Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kitbashing a British-American Oil Tank Car - Part 3

I experimented this week with custom painted decals. My goal was to make light yellow decal stripes to apply on the tank car. So far, the experience was positive.

The decal paper first received a light coat of Dullcote to give tooth for the paint to stick on. When dry, two coat of Tamiya light yellow (a custom mix) were sprayed. When dry, a last coat of Dullcote sealed the decals. I let it dry a few days before applying to be sure everything would hold well.

Decal stripes were cut to size and dip in mild water. As I often found out while making my own decals, film is harder to slide from the backing paper because of paint thickness. I let the decals soak in water for a few minutes instead of a few seconds. To separate the film from the paper, I used my fingers to carefully detach it. I had to do it gently so the film would break apart. In fact, the paint makes the film quite durable, so it can endure quite a bit of stress.

Application was done according to habitual methods.

If I had to redo it, I would improve my technic by doing another preparation step. First, I used transparent decal sheet. Yellow is well-known to be a color with a rather poor covering power. Two things could be done: prepaint the decal sheet with white to opacify the decal or simply use white decal sheet. Since I applied my decals on black, the light yellow stripes darkened a bit. Nothing bad enough to be noteworthy, but it would have been better if avoidable.

The last thing I found out was that for some unknown reason, a stripes skrinked while setting in decal solution. I use Solvaset and never experimented something like that. All other stripes kept their dimensions. So I can't say it was because the decal film was altered by the paint. Getting rid of the faultly stripes wasn't easy. Solvaset and Future floor finish do wonders when decalling. The seams disappear, but it also means the film and Future merge together in an irreversible way. For this reason, I had to paint the bad stripe in black and decal again over it.

In the end, I'm still very satisfied with the result. The B/A two-color scheme with the roundel logo is quite attractive. Completing the car will now be a piece of cake.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Focusing your Energy

September 2015 has been an incredible month for Hedley-Junction. Lots of work has been accomplished: many new cars were kitbashed and are now in revenue service, a backdrop was installed in Clermont, the track conversion to code 83 is done, our RS18 project resumed and many operational aspects of the layout are now addressed (including timetable).

Meanwhile, prototypical information unknown before (mainly pictures) helped us to redefine some key elements. You’ve seen us struggle with the true scenic identity of Clermont-La Malbaie area since almost two years now. It was the same for Montmorency. At this point, the layout is reaching a maturity we couldn’t foresee clearly. More relaxed and enlarged scenes stiched together, long mainline run, subtle panoramas and realistically sized industries paid off. So far, many diminutive scenes are turning out into amazing railfan spots. The fact you can place your camera in any location and get a great shot came as a total surprise to me.

I often stressed out how restraining oneself and not trying to overreach is the key to a successful home layout. It doesn’t mean to think “mediocre” and make ridiculous compromises. No, it only means to strike for a few elements that truly make a railroad works. In our case, we streamlined the number of visible industries to 3 (you read 3, that’s right!). Murray Bay Subdivision served almost 20 interesting industries but in fact, back then, 3 were the bread and butter of the line: cement, paper and textile. All other traffics were marginal and we decided a simple team track would suffice to represent them all. All in all, when a regular train is 80% newsprint-related, it should deserved the same relative importance on the layout.

If this layout was a regular 12 feet x 10 feet around the wall, most people would think that’s a neat idea. But our layout is far bigger and roughly 16” x 30”… with no means for continuous running. Yes! So large and only 3 industries! But note my words, none of them was compromised: Ciment St-Laurent plant follows carefully the prototype and can handle exactly the same number of cars, Donohue isn’t as large as the real thing, but all the main trackage is exactly laid per prototype and the backdrop shows the mill complex almost in its entirety. Finally, Dominion Textile is a little bit more problematic, but the new layout arrangement only shows a part of the plant instead of compressing it unrealistically… and rail traffic has same volume as the prototype of that era.
Now, time to answer the big question. Do we have fun operating? Yes… and there’s more variety than one can think of. Change the number of cars in a train or skip a customer and you get a totally different game. Better, you feel your train is truly going somewhere, reaching the end of the line with no means to loop around. You want to go back? Then take time to reverse your train. Now, add some prototypical operation procedures and you’ll find yourself enough submerged in railroading you’ll forget the mainline is quite short for a 92 miles long subdivision.

As a matter of fact, doing less, but doing better is an incredible motivation factor to me and fellow club members. We are lucky when we can gather together once per week. We simply don’t have the time to start building an empire. Jérôme often said the goal was to “run trains in a prototypical manner”. And now, I think we should extend that basic and sound philosophy to layout building: do like the prototype. It means to do only what you can manage to do and that will bring a profit. As dedicated as I am to this hobby, I can’t do everything. Having only a handful of scenes to build makes it less stressful. In fact, since I focussed my energies on a smaller project, my modelling output truly exploded: buildings, scenes, cars, locomotives, etc… And I don’t feel crushed by deadlines anymore because the layout is fine and running. I’m just adding icing on an already delicious cake.
Just a few years ago, we used to stall and get easily side-tracked. It would occasionally end up in slump and loss of interest… But since we focussed on some relevant aspect of our prototype, it doesn’t happen anymore. Why? I answered it earlier: one reason among others is that with fewer key scenes, even if you work part time on each of them, they evolve quickly. Nobody wins a war by fighting on too many fronts.

But it took a lot of time to see things from this particular way. I’m a perfectionist, which means I’m my worst enemy. I’m not alone in that boat and I have seen more than a talented modeller failed because he was crushed by his own unrealistic ambition. Three people thought me the way by their interesting way to deal with model railroading.

The first one was Lance Mindheim and his East Rail layout. I was captivated how he could achieve great realism and prototypicalness with such a small track plan. It was hard to digest the lesson learned and it resulted in the first version of Hedley-Junction depicting a yard and an industrial park. It took me a long time to finally understand the biggest lesson from his work was that “silence” zones were no railroading activities occur are fundamental to any scene planning. If you forget to leave a large amount of place without a specific purpose, you miss the point of a traveling train crossing a specific territory. We naturally hate void, but it is the first thing that must be planned on a layout. Void makes a layout great…

The second one was Trevor Marshall who proved definitely that going smaller was being mediocre or diminutive. His S scale Port Rowan layout is a living testimony that “less is more”. Trevor built only two locations and the number of industries is so limited one can wonder how he still finds interest in it after so many year. He can achieve that because everything he build or does have a global meaning to the world he created. What could be seen as gimmicks on larger layout find their true purpose: operating station signals, operating derail, etc.  Trevor’s lessons are similar to those of Lance Mindheim, but if I could sum up what I truly learned from him was humility and restrain. His relaxed yet dedicated approach to the hobby lifted up a lot of pressure I put on my shoulder by setting irrealistic goals. With Trevor, I learn to focus my energies on what’s essential. His influence was fundamental when I decided to design Murray Bay Subdivision.

The last big influence was Mike Confalone. One could argue that he’s completely in opposition with Lance and Trevor’s philosophy since he built a large and complex basement filling layout. He himself stated clearly he was dissatisfied with small branchline operation. But if you truly analyse his work and modus operandi, he’s in the same league… Mike’s layout is mainly made out of cleverly organized void; track lost in vast expanse of space. If you analyse independently each branchline he modelled, you’ll find out they have about the same track density/location than Port Rowan. He only created a net of several “small achievable layouts” to build up a large network. And that’s where Mike’s big lesson lies: he reconciles Lance and Trevor’s lesson of humility with big time railroading. In no way that is mediocre.

In the end, the three of them never tried to overreach, but only focussed their energies on what was relevant to operating a railroad in a specific location. Not only it brought them fun operation sessions, but they were able to achieve striking visual results because they didn’t spill the beans on too many things. At the same time, their layout acts as “spaces”, “locations”, “geographic areas” crossed and served by a railroad and not the contrary. It’s why they work from an artistic and operation stand points.

Learning what matters in this world is a never ending process. The proof, our layout is constantly evolving. There’s no recipe for everyone and there’s many way to learn these essential lessons. However, I think being humble enough to recognize what drives our interest in trains is crucial. Too often, we mix up “interesting” things with what we truly like. That made me visits almost every railroading era from the late 1890s to the 2000s. “I want it all”, that was the mantra. In my case, it took me almost 7 years to understand that my first and most durable train impression was seeing a consist of CN zebra-painted boxy 4-axle locomotives pulling a string of brown wet noodle-painted boxcars followed by a Pointe St. Charles caboose.

As a kid, all my modelling efforts were ruled by this need to have that train run in my miniature world. Until recently, I thought it would be impossible, I thought “space” was THE “problem”. Space ain’t the problem, we are the problem. Once you clear your mind and recognize what matters, the answer is clear and you wonder how you couldn’t see it all this time. And be sure of want thing… ditch your WANT list and think about HOW you’d like thing to run. The first one comes naturally, the second isn’t intuitive and should be where your efforts go... then you’ll see that what you WANT will find its way without compromise into the grand scheme and be totally zen by dropping that misleading chimera.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Slaving over a Prototype

Everybody that model following a prototype, particularly one they known in real life, know how getting the essence of some location can be truly hard.

Recently, I browsed Denis Fortier's Facebook account. Denis is a well-known Quebec City area railfan and author of many articles in canadian railway magazines. He knows a lot about Murray Bay Subdivision and posted many pictures related to this interesting prototype.

Some of them are mindblowing because they show want railroading in the area was during the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Exactly what I need.

As I said precedently, I'm actually thinking we should seriously rename our Clermont station as La Malbaie because what we built on the layout is coincidentally an almost perfect match for our topography and track work. Sure, it wil have to be validated in real life before doing anything. Whatever our choice, in the end, it will just be a change of name with no impact on operation.

Montmorency Falls in the late 50s (credits: Canadian Rail)

Where things change the most is Montmorency. Denis published a extract from a Canadian Rail magazine article. That picture is the exact thing I try to reproduce with our scene: Dominion Textile plant, the sweeping broad curved track, the old depot and old electric power plant.

Up until now, I always thought it was impossible to model this very scene correctly. But I found out our benchwork may be more forgiving than I thought. In fact, if we use the Dominion Textile plant to hide the tunnel, we kill two birds with a stone. Better, the depot is now on the "correct" side to be fully appreciated.

Anyway, I find this new layout to make the mainline looks longer. Also, it's easier to blend carefully the topography in that way. The only shortcoming is to see if switching Dominion Textile could become a hassle... Only experiment will tell us.

We will see if other club members are agreeing with me, but that could be the answer. Next time, I'll try to mock up something and see if it work as well as in 2D.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 2

No more reason to postpone this project. I got intercooler fan grills recently from Shapeway. Very neat parts, but the cost is quite prohibitive. At least, I have enough to build 14 RS18 (not joking!). Funny how a simple lacking piece can thwart the most easy to do projects.

But in fact, we experience a lot of electrical pick up problems on the layout and it's not related to dirty. In fact, excellent new Atlas locomotives that performs well have some problems. Also, our pair of GP9 need a pick up upgrade. As you could know, during last operation session, a simple GMD1 wasn't enough to handle the train. I need more power and our GP40-2W are up to the task for now (lacking sound and DCC). The only alternative is the pair of sound-equipped RS18. Jérôme tested them and said they are probably among our best locomotives ever. No surprise. Until recently, my 2007 DW&P RS11 was considered the best loco we ever bought for the layout.

After pouring 8 hours drilling holes and gluins details parts, two RS18 are ready for paint shop. What about the 3 others... Eh... let's stay cool!

The fun part is I wont have to paint the frames because they are already in correct CN colors. The reason is simple, I bought CV and DW&P RS11 units to save me some work. I'll also keep Atlas handrails as is. Yes, I could have made prototypical ones with fine brass like the pro diesel detailers do... but these are operation locomotives that will end up seeing lots of action. Better keep Atlas bullet-proof product.

EDIT: We decided to paint them in Zebra scheme, so the frames will have to be repainted... 

Also, I decided all my units will be in series 3600. The reason is simple, the steps each side of the cab are correct. With other series it ain't. I'm a very lazy modeler and didn't want to spend my entire life redoing things I can save by simply changing the roadnumber. Anyway, I did my homework and a few 3600s locomotives found their way regularly on Murray Bay Subdivision. I have evidence for 3622, 3688 and another one I forgot the number and which I'll model.

Kitbashing a British-American Oil Tank Car - Part 2

I painted the car following my recent finds about B/A bicolor paint scheme. To some point, it is purely experimental but I think it is a good educated guess.

Following a coat of black primer, I decided to give a coat of Tamiya XF-5 flat green on the top part of the tank, dome and platform. I have absolutely no idea what green B/A used. If I follow their trucks, advertisings and other official material, it was the same green seen on the logo. But, my analysis of the black & white photo shows it is slightly different, so I'm not feeling bad for not using exactly the same shade.

Here's the result after masking and touching up the paint . I still need to repaint the platform in black and give a second coat of green to the ladders and other such details. Then, the car will be ready to receive a coat of Future acrylic floor finish before decalling.

A Bunch of Trees

While doing some temporary scenery, I added a few dead twigs on Clermont hillside and Malbaie River embankment. Nothing special, but the effect is dramatic. With minimal scenery, Donohue and Clermont got visually divided by a tunnel of tree, making the distance seems longer. It is also more prototypical. When in Clermont, when you cross St. Philippe Street, you can see the track curving and disappearing into a forested area. Farther away, the track emerges from the woods on the bridge and reaches the paper mill.

This is a small detail, but it improves prototypicalness and offers us with a few new railfanning spots. In fact, three new spots:

1) A sweeping curve from St. Philippe Street’s grade crossing

2) A spectacular low-angle shot from River Malbaie embankment

3) An interesting shot from the bridge toward the tree tunnel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kitbashing a British-American Oil Tank Car - Part 1

British-American used to be a staple name in Canada for many decades. After a merger with Gulf in the 60s, the company name quietly disappeared from the landscape. But before that happened, they operated a large fleet of tank cars across the country. Built at various dates, spanning technologies from the 1910s to the 1950s, the fleet was far to be unified and many oddballs could be spotted here and there.

Interestingly, the fleet was transferred to CGTX and renumbered. While some cars quickly disappeared from the rails, many of them survived well into the 80s while a few even saw regular service until the early 90s. Among them were 3-dome cars, very old riveted tank cars and more recent ones, including propane cars.

The most striking feature was the attractive B-A logo informally called the “roundel”. A very few color pictures of B-A cars are available online, but the bright logo was a quite a sight on dark colored tanks. Most tanks were black, but supposedly, evidences of color – mainly dark green – exist. I’m far to be a believer, but that could make sense and photo quality doesn’t make it easy to tell. If it was green, it was a very dark one. A later paint scheme sported a light colored horizontal stripe on the middle of the car. Black Cat Decals suppose it was yellow or light orange. Honestly, it’s hard to tell from pictures I’ve seen. One thing is sure; it can’t be white since a stark demarcation between the logo’s white contour and the stripes is visible. My best guess would be this stripe was probably light yellow, almost cream colored. Also, Black Cat claims there are evidences the upper half of these cars was dark green. Honestly, I’m puzzled about that. When Bachmann recently released their 3-dome tank car in B-A scheme, they followed that route. Attractive, but is it real? I'm more than skeptical.

To make sure, I processed official Bachmann picture in Photoshop to see how it would look in black and white. I followed a process used by pro (not simply doing grayscale) which give a little bit more realistic results. As you can see, if you don't you the car is green, you'll have a hard time telling if it is painted with two colors.

Bachmann Trains (

The same after some Photoshop editing

 I was curious and took the most likely picture of a BAOX tank car to be painted in the two-color scheme. Slightly adjusting contrast in Photoshop immediatly yielded some interesting results. As you can see (circled in yellow), the car's ends are clearly darker than the upper tank body. Such demarcation doesn't exist on the inferior part. Also, the "B" from the B/A logo is painted on a "green droplet". The droplet background color is quite similar to the tank car. The "A" background is red and there's definitely a sharp contrast with the tank. Also, you'll see the red color is almost similar to the black part, which is a common occurence with B&W photos. Other interesting facts are that I'm seriously thinking the platform was black with green railings and ladders. Final touch, the horizontal stripes are indeed darker than I thought. The yellow-orangish color is more than probable. As for the green shade, according to the B/A logo, it was slightly lighter than the green "droplet".

Seriously, I can't believe almost no color pictures of these attractive cars can be found anywhere! If anybody have knowledge about these cars, let me know.

Original photo: Ian Cranstone's private collection (

Anyway, the best part is that CGTX didn’t bother to repaint all BAOX cars. They only replaced the reporting marks on many of them. So, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe a car could have travelled Murray Bay Subdivision and be spotted at Clermont where an oil dealer existed. Sure, probably many cars got repainted in plain black later one.

Let’s talk about the model. The easiest way to model a B-A car is to start with a Tichy 10000-gallon tank car. Another viable option is to use Proto 2000 and Intermountain cars. All of them can fit a prototype or another. This is how Jim & Jeremy Spurway modelled their B-A fleet with good results.

However, I don’t have any available car to use on hands (and I don’t want to repaint my Proto 2000 Canadian Petroleum fleet). It’s just I’d like to use a set of Black Cat decals I have and don’t know what to do with them.

After looking at several pictures and searching through Ian Cranstone’s excellent website dedicated to Canadian freight cars, I came to the conclusion I could model a 12,500 gallon welded tank car from the 1950s. Those were still in revenue service in the 80s.

After some consideration, I came to the conclusion a good old Athearn single-dome tank car was the easiest way to achieve my goal. It would require removing all rivet details, platforms and ladder, but generally speaking, the model would be very close to a 12,500 gallons tank car. My kitbash will try to closely follow car series BAOX 8XX.

After an hour and a half, all the wrong details were removed from the tank and underframe. The tank was dipped in Super Clean all night long and in the morning, all the paint was dissolved.

Using styrene strips, I added some steel beams at each underframe ends up to the bolster according to prototype pictures. A-Line stirrups and metal grabirons were added, including modified Tichy ladders.

Next, I built up a new platform around the dome. I decided to use a Tichy metal grid pattern roofwalk and assembled a new platform. Then, using a 0.25mm styrene sheet, I cut a correctly-sized hole that fitted the dome. When done, I cemented the steel platform to it. I didn’t bother to cut the styrene sheet to length and left it exceeds the platform. I prefer to cut it later when all the sand and cutting is done.

Next step was to remove the protruding steel grid over the hole. I started with a Xacto then sanded it smooth with a half-round jeweller file. Finally, the styrene sheet was cut to size. The result was more than acceptable!

I also added grabirons at each tank’s end. When I removed molded details, I took care to keep the nuts in place. Later, I found out the distance would fit perfectly a 18 inches drop grabiron. It made my life quite easier!

At this point, I reassembled the car after stuffing it with lead weight. Then, I completed fine detailing prior to priming.

An Employees Time Table

After lots of work yesterday, I was able to put together this first time table that will be used while operating the layout. Jérôme did an excellent work streamlining information in such a away only relevant stuff would makes its way on the paper. Then, I had a fun evening browsing throught old 80s CN employees time table to reproduce the graphic style. Believe it or not, everything was done using Word 2010, a feat considering I'm much more proficient using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign. It was also designed in such way changes can be done without ruining the formatting.

It ain't perfect, but it will be improved as much as we can while operating. A map with all trackage found on the modelled portion of Murray Bay subdivision can be found on page 2. I followed Trevor Marshall's excellent posts on his Port Rowan paperwork. This map will help people less familiar with the layout to find their ways and plan their moves.

It also means we will have to add - later - signs on the fascia identifying various features and significant mile posts. Oh! Model railroading... Each time you think you completed something, thousand projects pop up!

We also have a prototype clearance form that will used too.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Clermont: Inspiration from an unexpected source

As we progress and learn about our prototype, the more the project gets real. Lots of stuff is happening right now since we decided to put together a working timetable.

I finally located a copy of a 1986 CN time table. A brave soul posting here from time to time was kind enough to look if he can send us something. Anyway, we already started to prepare one from a 1975 time table and using CN 1987 graphic style and fonts.

Also, I recently stumbled upon (again) an old website made by a team developing a Train Simulator project about Murray Bay Subdivision back in 2004-2007. The website is now derelict with broken links but I got the chance to take a look at a nice picture of La Malbaie. It take the liberty to post the picture here for documentation purpose. From what I could read, it was taken back in 2004 during a railfanning trip made by François Cantin.

That picture could have been taken on Mike Confalone's Allagash Railway.

The ressemblance with our Clermont scene and topography is striking and I'll be honest, the temptation to merge Clermont and La Malbaie is strong. Reproducing Clermont's yard is impossible and I know for a while.

On the other hand, La Malbaie is an interesting spot because it is the original town from which Clermont splitted when the paper mill opened. In Clermont, there's a place called Wieland where there is a wye, spartan locomotive facilities, sidings with bunch of MoW equipment and a team track. Oh, did I say the yard limits started at La Malbaie up to Donohue? It means La Malbaie, Wieland and Clermont were kind of a same unit.

In La Malbaie, you find the exact same things, but better. Look at the picture: no space at all between the track and the mountain, a sinous siding, a road running along the track, MoW equipment, a diesel full tank and a team track lost in the woods. Think about it, it is exactly what our layout have. Almost no compression required, isn't sweet?

Instead of making a lot of compromise to model Clermont, I feel it's better to draw inspiration from nearby La Malbaie. To some extent, that place is also more associated with typical Charlevoix wonderful topography. The good thing is the scene isn't crowded at all...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lettering an old tank car

While doing some clean up last week end, I found out a pair of assembled and painted black Intermountain tank car. Having a set of Black Cat decals on hand for CN company service tank car, I browsed in search of a suitable prototype.

Quickly, I stumbled up a neat tank car of similar size sporting the wet noodle logo and a ACI label. I was sold to the idea immediatly.

I didn't need to use all the decal set since lettering on the prototype was spartan at best. Microscale sets provided additional data and logo.

I heavily weathered the model according to the original picture. But I didn't try to go as far as the real car because it was photographed in the 90s. After I took my picture, I slight added more dirt under the tank. I didn't yet dullcote the model. I like the very dull look it has right now. Maybe I'll dullcote it later.

All in all, it was a fun brainless project. It's good to have some from time to time.

It will probably find it's from time to time in a work train to Clermont.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Toward More Realistic Operations

We reached a new level last week end when we staged our operation session when Murray Bay subdivision was back on service after track improvement: we implemented a dispatcher. The small closet used as hidden staging and storage was quickly transformed into a dispatching office. Louis-Marie also dug out a set of walkie-talkies.

The dispatcher's desk in hidden staging

A dispatcher isn’t a new thing for us. Back in 2007, when we started the original layout depicting Bassin Louise industrial trackage, we used to have two operators (CN and CP) receiving their instructions from a dispatcher sitting on a step ladder. It was quite informal, but still useful and a funny role to fulfill. After each session, roles would be shuffled to ensure everybody would have a chance to operate. It worked like this for a while, but as the old layout morphed and decayed, it became almost impossible to do any credible form of dispatching.

Later, switching lists were implemented, but most visiting operators didn’t care about them and I quickly grew dissatisfied making them. Many people serious about operation always stress this point: your operators must have similar level of interest in operation to make sure it works well.

As the club coalesced around a very few regular members – the three of us – it was enough to simply stage a train and identify which cars went to which customers to get the job done right. We plan to return to more formal switching list in the future and I started to make simplified waybill cards for this purpose. With our 4 “customers”, it shouldn’t be too hard to handle even if the rolling stock pool swelled up as I built more cars recently!

In fact, beyond the paper work, having a dispatcher giving instructions really set the mood right. We really felt it was no more a layout, but a real railroad, particularly while handling clearance forms. They really give you the feeling you are going somewhere, they slow the train movement at a comfortable speed and make the layout “bigger” without adding any track.

I had the honor to be the first dispatcher and did a really poor job at it, having no idea what the prototype does! Since the task was far to be overwhelming, I also acted as a brakeman on the train.

Train 522 and Limoilou Switcher in staging.
Two trains were staged, the 522 doing the run to Clermont and Limoilou Switcher serving the cement plant. Both trains were shoved into the hidden staging track and assigned a locomotive. Train 522 was made of 17 cars plus a caboose. I determined a single Rapido GMD-1 would be enough for the task.

GMD1 1906 ready to pull train 522 out of Limoilou
Louis-Marie would run this train up to Clermont. It was late at night and we only run 522. Meanwhile, Jérôme switched Donohue before 522 arrived there to prepare future action.

Louis-Marie commanding 522 while it crosses D'Estimauville Avenue.

Train 522 departed D’Estimauville around 10:30 AM and swiftly crossed Villeneuve yard before reaching Charlevoix.

522 speeding up to 20 mph while leaving Villeneuve.
Then, the real action started. It was simplistic but realistic: pull the departing cars from Donohue, shove the empties on the plant property then switch Clermont team track. But it wasn’t easy at all! First of all, switching a train longer than the available siding can be done quite easily when you know what you are doing, but we improvised a lot and wasted time on useless moves. To be honest, I figured out a few weeks ago how to do it efficiently, but completely forgot how to do it…

CN 1906 entering Clermont siding.
First, we took care of the team track which was a piece of cake...
Switching the layout: a empty ballast car, a grain car and a plywood load.

...but then things started to get complicated when we tried to pull Donohue’s loaded cars. Train 522 was clearly underpowered and the locomotives started to slip on Malbaie River bridge’s wet rails.

"Dispatcher, we've got a problem!"
Worst, Donohue’s industrial switcher couldn’t give us a push because it was trapped on a siding by our own train! As a last resort, we called the dispatcher and requested a helper locomotive. The nearest locomotive available was GMD1 #1027 in Limoilou, 92 miles away! We wasted a lot of time! It was my own fault because I didn’t take in account we would have to pull Donohue’s cars and Train 522's cars together, resulting in a very long and heavy train. Lesson learned: never venture to Clermont with less than 2 powered units, except if you run an exceptionally short train.

CN 1027 couples with 522 and saves the day.

Switching then resumed and the helper left us when its job was done.

CN 1027 kissing goodbye after giving a helping hand.
It was getting late and finally the train, now called 523, made its return trip to D’Estimauville. And then we found out we forgot to switch Dominion Textile plant! Well, it will be for another day!

After this session, Jérôme decided to explain us how real dispatching is done on the prototype, using the correct lexicon and protocol. This is going to be interesting.

Having a dispatcher also brought a new “material” dimension to the layout as we had to determine what is mainline and what yard limits are. Digging in old cheap trackside details, we found out a few plastic railroad signs that could be useful to operators. It was decided to follow practices.

Villeneuve's yard limit sign post

Track from Limoilou to Villeneuve is now considered yard and track up from Clermont to Donohue too. In between lies the “real” mainline. Speed limits, whistle posts and grade crossing crossbuck are now implemented. When scenery will progress, these will be changed to prototypical signs.
A few other details were added, including relay boxes near crossing signals and a new small office at Donohue.

Clermont's yard limit sign post
Jérôme wants to make a real timetable for the layout and to implement special instruction including motive power restriction in some areas. To this, we will probably add the Power Rating chart I made. It’s quite useful to minimize underpowered train!

Some mock up details in Clermont to bring life to the scene

In the end, there’s still a long way to go for us, but going forward using stand-in operation-oriented scenery details and implementing a not-so-perfect dispatcher is still a better than nothing. It would be completely ludicrous to hope to be perfect from start and it’s better to start with what we have, learn from it and improve accordingly.