Thursday, 14 May 2020

The Long and Short...

...or the one about 5th Birthday celebrations and seperating your ideas into what is reachable and what isn't.

There's the long of it... then there's the short of it, and today marks 5 years since I first launched Philden Model Railway as a blog to document the construction of my former HO layout Philden, (remember Philden makes the cover after being featured in the August 2018 issue of Australian Model Railway Magazine?). I thought about doing another Philden Model Railway giveaway like I did at Christmas time, but the sheer cost and bad timing of releasing my last railway book in February means that I am going to end this financial year with a financial loss. So we'll have to see what I plan for Christmas this year instead.

A lot has changed over the past 5 years. The old layout is gone, after unsuccesfully trying to find a new owner in Philden is For Sale, the layout was then stripped bare and demolished in End of the line ahead of moving house, before I almost ended this blog entirely a year ago to this day. And yet here I am still, caught between the long and short of trying to rebuild a layout at a time when the world is seemingly on pause while we avoid trying to spread the COVID-19 virus and businesses splutter along on one-and-a-half cylinders while trying to keep the economy rolling at the same time. The whole thing only highlights the need to adapt in the face of circumstances. Keeping a small business running and still trying to complete a layout I've been working on for the past 12 months with the little money I'm able to rustle together is becoming quite the challenge. What I have been able to do a lot of lately is this...

A day's worth of post from eBay sales ready to take to the post office.

Despite the need to keep the household running on the smell of an oily rag until our business picks up, the above photo shows just one day's worth of stuff that our household had sold on eBay. If you haven't clicked on my eBay Super Sale badge in the right hand column, then you've probably missed out on some bargains. It's become a regular affair to stop by the red post boxes whenever we head out to do a job. Some days I feel as though we half fill them! And that is what made the top photo possible. The SDS HO scale NR Class locomotive and the Wuiske Models HOn 3 1/2 scale 1720 Class locomotive that arrived in time for my birthday last weekend. I feel they symbolise the long and short of the grand ideas I had before I actually started working on the new layout... whatever that turns out like. But for now, let's just call it Philden Road.

Sneak peak at the final level being added to the new layout before I post Philden Road Part Ten.

I say that because I now have no idea what the new layout/layouts will be called. Only because it's no longer one layout. I had to compromise with my split level design a few posts back, which really opened up the Phills Harbour scene on the right, (complete with birthday NR Class and a small pile of Stuart Walker's model train buildings waiting for me to start on, shameless free shout-out to my mate Stuart at Walker Models G'day Stu!). But the NSW North Coast scene still needed long enough staging for my XPT, which I built at the left end in a way that was able to support the weight of the QLD scene above it. (I've already planned to do something special with the 'staging tracks' which I'll go into when its all done).

What that left me with was 1.8 metres of layout length to accommodate the QLD scene on the left end of the layout. If I kept the left side module to the same height as the right side module, the whole layout would be able to fit into our hatchback and you would be seeing Philden Road sometime next year at a model train exhibition. However, that would have left the upper level QLD tracks with a backdrop height of only 115 mm which is just... wrong.

So the long and short of it... there's now 3 layouts on 3 different levels!

Starting at the bottom; my N scale Brandon Canyon layout will be a much smaller, separate and removable layout, that at 1500 x 720 mm in size, won't be as grand as the Model Railroader Magazine's Canadian Canyons layout, but will be able to fit into our car in one piece to take to model train exhibitions and provide me with some roundy-round enjoyment beneath my HO layouts. I now have everything I need to start laying track.

In the middle; my HO scale Phills Harbour to Roma Street North Coast line (yes, spoiler alert... I'm modelling platforms 1 and 2 of Roma Street Station as they appeared in the 1990's as the scenic portion of my staging yard), will provide me with all the operational elements I'd hoped to achieve with my past layout Philden, yet couldn't on account of the limited layout length I'd built it to. Its amazing what an extra 700 mm of layout length can achieve, think 2 car Xplorer train versus a 5 car XPT set. I've long completed my NSW rollingstock roster, although a final track configuration for the staging yard might call for a space saving 3-way turnout to be substituted.

On top; HOn 3 1/2 or HO scale 12 mm guage, (everyone seems to call it something different yet still knows what it means), QLD and Granite Belt themed, (i.e. the south west corner of Queensland). Although the modelled portion will be just 1280 mm x 435 mm in size, the 1.8 metre long space I had available also accommodates the 520 mm (550 mm including the tip that protrudes into the shadow box) sector plate that I have built to be permanently affixed. Designed to sit above my NSW staging, it is now a separate and fully removable layout that can be picked up in one piece and loaded into our car for me to exhibit on its own at model train shows. I've now completed my rollingstock roster, I just need to buy the turnouts and a couple of extra lengths of flextrack.

The one downside to all of this, is that as a whole... Philden Road, (or whatever I call it), won't be able to fit into our car to take to an exhibition. Not with the NSW North Coast modules and the QLD Granite Belt layout together. I've somehow ended up with 3 modules stacked atop the separate benchwork instead of 2 modules the identical size to my Phills Harbour scene. The benchwork and the Phills Harbour (or North Coast line) level could fit into our car, but that would leave my open air staging yard and Roma Street scene looking unfinished and not the same height as the rest of the layout. To me, that defeats the purpose of trying to present this layout to a museum standard. When I'm already worried about having my beautiful timber finish scratched at home, the last thing I want to do is try to jam everything into our Ford Mondeo along with boxes of locomotives, rollingstock, control packs, a fold out stool, layout curtains and an overnight bag for my wife and I whenever we travel to exhibit it. When I'm planning on reusing all of the buildings from Philden on my Phills Harbour scene anyway, it could be a case of viewers thinking they've seen it all before. So its safe to say that my North Coast Phills Harbour layout will never be shown in public. Which is fine really. It now becomes a personal home layout to capture the memories of family holidays when our kids were young, and the memory of Philden in the form of my cherished buildings, all of which I ended up saving.

My QR Granite Belt layout... ah, that becomes an entirely different kettle of fish altogether!

It was two years ago that I attended the Modelling the Railways of Queensland convention, simply at the invite of a friend, (Anthony Veness whose QR layout Dagun just so happens to be on the cover of the June 2020 issue of Australian Model Railway Magazine, G'day Ant!). I have to be honest here... prototype modelling scares me! Saying that you've built a model of an actual location only always brings out the maginifying glass of the most discerning observers. Yet Anthony has proto-freelanced Dagun to the point where, exceptions aside for the 18" radius continual curve track, it would take an expert historian to pick any faults. I love not only his layout, but the degree of proto-freelancing that he has settled on. As a friend, its great to have such an astute modeller as Anthony to encourage me to aim higher. My QR layout is going to sit proudly as the third and final level atop the new layout in our loungeroom. At a standing view chin height, it is going to be viewed closer than the other two levels. Yet it is also going to be able to be picked up in one piece and placed in the back of our car, making it the perfect sized layout to take on the model train exhibition circuit for many years to come. So why not have a crack at proto-freelancing it?

I have the exact location on the old QR Southern line to Wallangarra chosen, and the time period of 1991-1996 picked out. I've mixed and matched enough rollingstock to accumulate a convincing roster of wagons to handle fruit traffic, and have just added a 4th Wuiske Models loco to my collection. It should be enough for me to achieve what I'm wanting to model. Atmosphere. Oozing with it! I want viewers to be able to stand there and imagine they can smell the waft of smoke coming from a campfire in the backyard of a nearby house, and imagine that the rows of vineyards from a winery that backs onto the track continues over the hill. Finally, I want the fruit packing shed to appear as it did in its final years of rail operation, complete with stacks of pallets and wooden fruit bins by the tracks. So from that point of view, as soon as the module is painted and ready to take its place in our lounge room looking like a finished piece of furniture, I'll get to work laying track and starting scenery.

I think I'll make my HO Granite Belt layout my priority from this point onwards. Simply because it will now be my exhibitable layout, and my NSW North Coast line will resort to my personal home layout that can take as long as necessary to complete.

With some shops now opening again here in Queensland, and it now possible to travel up to 150 km for non-essential business following Australia's Coronavirus enforced social restrictions, a trip south on the highway to Brisbane to purchase the missing track I need is now back on the cards for two weeks time. By then, I hope our business has either picked-up enough, or I've sold enough on eBay to be able to afford it! I've given up mentioning on this blog what I list on eBay as any models or railway collectibles that I let go from my own collection usually disappear within the first few days. But I've now also turned to parting ways with some prized football cards after my Son and I combined our Brisbane Lions collections into one, and am hoping that together it will be enough for me to afford the final kit buildings and track to complete all 3 layouts over the remainder of the year. So please, check out my eBay listings here to see if there's anything left that you'd like to buy that would help afford my model train shop crawl in two weeks time.

Until the final post of my Philden Road benchwork series, take care, and be sure to check out Anthony Veness' Dagun layout in the coming issue of Australian Model Railway Magazine.

Phill O

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Creating your own nostalgia

....or the one about decorating your layout with custom made stick-on vinyl lettering.

In between applying coats of paint to the staging yard module to complete my NSW North Coast level on my new layout, the postman arrived with my order for some custom made stick-on vinyl lettering. I've cleaned glass on enough showroom windows to realise that the signwriter applied opening hours signage that you see neatly applied to the front entry doors of businesses, would also be a great way of decorating a model railway fascia with your layout's name. The end panels on my Philden Road modules are being painted in a gloss white finish, and with the first module finished for my Phills Harbour scene, I ordered some custom made vinyl signage printed in matte black letters to decorate my end panels with the names of former trains to have travelled over the New South Wales North Coast line during the time period I am modelling.

I say former, even though it includes the wording for the Brisbane XPT, because if the current Corona Virus pandemic has taught me one thing, its that these are generational-defining times we are living through. When its all over, (and I'm sure the coming months are going to be more positive than what we are experiencing now), it will be interesting to see what remains from the time before. The XPT trains that we've associated with modern day train travel since the early 1980's are just a couple of years from being retired, and soon they too will be a memory from the time before. Life it seems is a cycle of nostalgia being created everytime something disappears from everyday life, and there's no greater reminder of that than what we are all experiencing right now; being locked away from the everyday activities we have previously taken for granted.

So from that point of view I created my own version of nostalgia for my layout, in the form of some custom printed train names from the 'time before', which in my case just happens to be the 1990's.

The finished result depends on ensuring the lettering is applied neatly and evenly spaced.

You position the lettering with some blue painter's tape at the top, and lift it up to remove the backing paper first.

The individually cut vinyl letters remain attached to the front protective paper. You then stick the backing side down onto the surface, and smooth it flat with a credit card before slowly removing the front protective paper.

Viola! A model railway end panel worthy of belonging in an art gallery!

I set the bar high with the presentation standard I wanted to achieve with the new layout, and each finished, (yet still bare), layout section that is bought into the house is looking more like artwork than layout. The Phills Harbour end of my layout now evokes memories of some of my favourite trains that I grew up watching, along with the XPT's that I traveled on many times up and down the NSW North Coast. Where my previous layout had authentic aluminium station names mounted at random to the fascia, I simply chose the different stylised fonts that I used for this project myself. There's nothing authentic about the script at all! I simply wanted each train's name to evoke its own feeling of nostalgia based on how I remember them. In a nutshell, its supposed to look purdy (pretty), not prototype.

The challenge now is to replicate this quality at the other end of my layout. The end that will soon be unvieled with its own unique sub-cavernous staging yard for my NSW North Coast line. Sitting above it will be the even larger module that I'm building for modelling Queensland's Granite Belt. Well, at least just an old fruit loading siding on the railway line to Wallangarra.

For that I need some help. For the other end I'll need to come up with 5 train names that ran on Queensland's Southern Line to Wallangarra. The obvious ones are the; SYDNEY MAIL and The Winelander trains, but if I can't come up with another 3 QLD names to place beneath them, I may just have to revert to using some more NSW names of trains that ran to Brisbane, and for that I can still only think of one other; the Brisbane Express, the second section that followed the Limited.

So please, if you can think of any other name trains from over the years that would be appropriate, then by all means leave a comment below.

Well, nostalgia aside, my New South Wales planning is finally all behind me. The track is almost ready to be laid once the staging yard receives it final coats of paint and I'm waiting only on a pre-ordered NR class locomotive to round out my standard gauge roster. My thoughts have now narrowed to north of the border. I now have the track plan finished for my Granite Belt scene and have just saved up enough to add another loco to my Queensland roster. At this point I'm going to press on with building the framework for the Queensland layout next. I'm building it as a stand-alone single piece layout that will simply sit in place above my NSW staging yard to complete my three level bookshelf design. The advantage is that I'll be able to take it (or the N scale Canadian layout from below), to model train shows on their own, as opposed to my original plan that was to build the NSW and QLD scenes on split levels as part of the same layout. I think I'd prefer that than trying to pack the entire layout into the back of a car and risk damaging the benchwork I've put so much effort into.

Next up I'll unviel the staging yard in the tenth and final part of Philden Road. So stay tuned, that is after all a story for another day.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Philden Road Part Nine

...or the one about deliberating, do-overs and don't minds.

Having a fortnight at home to work on my layouts is proving to be a very positive experience. While the news continues to bombard us with all the negative that is going on in the world thanks to the panic and uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus, having day after day alone in the garage to build my new model railway is a much needed escape! Instead of deliberating with how I was going to fit the two levels of track on my HO scale Philden Road layout, I allowed myself a do-over on the Phills Harbour module. Not only did I rip-out the upper level QLD narrow gauge right-of-way, I went back in time and edited Part Eight to explain what was and wasn't working with the concept, and subsequently deleted my last two updates. Why? Because deliberating is the bane of layout construction. You either will or you won't, you do or you don't or you can or you can't. The newly updated Part Eight will explain all.

Allowing my NSW North Coast line to entirely take over the right hand side of the layout afforded more depth to accommodate some extra structures behind the railway station. After all, the whole reason for replacing Philden was to have the fun of building some more scenery and kit structures, not to amass more track. I guess I reached a point where I was just sick of the deliberation that comes with building a new layout and trying to fit two very different scenes into one. By keeping the NSW and QLD scenes separate I still end up with one very interesting bookshelf layout. So what you see above is the truncated mock-up of Phills Harbour, (my fictitious take on Coffs Harbour) on the NSW North Coast. There's still a mouse hole for trains to exit stage left to staging, (more on that to follow), and I now have the scope to build an identical sized module for the QLD Granite Belt scene that will sit at the opposite end above the NSW staging tracks.

I ditched plans to use a cork underlay, simply because of the work involved building the levels back up around it.

Once you push onward, its amazing how quickly you can make other decisions. Deliberating over how I was going to mount the perspex to be removable like on my last layout (removable backdrops - May 2015), was one of the reasons this layout wasn't progressing. So I cut 75 mm off each end of the module where the complicated fascia struts once stood, and replaced it with a panel of 7 mm plywood that you can see above, bringing the overall length down to 1500 mm and reconfiguring the module as a shadow box. I could then simply fix the timber strips that will hold the perspex in place onto the inside of the panels, and just move on.

I was always going to use cork tile underlay on this layout to reduce the noise when running trains. However, after cutting the cork to the shape of my trackplan (above), I didn't like how high the track sat up alongside the drop-off for the harbour's water level. It seemed a lot of work to incorporate, followed by a lot of work to raise the scenery, platform and wharf area back up to rail height. When I was keeping a close eye on the weight of this module, the whole process seemed unneccesary. So I ditched the idea altogether.

The plywood bowed outwards however, so I had to brace it with the support for the Philden Road overpass.

The next problem I had to address was the 7 mm plywood panel that was bowing outward on the mouse-hole end of the module. Trimming back the Philden Road overpass by 75 mm, (the same length I'd shortened this end of the layout by), I used a piece of 43 x 19 mm pine as the support pylon for the road bridge. It is secured from beneath the layout with a 75 mm long wood screw, and the ply was bent inward until the panel was square and glued and screwed through the plywood.

The 6 mm Tasmanian Oak strip was then nailed and glued to hold the slide-out perspex panel.

The original Philden Road overpass that was intended for my split-level plans, was then trimmed and glued into position using Selleys Liquid Nails. The 6 mm Tasmanian Oak moulding was then cut, glued and nailed into place along the layout's edge, with the double vertical strips also acting as extra reinforcing to prevent the ply panel from any further distortion. As you can see, my original concept for the Philden Road overpass is still there, only now minus the QLD narrow gauge track that was supposed to cross over the road close to the backdrop.

When painted, the perspex channel is almost invisible, which is exactly the look I was after.

Next I could get to painting, using the same paint and process that I used when painting my N scale layout in Brandon Canyon Part Four. So I'll spare a repeat of the story here. Remember that when finished, each module has to look like they all belong as part of one big multi-level bookshelf model railway.

Paintwork finished on another module.

Once more I sealed the back with 2 coats of clear varnish to protect the timber from any moisture issues.

The track base and station surrounds are simply undercoated using acrylic artists paint.

The module is now finished, awaiting only the staging yard to connect through the mouse-hole.

So after months of deliberating and a week of do-overs, I really don't mind the end result of the first module. For the Tenth and final part of this project, I'll next build the staging yard that will attach to the mouse-hole end of the layout. Although it will occupy the remainder of my 3.3 metre long bookshelf layout, it will only be constructed to the height of the top of the mouse-hole. By building the staging yard with support posts capable of taking the weight of what will now be a removable QLD Granite Belt module, it won't waste valuable real estate while still being able to store my XPT set and a freight train beneath when it exits the NSW North Coast line.

I have some very exciting ideas moving from this point onward. Building another 1.5 metre shadow box module will accommodate my plans for a nicely detailed QLD Granite Belt scene featuring the fruit packing shed I've been wanting to build since day one. Although with only an extra 300 mm of space to draw on for the hidden staging, if you could call it that, I'll have to be a lot more creative with the exit point. It will most likely call for a hidden sector plate such as used on Model Railroader's Olympia Logging layout. The beauty of now building the QLD level as a separate removable layout, is if somewhere down the track I decide to build another small layout, I can simply interchange this in and out over my NSW staging tracks.

So there you have it. My first week home from work in isolation has been a very productive one indeed. I've deliberately tackled every big project instead of pressing on with track laying and starting scenery on one module at a time. There'll be plenty of time for that in the years to come. I'm a big believer in good layout presentation, so have tried to get the benchwork and finish of each module up to furniture standard before it comes in the house. Tomorrow is a chance for me to move the first two completed modules inside and position them on and beneath the already completed benchwork. I can then get to work measuring and constructing the NSW North Coast staging section complete with the required support beams, and following close behind will be the QLD Granite Belt module that will sit atop it. So I'll save the next blog post until I have completed the staging section. After all, that's a story for another day.