Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Moving the Railway

As I mentioned in my first post, Philip’s Creek or parts thereof has been moved on average once every two years. Hopefully, now that frequency will reduce, but I learnt a long time ago never to say ‘never again’.
I thought I should document some of the lessons learnt from those experiences  to assist those who find themselves in a similar situation. 
The decision to move home and all of the consequent implication is a very personal one and well beyond the scope of this post. My start point is that the die has been cast and decision must now be implemented.
I have not exhibited a model railway but from what I have read and seen at exhibitions, there are a number of similarities, the use of a modular concept, the use of lightweight materials and some form of prefabricated packaging. However, there are a couple of significant differences.
First there are the people handling the move. The people who move the exhibition layout are usually the owner(s) and others known to them. They have a focus on getting it to and from the exhibition with an absolute minimum of damage. With a domestic move, Tom, Dick and perhaps Harry who you have never met before turn up to pack and move your prized possessions. Many are very good, some are very ordinary but the problem is that you don’t know. Your railway is just another item on the inventory to be moved and the sooner they finish, the sooner they can move to the next job or go home. They are attuned to packing and handling glassware, crockery and other household goods but a model railway does not usually feature on their radar.
Secondly there is the means of transport. From what I see in the car park adjoining an exhibition, the layouts are moved there in some form of vehicle or trailer adapted or fitted out for that purpose. For a move, if you are lucky, the home layout is moved directly into its transportation container but often it is not. It may be trans-shipped from a smaller van into a container or into some form of depot before commencing the major part of the journey.  It may also go through a similar process to be delivered to your new address.
So what can be done to mitigate some of these risks – here are a few suggestions. Most of them are common sense but sometimes in the frenzy of preparations things get overlooked.

January 2011

First and foremost, take control of the packing and unpacking yourself. Depending on the arrangements, packing of household items is often part of the service. This is particularly common for work related moves. Don’t be distracted by promises made by the removal company representative who visits to inspect prior to the actual removal. I have found that time spent packing one’s rolling stock and associated paraphernalia, where possible in the original boxes has paid dividends. Whatever you pack must be snug. The opportunity to move or vibrate is a recipe for damage. I have also created specialist packing for the layout itself that in essence, uses its substructure as the frame for the container.  Therefore when the removalists arrive they are presented with a number of packed boxes and all they need to do is load them onto a truck. For me, this arrangement has stood the test of many moves from 1997 onwards.

February 2011

You need to be able to reduce the layout to manageable sized packages. If you have designed and built your layout around modules then that should not be too much of a challenge but if not, then this is probably the biggest decision that will influence the future of the layout in its present form. If it can be divided into smaller elements, I suggest that you don’t go much above 1.8m in length. This allows you to manoeuvre the section into its new location. I was caught out once in 1995 with my previous layout. We had found a house that had a large basement and I had grand plans for a massive expansion of my existing layout. Unfortunately, one of the two modules measuring around 2.4m by 0.9m would not fit down the stairs and so I had no option but to break it up. After that hard lesson, I made sure that no module was over 1.8m in length and have used a standard width of 0.6m. I have managed to get these up and down some tight stairs particularly in the UK.
Weight is another factor that will influence the size of sections. While the removalists will have two people to lift it onto and off a truck, you may often to manoeuvre it into its new location. Unless, you are doing a ‘door to door’ move, you may not know where that location is. In two of my moves, the final location for the railway was on a second floor and I was in a new location without any mates to provide assistance.
I found that when I was preparing the crate to take the actual layout, there is a temptation to add other pieces of equipment, spares and bulk scenery materials. Try to avoid this and only include things that are already securely fixed to the layout. Anything else, regardless of how well it is packed could come loose and become a potential ‘loose cannon’ rolling around inside. I do confess that on occasions, I have weakened but usually to move a stock of Styrofoam only. Even that left me a little worried until the crates arrived.
For the sake of domestic harmony, work on the ‘first and last’ principle. Pack up the railway first in your old location and unpack it last in the new location. While this means that you must do without your hobby for a while, it ensures that you will focus on things that are important to your ‘significant other’.  To mitigate this to some extent, I have often taken a small set of tools that enabled me to work on a project that has been on the ‘to do’ list for a long time.  This works well particularly if you have to go into short term accommodation for a period of time in the new location.
When moving internationally, I have anticipated the need of Customs/Quarantine to want to inspect the inside of each crate by identifying one panel that can easily be removed. Murphy’s La w says that they will open the opposite one to the one I identified but in reality, I’m not sure that they have availed themselves of the opportunity.

April 2011

Insurance while in transit is a personal call. Because I have packed things myself, I understand that I have forfeited the right to claim for any damage to specific items that occurred as part of the packing/unpacking and transit. However, as the most likely types of damage are usually broken detailing, I am probably the person most capable of making or arranging the repairs. That said, I have made sure that the railway layout and equipment is described and valued on the inventory so that I will receive reasonable recompense if it is lost as part of a greater catastrophe to all of my personal effects.

July 2011

As I said at the start, these are number of lessons that I have learnt over the past 20 plus years. While many people won’t try to move a layout and will take the opportunity to start afresh, I have not wanted to do so and consequently had to plan accordingly.  It’s been a pain in the butt but for me, ultimately worth the trouble.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A Few More Details

This is just a quick post with a bit more details on Philip’s Creek.

Motive Power

Currently, eight locomotives haul traffic through Philip’s Creek. Four of these are shown on the photo.  In addition to these, there are two 48 class locomotives (my favourite NSWGR diesel), Powerline models but now, both fitted with Hollywood Foundry chassis, a Bergs 59 class and a Lloyds 30 class. In addition, there is a Lloyd’s CPH rail motor providing an occasional passenger service between Philip’s Creek and Mt Windeatt. There is only on planned acquisition at this stage, a Trainorama 48 class (when they finally arrive). However, in the long term, I am also targeting a 30T Class and possibly another 50 class.

There is one other locomotive on the layout that is prototypically out of place but is something of an indulgence. I have always had a soft spot for narrow gauge locomotives, so on this layout I have incorporated a short portion of a narrow gauge logging line that moves timber down the mountain to a sawmill at Mount Windeatt.  Prototypically correct for northern NSW in 1971, almost certainly not but as I said, something of an indulgence. I picked up the Roundhouse Shay second hand from the late Peter Leggett’s shop at Hornsby a few years ago.

I made the move to DCC about 2 years ago while in England and purchased a NCE PowerCab.  I had no problems fitting decoders to most of the locomotives but was very nervous about converting the  59 class and the DJH 60 class. Fortunately, Marcus Ammann was kind enough to show me what needed to be done and consequently gave me the courage to tackle the job. Thanks Marcus!

Unfortunately, I have not yet tried to tackle sound although it is very impressive. That will have to wait a bit longer until I can get a few higher priority jobs out of the way.


Hopefully, Philip’s Creek will continue to grow. The immediate plan is for an extension that will allow the creation of another town and more importantly, a small wheat silo. In the longer term, this extension may become part of an upper deck but at the moment, that is more of a concept rather than a firm plan.

Unfortunately, before I can start the extension, I need to get a few non-railway ‘enabling works’ completed. These include building of a garden shed and then moving tools and equipment that are currently taking up space where the extension is to run.

Another long term project is the painting of backdrops. I know I should have done this much earlier but I was impatient, wanting to get things built and running. However, after our return from the UK at the end of February,  I took the opportunity to install the blue painted back drops that you can see on the photos in the previous post. In due course, hopefully these will become proper painted scenes. You may note some black markings on the backdrop behind the Shay. These represent the 'roughing out' of a particular scene.

Current Projects

My most recently completed project was the construction of two BBW wagons.

I am currently starting to build the silo that will become part of the next extension.  The photo shows masking tape strips that I have placed around the silo while I completed the first stage of the weathering. I am attempting to replicate the banding effect that you can see on many silos. The tape probably made the banding too ‘consistent’ but I am working with weathering powders and pastels to mute this effect. More photos later.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Philip's Creek - A well travelled railway

Welcome to Philip’s Creek.

First, the usual disclaimer; this is my first attempt at a blog and as such, I am learning as I go along. I understand that the concept of a blog is to make regular updates. Given that I need to pay the mortgage etc, I won’t make any rash promises about the frequency of such updates. 

Like many others in the hobby in NSW, my focus is the steam diesel transition period and in my case, more specifically around 1971. Also like many, it is a prototypical layout probably located somewhere on the main northern line. If pushed I might say somewhere between Muswellbrook and Ardglen. However, what probably sets it apart from many home layouts is the amount of travelling the layout itself has done in the fifteen years since it was started.

Exhibition layouts travel extensively in their life and no doubt, a few home layouts have also been moved regularly.  I suggest that Philip’s Creek is certainly a member of that latter smaller group, having resided on three continents and seen the inside of a removal van on average, once every 2 years of its existence. Philip’s Creek was started in a garage of a married quarter on the US Army Engineer School in Missouri in 1996, moved back to Sydney then to Merriwa, back to Sydney and then moved to our current address in Sydney. As a whole, it has not moved since 2005, but two work related moves to England have seen major sections of it occupy space in spare rooms in Peterborough in 2006 and London in 2009/10.

Looking back now; the frequency of the moves probably has a lot to do with the slow rate of progress over the years. Each move has seemed to take about 3-4 months out of the available modelling time.

Yes, I was in the army for over 20 years but in reality, Philip’s Creek was started very much towards the end of my military career and incorporated many of the lessons from that earlier nomadic life. I will go into more detail about how things have been packed and moved in a later entry using photos taken from the most recent London to Sydney move.

As mentioned earlier, Philip’s Creek represents a short portion of the main northern line as it passes through a small fictitious town of the same name. A coal mine is located immediately to the north of the town. In addition, a short branch line runs to the village of Mount Windeatt providing a supply of sleepers and other timber products from a local saw mill. A future extension will hopefully see another town created but this time, a wheat silo will be the main generator of rail traffic.
As may be expected, Philip’s Creek has been constructed using a number of modules of various sizes, all of 600mm width but with lengths of 600, 1200 or 1800mm. Each module is built on a frame of 75*25 with intermediate supports every 300mm screwed into the longitudinal stringers. 100mm of styrofoam is glued on the top of each frame. A track bed of approximately 40-50mm wide canite is glued to the foam. Additional styrofoam is glued to provide higher terrain where necessary.

Philip’s Creek operates a typical mix of rolling stock predominately built from kits supplemented by a growing number of the current generation of ready to run locomotives and wagons.

Philip’s Creek is a ‘work in progress’ and will probably never be finished. I don’t know how many times we may move again. Certainly, I don’t anticipate any further work related moves but lifestyle, health or family may again cause us to call in the removalists. Hopefully, the constraints that I impose on myself will ensure that most if not all of the layout will survive until I am no longer able to pursue this hobby.
“You’ve got to be kidding – every one of them?”