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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thinking Out Loud - Part 9

I think it’s never a bad idea to revisit older concepts from time to time because new information is always unearthed in the most unpredictable ways. If you are like me, you have a dedicated folder on your computer hard drive with several subfolders dedicated to specific layout projects and prototypes. Over the year, most "newer" prototypes are rehashes and refinements of older concepts. A few recent examples are related to recently discussed ideas about a “future” layout of mine. Let's see how thing evolved over the last few weeks.


Last Friday, I met Jérôme to deliver the first batch of weathered boxcars to Erie’s Harlem Station. He showed me old CN Murray Bay subdivision timetables ranging from the 40s up to 1992. The information in it was very interesting because it puts light on the decade-long absorption of QRL&PCo into regular CNR operation from 1951 to 1959.

Another interesting aspect was that older timetable cared to identify private sidings by their customers’ name and car lenght. Strangely, only Dominion Textile never appears on timetables… my guess is their siding was considered to be not privately-owned. But the best part was about Montmorency Distillery. All timetables listing this industry mentioned two sidings for the company. One facing East and one facing West. According to CNR documentation, they were two distinct and unconnected sidings. I’m not the kind of guy to take information at face-value, but all other sidings listed in the timetables were strictly correct. The weird thing is that my copy of CN early 1980 movie over the subdivision clearly shows both Montmorency Distillery sidings to be connected: it’s a double-ended siding.

Unfortunately, later timetables dropped the concept of listing private sidings. So, the big question is if the sidings were merged together later in the late 60s or 70s or the listing of them as separate entities was an error. Surprisingly enough, Omer Lavallée’s 1959 track diagram of the line (otherwise very precise), don’t list any siding for Montmorency Distillery while they are attested by historic photographs and he travelled the road often. Well, that leaves me with something to search and only CNR engineering diagrams could put the issue at rest.

However, from a layout point of view, the two-ended siding is a blessing. When I designed the S scale Beaupré layout plan, I was concerned only eastbound trains could handle operation but not, we can clearly assumed the distillery was switched on both directions, making it much more interesting in the long run.



I used to think sound was a gimmick and now I find I’m no longer able to operate without it. I made a scale mockup of Lehigh Valley New Woodstock station during the week end to test the operation potential. A printed track diagram on a hollow core door, tracks and a few boxes were enough to get into action in a matter of minutes.

However, operation was DC and quickly, making precise moves at slow speed without sound lacked interest. It seems to me the sound is much more than an ambiance, it is an indication about what’s happening. Every small action is accompanied by a sound “consequence” that makes sense and bring a touch of reality. Remove the sound and there is no longer consequence to the performed act of switching. In the end, I found out New Woodstock was extremely boring but I know I can’t use this experiment to ditch such a generic and common station track plan. Because of the lack of sound and the fact the layout height was low I wasn’t feeling I was part of the action going on. To me, being immersed in a scene is the primordial goal in model railroading. When I was 4 years old, I used to watch my Bachmann trainset with my head put against the floor and with an eye closed to see the action from a realistic point of view.

But the lesson is learned: never underestimate how the way you interact with a model can dramatically change your perception. Next time I mock up a layout, I'll do it at a decent height and with my NCE Power Cab DCC. It won't take more time to set up and I'm guaranteed to get results closer to the condition I would operate a real layout.

More Dangerous Gimmicks

Continuing with the concept of immersion, I’ve always felt Ciment St-Laurent was a nice big industry but that something was desperately lacking when switching it. Nothing is more boring that shoving hoppers over an unloading pits. Sure, you can set a time limit per car before moving the next one, but it feels fake and a pure waste of time because it seems nothing happens.

There is only one way to bring interest and it’s to “physically” make something happen. Setting a car over the pit must trigger a consequence, an action that legitimates that you wait before resuming your move. It can be performed by sound or by real action (or both in an ideal world), but simply looking at your watch for a given amount of time isn't enough. At some point, it's so artificial you'll skip it out of boredom or simply because your brain don't see the point to wait when nothing really happens. In that respect, sound is the easiest and most convincing way. When a hopper is spotted, the sound of an unloading car is heard for a realistic amount of time. When the sound ends, you remove the fake load and spot the next hopper. This is the easiest way out there. Add the ongoing surrounding sound of the conveyor and you are in business!

The next option is more akin to a gimmick, but nevertheless could be interesting if correctly implemented. You use live load and the hopper is emptied for real into the pit. While attractive, this system is far to be fool proof. I’ve seen many videos online of realistic loading of hopper, but unloading them is far less practical. But that said, the old toyish Tyco hopper car, while not prototypically interesting, self-unload pretty well. The system being basically a kid toy is almost fool proof. It could definitely be adapted and improved for realistic coal unit train operations. Unfortunately, the system works better with cars in motion, which doesn’t fit the criteria of a car that must be spotted first.

Another older design for a self-unloading scale hopper was made by Ulrich back in the 50s and 60s. This time, the hopper realistically reproduce a common 3-bay car that can be used on many layouts. The unloading mechanism is hidden in the underframe and subtle enough to not be detracting. Unfortunately, information is scarce and I didn’t find anything about the efficiency of the system or car unloading time. That said, after studying Ulrich original instruction sheet, I firmly believe one could fit their metal underframe and mechanism under a modern and well-detailed plastic shell. In fact, having an all metal underframe would enhance the car weight which would be a good thing.

Such systems, while extremely attractive in concept, needs to be experimented. In my case, the unloading track is also used to sort out other cars (including hoppers) which mean the unloading device between the rails should be removable or not interfere with other actions. Another problem is that while the Ulrich system is compatible with older 3-bay hoppers, it isn’t with more modern or larger prototypes. It means I would have to reproduce that mechanism in different sizes and configurations to fit other specific cars. That could prove to be a foolish attempt plagued with frustration.

Finally, while self-unloading scale hoppers are a nice idea, they seem to be extremely fast to unload (at least, the Tyco version). To be honest, they seem to be faster than a real car and a realistic sound file could last (but some real-life hopper unloading time is quite fast according to videos on YouTube). So we are back to square one for this one. In the end, it seems a decent sound file and removable loads should do a better job with less efforts. That said, I’m still curious about the Ulrich car. If anybody has experience with this hopper, let me know.

Temiscouata As It Should Be?

If people could probe my mind in the last two months, they would see a labyrinth of thoughts, concepts and ideas. I think the “Thinking Out Loud” series gave a good instant picture about how I can connect diverting interests. Among all that mess, it seems my interest to model Temiscouata railway as it was in the early 20th century is winning over a later period rendition.

I went back and studied my motive power diagram compiled from the roster. What will follow is only speculation based on available information and cold hard facts. The 1948 Railroad Magazine article by Mike Runey was interesting, but mainly covered operations after the heydays.

When you look at the roster, it seems the new 4-6-0 started to be added to the roster circa 1910s, mainly to pull heavier freight trains. Funnily enough, this is exactly the moment when Temiscouata ceased to be a relatively isolated branchline and became somewhat a bridge line between various between New Brunswick and Quebec. The new National Transcontinental line and various other factors probably increased local traffic over Temiscouata, requiring more modern and powerful locomotives which incidently, were acquired second-hand from contractors building the NTR line. On the other hand, we could speculate NTR was a shortcut and prime competitor for long distance traffic between Quebec and New Brunswick. The Monk subdivision was built over an ingrate landscape but to exacting standards, making it a fast mainline served by state of the art locomotives. It was far to be the case with Temiscouata. However, we must take in account railways were still in their pre-WW1 expansion without any worthy competition.

It is interesting to note that even if 4-6-0 were in use in the 1910s, a large amount of 4-4-0 were kept in service. This fact can indicate the need for power was substantial and new locomotives weren’t bough to replace older engines but to provide additional steel horses to catch up with growing business. The diagram show that prior to the 1920s, about half the fleet were 4-4-0. Interestingly, the longest trains and steepest grades were all between Rivière-du-Loup and Edmunston because the line crossed the St. Lawrence and St. John rivers divide. On the other hand, the Connor Branch was a relatively flat water level road following the St. John River north shore. Knowing Temiscouata operated 4 daily trains (2 on Connors Branch ), we can imply a substantial amount of motive power was allocated to service Connors to pull freight and passenger trains.

That means we can surmise most old 4-4-0 were used over the Connors Branch while the 4-6-0 worked on the mainline to pull freight consist over the steep grade near Rivière-du-Loup. In fact, old pictures seem to support this hypothesis because most of the time the 4-4-0 are shot while working at Connors when 4-6-0 are often seen near Rivière-du-Loup or Edmunston. Sure, we know 4-6-0 ventured to Connors, but that information comes from the later period and I suspect, at least circa 1910, the very first 4-6-0 available worked on the mainline. This is a personal hypothesis and I could also be wrong.

Temiscouata #8 as built in 1909 by MLW (Al Paterson Collection, "Canadian National Steam! Volume 4)

Now, when piecing together these circumstantial observations, I come to the conclusion Connors was mainly served by 4-4-0 for during the first two decades of Temiscouata history, maybe later. The grades and the traffic wouldn’t have made a good use of 4-6-0 when the rest of the line was far more challenging. With the acquisition of more 4-6-0, declining traffic and aging 4-4-0, the American Standard became a rarity rather than a norm over Temiscouata.

Temiscouata #4 built in 1888 by Manchester (credit: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent)

I'm pleased to say I already have all the required parts to build a good fleet (let’s say about 3 locomotives: 2 regulars and one spare). The Bachmann modern 4-4-0 is a good starting point to model the most recent locomotives serving Connors while the old IHC Genoa is an excellent starting point to model older locomotives from the 1870. A good picture of locomotive #4 exists and it’s a good match. Sure the IHC locomotive is OO scale, but given I’m not modelling an early 1860s 4-4-0 but something newer and bigger, it should fit the bill better. I have also an Athearn/Roundhouse 2-6-0 with high drivers. This locomotive could be converted into a 4-4-0 by removing the front driver and replacing the pilot wheel with a truck. Even the superstructure could be altered significantly by using a Bachmann 4-4-0 shell.

Also, it is interesting to note that Connors Branch, back in the early days, saw more traffic and was served by four daily trains (2 freight and 2 passenger trains). This makes for slightly longer trains and complex operation.

From a rolling stock perspective, old photographs also show more Temiscouata lettered cars in the first years of operation than during the late 40s, showing that the declining railway didn’t invest in its own fleet after a certain point in history (on the other hand, ORER are a very fine tool to figure out the fleet). As I said in a previous spot, I think Temiscouata is interesting in every period, but I must admit the sweet spot is still in the early 1910s when the line was connected with the National Transcontinental and Canadian Pacific in Edmundston. Add to this that the as-built Connors track plan is well-known while the later version can only be implied from partial photographic evidence until real track diagram or timetable can give a reliable overall portrait. 

As Trevor Marshall suggested, Connors could be operated both as an early 1900s railway and as a dwindling late 40s line. Each structures could be built twice; in its original colors and in an altered and weathered version. Since the amount of structure is very limited, that wouldn’t be a crushing endeavour, but rather a nice way to beef up the modelling potential. As much as I’m fascinated with early 1900s Canadian railways, I can’t brush off my interest for more modern eras. Trevor’s suggestion cover both bases without too much problem except for glossing over the fact Connors track plan did evolve over the time.

Finally, the biggest decision is to base Connors on a definite track plan. I drafted two versions showing the evolution of tracks. It sure ain't 100% accurate, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieved. As you can see, after a while, the turnouts were significantly rationalized to optimize operation. Personally, I think the oldest version is interesting for a particular reason: most moves are done in front of the station. Remember when I talked about immersion. This is particularly crucial on a small layout where you want to maximize the impression of distance. Concentrating the switching moves in front of the build structures is a good way to immerse yourself in Connors instead of using a non descript main line in the middle of meadows. To me, this is an important aspect. We pour efforts in reproducing scale version of fancy structures and I believe they should play a more important role than background decoration, particularly when they are directly related to the railway.

So, 1894 or circa 1948? I think I've made my choice! And you? 

By the way, if you are interested to learn more about Temiscouata Raiway, it's region, Rivière-du-Loup and Intercolonial Railway, it's nice to know Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent put together a bilingual virtual museum named "À fond de train" (At Full Throttle) well worth a visit. Lots of very old photos of early Canadian railways including the original Grand Trunk line to Rivière-du-Loup.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Pair of True Line PSC Cabooses

Once upon a time, there was a project of making a RTR HO PSC caboose... then a bunch of stuff (evil and not so evil) happened and as any tale, there was a happy ending. And fortunately and not so fortunately, I was sitting in the front row from the beginning. But eh, you faith can move mountains isn't it?

One Sylvan Scale (weathered) and two True Line Trains (at right)

That said, I recently got my pair of Pointe Saint-Charles cabooses two weeks ago. I won't start nitpicking, I think everything was said about these cars over the last few weeks. But generally, they are quite nice and an improvement over my Sylvan Scale resin kit built in my college days when I thought CA glue was the hottest thing in town.

Unfortunately, the True Line model share the same despicable defect Rapido's Angus van had: the dreaded greenish Martian interior lighting. I don't know if I'm alone to fundamentally hate interior lighting, but someone has to make them realize bad lighting is worst than no lighting at all.

The amount of lighting inside that car compete with Belgian expressways!

First of all, I'm young, but old enough to have seen countless PSC cabooses running in my hometown 4 times per day over a decade. While I have vivid memories of these little orange cars, I certainly don't remember them to be lighted in such a way. Most of the time, they were dark and during night time the lights were faint as if it was some haunted house from Scooby-Doo.

The problem is True Line and Rapido lighting is overkill. When the model is under daylight conditions, you can still see the windows glowing in their caricatural greenish hue. I didn't try with lights turn off, but I guess they cast shadows like my childhood Bachmann F9. For the anecdote, let's recall the headlight of my dear F9 burnt out when I was a kid. My older brother, who was already an avid electronic freaks replaced it with a Christmas tree light bulb. The bulb was originally green but he carefully scrapped off the green translucent paint. Unfortunately, the glass kept a certain amount of green and thus the locomotive started to glow in an eerie green hue... Now, to my delight, both manufacturers bring back some childhood memories in the form of expensive piece of rolling stock. Imagine my dismay.

But seriously, I understand the idea. It would be neat if the light wasn't so green and if they dimmed it like it should. That would be truly great. But I'm sure many people already modified their caboose to dim the light.

And if you ask me why I nitpick on such a subject, it's because I have nothing to say against the caboose and it was a good occasion to bring back dear memories! Now, I have a few months to gather my courage and weather them!