Friday, February 1, 2008

From Walla Walla to. . . .Narrabri?

Unlikely Lineup on the Walla Walla Valley. . .

Something strange is going on at Valley Yard of the Walla Walla Valley Railway. For next to ancient WWV HH660 770 this day are two foreign visitors--New South Wales Government Railway 47 Class locomotive #4716 and State Rail Authority 44 Class #4464.

Apart from the 4' 8 1/2" gauge--and, in the case of the 4464, a common American Locomotive Company heritage--the two Indian Red visitors from Australia have little in common with the 770. Change is in the air. . . and the changes don't bode well for the future of the Walla Walla Valley, at least as its HO scale recreation residing in our "bonus room" upstairs is concerned. After many months of mulling such a change, I've decided to "pull the pin" on the WWV and take my modeling interests in a wholly new direction. . .down under, towards Australia.

I've got quite a bit invested in the WWV--in terms of models built, and in certainly in time spent researching and building the layout. But I'd not been too inspired lately by where the layout was headed. The layout room was seeing less and less use, and seeing a big room in the house virtually ignored the past six months just underscored the notion that I was looking for a kick in the ass to get me back into the hobby.

I'd long been interested casually in railroads of Australia, but it wasn't until late summer last year when my friend Lance Lassen returned from a visit down under that I really caught the bug. Actually, we both did. Lance was in the same prediciment, but on a larger scale: he too had a large model railroad in his house, recreating Southern Pacific's Santa Paula branch in the 1960s. And he too had hit a dead-end, interest-wise, in continuing the project. So, i guess i can blame Lance--or thank him, if this new direction for my modeling does pan out--for bringing me back the gorgeous Trainorama 44 Class Alco cab unit. . . my first Aussie modeling purchase.

Lance also brought back Ron Preston's book on the 48 Class locomotive--the branchline diesel workhorse on the New South Wales system--and it interested me in the Northwestern NSW branchlines in the Narrabri area. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to find trackage maps of the area, photographs of the rail yards, and get in touch with a retired railroader and modeler who worked into Narrabri in the late 1970s and early 1980s--my period of interest. Colin Hussey has provided me an amazing amount of information about how the railroad operated--from the traffic hauled to the types of cars used, to how the staff system of train control works, and even throwing in a bit of history on how the state railway suffered as a political football. Colin has been kind enough to scan several pages of freight and passenger schedules of the period as well. Other Australians on internet discussion boards have been just as friendly and helpful. Lance and I are certainly rare birds--as far as I know, we're about the only model ralroaders in the United States concentrating on Australian railroads, which means hobby shops here in the States have virtually nothing we need (other than track!) for our Australian modeling. It pretty much all needs to come from overseas, via pricey postage, purchased mostly on-line. (And while Lance and I are among the few in the US, Australia is crawling with modelers of American railroaders, and their hobby shops are filled with American models. Go figure!)

So after the brief temptation to replace the Walla Walla Valley with a model of Walla Walla, New South Wales--yes, there is another Walla Walla--and toying with just dropping four "l's" and replacing them with a similar number of "g's" to model Wagga Wagga, I decided that Narrabri it would be.

The Goal: Modeling scenes such as the Northwest Mail, behind a 48 Class Goodwin/Alco, seen north of Narrabri in the early 1980s. . .

The internet is certainly helping to bridge the distance between Texas and Narrabri; it's a huge gulf to cross--and learning about how Australian railroads operate (yes,they're QUITE different than those in the United States) is a big hurdle. But to me, a hobby is most fun if I can learn something in the process. . .and as with the WWV, there's a lot to learn going into the new Narrabri project.

My model railroading interests the past seven years have been wrapped up in the WWV, an obscure shortline operating between Walla Walla, Washington, and Milton-Freewater, Oregon, until 1985. For a while, my interest in the WWV had been a bit of an obsession, resulting in two model railroads and a website ( that chronicled not only my modeling of the railroad, but the history and stories of those who worked on the real thing. My journey on the WWV--which I never saw in real life--was aided and abetted by a score of people similarly interested in the railroad. Among 'em, Walla Walla native Marc Entze, whose interest in his hometown railroads greatly aided my research of the WWV; the late John Henderson, who graciously provided dozens of scans of his black and white studies of the WWV during the 1960s; Hiroshi Okada, who took photos of the WWV as a foreign exchange student in 1972 and through a strange tale of fate ended up providing me with a half-dozen photo albums of snapshots of the ralroad; and the late Ed Schnedmiller, the grand old man of the WWV, a life-long Walla Walla resident, and WWV's general manager from 1953-1970--whose memories of the WWV remained amazingly clear for someone in his nineties. Without them, the model WWV would never have been a viable project.

All this is to say that my involvement in preserving the history of the WWV and bringing it back to life in some small way was incredibly enriching, in no small measure due to the people I've met while doing so. I thank them for their patience and help, much as I do those who will help make a little bit of northwestern New South Wales come to life in a second-floor bonus room in Texas.

The Decisive Moment: E. figures out what's in the box. . .

One Happy Kid
As predicted yesterday, E.'s birthday gift sent his spirits soaring like a. . . well, a Saturn V rocket. He was pretty blown away by his gift from M. and I of a 1/144th scale model of the Apollo launch vehicle. He called it "the best birthday present of all time." When it was his bedtime, we put it up on his dresser across the bedroom from his bed, and shined his desk lamp on it, casting an eerie shadow on the wall behind. It looked Awesome. For dinner, the family was joined by Lance and Emily and Bruce and Roxie at Logan's Roadhouse, a favorite of the boys for the buckets of peanuts on the tables and the big windows in front of the kitchen where one can watch flames shoot up from the grille as steaks are cooked. It was a memorable evening for E. He fell right asleep. And so far, he hasn't lost a single piece of the rocket.

Dimples as deep as lunar craters: E. takes the mighty Saturn V for a test flight. . .


SDP45 said...

Are you going to keep the WWV (not the model)pages up, or are they going to go away as well? There is no other site that I have seen quite like it chronicling a neat short line like the WWV was.


BEK said...

The WWV pages will be up for the foreseeable future. . . .I'm too lazy to do much more work on them, so they'll probably remain as is until the fellow who is hosting my website on his server decides to boot me off.