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.




  1. Memories can be powerful. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Your memories take me back to similar ones of mine although I was a little older. I remember wanting the Model Dockyard AD60 as well, I had to wait for the Eureka Models AD60 but it was worth it.