Wednesday, 29 November 2017

2017: An on track ending

It's hard to believe that 2017 is drawing to a close. It only feels like yesterday that I was putting the finishing touches to my layout ahead of the start of another year. Fast forward 12 months, and the activity centred around my desk and the bookshelf layout that stands above it has now yielded 3 model train exhibitions and 6 published railway books. In terms of having something to show for my time... 2017 was a huge year for getting things back on track.

My desk is now in a new position, featuring my 6 new books for 2017, and awaiting the next chapter!

Of course, nothing ever happens smoothly for me. It never has and probably never will. Following the Gold Coast Miniature Train Show in late October, a crack developed in the ceiling above my desk at the worst possible time. Right when I was busy finalising the release of my latest book Last Train to Grafton, and preparing to see my set of 4 Train Tripping books published in printed form for the first time, all our furniture had to be double-stack at one end of our apartment so that the ceiling could be patched, sanded and painted. Philden went from having just been re-assembled following the Gold Coast Train Show, to dismantled and stacked atop of chairs that were stacked atop of tables. Half of our furniture was in our kitchen, while the other half was in our bedroom.

To say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction is an understatement, when the day after getting back from the Gold Coast Model Train Show I also underwent root canal surgery to save a front tooth from an abscess in my jaw that had gone undetected for months. There is usually a 1% chance of these things becoming infected, which you guessed, it happened to me. After a week of treatment with some pretty heavy antibiotics that prevented me from doing anything for days, I was able to return to work running our business with my wife. A week later, my shoulder went. Scans showed some long-term calcification of the tendon in my shoulder, which in turn had caused a case of bursitis and fluid build-up around the shoulder joint. The fluid affected area then burst, causing a couple of days of severe pain until I was able to be booked in for the good-ol' cortisone injection. Doctors assure me that my shoulder should feel 100% by this Friday. Coupled with our tax bill which arrived in the middle of all of this, my wife Denise and I dubbed it Black October, and it has taken us until the end of November to get over it all.

I'm glad it is all over. I'm also very glad that 2017 is almost done with. Hiccups aside, launching Philden onto the exhibition circuit and releasing 6 books between June and November has been a huge undertaking. Planning for both of these projects began back in 2015, around the same time that I launched this blog. With our apartment, and life, seemingly back in order, I can now begin planning for 2018. There's a lot I want to launch into here but I will save that for another time. So in the spirit of on-wards and up-wards, here are some highlights from 2017...

Philden's 1st public outing at the 2017 Brisbane Model Train Show in May.

Last Train to Brisbane followed in June 2017.

The Pine Rivers Hobby & Model Train Show followed in August 2017 at Strathpine in Brisbane.

It was all smiles at the 2017 Gold Coast Model Train Show in October... but root canal surgery the next day!

Last Train to Grafton paid homage to The Glenapp Boys for its November 2017 release.



After first being released solely as eBooks back in 2014-15, all four of my Train Tripping Series were released in print for the first time in November 2017 to cap off a huge year. Train Tripping Coastal Queensland was the book which was nominated for the 2015 Global eBook Awards, only to miss out to the hugely successful Lonely Planet Guidebooks. Still, having this book in print with the official award nomination badge on the cover is a pretty good feeling. All of this costs money of course, and also consumes copious amounts of time, something which becomes harder and harder to come by when things go wrong. That aside, I plan to finish my series of railway books in 2018 with at least 3 more Last Train photographic bush poetry collections, and another 2 Train Tripping adventure books. I head off to Western Australia in just 3 weeks time in search of my next adventure, and in early 2018 I will also take a week off to explore the forgotten railway lines across central and western New South Wales, staying in a different town each night. After that, there won't be another railway book for quite some time, as for the next 2 years I'll be sitting down to have my 5th attempt at writing that elusive New York Times Bestselling novel.

2018 will also bring about some exciting changes on Philden. While I'm yet to lock-in which exhibitions I will take the layout to, I've already tired of the simple 2 track staging shelf. It is going to be replaced with a new, slightly longer staging yard. While I mess-about with plans to add a wheat silo opposite the cement plant, it seems more likely that I will punch a hole for a third track through the mouse-hole end of the layout, and turn the current dead-end siding into a run-around track connecting with the new staging yard. I'd like to be able to park 3 short trains hidden from view with the added option of being able to use one of the staging tracks as a run-around track. Finally, after 3 exhibitions, I also plan to add an auto-reversing switch for the Xplorer to run up-and-back unassisted on the mainline.

The amount of exciting new releases on the Australian model railway scene doesn't seem to be letting up either, and there are a number of upcoming models I am trying to formulate a way that they can make it onto Philden. I've been thinking that the postman will turn up 'any day now' with my pre-ordered Southern Rail Models XGAY hoppers since May. I bought the ATN Access L Class earlier this year simply to have something to pull them. Sometime in 2018 I'll also have the patched-out Southern Rail Models NTAF Freight Australia tank cars to look forward to, (for a new petrol siding project to be added beside my goods shed).

But it is the Auscision 48's, 442's and fishbelly underframe NCNX steel wagons that I seem to be stuck on. All would fit nicely in my 2002-2005 era. The 48 class in the Freightcorp livery with PN decals, the 442 in the unique CFCLA JL406 livery and the NCNX coil steel wagons in SRA red with the tarp supports. I've had the tarpaulin covers and spare packets of coil steel loads put aside for these since purchasing the NCTY steel wagons this time last year. The NCNX's I really need, but the 48 and 442?

I settled on the idea of selling my 82 Class in an attempt to afford both. I have fond memories of watching Freightcorp blue 48's shunt at Grafton whenever I'd stop at McDonald's on the way back from a holiday with my family, and the 442's were one of my favourite locomotives on the Main North Line when growing up back when the electrification ended at Gosford. I love that everything old is new again flavour, and an L class, 421, 48 and 442 (in the guise of a leased JL Class) would make for a motley collection of refurbished locomotives all as old as I am. By comparison, an 82 class on anything other than a coal train between 2002-2005 was a rarity. I've loved running this loco on Philden, and despite the difficulties I had removing the body shell from this model (see finding Gremlins post here) it has since run faultlessly at my last 2 exhibitions. In a year when I've managed to get everything back on track, it seems my On Track 82's time at Philden is coming to an end. I guess that is how you keep a small layout fresh, by keeping the rollingstock fluid.

Selling the 82 class at auction yielded a very pleasing result, and I should now be able to secure a blue 48 class as its replacement and a pack of NCNX's that I will keep 2 of and sell the other 2 still in the box to effectively halve the cost as I did with the NCTY wagons. I'll place my last minute pre-order straight after the Christmas holidays. As for the 442, I plan to let go of a few very rare NSWGR timetables that are surplus to my collection in the new year, including a 1956 and 1960 complete country train timetable. Those two alone should get me halfway there. Beyond that, there is very little that is planned for the era that I model that would actually be of interest to a small layout such as Philden. Aside from the long awaited re-run of the Eureka Models 620/720 railcars in City Rail grey ghost livery, but as that has been promised since 2008, and next year is 2018... I thinks its safe to say there is no need to panic with that one.

Failing that, it you're after some light-hearted railway reading, each of my Train Tripping paperbacks are between 72 and 90 pages long and priced at only $7.99 AUD. For those unfamiliar, they are a stop-by-stop guide to some great D-I-Y railway journeys in Australia. Profits from all sales go directly to the Philden Locomotive Fund, or PLF for short.

Now to get back to all my research. I have another book to write!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Exhibition #3 Gold Coast

Hey there Humphrey Bear! Thanks for stopping by to see Philden at this year's Miniature Trains on the Coast. Fresh back from my 3rd public showing of Philden on Australia's Gold Coast, I must admit that the warm weather over the weekend signalled the Queensland model train exhibition circuit is coming to a close for 2017. Swapping the Sunshine Coast for the Gold Coast for another weekend of running trains, I once more dismantled my bookshelf layout, took it down six flights of stairs and packed it safely into the back of our hatchback for the two hour trip down the highway. The warm weekend called for the air-conditioning to be on high and some Coldplay on the car stereo.

The 2018 venue for the Commonwealth Games hosted this year's Gold Coast Miniature Train Show.

Down on the Gold Coast, Carrara is being transformed ahead of the city hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April 2018. The old Gold Coast Rollers basketball stadium was once more the venue for the Miniature Trains on the Coast over the weekend of October 28-29, but this time the giant yellow Gold Coast Sports Complex building behind it was being opened for the public to view for the first time. I think organisers were expecting a bumper crowd next door with food vendors, live concerts and activities throughout the day, but the spies I sent next door to tell me what I was missing out on reported that the numbers were thin and there were more people inside the old building looking at the model trains.

I don't get to park this close when I go to the AFL at Metricon Stadium! Did anyone notice my Brisbane Lions plates?

Saturday saw a good amount of visitors through the doors and called for exhibitors to park their cars next door at Metricon Stadium, the home of the AFL's Gold Coast Suns. Last time I was here was to watch my Brisbane Lions defeat the Suns by just 2 points. Back then I had to park the car 7 kilometres away and walk to the game. This time I was directed to park much closer than anyone with Lions number plates on their car has ever dared before. I just couldn't help taking the above photo!

Denise spent just as much time at the controls as I did over the weekend.

A basketball stadium as a venue for a model train show is superb, in that the floors are dead level and the amenities a cut above most others. Denise and I had no problems in setting up the layout, and posted a new record for packing up and loading the car for the trip home on the Sunday evening of just 20 minutes. The quality of layouts on display over the weekend was the best of the 3 shows I have taken Philden to so far.

Despite adding a new illuminated layout name sign that said PHILDEN, I still had someone point out that my layout looked nothing like the Granville Bridge on account of the 'All Stations to Granville' memorabilia that is attached to the layout's frame. It only proves you can't win them all. I suppose it was nowhere near as bad as the gentleman who stopped, screwed up his nose and exclaimed, "it's nicely detailed and all, but why would you want to build something that just goes up and back? To me it's just a waste of space and may as well not be here. In fact I'm bored already just looking at it." I suppose its each to his own, but if by comparison he's only got a box of old train parts tucked away in a garage he plans to do something with one day, I for one would like to return the compliment when he exhibits his layout someday. If indeed he ever gets around to building one at all.

Exhibiting my layout three times over the course of 2017 has however been a rewarding experience. Now that the Gold Coast Miniature Train Show is done and dusted, I feel like a footballer whose season is over. In fact, at this stage I am unsure whether I will exhibit Philden again next year. The layout from here on can only be tinkered with as far as any changes are concerned, and for the large part I've exhausted what I can write about it here on this blog. I don't want Philden to become one of those layouts people tire of seeing. During the course of the past 2 years, I've not only been enjoying my hobby, but taking the time to self-produce some railway books of my own. To a large point that has been a rather disappointing affair. Readership here and on my author blog hasn't necessarily translated to sales and it is time for me to give it the flick and move onto something else. At this point I am committed to finishing my set of 4 Last Train railway bush poetry photo books by mid next year, after which time I feel inclined to pursue something entirely different in life. By then I may have finished that other layout I've been referring to, and Philden might not make another public appearance at all.

Regardless of what the future brings, I plan to keep Philden standing proudly above my desk.

Armed with the memory of posing for that photo with Humphrey B. Bear at the 2017 Gold Coast Miniature Train Show, and with Denise having recorded just as many scale miles as I did on my small layout over the weekend, we headed home. A stadium quickly becomes a lonely place after the game is over. So with Coldplay filling our ears, and summer storm clouds chasing us in our rear view mirror, we headed north on the highway. Another show over. Another one to come. Perhaps. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

See also; Exhibition #2 Pine Rivers

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: Southern Rail's L Class

When you purchase a new model locomotive with the mindset that this may very well be the last HO scale locomotive you ever buy, you want to ensure that it's going to be a good one. Purchasing a Southern Rail Models HO scale W.A.G.R. L Class diesel locomotive might just have ticked all the boxes. In keeping with my taste for everything old is new again, the big West Australian repainted in the ATN Access livery as ran in New South Wales during the early 2000's has added another colourful paint scheme to run on my small HO scale bookshelf layout. It's a big loco, that's even bigger on detail.

The model still looks superb, despite the missing ladder rung at the top that I only noticed through this photograph.

The intricate detail on the model I purchased was both breathtaking and a little daunting to handle when I first placed it on the rails. The striking ATN Access loco that I had chosen ahead of the release of Southern Rail Models' matching XGAY grain hoppers has all the bells and whistles. There are more aerials, hoses, lift hooks, handrails, warning stickers and exhaust fan details than I first realised. Even the driver's side mirrors are movable. In an age of highly detailed plastic ready-to-run railway models, this one almost has a little too much detail to feel confident in handling. The brake cylinders on the bogies or trucks are applied separately in the factory and include some delicate details, (one dislodged when I first took the model out of the box), while the sanding pipes are about as close to rail height as you can get. The small amount of play on the sand pipes still has me worried they might one day catch on the frog of a turnout and break. Fortunately the track work on my layout is perfect. Unfortunately my gripe with missing pieces on Australian models continues. I've counted one missing lever on a roof panel, a missing top ladder rung on the side of the locomotive and a bent spike in the centre of the short nose platform that should be standing upright.

The metal frame of the locomotive looks basic, but lends the model a good amount of weight.

The underside of the locomotive is your basic, plain model train finish complete with the manufacturer's logo. Once on the track however, the model's performance is amongst the best I have experienced. It is smooth, responsive and on DC mode crawls along nicely at slow speed. There's the usual directional white and red LED lighting we've come to expect on a quality Aussie model, though the lights on the no. 2 end are not quite as bright as those on the no. 1 end. That aside, the model is equipped with factory installed genuine Kadee couplers, see-through etched metal grilles, chemically blackened wheels and an all-wheel drive and electrical pick-up. The metal chassis and 5 pole motor lend quite a bit of weight to this model which should equate to exceptional pulling power.

The model comes with a 21 pin DCC socket and is also available with a factory-fitted ESU Loksound sound-equipped decoder. A word of warning however, although this model was originally advertised as a DC/DCC sound equipped model, the DCC sound equipped version in my opinion did not perform adequately on a DC analogue layout. The basic model is DC without sound, whereas the DCC version comes with sound. You can read my full thoughts on DC versus DCC models in another post here. So just to make it clear, I'm purely reviewing the merits of this locomotive as a DC analogue model.

I love the overhauled L Class model's cab with the air-conditioning unit.

The painting is superb! I couldn't spot a blemish or single area of the model where the paint work didn't match a photo on the internet of the prototype. The real-life locos had air-conditioners mounted shortly after re-entering service with ATN Access, so the models of the ATN locos feature the characteristic black box on the left hand side of the short nose along with the air-con grille located in the centre above the drivers' windows. The Wisconsin Central shield that features on only one of the ATN Access models produced, in real-life was just a removable magnetic sign that was added to the lead loco. So don't panic if you come across a photo of a different numbered loco wearing the nose shield. I personally preferred the look of the locomotive without it.

Dubbed by many as the Aussie SD-40, the W.A.G.R. L Class was once the high horsepower king of Australia.

Like its prototype, the HO model looks huge. Based closely on the US SD-40 locomotive, the 27 L Class locomotives that were built between 1967 and 1973 for the West Australian Government Railways (W.A.G.R.), were easily the heaviest and most powerful locomotives being operated in Australia at the time. By 1997 they were being withdrawn by the W.A.G.R. and the ATN Access units that later operated in NSW between 2000 and 2007 were the result of a sale of some stored locomotives to Australian Transport Network, a company owned at the time by the USA's Wisconsin Central company. Apart from the initial variations of the government owned Westrail liveries, the locomotives also later sported a number of different paint variations under various new ownership, including Interail, Genesee & Wyoming's Australia Railroad Group (ARG), and Pacific National, (who later inherited the ATN Access locos following the sale of that company). There's a nice bit of a story behind the model that comes in the nicely presented booklet inside the box. The packaging and presentation of the model gets a big plus.

Southern Rail Models presentation booklet accompanying the L Class is to be commended.

The L Class model was first released back in October 2015, and has already been reviewed favourably in the pages of Australian Model Railway Magazine and even Model Railroader magazine over in The States, so naturally many of the liveries this model was released in have by now sold out. To be honest, I never really gave the model much thought when it first came out. Yes it was nice, but the pricing at the time was a huge deterrent, and at $375 Australian or $495 for the DCC sound equipped version, my thoughts are that this model still sits at the absolute ceiling limit for what most modellers are able to justify spending their hard earned dollars on. At the time there was also a limit as to what NSW modellers could run with it. The clincher for me was the special run-out prices being offered on the ATN Access locomotives at the Brisbane Model Train Show back in May. Ahead of the pre-order pricing ending on Southern Rail's matching ATN Access XGAY hoppers, I picked up my ATN Access loco cheaper than the pre-order prices being offered on the same model 2 years ago. In a world of lengthy pre-order waiting periods, it turned out to be a stroke of good luck in my favour!

ATN Access locomotive L270 waits patiently in Philden yard to collect its string of XGAY hoppers.

Every locomotive has to have a train to haul, be it in real-life or even model form. Australian Transport Network bought these stored locomotives for a grain contract with the Australian Wheat Board, and with a few exceptions during downturns in harvest where they were short-term hired out, the refurbished L Class locos were only ever seen hauling grain hoppers to port. Thankfully Southern Rail Models is producing the matching XGAY hoppers that were also owned by ATN Access. As in life, its a case of you can't have one without the other.

Philden will soon undergo a cosmetic change to incorporate a grain silo in the space between the gum tree and the red signal in the above photo. Surely that will bring to an end all that I can do with a 9 foot long bookshelf layout. So from that perspective, Southern Rail's L Class may very well be the last new locomotive to join my small fleet. Despite wanting to give this locomotive a 5 star score for so many reasons, I just couldn't bring myself to do so on account of the missing ladder rung and lever. While there will always be new models being announced by manufacturers everywhere, for me the L Class and XGAY hoppers were simply a case of the right price at the right time. Together they will make a great final addition to my layout. I'll feature a review on the XGAY grain hoppers when they arrive in the coming weeks.

Review Card: Southern Rail Models W.A.G.R. L Class locomotive

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Easily the most highly detailed plastic ready-to-run Australian HO scale locomotive I've come across. Almost to the point of perhaps having a little too much detail.

See also; Southern Rail Models Xplorer