Thursday 13 May 2021

Kit, Scratch, or buy?


Kit, scratch, or buy? 


This topic is now a reality with many options to build a model railway layout.  The choice is one of your skills, availability of models, time, ambitions, space constraints, and the depth of your pocket.  How you get there will be your journey.

The Railway reached Tumbarumba, and the opening day ribbon was cut by James Batholomew on March 9, 1921.  A century later, I am still planning a reinactment.

How did I come to concentrate on Wagga Wagga, rather than something else?

The beginnings

I started in HO/OO with a Triang brand train set.   The track was attached to a sheet of plywood, and whilst it allowed trains to run, it lacked scenery.  The lack of scenery allowed my parents to store the layout on edge in the garage – where it spent probably 50 weeks each year entertaining the spiders. 

The Triang range also had a number of pre built structures, but my parents didn’t buy me any of those.  What they did buy, were Airfix lineside kits.  So I gained skills in kit building, and this probably influenced my future buying habits.

A selection of Airfix kits, built by myself a long time ago. I am not convinced by my colour choices.

In the 1970s, I finally got a permanent space to house the layout, and add some more tracks, install some scenery.   This phase stopped when I headed off to Uni; the layout was dismantled, and track sold.

During my time in Sydney, I “discovered” AMRM, and liked the idea of modelling Australian – a prototype that I had experienced first hand.  Apart from the limited range of RTR models from Lima, and brass locos that was unobtainable on a student budget, everything had to be built from kits, or scratch built using plans that appeared in the magazines.

I bought my first NSW model kit in 1982 after starting work in Canberra – the Camco FO coaches.  These went together fairly well.

I built this model in 1982. My first NSWGR model. Nowhere as good as the RTR Austrains coaches.

The 1980s were a great time for NSW kits production.  Whilst starting with the injection moulded (very similar to the airfix models I had built), there were a lot more variety in the resin, needing epoxy glues.  And I could finally afford to buy brass locos

A pair of Camco CW wagons, built from kits. Fairly simple construction with injection moulded styrene. Again, this wagon type is available in high quality Ready-to-run from Austrains

Rails North produced many freight wagon types in resin, this louvre van being just one.

AR Kits started to produce most of the commonly seen NSW, freight wagons, and whilst fairly simple in detail, they were also simple to assemble in quantity for me, those block wheat trains.

Brake vans were only available as resin kits. The JHG was from Mains West

Joining a club was also instrumental in adding to my skills.  Benchwork, wiring, tracklaying, scenery all progressed with guidance from the “old hands”

All the above was adding to my confidence.  I started to modify the plastic kits I was buying, and come up with new wagon types.  They may be a bit crude by my current standards, but I was proud of my efforts then.  But it still was a leap of faith, to buy an expensive loco kit, and successfully assemble it.  And I tried scratch building a few structures, from simple raw materials

Start with an ARKits GLX louvre van kit

Make some changes, with repositioning doors, and adjusting the louvre pattern for a HLX

Or just keep the ends, roof, and floor, scratchbuilding a body, to come up with an IHG guards van

Start with a Ready-to-Run Trax (now powerline) FS coach. File off the moulded roof vents, add steel paneling to the roof, add new roof vents, paint, Lloyds flushglaze windows, Kadees and new wheels. I never got around to fitting an interior. Is it as good as the recent Austrains FS models? 

A Rails North 5 car HUB set. I spent a lot of time assembling this model, but disappointingly, it was rather heavy for the locos I had.  With a lot less effort, the Eureka Models HUB set can be bought, and it is better detailed, and runs superbly.


Lloyds models L car set. Whitemetal and wood. Lloyds models went onto produce passenger car kits in resin, which were generally superior

Lloyds Z18 loco built from a kit with low-melt soldering. There is no RTR model for this class of engine, and kit building is the way if you want one

Sentinel Z19 class - this kit dates from the early 1980s.  Prior to Sentinel, Protype had done a kit, with a poor chassis. Both kits are now rare.  For those who are wanting a Z19, Casula Hobbies (who also produced the Camco range of kits), have recently had the class made as a RTR model 

Another Sentinel loco kit - the Z20. This was the first NSW steam kit that I made, using epoxy glue. Not a model I can use on Wagga unfortunately.

Bergs Hobbies produced a range of Whitemetal loco kits in the 1980s-90s. Some kit types are still available. This model lacks the detail of the Auscision 45, but would win a haulage contest

Bergs also produced a range of NSW steam engines. The F351 was their first, and it was an engine I struggled to assemble, and still have not completed

Footplate models in around 1985, produced an excellent model of the Z26 tank engine. As Footplate was based in Canberra, I got to know Footplate very well. 

Footplate's next engine was the C32.  This kit was produced by DJH in the UK, and was state-of-the-art at the time.  DJH/Footplate went onto dominate the NSW steam scene, with 15 more steam classes.  Some of the steam engines are now available as Ready to run plastic models, although the kits have a loyal following, and can attract some very high prices on the secondary market 

One of the owners of Footplate Models, Lloyd, started a complimentary line of diesels, available as resin kits. All of these locomotive classes are now available as RTR plastic, but I still plan to use the models I have built on my Wagga layout.  

As earlier hinted, Lloyd also produced many whitemetal locos not covered by the DJH range. The patterns for the C30 were Protype, although the chassis was completely new. Casula Hobbies now sell this kit, even though there is an RTR plastic one by Austrains

Fast forward to the situation today.

Over the years - I kept buying kits, and now have a large number waiting to be built.  But, you don’t need to buy and build kits anymore – many of the models are now available as ready-to-run, at a standard I would struggle to reach irrespective of the time I spend.  And speaking of time, I now have to weigh up whether I build a model, or simply buy it ready built.

It seems a shame, but the reality is that I simply cannot afford the time to build and detail a model, if I can buy it ready to run.

Bergs BSV kit dates from 1982, and still available. It is a very basic model, lacking almost all the underframe, and no assembly diagram (despite the instructions refering to one).  I won half a dozen at auction, and didn't pay anywhere near the sticker price

For old time sakes, I assembled and painted the BSV (for this blogpost), to try and remember what it was like to build a model "straight from the box" despite my desire to improve it. Hmmm. We have come a long way in the last 40 years, but this wagon doesn't show it. However, the Eureka Models alternative has long sold out, and if I want to transport sheep on my layout in a bogie BSV, then I have these. At least I didn't pay the sticker price. 


But I love to build things.

I have settled on modelling a branchline, with mainline attached.  It is based on a specific location.  Many of the structures are simply not available as kits, which suits me, as I enjoy the challenge of research, and scratch building is addictive

Replacement goods shed for Tumbarumba. Building from a Bergs G1a kit. This is a case of where scratchbuilding would be better (and cheaper). Having metal siding, wood, and some plastic parts in one kit just adds to the complexity. I now have the skills to build the lot out of styrene, and probably a lot faster than the kit.

Kits will still be built, as it would be a shame to not build them, although they probably won’t be detailed.  Models need to be prioritised to those I can use on the future layout.    And the rest of the unbuilt kits might be sold on, or given away to encourage youngsters into the hobby..  Models I made in the 1980s/90s whilst not up to present standards, will be retained for now.




Over the years, my modelling journey has had many false turns, and failures.  But overall, Model Railways has been an experience that is hard to beat.

Build a model or two