Monday, June 30, 2014

Uselessness of Reversing Loops

There's actually a debate among our club members if reversing loops should be kept or tore down.

So let's see the pros and cons were discussed amont ourselves:

It has been pointed out a reversing loop may be useful when running passenger trains. We almost never run them and Murray Bay Subdivision was devoid of passenger trafic after 1975. Prior to that date, a single RDC Budd car was used. This kind of car doesn't need a reversing loop.

A reversing loop is also a good way to increase traffic. With two of them, you can have a continuous run while others are performing switching chores at some industry. Sounds nice, but only a train ran over Murray Bay Subdivision at one time. Adding more trains, devoid of any purpose, doesn't sound right to me. Also, 2 of our industries (Dohonue and St. Lawrence Cement) are large plant which have a dedicated switcher. This means 3 people can operate the layout without having to run a continuous train. It should be pointed out we rarely ran continuous trains, only to speed up things a litle bit and run fast trains just for fun.

That later argument helps me to define what I call a dwarfing solution. I think a reversing loop is the best way to dwarf a main line. Magically, you don't need to reverse the train, you just run forward. Also, depending how it is done, it inserts geographical discrepancies. On our layout, a reversing loop is connecting Clermont (MP 92) to Montmorency (MP 6). That's a huge gap! It doesn't make any sense. Worst. trying to justify this magic trick with scenery isn't as easy as it can seem. Clermont is a minimalist place. No overpass, no tunnel. Same thing at Montmorency. Trying to install scenery divider there kills the scenery balance.

Seriously, I often wrote about this subject, but I think most reversing loops are gimmicks that kills actual operation. They are a cute shortchut, but nothing more. Like a lie, you need a lot of other lies to make it believeable. And personally, I'm not fond of this self-delusional device.

I think our layout would be better off without those annoying reversing loops. I'm fully aware of their appeal, but hardly see them any redeeming factor as an amateur layout designer. And from a scenic point of view, without them, the Clermont area looks larger, making it more interesting.

I don't know if they will survive the rebuilding, but don't expect me to shed a tear for them. The initial peninsula wasn't designed with them in mind and I still think it is the way to go.

Setting the mood

Donohue Paper Mill in Clermont is a mid-sized industry in real-life. But when scaled down in HO, it is a very large industrial complex. Even if one had the place, it would take a lot of material to build the structure itself.

For these reasons, I decided to make a photo backdrop of mill and only scratchbuild the rail-served buildings, including the woodchip unloader and the warehouse, and a few secondary buildings.

The back drop is about 13' long by 3' high. I can limit the height at 24 inches to save on printing costs, which won't be negligeable. I'll check this week with a few local printing shops about cost and delay. I would like to have it ready by late July, before doing any scenic work near the plant. I'm looking forward to that moment when this empty shelf will become a real industry.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Modelling CN Woodchip Cars

Revisiting an old railfanning trip made was enough to decide to tackle a very old project of mine.

Freight trains on Murray Bay Subdivision were quite simple during the post-50s era until the late 2000s. A typical consist from the 80s and 90s was made of 50' newsprint boxcars lettered for CN, CV, DW&P and GT (The Good Track Road logo was a staple back then), a few bulkhead flat cars for lumber, grey hoppers (cylindrical, traditional and Procor), kaolin slurry tank cars and a few gondolas. Difco and ballast hoppers weren't a rare sight from time to time. But one of the most iconic car was the 60' woodchip car. Most of them were lettered CN Rail, that short-lived "modernization" of already modern CN logo.

I always wanted to get these cars in HO, but it never materialized. As I already said, it was evident for me - at least for the last 15 years - that some day, I'll have to scratchbuilt the car myself. So today, I decided to make one in HO scale, using Sketch Up, a few pictures and general dimensions from a CN Freight Equipment Catalog. It is based on a Transcona design built in 1982, car series 878XXX. Many Canadians use the Walthers model as a stand-in, but I find it ugly and it isn't enough similar to the prototype to be a decent representation of a car type I liked.

The model was designed using Shapeways design guide for their White Strong & Flexible material. Not a great looking material, but affordable for a first prototype (about 48$). I made it as a 1 part car, using an old MDC Roundhouse Railbox car as a template for few details. The relatively simple and orthogonal shape of this specific car makes it easy. The goal is to only have to add Tichy ladders, metal stirrups and grabirons, couplers, trucks and brakewheel. The brake parts are included directly on the model. They are relatively concealed by the carbody and I'm not that crazy about wasting time and money on undeframe detailling that is barely seen from a normal line of sight. If you want to take a look at the 3D model.

The model I design isn't perfect. Crucial real data wasn't available and there's some discrepancies. However, I feel the model is fairly accurate (0.5mm to 1mm). All in all, I expect the car to cost about 60$ when detailed, decalled and painted. It is a little bit pricy, but when you think prototypically correct canadian cars are are often 45% to 50$ per car, it sound good to me. Scratchbuilding them from styrene would be extremely tiring and less detailed. No thanks.

The next problem is to find (read to make) suitable "CN Rail" decals for these cars.

Railfanning the Charlevoix Railway in 1998

When I was 15 years old, I went to visit my grandfather in Clermont with my parent. For some reason, I was eager  to try my new photo camera and brought it with me. That was to be my second railfanning trip. People who knows me well know I rarely do railfanning trip. Most people are interested in racing like crazy on rural roads to catch a train crossing a bridge or a grade crossing. That seems extraordinary, but honestly, it have been done millions of time. And seriously, if I want the thrill to see a train on a grade crossing I prefer the real thing than a video. Anyway, I'm more interested in the locales the train cross. To learn how it was built, what industries it served, local railway architecture and to understand how it works and mesh in the area. Most people don't give a damn about that, they want noise, huge engine and tractive effort... just like car enthusiasts. Nothing wrong with that! I love to see a string of powerful engine under effort, much better than a ridiculous sport car! However, mix these two kind of people together and you understand why I rarely venture out in the wild with train folks.

Tha said, in 1998, the only train-related thing I knew was Murray Bay Subdivision. I hated the new CFQ black and yellow switchers and missed CN's M420 and cabooses. But, I was curious to see the destination of this neighboring track. It was Clermont. Quickly, this trip inspired me to get models I've seen there (a pair of Athearn SW7, few 50' CN boxcars, a Walthers Russell snow plow and a P2K mill gondola.

First of all, please excuse the pictures poor quality. I was an inexperimented photograph back (and still is), lighting conditions were deficient and worst - my scanner's driver isn't compatible anymore - I had to photograph the picture with my digital camera... But I think the quality is good enough. Also, some shots were acquired by adventuring in places I wouldn't nowadays. I was a teenager and didn't saw any harm in my actions: climbing car ladders, walking down a semi-abandonned yard. I don't think I would do this again, but back then, I though it was normal. What's done is done, but I can't recommend doing this to anybody nowadays.

Donohue Paper Mill and the railway bridge over River Malbaie

My grandfather's friend was living next to the paper mill, on the Malbaie River shore. I was really impressed by the deck bridge over the river and the paper mill in the background. That scene really struck my imagination then. 16 years later, I'm actually modelling the scene and it's iconic bridge. If you've seen my previous posts, you'll see the area didn't change that much since then. However, the river water level is particularly low on this late summer shot. In spring, it is about 8 feet higher.

North end of Clermont yard. Note the station sign.

Clermont yard was a small railway terminal built to hold and store cars from the paper mill. Boxcars, woodchip cars and a few gondolas were the only car types seen there. There's a mainline, 3 sidings and an unused stub siding. No locomotives, no activities. It was evident most switching chores there were performed by the paper mill switcher. The yard geometry conforms to the landscape and is S-shaped. Maintenance was relatively good with minimal vegetation (except the stub ended siding which disappears in the wood on the right side).

Typical 50' boxcars

Typical cars were these 50' boxcars with ribbed side. Strangely enough, I didn't spot any 50' NSC Newsprint boxcars, even if there were often spot on trains. I suspect most were routed to Beaupré's paper mill.

Typical CN woodchip car

Another typical car was this iconic CN woodchip car. I'll probably need about 6 of them to have a believable fleet. Unfortunately, no commercial version exist of this particular model. I always liked the ridiculous "CN Rail" logo on them. Even back in 1998, I knew I would have to scratchbuilt them one day. And thus, I took an interior shot.

Interior of an empty CN woodchip car.
This illegal interior shot give is a good idea how a woodchip car is emptied at Donohue Paper Mill. It seems the woodchips are vaccuum. Our observation of the plant last spring confirmed this. Weathering a car like this would make empty cars look visually interesting.
A pair of rarely seen gondolas on Charlevoix Railway

Among the many boxcars and woodchip cars, there was an interesting pair of 53' gondolas.

Wonder how to weather your Rapido HO gondola?

The gondola interior revealed a lot of debris, garbage and junk. I have now I idea about its purpose on the Charlevoix Railway, but it definitely wasn't in revenue service at the time of this picture.

Later in the afternoon, a few miles south, my parents accepted to drive into Clermont industrial park. This railway transloading area is located on a wye which is called Wieland. There, a siding near a loco shop revealed two nice things. First, one of the switcher. CFQ had 3 switchers: 2 were pulling the regular freight train and one was kept at Clermont as a replacement.

Ex-CN 55254 snow plow stored at Wieland.

Finally, behind the switcher, there was this nice snow plow. Not identical, but very similar to True Line's new project. The snow plow is still owned by Le Massif de Charlevoix, bu didn't saw action since a long time and is a rust bucket rotting on a forsaken siding a mile south from Wieland. Two years later, I bought a Walthers Russell snow plow to kitbash this one. I shorthened the body and painted it. Finally, I restored it to it's full length about 3 years ago and airbrushed it.

Then, we returned home and I only came back there this spring. Most thing didn't change... but the yard was empty, a large tree felt over the tracks and remaining cars near Wieland were rotting on spot. Donohue's switcher is still there, but no more CFQ locomotives.

Preparing the benchwork

Yesterday was a productive day and we made a lot of progress. Enough to be able to start laying track during the month of July. Maybe. Among many task, I started to paint and weather the turnouts that will be used on the mill site. It is easier to paint turnout before installing them than after. Flex track will be painted on site though.

First, the fascia was completed all aroung Clermont. That included rewroking the first section we built to get a better looking curve.

The second section - left to the river -  was modified. After looking at prototype pictures, it was determined the track on the mill side is located on an embankment that is far higher than surrounding lands. This new platform open a new perspective on the bridge and makes the river valley looks larger than it real is.

Also, the fiberboard was painted with dark brown latex paint to seal it. That material makes a lot of dust overtime and we wanted to seal it for this reason. Also, it will give us a nice ground to build scenery upon.

Finally, the fascia was primed and received two coat of paint to blend it with the existing fascia. We thought about repainting the fascia a dark green, but so far, there's some disagreement about that.

Next step is to give fascia a last coat of paint and install definitely the bridge abutments. Building the river, printing the mill's photobackdrop and making labels are also top priority for the next weeks. I'll have to invest a few buck into a static grass applicator too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bridge on the River Malbaie - Part 7

This afternoon, we remade the fascia near River Malbaie. As said in a previous post, the fascia snapped because there was too much stress.

The new fascia was allowed to follow a natural curve and no stress was induced while putting it in place.

This time, we learned our lesson and cut the fascia prior to any installation. The fascia on the left side of the river was also reinstalled to keep stress at minimum on the MDF board.

It was also a good occasion to make the benchwork larger were the river flow along the track. This will reinforce the feeling the railway is making its way between the mountain and the river.

 Next step is fixing the abutment and starting the river.

Painting and weathering track

I’ve been experimenting with track painting a few times over the past years since I started using code 83 track. In the early 2000s, I would handpaint the rails with floquil roof brown… it was tiring. I even tried doing this using Floquil Rust on Atlas Code 100 (the old one with blobs instead of spikes)… no comment!

A few years ago, I decided to spray paint the track with Krylon Brown Primer then individually paint each ties with craft acrylic paint, varying the colors of the ties. It was also mandatory to apply a coat of dark brown on the rail to tone down the reddish primer. The result wasn’t half bad, but something was lacking.

Down: the test track; Up: QSSR module layout.

Recently, on my Quebec South Shore Railway module layout, I tried something similar to Mike Confalone’s technic. In fact, Mike’s technic is almost the same as mine, but instead, he use a more realistic dark brown paint. Thus, I painted the track using Krylon Camouflage Brown as a basecoat then applied light washes of acrylics over each ties. The result was good, but not that great. Color variation looked overdone to me. Also, the ties looked greyish, not brownish, like the real thing.

Last weekend, I decided to try another well-known method to mimick old wood: a light color basecoat followed by a dark wash. Most people using this technic are using Micro Engineering track. Supposedly, the detail is superior. But I’m using Peco 83, which isn’t bad at all, and was curious to see if things would be looking good.

First, I sprayed a basecoat of Krylon Camouflage Beige. This is a nice flat and neutral color that may represent a lot of material. It also handle well washes and can be spray without hiding details if not oversprayed.

I let it dry for about 24 hours and then covered everything with a wash of burnt amber oil paint and mineral spirit. I started with a wash with the consistency of a weak tea and quickly found out it wasn’t strong enough. My wash was almost opaque and at some point, I added small blobs of paint directly on the ties then washed them away with the thinned down mix. In retrospect, looking at my prototype picture, I must admit the ties are particularly bleached and a weak tea wash consistency would yield better results. The current experiment is better suited for turnout ties, which are always greasy.

I let it dry for a few hours then masked the ties and sprayed a coat of Krylon Camouflage brown over the plates and rails.

When dry, I ballasted it with natural rock from an abandoned quarry nearby.

Finally, I lightly weathered the rails using rust-colored chalk powder.

First, I remember Lance Mindheim recommended waiting about 4 days before using the oil paint washes and also waiting to let it dry again before applying masking tape for the last painting step. He was definitely right. At some place, paint peeled off. Also, when I applied the washes, the basecoat started to dissolve and exposed the shiny bare plastic. It also happened when I removed the masking tape. On some places, it was minimal and gave a realistic look, but on worst case scenario, nothing was left. I don’t know if ME track hold paint better than Peco 83, but it definitely a case of nothing stick to Delrin. I remember Atlas Code 83 was standard brittle plastic and handled paint better.

 Anyway, am I interested to go this way on the layout. Seriously, the former technic is easier to do and give great results. I’m not sure about coloration, but it’s just a matter of using the right color oil washes. Unfortunately, this technic would need three  work session to be done, including drying time. Other technics are faster, but also more tiring. They may even look artificial at some point if wrongly done. Anyway, there’s no easy way out. I think, I can do the oil washes technic without problems. Working sessions on the layout are short and once per week. Also, turnouts could be “pre-weathered” prior to installation. That would ensure a better application of paint and possibility to troubleshoot any electrical issues on the desk.
The new layout is devoid of any complex trackage, only a single main line, its industrial sidings and neutral surroundings. Thus, I feel track must be done with extreme care in this particular case because each little piece of track will be under scrutiny.
And now, I have to find ballast matching better the prototype. The one I used is too bluish to look good.

Feel free to comment!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Bridge on the River Malbaie - Part 6

The bridge temporary installed on it final location.

I was recently reading on a blog - unfortunately, I can't recall if it was Lance Mindheim or Trevor Marshall or another one - about the importance to model a layout from a believable vantage point to ensure it would looks real like the prototype. It may seems an insignificant detail, but in fact, it's important. Personally, I never was able to see a train on a bridge from a river. Most of the time, I see it from an angle on the embankment. That kind of view is also interesting because it gives you the feeling the train is effectively travelling a lot of distance, going through the landscape. I would call it "free miles of track" since, all this is illusion created by following a more realistic relation between track location and landscape. Thus, I kept that in mind will trying to locate River Malbaie.

This shot clearly shows the layout width should be about 3 to 4 inches larger there.

With that in mind, we decided to set once for all River Malbaie riverbed last Friday. It was decided to make the river follow closely the track on the right side to reproduce the prototype embankment. Not only it is more realistic, but it will also make possible to shot picture from afar with a lot of river on the foreground.

The electric tool used to cut the fascia made too much vibration.

We also tried to complete the fascia. The right part went quite well, but the left part snapped. when we tried to recut the edge to follow the landscape. The 1/4" MDF fascia was under a lot of stress there. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have snapped, but the fascia drastic irregular shape focussed the stress on a singular point. Anyway, shouldn't be too long to replace it and I'll seriously consider making the layout larger than planned there to get more river.

A general view of River Malbaie, you can see the embankment on the right.

A few shot of a classic RS11 pulling a car over the complted bridge. I'm quite satisfied. Louis-Marie didn't saw the model until completion and was particularly impressed how it rendered well the prototype we visited a few weeks ago. Definitely, this scene is gonna be a postcard one!

The bridge weathering was done using cosmetic sponges from the drugstore. A light wash of artist oils was also applied here and there to blend everything together. Many washes were applied on the abutments. Very old concrete always looks yellowish, just like the sand aggregate used in the mix. Looks far more natural than pure grey.

The only question remaining is if the left embankment will be done with retaining walls as per prototype, of just rip rap. I feel rip rap would looks better for of era (mid-80s).

A few words about this blog...

Seriously, I'm totally surprised how the statistics of this blog exploded during the first half of 2014. I started this merely as a diary to follow the project. This way, every member of the club could access information about the layout from anywhere at anytime. I seriously doubt our mined path of trials and errors can add anything significant to what have already been said about model railroading, but good for you if it is a a sweet entertainment to browse through it just like I like to do with many talented modellers out there.

Since I got my first train set in 1987, a lot of things happened, a lot of experiments, many failures, many false starts, but still the same passion, intact and pristine just like the day a saw a pair of M420 stalled at Château-Richer's crossing back in 1986... I was 3 year-old. As life pass by in the blink of an eye, as many things get duller as we grow up, I must admit my fascination with rail transportation never died or aged. And  in time of hardship, that passion helped me to canalize my strengths on something significant, were my hands and mind could create an alternate world for a while. Many will look for "false paradises" when things start to go wrong, unable to grasp something that would be constructive. Thus, I always feel that someone with an everlasting passion is blessed in some way and I hope it's the same for all of you.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Bridge on the River Malbaie - Part 5

I painted the bridge and the concrete abutment this afternoon.

Abutments were sprayed with a custom mix of Tamiya (white + black + red + yellow) then weathered. I'm particularly satisfied with Gordon Gravett's technic of talcum over gloss paint .It really gave a realistic concrete texture that had enough tooth to receive weathering.

The bridge itself was painted using cosmestic sponge and artistic acrylic paint. Black, brown and rust colors were used and applied in several coat to mimick a rusted steel girder and its peeling paint.

When everything was dry, I generously weathered part with several washes of oil paint. So far, so good. The next step will be to use pastel chalk and complete the work. However, that will be done when the bridge will be permanently installed on the layout to make sure everything is blending together.

Next step? Glue the guardrails, paint the deck and weather the remaining parts.

The Bridge on the River Malbaie - Part 4

Good news! I just received my pair of Rapido CN coaches. They are simply gorgeous. Honestly, I do like the green and gold paint scheme, but I must admit passenger equipment in CN wet noodle is especially slick. Hard to believe I could have travelled on these cars everyday to go to work if I was born a few decade earlier. Now, I absolutely need to get a Rapido Steam Generator and to complete my RS18 as soon as possible.

Yesterday evening with Louis-Marie, we test fitted the new bridge on the layout. It was also a good occasion to settle where River Malbaie riverbed would be located. The river will flow diagonaly from left to right. On the right side, the track will follow the river on an rip-rap embankment, just like the prototype.

We tried our best to make sure track radius was a little over 30 inches. That's a little bit sharp, but still manageable. If possible, I would have liked a 36-42 radius.

Bridge abutment are made of styrene and painted with Humbrol gloss enamel covered with talcum power (to give some texture to the styrene). They will be eventually painted and weathered according to prototype.

On this spot, one can easily imagine where the river will flow along the track. On the right is the junction with the mainly.

The benchwork was extended on eachy side of the bridge. Topographic features will be done using regular and florist foam blocks. Riverbed will be painted on a 1/4" thick MDF board and covered wil thick varnish and acrylic medium for ripples. According to my photographic sources, River Malbaie can be quite high in the spring and relatively low during summer months. I'll try to get something in between.

It was also an excellent occasion to take railfan pictures of the bridge. It will probably be a favorite spot of mine. Seriously, I'm particularly loving the way the new layout is developing. I feel many hard learned lessons are now better understood. There's a sense of space and destination on the new layout. I was surprised when we tested the bridge. The river scene looks much more larger than we first thought, which is a good thing. There's really this feeling of a small industrial spur branching off the mainline and going somewhere over that large river. The nice thing about it is it took not that much place. Only to select the correct structures, to not overcrowd the scene and use topography with a realistic, ordinary, casual, "just like the real thing" way.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Bridge on the River Malbaie - Part 3

The bridge is coming along nicely. Using 1.5 mm sheet styrene, I built the concrete bridge abutments. I initially thought about using MDF, but the intricate wedge shape of the prototype would be tricky do to with precision.

Walkway and railing were done with Evergreen styrene strips previously distressed using a metal-cutting saw blade. Extremely effective and quick to give some texture, just sand of the excess and you get a very convincing wood grain (better than ME bridge ties!!!). My only regret is to have used a little bit thick strips. Maybe I should have use thinner styrene, but I was concern about strenght. Anyway, everything will be almost black and dark brown once painted, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Next step is to glue rails and guard rails, then paint and weather everything. I want to use Gordon Gravett's talc on fresh gloss enamel paint trick to make the concrete abutments look like old weathered cement and aggregate. Hope it will turn out nicely.