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 . 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!!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Setting up Philip's Creek (version Kellyville)

It's taken a while but finally, Philip's Creek is now being unpacked and reassembled. There has been some minor damage, mainly items which broke loose during the move but the effort to box up the modules has paid off. Some other damage was sustained when I installed one module, Kingston Plain, above another, Mount Windeatt. However, these are relatively minor and will be corrected when other landscaping tasks are completed. 

Right now, the reassembly is like a game of 3D Tetris as modules are placed where required for version Kellyville. To date the main focus has been on the construction of the support structure to carry the lower level modules and getting sufficient track laid on the lower level so that I can run a few trains over a little distance before I start work on the upper level. Some modules destined for the upper level will have to remain boxed until the appropriate support structures are established.

As I have been reassembling the layout, there have been a few adjustments.

We all learn lessons from our previous efforts and Philip's Creek is no exception. Version Kellyville will have larger staging areas and slightly wider aisles, two issues that caused me problems on version Hornsby

Previously, I had inserted short piece of track over the interface between two modules but this has now changed. Now track will be laid across module joints without any considerable of future demolition. While one should never say 'never', it is very unlikely that Philip's Creek will again be moved by me. The track and scenery has value to me, but I need to acknowledge that the disposable value of the layout is in the locomotives and rolling stock. Therefore, the next time that Philip's Creek is demolished, a skip bin will probably be in close proximity. If, by chance, the person demolishing the layout wants to retain its integrity, the person can use a Dremel tool to cut the track at the module joints. However, more likely, it will be my angle grinder which is used to facilitate demolition.

The early work has shown me that I need to be much neater in my wiring underneath the upper level module. Previously, it didn't matter if wires hung below the support frame but no longer. Now any wiring must not be visible when viewing the lower level module.

Lighting for both the upper and lower modules will need to be improved. The need for lighting for the lower level modules is obvious but the lighting in the garage is not too good and I'll need to improve it.


So work continues on a layout which, about two years ago, I foreshadowed was almost complete. Well, not quite!!

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Decisions, Decisions - Layout Planning - Ongoing

It's taken a while but we have managed to purchase a new house and should move in later in March. Quite a challenge in a rising market! It's been a busy time with little opportunity to pursue hobby interests or accept those kind offers to get a train fix.

The house is a down-sizer but it does have a reasonable double garage 6.1*5.5m. This means that the area available for a remodelled Philip's Creek will be in the order of 6*2.7m, slightly longer than my earlier planning figure of 5.4m.

I am still wrestling with concepts for the reassembly of Philip's Creek. My last post identified a possible configuration but the need for more access and storage along the length of the garage has led to a reconsideration of that arrangement. While the location of the helix has moved, the key change has been to place narrower modules in positions which will increase circulation space between the car and the layout. The revised concept as at now is shown in the two sketches below. It's still a work in progress.

Lower Level

Upper Level

Both staging areas will need to be reconstructed and the Singleton staging area will need to be first cab off the rank followed by modules for the lower level (Philip's Creek and Mount Windeatt). A backdrop will separate the staging areas and the adjacent modules. These modules, Hall Creek bridge and Mount Windeatt (lower level) and Kingston Plain (upper level), will only be accessible from outside the layout space. A folding bridge will be needed to facilitate access through the lower level into the layout area.

Once work on the lower level is complete, I'll focus on the helix, the upper level staging area and finally the upper level modules.

Work on the rebuild is unlikely to start any time soon as experience has taught me that domestic calm is best maintained by completing other moving-in projects first. 

In the meantime, I need to make a couple of decisions. 

Firstly, I'm must decide whether to rebuild the Philip's Creek modules or simply refresh the existing modules. Although I had already completed some of the refresh work before moving, presently, I am leaning towards a rebuilt as it will allow me to simplify the track plan while increasing the holding capacity of the coal mine sidings

Secondly, I need to decide what to model on the upper level noting that I have the potential to create a reasonable run linking the helix to the Werris Creek staging area as well as the Kingston Plain branch line. Currently, I am considering a version of Muswellbrook (perhaps a Muswellbrook Lite) which could include another coal mine loader, turntable, roundhouse, goods sidings and station building. 

All of this is predicated on one thing, there will no decrease in enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this is something that I know can happen after such a significant disruption like a house move. At least this time I won't be attempting to balance work obligations and house extensions as well. 

Time will tell!


Thursday, 3 December 2020

Contingency Planning - no longer daydreaming

Well, with the house now sold, the search is on for a new home. A lot time is currently being expended attending open houses but nothing has yet emerged as a viable new home. With Philip's Creek now in store, during this period, I have been investing some time to develop a layout plan which can be used for the next iteration of Philip's Creek. My intent has been to use existing modules, where possible, supplemented by a few new builds.

From a family perspective, this is a downsizing exercise with the intent to move to a single level house. The irony is that while the family home may be going to a single level, Philip's Creek must become a multilevel layout if I am not to forego too much of its basic concept, a section of main line with several branch lines feeding into it.

While the previous iteration of Philip's Creek fitted into one third of a three car garage, circulation space was tight. Now as I move, most probably, to a two car garage, there will also be other workshop items that may need to be accommodated in the same space. The average double garage for the houses we are investigating is about 5.8m x 5.4m, so my designs have been focused on fitting the next layout into a 5.4m x2.7m space. 

The sketches below indicate the current concept showing where the existing modules will be incorporated. Hopefully, other garage items can be stored in the space below the lower level and bought out when necessary. In the event that we purchase a house with a larger space, elements of the plan may be extended -  time and finances will tell.

Lower Level


Upper Level


Saturday, 26 September 2020

'On the Road again!' - Updated

Willie Nelson's famous lyric probably sums up Philip's Creek's current situation.  In an earlier post, I foreshadowed a likely downsizing of the family home and consequently, yet another move for Philip's Creek.

Well, 12 months on and the relocation has come to pass. We have just exchanged contracts for the sale of our house with a settlement date in late November and based on previous experience, dismantling and packing of Philip's Creek has now commenced. In addition to packing away all of the rolling stock, it also means breaking the layout down into the modular sections and then constructing a box around one or two modules.

The first image shows a view of the layout about 12 months ago...

... and the second photo shows its current state from the same location.

While there have been two more recent partial moves, this will be the first full move of the layout for 16 years and in that time, the layout has grown with the number of modules doubling from 5 to 10. This means that the existing packaging which I have faithfully stored for the last 10 years will need be augmented.

In addition, when landscaping of some modules, I forgot the height requirements which are imposed when two modules are packed together as shown below. Around the Mount Windeatt modules in particular, it was necessary to engage in a massive deforestation that has turned the landscape into a model of the Somme in 1916 rather than a Hunter Valley site in the late 1960's.

So what next for Philip's Creek. I don't know how much space I will have available, but I'm fairly certain that some modules will need to be modified or rebuilt. I expect that less floor space will be available than the current 16m2. The next iteration of Philip's Creek will be multi-layer and my planning anticipates that this will include the two Philip's Creek modules and both staging areas.

The search continues for the next home and until that happens, Philip's Creek will remain in store. However, I plan to keep the locomotives accessible to tweak the CV settings using Decoder Pro. As I haven't used this software before, it's going to be a whole new learning exercise. 




Update 9 October

Well it took a lot longer than I expected but the crating process has finally been  completed. The first few crates, which had been assembled on previous moves, went together easily enough but I paid the penalty for some more bespoke construction over the more recent years. The photo below shows Philip's Creek in its current form. The level crossing sign provides a reference point for comparison with the first photo. The Muswellbrook staging area stands forlornly on the right.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

3090 joins the Roster

About three weeks ago, a new 30T class, 3090, joined the roster at Philip's Creek. This is the second 30T class locomotive in use on the layout. It's now just over two years since 3088 was introduced into service. ( ) 3088 is an elderly brass locomotive and notwithstanding my early optimism, it has proved to be a bit unreliable. Despite adding a stay alive to the decoder, at times, performance has been jerky and inconsistent. I sensed that some part of the running gear might be fouling but could not locate a specific problem. Often it seems that I have to 'run in' the locomotive for about 15 minutes before it could be trusted to haul a train to Kingston Plains without incident. It was this situation that provided the motivation for the acquisition of a more 'modern' 3090. 3088 hasn't been consigned to 'Rotten Row' but it probably will spend a bit more time in the workshop

As most followers of the NSW prototype will recall, a model of the 30T was released by Wombat Models in 2018. The initial release was limited to the six wheel tender version but last year, models of locomotives with the larger ex 50 class bogies tenders were added to the range. 3090 is one of the second release. The model arrived very quickly (within two days of the order being placed) and was given a good run-in on DC before the planned decoder install. As I read the instruction, I realised that I was facing another 21 pin installation. My one previous experience with a 21 pin plug had not been good ( ) so it was with some trepidation that I commenced this installation. I still haven't made the jump to sound and when I tried to source 21 pin versions of my usual preferred decoder brands, I found they were in short supply. It seems that the pandemic has been impacting the supply of decoders.  I ended up purchasing a DCC Concepts product. As well as the 21 pin connector, this particular decoder also includes extension wired to an 8 pin socket. This gave me some comfort that, if everything turned pear shaped, I could at least cut off the 8 pin socket and use the wires to do a basic four wire connection. However, that contingency was unnecessary as, this time, the installation went well, no bent or broken pins and the locomotive was running on DCC in short order.

As is usual these days, most of the electronics are located in the tender which was easy to access by removing two screws holding the superstructure to the chassis. The instructions indicate that there is sufficient room to include a speaker in the tender as well as some additional weight to the underside of the tender superstructure. I'm sure it's been done but I thought things were a little tight. I believe that adding some extra weight to the tender is advisable, so lead strips has been glued onto the coal bunker and covered by coal.

My initial testing indicates that the locomotive runs smoothly and handles prototypical loads without difficulty even with the extra weight in the tender.

Not surprisingly, I have chosen to weather 3090 as it was in Upper Hunter Valley around 1970 when it replaced 3088 working the Merriwa branch line and other local services. Photos taken around this time show a locomotive in a reasonably clean condition compared with a more degraded appearance a year or so later when working out of the Port Waratah locomotive depot. Therefore, my focus has been to dull down the gloss new model appearance and overlay a very light grime to match some contemporary photos.

The model also includes a number of small detail parts which have yet to be added. The instructions didn't identify where these should go, so a closer scrutiny of photos will be necessary. A crew has also yet to be added and I'll probably target two from the Andlan Models 3D printed figures range which really look great once painted.

As 3090 replaced 3088 in the Upper Hunter Valley I assume that the two locomotives were  never seen together. However in my slightly altered universe, 3088 and 3090 will both operate around in and around the area and may occasionally cross at Philip's Creek.

3090 starts its first run to Kingston Plains while Paddy and his mates continue working on the fence

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.