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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Rapido SW1200RS - An Early Assesment

Don't expect a thoroughful review here since I guess this model has already been talked about over and over on social media and forums. However, I'd like to give a quick overview about how this model can be useful for modellers wanting to customize them. Be aware I'm writing about the undecorated version which could slightly differ from the RTR version.

Not so long ago, this used to be a typical CFC consist.

To replicate CFC iconic black and yellow SW1200RS, we acquired 3 of them. These locomotives were the backbone of Charlevoix Railway during the 90s and we needed good quality models. Their pulling capacity is surprisingly good for a short wheelbase model, mainly du to the use of an all metal frame (similar to Atlas Alco S2 and S4 locomotives). Their overall performance is very similar to Rapido previous GMD1 locomotive and I would venture to say they are a little bit better. Given the
GMD1 became our favourite locomotive for operation, I suspect these SW1200RS will quickly take the first spot in our heart.

For someone who wants to customize its model, this new locomotive offer many variation including 3 differents smoke stacks and cabs. This is particularly interesting for us since each CFQ SW1200RS was different in that regard. Also, the way parts are assembled will make it easy to paint and decal without requiring excessive masking. In our era of superdetailed RTR models, many manufacturers are starting to forget we have to open our locomotives for maintenance and customization. More about that when I'll talk about a pair of Athearn GP15.

Some issues with unglued and warped thread plate on running boards.

However, our Rapido SW1200RS have a few issues, including warped pilot and badly glued anti-skid thread plate on the running boards. These aren't big issues and should be easy to correct, but it is certainly sad to see such mistakes on pricey products. Another problem is one locomotive out of three didn't had the cab interior details. Let's face it, Rapido still need to improve their quality control. None of these issues are major flaws, but they nevertheless are irritating.

That said, I'm quite happy with this model which is far superior than the Athearn Blue Box SWs I bought exactly 20 years ago with the goal of modelling CFC locomotives. As a matter of fact, this is the level of quality I expect from Rapido with the usual glitches. As a layout operator, I'm more than pleased to have a sturdy model that meets my requirement.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Partially Loaded Flatcar

When I built my 3 bulkhead flatcar lumber loads earlier this year, I made several extra wrapped bundles with the goal of creating a partially loaded car.

The idea behind this is much more than aesthetics as my goal is to provide a way to indicate to an operator that such a car isn't yet fully loaded or empty and thus must stay in place until the next operation session.

Both attractive and functional, this kind of load is another way to tell a story with your layout without resorting to complicated gimmicks or systems.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Still Alive and Some Erie RR Stuff

Blogging on Hedley Junction is never a linear path and for such reason, small breaks can occur here and there. Over the last few week, uniting the crew to work on the layout was quite hard due to conflicting schedule, health issues and other activities. However, it doesn't mean we did nothing during that long span of time.

Among the new stuff going on, we got 3 undecorated Rapido SW1200RS to repaint as CFQ units to faithfully operated the layout as it should have happened in the early 1990s. I hope to tackle this project during the summer as soon as I'll get suitable decals for it.

We also worked on Jérôme's St-Pie switching layout, assembling the benchwork but also starting to build a pair of Central Valley 150' truss bridges (which incidently are quite a challenge, though well worth the effort). This project is moving along sweetly and I certainly hope it will be up and running this summer. It has a very minimalist approach and I'm eager to see how it will turn out in real life.

Finally, I stumbled upon an old Erie layout based on the Dayton Branch. I explored this concept a few months ago, but it was fun to revisit my design once again with a fresh mind. It won't surprise anyone but I took yet another time a minimalist approach by trimming down a lot of stuff and only modelling "accurately" Erie interchange with DT&O at Maitland Junction, Springfield, OH.

For the sake of operation interest and visual gimmicks I had tried to cram too much stuff. Now, I simply see the layout as a self-contained scene that can be operated like a regular switching layout centered about interchange operations. I kept scenery very low key with fields, ditches and small tree groves. The idea is to have less stuff but to model it well.

I also better located each key scenes so the can frame what happens. When entering the room, your eyes are automatically attracted by the railroad junction and it's high building density. Then, mundane decor can be seen for a few feet on each sides so one could contemplate a well executed photobackdrop representing sweeping vistas over Ohio fields. These vistas are then framed by small scenes with carefully located trees; one is a bridge over Mad River, the other one a small grade crossing.

The liftout section doesn't cost to much to add and can provide continuous running when desired. With 5 "industries" to switch from opposite directions, I'm not worried it will provide plenty of interest. The main goal being to run a local switcher as was the case in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I consider this layout to be more than enough for an average modeller that what to see the end of a project yet provide him with a nice setting for his train and interesting modelling challenges.

While this layout is quite low density, one shouldn't shy away thinking it will be easily done. Vegetation, subtle landforms, track, ballast and roads can provide a lot of challenge if one is determined to try his best at it. Also, the very few structures on the layout aren't generic ones. The Maitland tower was a beautiful example of Erie standard architecture and the large brick and concrete warehouse hard interesting rooflines, skylights and windows. All of these elements would require dedication to catch the prototype flavour. To be honest, when I think about this concept, I can't help but think about these beautiful British dioramas and small layouts where you can find a genuine dedication to replicating - and understanding - textures that make our surrounding.

I'm not even sure I will ever build this layout, but the exercise was well worth my time and I believe it has merit for many people who struggle with the unfocussed (or over focussed) basement filling trope. Not that I believe one type of layout is better than another. But I certainly think there are many ways to reach a similar goal. Frst in a village rather than second in Rome.