Wednesday 30 September 2009

Model railways across the Tasman

I just received my latest issue of NZ Model Railway Journal. I really want to give this model railway magazine a real plug since I regard it as one of the finest model railway magazines published anywhere in the world.

That's quite a statement. Let me elaborate.

The Journal is produced to an excellent quality, both in terms of production values and in content. The Journal is printed on fine quality glossy paper, has brilliant photographs of both model and railway prototypes, and has some excellent model railway articles. The text is clear and easy to read. The way the magazine articles are presented is simple, organised, and straightforward. With plenty of half-page and third-of-the-page sized photographs, images are easy to look at and with informative captions.

Obviously, New Zealanders are the main audience. The "favoured" scale is 3/16 inch to the foot - S scale (1:64). In this scale one can use track for HO scale standard gauge railways that in S scale represent the narrow gauge 3'6" gauge used by the New Zealand railway system.

In the latest issue though is a layout article built to 1:150 scale and despite the freelance design, is a very fine layout. The images are superb! And if you're into actually model railway construction of wagons and locos, there are two great articles in the latest issue on building a Roturua guards' van and another article on matching rods and frames for loco construction. There is plenty of news and some fine prototype photographs in black and white - very much in the style of the UK finescale magazine Model Railway Journal "real atmosphere" - as well as a couple of colour shots taken at Reefton in the 1950's.

The Journal can be purchased in Sydney at the ARHS Bookshop at Central Station. Maybe give the shop a call before Saturday and see whether they can bring some copies of the NZ Model Railway Journal to the AMRA model railway exhibition at Liverpool this coming long weekend. Alternatively, just subscribe to the Journal via the website.

Whilst the New Zealand content may not be relevant to some people, I always find something of interest to read. And as to publishing standards, the NZ Model Railway Journal is one of the best - a great credit to the voluntary editorial and production team. Well done!

Saturday 26 September 2009

Buying a house for the layout

I spent much of today looking at houses for sale in Canberra. The reason is that the family is sick of renting and we are keen to find somewhere to live that we can call home now that we have settled back into Canberra life (we lived in Canberra for five years in the late 1990s). Naturally, we have some pretty clear ideas as to the type of house we are looking for and what attributes are important to us. You can guess at what I am particularly interested in.

The first problem is that Canberra house prices are ridiculously high; almost as high as Sydney property prices for equivalent stock. The second problem is the complicated triad of relationships between the type of house, location, and the market price (i.e. the price at which someone will pay - often much higher than what most of the houses I have seen so far are actually worth). And thirdly, at what point does one compromise space for that dream layout if nearly all the other desirable attributes of a home can be ticked off the checklist?

The latter point is a problem that I now face after viewing one of the houses for sale today that had most of what we are after within that complicated triad of relationships. The price is within bounds, the basic house layout and structure are ok, and the location is within an acceptable distance from work. And yes, there is a double garage but there is also a solid brick wall down the middle, possibly the original outer wall of an original single garage. The actual length and width of this double garage are also an issue since I don't think there is enough space. The garage is capable of fitting in a car on each side but without too much extra space for anything else (not that I would actually put a car in there!).

I sometimes read about modellers who "build the house around their model railway empire". I'd like to say that this will be possible, but somehow I rather doubt it. Pity really.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Modelling the Railways of SA Convention is over for another year

I returned home to Canberra this afternoon after spending an enjoyable day yesterday at the Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention in Adelaide. I think that the attendance at the convention this year would have been one of the biggest since the auditorium looked pretty full. Congratulations and thank you to Les Fordham and the team who put together another great convention and another set of quality notes.

One of the key features of the convention this year was signal cabins. Over here in NSW, we call them signal boxes. Anyway, David Goedecke gave a great presentation on Modelling South Australian Signal Cabins, including detailed prototype notes and photos; describing how he built a model of the cabin at Ambleside. What was especially interesting was how David became interested in signal cabins. David told us that when he was a young boy he came upon a book in the local library about the life of a signalman in England - "Signalman's morning" by Adrian Vaughan. After reading this book, David became fascinated with signal cabins and their operation. I can well understand from my own childhood experiences where interests in later life originally formed. Random childhood events often have enormous impact on our lives, albeit at the time, seemingly so innocuous!

Signal cabins were clearly of interest to other people as well since there were plenty of examples in the model display area, mostly in HO scale but at least one in N scale. I have included photos of just three examples showing HO scale models of Ambleside (Goedecke), Adelaide (Gavin Thrum), and Penfield (Vic Kollosuhe).

I also really enjoyed the presentation from Lindsay Baker about oil depots. Oil depots are a particular favourite of mine. It was good to hear first hand from Lindsay who had worked in the industry for many years for Golden Fleece. Lindsay also gave us an insight into how he has used oil depots on his HO scale layout - based on Naracoorte - called the South Eastern Division. Lindsay highlighted the different types of petroleum products carried and distributed by rail, as well as mentioning the diversity of customers that kept oil depots in business. In addition, Lindsay reminded us that oil depots were supposed to be securely fenced! The combination of prototype information and his description of how he uses oil depots on his superb home layout was a great way to showcase an effective and believable lineside industry. Lindsay modelled an oil depot for the display area and I have included a photo below.

And speaking of the display area, there was plenty to see including signal cabins, SAR cabooses, locos and rollingstock. There was an even a small model of a Country Fire Association (CFA) shed and surrounding infrastructure. But possibly the pick of the display was Frank Kelly's superb model of SAR locomotive No.1 and train - photo below.

Other presentations from the day included early passenger cars of the Ghan by John Beckhaus, the 600 class steam engines of the SAR by Bob Burford, modelling SAR/VR joint stock Pullman passenger cars by Noel Potter and Stuart Hicks, SAR Webb cabooses in N scale by Mark Wilson, and photos of modern rollingstock by Noel Potter. The special guest speaker was Les Smith, ex-Australian National Chief Mechanical Engineer, who closed the day with a fabulous account of some of the goings-on during the AN period - sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!

Finally, in addition to the presentations, I really enjoyed catching up with people and meeting some new people (even a couple from Canberra) over the course of the day. All in all, it was another great convention and well worth the trip.

Thursday 17 September 2009

AMRM October 2009

I received my latest issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM) today. The October issue is 72 pages in length with a hefty amount of advertising to keep the Australian economy (and the magazine) ticking over. I haven't read everything in the current issue as yet, although I have read in full the AMRM News section, Market Place, Reviews, and the featured layout.

I have every issue of AMRM from about the late 1970's when I bought my first copy at Micro Models in what was then, Hornsby Westfield Plaza. Micro Models is still in business, now as Hobbyland and on the Pacific Highway at Hornsby, under the management of Ian Radcliffe. I mention this because Ian and his son, Mathew, have some excellent models showcased in this latest issue of AMRM in the Gallery section. I should also add that I have a couple of Ian's excellent kits that he markets under the IDR brand (hey Ian, you need to update your blog!).

The featured layout in the October AMRM is a 1:48 scale (On2.5) freelance layout called Quart Pot Creek built by Geoff McMahon. The layout has some superb scenery (especially the trees), beautifully captured by the camera of John Dennis. John actually presented a clinic at the Australian Narrow Gauge Convention in Sydney earlier this year showing how he takes model railway photographs. From what I recall, he uses a simple compact camera but takes the same shot three or four times using different ranges of focus that he later "sews up" with a computer program (the name of which temporarily escapes me) to vastly improve the depth of field. The upshot is that John takes some superb model photos!

And also speaking of John Dennis, many years ago when he exhibited his Dutton Bay Tramway at the Sydney Model Railway Exhibition in Liverpool, we got into conversation about his model of the gypsum loading facility he had on his layout. John kindly later sent me photos of the prototype gypsum loading facilities at Kevin, South Australia - thank you John!

The October issue of AMRM continues the article about the Sydney suburban electric cars - this time on how to repower the motor bogie. The most interesting aspect of this series of articles is the use of battery power and radio control, something I was advocating a couple of years ago myself in the letters page of AMRM!

There's also an article (just skimmed the text so far) on building a laser cut trestle in N scale, looking a tad more realistic at completion than the following article on using old film canisters for bridge piers. Personally, I'd stick with the HO scale bridge piers from Uneek, available from Anton's Trains and other good hobby shops.

Bob Gallagher and Ben O'Malley look at loading pipes on the NSWGR TME flat wagon using the TME produced most recently by Austrains. The TME wagon is available ready-to-run from Austrains and Trainmaster, or in kit form from Casula Hobbies - ask Joe for the decals!

The rest of the magazine offers a variety of short articles, including Beyond the fence by Phil Jeffrey, and Ralph Holden's From the Superintendent's notebook. In this issue there is no Branchline Ramblings from Ron Cunningham who must be busy pacing the house waiting on the Eureka 38's to finally arrive from China! And he's not the only one; I have almost worn out the carpet and my 84 year-old dad has been losing his hair waiting in anticipation over the past five years!

Finally, good to see almost half-a-dozen letters in the Mailbag section.

Now, let's get back to the lounge and finishing off reading this latest issue of AMRM.

Monday 14 September 2009

Looking forward to Adelaide this weekend

I am looking forward to going to Adelaide this coming weekend. I will be attending the Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention being held on Saturday at the Flinders Medical Centre.

I have been to several of these Conventions in Adelaide over the years and I have always enjoyed them immensely. The Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention is full of information. There are presentations and a set of high quality notes that are produced each year. The notes are really a set of quality articles that support the presentations and form part of a reference library from previous Conventions. The notes are organised by subject headings and form individual inserts into ring binders. The articles are fully indexed and the current index of notes is now very comprehensive. I cannot recommend the Convention notes highly enough!

In addition, the Convention has a model display where models of locos, rollingstock, and buildings are showcased. In some years, a display layout is also exhibited.

The Convention last year featured a display layout and a diorama; both HOn3.5 and of excellent quality. In the first photo below you can see the display layout with Commonwealth Railways NM25 hauling a mixed goods train on the bridge over Wirreanda Creek. The actual prototype NM25 is preserved by the Pichi Richi Railway in Quorn, South Australia.

The next photo shows the diorama built by the Northern Modellers Group. The diorama featured some really terrific buildings. One of the builders of the diorama, Des McAuliffe (thanks for the correction, Iain), also gave an excellent presentation on model railway operations, illustrating his talk with video from his HO scale South Australian-prototype home layout.

The last photo here shows the Criterion Hotel, a typical South Australian-looking pub. The model is in HO scale and is built from card. Interestingly, many of the buildings on display at the 2008 Convention and previous conventions have featured buildings made from card.

I am certainly looking forward to what I will hear and see at the 2009 Convention this Saturday. A report will follow upon my return home.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Model railway operation using staff control

I had an enjoyable operating session last night at the home of one of the local members of the Australasian Division of the NMRA. The layout is a fictional railway line located between North Geelong in Victoria and Eden on the far south coast of NSW. As a consequence, the line is standard gauge. The locos and rollingstock come from both the Victorian and NSW railways, as well as Freight Australia, Great Northern, R&H, and National Rail.

The layout is controlled using an older version of Easy DCC and works to a train order sequence. A card for each train gives instructions as to the origin and destination, and any operational requirements en route. For example, one of my trains last night was a goods train that had instructions to pick up and set out wagons at various locations along the way. Shunting in a number of yards and keeping to sequence was indeed quite a challenge, especially if through trains were waiting on me clearing the main to allow them uninterrupted passage.

There were about nine of us working these trains, including what the Americans would call yardmasters at the terminus points (North Geelong and Eden) and at the key crossing point (Latrobe Valley) midway between the two.

Operation was an interesting combination of radio control and staff exchange. This meant that one couldn't enter a new section of the railroad without permission (obtained through using the individual radio control handsets and microphones) and without getting the staff for that section. Upon leaving the section, the staff had to be returned. The photo below shows the staffs for the five key sections of the layout. You can see that there are two trains in operation by the fact that the staff for section B and section D are not in the box.

You can also see in the photo how the staffs are stored in a vertical position. The staffs sit in the box and actually operate a switch at the base of the wooden holders to indicate when a staff is in position in the wooden box or has been removed. The staff set-up also controls the signals to give the correct colour light signal for approaching trains. Very ingenious indeed!

I really enjoyed the operating night and using another type of digital control system. I am becoming more interested in using digital control every time I have the chance to experience a real operational model railroad, rather than simple loop layouts that are popular at model railway exhibitions. Operating a Victorian/NSW layout was also an interesting experience. It was certainly nice to see all those Austrains, Auscision and Trainorama locos and wagons in use.

Thanks to Rob and the other chaps for a really great evening!

Monday 7 September 2009

Technology in the hobby - publishing

I susbscribe to Model Railroader magazine (MR). I have about fifteen years' worth of back issues plus some from 1978-1979. Only recently have I begun to look at actually modelling a US prototype railroad - the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern (DME) which I blog about at DME Down Under.

Yet my decision to renew my MR subscription earlier this year was not based on just getting a monthly magazine in the post box. The tipping point for me was the additional content one has access to from the Model Railroader web site. MR is really using the internet to leverage more of it's magazine content and provide new ways of delivering that content for subscribers.

This additional web-based content gives product alerts and reviews, model railroad industry news as it happens (I see Faller has recently gone into bankruptcy), additional layout photos, a track plan database, and a series of videocasts by Cody Grivno, David Popp, and others on various model railroading topics.

But for me, the History according to Hediger series has been terrific. The format is an interview style between David Popp and Senior MR editor, Jim Hediger. Jim has been with the MR publishing team for over thirty years and his Ohio Southern layout is one of the greats. Jim shares some anecdotes about the history of his layout (now thirty years old) in his gravelly voice and with his wry sense of humour. The use of this web format interview style really brings Jim's knowledge and character to life, especially for those of us living on the other side of the world.

And this is where Model Railroader magazine is ahead of the rest - the supplementary content for subscribers available on the internet. The web allows for so much more than just the monthly publication of text. The web allows for video and podcasting, it enhances the scale of content (e.g. the thousands of track plans in the track plan database), and it allows for more immediate news and interaction (e.g. the news and MR reader forums).

The MR reader forums can also be used by the publishers to see what the the current issues of importance are to modellers (often emergent issues that can be picked up before they become mainstream) and whether the magazine and website can cater for these interests ahead of the model railroad magazine competition.

I do think, however, that MR could use a blog based on Tony Koester's Trains of thought column (as could AMRM with Ron Cunningham's Branchline Ramblings). I realise that Tony's column comes out monthly with MR magazine and Ron's column is now irregular in the bi-monthly AMRM. Good blogs usually have content loaded more than once a month (weekly is a good consistency to aim for) but I think there would be enough comments and interaction to provide sufficient content changes to overcome this lack of weekly updating by the authors.

We often think of how technology is improving the hobby through digital electronics and more life-like scale model locomotives and rollingstock. Technology is also helping to deliver model railway and prototype information in more interesting, more personable, and more timely and interactive ways.