Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hostage to a Sleeper Cell

Just a brief update. I have been laying sleepers like a fiend. The benefits of having smaller modules (1.2m x 0.6m) is that they can be easily dragged out and worked on as individual sections. Therefore, I typically drag out a section to the lounge room every ‘other’ evening and lay some sleepers. In this way, I never miss my favourite TV shows (obviously an important aspect of every modeller’s life), nor a minute with my wife (she told me to write this).

The sleepers (Kappler and Micro Engineering sugar pine from the USA) are affixed using PVA glue. After a light sand to get them all the same height, everything is given a white undercoat (heavily thinned), and then a base colour is added of Tamiya FX-1 (Flat Black) and FX-52 (Flat Earth) (thanks Darren This is done in a relatively ‘patchy’ way, so as to replicate the prototype. They will receive another filter of red-brown, followed by some random dry brushing of white to gain the ‘grey effect’, so often observed in aged wood. Until then, I have plenty of more sleepers to lay. One at a time...


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ballasting the Way God Intended: Quick, Easy, and Effective

Some of you may have heard many modellers (of all kinds) using ‘Johnsons Klear’ floor polish for various uses, including (but not confined to):

• Preparing surface for decals (used by the model aircraft fraternity).
• Improving clarity in windows (particularly aircraft model canopies).
• Ballasting track.

While I’m yet to use it for windows and decals, my main interest is in ballasting. I contacted Jim Smith Write (of P4 New Street fame) as I knew that he loves it – as do many other modellers. See here for a photo or two featuring ballasting using the ‘Klear method’ on Jim’s layout:

The product and its ‘cousins’ have many different names, which vary from one country to the next. And some lines have also been discontinued. In short, I found it all very confusing. I then came across this web page that runs through all the different uses (there are many) and the names and places to source the product, including Australia:

With this in mind, I went to Bunnings, and there on the shelf was Pascoe’s Long Life floor polish, as suggested in the link above. I purchased a small bottle and took it home to try. Wow! I can now understand why everyone raves about it as a brilliant ballasting agent.

The big attractions to this product are;
• It has very low viscosity, so the capillary action in the ballasting grains is truly amazing, and therefore requires relatively small amounts of liquid.
• The super low viscosity also means that is won’t ‘float’ fine ballast away (as I can attest to, when using very fine sand in my test last night).
• It’s odourless.
• Dries fast (in about two hours or so)
• It sets very hard.
• It’s cheap.

If one was to spray it on (pump bottle or airbrush) then apparently it may result in a shine (it is, after all, a polish). However, I have read that this is simply overcome by a blast of your favourite matte finish. All this said, I used an eye dropper, which resulted in absolutely no ‘shine’.

And it is so easy to use; pour on and position the ballast, gently release the liquid (neat) beside the track with an eye dropper and let the capillary action do the rest. A few hours later you’re ready to weather the track.

I’d strongly recommend that you have a go. And I haven’t even thought about its other alleged uses...


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some progress

I have commenced the process of laying track on Sutton Grange. It can be seen from the previous post that I have laid a 'surface' into the baseboards. After much consideration, I decided that the layout required some sort of 'sound deadening' material. I'd considered cork but felt it was too expensive, and I had some serious doubts about its effectiveness.

I was ready to lay the track straight onto the plywood top, when another modelling mate, John, suggested that I try up-side-down lino (or 'linoleum' in old speak). After helping him stick some to his new baseboards, I was converted. He kindly gave me the remaining lengths of his lino supply, and even came around to my place with some mutual modelling friends to help me apply it. Several tins of adhesive, some beers and a BBQ later, it was done.

As you can see, I have started laying the sleepers and a point template (actual VR plans reduced on a photocopier). I also 'staged' a small scene in an effort to see what the finished product may look like. It's a good start, but there's a long way to go...


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sutton Grange

And so it begins.

Attached are some pictures of my burgeoning layout, Sutton Grange. Located in central Victoria, just outside of Castlemaine, Sutton Grange is a small farming town. While the VR never actually laid a branch line to the location, I am modelling the ‘branch that may have been’ and placing it very much in its final days in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. The primary commodity of the line is dwindling tonnages of livestock. Minor quantities of grain are loaded into GY’s with the assistance of a mobile auger - the low harvest tonnages did not warrant the construction of a permanent loading infrastructure.   

The layout will be a point to point operation and constructed in broad gauge (ie 18.2mm track gauge). While fictional, the branch line terminus will be run using ‘typical VR’ designs and practice. 

I have decided on a track plan, using actual VR track designs that have been reduced on a photocopier. Given the use of prototype point templates (around 7.5 size) the very simple yard will be over 4m in length (the overall layout being constructed of six 1.2m by 0.6m modules). Track laying will commence soon.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

MC Cattle Container

I recently purchased several MC containers from SDS Models. According to their web site “In 1974 the Victorian Railways trialled several WAGR 20' cattle containers, this trial was deemed successful and the railways placed an order for 50 MC Cattle containers with Loadmaster at Woodend. The versatility of this design meant the cattle containers could be loaded individually onto four wheeled flat wagons like KQ and KMQ or loaded in threes on longer FQF bogie flat wagons.”

The MC featured in the photo above has received a light weathering, courtesy of some ‘US Army Field Grime’ and ‘Sepia Ink’. They should go well with the KMQ kits from Model Etch that I’m currently constructing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aussie Cars

Just a quick post today. I recently purchased two Road Rager models; a 1962 Ford XL wagon and a 1966 Ford XR sedan. These models are two of a wider range of Australian cars of the 1950’s to 1960’s. Produced in HO scale, they are nice reproductions of some iconic Australian automotive history.

The models have been lightly weathered, as they will be relatively ‘new’ when appearring on my circa late 1960’s to early 1970’s VR layout.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

T Ice Van

A short post. This is a Steam Era Models T iced van kit, which was constructed, painted and weathered by a good mate of mine. I really do like VR four wheel traffic, and this is a lovely representation of the prototype.

According to Mark Bau's web site (, "The T's had an ice bunker running along the middle of the ceiling that was filled with ice from hatches in the roof. They were used to transport meat carcasses or other goods that required a cool temperature. The walls were about 6 inches thick for insulation. The vertical channel at the end was a drain for the ice bunker. This series of T vans had a 15 1/2 ton capacity. Truly a relic from a bygone age they lasted to the late 70's in general box van service."

Detailed GYs

I’ve been rather busy lately trying to complete some of Steam Era Models GY kits (see previous post). After looking around the internet for reference photos, I came across some images of Precision Scale Models’ brass GY. Released some years ago, the details on this model are amazing. This instantly became my new standard. The results (thus far) are a common ‘inside sill’ GY and the less well known ‘outside sill’ GY (kit-bashed).

Each model took around 3 hours to construct, and includes;
• Etched brass lashing rings and shunters steps from Model Etch.
• Lost wax casting brake hose from Model Etch.
• Eye bolts (for decoupling rod) from Details Associates in the US (sourced from Austral Modelcraft in Brisbane).
• Centre brake rod made from Evergreen 0.5mm rod (#218).
• End grab irons made from Evergreen 0.5mm rod (#218) and 0.25mmx1.0mm strip (#102).
• End brake rods (between brake shoes) made from 0.2mm brass rod.
• Brake rod catchers/protectors and decoupling rod made from fine wire (small E acoustic guitar string).
• RP25-88 broad gauge (ie EM gauge) wheel sets from Steam Era Models.
• Etched brass handbrake kit (Inside sill GY only) from Steam Era Models.
• Hand wheel and brake gear (outside sill GY only) from Model Etch.

The other three GY’s will follow shortly. One of those will include GY1080. Of the ~6000 made, GY1080 was the only inside sill GY fitted with a hand wheel brake gear.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

GY Wagons, Incomplete Kits and Ghana.

I am currently in Ghana, West Africa undertaking some work for a gold mining project. The locals are very friendly and the accommodation is more like a tropical resort than the ‘utilitarian’ mining camps that I’m accustomed to in Australia.

Knowing that I would be here for a month, I decided to bring some kits with me to monopolise the otherwise slow evenings. I had purchased a Broad Gauge Models (BGM) 5-pack of the Victorian Railways' GY four wheel wheat wagons quite some time ago. Used primarily for bulk wheat transport, these wagons were fabricated in the UK and in various government railway workshops throughout Victoria during the 1940’s and 1950’s. They eventually numbered well over 6000 and were found widely across the rail network. A VR ‘icon’, one might say. The other kit being a VR Products' GH conversion kit.

During a recent visit to Melbourne, I dropped into the Victorian Hobby Centre and noticed the 5-pack GH kit and thought ‘that looks interesting’. Using GY underframes, this ‘conversion’ kit enables the construction of five GH wheat wagons. Like the kits, the real life GH wagons were converted from older GY wagons. According to Mark Bau’s web site (, the conversion was “...a major undertaking and you have to wonder how many new bogie hoppers could have been built with the money used to convert the GY's into GH's. By the late 1970's VR was so seriously short of grain wagons that drastic measures like this had to be undertaken...” With all this in mind, I carefully packed my kits and modelling gear, and ‘set sail’ to Ghana.

One warm and wet evening (it’s rarely anything else in southern Ghana), I pulled out the kits to read the instructions. What a pity I hadn’t done this back in Australia... The VR Products kit does not include all the material required to complete their kit! Materials I have in abundance at home in Australia, and are not so easily sourced in Ghana (ie impossible). After some mumbling and cursing, I was forced to make a decision; should I wait until I get back to Australia to make the GH’s, or make some GY’s instead? I noted that the original BGM GY kit included etched brass brake gear. These, along with discovery of 5 Kadee couplers in my modelling box, were interpreted as ‘providence’. That was it; I decided to construct the first (and possibly last) Victorian Railways GY wagons in West Africa!

I have managed to complete 2 of the GY kits so far. The etched brass braking gear, along with some additional breaking rods, makes for a kit that really captures the prototype. Anyway, find attached a picture of the two completed GY's, a drill rig in the middle of the jungle and some rather large snails and millipedes found here in sunny (and very steamy) Ghana.

Friday, March 5, 2010

QB Well Wagon

I have recently commenced the construction of Steam Era Model’s QB well wagon. I have chosen to model the wagon in its post 1970’s state.

According to Mark Bau’s web site (, "...these wagons were designed originally for loco boiler transport. Although in service they were more typically used as a heavy duty flat wagon capable of carrying unusual loads. Large rolls of cable drums that were too high to be carried on regular flat wagons, monopolised the depressed wagon centre, enabling the item to remain within the loading gauge."

While the kit requires soldering, I would be hesitant to say that it is ‘difficult’ to construct. The key word in my opinion is ‘patience’ rather than skill – although some of the latter won’t hurt! I sourced some good quality flux, along with 145°C and 179°C solder from DCC Concepts’ Sapphire range of products. This, along with some good advice from DCC Concept’s proprietor, Richard Johnson, and a good modelling mate, made for an enjoyable experience. Finally, this was my first attempt at a brass kit. Therefore I can speak with authority when I say that all the old advice is ‘surprisingly’ correct: keep the model clean, use good quality products and that ’less’ solder is definitely ‘more’.

More photos will follow as the kit approaches completion.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


As an avid reader of the UK-based magazine, Model Railway Journal, I had often noted contributors’ reference to using carpet underlay to represent grass. The results always seemed quite effective. So when considering how to model long dry grass at the end of summer, I thought it was time to try the method myself.

First, I had to locate some of the underlay. This is the old, ‘hairy’ material that has now been superseded by a foam-based alternative. Consequently, trying to locate some was a little challenging! After several phone calls and a visit to a large carpet supplier’s commercial outlet, two linear meters worth was purchased. (Yes, I know; that is a lot of underlay...)

The underlay was teased apart and dunked in a bucket of cheap bleach. This gets rid of the grey/brown dye and takes it back to a light blond colour. The rinsed underlay is then glued to the layout in small balls. Once dry, the small, tightly ‘planted’ balls are severed with a scapple and then the new ‘grass’ is trimmed with a pair of small scissors.

While I could have left the bleached underlay the blond colour, it just didn’t look quite right. A treatment of highly diluted light yellow paint was applied with an airbrush to give depth and a sense of realism. I’ve provided an image of the results on my trial plywood board, which also features an attempt at using locally sourced sand and BBQ ash for ‘gravel’.

I am reasonably happy with the overall effect but in the future will use less yellow as well as other ‘earthy’ colours to tie the gravel and grass together.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


As previously mentioned, I have decided to model Victorian Railways broad gauge in 18.2mm gauge. This has resulted in me having to hand lay my track. While some people try to avoid such activities like the plague, I actually quite enjoy the process.

After gluing some lengths of 3mm cork sheet down, I proceeded to lay my sleepers – one at a time! Given that my lay out is based on a rundown early 1970’s branch line, terminus sleepers were laid in a somewhat random fashion (while observing the prototypal spacing). The sleepers are coloured with mahogany colour wood stain and weathered with various shades of grey and brown acrylic paint.

The Micro Engineering code 55 track is held down by Micro spikes, which themselves are installed by countersinking a 0.75mm drill hole. I have used brass etched fish plates from Model Etch.

The track has been weathered – although I’m not entirely happy with the colour. I have supplied an image of track section that is nearing completion. This length of track is the defunct turntable pit road – now without turn table. The introduction of diesel locomotives some 15 years before renders such infrastructure redundant.

Fine Scale Wheel Sets

In more recent times I have decided to adopt 18.2mm guage. This enables me to more closely represent the Victorian Railway’s 5’3” broad gauge.

I have managed to source fine scale RP25-88 VR prototype wheel sets from Steam Era Models. I have attached some images to compare the standard wheel sets provided on typical ready-to-run models (in this case Austrains’ ELX wagon and Trainorama’s ZLP wagon) with the fine scale versions.

KMQ Container Wagon

While visiting the Australian Model Railway Association’s Perth Exhibition last year, I came across a HO scale kit of the Victorian Railways’ KMQ wagon. Produced by Tony Crennan of Model Etch, the kit is made of brass and acrylic components and is a dream to construct. The end product is, in my opinion, very satisfying. My kit has been fitted with Steam Era Models' RP25-88 fine scale, 18.2mm broad gauge wheels. Auscision intend to release a ready-to-run version in late 2010. It will be interesting to compare the two. Auscision will have their work cut out for them to surpass the quality of this kit, in my opinion.

According to Mark Bau’s well resourced web site (, "...export rice traffic from Deniliquin and canned fruit traffic from Shepparton increased dramatically in the late 70's and early 80's. The VR found itself seriously short of container wagons – along with the money to finance new ones. The KMQ was an appealing cheap solution as they could be constructed from the remains of scrapped 4 wheel vans. Converted from U, T and KAB wagons, KMQ's were formed by removing the body from the underframe and installing a chequer plate floor with container lugs. At least two KMQ's were stencilled for explosive traffic and KMQ 67 even received a unique red/orange paint scheme for this traffic."

As can be seen, the KMQ model is yet to be painted. It will receive a coat of Steam Era Models’ ‘VR Brown’ with the QB well wagon kit that is also nearing completion. The QB will be a blog for another day...