Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stop, collaborate and listen


"Alright stop. Collaborate and listen...." so goes the opening lines of rapper Vanilla Ice's 1990 Number One hit song. What's this got to do with model trains you say? Well, a lot more than you first might think.

Depicting a time and place takes a lot more than just buying a model because it looks nice.

It's been 12 months since I cut the first piece of wood that forms the framework for the 6 foot bookshelf layout that now straddles my desk, and 25 years since I heard my parent's generation describe a then young Vanilla Ice as the second coming of Elvis. The song to this day still conjures up memories from the final years of my youth before tying the knot with my wife whom I shall sit down with later this year and begin planning where to travel to for our 25th wedding anniversary. And I can still sing the entire song almost word-for-word in the car when she's not around. Just as each and every model railroader has an era that they are drawn to, I discovered throughout the course of building this HO scale Australian model railway layout that there was a lot to like about Australia's trains in the 1990's.

Ice, Ice Baby is part of the soundtrack to an era where image and attitude began infiltrating even the tiniest of Australian towns. Kids wanted to be just like the other kids they watched on TV and anything new was the new cool. Looking back to 25 years ago, I even had hair like my hero MacGyver. Something this balding old fart still wishes he had. But my point is, the 1990's were the final era before the dawn of the internet, and trains were still controlled by the various state government entities in Australia. Looking back, a lot has changed. Especially when it comes to railways in this country.

I love this shot, simply because each element just seems to work together.

Although Philden started out as a well-planned, small but operational bookshelf layout, the era in which it was set was looser than the proverbial untied shoelace. Lured by the drastic improvement in the quality of Australian HO scale models, I purchased a Southern Rail Models 2 car Xplorer set, an On Track Models 82 class diesel and a set of Southern Rail Models NPRY/NPRF cement hoppers to fuel the initial excitement of my new foray into the world of all things New South Wales. But from there it all went horribly pear-shaped as I soon began chopping and changing different items of rolling stock in the hope of getting it right. This locomotive in that livery wasn't around with that locomotive in this livery. You get the picture. For a long time lone-wolf modeler, I quickly discovered the disadvantage of not being involved in a model train club. There is no-one to help you stop, collaborate and listen.

Who can ever forget the strain of Vanilla Ice rapping to Ice Ice Baby?

A quick plunge into the meaning of the lyrics of Ice Ice Baby, reveals a lot about the most recognizable line in this hit song. Stop, referred to the art of using samples from other people's work by starting and stopping them over and over again, (Vanilla Ice later had to settle out of court for using the strains of Queen's and David Bowie's song Under Pressure). Collaborate refers to the multiple contributors who worked on the composition. While listen is something that everyone should practice more often if they indeed want to get whatever it is they are working on to look right. Apply those meanings to building a model railway, and you'll soon see that there is a definite advantage to collaborating on a model railway layout as opposed to trying to figure it all out on your own. When it comes to paying premium prices for a premium locomotive or piece of rollingstock, a little help as to when each locomotive ran and in what particular paint schemes, goes a long, long way, and I tip my hat to the Australian model railway manufacturers who go to the extra trouble to provide some background information on what they are selling.

After 12 months of planning, constructing and detailing a relatively tiny bookshelf layout, I believe I almost have it right. And while I'm sure that the comical stop sign at the top of this post has been done before on a model train layout, I think it helped me to focus on what sentiment I was trying to portray on my own bookshelf layout. What I liked best about the 1990's, was the turning tide of modernity. In a decade that ushered in the internet, State Rail divided it's various operating interests into CountryLink, CityRail, Freight Rail and later Freightcorp. National Rail came using borrowed diesels still running around in brown and yellow tuscan livery, before marigold and grey took over, faded and then disappeared altogether in a sea of privatization. The famous Cardiff locomotive auction of 1994 saw many ageing NSWGR diesels sold to start-up private operators, and many of these locomotives would go on to change colours more often than a proverbial chameleon. It was a fun to watch battle of old versus new.

I'm sure in years to come, Australia's pre-Olympic and post-Olympic transport eras will be studied for their impact on society, in just the same way that the pre and post-internet period has left an impact on the way we live. For myself, I'm still fascinated by the trains that have survived this mega-transition period in Australia's history. My 82 class loco built in 1994/95 in its original Freight Rail livery lives on with Pacific National patches applied beneath the cab windows on my layout, just as it does in real life when purchased by Pacific National in 2002. My CountryLink Xplorer in its Mark I livery as delivered in 1993 continued in service in that same livery right up until they were repainted in 2008. My L7 liveried cement hoppers built between 1978 and 1987, in real life still soldier on, albeit in a much grubbier concrete stained appearance than they do on my layout. While some of the former NSWGR 442 class locomotives built between 1970/73 that were included in the Cardiff locomotive auctions of 1994, still earn their keep today. So an Auscision sound equipped 442 class model in the Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia (CFCLA) livery first introduced in 1998 would certainly not look out of place on my layout. Especially given that CFCLA often repainted these locomotives in the colours of various operators when placed on long term lease. And when it comes to expanding my layout to include a second deck later this year, the words City Rail and overhead wires may just point to the release of another new model being made available around October.

These 4 are an example of how everything I liked about the 1990's can co-exist at a later time. In this case, 2002 to 2008. So for someone who just wants to say they've got the feel of an era right, my various model trains all tell me that Philden exists in our not-so-distant past, shortly before the demise of Countrylink. I find modelling a particular time period is a bit like dusting off Ice Ice Baby at a wedding. Everyone loves to remember when, and everyone surprisingly knows the words. As far as the legacy that the 1990's left behind, the Nineties were cool. Ice cool baby. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to crank up the stereo.

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil