Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Scars in the Country with Andre Brett

A few weeks ago I attended a talk called Scars in the country by Dr Andre Brett at the National Library of Australia. The talk was about the historical development of railways in Australia and New Zealand. Besides being an energetic speaker, Dr Brett was full of fascinating insights into the early decades of the Australasian railways.  


The talk was recorded and a transcript is provided, alas, without the maps and photographs (many sourced from the National Library, like the one above). Nevertheless, I think this talk is well worth a listen (or reading if you prefer, but you'll be missing out on Dr Brett's enthusiastic narration).

The talk had the following project scope: the role of railways and colonisation and economic growth, the demand railways generate for resources, the interaction of railways with water and dry environments, the challenge of mountains and finally reflections on the environments railways themselves created for passengers and workers.

The talk is full of interesting facts and stories. For example, Dr Brett spends some time talking about railway sleepers and the relationship between between railways and forests. In particular, the decision-making over the types of wood and locational factors for success or otherwise, was fascinating. And the story about the "stolen cow" near Christchurch's Addington rail workshops was a cracker!

For railway modellers, the talk is just another important reminder about the significant physical relationship between railway development and the landscape. The railways naturally had to face the environmental conditions of the time but they also changed the physical relationship in which they were constructed and maintained. This relationship was contextualised by economics, politics, and engineering. As Dr Brett says, "the land and climate forced railways to adapt, experiment and innovate".

I thoroughly recommend this talk and thank the National Library of Australia for making the talk more widely available via audio and text.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Inspiration from the NSW Rail Museum

Sometimes you need to get out of the armchair and breathe in some fresh air and steam locomotive smoke! And that's exactly what I did yesterday at the NSW Rail Museum at Thirlmere.


Even though I am a longstanding member, it has been many years since I last visited the NSW Rail Museum. I naturally had heard about the modernisation of the museum and all the fantastic work undertaken by volunteers over the years. However, it's not until you see the scale and scope of the museum that you really get a full appreciation. There are locomotives, passenger and freight rollingstock, and even a wonderfully restored NSW railway pay bus.


In addition to the collection itself, and the steam rides on the loop line over the recent NSW school holidays, there is a special immersive display on the history of locomotive 1021 (Cardiff) which is very impressive. The museum facilities are top class and I was pleased see a large number of families about enjoying the museum and all it has to offer.

The highlight of the day was the 40 minute steam-hauled trip to Buxton and back. Locomotive 2705 did the duties. At Buxton, an enterprising railside business was doing a roaring trade selling jacket potatoes with butter and sour cream - delicious! Upon return to Thirlmere, 2705 runs around its train in preparation for the next tour.

It was a great day. I look forward to making future visits and spending more time at the Museum.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Exhibitions - yes/no?

Yes. I am pleased to report that the Canberra Model Railway Expo is going ahead this coming weekend, 27-28 March. The expo will be held at the UC High School in Kaleen as in previous years.

Layouts on show will include Binalong, Charlestown, Ebor Vale, Ettamogah II, Gaye Saint Edith, Goulburn, Gunning, Kookaburra Park, Mungo Scotts, Tannochbrae, the Molonglo Route, Wingello, Yendys, and others.

Photo: "Binalong" from the Epping Model Railway Club

Commercial outlets will include Anton's Trains, Austrains, Burfitt Tools, Casula Hobbies, Eureka Models, Eurohobby, IDR, Kerroby's, SDS Models, Trainworld, among others.

No. The proposed Epping Model Railway Club's 2021 exhibition at Rosehill Racecourse on the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June is off. Unfortunately, the decision to call off the exhibition was made too late to amend the advertisement in the current issue of AMRM. It is disappointing but understandable given the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, these uncertainties affect interstate visitors and potential exhibitors as well as locals who can ill afford last minute lockdowns.

For those of you who can make the Canberra exhibition this weekend, I look forward to catching up with you (socially distanced, of course).

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Advertising posters for your model railway

Advertising signs and posters are a great way to set the scene and give a location a sense of place and time. Signs and advertising accompanied by era specific vehicles and people can provide visual context and enhance the believability of your model railway.

We can use commercial decals or signage within structure kits of course. But for more unique offerings, finding suitable images is very possible using the internet. We can also be on the lookout for suitable images when travelling around the countryside (covid-19 permitting), as I discovered on a recent visit to Boorowa and one of the local pubs.


There are other sources of signage and advertising when going through antique stores (subject to permission) or second-hand stores. And libraries remain a useful resource for searching as well.

Recently, I received an email from the National Library of Australia alerting me to the Australian advertisement poster collection they have collected and preserved over time. A sample of early posters can be found here with a link within the story to the collection accessible via Trove

Enhancing a model railway with signs and advertising suitable for the location and time period is a very good way to create a realistic and believable scene.

Addendum: A few hours after posting this blog entry, I came across this Youtube clip about weathering billboards that might be of additional interest. It's from a Youtuber I follow and he has some other interesting modelling techniques based on a small switching layout he constructed. Very nice!

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Christmas gift suggestions

2020 has been a difficult year so this Christmas why not spoil yourself (or a friend) with some wonderful presents. I have the following suggestions to help you (and Santa) on your way.

1. Take out or give a subscription to the Australian Model Railway Magazine

A subscription is a geat present, especially if you are giving it to someone who may just have a kindling interest in the hobby and who wants to find out more. A subscription helps the magazine as well so that it remains on a sound economic footing for the future.

2. One of a number of how-to books from Kalmbach Publishing

Kalmbach Publishing (USA) has a bevy of how-to books across a range of model railway subjects. This book, Applying lessons from the prototype is from renowned author Tony Koester and it's a beauty! You can buy these books direct from Kalmbach in the USA but try your local model railway shop in Australia first.

3. Another how-to book, this time from the military modelling fraternity

For those railway modellers who are already advanced in the hobby, taking some great tips on painting from the military modellers is a great way to develop new skills and improve your painting methods. How to paint with acrylics (first published in 2017) is from a well-known stable of military modelling, Mig Jemenez, who you may be familiar with from his line of paints. Sometimes, if a book is unavailable, you can pick one up from second-hand bookstores or a search of AbeBooks.

4. Books on the prototype are always interesting. The Byways of Steam series is fantastic!


Byways of Steam 33 is the latest in the series and features some great articles and photographs. The steam depots of Cootamundra and Tumut are featured in this issue from noted rail author, Ray Love. You can buy this book from the ARHS Bookshop, Eveleigh Press, or from hobby shops.

5. And if you want railways intertwined with history, then this book is for you!

Neville Pollard has been a prolific author of articles for Australian Railway History and its predecessor, ARHS Bulletin. In this book, Neville has written a wonderful history of the Temora Region railways (encompassing many rural branchlines that included Lake Cargellico, Naradhan, Rankin's Springs, Burcher, and through the northern part of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area all the way through to Roto which joins the transcontinental line to Broken Hill and beyond). I highly recommend this book if you want to understand the importance of railways to the historical development of New South Wales. My copy came from the ARHS Bookshop.

6. In keeping with railway history, you can't go past author, Christian Wolmar, for a great read.

Fire and Steam (first published in 2007 but still available) is a wonderful account of the birth and development of the railways in Great Britain. As the book jacket says: "From the early days of steam to electrification, via the railways' magnificent contribution in two world wars, the chequered history of British Rail, and the bouyant future of the train, Fire and Steam examines the social and economical importance of the railway and how it helped to form the Britain of today". My copy probably came from Dymocks or Book Depository - try your local book shop first.

7. Lastly, you can never go wrong with a calendar for the coming year!


I purchased this NSW Rail Museum/Transport Heritage NSW 2021 calendar as a present for a former railwayman, now well and truly retired, but who maintains his interest in the railways. My copy came from Casula Hobbies in Liverpool, Sydney, but you can buy this calendar from other hobby shops or direct from the NSW Rail Museum.

There you have it - some great ideas for some great presents. But I think you'll need to act quickly because the mail deliveries this time of year can be a bit slower due to the sheer volume of mail. And, in case you're wondering, these suggestions are personal recommendations - no payments received!

Merry Christmas and a Happy (and healthy) New Year to everyone. Let's hope 2021 is a good one.

Monday, 9 November 2020

Model Railway Exhibition Programs

Eleven years ago I attended the Wagga Wagga Model Railway Exhibition. It seems like yesterday. I wonder if people are building model railway exhibition layouts now during the Covid-19 pandemic in the hope that exhibitions will return next year. This prompted me to check out other model railway exhibition programs from the past in my collection. It would be good to reminisce about all those exhibition layouts from the past and go through my archive of exhibition photos.

There were supposed to be three boxes of exhibition programs in my collection and a portable hard drive with all my photos. I knew I had been to plenty of exhibitions both prior to and after that 2009 exhibition in Wagga Wagga.
But as fate would have it, I couldn't find the portable hard drive or any of those exhibition programs. The portable hard drive was somewhere in the house but where were the boxes of programs? Then I remembered having a Marie Kondo moment about six months ago when I decided to tidy up my study. This meant throwing out a lot of "ancient" material, using the well worn rationalisation that I hadn't looked at any of this stuff for ages so there was no point in keeping it.
I don't have to tell you what an absolute mistake that was! 
As we all know when it comes to hardware items (for example, scraps of wood, strips of metalwork, random nails and screws of unknown size and origin), we NEVER throw that stuff away because we know some day it will be absolutely essential. Of course, we joke around with mates about this phenomenon because it's part of who we are, or in this case, being a railway modeller.  We laugh with self-conscious identification when comedian Michael McIntyre relates his man-drawer experience because it is all so true. And when our wives, partners or girlfriends shake their heads in complete ignorance of our strategies, we shake our heads too because they simply do not understand.
And so it is true that my boxes of model railway exhibition programs from the past 30 years (and maybe longer) had been taken out of my study, by me, and dumped unceremoniously into the recycling bin for roadside collection. And while I had no need to refer to them for the past six months, nay the past 30 years (or maybe longer), it is of no small comfort to know that now I needed to refer to those programs like never before!

The only thing worse about having thrown out something you now need is when you know you have the item you need but you cannot find it....

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Virtual exhibitions - some thoughts

Are virtual model railway exhibitions the future? Will they become the norm?

My previous blog post introduced the "Great Electric Train Show" virtual model railway exhibition. That virtual exhibition is now over but there are more virtual exhibitions coming up, including this one from the Oxford District Model Railway Club in England - Oxrail 2020. This virtual exhibition will be online from 24 October to 1 November, UK time.

Virtual model railway events also take different forms. The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) ran a series of virtual events (NMRAx) this year from all around the world. More generally, there are live streaming options on Facebook and a plethora of layout videos on Youtube.

After some in-person discussions with a couple of railway modellers (who choose to remain anonymous), the question is whether virtual exhibitions will become the norm and take over from traditional on-the-ground model railway exhibitions. They both said that while a virtual model railway exhibition may be a good idea during the current Covid-19 pandemic, they'd hate to see virtual model railway exhibitions take over completely. This photo pretty much sums up their argument.


 My learned friends put forward these three arguments:

1. model railway exhibitions are essentially social events, whether among friends or family, or just making those annual model railway contacts with other exhibition die-hards. Virtual exhibitions cannot replicate the level of interaction and social dynamics of an on-the-ground model railway event.

2. model railway exhibitions allow visitors to look at whatever is of interest to them and focus on any particular train or scene of their own choosing. They can spend 17 seconds or 17 minutes taking in the whole sweep of a layout down to the finest of details. You can ask questions and get information directly from the exhibitor in real time. The in-person model railway experience is totally self-directed. For some high quality layouts, the feeling of actually "being there on the prototype" can transform a model railway into a truly personal and evocative experience. Virtual exhibitions are beholden to one individual's videography, the lighting and the camera angles, as well as the editing of the online video with limited Q&A options. (As an aside, another discussion involved whether virtual exhibitions were really any different to a catalogue of Youtube videos, and whether virtual exhibitions needed high quality video standards to differentiate themselves from the average Youtube experience).

3. model railway exhibitions are also about the commercial stands - not just the buying, but also the chatting about upcoming or new items; getting advice and modelling tips; and the shared experience one has with modelling friends "ooohing and aaaghing" together over models in display cases or bargains to be had. In other words, the on-the-ground experience with the traders is much richer and more meaningful than any infomercial from a virtual exhibition. Anyone visiting Anton's stall at a model railway exhibition will have a fair idea of what this is all about....

I pretty much agreed with these sentiments. But is this just a preference based on years of exhibition attendances and our general demographic? Would virtual model railway exhibitions create new ways to attract the public to the hobby? It's hard to know at this stage, but I don't think it has to be an either/or situation.

Personally, I don't see virtual model railway exhibitions taking over from on-the-ground exhibitions once the health issues of the pandemic are controlled (whenever that may be). Layouts still need to be built. I know exhibitors like showcasing their work in person as it allows engagement with their peers (one-upmanship?) and enthusiastic compliments from the public. It's social for them as well. Making a video about their layout would be an added impost, and something that not everyone can do very well. I imagine the commercial traders also like the personal contact. However, I don't know if on-the-ground exhibitions are more financially rewarding compared to online events.

For now, I will enjoy watching any quality virtual model railway exhibition from the comfort of my home office. I'll still watch a selection of layouts on Youtube (for example, Dean Park Station, Everard Junction, Seaboard Central, and Central Jersey in N scale) and more commercial offerings such as MRVideo Plus and TrainMasters TV). But I'll still be yearning for a return to the exhibitions of yore, meeting up with kindred railway modellers, checking out layouts, and having a good chat among friends. Let's hope we can resume normal life as quickly and as safely as possible.