Blog Archives

Spline now 80% complete …

Hi all,

Over the last few months, I have completed all spline work within the Ardglen area, including the ballast sidings, and also to a point about halfway between Ardglen and Pangela.

This now means I have completed construction of 80% of total spline, which equates to 292 feet (88.5 metres) with just 74 feet (22.5 metres) of spline left to build through Pangela and to connect up to the helix.

The two images below are views of Ardglen from either end, showing the storage and goods sidings.

Ardglen spline (tunnel end)

Ardglen spline looking towards tunnel











The next image is a shot further down the grade from Ardglen, looking back towards the ballast sidings coming off the quarry road.

Ardglen spline with ballast sidings


The next image shows the shunting neck at the end of the quarry road.

Ardglen spline with quarry road shunting neck


The next image shows a general view of the section above Temple Court.  I have yet to finalise setting the grade in this section.  Temple Court has been covered with drop sheets to protect the scenery from dust and dirt whilst working above.


The next series of images show the spline from Ardglen tunnel through to a point about halfway to Pangela.


Enthusiasm reinvigorated …

Hi all,

Last weekend saw me attend the 5th bi-annual New England Convention hosted by the New England Model Railway Club in Armidale NSW.

Andrew and I drove up on Friday afternoon and upon arrival, met up with a lot of familiar faces along with some new ones.

The event was held in the Armidale Bowling Club, utilising a large function room along with another three smaller rooms for the lectures and clinics.

There were three layouts on display, but my favourite was “Bullenbung Creek” by Alan Tarrant.  I had seen this layout before, but am always impressed when I see it.

Below are a couple of pics I took.

Bullenbung Creek

Bullenbung Creek







I also took a short video to demonstrate the DCC sound from a typical branchline goods train.

Click here to watch it on YouTube.

I also had the opportunity to play with the NCE DCC system which was in use on Bullenbung Creek.  I had always planned to use the EasyDCC system, but just recently discovered a limitation in how consists are handled.  With EasyDCC, consists cannot be made or broken up from the handheld throttle, they must be done at the command station.

Some months ago, a mate showed me a photo of a triple 48 class working at Pangela (see below).  Photo courtesy of Phil Collins.


In the photo, the single 48 class (the bank engine), has detached from the train and waits in the loop.  The remaining 48’s will continue with their train.  The single 48 will run light engine back to Willow Tree or Werris Creek.

I thought this operation would be cool to replicate on the layout.  The idea is to have the three 48’s marshalled on the train in staging and when they reach Pangela, the lead engine will detach from the train and run light engine back to staging and wait for the rest of the train to also return to staging, where it will be reattached.

In replicating this operation, the detaching of the single 48 ideally should be done with the handheld throttle, but with EasyDCC, the operator would have to go to the Command station, break the consist, and then continue.  With the NCE system, this can all be done from the throttle, which will be much easier.  Admittedly, I only need to do this with this one train, but I think it will be better.

So, the upshot is, I have decided to change DCC systems.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the NCE just yet, but at least I can now plan what I need to buy in the way of hardware.

I have also been quite busy with work continuing on the scenery in Temple Court.

The base scenery with the Sculpt-it has been 95% completed, and is nearly ready to start applying dirts and static grasses.

I have also been playing around with making plaster rock castings to try and replicate the large rocky outcrop as shown below.  Photo by Mick Morahan.

More on the rock castings in a future post.

Compare the shot below with where it was up to on August 29.

Temple Court base scenery almost done

Temple Court scenery progress on August 29


Temple Court scenery – Part III …

Hi all,

Scenery is progressing slowly at Temple Court.  Lots more cutting and carving of the foam has happened, creating even more mess!!

It was time to think about applying the final coating over the foam to fill in the gaps and finalise the landform.

Now, I could have gone the plaster and paper towel route, but this to me is very messy and you only have a short working time with the plaster before it starts to set.

About two years ago, I purchased a series of online DVD’s from Model Trains Video which is an arm of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine.  The two DVD’s were produced by Mike Confalone and documented how he had gone about making the scenery and specific scenes on his HO scale Allagash Railway.  Click the image below to go to the site.  Google is your friend if you wish to find out more about the Allagash.


Whilst the series is ultimately how Mike did the scenery on his own layout, and the content is based on US prototype railroads, the techniques can be applied to any layout modelling.

In one of the DVD segments, Mike demonstrates how he makes a “mud” concoction to use as a ground cover base.  It’s a mix of a product called “Celluclay”, water and latex (acrylic) paint.  The Celluclay is a papier mache product which sets hard once dry and can then be sanded, filed etc to shape.

After watching the videos, I tried to find this Celluclay.  It’s certainly available here in Australia, but it’s quite pricey, and being a dense product, quite heavy to post.

Again, Google was my friend, and I came across what appears to be an identical product called EC Sculpt-it.  Well, after more searching, I came across a 10kg bag of the stuff being sold by Officeworks.  It was only available as an online order, but I was able to have it delivered to my local store for free pickup.  Here it is on the Officeworks website.  At $55 for 10kg, it’s certainly cheaper than the equivalent quantity of Celluclay.

Below are some shots of the area prior to applying the “mud”.


I decided to mix up a small, initial batch of the “mud” as a test, but just used water only with the Sculp-it.  Well this didn’t turn out so well, and I probably made it too wet, and wasn’t all that easy to apply.  It did however harden in about 45 minutes.

first attempt at the "mud"


For the second attempt, I decided to mix some acrylic paint with the Sculp-it.  I found some very old paving paint in the garden shed and decided to try that.  It certainly mixed better and made into a nice paste, but again, I probably made it too wet, as it seemed to take overnight to dry.

second attempt at the "mud"


I then decided to look at Mike’s video once again.  I discovered that he adds some water to the dry stuff first, then adds the paint.  There is no hard and fast mixing ratio, but after having a third attempt, I came up with a good mix.

I use three good handfuls of the Sculpt-it, probably about 100ml of water, then add the paint until a thick consistency is achieved.  It needs to be thoroughly mixed so no dry product remains.

The photo on the left below shows the dry product and the right hand photo shows the resultant “mud”.

the dry productThe "mud"








Prior to starting with this third batch of the mud, I decided to attach the first section of fascia so I could bring the mud right up to the fascia edge.  I used an offcut of 1/8” masonite that was left over from cutting the spline material.  It was 2400mm long by about 230mm wide.  This was temporarily held in place and a rough line drawn on the inside following the foam contours.  It was then cut out with a jigsaw, placed back in position and screwed to the joists.  The screw heads will be filled and sanded later.

fascia fixing


Then came the fun part.  The mud was worked into the foam with one or two fingers, smoothing out regularly with a light spray of water on top.  The photo below shows my stepson, Connor, helping me out!

applying the mud

The mud was brought right up to the fascia edge and also up to the roadbed and shaped appropriately.  By now I think I had the right mixture and technique happening.  It was dry to the touch after a couple of hours.

The photo below shows the first section complete. 

first section of "mud" down

I’m still not sure whether to continue covering all the foam, or just use it to fill the gaps and make contours where needed.  It’s certainly going to use up a lot of mud if I am to completely cover the foam.  What you see above has used 2kg of the dry Sculpt-it.  I have read that either sawdust or Vermiculite can be used 50/50 with the Sculpt-it to make it go further.  I might try this with the next batch of mud.

I have also been making some rock castings from plaster in some borrowed moulds.  These are planned for a short section just to the left of the printed picture in the photo above.  The image below shows what I hope to achieve in the scene.  More on this in the next post.


Now that I have this first section of scenery done and the fascia in place, I really like how the scene is progressing.  I will now continue with the mud behind the track, probably up to where the rock castings will go.  Stay tuned!


Temple Court scenery – Part II …

Since the last post, I have been busy making more mess with styrofoam!!

I started applying layers of the foam to build up where I wanted hills, cuttings and embankments.  This was a pretty slow process actually, as it’s very tricky to fit square foam pieces into a curved area.  There is a lot of cutting!!

Below is a series of photos showing progress so far.

The section above includes the formation of the old line to the shale oil works at Murrurundi which I described here.


The two photos above show some of the high density XPS foam I purchased from Bunnings.  For those of you that follow Railpage, there is a thread on the stuff here.  It was easy to cut into strips and then kerf to allow it to follow the roadbed easily.  The bamboo skewers help hold the foam in place while the adhesive sets.


Here I have started to carve an embankment into the foam.  This is only a rough formation as the final shape will occur with plaster sculpting.


An overall shot showing the formations.


I am certainly enjoying this part, and the scene is taking shape, but it is difficult to visualise what the scene will look like, as well as trying to copy what I see in the photos.


Temple Court scenery – Part I …

This week has seen me make a start on forming the scenery in the Temple Court section.

So I dragged out some polystyrene foam I had been collecting over the years and worked out what I could use.

I had some 30mm thick sheets about a metre square that would do the trick, along with an assortment of various shapes and sizes.

first layer of scenery foam in place

The foam is cut to shape and glued to the joists with water based construction adhesive, with additional timber supports installed where required.  The next stage is to use some high density XPS foam to build up the areas that will require carving away.

The section on the far left will probably end up being a low cutting to help disguise the ‘rat-hole’ in the backscene.

The section near the centre of the photo will be a rocky outcrop based on the prototype as shown below.

4538+4512+4497+48138 with Up No.606 freight, make their way past

a granite outcrop near Temple Court on 19 May 1982.

Photo by Mick Morahan


4854+44224+4483+44211 with an Up wheat near Temple Court in 1980.

Photo by Chris Nelson



And then there was sky …

Hi all,

Well, I took the plunge today and painted the Temple Court backdrop a “sky” blue.

Since the last post where I showed the completed backdrop installed, I have finished the task of filling and sanding the joins in the MDF.  I used a final finish topping compound from Gyprock.  A couple of layers were done to ensure a smooth transition over the join.  Some mesh jointing tape was also used to help prevent cracking of the join.

filling and sanding the join


Once sanded smooth, an undercoat was applied.

I had recently been pondering the option of a painted backdrop or a photographic backdrop in this section.  There are a number of products available with Australian scenes, but I just couldn’t decide on one that I thought would look right.  In the end, I have decided to have a go at a painted backdrop.  It will most likely end up just being the sky with some painted clouds.

Below is the result of one coat of sky paint this morning.

panorama shot of the blue sky

The colour is Dulux ‘Shimmer Half’ A339.  I used a foam type roller which hopefully won’t leave much of an ‘eggshell’ type surface.

Next step is to try painting some clouds using a technique shown on Trainmasters TV.  I recently subscribed to this paid service.  I signed up for the two year option.  It’s not bad value at $3.50 per month.  I have found that not many episodes interest me, but the ones on weathering etc have been interesting.  I’ll explain about the cloud painting in the next post.  Hopefully they will turn out OK!!


Work continues on Temple Court section …

Hi all,

Since my last post on Temple Court, I have been busy continuing with benchwork for the backdrop in this section as well as installing some upper deck supports.

I also added extra bracing back to the walls to strengthen the whole thing.

upper deck support bracing

I have had to do quite a lot of thinking about the deck separation and depth of scenes around Temple Court, as, for me to continue with spline construction up into Ardglen, I needed to have some supports in place.  This meant working out a bracket design that would support the spline and scenery, as well as maximising deck separation below to Temple Court.

I always had the idea of making the upper deck brackets out of 20mm square steel tube, mainly to maximise deck separation, but also because I had heaps of the stuff left over from an old balustrade system from around our outdoor deck.

steel tube upper deck support

As it turns out, at least in this section, I decided to use only a few steel brackets, as I could see issues with fixing future timber risers to the steel tube.  Anyway, these ones will be a test for future supports under Pangela.

I ended up making the rest of the supports from 2×1 DAR pine screwed together in an inverted L shape.  A 6mm ply brace was also glued and screwed to these supports.

upper deck roadbed supportplywood brace







These supports are placed at roughly the elevation of the spline at each location.  I was going to make them exactly at the elevation, but thought it wouldn’t leave any room for adjustment to the correct height.  This will be achieved with timber shims.  The supports are just long enough so the spline will be attached close to the end.  Another piece of 2×1 will be attached later to extend out for the fascia support.  This design was done to ensure maximum scenery depth below track level but also to maintain maximum deck separation.

I wasn’t concerned about the angled brace being high at the back, as in this part of the upper deck scene, there will be hills pretty much the full height of the backdrop.








The above two photos show the section ready for backdrop installation.  I have chosen to use 3mm MDF.  In this section, the backdrop is about 400mm high, so out of a 2440 x 1220mm sheet, I was able to get three sections of backdrop for the full length of this scene.  Prior to installing the MDF, the rear of each sheet was painted in an undercoat to seal the MDF, so as to prevent any possible ingress of moisture.  I was unsure whether I would have to worry about it, but better to do it now than later.


Entry/exit from Down Staging

Entry/exit from helix







The above two pictures show the curved backdrop at either end of the section.  The left hand shot is at the Down staging yards and the right hand shot is leading to the helix.


fixing backdrop in place

The shot above shows the second section of backdrop being held in place with clamps and pieces of 2×1 whilst the adhesive sets.  The clamps were left in place for 24 hours.  I used construction adhesive, and was planning on using only that, but have since decided to also screw the MDF to the supports at the top and bottom.  These screws will pretty much be hidden behind scenery and the upper deck pelmet.


Panorama view of Temple Court section

The shot above is a panorama view of the Temple Court backdrop as it is now.  I have started to fill and sand the joins in the MDF.  Next stage will be to paint this in a “sky” blue.

Cheers for now.

Central Valley Track laying – Part II …

Hi all,

On Monday I laid the first lengths of rail down on the Central Valley tie bases.

The first job was to install a short section of transition track between the PECO track and the CV track.  This is located about where the train will enter the Temple Court scenicked section from the helix.  The transition piece was required due to the different overall track heights between the PECO and the CV track, which was around one millimetre, with the CV track being less.

I managed to find a short length of Micro Engineering code 70 track and this was duly made to fit and feeder wires soldered in place.

location of transition section between PECO and CV track

transition section glued in place

In the second picture you will notice quite a bit of adhesive.  As the transition section could not sit flat on the foam due to the track height difference, the plan was to have it sit ‘suspended’ in the bed of glue.  Liquid Nails was used, but once I had the track in position, I realised I had applied a tad too much glue!  The excess glue will be removed with a Dremel ‘burr’ tool once set.

In the image below, I have pointed out that the rail joins are offset.  This is similar to what I did when laying the PECO track in the helix.  It’s always better to have rail joins staggered, as this helps with the flow of the track and the possibility of a kink is avoided.

rail joins are offset

I must now mention that the longer bit of rail at the top in the above image was pre-coated with the contact adhesive as well as the few CV ties that it would be glued to.  Once it was in position, the rail was held down, located in the moulded tieplates, and MEK applied with a brush to the tieplates to activate the adhesive and make the bond.  This will be explained further on.

I could now start laying rail on the CV track.  But first I had to come up with a sequence of things to do.  At the moment, this is what I have come up with:

1.  Depending on the location, the rail needs to be pre-curved.  The main reason for doing this is to alleviate the stresses on rail joins where the rail would be under tension and have a tendency to want to ‘spring’ out.  The rail is curved using a Rail Roller from Fast Tracks.

pre-curving the rail

The bend can be adjusted to suit whatever radius you have.  I found that after a few passes through the tool, I achieved just the right amount for the rail to virtually sit in place on its own.

2.  Once the rail has been curved, it is placed in position and a mark made at a suitable location for the feeder wire to be attached.  With the semi-hollow nature of the spline roadbed, it allows the feeder wires to be pulled through the foam and spline.  These will be hidden by the ballast later on.

So, a short piece of hook-up wire is soldered in place on the underside of the rail.

feeder wire soldered in place

feeder wire when rail in place


3.  The underside of the rail is now cleaned with Methylated Spirits to ensure a good bond with the contact adhesive.

rail is cleaned with methylated spirits


4.  Once the rail is clean, the contact adhesive & MEK mixture is applied as a thin coating using a cotton bud.

adhesive applied to rail


5.  The same adhesive is also applied to the tieplates on the CV track.  Again a thin coating is all that is required and is applied by brush.

adhesive applied to tieplates

Both the rail and tieplates are left to dry for at least an hour.

6.  Once the adhesive is dry, the rail is placed in position on the moulded tieplates, held down with light pressure with a small block of wood, and MEK is then applied to the rail/tieplate join with a brush.  Keep pressure applied for about thirty seconds then move on.  I only do about ten sleepers at a time.

bonding rail to sleepers with MEK

At this point, I am only laying one rail.  I’ll probably continue with one rail all the way to the staging yards, then come back and fix the second rail in place.  I’m hoping I won’t need to use any gauges as the moulded tieplates form the ‘gauging’.

Overall I am very pleased with how it’s all going.  A lot better and easier than I had imagined.


Central Valley Track laying – Part I …

Hi all,

Well, after a lot of procrastinating over the last few months, I have finally started laying down the first sections of Central Valley Model Works (CVMW) tie (sleeper) bases in the Temple Court section.

First, a bit of background as to why I chose the CV tie strips over traditional flex track.

After I had finalised the track plan way back in 2009/10, I pretty much knew how much track I would need for the scenicked sections.  There is a total mainline length of 458 feet (139 metres) between staging yard exits, including the helix.  The helix and short section from the bottom of the helix to the start of the Temple Court scene is 109ft (33m).  This leaves 349ft (106m) of scenicked run.  Add to this the trackage in the loops at Kankool, Ardglen and Pangela of 51ft (15m), this takes the total scenicked trackage to 400ft (122m).

Traditional flex track is easy to install but is expensive.  For example, if I were to use Micro Engineering Code 70 flex track, I would need around 130 lengths (3ft), which at $7.25 (from The Railcar) would cost me $942.

For the equivalent three foot length of Central Valley ties plus code 70 rail, at the time (2010), cost me around $3.00.  The CV ties came in a bulk pack of 50ft for around $45 and code 70 rail was around $40 for 33 lengths (3ft lengths).  So you can see the savings I’ve made.  The CV ties and rail were purchased from Proto87 Stores.

The other downside of flex track I have found, especially Micro Engineering, is it is very hard to lay out in curves, as the rail is quite tight in the moulded ‘spikes’.  The sleepers also are a bit on the thin side.

So, the CV track I eventually went with was their #2002 ‘Branchline’ type.  These had 8 foot long sleepers, which according to the Trackwork Manual from Greg Edwards, is what NSWR plain track was laid on.  The sleepers also came out very close to correct width (9”) and height (4.5”).  Even though CV label this track as ‘Branchline’, the sleeper spacing came out closer than their ‘mainline’ track, which looked a little too close for me.

Anyway, I decided to give the stuff a go.

So, the idea of the CV ties is that they are glued down to the roadbed and the rail is then glued to the ties.  The CV team have always recommended a product called Barge Cement, which is essentially a flexible contact cement.

Over about the last 12 months or so, I have been trying to source this Barge Cement here in Australia but to no avail.  It is available overseas, but I was always wary about getting it shipped here as it is a flammable product.

I eventually came across an equivalent product called Bostik Contact Bond.  This also proved difficult to obtain, in Port Macquarie at least, but I eventually found some at the local Officeworks store.

Now, I have done a lot of research on this gluing of rail to plastic, and there seems to be division among modellers.  Some users swear by it, others not so much  Some say that both the base of the rail and the ties must be coated in the glue, others say only the base of the rail is required to be coated.

The idea behind the gluing method with the Barge Cement, is that it can be activated/reactivated with MEK.  This means that once the rail is in position on the sleepers, a small amount of MEK is applied with a brush which reactivates the glue and makes the bond.  This essentially bonds the glue on the rail with the plastic sleepers.

A thinned down mixture of the glue and MEK has to be made.  I followed an article I found on Model Railroad Hobbyist.  The Bostik product remains mixed over time and does not separate from the MEK.

The photo above shows (L to R) the Bostik glue, the glue/MEK mixture and the MEK.  The MEK is Plumbers Priming Fluid which can be obtained from hardware stores or plumbing supplies.

I made a 2 to 1 mixture (MEK to glue) as a test first, and tried it on a short section of the CV track.  The thinned down mixture is applied using a cotton bud.  A good, thin and even coating is applied to the underside of the rail, then the same done on the tieplates on the sleepers.  Initially I only coated the base of the rail, but this did not produce a strong bond.  The rail is then held in place and a small amount of MEK is applied to the joint.  Slight pressure is required for a few seconds to make sure the bond has occurred.

This first test seemed to go OK, but was a bit hard to judge how it would go with long lengths of rail.  I may end up using some Proto87 Stores scale spikes in strategic places just to be safe.

Oh, the rail must first be cleaned with methylated spirits prior to applying the glue.

Before laying of the CV track could start, some preparation work had to be done at the exit of the staging yards.

The thickness of the CV ties are slightly thicker than the PCB strips I used for the storage yard track, so this necessitated a slight recess to be routed out at the transition point.  I simple jig was setup up for the router and about 0.7mm was removed from the top.


Next job was to mark a centreline on the foam so I had a guide where to lay the track.  As the foam is black, I needed something that would leave a line that was visible.  I bought a white paint marker pen from a local art supplies shop and fashioned a timber jig to hold it vertically and whilst held against the spline, I could move it along and leave a line.

marking the track centreline


The grade from the Down staging yard through Temple Court and to the helix is steeper at 1.8% (1 in 55) than the rest of the layout at 1.19% (1 in 84).  This meant I had to try and ease the transition from flat to grade at the exit from the staging as smooth as possible.

I carried out some work at the location to allow for a vertical easement.  See the pictures below.  I hope they are self explanatory as it’s difficult to put into words what I have done.

Once this was completed, the spline was fixed to the staging yard benchwork.

As the CV track sections are approximately one foot long, I decided to glue three sections together into three foot lengths to make laying a bit easier.  At each end of the track sections, there is a half sleeper that when glued together at opposing ends of the track sections, a full sleeper is made thus making long smooth runs of track base.  Have another read here for a full explanation.

Through most of the research I have done on the use of CV track, many users recommend gluing the ties to the roadbed using a flexible sealant eg. caulk or No More Gaps.  This allows for some working time after laying the track in place.  I chose to use a coloured acrylic caulk as I wanted to be able to see it when I applied it to the black foam roadbed.  I applied a thin bead of caulk either side of the track centreline which was then smoothed out to a thin, even layer using a metal spatula.

applying the caulk

The track sections were then placed in position on the centreline and checked for alignment.  This was easily done by getting down low to the track and looking along it, using the raised tieplates as a guide, which were quite visible in checking for rail alignment.

CV track in position and checking for alignment

sighting along the track checking for alignment

When I was satisfied everything was OK, some weights were placed on top until the caulk cured sufficiently, which was generally a minimum of 12 hours.  There is sand in the containers.

weighting down whilst caulk cures


I did experiment with hand painting the track with water based paints prior to laying, but this proved time consuming, so the plan is once the track is down, to use the airbrush to paint the sleepers a base colour, maybe a grey, then mask off the sleepers and spray the tieplates a rust colour, then paint the rail the same colour, then glue the rail in position.  Then, prior to ballasting, some extra painting will be done, maybe some thin washes to add some randomness to the sleeper colours.  This may all prove a waste of time, as once ballast is applied, it will probably cover the sleepers anyway.  Maybe just the base grey colour will suffice.  We’ll see how all that goes!!

That’s where things are up to at the moment.  I have got track sections down to a bit over halfway to where the Peco track currently ends.

Once this is all down, then I will start painting.


More on Temple Court …

Hi all,

Following on from Rohan Fergusson’s question on the shale oil works at Murrurundi, I thought I would mark up a snapshot from Google Maps showing where the short, one mile long, private railway line ran from Temple Court to the oil works.  Click on the image for a larger version.


The old formation on the southern side of Pages River is clearly visible in Google Maps.  This could make an interesting feature to include in the Temple Court scene on the layout.

In the book, “The Shale Railways of NSW”, published by the ARHS (NSW) in 2000, there is a short seven page section on The British-Australian Oil Company Railway at Murrurundi.


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