Progress Report 70: A Ballast Wagon for Pete’s Hobby Railway

It’s been a bit of a break in the Refuge Siding, however – at last, another Progress Report! This article was originally written on Thursday, April 07, 2022, but wasn’t published at that time. It was then updated on December 12, 2022 and resubmitted to Nicholas for publication, when he was available]

[Editor’s note: My most humble apologies to both Peter and the many, many fans and followers of the Pete’s Hobby Railway story! Work and personal commitments have prevented me from focusing on PHR this year… Peter has dutifully written a few Progress Reports, and submitted a couple of other tidbits for publication over the last 6 months, but it is only now I have the time to sit down and publish them — so keep an eye out over the next month for at least three more Progress Reports and other short articles.

PS: Thank you for the couple of enquiries via email and Facebook to check if Peter was still with us — YES, he still is 🙂


Now on to the main story…]

Railways, whether they be heavy rail or narrow gauge, just don’t drop out of mid-air. Their construction is a mixture of blood (mostly – figuratively speaking only!), sweat (if one works too hard) and tears (if one gets it wrong!), and Pete’s Hobby Railway is no different (but without the blood!). This Progress Report covers part of the construction side of PHR and how our on-line followers may be able to support the Railway to expand towards completion, with the acquisition of a genuine heavy duty narrow gauge ballast wagon.

A ballast wagon for Pete’s Hobby Railway?

Image 1. Newly laid main line track for Isis Mill waits final levelling. Location is Old School Road, south of Duingal Creek (between Childers and Gin Gin in central coastal Queensland). My thanks to John Browning for this image, taken on 23/4/2021.

A well ballasted formation and rail track is essential for the efficient operation of heavy rail trains. In recent years, even the 2-ft (610mm gauge) canefields tramways of Queensland have undergone considerable upgrading (and extensions), to the extent that canefield tramway main line standards can now be compared to their heavy rail brethren, allowing the cut cane to be hauled extended distances at faster speeds to the Mill for processing. Small “navvy gangs” using rudimentary work trains and fettling equipment (such as is in use on Pete’s Hobby Railway!) have been replaced by those with mechanised equipment, even to the extent of automated sleeper removal/replacement machines and ballast tampers. Concrete sleepers have replaced the older timber sleepers. A complete train of specifically designed discharge wagons would be used to convey ballast from a central point to the work site for dropping.

Image 2. 2016.4498: Lennie with a wheel barrow of ballast. Rhys, Ben and the Ruston in the background. 1/11/2016.

In the very early days of PHR, laying of ballast was at times undertaken using a wheel-barrow (!!!), shovel, rake and mattock – thankfully soon graduating to the use of a hired-in front-end loader which would dump small heaps of ballast beside the newly laid track for manual spreading, then packing under and between sleepers using the mattock.

Image 3. 2016.5004 Dropping ballast into place with the aid of a hired-in Bob-Cat and operator extraordinaire, Dave. Ganger Lennie is supervising. The ballast will then be spread manually. 29/11/2016.

Image 4. 2016.4585: Dropping base ballast using Mario’s tipper. Unfortunately, this vehicle is no longer available to PHR as Mario has relocated to the Rylstone area. Rob drills a sleeper to take a dog-spike while Ben supervises. 3/11/2016.

Pete’s Hobby Railway still has considerable track to be laid in order to complete our continuous “dog-bone” main line. Josh Burke’s computer aided design plan from Progress Report 64 best shows our next section of track to be laid and accordingly is repeated below. Thanks for the use again, Josh!

Image 5. Slightly dated CAD plan prepared by Josh Burke showing the rear-of-property track extension proposed for Pete’s Hobby Railway.

Looking at the diagram, the formation has to be cleared from the left hand side near the dotted line of a future cross-connection, around a 90 degree curve, down a lengthy descending grade slotted in between the back of my Archives Shed and a row of trees to leave a small clear firebreak space to the back fence. This would be followed by a 225-degree 19m radius curve on a low embankment around a future retention pond/lake draining to the street. As the line passes the rear of our Storage Shed, there is the possibility of a short platform “LOCO”, before passing between the Storage Shed, the turntable complex and the Archives Shed on a sweeping 135-degree arc to eventually link up to a future point and the existing track leading on to the turntable. The diagram shows the possibility of a future island platform to serve both the outer and inner tracks of the main line.

There is an even more distant vision of a “control centre” between the island platform and the future crossover points… from this location, there is excellent vision towards Loftus platform, as well as over the (two) junctions, the turntable and Storage Shed – thus allowing simple management of the operation of the railway using two-way portable radio equipment.

Image 6 (2022.0614). A large jig-saw puzzle awaiting assembly and modification – a 60-lb right-hand point, now relocated to the turntable area, near to its installation location. 6.4.2022.

Pete’s Hobby Railway already has a 60-lb right hand point in a disassembled condition waiting to be put together and installed. Ideally, the point should be modified by reducing its length, making it more suited for its future use. Anyone like to be involved with a large, and somewhat heavy, jig-saw puzzle? If so, I would be very pleased to hear from you – initially, please contact me using our Contact Form.

Image 7 (2022.0609). Approximate installation location for the point. The inner main line will continue “straight”, then swing right in the background. 6.4.2022.

The use of a properly designed and commercially constructed ballast wagon would simply track construction work tremendously. It would be extremely useful in the construction of the remainder of our main line balloon loop as well as simplifying a subsequent upgrade of our existing track.

Pete’s Hobby Railway has been offered an operating four wheel ballast wagon previously in use at a North Queensland sugar mill. The vehicle is able to discharge into the track centre as well as to the sides and would be of considerable advantage to the Railway volunteers.

Image 8: Six surplus ballast wagons photographed in storage at Inkerman Mill prior to their bulk sale. PHR acquired one of these wagons.

Would anyone like to contribute towards PHR’s acquisition of the vehicle? The estimated cost of purchase, transport and craneage, will probably be in the vicinity of AU$1,500 by the time it arrives at PHR. Donations of any amount would be greatly appreciated. If you’d like to contribute to the purchase of the Ballast Wagon, please get in touch via our contact form. In return, and subject to you undertaking a PHR Track Awareness Course (it’s not that difficult!) and a “how to” instruction, you could even be assisting to use the vehicle to drop ballast on Pete’s Hobby Railway! All contributions will be gratefully acknowledged directly, as well as in a future Project Report update (if agreed to). Subject to funding, PHR could take delivery of the ballast wagon during July, in time for our “back fence” track extension project. Any funding received additional to obtaining the vehicle would be put towards the purchase of ballast to fill it!

Update to 10.12.2022 — Ballast Wagon has been Purchased

For one reason or another, there has been a massive delay in publishing this Progress Report. PHR (that means me, Peter!) has taken the plunge and purchased the ballast wagon which has since arrived at the Railway, being unloaded on Tuesday 13th September, 2022.

Image 9 (2022.1744): Ballast Wagon BW5 (on Inkerman Mill’s roster of rolling stock) is gently guided down on to PHR’s track by Ben. 13.09.2022.

The vehicle was towed to PHR’s depot complex for storage purposes. It is in good general condition, with the discharge controls fully operational. Discharge of ballast on to the permanent was is controlled through four wheels – two located on each side. The upper wheel on both sides allows the ballast to be dropped into the “four-foot” between the rails while the lower wheel allows ballast to be dropped outside the rail on that particular side. The amount/speed of the discharge depends on how open the chute is, controlled by the relevant wheel. On the opposite site of the vehicle is a lever which when released allows a small plough to be dropped to just above rail level, so as to spread the dropped ballast. Thus, to work efficiently, ballast can only be safely dropped in one direction of haulage.

Image 10 (2022.1778): The Ruston stands at Loftus platform with the new ballast wagon in tow. Obviously, no clearance problems! Taken on 27/09/2022.

During a much later trial over the whole of PHR’s existing line, it was confirmed that the vehicle passed through Loftus platform without any structural clearance problems. There are some stress fractures which our welding experts advise would not be difficult to repair. General consensus to date is that the “hungry boards” extensions at the top of the wagon should be removed, thus making the vehicle easier to load with ballast.

The acquisition has ended up costing somewhat less than originally anticipated, mainly because PHR hasn’t been billed for the final stage of the transport. The figure has dropped to $1,000 – however, contributions would still be greatly appreciated.

Okay – that’s all for this updated Progress Report.


SM Loftus
Pete’s Hobby Railway

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