Tuesday, 30 June 2009


One of the great challenges of model railways is signalling. On the New South Wales Government railways and subsequent authorities, working semaphore signals dominated the safety and perway landscape.

In model form, the best working semaphore signals I have seen were on the layout "Menangle", probably thirty years ago. Mind you, not many layouts even try to have working semaphore signals. Winmar, for example, does not anticipate seeing signals for some time (and not just because the layout is in storage in a Canberra warehouse). Working signals do look great - even working colour light signals.

Anyway, I was out last weekend at Gunning to see that the semaphore signals have finally been removed. The change to colour light signals in the Cullerin is pretty much complete. The remains of the semaphore signals and posts have been cut up and sent to the tip. The colour light signals that had literally been under wrap for a while now are now in action. You can see a before and after shot below. The photos were taken on the 5th and 27th June 2009.

There's something about working semaphores that really can't be outdone by their colour light equivalents - but colour light signals are much easier to model!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Modelling the Railways of...

I have just sent off my forms and payments for two model railway conventions coming up in the next couple of months.

The first is "Modelling the Railways of NSW". This event will be held on Saturday 25th July at Loftus TAFE (a new venue) but I confess to always thinking of this convention as the "Petersham Convention". I've put my name down for a couple of interesting presentations, including DCC & sound, transporting milled agricultural produce, and the way in which water was collected and distributed for steam locomotives on the NSW railways.

The other convention I will be attending is Modelling the Railways of South Australia. This convention will be held in Adelaide (at the Flinders Medical Centre) on Saturday 19th September, a week later than usual. Presentations on offer at this convention include SAR signal boxes, the 600 class Pacific steam locomotive, and oil depots, among others. I hope to take some extra time off to go exploring prior to the convention with some life size railway photography.

I am looking forward to the presentations at both the conventions, as well as the conversations with other modellers and members of the hobby trade. If you haven't been to either of these two conventions, on past experience, I can thoroughly recommend them.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Death of RMC publisher, Hal Carstens

I just heard that Hal Carstens, long-time publisher of Railroad Model Craftsman (RMC), died at his home in the US on Tuesday, aged 84. News can be found here and here.

Hal Carstens was an icon in the model railroad hobby and came to be known by many through his work and monthly columns in RMC. For me, those monthly columns, signed off with Hal, were like personal links to a man I had never met and who lived on the other side of the world. Every time I read one of those columns, it was like being in conversation with the man. His ability to bring experience, insight and thoughts in such a personable way through his writings was a skill I admired and appreciated.

Hal Carstens will be greatly missed.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A time and a place

Having read the June issue of Model Railroader a couple of times now, I want to comment on one of the thinking pieces in it. The piece is a monthly article written by Andy Sperandeo called "The Operators". In the June issue Andy talks about choosing locomotives for operation and how time and place have a major bearing on those decisions.

The gist of the article was that Andy had selected a specific time period and location for his model railroad - the second half of 1947 in the Cajon Pass area of southern California. That decision reflected his strong personal interest for particular prototype locomotives, especially the 3800 class 2-10-2's, on this section of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe. Andy concludes by saying that he has "arrived at a roster (of locomotives) representative of that particular railroad at that particular time and place".

Looking at my own layout, Winmar, I have selected a particular geographic area ("just" north of Albury on the Main South line), although my station name and town are fictional. I have also fictionalised a branch line leaving Winmar and heading east towards the upper reaches of the Murray River - the branch line, of course, being that future extension to the layout once I have a permanent place to house it all.

I am therefore basing much of my operation on Winmar on the real prototype that ran between Sydney and Albury on the Main South line. This allows for 38 class steam locomotives but not 57 class steam locomotives, for example. 57 class locomotives didn't go past Junee on the Main South.

My period of time, however, is much more flexible. I like the early 1960s but I also like the late 1990's as well. And in between, I have a few locos (422 class diesels) and rolling stock (PRX cement wagons, for example) that fit this "middle" period (1970-1990). If I was dedicated and disciplined, I should get rid of these outliers from my collection and concentrate solely on one time period. Having read Andy's article, I understand how such a decision makes decisionmaking on locomotive rosters that much easier (and no doubt, less expensive).

In terms of my collection, however, I just can't make that decision. Sure, in my 1965 period running sessions I will try and keep to the prototype. The 422's and PRY/X cement wagons are banished. Yet, for fun, I will run some of these out-of-period trains for the variety and chance to imagine, albeit imperfectly, that I am back in the late 1970's or early 1980s - but don't get me started on the beginning of the four digit wagon codes!

The outcome is that I have far too many locomotives and too much rolling stock for the time frame and location I am modelling. When I am in my serious operating mode, I can be pretty disciplined as to what I run on the layout and how it all fits together with the prototype.

So maybe Andy is right after all - limiting the locomotive roster to the most favoured time of your favourtite locomotives is the way to go. At least, it's certainly a more inexpensive option and will free up some space in the storage cabinet!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

UK model railway mag's

Continuing my notes about model railway magazines I have been reading lately, I want to look at three British magazines aimed at the average railway modeller. Perhaps another time for the finescale Model Railway Journal. My main interests in these magazines are the layout articles and track plans, and any new ideas and thinking pieces. I am not a British prototype modeller so I am sure other aspects of the magazines have much broader interest.

Of the generalist British railway magazines, British Railway Modelling (BRM) is by far the best. In the April issue there were three very good layout articles (the OO gauge Alloa and Stamford East, and Gifford Street in O scale) with some nice photography and informative, yet pretty standard, layout descriptions. I also particularly liked the article on building a control panel (I have a fascination with control panels, I'm afraid, even though I might struggle to wire one up). A good serve of news and reviews makes this an easy magazine to read. April must be the month for annual awards because BRM features a set of awards for contributors based on several categories - annual awards like this are something I am personally not interested in and will explain why-so in another post.

Awards also featured in the April issue of Model Rail, this time "model of the year 2008". Winners included Bachmann as manufacturer of the year and Hattons for retailer of the year, among several other award categories. The featured layout, Dewsbury Midland, was superb and had some excellent accompanying photos (including an A3-sized print as an insert). The relatively brief article text was a bit disappointing for such an appealing and well detailed layout. However, more is to be revealed in the May issue. Myself, I'd prefer a detailed description of the layout account in the one issue, with perhaps features on specific critical elements (such as buildings, for example) in subsequent issues. I suppose the editor feels that such a wonderful layout is a useful selling point for the magazine in more than one issue. The rest of the magazine was standard fare and included some beginner-type articles and a prototype report on the class 37 diesel. The layout design plan for Otley was pretty interesting, but again, short on text.

The May issue of Hornby Magazine featured Saffron Street in 4mm scale, a layout I saw last year in the UK at the Warley Exhibition in Birmingham. Some nice photos to showcase this layout but the text was a little brief for my liking. Here's my photo of a scene in Saffron Street - note the black side of the building facing out. Not sure what that's about but the Hornby Magazine photographer sure put this layout in a very positive light.

A couple of other layout articles, a beginner's guide to terminus stations, and the usual product information made up much of the rest of the magazine. However, the feature for me was the "building the garage" article that included a paper-based pre-cut building for assembly around a card superstructure.

Card structure modelling fascinates me and I wonder why it is that the Brits seem to use this material much more than here in Australia. I do remember though a wonderful presentation on card modelling (a dairy or abattoir was the subject, from memory) by the late Fred Gill at an SCMRA modelling seminar a few years back. I think Fred used shellac on the card to give it some strength and to prevent warping. Most Australian modellers I know tend to favour styrene instead of card, although noted Australian modeller David Low uses AMRI card sheet for corrugated iron rooves on his buildings. Gavin Thrum also uses card for buildings, often featured at the Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention in Adelaide, and always superb.

Now, back to a couple more model railway magazines still sitting by my desk...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Model railway magazine wrap

Like a true armchair modeller, I read a lot of model railway magazines. I subscribe to some and then I buy the odd one or two from the newsagent when I see something of interest. And now for the first of my model railway magazine wraps...

The June issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM) featured the O scale layout Queen's Wharf by Trevor Hodges. Besides some very nice photos and some excellent modelling, the article was brilliant because Trevor went into detail about much of the thinking that went into developing and constructing his layout. For me, the key quote was : "this hobby is about balancing the dreams and expectations you have for the layout you want with the real world challenges and limitations you're presented with". The other quality article of note was Malcolm Smith's piece on modifying the Redfern Models BD wagon.

I recently resubscribed (after a short delay) to US magazine, Model Railroader. However, I had to buy the latest issue from the newsagent - the June issue. The issue has a couple of good articles on adding lighting to model scenes. There are two layout articles that are a bit thin on text but with good accompanying photos and excellent track plan illustrations. I note from the Model Railroader website that the July 2009 issue is out so maybe check out the website and see what's coming up. I see that Model Railroader is looking to leverage the website more in conjunction with the printed magazine - this is an excellent thing to do.

I also picked up a copy of the UK magazine, Railway Modeller. It was the April 2009 issue and featured the usual half dozen layout articles of varying quality and length. I have noticed, however, that the quality of the layouts on offer in this magazine has improved from a few years ago. The featured layout was Trevellyn Bridge in OO gauge but Ashbourne Midland (EM) and the delightful Two Sisters Farm (1:32 scale) were highlights. I also liked the article on adapting plastic kits, although experienced modellers may find that article a tad simplistic. These days, Railway Modeller seems to maintain a consistent, if sometimes uninspiring, formula for magazine production and content. It's definitely one of those magazines that I buy on an ad hoc basis. The Railway Modeller website features the July issue, so we're a few issues behind down under!

There are three more model railway magazines I need to report on - perhaps in the next blog post.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Bowen Creek and Muskrat Rumble photos

As promised, here are a few photos showcasing Bowen Creek and Muskrat Rumble from last week's Epping MRE. The first four photos show Bowen Creek.

The next three images showcase the three key scenes from Muskrat Rumble. As you can see, the three scenes are quite distinctive and extremely well detailed.

These images are just a few sample views of these two layouts. If they are exhibited again, I thoroughly recommend a visit to see them in real life.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


A couple of friends rang me after my previous blog post and asked me why I thought Muskrat Rumble and Bowen Creek were such great layouts.

Since I can't upload the photos I took from the exhibition yet (internet at home still not working), I will have to explain.

I liked the way both layouts were professionally presented. Both were well lit and both were constructed to showcase quality modelling. The scenery on both layouts was superb, yet completely different from each other. Bowen Creek was sparse and lightly vegetated while Muskrat Rumble was full of trees in a swampland, super-detailed buildings, and rich cameo scenes. The scenery was integral to the presentation of the layouts AND emphasised the time period and the location the layouts represented. The scenery contributed to the feeling of authenticity.

Now, since I am more familiar with the Central West of NSW than Louisiana in the USA, you will note I said that the scenery felt authentic. This is very important for exhibition layouts because most of the audience will not have much personal experience of the actual locations, fictionalised within a real environment, or not. Therefore, authenticity is important to the maker of the layouts (personal fulfilment and representing a prototype) AND to the audience (having a sense of believability and credibility).

Geoff Nott (Muskrat Rumble) doesn't hide the fact that he loves to build scenery and dioramas. His group effort with logging layouts like Red Stag is testament to that. For Geoff, the moving train is subsidiary to the rest of the scenic elements within his dioramas (layout). On Bowen Creek, the sparse countryside, single line running, and simple track arrangment meant that train movements were limited to running through the layout, and maybe passing another train (or rail motor) at the station. There were no lineside industries as such and shunting would have been limited to the goods shed.

I mention this because operation is so important to me and the two layouts from the Epping Exhibition I have lauded were not run "for operation" at that venue.

Firstly, I appreciate that the focus of exhibitions is not necessarily to provide prototypical operations and that constant train movement and variety of trains are usually preferred. Secondly, I can appreciate many elements of a model railway even if the operational side of things is not as challenging as I might personally like. Indeed, Ian Millard told me that the intention with Bowen Creek is to run the layout with prototypical operation. Thirdly, I can certainly appreciate certain qualities and skills used in many model railway layouts that do not have to conform to my own personal preferences - that's certainly something an armchair modeller can really understand!

In other words, I can always find something of personal interest at exhibitions that I can simply admire. And I can look for some aspect of a displayed layout to enhance my own thinking and my own home layout. That's why I go to exhibitions and read model railway magazines - to enjoy AND to learn.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Epping Model Railway Exhibition 2009

Last Saturday I drove from Canberra to Sydney to see the Epping Model Railway Exhibition. I wasn't the only one from Canberra who also made the trek - I met up with almost a dozen compatriots at the exhibition in the first hour! Throughout the rest of the day, I chatted with plenty of friends and model railway contacts, including Anton and John from Anton's Trains.

The exhibition had a couple of great layouts. Muskrat Rumble, by Geoff Nott, was one of them. This layout was geographically based in Louisiana (USA) and featured some fantastic scenery, including a detailed forest scene, wharf scene and cotton field scene. The layout had previously featured at the Australian Narrow Gauge Convention in Sydney in April.

The other superb layout, and making it's exhibition debut, was Bowen Creek by Ian Millard and Andrew Campbell. Bowen Creek had a simple track layout, featuring a branch line and crossing loop, fictionally based in the Central West of NSW. The layout was HO fine scale Proto 87 and was superbly displayed, but perhaps a tad on the high side for the handlaid code 55 track to be fully appreciated. Another interesting feature was the use of a single role of material for the back scene, thereby allowing for a seamless and well-painted display.

Other NSW railways layouts that featured included the Epping club's Brunswick Park, Illawarra Model Railway Association's Palden Hill, Nicholls Siding, and the N scale South Creek layout. Stephen Wright exhibited Sydney trams. Layouts of overseas prototypes included the fabulous Enoshima (Japanese), the Brain Teaser US switching (shunting) layout, and the Brooklyn 3am display layout (USA).

I will post some photos from the exhibition during the week when I have my home internet connection up a running, with access to my photos.

And the day wouldn't have been complete without some bargain hunting at the second hand stall (a defining part of the Epping exhibition). All in all, it was a great day.