I Have A First Class Sign

I bought it at York Railway Museum in 1995 – really I did. I did not prise it from a British Rail carriage with a pen knife. Not because of my well-known sense of honesty and scruples – because all the signs were already removed long before I boarded the trains. I had to content myself with cutting out squares of the upholstery.

Rail travel is generally wonderful if you are allowed to sit in a First Class seat – you may have noticed this as well with airplane flights. If you turn left upon entering the cabin door most of your worries and discomforts can be made to disappear – though it must be said that they do not go away cheaply. They take a good deal of your cash with them.

But back to the rails. The British are a classified society and make no bones about it. They’ll analyse you in a second by your clothing and in a nanosecond by your accent and shunt you instantly into a niche in their behavioural structure. You should not be upset by this – it is not discriminatory – they do it to everyone and to themselves. And for the foreigner ( even a Commonwealth foreigner ) there can be some advantages to this. We are given a leeway in appearance and behaviour that they do not allow themselves. We are not expected to come up to their standards ( or down to them, as the case may be ) and we can be left alone to do our own colonial thing most of the time. Thus an Australian in a British Rail first class seat will be tolerated by the other passengers to an extent that a similarly dressed local could not hope for.

If we slum it down to the second-class seats it just feels like the Armadale line on a Saturday night, so there is nothing too strange about that. Actually the clothing on the passengers is pretty similar…they might be the same people.

The nice thing about the First Class seats – compartment or aisle – is that a little man or woman wheels a refreshments trolley through at intervals and you can purchase things. There is no ice for the drinks, but the tea and coffee are cold enough as it is. It’s not exactly a Bunnings sausage sizzle either, as far as food goes, but there is a certain mdf-boardiness about British Rail sandwiches anyway. I think the best analogy is the Bunbury Shell cafe after they have turned off the cabinet heaters…

Do you get there faster in First Class? No, of course not – the train arrives all together. Do you get extra comfort? Marginally. Do you get to feel like a member of the upper classes? Only if you exercise a great deal of imagination.

But it is all worth it.


The Little World – Theatre In The Roundhouse

My visit to the West Australian Model Railway Exhibition is always enjoyable, but this year has been even more so…I have had time to reflect upon the theatre of what I was seeing. In some cases it was a complex thing and the layouts deserve praise for the sheer scale of their works.

None more so than that of the large-scale operators. I have a particular affection for them as I once owned a large amount of LGB rolling stock and track and took part in several of the rather crude early layouts at this exhibition. It was held in different halls on various years and we took advantage of hall tables and stages for the large brass track. It all arrived in boxes, we assembled a scratch layout on the floor, and then ran trains rather willy-nilly for a weekend.

No such crudities now. They have a large dedicated oval layout with three tracks available, plus shunting yards and steaming bays. They operate electric two-rail, battery-powered r/c, and live steam. I’ll bet they would run clockwork if they could get the mechanisms. The trains seem to be the same mixed bag consists that we used to lash up, but with better cars and more realistic operation. As the operation is of first concern, they are nor worried about mixing different rail systems on the layout…as long as the trains are accurate in themselves.

One thing I was bemused by was the different show that the electric trains provided vs the live steamer. The LMS locomotive with the wonderful carmine LMS passenger coaches was being driven by hand, and the minute adjustments needed to get it started and then trimmed for steady running around the circuit meant that the driver had to circle the layout at a fast clip himself. You got to see the train at intervals between seeing him. The electric people could stand in the centre and drive the trains past you for an uninterrupted view. I did note, though, that they had to contend with oil and material on the rails so there was a fair bit of wiping down after the steamers had finished. One thing – he got more healthful exercise that they did.

The temporary nature of the exhibition combined with the massive nature of the trestles and rail yards meant that scenery was kept to a minimum. It would be good to see some of these trains in a natural setting like a garden, or on a fully sculptured layout. The scale would hover between 1:22.5 – 1:29 but that is pretty consistent with the car model scale so there should be a fair supply of accessories available. Even dollhouse gear can be found in 1:24, if you wanted to get really, really detailed.

And I really, really think it would be a good idea.


The Little World – Of What I Did On My Holidays

I went on my holidays to see my Uncle and my Auntie.

They live in a house at Tolleshunt which is out in the country, but not so far that you run out of roads. Also there is the Britishrailway, which my Uncle says is the only thing that Tolleshunt has going for it past the pub. But we did not go past the pub, and neither did the Britishrailway, so I don’t know what he means.
 My Auntie said that I was going to stay for a week but my Dad said I could stay longer and my Uncle said why. But he never told me why and that was the year that my little sister was born but it was 9 months later. My Auntie was very nice, and she laughed at my Uncle but he did not laugh back.
My Uncle said go and look at the railway because my Dad had let me bring the Ilford camera with me. It is our Ilford camera and my Dad said that it was loaded with a role of Seebacrome film and I was not to waste it but take good pictures because it cost a King’s ransome to develop. The Ilford camera is white and it has a strap that you put around your neck so that you do not drop it. And it has three speeds and Bulb, so you can take pictures at night, but I wasn’t allowed out after dark. I can wind on the film myself.

These are the pictures of the Britishrailway I took. The trains come by every so often and the steam one smells like a hot potato cart. The coach is very fast and it is not sharp but that is okay. My Uncle says that it is a wonder that the Britishrailways moved fast enough to blur but I don’t know what he means.

 I think it is wonderful to live so close to the Britishrailway and when I grow up I want to do this. I also want to be a cowboy. I also want to go to visit my Uncle and Auntie again for more than a week but my Mum says not if it is that again, but I don’t know what she means.

The Britishrailway has sandwiches that you can buy but Mum doesn’t. She packs me jam ones.


Iron Down In The Soul


How often do we pass construction sites, industrial machinery, or transportation equipment and really give a thought to what we see? I know I am as blind in many cases as if I were to wander through a jungle and miss the elephants.

Here are some images captured on a holiday trip that have caused some reflection.


A boiler casing? A water tank? The Incredible Hulk’s lunch box? I must take more notice of the placards at museums… This was the Powerhouse, Sydney in the permanent Age of Steam exhibit. I am guessing the broken edge was not a good thing at the time.

Note the detail in the heading shot of the iron plates. From the layering effect seen at the edge of the centre plate I think this is wrought-iron. You can still see the marks of the riveting hammer around the rivets.


Electrical power for Sydney. No hydro-electricity at the time this was in use – just coal dragged in from the mines and burnt to heat the powerhouse boilers. I would also be willing to beat that the fireboxes of those boilers were not fed by a mechanical stoker – every Btu that went in and came out passed over the shovel of sweating stoker. On one end of the supply chain a light bulb and on the other an Irishman.


What man would not give a week’s pay to have a chance to drive or fire a real locomotive on a real journey? These two are comfortable enough here in the museum, but speculate about the level of comfort they had in their daily working life behind the spectacle plates of this British-style locomotive. Dirt, soot, rain, sun, insects, cold…all in the day’s recipe for the locomotive crew. No babying them…

Yet, I’ll bet the designer of this engine footplate – we cannot call it a cab as it has no roof – drew up the plans for it in a warm, dry office somewhere in England, with a sound dinner at 1:00 and cups of tea at 11:00 and 5:00. The directors of the railway company who built it would have done the same, but in more sumptuous offices and dining rooms. But then, they were of a better class than the driver or fireman…


Pinchgut Island housing Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour. Said to be for inner harbour defence, it begs the question why someone thought that firing on foreign vessels all the way inside Sydney harbour was a good idea when the heads was where they had to enter and leave and was far better suited to catch raiders in a cross-fire. Apparently a singularly unuseful defensive fortress.

It hosts entertainment parties these days. Unfortunately the daily gun is a blank shot to enable timepieces to be set accurately. A little more imaginative use of the muzzle-loading ordnance on the fort against the office towers of Sydney or the cruise ships and ferries would be welcome. Many of us are willing to subscribe to the cost of powder and shells for this. For heaven’s sake don’t be shy – ask us…

The Grim Reaper Just Smiled…


I have not built a radio-controlled boat since 1981 nor a train layout since 1987. I have never made a radio-controlled tank or truck. But I could not help but admire a vehicle I saw on the floor at the Model Train Exhibition. I noted that a lot of other people were crowded around the driving space too – these trucks are an ideal modelling genre for a number of reasons:

a. They are on dry land. No need to build them waterproof or spend hours drying out a moment’s ducking. They must last better.

b. They do not fly – thus they do not need to be lightweight. They can be made of sturdy materials. They do not come home in bags of bits.

c. They do not go fast or drift around corners in races. No fracturing the expensive machinery.

d. They do not pretend to fire off guns. No need to flout local “firearms” regulations to shoot BBs or foam bullets.

e. They do not need a permanent layout to run on. A concrete parking lot is fine.

f. Structures to suit them are seen everywhere and are easy to make up. As they are large models they can be scratch built satisfactorily from materials you get at Bunnings Hardware or Jacksons Art Supply.

g. They do things at a slow pace. Old guys can control them without crashing them into the crowds. The crowds do not expect crashes.

h. They do things that people recognise. Drive, turn, park, load up, get stuck in traffic, etc.


Now we need to see more small vehicles doing more big vehicle stuff. The combine harvester is a commercial model, no doubt, and is probably an advertisement for John Deere. No matter..it would be a terrifically satisfying thing to see in operation over a small grassy patch or a carpet that could be “reaped” . I wouldn’t dare to try it because all the old farmers in the crowd would laugh at me. But I’ll bet I could pass an entire day with a toy dragline or steam shovel loading sand onto R/C dump trucks.

Now to win Lotto and go looking at the hobby shop…


PS: If I had that John Deere I would send it out on the front lawn for the mushrooms. This year they are brown instead of white.



Grim , Grey, and Grimy


Merrie Englande. The Old Dart. Blighty. The Old Country. Mother England. Pommieland.


If you have gotten to thinking that England is all meadows and Cornish beaches and GWR railway autocrat gliding through the fields…we present the other view. Courtesy of the WA Model Railway Exhibition. The Lord Street Depot.


I can only guess at the location but the time period seems to be the late 50’s to early 60’s. The British Railways logo on the side of the locos gives that away, plus the lorries and vans fit the era. The grime is timeless. I cannot say whether the real English rails scene was as dark as this but I am willing to take the word of the layout builders.


I think it is O scale, and this means the vehicles are 1:43 or 1:48. I admire the good sense of the builders in making sure they are lined and weathered to fit in with the theme. In particular the use of the thin black wash on the beige sedan (Morris? Austin? ) makes it real.


Like a lot of British-themed layouts this one is a shunt back and forth yard with the occasional making up of trains and an arrival or departure to punctuate the day. Very much life as it was seen by the people who lived and worked in these areas – if they were not working on the trains and travelling to other places they did not envisage those other places. I know it is somewhat of a old saw to say that the European’s world was bounded by the walls of his town or his fields for a millennium but at least that makes the modelling of a railway scene a little easier and cheaper for them than the North American layout that tries to do a point-to-point over an entire basement.


This layout had an amazing feature. I’m still not sure if what I saw was what I saw, but I think that the little red lorry shown in this photo was entirely free of any under-ground control. It traversed the length of the layout – up and down the roadway, and seemed free to steer from side to side. When it reached the loading dock at the bottom of the hill it stopped, reversed into the dock, and then eventually ground its way back up the hill into the Lord Street Depot yard. I think one chap was operating it with a 4 channel radio controller like they use for model aircraft, and I’ll bet the motor that drove it was one of the servo motors from an aero set broken out of its casing. The action of the little lorry was absolutely realistic and I found it to be the most attractive part of the scene. Full marks!


Full marks to the designers of the large Lord Street Depot building as well – they incorporated just enough interior detail and bluish lighting to give the impression of a working building. Too many modellers fail to do this, even when the openings are small and the effort to detail the interior would be small. For my 1:18 scale automotive world dioramas I cannot afford to have bare interiors – they would give me away in a second. I do admit to deciding to leave some internal rooms unfurnished if they will never be seen from the outside, but showrooms and offices that open to a window must have some furnishings.


One thing I do hope – that the operators of Lord Street Depot can occasionally be treated to a fresh passenger carriage in Blood and Custard passing through to liven up their day. Rust and grime can dull the soul.





The Long Bridge


What is it about bridges that is so satisfying? Is it the admiration for the engineering? The defiance of gravity and circumstance? he feeling that we have accomplished something just by crossing one? The frisson of fear as we pass over the centre of the structure, and wonder if it will collapse?


Little chance of that unless we are over the Firth of Tay or Washington State. Or across the Yarra. Here at the model railway exhibition the bridges for the most part stay up and stay put. The group that models the long trains of Australia needed a suitably long structure to round off the display end of their layout. – Thus was born this three-arch structure over a dry river – a river that may only flood once every ten years. They are common in the northern parts of this state and in other outback areas. Highways can wind down to the bottom of a river valley and up the other side with nothing but the bitumen and some flood stakes as infrastructure, but railway need to do it flat – hence this amount of engineering.


The drama created by off-camera flash is fun, but the hall really is better lit than that. It needs to be to let the punters see the attractions, and to let the exhibitors repair the recalcitrant couplers on these long trains. You can’t have a weak link at the front of that many wagons and expect to get over even the best trackwork.


It took a fair few minutes to get that meet on camera – it’s worth a wait at a scenic point, even if you burn up a bit of camera battery just to be ready. Please note – the tilting LCD screen on modern digital cameras makes model shots so much easier. You canna’ change the laws of optics, Captain, but you can take what advantage of them you may if there’s enough light.


Note: This post was meant to go out yesterday but failed. Post, darn you, post!