Thursday, February 16, 2017

More Typical Operation in Charlevoix...

Train #422 assigned motive power ready to pick up the consist bound to Clermont.

Today, we review another job scheduled during the last operating session. Yet again, nothing fancy, but you'll see that spicing up the game doesn't require to add more track or industry...

Train #422 includes many cotton boxcars for Dominion Textile.

When I staged train #422 eastbound to Clermont. Jérôme was on duty and he asked for some "challenge" which was a clear miscalculation on his part. But well, I've learned since a long time you can throw the worst puzzle to this guy and he will find his way out: he's a professional after all.

And several empty newsprint boxcars for Donohue.

The scenerio I created was based on what was available on the layout. Remember two weeks ago I brought a series of 40ft boxcars to photograph them on the layout. They were stored on Clermont passing track and I thought it would be a nice idea to keep them there. Imagine they were extra cars stored there. Also, Coop Agrivoix still had the wrong covered hopper spotted on their track and waited to get a correct grain boxcar. Meanwhille, Donohue was full capacity and so was Dominion Textile... I could already sense working the area would be slightly more challenging than usual.

Train #422 slowly crawl along Charlevoix's coves.

To make things more complicated, train #422 had 16 cars, clearly 8 cars too long for the runaround at the end of the line... and that didn't count the 7 extra cars cluttering the said runaround in Clermont. 

Only to find Clermont "yard" is already full of extra cars.

Power was provided by a pair of powerful Atlas RS18. They would have to pull a train weighing about 8 lbs. We knew it would be enough for the job even if the 23.5" radius and 1.5% short grade on the peninsula could cause problems.

Some serious work has to be done to clear the mess.

As should be expected from Jérôme, he overcame the challenge nicely and decided that every extra cars in Clermont should be returned to Limoilou yard. This element of creativity was the only way to solve the puzzle and would make a lot of sense from a railway company's perspective.

At the end of the day, Coop Agrivoix finally gets two full grain boxcars.

Ninety minutes later, train #423 rumbled through Villeneuve at notch 8, pulling 21 cars and weighing about 10.5 lbs after a hard day... The train disappeared in Limoilou and every cars went back into the drawers.

After intensive switching at the paper mill, train #423 leaves Clermont.

Incidently, it was a good occasion to rearrange the drawers, pulling out every cars that had nothing to do with the layout and bringing more order into the "Team Track" drawer to make it more user friendly.

En route for Québec City...

Simplicity and Informal Operation

We often stage such informal operation sessions. Rarely use the formal recipe used when we have visitors because it would require a lot of work for something we are already accustomed. We will explore why in the following paragraphs, but you should know our club meetings are generally one evening per week with a big part of time dedicated to building the layout and improving rolling stock and locomotives. Often, one member will operate while others do something else. In that regard, keeping things simple and easy to set make sure operation can be done on the spot when desirable.

In our case studies, each operation session was set in less than 5 minutes and didn't require any switch list or written order. Instructions were given prior to departure including the jobs to do at each location. Additional instructions were given on the the spot in the same manner a plan manager would have done.

Sure, I'd like to implement a switchlist system with cars selected automatically by a computer, but for the moment, it is not required, at least not when operating with our club core members. Some would say we are doign informal operation, but that's not the case wince every move and cars have well-defined purposed. However, the layout is very simple, the customer routines are well-established and the pool of cars is quite self-explanatory. The only element to determine is if a car is ready to leave or must stay on spot. And that can be done quite easily by playing the customer's role when required.

My point here is that "serious" and prototypical operation doesn't always require extensive paperwork, particularly when your layout didn't reach that stage yet. It can be achieved by simply following the railroad practices as required by the situation. In our case, writing a switchlist for Jérôme or myself is a pure waste of time. We know the layout by heart. Only a computer-generated switchlist could be interesting because it is unpredictable. Being human, I'm bound to create recurring patterns inconsciously, which isn't the case with the computer. However, the patterns have never had a significative impact on a session enjoyment. Most Murray Bay trains of the 80s were highly predictable anyway. But I must admit I have a tendency to forget some irregular customers such as Béton Charlevoix, General Cables and other invisible team track customers. JMRI wouldn't overlook these as much as I do.

We also came to the conclusion most visitors aren't actually interested in prototypical operation. A big part of the crowd just want to run long trains... which can't be achieved on our point-to-point layout. I've been curious to see if this is a mainstream approach, but I often get the hunch not that much people are interested by the operation aspect of trains in Quebec. I'm well aware I could be highly biased due to  my personal experience though. The echo chamber can be extremely deceptive on such a subject matter. But I'd say I know much more people I'd call "runners" than "operators". Running a prototypically correct consists matters more than operating it. And I'm not judging anybody here since both are interesting activities that bring their share of joy.

That said, I'm pretty sure designing a large club layout to suit the divergent tastes of many model railroaders must be a soul crushing inferno made of compromise... not sure I'd like to venture there...

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Some Typical Operations in Villeneuve

It was a matter of time before a nasty cold would affect me and it sure did this weekend, bringing modelling almost to a halt (exception made for slowly converting a bunch of crappy Roundhouse 50ft boxcars into decent CPR cars).

However, a few days before the cold hit hard, I had the chance to operate the layout a little bit while a future asphalt road was drying in Clermont. Nothing fancy, but I wanted to show want a very simple switching run can become when you take time to do it right.

Having read some recent articles on Facebook by Bob Fallowfield about the joy of operating a "small" layout, I decided to time the process. I took slightly more than an hour to perform at a decent pace, taking time to apply brake, do the air tests and many other little things.

The first train to run that evening was Limoilou switcher. The train was scheduled to bring two empty cement cars, two loaded gypsum hoppers and three empty insulated boxcars to Ciment St-Laurent, then switch the plant and bring back the outbound cars to Limoilou. On duty was a trusty Rapido 4-axle GMD1 #1906. Let's see the pictures...

CN 1906 is arriving in D'Estimauville to pick up cars.

CN 1906 pick up the cars on the siding.

A group of 3 insulated boxcars are seen on the consist.

Time for an air brake test before departing.

Setting up boxcars and cement hoppers at the cement plant loading bays.

Unloading a cut of coal and gypsum hoppers over the conveyor.

Ready to pickup the caboose before leaving Villeneuve.

Another air brake test.

The train enter Limoilou reaches Limoilou yard few minutes later.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Weathering the Proto 1000 NSC Newsprint Boxcar Fleet

CV boxcar weathered with usual weathering powder techniques and washes.

The art of weathering is generally considered from the modern concept of “rust buckets” point of view. While quite pertinent for our era, the further you go back in time the less you are to find them, except in very specific occasions or type of services.

CV boxcar faded with Pan Pastel with lettering cleaned after application.

My recollections of CN trains in the 1980s are somewhat clear: locomotives had a subtle layer on dirt on the cab but the paint was otherwise in excellent shape, cabooses were relatively clean with a light layer of darker dirt and cars were most of the time very clean except a few ones in ballast service. Only the cement cars were a real mess and even then, not to the point of being rust buckets.

DW&P boxcar weathered using only the airbrush and light washes.

Murray Bay being a subdivision mainly dedicated to newsprint transport, most cars were in excellent condition and generally at the top of their game due to the commodity. I don’t ever recall seeing rusted cars with peeling paint. The big difference was that some were faded while newer ones still had their fresh glossy finish.

While this is all uncertain memories from 30 years ago, looking through pictures from the 80s made clear to me newsprint cars were indeed in good shape. It’s why when I decided to weather my Proto 1000 NSC newsprint boxcars, I decided to keep things subtle.

Following prototype pictures, I was able to determine CV boxcars with yellow doors were indeed covered by a substantial amount of dirt, but all the other boxcars were quite pristine. At this point, it was clear that the big part of the job would be to fade the paint. And fading didn’t mean a generic coat over the model, but rather a modulation of colors as seen on the prototype.

To achieve this effect, I tried Pan Pastels then weathering powders. The first ones require too much effort for what I was trying to achieve while the second ones makes stark contrasts. Very useful, but definitely not for lightly weathered model.

I then decided to only use my airbrush and very light washes to achieve the effect. This is a technique I experimented last summer when weathering the Harlem Station layout rolling stock fleet. Basically, here are the few steps I followed over a period of few days.

First, car roofs were painted with a coat of lightly oxydized galvanized steel. My father worked with metal most of his life and I’m well aware galvanized steel or aluminium paint never keep their shiny and sparkling appearance. Most modellers will use a metallic paint out from the bottle then weather it, but I find it a bad way to achieve the correct color. Instead, I generally mix my custom color using aluminium and white paints to get a whitish slightly metallic look. Some drop of black can be used to vary the final tone or to give variety among a fleet. This makes for an extremely nice base to apply weathering.

When the model is ready, here are the steps to weather the car:
-Fade the model with a white wash applied evenly;
-Highlight the middle of each steel panel with the white wash;
-Add contrast and shadow over rivets and seems using an India Ink + alcohol mix (this can be achieve with any grungy colored wash);
-Add more dirt with the India ink mix at the seam between the roof and sides, between the car ends ribs, on the lower part of the ends, on the sill, behind the ladders, on each side of the door and along the tracks and plug door rods;
-Cover the roof with an even coat of India ink mix;
-Use oil paint to create streaking pattern on the roof panel ridges and along the door tracks;
-Apply the white fading wash over the roof to bring the various effect together under a coat of dust;
-Apply dust projection on the car sills and ends using a tan color wash;
-Paint the trucks and wheel with dark brown and weather them with rust and black weathering powder.

It’s good to note many steps were followed by a liberal application to seal the weathering. I still can see some areas of improvement like adding waybills and recoloring some tack board to represents distressed wood as seen on some random cars.

At the end of the day, light and subtle weathering requires much more effort than medium weathering. The reason is that you need to follow many steps to build up the fading effect while exerting a lot of restraint to not overdue it. The goal is to create subtle color variation instead of stark contrasts associated with heavily weathered cars. I’m well aware this kind of weathering effects is often used by aircraft and military modellers. The trick is to use very light washes and build up the effect. Unfortunately, this kind of weathering is rarely referenced in model railroading even if many modellers do use it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Kitbashed CN MoW Pickup - Part 1

Among many projects going on, it's time to complete the CN vehicle fleet. I don't want this fleet to be too big. I've seen my share of layouts covered in fire trucks, work trains and MoW equipment. Just enough is required to set both the era and the corporate image of the railway.

This time, I'm using a Trident Chevrolet Blazer and a Mini Metal MoW trucks. I'm not following a special prototype, but common wisdom.

The Bronco's rear part was cut and salvaged because it could be used on another project. The Mini Metal MoW rear part with tool boxes and wheels are used. The Trident underframe was split in two to fit the new vehicle lenght.

At this point I'm satisfied with the look and started to make a new cab rear wall out of styrene. Everything will be painted in CN Orange and lettered with Highball CN MoW truck decals. Mini Metal hi-rail sets of wheels will be attached later.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Electronics & Open House

Last club meeting was an open house thus I didn't venture in complicated scenery work but tackled another CN vehicle project which will soon be featured.

That didn't prevent us from installing a pair of custom built signal on Sous-bois street in Villeneuve. Programming the circuitry to fine tune detection isn't exactly a piece of cake, but it is progressing steadily. When that will be figured out, we will start to dress up the signals with details and paint.

Another electronic project came to life out of necessity. Recently, both Atlas CN zebra RS18 got serious decoder issues that required a factory reset. However, when you pair a decoder with a keep alive, it is no longer possible to do it. So, instead of removing the keep alive each time we have a problem, we decided to install a small micro switch hidden in the fuel tank. It works perfectly and didn't required any modification to the model shell or frame.

Finally, a visitor brought is SP Daylight cars to show off. He is actually in the process of replicating that iconic train. He got about half of the 20-something required cars and have ordered the locomotives. While I'm not a passenger fan, the cars are extremely attractive and well done. They are made by MTH and BLI.

It certainly was a good occasion to see if the nicely replicated diaphragm could handle our 23 inches minimum radius... without problem! I was even surprised by the fact they didn't look too bad. This is certainly the kind of train you run on a very large club layout with broad curves.