Monday, 24 October 2016

Memorabilia makes modelling better!

It was railway adventurer and TV personality Scott McGregor who once said, "the thing I like about trains is that there's the trains themselves, and then there's all this other cool stuff." For someone who has envied the amazing places that one of my all-time favourite celebrities has traveled to on a train, I couldn't agree with him more. Yet despite not being able to emulate Scott's feat of decking out his property near Mudgee with a private collection of former railway carriages turned sleeping quarters, I haven't let my own space limitations and small model railway layout become a barrier to collecting 'all this other cool stuff'. Soon after delving into the underground world of train timetable collecting, I discovered that railway memorabilia makes modelling better.

By incorporating my small collection of railway memorabilia into my layout, be it station signs, signal lever plaques or timetables and pamphlets displayed to recreate the appearance of a Station Master's desk, I have made my small New South Wales bookshelf layout feel like it is a part of something bigger. It becomes so much easier to picture my HO scale model trains connecting somewhere beyond the layout, when there are signs pointing in all sorts of directions.

So what exactly is the value in collecting all this 'cool stuff'? Well, considering that I've been able to run some Countrylink timetables, incorporate some authentic snacks for operating sessions and create my own Station Master's desk, with what I've collected, I'd say the personal enjoyment value has been fairly high. But seeing just a small sample of my own railway memorabilia collection on display in the photo at the top of this post, most people, whether they are railway enthusiasts or not, become curious as to what dollar value it holds and where do you find such things. So after years of hunting for forgotten railway relics from Australia's yesteryear, I thought I'd share my thoughts of what I've found to be popular items among railway collectors, and what I am prepared to pay for them as my top asking price.

First up, there are more places to look for railway memorabilia than just eBay. For the lazy collector, it is a little too easy to just sit back in the comfort of your own home, search through the railroadiana category and bid on items that ultimately get delivered right to your door. Sure, I've bought my fair share of railway collectibles from eBay over the years, but even on eBay there is an art to browsing categories where you wouldn't think that railway memorabilia exists. To be honest, I've snapped up some absolute bargains on eBay by searching for items listed under some fairly vague descriptions. Old sign is just one search word that springs to mind. Had the items in question used the words railway, station or NSWGR, then I wouldn't have been the only person bidding on them. People also occasionally list items in the wrong category, and a rare railway item may be listed under Home and Garden instead of Transport or Railroadiana. Another favourite trick of mine is checking for misspelled words. Believe me it happens.

Recently I was put onto an online auction site called by a reader of this blog. Invaluable is different to most other online auction sites in that it searches, lists and catalogues hundreds of the world's leading auction houses on the one convenient site. As a result, it is easy to search for railway memorabilia among the huge range of collectibles listed by auction houses such as Sotheby's, NY Auction Gallery and Sydney Rare Book Auctions. Of course there is the added advantage of being able to sort the online auctions by country, depending on where you are prepared to pay the shipping cost from. Auction houses work differently to eBay. Instead of fees being deducted from the final amount that is payable to the seller, the buyer will have to pay on top of the final price what is called a 'buyer's premium', which in the case of the item I am currently looking at on Invaluable is listed as 20%. So you really need to factor that into your price. Just like eBay, you'll need an account before you can bid on a live auction, and just like eBay you'll need to check the shipping terms listed by the auctioneer. In the case of the item I am looking at now, packaging can be arranged by the auctioneer for a small fee and postage is charged at cost. Best of all, Invaluable has an Australian presence with a listed phone number in Sydney that is available to contact 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If you think that an elite auction house is mainly for rich people auctioning stuffy old paintings worth millions, think again. I've saved my favourite search words on Invaluable and am emailed every time that auctions matching my description go live. Among a wide variety of railway collectibles are frequent listings from Ardent Auctions in Fyshwick, ACT, that range from station signs, railway chairs, light fittings, locomotive builders plates, signal arms and signal box repeaters. The collections will have a starting bid price and an estimate price of between X and Y dollars for what the item has been professionally valued at. Personally, I find this a lot better than sorting through the over-valued prices being asked for on eBay by people who can easily list an item for free, yet have absolutely no idea of the coss involved in restoring some of these pieces to their former condition.

Some signal box plaques from Sydney that I picked up for a song on eBay. They are now cleaned up and mounted on my model railway layout.

So in the spirit of someone who loves "all this other cool stuff", as Scott McGregor so coolly puts it, I present my own armchair guide to what I have been prepared to pay while amassing a small railway memorabilia collection to accentuate my bookshelf model railway layout. All prices are shown in Australian dollars $AUD. While I am still dreaming of one-day converting a pair of old railway carriages into accommodation on a large block in the country, I have limited the below threads to items that would fit into a traditional model railway room, or man cave as our wives like to refer to it these days.

  • Timetables - a personal favourite of mine. They easily fit into a drawer or look great sitting alongside your model train bench and historically explain when and where the trains we model ran to. As a rule of thumb, anything less than 10 years old is worth only around $2 to $5. After 10 years however, the value can be calculated at around $1 per year, meaning I'd pay $10 for a 10 year-old timetable up to $50 for a 50 year-old timetable. My best buy has been a NSW country train timetable from 1956 that I bought online from a bookshop in England of all places for just $38 including postage to Australia. Think a 1997 CityRail timetable is worth nothing? Next year they will be 20 years-old, so this is an area with a lot of potential collecting value.
  • Railway Tickets - unlike timetables, this is an area that you have to know the history of each rail line that the ticket covers. A cardboard ticket stub to a far flung destination on a long closed line is always going to be worth more than a suburban ticket from the same year given the frequencies of trains and the amount of tickets likely issued in that time period. However, cardboard ticket stubs disappeared from Sydney train stations with the advent of Ticket Vending Machines between July 1992 to July 1993. Usually, a cardboard ticket stub from the 1970's to 1980's is worth around $2 to $3 each, with rarer destinations easily reaching $5 to $6. Tickets from the 1940's, 50's and 60's however, especially tickets where the date and destination were handwritten by the station attendant, or the station itself has long disappeared into history become more of a grey area. Expect to pay around $10 or more, depending on how bad you want it. I've seen single war-era tickets sell for upwards of $40. Now, thanks to the top-up ability of the Opal card, even the magnetic strip Ticket Vending Machine tickets are a thing of the past, so expect these to increase in value also. A bundle of magnetic strip City Rail tickets for less than $10 might not be a bad investment.
  • Station signs - such as the aluminium station name signs that existed on the manual platform indicator boards at suburban stations are really cool to collect. A large number of these surfaced on eBay for $10 each in 2015 after the final roll-out of computer destination screens across the Sydney Trains network. I only wish I'd bought more, as these will be impossible to find in the future and will certainly be worth more than $10 each that I paid. Large platform signs are a different matter. In NSW they were made of concrete with cast iron letters, with the weight and size making it near impossible to post, and also a matter of where do you put such a thing? Old timber platform signs usually deteriorated to a point of no repair when the railways replaced them with metal signs, and thanks to the large number of custom-made and replica signs available on the market, the metal signs actually hold a better collector value. Any large platform sign from the 1970's through to the 2000's will usually sell for between $100 and $200 depending on the condition. The modern Countrylink 'coaches' sign that I made the feature of my staging shelf is actually engraved and painted clear perspex. I picked it up for less than $50. Expect to see more of these types of signs become available when NSW railway stations are refitted with NSWTrainLink signage.
  • Locomotive plates - are genuine one-off collector's items. The heavy cast iron builders plates were attached to the side of steam locomotives, and later diesel locos used more lightweight aluminium builders plates as a way of identifying where and when each particular locomotive was built. As such, genuine locomotive plates only come onto the market when a locomotive is scrapped, and only after a local preservation society or museum passes on the chance to add it to their collection. Many early steam locomotives in Australia were actually built by the North British Locomotive Co. in Glasgow, and these genuine cast iron builders plates will sell for between $600 to $1,000. The aluminium diesel locomotive plates from local builders such as Goodwin-Alco and Clyde-GM will still command between $100 to $200. Diesel locomotives in Australia also had the illuminated number boxes at each end, and the painted fibreglass or perspex numbers also make a great item that can be framed and/or illuminated from behind for a great effect. Usually there were 4 number boards per locomotive, making their value a little less, but still expect to pay around $40 to $100 each.
  • Signal box memorabilia - makes an excellent feature of any model train room. I picked up the engraved black perspex signal frame lever plaques that I have pictured above for less than $5 each, and they are now cleaned up and mounted on my model layout. While I've yet to come across any of these perspex plates again, fibre-glass pull lever plates fetch around $15 each, while brass or cast metal signal frame lever numbers will sell for around $30. I've yet to see an actual full cast iron working signal frame lever for sale, but I imagine that would be a cool talking point of any model train room. Signal box repeaters are valued at around $150 to $200 depending on their condition, while the signal box bells fetch for around $180. A one-off working signal box diagram on the other hand would set you back around $1,000. These were large framed diagrams that hung above the row of signal frame levers and showed the mainline, passing loops and refuge sidings as controlled by that particular signal box, with working lights to indicate the road that was set for the approaching train. However, I've seen plenty of model railroaders who simply chose to build their own working diagram, with LED lights controlled by how each point is set on their own miniature railroad.
  • Railway station memorabilia - includes a vast array of stuff such as former Station Master's desks, chairs, telephones, lamp fittings and other platform signage. Timber railway office chairs can be picked up for around $80 each, which is a bargain considering that they were made by the railway's own workshops and are still a functional piece of furniture. Today they would just put out a contract for office furniture imported cheaply from China that is almost guaranteed to fall apart every 12 months. A NSW guards indicator platform light in good condition is valued at around $170 to $200. Original cast iron station signs ranging from 'No Way Out' to 'Beware of Trains' are worth between $80 and $120 depending on condition, and even more if it relates to penalties when the currency in Australia was still measured in pounds. Although you should beware, there are a flood of reproduction items on the market. More modern metal enameled railway station safety signs such as 'No Smoking' are generally worth between $30 and $50. While at the budget end of the collector's scale, there was a multitude of paper forms, parcels stamps, luggage tags and posters that can all add some nostalgic value to your model train room.
  • Lineside memorabilia - Painted aluminium railway crossing crossbuck signs are actually more plentiful than the average collector cares to admit. The reflective signs need to be highly visible so therefore are replaced when they begin to age. As such, their true value is probably closer to the $90 to $120 range, not the exorbitant prices being asked at times on eBay, and of course postage is going to be out of the question. You're going to have to collect something like this yourself. The 'stop on red signal' and '2 tracks' signs that go beneath them therefore are worth a little less at around $45 to $60 each. The older cast iron mile post numbers and 'W' signs that are found lineside are valued at around $45. As with any cast iron sign the weight is going to significantly increase the cost by the time you pay postage. Modern metal enameled marker post numbers can be picked up for around the same price. Signal blades on their own are valued at around $60 to $80 without the coloured lenses, the original coloured glass ends on their own are a lot harder to come by and are valued at around $180. Steel dog spikes, although a cool item if you are wanting a railway themed coat rack for your train room, are quite heavy and not worth the cost of postage. You're much better looking for a discarded dog spike by the side of the line when you are out railfanning your favourite locations.
  • Railwayman's memorabilia - I have in my collection one of the NSWPTC solid brass TS railway locks, although it is nicely buffed and polished, without the key it is only valued at around $20 to $30. With the key, it could probably fetch up to $70. The NSWSRA Station Assistant badge that can be viewed in the top photo, I picked up for below the $30 it would be valued at. The curved hat badges on their own would be worth around the same. If you could find one of the smart-looking NSW Station Master's hats complete with the badge however, it would be worth anywhere up to $150. Other items such as battery operated lamps once used by guards and shunters are worth around $30 to $70 and for that price can still be picked up in working condition. The older kerosene metal lamps however can fetch up to $150 as they look fantastic when restored and make a great decorative centrepiece on a study table or bookshelf. One item I'm still looking for in great condition is a NSW Railways Gladstone bag, once used by railwaymen to carry their belongings to and from work. The over-sized leather carry bag was unique in shape and similar to the old-fashioned doctor's bag, although you can readily purchase new bags in that same style today.
  • Carriage memorabilia - Old railway carriages evoke strong memories of overnight travel to visit distant relatives, and any items salvaged from a scrapped wooden passenger carriage always attract a considerable price tag. From the solid brass carriage door holders that were floor mounted and operated by foot that fetch around $30 a pair, to the brass overhead luggage racks valued at around $100 each and everything in between, they are normally the most sought after by railway collectors. An engraved glass N.S.W.T.D. mirror is valued at between $90 to $120 whereas the carriage mirror and wood panel would be worth around $180 to $200. The ornate glass overhead light shades found in older style railway carriages make a great restoration project to turn it into a lamp for your desk. If you can find one that is. Glass was normally one of the first things to be destroyed by vandals when carriages were first withdrawn from service and placed in out-of-the-way railway sidings. Cast iron carriage builders plates are popular too, and like the locomotive builders plates only come onto the market when a carriage is sent to the scrappers. They tell where and when a carriage was manufactured in Australia and can fetch between $70 and $150. Cast alloy signs warning against flushing toilets when train is stationary are always a novelty collector's item. Just be warned that there are more fake reproduction versions of these signs on the market than there are originals.

So there you have it. My brief run-through of what I would call small-scale railway collecting. Of course the United Kingdom and United States would both have just as much of their own unique railroadiana to keep a collector occupied online for days. But just as our own railway adventurer Scott McGregor once said, "the thing I like about trains is that there's the trains themselves, and then there's all this other cool stuff." For a writer such as myself, I have to admit that collecting railway memorabilia has indeed made model railroading better.

My small bookshelf HO model railway captures a lot of charm thanks to the memorabilia I have incorporated into its construction.

You can also keep an eye out for my expanding range of railway inspired home wares and stationary that I will continue to release online through Redbubble.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Remembering my past layouts

Welcome to Memory Lane. Yes that is me. Yes that was 11 years ago at Brisbane's Union Pacific Model Railroad Club Train Show in 2005, and yes, that is an N scale layout. A lot has changed over the past decade, namely my hair turned grey and what didn't fell out. But after many years of devoting all my spare time to writing novels, I'm finally back enjoying my hobby to the fullest. So for this post I thought I would share a recap of how Philden became layout no. 5, and remember my past layouts that would ultimately become the stepping stones to turning me into a half-decent modeler.

Layout No. 1 my NSW inspired N scale layout Gabalong, from 1990. A section of the bench work survived as a BBQ table.

1990, and my first real attempt at building a serious model railway layout occurred when I was 16 and still living with my parents in a little town called Foster in Victoria. My N scale out-and-back folded dog bone design layout occupied most of my bedroom and loosely followed a NSW theme, using an Ibertren 44 class diesel and a motley collection of repainted German Fleishmann equipment. It ran okay, and while I had fun molding plaster cast mountains using chicken wire and papier mache for the first time, the layout was never finished. As it weighed a tonne and was too big to fit in the back of my Nissan Bluebird station wagon when I moved out of home, it ultimately made its way to the dump. However, my Mother kept the thin strip of benchwork that extended to the left and later turned this into a BBQ serving table. All these years later, the BBQ table has survived and is still in use at family get-togethers on the Gold Coast.

Layout No. 2 my N scale Chicago & North Western Bayport layout.

Now married and living in Queensland, the next layout I attempted was a room sized N scale layout using U.S. Chicago & North Western equipment. Started in 1993 and built around a sprawling lake, the layout was eventually scaled back to a continuous loop running around an L-shaped layout the size of two single beds and completed by 1999. Don't ask me what a Midwestern USA prairie railroad was doing running around a lake, I just liked the colours.

Layout No. 2's up and over trestle bridge was my favourite feature.

The layout was a mixture of cheap plastic kits and scratch-built buildings made by myself from balsa wood. The rollingstock was a mixture of new at the time Life-Like locos and the cheapest Bachmann freight cars I could buy as money was tight following the purchase of our first home. It was cluttered, had too many scenic elements that looked like they were stacked on top of each other and ran as rough as guts. If the trains weren't screaming at full speed, you could guarantee that it would stop somewhere on the layout, usually inside one of the tunnels. Derailments were common, making any thoughts of switching cars in sidings simply not worth the effort, but it did keep my kids amused when they were young.

Layout No. 2 was a sprawling affair, but ran as rough as guts!

By the time I had finally decided on a name for the layout, Bayport being the city where the Hardy Boys adventures unfolded, I had also learned the art of installing clear perspex around the entire viewable portion of the layout. Cleaning the hand prints and marks where runny noses would press up against the protective screen became just as important as cleaning the track itself. But ultimately I wasn't happy with the finished result, so pulled it apart in 2000 and started over.

Layout No. 3 the Chicago & North Western Overton Subdivision was my 1st exhibition standard layout back in 2002.

By 2002, my 3rd layout was ready to make its exhibition debut at the 2002 Brisbane Miniature Train Show. Almost 2 years in the making, my near 3 metre long N scale Chicago & North Western layout was aptly named the C&NW Overton Subdivision, just so that I could incorporate my surname onto the exhibitor plaque. My wife had wanted more storage space at home, and so after pulling apart my 2nd layout I soon set to work constructing a 4 door pine cupboard that would feature a model railroad on top. We hired a tandem axle horse float to transport the all-in-one layout and cupboard into the city, and thanks to some slide-on skateboard type supports at each end, the cupboard was easily rolled and lifted on and off the trailer.

The C&NW Overton Subdivision had reached its peak by the time of the 2005 Union Pacific Model Railroad Club Show.

The C&NW Overton Subdivision will always be remembered as perhaps my favourite layout. The double track continous loop layout ran faultlessly, and trains disappeared at each end behind a shallow relief backdrop that ran the full length of the layout before reappearing at the other end once more. By the time the layout made its second exhibition appearance 3 years later at the Union Pacific Model Railroad Club of Brisbane's show in 2005, it had undergone continuous change. The right hand side had been opened up to include an overpass that the trains disappeared beneath, a visible fly-through had been included in the middle for a new industry and siding, the station area upgraded, a new motel built as a centerpiece of the township and some rock work added to the scenery on the left hand side.

My then 8 year-old son Brandon joined me as an exhibitor at the 2005 Union Pacific Model Railroad Club Show.

The amount of derailments that occurred on this layout over its lifetime could be counted on one hand. I owe a lot of that layout's success to Ray Nunn of Austral Modelcraft in Brisbane's Mount Gravatt. Always keen to hear how his customer's layouts were progressing, he shared a lot of early advice such as soldering your rail joints to eliminate any dead spots on your layout, the best way to ballast your track and so on. Not only did I take all that early advice on board, but while frequenting his shop over the years I lived in Brisbane, I purchased any magazine or special publication that would help me become a better model railroader. I upgraded my fleet of C&NW diesels to the latest Atlas and Kato models and soon had a layout that performed immaculately, to the point where I could let my then 8 year-old Son Brandon take the throttle for half hour or so at an exhibition while I wandered around talking to others or grabbing a bite to eat.

Rochelle Station on my C&NW layout was named after my daughter.

Sadly, all good things seem to come to an end. While the cupboard-come-layout survived being in storage for 18 months while we built a new house and relocated to the Sunshine Coast in 2008, it didn't when it came time to selling that same house just 2 years later in 2010. Moving into an apartment was just not going to work with a near 3 metre long cupboard that wouldn't fit through anything but a glass sliding door. Unable to find a buyer, the layout was dismantled and the rollingstock and model buildings sold off individually on eBay. It still pains me to think of that pine timber cupboard being offloaded at the dump, but hopefully some readers may recognise some of the above structures and rollingstock if they purchased anything from eBay around 2010-2011.

Layout No. 4 - Alaska in a coffee table, my N scale Northern Exposure layout.

Downsizing into a small apartment didn't stop me from building another N scale layout in 2011, this time beneath a glass top coffee table. Keeping with the theme of white for our lounge room, I went all-out to impress my wife with what I could do within such a small space, by building a scaled-down version of Cicely, Alaska from the TV show Northern Exposure. I loved that show immensely, and soon set about recreating the feel of the town complete with Alaska Railroad locomotives and rollingstock. Believe me, finding Alaskan N scale stuff in Australia is a bit like trying to find a kangaroo in Alaska!

Those are Atlas N scale F7A's emerging into snow from the fully timber-lined tunnel.

Following a two-part winterscape article on making snow by Rand Hood in the January and February issues of Model Railroader magazine, I experimented by making a few batches of white slurry until I found my own mixture that looked better under glass. Basically my version involved white paint, Selleys no more gaps and copious amounts of white craft glitter. The result was simple yet looked amazing.

That's a scratchbuilt timber trestle bridge the canoe-ers are emerging beneath.

The Alaskan coffee table satisfied my need for a model railroad within a small apartment, while also being able to sit back on a stinking hot summer's day in Australia and take in the free psychological air-conditioning the layout provided as a way to cool down. I soon immersed myself in everything Alaskan, and often I'd have an episode of Northern Exposure or an Alaska Railroad DVD playing on the big screen TV in front of the layout.

For a small N scale coffee table layout, I had a huge amount of fun building this.

Watching a train chase its tail around in a circle soon became a bit like watching a train go round and round the Christmas tree, and I had to continually remind myself that it wasn't Christmas everyday. A single siding gave me an excuse to drop off and pick up a box car from the freight shed, but the biggest problem was how low the layout was to the ground to enjoy operating it. I was always dreaming of one day going to Alaska to ride the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and the White Pass & Yukon Route up the cliffs from Skagway, so the coffee table was a way to bring a little bit of Alaska Down Under. While I may still get to travel to Alaska one day, the coffee table sure was a great little layout, and has since passed into the hands of Charles Webber in Brisbane.

So what do I make of this model railway trip down memory lane? Well, while cleaning through some old boxes of railway memorabilia, I came across the two exhibitor plaques from my old C&NW layout. Before the pine cupboard was hauled to the dump in the back of a trailer, I had somehow managed to pry the plaques loose from the layout and had stored them away safely. I'm so glad that I did. Photos are great to look back on, but the two plaques were like finding a small piece of my own railway memorabilia.

The exhibitor plaques from my previous layout are now mounted inside the mouse-hole door panel of Philden.

Although nothing to do with layout no. 5, I decided to mount them along with the brass C&NW letters inside the mouse-hole door cavity of my current bookshelf layout. Even with the door opened for the tracks to connect with the staging shelf, they are not going to be visible to the viewing public anyway. But for while I am operating trains to and from the visible portion of my bookshelf layout, it is a reminder of the time that my modelling skills progressed from an eager amateur to a wanna-be professional, (if there ever can be such a term).

While they are not visible to the viewing public, the plaques are a way of paying tribute to my former layout.

Fast forward to late 2014, and the increasing amount of exceptional quality Australian HO scale models being released on the market finally convinced me after 30 years of N scale modeling to switch scales, and construct a new layout. Layout No. 5 became Philden, (an acronym of my name, Phillip, and my wife's Denise). Keith Jordan's The Patch HO scale layout as featured in 2012 Great Model Railroads became the inspiration for an apartment sized bookshelf layout. While Southern Rail Models NSW 2 car Xplorer set gave me reason enough to believe that I could enjoy operating trains on an up-and-back layout. In May 2015 after returning from the Brisbane Model Train Show full of inspiration and armed with a car boot full of goodies, I made the call to start this blog, documenting the step-by-step construction process from the moment I cut into the first piece of timber.

Layout No. 5 was a change to both Australian outline and HO scale after 30 years of N scale modeling.

Now, almost 18 months later, trains are running and around 95% of the scenery and buildings are complete. With only some final re-wiring issues to sort out with the interior lights on some structures, Philden is ready to make its exhibition debut in 2017. To date I have approached a couple of show organizers here in south east Queensland, so for now I'll just have to sit back and wait before announcing which shows I will be taking Philden to next year. Having been to quite a few model train shows in the past, I know how exciting it is to walk into a venue and say; "wow, I haven't seen that layout before." I think as a model railroader, it is important for even a lone-wolf modeler such as myself, to contribute to the growth of our hobby by making their layouts available to be appreciated by the viewing public. Not only that, but getting a new exhibitor plaque to proudly display on the layout will give Philden its own unique sense of place in history.

Philden won't be my last layout, even allowing for the upper level expansion that will follow sometime in the next 12 months, but I certainly want this to be a layout that lasts a lifetime. Even if circumstances change in the future and I once more have the space for a room-sized layout, it would easily make a great end terminus, or at the very least a fancy display cabinet for my rollingstock. While its all too-easy to be caught up in the euphoria of our latest modelling projects, I'm glad I took the time to sit down and write this post while reflecting on my past layouts. There's often a lot of sentiment attached when talking about railways, after all, its what attracts us modelers to devoting countless hours to recreating a time or place from our youthful pasts. But when it comes to model railroads themselves, there's always something that is evolving in this hobby and it can quite often become a case of out with the old and in with the new. Perhaps in the process we're overlooking some of the great layouts that once existed. If I mention the names Beyond Bulliac, Bolivia or Esk, who actually remembers what I am talking about?

Anyway, after my stroll down memory lane and having just come back from visiting the 1st ever Logan & District Model Train Show at Beenleigh over the weekend, I hope that Philden can take its place in the busy hall at next years show at Beenleigh. If it inspires just one person to believe they too could build a 9 foot long HO bookshelf layout in a small apartment, then I will have succeeded in doing something positive for the hobby. Now if you excuse me, I better get to work on all the final touches.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Review: Casula Hobbies NPCF Hoppers

For someone modelling a cement plant as their major source of traffic on a small bookshelf layout, it appears that I am spoiled for choice when it comes to the number of high quality ready-to-run HO scale Australian cement hoppers available on the market. Although both Southern Rail Models and SDS Models have released the PRX/NPRX/NPRY/NPRF cement wagons, Casula Hobbies of Sydney have also made available a ready-to-run HO scale version of a NPCF cement hopper, of which only 10 were built by Tulloch Ltd in 1973. With a drastically different body shape to the NPRF/NPRY cement hoppers, buying a set of the Casula Hobbies NPCF hoppers has added a bit of variety to the Philden cement train.

This nicely presented box of 4 NPCF FreightCorp cement hoppers retails for $299.00 through Casula Hobbies.

A box of 4 NPCF/PCC/PCX cement hoppers will set you back $299 Australian. While the FreightCorp set I purchased above has now sold out, various sets of grime, as delivered aluminium and plain white hoppers are still available, with some hoppers even carrying the stenciling on the side from the time they were used privately as bulk flour hoppers for Goodman Fielder when first delivered in 1973. Fast forward to the 1990's, and the fleet of NPCF hoppers were repainted white with FreightCorp lettering. By the mid 2000's they had reverted to plain white, and as of today only 9 survive under Pacific National ownership. Unfortunately, all now appear to be kept in storage.

The Casula Hobbies NPCF is finished off nicely underneath with some gorgeous pipe detail.

Out of the box, the detail on the model looks amazing. Underneath there is a complex amount of discharge piping that extends to one side of the hopper. It leaves me wondering if these hoppers were designed to only be discharged from one side of the rails? The weight of the model appears to be good, and it rolls freely through a double pair of Peco medium radius points without any cause for concern. The blackened metal wheels and scale Kadee type couplers finish the model off nicely.

That's a Southern Rail Models NPRY to the left of the Casula Hobbies NPCF hopper.

Being an independent blogger with no particular affiliation to any model railway manufacturer, gives me the freedom to turn one of my Southern Rail Models NPRY's upside down and compare it with the Casula Hobbies NPCF. It is interesting to note how two different manufacturers have gone about finishing the under-frame details on their respective models. The slightly longer Casula Hobbies NPCF hopper on the right uses moulded plastic details while the Southern Rail Models NPRY hopper on the left is finished with a mixture of plastic and unpainted wire rods. Side by side the underneath of the Casula Hobbies model looks more 'finished' in my opinion and clearly scores the points. However, once placed on the track and viewed from rail height, the underneath detail really becomes a case of potato-potato as to which model looks better.

The Casula Hobbies NPCF to the left has a drastically different profile to the Southern Rail Models NPRY hopper. 

Placed side-by-side, you really gain an appreciation for the uniqueness of these models, and both have that beautiful-ugly characteristic about them that sets them apart from modelling a string of containers on flatcars. The Casula Hobbies NPCF hopper is nicely finished with etched brass walkways, ladders and handrails, and the crispness of the safety signs that are printed on the model are a real treat! With the NPCF hopper on the left constructed with rolled aluminium smooth sides, and the NPRY hopper on the right having welded aluminium seams, the Southern Rail Models NPRY model carries that little bit more detail in my opinion and takes the points from side on. Most importantly however, the two different manufacturer's models both roll freely and couple on perfectly every time, making them great companions for operating together on my layout.

The side piping appears on one side of the NPCF, while the brass etched walkway detailing is on the other.

While I'm glad to have added some NPCF cement hoppers to my small HO scale NSW layout, when a pack of 4 equates to $75 per hopper, I would much rather have only had to purchase 2 of these unique models, purely to add some variety to the consist of my short block cement trains. I've seen photos of these hoppers mixed in with a string of NPRF/NPRY hoppers on trains headed to Murwillumbah in the late 1990's, (probably carrying flyash at the time for construction work on the Pacific Highway upgrade) and the trains looked absolutely terrific. So it remains to be seen if any more than 2 of these great looking NPCF's will remain on Philden's roster. Especially given that there were only 10 of the NPCF's ever constructed as opposed to 125 NPRY's built between 1977 and 1981, and a further 30 NPRF hoppers constructed between 1987 and 1988. But hats off to Casula Hobbies for giving us a great model of an unusual and rare prototype. I'm sure that with the FreightCorp version of this model now sold out, I will have no problem selling a pair on eBay or trying to swap for a WBAX, RLSY or NLJX louvered van to add to my 1990's/2000's roster.

Review Card: Casula Hobbies NSW NPCF/PCC/PCX Cement Hoppers

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: A very nicely detailed model of what was an unusual and rare prototype. Although a little on the pricey end compared to other NSW cement hoppers that are available on the market.

See also; Review: Southern Rail Models NPRY/NPRF Cement Hoppers