Wednesday, September 19, 2018

LLPX GP15-1 - Part 1

Back to some Hedley Junction stuff after (almost) completing my room cleaning up and collection reorganization. That brings me to the point of having correct motive power for the modern CFC and funnily enough, it seems the first locomotives to hit our rails will be the last ones we witnessed on the prototype.

LLPX GP15-1s pulling the last freight train on Murray Bay Subdivision (credit: Jérôme Langlois-Lavoie)

LLPX GP15-1s were the last regular motive power used on CFC from circa 2002 until 2011 when they pulled the last freight train to ever grace the rails of Murray Bay Subdivision.

A typical motive power consist between circa 2006 (credit: Jérôme Langlois-Lavoie)

They were plain, ugly, dirty and were devoid of any redeeming (visual) qualities (look for yourself) to the point nobody cared about them. Being on lease and never painted with the road scheme, their patched Conrail ancestry only made them more miserable and soulless . However, life is a strange thing and a decade later, nostalgia and love for industrial grime make them much more interesting from a modelling perspective than I could have thought back then. But I'll be honest here, it's my first time modelling locomotives I basically don't like and it's... weird.

Dirt and grime were a common sight on GP15-1s (credit: Jérôme Langlois-Lavoie)

Their brutish appearance speaks about their power, the dirt about their hardworking qualities and brutish look about their utilitarian purpose. Thus, earlier this year when we firmly decided to accept the layout story was about the CFC, a pair of Athearn Genesis GP15-1 were acquired. They were virtually identical to the LLPX on CFC albeit a few modifications done later to fit the road's particular needs. I thought to myself "here's an easy project; install a Loksound decoder, add rock lights, move the horn, slap some paint patches and here we go." I was so wrong.

My experience with Athearn locomotives is limited. I used to hate their bluebox coffee grinder as a teenager and never embarked in the Genesis line because their models didn't suit my modelling choices. But now I'm stuck with them on this project. Out of the box, the locomotives look gorgeous, full of nice crisp details... and then things start to literally fall apart. These locomotives are engineered to be broken... and not opened. These locomotives have not been yet operated and the amount of things to repair or glue back in place is alarming. Add to that we had to replace every grain of wheat light bulbs. As for the shell, taking it apart is quite an exploit. I'm surprised I've succeed without trashing everything.

Original electronics stripped down before rewiring.

My point is that given the complexity of nowadays models and their intricate (thought obsolete) electronic components calls for locomotives that can be disassembled easily to perform standard maintenance or upgrade task. I certainly salute how Athearn reinvented themselves since the 2000s, but given many other manufacturers make equally complex models that can be disassembled and are sturdy enough to survive getting out of the box, this isn't an excuse.

That said, Louis-Marie is actually in the process of installing Loksound decoders, keep alives and various lights in these units. I'm also working on a way to implement sound in them too. Only God knows how much I hate working with electronics but there is no easy way out.

Rewiring and new decoder installed ready for testing.

But all things aren't bad about this project and at least it's back on track after staying in limbo for months. The funny thing is I bought RTR locomotives and ended up disassembling them! I was reluctant at first, but it was the best way to modify, detail, repaint and install complex electronics without destroying the models and resorting complicating masking tape contraptions.

Most lettering was removed with a Paasche air eraser and baking soda.

The first step was to do some soda blasting and fine wet sanding to take care of the ugly Operation Lifesaver Conrail paint scheme.

Wet sanding took care of the rest.

Some little details were removed or simply relocated like the horns and nose grabirons. Side bells on the long hood were also added. They are Miniature by Eric modified C630 bells. Sometimes, you've got to do with what you have on hand. I also replaced the flimsy stock Sinclair antennas with brass ones. Sometimes, you've got to do with what you have on hand.

New side bell and horns relocated.

Otherwise, the locomotives are in the paint shop and relettering should happen in a matter of days. Rock lights on both ends will be added later when I'll get them.

While similar in aspect each GP15-1 LLPX paint scheme varied in details.

I certainly hope to do these locomotives justice because they will be our main power for quite a while due to some missing part issues with Rapido's undecorated SW1200RS (to make a long story short, it is the last time I ever buy undecorated kit from them). Maybe they are ugly, but they are a useful requirement, just as it was on Chemin de fer Charlevoix. When paired with the old RS18u, they will look quite attractive I think!

Subtle paint scheme differences give both unit some character and distinction.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Layout Room and Old Concepts

I've often spoke about the "I Want it All" mentality, which generally ends up disrupting the best intentions in the world. Many people could thing I mean by that to only focus on one thing until a future project show up. Not really.

Since my high school days, I've been revisiting countless times the same small layout concepts, or as they should be called correctly dioramas (or cameo layouts). These themes interest me a lot, but not in a way I'd like to build a large layout based on them. Sometimes, only one aspect of an era or a specific location makes an impression on you and it is these elements that I'd like to model.

Having cleaned up a lot of my model railroad stuff over the last few weeks, I came upon several of these aborted ideas in my boxes. It could be freight cars, locomotives, structures, turnouts, etc... And since I was accessing what could be useful in the future and what will never be of any use, I had the occasion to revisit a few ideas. This is in line my goal of building a 17' x 12' hobby room in my basement later this winter and using a wall to display small shelf layouts on one wall. Among the many projects, I selected those that were small enough to be depicted full scale without compromising reality and that could still be operated with a small cassette if wanted. Also, all of them can be built to quite a good level of detail without going broke and being drowned in never-ending projects.

Here is a selection of three old projects that are likely to inspire me in the future. Track plans have been updated according to my improved design abilities.

The first layout is about Q.R.L.& P.Co. Limoilou Shops built in 1927 and still standing to this day. Back in 1998, I acquired DPM modular wall parts and started to assemble this large plant. At that time, my idea was to create a 1 feet x 6 feet long layout that could fit my bookshelf. I had no space available in my room and for a reason or another, I thought this one turnout layout was the way to go. I was fifteen years old back then and I'm still surprised how this design is still strong and didn't need any alteration on my part. Operation would be simple: switch cars at the car repair shop. It would also be a terrific diorama to display and shoot models in context. Given I love Q.R.L.& P.Co., have built many models of the line and clearly know I will never build a full layout on that theme, I think it would be the most fitting was to pay homage to this great interurban railway. And the best thing is Limoilou Shops served both the urban division streetcars and the interurban passenger and freight rolling stock. This layout would be about 12" x 16".

The second idea has been presented countless time and it is Avenue Industrielle in Limoilou, about 500 feet west from Limoilou shops. I always liked this ridiculously minuscule industrial spur and still think it would make an interesting one-turnout layout. It is compact, as character and freight car traffic quite diverse. This is a relaxing project that would show case quite well my classic CNR 1950s material. This layout would be about 12" x 80"

The third idea is an old one I visited countless time but rarely wrote about: recreating a small steam engine facility. The fascination is both for steam locomotives but also for the peculiar structures associated with a roundhouse: coal tower, sanding house, ashpit, turntable, shops, sheds, etc... I'd like to represent a mid-sized terminal, something similar to what CPR Prince Edward Street Roundhouse in Quebec City was but protofreelancing it a little bit. I wouldn't waste my time trying to cram everything on such a layout. Only the tracks connecting the roundhouse and feeding the coal tower and ancillary structures. The layout would be fully operable, but would mainly act as a display cabinet for steam power and specific MoW rolling stock. While based on a real roundhouse, I wouldn't try to match specific buildings but rather go for a generic Canadian feeling. The goal would be to kitbash structures I already have and scratchbuilt the rest as I see fit, using Canadian practices as a guide. Looking at this picture of the roundhouse at Orangeville, Ontario can only bring forward inspiration. This layout would be about 14"-16" x 80".

I would love to see these three cameo layouts stacked together on a wall, creating vignettes of what Canadian early 1950s railroading used to be. With careful lighting and setting, they would tell several connected stories and I can already imagine how their themes would play together. Each module could have a name describing its purpose: The Shops, The Roundhouse, The Spur.

With their minimalist size, they would also be easy to handle and put on a workbench to work on them. Wiring and electronics would be minimalist and shared to keep things simple.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 16 - Last Call

Hard to believe this series of blog posts is running since December 18th, 2013. Backe then, we were modelling a more or less convincing rendition of Limoilou yard in the mid-1960s with lot of Alco and MLW power in the roster. Another one of these layouts where you need about a gazillion engines to run dozens of scheduled trains you could never have time or operators to ran... Ah, the good old days!

That said, I've never regretted kitbashing these RS18 from Atlas RS11. It was a fun process and I've learned a lot... and got myself quite decent models which I weathered to my heart content. Given RS18s have been a staple of Canadian railroading since the mid-1950s to today, having a few in a collection isn't a liability at all. No wonder Rapido picked up this great prototype and I certainly can predict a lot of people will buy then by lots. I'll be honest, I'm looking forward to their versions. While I'm satisfied with my locos, I know their obvious shortcomings in term of electronic and details and wouldn't mind acquiring a chopped nosed RS18u if it ever hit the market for our Murray Bay layout..

Not to bad for a Life-Like isn't it?

But enough about consumerism fueled by commercial propaganda. On my desk there is still a last RS18 to kitbash, which is the ubiquitous NBEC 1816 (ex-CP Rai) that ran on CFC during the mid-2000s and was a fan favorite that instantly attracted railfans. I love the old worn out Multimark CP Rail scheme but I'm well aware I'll never build a CP-themed layout. Having these RS18u in Charlevoix is quite a happy coincidence and it's why I decided to complete my kitbash once for all.

The photo etched fan grill will house the twin speakers.

Will it be perfect? No, but as close as I can without loosing my mind. This locomotive will be a stand in for a while, but it's not an excuse to be sloppy and I'm trying to make the best I can out of this heavily bashed Life-Like shell. Among the CFC locomotives I can put in operation, it's the fastest project to complete. Also, I want to do some extreme weathering on this particular locomotive and this kitbash will be a good opportunity to try the military approach once again on a worthy subject. NBEC 1816 was quite worn out when it ran on CFC and will be a fertile ground to experimentation.

Hinges, door handles, extra flag holders and window sills add life to the model.

And I won't skim on electronics either. I'm planning to equip this engine with a Loksound Select decoder (Full Throttle), a keep alive and two speakers. Working ditchlights will also be featured to fully recreate the experience.

As far as things are, I glued the shell back together, a looking at higher resolution pictures of the prototype, I found out small details that I didn't notice when I started the build. Theses tiny details were added as much as possible to recreate a good rendition of the real locomotive. They give personality and they are fun to build.

Some wire and Atlas parts can create surprising results.

Another thing I did which I never in the past was rebuilding handrails. Using Atlas RS18 stanchions, I removed the piping and replaced it with 0.0125" wire. Not only it looks better, but now the handrail configuration is matching the prototype. I was surprised how the process went smoothly though it required some time. By the way, all delrin parts have been soda blasted to improve paint adhesion. I certainly hope to reduce paint flaking as much as possible.

So at this point of the day, the shell is almost ready for primer and paint once I add the train line hoses and dropping steps on the pilots. As you can see many grabirons, headlights, end endrails and brake wheel are missing. It is intentional as I plan to paint them separately and apply them when the stripping decals are set in place. Adding stripes to a detailed model is always an excruciating experience and I prefer to take an easier path that leads to more consistent results.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Old Habits Die Hard... But Must!

I can consider I've been an active model railroader since 1996 when my English teacher rekindled my interest in miniature trains. More than two decades have past since  then and stuff accumulated. Locomotives, cars, paint, detail parts, structures, scratchbuilding supplies and many mores. Many project started, many aborted before reaching the goal line and all that stuff accumulated... It was a one way ticket.

In the last few months, I finally completely ran out of space. No storage alternative. Boxes started to clutter my office room until last week when out of hospital, the sight was unbearable. One side effect of my medication is that I have to stay away from the sun as much as possible for a few weeks. It could be seen as a very sad thing, but with my very low level of energy, I must admit it isn't that much. However, this is an excellent opportunity to sift through the collection and start clearing up a path toward better days. Thus started my endeavour to put some order in my modelling life.

A typical locomotive project storage box.

The first step was to take a look through the locomotive collection and determine what I would keep and what would have to go. About a dozen of models were selected for sale, all based on the fact I rarely or never used them in the past and had absolutely no interest in using them in the future. Other locomotives were carefully stored and then I moved on my various detailing and kitbashing projects. Each locomotive requiring extensive work was placed in a sealed plastic box with part containers. Yes, it's basic, but I certainly didn't work that way before. Now, no excuse for missing parts or not finding the drive. The same was applied to freight cars WIP, which are now neatly stored in plastic boxes.

Freight car parts typical storage box.

Taking care of various kind of trucks is easy with a bait storage case.

Then I purchased several fishing bait storage boxes and went through my growing inventory of freight car parts. All these details were in various cardboard boxes all over the house and I quickly lost the count over the years, often reordering parts I already had on hand but couldn't locate. Now, there is a box for trucks and wheels, one for brake rigging and ladders, and another for carbody parts such as roof, walkway, doors and car ends.

The sloped bottom makes retrieving parts easy.

Smaller parts such as grabirons and stirrups are stored in a pills organizer case, which is both handy and take very little space on the workbench.

Choosing windows, doors and structure details is now intuitive.

I also did the same with my structure detail parts and supplies. The bait storage boxes were perfect to put some order on hundreds of Tichy parts. Now, at a glimpse, I know which doors and windows I have. It was also a good excuse to take apart several old structures given by fellow modelers over the years. Most were unusable for our layout, including many European kits, and certainly glued together by the most unskilled people out there. We kept them for almost ten years thinking they could be useful some day for parts. Well, I took a few hours and removed every bit of details that were deem good enough including doors and windows. Everything else was trashed, freeing a substantial amount of space!

For scratchbuilding supplies, a second box containing styrene sheets of various size and texture, roofing material and larger parts was necessary. In my office closet, several hooks have been installed inside the door where Plastruct and Evergreen styrene profiles and brass rods and plates can now be seen easily.

Parts organizer for diesel and steam locomotives.

Each drawer is divided in two sections for sealed parts and loose parts.

Finally, I ended my journey by putting some order in my locomotive parts. Back in high school days, probably around 1998, I acquired a small part organizer and started to fill it with details. At first it went well, then all kind of junk ended up there. When I moved in my actual house in 2009, I put it in the back of a closet which was a bad idea. Accessing the organizer was quite hard and soon I stopped to go there. Meanwhile, I still had old scale model boxes from the 90s filled with parts and bits, including empty packages. The boxes were at full capacity and finding a diesel locomotive part required to go through about a hundred packages. Not very fun nor efficient. The solution was simple: clean up the parts organizer to use it exclusively for locomotive detail parts. Each drawers is now labelled according to its content, be it horns, bells, fan grills or rerail frogs. It was also a good occasion to throw away a bunch of useless stuff like plastic wheels, horn hook couplers, Atlas switch controls and other completely obsolete stuff.

Now, I still need to go through the decal collection, which is quite huge, the tools and paint, but the worst is now behind me and it is making my life much more easier. I'm glad I did it... I certainly don't understand how I could tolerate such a situation for two decades.

Monday, September 10, 2018

JMRI Operations & Layout Design

Most people see JMRI Operations and othr layout operation planning methodes (software assisted or manual) as a way to bring life to their layout. On the other hand, except a few extremely dedicated individuals, it is rarely used in the previous steps to get big picture of the prototype.

In my case, I'm a little bit late to the game with a layout almost set in stone. However, the last few week fine analysis of pictures and train movements on CFC helped me to create a JMRI prototypical freight traffic model. And it is an interesting because it better helps to understand how things moved over the rail and where some very specific task were performed.

After running more than 1000 simulations - which amount to three years of operation on Murray Bay - it became clear that replacing Montmorency with Wieland was a viable option. The traffic is stronger, car movements more frequent and a little bit more complex due to shuffling of cars between Clermont yard and there.

Villeneuve also took another twist by the addition of another prototypical movement that we never implemented on the layout: storing extra cars on a siding. CFC had the habit to leave cars there so they could pick them up if required. It had another layer of purpose and sense to this particular location. MoW material (ballast cars and snow plow) could also been spotted there before moving up to Clermont.

All in all, I'm glad to have put almost 4 complete days working out this JMRI model. Things are clearer and it will be easier to make choices later.It also feels there is a real outside world and dispatchers behind the trains instead of whimsically choosing cars out of the drawers. I'm looking forward in the next week when track will be back in action in Wieland to test these scenarios and further refine them.

While JMRI isn't a panacea and can't be the focus of layout planning, I still consider that for someone trying to model an entire subdivision, it can start to be another tool in the toolbox to determine how each location plays a part in a railway's daily life. Having to select only a very few elements, it is not bad to have some more factual data to help creating a realistic and engaging experience for operators.