Thursday, 1 March 2018

Breathe In! Getting into and around the layout

Access has always been a challenge for Philip's Creek. As the layout has moved through various locations and configurations, it has grown steadily until, as regular readers would have noted, Philip's Creek now resides in one of three adjoining garages. The other two garages have different uses and the domestic manager steadfastly refuses to countenance any extension of Philip's Creek into these. Unsurprisingly, and probably like many other layouts, space on Philip's Creek is tight with narrow access passageways measuring somewhere between 500-600mm. For someone who, for much of his recent working life, has railed about the need for access within buildings for maintenance, there's probably a fair degree of hypocrisy in this, but it is what it is.  Crab walking is the normal way of getting around the layout. This isn't too much of a problem for just one operator but when others visit the layout, things can get a little cosy.

Being very aware of the access challenges as work on the Kingston Plains progressed, I was forced to compromise and accept a glaring omission from a typical branchline terminus - a turntable. The reason for this compromise was fairly straight forward, a need to ensure a reasonable width (about 600mm) access leading into the layout area from the main garage .

However, it was during a recent chat with a neighbour that I found myself describing how I could add a turntable to the end of the terminus. The consequence of this small extension would be a 50 percent reduction in the width of the access passageway from 600mm to around 300mm, albeit with the fallback of access via the garage door if absolutely necessary. But as our chat continued, it became obvious that I was talking myself into this alteration.

As the idea materialised, I decided that any turntable extension had to be removable to ensure that the original access was available if required. I fabricated the 300mm cantilever frame shown in the adjoining photo. The bricks in the photo are acting as weights while the PVA glue between the styrofoam sheets cures but also give an indication of the load that the cantilever section can carry.

The extension is removed by lifting it vertically. To assist the fixing, I installed magnets on the extension and the mating layout module. The method is demonstrated in the February 2018 You Tube segment of 'What's Neat',

The use of magnets was an experiment to test the concept but I got a bit nervous and included other connections which added a level of redundancy, so it's difficult to tell if the magnets add anything to the support of the extension.

I have now purchased an Anton's Trains model of a 60ft Steller's turntable, a type frequently used at a branchline terminus. Ian Dunn provided an overview of this type in the December 2011 issue of AMRM. There is also an earlier article on the same topic by Alan Templeman in the June 1984 issue but the value of Ian's article is the collection of colour photos that assist with painting and weathering. 
The turntable is is currently being installed although I have yet to purchase an auto-reverser to enable the turntable to operate with DCC.

So, for better or worse, the access into the layout area is now further restricted and it's certainly a case of 'breathing in' but at least a steam engine can be turned before commencing its return journey.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Eureka 40 Class - Introduction into service

As I suspected, Santa very kindly left a Eureka 40 Class diesel under the Christmas tree.

This was a locomotive that I believe should have a place on Philip's Creek as it was a true transition period locomotive. Indeed, the retirement of this particular class preceded the withdrawal of some of its steam powered cousins. Fortunately, there are quite a few photos of various 40 class locomotives in service in my primary reference, John Sargent's book, 'NSWGR Diesel Electrics - The Tuscan Generation'. As John notes in his introduction, the photographer, Ross Tollow, "certainly loved those 'dowdy' old 40 class that nobody bothered about - they would always be there!"

Out of the box, to my uneducated eye, the model seemed fairly consistent with the photos in my reference although the air tanks on the model appeared to be mounted a little lower than the prototype. As usual, detail parts seemed to be press fitted into place but fortunately, none were lying in the bottom of the box when the locomotive was first unpacked.  There were no instructions in the model I purchased. I know Eureka are not the only manufacturer to exclude this item but it's something that I miss as it gives mugs like me the confidence to tackle some basic jobs like removing the body. The consequences of the lack of instructions were soon to be become evident.

The model ran smoothly on a DC test track and even managed to negotiate a 500mm radius curve. Then it was time to fit the DCC decoder. Yes, I know I'm a Luddite who hasn't made the transition to sound but I still needed to remove the body. Based on previous experience and in the absence of manufacturer's guidance, I proceeded to remove the front and back couplers.  With the benefit of hindsight this was actually the correct move, and had I then attempted to insert a thin blade to ease the body off the chassis, all would have been fine. But I didn't!

With the couplers removed, the platform around the locomotive was looser but the body remained firmly in place. I had noted a number of lugs securing the platform to the body and thought these may need to be released to remove the body. As I subsequently found out they didn't! However, the body did gradually come loose until only one final lug remained but sadly, with all of the pushing and pulling, it broke. Also with all of the manipulation, a number of the detail parts came adrift -  fortunately, nothing that could not be repaired.

The photo opposite shows how the body shouldn't be removed and the two following show the broken lug and the loose detail parts.

Actually, after the body had been removed once, it was relatively simple to remove the body subsequently. The consequence of the damaged lug was that care was needed when tightening the long hood coupler. If over-tightened, the platform was pulled away from the body.

Still, as they say 'all's well that end's well'. The decoder was installed, body replaced and detail parts refitted. Again, superglue was my friend. It was then test run again, this time on the layout with a typical bulk wheat load. No problems there and 4006 was then sent to the paint shop for weathering.

I have yet to see a photo of 40 class actually working in anything other than a grimy grotty condition, and by my modelling time period, the late 1960s, this was certainly the case. This model had to be heavily weathered. It was now that Ross' photos came into their own as he had managed to get images of the locomotive from many different angles. Coats of rust, dust, soot and oily grime were applied in that order. Most were sprayed but rust and oil spills were supplemented with washes in specific places. A finish of Dullcote was used to seal the weathering.

So now 4006, one of those 'dowdy old 40 class' will be seen occasionally passing through Philips' Creek on its way to or from more distant locations on the Main North. I'll just have to make sure that it never appears at the same time as 44222.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Not Quite a White Christmas

Work on scenery for the Kingston Plains module continues and as the shape of the basic topography is now settled, the module has taken a distinctly blue hue as the absorbent towelling has been glued in place. As an aside, the inspirational photo taped to the back drop was taken from Ian Dunn's article, 'Moving the Golden Grain', in the April 2006 issue of AMRM. It shows a great view of the Merriwa branch line terminus in 1970.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Terraforming - aka making a mess , the next step will be to apply a slurry of the coloured tile grout mixed with of 50/50 PVA/water. Most modellers have their own favourite technique for this stage and I'm no different. My experience has been that the slurry, once cured, provides a robust pre-coloured base upon which to add other scenery elements. Over time, I have settled on a Davco tile grout product that I can source from my local Bunnings mixing a light brown (ten parts of item number 27 or 28) with a Red brown (one part of item number 38).[Update Jan 18 - a recent visit to Bunnings indicates that Davco have changed their coding and colour range. Some experimentation will be required but the mix of a light brown and red brown should work]

 The two flanking photos show the view from either end of the module. The wheat silo will be located where the glue bottle is standing and should be the dominant scenic feature for Kingston Plains.

It's a bit hard to believe that Christmas 2017 is rapidly approaching, but it is and consequently, this will be my final post for 2017. If I've been extra good enough this year, an elderly ALCO may find its way onto the Philip's Creek locomotive roster in 2018. Then again, even a lump of coal might be useful as it could be crushed and used to fill the coaling stage at Kingston Plains.

More importantly however at this time of the year, I would like to acknowledge  those individuals who have assisted me with comments, advice and information, all of which have enhanced my modelling activities in 2017.

And finally, to all readers, best wishes to you and your family for a very Merry Christmas and a very happy 2018.   

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Station at Kingston Plains

After getting distracted over the last few months, I had to have a strong talk with myself about focus and priorities. As a consequence of this motivational monologue, I have finally started the landscaping on what is probably the final module for Philip's Creek; that is a branch line terminus now referred to as the fictitious location of Kingston Plains. Work has progressed steadily on what will be a relatively flat landscape.

As an aside, there has been a slight change in the work flow from my past endeavours. Previously, I have shaped the landforms, applied basic ground covers  and then progressively added buildings as they they were constructed or purchased. The area around the new building was then resceniced if necessary.  However, as I had already been acquiring buildings for this module over several years, my approach now has changed. This time, I have 'planted' several of the major buildings into their final location once the basic 'terraforming' has been completed but before any ground cover has been added. There are risks to this approach as small items of detail could be damaged as the various ground covers are applied, so extra care will be required, but it allows me to adjust the ground cover as necessary to align with the adjacent structures,

The first building in the long running acquisition program was an A5 station building constructed from a LJ Models card kit. (Two articles in Branchline Modeller Number 2 provides additional information on the prototype and extra construction tips) The kit was originally assembled around 2006 with the intention of using it on the Mount Windeatt branch but it did not seem to fit in that location and was put aside for use elsewhere. As Kingston Plains is 'the end of the line', so to speak, it was now or never.The model was recovered from its temporary storage, dusted off and some additional detail such as water tanks and chimneys added.

It was then time to construct the platform. As always, external space constraints come into play and and with a scale platform length of only 40m, it is considerably  shorter that equivalent prototypes such as Merriwa. However, as the only passenger service for this line is a single CPH, hopefully, it probably won't look too out of place

The platform was cut from a suitable piece of styrofoam and shaped to suit the track alignment. I had contemplated purchasing commercial timber platform edging but decided instead to fabricate it using materials already to hand.

The wood planking was from a Wills Material Pack (OO instead of HO scale but difficult to pick the difference). The capping timber came from some scrap balsa wood.

Weathering was the usual mix of of white, grey and black acrylics supplemented with a few  pastels.

The gravel or decomposed granite platform surface is simulated using a paste, DecoArt Stonelike Textural Acrylics. It took two coats to get sufficient coverage.

The last two photos show the station now fixed in place. Other details such as lights, seating and signage will be added later.  Ballasting and other landscaping, when completed, will also hide a multitude of sins but I'm will have to be bloody careful of those finials!

Friday, 3 November 2017


Currently for Philip's Creek, the primary objective is to finish the basic scenery for the newly named Kingston Plains branch line. Two posts ago, I wrote about completing the scenery on the Hall's Creek Bridge module which forms part of this branch line, but work on the scenery at the terminus has not started.

The last three to four months have seen a number of activities distracting me from that objective. The most significant of these was a two month holiday, but even before that, other events conspired to impede. A few months ago, my wife showed me one of those articles that frequently circulate on Facebook. This one described how a person got up one morning with the good intentions to achieve a number of tasks but quickly became distracted from the first task, then got distracted from the previous distraction. And so it continued for the whole day until by the end of the day, the person had achieved nothing but felt exhausted by all of the day's activities.

My story was similar and it began when 3123 stalled on a short section of track which bridges the Mount Windeatt branch line modules. Ok, so I'll remove the piece of track, clean it up and replace the joiners. However, as I started this, I accidentally pulled up a longer length of rail. Bugger, but not a problem, I'll replace the damaged section of track and improve the alignment as it was always causing problems for 3123. But to do that, I need to remove the unpainted backdrop that separates the Mount Windeatt station from the unsceniced Muswellbrook staging area. Ok, so while I have the backdrop off the layout, I may as well attempt to paint it to match it up with the section my wife painted a few years ago. But wait, while I'm relaying track near that staging area, I may as well do something to address the chronic overcrowding which can occur. The only realistic way to achieve this was to construct a shelf that will hold surplus rolling stock until these are required. Consequently, by the end of this deductive process, I was left with a number of major projects, none of which contributed to the achievement of my primary objective.

The realignment and replacement of the damaged track was simple, but for someone of my very limited artistic skills, the backdrop painting was a bit more challenging. I chose to use pastels as I was not confident in my ability to merge or blend paint on the backdrop to ensure a good transition of colours. The photo opposite shows the right hand side of the backdrop over the newly realigned length of track. The photo below shows the left hand part of the backdrop back in position.

Increasing the size of staging area was a bit more complicated. The challenge was to provide supports for the upper shelf without restricting the width of the passage way or the space available within the staging areas. I decided to use threaded rod mounted on the frame supports. This also provided a means to ensure that the shelf was level.

So at the end of this period of fairly intense activity, the three tasks have been completed and then it was time to head off on the holiday. But still, I was no closer to achieving the primary objective. 

And I wonder why it has taken me 20 years to get this far!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Track Cleaner v3.0

Well, it's the end of my Woodland Scenics' 'Tidy Track' cleaner. Just under five years ago, I wrote the first of three posts about this tool. Two and half year years later, the shaft broke ( ) and I fitted a sleeve that allowed it to continue to function. However, normal usage over the next two years saw the pivot point gradually break up, get repaired and break again until it finally disintegrated last week. The concept of the tool was good but, clearly, it was not sufficiently robust for my track cleaning techniques.

Fortunately, a few months ago, I had stumbled across two YouTube segments on Ken Patterson's 'What's Neat' column for last January and February. Both discussed how build a similar tool using a standard half inch drive breaker bar. The links to these are:

Both segments are fairly self explanatory, describing how to fabricate a shoe that can be fitted to the breaker bar. I fashioned two versions, one all wood and a second using the base of the 'Tidy Track' tool. I fitted the existing cleaning pads to the tool heads rather than a separate cleaning pad that Ken used only because I had a few spare. His finishing techniques are also significantly better than mine.

The breaker bar was purchased from Auto One for around $20 and each base took around an hour to fabricate excluding curing time for glues. Noting that 'Tidy Track' retails for something between $60-$70, it probably represents a significantly cheaper option.

One thing was evident as soon as the tool was put into use. The weight of the bar made the tool considerably heavier than its commercial equivalent and negated the need for the additional force that I had felt was necessary for the effective use of  the Woodland Scenics tool.

Ken's February column also noted the impact of the height of the breaker bar's pivot point and the potential to trip up the cleaning head. My experience reinforced this observation. The higher the pivot point above the track, the longer the lever arm and the greater the potential that a minor defect in the track will cause a snag in the movement of the cleaning head.

And so, after nearly five years of adaptions, tweaks and repairs, hopefully, now I have a solution that will work reliably without disintegrating periodically.
To close on a very different subject, readers might like to rewind Ken's January video back to the 2:30 minute mark. Here we see an impressive model of a Northern Pacific Challenger steaming majestically through a nicely timbered scene. However, it is not the locomotive that catches one's attention but rather, his moggy lurking among the trees as this image from the video shows. At the risk of a very poor pun, a very different scenery challenge!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Halls Creek Bridge 4

Never let it be said that progress on Philip's Creek moves at any speed other than ultra dead slow!

It's now just under three years since the most recent article dealing with the completion of my model of the Hall's Creek bridge (The Halls Creek bridge 3 - still work in progress).  Since that time, very gradually, scenery construction has moved forward as these 'before and after' photos show.

The styrofoam was glued in place, shaped and a surface fabricated using the same techniques as those described in my earlier post (Terraforming-aka making a mess).

The creek was made using fairly common modelling techniques. A good overview of these is at . To simulate the water, I used a gloss Bondall Clear Timber Varnish taking care to ensure that no unsealed styrofoam came into contact with the varnish, lest it created an unexpectedly deep sinkhole. The general ground cover was a mix of  new grass and straw static grasses.

I also experimented with static grass clumps and strips and probably went a bit overboard with this. Initially, I wanted to create a green fringe along the edge of the creek and I needed to provide some grass coverage of the ground underneath the bridge. Some of these didn't work out as I had hoped with the clumps under the bridge creating a rougher surface than the surrounding ground.  Course foam was used in an attempt to mitigate this.

Some work is needed to add some further detail in the cuttings. I also plan to add some flood debris plus the ubiquitous willows along the creek line. I also hope to add some type of back scene before trees and other more substantial vegetation are added. A landmark signal is being fabricated and will be the only additional item of rail infrastructure added to this scene.

Ultimately, this 1.8m section of of the layout is intended to add some sense of distance to the branch line, and the basic scenic treatment supports this intent. It also provides the opportunity to replicate photographs such as this great one from the Rail Transport Museum Calendar 1992 June (photographer understood to be Graham Cotterall). But for that to happen, it needs a manufacturer to finally decide to model the 30T!!