Friday, October 18, 2019

Rue Desbiens - In Place

The beauty with cardboard (or styrene) roads is they can be set in place in a matter of a few minutes and require almost virtually no excess work.

Now with this key grade crossing in place, we can start to better understand the dynamic of this specific scene. Roads are natural spots where the human world interacts with trains so they must be used with care so they can balance how we frame our subject.

With Desbiens Street, we discovered that an interesting spot right over the hills dividing the peninsula. It's always satisfying to discover multiple angles from a single scene, making the layout appears closer to a real world than a slice of roadbed.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Rue Desbiens

Making streets can be tiresome, but as some people have advocated for years (Mindheim, Gravett), it is often easier to model them at the benchwork using readily available material.

Once again, I'm not reinventing anything, only using a method that brought good results to me over the time. Also, I like when the layout has a visual coherence and for that, using the same materials and color palette helps a lot.

I've often thought roads on North American layouts look too good to be credible. When it's time to paint yellow and white lines, most will use full strength paint, which is far to yield a realistic appearance.

In my case, masking tape is used to frame the future lines. Then paint is kind of drybrushed to get a faded look. You don't want paint buildup along the tape. For yellow, I generally lighten the color with some white. After winter, lines are in bad shapes and not pristine if still visible at all.

When dry, I remove the tape then I use an hobby knife blade to scrape the paint. Don't be shy, the more you remove, the better it looks. Only leaving ghost lines is what we want. It is surprising how very worn out lines can still make a decent contrast with the adjacent asphalt color.

Then, a generous coat of dullcote seal everything while hiding the glossy hobby knife scratches.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Wieland - Scenery Progresses

A few weeks ago, scenery was going forward at a furious pace. Then, our DIY static grass applicator died. Electronics simply gave up and it was clear the cause was the cheap chinese components used to build it in the first place. This applicator was built about two years ago and saw less than 5 hours of use in that amount of time. This unfortunate event meant a forced hiatus that wasn't scheduled.

Green grass is mainly visible along the drainage ditch

However, I could take pictures of a step I rarely document here: how I prepare my ground cover.

Applying grass isn't a straight forward single action but rather the addition of several layers. Except if you want that clean and even look of a tidy green carpet.

Grass often dies quickly near switches due to pollution and drainage

I always start studying prototype pictures before committing to scenery. It's too easy to assume how things are and miss the subtleties of nature.

Before even applying grass, I generally paint a generous coat of brown latex paint to cover the ground. It blends everything together and provides a sound foundation for further scenery work. At this point, I will generally sprinkle some small rocks, debris and other similar junk to provide some roughness to the soil. While not visible under the grass cover, these elements will later provide some texture in the grass, making it more realistic.

The locomotive shed track is poorly maintained and dead grass is plenty.

A first step is generally to add white glue blobs along the ballast where grass has a hard time growing and dies. Tuffs of static grass are then dabbed into the wet glue and let to dry. I don't use an applicator since this dead grass is rarely standing perfectly upright. With the help of photos, I also repeat the same treatment in other areas where dead grass is expected. A rule of thumb would say that higher elevations and spots where water gets drained quicker are generally prone to be yellowish.

The transloading track is also another spot of neglect

After that, I repeat a similar step but this time using quite bright green grass (generally a Spring mix made by Noch is my memory serves me right). This time, still using pictures, I identify spot where grass is much greener. Mainly along the bottom of ditches, but also here and there in a quit of random pattern based of topography.

It is not rare at this point I'll sprinkle greenish ground foam over the new grass but also unscenicked areas. This add texture and relief, further enhancing the idea the grass cover is made of several layers of vegetation. This ground foam looks like very small plants and can truly bring life and color to the final results.

Highway ditches are generally well watered and vegetation thrives there

It must be noted I apply the dead and green grass tuffs before I applying the overall layer of static grass because these colors are quite garish and contrasted. The future layer will tone down the contrast and blend everything together. Later, dead leaves, vegetal debris and weeds will complete this blending into something compelling.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

GP15-1: Ditch and Rock Lights

Time goes by and I can't believe it's been a month since my last post. This fall comes with a strange king of lassitude... even if work on the layout still progresses.

Nevertheless, our pair of GP15-1s are near to completion. Adding LED to rock and ditch lights is proving to be extremely challenging and far beyond what we expected. Installing so many lights can be quite a challenge and unfortunately, we discovered quite late some LED didn't have matching colors. If you think pico LED are all born the same, well it's not the case. It seems quality control wasn't seriously carried on by the manufacturer. Imagine, a few LED were clear white, some had a bluish hue and other a very yellow tint. It was unacceptable and some were removed.

However, the final result is quite impressive and well worth the efforts. We still need to add some fiber optic lenses on the rock light, but 1510 is almost done. At this rate, maybe all our locomotives will be ready to run by Christmas!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Bassin Louise: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

A few weeks ago, Jérôme organized an impromptu slide show depicting our early efforts at operation-oriented layout planning back in 2006 when our club was founded. We all had in mind the absolutely atrocious mess that was that layout in its final years, but it was quite interesting to see it in its first iteration, before the “I Want It All” had yet to take root. Funnily enough, this first concept was quite sound and in fact promising though our lack of experience meant we never exploited its inherent qualities, rather spreading its defects in the worst directions possible leading to a certain death by asphyxiation. If you don't mind, we will perfom a post-mortem analysis to understand what went wrong and how it have been made better...

The grain elevator was right in the middle.

This layout was based on Quebec City Harbour in the transition era, specifically the Bassin Louise area and the large grain elevator there. Back then, I was doing a lot of researches for my architecture classes and discovered many maps depicting the track arrangement of days. The place had a lot of charm and could easily translate into a coherent layout.

Ill-conceived DC blocks meant extreme track duplication.

From the start, our attempt was plagued by poor design criterion due to space limitation, but mainly caused by lack of knowledge. Like any beginners, snap-switches and 18” radius curves became our standard, thinking we could cram more interesting tracks on less space. It was a mistake but honestly, it didn’t cripple the layout. Using real #4 or even #5 from Atlas code 100 Customline products would have made operation smoother indeed and later on, we used a few of them as we learned the difference in geometry.

Stub ended sidings redesigned with useless runaround capability...

The other major limitation was DCC. From the start, we wanted two operators with dedicated and independent tracks. As you can already imagine, it forced us to double tracks were only one existed on the prototype. Is wasn’t that much of a bad move if it had been done with more insight, but we ended up with a “cool” and overbuilt row of crossovers and diamonds. It worked fine, but it did take up a lot of space that could have been saved for larger turnouts and radius.

Inability to select useful trackage from prototype created useless sidings.

Another problem was our lack of understanding about railway operations. For some reason, what were stub-ended sidings on the prototype became a mess of runarounds. I can’t recall exactly our train of thoughts, but it seems we overbuild many sidings, failing to see how a railway generally tries to make the most out of less. It shortened sidings a lot while forcing contrived track geometry once again.

Over-reliance on snap-switch made this yard extremely derailment prone...

A corollary of this stance was the over-reliance of switchbacks to the point I can no longer stand to see that track arrangement on others layout. As I previously mentioned, our sidings were poorly designed and to compensate the lack of storage capacity, we used switchback almost everywhere to add tracks in empty spaces that couldn’t be reached otherwise. It made our lives much more complicated than required while adding an extra layer of frustration.

Fear of lack of interest meant diamonds and switchbacks were used too often.

Our lack of knowledge and experience led us to think our frustration with the layout was due to a lack of points of interest – a common mistake among model railroaders and happily encouraged by manufacturers and the press for obvious reasons. Here and there, every empty lot became a railway mess, scuttling every good point the layout had. That was our pitfall, we knew something was wrong, but we couldn’t identify the root cause correctly… and that’s a shame. In fact, that layout wasn’t bad. We recall really interesting operating evenings in the early days of construction. The original concept of CN and CP operating a marine terminal and interchanging cars was a sound one and Bassin Louise was indeed a great design for an island layout. The proof is I recently redesigned that layout early this year as an around-the-walls layout. It does work well and I believe would make a compelling challenge to operate.

At least, the operating drawbridge gave plenty of flexibility when switching.

So, the real question is what could have we done to make the layout if we had known better? Here are a few things I would have done if given a second chance:
First, I would have converted our 5 locomotives to DCC. It certainly would have cost us quite a bit from the start, but this technology would have made track duplication irrelevant, thus saving money and space wasted by extra turnouts.

Second, by removing trackage due to DCC, we would have gained a lot of space for better turnouts. Peco Streamline code 100 turnouts or their code 83 equivalent would have offered better performance and less derailment. It also means siding capacity would have grown sensibly.

Third, redesigning two-ended siding to stubs and getting rid of useless switchbacks would have again saved a lot of track and space while improving capacity.

Fourth, adding staging cassettes for incoming trains would have made operation easier and given it a goal. The connection with the outside world was always a big issue and we failed in addressing it back then.

And fifth, implementing car spots. Simple isn’t it, but back then, we simply shoved a lot of car on a siding, unaware of classification and spotting, then called it a day. Working at trainset speed, you can understand why we felt the layout lacked interest and started to add more tracks. Such a simple thing would have made us aware the solution wasn’t about adding “stuff” but rather about “understanding” how things are used.

How could Bassin Louise be implemented as an around the wall design.

At this point, I still believe Bassin Louise was a nice prototype and a good one for a club. Probably better than many other harbour prototype. Though never fully build and without an inch of scenery, it was a very immersive layout. Operating from the inside meant you were actually surrounded by train all around you, which made operation evenings quite magical in some way. I do have some bits of nostalgia left for that layout. If I had a chance to revisit this concept, I would definitely give it a try, finding ways to make it simpler and less contrived.