Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Modelling Spring Trees...

As most of you have probably suspected, I’m extremely busy with several other non-train related projects. Everything should be back by early April. However, our weekly club meetings do still happen and I was able to experiment a little bit with vegetation.

Sometimes, you venture in particular modelling topics without having even learned the basics. In my case, it’s all about tree making which I never really care about until recently since I never reach that stage with any other previous layout. And well, before talking about today’s topic, this is another good proof wasting time and resources on building a “dream layout” (aka basement empire) may lead you to never accomplish anything and learn very little even if you’ve been in the hobby for decades.

I wouldn’t write about modelling trees here if I was doing the habitual stuff: deciduous trees with or without foliage or conifers. Lots of information already exists about this subject and I feel having Gordon Gravett’s excellent series of book on trees and landscaping is already a great start.

However, a few years ago, I had the not so bright idea to model the moment trees are burgeoning and small and light green leaves appear. It’s one of these impressive moments of the year when you can truly feel the seasons are changing… and for the best since it heralds the summer to come. It has become a kind of tradition for our club, but generally, on that particular week end, we go railfanning and admire the blooming nature as train runs through revived scenery. I guess this feeling got the best part of me when selecting the season.

Unfortunately, this period of the year is hard to model using traditional means. Forget commercial leaf materials such as Noch because they are out of scale and can’t really model convincingly tiny budding leaves. I tried them and it looks absolutely wrong since you have to use them sparingly.

From this point on, I thought only painting the armatures various shades of brown, tan and gray to fit poplar, birch and other such trees would be OK. It was OK, but everything looked quite grey and didn’t fit the vivid photo backdrop at all. In a word, it was looking too much like the dead season.

Thinking about it again, it was evident two parameters had to be set to reach the goal: texture and color.

The new trees. They aren't as dark as pictures, but a another mist of light green will be required.
In spring, buds grow bigger and bigger, making the branches looking larger and denser than they really are. In modelling terms, it means your trees will required a very fine and dense branch system. While the fine wire-made trees could do the job, they lack the “expansiveness” of real life springtime branches. In that regard, Scenic Express Super Trees are more suitable for that purpose since they have a radiating structure that can replicate what we see during spring.

Color is the second parameter and it must be the right tender light green to convey the feeling of fresh budding leaves. However, as I mentioned previously, leaves must be really tiny. In HO scale, it means they have virtually no dimension. It can only be achieve using paint and I must acknowledge Louis-Marie and Jérôme to have suggested this to me.

Here’s what I found out last week when I took into account their suggestion. As I usually did, I spray painted many Super Trees armature with various shades of tan, gray and other earth color to fit the bark of poplar and other similar deciduous trees that grow along the shores of Rivière Malbaie. When dry, I misted a several very fine coat of light green spray paint over the top of the trees (just a puff at a time). When done carefully and from a sufficient distance, only the branch ends get covered in paint, creating the illusion of leaves and keeping the trunk and large branches intact.

Not all my trees were successful as seen on the pictures, mainly because I over sprayed the trunks with green and will need to touch them up. But in general, the result is clearly closer to what I had in mind. The light green paint really brings life to the trees and gives them much more volume. Also, I think I’ll add more green in the future since prototype pictures show the leaves are quite vibrant and it still not the case with my models. More care will also be required when painting the armatures. It is evident they should be lighter to better contrast with the forest floor.

Also, I suspect the same technic could be applied to represent cherry, apple, plum trees and other similar species in early bloom.

The process is far from done, but I think this small mock-up on the layout gives a good idea of what can be achieved. Evidently, much more vegetation will have to be added, like small bushes, weeds and grass. They will give more depth, texture and color to the scene, which will be useful to set the layout in Spring rather than Fall as has been hinted my many people.

Oh, and even if I already knew layouts consume trees at an alarming rate, I didn’t expect it to be so much. I believe about 3 entire boxes of Super Trees will be required to complete Clermont alone!

By the wat, the other protected grade crossing is progressing at a fast pace.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Grade Crossing Signals - Almost Completed

It took us a few months, but the first pair of grade crossing signals are now built, decorated and painted. Requiring the combined efforts of three man, the results are beyond our initial expectation. Some fine tuning is still required, but it is an amazing addition to the layout and operations.

It's a shame this special signal is only seen from the back! But that wouldn't be rewarding to cut corners!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Coop Agrivoix New Sign

Jérôme recently informed me he had pictures of Coop Agrivoix before the wooden grain elevator was torn down in the late 2000s. Looking at them revealed the Coop had a very large sign on it's side which I decided to replicate.

The sign is basically a cropped photograph that was printed on light cardboard. The framing was also printed, cut and glued on the photograph. Another layer of cardboard was added on the back to give more relief and strenght to the sign.

It was then glued on the building, adding another layer of detail to this structure.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Given & Druthers - What's Wrong With It?

Listening TrainMasters TV episode2 of their TOMA project prompted me to understand with I always had a problem with that "Givens and Druthers" thing. While often referenced as a great way to build a layout, I always thought it was in fact the best way to paint yourself in the corner of the room. No offense to John Armstrong how was probably a leading mind in the hobby back then, but I think most folk will overlook an important ingredient to make that "recipe" work.

...and that's the problem. People think the G&D approach is a recipe. Throw you favorite ingredients and you'll get you favorite cake, isn't it? Not really.

Any person with a minimal knowledge of meal preparation knows not only you need to have the right ingredients, but even more important is having the right quantities. While you quantity the elements in anything related to chemistry, you have to use hierarchization when tackling a very subjective artistic problem like a layout. Failing to understand that is the best way to get the most indigest cake you've ever ate and end up hating it for a very long time.

G&D is a good way to find out your interest and general parameters, but it's not the first step and far to be the last one. G&D rarely address your available hobby time, resources or skills... and it doesn't help to set some hierarchy among the elements that will become your building blocks.

Everybody knows any project is made of compromises. You have to choose among various options and that can't be done without comparative the value of each one. Depending on individuals, the value of each element will be different, that's a given! Thus, what works for others won't probably work flawlessly for you. Didn't I say previously there wasn't a recipe... but only a method. Once you know the relative value of your given and druthers, you can really start to see the project shaping up. Each time you'll face an issue, you'll be equipped to make an educated choice and focus your effort on what really matters, bringing a sense of coherence and purpose to your work.

And before people start to bash my critic of John Armstrong, let me say that it is clear he had in mind the G&D could only work within hierarchization. In fact, the G&D can be a good preliminary tool to identify your building blocks and start to put them in order. Unfortunately, it seems this is often overlooked by most people using John's interesting way to organize layout building. In that regard, many sins by confusing what was a method as a recipe. Let not fool yourself by the candy store, or you'll get a few extra cavities!

And never forget a tool doesn't decide for yourself as much sophisticated it is...

Working Grade Crossing Signals

Last wednesday, we tested the grade crossing signals in Villeneuve during an actual operating session at the cement plant. While it didn't work flawlessly since detection times still have to be fine tuned, it was a generally pleasant addition.

I feared it would be only a gimmick, but in fact it added another level of interest. The signals help to better implement the rule when doing switching moves where a street is located. In that regard, implementing slow speed made a lot of sense. Also, a manual on-off switch was added to control the signals at will during certain situations.

The other grade signals will soon follow on D'Estimauville avenue. As a matter of fact, all protected crossings are in the urban part of the layout while the other ones in the rural parts use regular crossbucks. I feel it helps to differentiate the scenes and type of operation you have to do.

Meanwhile, the same evening we looked at old Villeneuve pictures from the 80s and mid-90s and found out insulated boxcars were still served the cement plant regularly. Many were spotted at the warehouse. Thus, I decided to reroute two Walthers insulated cars to the plant. They used to be in newsprint service to Clermont, but I seldom used them since they looked awkward (Walthers had the tendency to paint its moden CN rolling stock dark chocolate brown). In a future rebuild program, they will be repainted and get some additional details and modifications.

Just for fun, here's the consist used to test the grade crossing. It was probably one of the largest train we ever assembled to serve the plant but it served it's purpose admirably while performing real operation.

The consist was pulled by a pair of GMD1, but before leaving D'Estimauville, the dispatcher decided that engine 1906 was enough for the job.

The first part of the job was to pick up a unit of gypsum and coal hoppers stored on the siding.

When done, the crew waited the autorization to leave D'Estimauville up to Villeneuve.

In a matter of a few minutes, the GMD1 was building up speed pulling its 23-car long consist. Another proof you don't need a huge empire to run long realistic trains with a purpose.

It should be noted that using D'Estimauville as a scenicked staging area have many benefits including some work required to build up the train depending what is stored on the siding. It's not a big operation, but it is enough to get the feeling you have to set up your train before going somewhere. Generally, about 50% of the cars are left on the siding while the locomotives, a few cars and trains emerge from the hidden staging area as if they arrived from Limoilou yard. I think setting up a proper departure is a good way to be in the right mood. And since D'Estimauville as a spartan track plan, it's a good way for visitors to get a hang of how the layout work, i.e., a tutorial.

1/87 Modern Farm Tractors

Finally, I received a nice 1/87 Massey Fergusson tractor ordered from AliExpress recently. Made by United Hobbies, this HO scale keychain (yes! you read that right) is a fairly accurate depiction of a classic MF 135 tractor.

Over the year, I've always been puzzled by people dotting their 70s, 80s and 90s farm scene with old Farmall tractors. While they certainly served for decades, you hardly set the era right on a layout using them. On the other hand, other prototypes were all too modern, fitting the 1990s and 2000s. They generally represent European or very large tractors only found on big farms. In between, there was almost nothing so I was glad to discover a decent mid-sized tractor and one that was sold bu the thousands in the good old days.

However, keep in mind the UH model is a little bit crude to be displayed in the foreground, particularly the front wheel width, the three-point coupling system and driving wheel. However, someone could easily fix that up if wanted. Except that, it is a good representation of the real thing with a nice paint job. I suspect this model could truly shine with a good waethering.

To be noted, UH also produce other farm equipments in it's 1/87 keychain product line thought I think they look a little bit cruder and less suitable for a layout.

By the way, the road in Clermont is progressing nicely. I used a DAP Pre-mix Concrete Patch putty. While it's a little bit coarse, it can be sanded down to some extent. It also requires more than a coat because it can crack when drying. The color is quite good and the material is kind of rubberized when cured. It means it can be easily removed but will also not crack if applied over joints and different materials. I picked up the trick from Ken Patterson's What's Neat videos. It's not a 100% fool-proof method, but I'll see what can be done with it. Unfortunately, while quite cheap, I wasn't able to locate a single hardware store that sold the stuff in Canada. It wouldn't certainly not become my weapon of choice when dealing with roads but it certainly does the job.