Hobby Notes

Rail Models

The hobby has its origins back to about 1956/57 when my parents bought a children's book on trains. The story line was English and the photographs were of LMS HO models on a scenicked layout. Wonderful stuff. By about 1958 I had received a Hornby clockwork train set with a circle of track, red 0-6-0 loco, open wagon, boxvan or milk truck and guards van. This took pride of place in the hallway right at the front door. Many hours were spent winding the loco and dreaming blissfully of large scale rail operations. Ignored were the wobbly infrastructure and loco maintenance involved with the collection of large amounts of lint in the works. Not much different from trains running over sheep as I was later to discover.

The arrival of extra board siblings saw the main line relocated from the hallway to a veranda room complete with fold down train layout. Father was so in raptures with a friend's effort to build scale model high tension power line towers that we ended up with a flat oval track, paper mache tunnel and scale size settlers hut complete with water tank. The most memorable addition to the layout was a working Home Signal purchased from 'Tim the Toyman'. Perhaps the biggest capital expenditure was the electrification project that saw the clockwork loco placed into storage and used as required for special needs. A brand new LMS 0-6-0T steam engine took line honours utilising the services of a 12 volt car battery and controller. The rail line must have been in a 'rural' area as the services were freight only, with passengers presumably riding in the van.

Relocation to Bairnsdale saw expansion work halted on the existing layout. Two new fold down boards were placed over our beds (my brothers and mine) allowing each to run trains without the haggling and fighting that usually occurs when 'sharing'. Both layouts consisted of track ovals with siding space, 12v power. Rosters had expanded to cover a Dock Shunter and more wagons. My brother was the first to introduce passenger train running with the inaugural service of the Stephensons Rocket set and 'Seuthe' smoke, that belched and popped this godawful smoky stuff around the room.

Track expansion was required as the visions of a growing empire took place. A rumpus room had been added for entertainment, rock club meetings (as in 'dig up the ground' type rocks), a photographic darkroom and a 'home office' for running the business. This new layout was a fold down one too and measured some fifteen feet by four feet deep. This one was double track and ran in a figure of '8'. This allowed each end of the board to house sidings for the respective 'rail company' with something like a 1 in 15 rail overpass at the centre. Not much was done after that as there were no magazines or people available for inspiration. Any thoughts of scenery were squashed (literally) by having the large board fold up against the wall. Oh well. A station platform was added and siding expended. A new passenger locomotive and three LMS carriages were providing comfort and service amid the local freight moves. Compatibility was a problem as the passenger set had all the old style Hornby hook couplers; a conversion project not contemplated. Main infrastructure project on the main line was the soldering of all jointed rail to give 'CSR' not 'CWR' as the prototype was doing.

This hobby and High School brought me into contact with two others interested in rail.

The Prototype

The earliest prototype memories were:

Probably early in 1965 I began to get interested in VR. The school was directly across from the station yard. The S class steam tenders were at the depot. T locos would arrive and depart and for extra joy, the resident Traralgon loco J class steam engine would shunt the yard prior to departure. By late 1965, we all stood on the footbridge to watch the last regular steam leave Bairnsdale.

Through 1966 to 1968 I managed to ride and observe:

During this time I used to visit Melbourne on school holidays and stay with my Grandma at Balaclava. From there I used to visit the city/CBD, Broadmeadows, Sunshine, Newport and Puffing Billy.

With the start of work at Traralgon I did not use the camera very much. However contact with engines and trains did inspire my interest. At this stage I had not seen any railfan magazines apart from Divisional Diary so was basically flying in the dark. A transfer to Orbost saw the photograph effort leap ahead. Probably boredom. I started using colour slides and began photographing locomotives in a low key way with some more unusual train shots for the area. This interest led back to a British modeling magazine and an interest in N scale and by about 1972 I decided to build an 'N scale' layout. As my life was fairly portable, I designed and built a layout six feet by three feet six inches that folded in two to be one foor thick. Heavy as. The modeling desire developed into US locomotives and the General Motors EMD company and obvious VR loco heritage.

After a transfer to Wodonga, I joined a model railway club and began to become inspired by the efforts of others. I laid thirty feet of track in six feet by three feet six. Somewhere I drifted into prototype VR and began 'N scale' construction. Very rough. I joined the FMRS (Flinders Model Railway Society) in about 1974. This prototype modeling presented an information and photographic problem.

There was no information, little in the way of plans and about zero photographs. Looking at other photographs taken by modelers I was disappointed to see that there was no organisation or planning. Indeed, trips had been wasted when photographs showed the same detail over several outings. My plan also was to photograph vehicles before I needed to model them. This way, I could begin construction without looking for suitable material.

With this in mind I embarked on a small project.

Detail Photography

I needed a system that was fast and easy, one that would quickly show what detail photos were still needed to be photographed and a systematic method of describing sides and ends. Given that there was little information I had access to, there was also a second part to the project: photographing the vehicles themselves.

Main questions were:

Whilst it was not possible to record all the photographs on one vehicle at the one time, I was going to rely on an 'Identikit' method whereby photographs from many vehicles could be used to provide basic information.

As the photography expanded so to did the awareness and the extra photographs recorded included

So absorbing did this work become that I dropped modeling to pursue photography as a full time activity. Whilst I was extremely interested in the age and heritage of the rolling stock I decided to defer the history of the rolling stock. At the time, I reasoned the history I would collect was information that had already been written down whilst the vehicle details and photos had yet to be recorded. How prophetic.

The old "hand-me-down" service stock was a bit of a priority when early on I realised the stuff was getting scrapped faster than the photo effort in the metro area and the occassional country jaunt. To this end I set aside one holiday and viewed every country railway station in a span of 21 days, some 9,000 mile and over 500 stations and sidings. Visits were focussed on the H HH HD W WW vehicles only. If this stock was not observed, the car was not stopped and another station ticked off. Days were 6am to 7pm and a strict budget enforced ( ie sleep in car, shower in motel every OTHER day ). I got bogged in mud, stuck in sand, pulled over by the police, and had a radiotor hose failure, tyre punctures, bonnet latch failed and the bonnet smacked against the windscreen, the accelerator jammed on, BOTH headlights blew and I ran out of fuel near Mildura. The final straw was a near nervous breakdown. I still have the map that was used to maximise the stations and minimise the back-tracking. Given this pace, I still missed stuff and got one group of vehicles in the north west and several days later got the same group in the east somewhere. I then finished holidays and went back to work to relax

Systems were developed to track the detail photos and the vehicles recorded. Photography and indexing consumed some 10-16 hours per day. This interest was killed off by two main events:

  1. A holiday overseas provided some perspective
  2. The change to a National coding system saw an enormous re-photographic effort of all bogie stock again.

The work to date was starting to become like a merry-go-round where time was being spent but little 'achieved'. In the early days a film of 36 photos was enough to record some 15-25 vehicles plus a few details. By 1985, this had dropped to about 5-6 new vehicles and the rest of the work was rephotographing stock. In years past a one day trip through the rail yards would yield about 6 - 8 rolls of film used. By 1985 the same effort would generate only about 2-3. By 1985 the majority of fixed wheel stock had been removed from service and freight movements required less shunting leaving yards partially full. The smaller freight yards that were normally full were left empty. Time to stop.

The photography required some organisation. The entire effort I have called "the process".

Data Acquisition

The photographic effort had produced some memorable "finds" as well as lots of mainstream vehicles. It is important here to emphasiz that the main purpose of the data acquisition was to tie in a history to every vehicle photographed. By history, I mean the history of the vehicle leading up to the photo time. In this regard the emphasis was on construction, conversion and if it was possible a scrapping date. Anything else was a bonus. Outside of this, the data recording would have consumed so much time that I would still be doing it today. Bodies and sightings were used to provide a final history note in lieu of official data that may be missed or not tracked.

Initially I detested taking notes and instead used my camera as the note taker. By 1978 information was starting to pour in as awareness and contacts increased. I started a notes journal and shortly after started a roneo sheet edition of 'Railsheet' that was produced fortnightly. It was assembled from observation and information from myself and interested parties.

At the end of 1980 I had access to Newport Workshops records and preceded to collate this material with fortnightly visits which lasted for four years. All the rolling stock 'happenings' started to make sense. This information was duly typed into the 'notes'. By 1984 I had access to the main Rolling Stock Registers. In the haste to collect data I immediately ran into two key problems

  1. Material was transcribed and thrown away without any 'audit' trail
  2. An identical system to VR was established in recording the data: item based and no scope for editing or extra entries
  3. All work was labour intensive for both input and data extraction

All work progressed on the basis that access would eventually be lost. In this regard, data was transcribed and sourced on a priority basis. At no time was the access for immediate use; it was all stored away. Finally after nine months access was stopped due to a third party quoting my name. Of course the response was "PJV who?"

With access denial I decided that further research was impractical as the difference between published material and the Registers was so great as to make further use of printed material a waste of time. I further decided that I would only resume research when I had regained access to the Registers AND had written a computer program that could store the data. This would not happen until 1989 when I took a position in administration in the 'Vehicles Engineering Department'. work.

With access to both Newport Workshops records and the Rolling Stock Branch Register records I now formalised my data acquisition. I needed to find the histories for all the vehicles I had photographed. By 1985 this numbered some 18,000 identities. I reasoned that it would be easier to transcribe ALL vehicle histories than to 'hunt and peck' across pages chasing each single history in turn. By the use of an appropriate computer program, the data input of ALL vehicle information should theoretically produce a master cross reference list from which any vehicle history could be obtained.

Initially I used a ledger system which reserved some blank lines for eventual use as histories were gathered. This proved extremely difficult to use due to

The computer program 'Register'

The program data storage and format took about six months to formalise. Initial coding was for data entry only. I figured that the program output could be done properly once the data entry started. An initial test of 5000 histories found a bug which took another month to eliminate. Once that was done, data proceeded at a rate of approximately 9000 vehicles a month; 27,000 identities done in the first four months, with the total of about 82,000 identities completed about five years later. Whilst data acquisition and data entry progressed, time was also allocated to enhancing the program. It took another three years and several attempts before a successful cross referencing routine could be written that could guarantee a uniform output; based on logic only and assembled from uniquely independent records.

By cross referencing I mean a report that would allow the user to type in a single vehicle identity and a total history of the vehicle would be provided in chronological order; ie 'Built New' to 'Scrap'. This routine could also handle duplicate vehicles and 'car names'.

What to do now?

With the data in place, the photos done and diagrams ready what was the next step? Obviously magazines were a good start but the wealth of material could see some 20-30 years of articles; too long!. So I decided to cobble together a quick description of all the classes based on summaries from the program, add a photo and assemble the lot on CD. There was scope for future expansion. There was too much to fit on one CD.

File Tracking System

By 1997 a major logistical problem was raising a concern. This was the indexing and access of all the material I had photographed and collected. My original plan was to keep modifying the 'Register' program to suit the indexing of material and collation of similar items. However it was basically a rolling stock data program suitable for data and photos only and unsuited for all the other bits and pieces of life.

From 1995 I did some work on a program for tracking images across multiple media sources in preparation for integration with the 'Register' program. This was enhanced as an archival program and had been developed for the Seymour group. As this association stopped I continued development sufficient for use by an individual in tracking anything of interest. This program became "File Tracking System". It allowed me to index images and unscanned material for later linking with the scanned file as work was done. During this time I removed all the paperwork from my office and had it scanned. This not only saved space but avoided the usual dilemma of having the material but being unable to use it without extra work and time delays.

Internet presence

In 1997 whilst I was developing the CD and layout, I decided to place a stripped version of the CD onto a website. The site contained the vehicle page, a downsized photo and little else. There was a lot of interest and people overseas used the site to advantage by printing out the entire data pages. After the 1998 CD release I had feedback that some thought it unnecessary to buy the CD. I removed the website

By 2004 I decided the distribution method was ready for the Internet. CD sales were slow and the market impact less than 50% of what I had anticipated. I presume that pirating had a major impact. I had priced the CD low enough to prevent a lot of unwanted duplication and to make it affordable to a small niche market.

In April 2004 I dropped the CD onto a website in entirety. The results have been outstanding. Distribution depth in three months exceeded the entire CD sales of six years. I figured that was worth it. For now, the CD sales with be used to support the website. To all those that have purchased the CD: a BIG thankyou.

My main interest in providing a 'net' access was to ensure some measure of authenticity to VR rolling stock history in an environment where rumours, half truths and concocted garbage has seen many sites and published material provide incorrect data.


The process of indexing was proceeding slowly and had been bogging down due to the growing collection of images via 'net' and digital cameras. To change interest and provide some visual method of presenting my collection I decided to provide an image of each film which contained a small image of each photo within the film. Following the success of Rob O'Regan with his thumbnail pages, I figured out a way to keep the same image layount but provide links from each photo via HTML image mapping. Only the expansion of the website space allowed this possible. Constrained by a 5Gb web space and some 80,0000 images precludes nice detail photos. However once the site was increased to 12Gb then 20Gb, then bulk loads of images are possible.

I rewrote the small program I was using to generate the pages. This allowed for image mapping and detected which images could be linked. As the site is predominately historical and industrial, personal type photos and some copied material is not accessible


By 2010, the FTS program was bogging down and work stopped on indexing. Looming problems was handling of digital images and long filenames. The major flaw i had with the program was not the program as such, it was the method used by Microsoft to handle long file names, namely a DOS 8 bit filename with a long filename reference, the DOS filename being masked. However, when the files are transferred to another drive, the long file name remanes but the DOS references change, thus screwing the links between the file and the FTS reference.

By 2013 i was ready to start uploading and organising again. I looked for a very simple album type program to organise the colour scans and digital photos. I began using Adbobe Lightroom 4 for tracking digital images. It has the power to extablish a website or album but was put off by that approach. After hunting the web i found a program called "jAlbum". Initial testing took a few days and decided to use the program for Colour Slides, Collections, Digital Images abd Scenic/Landscape display on the website. A paid website proved complicated with minimum hits for the commercial aspect i wanted. 

After some use, the album program was adopted for displaying all the detail photographs i had taken. Initially established and run from a cardfile system ( yeah, pre computer days ) this is about the third attempt to publish the detail photos. The attempt has been successful, though i thought it may be too late. I have been told it has been very well received, so thanks

Peter J. Vincent, October 2013