27 November 2023

A story about Those Days

This one is a bit of a blast from the past.  For much of his life, Dad was never much of a fan of non-Australian model railways.  It therefore came as a bit of a surprise to recently find two 1966-vintage Railway Modeller magazines in his collection.

I initially thought that the magazines had been purchased for the following advertisement, which was as close as he was ever going to get to a model of a Garratt.

After reading both issues, it became clear that he had purchased them for another reason - Cliff Young's Denver and Rio Grande Western layout of the month (no, not the shuffling Cliff Young).

Mr Young's dream of Colorado railroading had inspired him to create the following spaghetti junction model railway, which is fair enough if you want lots of practice in laying curved track. 

I studied Mr Young's dream for a while before realising that Dad had used this layout as a basis for his dream too - which was crammed into half of a very small double garage.  Dad apparently shared Mr Young's love of curved track, but also harboured an affection for steep (3+%) inclines.  It resulted in a second loop being built over the top of Mr Young's base layout, creating a triple dogbone affair. The Mount Pleasant Railway was not just Dad's dream but a real thing - registered layout Number 58 no less! (Yep, found this certificate too!).

Over the years this layout became known as "the first layout" even though Dad had built at least three beforehand.  It was the layout that I grew up with.  I learned to drive Triang Bo-Bo diesels which had been painted into NSWGR 44 classes by Mum at a scale 160mph on front of five Triang carriages, repainted into Southern Aurora silver. Another Triang 4-6-0, repainted into 3522, dragged whatever Austral card and Freidmont epoxy wagons I could gather.

Friday nights were always a bit special as Dad would sometimes carefully place his Model Dockyard 38 class onto the head of the Aurora, or even a freighter.  I never got a crack at the throttle on those nights, as Dad's father or his two brothers would be in attendance.  Seniority ruled on the Mount Pleasant Railway!

Later, Lima 44s and carriages, Protype kits, Workshop 5 carriages started to augment the MRC/Freidmont range.  A Bergs 32 appeared, followed by a standard goods in the early 1970s. Around that time I even got my own branchline.  I suspect this was to save wear and tear on Dad's rolling stock but I spent hours with my own Rivarossi Dockyard 0-4-0 shunter pulling two Northern Pacific carriages up and down that branchline, along with a couple of secondhand Fleischmann wagons which Santa delivered.    

The photos we have of that layout do not do it justice, for all of its design faults. Apart from the family nights, we had regular visits by the Illawarra Model Railway Association. On these nights I would be allowed to stay up past my bedtime to work the points at the hard to reach parts of the layout) as there were several popups.  I performed my duties under the gaze of 30 to 40 men, all seemingly smoking and laughing and all now dead from some form of cancer or another (the garage's one small window, painted shut, probably contributed to their demise). It was the place to be in 1973!

Enough chatter - here's a snap of the main (Central) station.  A Lima 3830 sits at the head of a Workshop 5 mail train, a Freidmont CUB set is in platform 2 while a Workshop 5 41 class is the yard shunter. Dad didn't believe in ballasting in those days.  

The northern yard (Denver) had a decent loco depot.  I post the following bird's eye view of it with the notation that it held our entire roster of locos - every damn one of them. Still no ballast in sight too!

The coolest part of the layout didn't involve trains but a certain fast food chain.  This is as close as I ever got to entering KFC as Dad considered such palaces as fripperies.  Mr Young would have been proud of the mountain overshadowing the Colonel's outlet. Very un-Australian.   

Around 1974/75, the local newspaper - the Illawarra Daily Mercury incorporating the South Coast Times - sent a photographer along one day to cover weird hobbies (only joking, an upcoming model railway exhibition at the local Police Boys Club).   While it needed none, to add appeal to the story the girlfriend of a certain well-known Illawarra modeller and member of the RTM was coerced into appearing in the article.  Sorry, I don't remember her name, but I do remember she didn't get into trouble for holding the models the way I had been taught not to touch them.

The exhibition was a raging success and I became king of the neighbourhood.  Over the next three months I think I hosted every boy under the age of 13 in a five-mile radius after that article appeared. 

Anyway, its owner tired of the inaccessible mountain passes and sharp curves so this layout was stretchered out of the garage in the late 1970s.  Before it went we didn't even take some farewell photos which is a shame as it owed us absolutely nothing.



22 October 2023

Really Uglies

When I was a kid, Dad would entertain me in those long hours put in waiting for trains which never ran by making up wagon codes.  For example, BWH was Bloody Wheat Hopper.  BCHs were Bloody Cheap Hoppers, WHs were Wobbly Hoppers. An FS carriage was Fairly Slow, but a ride on a BS carriage was Bloody Slow. RU wagons were just Real Uglies.  But this one is not.  It is the future.

This week a little parcel arrived containing a 3D printed RU.  I was skeptical about whether a 3D print could achieve the level of detail needed to resemble a RU, given its angular form. But the person responsible - Shaun Davies - has nailed it in my opinion.  Here is the wagon straight out of the bag, just sitting on a couple of wheel sets (i.e. after one minute of work).

With only a few free moments this weekend, I hit the wagon with a coat of spray-can undercoat, then another of Monument.  Disaster struck when I realised I didn't have RU decals, so I went for a temporary fix - UL (ULs were RUs recoded in 1967 to carry limestone from memory) and I model 1968 so the day was saved. I also went for a fictional wagon number, just to get the thing running. Finished off with a quick Dullcote and some couplings, and it is now running around the layout - as happily as any model and far more obediently than the prototype.  Here it is with a first run Trainorama RU on the left (black) and the later run version on the right).

RUs are like trees - a forest of them look more impressive than a single instance.  IMHO this print more than holds its own against the ready to run versions.  So, now to a quick product review....

I have already blogged enthusiastically about the future of the hobby in a 3D world.  It is a cleaner, more efficient and less wasteful way of manufacturing.  And I think I have written about my unease at having unskilled labour sitting at tables in factories, day after day, pushing tiny bits of plastic onto small bits of plastic.  3D reduces some of that form of manufacturing. These are pluses for the product in my view.

As to the model, the detail is crisp, there is nothing to file or sand, and the wagon lines up well against the Greg Edwards Datasheet dimensions.  Minimal work is required to get the wagon running - just removal of a small amount of flashing on the undercarriage, painting, decalling, wheels (24.7mm axles recommended) and couplers. The steps and rungs are thicker than the Trainorama versions, but this makes them more apparent and, importantly, robust. At $20 a wagon plus postage through eBay, this is value for money.

If you are interested, you can contact Shaun through eBay (search for shaun8998).  He has a range of HO and N gauge models on his site from time to time, including an S wagon and a CHG van.

So, I reckon Dad may have gone for Ugly but Lovely as a UL code.  Even though I am trying to thin the collection, I can't see myself stopping at just one of these.



10 October 2023

Bucket list tick

 It has been a beautiful spring down this way.  Great weather for being in the shed as the local snakes frolic in the nearby paddocks.  I have put hours into the most mundane of purposes - ripping up track, relaying the roadbed, painting rails and sleepers and ballasting. Slow and tedious work, but necessary.  But I have been playing with something else.

The world as a five-year-old is full of wonder, as was mine the day around Easter 1968 when we drove into Dubbo to see, for the first time, 3028T and 3144T resplendent in their new liveries of royal blue and mid-green, respectively.  I only got to see both locos a few times, but 3144T was my favourite as it was painted in green with red lining, the colours of the mighty South Sydney rugby league football club (yes, I am a Souffs tragic too).

Over the years I watched our one or two Agfa slides of these locos degrade and fade. Probably the tattiest is my favourite - here reproduced without any effort to clean it up or enhance it.

And in the interests of equal time, here's my favourite of 3028T.

Both of these photos show the locos after the western Sun had faded them pretty quickly, especially 3144T.  It isn't all bad slide film and neglect.

Just as I suffered over the years for supporting Souths, I was also crushed by the decision or inability of three successive manufacturers to produce 3144T and 3028T in these remarkable liveries. So, given that 2023 has been a bit of a wretched year personally, I figured I would take things into my own hands and repaint a black Wombat 30T into 3144T. Re-reading the wonderful yarn by Percy Suckling in the Roundhouse of the caper convinced me to have a go.  Afterall, they brush-painted both locos! 

(As an aside, the best part about Percy's story was how they got approval for the repainting.  Apparently, the local boss rang Sydney to suggest that both locos be repainted in a quiet time.  That enterprising manager neglected to mention the paint colour being used to repaint the locos!).

Back to the story, which comes with a parental advisory. Don't attempt this at home unless you want high blood pressure. Skill will only get you so far (further than my skill and patience, anyway). Of the two liveries, I figured 3144T was the hardest so I have started there.  And, as of today, I have got to:

This is a distance shot in the hope you won't notice that I am yet to clean the headlight (it is being replaced by one that doesn't shine).  The chimney is still to be replaced, the dome and slide bar covers are just sitting on the body and several smaller valves and whistles are still to be applied. The tender is to be coaled and there will be an Andlan crew climbing aboard soon. Weathering comes after that. But it is nearly finished.

I will confess to lifting and copying just about every photo anyone has published on these two locos as they went through their Bollywood phase.  I am glad as I am guilty for doing this.  It made me understand that 3144T went through the paint shops at least three times during its green days.  Notably, the dome went from polished to green but other smaller parts were repainted differing colours. even the buffer beams were repainted, with smaller numbers being applied to the front buffer beam at some point in 1969.  So what you have here is pretty much the original green loco livery.  

I went 'original green' because I have failed to be able to mix a faded green which gives that 'milky' hue of later months.  So I was headed for the green shown in this photo taken by Colin Rayner (thanks Colin if you ever read this, your photos were an inspiration!).

This next photo is shot under hi-bay LEDs, which doesn't help. My version is still far too green, by far.  I can even tell you how far - 19%. I have just cheated by de-saturating the colour on the following photo. Hopefully my weathering gets me closer. Otherwise, I will just need to park this model in the western Sun too.

3144T is now waiting for a Shapeways consignment, as is 3028T which is stripped and ready for its summer repaint into royal blue.  This job has tested me and found a few skills wanting, but the happiness of knowing I have a green 30T outweighs those many defects with the paint job.

One final thing for the people who know more than me.  Colin Rayner's photo shows some writing on the tender, in yellow. Here's a blow-up of the section I am talking about.

Any guesses? My money is on "Cobar".  Happy to be convinced otherwise.  


30 August 2023

Harm to Harmans

Just a quick post to mark the passing of the last Harman coal tower in NSW at Casino, which was destroyed by fire this week.  In typical fashion, I never photographed it properly. Just took a single snap as I passed by on a work trip.  At the time, which was the 29th July 2005 by the way, I was more interested in the colourful diesels in the foreground.

In happier times - not to mention earlier times - here's a snap of what could be 3004T adjacent to Dubbo's version of the tower.

Bugger of a thing, losing beautiful old edifices like these to neglect.  It makes me even more appreciative of the skill and time that Walker Models used to create a HO scale model of these now extinct beauties. 

31 July 2023

He's back. He hopes.

Looks like I have finally been able to break into my own blog.  No posts since August last year, eh? To be honest, I have tried several times to remember passwords and sign-in procedures, but there has been a fair bit going on over the last year so blogging has been a lesser priority.  But a recent email from one of my loyal followers (thanks Bob) has prompted one more go and here I am!

Of course, this is a blog about railways and increasingly, model railways, so I will get onto that stuff in a minute.  The other 99% of life threw me a few curve balls last year.  One of these got pretty serious around Christmas when my father (aka the Senior Train Hunter) became increasingly unwell and immobile.  Sadly, he left us for the great roundhouse in the sky in late April.  Fortunately, I got to spend a lot of time with him as he subsided. One of his many instructions was to 'get that bloody blog going again', so it looks like I won't get haunted for failing on that count. he also gave me plenty of other instructions. None were about digging up the family gold. Most were about how Saints were robbed and how Budd cars should have been used on western NSW branch lines from 1972, instead going to Denning buses. Useful stufff to think about.

I now know that dying and death is a messy and complicated business, which sucks a lot of time out of you.  During those sorts of times (which we all go through) it is important to have a refuge, just to get the brain back into calmer waters.  And I found that refuge up in the shed, and still do.  So, yes, it has been a bugger of a year and I really haven't done much to advance building the layout, but I have run plenty of trains around and around.  And around a few more times. 

In running those trains I have pretty much convinced myself there are only a few tweaks to be made to the trackwork, then it will be full-on electrics and then scenery time.  So, please excuse the lack of track ballast or more substantial items of scenery in the following photos. I am still trying to get the vibe right.

Pretty much the last model Dad got to see, arrived in early April. It is the Stephen Johnson Models ETP that will tail our/my DEB set when it arrives later this year.  In the meantime, it gets to run behind a Eureka 620 set, which means (from memory) it must be a Tuesday on the layout. Here is a snap taken as the train disgorges hundreds of passengers at Coalbaggie Creek (Eumungerie).

One day it will look something closer to this day - which was 12 April 1966.

I have also been running the big new power. Here 4915 heads an empty wheatie west through Dubbo station, while 4501 takes up the loop. Since this photo was taken I have started the ballasting of this area, which improves things 300%. The biggest change will come when I use proper corrugated tin on the verandah roof, instead of the temporary paper product.

The 45 is an AR Kits body with an Atlas RSD4/5 mechanism under the hood - a real baby of the 1990s. It needs a touch up and some weathering, being 30 years old but it can still drag the odd wagon or 50 with ease.  Atlas mechs are terrific for their age.

Finally, thanks to everyone who have updated their blogs more regularly than me. They are a joy to read.   

Anyway, let's see how I go at a follow-up blog before year's end. 


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.