Friday, October 28, 2016

The Little Shed on The Prairie

Life is a strange thing and modelling isn’t an exception. For months, we used an old Revell stable as a mock up in Clermont to represent a small shed standing at the crossroad. Our intent was to replace the cheap plastic model with a fully scratchbuilt structure. However, as months went by, it was evident the Revell structure had the right size and right proportion for that spot. And thus, we decided to reuse it but slightly alter its appearance so it would be less recognizable and closer to what can be found in Charlevoix.

The Revell stable is typical of 1950s-1960s kits full of small cast on details. They were included back then to add a sense of realism to the structure, but in fact they made them less generic thus harder to fit a vast array of purpose. In fact, when you remove all these cheesy details, you find out a very basic and common wooden shed that can be found from California to Newfoundland.

In my case, a generic weather-beaten wood shed was required. Thus, I decided to replace the side walls full of cute door by windowless sides of wood planks. The new walls were made out of a 1.5 slab of styrene with irregular width styrene “planks” distressed with a metal saw blade. One fine aspect of the original structure was the rotten ends of the planks and I reproduced that very realistic effect on my new walls.

Modified Tichy windows were used to replace the crude openings left in the shed gables. Lance Mindheim always reminds people how oversized window details can kill a structure and I fully agree with him on that one.

As for the rood, the coarse wood shingle texture was covered with prepainted corrugated paper cut to size and glued with CA. As any realistic roofing job, it is labor intensive but the final result pay off.

Now, about paint and color there's a lot more to say. I've always been unsatisfied with traditional method to stain wood in such fashion it gets the weathered silver appearance seen on shed and barns all over the world. That finish is crucial to achieve if you don't want your building to look like a bunch of stained matches glued together.

I painted the parts with Krylon Camouflage tan color and weathered with a mix of thinned black and burnt umber artist oil paints. It always gives a nice weathered look. For a more greyish look, Harold Minky in RMC a few years ago advocated using a white base primer before applying the weathering solution for a silvered wood effect. If I'm not satisfied by my paint job under the layout lighting, I could use it.

Corrugated paper sprayed with metallic paint makes great roof metal sheets
The same word of advice applies for roof. Older galvanized roof loose their silvery appearance over time and get bleached. While looking again at Mike Confalone's Knox Farm building, you can see he got it right. So I had to fix up that detail too before weathering. Pictures posted here show the "brand new" galvanized look which can be useful for many other applications.

While you can live with some discrepancies, wrong colors may totally kill a model and you're better paying a good deal of attention to that. There ain't fool proof methods. Each project required some thought just like you do when weathering a car or a locomotive.

So we now have a nice dilapidated wood shed standing near the track just as we wanted. It’s always fun to reuse old structures and find them hidden qualities. Never underestimate how a good paint job can salvage many, many thing and bring out their best qualities.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

1993 CN Murray Bay Subdivision Track Diagrams

Documenting a project is never a straightforward process. We would all love to have all the prototype information on hand from day one so we could design things with facts rather than fuzzy impressions. However, documenting a subject is a never ending task that would paralyze anybody which seek more than accumulating knowledge.

In our case, finding track diagrams took us some time. To be honest, we worked with Google Earth satellite views and good old childhood and teenage memories. Most info we had was too old or too recent for our era. Until a few months ago we got access to 1980s timetable and some track diagrams.

But now, Jérôme digged up 1993 track diagrams of CN Murray Bay Subdivision. While a little bit modern, very little change took up place on the subdivision at that time. It is fun to compare our own track plan and the diagrams to see what could have been and what we got right.

The most interesting fact I discovered is that Donohue tracks in Clermont were mostly own by CN. It may looks insignificant at first, but give some ground to our stance of often using CN locomotives to switch the plant.

Upon closer examination, I’m surprised how what we did isn’t that far from reality. Indeed, having the real diagrams with us when planning would have been nice, but in fact space limitations would have made a direct replication of the prototype almost impossible. Compromises would have certainly been quite similar to what we did and in retrospect, I feel no regrets getting copies of the diagrams so late in the process.

As Hedley-Junction progresses, I’ve come to the realisation it’s not a matter of making an exact replica that counts but rather getting the feeling right about what we do and designing it in such a way it fits our interests, goals and personal limitation. The actual layout is extremely far to be perfect, but well worth our efforts. I’d like to complain our building pace is far too slow, but I now understand it is our normal pace and trying to cram more hobby time in our lives would end up in burnout and frustration rather than a positive activity.

For the sake of documenting Hedley-Junction, I gladly post the old diagrams down here:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ciment St-Laurent - Part 1

It's time to start the Ciment St-Laurent plant project. This large structure will be the focal point in the small layout room depicting Villeneuve and Maizerets. Not only it will dominate the landscape, but it will also generate the largest traffic on the railway including coal, gypsum, cement and many other bulk commodities. We are actually thinking about building the core with MDF, but I’m starting to think we could use some large Plexiglass sheets I have for concerns about dimensional stability over time. I’ve not been impressed by ¼” MDF lately and if we use it, bracing will be a pivotal aspect of the final design. It could also be an idea to try my hand using a laser cutter to make the parts. However, since a lot of fun comes from the process of building a structure, I think we would loose a meaningful project.

The plan and elevations are drawn from pictures, satellite imagery and insurance maps drawn in the 1950s when the prototype was under construction. While I don’t claim 100% accuracy, it should be extremely close to the real thing.

Since many people like to add cement plants on their layouts, I decided to share the plans. The drawing are metrics and at scale 1:5. If printed full-scale on a 11” x 8.5” sheet, they should be quite precise.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Terraforming Clermont Again

This modelling season is starting at a very slow pace for us isn’t it! But we are talking about a hobby and as seriously as we take it, this ain’t our main occupation.

Nevertheless, work resumed last weekend and Louis-Marie was able to complete electricity adding long needed feeders to some sidings. This is the kind of invisible work that makes your layout more fun to operate.

Meanwhile, I revised Ciment St-Laurent plans, making new scale drawings. I gave a few instructions to Louis-Marie about how to build the structure. Our main concern is to ensure it can be lifted easily to access tracks for maintenance and scenery. So far it should work, but I’m going to trust Louis-Marie in finding a more suitable way to materialize the concept. That won’t be a piece of cake.

As for myself, I decided to work on Clermont once again. Since we enlarged the peninsula last spring, we focussed our efforts on Maizerets while waiting to find custom made turnouts. So far, we’ve been unlucky and decided to keep the track as is for the time being. If a generous soul has clue or a knack at making curved turnout, let me know. At this moment, I have enough on my plate and have no interest in scratchbuilding a mechanical device. It means the second siding is no longer viable and the propane dealeriIs going to become a team track/feed mill as once envisioned. Space is at premium and we will try to find a way to cram a credible structure without overwhelming the scene. I’m looking forward doing that.

While all this sound hypothetical, some scenery work is under way and florist foam was used to terraform a fairly large area linking Clermont and St. Lawrence river. At this point, I made the new terrain slightly higher than the roadbed. In real life, it is the contrary, however, because of the sharp curve, it’s better to have surrounding grounds higher to hide that fact. Once trees will be planted, it should take a different look.

You will also find out this scene blends with the paper mill in the background. It was never planned, but I like the idea which as been masterfully explored by fellow modeller Rob Clark on his fictive Cornhill & Atherton Railroad layout. It is based on "shakkei", a Japanese word used to described the concept of "borrowed scenery". The idea is simple, for a layout, it means you use another scene as a backdrop from the foreground scene. In this case, the sky, hills and mill at Donohue merge into Clermont in such a way it creates the impression of a vast and realistic space.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Railfanning Central Maine & Quebec Railway and Orford Express

Just a few years ago, taking such a blurred shot of a locomotive on ex-CPR Short Line between Maine and Quebec would have been impossible. But things are starting to change at a speedy pace over the venerable main line under Central Maine & Quebec Railway's tenure. It was time for us to pay a visit to that scenic road. For fans of Mike Confalone's Allagash Railway, CMQ is probably the closest thing actually in existence that reflects his fantasy miniature world.

CMQ #1 running at 25MPH in Cookshire, Quebec, October 15th 2016

Day 1 

Last weekend was an occasion to do some railfanning in group with long time friends. In fact, such an activity didn't take place since a few years with that "lineup". On the first day, Louis-Marie Huot, André-Pierre Savard aka "le p'tit gars à sa mère" (his mother's little boy), Mathieu Gosselin and I railfanned the Central Maine & Quebec Railway between the now infamous Lac-Mégantic and Sherbrooke.

This used to be Lac-Mégantic downtown, October 15th 2016

Most of them didn't railfan the area since the disaster and didn't yet visit the place after the disaster that killed 47 persons.

A "Blue Barn" leading CMQ #1 at Milan, Quebec, October 15th 2016

The sky was bright, the autumn colors were fantastic and the when we learned it would be the inaugural run of ex-CP "red barns" in the new CMQ paint scheme, we bolted to Lac-Mégantic.

CMQ #1 and railfans near Bury, October 15th 2016
CMQ #1 and railfans in action near Bury, October 15th 2016

While I had some reservation about the paint scheme, I must admit seeing it in real life is truly impressive since we were used to see a bunch of patched and heavily weathered locomotives on this road for over 15 years.

An ex-UP tunnel locomotive near Bury, October 15th 2016

When we reached Nantes (we the runaway train originated), we met Frank Jolin, a well-known railfan in the area and followed him until the sun set in Milan, Bury, Scotstown and Cookshire. By the time the train reached Sherbrooke, it was pitch black dark but we still followed the train. There, the Orford Express was readying itself to depart for Magog. During little chat at the ex-CP station with Donald Thompson, the famous OE conductor, we learned three trains were actually moving westward: a CMQ local, Orford Express and the train we've been chasing since noon.

The brick chimney landmark at Scotstown... I shoot half-a-second too soon...
We catched glimpses of the trains while criss-crossing Sherbrooke's streets for an hour then settle down at the hotel for the next day of activity.

CMQ #1 climbing the grade at Cookshire enroute to Sherbrooke, October 15th 2016

Some motive power resting at ex-CP Sherbrooke station

Day 2

On Sunday, other railfans in route for a trip in Pennsylvania joined us aboard the Orford Express for a gastronomic excursion in the dome car between Eastman. Among them was Jean-François Boudreau (Modèle B.T.) and his girlfriend, Dannick Fournier and Maxime Boulé. Saying the event was a funny one would be a serious understatement since you can't expect anything serious coming out of these people when you gather them together!

Orford Mountain overlooking Memphremagog Lake in Magog, October 16th 2016

It was personally my first time travelling aboard Orford Express and I must admit I was surprised by the quality of the experience and food served on board. No wonder this touristic train is still running strong after a decade of existence. In fact, they now own a ship cruising on Memphremagog Lake and acquired a large hotel. They are also planning to add new cars to the train which sounds promising.

Orford Express FL-9 and Budd car under the rain, October 16th 2016
When the train excursion was back to Magog at 5:45 PM, the railfan group going to Pennsylvania left while Mathieu and Dannick stayed with us. Donald Thompson having promised to dine with us on that day decided to give us an exclusive glimpse at the train. We visited every small spaces including kitchen, control cab, preparation room and much more. Then Thompson decided to show us the extremely complex series of tasks required to shut down the train for the night. This is a ritual he is doing almost every night and that take at least one hour and half.

Orford Express FL-9 nose, Magog, October 16th 2016

This procedure is of major importance to Orford Express because it could mean the train wouldn't be able to start the next morning, causing costly losses to the company and a hard blow to its outstanding reputation. Moreover, the fine exotic wood interiors are extremely prone to temperature and humidity variations. He shown us a spot where extensive damage to a wood panel was caused by the morning sun overheating the car stainless shell because the ventilation was accidentally shut down one night. In a matter of less than 3 hours, the panelling fireproof finish was ruined, turning grey.

Orford Express Dome Car fine interior, October 16th 2016

Donald Thompson was also extremely generous in his time answering our various questions and showing us the mechanical details of his nice EMD FL-9 which work decidedly like a clock. After closing the gates, we had a long discussion with Thomson at a local restaurant about the origins of Orford Express, CMQ tenure of the old CPR short line and François Rebello's future train between Montréal and Boston. Time went fast and at 10 PM, we parted ways. It was time to go back to Quebec City.

Central Maine Quebec Railway

A lot have been said about CMQ, including many seasoned railfans making the most ludicrous and gloomy predictions about the absence of future for this line. I had the occasion to railfan MMA a month before Megantic disaster when it was pathetic state of disrepair and trying to make up for losses by carrying crude. Then I went in the area last year during springtime when CMQ was trying to revive the line. What I saw last weekend was a different story.

MMA mainline full of weed near Scotstown back in May 3rd, 2013

First, long gone were MMA chipped rails and full of weed tracks. What I witnessed was a fine looking regional carrier with well-maintained tracks. Near Bury, a stretch of track I was familar with now had clearly visible superelevation showing the intention to run fast there.

CMQ well-maintained and superelevated mainline near Bury, October 15th 2016

The train we chased had well over 50 cars of various commodities. Locomotives were in good order and two of them sported the company's colors. Railroad crossing were improved in some places.

A boxcar patched for CMQ in Nantes, Quebec, October 15th 2016

Many will say CMQ didn't have the choice to step up its game if it wanted to get social acceptance after the disaster. But what I witnessed tells me a story of a company that is investing in its future. Will CMQ succeed were many others failed? That a thought question to answer, but John Giles was definitively the man needed to set things straight back on the Short Line. I hope him the best since he is doing a fine job of bringing railways back in the 21st century game. So far, his 25MPH trains testify of the great changes going on there.

Should I point out railfans unanimously said that day the Short Line was back being one of the finest railfanning experience in Quebec.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

It Sounds Good?

After my last post, I was pleased to read Trevor Marshall's comment conforting my impression about the need for meaningful sounds on a layout. But the best was when Lance Mindheim decided to add another layer of thoughts a few days later.

Interestingly, the subject seems to gather a tremendous amount of curiosity among model train operators and Ed Kapuscinski wrote to Lance about his new sound application for phone called TrainCrew. I didn't tried it yet (I'm still living in the 20th century), but from I've read and heard on his website, this is exactly what I had in mind two weeks ago while writing. The phone approach is probably the most versatile way to handle complex "sound props" while operating. No need for gimmicks or gadget. Just a good old simple device. And if you look at Ed's app, you'll see he went quite far with setting airbrake, inspection and other railroading acts that can be really bothersome to replicate otherwise.

Go check for your self!

Now, my only wish would be to have a sound replicating a hopper being emptied over a pit.

By the way, home improvement in the club layout room is nearing its end at a fast pace. If everything is going as expected, big projects like the cement plant and painting the remaining tracks in Villeneuve are about to get started. I think it's time to upgrade the plant CAD drawings!