Thursday, 11 December 2014

And Now To The Future...


With the business experiencing an extremely busy lead up to Christmas, all things rail have had to take a back seat.  I have however, kept the postal system busy with both Ebay sales going to new homes...and the receipt of some very interesting deliveries from overseas.

Around 25 years ago I first dabbled in OO9 following the purchase of a book that described the narrow gauge lines in Wales.  At that time, the availability of RTR rollingstock and locomotives to suit any venture were almost non existent and as much as I loved the building and detailing of kits from manufacturers such as Parkside- Dundas and the scratchbuilding of locomotives based on proprietary N scale chassis, the locomotives were never brilliant runners and  Peco OO9 track and points were agricultural to say the least and the joys of DCC were but a mere glint on the modelling horizon. 

Move forward to the late 90s and a call from a friend sealed the end of the rather extensive OO9 collection.  He duly arrived with a friend who was starting out in OO9 with a view to building an "empire" and upon viewing what I had, made a cash offer for the whole lot that was obscene in the extreme.  Me being me...I tried to temper his over exuberance and explain the pros and cons of purchasing at such a price and my perceived shortcomings of the scale...History shows that he did not quite accept the advice in the vein that it was offered,  and the chat resulted in an increased offer and all I could do was shrug my shoulders, pocket the cash and offer him my best wishes in his endeavours as they left.

Some years ago I read an article on the Lynton and Barnstaple, narrow gauge railway from the Devon region of England and promised myself that one day I would revisit this extremely interesting line and gather as much research material as I could.  As irony would have it, both with the demise and of the Fish River layout and my search for a new challenge, the L&B does provide a very attractive basis of a modelling proposition.

Over the last few months I have managed to track down some extremely interesting and hard to find books on this remarkable line.  With a relatively short working life of the line ( 1898-1935) and at only 19.5 miles in is surprising that any meaningful volumes on it's history exist at all.  Indeed to the contrary this line appears to have an almost cult status, at least in the UK... and the reasoning for this becomes patently clear when one begins to read these books and the true wonder of the line, it's motive power, rollingstock, infrastructure and the landscape it traverses becomes clearer.  While discussing the historical and research books on would be remiss of me not to pay some very deserving compliments to the people I have contacted to purchase these offerings.  From the specialist bookshops, to the staff of the L&B Railway Trust...everyone has exhibited a desire to go out of their way to help me gather the books and other materials I went in search of.  Eight days, door to door seems to be the average turnaround time for most purchases.  I am not sure whether this level of service is across the board...but it sure beats dealing with historical bookshops and some hobby shops here in Australia who seem to think it is a privilege to deal with them.

 At this point I must also pay special tribute to one of the books that I have recently received.  "The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway...Measured and Drawn" is undoubtedly one of the finest books that I have had the privilege to peruse.  This offering by Stephen D Phillips crosses the bounds of any particular interest.  To is a complete reference of every piece of rollingstock, locomotive, infrastructure, signalling and odds and ends that were ever associated with this line. Every item contained in this 252 page jaw dropper, has been painstakingly measured and drawn in absolute detailed brilliance.  Also littered throughout are photographs and information that in the end has produced a complete folio of this one line...but as said, this book would be appreciated by anyone with only a passing interest in railways in general.  The only way I could describe this book to Australian to imagine the whole collection of Greg Edward's Data Sheets,  hardbound and littered with information and photos of the prototype. The book suggests that this has been an almost lifelong project by Stephen Phillips...and with the quantity and quality of the finished article...I have little doubt about that.         

From a modelling perspective...the L&B certainly is engaging and the present seems to be a good time to make a start with many RTR items specific to this line now cropping up from PECO and with DCC ready L&B locos soon to be released from at least 2 well known would appear that this often maligned scale/gauge is entering somewhat of a renaissance.  To cap things off PECO also has a relatively new range of OO9 track and live frog points...which would also complete the equation.

Anyway I will now spend Christmas mulling over the broad details of a proposed layout.  Apart from the books and reference materials, I have also purchased a cross section of RTR rollingstock and a few kits from Parkside Dundas  to tide me over for a couple of months....just to get the juices flowing.

Originally I had visualised that any planned OO9 layout would draw inspiration from the UK lines and then I would "Australianise" these ideas in practice.  My mindset has now been converted and to dilute examples such as the L&B would only serve to diminish the overall feel and of course the other major advantage in staying true to the prototype is the ability to utilise many fine examples of models ( road, rail and infrastructure) that are only available in 1:76 OO...

And so it is...that I have crossed over to the "Dark Side".....Just like would seem I have a new father!!!




Sunday, 9 November 2014

The End Is Nigh...But The Future Is Bright!


With the slated closure of the Captains Flat branch imminent, the enthusiasts were out in force to capture the last workings on offer.  In just a couple of weeks the mainline will be truncated back at a town on the Sydney side of Fish River station and the once busy junction ( Fish River), the Captain's Flat branch and all downstream stations on the main, beyond Fish River... to the imaginary terminus, will be no more

It is a sad indictment of the layout's relatively short lifespan,  that the mythical location of Fish River, it's reason for being and it's location within the NSW network was never really explained.  Yes the actual place names that were used and or planned were real...but the context in which I used these names had no bearing on the prototype or location at all and due to the fact that the layout was "just evolving" meant that the relationships of all these locales and associated workings really had not been decided upon.

In the finest traditions of the NSWGR, passenger workings on the Captain's Flat branch were abruptly halted last Sunday, with little notice or regard for the travelling public...much less the staff assigned to the branch workings!.  For the record...the last regular passenger movement, returned to "town" at a little before 6:00pm with 4910 doing the honours and the usually single CCA ( normally more than adequate for the loading) supplemented with and FS car to cope with the expected influx of enthusiasts keen to take in the last opportunity to experience the branch.

The final nail for the branch occurred at around 3:00pm this afternoon,  with the last freight working arriving back into town with 4425 in charge.  The outward movement was scheduled to leave town before dawn this morning and spend the day clearing all locations and sidings of rollingstock...with the main task of returning stored concentrate wagons from the now closed Captains Flat loader.

With the closure of Fish River scheduled for later this week...all locos, rollingstock, infrastructure both in use and stored...will be offered up for disposal via tender ( in this context it will be by EBAY). and another chapter of government mismanagement and apathy will come to a close.

While the demise of the layout is sad in some is largely unavoidable (as explained in a previous post) and has certainly given me the opportunity to plan my next (albeit a tad smaller) journey into this great hobby.  My structure building will now quite possibly speed up and of course there are still posts to be written regarding the dismantling of the existing layout... and while the track and all "above track" infrastructure is to go...the control panels and electrics will be largely recycled and while not wanting to spill the beans just yet on my next project....I will leave you all with just one it possible to DCCise a OO9 layout? 

I can hear my ever obliging and patient wife muttering these now famous or (infamous) words.....Oh The Humanity!

Not far to go now for the last passenger train on the branch!

With the Fish River bridge now crossed....4910 is shut off and begins to drift towards the junction...


The very last train arrives back off the branch towards the junction in the very capable hands of 4425


Friday, 31 October 2014

Deja Vu...With A Difference...


The following post recently appeared on my Facebook Page...

Start Of A New Era...
As of Monday...Vanessa will commence and take over the reigns of our business!
It has taken a while to snaffle her...but as she has the BAs in Business and Management...It is only fitting ( and the right direction for the business) that she becomes the boss and I revert to "Piss Boy"...
Apart from having many more letters after her name than me...she has a vast wealth of abilities, supreme people skills and the right "touch" to take us to the next level...
I can't wait to see her shine, grow in confidence and steer Harlow into the next 20 years...

So what has this all got to do with the blog and indeed railway modelling?....Well plenty!.

Over the last few years our signage and engraving business ( AKA My Day Job)  has grown steadily and has now reached a point where my wife has been recruited to take the reigns and allow the business growth and associated pains to be shared.

Like any major decision...there are the up sides and also down sides.  The largest negative of all is that after many late night chats and considering the many options, is that the layout will have to go and the space turned over to the business.  The shed that presently houses the layout is around 12metes x 8metres in total and with the majority of it now insulated and is an obvious place to re-establish the signmaking/writing and sign construction part of the total business which in essence will physically separate the signs from the engraving arm...which for some time has logistically been a largely ignored requirement.

It must be said that the shed was originally built to house the business and the layout came about following a suggestion from my wife that in the interim it could be used for a layout.  In the back of my mind I knew this day would most likely come, albeit not so soon... and now here we are!.  Of course the suggestion was made that the area could be shared...but in reality, working within (and surrounded) by such a mouth watering distraction, is not conducive to me remaining productive on a day to day basis.  Like most, earning a living has to remain the priority in the medium term, and the reality is that I absolutely love my chosen career and still jump out of bed each morning inspired to do what I the decision, while disappointing...does have some positives.

So what will this mean to my modelling?.  If the truth be known, I have for some time had inspirational issues with the actual layout, much preferring to construct buildings and mini dioramas.  For some reason ( maybe it happens to us all) my source of enjoyment from the hobby has gone through many phases and for now I would like to concentrate any spare time to the myriad of structures that bounce around my mind on a day to day basis.  Surprisingly, my foray into OO9 many years ago still has an unexplained attraction and I may well dabble in that as well. 

Possibly the main positive to come from all of this is that the Laser Rail Bits range will certainly have much more time and resources available and this part of the business has probably caused me the greatest internal angst, as the projects/kits just never seem to receive the focus they so richly deserve.  After nearly 10 years of production of present range of kits...we may have missed the boat to some degree as in the intervening years there has been a plethora of Laser Etched and Cut manufacturers that have entered the market.  For me I will just continue on the path of producing ( what we believe to be ) high fidelity kits that include premium raw materials and as close to scale as is humanly possible, rich in detail.   The Laser Rail Bits mantra has and always will be...NO MDF!!!, NO TONGUE AND SLOT COMPONENTS AND NO COMPROMISES!!!.  Whether this vision is past it's use by date...only time will tell....?

With regards to the Blog???  Well in all honesty, a review of the blog history has revealed, to me anyway, that my inspiration has certainly changed over the years and it is the structure, scenic, diorama and weathering aspects of the hobby that give me the most joy.  In reality I can't see my blog input changing all that much. I will continue to work on Australian "HO" structures of any variety and quite possibly will also look at some "O"  structures as well.

In the washup...the layout, even in it's far from complete state, has given me a great canvas to work with and in particular I have been able to hone my skills in scenery, wiring and DCC installation, to name but a couple of areas that only a few short years ago seemed far too challenging for this "little black duck" and have given me confidence to move on and attempt more challenges.

Now the real work begins and much of my HO stuff will be dissolved and or liquidated as the need to clear the area and minimise "stuff" that requires storage has commenced in earnest...  I am not sure just what to do with the completed river section of the layout and the related bridges...hopefully a method of detaching the associated benchwork in a painless fashion can be achieved and a new home for this section would also provide a living memory of  "what once was"...This may well form the basis of a future blog post...

And towards the future we go.......   



Saturday, 11 October 2014

Just A Thought... Fuel Depots, Part 1


The only upside of another week deprived of modelling the thinking one can do.  As regular readers would be aware, the siting of the flour mill (on the outskirts of Fish River) has had me pondering for some time.  My doubts were not so much the general locale...but the aesthetics of placing the industry so close to the bridge that spans the river.  The sheer bulk of the building seemed to dwarf the bridge and to my mind detracted from the overall flavour of this area.  While the comments from readers that emanated from that post were invaluable and gave many options, I had mentally mothballed the decision and refocused on unrelated structure building.

Apart from the flour mill, Fish River will play host to a small number of varied industries and amongst these will undoubtedly be an oil depot or two.  While unearthing all of the "fuel depot" bits and pieces that I have amassed...the thought crossed my mind that the flour mill siding may well be a better candidate for a fuel depot while there may be a better option for the flour mill at the opposite end of town.

So...earlier this afternoon I set about placing the almost completed storage tanks in situ and while there is much more infrastructure to be added to a depot scene, at least I could get an idea as to whether the overall plan would fly.  As I fiddled around with this concept, it dawned on me just how ironic it was that after spending half of my working life in the petroleum and around refineries, terminals and depots...why it is that I have waited so long to concentrate on this type of industry for the layout?. 

Regional fuel depots, were a fairly simplistic affair and while there were many varied layouts in terms of physical appearances, the four main items of infrastructure that made up each depot were largely a constant.  Storage tanks, package store, truck loading gantry and some form of an office were the norm and in reality it was only the location and surrounding population the depot serviced that decided or dictated the overall size of each of these components.  In the early days ( and not unlike the railways approach to infrastructure) there were "types" of depots that each oil company had concept plans prepared for, and the intent was that these depots would all be built exactly the same at each location on a repetitive basis with the thought that it would ensure consistency and cost savings in terms of initial construction, basic equipment, operating procedures and maintenance.  Of course just like the railways...there were many changes to this "master plan" and depots took on a uniqueness based on land availability, plot size, rail and road access factors as well as particular client/location requirements.

A typical depot of yesteryear would have consisted of one or more leaded (standard) petrol tanks, one or more distillate (diesel) tanks, a fire water tank (in some instances), a package store for storing and decanting of drummed product, specialty products, oils and greases, a truck loading gantry and as already office or amenities block for the employees.  Other items that existed were elevated horizontal storage tanks for products such as home heating oil, winter diesel (in extremely cold areas) and in some cases kerosene.  A blend tank was sometimes included.

In terms of rail unloading operations...this varied on a case by case basis and could be an "in depot" operation with a dedicated siding within the confines of the depot...or a "remote unloading point" which was located beyond the depot fence line on a dedicated or shared siding.  There were of course depots that made use of a second or shared siding within the depot that also allowed easy transhipment of drummed and package product from rail wagon to package store and aided reloading empty drums to say 4 wheel S trucks.

Returning to the subject of the rail tank car unloading operation...Some depots utilised a dedicated unloading pipe for each product while some depots relied on a single multi-use line that entailed an unloading sequence where a diesel tank car maybe unloaded and then say petrol would follow up the same line and a depot operator would await the "interface" or changeover of the product to reach a predetermined location and then swing the valves to the correct tank.  Yes it was an inexact science...but a good operator would generate very little "slops".  It must be remembered that in the refineries it was common to put water slugs between products as separation...and water take off points in storage tanks were common...

I have included some photos of a rail car unloading point...and while they were taken in South Australia some years ago...the same theme was played out all over the country. It must be said that not many regional depots in NSW had a dedicated fire line secondary to the unloading line...


In the next instalment I will begin the Fuel Depot project for Fish River and post the meantime I have included one shot to show the proposed location...certainly a change from the flour mill...

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Details, Details, Details...


At a time when we are swamped with "real work", I have had very little time to indulge in the hobby over the last few weeks.  Of course having plenty of work is a good sign for any business...but I do miss my down time and the ability to bubble along with modelling projects.

I have however spent a few nights assembling some detail type items and having a quick flick thru the myriad of storage draws and cupboards just to reacquaint my ever diminishing memory regarding hobby items.  Most of these items were bought in bulk when putting in an order either to the UK or the USA.  They arrive and of course are labelled as " they will be useful someday".  In reality they are moderately thought out purchases intended to be package fillers and take full advantage of the importation postage costs.

The first item to look at is the humble forklift truck.  With the shed project almost complete, I am now searching for the final detail items and a forklift would be perfect to add some "movement" to the scene.  There are of course, plenty of examples of HO forklift trucks either in kit form or RTR...and the quality is quite varied as well.  It would have been easier to have chosen an out of the box truck with only weathering to be added before placing it in the scene.  Unfortunately the only one I could find that fitted my requirements ( proposed shed vintage and detail)  was in kit form...but as luck would have it I had purchased a few of these very kits some time back.

The chosen kit is manufactured by a mob called GHQ Models ( from the USA) and they are sold as part of their "Road Master" series.  They have a fair range of industrial type vehicles and I did manage to purchase examples of most of the range although I did probably buy too many...ah well!!!

The kit was almost entirely manufactured from "100% Britannia Pewter" with only one brass etching...that being the driver protection cage.  The parts are extremely well moulded with very little flash requiring removal and have more than satisfactory detail....Indeed it would appear to me that they have engineered the moulds to ensure that component removal is very well enhanced and well thought out!  The instructions are very well written with plenty of photos to aid construction... The mast can be assembled to simulate any height and in my case I decided to model the unit with forks lowered.

For anyone who is keen to tackle a pewter/white metal type kit, this would be a good start.  Admittedly it is a small sucker...but with little part preparation required, and not containing a heap of is a good place to start.

Put it this way...upon completion of this should be able to postpone your next optometrists appointment!

An example of the GHQ range...

The main components with a first coat of paint and trial fit 


Almost finished and seeing if it enhances the scene...

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A Touchy Subject...


I have been formulating this post for some time and while the subject matter has the real possibility of polarising recent blog trolling has certainly confirmed that the situation is indeed also alive and well at least in Britain.

I, like many thought that blogging may be like the "Yo-Yo" and just be another fad that came and went without trace.  How wrong I was...Blogging now is a very important facet of our hobby and also has the ability of spanning and cross fertilising on a global basis...and more importantly is free! ( for now ).  Inspiration, advice, kinship and just plain old enjoyment has allowed the blogosphere to go ahead in leaps and bounds.

While all of this is happening around us...I could not help but ask myself the question..."Where does this leave the humble model related magazines and periodicals?"...  Magazines, certainly were a very important facet of my earlier years in the hobby and before the internet, the only real way for modellers to be informed, entertained and inspired...apart from the exhibition and the club scene.  So where does the cyber advancements leave our paper based technology.

To my mind there are many factors that will influence where our magazines end up.  Firstly ( just like the daily tabloids ) online information exchange will govern the future of the printed word.  How long it takes for many day to day printed items to become extinct is anyone's guess...Newspapers, periodicals, magazines and indeed the humble phone book will all succumb to cyber space and with the advancements in computers, internet speeds, methodologies and just plain old economics...I think the transition will be swift.

The next logical question is...are magazines still relevant?.  That one comment will probably incur the wrath of many individuals in our hobby at least...but let us just examine where we find ourselves before any reader of this post is moved towards "taking out a contract" on my very existence.  Whether one will publicly concede this fact or not...every conceivable "bit" of information relating to our hobby can now be found online.  Even the very advertisers that fuel the salaries and running costs of the magazine are now to be found online, with some now having up to date (in some instances) blogs attached to the parent website and many even have links to a "demonic", to some,  facebook page.

Some time back, I made a conscious decision to reassess my magazine purchases and to concentrate only on magazines that are well written, have absorbing articles, have the content I am interested in and provide value for money.  I opted for the British they have not yet succumbed to totally being absorbed with the "plonker" type of readership and still have many articles on "modelling" and the skills involved.  As I have stated in an earlier post dedicated to the subject...I have now trimmed costs even further by having my mags delivered electronically.  This all seems ironic given that I model NSW outline...but most of the modelling, weathering and landscape articles have a universal appeal and I still become absorbed with the fringe articles as well.

As for the local magazine scene...I have taken an annual "digital" subscription to our "leading" magazine...but in all honesty I cannot see this continuing as my interests cover ALL aspects of modelling and are not limited to "new releases" and a short hop around a layout...Have we really lost the appreciation of the true art and skills of modelling???. We also have to move away from the overtones that we are "privileged" to have the magazines that are available today...Any commodity that comes at a price is not a privilege. I certainly want more than 1/2 an hour of interest from any magazine that I or paper.  To be fair I still look forward to AJMR when a new issue appears and would love to see this magazine on a more regular basis.

I guess the reason why some British bloggers bemoan their local magazines is possibly due to that fact that there are a plethora of offerings and choice over there... and as I am a fairly recent convert to some of these mags...I still find the content quite interesting and valuable.

And this is where I see that blogs (for me) will sooner or later replace the printed word. A mind boggling variety of subject matter, differing writing styles and skills, evocative subjects, progress of specific projects,  superb photos and illustrations, matter what your taste...and last but not least...true "real time" interaction with the blog owner / writer.

And following a week where "real work" overtook my modelling time yet again!...a couple of shots of the shed progress.  Still much to do...but we are getting there, albeit slowly.  Internal asbestos sheeting is now complete, as well as the timber guardrails, and truck loading bay "buffer timbers"....all internals are almost complete and in readiness for the roof to be permanently  installed, barge cappings, gutters and downpipes can then be fitted...subtle changes...but time consuming




Sunday, 31 August 2014

Laser Engravers...To Buy Or Not To Buy?



Well I have finally put finger to keyboard on this subject and as the title suggests this subject may well span over a couple of posts, depending on any queries raised along the way.  I would confidently offer that I get asked at least once per week about our experiences with laser engravers.  The enquiries are probably a 50/50 mix of people from inside the model railway or allied hobbies, and of course people looking to add this technology to an existing mainstream signage, graphics or engraving business or those who are looking to venture into these businesses from start up.


Our business, Harlow Graphics Pty Ltd, commenced trading some 23 years ago and started off as a purely signwriting and sign-making business.  During those early years we outsourced our engraving requirements with patchy results to say the least.  I should add at this point that we have always been focused on industrial signage and engraving with a leaning towards the petroleum, electrical instrumentation and aircraft industries.  Of course these industries are understandably quite demanding in terms of materials, industry terminology, turnaround timeframes and correctness...and so it did not take long to work out, that to control all of these factors meant that we had to move quickly to equip ourselves with all the hardware and software to ensure we were in control of our own destiny...and so we embarked on an expensive "expansion program" to enable us to keep every facet of the business in-house. 

With regards to engraving...we purchased our first computerised, rotary engraving machine some 20 years ago and then moved on to the laser technology over 10 years ago.  While the graphics and digital print / sign making technology has evolved rapidly over those years...the basic principles of laser technology have moved ahead at a relatively steady pace...meaning that this years purchase is not redundant next year.


So...what is laser engraving?...well I always refer to it as "controlled cremation" and, as crass as that comment may seem...that is about all there is to it. While there are a two distinct classes or types of laser machines...we will stick to the traditional CO2 type of combination engrave and cut machines.   While a complete run down of the technology can be researched on the internet and videos can be viewed on YouTube...I will try and stick to the basics and how it relates to our hobby.  To explain the overall operation, I have borrowed a very nice little graphic from the internet and will try and keep it simple.


The laser engraver works something like a dot matrix printer but without direct contact with the material or workpiece.  There is an X and Y axis gantry with the laser "head" travelling backwards and forwards across the bed and the whole gantry can be moved up and down the table...this is all handled by the controller, software and driver and has no real direct "hand input".  The laser beam ( red in the graphic) is generated in a laser tube and is then transferred via a sequence of mirrors and then when above the travels through a lens assembly ( the blue component in the picture) to ensure focus is maintained throughout the process.

There are two main methods to achieve the process of engraving.  The first is what is called "raster" and refers to the actual marking of a material, which is achieved by the rapid backwards and forwards motion of the laser head.  This operation is again like a normal printer and as the laser head moves backwards and forwards the gantry moves incrementally ( again just like paper moving through a printer )...what portion is engraved is dictated by the graphics package you are using and the colour of the infill you have assigned in that drawing.  The second operation is called "vector" and is basically the cutting function of the machine...where the beam follows a computer generated outline or line and cuts through the material.  To reiterate...both of these functions are controlled by the software you are using...while the driver interface is used to control the power, speed and frequency of the machine depending on what material you are using and the desired outcome.

On the software front we tend to use either CorelDraw or Pagemaker  although many other drawing packages and add-ons can be used.


There is quite literally a myriad of uses that a laser engraver can offer to our hobby.  There is also a large assortment of hobby type materials that can be lasered and while the listing is not exhaustive...these include: Acrylic, Styrene, Balsa, Basswood, Most Timbers, ABS Plastics***, Cardboard, Matt Board, Paper and many many others.  I included ABS plastic in this list and while I "dabble" in this material it does have some limitations due to the flammability and toxicity when heated.  I also certainly warn against any product that contains PVC for the same reasons as ABS.

Apart from the shear versatility of the materials that can be machined is the added intricacy and minute accuracy that can be achieved.  It all comes down to your imagination and drawing capability which in reality is no hard slog with the software packages on offer these days. If I had to nail it down to one factor that makes the laser a valuable tool is that it absolutely "eats" repetitious jobs with extremely little or no clean up of the parts required before assembly can take place.

I encourage any reader to take a look back through the older posts on this blog to see what can be achieved and I also invite you to take a look at our "Laser Rail Bits" Facebook page.


I often ask myself whether I would have purchased a laser engraver purely for my hobby pursuits...and the answer is a definite NO....That may come as a hammer blow to some who are either toying with the idea or are deep in the planning stages of buying.  If it were not for the fact that our laser units already have a very hectic "9 to 5" working life and are a registered business item that allows for them to be claimed as deductions under the local tax scheme, then I would be very hesitant to invest in one purely for hobby.  Now, that direct answer certainly has wriggle room for someone who is contemplating a commercial venture or is a professional model maker...but the second hand market is littered with examples of  someone's superannuation payout and the vision of a burgeoning empire forged on the back of a laser engraver purchase.  Certainly industrial engraving is an integral part of our business and so our equipment earn their keep extremely well...but I see many examples where even a well thought out business plan comes a cropper when the unsuspecting purchaser is talked into the Rolls Royce of laser technology, takes out a lease that would make Clive Palmer blush and then witness them attempting to dream up any form of laser produced "trinkets" just to make the lease payments.

And with the above in mind ( and if you are still in the game)...I will attempt to give you some details, tips and running costs that the local laser salespeople will not tell you...

Firstly...consider matching a machine with your requirements v's your hip pocket.  As I alluded to earlier in this essay,  one of the best features of the laser world is that while the features and power output of the machines have certainly improved...the overall philosophy of the laser engraver's basic function has not changed much at this means that what you buy today will certainly see you through for about 10 years (all things being equal).

Therefore the two combinations that are of importance to any prospective buyer is the bed size (workspace) and the power, expressed in Watts. As an example...and part of our arsenal... we have a 10+ year old machine that has a bed size of 610mm x 450mm and has an output of 35 Watts...and when purchased was probably the flagship of engraving technology.  Move forward to today and 120 Watts with a table size of 1200mm x 600mm is fairly common.  The irony is that our old unit still plugs away each day providing admirable service and does everything we throw at it....It certainly is not redundant in today's world and will possibly give another 10 years of service with careful maintenance and a possibly overdue rebuild.  We are presently exploring the feasabilty of adding yet another unit to our "workforce" but the 35 Watt Epilog Helix will continue to be a handy utility machine and will most likely be our modelling unit for many years to come.

And so to the costs involved in the purchase and operation of a typical laser engraver.

Purchase Price: Anywhere between $45,000 - $150,000AUD ex GST

Service Costs: Somewhere around $500 to $700 ( Labour Only ) every 6 months for a preventative maintenance visit...Most manufacturers advise a 6 monthly inspection...but if housekeeping and user maintenance are kept up...annual service intervals should suffice. ( This is a personal must make your own decisions on frequency )

NB.  The main "consumable" parts that will require replacement are: Mirrors and Lenses ( Say $400 per set complete), Belts ( if fitted) $100.00.  The most expensive components that are a possibility are Main Control Board +/- $3000.00
And almost certainly at some point ( anywhere between 2 years and 10+ years ) will be the laser tube and indicative (present) costs to replace the existing tube in our 35 Watt unit and carry out a service...Around $8000.00 total 

Running Costs: Variable... but must factor in the extraction fan system as well as the host computer and software upgrades when applicable.

It must be taken into consideration that an extraction ( to atmosphere) will need to be installed and if in a built up area...the extracted fumes may also require filtration or water bath treatment prior to atmosphere...This is a major consideration...and on it's own could would require a separate post for discussion...


For anyone contemplating any purchase of this magnitude...research is gold.  I hate to say it but most sales staff from any of the major suppliers will offer performance and profit figures well out of kilter with actual in service use.  Of course this practice is not limited to any type of industry where sales are concerned.  While most of these guys are well intentioned and mostly reading from a well practiced sales script...The truth is that very few in the industry have had to stand over a machine in a business environment and make it pay for itself.

The local market is best served with Trotec, Epilog and Gravograph brand units and each of these outfits offers service and backup on the products that they sell.

While there is now a plethora of machines emanating from Asia ( and in particular China ) at very attractive up front personal opinion is to steer well clear of these " bargains" as the honeymoon will truly end if a major component was to expire and the owner was to look for replacements and at the very least a reputable and experienced, local company who would even consider repairing or servicing an "orphan" brand of machine... Like get what you pay for!

I must state here that everything contained within this post is MY OWN OPINION...and every prospective buyer should conduct their own research.  You may find that some businesses that utilise laser engravers will be reticent to openly chat about and offer advice regarding lasers...It is a fickle industry, with many a tad protective of their business.  On the other side of the coin...I am quite comfortable chatting to people should they wish to get an owner/operators version of the business or any other facet of the laser engraving "trade"

I hope that what I have written here has been of some use to those with an interest...and to those who are possibly now asleep over their cup of have my apologies.

Oh and please leave a comment if I have overlooked any issues that require discussion...and I will either answer via return comment...or email, phone...or god forbid...another post!





Friday, 29 August 2014

Some Weeks Are Just Too Busy...


We have been absolutely smashed with work this week.  Most weeks are busy, but sometimes the planets align or as may be closer to the truth, "misalign" and the business gets swamped.  Mind you I love what I do and am fortunate that we have a steady flow of work.

With the above in mind, it has been a slow week on the modelling front with only an hour here or there to get some progress achieved on the "shed project".  I took the opportunity to "multitask" the laser table and while carrying out some paid engraving the last of the main shed components have been roughed out.

Both side panel components and one end of the shed are almost ready for the paint shop...but a last minute lightbulb moment has me changing the plans yet again.  To add some variety to an otherwise mundane shed, I have decided to incorporate a small office within the shed and to compliment this addition of the two internal walls, a couple of windows will be added to the external panels which will mean a quick return to the laser table before the paint treatment can begin.  I will not machine up the last end wall until the other three sides are finally fitted and this panel can be cut to suit.

Tonight I have been busy making up the ridge cap and roof/wall barge capping pieces.  I decided to utilise styrene angle with .5mm flat styrene to simulate the joints.  I guess I could have used card and paper strips...but the styrene was handy and as much as I thought this would be a quicker way...this has certainly not been the case.  Nevertheless I am happy with the results and cannot wait for these to be installed following painting and weathering.

Strangely enough for such a basic structure, this project has been very time consuming and I now find myself unsure of the sequence of construction going forward.  There is much internal detail that I want to include and this will have to be done with the roof removed.  I am also giving thought to internal lighting and a couple of external "old world" wall mounted shrouded lights adjacent to the truck loading dock and forklift ramp.  Handrails and doors for the additional internal "office" as well as some rudimentary office furniture will also be it may be a while until the roof is installed (either removable or fixed). One other task is to include internal corrugated asbestos profiles (to visible walls) as the Wills product I have utilised for the exterior cladding is only one sided.  I knew this particular task would crop up...but as I am more than happy with the appearance of the chosen Wills product....this will mean only a slight imposition.

For those that are even remotely interested...All plastics behave differently when placed under the laser and as most modelling types of plastics and styrenes are not "optimised" for this type of machining...the results can often be exceedingly good or exceedingly bad.  While I am unsure as to the make up of Wills extrusions...they cut (vector) very well...but attempting to etch or (raster) the material is of little use.  I do get asked most weeks about the pros and cons of a laser for modelling purposes and I am in the process of writing a post for this blog that may be of interest to those who have a fetish towards "cremating" defenceless modelling materials.

Anyway, as per usual I have included some photos to illustrate progress and most will have to look closely for the subtle changes that have occurred over a non productive modelling week...

Roof now in place and barge capping being trial fitted...

Barge capping construction method

I will be cheating on the doors and windows...These examples are from the Tichy range

Wall panels lasered and ready for final prep and fitting


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Shed Progress...And General Banter...


There was a time when I found building structures extremely frustrating.  I always enjoyed the process, but found it hard to be patient and take my time.  Major steps like preparing and painting items before assembly was a major flaw in my approach and I tended to complete an item according to the immediate time I had available.  Obviously the frustration would set in when the finished item displayed major flaws that could have been avoided if I had shown more patience.

I am unsure whether due to age, constant disappointment or maybe just a pure self determination to improve, I now approach my modelling in a very different way.  Like most  I have a very long way to go before I will feel competent as a modeller and happy with the end result...but I now thoroughly enjoy the JOURNEY rather than worry so much about completion of a project.  Now, ironically, I do experience a certain sense of sadness when an item is complete and it is time to move on.  A complete mindset reversal from my earlier years.

The shed I am presently building is in reality a mystery.  What started out as a way to develop and prove some modelling methods, just seems to be evolving.  I normally commence any project with a firm set of plans and a visualisation of the finished article.  Not so in this case, and while this approach normally ( for me ) ends up in disaster, I am happy with progress and now with the skeleton taking shape...I can see the final outcome.  It is certainly a hybrid with the material list now consisting of cast acrylic, basswood, Evergreen components, Wills products and DAS modelling clay.

The included photos show that the "steel" structure is now complete, besser block brick-up also totally finished and as of today the concreters have been and gone and the floor is now drying.  From a roofing point of view, the trusses and all roof timbers are completed and the first completed samples of the asbestos roofing and cladding have been treated and the result can be seen in the photos as well.  A final decision regarding access has also been arrived at and this now consists of a ramp for bagged or palletised product being transferred via forklift and on the opposite end of the shed an internal, truck loading dock has been installed with rail loading being available from a semi open side of the shed.  The shed will lend itself to many industries from bagged cement to grain, flour or indeed as an adjunct to many other manufacturing type industries.   

With this project now reaching the half way point...I have also been perusing the myriad of other structures that adorn my workshop and many other locations while looking for a slot to store the shed, and while regrettable...I have reached a decision to sell many of the items.  This will be a difficult process but there is only so much that can be utilised on the layout and with the joy I get from building...I can always build another in some varied way...Any excuse to build!


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Time To Build...


With the besser block trial now out of the way, it was time to begin incorporating the end product and commence construction of a structure.  At this stage I really have no intended final position for this structure, but as the design and style lends itself to many differing types of should find a home as a complimentary structure to one of the industries planned for the layout.

The basic construction for this shed will be... besser block foundation to a suspended concrete dock level... with the skeleton being steel columns with timber truss roof frame and clad in corrugated asbestos and once I am happy with the overall material mix, the same methodology will be adapted to a few other planned industries.  At this stage, the task at hand is to marry everything together and end up with a believable end product.

To aid in construction, an acrylic base was machined with the structure footprint and column locations laid out.  This has taken a fair amount of  "site survey" work out of the project and the pre-weathered columns were pretty much a press fit into the base.  The besser panels were fitted as the columns went along...not unlike a panel fence construction.  I had visions of constructing the roof trusses from a smaller size of RSJ or ( H section steel )...but in order to move construction along and because of the fact the roof trusses will be largely hidden...I reverted to laser cut basswood trusses.

I am now deciding whether to allow for internal rail access or just stick to external with one side of the structure being open for rail loading with an awning incorporated.  Irrespective of the final choice there will be an internal concrete ramp to allow forklift access from ground level.

I have incorporated some photos of the progress to date and as can be seen the end besser panels are yet to be fitted and this will be finalised once the internal rail and forklift issues are decided upon.  I have been able to use single sided besser panels in this structure, as the inside surfaces of these walls will not be visible once the deck slab is "poured"

As the structure is progressing I can see many variations upon the theme and these could be...A smaller incarnation that could be used as a package store in a petroleum depot, bagged wheat, flour or cement...while the overall methods could be adapted for many uses.

At the end of the day it is proving to be a very enjoyable project and I am looking forward to weathering and fitting the corrugated asbestos cladding...



Sunday, 10 August 2014

All With A Grain Of Salt...


Funny how the most insignificant things can occupy, and to a degree, take over your mind.  This was the case this week with the besser block project. I certainly took on board the comments of fellow modellers and reassessed the various components manufactured thus far and upon reflection decided to trash the whole DAS clay "besser block" experiment...but as it turns out...not completely!

The moulds and stamps that had been created certainly had some basic flaws and I had to either look outside the square...or track down some proprietary off the shelf offerings...certainly not my choice of options.  I feel that the work to date had not been totally in vain, as there are definitely a few processes that could be utilised for the future...but just not this project.

While messing around with options, I decided turn out some walls using the same product as the earlier moulds had been manufactured from and this time carry out a "reverse" the most recent incarnation of the besser block walls now is laser etched and cut cast acrylic sheet.  The advantages with this material are is rigid, accepts paint perfectly (if prepared correctly), can be easily machined on both sides for applications that require visibility of both sides and the material use minimises construction time.   The mortar joints were cut a little deeper than would be normal and taking on board the methods of Iain Robinson...a DAS slurry was mixed and squeegeed into the lasered mortar joints to reduce the depth and add definition....kind of like grouting tiles.

I have included a couple of photos showing the phases of manufacture...

 Top...Directly from the laser and after first paint coat.
Middle: Following DAS slurry to the mortar courses
Bottom: Mortar joints softened with paint/satin mixture.
( Middle and Bottom example could be used according to required appearance)

   And so the weekend continued...

Apart from the above besser intended structure will also include a steel "H" frame sectional framework...or "RSJ" construction.  While I had the air brush and other equipment running...I decided to also conduct some trials on the required steelwork and reincarnate a method I have not used in many years.

The base material is store bought Evergreen extruded styrene...Plastruct ABS will give similar results with the right prep. 

Most of you guys would be aware of the "salt weathering" method and as much as I have used it on rollingstock and other flat surfaces over the years with a fair degree of success...I felt it would give me the effect I am after with the shed and I was keen to see if it was as achievable on smaller sections of material.

I have included some photos of the tests so far and I am fairly happy with the results...even on these smaller items.  It is a very handy method with a host of "methods within a method"  to achieve a great deal of variation...  and if readers would like a detailed " How To"  post to get you started...just let me know...

Showing the base colours (various rust browns) with the salt applied and the second coat being added...

Another variation with lighter corrosion spots and an incomplete paint layer...

Severe pitting and corrosion...Residual salt not yet removed... can be seen

Rust and pitting showing through several layers...


Thursday, 7 August 2014

A Sad and Humbling Experience...With a Happy Ending!


During any given week I normally get at least a couple of visitors to my "trackside" workshop.  While the primary focus of my week is to earn a living...the outside contact and interaction is in reality much appreciated and certainly takes the monotony away from my fairly solitary working environment.  Of course having an absolute front row seat to the passing parade of trains traversing the main south on a day to day basis and being fortunate enough to get a "noisy" greeting from most crews that are either friends or aquaintances is a luxury never lost on me.

Amongst the regular visitors is a bloke by the name of Leon Oberg.  Leon normally drops past while out on one of his almost daily photographic adventures to check on the latest position of a train that he is chasing. On other occasions it will be a combined visit that also includes "sorting out the problems of the world" as we see it.  Now, as much as Leon has only a passing interest in the model side of the rail hobby...he does however have an appreciation of it and is always intrigued by my latest project that is taking up bench space somewhere in the workshop.  It must be said that Leon is a bit of an enigma in this town mainly due to his almost lifelong career as a senior journalist with our regional newspaper and as much as he is an extremely accomplished photographer and prolific author of many rail related is his tenure as a journalist of long standing and his involvement in community organisations that he is normally recognised for locally.

With the above description in mind, Leon never lets an opportunity for a "story" to pass him by...and when he first laid eyes on the "G" gauge layout that once adorned the backyard here some 10 years ago, he leaned on me pretty hard to create a story for the local paper.  I resisted many of his overtures, mainly due to the fact that I did not want to divulge the location and my details for many reasons... security probably being the most uppermost in my mind...and also because I saw my little empire as a not very newsworthy subject amongst the locals here. 

Moving forward to earlier this year and during one of his visits , we were discussing his latest story in the Byways Of Steam series that covered the Captains Flat Line and I proceeded to show him the early version of the Captains Flat ore loading structure that I was working on.  Almost immediately he suggested that a story covering the "hows, whys and wheres" of what I build should be turned into a story and this time I decided to submit to his wishes...after all what damage could it do and hey it might well be a bit of fun...He immediately produced his ever present camera gear and photos of some model items were taken and a field trip was organised for the following week so he could get a better feel for the research side of things.

The next week, we met up on a perfect Autumn morning somewhere along the (long closed) Crookwell Line and amongst the chit chat he took some more photos and the "story" was roughly cobbled together. During that chat we of course discussed our families and what they were up to and as lunchtime approached...we went our separate ways and made a "rough" timeframe to meet up finalise the story.

As fate would have it...only a couple of weeks later I had reason to ring Leon as I had promised earlier in the day to update him about a train that he was chasing.  Immediately upon answering my call...I knew that something was extremely wrong...After what seemed like an eternity he had composed himself enough to describe that he had just had a call that all parents dread and the result was to ultimately change his family, relatives and friend's lives forever.  It has now been widely reported that his son Peter, was lost at sea due to an incident during a fishing trip...

The only positive to come from these "life experiences" is that you tend to reassess what is important and re evaluate the real priorities in life.  It was heartening to see the vast amount of locals who turned out for the memorial service for Peter... and the support for the family in the weeks that is a credit to the family's strength and that Leon now outwardly has returned to normal...but no doubt the empty feeling of the loss would still be close by.  And so it was with a great deal of surprise when I became aware that the story that he had been quietly and silently working on had been resurrected, completed and now adorned the pages of the latest Track and Signal Magazine...very humbling to read his offering, knowing what had occurred in the previous weeks...

As for the "Happy Ending" to this story...well, that all comes from the fact that Leon has returned to some form of normality in his life and seems to be in a "good place" presently...He is now regularly track side and has returned to writing....certainly inspirational.   For me I guess there is still a certain amount of bewilderment as to how things so prophetically changed in such a relatively short space of time from that initial decision to do this article through to now...I guess the silver lining to the whole experience has been the ability to do my little bit to promote such a great hobby....OUR HOBBY!       



Saturday, 2 August 2014

Are We Getting Any Besser???


Are we getting any closer, would be a more apt statement.  More trials to replicate besser block walls have been conducted and while I will leave the verdict of success up to you guys...if nothing else it has been fun so far!

It was very heartening to get the feedback following the last post and a very sobering experience as well.  It is always amazing how with hindsight and third party comments, the subtle flaws (or room for improvement and refinement) are pointed out and then re-examined.  I have to admit that the original block facing did resemble "face bricks" and a way of softening the faces needed to be achieved before production could take place.

This time as planned, I ran up a set of moulds machined from cast acrylic and in this case I thought it wise to use clear material so I could keep an eye on things as they progressed.  The moulds are basically a two piece affair so that when the DAS is almost dry the finished "block panels" can easily be released from the mating parts.  When I am finally happy with the overall method, a larger set of moulds will be manufactured allowing for a few panels at a time to be completed.

Upon close examination of the latest trial there is still some minor lateral "ridging" of the blocks.  Certainly this ridging is not as pronounced as the first trial and this improvement is a combination of laser settings and the choice of material for this trial.  At the end of the day the laser process does have limitations and will never give the excavated surface finish of glass.  My ever suffering wife entered the debate with a fresh set of eyes and suggested that the best idea may well be to finish sand the face of the completed components with a very fine grade of wet and dry before colouring the faces...I keep reminding myself that I married the right girl!!!

Also in this trial I have also eased up the depth of the mortar joints and will also take on board the sage advice from Iain Robinson (refer last post and comments) and look at a vey light slurry finish coat of the blocks during the construction phase.

In the end I would suggest that some of the factors I am labouring over will not even be easily visible on the completed structures and possibly what I am trying to replicate may well be readily available in plastic...but the main aim is to vary my buildings so that they don't all resemble Walthers Cornerstone kits and to also experience as many facets of the hobby as I can, while all the time challenging myself...

And so... I have included some shots of the latest attempt and in my haste to evaluate the sample I decided to dry brush the DAS clay with a base colour before it was completely dry hence the mottled appearance of one or two shots... I also note that the photos display the blocks as rather dark with the wash applied...they certainly are lighter in reality...

Enjoy your weekend!!!   

Monday, 28 July 2014

Off On Another Tangent


Well, the 48 class is now completely stripped, the DCCSound decoder and speaker kit has arrived and I have purchased the required resistors to complete the lighting circuits when the rebuild begins.  I have been keeping careful records and photos for the next instalment in this conversion...But the subject of this post is about as far removed from loco rebuilding as one can be.

I had better begin this post by describing a fellow blogger.  Iain Robinson maintains a blog called (strangely enough) Iain Robinson Modelmaking  and he may well be familiar to some of you.  I happened across this site a couple of years ago and have been hooked ever since.  While the subject matter of Iain's work is somewhat removed from the Australian scene...the research, methods, craftsmanship, attention to detail and his immersive writing style and photography of the projects are certainly awe inspiring to say the least.  Iain is certainly a "master modeller" in the true sense of the word...I guess an artisan would aptly describe him.  Now, while I would never in my wildest dreams ever attain the level of skill that he makes look all so easy...there is plenty of hints, tips and inspiration to be gained from a visit to his blog and because of this I have embarked on my latest project ( of many in the process of completion stakes).

As much as I have built a number of structures over the years for pleasure and for the layout and have utilised a number of mediums to do so...I guess I have settled into a routine and have unconsciously fallen into a pattern of staying well and truly within my comfort zone.  To this end I have made a conscious decision to try a medium that has attracted my interest for some time...but for one reason or another has never made it to the top of the deck.

Iain utilises DAS modelling clay in some form or another in most of his structures and I decided to "start at the start" and see where this material would take my imagination and assess whether I could adapt it into my modelling "habits".  I have for some time had a desire to explore and build a besser block and corrugated asbestos composite industrial type building...examples of which dotted the "pre enlightened" industrial landscape.  In the Botany area of Sydney...where I grew up,  there were a multitude of these buildings and the design seemed to be a standard.  Concrete floor with besser block "brick up" to a level of say 8 to 10 courses and then corrugated asbestos sheet continuing on to the roof line....all of this cladding normally wrapping around a steel skeleton of RSJ / I beams. and the pitched or sawtooth roof followed the theme of corrugated asbestos as well.

Unfortunately I never pointed a camera at this type of building and as much as I recall the general appearance...I needed a reference photo(s) and certainly a building that was local to my childhood area and familiar would be a plus.  I recalled a shot that I had seen many years ago and I was able to uncover it in the publication called Remember When II and I have included it here...( Photo Credit... to Ted Skiller and the ARHS )


   The shot was taken inside what was once the ICI Botany site and as much as it shows only a glimpse of what I would like to recreate...the important elements are there and imagination will take over from here...

In the case of the corrugated asbestos...I ordered around 40 sheets of the OO scale plastic offering from Wills ( UK) a couple of years ago and as is normal with most model related purchases...I knew I would find a need for it...someday.   While I am aware that it is slightly over scale it does possess the flavour I am looking for and it is convenient.  On the down side it is way too thick and is only single sided so this will have to be taken into account as well.   


And now we finally get to the trial and error part of this essay and that is the creation of the besser blocks   I purchased four 1kg blocks of DAS modelling clay last Christmas and "donated" two of these blocks as stocking fillers for my daughter and kept the other two on hand awaiting an opportunity to "play" with the stuff and discover the uses for our hobby.  With the dimensions of besser blocks now entered and scaled to HO, I attempted to laser etch a set of templates or probably better described as stamps from engraving plastic... to allow "panels" of besser blocks to be easily formed.  The initial results are encouraging and I now need to tone down the mortar joints, as these were not normally raked as deeply as I have portrayed and I think I will use cast acrylic for the next set of stamps as this material has less flex and should produce a more consistent indentation.  (On a positive note, I am happy with the surface texture I have been able to achieve).  I will also attempt to create moulds as well so that uniform thickness of the panels can be maintained and double sided mortar joints are able to be introduced.  My first impression of DAS modelling clay is that I can see a multitude of uses and the discovery phase will be a fun process.

I have included a shot of a trial panel of besser blocks...  In hindsight I think purchasing four 1kg blocks of DAS modelling clay was very much a case of overkill...


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Holes In Walls...and Powerline 48s


Holes In Walls.

Well the modelling room is now totally complete and ready to be "lived in".  Maybe the term "totally complete" is a bit of a misnomer where anything model railways is concerned but I now have a well laid out room that is away from the layout room and away from the house.  Over the next couple of weeks I will populate the room and sort out the storage issues and creature comforts in this man-cave within a man-cave.

I have however progressed the railway access to this room and have completed the "tunnel" which is essentially a hole in the wall.  The initial trackwork in this room, will consist of a master siding with run around or loco escape and a dead end siding.  I do have to admit that the bench height in the modelling room should have had a bit more thought put into it. I was governed by the window sill height in this room...but now with the rail extension entering this room at layout room level...I have only around 55mm+/- between rail level and the installed benchwork (refer photo) and this will require some thought if Cobalt point motors are to be utilised here.  It may be that I will have to also cut clearance holes in the benchwork to allow clear fitment....ah well it will all become apparent in later posts I guess.


Powerline 48s

While awaiting the Trainorama 48 class release...I have relented and purchased a Powerline 48 to add to the fleet and while I have read mixed reviews of this offering...I have decided to convert this example of the mighty 48 class to DCC and Sound and carry out a few more modifications along the way.  As part of this process I thought it might be fun to record the conversion via the blog and of course it will be written in instalments as tasks are completed.
I guess a "mini review" of the out of the box model should precede the here are my initial thoughts.
The model, on first inspection, certainly is impressive and appears to be a more than fair facsimile of these workhorses of the NSW fleet.  I must point out that I was disappointed that there were no written instruction sheets that came with the model. In light of the fact that this is a dual mode model which allows DC operation as well as DCC operation, and the selector switch requires the removal of the body to activate...I find the absence of any written information beyond belief...  What is also obvious is the removable hatch located between the fan and the exhaust stack on the roof of the long end hood... although I am yet to workout what this hatch allows access to???.  Anyway the rest of my "review" will follow as part of the conversion process.
This afternoon I decided to undertake the task of removing the body from the chassis and while I had read the varying degrees of success that other modellers have had with what should be a rather easy exercise...I have to state that it was a very trying hour or so as I cajoled the body away from the chassis and as others have is a pig of a job.
Firstly the two couplers were removed and the four body screws were removed.  On other models this should now allow the body to simply come apart from the chassis...not so here!.  Apart from the tight fit of the two mating parts...there is also the issue of the buffer locating pins that extend inboard thru the pilots, fouling the chassis removal.  The options are either to remove these pins or to bend the pilots outwardly enough to allow the chassis to clear them.
The shot above shows the offending buffer guide pins with the chassis now removed
With the body now removed and an ever growing pile of detail items that have been dislodged during the process...the first thing that becomes apparent is that the "crew" will need to be relieved.  The installed offerings quaintly resemble the green "army men" that I played with as a child and are devoid of any painted features which is magnified by the fact that the loco is modelled with open cab side windows, making these little green blobs even more conspicuous.   I am certain that I have a more suitable replacement crew from the "B" end of a Trainorama loco...
The "Army Men" crew...One appears to either be waving...or has just thrown a grenade...

The next puzzling feature of this model is the placement of the DC/DCC selector slide switch...which requires the removal of the body to gain access...As stated earlier...I have no idea just what the removable roof hatch is for???.  Someone more learned than me might reveal the true reasoning for it's placement and use and why the selector switch could not have been installed in a more easily accessible location... For me the issue will not prove to be a long term negative as most of the existing electrical internals will be discarded when the DCC / Sound conversion is completed 
The main circuit board of the the background the access hatch on the roof of the long end hood has been removed...
while the location of the DC/DCC selector switch can be discerned at lower left of the circuit board... 
The dislodged parts scoreboard so far....of course impatience and aging fingers have played a part...!!!
In the next instalment...the DCCSound conversion kit should have arrived and I will move on to stripping the loco for decoder and speaker fitment, wiring mods...In the meantime I will scour the web for info from the "trailblazers" of this particular conversion...