Monday, June 18, 2018

JM Huber GATX Covered Hopper

Over the weekend, I painted and lettered an old Athearn Blue Box ACF covered hopper using custom decals. It was basically a test to see if color decals could work on transparent decal paper. To make a long story short, it works. But only if the base color is very light. For this particular car, I used CN Gray #12 and I would consider it the darker tone before colored lettering start  to shift drastically in shade. However, it would be perfect on a white car.

One thing I also experimented with was not sealing the decals with a clear coating right after printing them. It kept the decals extremely thin, however, they became much more prone to wrinkling which left small marks on the lettering. Thus, next time I'll clear coat the decals before use. It seems to me the gain in term of thinness isn't worth the risk to visually ruin the decals, except for very small ones.

And once again, I found out Walthers decals hardly slide from the carrier paper. I don't know if this is due to laser printer heat altering the bonding agent, if my paper is getting old or if it's a typical occurence with Walthers paper. If you decals are clear coated, it is not a big problem, but if they aren't the risk to destroy them sharply rise.

Anyway, I'm quite satisfied with this experiment. It may not be a prize winning model, but the correct paint scheme is spot on with cars that regularly travelled Murray Bay Subdivision when I was in high school. It's good to see them in miniature. If I find a more accurate and better detailed car at a good price, I'll probably upgrade the fleet. But I have more pressing issues to handle and will thus live with my el cheapo kaolin covered hopper car fleet. I hope to weather this car soon so it can join the fleet before the next operation session.

Speaking of experiments, I continued working on my Canadian Wheat Board covered hopper. You probably recall I pre-weathered the car by adding shadows and highlight BEFORE applying decals. Once lettered and sealed, it is hardly noticeable in pictures, but I can assure you it is visible in real life. Depending on prototypes, I'll probably make the effect a little bit more dramatic next time, particularly since many other coats of weathering will cover and subdue the effect. Next time will be an Intermountain cylindrical hopper in light gray CP Rail paint scheme which was converted from round hatches to trough hatches.

By the way, Hedley Junction will switch to a summer schedule starting this week. It means building efforts will be drastically reduced to focus our efforts on making the St-Pie layout up and running. Meanwhile, we will operate extensively the Murray Bay Subdivision in a serious and orderly manner to enjoy the last months of improvements. Some building projects will probably be done, but I would be hardly pressed to promise anything in that regard!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Beware of Commercial Decals

Once again I bought decals only to find out the font used and letter spacing was slightly (quite in fact) wrong. Set is Microscale 87-1532 and while most of it is quite good, I was shocked to find out the CP Rail name was not accurate at all. I'm always surprised when I see basic errors like that and I decided to do what any people with common sense do: do it myself.

The Multimark CP Rail scheme used the famous Helvetica font family which is generally considered as one of the most iconic modern typeface. Canadian National also used it when it modernized its corporate image in 1960 and many other corporate entities did so.

While Microscale got the font right, I quickly discovered they used it without comparing it with an actual CP Rail car or using any shop diagram. The thing is the guy who developed the Multimark corporate image had a knack for tweaking everything ever slightly. In fact, the italic font isn't the one usually associated with Helvetica, but it's a tad more slanted. Not only that, but the C, P and R letters are slightly more elongated than standard Helvetica. Finally, the "Rail" word letters are weirdly spaced giving a strange look. And no, it's not some fancy interpretation by shop workers. Looking at dozen of pictures it was clear it was the official way to paint the logo. In fact, most scale train manufacturers didn't get that one right. But to their credit, a version with a more standard spacing did exist and was common.

Why does it bothers me? Well, when I draw decal artworks myself, I also scale a picture in Illustrator and try to match as closely my lettering to the prototype. It's the only way to get decent results if you don't have access to original drawings. But as much as I consider this step crucial, it is evident most manufacturers only try to get as close and they can and call it a day.

Before you call me a crazy man with too much time on his hands, just look at this comparison and you will understand how major the discrepancies are. It's not only a matter of fonts and you can see how the real CP Rail logo is much wider than the Microscale version. This has a serious impact when trying to place lettering on a scale model.

So, now I have enough lettering to repaint two Intermountain Cylindrical Hopper in Multimark lettering without the Pac-Man logo. And since I don't like to waste decal paper, I made some neat artwork for J.M. Huber hoppers.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Military Way

I recently talked about implementing military modelling techniques into model railroading. It was now time to put my ideas in action. It should be noted adding shadows and highlights is an old trick which I initially learned in the early 2000s when I was building resin figure garage kits. In fact, it is an universal modelling technique and I'm surprised it is seldom used in model railroading.

Among our fleet of grain hoppers, there was a neat Intermountain Branchline Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) hopper. Unfortunately, these lightweight all-aluminium construction hoppers were rare back in the days and didn't visit Quebec often since they were kept in service on rural branchlines in the Prairies. For this reason, it had to be repainted. Meanwhile, our fleet was deprived of the classic  CWB brown hoppers with the centered single wheat sheaf. Thus, the branchline car would be repainted in that scheme.

Intermountain cars are generally very detailed and fragile. Instead of completely stripping the paint, I simply decided to erased the lettering using fine grit sandpaper and Walthers Solvaset. The same technique was also used to removed the paint lines between colors to get a smooth finish. This is an important step to insure you don't have ghost lettering and colors showing through your new paint job.

Removing lettering and feathering paint demarcation.

Once done, the car was primed then painted. Instead of replicating a perfect shade of "Salmon" color as per prototype, I used several pictures of CWB cars in service during the 2005-2008 era and tried to replicate that color. Once the car was painted, I then started to weather the brown color BEFORE applying any decals. It wasn't a big weathering job, but something rather subtle. A darker shade of my custom mix was used to cast shadows along the seamlines per prototype while a lighter shade was applied to highlight the steel panels. Very simple, but very effective to bring life into the paint scheme and it didn't require more time to paint than following a standard procedure.

It's subtle, but you can see the airbrushed shadows and highlights.

When done, a Future acrylic gloss coat was handbrushed all over the model and decals were applied. Don't be afraid by the whit deposits on the picture. This is a common chemical reaction between decal solution and Future. After a hour, the car's color revert back to its original color and the decal film blend seamlessly into the future. I know many people and most respected modellers don't like Future and I can certainly understand their frustration (it's far to be perfect). However, what I really like about Future is the fact it reacts with the setting solution (Solvaset or Micro Sol) in such a way it becomes slightly molten and the decal film "sink" into it. When everything is dry and you add a final coat of Future over the decals, you find out everything blends together and you don't get hard edged along the decal films. I believe this single advantage makes up for the inconveniences generally associated with Future. Other gloss coats don't react that way with the setting solution and even with the best cares, you can always see the decal perimeter. This is even more annoying when using weathering washes over the model. The pigments then pool along the decal edges, making them even more visible (and annoying). Maybe I'm not good enough to master more orthodox techniques, but I've found this one to work well for me.

Future applied to create a glossy finish prior to decalling.

Back on the model, I now consider what I'll refer in the future as "pre-weathering" as a valid way to paint a model. Not only it is fast, but it adds a layer of depth in the paint scheme. Not truly weathering, it serves to underline the model details and better define the panels. In real life, steel panels are often slightly warped, which reflect light in such a way a solid colors has several darker and lighter spots. This pre-weathering helps to replicate that. And to be honest, I believe many modellers that don't venture into weathering should seriously consider using this technique when custom painting model. It brings realism to any model without altering the lettering appearance. And yes, if you look at enough freight cars, you'll find out the lettering - for some unknown reason or optical illusion - often seems cleaner and brighter than the rest of the car.

Decals setting into Future. Only one Micro Sol application and no air bubbles or silvering.

By the way, repainting this model made me think how I missed when modern Canadian National freight cars sported bilingual lettering. For some reason, I think it looked quite classy and probably "exotic" in the US. It was an era when railways in Canada were still seen as a nation-building political tool even if their prime time was long gone. Unfortunately, I wish some decal makers and manufacturers would care to correct their grotesque spelling errors on their French lettered cars. Given many prominent French Canadian modellers are closely associated with the model railroading industry leaders, I'm still surprised to see so many mistakes. In the past, I used to contact manufacturers and to point out errors. It became quickly evident it wasn't a priority, particularly when about 95% of the customers weren't aware of it due to language barrier. Fortunately, some decal makers are more serious and do their due diligence. It is always fun to work with their decals without having to deal with obvious typos.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

More Hopper Weathering

Weathering is a hobby in itself. It requires so much dedication and attention to detail I'm not surprised at all some modellers focus their effort only on this particular aspect of our hobby.

While the temptation to rush things is high, I decided to keep my head cool and weathering my fleet step by step. Instead of doing it from start to finish, I do one step on a car, then move on to the other only to come back to the previous one few hours or days later. While it helps the various media to dry thoroughly, it also distances me from my work and enable me to better asset the results before moving on. Knowing I'm a very impatient man, this is already a big improvement.

It also gives them to better analyze prototype pictures and improve the model. Nice details are hopper hatches which are often repaired and replaced on real cars. This is a fun detail to model and that brings personality to the fleet.

Various hatch covers showing car's life cycle.

Speaking of organization, I took some time to reorganize my working area to increase my efficiency. Each tool and paint jars were located (temporarily) in the most convenient spot for speedy results. Paint jars in the rack are now organized in such a way the most often used are right in the front row. I also took time to write the paint color name on the black bottle cap to be able to identify them at a glimpse. An uppercase letter "E" or "A" standing respectively for Enamel and Acrylic also brings some order in the chaos.

It is also nice to revisit previous weathering job and identify flaws to be corrected. I was proud of my weathering work on an old Athearn Milwaukee Road hoppers only to find out, two years later, that many areas weren't up to what I observed on prototype pictures. Not a big deal and it will be improved in due time.

Still a lot of work to do on this previous weathered car.

So far, six hoppers are in various stage of completion, with to others in the paint shop. In total, about 25 grain hoppers will be improved and weathered and I'm glad I did because it helps to blend better models from various eras and manufacturers.

I also started to add some graffiti on my cars, following particular patterns found on real cars. Some are drawn using Prismacolor pencils while others will be done with suitable decals. I won't overdo it, but a few off them are a good way to ground the layout firmly in the 2000s.

Finally - and I hope to write about it in a future post - I started to put in practice what I recently said about pre-weathering cars before applying decals or weathering individual pieces prior to final assembly. So far, I'm really pleased because it gives me more control on what I'm doing.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A New Life For Old Decals & Weathering Tricks

Right: Old weathering; Left: Weathering removed with Tamiya Airbrush Cleaner

I'm in the process of weathering a 20-plus grain hopper fleet circa 2008 for Jérôme's layout. While working on an Intermountain Superior Co-op Elevator hopper, I had to device a few trick to make the project move forward switftly. The first challenge was removing the old botched oil paint weathering and dullcote. This was achieved by cleaning the surface with a cotton swab loaded with Tamiya airbrush cleaner. This solvent is quite strong and remove the weathering in just a few seconds. However, one must stay alert to no overdo it since it could also erase the lettering, which isn't a wanted side effect.

Cleaning weathering can also be a good option to bring back some data obscured by dirt. In my case, it appears some warning lettering was wipe out at some point to make it readable again. Just like in real life, I weathered the car, then using isopropyl alcohol and a stiff brush, I removed the excess dirt. The result is far better than masking the lettering prior to weathering

Next, is how to create the various paint patches and conspicuous stripes typical on modern freight cars... It was just a matter of giving a new life to old stuff in my drawers.

We all have old decal sheets in our stash, most of them remnants from previous projects that we keep “just in case”. Maybe this bit of lettering will be useful, maybe a few numbers too or a symbol. However, many pieces of decal seem to no longer have a purpose and I’d like to discuss to reuse them in a creative way.

Old zebra stripes decal sheet

If you model Canadian National zebra stripes era motive power, you probably have many stripe remnants that seem useless. However, you can cut them into pieces to create paint patches on modern rolling stock. If the color isn’t right, just spray over with paint. Also, these stripes generally come printed on large expenses of decal film. Thus, even if the stripe are small, if you paint the overall area, you can create quite large chunk of colored patches.

Reflective stripes are common on modern railroad equipment, particularly since 2005. Many older models didn’t come with them. Once again, if you have decal sheets with yellow stripes, they can be repurposed into reflective stripes by cutting them to size. In my case, I reuse CN locomotive long yellow stripes usually applied on the running board sides. Any decals in the right color and size could do the job.

Finally, if you are like me, you can’t print white decals because you don’t have access to an ALPS printer.  Over the years I developed a technique inspired by image editing software Photoshop. If the background color is black, I create an artwork on which white lettering is superimposed over a black background. When printing, the white parts stay transparent.

Patch done with a black paint marker

Patches done with a white paint marker

A layer of white (or any other color) is then applied on the model where the lettering is supposed to be and the decal is set over the paint. To speed up the process, I experimented with oil-paint markers from the craft stores. Not only they are easy to use to apply a thin layer of paint, but they dry quickly and provide a gloss surface perfect for decaling. No need for long and complicated procedures. I’ll certainly continue to experiment with these paint markers since I can already see a good number of places where they can speed up the process, particularly when painting rails prior to final weathering.

Black decals over white patches and other patches
While I still need to add a last layer of weathering, the overall look is now closer to the modern prototype I'm basing my work on. And yes, Superior Co-op Elevator have a weird tendency to accumulate dirt and grime.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Scene Composition: A Case Study

Scene composition is always an interesting game to play. Yes, it is a game; a hobby by itself if not an art form that can be pursued, enjoyed and perfected. However, we often think about scene composition from a landscape and structure standpoint, forgetting for a moment trains are also part of the setting and must be taken in account. Nobody would shoot a movie or draw a comics without taking in account how to place the actors.

I recently commented how I prefer to be immersed in a small scene where operations can be enjoyed from a single point of view. The idea is basically to enjoy the action as would happen in real life and appreciate how large steel cars and locomotives are passing by. Over the year I’ve built many mock up layouts and found out optimal vision angle in such situation works best with a layout scene about 3 to 5 feet long. Over that, you need to move around too much and it starts to break the suspension of disbelief. I suspect this will vary greatly from individual to individual, but let’s call it a good sweet spot in my case. A few of you must recall my old Quebec South Shore Railway layout was based on a similar concept and, interestingly enough, lost its charm the moment I tried to extend it, thinning down the overall immersion effect.

When that parameter is known, which is the size of your "frame", scene composition can start. By scene composition I mean the structures and landscape will shape a visually compelling scene that also helps to support the illusion a larger world. Many tricks can be used including vegetation, overpass, foreground buildings, backdrops, etc… But one’s must keep in mind the action has also to be taken in account. If your wonderfully detailed and weathered locomotive is half the time hidden in staging or somewhere else, maybe you won’t get the fun you wished for. It must be noted this becomes quite relative when dealing with larger layouts and trains, just has it happens in real life. For this reason, I’d like to stress I’m discussing smaller switching layouts here and not larger ones which work under fundamentally different sets of parameters.

Boston and Maine Station, Standstead, QC (postcard)

With that in mind, we can now start to develop a concept that focus on a small scene will making sure most of the action is done on the layout visible portion. For this example, I revived a layout concept I designed a few years ago. It is based on a small Boston & Maine Railroad branch line in Stanstead, QC that operated from the 1900s to the 1930s (B&M pulled out of Quebec in 1926 and Quebec Central ran the line until its demise). The branch line was about 3 miles long and was used to link Stanstead and Rock Island to Massawippi River Railway main line connecting B&M to Lennoxville and Sherbrooke. Both locales were then bustling towns which fueled their prosperity by extensively quarrying and exporting granite both for the domestic and american markets.

As suspected, trains were extremely short but it also meant the small terminal in Stanstead would be quite interesting. I only found a few photographs of the place online, but most of them are quite interesting and packed with details. Business seems to have been quite good around the railway and car loads were diverse. While my goal isn’t to reproduce faithfully the place but only to use it as a factual starting point, I'll took a few liberties when designing a track plan. That said, you can easily imagine a passing track, a mainline which hits a bumper where some cars can be spotted, a small standard passenger depot, a freight house and a team track. A few hundred feet away there is a 52'6" Sellers cast iron turntable suitable for diminutive 4-4-0s and a enclosed water tank. Quite typical, quite mundane yet full of character.

Since the scene is to be about 5 feet long, it becomes quite clear the locomotive facilities (turntable and water tank) can't be include on the main module but rather integrated in the fiddling area. What we should care about is the end of the line, where most public-related structures stand. It means we have less elements to play with, keeping the selective compression manageable and structure density on par with the prototype. It must also be noted Stanstead station used to be located on a small topographic depression, which gives us the chance to use landforms to frame our subject.

After a second thought, turnouts should be at least #7.

The scene is composed by setting the largest building – the depot – on the background. First, because it is convenient and a good place to show off a good model, but also because a locomotive running in front of a station is always a sure win in term of visual impact and a good place to shoot interesting pictures. I love when station are in the foreground, but it isn't a very practical approach when heavy switching occurs in an already cramped space.

Near the end of steel, I place the freight house on the foreground side of the main line. Once again, many reasons are at work. First, it provides a good way to conceal how the track meets the backdrop. Due to shortage of space, I prefer to hide it in a convenient way such as this one. It also provides visual interest because you can see a car lurking behind the freight house, giving the impression stuff happens beyond our zone of interest. In term of composition, it also balances the station in such a way you get buildings on both side of the track, creating an interesting depth in what could be a flat scene. Finally, having the freight shed on the front brings life to the layout because the structure can interact with the outside world. It is expected to find vehicles and peoples around there that comes in contact with the railway. It is both visually more interesting and provides more photographic opportunities.

On the other side of the layout, where trains enter the scene, adjacent lands rise to create a visual bottleneck between the layout and the fiddle yard. This is an old and efficient trick which is often done with an overpass. Other tricks would involve a structure on the foreground or thick vegetation. All of them are equally interesting and it’s a matter of choosing something that makes the scene believable. In the case of Stanstead, an overpass would be completely out of place and it's why I think simply raising the adjacent terrain and adding proper vegetation will work better while keeping the impression the outside world isn't far away.

Framing train operations from a visual perspective

Finally, fine tuning must be done. When I first drafted the idea, I created a typical consist made of two freight cars and a passenger cars. Given locomotives would be small steamers such as 4-4-0, 2-6-0 and 4-6-0, a typical train would be about 28” long at best. Knowing that, we now need to create a composition in which most actions performed by the locomotive happen on the layout. As much as possible, time in the fiddle yard must be minimized. A key element is where the train is located when arriving and departing the station. Basically, it means any train serving the passenger depot must be fully visible in the scene. Having a departing train locomotive hidden in staging would be a no go for me. Thus by tweaking the depot location and the platform, we can find a specific spot where both trains are perfectly displayed on the layout. No magic or trick here, it’s just a matter of working with real dimensions and understanding how trains will move in and out. In that regard, I mainly based my approach by mimicking Trevor Marshall’s excellent Port Rowan layout in S scale.

As you can see, the final result is a compact yet realistic layout with a simple but prototypical and functional track plan. By using a turntable in the fiddling yard, a lot of space can be saved to keep things breathing on the main module. To some extent, if returning locomotive isn’t required, a simple sector plate could do a terrific job. Given the dimension, such a layout could easily fit an office room or a shelving system. Care and attention to the finishing would make it blend seamlessly with its surrounding and could truly be considered as some piece of art. The fiddling yard could even be hidden behind a cabinet door when not in use if it isn't scenicked. In the case of an exhibition layout, the fiddling yard could be enlarged and enhanced to stage multiple trains.

Many themes can be explored and such small layouts have always been great ways to reach a certain level of proficiency. British railway modellers and others around the world have proved us this kind of formula – when it fits your needs and interests – are a joy to build and operate. As I often say, I will never advocate a single type of layout. However, I think it is interesting to see how small layouts can easily be turned into piece of arts and great exercises in scene composition. They make your brain works and push your design skills to the limit, which is always a good thing. This will come handy when designing larger layouts. Mastering the basics is always easier when working on something small rather than spoiling resources and building up frustration when experimenting with large projects.

As for me, if I had to build such a layout, I would go with an earlier era just like I decided to do with my Temiscouata project. The small rolling stock is perfect in term of space and small steamers perform well with short trains (just like the prototype). Many interesting cars are available on the market and old craftman kits can be purchased for a nominal price and improved greatly using modern details and techniques. Labelle passenger cars are perfect for that era and can be customized to fit a particular prototype. Accurail is also producing excellent plastic injection kits of classic 36’ boxcars which are a joy to kitbash and details. Finally, small steam locomotives made by Bachmann, Roundhouse or even the old IHC can become great project and generally perform well with some care. Older brass steamers in need of restoration can also be found for a good price. Given the layout small size, all these projects are manageable because you don’t need a ton of rolling stock to support operation.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Improving Walthers CN Difco Color Scheme

Strong from my previous experiment with color filters, I decided to see if I could improve an old late 90s Walthers CN Difco Dump Car. I must stress this car isn't prototypical even if it is quite close to a few cars CN owned. Most CN dump cars had completely different panel designs, larger cylinder and many of them were noticeably shorter. To add to the injury, the lettering has nothing to do with what was common on CN. Back then, Walthers used a very dark burgundy color instead of boxcar red for CN cars, which gave them a weird appearance. Fortunately, new releases have a more typical shade of brown and far more prototypical lettering.

Parts sprayed with a new shade of brown and lettering cleaned

In the past, I've weathered this car twice. It explains why the side panels are full of dents even if it doesn't make that much sense. But back when I was in high school, it was the best I could do. I also recall having painted small graffiti has seen on a car stored near my school.

Anyway, for the sake of this experiment, I decided to keep the wrong lettering and accept the car was a stand in. However, it was clear in my mind the wrong color - which is a major detriment - had to be addressed. To change the color, I sprayed the model with acrylic paint with a correct shade of brown. To get it right, I didn't rely on official colors, but rather mixed my own color following prototype pictures. It was evident these cars had badly faded paint and I wanted to replicate that particular look.

When the paint was dry enough to touch the model, I used a stiff paint brushed soaked in isopropyl alcohol and cleaned the lettering. It didn't take long to see the white shines again. From there, I used various shades of highly diluted oil paint to modulate the brown color. Raised parts were highlighter with light and warmer tones to make them pop and give the car so depth. The same was done on the air cylinders.

The car interior was weathered after I carefully studied Difco car videos on YouTube. Several people have posted online videos showing cars in action. When the load is completely dumped, it is easy to see the weathering patterns and how the steel is polished by the sliding loads.

When dry, everything was clear coated and standard weathering techniques were used to dust the model. Finally, a last clear dull coat was applied but this time, I used a custom mix of 1 part Tamiya flat base and 3 parts Future acrylic floor finish. I like this mix because it create a chalked effect on the model that suits perfectly well fade paint.

At the end of the day, the model discrepancies aren't gone, but at least, it visually blends better with the rest of the fleet. Given this model is rarely used in operation, I'm not that much concerned about prototypicalness. If I ever want a better CN dump car, I'll simply scratchbuild one.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

To Each Is Own Point of View

The way we interact with layout and model trains varies a lot among modellers. Like any subject matter on Earth, many people will like the same thing but for different reasons.

This is how I like to see my trains and be a part of the scene.

Last Friday I had the chance to operate the layout for the first time in about two months. A simple train from D'Estimauville to Clermont, switching en route the team track and the large paper mill.

While my freight manifest crossed large expanse of territory, I really was sucked in the miniature world when I was sitting in front of the 3 feet long team track and spotting 3 bulkhead flatcars full of lumber and a loaded ballast car.

Over the year, this feeling occurred many, many times: I had most fun while watching my train at eye level on a relatively small scenes (about 3 to 5 feet maximum). I can recall doing the same with my childhood train layouts. Regular readers knows too well how I have a fascination for smaller layouts and I must admit it isn't just for the sake of pragmatism. I truly need very little to be captivated in term of model railroading.

However, today a weird idea came ot my mind. I generally push forward the idea that I prefer when a layout emphasize the linear nature of railroads, thus implying a good layout would be long scenes with very little compression. This, honestly, can't always be done and I'm not sure it yields as much satisfaction one would want due to many other constraint. However, I thought what if someone would build a medium-sized layout by creating several vignettes of the road, each large or small enough to focus attention on what matters. It could be likened to a series of cameo layouts. Since each scenes would be self-contain, the distance between each of them would no longer matter nor the way the blend together (which is always tricky).

I'm well aware this design idea is absolutely not new and many have implemented it over the past with good success. However, it has some merit: first you have the chance to model various small scenes with a focus equivalent to a good quality diorama. Scene composition and operation are what will determine the size of a specific scene. Also, given railroads are quite large infrastructures, I see no harm in cutting them into small vignettes since it is how we perceive them when we railfan them.

Another interesting aspect is that some scenes can be completed and fully put into operation while others can be done later when inspiration, time and resources are available. Basically, the layout grows as required and few small  good scenes can provide a lot of satisfaction.

One of the reason why I put forward this idea s because I always struggled with Hedley-Junction when it was time to blend together several scenes. At best I got mixed results, at worst I was conflicted over the end results. Also, since our main goal is to replicate operation on this subdivision, a lot of compromises had to be reached to somewhat replicate the real thing. Unfortunately, we ended up sacrificing many interesting customers that define the nature of the line or geological features that set the locale.

Don't be fooled, this ain't a vary on the "I want it all" syndrome, but rather the fact I often found out many scenes on Murray Bay subdivision could be modeled as small switching layouts but didn't work when implemented on our main layout. I could distinguish both approach as the traditional one that tries to replicate a miniature open space world or one that that focus on specific enclosed scenes. You will notice I stressed "enclosed scenes" because I believe just putting together individual scenes together in an open air fashion is tricky at best.

Also, in a design, the layout would become something that would be quite similar to a storyboard. Each scenes being relevant in telling a story about how the line operate. In our case, I can easily imagine the introduction scenes at Maizerets, a second scene in Villeneuve focussed on the cement plant, then a third one about Dominion Textile and Montmorency Falls, and so on.

Very small scenes like Léo Cauchon sawmill in Château-Richer, Ste-Anne's feed mill or Cap-à-l'Aigle pier scenes could easily be implement since most of them don't need more than 3 to 5 feets to be modelled with success.

Thinking this way also enable us to figure out many long stretch of tracks are unrequired if your intention is about focussing on a few scenes. Indeed, if the layout goal is different and based on "running" trains, particularly very large one, the answer will be different to fit best.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

CN Ballast Hopper Completed & Military Models Weathering

I'm glad to report the CN orange ballast fleet is now done once for all and ready to enter service (when the paint will have hardened!).

The last step was about weathering the interior. To be honest, I didn't go very creative and I simply followed some basic instructions outlined by Ted Kocyla from the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club. This article is interesting because it is dedicated to ballast hopper and how crushed stone create a different weathering pattern than coal which is acidic and causes much more corrosion. Basically, the interior was airspray with dull aluminium paint, then followed a coat of dark dirt paint on the higher parts where less abrasion occurs. Some PanPastel dusting followed to replicate some fresh rust and dirt. The model was then dullcoated to seal the effect. When dry, I splattered thinned down Burn Sienne oil paint to recreate the rust pitting typical of exposed metal. A last coat of Future and Tamiya flat base (about 3:1 ratio) was applied to seal and blend together all the effects.

I've also been asked by fellow modeller George Dutka about more details related to the use of filters to modulate a base coat. This technique is widespread in military modelling, but rarely used on model railroads. Many of our techniques are somewhat similars, but I feel they are done in a more whimsical way than military modellers do and ofter, we make it much more complex than it should be.

As their name implies, filters are very light coats of color that are applied to a base coat to create slight variations of color. The goal is to tint the original color to create more depth and bring life to the model. It must be noted military modellers seem to categorize independently a lot of techniques we would put together under the generic word "wash". But I think they are quite right. A wash would completely flood a model to get an even coverage of all parts. This is what we do when we apply an oil paint wash over a model to get a grungy look. While very useful, this technique can get quite repetitive and generally fail to induce more subtle color variations.

Many of you have probably seen many railway modellers highlighting freight car panels by locally modifying each of them. It can be used to replicate decoloration, warping, buckling or highlights/shadows. Some use powders to do that, which can be a real pain when dodging the lettering. While a legitimate method, it seems to be quite inefficient. I did it once and called it a day.

With filters you can do that in an easier way. Your goal is to create a very light tint by diluting a little bit of paint. The ratio can be as low as 1:20 as you will wish to build up the color . It can be done with acrylic or oil paints. Oil paints enable you to apply the filter with a brush and gives you time to work the effect a little bit before it dries. Surprisingly enough, since a filter is extremely thinned down, colors such as pure yellow, orange, magenta, blue or violet can be used and create subtle but impressive results. According to prototype references, you can uses various filters on different parts of the model to make details pop or create peculiar fading patterns. Also, ready made filters can be purchased on the shelves. They have the advantage to be consistent and many major manufacturers offer them.

Toronto IPMS has some helpful videos on YouTube about filters and other useful techniques. I must admit I can't thank Mike Cougill enough for pointing out this series of videos. This one covers what I did with my hoppers. They have many online clinics which are quite useful and I strongly encourage you to watch a few. Renowned military modellers Michael Rinaldi also gives some great advices in using oil paints intelligently so it makes your life easier and your model quicker to dry.

This rust pitting effect would have probably looked better if done before decalling

Has you can see, theses techniques are hardly ground breaking. But as Michael Rinaldi points out, it's not about "new techniques" but rather about how you can drastically improve the results by refining the way you do it. To often model railroaders weather with a heavy hand and rely far too much on pure luck instead of controlling what they do. I believe many of our methods are OK, but poorly understood and applied as a "miracle recipe". Some thoughts should be put in what we are doing and I'm seriously starting to believe we should start to shuffle some building steps, including the moment we letter our cars. As I previously said, we are making our lives much more complicated than it should be.

On a funny note, when I was talking about that with a friend who models wargaming tabletop figures, he pointed out that model railroading rely a lot on prepainted model, which he surmises made us forget to break down the assembly and painting process. To be honest, I think he has a good point. We indeed try to make our models look like factory built RTR stuff before thinking about weathering.

And by the way, don't get me wrong. I am fully aware many railway modellers have created fantastic weathering methods over the year and share their knowledge on various forums and social medias. However, as great their work is, I find it disturbing to see this knowledge barely permeate in the mainstream and is branded as stuff for "geniuses" and talented people when it has absolutely nothing to do with it. Wouldn't a long series of advanced articles about that kind of stuff would make the hobby much more inspiring than covering another generic basement filling Plywood Central that doesn't fit most people's life? Given you only need to sit at a table with minimum supplies to create masterpiece, I certainly wonder which subject would have a better impact of modellers self-esteem and feeling of actually achieving something meaningful instead of being crushed by pipe dreams.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Some Details About Weathering Ballast Hoppers

CN orange ballast hoppers develop over the year a peculiar weathering pattern. Most pictures from various eras show them with a distinctive occurrence of rust pitting and abrasion on panels, keeping the ribs rather pristine. No streaking seems to play a major part in the weathering process but only a typical accumulation of dark dirt on the ends and under body. My I don’t know the real process behind the rust pitting, I wouldn’t be surprised it is the result of loose ballast stone dropped against the panel when the cars are loaded. To further my point, you will also remark the top horizontal stiffener is also quite rusted in the same central area while in good shape at the car ends.

Top: unweathered, bottom: with filters and weathering (yellow hues can be seen)

To replicate this neat effect, I decided to first fade the orange paint using a yellowish-tinted filter. Filters are used to alter the base color. While model railroaders have a tendency to completely fade a model, military guys generally do it by panels in a more controlled fashion. Different tints can be used to add variation and create steel panel buckling (modeller Tom Johnson is well-known for using this method to create hyper-realistic grain hopper weathering). In the past, when I weathered the initial fleet of Harlem Station cars, it is a method I used intuitively and which I thought brought far better results without having to flood models with heavy washes.

Light weathering and yellow + burgundy filters

Once the color is altered, I came back with the airbrush and added a very subtle coat of thinned rust paint where the pitting effect was the most obvious. From various pictures, it is possible to see rust leaching out of the pits, creating a muted coat of rust powder over the intact paint. When it was dry, I splattered thinned burnt sienna oil paint over the rusted spot until I got an effect close to the prototype.  Once done and dry, which didn’t take too long since I used very little solvent , regular weathering techniques were used to pop details here and there or add some dirt.

The interior is yet to be painted and weathered independantly

I previously said I wasn’t interested in replacing the grabirons and that I would take care of their appearance during the weathering process. To make them appear thinner and more prototypical, I weathered them heavily until they were almost dark brown. When dry, I used a brush loaded with Tamiya airbrush cleaner (or any other strong solvent) and cleaned the grabiron face to bring back the color. The result was a thin orange line while the thick plastic section remained quite dark, making it disappears.  It certainly doesn’t beat metal grabirons, but it definitely helps to conceal oversized molded on details. Also, if you look at prototypical pictures of CN ballast hoppers, it clearly appears the grabirons keep their bright paint in stark contrast with the dirty surrounding steel components.

Finally, a protecting matte coat was applied. This time again, I didn't follow the normal recipe but added a light tan tint to the mix before airbrushing. This helped to blend all the weathering effects together while brightening the overall model as if it was under the sunshine. It is well known we have to take in account that color does indeed scale and this is a good moment to do it with this last control coat.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Custom Painted Walthers Ballast Hoppers

The history of Murray Bay Subdivision cannot be understood without taking in account the ingrate topography that plagued (and still does) the line from its inception in the late 19th century up to its modern incarnation as a touristic line.

While the original and first segment of the line from Quebec City to St. Joachim ran on a virtually water level route devoid of any striking features, the same couldn't be said about the second segment linking St. Joachim to Clermont. This part of the line, originally planned on Quebec Montmorency & Charlevoix Railway original charter was never built by this company. Only under tremendous pressure by notable politician and businessman Rodolphe Forget did the Charlevoix section was built using mainly government funding. The reason was simple, you had to build several dozen of miles of track on the north shore of St. Lawrence River. Most of the time, no room was available for the track and a new embankment had to be built. Coupled with a fairly sparse population, the line would be costly to build and maintain while raking very little profit. No wonder QM&C never pursued this pipe dream and stayed a profitable enterprise for about 70 years.

On the other hand, it must be stressed this line extension helped to industrialize the area and open it to North American markets and tourism. In the long run, it was a positive force even if nominally profitable. Until the paper and lumber economic slum, CFC was in good shape and a financially interesting short line.

However, to keep the infrastructure up and running, a huge amount of maintenance was required to consolidate embankments every year. Rock slides and washouts were common and had to be dealt with swiftly. Just to give you an example, a similar line was built on the north shore a few miles west of Quebec for Canadian Northern Railway near Cap-Rouge and St-Augustin-de-Desmaures. When CNoR went bankrupt, the line was abandoned and most embankments were washed away by the St. Lawrence River tides. Given railroads are notorious for scaring the landscape on time scale well over a century, you can no longer see that line on satellite imagery.

For this reason, CN and CFC used to have several hoppers and side dump gondolas full of ballast and rock. It was a common to see a freight consist pulling several hoppers, stopping somewhere in Charlevoix and dumping the content here and there to consolidate the roadbed. Most cars were old CN 40ft triple bay hoppers but CN orange ballast cars were also common in CFC days.

When visiting Van Horne Hobby in late March, I had the chance to find a Walthers Ballast Hopper 3-pack in Conrail scheme. I already had Highball Graphic decals to letter CN cars so it was an instant buy. Funnily enough, while these cars are a little bit old and have molded on details, I found them to be fine enough to be kept. My first idea was to replace them with wire grab irons, but on second thought, I decided to save myself the trouble doing so. While I expect my cars to have a decent level of detail, I must admit my hobby time is shrinking at a fast speed and I can't afford to detail each model as if I was shooting to win a contest. Yes, if I could I would do otherwise, but I decided I would rather put efforts on an excellent weathering job than painstakingly replacing every grab irons. At some point, I have to recognize correct coloration and texture is crucial on making a model realistic, much more than minute details. In this respect, I must agree with Lance Mindheim's recent observation on N scale rolling stock about developing a strategy to meet your goal. On other more focussed projects like Quebec South Shore Railway and Harlem Station, I'm more eager to commit myself to higher modelling standards.

As you can understand, the project was then quite straightforward. For the first time, I used an air eraser to remove unwanted lettering. Working with baking soda can be tricky due to humidity, but it certainly expedited the process while not having to work with chemicals.

Paint was a custom mix of orange, white and yellow. My goal wasn't to replicate a perfect CN orange color, but rather to get closer to the color seen in real life, which aged and faded over the year. Another filtering coat will be applied when decals will be completely sealed.

On a side note, I must note I hate to decal ribbed cars in CN wet noodle scheme. The reason is quite simple. Most decal manufacturers make their design using the standard wet noodle, but they don't take into account the rib height. If you apply the decal directly on the model, you end up with a smashed logo.

The trick is simple, you cut the logo in different parts, generally the same number of panels covered in artwork. It leaves blank spaces on the rib sides which can be easily touched up with appropriate color paint. Once sealed, it is impossible to see the difference and it dramatically improve the appearance of the model.


After looking at various military model weathering techniques, I decided to try my hand on one hopper. While far to be perfect, I certainly liked how their techniques are easier and less messy, basically giving you much more control on what you are doing. I still have a long way to go and this car's weathering isn't complete yet, but it was an interesting starting point. I hope to master the methods a little bit more when I'll do the next two cars.

Another striking point was how these guys weather their model quite a bit before applying decals then blending them with their surrounding. To me, it makes much more sense and I often wondered with model railroaders gave themselves so much trouble. Think about it, nobody except our weird crowd would completely build a model, paint it, decal it and weather it. It seems our hobby is obsessed by weird ways inherited back in the days. I see two possible explanations: it was the way of doing model (particularly less detailed one) in the early foundation of this hobby or we have a very pragmatic way to do things: we built, we paint, we weather. Some will say we follow exactly the sequence in the 1:1 world, but I feel we give ourselves a lot of trouble. Just think how easier our lives would be if we pre-weathered models before decaling. Modulating and filtering the color would be particularly easy. And given white lettering on freight cars rarely weather the same way the surrounding color, it would make our lives much more easier will improving tremendously the finished model.

I must admit I'm always puzzled to see how our hobby is stuck in the past. While some guys do amazing things, the mainstream modellers have very little knowledge about what other modellers do. It seems to me military guys (among many others) have this drive to innovate and push the limit while model railroaders a people of traditions. Is it a bad thing? Well... probably. It is probably one of these roadblocks that keep us eternally at the kids table. Why is it our printed and online press always repeats the same old stuff under the pretense of helping newcomers? Are we still teaching to type on old typewriters for the sake of sparing new generations from a overwhelming electronic world? Is is normal every month, I look at available magazines and find out they publish exactly the same stuff from the 60s, 70s and 80s? Seriously, sometimes I ask myself if this hobby takes people for poor fellows unable to catch up with the era. Something akind to the proverbial man children living with his toys in his man cave. And don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against doing model railroading just for fun. But I find it disturbing to see the ones that should perfect and push forward the hobby keeping it under an umbrella in fear of I don't know why... Unfortunately, it isn't for lack of talent and ideas, which is a shame.