of spacers and a modified spirit level. This was all part of the build, check and test approach I used throughout the construction process.

I had to revise my exit arrangements from the spiral to the upper level of the layout. I had made a slight error in the measurement of the height difference between the upper and lower levels to the extent that the exit level had to be reduced from 5.3 turns to 5.1. The mis-close became obvious as I was setting out the fifth level and so the actual spiral finished around the 4.7 point and the remaining height is gained in the climb between the exit and the destination, the coal mine module. The photo to the right gives a birds eye view of the exit. The turnout will be the start of the Kingston Plains branch line.

As I was setting the height of each node, nuts were only finger tightened. I thought this would be sufficient but over the past few weeks, I have noticed some nuts required further tightening. I may have to revisit the whole structure with a spanner. 

Because of the long run of track in the helix (about 21m), I provided an electrical feed to each level of the spiral.

I used Peco track in the spiral and this track now includes provision for pinning on one side only. It's probably in literature somewhere suggesting that track should be pinned on the inside rather than outside of a curve. But I missed it and for ease of access, I pinned the outside of the curve. However, after a few days, the inner side of the track began to lift. I was able to correct this with staples pushed over the sleepers on the inside of the curve. See photos opposite.


I had included a short Peco point (turnout) with a nominal radius of 650mm to provide access to the Mount Windeatt branch line. I hadn't noted any problems with the slight difference in radius between the helix (610mm) and the point when initially installed but over the past few weeks problems started to emerge particularly for the four driving axle steam locomotives. Maybe it was the changing climate or perhaps bumping the area during the adjoining bridge constructions, I just don't know. To overcome this, I increased the radius of the lower loop slightly where it joins the point and gradually transitioned this back to the nominal  radius over about half a lap of the helix. It was a bit of a pain to work on the lowest level of the helix with the upper levels in place, particularly having to insert a short additional length of track to facilitate the increase in radius. For me, the lesson is to keep points out of the helix.

And so the helix is now operational and the sequence below shows 4856's descent through the helix and exit onto the Yellow Rock module.




With the two levels of the layout now joined, attention has turned to the construction of the upper level staging area which represents Muswellbrook, Werris Creek and locations further north. With the helix  in place, I can also look forward to connecting the two branch lines, Mount Windeatt and Kingston Plains. These links will have to involve the creation of two lift up bridges, another challenging task. But it will give me the opportunity to run a few trains to actual destinations while I complete the rebuild of the Philip's Creek township.


Monday, 16 August 2021

Building a Helix - still joining the dots

I had intended that this post would detail progress on the Hunter River bridge, but the reality is that work on the bridge has stalled because my primary focus has been continuing to join the dots, specifically, building a helix. 

As I described in my most recent post, Philip's Creek, in its new arrangement, is now a two level layout and this means, I need some way to move trains from the lower to upper level and back again. To climb the 500mm between levels would require about 20m of track at a grade of 2.5%. Simply, there is not enough space in a 6m * 2.2m garage to run a visible climb between the two levels.  So there are not too many options other than a helix for continuous running between levels.

A helix is not without problems. A helix does occupy a lot of space. A 600mm radius helix will consume about 1.1m2 of space. This area may not seem to be a lot but when added to other space demands such circulation space and staging areas before we even contemplate sceniced areas of the layout. 

Access for cleaning and maintenance in the helix can be a challenge. Often I have seen a helix enclosed so trains are hidden from view as they monotonously go round in circles to gain height. However, this arrangement creates an issue if there is a derailment or when track cleaning is required. There have been horror stories of operators having to climb into the void at the centre of the helix to rectify a problem. I have decided to leave the helix open and accessible.

Another challenge is the combination of a tight curve and grade increasing the load more than it would for either individually. I have been very conscious of this problem and have experimented with likely combinations that will operate on the helix. To date, after being able to run up one and half laps of the helix, there have been no significant problems.

There are many documents and You Tube videos dealing with the design and construction of a helix. Most involve the cutting of circular sections which are then assembled into a helix. I was not too keen to do the necessary cutting of curved shapes and the associated wastage and I certainly didn't want to purchase one of the prefabricated kits available. I decided to try an octagon ring and lay a circular track within the limits of the ring. This has the advantage of simpler cutting of 10mm ply with less wastage. The strips do require some work with a mitre saw to cut each strip to get a 22.5 degree angle at the end. The eight section forming the octagon are screwed to short sections of 6mm ply which serve as a support or saddle at each the eight nodes. To support each level, I used 16 threaded rods, two at each nodes, with nuts and washers used to support each saddle. (see adjacent photo)

I struggled to fit the helix into the space available and had to reduce the radius to what I believe is the absolute minimum, 610mm. To accommodate this radius, the octagon had to have an overall width (A) of 1300mm and each side length (B) of 538.48mm, rounded up to 540mm.

To keep the grade to a reasonable value, I needed to restrict the height between helix levels to around 88mm with a clear distance of 70mm from track to the bottom of the next level. This gives a grade of around 2.3% and require about 5.5 laps.

The first octagon serves two purposes. It was the test bed for the construction process and once attached to the layout frame, it forms the foundation of the helix and the base for each of the threaded rods. 

One lesson which emerged from this exercise was the need for a slightly wider strip. Originally, I had anticipated using 100mm wide strips but I suspected this may be a bit narrow so increased the width to 125mm.

 The bottom circle of track had to include a point (turnout) which will connect to the Mount Windeatt branch line and the upper circle will incorporate a point leading to the Kingston Plains branch line.

With the first loop in place, I had to lay track from the Yellow Rock module to the helix and continue  into the helix proper. Getting into the helix  required the same tight radius but also a reverse curve. I incorporated a short straight in the hope that it would assist eight wheel steam locomotives to manage this section. Testing to date indicates that this arrangement has worked but it will be  speed restricted.

Once you finish one level of the helix, it is covered, and won't be easily accessible again. So the construction process has been a continual sequence of build/test. To date, I completed two loops with three plus to go.

Ian Millard (Liverpool Range) observed that one gets into a sequence or rhythm when building a helix. He's right! But Charlie from the You Tube channel Chadwick said that it's one of the most boring things he has done, and he's also right! Certainly, winding a nut along a threaded rod is a very mundane task, and it has to be done many times.

As I get closer to finishing the helix, I'll post again on a few lesson learnt but it's also time to contemplate the next projects, laying new track around Philip's Creek and installing lift up sections to access the branch lines. More to follow.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Joining the Dots

In my most recent post, I likened the unpacking and reassembly of the modules to a game of 3D Tetris. Well that game is nearing completion as all but two modules have been placed in their new locations and the focus now is building new layout elements which will link the existing, 'joining the dots' so to speak. To date, new modules have been built for the Singleton/Newcastle staging area and the linking modules which lead to the Yellow Rock module. This includes the Singleton Hunter River Bridge. This project was started about two years ago ( Singleton Hunter River Bridge ) but has been dormant during the turbulence of the past 12 months. An update of this model will be included in my next post. A temporary structure has been inserted until it can be replaced by the completed bridge. 

The following photos show the module stacking completed to date.

The two branch line termini Kingston Plain above Mount Windeatt. 

The other side of the module combination above shows the completed Singleton/Newcastle staging area below with a yet to be reconstructed Muswellbrook/Werris Creek staging area above. The Halls Creek bridge module together together with the partially constructed Hunter River bridge have been temporarily stored on the upper left. Ultimately, this will be the home of a Philip's Creek module.

The coal mine module above and Yellow Rock module underneath. The coal mine will again be adjacent to Philip's Creek. 







 Another view of the same combination. One of the advantages of this new home is the inclusion of a roller door at the rear of the garage. This permits better access during the rebuilding phase and will allow emergency access during normal operations.


The location of the Singleton Hunter River module with a temporary structure in place. Philip's Creek (yet to be installed) will be above this module. The front joist appears to have a significant distortion but this is one of those camera quirks. It is a rectangle 2400*600.

The Philip's Creek modules will probably stay in their crate for while. As these modules are scheduled for a significant makeover, it's best to leave them out of the road until I'm ready to do that work.

Long time readers of this blog will recall that my usual construction technique sees the track bed laid on 100mm of styrofoam which in turn sits on a 70*19 timber frame. I described this in more detail in the post  https://philipscreek.blogspot.com/2014/03/terraforming-aka-making-mess.html . With the new construction it became necessary to source more styrofoam and a trip to Bunnings was necessary. While there, I found a new product, XPS Handy Panel supplied by a company called Bastion. It comes in sheets 1200mm * 600mm with two thicknesses, 50mm and 30mm. This is a stronger product than the normal white styrofoam, it can be sawn neatly with minimal mess and, with care, one can even drive screws into it. It is considerably more expensive than the normal white styrofoam so I have restricted its use to below track level and will continue to use the normal white styrofam for the final terrain shaping. 

I have also used it for the piers and abutments of the Singleton Bridge but more details of that will be included in my next post.


I have also started to experiment with LED lighting strips as a means of illuminating the lower level modules. A quick initial test was promising but I'll need to set up an network of extension cords and power boards to ensure that I can switch the lights on from one location. The Singleton/Newcastle staging area will be the first area to be illuminated.




My method of wiring is also changing. Instead of running wiring underneath the modules, I am starting to chase wires into the surface layer of foam and run it to a control panel in the front which is also connected to the DCC bus wire. Subsequent scenery work will conceal the wiring.

The past few weeks have seen some fairly intense activity on Philip's Creek but, for domestic tranquility, that work rate must taper off as other non hobby activities demand attention. But, at least now, I have a reasonable start point. In the mean time, the rolling stock is being unpacked and placed on any available space. It's pretty crowded but at least all of the rolling stock will be visible and not locked away in boxes.

More to follow!!