Thursday, March 31, 2011

Half-Turntable for Hidden Space

Since the day we decided to use steam power for the layout, we had to face a major historic problem... turning our engines. It is impossible to add a turntable to the existing shelf layout because of technical and operational issues.

Until yesterday, it was done manually, by the Hand of God, at the risk and peril of breaking small details. In fact, we almost never turned them.

On last Wednesday club meeting, I told my fellow members it was time to install a new turntable and that the best location for it would be in the furnace closet actually used as a tunnel to join the under construction Murray Bay Subdivision. The idea was welcomed coldly at first, but the spectacular and creative solution that appeared by the end of the night surpassed all our expectations.

The shop district located in the furnace closet.

One have to know Louis-Marie once scratchbuilt a large turntable for our President’s Choice 4-6-4. Operation was unreliable and the roundhouse proved to be a waste of time and energy since it almost never served as much as intended.
The main layout is located on the other side of the tunnel (right corner).

This time, the track plan is the simpliest you could dream of: a single spur with half-a-turntable located on a triangular 2’ x 3’ benchwork. The operation is straight forward: turning locomotives between duties.

Original turntable and roundhouse from the previous layout.

The old scratchbuild 16” (116 scale feet) turnatable from the previous layout was scavenged from the garage and reinstalled (it works with a magnetoscope motor). Since we lacked place and don’t plan to store engine there, the index system has only one position. Also, we further slimmed the turntable by creating an open pit, something I’ve never seen on any layout. We think it gives a really interesting sight for locomotive.

Mock up scenery made with Vollmer roundhouse parts.

A bunch of discarded Vollmer roundhouse facades were added to mock up a “railway shop” looks and the kitbashed Limoilou coal tower found its way back on the layout. To make room for a better scenery, the turntable will be move a few inches more from the wall to install backdrop buildings.

Limoilou coal tower nested in the back corner.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Improving Tichy Train Group 22' Ore Cars

Tichy Train Group is a well known company specialized in styrene train car kits. Often, they sell their own stuff on Ebay for a really good price. It’s there that I bought a set of twelve 22’ ore cars last year. The car are very well molded and nicely designed. Building process is straightforward but still quite time consuming (about 45 minutes per car, excluding painting and decalling). Nothing to compare with your usual old Roundhouse and Athearn car kits. I would compare it to Intermountain Railway kits in term of building experience, maybe easier.

Completed cars with original styrene trucks.

On the layout extension is located a rail-served iron mine. We need cars for it and new or second hand ore cars are on the expensive side. I have to concede that wood ore cars would have been long gone in 1957. However, our prototype, the QRL&PCo was recognized for using cars from the late 19th century and early 20th century well into the late 50’s. From what I can tell, iron ore from St-Urbain didn’t go on interchange and was only moved on rail to Quebec City Harbour.

Building was done following Tichy recommandations: painting the part prior to the assembly. I would discourage anybody trying to paint them afterward, it won’t work at all. Parts were sprayed with Krylon Brown primer to represented a generic color like Canadian National Red 11 and construction started.

Cars pulled by an Atlas S-2 switcher.

Trucks were the most consuming step. They are made of multiple parts and nylon “bearings”. Give a special care to make sure everything is well aligned because the rolling performance will suffer from any warping induced when cementing the part.

Once everything was assembled, I sprayed a second coat of Krylon primer to get a nice finish. Lettering was straightforward since i only numbered them to represent cars from a 01-99 serie. Tichy recommands to only number them and I agree. It’s prototypical and you can use them in different era/road without problem. When decals were set,  I sprayed a coat of Testor Dullcoat prior to weathering.  At this point, I drybrushed Krylon primer over the numbers to get a nice washed out effect (you can thin Krylon primer with isopropyl alcohol to some extent).

A string of twelve 22' ore cars prior to weathering.

Weathering was done with washes of PollyScale Steam Power Black diluted with 70% isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol react with Dullcoat and create an interesting whitening that looks right. On some cars, the whitening was too much harsh and full of blotches, I’ll probably overcoat them again with Dullcoat to erase this unwanted effect. Trucks were weathered with a black oil paint and mineral spirit wash to get a greasy look. Black pastel chalk was also brushed over the truck and lower car body to simulate dirt.

First operation session and modifications

Straight of the box, Tichy ore cars are underweighted which is made worst with the light styrene truck and plastic wheel. They run fine, but expect derailment issues is your track isn’t perfect! I decided to install all-metal Kadee archbar trucks on a car, it was optimal. However, my cars are in service in the 1950’s, so Bettendorf trucks would suit them better. At this point, I installed a pair of Accurail Bettendorf trucks with metal wheels. Not good as Kadee all-metal truck, but still an excellent improvement. I’ll probably build loads for these cars, so it is the most realistic and economic way to improve the cars.

Weathered cars: upper car is equipped with Accurail trucks.

Upgrading a Bachmann 40' Quad Hopper

My attempt to convert an IHC 40’ quad hopper into a CNR prototype was quite successful in terms of getting a sturdy car for operation with a fairly convincing paint scheme. Most people just doesn’t know or bother about the fact it should be a triple bay hopper... But let’s skip the rivet-counting on that one.
After this success story, I tried to do the same with my good old 40’ Bachmann CN “wet noodle” quad hopper. A little bit less successful. Details are thicker and Bachmann lettering is completely off the track. The result isn’t half bad, but not fitting the layout era. Then, a friend of our club gave us a box full of Bachmann train sets. Among them, 3 other CN hoppers were waiting a conversion and luckily, I had enough decals on hand to letter this fleet.

CNR Prototype Triple Bay Hopper,, Gord Hilderman (2011)

The prototype is a CN set of hoppers built by ECC in 1944 (serie 324500-324999) and in 1948 (serie 325000-325499). These triple bay hoppers were still in service in the 1980’s. When I numbered my IHC quad hopper, I made the mistake to use a number from the 323000 serie, which was built in 1958. The heavy weathering doesn’t suit either a car from the future! I preserved the car data from the Bachmann cars to save some decals (you don’t want to waste good stuff on toy train). The built date is 1948, which is a good approximation for the car I want to reproduce. Also, these cars were originally numbered 110XXX or something like that back in 1957. So, my numbers aren’t good at all for the layout era. However, I don’t mind to much about this... call it the modeller license (in fact, I don’t have enough “1” numbers in the lettering sheet to do all the cars).

Up: Bachmann hopper, Down: Lionel hopper (not original trucks)

How bad is the model? It's bad, real bad... Trucks are plain wrong, details seem to have been sculpted with a potato peeling knife and... there's hope. But you have to face the fact, Bachmann tooling is worst than IHC. It's worst than a HO Lionel car and I'm talking about the crap they issued under their name back in the 60's. Anyway, modeler's life is all about bring the best from the worst pieces of crap sold by unscrupulous manufacturers.

Up: Lionel with well defined grab irons, Down: Bachmann "low profile" details.

Conversion started with removing the ugly Bachmann talgo trucks. Since these cars were made in the 1990’s, isn’t not the cheap snap trucks from the past, but screw-mounted trucks. I’ll reuse the screw. Then, the underframe was filed flat and shimmed with  1.5 styrene sheet to accommodate a Kadee coupler box.

Underframe modified to accept Kadee couple box.

Bachmann truck pivots are quite large, so I trimmed them with an X-Acto until an Accurail Bettendorf truck could swivel freely. This complete the physical modifications to upgrade the rolling quality of a Bachmann car, quite simple. I like it that way.

Large original truck pivot.
Trimmed truck pivot to fit Accurail trucks.
Most factory-painted lettering was removed – excluding the car data – with 95% rubbing alcohol. Bachmann lettering is made of a cheap white gloss paint that peel off easily with alcohol. No need to soak the car, the paint lift up after a few seconds and you can rub it off with a paper towel soaked with alcohol.

Lettering removing process with 95% rubbing alcohol.

Previously weathered car is stripped from its lettering.
Car data was masked with painter masking tape and the hoppers received a coat of Krylon Brown primer. This color match almost exactly CNR Red 11 and there’s almost no difference with the original Bachmann color. This primer is my favourite color for CNR cars. Cost and time efficient and can be turn into many different shade when weathered properly. Trucks were also primed brown as CNR practice from the old days.

Hoppers primed with Krylon spray can, car data preserved.

Learning from past mistakes, I brushed a diluted coat of Future (Pledge) acrylic floor finish before applying the decals. Decals come from a CN “wet noodle” sheet published by Microscale for car from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. This sheet is quite strange. First of all, I’ve never seen the blue wet noodle logo on any car, even mechanical reefers. Call this an artistic license or a rip off. My LHS, Microscale and people wandering on Internet never answered my question. Honestly, if anyone knows what car used this lettering, let me know: I’ll build a fleet of them with the remaining decals in my drawers! Anyway, this sheet have a strange looking set of “Canadian National” written in a odd block (gothic) font with assorted reporting marks. Again, I have no idea where they come from, but with no real use for them, they can be an acceptable stand-in for older cars. CNR triple bay hoppers seems to be lettered with a font very similar to Century Gothic (a truly classic font often used by railway during the 40’s and 50’s).

CN Freight decals sheet,, 2011

“Canadian National” letters had to be separated to get the exact spacing shown on the prototype. This step is very time consuming has you can guess. It also gives concern about letter alignment, but one get used to it after a few tries. To accelerate the decaling process, I work according to a production chain: all cars receive their lettering in this very order: “Canadian”, then “National”, then “C.N.” and finally the car number. To keep oneself minded, I think it is essential to set small goals to achieve. This way, the task is easier to handle and successfully completing small objectives gives you a feeling of going somewhere.

I use a ruler to check out letters alignment.
Lettering completed (except number).
Completed cars compared with IHC hopper (upper).

When the lettering process is finish, each car received a coat of Testor Dullcote (1260) flat varnish. It seals the decals and give a nice flat finish that hold well the weathering powders.

Weathering is done by airbrushing several highly diluted coat of Citadel Chaos Black (in 70% isopropyl alcohol). Masks are used to simulate renumbering and repainting jobs done by the railway. I spray a final coat of Dullcote to get rid of unwanted whitening effects caused by alcohol reacting with the flat finish.

Finished car with weathering

Oil paint and mineral spirit is used to highly some details and get running rust effect. They are effective to weather trucks and make them look greasy. Pastel chalk is finally applied to dust and build up dirt spot on the lower car body and trucks.

And now, they are ready to be put in revenue and receive their coal loads.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Upgrading an IHC 40’ Quad Hopper

Few years ago, when I bought my IHC President’s Choice train set, I kept the engine (a nice running 4-6-4) and left the cheap rolling stock in the box. Cheap is a mere euphemism to described these pieces of plastic junk. Almost unprototypical by all aspects and decorated with horrendous paint schemes, I was feeling nothing could be done with them. In fact, it was almost true.

When rebuilding the layout, it was decided to stick to a 1957 era. Part of the rolling stock had to be upgraded and there was a need for a few more hoppers. Also, since the layout is mainly focussed on operation, we needed sturdy rolling stock (seeing nice Proto 2000 automotive box cars being scrapped of their grab irons by unscrupulous operators is a sight you don’t want to see again...).  At this moment, I remembered about the IHC 40’ quad hopper. Upon close inspection, it became apparent is was quite well done for a train set quality car. In fact, except the talgo truck, is was far better than the regular old Bachmann quad hopper.

Original car with talgo trucks, X2F couplers and "Mini-Chefs" paint scheme.

Looking on for pictures, I came across old triple-bay hopper with its 50’s paint scheme. Having enough decals and dry letterings to handle the job, I decided to convert my IHC car into a CNR car. At this point, I overlooked the fact it was quad hopper... and that CNR got their hopper in 1958! Sometimes, you have to make some compromises.

Prototype used as reference,, Don Jaworsky (2011)

First of all, I removed the talgo trucks and replaced them with a pair old MDC Roundhouse truck with 33' metal wheel sets. The underframe was modified to accommodate a pair of Kadee coupler pockets. Then, the truck mounting holes were filled with CA glue and baking soda. Smaller holes were drilled to accept the truck screws.

Car with new MDC trucks and body-mounted Kadee couplers.
New Kadee coupler pocket and truck mounting hole filed.
Truck mounting hole filled with CA glue and baking soda.
Then, I tried to remove the paint job. Nothing worked. The “Mini-chefs” scheme was decided to stay in place. So, I decided to paint it anyway. Using a Krylon spray primer (the brown one), I covered the car. Fortunately, the original paint scheme didn’t show up. Looks like IHC used a very thin film to decorate the car. However, I wouldn’t do this with another car.

The car after two coats of Krylon Brown Primer.

Krylon Primer is one of my preferred paint when dealing with CNR freight cars. It is decently similar to CN Red 11 and can be weathered nicely. It cost almost nothing and cover almost anything. Surface may be a little bit rougher than an airbrushed car, but not enough to be noticeable. It’s a good way to save a few bucks and a lot of time. Also, with this color, my CNR fleet is now consistent. Black washes may help to darken it until you get the shade you want, just like the real thing.

Letters were splitted individually and regularly spaced according to prototype.
Letterings was snatched from a set of Microscale decals (CN modern freight & caboose) adapted to the prototype (mainly the letter spacing). Data are from a old set of C-D-S dry transfer lettering.

Completed car beside an Accurail 55-Ton hopper prior to weathering.

Weathering was done using several washes of PollyScale Steam Power black diluted in alcohol. To give more character, I masked the numbers and some data to simulate reweighting and renumbering (the prototype was renumbered). Some oil paint washes were also used to enhance a few details and add rust. Pastel dust was applied on the lower body and wheels to simulate dirt. 

The final product weathered and ready to run on the layout.

In conclusion, this project shown me there was a lot of potential hidden in the IHC quad hopper. This car, once painted and weathered can survive the comparison with pricey rolling stock... at some extents. The conversion cost almost nothing and was done with left over parts from other scars.

Bachmann 40' quad hoppers with new truck and weathering.

I would definitively convert more IHC hopper if I ever get some. I also converted a Bachmann quad hopper of the same prototype. The Bachmann car is however another beast. Easier to modify but with chunky details that don’t look to good. However, a friend of our club gave us a whole box of Bachmann train set cars so I’ll give it a try to boost our hopper roster.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Scenery - Limoilou Yard Backdrop Buildings

Limoilou Yard

Using backdrop buildings is a common occurence on shelf layouts. No wonder why, they are ergonomic and only need half the material than a full 3-D building. An other advantage is that it let you use the unseen back facades to make other buildings, just like a 2-in-1.

During the last week, I’ve been upgrading the scenery located along the backdrop in Limoilou Yard.

Until recently, it was supposed this space was allocated to Canada Glassine factory, a building which, in reality, is located on the other side of the yard. After few operation sessions and scenery mock up, it became clear that Canada Glassine was a plain building with little railway traffic opportunities and didn’t give the “old town” look so typical of Limoilou Ward. Variety of rolling stock was also quite limited for this industry.

For this reason, we decided to go back to the prototype and try to include the varied industries that existed on this very spot back in 1957. Most weren't rail-served, but it wasn't to hard to imagine they could have been. Until recently, this space was occupied by two partially built kits of the wonderful Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing. It was time to kitbash them once for all according to the prototype.

Once again, the insurance map from 1957 was used for reference.

New buildings seen from Dufferin-Montmorency Highway Overpass.
Two front facades of Middlesex were cemented together to make a larger warehouse occupied by 2 tenants. Then, an old Smalltown USA back facade was slightly adapted and joined to a remaining Middlesex rear facade. Interiors were compartimented with styrene sheets. This will provided structural strength to the buildings and give lighting opportunities.

From left to right, the new industries are:

  • Adélard Laberge Ltée. – Ornemental Iron Works & Sheet Metal
  • McCormick’s Ltd. – Biscuit & Bonbon Warehouse
  • The American News Company – Magazine Distributor
  • Vandry Inc. – Radio & Refrigerator Mfg. (ex-E. T. Nesbit – Sash & Door Factory)

All building received a coat of Krylon Brown Primer, a versatile base color for brick buildings (and for CNR rolling stock!).

New backdrop buildings seen from the yard.

The best part will be weathering them and creating the billboards and company's signs.

Chemin de la Canardière 

On March 21th, we also upgraded the scenery around Chemin de la Canardière overpass.
Canardière overpass and new Massey-Harris dealer seen from the yard.

According to the Insurance Maps, we decided to build the original farm implement dealer that existed of this plot of land. All our previous efforts to find a different vocation on this corner failed. We were lucky enough to find an old photograph taken from the overpass back in October 1957!

Chemin de la Canardière seen from the overpass in 1957, Jocelyn Paquet (2011)

Our interpretation of this part of the city was built with a Smalltown USA front facade was used with a heavily modified clapboard warehouse (in fact, the four walls were merged into a long one).An old IHC two-storey brick structure was used to simulate the building sporting several Coca-Cola billboards.

Chemin de la Canardière reinterpretation.
A close up on Massey-Harris and soft drink billboards.

This updated map shows the completed structures and the proposed building.

Red buildings are completed, grey aren't built.