Monday, 12 October 2020

 Virtual model railway exhibitions

It was with great delight that I received an email reminder about a UK virtual model railway exhibition -  the Great Electric Train Show on this week 9-16 October. The exhibition is organised by Key Model World, the publisher of Hornby Magazine and Airfix Model World. You can see that the website format for the virtual exhibition and the two magazines share a common look and feel.


The exhibition website says: "New features will be going live here throughout the weekend (just passed) offering you model railway inspiration, demonstrations, the latest news, quizzes and more at your finger tips. We hope you enjoy the show!"

The layout videos I have watched so far are superb and really showcase both the layouts and the videography. The videos were mainly done by Key Model World, including commentary. Having a professional video library of layouts from or for Hornby Magazine obviously makes a huge difference to the visual experience compared to what one might commonly see on Youtube where the video quality ranges immensely, depending on the equipment, lighting, and skills of the Youtuber.

Key Model World hopes to have the 2021 Great Electric Train Show back on the ground next year. Naturally, this will depend on the pandemic situation at the time. However, virtual exhibitions are a great reminder that one can still showcase some great layouts and products even if we can't be there in person. And who knows when a return to "normal" exhibition attendance will occur?

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Exhibitions - we miss you!

The Labor Day weekend has passed and there was no Sydney Model Railway Exhibition this year because of Covid-19. Who would have thought that when I last posted on this blog (January 2019 on exhibitions) that we'd all be longing to go to a model railway exhibition...almost anywhere!

All those unanswered questions about model railway exhibitions and whether they have any impact on the future of the hobby seem superfluous now. In one way, by not having model railway exhibitions, the answer to whether we need model railway exhibitions to support and grow the hobby is a resounding YES!  As Joni Mitchell said, "You don't know what you've lost 'til it's gone".

So, as a way to reminisce about model railway exhibitions, I have selected a few layout images from a small back catalogue of photos to share with you. They obviously do not cover all layouts from the exhibition circuit over the years but I hope they can still bring back memories and inspire. To make the image bigger, click photo once with the mouse or tap once on the photo if using a touch screen device.

Photo 1: Sydney Central (N scale)

Photo 2: Smuggler's Cove (O scale narrow gauge)

Photo 3: Arakoola (O scale)

Photo 4: Barcoola (HO scale)

Photo 5: Mile Post 638 (HO scale)

Photo 6: Binalong (HO scale)

Photo 7: Oddwalls (HO scale)

Photo 8: Maryborough (HO scale)

Photo 9: Yendys (HO scale)

Photo 10: Waterfall (HO scale)

Photo 11: Mango Mango (O scale narrow gauge)

Photo 12: Enoshima (N scale)

Photo 13: Over the Fence (HO scale)

Photo 14: Goulburn (HO scale)

Photo 15: Wallerawang (HO scale)

Photo 16: Eskbank (HO scale)

Photo 17: Twelfth Street Yard (HO scale)

Photo 18: Sandford (N scale)

Photo 19: Generic (mainly US) layout from NMRA Coffs Harbour (HO scale)

Photo 20: Dungog (HO scale)

Photo 21: CSX/BN layout (HO scale)

Photo 22: Tyobic (HO scale)

Photo 23: Everton (HO scale)

Photo 24: Brisbane Waters (HO scale)

Photo 25: Brunswick Park (HO scale)

Photo 26: Moonan Flats (O scale)

Photo 27: Jackson Creek (narrow gauge)

Photo 28: Leonville Junction (G scale)

Photo 29: Mullet Creek (HO scale)

Photo 30: Industry Lane (OO scale)

Last one (couldn't resist) (Sydney Central, N scale)

Let's hope that at some safe time in the future we can all go out and attend model railway exhibitions in person. The layouts, the commercial stands, and the social aspects are all well and truly missed.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Looking ahead 2019 - Exhibitions

Every new year I make a mental list of all the things I want to achieve in the coming year. I have done this for many years now. However, I stopped calling them New Year resolutions because I wasn't particularly resolute in making the hoped-for achievements come to fruition. Still, I think that tradition is important and so my mental list prevails despite annual disappointments.

In 2019 I have a number of things I would like to achieve; some even related to model railways and this blog. As an aid to help me on this treacherous road ahead, my blogging will become what it was originally intended to be: a place to put down some thoughts about model railway layouts and the hobby in general. Over the past few years, the bulk of my posts were about exhibitions. I know that many people really enjoyed these exhibition summaries and accompanying photos. However, I am less inclined to visit exhibitions these days and even less inclined to photograph the same layouts over and over again.

That said, my first few posts for 2019 will be on model railway exhibitions. I appreciate that a frank discussion on some of the accepted practices in the hobby might cause some consternation, especially those closer to some of the issues than myself. I therefore preface the following thoughts by saying that I wish only to encourage some serious thinking about exhibitions and the hobby in general so that we can actually grow the hobby and make it successful in the years to come.

In this first post for 2019 I want to explore a couple of issues about model railway exhibitions. The first is the well-worn claim that model railway exhibitions are important to introduce the hobby to people who will then hopefully become active participants in the hobby, even if it is just as consumers of model railway products.

I appreciate the logic behind the claim but I have never seen any evidence that indicates any type of conversion rate. Reading articles in the model railway press, many authors cite childhood prototype railway experiences and/or train sets as an early introduction to the model railroad hobby rather than exhibitions. 

So, how many punters who attend model railway exhibitions ever go onto become railway modellers? From my observations, many punters (especially with children) pay only occasional attention to what is being displayed in front of them. Lego layouts seem to grab a lot of attention though. I often wonder why it is that Lego train displays remain overly popular compared to scale model railway layouts, especially those with strong prototype fidelity.

 And this brings us to another model railway exhibition mantra: the public want to see trains running around the layout at all times. I admit to having some sympathy to this claim in an age of attention deficits and immediate sense gratification. Lego layouts may also support the claim. I do wonder, however, if displaying exhibition layouts in this manner really provides a representative experience for the people who may want to join the hobby at a later stage. Does aimless running of trains enhance the model railway experience or not? Is it an effective demonstration of the hobby to entice new hobby participants? Or are exhibitions really just about entertainment?

In conjunction with the layouts and what is portrayed on the layouts, we must also look at the "real" model railroaders themselves. How do we come across to the public behind our model railway layouts? Are we engaging, knowledgeable, and approachable? Are we human showcases for the best of what the hobby of model railways can bring? Do we want the "average Joe" who visits the exhibition to say to themselves: "model railways, I really want to be like those guys and gals behind the layouts?"

In conclusion, do we even know why the "average Joe" comes to a model railway exhibition? Do we have any clue as to what they want out of the experience besides killing a couple of hours with the kids and grandparents (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Has there been any research to find out what percentage of exhibition visitors are your "average Joe" compared to existing railway modellers; and then discover what it is they get out of the experience? Do we even really care about the "average Joes"?

This leads me to the fundamental question behind this post: are model railway exhibitions really about showcasing model railways to the "average Joe" in the hope of converting them to the hobby at some point in the future?

My answer: I have no idea!

Thursday, 19 April 2018


It's hard to believe that three weeks have gone by since I was in Auckland, New Zealand, at a model railway convention. The New Zealand Association of Model Railway Clubs (NZAMRC) 2018 Convention was held in the northern suburb of Auckland, Takapuna, at the North Harbour Netball Club's indoor centre. It was a very well organised affair - thank you to the North Shore Model Railway Club for organising and hosting the event. And thank you to everybody who made this visiting Aussie feel very welcome.

Photo: A scene from one of the layouts at the convention centre showcasing NZR in S scale

The convention hosted four layouts at home base but the space available at the indoor netball centre could have housed five times as many!

Friday 31st March was the first day of the convention with clinics held in the morning. The two clinics I attended were both excellent.

The first was by Robert Douglas on "Operations on the Kayton and Tacoma Railway" about his HO scale US layout housed in a rather small garden shed. That did not stop Robert from presenting an interesting operational setup for his layout. He uses two-position car cards and waybills on a layout that ostensibly moves freight cars from one side of the layout to the other. A typical op. session moves around 36-40 cars within a 90-120 minute time period. A feature of the op. system is the use of randomised freight cars to provide added interest. Robert also spoke about how he compiled an inventory of industries and their respective loads in and out, thereby providing information on the types of freight cars needed. Loads also respond to seasonal variations.

The other clinic was from noted NZR modeller, Trevor James. I had seen Trevor's layout at the corresponding NZAMRC Convention four years ago in Hamilton - a terrific NZ S scale layout. Trevor's presentation was about building a medium sized NZR home layout. Trevor believes in the 3' rule - the detail on the layout is as good as viewed from three feet away. He emphasised that in the planning phase it is important to determine what you want from the layout - what standards you will be comfortable adhering to and what features you want to incorporate on the layout.

After lunch, the afternoon was filled with layout visits. I was very lucky to have met Brent and Neil the night before at a local pub, so Brent and Neil kindly included me in their car as part of the car pooling arrangements. Many thanks, chaps! I include photos of several layouts I saw over the weekend at the end of the report.

The second day had a similar program with clinics in the morning (Peter Ross on DCC sound, and Arthur Hayes from Brisbane with his talk on "Conveying goods/freight on your layout"). The layout tours were in the afternoon. Again, Brent kindly chauffeured four of us around with plenty of entertaining banter as well as some unofficial sightseeing of a former NZ airbase (now a housing estate) where Brent had once lived and worked.

On Sunday, the third day, there were more clinics in the morning (Part 2 of Trevor James' talk about his layout, and Philip Sharp's enormously interesting "Modelling the Owen Sound Sub' in the 1870s and 1890s"). Trevor's focus was on operation in this clinic. Trevor explained the operations on his home layout. He uses the software program ShipIt to generate switch lists. Essentially, trains started from double-ended three track staging area.  The two trains leave staging in opposite directions and work their way around the entire layout on the single track main until reaching the corresponding station at the end of the layout (the two end stations are also connected by the ends of staging). The locos at each station are turned, or dropped for a new loco, and then the op. session really begins as now the trains and their freight cars move back through the layout performing all the switching moves at intermediate locations along the way. Philip's talk was a fabulous historical journey, with photographs, of the railroad that began as a narrow gauge line known as the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway. It soon fell into financial problems and was taken over by the Grand Trunk and converted to standard gauge, and then in 1883 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) took control.

In the afternoon the prototype tour was a visit to the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Western Springs, Auckland. This was a great afternoon as we had a tour through the railway section, getting up close and personal to an array of historic locomotives as the photo directly below shows. We also had some time in the aviation section as well, before heading over to the technology section by (Melbourne) tram to see a number of exhibits including the superb Auckland Pumphouse.

The layouts all had something interesting to showcase and I very much enjoyed the experience. And now, the photos and some description from the layout tours - apologies if I have missed anyone.

The first layout visit was to the home of Gerard Y. who was an amazing gentelman with a great memory for the history of Auckland and the railways (and he also has the neatest - as in most tidy - workshop/garage I have ever seen). Gerard's O scale layout showcased locomotives and rollings stock that he had built from scratch in the 1940s and 1950s. If the Auckland Public Library local history librarian is reading this; get over to Gerard's place and do an oral history as he has some great stories to tell.

The next layout was a NZR S scale layout based on the Greymouth to Otira line on the west coast of the NZ South Island. This was a high quality layout with some superb scenery. According to those in the know, the layout certainly gave that unique Greymouth scenic experience.

The HO scale US layout called the International Falls and South Western Railroad was housed in a double-garage, plus extension in an adjacent room. The layout was terrific, featuring operation with track warrants, car cards and waybills. As the layout was largely set in Minnesota, it really had a strong appeal to me.

Another US prototype layout was the freelance HO scale Pacific Western. This was a very nice layout featuring lots of interesting industries, including a sawmill, cold store, flour mill, grain elevator, and cement and aggregate dealer.

Trevor C. had a fantastic 9mm scale NZR layout featuring both steam and diesel action. The layout is inside a large purpose built room,16m x 7min size, but with plenty of room for people to move around, as well as the trains. The layout is based on the Taihape loco depot and main North Auckland line between 1950 and 1990, giving plenty of scope for a range of locomotive classes.

John R. also had a very large layout, 20m x 7m. This HO scale layout was set in the US Rocky Mountains in the steam-diesel transition era. There were plenty of long trains in operation, as well as a bevy of locomotives in yards and around turntables.

Neville C. had a beautifully scenicked S scale (1:64) layout with full interlocking control. The NZR layout is based on the North Auckland line from Swanson to Waitakere. The layout was contained in what looked to be a single garage and therefore demonstrated you don't need oodles of space for a great layout.

Graham D., a man with a talent for the electrics side of the hobby, ended the second day with his S scale NZR layout. The layout fits into a room 7.5m x 3.5m. The layout is based on the Wellington area and the Johnsonville branch line. In keeping with the owner's skill set, the layout features working signalling, building lights, night scenes, and automatic running. The scenicked areas are pretty good as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Convention, especially meeting a great bunch of people and sharing some fun times. I recommend the Convention to all railway modellers. The next convention is in two years time in Christchurch.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Are we mad?

The start of a new year brings forth hopes for the future and a review of the preceding twelve months. In that context, I want to look at model railways and ask the question: "are we mad"?

If I review the past twelve months I can see that I spent quite a bit of money on the hobby of model railways. It was in the thousands of dollars rather than the tens of thousands but nevertheless it was a sizeable proportion of disposable income that I could have perhaps spent more wisely elsewhere (or not spent it all and saved it for my future retirement). Moreover, I have even been contemplating some home renovations with a model railway purpose shimmering away in the not too distant playground of my mind - utter madness surely!

In addition, in 2017 I spent money going to exhibitions (all but one being in another state) and a model railway convention in the United States. Sure, in the US, I caught up with friends and new acquaintances but funnily enough they were all largely associated with the hobby of model railways. I saw some prototype rail action as well as I followed a section of line between small midwest rural towns in southern Minnesota.

During the past year, my leisure time comprised of many things but model railways was not far from the action. This included actually working on the model railway; thinking, planning, researching and making adjustments to the model railway; running trains and the odd op. session on the model railway; and spending countless hours over the course of the year just staring at the model railway. I am also involved with the local NMRA Division and a member of two Special Interest Groups (SIGs), plus a couple of prototype railway associations. Sadly, the amount of time spent on my blogs in 2017 was almost non-existent so I don't need to worry about time spent there.

Naturally, there was plenty of reading and viewing of model railway and prototype railway subjects. This took the form of magazines; blogs; several disparate book chapters (and maybe a whole book every now and then); and countless Youtube videos (including video subscription services such as Model Railroader's Video Plus) and DVDs. I even got train DVDs for Christmas.

Throughout the year, conversations were also littered with talk about model railways; about trains; DCC and op. sessions; industries and history; and the usual banter about model railway personalities. Most of these conversations were positive, but some were just plain frustrating (DCC in particular).

Finally, there was all that time and money spent in actually buying things for the model railway. Some times this took the form of need, but many times it took the form of "just in case" (the "strike while the iron is hot" mentality many of us grew up with in the days of low run production of kits). And when I say "need", I don't mean it in the economic sense that distinguishes between wants and needs; I mean it in the sense of I need that item (often a locomotive) for the model railway as I just can't get by without it. And in keeping with the view that well-worn sayings originate in truth, then "whoever has the most locomotives wins" must surely be right!

In conclusion, upon looking at the evidence and weighing up the facts of the matter, there can be no other answer to the question: "Are we mad"? - the answer is definitively YES.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Caulfield Model Railway Exhibition 2017

I travelled to Melbourne on Saturday to see the 47th AMRA Victoria Branch model railway exhibition at Caulfield Racecourse. As in previous years, it was an enjoyable day with plenty of layouts and vendors in attendance.

I will showcase some of the layouts that caught my eye shortly but I do want to comment (again) that the lighting at the venue and the lighting on many of the layouts was often poor. When compared to other exhibitions I have been too, I find it amazing that the Caulfield exhibition has so many layouts on display without adequate lighting. I'm sorry, spot lights here and there just don't cut it.

According to the program, there were all together 63 layouts, vendors, and information booths.  They all fitted into the one large room underneath the grandstand at the Caulfield race track. Getting there is easy using public transport. I enjoyed the suburban train trip from Spencer Street Station to Caulfield via Richmond. I love the industrial buildings you pass along the way - the Bryant and May building is superb and even the rail-facing derelict-looking Rosella Preserving Company building at Richmond is historically interesting.

Regarding the exhibition, many of the familiar faces from the commercial side of the hobby were there, including: Auscision (some nice exhibition specials on locomotives), Austrains (had a good chat with John which was great), Aztronics, Airport West Hobbies, Blue and Gold Models, Brunel Hobbies, Casula Hobbies (another sterling job), Dotric Station Blue, Eureka, Matt's Ballast, Metro Hobbies, Models 'n' More, Model Train Buildings, On Track, Orient Express Model Railway Shop, SDS, Steam Era Models, Southern Models, Train World (and Powerline), Trainbuilder, and Trainorama. One vendor I'd not seen before was Barry's Boxes selling storage boxes for N scale model railway equipment.

Of the layouts, these are the ones that caught my eye.

Maryborough (VR, HO scale) is a well-lit and exceptionally modelled layout based on the prototype town of the same name. The station building is exquisite. I spent the most time at the exhibition admiring this layout. The era modelled is the early 1960s prior to 1967 when the level crossing gates were removed. The photographic backscenes are also superb and really give a sense of place and distance to the layout.

Murray River Bridge (HO scale) depicted the prototype at Murray Bridge, South Australia. The layout still had some finishing touches to be completed but looked great nevertheless. Watching a super-long SCT train rolling across the deck girders and through the three truss bridge was quite a sight. The period modelled represented the late 1980s with plenty of modern-era diesels and rollingstock.

Another nicely modelled layout was Leopold (VR, HO scale) from the Sunbury Model Railway Club. I have seen it before but it's always worth spending some time at this layout. One comment, however (and not just aimed at this layout), is the habit of placing the number of the layout (corresponding to the information in the program) on the layout itself. I really think that this detracts from the representation of a scale model railway. I realise there is a need to easily identify the layout but placing the number on the front fascia or curtain might be better.

Yea (VR, HO scale) was another local prototype that looked great and ran some very nice trains. However, it could be improved with better lighting. The layout was featured in the October 2014 issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM) if you want detailed information about the layout. The quality of the layout itself is first class with some great detailed scenes.

Another Victorian Railways layout was Skipton (HO scale) based on the town of the same name. The layout was fairly rudimentary but will improve with additional detail. Again, poor layout lighting was an issue. That said, I appreciate the work the young chaps who built and operated this layout put into exhibiting it. Interestingly, I have researched Skipton and been there to take lots of photos as I regard the location as an excellent prototype to model.

Colinsville Riverland Railway (Australian, HO and HOn30) is a fictitious location situated on an Australian coastal river port. There was plenty of action on this layout with a variety of trains.

Gum Leaf Gully (On30) was a small but well detailed layout. I will let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Another On30 layout was Frog Hollow. This layout represented a fictional Australian narrow gauge bush railway. Modellers familiar with the work of the late Geoff Nott will see his handiwork in this layout now owned and operated by Geoff Small. The layout featured lighting effects and bush sounds that added to the realism of the display.

Another small layout, Little Chipping (VR, HO scale) is a small town (fictional?) located in Gippsland. A sequenced timetable allowed for a good range of short trains to enter and depart the layout.  The fiddle yard was a train turntable that could hold five tracks of trains that could be swivelled 180 degrees to reset the direction of the train back toward the scenic section of the layout. The layout was quite low and I imagine this was so small children could easily see the layout.

On the other hand, a layout that was at a good height for adults required quite a bit of elevation for the operator! Catherwood (British, 00 scale) is a seaside terminus station set in west Dorset in England. The layout depicts the 1955-65 era with some terrific scenery and prototypical operation. I really enjoyed looking at the detail of this layout and what can be achieved in a relatively modest space. That said, I wouldn't like to spend a whole weekend on that short stepladder...

Another British layout that was well detailed was Vale of White Horse (00 scale) based on the Great Western Railway (GWR) on the mainline between London and Bristol. A variety of trains ran throughout the day, reflecting different time periods from 1920 to 1964.

Northminster Heritage Railway (British, 00 scale) represents a fictitious heritage railway in England. As such, a variety of locomotives can be seen operating on this layout.

For those of us who grew up with Triang-Hornby and Wrenn, Gregor Potts' layout (British, 00 scale) brought back lots of memories. The trains and buildings from this period of model railway manufacturing still have a great appeal today despite the significant advancements in the hobby. Even the Minic Motorway road system on the layout was something to behold.

Neubahn (European, HO scale) showcased modern European trains on express services through a small township. The colourful passenger stock and freight wagons make European prototype layouts like this very attractive to watch.

Rounding out the layouts for me was Wallan (HO scale) that showcased a number of Australian trains running through this Victorian locale.

Finally, I must thank the organisers and exhibitors for their efforts in putting on a very enjoyable model railway exhibition