Sunday, July 5, 2020

As I continue revisiting several layout concepts so they can fit within my display cabinets, a new vision of Monk Subdivision start to emerge. Simplified and narrower (about 16"), this different take on the project tries to wrap around the corner the entire station, yard and depot. You'll also remark the main line isn't parallel to the walls, but flows diagonally to create space for various railway function (the shops, the depot, etc.)

One big change is to only consider the cabinet area as the main operation focus, the rest of the smaller shelves acting as a simple runaround track. On that loop, one two-ended siding could be added to stage a train or two in advance or act simply as a originating and terminating point for trains.

I also decided to keep the yard as small as I could, simply keeping a long passing track and a smaller two-ended team track serving various customers, including an oil dealer. While studying a few pictures from Monk, it became quite clear a freight house used to stand left from the large depot. It seems to have been a regular standard NTR model and the team track there could handle a few freight cars, maybe 3.

The turntable has also been relocated in a corner so the service tracks could be longer and more realistic. Having the locomotive shops on the opposite side of the layout creates a visual tension on the layout while providing an interesting focal point when entering the room. For the sake of convenience, a small MoW siding was added so some interesting rolling stock such as work trains or cabooses could be displayed there.

The continuous run could be scenicked of left as is. It could also be possible to imagine a small customer such as a feed mill located on the curve for the sake of performing smaller local train operations. But it wouldn't be required per se.

This version of Monk is probably much toned down compared to the original concept which was sound yet a little bit crowded to my taste. The goal was to create the impression of a track surrounded by nature and wilderness as was the NTR. Structures are clustered together, track density kept as low as possible and most secondary trackage would be in bad shape or covered in grass as was the case on the prototype to emphasize the linear nature of the mainline. I once tries with with Villeneuve on the club layout and found it was a neat trick to create the required hierarchy of track use.

I've also experimented with a slightly different version with a completely scenicked continuous run. While it could be interesting, I think this plan kind of thin down the intial focus on the cabinet area.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Avenue Industrielle - Richer Than Previously Thought

Recently, Jérôme sent me a scan of an old 1965 map of Limoilou Yard in high definition. First time I ever saw a good scale drawing of the area before major overhaul occurred in the 1970s. It helped to better understand how the trackage changed near Glassine Canada which, it turns out, was located on what used to be QRL&PCo Limoilou Shops wye. You learn something new everyday.

However, the biggest surprise was the industrial spur along Avenue Industrielle which I have covered on other blog posts in the past. This time, it was really an eye opener. Until now, I only knew about this interesting small industrial park through very unreliable insurance maps and grainy aerial pictures.

While I kind of guessed most elements right, it seems I my original interpretation was right: their was a team track near the roundhouse. For years, I thought it was simply my imagination, but it was indeed real and had a loading ramp.

From a layout perspective, this is quite interesting because it means a diversified traffic occurred there on a daily basis. Thus, a very simple track plan is no excuse to call it boring.

Colorized Limoilou Yard map (credit: Ville de Québec, circa 1965)

But on a surprising note, it seems a big chunk of marshes still existed west to the spur. Indeed, Limoilou yard is built on an ancient swamp called La Canardière where ducks gathered (they still do to some extent). But I wouldn't have guessed parts of that marsh was still surviving as late as the mid-1965.

This little geography fact has a tremendous impact on how I would approach building such a layout. Instead of starting with a flat plank, I'd rather build the entire trackage on an embankment then fill the areas with industrial activities and leaving the natural areas lower. The spur itself would be built upon a dirt and rock embankment full of bushes and weeds, making it clear it was built on previously natural lands.

Revised track plan

Given we always approach small industrial layout from a very dry and rugged perspective, it seems quite refreshing to see it as a small chunk of human activities slow encroaching a natural habitats. It makes for a more dramatic and contrasted visual narration while providing much more historical context and a means to tie together a very long scene (about 20 linear feet).

Thursday, June 25, 2020

East Angus Paper Mill - Final Thoughts

I've now reached the point where I can confidently say I closed the circle on the East Angus paper mill concept. As often, I could hear Chris Mears' voice asking a myriad of questions and felt if I failed to address them, the design wouldn't be optimal.

Once again, I optimized the footprint to fit perfectly my IKEA cabinets. To make it possible, I bent the track plan over the corner, creating a L-shaped layout not very different from my first draft about this prototype.

Overall, it creates a visually more pleasing scene, articulated between a very industrial part dominated by an old power house and a purely scenic area over the long and photogenic bridge. To be honest, it seems to me the new L-shaped disposition provides for a more balanced layout that wraps itself around you, strengthening the immersive nature of this concept.

For the sake of operation, I also added a narrow shelf running around the room and over the workbench. It could work as an interchange point and be tastefully scenicked. In that regard, Tom Johnson proved us more than once that you can do wonders with only a few inches.

To be honest, I'd love to build that layout, which would be a perfect CP Rail-themed diorama. Unfortunately, I'm not sure building another paper mill layout is a great idea. However, it could provide inspiration to anybody wanting to develop such an industry in tight spaces. It's the proof you don't need a lot of trackage to create an expansive vision.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Rivière Malbaie - Back to Normal

Monday marked our first club meeting in 10 weeks since lock down started back in March. It followed the public recommendations for meeting in a home, which weren't to bad to implement given the way our layout room. As with most first meetings, it was not a very productive one mainly because the layout needed some cleaning to be back in service. However, it was a good occasion to try have a fresh impression on the layout and how it looks.

In fact, it is now a given fact our layout is poorly lighted. Colors aren't rendered correctly, several spots are in the dark and the overall light level is often too low. We have yet to find a solution that is both effective and economically acceptable. If some readers have tried and true suggestions, I'm perfectly open to analyze them given our circumstances.

As for the layout, we set our goals at completing, as much as possible, the basic scenery in Clermont. This has lagged for too long and we have now enough experience to move forward at a sustained speed. As this point, all roads are cut and some will need to be painted and weathered. It shouldn't be to hard thought "Mill Street" is a 10 feet long single piece of illustration board. It will be tricky to paint and detail such a large street. I can't do it on my workbench, but maybe in the garage.

In terms of scenery, I also started adding the rip rap on Rivière Malbaie using real stones sourced directly from the river on that spot. It really brings together the scene and I can't wait completing the embankments vegetation! Also, I installed the custom made plaster bridge pillar in the middle of the river. It was made about 5 or 6 years ago but I waited a long time before setting it on the layout for fear of chipping the plaster. Some paint repairs are to be expected and I'm seriously thinking about giving it a coat or two of dullcote to protect it a little bit better. Incidently, I'm not a fan of painted plaster...

As for the river bed itself, I'll probably smooth it with spackle then paint and varnish it. I'm planning to use Liquitex Modelling Paste to create realistic waves in the river or another similar product. I don't see the need for pouring resin there. Malbaie Rivier is a powerful mountain river, not a plain creek or a canal.

With that said, I hope everyone is doing OK. I still have a few projects I didn't share publicly and hope to discuss about them soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

If Villeneuve was Beaupré... a Second Look

If you wonder if I'm still modelling, the answer is yes. Less than I wish I could due to a serious load of professional work, but enough to surprise a few ones real soon. I'm bringing back a piece of local history to life, but wish to keep it a surprise! Only a few few select people are in the known since they share a common nostalgia with me with that specific object and they helped me gather data.

And now for something less whimsical yet grounded in several of the same things! You recall (yet again isn't it) that about two years ago I raised the question about the future of Villeneuve on our Murray Bay subdivision. At that time, I mentioned I wasn't particularly convinced this scene was the right one for our layout. It became even more apparent as we modernized the layout toward from the 1980s to the early 2000s. The anachronistic nature of Villeneuve which cement plant closed in 1997 didn't sit well with me. Also, I was never impressed by the nature of operation there. Cool in real life, somewhat boring in miniature. Not everything scale down isn't it!

Another thing that I hate is how we don't feel the train is travelling in Villeneuve. It seems having D'Estimauville right after Villeneuve when it is a few miles away kills the trick. In Clermont, we only have one continuous scene, but the train seems to really travel a few miles due to that. The immersion is total. In a few words, that entire part of the layout seems contrived, lack unity and is basically underwhelming.

I'd say having designed and redesigned a few layouts in the last few weeks really has sharpened my eyes toward Villeneuve. From my last attempts, a common theme I tried to develop was the impression of a continuous scene telling a simple yet compelling narrative. Monk Subdivision was such an exercice, the Groupe TRAQ's several competing designs too, also the work done on a reader's track plan to improve an existing layout and even the funny little twice around design. Discussions with other model railroaders really stressed that finding a balance between operation (or rather, interaction with trains) and telling an immersive story was a key element to make a layout full of life and soul.

Beaupré (Google Earth)

By replacing Villeneuve with Beaupré - another paper mill town - I feel we can truly bring forward the true nature of railroading in Charlevoix. Two big mills kept the life economically viable, they both were full of action and located nearby interesting features such as a large river. One was a terminus in a mountainous valley, the other one was a town along the line build in a rich plain. Same theme, but a different approach.

Abitibi-Price Paper Mill (Google Earth)

Both had to use industrial switcher locomotives to complete the job, yet they had different needs. In Donohue, woodchip and liquid chemicals were a staple in paper production while in Beaupré, they sourced their woodchip locally and mainly received dry additives in covered hoppers.

Bridge over Ste-Anne River (Google Earth)

Also, Beaupré with its large 4-span bridge lend itself naturally to the room. Acting as a scenic point of interest, this bridge divide each side of the aisle: one dedicated to simply running, while the other is the plant. Also, the large river acts as a focal point when entering the room, creating a point of interest where now there is none.

The old distillery (Google Earth)

Another positive aspect is the nature of Beaupré. Since the mill was far away from the track, no need to model it per se. Given the ceiling is really low in this room, we don't get the weird effect of having the cement plant almost touching it and creating unsightly shadows.

Looking east toward the bridge, from the distillery (Google Earth)

Finally, Beaupré is accessed by a modern concrete tunnel under an highway. This exactly like this in the prototype and on the other side lies another town, which isn't modelled. This, it is a natural barrier to end a layout and create a portal toward the outside world. D'Estimauville, while a visually charming place, always lacked a bit of personality. In Beaupré, there was a large abandoned distillery, which provide a glimpse that the railway used to be much in use in the past, but lost a few customers over the years. This helps to ground the narrative that Beaupré is an industrial town that was able to develop with the help of the railway, making a stronger story than splicing clumsily Villeneuve and D'Estimauville.

Looking east from the road overpass toward the mill (Google Earth)

Indeed, all that is a bunch of ideas, but I would be quite interested in build a small mockup to see if there is more than meets the eye or if this is just a bias on my part. But just having a large bridge were trains doing switching have to cross a few time per sessions is already a great feature I love to see on a layout. This old YouTube video may provide a glimpse at what was a common occurence on CFC during the 2000s.