Monday, June 26, 2017

Rapido GMD SW1200RS vs Hedley Junction

Well, Rapido decided to take us by surprise announcing a new HO GMD SW1200RS model... Sure, this new product announcement generates its share of hype and ethic questions, but don't count on me to thread that field of mines.

Now possible in HO?

Far to jump on the bandwagon, I must admit the SW1200RS is a key element in the history of Murray Bay Sudvision, particularly when the line was sold to Chemins de fer du Québec and became known as Chemin de fer de Charlevoix (CFQ). Should I note that most railfans still call the line "Le Charlevoix", even if I feel this moniker is quite recent and erase the CN and QRL&PCo heritage. Being born on Côte-de-Beaupré, maybe I feel bad seeing my birthplace's railway being plastered with the name of a remote neighboring area. Oh! Nostalgia.

That said, I must confess the team behing Hedley Junction often discussed quite seriously the possibility to simply model the early days of CFQ back in 1992-1993 when the black and yellow trio of SW1200RS made its dramatic appearance. Yes, the lost of zebra painted M420s was a real shock for many of us... Truth to be told, as a kid I held for a few years the belief CN locomotives would return unaware the line was no longer a federal property. That said, they idea to model CFQ goes back to many years ago, but that could only be possible if suitable models would be available. Brass and kitbashes were out of questions for many reasons. Now, we have a more definite answer to that problem and it raise its share of questions.

Why would we be tempted to move in the early 1990s when we have already invested a lot of effort in the 1980s? Well, let's face it, this project started in the 50s, then moved in the early 1960s, later the mid-1970, the early 1980s and now somewhere in 1985-1987. Would moving up to the 1990s would hurt the overall project? Most readers know how much I'm tired of doubting my projects!

The short answer is no. The actual layout depicts the subdivision as it was in the mid 1980s. However, big changes and track modifications didn't occur before the late 1990s and early 2000s when customers started to die off and sidings were removed. Thus, from a scenic point of view, we are spot on.

From an operating point of view, Dominion Textile was still standing though it had closed by 1985. Ciment St-Laurent shifted from coal to oil (now trucked) and didn't seem to receive gypsum by open hoppers anymore (that question will have to be answered, I wouldn't be surprised it was shipped from the Maritimes to Quebec City then trucked to the plant). Only the cement was hauled by rail at that time.

On the other hand, the paper and lumber trades were doing fine. CFQ attracted a lot of business by using Wieland as a transloading facility for finished lumber often ship from Côte-Nord. At that time everything moved on bulkhead flatcars and centerbeam cars, with some Railbox-type boxcars.

As you can see, in a matter of a few years, a lot of diversity was lost in term of railcars. And God we know model railroaders love to have any kind of cars on their layout. Sure, it's our layout and we could do what we want (which is a rule I've never been fond of) and fudge things up (we are already by keeping the coal and gypsum while it ended in the early 1980s), but that wouldn't feel like the real thing. We should also note CFQ never used caboose which take out a big chunk of nostalgia out of the project.

Thus, there is a big choice in front of us: a typical CN subdivision with all the goodies or a CFQ branchline with less stuff. It's not an easy choice.

However, we noted not long ago that our memories of the 1980s are quite imprecise. My interaction with trains was scarce, from afar at best. I recall details and general impression but I would struggle in certain areas. In contrast, we all knew well the CFQ from its inception up to its untimely demise. CN planted the seed, but I grew up with CFQ. Even if my nostalgia for CN was intense (and still is), my first serious diesel kitbashing and repainting project was a pair of CFQ SW1200RS back in high school. I still have these engines which I painted in CN colors when I found out the hobby shop clerk sold me unsuitable models (Athearn SW7). As for Jérôme, being younger, his memories of the 1990s are more vivid while he remember almost nothing from the 1980s.

Would I make the move and switch eras? I certainly don't know at this point, but I'm able to see some merit in that idea, But as I noted, the layout would remain the same so I think sticking with 1985 is the right choice since running the CFQ only require to not serve Dominion Textile and keep the open hopper fleet in the drawer.

So, after talking for the last weeks about focusing our efforts and framing our project, I have to sit down and think about it without rush. Will I model CFQ SW1200RS independantly. Probably, it's on my wishlist since the late 1990s...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The State of My Collection

While decaling my Procor pressure cars today, I took sometime to organize my rolling stock collection at home. It accounts for about half the total collection, the other half being store at the club layout.

I was aware I had too much stuff, but this little exercise proved me I should think twice before buying anything new without a good reason.

For the purpose of classification, I used different color Post-It to identify each box by its general theme:

Orange: Modern CN (post-1960)
Green: Old CNR (pre-1960)
Violet: CPR (all eras)
Yellow: American roads
Blue: Old Time

The results were astounding. American cars were the largest group, followed by CPR, Old Time, Old CNR and modern CN. While arguably most modern CN cars are in service on the club layout, it was disturbing to own so many American cars I have almost no use for. I recall many of them are realted to the Harlem Station layout, but the real problem is they were bought before that layout even came to fruition. It means I collected American cars for almost no reason except kitbashing purpose to such an extent I know have no idea what to do with them and no longer remember what conversion I had on my mind back then.

The same thing apply to the Old Time cars which I bought in numbers back in the days in hope of making a QRL&PCo layout, or a logging layout or something else. They piled up, and now I have a bunch of half kitbashed cars in such quantity it could crowd a medium sized layout. I even found out a disturbing amount of small Bachmann, IHC, Pocher, Roundhouse and Mantua steam locomotives... In fact, I'm starting to believe I could build the Temiscouata layout in HO without buying a single piece of new equipment... It's frightening.

But to speak frankly, the problem is that most of these cars (Canadian, American or Old Time) were bought with the future in mind. "Just in case" or for the "future layout". Most of them require extensive kitbashing, detailing and painting, which can be a serious investment both in time and resources. Unfortunately, they are also models from another era, mainly blue box kits, sometimes detailed plastic models or craftman kits. It means they no longer fit the level of detail and accuracy I want from my model. Also, meanwhile, many cars I bought for the sake of kitbashing a particulay prototype have been superseeded by accurate models. What's the point in installing state of the art decoders in old P2K EMD and ALCO locomotives. I have lots of F and FA units I have absolutely no purpose for. They don't fit my interests but they sure eat up a lot of space.

While I'm confident many cars and locomotives will find a purpose someday, I'm also aware many of them no longer hold value in my eyes. As much as I would like, it is not realistic to think I'll kitbash dozens of cars for the sake of completing long overdue projects. One day or another, I'll have to trim down the tree... You can't have it all and these models, as fun as they were and supported my dreams, must be shed like a snake shed its old skin...

Maybe layout design ideas are just a nice little cute excuse to buy more and more... because we can justify impulsive consumerism with vague and idealized dream layouts.

By the way, don't expect picture of that messy collection, it is quite humiliating, even for me!

On a positive note, I'm glad to find out I don't need cars for Hedley Junction and can now put my effort on detailing, weathering and fine tuning the fleet. Rapido's cylindrical hoppers are likely to be the last cars to be acquired next Fall.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Relettering Intermountain CN Procor Hoppers - Part 2

The three Procor cars are now repainted in CN Grey No. 12 or should I say, a custom mix made to fit the rest of the Intermountain fleet.

As a matter of fact, paints are always tricky when it's time to choose a color. By mistake, I sprayed the first car with True Line CN Grey No. 11 only to discover is was too far off and didn't even match my other True Line hoppers! Maybe the color is right, but it seems to be far to greenish. But the mistake didn't end there. CN indeed changed it's hopper color to Grey No. 12 in the late 60s, exactly when the Procor cars were built.

A quick search in local and online hobby shops yielded poor results and I had to make my own mix. As I often hear from my older architect colleagues "a good painter should be able to eyeball any color". Well, I guess that's true. In my case, seeking the perfect color was trivial since the cars will be heavily discolored and weathered per prototype. Thus, it was much more important to blend the color with the existing similar cars in my fleet.

In fact, getting the mix right took about 1 minutes. A lot of white, a sizeable amount of Tamiya German Grey XF-63 and a bit of Tamiya Flat Flesh XF-15 yielded quickly a satisfying mix. The color was tested on a prepainted Intermountain car until a perfect match was achieved. In a matter of a few minutes, the three cars were covered in a nice coat of warm grey paint. Later, a coat of Future gave them a nice glossy finish for decalling, which I hope will occur during the weekend when the paint will have cured.

When completed, this will bring the Procor fleet to 9 cars. Add to this 2 Intermountain cylindrical hoppers, 12 Rapido new cylindrical hoppers and we've got enough car to serve the cement plant. Meanwhile, the slabside hoppers will be phased out when the Rapido cars will be available next fall. By the mid-80s, none of them served the plant anymore. However, they could be extremely useful if we want to backdate the layout a little bit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ciment St-Laurent - Part 2

I'm back to the drawing board! This time, to design a way to build Ciment St-Laurent loading facilities. While the building is rather spartan, its size (42" long in HO scale) and structure offer a structural challenge.

I have also to take into account how I will detail the interior and maintain the rails located right under the structure. Our initial approach was to build a single structure with protuding columns. While definitely feasible, this option has a few disadvantages. First, it's hard to make all columns sit correctly against the soil without having some small gaps. Second, the aforementionned columns lack bracing and are quite flimsy. It could be worked out though.

I'm exploring the possibility to break up the building in two parts: the structural columns and the superstructure. Columns would be inserted and glued into a sturdy base and connected together with a web of structural members similar to the prototype. The base could be scenicked and detailed while tracks could be embedded in the base. The superstructure would sit on top and could be removable for maintenance. It is quite more complex than the original one-part concept, but would ensure a more realistic approach.

As for materials, no definite choice is actually made but whatever is used should be braced and sealed to some extent to reduce warping.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Memories of QRL&PCo

I often lament the disappearance of QRL&PCo-related heritage in Quebec City area. While this is inevitable and I'm coming to term with that, I was quite surprised to discover a 60-years old manhole cover installed by the defunct utility company probably in the early 1960s on Rue Vallière. My estimate is based on the fact the text is French, which was a trend in the 1960s as seen on CN bilingual car lettering. Quebec Power was absorbed in Hydro-Québec by the late-1960s.

Meanwhile, I walked the bike path up to D'Estimauville to see the state of the track after a long winter. Well, nothing changes here but vegetation do grow. At least, it will be handy for scenery reference.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Relettering Intermountain CN Procor Hoppers - Part 1

While I'm certainly not a rivet counter in terms of lettering, I still consider a car should reflect its era and while I've seen many people use post-1990 white-colored CN covered hoppers for gray-colored hoppers, it's certainly not a path I want to thread.

Colors and shapes are the most recognizeable aspect of an object (given we can't reproduce smell in a practicaway). Failing to graps these fundamental characteristics won't pay off if your goal is to reproduce something.

A few years ago, I made the mistake to buy CN Procor hoppers in the wrong color. More than once I thought about selling or swapping them for correct ones, but as high quality car prices raise, repainting them quickly became a practical option.

But at the same time, being practical has a lot of advantages. Instead of completely disassembling, stripping paint and repainting my fleet of white Procor cars, I've decided to erase the lettering. My technic is simple and only require fine sandpaper and Solvaset. This particular product is generally strong enough to soften pad printed lettering. In case of small letters, they disappear in a matter of a few seconds while large logo like the CN noodle can take more time and care. To prepare this model, it took me about 90 minutes, which may seem long but is a fraction of taking the longer route.

When lettering was completely removed, I repaired and glued back loosen parts, wiped the model clean with 70% alcohol and misted a light coat of white primer to give some tooth for the new coat of paint. As for decals, high quality Highball products will be used. Two others to go!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Back in Villeneuve

Gosh, getting back on your feet after a few months far from intense modelling isn't exactly what I call a walk in the park. However, nothing moves on until you give some impetus to the wheel!

After a good discussion at the club yesterday, it became quite evident progress is slowed down in Clermont because I'm wasting a huge amount of time modelling roads. They take a lot of time and thus are keeping us tied down. However, all the grade crossing signals are now in perfect shape in Villeneuve and D'Estimauville which means we can now think about completing this scene.

Villeneuve... ready for an overhaul

Following Jérôme's lead, we started to plan out the new structure that will replace the cement plant mockup. Scale drawings are already done and it's only a matter of building them. I must admit Jérôme did a good job at researches recently and found out bagged cement shipped by insulated boxcar was an important traffic at Villeneuve even during the early 1990s. Having a few Walthers FGE insulated boxcars and the new excellent CN decals by Sean Steele on hands, it will be easy to add two cars to the fleet. I've also started to remove some weight from the cement cars. The reason is simple, there is a limit to Bachmann GE 45-Ton's performances. We are looking for someone to install sound and a small keep alive into this tiny locomotive. All suggestions are welcomed.

As for the plant itself, it will require a lot of corrugated siding material. I used to use corrugated paper but my stock is depleting and unfortunately, I've been unable to locate that product at local art and craft stores. On Internet, it was the same, probably because I didn't search using the right English words. Personally, I'd prefer to use paper than corrugated cardboard or styrene because it is more versatile and easier to glue and stack without looking out of scale. If anybody has a suggestion for a decent material that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, let me know.

Meanwhile, I've completed the CN Suburban truck and weathered it but forgot to take a picture! And I also started to try weathering a few Intermountain cylindrical hoppers carrying cement. They generally weather badly in real life. So far, I'm happy with the results, but feel they could be far better. I'll post a few pictures when they are ready to hit the rail again.

So, if I had to set up a goal, I'd say I'd like to complete scenery in Villeneuve and D'Estimauville by our next open house which is generally during Christmas holidays. And, as a matter of fact, I'd like to complete the main cement plant structures by the end of August. Is it realistic? Maybe. After all, they are a bunch of big steel clad boxes.

By the way, I started to build a baseboard and proscenium for the new QSSR layout. I certainly won't start a revolution with that layout, but I'll try to approach the diorama from an artist point of view instead of a model railroader. In that regard, I won't approach the layout as a chunk of real world I want to model, but rather as a canvas on which I'll paint my impression of a railroad if I wanted to boiled down my love of train and convey that feeling to others.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Lessons Learned: Framing Your Approach

It seems summer is always about reflecting on someone’s approach to model railroading. It has probably a lot to do with winter being associated with the highest peak of modelling productivity for most of us.

My recent one-month trip to Japan made me realize how little North Americans struggle to compose a scene and frame a subject. While this art is well-known in Japanese gardening and traditional architecture, it can be seen in the most mundane streets and back alley of their country. If it was in some other country, one could infer it is an happy result due to sheer luck. However, it is so common there that you start to understand it is the result of their peculiar relation with space. While North America is blessed with vast expanse of space, this is also a pitfall since we are never faced with situation where we have to make the best of it. If we lack space, we quickly think about enlarging rather than focusing our efforts. Standing in a middle ground, European modellers, at least a substantial mass of them, have for a long time developed a sensibility toward smaller and contrived spaces.

Mike Cougill recently asked me what I’ve learned from that travel. Most people talk about the initial cultural shock, but it wasn’t. I saw what I expected to see, however, there is a huge difference between knowing something and experimenting it first hand on a daily basis.

But more seriously, I was impressed by that people's obsession toward excellence which can be quite humiliating when you come from a background where most people don’t care about result or quality. That excellence can be witnessed at every level, from a generic sidewalk to a nicely assembled sliding door. Even a gravel parking lot will be built and maintained with a care we don’t even think of for a more glamour object here. And that notion have nothing to do with objective beauty (if that exist), but is truly the embodiment of their approach with the physical world. Certainly, it wouldn’t fit our mindset, but lessons can be learned from that and I feel that model railroaders – who by trade focus on putting a lot of effort replicating the most mundane and ugly things – should easily relate to this dedication at some level.

The other lesson learned is truly about framing a concept, an idea or a space. Japanese have a special way to take one simple thing and bring it to an art level. Did I lose my breath often there, having no words to describe my amazement? Yes, often… and it happened with temples for sure, but also with lunch boxes and other such “insignificant” things.

How can that translate to model railroading? Well, it can be seen in term of operation which means focusing on a particular limited set of actions, but rendered and executed with care, thus bringing a lot of emotion with performing them.

It can also be seen in term of layout planning. When you visit a traditional Japanese garden, you rarely grasp the entirety of the plan… and it’s not required. You are treated to very focused and framed scenes that emphasized a limited set of well-proportioned subjects. Thus, a garden is no longer a single entity, but rather a succession of scenes. And if the garden is well designed, this succession will make sense and will some story… That, I think, could benefit many layouts.

In fact, it’s not that I didn’t learn these lessons from my modelling experiences, but rather they take a cohesive shape when witnessed in another cultural context in which they were actively cultivated for centuries…

Their art also lifted the last doubts I had about lack of space. It’s no longer a matter of lacking space but rather a question of how to frame and compose a scene the best you can using a given area.  And not only that scene will make sense, but it will also give hints of a larger world without revealing too much about it. This approach has also another tremendous effect on planning and composing: you now longer require to “compress” a scene to get the feeling of the place, but rather, you frame what could be realistically be seen and grasped in such a given space… At this point, you probably see a pattern in my explanations: frame space. You will also remark I’m no longer referring about plan, talking in term of elevation and depth. Yes, at this point, the plan, to some extent, is almost irrelevant. You model the perception of a location rather than a 3D plan. It may sound semantic, but it has an important impact how you interact with a layout.

If you think in term of small layout or even cameo layout, it’s no longer about vast panoramas, but rather about offering a point of view, a particularly significant perspective on a railway operation.

For this purpose, I tried to revisit my Quebec South Shore Railway layout and found out many things already discovered or hinted by other modellers. However, I’m taking this farther and propose something else based on my personal experience with railways.

When you are standing by a track, you never see the entire scene. Your own sight and the surrounding vegetation and structures clearly frame the scene. This is also emphasized by the fact we are standing still in a particular spot of a larger area while the trains are the moving parts of this world. The contrast between of small and fixed presence and the larger yet moving trains create that impressive feeling of standing by the track and experiencing an operating railway.
My experience in railfanning is often about the impossibility to see everything. At some point, you find a clearing or a street and enjoy the spectacle from there. You rarely see very far and only from a few angles, just like a movie or a painting. If you deal with a smaller layout, this can be a blessing since you don’t need to model a contrived fantasyland, but rather focus on a given perspective that blurs the junctions with the rest of the world. In term of scene composition, you only need to keep a few elements required to build the scene and give it purpose… And it can be drastic. Maybe you don’t need to show the turnout for that siding since it exists only outside of your line of sight. Are all cars required to be shown on the layout, maybe not… they could only roll in front your eyes, going to a nearby destination that you can’t unfortunately see right now but which you know and give sense to the move. In that regard, Chris Mears explored such a concept and Mike Cougill too. While I thought their ideas were cute, I failed to see nothing more than a desperate attempt at minimalism. However, when you take in account what I said, it’s no longer an obsession with nothingness but rather an ability to tell a lot more with a few but well-designed elements.

Therefore, I can propose a new version of the QSSR layout which get rids of elements that felt forced and were never the focus of my attention when switching the layout and framing what matters. In that regard, a 80” x 18” layout can be summed up as a 48” x 16” cameo layout devoid of any compression and compromise. In fact, this new approach creates an impression of a larger world out of less space than a larger layout. Operation use the same amount of cars and require similar moves, with the exception the scene composition focus our attention on them which is a direct incitation to carefully replicate procedure and bring a good deal of life to the revenue equipment that is now a true actor rather than a small part diluted in a large expanse of space.

For me, this approach has many direct benefits that can help to fit my apathy with building a home layout. First, space is no longer a concern about quality. No need to turn the house upside down or buy new furniture. A layout can now fit a living space without hijacking it. Second, building a layout is not about investing vast sum of time, money and resources, but rather how to assemble a few elements with care and replacing them with better attempts as experience is gained and modelling interests evolve. Third, framing a given perspective is an occasion to truly grasp how the real world is perceived by ourselves rather than recreating a large part of the world believing that a larger chunk of reality is the only way to immerse ourselves into the fiction called a layout.

By the way, what I just said is nothing new in the modelling realm, however, it may be the first time I have a better grasp at looking at model railways from another perspective, one more akind to a real life experience and freed from physical parameters we usually believe set the frame of our ideas. I'm well aware a lot of literature - which I often didn't read - has dealt with such an approach, however, I think we can never repeat enough how space is never a matter of quantity but rather a matter of composition. The first one can't be eluded, but it will never offer satisfying answers to most modellers nightmare about "lack of interest". I've seen plenty of large layouts devoid of any interest even if they fully reproduced a world... They were no more than magnified carpet central. And yes, I believe a lot of these lessons can be applied to our club layout while working on the scenery.

Friday, June 9, 2017

After A Long Absence

As many of you probably guessed, I was out of town during most of May and early June... In fact, more precisely, out of the country and visiting Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun being all about trains, it was a excellent occasion to board many of them and visit some related museums which, I hope, will be described in future posts.

As for Hedley-Junction, we held our last meeting yesterday and took time to assess the several tasks to accomplish toward completion. In terms of layout, many, many things remain to be done, but all depend on backdrops. They are probably what we should call my "bête noire" and I especially don't like to create them even if I like their overall effect. But things must be done and neglecting that won't do anything good for the project. While I'd like to work on many things, it's time to concentrate my effort to complete Clermont and the Donohue paper mill before moving to other areas.

In terms of motive power, we decided to concentrate our efforts on less locomotives to better fine tune the ones we regularly use. For this reason, GP9s, RS18s and GMD1s will be upgraded to LokSound Full Throttle as initially planned. All the rest will be stored for a while, maybe much longer.

I also came to the realisation many of my recent experiments with roads are failure. No, it's not easy to accept given the huge amount of time and resources wasted, but I don't feel comfortable showing that work to anybody visiting the layout nor am I proud of my work. Roads are common elements of our daily lives and can't be represented by half baked efforts. So far, plaster, lightweight spackle and concrete patching products didn't yield convincing results. It may be my own lack of practice, but I feel I don't have the level of control I want with these materials. I'll probably go back to illustration board roads which give a lot of latitude in terms of coloration, distressing and details. I particularly appreciate to work on a road at my desk then later glue it in place.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Kitbashed CN MoW Pickup - Part 2

I've got quite side tracked recently, but did manage to find some time to progress on this small project. A coat of CN orange was applied to the MoW truck which is now ready to be decaled, detailed and reassembled.

I must say it's quite interesting to see how one can improve generic model without too much effort and get a decent result. I'm certainly not an automobile guy, but at some point, you can't improvise with vehicles because they can make or destroy a scene... such is their power.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Legrade: Scene Composition

Photographs and artists are well aware of a basic composition principle that frame vertically and horizontally a given subject in three parts. This old trick helps to frame subject and structure was we see, focussing our observation in directed way.

In the case of Legrade, the same principle can be applied both in plan and elevation. But I wasn't aware of it when I framed the orthophotography thought I tried to balance things so they look good and well composed.

So let's analyze the layout track plan from an artistic point of view:

Column 1-2-3 is all about emptiness with an absence of structures characterizing the mainline.

Column 4-5-6 is about low elevation building and action. This is where trucks and trains are sorted out, employee cars parked, with the office acting as a focal point.

Column 7-8-9 is about density, larger structures (including the tall brick chimney) and car spotting.

We can already assign a role to each column. The first one is the switching lead, the second one the sorting area and the thir one the spotting one.

Now, let's analyze the rows:

Row 1-4-7 is the backdrop that sets the location (coastal trees, office and meat packing plant) with an left to right progression from unbuilt area to densely built area.

Row 2-5-8 is an empty area framed by two built row where action is free to take place. You'll remark all the motion on the layout is focussed in this row.

Row 3-6-9 is low elevation built area that frame the other row but with elements that acts as psychological barriers rather than real ones. They mark the public interface be it the right of way, D'Estimauville Avenue or the large concrete wall of the cattle pen that separate the nasty industrial activities from the neighborhood.

Zone 5 which is the central element is where most action occurs. You will note this open space is framed by the three most important structures: the office, the meat packing plant and the cattle pen. This area is a stage where the "performance" is set while the other zones, mainly 2 and 8, act as supporting spaces. We can consider that about 1/3 of the layout is for plain scenery while 1/3 is decicated to paved are were actions are performed. The remaining 1/3 goes to structures.

Finally, since the layout is about switching a customer, the need for a full train isn't required. However, some people will point out hiding the spot where the track goes through the backdrop at left won't be easy. The area wasn't heavily forested, there was no overpass, tunnel or any such convenient things. However, a clever way to minimize that fact would be to stage the tail end of the train on the mainline. There is suffisant space to stage two 40ft cars with a caboose without fouling the grade crossing. It could be an interesting way to show us some rolling stock while implying the action taking place is part of a bigger scheme.

Legrade: An Updated Plan

So far, I used the insurance maps as a reference to draw the plan to scale. However, I was curious to see how it would turn out if I used instead the 1948 orthophographic survey. As expected, there was a lot of discrepancies and some nice surprises.

As you can see, the cattle pen geometry was quite different and much more irregular than was the case on the insurance maps. In fact, it's not a bad thing as it bring some more life to the scene composition.

It is also nice to find out the upper left corner was a wooden area, which is perfect to hide the joint between the backdrop and the layout.

Another nice feature is the fact you can have a glimpse of the mainline. I think it bring some context into the layout, giving you an idea that Legrade is part of a larger work. Sure, the mainline and passing tracks are there for decoration, but they support the story well enough. One could easily imagine a caboose left on the passing track while performing switching moves.

Now, the big question is about rotating the track plan a little bit to make sure the cattle pen isn't sliced. I've never been a fan of sliced building on layout would try to avoid this as much as possible.

What's behind a track plan?

The more simplistic and realistic a track plan is, the more anxiety creeps about it's operation interest. The question is legitimate, but finding the balance between operation, modelling and visual coherence isn't an easy task.

The big challenge is overcoming the idea everything that can sustain trains running through a scene isn't worthy of a model railroad. At some point, it all comes down to how you experience railway activities.

Several approaches can be taken when modelling a scene and I won't tell which ones are good or bad since it always depends on what you want to focus. However, you can model a scene from the railway's perspective or from a pedestrian's perspective. The first one is self-explanatory and will try to make sure the physical plant (rails) are all there to perform a complete sequence of operations. The later is more about what we can see from a scene in a given time and place.

In the case of Legrade, the scene isn't framed to make QRL&PCo the main focus, but rather the plant. Imagine yourself in 1951, as a kid, you ride your bike down a dirt road called D'Estimauville Avenue, cross a bunch of tracks and end up at the plant. You see the office, the meat packing structure and the courtyard filled with trucks and freight cars. If you are lucky, a steam locomotive is switching a few cars here and there, bring life to the place with new sounds. After a while, the train disappears and you ride back home on your bike. In your mind, you later recall the engine and car colors, their dirtiness, the couplers sound and the steam whistle.

Now, is it a diorama? No. Is it a full-fledged layout... not really. A micro-layout? Maybe. A cameo layout? Probably. But at the end of the day, does it really matters? Most modellers have interest in many things including locomotives, building cars and structures, operating, scenery, replicating a prototype or a strong impression. I'm not advocating for a specific type of layout, but rather trying to remind us that layout comes in different shape and type, that many good ideas and worthy concepts are often trashed, denatured or disfigured because we feel they don't fit the mould and thus aren't worth pursuing...

Legrade is particularly disturbing because the subject isn't about an end of line terminus-style layout or a large plant. It's a medium-sized industry located on the mainline and served by trains orignating somewhere else and going somewhere else. In a nutshell, it's not a destination and for this reason, the decision to select such a location and frame it in this way is not conventional, hence the anxiety! But don't feel bad, I'm not agonizing over that. I've been probing that particular prototype for at least 10 years now!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Legrade & QRL&PCo

Long time ago, in the second half of the 1990s, I had a dream. Having recently discovered the existence of Quebec Railway Light & Power, I dreamed of kitbashing their MLW 2-6-0 #22. With the means and knowledge of a teenager, I bought a MDC/Roundhouse 2-6-2 Prairie kit, certain I could figure out a way to make it a worthy model. However, serious dimension discrepancies, problems assembling the drive and difficulty to work with solid metal parts plague the model.

Later, I tried my luck with a IHC 2-6-0. The tender turn out quite well, but modifying the drive was near impossible. I completed the project, but unsatisfied by the look, I decided to simply paint it as a generic CNR engine. Now that I look at it, it reminds me it's never a bad idea to try a second time a same project, learning from previous mistakes.

Kitbashed in 2009-2010: revisiting old works tells us a lot about developing skills.

But I never forgot about #22. With my Temiscouata project tied with the construction of a new garage (which I'll have to postpone to next year), I think it's a bad idea to simply sit on my chair and wait for the weekly club session.

A recent discussion about minimal layout with fellow modellers sparked my interest in minimalist layouts. Temiscouata is a good example and I can't wait to pour efforts on that project, however, many other nice prototypes exist out there, begging to be modelled.

Among many of them, Legrade in D'Estimauville is a premium choice. The variety of cars, the interesting structure and several challenges associated in reproducing the place are extremely motivating. Better, I already have a substantial fleet of QRL&PCo cars and some more waiting to be completed. It would be truly great to put this material into service. It is also good to note only one turnout is required to make this project come true, which means very realistic trackwork could be easily achieved.

According to my sketch, Legrade can be reproduced using less than 96" x 24" (even 80" x 24"). It would make for a terrific shadow box style UK layout with proscenium and integrated lighting fixtures.

I've also did some researches and found out a decent #22 could be build by merging a P2K 0-6-0 drive (same wheelbase) with a Bachmann 2-6-0 Mogul superstructure. 56" drivers from the 2-6-0 would replace the 0-6-0 smaller wheels. I already have both engine in hands and none never fitted any of my project. Anyway, they will be superseeded by new Rapido's Icons of Steam offerings in the following years. Given the excellent performance of both engine and the wealth of details each has, the project wouldn't cost that much to bring to life. Also, the great performance of the new Loksound Full Throttle steam decoders make running steam extremely attractive.

It is also interesting to note #22 was a strange locomotive. Built as a Mogul, it was designed using a switcher wheelbase, short cab and high vision small capacity tender. This make sense given the locomotive's main role was pulling transfer runs between Québec City and St. Joachim while doing some switching duties along the road.

As for a specific year, I'd say 1951. It was the last year QRL&PCo was an independant railway and just before #22 was send to Montreal for renumbering only to meet the torch in 1953. This era also makes for a nice mix of old QRL&PCo cars, CN wood and newer steel reefers, old short tank cars and classic motor and horse drawn vehicles.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revisiting Abattoir Legrade

Jérôme often tells me he would have loved to include Abattoir Legrade in D'Estimauville. While not feasible on the current layout, it is a very neat prototype I often presented here and it didn't take a long time for me to explore it again when a series of recent email discussions among fellow modellers brought back the topic of “minimal operation”.

Some may remember Lance Mindheim’s interesting one-turnout layout article he wrote back in 2012. Lance was promoting the idea a very simple layout using only one siding could sustain a fair amount of prototypical operation if the industry was carefully selected and attention to details such as realistic railroading practices were implemented. I had my share of doubt back in 2012, but since then experience taught he was right. Not that we should refrain building more complex trackwork arrangements, but that extremely simplistic ones shouldn’t be considered as diminutive or worthless endeavour. Over the recent years, we have to admit many of the most fascinating layouts that had a major influence on the hobby were generally quite streamlined in term of track.

While the discussion was going up, I tried to dig up local prototypes in Quebec that could fit the bill. To my surprise, many model-worthy locations popped up and all of them had a vibe that could certainly inspire people. Among them, Parc industriel Saint-Romuald in Lévis is a chief contender for a small layout oriented toward agro-business. It would make a terrific modern CN-based layout. It even features a short grade yet relatively steep with an important highway grade crossing in the middle. Think of it as Tom Johnson’s INRAIL meets John McNab’s Grimes Line...

Another worthy example that could lend itself very well to design a minimal shelf layout with lots of potential is the old Cascade Paper Mill located in East Angus, Quebec. In the later year, the mill was served by a single siding connect to a small yard by the mainline about 0.75 miles away. The siding dropped several feet down the valley to reach the plant where boxcars and chemical tanks were spotted. Very scenic, the siding ended in a kind of urban canyon nested between a metal-clad warehouse and an early 20th century brick boiler house. This layout could be operated as a late 1980s CP Rail operation or as the much modern Quebec Central reincarnation of the early 2000s. It must be noted Atlas released CP Newsprint boxcars with QC reporting marks. This could make a very neat shelf layout in a small room.

However, this blog is about CN Murray Bay subdivision so why not go back to a suitable local prototypes. Since 2012, I’ve been documenting (well, not that much), a mid-sized meat packing plant located on D’Estimauville Avenue called Abattoir Legrade. I didn’t find any founding date, but abattoir Legrade was in business at least from the 1940s up to the 1970s. A few pictures of the building exist and I had more than an occasion to talk about it here. However, each time I tried to insert this prototype in a larger layout, I failed. The reason was simple, while quite compact, the plant “courtyard” with the siding was quite large and didn’t lend itself well to a shelf layout. However, if one approaches Legrade as a one turnout layout and drop the mainline, things start to get interesting.

Here’s my reasoning about Legrade. I recall the late Jean-Pierre Veilleux once told me Legrade received cattle mainly by road with only a few railcars from time to time. By the 1960s, stock cars were seldom seen there thought it did happen from time to time. As a matter of fact, aerial pictures from 1948 show no stock cars on the cattle pen siding while the warehouse siding is at full capacity (5 cars). One will remark the cattle pen siding is quite long and can handle many cars without having to move any spotted stock car. That’s another interesting feature of this prototype.

To make such a layout feasible in a limited amount of space, one would have to model only a part of the switching job: sorting and spotting cars at the plant. It would mean the entire train isn’t modelled and considered to be staged off layout east of D’Estimauville Avenue. At best, a typical train would handle about 5 cars, mainly reefers, tank cars, boxcars, stock cars and maybe a few coal hoppers from time to time, depending which era is modelled. To add operational interest, it must be noted Legrade was protected by a chain-link fence and a derail.

Abattoir Legrade in 1961 (credit: BANQ)

To make sure this layout would be feasible, I scaled down the insurance map depicted Legrade and superposed an 8’ x 2’ shelf to see if everything would fit. To my surprise, eliminating the main line made it possible to model Legrade’s iconic structures without compressing them. Only small structures had to be moved a little bit to better fit the space. Add a 5 feet long cassette and you are in business!

As for a suitable era, Legrade can be done in the 50s when the structure still had its cheesy billboard plastered over the truck shipping area. Operation could be handled by a CNR small steam locomotive, probably a 0-6-0 or 0-8-0 doing the local switching chores from Limoilou yard or, more interestingly, use QRL&PCo ubiquitous electric steeple car to handle the job. Both options are possible since CNR steam locomotives started to do a lot of jobs on the line by the late 50s after CNR acquired the line.

Another possibility would be to model the plant in the 1960s. The building was modernized at that time but still retained its iconic features. Operation could be handled by GMD1 or RSC24, or even GP9 and RS18 in later times. If you ask me, I guess Legrade is best when it had that special and nostalgic 1940s-1950s vibe. Heck, pictures even show horse carts serving the plant and my father, who grew up in the 1950s has always fondly remembered that era when you could still see many merchants using horse-drawn carriage in Québec City.

Interestingly, behind all that simplicity there is a very mundane lesson to learn. The apparent simplicity of this track plan is an invitation to compress things a lot and to reduce the “useless” length of siding where you can’t spot cars. This is the approach I had every time I tried to create a scale version of Legrade. However, it means a third track had to be added to sort cars – namely – the mainline. On the other hand, if you stay faithful to the real dimensions, something “magical” happens: you get spare room to switch cars. From that point, you start to understand why the cattle pen ramps were located at the end of the siding and not all over the place because it frees some buffer space required to move cars around when switching the meat packing plant.

These considerations may sounds absolutely banal and they are, but when you have little spare room in your hands, compression for the sake of compression isn’t always the right solution. In Legrade case, keeping the sidings exactly as they were on the prototype is the most sensible way to save space and, incidentally, turnouts. It also ensures that the layout can be operated in a much prototypical way than first anticipated. Given Legrade as 9 car spots, it’s possible to say confidently this rail-served plant is quite a sizeable customer.

Another interesting aspect of remaining faithful to the prototype dimension and keeping the track ratio low is that you can truly commit yourself to details, textures and other aspect that turns a generic shelf layout into a stunning piece of work worth you engagement. One could literally spend hours reproducing the semi-paved and muddy courtyard with rail heads buried in dirt and gravel. Also, pictures show Legrade was quite a weathered building with paint peeling, color fading and various other subtle variations.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Some more scenery

Starting to work on something when you took a long pause is always hard. You loose focus and forget the reason behind the actions you didn't complete. Not a very good way to do model railroading isn't it? Crazy to think I'll have to take another break later in May.

Anyway, it since Jérôme and Louis-Marie didn't take a break, I could witness the very slow but steady progress with the grade crossing signals. This is a true labor of love and it's hard to convey with words how much efforts they are putting in something that seem so mundane.

At this point, we can say the cement plant crossing is working fine. Lots of adjustments to do, but still acceptable. On the other hand, work on D'Estimauville Avenue is just starting. All the parts are now ready to be assembled and Jérôme made a decent mock up of how it will look like when complete. It's quite close to the real thing and the scene is taking shape.

As for me, I worked on road pavement again. I'll be honest, I've tried many methods and start to think illustration board roads à la Gordon Gravett/Lance Mindheim work the best for me... I don't know why, but I'm not a fan of plaster/spackling streets. The reason may be because I only visit the layout once per week, thus plaster roads takes a lot of time to finish while cardboard ones can be done quickly at home and better.

That said, I thought applying some stactic grass would be useful for once. Using my trusty grass applicator, a new layer of vegetation was applied to the access road embankment in Clermont. But this time, I changed my recipe. I mixed long greenish 6mm fibers with straw-colored 3mm fibers and applied them on prepped terrain. The result was much better than applying each kind of grass independently. The color and lenght are now less uniform, making for a more realistic late Spring vegetation. It will probably be quite useful when making grass tuffs too.

I also applied grass more grass on the siding to show it is seldom maintained. It helps to frame the siding gravel area used to load cars. Speaking of gravel, I used a sandpaper to create vehicle ruts and add texture. This is a well-known technique that bring back the gravel powdery look and help break the ubiquitous glued down uniform look. Let's call it a well invested 5 minutes of my time!

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.