Saturday, September 17, 2016

Derail & Sounds & Co.

Yesterday, Jérôme started to build a prototype for an operating derail. We need 4 of them on the layout and he decided to try Tom Klimoski's trick using Alexander Scale Models Hayes Derail #A-9501.

The modification is easy. You file down the moving part until you only keep the useful part. Then you drill a hole to insert a custom made hinge built with a piece of brass rod. This U-shaped rod is then inserted in holes drilled into ties. For more realism, styrene sheet or parts salvaged from the Alexander kit will be glued on the ties to replicate the metal hinge better. This is the kind of detail I like: realistic, operable and simple to implement.

Also, when I was swtiching some cars at Maizerets, I came to the conclusion some prototypical operations makes no sense when you have no sound or action to make you believe they happen. Setting handbrakes, uncoupling cars, pumping air are all concepts that can't be conveyed by waiting the clock move around.

After a while, I thought it would be great to have a "sound box". Something similar to a DCC cab but fitted with common railway operation sounds. You push a button and you hear the handbrake wheel turn. Something very, very simple. We tried a mockup using a cheap MP3 player and the result is more than excellent. People with smartphone could probably achieve the same thing with a playlist of railway sound. In fact, there is a lot of different ways to achieve this result so I won,t bother describing ours in detail.

However, this has nothing to do with sound decoder in locomotives or sound cars. Both of them makes no sense to me. I don't want to hear the coupler clank out from a distant locomotive, but on site. It's why a portable sound device is the best. The sound is heard where you are performing the task. And you don't need to wait for a given amount of time that means nothing since the sound explicitly tells you what's going on.

I'm curious to see how this idea will develop into something practical in the future, but I find it interesting starting point to materialize practices that can't be scaled down for obvious reasons. As a matter of fact, I held two small switching sessions yesterday. One with a small HO scale brakeman figure and one without a figure. Seriously, I find operating with a figure far more engaging than without it. Call me childish, but I'm more prone to respect speed limit and coupling/uncoupling procedures when I have my little brakeman working the train. It also forces me to better think my moves since I don't want him to walk uselessly or throw turnout twice when he can do it once. It is probably the most basic way to implement realistic operation without feeling forced to apply invisible rules.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Quebec City CPR Prince Edward Roundhouse in 1930

You remember probably when I discussed track plans and roundhouse based on Quebec City during the summer. I had the nice surprise to get blueprint showing Canadian Pacific roundhouse located a few hundred feet west of Palace Station this morning. Groupe TRAQ member Mathieu Gosselin was kind enough to scan and share this map drawn in 1930. This is also the scene were the first minutes of this interesting movie were filmed in the 1950s.

CPR Prince Edward Roundhouse (credit: Groupe TRAQ, Pierre Parent collection)

For fans of roundhouse scenes, the CPR facilities were nestled between Crown, Prince Edward Streets and St. Charles River. To spice things up, a few customers were rail served by spurs branching off the terminal. The small size and action packed nature of this engine terminal makes it an interesting source of inspiration for people wanting to model something realistic and which could be realistically done without eating too much real estate.

The roundhouse was gradually converted to diesel power in the 1950s and disappeared from the landscape circa 1976, when CPR mainline track in Quebec City downtown was removed to make place to urban redevelopment (social housing over highly contaminated land!) and remove traffic jams caused by the trains, but in fact, behind this official stance lies an incredible fight from local citizen to save St. Roch borough from utter destruction as happened a few year before with the Provincial Parliament Hill. In that era, St. Roch which used to be a thriving typical north american business district is now decaying into a pathetic state of poverty which, to some extent, is still visible 50 years later.

While the back story takes its roots in the mid-60s, the railway saga start in 1971, the local St. Roch parish priest  which name is fittingly Lavoie ("The Way") will lead a series of "attacks" over the railway to attract political attention over the serious issues plaguing the borough. On March 22, citizens are encouraged to place their garbage bins over the CPR tracks. At this point, citizen comities are gaining impetus and the tide is no longer in favour of Canadien Pacifique. The story will be featured in many Canadian newspaper. In the end, the colorful actions of the priest will raise enough concern that Prime Minister Trudeau (the father) will accept to meet him. From that point, politicians will campain to remove the track which will happen, reshaping for ever the way trains interact with Quebec City. For more details about this surrealist story, a nice article in French can be found here.

 A caricature of Mgr Lavoie cleverly nicknamed "Mgr The Rail Way" (March 23, 1971, le Soleil)
As for my personal opinion on that matter, I feel there was some truth in the citizen claims. In many areas, the train would run a few feet from houses full of kid. Gerry Burridge shot a classic picture of a CN special Winter Carnival train almost scratching houses on both side. I've never heard about any accidents, but the risk was high and pollution constant in that urban canyon. I've heard the steam era was particularly insupportable in these impoverish boroughs.

Most vintage movies and pictures show enormous traffic jams in downtown, blocking all major access roads. My only problem with the dismantling of the track, like most urban decisions took in the 1970s in Quebec City, lacked long term perspective. It was a good decision to remove the mainline, but severing Palace Station and almost destroying it wasn't the greatest idea of all time. I've been told that most politicians of the time were convinced the train was a thing from the past and no longer a requirement for a modern and progressive city. Later, when they reconnected the station with CNR mainline in the 1980s, the job was minimal at best and didn't make room for expansion. Worst, the urban redevelopment program decided to build a large non-descript building in the middle of the downtown main street (St. Joseph Street) called Les Façades de la Gare which isolated the station from its borough, creating an artificial barrier that definitely isolated the impoverish sector of the city from the port and historic district.

Such is the story behind the demise of CPR Prince Edward Street roundhouse. By the way, Marty Bernard took a few interesting pictures of CPR locomotives at the roundhouse including RS10 8580 and RS18 8800.

For modellers, Prince Edward Roundhouse is the easiest Quebec City "classic" locomotive facility to model without any need for compression. If sometimes in my life I require to model a roundhouse, I’m pretty sure I’ll have this one in mind for inspiration. Now, I would be quite happy to find the same kind of map about CNR Limoilou Roundhouse (ex-CNoR).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A New Modelling Season...

I'm glad to announce we had our first true club meeting since we took a summer break a few months ago. While renovations aren't completed in Louis-Marie home, we still can work on the smaller room aka Villeneuve and D'Estimauville.

Nothing is scheduled, but work on the cement plant is going to take priority. I didn't draw anything yet, but I have a design in my head that should make operation, maintenance and detailing easier than our first attempt.

Among other projects are completing the grade crossing signals and implementing ambiant sound. Louis-Marie already have the parts and a good idea how he will tackle the challenge. I trust him to make something amazing out of nothing as he always does.

As for Jérôme, he is urging me to put my effort on Temiscouata when the time will come. Some new pictures where recently published in a local magazine (Groupe TRAQ) that shed a new light on Connors Branch and its peculiar junction with NTR/CNR. We also discussed several other ideas, but I guess he's again right on this one. From experience, I know his guts generally are trustworthy. But it will be a long shot before I can start to build anything.

Meanwhile, I'm already working on some experimental layout. For those who once followed my Quebec South Shore Project, just keep in mind it is an expansion around this concept with a similar theme and setting (CP Rail's Quebec branchline in the 1980s in an agricultural community). This time, the track plan takes in account several aspects I covered in the Thinking Out Loud series. Speaking of it, I still have a few draft about articles but I don't know if I'll publish them. For the moment, this small project is gonna stay "secret" since it is highly experimental and could truly shock some peoples! If the results are worthy of publication, you'll see it, if not, it will join the numerous junked layout remains filling up my damp basement! Once again, it is testing ground to build up some skills before trying them on Hedley-Junction.

The Grand Trunk locomotive project and decals, it is on hold for a while. On a good note, I got the missing brass parts required to complete the locomotives, namely the pumps, pilot and spoked pilot wheelset. This autumn will be quite frankly busy with professional and academic projects thus I can't promise anything. Knowing myself, it will be probably done during Christmas vacations when I have a lot of free time to immerse myself in modelling.

As for the people who followed the Thinking Out Loud series this summer and enlighted me with their experience and advices, I wish to thanks them a lot. It is evident a substantial amount of people are working on interesting concept and pushing their hobbies to higher levels. Sharing is a part of that movement and it was truly a pleasure to see my personnal journey is no longer a matter of thinking I'm an isolated weirdo not jumping into the bandwagon!