Wednesday, October 18, 2017

At A Snail's Pace

When I write too much about track planning and layout design, this is generally a good indicator I’m not working that much on the club layout. While this is not an optimal situation, it has at least the advantage to take a step back and assess the project as a whole and fine tune the approach.

Also, working on other “what if” designs are not wasted time since practice makes perfect. For this reason, I never fear to tackle such challenge for the sake of honing my skills. And at the end of the day, this is extremely useful hobby time since what I learn from layout planning and model railroading can be used directly in my architecture practice.

By the way, I still have one last design in the oven until I go back to our main subject. Such occasions also gave me time to revisit my Temiscouata project and fine tune some aspects in regard with era, operation, rolling stock, scenery and benchwork construction. I’m certainly taking my sweet time with this one, but I see no reason to rush things up.

But back to Hedley-Junction…

We are progressing at a slow pace on the club layout. Conflicting schedules and commitments are making it hard to gather together and work efficiently. It is certainly how I expected this autumn modelling season to be, but at least we aren’t stalled. Villeneuve yard is now entirely ballasted and only two short sidings needs to be done at a later date when the cement plant will be definitely installed. Given it took me about 4 sessions to bring the ballasting up to 90% in less than 8 hours, I consider it a great achievement for myself. Truth to be told, I no longer hate ballasting track. It also means we will be able to run trains from D’Estimauville to Clermont again.

The next goals are quite simple and include touching up the ballast job, modelling the roads and grade crossings, then starting to add vegetation and ground cover. However, the biggest job will be building the cement plant. I brought back the base board home and will soon revise my plans. However, knowing I’m in danger of getting paralyzed by overplanning, I guess I’ll simply go forward as best as I can and address issues on the spot. Most people would consider my plans are more than enough for the job, but it seems my professional background is kicking in. It’s hard setting my mind in such a way I don’t have to plan every detail for workers to do the job.

And finally, the last but not the least, I’ve also (re) started working on JMRI Operations to create switchlists. The learning curve is definitely steep but the results are rewarding. As a working example, I’m using the Harlem Station layout to better grasp the software possibilities before implementing it on the club layout. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t understand the software if you are not building dozens of trains to really understand how cars are routed. Practice makes perfect and this is both true in the real and virtual worlds. JMRI isn’t about slapping the correct ingredients in the correct order, you seriously need to fine tune many things since no layout is identical to the next one and worked examples are nothing but handy templates, not ready to go solutions. As much as I often said model railroading isn’t the sum of technics, the same apply to operation. You need to add a sense of purpose – a soul – into the logic behind the scene.

For those interested, you can take a look to my Harlem Station blog for additional information. I’ve particularly explored how historic evidences can feed the operating concept and have a sizeable impact on how you can make JMRI behave in a more prototypical way.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Stanbridge Subdivision - Track Plan Musing

Ready for another layout design entry?

Bedford Station, date unknown (Credit: CSTM)

From time to time, a good design challenge is all that is required to keep one's mind sharp and creative. And my habit to dig up Southern Quebec prototypes kicks in again. Have I said in the past this area is full of hidden gems rarely modelled in scale and generally, when done so, spiced up with too much modeller's license to be palatable? I'm at that point in my life I believe presenting a clinic about prototype selection in a given area would be extremely useful. Or maybe layout critics in magazine instead of glossing over every shortcomings just as we do with other form of arts... So many people are technically proficient in railway modelling but otherwise indecisive or simply clueless about the setting a manageable scope for their project... which is generally a shame.

As you know, I'm actually in the process of restoring my 1875 house first floor and this other layout project is based again on what can be done with a 8.5' X 10' spare room with two blind walls - which incidently is a rarity in older houses. Knowing many great layouts are actually built within very small rooms, I thought experimenting with Stanbridge Subdivision in Bedford would be great since the prototype is nested on a sharp 90 degree curve.

Bedford (credit: Google Earth)

Not only the geography fits the space but the  type of railway activity too, which is what matters in the end. After carefully surveying key dimensions on Google Earth, I was able to design what I consider a decent layout in a small space with potential for operation lasting from 30-45 minutes depending on the number of car handled, and maybe more.

As presented, the layout is all about grain and lime traffic and could be very interesting for people who particularly like covered hoppers in the modern era. To make a short story, Standbridge Subdivision is an old failed CPR connecting line that linked Farnham (an important division point on CPR Short Line) and Stanbridge where interchange with Central Vermont and diminutive Philipsburg Junction Railway occured. While the original purpose of the line got redundant and unprofitable quickly, the small local communities had enough strong customers to keep the subdivision in service between Farnham and Bedford as a branchline.

For what matters, we go back in the late 2000s and early 2010s under the infamous Montreal Maine and Atlantic tenure (when that railway was just another cute and colorful rundown line until Lac-Mégantic disaster). At that time, the remaining customers were all located in Bedford. The first one was a mid-sized feed mill and hardware store (Rona Lévesque) and the second one the large Graymont limestone quarry.

Operation is based on MMA prototypical practices and trains are shorts (about 3 to 5 cars). I don't have the details on hand, but lime traffic was quite important and all pictures (Google Earth, StreetView, railfan's photos, etc.) show quite a lot of cars in limestone service. Operation would consist in shuffling empties and loads at the quarry and spot occasional grain cars at the feedmill. Railfan and photographer Mike Berry did a great job shooting the last days of this subdivision, particularly when a train was stranded for months after a derailment over faulty track. His work is extremely inspiring.

Graymont limestone quarry, Bedford (Google Earth)

A neat thing about the lime traffic is repurposed grain cars were used to haul it. According to pictures, a few were obviously of Chicago & North Western while others came from ethanol-dedicated corn suppliers. Most were patched and nicely weathered, creating a nice set of side projects for the layout. As it stand, this would be a 100% covered hopper thing.

For the layout purpose, I tried to keep things to scale, but cut about half a mile of track between the feedmill and Graymont.  If more space is available, I would simply suggest to add mainline run between both customers and maybe extend the layout on the left side and model the neat bridge scene as a way to conceal the layout end and a staging area. The idea would be to add some distance between elements to create a sense of open space. In that regard, the layout wouldn't be very different than Jim NcNab's excellent Grime Lines and most of the mainline could be modelled on a fairly narrow shelf (8" to 12") in a similar fashion than Tom Johnson's INRAIL layout is built. This trick would save both space, time and resources to model. Both man prooved us immersive scenery didn't need to be wide to be effective.

Operation wise, you only need one locomotive. To be precise, a GE Dash-8 B38. MMA #8583 was an ex-LMX patched locomotive with a lot of character and Atlas did make one in the correct paint scheme. It would make a neat customizing project.

I suspect this layout would be extremely fun to build, particularly because Bedford is a small rural town with a quite a presence (at least, from a modeller's perspective). Another positive aspect of its small size is it could be detailed quite nicely over a long period of time without being overwhelming. Once again, a neat switching layout doesn't need to be a spaghetti bowl to offer variety and interest.

Bedford in the Steam Era? Why not!

Bedford, Que., 1928, Underwriters' Survey Bureau Limited (Credit: BAnQ)
Incidently, people interested in the transition and steam eras would find this prototype very interesting too. According to a 1928 insurance map, an oil dealer was located on the left side of the feedmill siding. Nested between this siding and the passing track was a wedge-shaped cattle pen and a freight depot was located on the same track near the left turnout and a passenger station was nearby.

Bedford, Que., 1928, Underwriters' Survey Bureau Limited (Credit: BAnQ)

Also, the feedmill received grain shipments, but also dealt with building supplies and had a coal bins.
This would bring a total of 7 new car spots and Graymont, which didn't exist until recently, could be removed all together without any significant loss of operation. The area between the freight depot and street could be used as a team track too. And keep in mind all that trackage was located next to the Missisquoi County Fair Grounds which would probably generate interesting seasonal traffic and extra trains (hay, horse palace car, special tourist trains, etc.). All that with only three turnouts and not that much space required.

Bedford circa 1928 (Track plan)

Operation wise, only a small steamer would be required. One could start with an excellent Bachmann 4-4-0 (the modern one) or 4-6-0 and kitbash them into decent Canadian Pacific steamers or invest in brass or simply wait Rapido release their Icons of Steam roster. Mixed trains would be the norm and I believe the best way to operate the layout would be as a stop enroute to a terminal. On one session, you could operate the train as bound to Stanbridge and the other day replicate the returning train to Farnham. This way, you would get rid of intricate and unprototypical runaround moves. Given the number of spot and the alignment of turnouts, it means some industries can only be switched in one direction. This can be an interesting way to explain why picked up cars moved toward Stanbridge will come back to Farnham since this is their true destination.

Once again, it is possible to prove you can have a lot of action and interest in a very little stretch of track. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

East Angus: A Follow Up

Since my last post, I was able to get some more information about East Angus that helps to understand how the plant was rail served. For this reason, and also because Roger Sekera wanted more details, I updated the track plan to reflect the changes in my understanding.

On the positive side, the new discoveries make this plan interesting for a larger audience since the track arrangement was unchanged from the early 1900s up to the mid-1980s. Also, it helped to make the concept simpler to implement and operate.

First, you will remark I removed altogether the staging track. It could be kept, but I felt it was a hard to reach gimmicl and wasn't truly required. This saved space to model the power house full scale. As it stand, very little compression was used. What you see is almost as close as you can get from the real thing.

On the map, the green cars represent newsprint boxcars to be loaded. Blue cars bring on plant the required chemicals (tank cars, covered hoppers, boxcars). Since the plant was using the kraft process, any chemicals suitable for your era can be brought in. Remember, that mill didn't handle all the process. The red cars are other boxcars, mainly for additives or for wood pulp depending on your era too.

The second siding is used for switching and storing extra cars, however, while studying the old map, it became quite evident the plant used to receive coal to produce steam. The purple car represent a coal hopper and the coal pit. It should be noted coal wouldn't be required in large quantity since the plant was mainly powered by hydroelectricity produced by a nearby dam on site. In recent years, if modelling a Quebec paper mill, you wouldn't need coal at all.

Finally, the orange cars are pulpwood cars. A shredder used to be located nearby the track near the yard throat. One could spot the car near the turnout if wanted. It would be more prototypical. In latter year, it seems woodchip and pulpwood were brought by trucks and trains, but at the other plant. Thus, after the 1970s, I believe it would be better to drop that commodity and keep thing neat at this plant.

So, as you can see, the East Angus plant is far to be a boring switching layout. Be it modern or old time, this one turnout industry is going to keep your crew busy for a while just as it was the case in real life.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

East Angus, Quebec - A Compact Paper Mill Layout

Before presenting this other small layout idea, let's talk about a long time favorite of modellers: paper mills. They are definitely a staple on North American layouts and no wonder why. They look cool, generate a large amount of traffic and handle a vast array of commodities by rail (paper, pulpwood, chemicals, kaolin, etc.). However, to often I hear complaints from people who absolutely want one on their layout at any cost, ending up with ridiculous compromises that have much more to do with a caricature than a real mill. On the other hand, we’ve all seen these extremely large and bulky representations of such plant at full scale. They make impressive scene but are a pain to operate due to poor access. With that in mind, you end up thinking paper mills can’t be modelled in small spaces in such a fashion they can keep their interest.

A few years ago, Mike Confalone tackled the problem by only modelling the portion of the mill operated by the railway company when he did his St. Regis Paper scene. This way, he could get away with most structures and tracks, only representing the basic operations at the plant. On the other hand, you have people like Hunter Hughson who clearly decided to dedicate a shelf layout to the mill by including everything single activities on the plant. In that regard, I think he succeeded and I’m pretty sure it works as well as our Donohue mill, if not better. As it stands, our paper mill could work perfectly as an autonomous switching layout without requiring anything else in a 10’ x 8’ space, which is perfect for most spare rooms. From an operation standpoint, using an industrial switcher locomotive would be both realistic and would eliminate the need for a staging area since we could imply the local train left the cut of cars on a storage siding which is generally the case.

However, I wanted to see if I could model a realistic paper mill with less track and turnout. Something very simple yet grounded in prototype practice and that could offer a decent amount of operation while having plenty of modelling and scenery opportunities. And it seems I indeed found a suitable prototype in Southern Quebec that could give some people ideas. I certainly want to stress out this layout take as much place as Donohue and thus could look quite diminutive; however, it must be seen as an alternative for people wanting low trackage and to get away with runaround and switching puzzles. It is less about a race against the clock than working at a leisure pace. Thus, for similar space, freight cars, theme and era, one can develop very different projects with particular features.

East Angus: An Opportunity



Brompton Pulp & Paper Co., East Angus, QC, circa 1930 (McCord Museum)

Another interesting prototype in this series of quick layout designs is based on a paper mill in East Angus, QC. It closed recently and was considered one of the oldest still in operation in North America, dating back to 1882. A fun fact was that the original mill structure – a classic stone and brick building – still stands to this day and was still used to produce newsprint, kraft paper and other finer paper not so long ago. A second mill, on St. Francis River eastern bank was erected in 1892. By 1907, the old mill was renovated and pioneered the kraft process in North America, making it a more than worthy prototype to draw inspiration from. More information about this historic mill can be found in an interesting article from Sherbrooke Record published on March 14th, 2016.

The mill was served by Quebec Central Railway until the demise of this company not so long ago. East Angus mill was closed down once for all back in 2014-2015. Back then, rail operation was quite simple and only involved shipping finished products from a warehouse, some inbound chemicals and woodchip. Track density was low and rail-served structures would be easy to model without taking too much space.

Topographic map, 21-E-05, Sherbrooke, 1980 (BANQ)

An interesting aspect of this mill was that it was in fact, as we saw earlier, made of two distinct complexes built on each side of the river. While studying mandatory fire insurance and topographic maps, I found out the western mill was in fact the kraft and newsprint plant. To access this plant, a siding crossed St. Francis River over a steel bridge where a long siding served the mill both for incoming loads and for shipping finished products. A second siding, acting as a drilling track and probably to hold coal hoppers for the power plant in the old days stood there too.

Fire Insurance Map, East Angus, QC, 1922, Underwriters Survey Bureau Ltd. (BANQ)

Of interest too, the western part of the mill had only one siding serving the structure. No need for the usual vast array of tracks serving larger mills. This was due to a combination of factors including lack of space but also the fact a part of the process was handled by the eastern plant. Thus, it enables us to realistically model only a part of the process without compromising anything. Anyway, back in the 1970s and 1980s, it would have been normal that some commodities were trucked in, which for once, we can use to our advantage.

Fire Insurance Map, East Angus, QC, 1922, Underwriters Survey Bureau Ltd. (BANQ)

In terms of track plan and operation, this layout would be quite similar to Lance Mindheim’s one turnout layout project in MRH, except a second turnout would be required to stage the train behind the plant as if it was coming from the eastern plant. This staging would be optional, but I'm well aware that many people, even on switching layouts, like the idea their trains emerge from somewhere. With a switching lead of 66 inches, quite long trains (one 4-axle locomotive and 8 cars, which seems to have been quite standard in the 1980s) could be built up with enough space to perform realistic moves. Add to that the extremely attractive feature of seeing the locomotive run over the bridge several times during a single session.

East Angus, QC, 2015 (Google Earth)
As for the plant itself and commodities carried, maps indicate the mill handled the manufacture of kraft paper and newsprint. At the end of the track, most inbound commodities were unloaded in warehouses identified as “sulphite storage”. This is where boxcars and chemical tank cars would be spotted. At the other end of the mill, near the bridge, was the finished product warehouse. It wasn’t a fancy modern covered loading area but rather a more traditional set of doors along the siding, making it a perfect feature for car spotting. When the mill was later modernized, a steel warehouse was erected there.

While being light on trackage, this layout would have an impressive ratio of scenery and industry. Switching moves wouldn’t be overcomplicated, but applying common railway practices would make it a neat challenge particularly since only one siding serves the mill. Personally, I would operate such a layout in the early 1980s, just before tracks were removed at the western mill to enlarge it. According to to a photograph shot in 1987 by Timothy Wakeman, Quebec Central ran extra trains to serve the plan. On the picture, we can see 6 boxcars and a tank car making up this train coming back from switching the plant and ready to leave for Sherbrooke.

Rolling stock would include a lot of colorful 50ft boxcars, some chemical tank cars and a handful of older boxcars. As any CPR line in Quebec, Alco road switchers such as RS18 and RS10 would be mandatory to perform the task and a caboose (Angus van) would make it a very pleasant sight.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Teeswater & Walkerton in HO Scale

I recently mentioned I was exploring a set of ideas for a small layout in a diminutive room that will eventually be available in my house. Among many options, I revisited a classic branchline terminal in Ontario called Teeswater which is well documented in a series of articles on Old Time Trains and in many printed books.

The main interest of Teeswater is it got everything you want in the steam era in a small surface area. Name any popular idiosyncracy of the "good old time" and you're bound to find it in that remote place. Let's dress a list:

-3-stall Roundhouse
-Coal bin with crane
-Bunk in a converted boxcar
-Wind mill to power a water pump
-Tool and speeder shed
-Enclosed water tower
-Stock pens
-Elevator & feed mill
-Team track
-Ice house
-Passenger depot and freight station under one roof

Now, even if I'm not fan of the "I want it all" mentality, such diversity in a realistic context is bound to interest many people.

While the layout could be built exactly to scale, the small putative room can't handle it, so for the sake of design I simply bent the track plan over the corner. Also, I decided to locate the roundhouse on the other side of the track. It saves space, looks better and is not a hindrance to operation. From a scenic perspective, the station would be well framed between the taller structures (elevator and creamery) hiding the wall and the lower stock pens and ice house. As for the roundhouse scene, it would have this "lost in the middle of nowhere" look that would make it a very neat backdrop.

Operation is all about mixed trains and traffic is small but diversified. I don't consider staging would be required but a length of track is provided and partially hidden by trees. This is where the train can emerge from the outside world and enter the terminal. I didn't look into details but timetables are available. Motive power would consist of CPR D10 4-6-0 which are available in brass and soon in plastic by Rapido.

Another great terminal would be Walkerton in the same style, era and type of location. While Walkerton is less crowded, it has the same basic features that makes it an interesting little prototype for small space (or even large space too). Given the engine facilities were located on the other side of Saugeen River, that could make a very neat layout made of two sections divided by a large and neat river scene with a three span long truss bridge.

In my case, I dropped the engine facilities and replaced it by a "hidden" manual turntable that can be used to reverse the locomotive or other cars (caboose, combine, etc.). On the other hand, I kept the bridge since it was used as the lead track to switch cars in the small yard and was located right by the first turnout. Take attention how the public road grade crossing would need special attention by the crew, adding another layer of interest and the possibility to use the whistle.

I've drawn the plan using commercial turnouts, but I firmly believe most of them should be handlaid to ensure smoother transitions and a continuous flow of the track.

As for myself, I believe both prototypes have their own merits. If I was building a larger layout based on the Bruce lines, I guess my choice would be to have Teeswater as my main terminal. On the other hand, I think Walkerton would be better choice in term of space, scenery and action for a shelf layout. Sure it is diminutive, but the scene is more attractive and less gimmicky. You will also remark a gradation between low structure and scenery at the front and larger and taller structure in the background. In my eyes, this can make a layout far more interesting to operate. And speaking of operation, working the small yard must be a real treat!