Thursday, 19 April 2018

NZAMRC 2018

It's hard to believe that three weeks have gone by since I was in Auckland, New Zealand, at a model railway convention. The New Zealand Association of Model Railway Clubs (NZAMRC) 2018 Convention was held in the northern suburb of Auckland, Takapuna, at the North Harbour Netball Club's indoor centre. It was a very well organised affair - thank you to the North Shore Model Railway Club for organising and hosting the event. And thank you to everybody who made this visiting Aussie feel very welcome.

Photo: A scene from one of the layouts at the convention centre showcasing NZR in S scale

The convention hosted four layouts at home base but the space available at the indoor netball centre could have housed five times as many!

Friday 31st March was the first day of the convention with clinics held in the morning. The two clinics I attended were both excellent.

The first was by Robert Douglas on "Operations on the Kayton and Tacoma Railway" about his HO scale US layout housed in a rather small garden shed. That did not stop Robert from presenting an interesting operational setup for his layout. He uses two-position car cards and waybills on a layout that ostensibly moves freight cars from one side of the layout to the other. A typical op. session moves around 36-40 cars within a 90-120 minute time period. A feature of the op. system is the use of randomised freight cars to provide added interest. Robert also spoke about how he compiled an inventory of industries and their respective loads in and out, thereby providing information on the types of freight cars needed. Loads also respond to seasonal variations.

The other clinic was from noted NZR modeller, Trevor James. I had seen Trevor's layout at the corresponding NZAMRC Convention four years ago in Hamilton - a terrific NZ S scale layout. Trevor's presentation was about building a medium sized NZR home layout. Trevor believes in the 3' rule - the detail on the layout is as good as viewed from three feet away. He emphasised that in the planning phase it is important to determine what you want from the layout - what standards you will be comfortable adhering to and what features you want to incorporate on the layout.

After lunch, the afternoon was filled with layout visits. I was very lucky to have met Brent and Neil the night before at a local pub, so Brent and Neil kindly included me in their car as part of the car pooling arrangements. Many thanks, chaps! I include photos of several layouts I saw over the weekend at the end of the report.

The second day had a similar program with clinics in the morning (Peter Ross on DCC sound, and Arthur Hayes from Brisbane with his talk on "Conveying goods/freight on your layout"). The layout tours were in the afternoon. Again, Brent kindly chauffeured four of us around with plenty of entertaining banter as well as some unofficial sightseeing of a former NZ airbase (now a housing estate) where Brent had once lived and worked.

On Sunday, the third day, there were more clinics in the morning (Part 2 of Trevor James' talk about his layout, and Philip Sharp's enormously interesting "Modelling the Owen Sound Sub' in the 1870s and 1890s"). Trevor's focus was on operation in this clinic. Trevor explained the operations on his home layout. He uses the software program ShipIt to generate switch lists. Essentially, trains started from double-ended three track staging area.  The two trains leave staging in opposite directions and work their way around the entire layout on the single track main until reaching the corresponding station at the end of the layout (the two end stations are also connected by the ends of staging). The locos at each station are turned, or dropped for a new loco, and then the op. session really begins as now the trains and their freight cars move back through the layout performing all the switching moves at intermediate locations along the way. Philip's talk was a fabulous historical journey, with photographs, of the railroad that began as a narrow gauge line known as the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway. It soon fell into financial problems and was taken over by the Grand Trunk and converted to standard gauge, and then in 1883 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) took control.

In the afternoon the prototype tour was a visit to the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) in Western Springs, Auckland. This was a great afternoon as we had a tour through the railway section, getting up close and personal to an array of historic locomotives as the photo directly below shows. We also had some time in the aviation section as well, before heading over to the technology section by (Melbourne) tram to see a number of exhibits including the superb Auckland Pumphouse.


The layouts all had something interesting to showcase and I very much enjoyed the experience. And now, the photos and some description from the layout tours - apologies if I have missed anyone.

The first layout visit was to the home of Gerard Y. who was an amazing gentelman with a great memory for the history of Auckland and the railways (and he also has the neatest - as in most tidy - workshop/garage I have ever seen). Gerard's O scale layout showcased locomotives and rollings stock that he had built from scratch in the 1940s and 1950s. If the Auckland Public Library local history librarian is reading this; get over to Gerard's place and do an oral history as he has some great stories to tell.


The next layout was a NZR S scale layout based on the Greymouth to Otira line on the west coast of the NZ South Island. This was a high quality layout with some superb scenery. According to those in the know, the layout certainly gave that unique Greymouth scenic experience.


The HO scale US layout called the International Falls and South Western Railroad was housed in a double-garage, plus extension in an adjacent room. The layout was terrific, featuring operation with track warrants, car cards and waybills. As the layout was largely set in Minnesota, it really had a strong appeal to me.




Another US prototype layout was the freelance HO scale Pacific Western. This was a very nice layout featuring lots of interesting industries, including a sawmill, cold store, flour mill, grain elevator, and cement and aggregate dealer.


Trevor C. had a fantastic 9mm scale NZR layout featuring both steam and diesel action. The layout is inside a large purpose built room,16m x 7min size, but with plenty of room for people to move around, as well as the trains. The layout is based on the Taihape loco depot and main North Auckland line between 1950 and 1990, giving plenty of scope for a range of locomotive classes.


John R. also had a very large layout, 20m x 7m. This HO scale layout was set in the US Rocky Mountains in the steam-diesel transition era. There were plenty of long trains in operation, as well as a bevy of locomotives in yards and around turntables.


Neville C. had a beautifully scenicked S scale (1:64) layout with full interlocking control. The NZR layout is based on the North Auckland line from Swanson to Waitakere. The layout was contained in what looked to be a single garage and therefore demonstrated you don't need oodles of space for a great layout.



Graham D., a man with a talent for the electrics side of the hobby, ended the second day with his S scale NZR layout. The layout fits into a room 7.5m x 3.5m. The layout is based on the Wellington area and the Johnsonville branch line. In keeping with the owner's skill set, the layout features working signalling, building lights, night scenes, and automatic running. The scenicked areas are pretty good as well.


I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Convention, especially meeting a great bunch of people and sharing some fun times. I recommend the Convention to all railway modellers. The next convention is in two years time in Christchurch.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Are we mad?

The start of a new year brings forth hopes for the future and a review of the preceding twelve months. In that context, I want to look at model railways and ask the question: "are we mad"?

If I review the past twelve months I can see that I spent quite a bit of money on the hobby of model railways. It was in the thousands of dollars rather than the tens of thousands but nevertheless it was a sizeable proportion of disposable income that I could have perhaps spent more wisely elsewhere (or not spent it all and saved it for my future retirement). Moreover, I have even been contemplating some home renovations with a model railway purpose shimmering away in the not too distant playground of my mind - utter madness surely!

In addition, in 2017 I spent money going to exhibitions (all but one being in another state) and a model railway convention in the United States. Sure, in the US, I caught up with friends and new acquaintances but funnily enough they were all largely associated with the hobby of model railways. I saw some prototype rail action as well as I followed a section of line between small midwest rural towns in southern Minnesota.

During the past year, my leisure time comprised of many things but model railways was not far from the action. This included actually working on the model railway; thinking, planning, researching and making adjustments to the model railway; running trains and the odd op. session on the model railway; and spending countless hours over the course of the year just staring at the model railway. I am also involved with the local NMRA Division and a member of two Special Interest Groups (SIGs), plus a couple of prototype railway associations. Sadly, the amount of time spent on my blogs in 2017 was almost non-existent so I don't need to worry about time spent there.

Naturally, there was plenty of reading and viewing of model railway and prototype railway subjects. This took the form of magazines; blogs; several disparate book chapters (and maybe a whole book every now and then); and countless Youtube videos (including video subscription services such as Model Railroader's Video Plus) and DVDs. I even got train DVDs for Christmas.

Throughout the year, conversations were also littered with talk about model railways; about trains; DCC and op. sessions; industries and history; and the usual banter about model railway personalities. Most of these conversations were positive, but some were just plain frustrating (DCC in particular).

Finally, there was all that time and money spent in actually buying things for the model railway. Some times this took the form of need, but many times it took the form of "just in case" (the "strike while the iron is hot" mentality many of us grew up with in the days of low run production of kits). And when I say "need", I don't mean it in the economic sense that distinguishes between wants and needs; I mean it in the sense of I need that item (often a locomotive) for the model railway as I just can't get by without it. And in keeping with the view that well-worn sayings originate in truth, then "whoever has the most locomotives wins" must surely be right!

In conclusion, upon looking at the evidence and weighing up the facts of the matter, there can be no other answer to the question: "Are we mad"? - the answer is definitively YES.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Caulfield Model Railway Exhibition 2017

I travelled to Melbourne on Saturday to see the 47th AMRA Victoria Branch model railway exhibition at Caulfield Racecourse. As in previous years, it was an enjoyable day with plenty of layouts and vendors in attendance.

I will showcase some of the layouts that caught my eye shortly but I do want to comment (again) that the lighting at the venue and the lighting on many of the layouts was often poor. When compared to other exhibitions I have been too, I find it amazing that the Caulfield exhibition has so many layouts on display without adequate lighting. I'm sorry, spot lights here and there just don't cut it.

According to the program, there were all together 63 layouts, vendors, and information booths.  They all fitted into the one large room underneath the grandstand at the Caulfield race track. Getting there is easy using public transport. I enjoyed the suburban train trip from Spencer Street Station to Caulfield via Richmond. I love the industrial buildings you pass along the way - the Bryant and May building is superb and even the rail-facing derelict-looking Rosella Preserving Company building at Richmond is historically interesting.

Regarding the exhibition, many of the familiar faces from the commercial side of the hobby were there, including: Auscision (some nice exhibition specials on locomotives), Austrains (had a good chat with John which was great), Aztronics, Airport West Hobbies, Blue and Gold Models, Brunel Hobbies, Casula Hobbies (another sterling job), Dotric Station Blue, Eureka, Matt's Ballast, Metro Hobbies, Models 'n' More, Model Train Buildings, On Track, Orient Express Model Railway Shop, SDS, Steam Era Models, Southern Models, Train World (and Powerline), Trainbuilder, and Trainorama. One vendor I'd not seen before was Barry's Boxes selling storage boxes for N scale model railway equipment.

Of the layouts, these are the ones that caught my eye.

Maryborough (VR, HO scale) is a well-lit and exceptionally modelled layout based on the prototype town of the same name. The station building is exquisite. I spent the most time at the exhibition admiring this layout. The era modelled is the early 1960s prior to 1967 when the level crossing gates were removed. The photographic backscenes are also superb and really give a sense of place and distance to the layout.






Murray River Bridge (HO scale) depicted the prototype at Murray Bridge, South Australia. The layout still had some finishing touches to be completed but looked great nevertheless. Watching a super-long SCT train rolling across the deck girders and through the three truss bridge was quite a sight. The period modelled represented the late 1980s with plenty of modern-era diesels and rollingstock.



Another nicely modelled layout was Leopold (VR, HO scale) from the Sunbury Model Railway Club. I have seen it before but it's always worth spending some time at this layout. One comment, however (and not just aimed at this layout), is the habit of placing the number of the layout (corresponding to the information in the program) on the layout itself. I really think that this detracts from the representation of a scale model railway. I realise there is a need to easily identify the layout but placing the number on the front fascia or curtain might be better.



Yea (VR, HO scale) was another local prototype that looked great and ran some very nice trains. However, it could be improved with better lighting. The layout was featured in the October 2014 issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine (AMRM) if you want detailed information about the layout. The quality of the layout itself is first class with some great detailed scenes.





Another Victorian Railways layout was Skipton (HO scale) based on the town of the same name. The layout was fairly rudimentary but will improve with additional detail. Again, poor layout lighting was an issue. That said, I appreciate the work the young chaps who built and operated this layout put into exhibiting it. Interestingly, I have researched Skipton and been there to take lots of photos as I regard the location as an excellent prototype to model.



Colinsville Riverland Railway (Australian, HO and HOn30) is a fictitious location situated on an Australian coastal river port. There was plenty of action on this layout with a variety of trains.



Gum Leaf Gully (On30) was a small but well detailed layout. I will let the photos tell the rest of the story.



Another On30 layout was Frog Hollow. This layout represented a fictional Australian narrow gauge bush railway. Modellers familiar with the work of the late Geoff Nott will see his handiwork in this layout now owned and operated by Geoff Small. The layout featured lighting effects and bush sounds that added to the realism of the display.



Another small layout, Little Chipping (VR, HO scale) is a small town (fictional?) located in Gippsland. A sequenced timetable allowed for a good range of short trains to enter and depart the layout.  The fiddle yard was a train turntable that could hold five tracks of trains that could be swivelled 180 degrees to reset the direction of the train back toward the scenic section of the layout. The layout was quite low and I imagine this was so small children could easily see the layout.




On the other hand, a layout that was at a good height for adults required quite a bit of elevation for the operator! Catherwood (British, 00 scale) is a seaside terminus station set in west Dorset in England. The layout depicts the 1955-65 era with some terrific scenery and prototypical operation. I really enjoyed looking at the detail of this layout and what can be achieved in a relatively modest space. That said, I wouldn't like to spend a whole weekend on that short stepladder...




Another British layout that was well detailed was Vale of White Horse (00 scale) based on the Great Western Railway (GWR) on the mainline between London and Bristol. A variety of trains ran throughout the day, reflecting different time periods from 1920 to 1964.




Northminster Heritage Railway (British, 00 scale) represents a fictitious heritage railway in England. As such, a variety of locomotives can be seen operating on this layout.



For those of us who grew up with Triang-Hornby and Wrenn, Gregor Potts' layout (British, 00 scale) brought back lots of memories. The trains and buildings from this period of model railway manufacturing still have a great appeal today despite the significant advancements in the hobby. Even the Minic Motorway road system on the layout was something to behold.



Neubahn (European, HO scale) showcased modern European trains on express services through a small township. The colourful passenger stock and freight wagons make European prototype layouts like this very attractive to watch.



Rounding out the layouts for me was Wallan (HO scale) that showcased a number of Australian trains running through this Victorian locale.



Finally, I must thank the organisers and exhibitors for their efforts in putting on a very enjoyable model railway exhibition

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Malkara 2017

I spent an enjoyable weekend attending the 45th Malkara Model Railway and Scale Model Exhibition in Canberra.  The exhibition is a major fundraiser for the Malkara Specialist School in Garran.

There were a number of model railway layouts and associated scale models (ships, doll houses, etc.) to entertain the general public. As a school fundraiser, many of the people going to the Malkara Exhibition do so to support the school rather than as exhibition junkies. As such, it is a pretty useful way of introducing the model railway hobby to people who might not ordinarily go to model railway exhibitions.

The two main commercial outlets at the exhibition were Casula Hobbies and Model Railroad Craftsman. Both of these Sydney-based shops have supported the Malkara Exhibition for many years and I thank them both for coming along each year.

Talking with Joe from Casula Hobbies on Saturday, I realised that it was forty years ago when as a young lad I first went to Casula and met Joe from the newsagency (as it was then) which had begun stocking model railway items, including the early Australian polyurethane kits. I bought a couple of MRC and Friedmont kits. Since my dad and I had driven quite a way to get to Casula, Joe gave my dad a discount on the cost of the models - something both dad and I never forgot. That early encouragement was the precursor to four decades of involvement in the hobby for me. Thanks again Joe!

Other retailers supporting Malkara were Pallas Hobbies, Runway 13, Euro Hobby Trains, Kerroby Models, and Matt's Ballast.

Here are some layouts that caught my eye over the weekend.

The Epping Model Railway Club, a traditional supporter of the Malkara Exhibition, exhibited the massive layout Bethungra Spiral (HO scale). Watching trains snake their way around the spiral among the hills and the trees is truly awe-inspiring.

Another long-time supporter is the Illawarra Model Railway Association. This time they were exhibiting Kelly River (HO scale). The feature of this layout is the operating bascule bridge which always draws a crowd.

The ACT Scale Model Society, who organise the exhibition with the Malkara School, had Yendys (HO scale) on show. Despite having seen this layout many times now, I always enjoy this layout.


The Georges River Model Railway Club had their N scale layout Dunblurtin on show.


The Hills Model Railway Society brought down to Canberra their large N scale South Bend and Hilltop layout - a very impressive layout indeed.


The Guildford Model Railway Group had their exhibition layout, Goulburn (HO scale), on show. I very much like this layout. They have really captured the look of the wonderful Goulburn station buildings. There is always plenty of mainline Australian action on this layout.


Another club layout, this time from the Sydney Model Railway Society, was Mungo Scott (HO scale). This layout is based on the iconic flour mill on the Metropolitan Goods line in Sydney that ran between Dulwich Hill and Darling Harbour. Now the line is part of the Sydney urban transport network.


But for me, my favourite layout (and the first time I had seen this layout) was the beautifully presented "Inglenook" layout called Rozelle Street (HO scale). I freely admit to being a fan of "Inglenook" layouts and this was no exception. Well done Ben!



I also had a great time catching up with friends and fellow railway modellers, plus the odd purchase or two (or three) items that is always a must at these type of events. Thanks to the organisers, exhibitors, and retailers for making the weekend such an enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Wagga Wagga blogger

I was very pleased to hear that former Canberra resident and railway modeller Rob N. has decided to start a blog about the construction of his HO scale home layout based on Wagga Wagga in NSW.

Rob is well known to most modellers in Canberra through his former association with the ACT Model Railway Society and the Yendys layout. He has since left the capital to the quieter life in rural NSW, but on the Main South Line!

Rob has amassed a huge amount of information about Wagga Wagga and its industries, as well as nearby towns served by the railway. Rob also has a fine collection of photos from the last 30-40 years which he can draw upon as his layout progresses.

The blog is called Building Wagga and I highly recommend it to you. Rob will, naturally, have to explain why building Wagga was not called building Wagga Wagga! I understand that the locals down that way like the double Wagga version over the single Wagga. Nevertheless, I expect that Rob will provide some very interesting and useful modelling tips as he progresses through the stages of building a large home layout.

I wish him the best.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Epping MRC Exhibition 2017

The 2017 Epping Model Railway Club's exhibition at the Thornleigh Brickpit Stadium was on again over the June long weekend in Sydney. I was there on the Saturday and enjoyed the day immensely.

There were about twenty layouts on display with one layout being a real surprise. About 25 trade stands were also in attendance to help railway modellers part with their money!

Here are some layouts that caught my eye.

The big surprise was the layout, Southern Highlands (NSW, HO scale), which is an updated version of the late Rodney James' layout Exeter. Southern Highlands is owned by Warren Herbert and Rohan Fergusson. Exeter had previously been exhibited only once before, in Brisbane, so this layout appearing again at an exhibition was a real bonus. Watching long trains meander through the scenery was quite the railfan's delight.


A-Tractiv Effort (NSW, HO scale), in its protective perspex encasing, showcases some superb suburban structures within a railway environment. This layout represents a fictional location on the Short North with the replica buildings coming from actual structures in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. The reliable H&M Duette remains the power source for this DC layout running trains in the period 1980-95.


Mango Mango (On30) was a new layout from Geoff Small representing the 2' cane railways of northern Queensland. The layout is freelance but effectively conveys the impression of narrow gauge sugar cane railways in the Queensland tropics. Geoff added some nice scenic touches and a bit of whimsy to this layout which just made the layout all that more appealing.




Western Rivers (NSW, HO scale) is a model railway based on Menindee on the Darling River in far western New South Wales. This layout had some terrific features such as the waterways, the paddle steamer "Adelaide" (the prototype of which was built in Echuca in 1866 and which still operates as a tourist attraction) with smoke billowing out from its funnel, and a great mix of bush sounds that made it feel you were out bush rather than inside a suburban hall.



Smugglers Cove (USA, On30) made another exhibition appearance and never fails to impress. The layout is the work of the late Geoff Nott and Michael Flack based on a New England theme from the northeast of the United States. Amazingly, the majority of the wonderful buildings were made of card. This layout is truly brilliant.




Binalong (NSW, HO scale), from the Epping Model Railway Club, made another exhibition appearance too. This layout is also a quality layout that showcases some fine modelling. Watching a sound-equipped lash-up of diesels or a thundering 57 class with a long rake of freight wagons traverse the length of the layout is quite a sight.


Mungo Scott (NSW, HO scale), from the Sydney Model Railway Society, was also making another exhibition appearance. This layout is based on the Mungo Scott flour mill near Lilyfield in Sydney.
It is good to see that a part of Sydney's industrial history is represented by this layout.


Jay Dubyew North Yard (HO scale) was a US-themed industrial switching layout from the Platform 1 Model Railroad Club. The layout is only 3m x .3m in length, including a small fiddle yard, proving anyone can find the space for a model railroad. Platform 1 showcases micro layouts, especially Inglenook designs.


Sandford (British, N scale) was a nice little layout showing a fictitious location on the East Coast railway line between York and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. A good range of model trains, representing the period between 1946 and 1966, kept the punters happy.


Another well displayed small model railway was the N scale NSW layout, Dunblurtin, based on a fictitious location in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Strangely, the station name board spells the town name Dunblertin!



The Beach (NSW, N scale) represented a fictitious coastal village with a very appealing townscape, a jetty jutting into the sea, and general scenery that made me reminisce of my coastal holidays as a kid in the late 1960s.


Tarana (NSW, N scale), exhibited by the Georges River Model Railway Club, made another exhibition outing at Thornleigh. The layout is based on the station of Tarana on the Main Western line approximately 200km by rail from Sydney.


And once again, the popular Lego layout was on display to entertain the kids.


Other layouts included Dirt, Mosquito Hill, Dee Valley Vegetables, Sydney 1876, Koolabar, Steve's Follie, Western Front 1917, and Thomas and Friends.