Friday, October 12, 2018

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 19

Rebuilding Clermont, my daily job, university classes and urgent renovation work on my house have kept me quite busy and drained my strenghts over the last few weeks, so I'll take things easy over the few next weeks. Fortunately, remaining modelling work is less demanding and can be done in a more relaxed manner.

During the last week end, I started to weather NBEC 1816. After giving some thoughts about this task, it was convinced to approach this complex matter in several steps instead of rushing it in one day.

Among the first step was to add paint peeling and rust effect. Indeed, according to prototype pictures, paint was flaking off badly on 1816, particularly on the ends and battery box panels. It was also evident the exposed layer of rusted steel was covered in dust and grime. This is why I elected to do it as a first step prior to any fading or wash.

Using an extremely fine paint brush and thinned down dark brown acrylic paint, each rust spot was replicated. I went a few extra steps to ensure each rust spots was as close as possible as real. It took about 2 hours, but it paid off because what you get is a true 1816 and not some stand in.

When done, I used some very thinned down CP Action Red paint and added red spots on the black sill. On 1816, the black paint was eroding, showing the red color underneath. I felt it was a really nice effect seldom modelled that was well worth my efforts. The trick was to build up the color with several thin layers instead of coating heavily the model. You probably recall that when I painted the locomotive, I already airbrushed some red in these areas to feather the future eroding paint effects.

Also, I discovered some decals were missing on my model. Several warning labels and white dots were applied to the 1816's pilots. Fortunately, these labels are included with Microscale CP Rail diesel locomotive decals. Now, only the NBEC initials need to be added... I'm still waiting to get some decal in the mail.

Finally, classification light lenses were made with blobs of paint. Green and Red lights are old Testor metallic enamel paint. The trick was to not shake the bottle so metallic flakes would stay in the bottom and the translucent paint would sit on top of it. Enamels are great for this purpose because they won't dry flat like acrylics but will make semi-circular lenses.

The white class lights are made differently. A bright aluminium acrylic paint was brushed where the lenses would sit. When dry, I took some gloss medium (in this case Micro Gloss) and tinted it with a hint of black. No need to put too much black, just enough to look slightly dirty. When applied and dry, it creates a characteristic glass translucent effect typical of uncleaned class lights.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont – Succesful Mission

It took about 7 sessions of work over a little bit more than 10 days to completely rebuild Clermont and Wieland. It was indeed exhausting, with several 10-hour long days including frustrating steps backward. But it is done and better than ever.

I certainly had my doubts when I proposed this major redesign, but the improvement in terms of train movement can't be denied. From a scenic perspective, it is certainly less glamour than a mainline nested between a cliff and a mighty rive, but it can have it's merit. Maybe the most unusual feature of the yard is being on a curve. Generally, people will try to build them as linear as possible. This is, indeed what common sense would tell us. More than once, you end up with curved yard ladders that are hard to operate due to couplers misalignment. My guess was that it was far better to put our turnouts on almost straight tracks and curve the yard itself where no coupling generally occur. This gave us the opportunity to use #8 and #7 turnouts without compromise or resorting to S-curves.

The new yard completed

However, rebuilding the layout in such an extensive way required some sacrifice. But at the end of the day, it was a good decision to cram as much work as we could during the last week because we estimated this would have taken at least 2 months under our habitual schedule. It would have been unacceptable.

Our last rebuilding session yesterday went smoothly. Due to the new roadbed, installing the track only took 5 hours and we got no particular issue during the process. Also, it seems our yard throats are better laid than the first time we did it a week ago. The smooth transitions ensure reliable operation with longer cars.

As for next week, we will put priority rewiring the layout. It shouldn't be too hard because bus wires are still in place and only new feeders need to be installed. Once done, it will be time to operate once again but this time with MRI switchlists and fine tune everything before even thinking about scenery.

But scenery will soon have to be taken in account and I can already say the peninsula will see quite a few drastic changes more in line with the prototype. For the moment, it has been agreed to work scenery from Wieland toward Donohue. I’d really like if we could start fleshing out Wieland by Christmas, but we will see in due time because some other tasks are more urgent.

Roadbed height variation per prototype

Among these tasks, we are planning to clean the room and get rid of unwanted material. We own several items that are no longer of any use for us and they clutter the space. Some will have to be simply thrown in the dumpster, others will probably be sold or simply given to whom can have a use for them.

Meanwhile, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of projects accumulating on my workbench at home. Several locomotives, completing woodchip car 3D design, working switch stand for turnout control and several others.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

How can't we think about that old country song chorus when reflecting on what happened yesterday... But contrary to the song, it seems we will get farther that way.

Quite a patchwork!

I mentioned two days ago we found a lot of irregularity on track geometry in both axis. It was bad enough that cars wobbled badly and noticeably. It was unrealistic and unreliable. When investing so much time on a layout, you expect good results. Rushing bad trackwork wasn't a solution.

No wonder cars wobbled...

Reluctantly, we pulled up the tracks and cork roadbed, obliterating one full day of work. Under it laid a patchwork of irregular fiberboard shapes. A real shame honestly. I shouldn't post that kind of pictures, but I feel we learn much more from our mistakes and this is a perfect case study of sloppiness.

Instead of getting the benchwork level, we groove fiberboard!?!?

In many case, the fiberboard was sanded down to cancel the uneven nature of the benchwork. In the case of Clermont's team track, the cork was buried more than 1/8" into the board!

A stratigraphy of mismatched wood bits that should have ended in the dumpster...

Under the fiberboard was an even worst substructure made of various bits of particle boards cemented with hot glue! Ashaming...

Back to the plywood... still some particle board shims to remove

Plywood surface was sanded down to get it as smooth as possible

Then we reached the plywood... at least. But some adjustment had to be done before we could start building up again the roadbed. The peninsula legs were lowered of 3/8" to get the benchwork level again. For some reason we jackep up the structure about 3/4" a few years ago, inducing quite a grade (almost 1%) which made some train stall... Now we know why! Also, we found out the peninsula circular end wasn't sufficiently braced and new structural members were added. Once done, we had a perfectly level and sturdy base to rebuild the layout.

The new roadbed use the same principles as the first one, however, it has been improved to provide a stable and regular foundation. Arc segments of fiberboard of correct radius were prepared and track centerlines were traced prior to any assembly. This way, we have a perfect circle and laying track will be easier that way than trying to draw a circle on the peninsula. Particle board pieces we cut using the fiberboard as a template. This way, 100% of the roadbed will be firmly supported to eliminate all wobbles.

Joints that match perfectly!

So another day and another lesson learned. Once again, cutting corners isn't an option. We almost rebuilt this section a week ago but deemed we could do with the actual situation... only to find out it was unacceptable. Rebuilding the roadbed took about 6 hours but trying to shim the uneven track would have taken much more time with no guarantee for good results. I'm glad it is now done.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - Track Laying

Last Friday was spent installing the cork roadbed and laying track. While these things are relatively straightforward process, we had to give it some thought, particularly in Wieland where space is premium and operation must be smooth.

The wye west leg dedicated to lumber transloading

Finding a solution to Reynold's (General Cable) spur took a good hour if not more. Various iterations were tried until we reached a track geometry that was both reliable and good looking. Fortunately, we were able fullfil our goal of having one car spot long enough for a 65ft gondola while keeping the chain-link fence gate and derail. However, we came to the conclusion the new alcove is kind of dark due to shadows and will have to be enlarged a little bit to look better.

General Cable (Reynolds) in the shadow. Better lighting will have to be provided.

We also managed to install all the cork roadbed including the sidings. In the case of Clermont Yard, it was decided the exterior siding would be sitting directly on fiberboard, making this track obviously lower that the main line. On the prototype, it is the case and there is a good feet if not 18" of difference. In HO scale, this translate to almost 5mm, which is shy of a 1/4". We agreed this difference in roadbed height have several advantages. First, you can see a train moving on the mainline even if the siding is full of cars. Visually, it makes the scene more dynamic. Ans finally, it helps to break the impression of a large web of track out of nowhere on the peninsula.

And that's all for the positive things that happened that evening. Next step will be to complete track laying on the siding (the mainline is completed now) and start rewiring everything.

On the negative sides, we had to remove ballast and some tracks that we
re kept until now in Clermont. It means all tracks will be new starting at the grade crossing. The final decision was reached because the ballast and track paint job weren't on par with our better work. Also, we found out it was required to realign the small siding that used to serve as a team track because it didn't look good with the yard alignment.

Virtually all tracks up to the grade crossing are replaced or cleaned.

We also discovered while making operation simulations the team track will have to be used to store excess cars. Our yard will be busy and this piece of track will be quite useful during operation. on the prototype, this track was indeed an extra storage siding and thus, we end up having to follow it up. A team track with MoW cars would have been cool, but it makes very little sense if this goes against layout operations. Also, from a scenery perspective, it will be easier to blend things together and I have already a few ideas. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see that where we went proto-freelance it wasn't optimal and we have to come back to ideas that are already used in real life.
The interior siding will have to be redone...

The final negative point is much more annoying. The interior siding in the yard isn't level. It was to be expected since we kept the old fiberboard there. Well, it just doesn't work and shimming every piece of track here and there will be both time consuming and won,t guaranty a goal result. Quite frustrating to remove track that had been relaid, but I see no point compromising on track reliability. Less is more also means you must have better quality and standard. If not, it's just cheap.

And now we can talk about something interesting. Jérôme started to sift through old paperwork, timetables and official documents in his archives. He discovered CFC timetables fitting our era, but also official paperwork, instructions to switching crews and car blocking in Limoilou. Very neat stuff that will certainly bring more life into operation.

I also started to work improving Trevor Marshall's turnout manual control made from FastTrack's bullfrogs control and Sunset Valley brass switch stand. Mechanically, it is the same principle, but I decided to had another layer of realism in this neat design. I hope to be able to share it within a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 18

Today this project finally reached a significant step. Can't go back anymore, the locomotive shell is now completely painted in CP Rail Multimark scheme and additional details and handrails in place.

Talking of decalling a CP Rail locomotive, getting the stripes right is always quite challenging. To make my life easier with stripe decals, I cut paper templates that fitted the RS18u curved geometry then cut the decal to size making sure the stripes aligned as shown on the prototype. Not only it eliminated the guess work, but it also made application speedy, easy and accurate.

Back numberboards are 3D printed from Shapeways. I designed them in SketchUp and I'm pleased how they turned out. However, I made some mistakes and their location isn't 100% accurate. This is the kind of detail that won't be really noticeable, but to be honest finishing touches really makes me realize this model is full of shortcomings. Starting with a Life-Like shell wasn't exactly the greatest idea on Earth and I would probably never do it again.

A set of Rapido ditch lights was also added on the front pilot. They aren't exactly the correct prototype for this particular model, but I decided it was better to compromise a little bit on that and have a working model in a decent amount of time. However, I did paint them as can be seen on pictures, with the red brackets and silver rings.

You will also notice I added a triangular shaped handrail on each ends that projects over the drop steps. I didn't initially plan to do it, however, since I've taken additional steps elsewhere to make this model as close as I could to the prototype, I thought a little bit extra work would pay off. A little chain was also hanged at the same time.

Now, the only remaining steps are installing DCC, a sound baffle and, of course, patching and weathering the hell out of that shell. I'm really looking forward to it!

Rebuilding Clermont - A Quick Update

A quick update about some progress  yesterday. Missing benchwork was rebuilt and the fiberboard underlay in Wieland was completely replaced with a new board, eliminating a lot of uneven seams and thickness issues.

It was also decided to raise the electrical panel door a few inches so it could open without hitting cars on the wye leg. This will also great a larger area to apply the photo backdrop. I wouldn't have been really happy with a big gap in the middle of the photo.

Next working sessions are planned on Thursday and Friday. This is Thanksgiving weeked in Canada, better take advantage of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - There's No Easy Way Out

We could have expected the rebuilding program to have been relatively straightforward... almost a piece of cake... But the walk in the park kind of turned into a substantial carpentry project as more bumps, dinks and other annoying problems started to surface when cork laying was in progress.

It quickly appeared that many structural elements had suffered deterioration over the year and this caused serious vertical variation that were far beyond tolerable. Near the electric panel, the benchwork was in really bad shape and warped. This was caused because it used to be a lifting section that was lightly built and warped. It was later altered to include a small river, which further weaken the parts. Adding extra material later didn't help the situation either.

A steep grade where none was expected nor desired

Where we planned to model the wood transloading terminal, the benchwork had a grade of 1/8" per 2 feet toward the electrical panel. It meant any car set on this track would roll back on the mainline, which is far to be the intended result! Rebuilding in this case isn't a luxury.

Starting from scratch...

On the other side of Wieland, where the track goes through the furnace room, it was evident the transition between the benchwork and hidden shelf supporting the track was far to be stable and sturdy. Back then, access there was quite limited and we did what we could. After a quick deliberation, it was decided to simply open up the wall and redo our job better. During the process, we found out the partition wall was built in the most haphazard way by the previous owner... Fortunately, it was sturdy enough to be kept.

Extra space was secured by removing an obsolete relay box on the furnace plenum.

On the positive side, we discovered several obsolete apparatus on the furnace weren't removed when it was recently refurbished due to access limitation. Having a hole in the wall was a good occasion to take them away, which gave us additional space to better align our tracks. At this point, I'm contemplation the idea to enlarge the hole a little bit and make it an alcove. This way, I hope, it will be possible to create a better transition between hidden track and Wieland, and more room to create a more fonctional Reynolds's siding.

As you can guess, the next working sessions will deal with carpentry and rebuilding the benchwork to better standard. Meanwhile, Jérôme has proposed to narrow a little bit more the benchwork in the between the yard west end throat and Wieland to improve access to rolling stock during switching. At first I had my doubt, but his argument is perfectly sound and it will make for more balanced scenes.

Meannwhile, I also started to prepare tracks, replacing missing ties on salvaged Peco flex tracks and prepping them for installation. We also completed DCC sound installation in my Atlas GP40-2W, which means this project can now be completed. I also got my airbrush nozzle replacement, so basically, my locomotive reworking program won't suffer delay.

Finally, I also did some work on a functional switch stand to manually control a turnout. This idea isn't new and has been (succesfully) advocated by Trevor Marshall for many years. I recall buying a Sunset Valley brass switch stand about 4 or 5 years ago but not doing anything with it. Now is time to put this neat idea in action. I'll probably go a little bit further and replace the round target with an oval one as CN uses and paint it yellow with it's intended spur number. Given the switchlist in JMRI are programmed using the sidings numbers, it will be a visual key to know where you are when operating. If you are interested in the mechanical aspect of this system, Trevor has put together a nice How To article for Model Railroad Hobbyist in August 2014. It can be consulted online and provides instructions and a bill of materials.

Now it's time to go back to locomotive building and weathering!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Atlas GP40-2W CN 9423 - Part 1

With the layout concept and era better define, I've continued to work on building a prototypical freight locomotive roster. My goal is to have all the key locomotives that were in regular operation and also the few leased units that made a visual impact. A quick roster show us the following engines and the years they were in service on Murray Bay Subdivision:

-SW1200RS CFC #1303 (1994-2002)
-SW1200RS CFC #1323 (1994-2002)
-SW1200RS CFC #1330 (1994-2002)
-GP15-1 LLPX #1509 (2002-2011)
-GP15-1 LLPX #1510 (2002-2011)
-RS18u NBEC #1816 (2006)
-GP40-2W CN #9423 (2002)

To this roster, we can add insdustrial locomotives such as:

-S2 Donohue
-GE 45-Ton CSL

Of these locomotives, the easiest to get in service is CN #9423.

Some of you will remember when I wrote back in 2015 about the differences between Athearn and Atlas GP40-2W. I recall pointing out Athearn won in terms of details and accuracy, but Atlas had the upper hand in terms of performance and sturdiness. Many of you commented I should take a pragmatic approach and keep the Atlas locomotive. This thought was the reason why I didn't sell it and kept this locomotive... just in case.

When Solvaset works, the original paint stays pristine.

Well... the just in case scenerio has now happened. Since we will mainly operate the layout circa 2002, we know CN 9423 ventured in Clermont for a while that year. I've got a picture from Denis Fortier that I recently posted that confirm this information. But better than that, I've found online a great deal of pictures of 9423 shot in the 2000s and was astounded by the amazing weathering pattern that developed on this particular locomotive. Interestingly enough, both sides of the locomotive are heavily weathered, but not in the same way, which I find particularly challenging in a positive way.

Knowing that and having surplus Loksound decoder, it was a matter of a few minutes until Louis-Marie installed sound in the unit. Twin speakers and a keep alive were also added. From that moment, the locomotive was ready to be renumbered. Some rivet counters will point out Atlas locomotive is a GP40-2W and not a GP40-2L (Athearn). Certainly there are quite a few differences including the frame height, however, after comparing several pictures, I came to the conclusion that when both locomotives aren't side by side, it is almost impossible to notice these differences. Given only one GP40-2W will ever run on the layout, such comparison won't happen. Further more, the heavy weathering will completely steal the show, making minor discrepancies almost irrelevant in this case. Given it was a generic CN locomotive, I see no point in pushing further. It wouldn't be the case with LLPX locomotives that were a staple on the road and that aren't heavily weathered. Also, if I think about my RS18u, I can see much more important discrepancies with this locomotive than what can be found with my GP40-2W.

Sean Steel decals (roadnumber) blend almost perfectly with Atlas pad printed CN logo. 

That said, it was time to renumber the locomotive for real. As always, I started with the Solvaset trick to remove the unwanted lettering. I hoped it would work and after soaking for 5 minutes, the lettering was easy to lift up without altering the paint. A thin coat of Micro Gloss was applied and let to dry to create a good shiny foundation for decals.

Decalling was done using Sean Steele excellent CN diesel locomotive decals. These decals are hard to find are cost much more than your regular decals, but it is well worth the price. Sean took the time to replicate CN fonts instead of using generic Helvetica fonts. And yes, it matters because CN had quite a peculiar number "2" design that other sets generally fail to replicate. Given there is a "2" in 9423, it was important to me to get this right. In my mind, people won't notice a 2" lower frame, but will easily find out lettering isn't prototypical.

New numberboard decals seamlessly blends and can be backlighted

Atlas numberboards are factory painted white and a black layer is painted over it. This ensure they can be backlighted. Since I wanted to preserve that function, some Solvaset was used to remove the black layer. Once done, a new black decal with transparent numbers was printed then applied on the model. This way nothing is lost! I also went an extra step and created the numberboard artwork using a real picture of CN 9423. Can't be closer to the prototype! And makes aligning decals far much easier.

Now, as I'm writing this, I have to finalize the DCC installation and make sure every component is secure in the right place. Also, I'll replace the flimsy Atlas plastic sunshade with A-line brass ones. Years of handling locomotives have thought me nothing beats brass for such an usage. I hope weathering to be done in a timely manner so both CN 9423 and NBEC 1816 can it the rails as soon as Clermont will be rebuilt.