Saturday, December 27, 2008

An Unexpected Gift

To: District Superintendent

From: District Engineer - Signals

Subject: Brakes Landmark

General Appendix Part II p.42, Signalling, Sec. 9 Miscellaneous
Signals (d).

"Provided to indicate the place at which goods trains are to stop,
in accordance with regulations, for the purpose of applying or
releasing brakes.

The brakes landmark takes the form of a black disc with the word
"BRAKES" cut out of the face of the disc, or a black disc with the
word "BRAKES" inscribed with white lettering thereon. Both affixed
on a post.

During darkness, the indication is given by an illuminated "B" in
the centre of the disc."

So began a note in a Christmas present from a fellow Rambler, Gary

A description of the construction on the enclosed Uneek model
Brakes Landmark was included along with the words:

"Built in appreciation of your passion and commitment to the
greatest hobby of all and your help and friendship along the way."

Well, I was blown away.

I think this shows the friendship that this hobby generates and it
caused me to think of a few other gifts over the years.

The first from James McInerney many years ago was the Cox's Gap
signal box, the goods loading bank and station platform at Wollar.

This was followed by a Central Valley girder bridge built along
NSWGR lines from Ian Dunn, which currently crosses the river at

And finally a trestle bridge from Ron Cunningham that is on the
grade from Bylong to Cox's Gap Loop.

Down the years I have received the assistance of the other Ramblers
when I have called for help with some aspect of the layout. They
even helped me move the layout and contents of the layout room to a
new purpose built garage many years ago.

I think Gary says it well, it truly is a great hobby and it is a hobby that engenders long term friendships.

Thank you Gary.

The Brakes Landmark in place at the Wollar loop at the top of the 1 in 40 grade to Bylong.

P.S. Gary (ex. NSW train driver) has been officially appointed
District Engineer - Signals.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I would like to wish you all the best of the season, have a safe , enjoyable and relaxing time.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

PC Desktop Picture Change

I have just changed the Desktop picture to a variation of the previous one. I will change these every now and again.

You can click on the small picture to get the larger version and then right click on the picture and select Save Target As to save the picture to your computer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Major Change to BYLONG

For those who have been wondering about the hint I made a few weeks ago ("There was movement at the station"), I have changed the layout, the upper staging yard has been picked up, rotated through 180 degrees and is now located over the Bylong tunnel and Cox's Gap cliffs.

A 1 in 40 grade now starts just west of Wollar, near the bottom left of the photo, crosses the garage doors above Bylong and climbs to the top staging yard.

More banking and double heading out of Wollar loco depot!!!

At the start of the 1 in 40 grade there is a junction of the new 40' (12 metre) branch line which proceeds across the roller doors and then under the upper staging to then swing through a 180 degree curve to the branch terminus (where the upper staging was). Only about 3 feet (1 metre) of the branch line is hidden trackage.
If you look carefully you will notice that the branch has a roller coaster in it. I decided to add this feature as I have seen lines that follow the country side rather than just cut through it. The small 'hill' is approximately 435 feet long and is only about 4'6" high, about 1 in 60 each way to the crest. I will be interested to see how this looks once the scenery is done as it looks odd at the moment.

The branch terminus will be 12' x 2' and at the moment I haven't decided on the track layout but it will have a turntable, wheat silo and the usual goods shed, loading ramp, etc. I have about eight prototype station plans to choose from currently and most seem to have seven points.
Although you can't see it in the photo because of the lights, the area above the cliffs where the branch line runs will be sceniced as well even though only about 4" high.

This branch line is the culmination of several years thought trying to work out how to fit a branch in. Of course the idea finally came and it was all worked out in about 10 minutes of measuring, although it took me about another month of pondering before I started.

The tree upper level support (as mentioned on my blog a few weeks ago) can be seen in the photo and the branch line is running just behind it and in front of the printed backscene. The upper level staging is supported at each end and in the middle, by the tree.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Second Set of Scalpel Saw Blades

Here is a second set of saw blades, this time there are two longer blades.

The packet states that they are 0.12mm thick but they are actually 0.24 mm thick, the same as the other set.

The price for the blades by themselves is $20.30.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Found a New Tool

I am a person who really is a collector of small modelling tools, show me some small obscure tool and I am likely to buy it just in case.
I found this new tool, a scalpel saw at the Auburn Bunnings hardware store here in Sydney. This line of hobby tools had been mentioned a couple of times on the Aus_Model_Rail Yahoo group so I decided on Monday to go and see what was on offer.
As you can see in the photo above the tool is a scalpel handle that takes very fine saw blades. The blades are etched in stainless steel and are 0.24mm thick. There were several sets available; one with saw blades about twice the length of those shown here.
I decided on the short version as I wasn't sure how strong they would be. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, as you can see I have cut the doors from a Trax MHG. This took seven minutes to do and the blade removed the door without taking any part of the doors with it. That is the saw was the width of the moulded crack between the doors.
The blades are etched into a sheet and they must be cut from the etch.
Do not use tin snips as you will wreck the blade edges, the stainless is very hard. I used a thin stone cut off disc in a motor tool but be very careful and go at it slowly at the slowest speed possible, you don't want to bend the blades and do use safety glasses or goggles.
Now for the price .... $30.70, a bit of an ouch and I had my fingers crossed but I am very happy with the purchase.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shorter Trainorama C32 Couplers

For those who have larger radius curves the supplied Trainorama C32 class couplers are too long leaving a large gap between the locomotive and the first carriage.

The supplied coupler is a work of art but there is no way it can be shortened so here is how I managed to do it.

Step 1

I found that there was just enough 'meat' ahead of the pivot hole in a long shank KD 156 coupler to drill a No.50 hole for the C32 coupler pivot screw and file the rear and two sides to match the supplied C32 Trainorama coupler.

To drill the hole I first used a scriber to make a centre mark for the drilling. You will have to mark this by eye as it is too small to try to measure and mark it.

Next I used a No.57 drill in a pin vice to drill the first hole then made it progressively larger with a No.55, No.53, No.52, No.51 and finally No.50 drill. It is best to do it this way as the drill can easily bite into the die cast metal and jam.

Step 2

The next step is to carefully cut the rear hole section of the coupler away. I used a jewellers saw to make the first cut into the hole, this then allowed me to use a pair of sharp transistor wire cutters to snip away the rest. The first cut will allow the metal to be cut away without stressing the drilled area.

Finally I used a fine jewelers file to file the remaining curved section of the original pivot hole at the rear of the new hole away until it just disappeared, this formed the rear face of the coupler.

I then filed the two sides to the same slight angle as the sides of the C32 coupler end, also filing the corners with the same slight curve.

Step 3

I now mounted the coupler.

I managed to lose one of the two small coupler mounting screws and guess which screw isn't in the bag of spares!

I think I may just align it and put a tiny spot of glue on the screw hole if Trainorama can't supply a replacement, hopefully they can.

As you can see by the photo above I still hadn't adjusted the droop of the coupler

I found that I had filed the back just a little too much and as a result the coupler doesn't stay centred but will swing back when pushed sideways, so I suggest you go slowly and try a couple of trial fits until you are happy.

Layout Trials

I have successfully pushed and pulled some 72'6" passenger cars around 30" radius curves, up and down 1 in 40 grades. On the inner side of the curve there was about 1mm between the buffer heads.

Now, to do another for the tender and perhaps have another go at the front one.
Well, that's about it, so have a go, it isn't hard at all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

There was movement at the station ......

For those who have been following this blog I give you something to ponder.

The first picture is of an upper layout level support made from a piece of 1/4" threaded rod. The branches are Woodland Scenics and are glued to the trunk with hot glue. I was going to use 'No More Gaps' a water based flexible crack filler but when I was gluing the branches on I just kept going. It worked fairly well. The tree is part painted with water based house paint from those little sample pots, very useful.

The final photo shows the finished support. The trunk has extra colours added using pastels and the foliage is light green Woodland Scenics foliage.

I will post some more when I move this little project along a bit further.

What I can say is that it will add a another level of operation to the layout, sorry for the pun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Area I Am Modelling

The type of landscape I am trying to create, rolling hills to tree covered sandstone mountains.

The 48 class diesels are from a later period than I am modelling.

Photo by Chris Nelson - with thanks (see comments).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This is the text from a talk I gave at the 2007 Modelling the Railways of NSW Convention. I present it here to aid those who like me would like take good model photographs and to improve their modelling.
The talk included discussion of camera settings, framing the shot, editing, adding backgrounds and a final adjustments.

A Camera

This discussion will not involve the use of film cameras although the basic principles are the same and they can certainly give equally good results in the right hands. The advantage of the digital camera is of course the ability to review the shot immediately and correct anything required.

I use a Nikon 8700 which is an 8MP digital camera (no longer available), it is about as big and complicated that you can get from Nikon before moving to a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). It has a fixed lens which goes down to an aperture of f8.0 and has a screen that can be moved in all sorts of directions. The screen allows me to put the camera on/in the layout and see what I want to take to frame the shot.

I bought the Nikon 8700 primarily for the features that allow me to take these model pictures. I always shoot in macro but it just depends how close a lens can focus and a high f stop is best for a bigger depth of field, eg. f22 or greater would be terrific. The Nikon 8700 also has ISO 50 for 'film' speed - I read this as fineness as in grain size of film ???? All I know is that the lower the ISO number the better. This camera also has Noise Reduction which processes the picture to remove the odd pixels that appear as noise. I shoot time exposures with normal room lighting, never with flash. Some pictures are up to 8 second exposure at f8. White balance is important also to get the right colour balance although if shooting in RAW or TIFF modes this can be corrected later in Photoshop or the like - it is better to get it right first time if possible. I often shoot in auto white balance which works well on my Nikon. You will really have to look deep into the specifications and capabilities of each prospective camera.

Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras

A DSLR would give a much better f stop because you can change the lens to suit to get a better depth of field. The larger the f stop number the deeper depth of field you will have to play with.The disadvantage of a DSLR is that the screen can't be used to take a shot. DSLRs are restricted to using the viewfinder to frame the shot, because of the mirror system housed within the camera. This means that there is an inability to frame the shot and focus from low on the layout or awkward angle shots. All of the DSLR screens I have seen so far are fixed.

If you can find a DSLR with a moveable rear screen then you will be lucky.

I believe that the 7.5MP Olympus E330 has what they call a 'live screen' that allows a more restricted range of movement. The screen would probably be useable but not as flexible as the Nikon 8700 but then I can't change lenses.

I think though a DSLR would be of greater use as it is a better camera overall, more flexible. So it is a toss up as to what to get.

Several new DSLR cameras have what is called 'Live View' which means that you can see on the LCD screen what you are trying to take.

Late Breaking News

There is a new accessory for the DLSR allows viewing through the lens while framing and focusing the shot, it as called the Zigview S2. The manufacturer's web site is :
but the following web site has the most information I could find :
It is not cheap and would be at least $A500.


There is a compact digital camera that has virtually all the features of my camera, it is the Canon PowerShot A650 IS, a 12MP camera. I bought one recently for work and I have used it successfully. It has been around for 6 months or so but is still available, do a search on the net and check it out.

Framing the Shot

The movable screen on my Nikon 8700 allows me to place the camera in all sorts of positions on the layout and still be able to see what the camera is seeing and focus accordingly. The lens on my camera is at the bottom of the camera so the centre of the lens is probably about the height of the average HO person.

I try to achieve a photo that you could imagine finding in a book on the prototype.

I always try to shoot looking up to or at a train from ground level, I rarely shoot downwards unless there is some indicator in the foreground showing that you may be standing on something 'real' in the scene. I do not like the classic model train helicopter shot that certainly shows the layout but screams model.

I am always searching for that interesting view, even in scenes that I have shot many times.

Digital Manipulation

I find that you will rarely manage to take that perfect shot straight from the camera, while this may be possible in the real world in modelling there is always something in the background or foreground spoiling the effect.

I use Photoshop to adjust the picture to obtain the maximum realism.

I only use a few of the tools as I believe that you should retain as much of the original shot as possible.

I do often use another layer to place a real background and sky behind the modelling to remove that unsightly brick wall, etc.

I use the 'Magic Wand' tool to collect together all the parts of the background that I don't want. This is done by clicking on the areas you want to remove while holding the Shift key down. All the areas are joined together and are outlined with a dotted line.

When you have collected them all you go to the Select menu and choose Invert, you now have all the picture that you want to retain. Copy this to the clipboard, open a new layer and paste the picture.

Now choose an appropriate background picture and select all and copy it.

Open another new layer and paste the background picture into the layer.

Now order the layers so that the model picture layer is over the real background/sky.

If the background does not work with the model picture either through being the wrong angle, too close, too far or the wrong colouration then try another.

Once you are happy with the combination it is time to do a small bit of work to blend them better.

I usually only use Brightness and Contrast to bring the two pictures to look all part of the one scene.

I will occasionally adjust the colour balance of either or perhaps both layers to better match one to the other.

The best way to deal with the model foreground and real background is to have a range of landscape pictures in varying light conditions.

It really comes down to choosing the right background.

I take landscape pictures whenever I have the opportunity and have them with blue skies through to grey and overcast.

To remove the front edge of the layout if it has appeared in the picture I use the Rubber Stamp tool which allows you to copy a small area of the exiting picture and paint with it.

There are a number of suitabe paint grograms that have these simple tools including some that may have come with your digital camera and freeware ones.

An example of a freeware paint program is GIMP, which I assume stands for Graphic Image Manipulation Program. If you search the Internet you will find this easily. I have not tried it much as yet but it is like all things we need to learn, just give it a go and experiment.

Improving Your Modelling

By now you may have noticed that as the picture of the layout is static it can quickly show those areas that need work or that are lacking in suitable detail.

Unfortunately this can also mean that the wagon that we built some years back is now showing it's age, particularly against the recent influx of incredible models from China.

Improving your modelling is about studying your model pictures, learning from them and fixing those glaring and not so glaring bits.

Examples of potential modelling improvements that can become painfully obvious are as follows:

  • Incomplete models become very apparent;

  • no numbers on locomotives or carriages;

  • no point rodding and/or catchpoints and catchpoint indicators;

  • buildings not bedded into the scenery, that is show a crack under the building;

  • station corrugated iron water tanks without a tap (this one forced me to add a tap and downpipe to the water tank at the BYLONG station building - see the pic of 622 and 6037 in my first post versus the one below this post);

  • coarse detail;

  • overly bright painted backscene;

  • steam locomotives in particular having no crew;

  • a lack of ballasted track;

  • and of course many other similar issues.

If these issues are corrected then it becomes likely that your modelling will improve, until of course you take that next photograph... ;-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

BYLONG Blog - A beginning....

This blog like all things new is a work in progress so please forgive the amateurish attempt.

BYLONG is the name of my HO scale model railway, it is based on a once proposed railway line in the upper Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, Australia. I say 'once proposed' as it was finally built in the early 1980's as a means of extracting coal. The original proposal began life in about 1911 and the railway proceeded in fits and starts until abandoned after the Second World War with almost all but the track in place. There were several tunnels and bridges constructed by the time it was abandoned.

My interpretation has the line being built about the time of the first proposal, this was so I could model timber station buildings, brick tunnel mouths and bridge piers. The infrastructure used in the actual construction of the original abandoned line was built of concrete.... boring.

My warped history of the line has it being used as an alternative crossing of the Great Dividing Range, part of which are the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney. As such it was upgraded to major cross country line status allowing the larger locomotive classes to use the line.

The layout is point to point and it is in a 20' x 20' garage, around the walls with a peninsular and central staging/fiddle yards. It appears to be two levels but is simply one level that ends up on top of itself with an almost continuus grade, stations being level. The following two photos show the layout, the BYLONG station is to the left of the panorama, I couldn't stitch it together without too much distortion. As you can see by the mess under and around the layout, it's a work in progress as well. There's nothing like modelling on a few square inches of space and you will notice two work benches, when one fills up, well just move to the other until you can't work there either then clean one up ... ;-)

Layout panorama

BYLONG from above

Diesel railcar 622/722 idles at BYLONG platform as AD60 class Beyer Garratt 6037 drifts by on a wheat train

The ruling grade is 1 in 40 and the Cox's Gap crossing loop is on a 1 in 80 grade.

5085 crosses 6037 at COX'S GAP loop

The long grades mean, that like a number of places on the NSWR, the trains must be assisted. Since I use DCC (NCE) and I like the operating interest and challenge, the longer trains are banked (pushed from the rear). Double heading and consisting is too easy.

Bank locomotive 5085 drops away from a goods train

3142 passes a level crossing approaching WOLLAR

Although the layout is named after BYLONG the largest station is WOLLAR which has a small locomotive depot from which the bank locomotives operate.

I will post a plan once I draw one, until then this description will have to suffice.

Well, that's it for now.