Saturday, 23 December 2017

Christmas time, planning time

Ah, Christmas. That time of the year where one year ends, family takes over, goodwill runs merry, good food and drink abound, we exchange gifts, well wishes and long goodbyes with relatives we haven't seen since last Christmas, if we're lucky we get what we wanted, if not the Mother-in-law will blame that extra piece of Christmas pudding for it not fitting, and then just like that it's all over. It's Boxing Day, the cricket is on, the yachts are sailing out of Sydney Harbour and our thoughts turn to the model railway projects we're hoping to finish before we have to return to work for another year. Its called Christmas, and in the blink of an eye it seems another one is upon us.

Gifts and in-laws and pudding aside, it is the most optimistic time on a model railway calendar. A million thoughts of building a model layout are spawned, thousands of rough plans are sketched, hundreds of track plans are drawn on plywood bases, a few hundred less will see track nailed down and fewer still will actually be completed before next Christmas rolls around. It's just the way it goes. Ahead of an end of year holiday, I thought I would get the jump on drawing some plans for a new staging shelf to be constructed in the new year. I'll have a clear weekend calendar come January, so I wanted to be ready to go.

This 900 mm x 320 mm plan will replace the 2 track staging shelf on my layout.

Plans to replace my simple 2 track staging shelf with a 3 track staging yard complete with a pair of crossover switches to run a locomotive around a short train soon got me thinking. Did I want a staging yard, or could I turn the staging shelf into a fully detailed extension of my existing layout? And instead of a run-around switch, could the inclusion of a 3 way turnout turn this short extension into an Inglenook shunting puzzle? They were all good questions. So after weeks of playing around with life-size cutouts of Peco's HO scale track templates, I came up with the above 900 mm long x 320 mm wide extension that still allows for a 600 mm long central track to park my 2 car Xplorer train. The plans are only 160 mm longer than my existing 2 track staging shelf.

While still in its early design stages, what the above plan does offer is for a run-around access point on the two outside tracks. One for the existing cement plant siding, the other for the planned third track that will lead through the mouse hole to serve the new wheat silo that I will add to my layout in 2018. Fanning out the track closest to the bottom of the photo by swapping a right hand medium point for a left hand medium point, also allows for an island platform similar to the one I had originally planned for my now discarded upper level expansion, (see link below). By including a wide overpass at the end of the layout on the right hand side, I can disguise the lack of platform length by making it appear that it continues beneath the road bridge. Steps could then lead down from the roadway to the platform below. This simple track plan could then operate as scenic staging for my layout, or the layout could also act as staging for the new extension. Or I could just call it what it is. An extension for my layout that would give Philden two very different scenes. Country and city, or rural and port. I haven't decided. But suddenly I have options.

42109 takes a breather by the platform at Philden with a short string of PRRY container flat wagons.

For some, the thrill of model railroading is in the planning. I do know that once you cut that first piece of timber, it does become a little more difficult to alter the track plan. So this is the part of the planning that I like to think through from all angles, not only drawing up a 1:1 size layout plan on paper with a permanent marker and stuck-on printed track templates, but drawing in what structures I am picturing in pencil lines. Erasing, and erasing again until I come up with a blueprint that works.

I think the above staging extension has potential. Maybe my post-Christmas down time will enable me to tinker with this a little further. Maybe then I'll draw the plan onto a new sheet of plywood. Maybe the track will get nailed down. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have all this finished in time for Philden's first appearance of 2018. In May, not Christmas next year.

Until next year, have a very Merry Christmas, be nice to one another. And try to go easy on the Christmas pudding...

See also; A Merry Philden Christmas and Philden's HO track plan and Visualising the upper level

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Review: Auscision's CQBY/PRRY Container Wagons

It seems I've relented. As the year draws to a close, a strange, bare, flat-looking rail thingy has rolled onto my layout. Now to die-hard Aussie modellers, the sight of a PRRY container flat wagon is nothing new. Auscision first released this model back in 2009 and the re-release was over 12 months ago in 2016. But for someone who somewhere, long ago on this blog swore they would never allow a boring string of boxes to appear on his layout, I guess this is the point where I cut a slice of humble pie. Adding this model to Philden's roster is going to change everything!

The CQBY/PRRY container wagons come in a pack of 5 from Auscision Models.

Sold in a pack of 5 for $280 Australian Dollars, the models come in the familiar blue Auscision boxes with the see-through plastic blister packs. Despite having more packaging, bogie wheel clips and foam inserts holding the model in place than I've ever come across, I still managed to secure a sealed box with a model inside that had a broken lashing rail. The missing piece from below had obviously come loose somewhere between China, the hobby shop and my home. I quickly found it inside the tray liner. With instructions enclosed for how to remove and handle the models, it only took a second to realise that these wagons are going to need to be handled with extreme care.

Once more the broken model always seems to find its way to my layout....

Fragile side rails aside, the delicate framework of these models is what makes the CQBY/PRRY skeletal container wagons so appealing in the first place. If you're after a sturdy container flat wagon, then Auscision's SQKF container wagons with the solid flat base should probably be your first choice. But even empty, the see-through skeletal frames of the CQBY container wagons makes these models so visually interesting.

These models are so delicate you won't want to handle them too often.

My advice when handling these models, is to follow the instructions and only pick up the wagons by the bogie wheel sets. The side lashing rails are separately applied detail parts, glued in place at the time of manufacture. A drop of super glue from the underneath side of the model should be more than enough to secure the missing piece of side rail in place, and while I'm at it, I plan to add a micro drop of super glue to all the other join sections on each model for good measure.

Being able to see the wheels and track through the empty skeleton frame is a highlight for me.

The model itself is otherwise sound. The RP25-110 wheels roll freely through a pair of medium code 100 Peco switches and are chemically blackened. Although the wheels on the models I purchased seem to have machine lines visible on the surface. You can just make them out in the photo above. The metal scale-sized couplers are flawless, and the bogies are exceptionally well detailed. The brake wheels, see-through shunter's steps and metal release bars all look a treat. And the lettering? It's so fine that its barely readable with the naked eye!

The PRRY 45' foot or 15.58 metre long container wagons are slightly shorter than the 60' foot or 19.4 metre long CQBY container wagons. At a HO scale length of just 18 cm from coupler to coupler, the shorter F.C.L. models are a great size for a bookshelf layout such as mine. Twenty of the PRRY's were ordered in 2005 by freight company F.C.L. to handle their 48' foot containers, but are also capable of carrying a 40' foot or 2 x 20' foot containers. There is a packet of container twist lock pins included with the models to facilitate this.

Meet the new guard. XGAY's and PRRY's make for an exciting year to come!

So there you have it. It's a nice little model of a modern Australian container wagon. Sure it is a little fragile and I would rather have seen the model made with metal side lashing rails instead of plastic, but these models aren't really intended for the Thomas the Tank market are they?

What this model does for my layout is set my era in concrete. The PRRY's were introduced in mid-2005. I've always aimed my layout to be set in the era between 2002 and 2005. Even keeping these container flats in pristine as-delivered appearance, the earliest I can now claim my layout to be set is the year 2005.

Coupled with the recent departure of my Pacific National 82 Class locomotive and the arrival of Southern Rail Models XGAY wheat hoppers, I now have a great opportunity to round out my roster to depict that mid-2000's flavour. And the best way to achieve that is by carefully adding the appropriate era containers to go with my PRRY's. Fortunately Auscision Models have released a fantastic range of Australian shipping containers, meaning I don't have to settle for that globally generic Maersk or Cosco container range that every American modeller seems to have. Why would you anyway, when as an Aussie modeller you can have 20' foot, 40' foot or 48' foot containers with noticeable local markings such as Patrick, Toll, Linfox or SCT? With the price for a 2 pack of containers at around one third of the average price for a freight wagon, adding an assortment of different shipping containers is going to be a cost-effective way to add some colourful variety to my rollingstock.

2018 is already shaping as a huge transformation year for Philden. Not only is the release of Auscision Models' 48' foot containers not that far away, but the arrival of Auscision's 48 class locos can be expected around the same time. Straight after I return from holidays, I'm hoping to place my order for 48142 and a stack of containers. Now all I have to figure out is which ones. What do you think will match best to run some export and domestic containerised grain trains?

Review Card: Auscision Models PRRY Container Flat Wagons

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: High on detail, this unique skeletal container wagon looks great all on its own. Although I'm sure I'll be repairing the side rails again before too long.

See also; Auscision Models NCTY/NODY Wagons

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Review: Southern Rail's C-35/XGAY Hoppers

This week my pre-ordered XGAY's arrived. I've been eagerly awaiting these modern Aussie wheat hoppers ever since placing my order back at the 2017 Brisbane Model Train Show. Of course when I say Aussie, I mean Australian outline HO scale, because everything these days seems to be made in China. Including strangely enough, the prototype C-35 hoppers that these models are based on.

From side on, the C-35 XGAY hoppers look amazing. I love those wheat board billboards.

Unlike their real life counterparts, which from driver's accounts were a little cantankerous with sticking brake issues, the C-35 hoppers are an exquisite model. Southern Rail Models have produced these in ATN Access XGAY grey, Australian Wheat Board WGBY and WGSY both in as-delivered dark blue and faded light blue, plus the SSR BGSY as built for Southern Shorthaul Railroad. But it was the post 2002 XGAY hoppers with the AWB Turning Wheat into Gold billboard that first grabbed my attention when I saw the pre-production samples. They fit the mid 2000's era that I am modelling, and provide a modern contrast to the dinosaur fleet of older refurbished locos that I like to run on my layout. Straight out of the box the XGAY's rolled freely through a set of medium code 100 switches and coupled on perfectly. The wheel sets are chemically blackened and the model comes with genuine Kadee metal couplers. But its the detail on the model that sets these wagons apart.

The end frame detail and walkway is a stand-out on this model.

The roof hatches, etched metal walkways and end ladders make this one of the finest detailed models I've yet to see. In fact, there is more detail on this model that you'll find on most commercially produced diesel locomotives. More importantly, after a run of bad luck in recent times with models arriving with missing detail parts, everything on this model seems perfectly proportioned, and perfectly in place.

The pack I purchased was XGA 07, the post 2002 Pacific National era hoppers with the added pneumatic loading hatches fitted. In fact, it was Pacific National who bought out the ATN Access contract, bringing to an end the Wisconsin Central inspired livery of the maroon and yellow ATN Access L Class locos. But don't just take my word for it, there is a wonderful background on the history of the modern hoppers on Southern Rail's website, (link below). When assembling a model railway fleet from scratch, I really must applaud the time and effort Southern Rail take to give potential purchasers some background info and era specific time frames as to when these models ran in real life. Sadly it is something that I'm noticing is disappearing from other suppliers' websites.

The etched metal walkways and ladders is perhaps what made these an expensive project to produce.

While I haven't the budget to have purchased anymore than the simple 3 pack of wagons I plan to shunt about on my bookshelf layout, the price of these at $269 for a pack of 3 wheat hoppers makes assembling a convincingly sized train seem daunting at first. Considering these ran in block trains of 42 wagons, a set of 12 wagons is going to set any modeller back over a thousand bucks. But considering the amount of detail in these models, for the money spent on acquiring a string of these wagons they will easily become the star attraction of any layout they run on. From that point of view, I'm sure there are going to be a lot of Victorian and New South Wales modellers seriously considering adding some of these hoppers to their fleet. All I can say, is that for the money I spent pre-ordering just 1 pack of 3 hoppers, I definitely wasn't disappointed.

The underside is sturdy with enough detail to be appreciated from rail height.

Underneath, the model is sound and sturdy. The detail piping that runs under the side skirt of the wagon is something to be aware of and avoid handling. But the hatches seem to be securely fixed and add a tremendous amount of detail when viewed from side-on at rail height.

Even a simple 3 wagon string is still enough to fill a photo lens.

Perhaps what I like most of all about these models, is the way that the end access walkways seem to form a chain when more than one wagon is coupled together. It gives the wagons a real sense of purpose, even when sitting stationary in a siding. We're truly spoiled for choice these days with the amount of high quality Australian models, but this one perhaps sums up more than most what model railroading is all about, replicating that sense of moving things from one place to another. This model just looks like its ready to work.

Southern Rail Models ATN train, an L Class complete with XGAY hoppers at Philden.

So there you have it. Southern Rail Models' latest release is now an instant favourite. All that remains is for me to attack my layout after the Christmas break and add that wheat silo along the clear blue skyline visible behind the train for these beauties to pull up alongside. Those plans are already proving to be a source of frustration, but the XGAY's are here and I should have the project completed in time for Philden's next exhibition in May 2018.

Sure I would've loved to have added more than just a few of these wagons to my collection, but when the siding I have in mind will only hold 3 wagons anyway before disappearing into an escape hole, I'm very glad I added some Southern Rail Models XGAY's to Philden's roster. What follows next will be a huge overhaul of the layout and a lot of tinkering with my rollingstock fleet as Philden becomes Philden MkII for next year's show circuit, but as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day. It's an exciting time to be into model trains!

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Easily the best detailed Australian HO scale freight wagon I've come across to date. Five stars in every sense!

See also: Southern Rail's L Class locomotive