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... 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Henri-Bourassa Overpass - A Long Overdue Project

Things are starting to settle down on the Villeneuve-D’Estimauville portion of the layout recently. As you have noted, we experimented with a few mock ups different road configurations to find out the best results. As a matter of fact, it seems my initial vision a few years ago was the right one.

It may seem strange I focus my attention of roads, but I have a very practical reason for that. They must be built prior to many other scenic details since a lof of details depend on their proper location. But if I managed to get them done by the end of the year, I’ll be quite happy.

Murray Bay Subdivision under Henri-Bourassa Boulevard overpass

We recently worked on Sous-Bois Avenue and D’Estimauville Avenue. But Saturday, we focussed our efforts on Maizerets, or more precisely, the spot where the tracks pass through the backdrop and disappear into staging. This is the proverbial place where you hide the tunnel with an overpass. Fortunately for us, Henri-Bourassa Boulevard is located just there and, effectively, marks the end of Murray Bay Subdivision per se.

Henri-Bourassa Boulevard overpass, the pumphouse on the right.

This overpass was planned for an early date, even before we rebranded the layout in the early 2010s. However, I postponed it for various reasons, but now it’s time to work on it. As you can see, it is a very spartan yet “attractive” concrete structure from 1974. By attractive, I mean the V-shaped pillars give it some character that immediately set the location. Also, on the left, the abutment is useful to create an effective visual block at the end of the layout. And, bonus, on the right, you will notice a small one-storey cinder block structure. This is the pumphouse for the large oil reservoirs. It is a mundane detail, but add the chain-link fence, the gravel access road and pipes and you get an interesting bunch of subtle yet effective details that real gives the industrial look of the area.

For your information, we created a few mock ups to evaluate the possibility to create real oil reservoirs... but it failed. In term of size and space, it wasn't very effective. However, we found out building reservoir using a half-ellipse template created visually realistic tanks without wasting too much available space.

Can’t wait until next week to build this nice overpass! 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Improving and Cleaning

As much as scenery can be a fun aspect of model railroading, any layout plagued with mechanical and electrical issue is bound to provide frustration for years to come. For this reason, we have continued to implement our standardisation program of rolling stock, motive power and track improvement, particularly brand new cars freshly out of the box and older ones that weren’t improved. Weight was added, wheel gauge checked and coupler height adjusted. To these basics steps, every wheel treads were cleaned with a steel wire brush on the Dremel motor tool to polish them and remove gunk. After a decade of use, many wheels were covered in dirt, paint and dullcote from weathering process.  It was time to remove once for all that mess.

 It was also a good occasion to address a few boxcars that were tilting on their sides. After careful examination, it became evident the reason was simple: the bolsters and underframes were not properly sitting on the car floor. Removing excess glue and reassembling the cars too car of that problem, improving the performance and visual aspect of these boxcars.

A dozen improved freight cars

We also completed our new "cleaning car" based on the old tried and true trick of a Masonite under a boxcar. It serves well its purpose and was extremely useful for something it wasn’t designed: finding out spots covered in white glue and scenic cement. Every time the locomotive wasn’t able to pull the car over a stretch of track, it was a good indication the surface wasn’t clean and required some elbow grease to shine again.

Finally, a last word about the re-released Walthers CN insulated boxcars (based on a FGE prototype). While the tooling is getting old (being first produced in the mid-1990s), Walthers significantly improved the old version with finer stirrups, more correct paint color and prototypical lettering. I also found out the roof assembly was improved. All in all, certainly not a bad car out of the box and well worth the money. From there, one can add some vents and other such details to bring the car up to today’s standards. As for myself, I’m rather satisfied with these new acquisitions that will support more bagged cement traffic in Villeneuve.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Art of Modelling

Maybe it's a funny thing, but most of the time I read about model railroading, it's about getting things done quickly, cheaply and as efficiently as possible. While totally understandable for many obvious reasons, this mindset ends up - unintentionally - considering everything that takes up time to be done to be futile, foolish or simply a bad investment. Being on the creative side, I always hated that mentality that you are an idiot if you take time to do things right and pride yourself in jobs well done. I got it a lot when I was in high school and later in higher education. In my daily professional career, rushing and doing things on the cheap is seen as the tantamount of business practice. Nobody cares about honing skills or mastering an art. The new kid on the block that does half-baked jobs in a wink because he use the latest software is always seen as a saviour... even if under the varnish, very little true craftmanship exist.

But to put things in perspective, I'm actually in the process of replicating in 3D one of the most ornate 19th century church steeple in Quebec City. The building itself is a marvel of wood and metal working that makes our modern crap looks like... proverbial crap. As expected, I was asked to do the thing as fast as lightning, but this time, I decided to do the job right and take the extra step required to go as far as replicating acanthus leaves on Corinthian capitols. The result is interesting in two ways. First, it proves it can be done rather easily when someone takes the job seriously, but first and foremost, it was the first time in 10 years I was proud of my job and what I did. For once, I created beauty. It required - virtually - to carve and craft elements with care, using all my knowledge of geometry to retrieve the formulas used to design the structure back in 1867. It was both motivating and rewarding!

The funny thing is I also applied the same work ethic to my freight car fleet. Recently, while programming the Harlem Station layout into JMRI, I found out I lacked car and needed to have a larger fleet. I had many options: setting on cheap stand in models, buy expensive but correct RTR models, buy kits (Intermountain, Westerfield, Tichy, Rapido, etc.) or simply see what could be done with old cars in my stash. As expected, I opted for the three last options.

Handmade ice hatches made out of styrene, brass and paper

I had two Life-Like/Varney wood reefers and four Athearn steel ice reefers. Both models would hardly be considered as quality products, but I decided to check out their original prototype. It seems the Life-Like prototype was based on a generic 37 meat reefer design still in service in the 1950s. After doing some research, I found out it was really close to the GARX prototypes. Thus, using old drawings and pictures, and also Rapido's pictures of their own model, I decided to update the "el cheapo" models. My goal was clear, make sure the rebuilt cars would looks great when compared to higher end models. It meant I had to remove almost every details including roofs, doors, brakes, underframe, etc. and craft everything by myself. The process took several dozen of hours over a few weeks. It could have been tedious, but each evening I set myself in completing one small task while listening my favourite podcasts and channels.

The result was that I spent quality time doing fun modelling projects and got great cars for little money. Once primed, most people would hardly believed it was a pair of trainset cars.

This success brought me to strip the paint out of four Athearn reefer and bash them into their intended original prototype: the ubiquitous PFE R-40-23 steel reefer. As a matter of fact, I ordered two Intermountain kits and various spare parts with the intention of drastically improving the Athearn cars into worthy models. And once again, many hours are spend upgrading them with small hand crafted parts. Each detail is a challenge requiring to understand how the parts work in real life and trying to replicate them in scale. If the task seems complex, I simply do it step by step so I can feel I'm progressing each day instead of facing a wall. I don't know how much time it will take, probably well over 60 hours... but it's not a problem but rather a blessing.

In our increasingly cynical world, taking time to carefully craft beautiful things can be seen as a luxury, but also as a proof we still have the freedom to do good things.

Monday, November 20, 2017

More Grass...

Applying static grass has become a leitmotiv recently. It's probably the reason why my posting rate dropped. Hard to bring up new topic when all you do is the same old stuff again and again. Yet, as boring as it may sound, this crucial step brings life to the layout as never before.

I recently talked about slightly changing D'Estimauville avenue for something more down to earth. Well, I built the foundation for the new road and new grade crossin
g. But thinking about it now. I'm not so sure it was a great idea. This is one of these case when you must take a break, sit back and relax before you can better assess the result.

Don't get me wrong, the new road looks nice. However, it seems it lacks punch. And to be honest, while I criticized my previous concept as a little bit far fetched, I must say the new one share the same flaw. So don't be surprised if I revert back to simply doing D'Estimauville Avenue. I can already hear Jérôme laughing in my back and saying "I told you!" Oh well... I'll never learn the lesson, I shoudl trust him more.

On a more positive way, Jérôme operated the layout from Clermont to Québec instead of Québec to Clermont as Chemin de fer Charlevoix used to do. He found out interesting stuff. First, the actual trackage in Clermont is quite enough  to handle the traffic. It seems the siding is less prone to be filled up when operating that way.

Also, we ordered a few Walthers CN insulated boxcars for the cement plant. They aren't 100% accurate but sufficiently to be better than my Bachmann kitbashes. However, that doesn't mean I won't improve the details a little bit more. We also ordered a few more bulkhead flatcar to better handle the lumber traffic that was typical on Murray Bay. It also means a lot of cars will soon be obsolete and I'm thinking about selling a few of them later.

Friday, November 10, 2017

M420 in Villeneuve in the late 1980s

One of the most obvious joy of adding scenery is to be able to photograph your models in context. As great a model and it's weathering can be, poor photographing condition will always results in poor results.

I recently took advantage of scenic improvement in Villeneuve to shoot a few set of picture of my highly speculative M420 kitbash. It is also a good way to analyse my work on grass and see what can be improved and what worked. This is probably one of the best motivational factor in continuing working on the layout.

A d just for fun, some older motive power...

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ciment St-Laurent - Part 4

I finally settled down on a structural design for the cement plant model. My key objectives were strong structure, accessibility to add details over time and as much as possible, a decent level of prototypicalness.

I certainly could build the actual structure as it was with beams and columns. However, since it would be made out of several different parts, I fear alignment problems. A base and a top board seems to me a better way to ensure a certain level of squareness. It also gives some room in case of slight variation on column height. And finally, both board can be drilled at the same time, clamped together for maximum accuracy.

It must be noted I'll probably need to brace the building in some way. Under each group of silos existed a central core that housed equipment. I'll probably use them to make sure the structure is braced sufficently. The weight of the ABS silos and the upper storey shouldn't be underestimated.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ciment St-Laurent - Part 3

Huge structures are always something I fear… and for a good reason. Their sheer size means they have to be structurally strong enough to support themselves and not sag. For building like Ciment St-Laurent, it can quickly become a nightmare since the silos are supported by concrete columns. Add to that, conveyors, walkways and various equipment, all nested under the silos and visible under normal operating conditions, and you get the recipe for quite a headache.

Ciment St-Laurent in Villeneuve circa 1974 (source: unknown)

The proof, I’ve drawing and redrawing this building for years now and was never satisfied. Fortunately, a fellow modeller from Montmorency sent me a set of pictures taken in the mid-1970s. One of them was an almost perfectly framed photo of the main elevation.  This picture helped me to finally understand how the engineers designed the structure back in the fifties. Finally, the beams and columns started to align perfectly with the silos they were supporting and the track alignment made sense.

Ciment St-Laurent - Scale Drawings

I must admit nothing is more rewarding than contemplating a well-crafted set of plans and I certainly want to tip my hat to the men that built this cement plant. As mundane the subject was, the great care to optimize the various components gave rise to an emblematic plant that had genuine architectural merit. Most cement plants are ugly ducklings; nothing more than materialized industrial process. But I’m pretty convinced Ciment St-Laurent wanted its production site, located on one of the major road of the time before the highway boom of the 1960s, to be a flagship. And they did succeed. For proof, I recall a set of professional pictures shot in the mid-1950s showing the cement plant under extremely artistic angles. It was beautiful and could have made any photograph exhibits in town. Unfortunately, that a big part of corporate pride no longer exist and it’s why I want to be sure my model will live up to the prototype.

I certainly wish to quickly find out a way to build this model in an efficient way.