Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Murray Bay as it should have been

Sometimes, I just try to find myself good excuses for not doing certain parts of the layout. I find them interesting subjects, but don’t find them interesting to model. Such is the case with Montmorency and the pitiful state of that area tells a long story about my lack of interest – as an active modeller – in doing it. It happened a few times in other areas, particularly what is now Clermont and I certainly don’t what to see the project stall because of a perceived hindrance.

At this point, while most modellers ask themselves about what they can add to their layout, I’m one of these weird ones asking what can be removed, particularly in the case of hindrances. Since 2014, I’ve been working with that mindset to weed out the project of unnecessary elements. And now I’m facing another uninspiring challenge…

I certainly would love to model the entire subdivision and full scale industries, but I just can’t and will never have the time or resources. I’m not betting on my retirement to “model more” when in fact we know the future is such an uncertain thing.

As I said, over the year, there are parts of a layout that always bug you. They slow down the progression, are made of compromise and often are huge obstacles to other parts that could be done. The recent work on Clermont during the last months proved me one thing: when it’s time to make scenery, I can be quite fast. All the stuff you witnessed took about 4 evenings to do!

But a recent discussion with Simon Dunkley about the Tring Subdivision track plan put forward the linear nature of railways and the vast spatial separation existing between locations. And since there is nothing new under the sun, I took a good look at my original track plan for the Murray Bay subdivision including the peninsula which was drawn back in February 2011. I was surprised at my boldness back then to propose an entire area (where Montmorency now stands) absolutely devoid of any industry. I certainly felt the need to cram the area with an unnecessary passing track, but otherwise clearly understood this U-shaped area should be treated as one single coherent vista. Needless to say that track plan met stiff opposition from the club back then and we tried to find a “purpose” to this empty scene. Subconsciously, it seems we couldn’t get over the idea that an empty scene is a wasted scene…

Less clutter, more immersion.

Now, fast forward to 2017. I look at that scene which crushes my will to work on it.  It’s probably the 5 or 6 redesign here! OK, the real Montmorency Falls location is a terrific place for railroading in real life, but one absolutely impossible to model correctly. The plant is huge, you have an 87 meter high dramatic waterfall, steep cliffs, a 4-span steel bridge and an impressive power plant set of ruins… plus a station and many others…All that is cool and great. But it would need an entire shed and a 8 feet deep shelf to start to convey any impression of the place. Whatever I do seems to be a miserable caricature of the real place. It’s easy to put a sign saying “Montmorency”, but I certainly don’t get the feeling it is Montmorency. I’ve known the place for more than 3 decades.

On the other hand, I have this nice peninsula depicting a railway finding its way around treacherous capes and cliffs. The scene is about 8 feet long when it should represent about 40 miles… Each time I’m standing in the aisle, I can see the scene expanding up to Montmorency, giving us the impression our train is traveling a cove somewhere in Charlevoix.

I know one thing: both scenes could work but Montmorency will require an impressive amount of details, the kind of details that require a lot of careful attention and sustained efforts. These aren’t the condition within which our club works. At one evening meeting per week at best, you can’t start to tackle that kind of challenge and expect great results before the end of the decade. Meanwhile, building nice mountainous scenery is something within our range. We are efficient at that and our techniques are getting better each time.  Expanding the Charlevoix scene would be hard to do and would make for an impressive landscape. I can already imagine trains running with such a dramatic backdrop.

In regard to operation, this is another thing. Jérôme argues that switching Dominion Textile is a good way to slow the train so you don’t reach Clermont in a matter of just a few seconds. I certainly won’t say he’s wrong. Is point is valid and makes a lot of sense. I certainly agree with that! So what can we do… Could a single mainline in the middle of nowhere can impact the layout operation?  Well, I think no.

Here’s my reasoning. First, Dominion Textile is a dying industry at that point. Traffic is minimal and we only switch it from time to time on an irregular basis. Second, Charlevoix is filled with short sidings located in pure wilderness. According to the 1980s videos, they were used to store work trains, equipment and ballast cars in case of emergency. Louis-Marie and I can easily recall that many trains back then pulled ballast hoppers, cranes and gondolas in company service. They were generally at the end of the train, in front of the caboose. This is something we’ve always wanted to include on our trains, but the lack of track in Clermont makes it hard to do.

Thus, could we replace the Dominion Textile dwindling traffic by having a MoW siding? I do believe it’s possible and that it would make a lot of sense. The siding would be overgrown and absolutely insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but could be useful when required. Also, the real Cap-aux-Oies tunnel would effectively hide the furnace room entrance.

So, am I walking away from Montmorency? Not now, but I do think we don’t have to model every “great” prototype on the line. Dominion Textile is impressive, but should we cling to it? You have two choices: two highly compressed scenes that hardly work together and don’t really look the part, or a single well- handled location that tells a story. Given Montmorency couldn’t be expanded, Charlevoix wins in my mind. It would also be logical that everything on the small layout room is about the urban Québec City area and the larger room on the other side of the furnace is about Charlevoix and wilderness. It’s a simple matter of coherence.

 Oh! And let me add another point. The more industries you have, the less you care. Our operation time is limited and having too many customers means we have to neglect them. Maybe I’m getting lazy as I get old, but I’m certainly no longer attracted by unwanted challenges. Building a club layout is already a challenge, why complicate matters by making it artificially complex?

Anyway, at the end of the day, I just want to ask an obvious question. What prevent a main line being interesting to operate? Trains are made to run and I see absolutely no problem allocating a significant part of a rather large layout that that purpose… Are we forced to model every damn signature scene on a prototype so we can boast with confidence in capital letters: “Hey! Look! This is M U R R A Y   B A Y   Subdivision!” Gosh, if storytelling thought me a thing is that better exposition tells much more than infodumping. In that case, I think Dominion Textile on our layout, as great as it sounds on paper, is nothing more than a useless and over complicated 3D battle scene imagined and directed by George Lucas himself… I’m certainly not walking down the path of Hollywood with the layout, we know it will end in the most spectacularly boring way! Charlevoix cliffs may look overly simplistic on a track plan but at least they support a story… and a good one!


  1. Industries do not have to be switched by every train, on every operating session. Many are not so served in real life, so having many need not make you care less. Rather, it may prove the reverse: with a random traffic generator (a die!) you can turn up not knowing in advance which industries you will be working that session.


    1. Simon, effectively, it doesn't have to be switched every time and in this case, Dominion Textile is not served on a regular basis. I've had a second look at the layout in real this week and the scene transition is smoother than I assumed. I think Montmorency can survive and be nicely blended together with Charlevoix. At least, it's certainly worth a try. If it doesn't live up to expectation, I know I have a Plan B.