Friday, November 25, 2011

Weeping Willows

If you have spent any time in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in Southern NSW or northern Victoria you will have seen weeping willows lining the banks of mountain streams & rivers. They are a signature tree of the region I am trying to model. Modelling trees is one of my favourite aspects of the hobby so I have long planned my streams to have weeping willows on their banks too.

I have made several attempts to make a willow but the resulting trees looked anemic to say the least and badly needed a lot more bulk and leaves. I have been making the armatures from copper wire soldered together.

Earlier this year the well known British modeller Gordon Gravatt released a book about modelling broad leaf trees. Gordon is one of my modelling hero's. He has built numerous layouts over the years that are often featured in magazines like Model Rail Journal. His latest masterpiece is a model of the French metre gauge railway Reseau Breton. The layout called Pempoul is stunning and even more remarkable when you discover he literally scratch built everything. If you have some time to kill google Pempoul. I digress, I got my copy from Titfield Thunderbolt bookshop in England who do a great mail order. The book is Modelling Trees Part One- Broadleaf trees, published by Wild Swan.

Gordon recommends that when building trees with a soldered wire frame it pays to start from the top and not the bottom. I found that following his advice helped me to get a lot more twigs to add foliage to, as you can see in this photo. He uses a plaster mixed with white glue for covering the wire . The plaster Gordon recommends is called Artex and is used for adding texture to ceilings but I couldn't find it here in Australia. I used powdered polly filla with mixed results. It didn't dry as strong as I would have liked. I am not sure what plaster I will try next as it needs to have a long working time and a degree of flexibility as not to crack when I add the foliage.

In the past I have used punched paper leaves for trees. A recent business trip to Adelaide took me to Orient Express who sell the excellent miniNatur scenery products from Germany. I found a foliage mat covered with individual leaves sold as Beech foliage. It comes in a range of colours with spring being a bright colour similar to the willow trees I am modelling
As you can see I have started adding the foliage and I am very pleased with the result & it should look great when I have it all on. Even though the minaNatur product comes as a mat it is quite time consuming  to add to the tree as I am tearing the mat into individual strands to get the weeping look. A tree this size will use at least two packets, not cheap but in my mind well worth the expense.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Splines 1.2

I have been trialing a different style of spline construction. The first spline roadbed I built was solid, made up of Masonite packing strips bought from Bunnings. It takes 14 strips to make a roadbed 42mm wide. While it is very strong it took longer than I thought to glue all those packing strips together.  I had read that some modellers use spacer blocks to save on materials and to make construction go quicker.
Solid spline on the left & splines with spacers on the right.

So I decided to give it a try. I used 9 packing strips glued in three splines separated by 10mm thick spacers. This has given me a roadbed that is 47mm wide and about 50% quicker to build. I think it is just as strong as long as the spacer blocks are placed together. The gaps between the splines also have the advantage of not needing to drill holes for the track wiring. I am planning to build the remainder of the layouts roadbed with spacers.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Handlaid flex track

I have always loved the look of handlaid track, but never had the time or patience to lay my own. While surfing the web I discovered Custom Trax who make handlaid flex track and points on real wood ties. I placed an order and when it finally arrived from USA I was pretty impressed.

As you can see it comes pre-ballasted with woodland scenics ballast so it is very easy to match. The base is a high density rubber. Steve Miller the owner of Custom Trax recommends gluing the track to the roadbed with caulk.

  I only have two very minor complaints. The ends of the ties are unstained but that will be easily fixed with a dab of alcohol/ink wash. My other issue is that it takes 4-5 weeks from the time your order is placed until it is shipped so you need to plan ahead.These very minor issues are a small price to pay for track that looks & performs great.

The points have added detail and are DCC ready. I am so pleased with Custom Trax that I will use it for all my visible track on the Bogong & Geehi Railway.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Splines, more steel & radio's

Since my last post I have completed the steel benchwork of the centre peninsula by building a module for the end . I wanted the curve in the track on this end to be 1000mm radius so the module had to be large. So large in fact that I had trouble getting it through the door! It took several attempts to get it in but I got it there in the end.

I have been asked why steel for my benchwork and not wood. I am far more comfortable working in steel than wood and have a full metal-working workshop as part of my working life. Steel also offers engineering advantages over wood. I weld the top of the modules that hold the lights in such a way that they push against the weight of the lights with out extra bracing. It's the same for the brackets that hold the different levels of the layout. The disadvantages are it is harder to make changes and is probably slightly dearer than wood.

The idea of spline roadbed using thin pieces of wood glued together has appealed to me for a long time but I have never tried it until now. I have seen people like Joe Fugate promote it on his website and narrow gauge modeller Jack Walton using it on his layout. I like the idea of flowing trackwork with little waste  At Bunnings I found a Masonite product called packing strips which are ideal. They are 3mm thick, 25mm wide and 1800mm long and cost 75 cents each.

Like trying most things new it is much easier once you have had a go and worked out your own system for building it. My first challenge was placing the risers so I got a smooth curve. The easiest way I could find was to find the centre of the curve and use a steel ruler to mark where everything should be. I started using 40mm x 19mm wood made in to Tee's as risers. I found them not solid enough and so have changed to 70mm x 35mm wood and have found this to be much better. The other advice I can give is have lots of clamps to hold it all together while the glue dries. As you can see the roadbed flows smoothly and there is very little waste.

A couple of weeks ago Tom Barbalet from model rail radio asked me to call in and discus narrow gauge modelling in Australia. I had a very enjoyable time chatting with Tom, Chris Abbott & Gordon Dobson. You can listen to Model rail radio from their website or itunes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to the Future

Those of you who know me, know that I have spent the last 12 months procrastinating about what gauge I should build the railway. I have struggled to make a decision between On30 and On3.

I began modeling in O scale with On3 around 7 years ago. I had visions of modelling the Marshall Pass line of the Denver & Rio Grande Western in Colorado. At the time it was very expensive and took lots of room which I didn't have but I built up a large collection of loco's and rolling stock.

 It was a chance meeting with Geoff Nott builder of Red Stag Lumber company & Muskrat ramble, who showed me what he was doing with modelling Australian scenery. Seeing his beautiful modelling awakened an urge to model the landscape I knew best - Australia.I have strived to achieve the standard Geoff sets but I still have a long way to go. At the same time On30 was starting to become popular and has the advantages of needing less room and a lot cheaper so it was down that road I went.

The On30 Bogong & Geehi Railway
I built the first two modules of the Bogong & Geehi for the Australian Narrow Gauge convention held in Albury in 2007. Not long after I added the pride of my fleet, my garratt. While it looks great it has been an erratic performer.

To cut a long story short I had a couple of years away from the hobby and when I came back I had the idea of shifting the Rio Grande to Australia to use the On3 I had sitting on the shelf. While the On3 runs beautifully it has never quite looked right.

 I have spent a lot of time trying to work out what I really want from a model railway and at the top of the list was reliable running qualities and it must look realistic. Even though I am freelancing I want my railway to look as if it really existed. Rio Grande trains where never going to cut it and the work to change Australian prototypes to On3 was more work than I want. My friend Bernard Snoodyk came and helped me tweak the garratt which has improved its reliability no end.

So in the end the only thing stopping me changing back to On30 was that I am going to loose the time and money spent changing to On3. The moral of the story is that its much cheaper to work out what you want before you spend your money. I also knew a long time ago that I had made the wrong decision but kept putting off correcting it which again cost me time and money.

So this weekend I will be pulling out the On3 track and relaying the On30. Thankfully I hadn't sold off to much of my On30 but I have set myself back quite a bit. At the end of the day though, I have to be happy with what I am doing because a hobby is supposed to be about having fun.

Could I interest anyone in some almost new San Juan On3track ????

Cheers Murray

Monday, August 15, 2011

Steel benchwork

This weekend was a very productive time for the Bogong & Geehi. I decided to build one of the peninsula's that extend into the room. As my friends know I am much happier working with steel than wood for my bench work.With this extension I decided to slightly change how I have been doing things. To this point in time I have been making the layout modular, which is handy if I want to move the layout or make changes. The disadvantage of modular systems is that it is harder to build odd shaped modules and there is a lot of extra work.

For this peninsula it needed to vary in width quite a bit as the turn back curves take up a lot of space. I also wanted the area underneath to be clear as I want to have a lounge suite in the room for the kids to come and watch TV while I am working in the shed. I have made some changes to the trackplan which shifted Mt Bogong onto the peninsula with the hidden staging underneath. The staging will be part of a return loop and I will no longer have continuous running.

Putting this all together with modules was always going to be difficult so it didn't take me a lot of convincing to make this peninsula a permanent construction. It took longer to design than build but I have been able to achieve all that I wanted. I used 100mm x 50mm for the uprights and then welded 50mmx 50mm for the cross members.

Apologies for the quality of the photo but it shows you what I have done better than I can explain. The level on the lower left is the staging with Mt Bogong above. When completed you won't be able to see Mt Bogong from this angle as it will be behind a backdrop. The area in front of the upright will be the turnback curve and I have yet to build the benchwork for it.

After I had finished building on Sunday afternoon I couldn't help myself, I had to see how the Mt Bogong mining company was going to look in place.

Again not a great photo, but I am happy with how the model looks. While it is big it doesn't overwhelm the area.

All in all, a very satisfying weekend.

Cheers Murray

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mt Bogong Mining Company

With the cold weather lately I haven't been in the mood to work out in the shed even though I have plenty of jobs on the list to do. Since I finished the bridge I have been unmotivated to do much modelling but this weekend I decided to start a new project. I have plenty of projects I could finish but because this is a hobby I started another project.

Mt Bogong is still just some lines on a plan. I am yet to build any benchwork, scenery or structures that will be in the town. I am planning to base Mt Bogong on Walhalla in Victoria's Gippsland. Walhalla was a gold mining town in a very narrow valley that in its hey day housed 5000 people.
Star hotel Walhalla
The Post Office in the foreground and shops in the background. The Long Tunnel battery was opposite the shops on the left side of the street

The Victorian Railways built a narrow gauge line to the town but unfortunately the town was already dying as the railway arrived. Today part of the railway has been rebuilt and is operated by the Walhalla Goldfields railway This ride is a must for anyone interested in narrow gauge rail in Australia. The main mine in town was the Long Tunnel and they had a large ore processing plant right in the middle of town. I have always wanted to build a model of something like that.

My plans for Mt Bogong call for a large ore processing plant but I think my mine will process tin instead of gold. Gold was a more boom & bust operation and not many large mines where operating after world war two, but tin is a metal that is regularly mined. There were tin mines in the Snowy mountains with a location between Jindabyne and Omeo still known as Tin Mines. From my research the exterior of the ore processing plants of both tin and gold look very similar so I had plans of copying the plant at Walhalla. I wanted a large building because it needs to generate enough traffic to justify a whole railway.

A couple of months ago while idly surfing eBay I found an O scale kit produced by Banta model works of the Pro Patria gold mill. This mill was in Rico Colorado and was served by the legendary narrow gauge railway the Rio Grande Southern. This kit is massive and retails for a massive price but here it was at less than half price. With the dollar the way it is I couldn't resist. While it is an American prototype, if I replace the board and batten walls with corrugated iron it will fit right in. I could have scratchbuilt it cheaper but the convenience of having everything laser cut is worth quite a bit.

To break my inertia yesterday I decided to break out the kit and make a start on the Mt Bogong Mining Company. Even though I am yet to make a start on Mt Bogong I think there is value in building the main structure before I begin, especially when it as large as this. The footprint s 1000mm x 1200mm so I need to design the town around it. I have included an O scale horse in the photo's to give an indication of the size of this building.
In a couple of hours the base structure went together very well. So well that I ran out of glue! I went to town this morning but I couldn't find glue anywhere so progress will have to wait until I get to the Bunny warehouse. While I am waiting I should start making some corrugated iron because this is going to need quite a bit.

Cheers Murray

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

An "Australianised" box car/goods van

Last month I told you about my idea of converting a San Juan Car Company kit of a Rio Grande boxcar to something that looks far more Australian. Well her is the completed product. I still have to add couplers, paint the trucks and add lettering. I am very pleased with how the model looks and I think it looks like an Aussie goods van. I have a few of these kits sitting in the cupboard so I am planning to "Australianise" them all.
I am still debating about what lettering I will use. I had been planning to use the Rio Grande's numbering system which just uses numbers.I have been doing some research that has shown that most  Australian railways ( I haven't found one that doesn't yet)  used a letter code for their different wagons. For example NSW railways had S, CW, LLV, etc. It would make sense I suppose to develop my own wagon codes for the Bogong & Geehi. That would also mean getting some new custom decals made. I also wonder if I am over thinking this and how many people would notice if I just used numbers.

Thanks to those of you that have commented. I have tried to reply but for some reason the blog won't let me. I don't like technology beating me, but it seems to be happening more often these days!



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Changing direction

April and May is always a quiet time of year on the Bogong & Geehi. The general manager & chief engineer is usually sitting on a tractor planting his crops in the hope he might make a dollar.

The long hours on a tractor mean I don't have much time to any modelling at all but it does mean I have plenty of time to think. It can be very useful time, thinking through problems & trying to develop better solutions.

It has been nearly 18 months since I decided to make the change from On30 to On3. On the whole the change has been good. I  am enjoying the better running qualities that comes with larger models and it is nice to see all those engines that sat on the shelf for years running again. There has been some issues too. Getting my head around the amount of room it takes to turn one of those locos around is a bit of challenge.

One of the biggest and on going issues though has been the "appearance" of  Rio Grande trains in Australian scenery. While it looks OK it doesn't look quite right. One of the reasons I left On30 was that all the locos I wanted were kits which I don't have the time or skills to put together. At the same time I had a collection of On3 locos sitting on the shelf. When I bought them I had been going to model the Rio Grande but I didn't then have the space. Today I have the room and as it is my all time favourite railway so it seemed a good idea to model it but in Australian scenery.

When I began this railway I had a couple goals that I hope to achieve. One is to realistically model the Australian landscape. I want a railway that runs through the farms and forests and small country towns that you find in the foothills of the Snowy mountains were I live. The other is to model a freelanced railway that looks like it could have existed and that was where I was falling down. The issue has been nagging me for quite some time and it is time that I resolved it and started having some fun.

A corrugated iron roof added to a San Juan boxcar kit
What to do though? I could go back to On30 but then the issues that had led me to change were still there. I could put up with American trains in Oz scenery but I haven't got used too it in 18 months I'm probably not going to. This is where the tractor driving comes into it - what if I was to modify the Rio Grande rolling stock to look more Australian? You can see my attempt to modify a kit to make it look like it belongs. Even though I still have plenty of work to do to complete the kit it does look promising. As a bonus a bit of research showed that most of Australia's 42 inch gauge railways such as in QLD, WA, SA & Tassie have the same loading gauge as the Rio Grande.

I can see the Bogong & Geehi using my Rio Grande loco's pulling trains of Aussie waggons looking just right!

Cheers, Murray

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I have spent the last couple of weekends hard at work on the layout. A visit to Walhalla during our recent family holiday was just what was needed to get motivated to get the railway running. As you can see in the photo on the right, all the framework for the town of Geehi has been completed. I like to use 25mm steel tubing to make modules. These have the advantage of very strong and relatively light.  The original modules for Gidgenbung were built over 6 years ago and have stood the test of time. On those I used mdf for a floor but have modified the design to include a part wooden frame to screw risers to.

This is the view looking the other way. Geehi will be on the right and Gidgenbung is on the left. In the distance is the Roundhouse which is next on the long list of projects to complete. 

The visit to Gavin Hince's layout also has induced some changes to the track plan. The reality that you need good access to your staging really hit home. The original plan had the staging at the same level as Mt Bogong, hidden behind a rock face. I think that is not really feasible so I have decided to put it under Mt Bogong. I still want the option of continuous run so I have added a junction between Geehi and Gidgenbung. This is a yet unnamed branch that runs straight into the staging. The change means that the duck under near the door needs to be low enough that a duck under isn't really practicable. I really didn't want a lift out section but I like the track plan I have so a lift out section it will be. It also means that Coolamine won't be the highest point of the mainline. I am going to make Sterling the high point so that I still have some nice grades for my locos to climb.

Lastly I wanted to show you the structure I have been working on. It is a 120 foot long Pin truss bridge built from a kit by John Palecki structures . This is a highly detailed resin cast kit that has gone together beautifully. It is a massive 750mm long and I am planning to add wooden approaches to take the total length to around 1600mm long. Hopefully it should make a spectacular crossing of the Merri Meric River just out of Geehi.

Cheers, Murray

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Operations on the North Coast Line

A Mason Bogie arriving at Cascades
Last weekend I was visiting Melbourne and was lucky enough to receive an invitation to partake in the monthly operating session of the North Coast Railroad. The NCR is owned by Gavin Hince who also publishes the magazine Narrow Gauge Downunder. The NCR is an On3 layout based on the North Pacific Coast Railroad that ran north of San Francisco. The layout is complete but every time I visit Gavin has made some changes.

John Dennis was the yard master at Lands End

Laurie Green Shunting Mill Valley

Chris Dennis making a meet at Mill Valley

Gavin Hince busy at the dispatchers desk

A timber train coming down from Angels Camp

Grant McAdam & Dan Pickard running the timber line

It was a fun night and shows the value of designing a layout for operation. The evening ran smoothly and a days trains ran the line with hardly a mishap except for one little one.......
The yardmaster shunting a bit too far....

If nothing else an operating session is a good excuse to get together, Thanks Gavin for a great night.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An (almost) empty shed

Finally after many months delay the train shed extensions are complete! I have shifted the Gigenbung modules into position and it is nice to wander through the shed imagining how the completed railway is going to look.