Friday, August 10, 2018

The Story Behind The Blog Header Picture

For many years now, Hedley-Junction blog as been identified by an old picture from the late 19th century depicting Hedleyville station. At first glance, this picture makes very little sense due to the relatively modern blog subject matter. However, when I selected it, most of my efforts were focused toward late 1950s railroading in Quebec City and it was - superficially - more relevant.

Hedleyville in 1898, including header picture field of vision. Surviving house in red. (credit: BANQ)

I recently found a 1898 fire insurance map of Hedleyville (now Limoilou) that depict the area as it was on the pictures. It must be noted Hedleyville started as a small company town developped by an industrialist in the late 19th century. Fleeing raising municipal taxes and a series of disastrous fires in Quebec City's poorest neighborhood (St-Roch, St-Sauveur and St-Jean), many people  decided to install themselves on St. Charles River north shore, just outside Quebec City limits. Several small villages (almost boom towns) developped in what would later become Limoilou. Each of them were generally the result of an industrialist or developper acquiring a large rural property, starting a business and selling plot to employees. Smithville (later Stadacona), Parkeville, Gros-Pin, New Waterford and Hedleyville all started the same way. Funnily enough, most of these towns were extremely close to each others, often less than half a mile. Promising good jobs, a more healthy suburban environment and low taxes, the success was immediate and new parishes and schools were soon founded.

The most prominent town was Hedleyville which was founded by W.H. Anderson, a lumber merchant, circa 1870. It quickly rose to proeminence when it was selected by Quebec Montmorency & Charlevoix Railway (future CN Murray Bay Subdivision) as its westernmost temporary terminal. It wasn't a coincidence since just a few years before, Quebec and Lake St. John Railway had built its mainline up to Hedleyville, waiting that a soon to be build bridge would span St. Charles River and link the rails directly with Quebec City.

At that time, Hedleyville is growing fast and lack of urban planification soon leads to an important fire in 1893. The same year, due to grow, it is decided to merge all the villages together and form a new larger town named Limoilou to better manage the area and bring better services, including much needed waterworks. The name Limoilou is an interesting one because it honors Jacques Cartier's homestead in France. Back in 1534, Cartier had wintered his ships and camped within the municipal limits.

Land developpers had big dreams for the new town and agressive development based on the most modern town planning principles was done to absorb Quebec City's growing population. However, any suburban town with little industries and commerce can't raise that much revenues from residential taxpayers. Needs were important but not revenue. In a matter of time, and after the large and costly parish church burned down twice in a decade, Limoilou was in a dire financial situation. By 1909, it was amalgamated into Quebec City territory and became just another borough.

Only surviving building circled in yellow(credit: Google Earth)

At the same time, Quebec & Lake St.John Railway was acquired by Canadian Northern which had great plans for Quebec City. As the fire insurance map shows, Hedleyville was kind of crammed between several busy railway line, which created many problems, accidents and dangerous conditions. Between 1906 and 1910, the eastern part of Hedleyville was expropriated by CNoR and Limoilou yards and shops were built. By the late 1920s, QRL&PCo erected its own shops in the vicinity and a very large paper mill occupied the waterfront. Long gone were the days when this area was a pleasant countryside where wealthy businessmen and politicians built their villa.

Now, back to the photo and the map... To most people, this area would be absolutely unrecognizeable. With the exception of one cottage (the second counting from left), every structure has disappeared. The tracks have been raised on an embankment when CNoR built the yard and Limoilou yard now occupy the area right to the main line. The junction with QRL&PCo have been severed and moved further east in the yard, though rails serving the paper mill still joins there in similar fashion.

1898 map and 2018 sattelite image superposion. Hedleyville eastern part vanished under the railway yard.

The land between the station and the town is now covered by an elevated highway. Funnily enough, even though the station was demolished, CN built its yard office in the 90s exactly on the same spot and same orientation. It is a pure coincidence, but an interesting one nevertheless.

But the maps tells us more... If the picture seems to depict only a road with a few houses, in fact there another street behind and two rows of houses. It seems Anderson street when quite far to the left and many others houses, not pictures, were located there. Also, on the picture, we can clearly seen the station ground was not yet landscaped with piles of earth and gravel still laying around. It probably means the picture was shot circa 1889-1890 when Quebec Montmorency and Charlevoix Railway made a junction with Q&LStJR.

EDIT: on the header picture, above the passenger cars, you can see a very high stack. It was part of a large rope factory that was located there and was among the few industrial sites in Hedleyville. It wasn't rail served by a dedicated siding, but probably did take advantage of the railroad to ship its products. It must be noted Quebec City had one the largest shipbuilding facilities in the world during the 19th century with many shipyards located on the shores of St. Charles river. This industries goes back to the mid-17th century when king Louis XIV was fully satisfied by the new vessels built in Quebec City by Intendent Talon, a famous local administrator that bolstered industry in New France in the 1660s and 1670s.

Ropes were a sought after item and no wonder the factory was located in Hedleyville. Unfortunately, Quebec City's shipyards dominated the wooden vessel industry, but were never able to convert to steel ship fabrication. Only Davie Shipbuilding in Lévis was able to modernize and survive up to this day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Avenue Industrielle - An Industrial Waste Wonderland


August generally means very little actual modelism due to summer vacations and surprisingly a lot of free time to think too much about layout design. This is habitually an intense period of layout design for me and a good excuse to explore various ideas for a projected home layout. I’ll be blunt, I’ve been in that house almost a decade and have yet to build and operate a layout that will stand the test of time! But honestly, layout design in itself is a hobby worth pursuing and I see no harm honing my skills chasing an elusive project!

It also becomes clearer each day my house can only accept small layouts of the shelf type, which isn’t a problem in itself and can lend itself to explore various themes and era without having to be chained to an ever growing monster in the basement. In fact, it is highly possible a future layout will be a combination of stacked small vignettes depicting very various prototypes on a few shelves. I like testing ideas and going smaller is the way to go for me to keep my mind focus.

So what’s on my mind right now? Well, a lot of ideas including a portion of a paper mill which I’m refining from an initial concept from last year (probably set in the 60s or 70s) which would be kind of cool given I’ve got all the rolling stock, tracks and structure parts required. It could be CN or CP depending on the mood. But I’ve also wanted to explore something even smaller and more mundane that could put to use my 1950s CNR fleet by revisiting a very old concept.

Back in 2012, I created a switching layout track plan based on Avenue Industrielle district (Industrial Avenue) in Québec City. This industrial area – as its name implies – was located within CNR Limoilou Yard and was basically a very long single track spur with some sidings serving various small and medium-sized customers including a builder supply, a produce warehouse, a lumber yard and about four oil dealers. It had appeal due to its gritty railroading look and grimy appearance. As a switching layout, it linear quality made this particular prototype an excellent candidate because it could fit on a very narrow shelf.
 
Original track plan with little ressemblance to the prototype

As a challenge, I tried to build it and reached a decent stage of completion (by my own sloppy standards) that confirmed some ideas had merit. Ultimately, the project failed when I decided to renovate my office room and wall space was no longer available. But to be honest, many other small things must be factored in to understand why this endeavour didn’t come to fruition and how it could have been different.

Not half bad, but decidedly cluttered.

Back then, I still had the typical model railroader mentality firmly ingrained though I tried to fight it back as much as I could. Thus, while following Lance Mindheim’s design guidelines, it was still an exercise in cramming 1 square miles of dense industrial setting into two hollow core doors. As if things weren’t good enough, I tried to add here and there elements for the sake of operation interest and diversity… We all know this couldn’t be good! The “I Want It All” syndrome was left unleashed and in a matter of time the project became really messy. Worst, I didn’t take the time to analyze correctly the fire insurance maps, missing subtle elements that would have made my life far much easier and the layout surprisingly more interesting.

Fast forward almost 7 years later and we can try and see how I would approach such a layout. First, instead of using selective compression and trying to fit as much elements as possible to represent the entire spur and neighborhood, I would only select a section and model it as close as possible to the prototype. It means the layout wouldn’t depict the entire switching job, but only one part. I also would adopt the “less is more” turnout approach I’ve been exploring since the last few years, keeping in my 20 minutes to 1 hour long sessions are a realistic goal. Finally, the layout would be almost at eye level, thus quite shallow. Due to space limitation, but also to make handling easy when building the layout at on the work bench, I would select a compact footprint. A good example would be IKEA LACK shelf, which is about 75” x 10”, which is sufficient for a small switching layout. These shelves lend themselves well for small layout in similar fashion to hollow core and their concealed supports are strong enough for this use since they can hold up from 18 to 44 lbs depending on wall type and fastener, which is more than enough for a very simple project. (Be aware IKEA uses a flimsy concealed shelf bracket for its shorter LACK shelves. Though far less sturdy, I’ve used some of them to display locomotives and they have hold well. In case of doubt, add shelf brackets.) A small 36” long cassette can be added to make switching easier, but it should be stressed it is possible to have a fully functional and realistic HO layout without using it. Ken Olsen’s Dawson Station N scale layout is such an example and it could be recreated in HO scale without problem. As long as you take in account the number of cars and how to handle them in the final track design, it shouldn’t be a major limitation.

Avenue industrielle circa 1948 (credit: Stéphano Biando, Université Laval)

Now, let’s see which part of Avenue Industrielle is worth our attention. While it is easy to select the end of the spur, one could elect to model any part of it. The level of traffic, complexity and modelling potential are about the same. I consider two locations are interesting and both would be equally pleasing to build. Let’s take a look at both.

End of spur on 1957 fire insurance map (credit: BANQ)


The first option is obvious: model the end of the spur. This area has a rather large British-American oil warehouse that received boxcars and tank cars and a large lumber yard. Logs and finished lumbers would be the main traffic. All in all, an interesting proposition well framed between the oil dealer that makes a great visual point of interest and the lumber piles behind which the incoming train emerge. About 6 car spots are possible, which isn’t bad at all, including specific spots at the oil warehouse. However, it seems a little bit hard to operate efficiently using a short cassette as it could easily induce additional back and forth movements, making it a good plan to build up frustration… Let’s see if we can’t find a better track plan.

First idea: modelling the spur end.
 
The second option is modelling the area just right of the lumber mill. At first it may look counterintuitive to model the middle of a siding! But beware of the “boring” aspect of this location. Upon closer inspection, one starts to find merit in what seems a rather mundane place in the middle of nowhere. This area is characterized by a few long sidings serving several industries including a builder supplies (Perlite de Québec), three small oil dealers and a produce warehouse. In a matter of time, we now know we will have attractive tank cars, boxcars, colorful reefers and probably more… not bad. As for framing the scene, the lumber piles will help conceal the layout left end while the right end should be cluttered with lumbers, trash, piles of material and vehicles as was the case in real life. From pictures I’ve seen, the area was littered with trash, muddy and heavily polluted. Forget neatly ballasted track, it was an industrial waste wonderland. However, an interesting aspect of this area however is the trackage itself, which is almost optimal for a small layout. A very long siding with several customers and a long sorting track (the “main” line) helps ensure smooth switching moves while inducing a challenge in sorting of cars and re-spotting ones that don’t move.

Second idea: modelling the middle of the spur

Looking at aerial photographs from 1948, it becomes evident the long siding depicted on the fire insurance maps was at that time broken in several shorter sidings. The most interesting one was serving the produce warehouse and two oil dealers… Not bad for a small industrial layout!

Middle of the spur, 1957 fire insurance map (credit: BANQ)

Another interesting thing is this industrial spur didn’t have a clear cut siding/main line dichotomy modellers love so much. In fact, according to the same aerial pictures from 1948, cars could be spotted anywhere it was convenient for customers. In the case of the lumber yard, both tracks were used, even if by our modeller’s standards we would consider it was a hindrance. Given how tracks were used, we can define what I would call “official” and “unofficial” car spots. Official ones are where you can find a loading dock, an unloading rig or a warehouse dock. You can’t fiddle that much with these elements and better keep them as they were to better capture the prototype. In our case, it appears the produce warehouse had two dedicated spots. One of them was for cold storage, thus probably only served by reefers, while the other spot was general purpose and could probably handle both boxcars and reefers. Next to it is Cities Services spot.  It could have handled two tank cars due to its length, but I have no definite proof. An unloading pipe probably dictated where the car(s) had to be spotted. The same can be said of Champlain Products which was similar. The next one was Supertest Petroleum which was served by a dedicated siding. Interestingly enough, just like British-American, they had a rail-served oil warehouse. Given the layout has already enough industries, this one could be modelled as a static display with a track a few cars that could be swapped by hand to add visual interest.

Impromptu (or unofficial) car spots would be near the lumber pile where cars could be seen back in the days. It could be a flat car, a gondola or a boxcar. Finally, the long stretch of track could harbor many types of car and be used as a team track or an off spot storage on an irregular basis. It may sounds absolutely low key and simple, but simply adding a car on the “team track” could be quite a challenge in itself. I certainly wouldn’t abuse of this trick too much when spotting cars!

In term of operation, I would keep trains as short as can be to not create a switching puzzle. If you can afford a longer switching lead or cassette, consider yourself lucky. In the best of world, you would be able to pull out all the spotted cars and incoming ones including your locomotive on the switching lead which is about anywhere between 6 to 8 feet long. However, given Avenue Industrielle was located within Limoilou yard premises, it means switching was done on a daily basis on a regular schedule. It means trains must have been short and only a handful of cars were handled. In fact, the aerial photographs show only a few car spots were used at once. For this layout, I would consider a maximum of 5 cars on the layout as a limit. Incoming trains would be about 3 cars long and no caboose would be used. The switching lead could be able to handle about 6 cars (if 3 feet long),

Interestingly enough, both modules can be assembled together (as in real life) and with a longer cassette or switching lead, make for a growing layout that can be built in steps.

Some final thoughts… The more I think about it the more I consider such a prototype would make for a great “club” layout. Imagine you model the entire spur full scale, make room for a long switching lead and a sorting track replicating work done in the larger yard. Not only you get yourself a very interesting layout from a visual and thematic point of view, but one that is highly manageable. With only 2 turnouts, track issues won’t be a problem. With more space, the shelf can be built at about 18 inches-22 inches large to better represent each customer and their structures, giving depth to the scene without over reaching. There would be about 20 car spots, which is quite a lot, even for “larger” layouts, in less than 18 feet in length.

As for motive power, a good steam switcher such as a 0-6-0, a 0-8-0 or anything else used in yards would be at its place. To take advantage of serious advances in diesel locomotive control (ProtoThrottle), any early EMD or ALCO switchers would do the job. Even smaller GE 44-ton wouldn’t be out of place at all and could particularly be of interest for people modelling large scales. Avenue Industrielle in S scale (about 9’) or O scale (12’) would be terrific and absolutely within reach for most people and lend itself to high quality rolling stock, scenery and structures.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Weathering Grain Hoppers

This summer's big challenge is weathering a fleet of 25 grain hoppers for Jérôme. I already posted about it but here's the final result for the 7 first cars. Hope you enjoy!




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

St-Pie Layout Update

With summer vacation at my door and a busy schedule full of major home improvement projects, my model railroading output is - almost - coming to an halt. However, work continue to be done on Jérôme's St-Pie layout which had now reach the track laying step.


It is interesting, once again, to work on a somewhat smaller project that is manageable. Most building steps can be done in an evening, making progress steady.

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.