Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Bethungra - some thoughts on Trees, and Ballasting

Bethungra layout – Ballasting and tree making

Experimenting with tree making has slowed me down a lot over the last month or so.  The first lot of trees I installed, were those supplied by the Junee Broadway Museum, coming off their original now dismantled layout.  I have almost exhausted this supply.    Checking the ebay lists for more was disappointing.  Whilst I did find some more of the 3cm size I used for the Bethungra Hill, the bigger size  for foreground trees were far too expensive.  However, the size of the trees that I needed for the scenic forced perspective effect is around 5cm high, and there was very limited selection of any tree type in this size, let alone of gum trees

A small group of trees fairly typical of those on the south west slopes of NSW. 

Start of a windbreak.  Juvenile trees planted after the 2006 Junee district fire are around 13 years old

Some more trees in a sheep paddock.  
 This tree has a quite white bark, and an open canopy of leaves.  It was the inspiration for my initial efforts

The area around the Bethungra loop is open woodland, and farming, and this is what I am trying to simulate with the tree planting for the layout.
I am not a botanist, but eucalyptus trees (gum trees) are not the same.   Some of the varieties of trees near Bethungra Loop are Yellow Box, Forest Red gum, Blakely’s Red gum, Kurrajong, Ribbon gum, and Snow gum.  Then we have shrubs, like Cootamundra Wattle, and bottle brush.  A combination of the above would be most effective

A great little booklet, full of colour pictures, and descriptions of 80 gum tree types
I am not an expert when it comes to making trees.  Australian Model Railway magazine has had a few articles over the years.  (Check their on-line index for "trees").  If you are using real plants, the best looking gum trees are made out of dried sedum flower heads but these to me look mostly like alpine ash (Eucalyptus delegatenis), and besides being fairly large, probably not suitable for Bethungra.  Seafoam (Heki) can also make some good trees, and there are a few great you-tube videos by Luke Towan on the subject.  I was told that you can buy seafoam in Australia, but "out-of-stock" was all I found.  

So after finding no suitable trees on ebay, my options were to make my own using the twisted wire method.

A selection of tools.  The wire I used was automotive - and contained 20 strands of copper

After cutting and stripping off the insulation, the 20 strands of wire were twisted into tree shape.  (An ideal task whilst watching the TV)  I have included a ruler to show the size of the tree.  Size is roughly 5cm high - around 8 metres in N scale.  This would be around half the height of a mature tree.  I am planning to install these in the background as a forced perspective trick

The trunks were then dunked into household flat plastic ceiling paint that was otherwise well past its use-before date.  Previously I had decanted around 2 litres into a plastic bottle, and poured a small amount of paint into a KFC plastic cup.  Once the trees were dipped, small droplets may form on the branches, and touch these with a brush and allow to dry.  The paint in the KFC cup poured back into the bottle.  The trees dry quickly, and the paint is flexible, so the branches can be rebent.
A dirty wash of used turps gives some colour to the branches.  The green foliage is  from Woodland Scenics, cut, and teased out and attached to the branches with white glue.  I was reasonably happy with the end tree, although the wire heritage is visible, and each one has taken me close to an hour to make.

One of the original trees from the old Museum layout.  They had been made using the twisted copper method, although with heavier copper wire.  The builder of these had used no-more-gaps to give the tree trunks some bulk, which complemented the heavy foam that is used to form the leaf canopy. 

There were quite a number of "dead trees" in with the museum supply.  I tried the Woodland scenics foliage on the dead trees to see if that would work.

In the effort to speed up tree making, here are some quickies.  They are basically woodland scenics foliage on a stick. They take under 10 minutes each.  Grouped, in the distance, they will probably be OK.. 
The Woodland Scenics foliage has an unfortunate characteristic, in that a lot of the foam in the fibre mesh is loose, and liable to fall out.  To counter this, I spray each tree with cheap hair spray.


Much has been written in the model press about ballasting.  Ballasting is not a without risks, so I thought I would share some of my experience.

         - Make sure the trains run properly before adding ballast
         - Adding ballast can create track problems due to expansion and contraction of the rails due to temperature changes
    Ballast can interfere with flangeways.
    -  Loose ballast can find its way into loco mechanisms
    - Gluing the ballast will add noise to train running
   Poor gluing can cause points or switches to stop working.
   Some ballast contains unwanted impurities, which can promote corrosion
   Ballasting too early can make scenery work harder

A successful model railway can be made without ballasting, but it is not finished without ballasting.

As our hands and tools are not scaled, most ballasting techniques will need clear space.  So, before I plant any trees close to the tracks, I needed to ballast.

Basic tools.  I transfer the ballast into a resealable container, as a nick in the plastic bag the ballast is sold in leads to a mess (ask me how I know). A film canister to pour the ballast onto the track.  A spray bottle to wet the ballast  The diluted whiteglue, and detergent mix in a jar, the pipette for transferring the glue to the ballast, and a brush, and stick to ensure that no ballast gets attached to the inside running rail of the track 

The area of track to be ballasted.  Basic scenery has been completed

After pouring the ballast onto the track, but before shaping.  You can buy  tools to pour and shape the ballast in one go, but there is something satisfying to use your finger to bulldoze the ballast into the gaps formed by the sleepers.  Remember, it is easy to add more ballast, and harder to remove - so take your time.  The brush and stick can then be used to clear the inside track running rails of any ballast  before gluing. A fingernail works too

Once happy with the ballast shape, mist the ballast with your sprayer.  Then, flood the ballast with your diluted white glue mixture.  I find the pipette very effective in dropping the glue exactly where it is needed.  The earlier painting of the track (covered earlier in the series), makes the oversized track "disappear".  Allow to dry for around 24 hrs

Another section of ballasted track.  The line of the original cork underlay is unfortunately visible, but one could add a bit more ballast, or some weeds to hide this.  The railhead needs to be polished too, before running a train.  I try and not use an abrasive  track rubber, but masonite is a good alternative with a little more elbow grease. 
The last thing I do before returning to the scenery, is to locate, and remove the track fixing pins.  The ballast holds the track a lot better than the pins in any case.  If you ever need to adjust the track, the last thing you need is to have a pin preventing it being moved. 


A lot has happened world wide since I wrote my last Blog-post 3 weeks ago.  The COVID-19 coronavirus will have a different impact on the lives of all people, and we are all heading into the unknown.  But it is times like this when having such a great hobby as model railways, allows one, for at least some time, to escape to an alternate world that you have made.  In these troubling times, stay safe, and hopefully, we will all come through this a lot wiser.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Brass Models - the foam monster

Brass models - The foam problem

A bit of a departure from my NSW modelling today, although there is a link.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to have acquired a number of brass models.  I started with the Bergs 73 class in 1982, and continued as availability, and finances permitted.  I didn’t have a specific plan to model Wagga at that stage, but that didn’t seem to matter.  The models were fantastic

The NSW 46 class HO model was sold in the early 1980s for $450 by Bergs Hobbies.  It was made in Japan by Kumata.  At the time, $450 was a lot more expensive than other new brass Australian outline models, including steam.  This was understandable, as the other brass locos were exclusively made in Korea, with lower standard of living than Japan.  A rerun of the 46 class happened around 20 years ago – and these were all factory painted.  My understanding is that a number of 46 class locos were “discovered” in the Kumata factory, and made available for sale through Bergs Hobbies.

Many of my brass locomotives got to run on the various exhibition layouts I was involved with, but as time went on, the rigors of exhibition running, and the “clumsy oath” operators took their toll.  The brass locos were retired back into their protective boxes, where many still hibernate.

I was reminded last week that I should service a few of the locos that I have, so that got me opening boxes. 

A HO model of the Swiss Am6/6 shunting loco by Fulgurex.  This model was made by Kumata in 1982, one of 400 made at the time.  Note the foam has started to deform - and the plastic freezer bag I have wrapped the model in.
The prototype class consisted of 6 locos, numbered 18521 to 18526.
All six were built specially for heavy shunting in the Limmattal yard in Z├╝rich, although I did not see any at Zurich during my 2018 trip
Entered service in 1976 and still operating, now reclassified as series Am 861.
Weight 111 tonnes.Length over buffers 17.4 m.Power 1435 kW. Max speed 85 kph.
Builder (mechanical) Thyssen Henschel. (Thanks John B for the information)
The poor standard of the foam can be seen from this picture.  Yes, I had pressed in a finger (or two) into the foam, and it didn't bounce back.  And it tore easily

Whilst this model is NOT NSW, the loco was made by Kumata in 1982, the same factory as a number of the Bergs NSW models.  The foam is in the process of turning into a sticky powder.  On any model, this foam will cause damage, and painted model finishes can be ruined.  And if you plan to sell the model on ebay with this foam in the box, then there is a high chance that the foam will simply squash down.  Depending how vigorously the postal service shakes the box, a broken model may appear at the far end.

This foam problem is a timebomb.  All of my 73 class locos had the foam fail within 6 months of each other a few years back, and I expect that the Bergs 30T, 46, 53, and 55 locos (all 1980s Kumata made) will all soon be afflicted.    Other makers are not immune either.    To confirm this, I found my hibernating 46 class.

The foam out of the box.  Whilst not as bad as the Swiss loco, it would soon catch up.  The red mark at the bottom is where I traced the outline of the foam onto another fresh piece of foam

As there is no method to reverse the foam failure, one needs to take precautions.   I wrap all my models in plastic freezer bags, which will at least prevent the sticky foam from touching the model.  And inspect your models from time to time.  If the foam is rotten, throw it away as quickly as you can. 

What to replace the foam with? 

In the USA, REBOXX used to make replacement foam inserts for specific USA prototype models to fit specific brass boxes.  I understand that REBOXX is sadly no longer in business.   There were no similar product offerings for Australian models, although one could adapt the foam inserts from the NU-BOX (WAO Models) to go inside your brass box.  If you were able to take measurements of the bad foam before it failed, I  suspect that you could approach “Clark Rubber” who could cut a replacement from their foam supplies.  If you are cheap, or time poor, you could buy a supply of foam rubber, and cut it out yourself.  Alternately, when in doubt, wrap the model in bubblewrap.

The freshly cut foam inside the Bergs 46 class box.  The red is from the earlier marking out.  I used a very sharp ceramic knife to cut the new foam, trying to minimise any distortions.  The cutout on the LHS is for the spare screws, and hardware that came with the model  

The 46 class returned to the box in the replacement foam.  Having the plastic this way enables the model to be extracted from the foam without tugging on the loco
Now to find my 30T, 53, and 55 class boxes.

Model trains are a multifaceted hobby.  Whatever is your passion, enjoy the journey.
Until next time. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Bethungra loop - small details

Small details.
I was reminded last night by one of my Blog readers, that it has been a while since my previous Blog entry, and he was after an update. 

Google street view of the Olympic Hwy, looking south towards the Bethungra loop.  I have included this section of roadway on the layout, so things to note is the trees close to the roadway, the fence line, and the open paddocks either side

Bob, an amateur artist from the Broadway Museum has offered to paint my back scenes.   In the meantime, I added a second  white undercoat to the backboards, and then painted on the blue with a roller.  The shade I chose was Taulbmans “Diamond Blue”, in a 250ml sample pot from Bunnings.  This was not quite enough to cover the entire 4.4 metres of backboard, but the area that I was unable to paint is below the scenery level.  Ideally, the blue should fade out towards the horizon, but my attempts to do this on previous layouts have been less than successful

I use my retaining wall a lot, as it is the right height for doing painting, and cutting large sheets of plywood.   The "diamond blue" colour was rolled onto the white background.  You can see where I ran out of paint.  "Diamond Blue" is a rather subtle blue shade that is a close match to the pictures I took of the prototype.  These are below. What do you think?.

A selection of photos that could inspire the budding artist.  Photos taken close to the Google street view image at the front of this blog post. The railway is just hidden behind the first line of trees.  The heavily timbered hillsides beyond could be painted directly onto the backboards. 

Upper quadrant signal
One of the things that I remember from my train travel from Wagga to Sydney  in the 1960s, was seeing the signal on the upper level of the Bethungra spiral.  I wanted to reproduce this on the layout.  After seeing the upper quadrant signals on the N scale Gunning layout, I made some enquiries as to whether they were a kit.  I was advised that in the absence of a NSW kit, they made the decision to use Ratio parts, and the resultant signal was fragile.
 I didn’t think that fragile was something I wanted to build.
The alternative was to cobble something up from brass.  I ordered some brass Eckon N scale ladders from ebay UK.  Postage and GST made them rather expensive.  However, the ladders are a good length, and quite fine in profile.  They are slightly too large, being 2mm:foot -  an acceptable compromise.  The package arrived after a few weeks.  The Greg Edwards data sheet was my guide to height and profile, and my signal is as pictured.
 The semaphore arm is crudely cut from brass sheet.  The platform handrail is an extension of the ladder rungs, and simplified.  The platform is styrene.  Greg Edward’s relay hut design differed from the picture I took of the upper quadrant north of Junee, so with Greg’s dimensions for height, and end walls, I scratch built a small relay hut completely out of my styrene scrap bin.
More upper quadrant signals should be visible on the layout – maybe a task for the future.
A photo of an upper quadrant signal between Junee and Illabo (near Bethungra), before these signals were replaced in the early 1990s.  Apologies for the slide to digital conversion - I really need to invest in something better

My model.  The semaphore arm is a crude representation of the original, but once painted, should be OK from a distance. The post is solid brass, and the platform is plastic. The lens colours will be painted on

The relay hut - scribed 40 thou styrene makes up the boards, and whilst almost invisible, the door is just scribed into the flat end.  The roof capping is not yet added.  This took me less than 30 minutes to make

Location on the layout.  I had made some provision for this signal during the foam stage by leaving a gap, and have also left the ballasting of the sleeper ends until the signal is installed.  Of course, it will be painted before this happens.  I am not sure about the location of the relay hut in such a location - happy if I could be advised

Boom gates
As I also found no kits for an N scale  NSW boomgates, Greg Edwards data sheets was again consulted.  However I sized my model on some brass washers I had, as I didn’t want to try and cut the flashing light surrounds.  Both boom gates are cut from scrap brass and again, rather crude. 
Both the boom gates, and upper quadrant signal are non operational, and still need painting. 

One of the boom gates made from brass.  The taper on the boom was the most difficult thing about making this model

Google street view shows the boom gates just north of the Bethungra loop in 2017.  

My model of the same location.  Raw brass will need painting.  I may fit red LEDs inside the brass washers, but I will make no attempt to make them work.  The backscene is really too close to imply the road continues on, but maybe Bob can work some magic with the artist brush.

Roadway line marking
I had considered using paint, and a bow pen for the line markings, but a chance comment that pencils were used for line marking on the NSW HO Stockinbingal layout, had me heading to Office Works for suitable markers.  As I have backdated the layout with upper quadrants, I also backdated the road, with yellow safety lines, as opposed to the bland white that is currently used in Australia.  The line marking was done by ruler, and freehand – and the line spacings are probably no-where near scale. Unfortunately, the pencil I chose was actually a  pascal, and would rub off (like chalk on a blackboard).  Easy fix with dullcoat I thought, although I think there was a reaction, and the yellow line tended to spread.  The picture above shows this worse than it looks like in person, and I will most likely leave it.

Telegraph line
I was given a eight second-hand N scale poles and whilst these are not NSWGR, they will do for now.  I “weather” them by painting the shiny plastic poles with a dirty turpentine mixture, which kills the shine, and dulls them down.  The insulators are then painted white.   Unfortunately,  I will have to use the poles sparingly, as I don’t have enough

A pair of lineside telegraph poles - the one on the left as supplied, the one on the right after the dirty turps wash, and insulator paint.  I think these poles are Atlas brand.  Their bases will be removed during installation on the layout.  They have little resemblance to NSWGR poles, but most viewer of the Bethungra layout are not going to notice these things

Ballasting is a task best attacked in small segments.  So far, around 1.5 mtres of track have been ballasted

Trees, and bushes.
This is a work in progress.  I want to get the majority of the ballasting completed before adding the trees, and bushes that may get in the way of the out of scale hands doing the ballasting.  I am trying to make some wirewrapped gum trees, and I hope the results will be good enough for my next blog post

The small details take time.  At what point do I stop?  This is a decision that confronts all layout builders.  I think I will have to run fencing, but roadside signs, and farmhouses may be a step too far.  After all, my long-term aim is to work on my Wagga layout/models.

Happy modelling

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Bethungra Loop "N" scale - Part 7

Part 7 - Start made on backdrops and trees

It is really encouraging to have reached this stage on the Bethungra layout.

Another picture of the LRV tour train in 1997 - about to enter tunnel #1.  Again, my slide conversion to digital is rather amateurish.  Things to note is the distant hills. 


For the last 10 years, I have been storing, transporting, and storing again, four 1800 x 915 x 3mm MDF sheets that were given to me.  I always thought they would be good for backscenes, so it was great to finally use them.  These sheets had been previously used.   There was evidence of timber framing,  holes, and all sheets had paint on one side. 

I cut one of the sheets down the middle, and had 3.6 metres of backboards.  Unfortunately, 3.6 mtrs was slightly short, so another sheet was cut, yielding an additional 1.2 mtrs.

These sheets were attached to the timber framing using clamps, and then drilled, and screwed in the normal manner.  I tried to reuse many of the preexisting holes.  Each hole that was used was marked with a texta, as the backscene will need to be removed at least twice more for painting.

The long side needed  two sheets, and my joining method may be unusual.

Clamps and really strong magnets were used to hold the joining piece to the backscene, whilst the white glue dried.  These magnets came out of old mainframe disc drives, and are seriously powerful. 

The other side of the backscene showing the steel plates held in place with the magnets.  The unpainted section of backscene is a legacy of the MDF's previous life as a wardrobe door.


The Junee Broadway Museum had supplied me with 2 types of trees.

 One type included some previous scenery material, so I assume it was part of the original layout.  These had been made from twisted wire, coated with possibly Selleys "no-more gaps", painted, and foam added.

The other tree type was appeared to be hand made in China.  There were over 100, and all sized at 3.5cm, or smaller.  The green foam used was too green, and distracting.  I have found similar on ebay for around $25 delivered.

A selection of passable gum trees, supplied by the museum.  Their height varies, but 7-9cm was typical
The other trees - suspect these were made in China.  Height nominal 3.5cm
The Chinese trees have a pleasing variety, and squinting, they could pass for a gum - but are too small, and a horrible colour.  But they could be used in the distance - providing they can be painted.

The polystyrene foam base they were on would not survive air brushing with floquil, as may of the trees were not firmly planted, and the polystyrene would dissolve under the floquil solvents.  So I found an alternative plastic foam, and planted them in two lots.

My Floquil Pullman green paint jar - more of an olive shade.  When did Floquil stop making bottles that were square?  All of my remaining Floquil is in round bottles.  This could make this paint ANCIENT.  I remember using this paint bottle around 20 years ago to paint a C&O brass doodlebug (but that is another story).  However, the paint is viable, and once thinned, sprayed well 

The chinese trees  - one batch painted, the other as supplied.

Bethungra Loop hill - with the chinese trees on the ridge.  Some of the larger ones were planted a bit closer, down the hill, but the majority were crowded on top.  Whilst this is effective, the size of the ex museum layout trees may make the scene awkward.  What I need are a few trees around 5-6cm high to plant on the lower slope of the hill.  The backscene is yet to be painted, but the shadow on the RHS is a pointer to what is possible.  And no, I haven't ballasted or finished the trackwork in this area

Grouping the larger trees on the hill closest to the viewing point is in my opinion, quite good.  Some more trees have been planted on the flat paddock beyond.  The extensive tree cover in the far distance is still in the future, as is painting the backscene.  

My enthusiasm is returning.  This layout has taken far too long to construct, but the end is now in sight.

Stay safe out there.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Bethungra Loop in N scale - part 6.

Growing weeds - Part 6 of Bethungra Loop layout build

The LRV train approaches the first tunnel.  This is one of my slides, not borrowed images from Bevan Wall's video on you-tube.  Picture taken into the sun doesn't help, nor does my poor slide to digital conversion.  But note the vegetation.   

The time has come to start the "greening" the layout.
First stage was to paint the exposed foam and plaster.  Burnt umber, and raw sienna are the primary paints used
Sifted "Builders Sand" is used to give texture to the foam

White glue was painted onto the painted wood, and foam, and the builders sand sifted onto the wet glue, then saturated with "wet" water, and allowed to dry 

 The Woodland scenics "Yellow Grass" and "Blended Turf" arrived in the post.  I also had some IHC brand of green ground foam, which I wanted to also use.  The IHC foam looks like it should work OK, but it just doesn't.  (There is a reason why it is cheap)

My shaker bottles for the ground foam.  Available from the pantry once the contents have been eaten.
The IHC foam was used on the hill.  The uneven way this foam falls would not be a major problem.   But I didn't like the colour, so it has also been blended with the Woodland scenics foams
An angle that will be impossible to see once the backscene boards are installed.  It shows the "flat paddock", with the loop hill in the background.  Woodland scenics foam used exclusively on the flat paddock, although the nature of the underlying polystyrene beaded foam has given unintended holes in the surface.  IHC foam was used between the up and down  tracks
The Olympic road needed the Sculpt-it treatment.  This was smoothed, and then sanded.  The white "plaster" dust blown off

More paint applied - some raw sienna has contaminated the burnt umber - not that it matters.

Sifted sand and white glue.  The MDF roadway was not sealed, so water spraying was kept as much as possible off the surface.

IHC foam doesn't settle in a fine layer of foam dust, unlike Woodland scenics.  Once trees and weeds are added, the extra clumping might actually be OK.  The "flat paddock" beyond only has Woodland scenic foam.  An application of Woodland scenics "dry grass"  blends the roadway area into the green grasses area.  Once the foam is down, the foam was misted with a weak PVA glue/water mixture from a spray bottle.  Note the raw plywood on the lower LHS of this picture.  I hope this will be a suitable method to identify that the track on this section of the layout,  is not part of the Bethungra Loop scene.  

What a difference the road makes.  Floquil grimy black painted by brush.  The road is a nominal 3.7cm wide - which makes each carriageway  3 mtres scale.  This is under the australian standard of 4 mtrs per carriageway for main roads, but reducing the width is a trick to make the scene look bigger.  It won't be obvious if I use Rosco's N scale cars, and avoid scale sized trucks.  And for the purest, I haven't added the passing lane, which now exists.  I plan to use Tuft brand "sand" sifted plaster on the road shoulders
Next stage is to add trees, and bushes, plus make a start on the backscene.

My thoughts go out to all affected by the current bushfires.

Stay safe.