I feared it would be only a gimmick, but in fact it added another level of interest. The signals help to better implement the rule when doing switching moves where a street is located. In that regard, implementing slow speed made a lot of sense. Also, a manual on-off switch was added to control the signals at will during certain situations.
The other grade signals will soon follow on D'Estimauville avenue. As a matter of fact, all protected crossings are in the urban part of the layout while the other ones in the rural parts use regular crossbucks. I feel it helps to differentiate the scenes and type of operation you have to do.
Meanwhile, the same evening we looked at old Villeneuve pictures from the 80s and mid-90s and found out insulated boxcars were still served the cement plant regularly. Many were spotted at the warehouse. Thus, I decided to reroute two Walthers insulated cars to the plant. They used to be in newsprint service to Clermont, but I seldom used them since they looked awkward (Walthers had the tendency to paint its moden CN rolling stock dark chocolate brown). In a future rebuild program, they will be repainted and get some additional details and modifications.
Just for fun, here's the consist used to test the grade crossing. It was probably one of the largest train we ever assembled to serve the plant but it served it's purpose admirably while performing real operation.
The consist was pulled by a pair of GMD1, but before leaving D'Estimauville, the dispatcher decided that engine 1906 was enough for the job.
The first part of the job was to pick up a unit of gypsum and coal hoppers stored on the siding.
When done, the crew waited the autorization to leave D'Estimauville up to Villeneuve.
In a matter of a few minutes, the GMD1 was building up speed pulling its 23-car long consist. Another proof you don't need a huge empire to run long realistic trains with a purpose.
It should be noted that using D'Estimauville as a scenicked staging area have many benefits including some work required to build up the train depending what is stored on the siding. It's not a big operation, but it is enough to get the feeling you have to set up your train before going somewhere. Generally, about 50% of the cars are left on the siding while the locomotives, a few cars and trains emerge from the hidden staging area as if they arrived from Limoilou yard. I think setting up a proper departure is a good way to be in the right mood. And since D'Estimauville as a spartan track plan, it's a good way for visitors to get a hang of how the layout work, i.e., a tutorial.
1/87 Modern Farm Tractors
Finally, I received a nice 1/87 Massey Fergusson tractor ordered from AliExpress recently. Made by United Hobbies, this HO scale keychain (yes! you read that right) is a fairly accurate depiction of a classic MF 135 tractor.
Over the year, I've always been puzzled by people dotting their 70s, 80s and 90s farm scene with old Farmall tractors. While they certainly served for decades, you hardly set the era right on a layout using them. On the other hand, other prototypes were all too modern, fitting the 1990s and 2000s. They generally represent European or very large tractors only found on big farms. In between, there was almost nothing so I was glad to discover a decent mid-sized tractor and one that was sold bu the thousands in the good old days.
However, keep in mind the UH model is a little bit crude to be displayed in the foreground, particularly the front wheel width, the three-point coupling system and driving wheel. However, someone could easily fix that up if wanted. Except that, it is a good representation of the real thing with a nice paint job. I suspect this model could truly shine with a good waethering.
To be noted, UH also produce other farm equipments in it's 1/87 keychain product line thought I think they look a little bit cruder and less suitable for a layout.
By the way, the road in Clermont is progressing nicely. I used a DAP Pre-mix Concrete Patch putty. While it's a little bit coarse, it can be sanded down to some extent. It also requires more than a coat because it can crack when drying. The color is quite good and the material is kind of rubberized when cured. It means it can be easily removed but will also not crack if applied over joints and different materials. I picked up the trick from Ken Patterson's What's Neat videos. It's not a 100% fool-proof method, but I'll see what can be done with it. Unfortunately, while quite cheap, I wasn't able to locate a single hardware store that sold the stuff in Canada. It wouldn't certainly not become my weapon of choice when dealing with roads but it certainly does the job.