A Brief History of Nine Mill Modelling in New Zealand

Nelson Kennedy


I intend to build up a picture of the history of nine mill modelling as events come back to me and in the light of contributions from readers which I would love to receive by email. So this document is hopefully going to be a dynamic, growing account as the events of the last 25 to 30 years are assembled before our memory losses catch up with us!


In the beginning .....


It would have been about 1970 (I can date the event by some other things that were happening in my life at the time) that Paul Berntsen and I had a yarn when he was visiting Christchurch and we became aware that we had independently embarked on some 0 gauge NZR modelling and had both adopted a scale of 3/8" to the foot (1:32). Paul had made some patterns to that scale and I bought some BP97 bogie side frames from him. My efforts at that time had been restricted to building the sides for a 47' car using Northeastern scribed siding and strip wood.

Paul cautioned against getting too deep into 1:32 modelling because of moves that were afoot in Auckland to adopt a new scale which would be a closer representation using 32mm track to represent the 42 inch gauge of the NZR prototype. The scale adopted was 9mm to the foot a scale ratio of 33.86:1.

I believe it was Bob McCully in Auckland who first promulgated the standards for the newly emerging nine mill scale and it caught on amongst a group of friends in Auckland who became known as the 'Nine Mill Group'.

Within a year or two, Bob McCully found himself transferred to Christchurch where he gathered around him a small group of people interested in the 'Premier Scale' . It was around that time that he made a plaque to provide a logo for a 9mm Society. That society was never formally constituted. The plaque was given to John Gardener in Christchurch and is still to be found on the wall of his workshop. I have used a photograph of it to herald this article.

So it came to be that there were two gathered cells of modellers, one in Auckland and one in Christchurch, as well as some working on their own throughout the country. I am aware that there are some modelling NZR in this scale in Australia, Britain and the USA and some free lancing based on NZR in Greece!

The Auckland and Christchurch cells both became known as 'The Nine Mill Group' in their respective cities and have had a lot in common over the years, notwithstanding irreconcilable differences over the best brew of ale and Rugby football prowess. Both have maintained memberships with links back to the formative years of the early seventies and both have constructed large modular layouts suitable for public exhibition.

Quite early on in the piece - and I'm guessing here, but I would say about 1975 - the von Strapp Forgings Co-operative was launched. On payment of a nominal membership fee of $10 modellers were able to access at 'non profit' prices, castings in white metal and brass from patterns made by fellow members. Members were (and still are) encouraged to submit patterns to build the range being made available and designated members were given the authority to decide whether or not a pattern was up to standard before it was cast and offered for sale.

I think I am right in saying that von Strapp was the brainchild of Bob McCully. If that is not right I'm sure somebody will quickly tell me. A 'bio' was written about the mythology of Joachim von Strapp and I used to have a copy of it. I can't find it now but would like to receive one for inclusion here.

Can you provide information?

If you are able to provide me with information or anecdotes to flesh out this article, I would really like to hear from you by email.

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