15 August 2022


This coming Friday marks two years since trains started shuffling along the first baseboard of my model railway. Stage 1 of the build involved a 9m x 3m loop, plus a 25m branch line.  It took an entire year to get that first stage up and running semi-satisfactorily.

There is always stuff in your head about how things will work once the track and electrics are down and dusted.  As I will be operating the layout solo for 99% of the time I always figured on dispatching one train around the loop, then shunting up another ready for dispatch once the 'looped' train re-emerged.  It sorted of worked in reality, but most of the time I found myself stopping the looped train so I could catch up.

Although the 'train shed' is really a 'farm shed' and needs to be used as such, I couldn't help noticing the lovely empty walls around the remainder of the shed.  So Stage 2 of the build has taken almost another year but those lovely walls are now less bald.  A shelf layout circles around the other two thirds of the shed (call it my Covid lock down project), and then into some storage yards.

It is a bit indulgent but now I have five to eight minutes of 'me time' after I dispatch a train onto the Big Loop.  I can get coffee, make a call, text a friend and just, just remarshal the next train for dispatch. One day in the future, if I want to be real fancy, separate trains can go out on the Little Loop and the Big Loop.  Not sure I am up for that just yet, though. 

I still have a ton of work to complete Stage 2 - sidings, electrics and even some baseboard improvements.  That is before the scenicing. But, a little before 3pm today, five days before the second anniversary of the layout, 4701 hauled a short passenger service around the Big Loop. It is seen here shortly thereafter, still looking a little dusty after being caught in the locus of the exhaust of my table saw several weeks back.

As I said nearly two years ago, this is no big matter in the scheme of things.  But it is a hell of a big day in my next of the woods.  The family may even get Chinese takeaway to celebrate this milestone.


26 June 2022

1962 NSW Railways Western Working Timetable Part 1

There are many fabulous primary and secondary historical resources available for people interested in NSW railways. Working Time-Tables (WTTs), issued by the Railways to their staff, usually give a unique insight into operations as the Railways staff were obliged to update the information within their the pages in order to have a contemporary view of the rules applying to their jobs.

I am extremely fortunate to have a copy of the West WTT issued initially on 16 April 1962.  While its cover suggests a nondescript publication, I have found valuable information about railway operations on virtually every page.

There is no indication who owned this copy of the WTT or what their role was.  I can only surmise that they were likely a signalman based between Lithgow and Dubbo as the greatest attention has been paid to maintaining the currency of the information in that part of the publication.  Here is just one example showing the person's labours.

Anyway, it is a sunny Sunday afternoon and I find the best way to pass these sorts of days is to snooze through some railway timetables.  If you would like to read along, or download these photos for your later perusal, here are the pages applying to train workings between Sydney and Lithgow, including light engine workings at the rear.   I just love how the paybus workings have close attention!

I will also put these pages up on my Flickr site - Don5617. In due course I will post other examples of workings across the NSW Railways Western Division.



01 May 2022

And then this comes along

I count myself as one of the lucky few... about 37 years ago a Trax 12 class locomotive arrived courtesy of the parents for a very significant birthday.  Since then, I have lovingly nursed the 12 along, always concerned that I would overburden its tiny motor or bend its fragile frame. 

It goes without saying that I think watching any class of steam locomotive move is a special thing, it terms of technology, physics and the sheer aesthetics. But there is something very special about a 12 class in flight - prototype or model.  I think it has something to do with the large driving wheels, the location of the rods and the high running board.  They make movement look effortless. 

And then there is the tender. Beauty is a Baldwin tender. Recently I have been swiping the 12's Baldwin tender, to couple it to 'lesser brass' - a Bergs 30T that I spent most of my teenage years saving up for. I never saw it in real life but a 30T with slide bar covers and a Baldwin tender looks mighty fine.

Even more recently I have been just captivated by the Casula 19 class locos. But after going through the great divestment of locos which did not run through Dubbo regularly between 1955 and 1975 (the Harman coal stage era as I like to refer to it), I have not succumbed to the temptation of a 19 shunting Dubbo.  The last 19 class on the Dubbo depot allocation (1955) left in 1938. 

But then this happened.... 

It has been cold and rainy and windy and I had to do a RAT this weekend, but I haven't stopped smiling. Even when I reflect that I am going to be a poor man for many more years. 

12 classes were a staple on the Coonamble Mail until replaced by 30Ts in 1954. In their last years, especially when there was a bit of holiday loading, the Mail was even double headed by 12 classes. 

If any of my few readers that aren't computer bots engaged in the invasion of the Ukraine are reading, please please sign up to make this next offering from Casula Hobbies a reality. Lets make this a popular movement!  And I am just waiting a more skilled 3D printer than I to do the conversion kit for the 12 to make it a 14 class. 

And yes, 'my' running era is now 1950 - 1975.

09 April 2022

One word - Plastics! Or how I learnt something new for once...

While not a lot is happening on the old Plywood Central, great progress has been made since Christmas in what I would like to call my "associated works".  Readers may recall my February lament where I noted that 62% of my locomotives never ran around the central west of NSW in the time period I am modelling.  Thanks to a whole bunch of Fleabaying, I am now in the happier position of having 76% of my locomotives within the time frame.  The Great Asset Reycling Program of 2022 is now complete, which will mean wholesale redundancies at eBay and a lot more photographs of P classes eventually.

I won't bore you with what has left the roster, or what has joined it.  However, I do want to note just how lucky we are to have businesses like Casula Hobbies, Auscision, SDS, IDR, Ixion, On-Track Models, Ezi-Kits, SJM, Eureka, Walker Models and the like around. The retailers are pretty damned snappy good too - Casula (again, surely these plugs will get me a discount), Australian Modeller and Trainworld get the gear into the mail within 24 hours of ordering.  Add the now gone Austrains and the now less prolific Trainorama and we NSWers are one lucky bunch. with what has been around recently, what is now available and what is planned, I feel like we are on the cusp of a golden age - particularly for those of us on the 'plonker' side of the hobby.  

It has not all been up the pointy end of trains too. You just can't model Dubbo without thinking TRCs full of lovely cutlets and steaks.  Flogging some Victorian diesels meant that I could invest in the very impressive On Track Models TRCs.  Here is one of my new favourite trains.  I had been hoping for a 30T but on this day in 1970 it is 4913 doing the honours on a short trippy to the Country Killing Works at Troy Junction.

So, onto Plastics!

While the manufacturers and retailers are doing a great job on the rollingstock side, it is depressing to add up what I need to spend on lineside structures and the like to get things looking okay.  Just simple things, like buffers, start at $12.50 as a kit posted and go upwards if you want fancier jobs.  I am not arguing that we are being gouged - manufacturers and retailers should charge what they need to.  It is my fault for modelling somewhere that needs 30+ buffers - so a minimum of $350 of kits.  Yes I could build them myself which would take hours and not give me a great deal of satisfaction once I passed the awe of making the first couple (look up the law of diminishing marginal returns).  Or could I teach myself something new?

So this is how I ended up with one of these things....

Yes, I am now a 3D printer. Novice level.

I did a little research about 3D printing before I took the leap.  There seems to be a couple of options for entry-level non-computer literate types like myself. There are 'dunkers' - resin printers which produce fabulous, detailed models but are a bit tricky to calibrate, clean and manage - and a bit smelly.  And there are spitters - filament printers which heat up 'plastic' tubing. These produce less detailed models, are slower and produce huge amounts of waste, but are cheaper.

So I went real cheap - the Aldi special. But maybe not so.  What Aldi has as a $500 special actually is a rebadged printer which retails for nearly twice that at our favourite national electronics retailer, Jaycar.  I like to think of that as value.

I also went filament because, like Sol's mate says, plastics ain't plastics. I am using PLA, which stands for Polylactic Acid Filament. Apparently, it is a plastic material prepared from vegetables, especially cornstarch - that is, it is both biodegradable and renewable. I haven't started sprinkling it on my weeties just yet, but maybe it is not as bad as some other plastics.  I guess the test will be if the numerous mice, rates and possums out this way start nibbling my prints I will know its tasty.

The big thing I have learnt is that you don't just learn 3D printing. There are three things you need to learn.

First, you need to design in 3D.  I skipped this first step initially because there is a wonderful website called Thingyverse, where wonderful people create and upload designs for you to use for free (you can tip them).  And mostly, they also encourage you to play with their designs.   

In this Thingyverse community there is a lovely man who goes by the name Badgerbreath who has generously uploaded a whole bunch of terrific NSWGR structures. Mr Badgerbreath has made learning 3D printing an exercise in progress, rather an an exercise in just learning.  Yes, I could have been learning by printing off the 4th Troll of Upper Middle Earth, but I pay more attention when learning how to print a NSWGR C1 Toilet/Lamproom.  In other words, Mr Badgerbreath, aka David Virgo, has made my entry into 3D modelling interesting and productive, which brings me to the second thing I needed to learn - setting up the print.

Setting up the print is usually done on a free software program which comes with your 3D printer. In my case it is Flashprint 5. In my first few prints I literally took something from Thingyverse, plonked it on the Flashprint table and hit print. The result was something okay but usually welded to the printer's pad.  I would then wrestle to extract the model, with varying levels of damage to the model and myself (I stabbed myself with a knife on one occasion).  Then slowly I started to understand about positioning and supports, which resulted in prints which came away from the pad easily and without damage.

There are many model railway designers on Thingyverse, and some design in unhelpful scales like O gauge and N gauge.  Flashprint has a neat scaling tool which brings everything back to where it should be - HO scale! 

The third thing I needed to learn was how to run the 3D printer.  This was the easiest part - feeding in the PLA, hooking it up to the WiFi, keeping things tidying around it (printing is a messy business).

These lessons got me to a point where I could happily produce a lot of other people's stuff, paint it up and get on with life.  The following photo shows just how much fun you can have in about 2 hours with red PLA - oil drums for an S wagon, a water tank and a small NSW signal box.  Total cost of this fun (not including the printer - about $2.00 including electricity).

The best thing about the Covid pandemic for me has been working from home.  Instead of sitting in a crappy office trying not to look bored, I can sit at home working, maybe watching Cajon Pass on Virtual Railfan in the background while having the little printer humming away in the background.  I see that as me being three times as productive as I was pre-pandemic.

But back to building the railway.  Based on current kit and RTR prices, there is $5,000+ worth of stuff I would like to build to go alongside the tracks.  3D printing is my way out, firstly thanks to people like David Virgo and secondly, now thanks to free software like Tinkercad. Tinkercad, which is a software program especially designed to get kids into 3D design, is my sort of software. Dead easy to use and fairly intuitive, and comes with 9 million Youtube lessons.

So, thanks to Tinkercad, last night I became a 3D designer.  It took about 2 hours of my time, including the printing, but the shell and the base of a standard 20 x 10 foot NSWGR building now exists. Doors and windows will come from Thingyverse, and I need to construct a decent roof and reprint the shell with greater detail, including weatherboards. But once I am happy with it, it will be going up on Thingyverse for the next novice 3Der to have a go with.  

And hot off the presses, in the time it has taken to type up this very long blog entry, I have printed off two ash pit buffers - which are a David Virgo design which I have modified a bit. Total cost, about a $1.10. 

So, although it is very early days, I can thoroughly recommend having a crack at 3D printing.  The NSWGR 3D modelling group on Facebook has a wealth of good stuff to read and nice people who help you get over those initial issues we all seem to have.

Hope this lengthy scribble helps at least someone trot down this path.



14 March 2022

Bathurst Rail Museum

Not quite as far west as I like but geez, what a display!  Popped in yesterday and took a few hurried shots.  Will definitely be going back!


03 February 2022

3 lessons for your blogger

School has finally gone back here and it has been a fair while since I have bamboozled everyone with prose and charts so lets get into it...

I mentioned a while ago that I had started Fleabaying the locos I was even less likely to use, now that I had a layout emerging from plywood which centred on Dubbo in the 1960s.  I should acknowledge here that I think so much of the 1960s that I started them in 1958 and end them in 1975.

Over Christmas I took a hard look what is in my 'loco cupboard'. A quick count showed that only 38% of the locos in the cupboard ran regularly through Dubbo during my selected time period.  Of course, I intend keeping a range of locos from outside this period and location because (a) I like them (b) they were gifts or (c) I bought them because I got a new job (the first pay cheque usually went to a loco and a bottle of wine, to help with depression I get when starting new jobs).

My problem was not with steam locos - 83% of my steamers ran to/through Dubbo. But only 34% of my diesels fit the period. And only 44% of my rail motors or railcars called Dubbo home during this modelling period.

Things are better, in relative terms for non-powered rolling stock.  About 59% of my carriage fleet and 72% of my wagons fit the period.

This reflection led to a rather expensive list of 'needs' - items which others might rationally call 'wants' but in my case, are 'needs' because they are nearly essential to life for me.  The obvious candidates are 32s, 50s and 53s, and lots of them.  Then lots more bogie rollingstock too, and airconditioned railcars.  All possible, but really expensive.  So, these needs are what really initiated the great Asset Recycling Program of 2022!

Twin problems emerged - what to invest in, and what to divest in order to have the funds to reinvest.  Here's how I went about it and three lessons I think I have learned.

Thanks to a Railways Quiz booklet from about 1960 I discovered that the NSW Department of Railways owned about 1,000 locos, 3,000 passenger carriages and 25,000 items of goods rollingstock.  

Applying this ratio, I need 25 goods wagons for every loco I own! So I looked at proportions instead. This next graph shows four columns, starting on the left with the 1960 NSW Railways fleet of locos, carriages and wagons. The middle two columns show the same proportions for my entire model collection and that part that is associated with Dubbo in the last dozen years of steam. The right hand column gives me a target of what could reflect realistic operations - I now have a reasonable idea of how much more 'stuff' I need to collect before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

So, first lesson learnt.  Focus less on the noisy end of trains. But before I do, the next two charts helped me focus on what needs to be on the shopping list. They both look at the proportion of locos classes 'out west'.  

I decided to count the loco depot allocations for Bathurst, Orange, Parkes, Dubbo and Nyngan, as these were the depots feeding the majority of Dubbo-bound trains. Cowra and Mudgee were excluded as they are too distant from Dubbo.  I excluded Werris Creek on the basis that I couldn't separate what trains it sent across the Cross-Country Line, but I suspect it only exacerbates the need for standard goods locos. 

These lists are not perfect reflections because they are point in time - western depots could double in size in a good wheat season.  Other locos snuck in regularly - 36s and 38s worked the mails but were not allocated to these five depots for most of the period.

Don't strain your eyes to get the details - the overarching lesson (No. 2) is to boost the number of 32 and 53 class locos on the roster. A Garratt currently on loan may not be returning to its owner too!

A slightly better outcome has been achieved for the diesel fleet, particularly for the latter half of the decade. I suspect a couple more 45 class locos may be in scope (Lesson No. 3).

Next step for me is to go digging for lists of carriage and wagon rolling stock, then perform a similar exercise.  If you don't unsubscribe now, you could be in for another installment!  

If nothing else, I hope this gives you a another way to look at your loco cupboard.



21 January 2022

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? No, it’s a loco boiler.

I have been dreading a certain bit of modelling. One distinctive piece of railway infrastructure at Dubbo was the sand tower. It was distinctive due to its height- being the second highest structure in the yard (and probably the city too). Here is a snap from the 1980s.

Thanks to a good mate on the south coast, I happen to have a plan of the tower. The sand container is 24 feet - 7.3 metres.  And it was hoisted 7.7 metres in the air. Yep, 50 feet is a long way up in the air in Dubbo.

The first thing you notice about the plan is that it isn't what got built.  But, with the Railways we all know plans were just to give you the vibe of things.  But I digress...

The sand tower was also distinctive because it was the only time a 57 class worked in Dubbo. To clarify, the sand drum was a condemned 57 class boiler, as noted on the plans.

The tower was also distinctive because it walked. Well, it moved, at least once that we know of. During the steam era it was located to the east of the loco shed, adjacent to the coaling tower. Once diesels needed sand, it the tower walked west to the other end of the shed.

I had resigned myself to not modelling the sand tower because I can’t afford to cut up a brass 57 class. And no one I asked would let me cut theirs up either. But yesterday something weird happened.

I was browsing a Canberra op shop, and did my usual ‘got any toy trains?’ line. In response the lady said ‘we have crates of them out the back’. Oh happy days! I was imagining Lassiter’s treasure trove, with Model Dockyard garratts and Trax 12s and good stuff. I was mildly disappointed therefore to find boxes of plastic British locos, molded to the rails. Yep, the collection of models which came with one of those overpriced magazine subscriptions.

I needed to hide my disappointment and, more importantly, I needed to buy at least one as an act of charity. Then my cunning plan hatched! While none of them looked like a 57, the 1918 Churchward 2800 class looked most like a 57 class.

Well, it sort of did look like a 57 class loco if you screwed up your eyes and pretended the lights were down low. So, No. 2861 became my boiler donor.  Remember, its the vibe!

Today I did some hacking and it may sort of work out okay, sort of, just perhaps. Well, there needs to be some filling and painting and weathering and a support tower need to be built, but or a dark rainy night it may just pass for something like the real thing. Here’s a sneak peak - just a location shot of the half finished water tank next to the half finished loco shed, with the not-quite finished coal stage in the distance, and the boiler sitting on a drill set (obscured).

But really, the sand tower is meant to be a thing in the background, which fixes the location as Dubbo. Here's a snap taken of 3649 hanging out of the western end of Dubbo shed in the mid-1960s (maybe as late as 1967). This is the typical shot I have of the sand tower in its original position - just hanging around as a blob in the background.

So, in that vein, here’s a shot of a hot day in Dubbo in the mid-1970s, where the near-new 4701 has been commandeered to work a trippy from Talbragar ballast siding (editor’s note: the IDR ballast wagons are simply gorgeous). The heat haze and the diesel fumes make it difficult to see the sand tower and coal stage as anything more than a blur.

See you in February!