Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Signal Box Part One


I've purposefully held-off from building this NSW Signal Box kit despite having told everyone my bookshelf layout was finished. Regular readers of my blog would have noticed the vacant concrete slab in front of all the photos I've posted of busses pulling up beside Philden Station, and probably wondered why it was there.

The concrete slab for the signal box has stood vacant for almost 2 years.

Back when I was still constructing my layout, I purchased one of Walker Model's NSW small signal box kits, (the one based on Neath in the Hunter Valley), built the concrete slab to the dimensions of the model's base, and set it aside. All with good reason. Being a small layout I knew that one day the inevitable would occur, and I'd find myself sitting back, looking at the layout and ultimately becoming a little dissatisfied that it was now all finished. Well, that day did arrive, and rather than feeling disheartened that I still didn't have the room to expand, (or worse still tearing everything up and starting over), I took out the little signal box kit that I had set aside, and took my time enjoying working on something new.

The Walker Models NSW small signal box is a simple but rewarding laser-cut kit building.

The kit's inner shell glues together easily, and the outer laser-cut timber shell simply glues over the top.

In next to no time the building begins to take shape, although the stairs are a fiddly little item all on their own.

I next test-fit the stairs to ensure that everything aligned.

The instructions in the kit drew my attention to the roof pitch where the walls needed to be filed to the same angle as the roof-line. I simply used a sharp hobby knife to angle the top of the walls and also the roof pieces so they fitted perfectly.

After completing the basic shell of the building, it was time to consult my own photos to decide how I would finish the little signal box. Those who read my final Railway Reminiscing post on Neath over on my author blog, will appreciate that I wanted to try and capture the essence of what Neath Signal Box looks like today. I wanted a structure that would complement Philden Railway Station, rather than trying to model the signal box exactly. So the photo below served purely as a guide.

Neath Signal Box in the NSW Hunter Valley, as I photographed it on a visit in May 2016.

Look closely beyond the rundown appearance of the small stairway, and the first thing you notice is the metal security screens bolted over the windows. They have obviously done their job when it comes to stopping rocks being thrown through the glass windows. Also, the signal box door looks as though it had been replaced at some point. As it was nothing like the door that came supplied with the kit, I simply made a plain door using some 2 mm balsa wood. With my layout set between 2002 and 2005, I wanted to include these modern touches on a still existing remnant from the steam era.

I used some silver mesh ribbon glued to the inside of each window frame to get the desired look.

The ribbon was the same one that I used to construct the chain mesh fence along the cement plant siding, (see a between shows refresh for a recap). I cut and then glued each piece to the inside of the window frame for a neater appearance. The chain ribbon is see through and provided such a good effect, that I didn't bother fitting the clear window panes on the building.

I then put the finished security screen clad windows aside to paint the signal box and roof.

I next painted the building in matching colours to my photographs, of which the weatherboard colour also happened to be the matching shade of cream on my existing A-4 station. I used Tamiya XF-11 J.N. Green for the bottom brickwork and fascia boards, and a well watered down Senco Acrylic Off White for the signal box weatherboarding. The roof received a quick-and-easy treatment from my trusty silver paint pen, and when dry, it glued into position with a generous smear of craft glue.

The finished result looks pretty neat in broad daylight, and captures a lot of the feel from the prototype.

The silver bracket and square panel at the base were just leftover bits from my junk box.

I took the painted model outside to photograph it in broad daylight, although it does look a little out of place pressed against Caloundra's skyline instead of a small Hunter Valley town. More importantly, building the little signal box has breathed some fresh life back into my small layout.

Although I added some clutter to the building courtesy of some leftover bits from my junk box, the model is still far from finished. Next up I will add an LED light before installing the signal box beside Philden Station. To replicate the photo a little better, there is also some bright orange plastic safety barrier mesh and a white post and wire fence alongside the track to be added. While in the odd-shaped corner alcove of the building there is a twiggy frame of a dead bush clinging to the side of the signal box. They're both small details that will give the model a big dose of atmosphere. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

See also; Railway Station Part Six

Saturday, 26 August 2017

HO Vs. N Scale


I wanted to share with you my two latest model railway additions. Aren't they great? The thing is, I can't decide which locomotive I like more. And yes, they are two different scales from two very different locations.

On the left is an Australian HO scale L class loco in the stunning ATN Access livery by Southern Rail Models. The loco is a former West Australian Government Railways loco based on the U.S. SD45 model and the livery is that of parent company Wisconsin Central. ATN Access operated briefly in the east of Australia from 2002 to 2006 before being sold to Pacific National.

On the right is an N scale Santa Fe GP60M locomotive from across the Pacific in the U.S. of A and made by Fox Valley Models. It features the classic warbonnet livery first made famous in 1937 at the height of the Streamliner-era and later re-introduced on Santa Fe's diesel fleet in the mid 1980's. Some examples of this livery post BNSF merger can still be found today.

For a model railroader, choice of what we choose to model and on what scale often comes down to one thing; the space we have available to work with!

Plans for a 2 foot by 5 foot layout will sit nicely beneath my 1 foot by 6 foot modelled portion of my bookshelf layout.

Readers would probably remember my decision to can-the-plan for my upper level extension back in March this year. Compromising the layout design to end up with a plan I didn't really like was at first disheartening. But after enjoying exhibiting Philden at two shows this year, I decided to put any expansion plans for my HO scale bookshelf layout on hold for the moment, and instead look at what I could do beneath my small layout.

Using N scale and working with a 10 and 1/2" inch radius for the layout's design, I came up with a 2' x 5' foot elongated oval plan that incorporates a passing loop, lead track and key siding capable of holding 4 cars for a major industrial tenant on the layout. The layout will replace the desk that currently sits beneath Philden, with 1 foot of the layout tucked beneath my bookshelf layout and still visible, and 1 foot jutting out in front of it which still shouldn't obtrude on operating my HO scale layout. With N scale being roughly half the size in terms of operating space required, a HO scale equivalent would be a 4' x 10' foot layout, something which I just don't have the room for.

My desk will soon disappear, to be replaced by an N scale layout beneath it.

Using a 10 and 1/2" inch radius curve isn't ideal for those wanting to run larger locomotives such as SD70MAC's or Challenger steam locomotives. So after months of researching different railroads, eras and studying track plans, I settled on the Santa Fe Railroad, set in the mid 1980's. Not only did it offer two distinct and well recognised liveries between the silver and blue warbonnet schemes, but they also used an interesting variety of 4 axle locomotives, including the wide cab GP60M shown above. Comparing the retail prices of HO and N scale locomotives, N scale is by far the more affordable option, with the Fox Valley Models GP60M loco brand new costing $179 Australian Dollars, while the Southern Rail Models L Class retails for $375 Australian Dollars. Talking price now instead of size, once more N scale comes in about half that of HO.

The Eighties also bring back a flood of memories from many of my favourite TV shows that were all filmed in California. Shows like CHiPs, Knight Rider, The A-Team, MacGyver, and even ALF. And if we're talking movies, then you can't go past Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Beverley Hills Cop and the Back to the Future movies to know that I've picked an awesome era to model. From my apartment high in Caloundra, my desk overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and somewhere over the horizon on the other side of the Pacific, all those memories come floating back in the form of the silver warbonnet GP60M I've photographed above.

Modelling the Santa Fe in N scale becomes all the more interesting given that the Surfline between Los Angeles and San Diego has some stunning parallel running with the Pacific Ocean. When it comes to the beach lifestyle and palm tress, there's a lot that Australians and Californians share in common. Returning to N scale isn't really a problem given that Philden is the first HO scale layout I have constructed. Prior to that, I'd spent the previous 25 years having fun building N scale layouts, you may remember my post on my past layouts from October 2016.

That's me back in 2005 at the Union Pacific Model Railroad Club Show in Brisbane. Where did all that hair go!

Stepping back into N is also a little like stepping back in time, albeit, minus the hair I once had! Last weekend I made the trek south to Brisbane to visit Austral Modelcraft, to what was once my local model train shop when I lived in Brisbane. Rest assured, Ray and Eileen Nunn were still there, and the place pretty much looked like I remembered it from a decade ago. Back when I was a regular at their store, it was pretty much a case of me buying anything C&NW that arrived. My double tracked layout had 9 and 1/4" inch radius on the inside curve, and 10 3/4" inch on the outside rails. I ran C44-9CW six axles locos on the outside line without any problems, so a 10 1/2" radius on my new layout won't be an issue at all when running four axle Santa Fe locomotives. It was a great little layout, and stayed with me for the best part of a decade until we downsized to a smaller apartment. I have a lot of memories of that layout involving my kids climbing up on their little blue plastic chairs when they were young to watch the trains pass by at nose-level. Now my kids are both grown and I find myself wishing I could re-live some of those memories again.

Perhaps the nostalgia in building a new 1980's N scale Santa Fe surfline layout extends to those memories as well. Maybe it is imagining what lies over on the other side of the Pacific Ocean when gazing out our apartment window. Or maybe it is just the memory of MacGyver. Or a little bit of each. One thing is for sure; given the space and budget I have available to work with, I've picked a great little time and place to model.

As for Philden's HO scale plans? The L class is currently awaiting the arrival of Southern Rail Models XGAY hoppers before I convert an existing siding into the junction for a wheat line leading to a distant wheat silo that will be visible on the backdrop in the corner of the layout. After my N scale desk is completed, I'll once more be drawing up plans to extend Philden. Only this time it will be in the form of an L-shaped extension with, you guessed it, a large wheat silo to operate. When it comes to modelling in different scales, some may argue its a case of different strokes for different folks. I think its more a case of two layouts is double the fun of one!

See also; Those Uh-Oh Moments and Remembering my past layouts

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The BIG blog refresh


It's no secret that building a good model train blog takes a lot of time. More time in fact than building the model train layout you're blogging about in the first place. With the same amount of time as I have invested in this blog over the past 3 years, I could have easily built my layout 10 times over! And of course, maintaining a blog should be no different to maintaining a layout. Just as you dedicate time to cleaning your track, vacuuming and general maintenance, you need to put a little time towards keeping your blog running smoothly. And that goes a lot deeper than just making a great new banner such as the one I've shown above.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed a large decrease in the amount of visitors to their blog since May 2017. It was around that time that Google once more changed their search algorithm for all things Googly. Since that time, online visitors to Philden dropped from around 700+ unique visitors per day, to between 200 to 300 unique visitors per day. So to get my head around what-in-the-world was going on, I tried a 14 day free trial of some SEO software from WebCeo and ran a search of my site to see what was happening behind the scenes on phildenmodelrailway.

I was surprised to learn that there were 210 errors across my entire blog. And that was just on the first scan!

A lot had to do with the roll-out of Google's https:// prefix preceding each blog address. The 's' now denotes that the site is served over a secure connection, and a lot of my errors that came back in my report related to the 3rd party software and apps that I had pasted in the right hand column of my blog. So all those cool looking flag counters, add-on gizmos and links to 3rd party websites that I thought were benefiting my blog were actually harming its' search rankings. So you'll notice that all such gizmos are now gone.

In the bigger picture of things, the errors had more to do with changes to the SEO (or search engine optimisation) of the keywords that makes a site searchable in the first place. One of these changes involves limiting the number of keywords each site, page or blog post uses to help determine if a site comes back as relevant in an online search. Apparently this is now limited to 165 characters including spaces. Every single one of my posts exceeded this by about 100 words, or roughly 600 characters, meaning that each page in question, or even an entire blog, can be omitted from a Google search as being potential spam. Fixing them all up to keep the keywords below 165 characters is still proving a mammoth task, but bit-by-bit I am revising them one post at a time.

Another major area of concern involved the amount of links I had listed on any one particular page. Pages with over 100 outbound links are automatically excluded from Google's search results as being potential spam. Think 100 is a lot? Think again, it also includes the all links in your side column as these are also being displayed at the same time. My Railway Reminiscing page had exactly 100 links to the articles over on my author page at phillipoverton.blogspot.com.au and my Top Links page had also nudged over 100 links to suppliers websites and other modeller's blogs. The only way around this problem was to combine these two pages into one, and delete a lot of links.

While combining these two pages into what is now Philden's Top Links, I used a graphic design suite to create the following cool new blog logos to finish giving my blog a whole new look. Once uploaded, I ran the WebCEO search on my blog again, and still got a swathe of errors come back in the report.

 
 

Ignoring the issues with the 165 characters or less keywords that I am still working through, the next big surprise came with the quality of the links I had included to other modellers' blogs and suppliers' websites. I thought I was doing everyone a favour by including them, and in the process building this blog's presence on the web. Turns out I was wrong!

As well as detecting a number of broken links to pages, blogs and websites that no longer existed, the report went as far as timing the response of each blog or website I had linked to. If the response time is more than 25 seconds, the site can issue things such as a 404 Error/website not found. It doesn't necessarily mean that the website address does not exist, just that the server has compacted it far to the back of their server due to either the lack of traffic that the site is drawing, or the amount of time that has expired since it was last updated. The problem with this is, you guessed it, this also impacts as a negative score against the search-ability of my own blog.

Deleting the large number of broken and 404 Error websites was pretty straightforward. After double-checking to see if each link worked, I simply deleted the ones that didn't. Despite the time people put into building a blog or website for their model railroad, some modellers choose to delete it once their project has finished and they've moved onto a new layout. Likewise, some suppliers will either delete or archive pages once a model has sold out. The new links may work from their website, but for me to keep track of where each link has moved to becomes a bit of a nightmare. I chose to remove all of the supplier links from this blog, simply to keep this as an extension of my hobby instead of it turning into a full-time job. Finally, I checked to see if the links I had included to other model railroader's blogs or websites were still relevant. Some had not been updated since 2012. That's five years ago. Chances are they are no longer modelling, or at least would not notice that I had removed the link to their site. In the end I settled on 30 layouts that were a huge influence on me whilst building Philden. To visitors new to this site, going around the world in 30 layouts pretty much provides you with a list of 30 layouts to view over 30 days.

There were other suggestions that came back too, such as adding ALT attributes to all my photos. There's over 590 of them, so I passed on that one. I did run the WebCEO report one final time before the 14 day trial ended, and thankfully the major errors were gone. There are still a few posts remaining for me to shorten the description to 165 characters or less, but already the site optimisation score has jumped from 35% to 57% and the amount of pages in Google's search index has increased by 13%. Better still, there are no other errors.

Whether the amount of visitors to this site increases over the next 30 days remains to be seen, but as my layout moves towards being finished, it's nice to have all this blog maintenance nonsense out of the way. Now I can get back to some modelling.

Philden's next outing will be on the Gold Coast on 28-29th October, 2017. By then I will have added a few new Australian models to my small collection and be ready to start building the small modification to my layout's yard. These are all things I will continue to blog about over the coming 12 months. Following that I'll be drawing up plans for Philden Stage 2, to turn my layout into the double-sided L-shaped layout I'd originally dreamed of after studying Keith Jordan's The Patch layout in the 2012 edition of Great Model Railroads. Don't know what I'm talking about? Well, it was the first link I added back in May 2015 when I started this blog, and first on the list for Around the World in 30 Layouts. You'll find it over on Philden's Top Links.

Aside from friends, family and club members who may regularly check out your blog, giving your blog a refresh every once in a while is important if you want to keep attracting readers who just go surfing the net for model train sites. Not only does it keep your site looking fresh, you'll also uncover any potential problems. And since a blog is really just your way of sharing what you do, in whatever manner you choose to do it, there should be no rules other than trying not to offend anyone. It's a hobby, and hobbies are supposed to be fun. So in that spirit I've added Philden's YouTube Roundup to my Top Links page. Its just another way that I manage to make this hobby bigger than a small layout.

See also: Railway Modelling Vrs. Blogging