Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 - Back in Villeneuve... Again

The modelling season once again started after an impromptu hiatus during the Holidays. It's a little bit refreshing to put Erie projects aside for a while and work on something that's real. After two days of modelling, we have made substantial project.

Henri-Bourassa Overpass V-shaped pillars

The first one is Henri-Bourassa boulevard overpass near the staging area in Maizerets. I drafted a set of plans while on vacation and Louis-Marie is now cutting all the required parts. As much as this viaduc is quite simplistic, trying to capture the fell of the real thing requires a bit of creativity. But once again, Louis-Marie and his godly table saw and jigsaw amaze me beyond work. He managed to make these neat V-shaped pillars within less than a .25mm error margin. Quite impressive.

Dominion Textile kitbash is going to be a neat project

The second project is finally building the Dominion Textile plant as we should have done many years ago. We have acquired over the years an impressive quantity of useless brick structures and parts. The best candidates for kitbashing are Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing Co. kit and Walthers now-discontinued Modulars walls. We had to use a little bit of modeller licence to get the building look right, but we are now satisfied it captures the prototype nice late 19th century character. The italianate staircase tower is going to be a beautiful feature.

However, I'm in a pinch since Walthers modular walls are discontinued since a long time. I searched the web during two days with finding any remaining stock. So, I take a chance and ask fellow modellers if they have any unused remains at home. It can be complete kits or simply leftover parts. The required parts are: Walthers Cornerstone Modulars Large Walls w/Single Large Arched Window 933-3734 and Wall Columns & Caps 933-3725.

Finally, the third project was to complete grass application over Villeneuve tracks. Using pictures of the era and videos, I was able to determine quite precisely the extent of vegetation over tracks. Only the mainline was clean, the rest was slowly sinking into mud and grass. Just to give you an idea, the grass covered surface is about 16 square feet. However, it only took two hours to do that after I figured out a way to put the glue on efficiently.

At first, I used a brush to spread diluted glue over the area to cover. It took a lot of time yet the contours didn't look natural. Next, I tried with a pipette, which was again a foolish attempt has it delivered very little stuff at one time. Then, I saw the light, took my yogurt container full of diluted white glue and carefully poured it over the ballast and the track where I wanted it. Since the ballast isn't absolutely regular, the glue found its way in all the depressions, creating a natural contour. An unexpected by happy effect was the glue soaked the ballast between the tracks too.

I can now consider the grass in Villeneuve trackage done. when Alkem chain link fences will be installed, small bushes will be added to bring some more life in the scene.

Speaking of life, we also made a mock up of the residential area that still exists near the cement plant. Using Google Earth and old kits, we were able to define better the property lines. Quite frankly, we were surprised to see some houses to be built so close to the track, at the point that one house's deck looks like a passenger station pier.

Unfortunately for us, all these houses will have to be kitbashed since I couldn't locate any two-storey high flat topped wood apartment house. Simply put, these houses are simply boxes with windows and doors!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Modelling a Junction: An Updated Concept

For some reasons, I spent December 31th painting and building freight cars for Harlem Station while revisiting the interchange layout I was working on. Though these designs have probably no chance to see the light, I find the process amusing and I always learn something while doing so.

With this first concept, I ask myself what would become of this layout if it was located in a small 10’ x 12’ room and incorporated continuous run capabilities. Also, I thought it could be set in the steam era just for fun. Then came the idea to base the design on Erie, PRR and NYC. Mind you I didn’t bother with any prototype and used my common sense railroad knowledge. It was a matter of setting the flavor and having a good reason for double mainline and important junction. As a matter of fact, when I later checked up old Erie track diagrams and Morning Sun books, it became apparent I nailed what used to be a common sight on Erie (and any railroad in North America).

A small town in 10' x 12'

Basically, the layout represents a small town located at an interchange between a major double mainline (imagine Erie New York-Chicago trunk line) and a small feeder line that probably link some other railroad, probably PRR. I drew inspiration from areas in Pennsylvania, including the large bridge over Erie tracks in Corry and Erie’s nearby branchlines.

Now, imagine you start your session with an 8-car freight train pulled by a 2-8-0, it could even be a mixed freight if you want. The starting point is somewhere near the liftout bridges and you run “eastward” crossing the large arched steel bridge over a PRR main line. Once in town, you take your orders so you can pull and set cars on the interchange with the trunk line. Once done, you can start switching the various industries before calling it a day, reversing the loco on the turntable, fueling the tender and preparing yourself for the trip back to your originating point. Nothing complicated, but nothing boring either. The operation involves many different moves and can quickly get time consuming.

The layout itself is built around “vignettes”. It’s a figment of my imagination. However, it tries to incorporate stuff that would make sense back then in one single town. You basically have the “Junction”, the “Depot” and the “Countryside”.

Handling coal can be as simple as can be (credit: picture shared by Jim Six on MRH)

As for the industries, one large plant exists near the interchange where it is logical to find it. With its 5 different car spots, it requires planning to be served adequately. The other industries are a bunch of classic small town customers found in any rural district. While I put a few on the track plan, they could be anything else and organized in a different manner. This is the kind of stuff you adjust while building the layout. But generally, stuff like a feedmill, a grain elevator, an oil & coal dealer, a freight shed or a lumber yard would do the job. Using valuation maps or old photographs of a real place could help.

A generic 50s rural community annoted by Jim Hediger in Model Railroader (credit: Kalmbach)

Then we have the station’s team track. It could be an interchange with another branchline or connecting road… or just a track behind the station where you can handle all kind of freight. The “behind-the-station” team track used to be a common sight not so long ago and it always looks good on a layout. Once again, the modeler will have to decide for himself. As for me, I’m up to keeping things simple here. I consider one long team track would be quite enough. I imagine a few LCL boxcars there, maybe a small loading ramp and a few coal hoppers with a conveyor.

Water tank in Pine Valley Yard, Dillonvale, OH (credit: unknown)

The engine facilities are Spartan. The reason is simple; Erie was converting to diesel quite fast in the early 1950s. By 1952, only a handful of steam locomotives were on revenue service. Thus I consider the facilities have been demolished to a great extent few years ago, only keeping the weed-filled turntable, the steel water tank and water spout. One could add more structures like a tool shed, but I feel keeping things minimal will make them believable. Also, a smaller facility can be blended easily into the surrounding scenery while dealing with a roundhouse can be a slippery road.

In that regard, Don Hanley recently commented on MRH Forums about Jim Six's layout that:

"Small turntables like ones the photos you posted were not limited to end of the line. The Erie used these to turn the locomotive of the locals at the end of their run so they could head back to the appropriate yard. I suspect that in the time period you are modeling there would be recycled turntables scattered along the line of just about any railroad for the same purpose. I don't recall ever seeing this feature is modeled on layouts I have visited. and it's a shame. Turntables do not need to be limited to the terminal area only as most model railroaders seem to do."

Don's comment also listed a few recycled small turntables that were located near interlocking towers and junctions along the Erie mainline, in a same fashion as implemented on my layout. Once again, I certainly share Don's view that lone turntable in the wild are one of the most underrated element in model railroading.

Erie train over Wanaque River bridge (Credit: David Mainey,

From a scenic perspective, most areas would be surrounded by fields, woods and fences. I would keep things mundane as much as possible. However, the junction with the trunk line would be a good place to go forward with detailing and signaling (probably dummy but functional). Also, on the other wall, I added a long steel bridge over a marshy river. This kind of scene is generic yet always powerfully evocative. It could also be replaced by a low wood trestle, a stone culvert or a concrete underpass.

Keep grade crossings simple (credit: unknown)

You’ll notice I try to keep grade crossings at minimum. While they are interesting visually and during operation, when you have too much of them on a very small continuous loop, they quickly get tiring. Better build a great one that becomes a railfan spot than multiply mediocre ones. It’s the reason why I prefer to install a small wooden overpass on the liftout section to work as a scenic divider.

Salem Road Overpass (credit: Scott Steeves,

Finally, I designed the layout in such a way readily available items could be used. The reason is that most modellers don’t have time to do everything. As much as I love replicating prototypes as close as I can, we all face limitations. Since this layout isn’t based on nothing real, I think it could be built using commercial parts. Tracks are PECO code 83 so there is no need for ugly ground throw or motors. Curves are large and gentle to ensure smooth operation and realistic appearance, mainly about a 36” radius on average. Buildings are mainly picked among the Walthers Cornerstone series. While I generally get sick seeing these buildings everywhere, a few of them are so grounded in real life prototype they do the job neatly. My personal choice would be the Golden Valley depot, the interlocking tower and speeder shed kit (which provide grade crossing gates too), the small concrete coaling tower, various rural customers (oil dealer, grain elevator, stock pen, etc.) and their team track accessories kit. Walthers brick industries or DMP modular parts could be used to build the large plant. A brick chimney could be added. Oil tanks and road overpass could be built using Rix Products offerings while the large bridge could be Central Valley 200’ long arched bridge which would make a beautiful and challenging model to build. Other Central Valley, Microengineering or Walthers type of bridge could be used too. Add a Tichy steel water tower and a few non-working signals near the diamond and you can call it a day.

Bachmann 2-8-0 could be a starting point (credit: Donald W. Furler photo, David Mainey collection)

While I certainly suggest commercial components, the modeler should try to improve and customize them. Credible paint job, careful weathering, small details, slight modifications and kitbashing can improve many models. This is generally the level of work that most people find enjoyable and rewarding without taking a lifetime.

BLI HO Erie USRA Heavy 2-8-2 weathered by J. Rinker (credit: J. Rinker)

As you can see, this is not prototype modelling. However, it is grounded in prototype practices and even if it is a figment of my imagination, this setting was widespread, common and represent what used to be the ordinary railroading life until automobiles wrecked the balance of forces. It may not be a real place, but the final goal is the same: running realistic trains in a realistic setting. The reason why I propose such a design is because going full prototype isn’t for everyone. And at some point, we all want to see progress and results. Part of the fun is the process; part of the fun is enjoying the damn thing. With this design, I try to merge an enjoyable small switching layout with continuous running and iconic “American railroad” vistas. Something that can be built in over a realistic span of time, at a reasonable cost, be fun for a solo operator of a bunch of friends and provide modelling opportunities over the years.

Erie welded Dunmore Shops caboose (credit: JJL Model)

In term of operation and motive power, one could use 2-8-0, 2-8-2, 2-10-0 or even 0-8-0 (if replicating transfer runs). E-L Historical Society put together a very helpful roster of Erie steam locomotives that can help to narrow down suitable engines. Bachmann, BLI and Proto 2000 made good plastic models that could be improved and slightly bashed to better represents the prototype. Also, one could simply buy a prototypical brass engine and start from there. Since the locomotive budget won't be high, it could be a good idea. You will note these locomotives all have in common to be relatively small yet bulky enough to have that "big steam" look that we love so much. It makes them perfectly at home on a relatively small layout. As for the caboose, JLL Model's new owners retooled their original resin kits so they can be produced in plastic. Erie wood and welded Dunmore designs will then be available - they hope - by mid-2018. It is certainly welcomed, particularly since Erie was a very large railroad yet very few helpful models are available.

Another positive aspect of such a generic layout is that it can be easily set in another era or improved over time without having to trash everything. By the way, amateurs of big mainline could simply double track the mainline and keep everything else. As for motive power, what suits your need will do the job since this isn’t a particular division with specific restrictions. Using common sense and personal interests  should yield good results.


Some people expressed concerns about staging. I generally believe staging to be overrated while operating switching layouts. The reason is that there is very little interest in operating several trains on such a simple track arrangement before it looks like a cumbersome gimmick. Given the goal is to operate one train in one town, it is thus superfluous and a waste of time and resources.

That said, I updated the plan to see what could be done if one still wanted stating. I opted to not include more turnout on the layout, thus the staging area is located outside the room and take advantage of the junction, making it a real working wye, which makes it possible to remove the turntable. However, you will quickly find out using the wye would require to go outside the room. Worst, when the liftout section is in place, going to the staging area will be a real issue. Thus, I believe you will understand why I don't care about staging, particularly when "hidden". It's a good conceptual idea, but the most frustrating contraption on a layout. Keep things simple!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Layout Junction

Recently, Ricardo de Candido from Fillmore Avenue Roundhouse shared several layout ideas that could be implemented in small spaces while replicating several basic railroad configurations (yard, junction, etc.). His junction proposal sounded good to me, but I knew many people wouldn't courageous enough to tackle the moveable staging sections. From there, I thought it could be interesting to see what could be done with a junction against the wall.

From the beginning, I dropped the idea to operate both railway companies, deciding to focus on only one main carrier. However, I kept the interchange since it is a great hidden industry that can support all kind of traffic. My main inspiration was made up of several junctions in Quebec, mainly a mashup of Allenby in Quebec City and Farnham in the Eastern Townships. Another important inspiration is the junction was Fergus, Ontario, on the Elora Branch (on the CP Bruce Lines).

I've often observed you can find somewhat large industries located near junction. Thus, I thought it would be neat to implement an interchange and a major customer. As presented, the layout would operate almost as the one layout turnout promoted by Lance Mindheim a few years ago.

This small layout could be entirely modelled within a 18" x 80" area, maybe less. It would handle 4 to 5-car long trains and the customer would have 5 different car spots for interest and challenge. Add to that a staging cassette and you are in business.

A short version

Meanwhile, I thought to myself if one would like to make the staging cassette, what could be done. First, you can simply scenic the cassette as a part of the layout. It would be neat and give a sense of space. An old depot could be implemented for the sake of visual interest and to geographically link the layout to a specific prototype.

The second idea was simply to boost the layout a little bit. Looking at real interchanges, particularly in Joliette, QC, I decided to make the interchange longer and merging with a passing track.  From there, the industry siding was connected. And since space was available, a second opposite siding was installed to take advantage of the runaround. This new customer could be anything, or be an extension of the first one, representing a very large plant receiving and shipping goods by rail.

A on-steroids version

Finally, I added another track near the station. I could represent a branchline, a team track, whatever you want. It could be a neat place to stage a local switcher run. On the other hand, it could be entirely omitted.

From an operation standpoint, it can be operated as a single switcher run, serving all the sidings at once. Or one could elect to operate the train in one direction then, during a later session, a train moving on the opposite direction.

For reliability and realism, all switches are Peco code 83 #8. If one was handlaying his own trackwork, I think he could bump this up to #9 or #10 without too much problem. If space is a problem, the more standard #6 could be used though I think the gain is minimal.

As for era or prototype, there is no limitation. I think any railway, industry and era can fit the bill. Personally, if I had to build such a scene, I would make it as generic as I could so I could alter easily the era and prototype to fit my mood. For the sake of planning, I had CP in mind, particularly during the 1960s.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A 2017 Retrospective

While it isn’t exactly the end of the year, there is very little time left to undertake any significant task on the layout at this point. As always, even if I didn’t have any expectations, our output wasn’t as impressive as I thought. Most of us were quite busy all over the year, which explained why we met more infrequently than usually. Also, and I’m to blame, my tendency to overthink every minor detail once again kicked back… but at least, I think I managed it better than usually.

About the layout itself, progresses were slow but nevertheless significant. Ballasting and starting scenery in Villeneuve certainly improved the overall project and freed us from the Plywood Central syndrome. Experimenting with new ways of painting, weathering and ballasting track was also an excellent positive experiment. Once again, it proved us it was worth our time. Nothing was rushed and the results show off: it doesn’t look likes plastic. I still can see improvement in the future, but the foundation work is sound.

In term of structures, 2017 was sincerely underwhelming. I wished the cement plant would be done by Christmas, but alas, it is now a 2018 project. Designing this structure is extremely complex. It could be done fast and dirty, however take in account details, accessibility issues and warping add an extra level of difficulty. Nevertheless, I almost found the solution and will likely implement it as soon as possible.

From a layout design perspective, I also ventured into the other extreme, trying to oversimplify D’Estimauville for the sake of realism. As Simon Dunkley once cautioned me, it was a slippery road that was as fallacious as cramping out the place. The danger became evident when I reach the point scenes could no longer be recognized because they lost their personality. Like salt in a recipe, it was a matter of bringing out the taste. No salt would have simply meant a tasteless project devoid of interest. For this, I’m really glad Simon had the courage to clearly warn me. Not that it stopped me trying, but when I failed, I knew why and his words in my mind I was able to figure out what went wrong. You can’t learn without breaking a few eggs. Flattery wouldn’t have been any good for me. And this anecdote once again proved my late grandmother’s right: “the first idea is always the right one”. Looking back at my initial design, it was clear scenic elements were carefully balanced, thus I went back there.

In terms of layout identity, I was surprised to discover a manufacturer would help make this project even better and closer to my childhood memories. Indeed, when Rapido announced their 3800ft cylindrical hoppers, it enabled us to build a correct fleet of cars to serve the cement plant. Before that, it was a matter of using stand-ins or older prototypes that didn’t fit the era. Finally, the future release of SW1200RS locomotives will enable us to replicate Chemin de fer du Québec’s three switchers that used to serve the line during a decade starting in 1993. Yes, the project shifted yet again in era, but it now reached a stable spot. CFC operations are well-documented and known. Their operation practices and train routes are also easier to implement on our layout. All in all, it simplifies the project around its core identity elements. Certainly we won’t drop completely CN trains, but focussing on CFC clear off the road from many unwanted issues. And also, we also reached the point we have acquired every piece of rolling stock required to run the layout… Hard to believe, but yes we did.

Speaking of rolling stock, we learned the hard way this year to standardize the fleet (weight, couplers, wheels, etc.). We used to be negligent fellows, but at some point you hit a wall when you want smooth operation. Over the last few months, we had to teach us simple but efficient practices to make sure we could track down every bug. It’s not complete, but we can already see the positive results.

Finally, 2018 will be the year the new Proto Throttle developed by Scott Thornton and his friends of Iowa Scale Engineering will be released. This new product is promising and the idea of coupling it with our NCE DCC system and Rapido SW1200RS could be extremely interesting. Our realistic approach to railroading and our track plan seems perfectly suited to such a ground breaking technological advance. Oh, and one’s gotta love the throttle’s vintage design.

Finally, 2017 was also another interesting year for my other project Harlem Station. It allowed me to go back to building and bashing freight cars. I’ve learned a lot, improved my skills and took a strong commitment into freight car accuracy. I’m not river counter, but when you start understanding how real things are built and work, you naturally care about details other wouldn’t. Discovering the history of boxcar development between the early 1900s and the early 1950s was fascinating!

Thus, at the end of the day, I consider the year was extremely positive in term of model railroading. I also tried to have an active presence on social media, but I must admit I’m not a fan.  I loved the interaction with other fellow modellers, but I lack the regularity to take advantage of that. I’m a solitary man and it hardly fits my laid back pace. Blogs, forums and emails are still my favorite places to share and learn. Places where it is possible to hold a detailed discussion with a fellow modeller, archive it and revisit it from time to time. In the long run, instant gratification doesn’t hold long before it wears off. I hope people who wonder why I’m no longer following Facebook groups regularly can understand I’m hardly motivated using that channel. To me, model railroading has always been a “monastic” endeavour. A time of introspection and betterment. I’m less attracted by the idea of making friends for the sake of filling my social life than having a few deep discussions with like-minded folks. To each his own… this hobby has certainly variety for ever kind of people, which is great!

I hope your own year was also a positive experience whatever your progress. 2017 was a gloomy year and finding solace in a positive and constructive hobby is a blessing. I certainly wish every model railroaders and other hobbyist are aware their passion is much more than a childish caprice. Never forget people without hobbies or personal endeavours are sad and often prone to distress. Consider your passion has a great gift, because your still is still alive and sparkling!

Happy modelling!  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Backdrop in Maizerets Mark 2

The last time I played with Maizerets photo backdrop was 2 years and half ago. At the time, it was a temporary measure, a simple way to test out ideas. The result – though crude – was good enough to stay in place until now. However, scenery progress is going steadily and putting in place a final backdrop is no longer a luxury but an imperative need.

The real location (credit: Google Earth)

While the actual backdrop is looking good, we decided adding the three large oil tanks in Maizerets was required. The original scale mock up did call for such iconic elements to be implemented. As I recently mentioned, we tried to create real 3D reservoirs, but it failed due to lack of space. There are limits to selective compression and thus, it was thought having the tanks printed on the backdrop would be much more suitable.
Revised photobackdrop

My first attempt was to simply paste the reservoirs onto the backdrop in Photoshop. No surprise, the result was garish and unnatural. Thus, I decided to rather place them in background, behind the trees. Using various filters and selection tools, I was able to blend both images together so we could see the tank silhouettes visible through the leafless trees. And boy, did it worked! I can’t wait to try out the new backdrop and see if it needs adjustments. 

Improved perspective closer to the prototype

By the way, Marty McGuirk recently shared a story about a discussion with fellow high profile modellers concerning his future layout. As many of you know, Marty recently dismantled is large Central Vermont based layout recently before moving to a new house and many are curious to know what he's planning.

While the new available estate would make many pale of envy, experience and wisdom made him take counter intuitive decisions like significantly downsizing his future project to better shape it according to his lifestyle, aspiration, resources and relation with the hobby... and then broking it into achievable parts. Far to be miserable, Marty's story retells us how framing a project into a reasonable set of parameters based on reality instead of fantasy is generally the best way to achieve success. Better, is step by step approach will probably help him to better gauge his enthusiasm and the merit of each of his design decision.

This is a point I often stress here on Hedley Junction and I certainly appreciate the kind, honest and down to earth way he has documented the demise and rebirth of his layout. This is food for thought for many people struggling with reality and dreams... worst, feeling the pressure from their peers and the hobby into taking decisions going against their capacities...