Saturday, January 31, 2015

Woodchip Car Frenzy

Yesterday, I decided to work on my 3D printed CN Rail Woodchip Gondola I ordered from Shapeway last summer.
Let's face it, the white strong material is a horrible material to work with. Not only it has the same texture as a Teddy Bear, but it can hardly be sanded and is porous as hell.

I had some time last evening, so while Louis-Marie was painting the new drawers, I sanded the shell. When I was satisfied, I spray automotive primer/putty on it in hope it would fill some holes in the process. Then followed another round of sanding. The result wasn't that bad, but far to be perfect and the shell was still sucking paint like a sponge.

Another problem with this material is that you can't really get sharp edges. When sanding, you always make some particles "blur" the edges. Very annoying. And it's not like plastic flashes on model kits. Forget you hobby knife, it won't do nothing.

Anyway, this morning, I decided to seal the model by brushing Future Floor Finish on it. My hope was to seal, once for all, the holes. It kind of worked, but made the surface a little bit bumpy. Thus, I sanded the model for a third time. At least, the model was now kind of smooth.

At this point, I used some Tichy freight car left over parts and detailed the gondola. The brake apparatus is a mix of various parts and makes more or less sense to me but it should be enough at this point. Wire grabirons and A-Line stirrups complete the car. Lead weights were added, bringing the completed car to 9.9 onces.

I primed the model with Krylon Red Primer, which is almost a good alternative for Boxcar Red. For once, the paint evenly coated the model, meaning holes were now sealed.

A few hours later, I airbrushed a coat of Model Master Boxcar Red thinned with Future Floor Finish. The mix ratio - 25% Future/75% Paint - worked wonders. My only mistake was to clean the airbrush with Windex! The paint turned automatically in the proverbial goo and clogged everything. Fortunately, my newer Iwata airbrush is easier to clean than my old Badger 150.

The car will need a second coat of paint, but at this point, I have a good idea of the final result. It won't be a great car, finish will still be a little bit bumpy, but with some dullcoat, it should be that bothering to the naked eye. Considering this prototype was quite costly, I feel I kind of recovered a part of my investment. The only problem now is finding "CN Rail" decals. In the worst case, I'll have to order custom decals.

And since I fired up the airbrush, I also coated my roofless boxcars. Well, they are quite promising. I'll try to airbrush the second coat tonight in hopes of decali them tomorrow if I have some free time.

Scenery Experiment in Villeneuve

As you know, the first projected area to be scenicked will be Brique Citadelle in Villeneuve. The small area and generic details will make it a good benchwork to try and define a set of technic that will be used over all the layout.

Yesterday, I helped Louis-Marie to paint and touch up different part of the backdrop. When done, I used old trees and telegraph pole to try to figure out the scene.

So far, I'm quite satisfied how the scene is coming together quite nicely. I wasn't too fond of making the brick factory wrapping the wall corner and push it back into the scene. The corner will be hidden with pallets loaded with brick.

Another positive point of this setting is how the parking lot is large enough to looks credible. Also, a quick look at old insurance maps made me realize the factory wasn't parallel to the track but slightly angled... just like the layout. Well, being prototypical when not trying!

On the other hand, the shelf is quite narrow and there's barely enough room for trees and poles between the fascia and track. I'm seriously thinking about adding an extra 2 or 3 inches to the benchwork. In fact, maybe I could add as much as 6 inches to be able to model Boulevard Sainte-Anne. This road is parallel to the track for almost 20 miles if not more. So far, we couldn't do it. I feel that would be the best scene to suggest it.

Louis-Marie also suggested to build a backdrop panel to hide the furnace from the main room. I wasn't sure at first but looking at the picture today, I think he was right.

CN Roofless Boxcars - Part 3

This week, I kitbashed another pair of bocars into a different prototype with side extension and new steel doors. I used severeal Evergreen and Plastruct styrene strips and profiles to get the correct dimension according to a picture from Ian Cranstone collection on

The process was really straightforward and I was able to complete the bashing within two short evenings.

When the bashing was done, I sprayed Krylon brown primer as an undercoat before painting them Boxcar Red.

The fleet now sports four 40ft roofless boxcar and one larger gondola.

I'm definitely starting to be proficient in modifying boxcars. However, I'm not sure I'll build other needed cars right now. I have some other things to take care on the layout, including new crossing signals and several other small track and wiring adjustments.

By the way, a big thanks to George Dutka's post on his blog about those interesting prototypes. I'll have to find a copy of his old RMC article to get more accurate data. The fun part about these cars is the tremendous amount of variation. Almost each kitbashed car is unique in some way, making the process far less tiring than replicating a dozen of similar cars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Small Details That Make A Difference

Yesterday, before going to bed, I took a look at my work for a last time. A small detail was annoying me. Nothing major, but still looking wrong to me.

The problem was the moulded on end ladders. I kept them to save me some tedious work, but they still look wrong because they don’t  have the characteristic Canadian-style angled stirrup attached to them.

My guess was to cut the bottom part of a Tichy ladder and fit it to the moulded on ladder. Some trimming was required since the Tichy ladder is larger than the one on the car, once completed, it looks quite good. I was afraid this part would be flimsy but it is firmly cemented to the shell so no fear.

Now, only the discerning modeller with find out the ladder have only 7 rungs and not 8, but that’s a small price to pay to get a fairly correct car. And it's quite easy to implement.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cabinet Making

Louis started to build a few cabinets to hold the rolling stock collection and the DCC equipment. He sent me a few pictures yesterday recording is progress.

This week, he built this custom made cabinet to hold all DCC-related things: DCC cab, programming track, various electronic apparatus.

Nothing fancy, but once painted, it should be quite neat compared to the rough shelves we used until now. This particular cabinet will be located in the furnace room, just under Brique Citadelle in Villeneuve.

CN Roofless Boxcars - Part 2

 After getting some supplies (styrene strips and channels), I completed two woodchip roofless boxcars and primed them.

They represent the most basic CN prototype: cut the roof, add steel channel to give some strenght on top of the car and weld the door. If you look on this close up view of a 1982 picture shot by Marc Carette, you'll see the two first cars are of this type. The entire picture in better quality can be found in Groupe TRAQ archives. You can also find a lot of cars have their original door in place. I would say that's true for the 5 or 5 first cars. That means a 1/3 ratio with welded original door would be right in my car pool.

Credits: Marc Carette, Quebec City, Groupe TRAQ (November 1982)

As previously stated, I started with MDC shells. The door were cast on but finely done and thus were worth salvaging. Side ladders and grab irons were removed, the roof too and I also partially removed the door tracks as per prototype. Later,, I found out while examining other pitctures the upper track was always kept in place under the steel channel.

Tichy canadian ladders were added and Tichy grabirons too. Ends grabirons are bronze and a Kadee brake wheel replace the clunky original one. Small bits of styrene were used to make brake platform brackets. Finally, I added Plastruct 1.6mm channel. The cars received a coat of Krylon Red Primer. Next step will be to add underframe brake rigging and airbrush the models with Model Master Boxcar Red. They weight a healthy 6.3 onces. Styrofoam load with glued real wood sawdust will complete them.

Most of the work on this prototype was to remove some MDC crude details. Working with more recent and better models with separately applied details would speed up tremendously the job. One could use unpainted Intermountain boxcar or a similar model. The trick is to install canadian 8-rung ladders. If you want to be 100% accurate, you can bash a True Line boxcar, but you got to have a large budget!

Next step is to build the next variant which has steel extension and new custom-built door. I have prepared 3 shells for this next group.

Monday, January 26, 2015

CN Roofless Boxcars

Back in the 60s and 70s, before dedicated freight cars were built to haul wood chips, most North American railroads modified and repurposed older cars. Anything that could hold wood chips was deemed suitable. Most famous examples were hoppers and gondolas with steel or wood extensions increase loading capacity. I remember RMC published short article in the mid-1970s about modelling Spokane Portland and Seatle Railway prototypes.

Another common practice was to simply remove a boxcar roof and, sometimes, add extension. These cars would act as a prototype for the future woodchip gondolas that were built from the early 80s onward. Ian Cranstone documented them, all numbered in the 800000 series

As you know, I tried to make a correct CN woodchip gondola last year using 3D printing. The project was quickly plagued by costs. Brace yourself, but with custom decals, couplers, trucks and other details, the car could have cost anywhere between 100$ and 200$. I need about 12 of them to serve Donahue… and with Canadian economy going down the gutter; I don’t expect this to be a wise choice to pursue this endeavour. May I say I’m seriously puzzled any “serious” Canadian company didn’t bother to reproduce those widely known cars? Seriously, most people modelling CN have a paper mill or some wood product industry.

The prototype itself is relatively simple and straightforward. But I’m not in the industry and don’t know what people really wants. No, I’m not ironic. That’s a fact, there’s a large gap between what we perceive as “needed” and what people will be willing to pay for. Manufacturers know that well and tap in that market. I’ve heard dozen of people complain there’s no RTR M420 on the market, but I’m starting to seriously think there isn’t that much demand for them.

Well… With that said, I have two options:
  1. Scratchbuild CN Woodchip gondolas
  2. Kitbash 40’ boxcars
The first option shouldn’t be that hard, but that will be another day. At this time, I have about 10 MDC 40ft boxcar shells. Some undecorated, some painted. I got them from Ebay. A seller was selling them in bulk and it was quite cheap.
CN roofless boxcars were numerous and disappeared in the early 80s when replaced by purpose-built gondolas. They come from many different car series, were modified by local shops and vary a lot in details. Many had steel extension, but they aren’t all the same height or have the same bracing pattern. Some doesn’t have them. Some had their original door welded and sliding track cut. On many cars, they replaced the original door with new plywood or steel door. These custom built doors had different hardware and varied a lot. Finally, some doors were simply closed with a steel sheet.
Ladders were kept as they were before. Sometimes, you can see yellow thingies on the car ends, but I can’t tell what they really are. Most cars didn’t have them.

Ian Cranstone collection,
Also, some older wood boxcars were also converted into woodchip cars. Using old Train Miniature old time boxcars as a starting point could yield interesting results. I'll probably try my luck some day.

Ian Cranstone collection,
Well, let’s start bashing. I’ll stress that I’m using unprototypical shells, so my models will be nothing more than magnified stand in. The goal is to build a large fleet quickly and fairly accurately at a competitive cost.

First step is to remove moulded on grab irons and ladders. This step was easier than I thought. I give serious thoughts about removing the ends ladders, but finally backed off. Removing them would require a tremendous amount of work and final results wouldn’t be very smooth. If I only built one car, I would have done it, but this isn’t advisable while bashing a dozen!

Next step was to remove the doors, then the roof. I remove the roof last because it kept the shell sturdy when removing other details. A few filing was required to remove protruding plastic to get a smooth inside surface. I took extra care to save the brake wheel housing now protruding from the car end.

The next step is to prepare the underframe. The old MDC underframe has moulded on low profile brake rigging. You don’t see them when looking at the car side. I’m not crazy about brake rigging, but I feel it is a bare minimum to have some air cylinder and apparatus protruding from the car underframe. I think I’ll use Accurail 40ft brake rigging and had cylinders and valves as needed. I used them on other project and they are a good way to add interesting detail without losing too much sanity. I don’t have any on hand, so they will probably be added in the end.

I weighted the underframe using auto adhesive wheel weights. Two strips are installed on each side. Then, the underframe is carefully snapped and cemented to the shell. The underframe will now provide the structural strength lost when removing the roof.

At some point, I thought it would be better to hide the lead weight with a styrene sheet acting as a floor. After trying it, I am positive it is better to leave the weights visible and paint them later.
So far, 5 shells are prepped and I have 5 others to do. Adding details like doors, ladders, extensions will be done later when I buy more supplies. To be honest, bashing the shells is tiresome to some point and I prefer to get rid of that step as soon as possible before venturing into the most interesting task of detailing. I’ll also need to bash another 4 cars from the layout. I’ll probably use Athearn or Accurail shells.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Goals for 2015

I was reading and listening to Matt Forcum's most recent blog entry about his Metaline Falls layout. First, I was happy to see him back on track again after such a long hiatus. Matt isn't doing anything breathtaking, but his subtle approach is yielding fruits.

On the other hand, we have Marty McGuirk wondering what is going to do with is White River Junction yard. Been there too. It'S not easy to plan a layout, it's even harder when you try to capture the most essential aspects of a specific location. That gave me the designer block for years, at the point I thought I would never succeed in making a believeable Murray Bay subdivision in HO. I wish him to find that good enough compromise that make a layout go forward with staying satisfying.

And now, our layouts. What's going to happen in 2015? Seriously, no idea. That can go in any direction, but definitely, it is going to be the scenic year... I hope!

We still have some wiring issues to address, but that should be too much of a problem. Among the goals we set, here are some that have chances to became reality:

  • Install working grade crossing signals in Villeneuve
  • Complete scenery in some area (more likely to be Brique Citadelle)
  • Build railcar drawers to store cars and enable us to stage trains
  • Paint and detail a set of kitbashed Atlas RS18 in CN scheme
  • Kitbash several 40ft roofless boxcars into old CN woodchip gondolas
The last point is very important because woodchip is a major commodity hauled over the layout. Making 12 cars will be required. I've got several Athearn and Roundhouse boxcars waiting to meet their inevitable fate. My attempt to 3D print modern CN woodchip gondola was promising but cost prohibitive. With canadian losing steam recently, it makes them even less affordable.

So far, I have found very little evidence of these cars. Hard to find good pictures of them. If any of you have information about them, let me know. From what I know, there was a LOT of variation among them. Some had new doors, side extensions, but many didn't... Did they have internal bracing added? I know Maine Central used to had some kind of flimsy bracing at the top to make the cars didn't distort when loaded.

Progress at Villeneuve

I visited Louis-Marie yesterday to updage the project budget. While there, he shown me the different things he did during last week.

We also cut some plank to make railcar drawers for staging. It should handle about 125 freights cars + 20 locomotives. More than enough... I guess!

I was particularly impressed to see the new hole near Villeneuve. It seriously enlarge the perspective there a lot. I took some liberties and made a quick mock up of Brique Citadelle plant. I think it should do the job when vegetation will blend everything together.

The treacherous but subtle double S-curves in Villeneuve
We also found out some tracks could be modified to reduce derailment issues. This place is plagued with a tricky succession of gentle S-curves because of turnout arrangement. Over the time, we found out GMD1 were particularly capricious over this spot.
Getting rid of the S-curve with a #8 turnout

We think the overall appearance and operation reliability could be improved by replacing the left #6 turnout with a right #8 turnout. We have many of them on hand so it should to hard to modify. Better make the move now than later.

Finally, I also received my 2 Atlas GT NSC newsprint boxcars. Out of the box, the models are truly beautiful. Our only complain is the bright blue scheme. I real life, they quickly weather into a nice baby blue shade. I think Atlas did a good job, but with the loonie taking a plunge for the worst lately, don't count on me buying more expensive cars in the next months. Canadian economy doesn't look promising and I have no intention of spending like a mad man over rolling stock (well, to be honest, the fleet is almost completed and it's just a convenient lie to start working on stalled projects!).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cover this hole...

You remember? It was one of our first posts about minimizing a hole punch through a wall. A nice highway overpass was scratchbuilt to hide it. Well, the new layout can hardly justify the use of this artifice. A few turnours are located behind the wall and need to be always visible for smooth operation. It was thus decided - as much as we could - to enlarge it and merge the scene behind the wall with Villeneuve.

Our friend Louis-Marie seems to have found a great deal of motivation and decided to carry on this project this week. Here's a few shots of the overall result. The hole can't be larger or higher because of load-bearing structural wood members.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year and work resumes at Villeneuve

Well, we took a break from train during the Holidays and now we are back on track.

Scenery work started at Villeneuve where we dug ditches into the fiberboard. The board thickness is quite similar to the real-life ditches found there - about 5 to 6 feet deep.

The ditches where irregularly shaped as topography in Villeneuve is quite irregular near the track.

Universal mud (latex paint and papier-mâché) was used to shape the ground. This is truly a fantastic medium to work with and it makes landforming so much easier. It already looks good with the brown color.

From an operation point of view, there's still a few wiring issues. No scenery work on track will be done until these are addressed. The guys went the easy road when placing feeder. I almost never do wiring so I rarely take a serious look at what's going on under the benchwork. However, how it's hard to make people understand feeders are important. I feel like the train toy syndrome is at work: put to wires and merry go around!

By the way, I seriously came to the conclusion our benchwork is as crappy as can be. Hours spent in making it slightly better didn't pay off that much. If we ever have to remodel a scene, count on me to scrap all that unreliable stuff. Now, I understand why 3/4" plywood and good framing is the way to go... Live and learn... I just don't have the motivation to tore down what was built over the last year and feel other members would just kill me on the spot if I ever made the mistake to utter all this nonsense in front of them...

On the sad side, we started to get running problem with GMD1 1906. We will have to investigate that as soon as possible. Fortunately, GMD1 1027 is running fine.

Happy New Year 2014!