9mil is short-hand for 9mm:foot, which as a scale ratio is 1:33.866. It is a ‘fine’ scale i.e. wheel flanges are exact scale replicas of full-sized practice, and is sometimes described as P34 scale, ‘P’ standing for Prototype as used in American model railroad nomenclature. While it may seem like a very odd scale, the origin is quite straightforward, being the ratio arrived at when New Zealand’s 1067mm/3ft 6in gauge railways are modelled using O-gauge (31.75mm/1.25in) track.
I first became aware of 9mil scale in the late 90’s, and took a liking to its heft and scope for detail. I purchased a second-hand assembled F-class loco, and some rolling stock kits from Ninemill Scale Products and immediately set about building a basic length of track so at least I had somewhere to park everything, if nothing else. While doing this, I quickly realised that exact sizes of timber were not available for 9mil scale, so I experimented with making my own. Lo and behold, I was quite good at it, and that is what started me down the road of developing the business known as Woodsworks, but I digress.
In the beginning, 9mil scale was no different to any other NZR modelling scale, with modellers either scratch-building, or modifying and adapting commercially-made O-scale equipment. However, the scale was eventually blessed by a range of products made available on a more-or-less commercial basis by the Von Strapp Co-operative, which still operates out of Auckland, and Ninemill Scale Products, created by Nelson Kennedy of Christchurch but purchased by me in 2012 and moved to Whangarei. More recently I have also gained the patterns and designs for Wa, Ab, Ja and K class locomotives created by John Gardener, followed by Paul Berntsen’s F-class kit.
As well as selling the original lines of kits and details, I am gradually upgrading some of these, and have added new items as time and finances allow. Fortunately my career as a computer draughtsman gave me the skills needed to harness the wonderful capabilities of rapid prototyping, allowing masters for brass casting to be made with breathtaking ease. At this point in time, I have a long way to go to fulfil my dream of a ‘complete’ line of 9mil scale kits which would allow anyone to build a typical NZGR train of the 1930’s through to the late 1950’s, but I keep chipping away at it.