Friday 10 November 2023

Leaving Singleton 2

In an earlier post, I wrote about my plans for the part of the layout immediately 'north' of the lower staging yard. Leaving Singleton  Notionally, it is that small portion of the Main North between Singleton and the Hunter River bridge.

The adjacent photo shows the concept for this section as detailed in the earlier post. The scratch-built Albion Hotel is one of key elements of that concept. A paling fence has been used to contain the hotel yard and level crossing lights have been installed adjacent to the hotel on John St.

The scenery construction followed my usual practice of Woolworths 'domestic wipe' disposable towels overlaid with coloured tile grout and then static grass. The very basic backdrops have been hand painted using artist's acrylics. The level crossing lights at John Street and associated flasher unit are HMA products.

While it has taken a while, in many respects, this work is a just an in-fill before the more challenging work associated with the Hunter River crossing. Consequently, a number of details have yet to be added but I don't anticipate this will happen until other scenery elements have been completed. The outstanding tasks include:

  • The back drop including the gaping access to the staging area needs much more work. The foreground of the back drop needs a more urban appearance and the hole need to be screened, possibly with some trees. I also need to work on a method of activation for the level crossing lights. This will be a process of trial and error for me. 

  • Again, the backdrop needs more work to reflect the transition from township to open country. A few more rural fences and isolated trees would probably also enhance the scene.





  • The tree line in the foreground of the backdrop intends to show the course of the Hunter River disappearing into the distance as it meanders its way east towards Newcastle. This needs to be integrated with the bridge site. The water pumping station and associated buildings will also be added.

That said, at least now as 5069 departs Singleton to collect a load of coal from the Philip's Creek Colliery, it's no longer passing through the stark barren white and green landscape shown in the photo at the top of this post. More to follow!




Saturday 2 September 2023

Inspired by True Events - Building the Albion Hotel at Singleton

"Inspired by true events" is a caption often seen on movie and TV screens of late. Basically, it means that the script writer has adjusted or amended a true story by altering events or adding different characters which to increase the drama and/or romance of the film. I, for one, am often cynical about these alteration, but if I'm honest, I must also recognise that such changes are also the essence of prototypical modelling. And my latest foray into scratch building underscores the concept of prototypical rather than prototype.

In my most recent post, I made reference to the Albion Hotel, a building which is located just north of Singleton railway station on John Street. I presume that this proximity was the prime reasons for its original construction. My research managed to locate a number of hotel surveys, including a few photos, which had been published by the ANU. These show that the Albion appears to have been built well before 1926 but went through a significant number of changes over time, with probably the most significant occurring some time between 1960 and 1981when a major extension was completed on the western side. These changes are apparent in the two photos below.

I opted to build the 1960 version and have assumed that the extension was not completed until some time after 1973, the upper limit of my modelling time period. The key features I wanted to capture were the shape of the side walls, the awning, the large KB sign and the tiled roof line at the front.

Unfortunately, as I realised later, the KB sign only appeared on the eastern side as there are windows on the western side. But it's the western side that faces the operator. Oh well, that's an example of when inspiration trumps fact! (No political pun intended)


The model was primarily constructed from styrene with brass wire for downpipes and external plumbing. Doors and windows are Tichy products. The windows are oversized but are what I had to hand at the time. The signage and interiors came from the internet. Unfortunately, the large KB signs are not the exact ones in the 1960s photo but are probably close enough. The chimneys came from a good mate who recently acquired a  3D printer. He has also printed a few other items beyond the scope of this article but they will probably be the subject of a subsequent post. A balcony railing has yet to be fabricated.

The sign on the awning was produced using PowerPoint and incorporates a fictitious name of the licensee. This name, William Clarke, comes from my family history, a maternal great great grandfather. He was a publican in Birmingham around 1890. Incidentally, before that he had spent about 20 years on the footplate as a locomotive driver, although, a family story indicates that he was fired from that job for drunkenness.  Still, he was the obvious choice.



The hotel can't be fixed into its final position until the backdrop and ground cover have been finalised. And not to mention the level crossing, hopefully with sensors activating flashing lights, immediately behind the hotel. But that's a challenge for another day!


Wednesday 12 July 2023

Leaving Singleton

Like a number of fellow model railway bloggers, my recent posts have become less frequent over the past few years. I can't point to any one reason but the gap between this and my most recent post has been due to a COVID postponed overseas trip which happened to include an encounter with a British steam icon.
However, this post is not about the Flying Scotsman, but rather, the next stage of Philip's Creek's refurbishment, in this instance the area between Singleton and the Hunter River. As I have mentioned previously, my two staging areas represent Singleton and Muswellbrook and the area in question is that portion of the layout immediately beyond the Singleton Staging area.

The  actual area in question is shown on this small extract from Google maps. It is a flat flood plain area with little infrastructure. In the late 1960's, I understand there was a level crossing at John St which was subsequently replaced by the Putty Road overpass. I am using John St as the scenic break to disguise the entrance to the staging area. I am also working on the assumption, correct or otherwise, that in the late 1960's, there were few buildings north west of John St. The only significant building  that I can identify close to the railway line is the Albion Hotel which may have been built in the 1920s. Waterworks Lane runs parallel to the track and Google Maps indicates that there is a former pumping station closer to the river.
The image below is my planning graphic as to how these features will incorporated in Philip's Creek.

The Albion Hotel does not fit on the eastern side of the railway as per the prototype so instead, it will be located on the west side of the tracks. I understand that the double track did not exist in the late 1960s. The line was duplicated when the Hunter River bridge was upgraded around 1974. 
A lot more work to do and hopefully a few more posts if I can find time!

Thursday 6 April 2023

Ending the 'Sounds of Silence' - Introducing 4449

To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, at Philip's Creek, "no one dared disturb the Sounds of Silence". At least that was the situation, until recently, when Auscision Models 4449 joined the locomotive roster.

When Auscision's pre-purchase offer for the 44 class was released quite a while ago, I hadn't anticipated purchasing one. However, the drive gear problems I was experiencing as I attempted to repair Trainorama 4473 ( There are gears and there are gears ) indicated that redundancy of 44 class locomotives may be prudent. And so an order for 4449 was placed in late June last year. My timing was good because it seemed that the pre-purchase offer closed off a few weeks later. I also elected to purchase a model fitted with a factory fitted ESU sound decoder.

It may come as a surprise to some but up till now, I had resisted the trend to install sound in my locomotives. There were three reasons for this; complexity, sound quality and cost. The complexity of fitting the speaker and additional wiring into small spaces has always concerned me and the sound I heard from many locomotives at various exhibitions seemed 'tinny'. Given these factors, I could never justify the extra outlay required for a sound decoder. Recently though at a NMRA event, I listened to a steam locomotive which appeared to be a substantial improvement in quality, suggesting to me that smaller speakers were improving. The complexity issue disappeared with the factory fitted option and cost difference seemed reasonable.

A few months ago, 4449 duly arrived and it is certainly a quality product but it was the range of sounds that made the biggest impact on me. I was particularly impressed by the start up and shut down sequences which I presume have been recorded from an actual 44 class. Will James did a comprehensive review of the model on his You Tube channel ( Will James' review of Auscision 44 Class ) including a demonstration of the sounds included on the decoder between 5:15 and 7:23 minutes on his video. As Will notes in his review, the pulling power of the locomotive is impressive. It easily hauls 12 coal or wheat hoppers plus brake van up my 2.5% helix.

Most of the photos of 44 class locomotives in the late 1960s seem to show a fairly exhaust blackened roof while the paint work on the front and sides was still in good condition albeit with variable amounts of grim. Hence,  this is the appearance I have sought to create in my weathering of the locomotive.

With 4449 now added to the locomotive roster, the obvious question is 'where to for sound on Philip's Creek?'. The short answer is that I'm not sure yet. Certainly any new locomotive will be purchased with a sound card and speaker fitted (if available) but as there is only one additional locomotive targeted at present, it is unlikely to make a significant impact on the noise level on the layout. 

The bigger question is whether to retrofit sound decoders to existing locomotives.  I may consider a commercial fitting service for some and for others, I may attempt myself when I can pluck up the courage while others with noisy mechanisms probably don't need extra sound.

Certainly, there is a steep leaning curve to over overcome and a lot of work before I completely "disturb the the Sound of Silence" at Philip's Creek.

Before I finish this post, just a short footnote on 4473. After several months of frustration, I replaced all six wheel sets with Trainorama replacements. This seems to be working very well and 4473 is back to its original performance. Hopefully, the problem will not reappear.



Monday 13 February 2023

Putting a lid on it - 2 (The Challenge of Sandstone cuttings)

In my most recent post just before Christmas, I described the landscaping of the area above the helix. That work continues. I'm currently covering the area with static grass before a fairly ambitious reafforestation program which will be implemented progressively over the next few years.

The biggest challenge to date has been a realistic presentation of the sandstone cuttings. After several trips up and down the M1 cuttings south of the Hawkesbury River as well as looking across to the Cowan bank on Short North, I have tried to identify the key elements of a cut sandstone face, the horizontal sedimentary layers overlaid with vertical weathering from a combination of mud washed down from above combined with grime from exhaust fumes.

I have used several colours to differentiate the sedimentary layers. There was a fair bit of experimentation but I settled on two basic shades of yellow, a yellow ochre and light yellow applied horizontally. These were overlaid with several vertical washes of burnt umber to represent the weathering.

I'm comfortable with the ochre but just as I finished, Bevan Wall Productions put a video of a cab ride through 10 tunnels just east of Lithgow on YouTube . ( ) I appreciate that different locations have different sand stone colours but it confirmed my earlier suspicion that the light yellow is not quite right. To my eye, it should be lighter, have less yellow and, perhaps, with a hint of light brown.


Some areas are more pronounced than others. I'll experiment a bit more but I feel I'm getting bogged down (no pun intended) in this area when there are other locations, like the Hunter River bridge area demanding attention. Consequently, the cuttings may stay as they are for the time being until other jobs have been completed. In military terminology, it could be called a 'bypass policy'!


Wednesday 7 December 2022

Putting a lid on it - Updated

Since installing the helix, I have been pondering the best way to deal with the space it takes up, a square just over 1200mm. My basic options were to leave the area open forming a large unsceniced space in the middle of the layout or provide some form of scenic treatment which incorporates it into the layout as a whole.

Leaving it unsceniced would work from an operational perspective but would create significant visual distraction. The only advantage that the option offers is easy access to the top of the helix for maintenance but this can be achieved using other means. The option was discarded.

It was then a question of how best to scenic the helix. My though process was assisted by the owner of the Burrawon Branch Model Railway who regularly posts You Tube videos on various aspects of his layout. Recently, he published a segment on the scenic treatment of his helix. Burrawon Branch Model Railway The value of this video was that some of his stated objectives were similar to what I am seeking to do, specifically to disguise the top of the helix and to create a visual separation between the branch line crossing the top of the helix and the mainline using it.

My solution is not quite the same as the Burrawon Branch, rather I have decided to build scenery across the top of the helix with the Kingston Plains branch line crossing this area while the main line disappears into a tunnel.

While the top of the helix is landscaped, the sides of the helix will remain open for maintenance purposes. If I find this too distracting, I may fit a curtain around it but right now, I suspect that won't be necessary. 

The 'lid' has been built using my usual technique of mass styrofoam, carved to shape and then covered with very cheap absorbent towels from Woolworths soaked in a 50/50 mix of water and PVA glue. This serves two purposes. It contains any loose balls of styrofoam which sometimes break free and provides a suitable surface for the next step, covering with a various blends of coloured tile grout again mixed with a 50/50 water and PVA glue.

 I have incorporated a few landscaping elements which could not be included on the refurbished Philip's Creek station modules.The most significant of these is the Philip's Creek water storage tanks and treatment plant. I am also incorporating a small cameo scene on the upper helix loop to provide a little bit of interest on the outside of the layout. This sandstone cliff probably has more in common with Cowan bank on the Short North rather than the line between Singleton and Muswellbrook. The threaded rod will probably become a burnt out stump.  

It's still a work in progress!


Just a quick update to show the work of the last few weeks as the 'blue hills' have gradually been covered with tile grout mixed in a 50/50 PVA water solution. Much more detail work to do but this has broken the back of the 'bulk earthworks'.

"So this is Christmas"

It's come around again and this will probably be my final post for 2022 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 2023 for you and your family.



Tuesday 27 September 2022

Hunter River Bridge - final positioning


Well, it's only taken three years but the Hunter River Bridge has now been incorporated into the layout albeit with 'bumper rails' just in case something failed.

It was an easy process to remove temporary structure which has bridged the gap for the past 12 months but I had erred slightly with horizontal alignment, failing to allow for the offset of the track on the bridge. Rectifying that mistake was easy, relocating the bridge about 10mm laterally. The 3mm ply strip which serves as the bridge foundation was screwed to the base board frame.

Once the bridge was in place, I glued the track on top of the trusses with PVA glue using timber off-cuts to hold it in place as the glue cured. I still have to fit  check rails but this will happen when the scenery is completed.

Since the photos were taken, the base board frame has been covered by 3mm ply which, in due course, will become the Hunter River. Gaps have been filled with tape and jointing compound and the 'bumper rails' have gone.

The bridge will be the major scenic feature on the lower level of the layout but as I mentioned in my previous post, scenery will wait until other areas have completed. I'll then face the challenge of creating a wide expanse of water, something I haven't tried before.  So there's still a lot of work to do before I can recreate to the image that started it all ('Northern Exposures' (p 128, photographer Greg Triplett))