Thursday, October 30, 2014

Setting The Stage

Planning staging isn’t an easy task. Particularly when you find out your expected 10-cars train length ends up being 20 cars. That was totally unexpected, but during the last week – after reading endlessly Mike Confalone’s Allagash Story Volume 3 – it became clear to me I had to seriously commit myself to understand rail traffic to improve the overall layout performance. I won’t go into details, but I did my homework and it helped me to better understand Murray Bay subdivision.

Since then, I found out cement traffic from Villeneuve wasn’t going very far. In fact, cement hoppers travelled only a mere 5 miles before reaching Quebec City Pier 53 where cement was transloaded on ships. Better, I finally understood the small spur branching out at D’Estimauville was used to handle cement traffic directly to Pier 53. In fact, this spur became redundant in the early 70s when they built the highway and CN modify Beauport Flats yard. At that time, cement traffic was reduced and 524/525 only operated as an extra. For our purpose, I’ll keep it on the layout because it is an interesting feature to operate, but also because it makes the track plan and staging easier to handle.

An early sketch of D'Estimauville simplified trackage without Beauport Flats spur.
To plan the required staging size, you need to know your largest train length. On Murray Bay Sub, the largest train will be train 524/525 to Villeneuve. At most, it has ten 50ft cars and ten 40ft hoppers, thus 135 inches. Add 2 locomotives (16 inches) and one caboose (6 inches) and you get a total of 157 inches. Round it to 13 feet which is quite a very long consist. That’s the length I need to completely hide the train in staging. Why? Because I find a train coming from “outside” the layout really makes you believe it is linked to the outside world. I used a few time “on layout” staging and wasn’t satisfied with that at all…

Having only 2 scheduled train to stage, two hidden tracks are needed. I recently explored the idea to hide an helix into the closet and have a staging deck under D’Estimauville. This is feasible, but requires a lot of job. Worst, it could eat up a lot of storage space under the layout. I’m not against the idea, but at this point, I feel going the KISS way is the best choice. Jérôme once proposed to hide staging on curved track into the closet and I choose to develop this idea.

Proposed staging developed from Jérôme's original idea.
The nice thing is that everything is on the same level and we don’t have to modify greatly the closet. In fact, when we rebuild that part, we already installed a shelf benchwork to support a future loop.
Since each staging track branch of from Murray Bay at different spots, they will spiral around each other. Rail cars drawers could also be installed into the closet, making it a nice place to stage trains without interfering with the layout itself.

Proposed network diagram with main locations.
Also, this track geometry helps us to hide nicely and realistically the tracks with scenery. Beauport Flats spur curves and disappears between two row of trees from Domaine Maizerets (a municipal park) just like the real thing. Murray Bay subdivision mainline and sidings disappear under Boulevard Henri-Bourassa overpass as per prototype. Both locations have a different treatment, making it easier to feel like trains are headed to two different places. Murray Bay siding is only a storage track for cars, engine or MoW. They were often found there on the prototype and I feel they help to create a second “scenic layer” in from of the backdrop hidden effectively the point where the main line punch through it.

Keeping Interest Alive

I wrote this blog post offline yesterday after still thinking's about Marty McGuirk's recent post about "recreating jobs". Since I'm actually trying to do that to some limited extend, I felt I was kind of related to the subject and other things. As many of you know, things drastically changed in my approach to model railroading since March 2014. Here's a few thoughts that are neither original or maybe applicable to other's situation, but I think that doing things like the real railrays made me realize I had to be more realistic and pragmatic in my approach. I now strive for simple solutions when I encounter a problem or a new challenge.

As time passes, I find out the most important thing with a layout is to keep trains running. If you look around, you’ll see a lot of interesting projects on the web. But many stall because there’s too much time of rail activities on them. When you see trains running, your imagination start to envision what could be done. That’s a tremendous boost to keep your interest alive.

Building a layout is great, but the core aspect is to see trains running, never forget it. We often think one step have to be done before we can move to the next one. Unfortunately, that means the real objective becomes a fuzzy specter lost in a future no one can predict. You start to feel prisoner of this linear logic.

I think having a focus on what you want to achieve and decent planning are a good starting point. But don’t let details bother you too much when they can be better worked out directly on the layout. When you start a project, what you need the most is coherence. Coherence is what makes a project realistic, probable, logic… meaningful. It doesn’t mean you have to cast in stone every detail, but to have a global framework to work within. Personally, selecting the locale, i.e. Murray Bay subdivision, helped me to focus my effort on a general goal. It doesn’t mean I can’t change anything after that decision, but rather that I have a manageable array of possibilities to work with instead of panicking infinity of choices.

Having the global concept set and most basic choices made (main industries, town, era, etc.), I think one can design a credible track plan. From that point, it is important to lay track and run trains… just for fun, just because it’s the main goal and because is it the best way to test your ideas against reality. No wonder we call our layout structure a benchwork… that’s what is truly is.
Some people will argue that special scenes will need to be built correctly from the start. Well, that’s a pitfall I met myself and my solution is simple: build it in a way you’ll be able to modify benchwork later. That means, keep provision for future projects. With limited time and budget, you can’t start a war on all fronts.

Anyway, we have to understand most modellers have waning interests, just like squirrels (a French modeller used to call us “hamsters”, nervous, excited, always making provision and forgetting them to pursue other glittering train interests). It is not a lie to say one day, they will build a bridge, the next one weather a car or two and a month later start scenic work on a culvert. To be clear, don’t let the general goal of running trains stall because of a mundane detail. A mundane detail can be a motorized turnout, a small brook or a large canyon scene. Anyway, the point is that any of these little projects should be part of a coherent whole instead of a diversion from the real project.

I’m not advising to set for anarchy while building your layout, but to keep in mind that some steps are vital to run trains (laying track, wiring, etc.) and others not. And track you lay doesn’t have to be prize winning if you just try to figure out how things will work. I’ve seen too many people waste years hand laying track like maniac to find out they didn’t like the project or lost interest. So, never forget your primary goal and create a framework that will allow you to keep focussed on your projects, be they mundane or vital. The idea is that any of your interactions with this hobby is another step toward the goal. We often say the process is much more important, it’s true, but only if the goal is meaningful. If it is not, that’s only wasting time and escapism. You’ll soon lose faith in what you’re doing… and motivation.

So next time you feel depressed because your “Model of the month” trestle isn’t complete, lay track over a plank and span the gap. You’ll have the same thrill and a preview of what it is to run trains over that future great scene: two good motivation factors to start working on that bridge!

A Growing Fleet

When you start to figure out how many cars are needed to make a railway run properly, it quickly skyrockets.  Just to give you a few insights, here are preliminary numbers. I take for granted you need about 2 cars for one industry spot.

Ciment St-Laurent is the largest plant on the layout. At once, it can hold 2 bagged cement boxcars, 10 cement hoppers, 5 coal hoppers and 5 gypsum hoppers. This means at least 22 cars at the plant and 22 cars in staging, thus 44 cars. To that, you have to take in consideration the fact extra cements cars are needed according to production. That means another 10 hoppers. Add a few odd cars like flat cars needed to bring machinery parts and you quickly get almost 50 cars to feed this behemoth.

Dominion Textile is a mid-sized industry with about 4 car spots. This means a minimum of 8 cars are needed. In fact, to take in account some variety, you can bump up this number to 12 cars.

Béton Charlevoix is a small concrete plant. At most, it will need 3 cement hoppers in captive service.

Câbles Reynolds doesn’t ship a lot of goods but you need at least 2 gondolas.

M. Grondin & Fils is a mid-sized sawmill. Most production is trucked but a sizeable part is moved on rail. Expect about 2 bulkhead flatcars in captive service.

Coop Agrivoix is hard to figure out. This farmer’s co-op receives a large array of products by rail on an irregular basis. Feeds, grain, fertilizers, building supplies, oil and LPG are the main goods. It means many covered hoppers are needed, about 3. About 2 boxcars for building supplies and 2 tank cars for combustibles. That means 7 cars x 2, thus 14 cars.

Finally, Donohue – second largest customer – can handle up to 10 cars at once: 4 woodchip gondolas, 4 newsprint boxcars and 1 chemical tank car and 1 kaolin tank car. Multiply this number to get at least 20 cars. Then, add about 10 cars for variety and you get 30 cars.

Total amounts to 121 cars, not including MoW cars and 3 required cabooses! Quite impressive when you know this is only small point-to-point layout running only two scheduled trains and one extra. Am I surprised? A little bit. Do I have to buy more cars? Eh! Not that much! I’m a model railroader, I’ve got already more than I can handle! 

One other thing... this means a normal train on this layout will anywhere from 15-20 cars most of the time. When I think my first design criterion was 10 cars train! No problem, we've got the place and the new track plan can live with it.

By the way, recent findings helped me definite the real nature of train movement over Murray Bay Sub, particularly the cement trains that travelled only 5 miles from Villeneuve to Quebec City Harbour (Pier 53 at Beauport Flats to be exact).

Equated Tonnage Ratings

I was curious to see how equated tonnage ratings would translate in HO. I started off with a 1975 CN timetable. I selected relevant parts of Murray Bay Sub and kept the values for Eastbound trains because it would be the ruling grade on this railway.

Then, I applied a similar calculation to Mike Confalone's one and other modellers to see how things would turn out.

To get "realistic" numbers, I reduced by 50% the real locomotives tonnage rating. Also, I translated the tonnage into number of cars to make them easier to use on the layout. I considered the average loaded car would weight about 100 tons, a number that seems coherent to me. I thought about using 85 tons per cars, but it seemed less satisfactory.

I made an Excel spread sheet to translate automatically CN values into HO value per cars. I made sure to reproduce the best I could the original table fonts.

It may sounds useless to many people, but I find this exercice useful. It helps you to see the relative force of each locomotive types and how to reproduce that on a layout. I like the idea to build a consist according to the job to do and not just fullfil my fantasies.

The results I get are interesting and also brings new lights to the prototype. When CN ran the line, a pair of M420 was sufficient to pull the freight train. However, when CFC took over, they used three switchers to perform the same job.

With that in mind, the table tells us 2 GMD1 are enough to pull a cement train from Villeneuve to Beauport Flats on this regular road. However, they wouldn't be strong enough to pull the same train over treacherous curves in Charlevoix and climbing grades in Malbaie river valley up to Clermont. You would be better of with a pair of road switchers like GP9, RS18 or M420.

You may argue all that could have been figured out easily without all this. That's right. Also, it's not like we will have to build many different consists. But I think it gives a sense of place, a sense of purpose, and it brings better understanding of what we are doing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

D'Estimauville - Keeping Things Simple

We had the occasion last week-end to discuss about D'Estimauville station's future plan.

At this point, it has become clear we will need some extra staging space. I suggested we use the storage closet as a means to stage trains. In fact, to be more precise, we had a returning loop built into the closet. My idea is to make is a semi-helix and build a lower staging level under D'Estimauville where we will have a few track to stage trains. This will act as Limoilou yard - the de facto division point in Quebec City area.

Yes, it may looks complex, but in fact, it helps us to get rid of most annoying trackage in D'Estimauville and get more main line run out of our space. I had a hard time to imagine how to handle the scenic proximities between Villeneuve and D'Estimauville. Everything looked clumped in that area. With the new staging idea, we get more place to let things flow naturally as they should. Better, the tracks will now ends under Boulevard Henri-Bourassa's overpass, like the prototype. Scenically speaking, it is also easier to build and easier to make realistic.

Believe it or not, this is the 60th version of Hedley Junction track plan, not including the other section of the layout depicting Charlevoix!


So, once again, we got rid of useless trackage. Jérôme was the first to recongnize that Murray Bay Subdivision will see a lot of traffic. Much more than we anticipated. Our three towns (Villeneuve, Montmorency and Clermont) have enough activities to support two regular trains that will handle more cars than were thought. In some sense, it proves again that if you understand and choice well your industries, you doesn't need dozen of them to justify rail traffic. At this point, it won't be unusual to see 20-cars trains at Villeneuve.

D'Estimauville's role will be reduced to a simple main line and a siding where MoW rolling stock is stored. This is more prototypical and less crowded.

There's now only 13 turnouts left on this part of the layout, meaning many were unrequired in the previous iteration. Also, I remember reading somewhere that for mid-sized layouts, 3 towns was a good number to keep balance between operation and main line. I think it was right.

By the way, you will notice trains can only pass each other at Villeneuve now. Not that Murray Sub saw enough traffic to have many encounters during the 80, but it makes sense to me passing is not a trivial thing that can be done anywhere. D'Estimauville siding isn't a real passing track, much more a storage track. Only a very small train could dinf shelter there.

On an other train of thoughts, I gave some insight into locomotive tonnage ratings from old CN timetable. Very interesting and it will surely find its way on the layout.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Progress at Villeneuve, QC

Train 525 crossing Sous-bois street in Villeneuve back in the days.
Well, having laid all track at Donohue's plant, given trackage between Donohue and Montmorency is now operable (thought Clermont siding and team track aren't built), it was tiem to start laying track in Villeneuve. The goal is to reach Limoilou by Christmas and start having real full operation sessions.

From a "project manager" standpoint, this is an exciting new step to reach and shows us how much our efforts since the radical turning point are starting to pay off. It wasn't an easy decision back then, it could have impacted seriously our troop's moral, but I don't regret any of it. The layout is now something far better than a toyish reconstruction of a lost golden age, it is a real operating railroad - albeit in miniature.

Some liberties were taken while locating turnouts yesterday. The original plan called for all turnouts  installed in the layout room for easy access. However, it quickly became apparent to Jérôme and me the right choice was to pull them back further in the furnace room. That would give us more lenghty sidings to handle heavy traffic at the cement plant and more freedom to organize the structure. They will be operated with manual control from Fast Track which are quite reliable. I'm not into motorized turnouts on rural branchline, they are out of place and kills a part of the operation fun.

We took extra care to get smooth curved transition in the furnace room to have the most reliable operation possible. From experience, I know tight radius curves are the most annoying feature on a layout. If you can have 30" curves do it, if you can have 48" curves do it and if you have 72" curves go for it!! I'm slightly exaggerating, but the larger the better... and looks more realistic! 

Villeneuve yard trackage was partially installed to. Roadbed is made out of cork tiles sold at the home improvement store. Really saves a lot of work instead of regular cork roadbed for large surface. I glued them down with white glue and nailed them after to make sure everything was level.

Sous-Bois street was also built in the same manner. I didn't care about bevelling the cork. I'll do that with "universal mud", easier and more realistic. We kept an old batch in a paint container a few weeks ago to see if you can preserve it for later use. The short answer is yes. The long answer is that after about a month, it start to solidify. In fact, the texture changed a little bit and it looked like drying dog crap.

Finally, we installed the cement plant mock up back in place to see how things worked together. Particularly impressive I must say. Those who knows Villeneuve will recognize the place without efforts! And this new GMD1 in orange and black scheme is stunning!

Donohue's Warehouse - Part 4

Here's a few pictures taken yesterday and showing Donohue's warehouse on the layout... You really get a 70s vibe from this structure!

And here with some real action. The next structure to build will probably be the woodchip unloader.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Donohue's Warehouse - Part 3

Glazing has been added to Donohue's warehouse. The product itself is made by a German company specialized in metric model supplies. Material is called Vivak.

First, I cut the material to the right window size. My idea was that a tight fitting would prevent the use of glue and minimize to make a big mess out of clear material. The glazing was then sprayed with a good layer of dullcote to reproduce the effect of fogged corrugated translucent plastic.

When dry, I used a few drops of oil colors including burnt umber, raw sienna, white and black. Everything was wiped out gently with a large brush full of mineral spirit. I tried to reproduce the streaking effect found on the prototype. I feel it turned out quite right.

When dry, I only add to insert he glazing inside the opening. Pastel chalks were used to weather the concrete foundation a little bit more. This time, I wasn't afraid of using colors such as olive green to reproduce the growing vegetation effect often found on concrete foundations. It helps to blend the building in its future surroundings. Also, always using dirt colors isn't realistic. After a while, you feel like everything just came out of the factory.

I also acquired recently a few more covered hoppers for cement traffic including 3 True Line slabside hoppers in CN wet noodle, 2 Intermountain Procore pressure hopper in black wet noodle and finally an Intermountain cylindrical hopper in wet noodle (not one for grain). The cement fleet now amount to 21 cars, all of them prototypical and high-end models. It wasn't a cheap fleet to build but it was worth the time and money.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Donohue's Warehouse - Part 2

Building the warehouse was a very straight forward process. Using a plexiglass core wrapped with textured styrene was easy as 1-2-3. I'm probably reuse that technic when doing the woodchip unloader.

Little putty was needed to fill the roof joints. The separator between both roof basins was done with a Warhammer 40 000 sprue taken from a friend's bin.

I also tried to stay true to prototype on small details like the canopy over the truck's door. An movable loading dock was suggested using a strip of styrene. Two Intermountain's detail parts from an old hopper project were used to suggest bumpers. The door "diaphragm" was also made using the Warhamme sprues spliced together and glued on the building. I also took extra care to add fascia and other flashings over doors, at the bottom of the walls and anywhere they could be found on the prototype. Being an architect, I can't omit these because I'll see it like the nose inthe middle of the face. Call it professional deformation, but I try to be coherent with structural details when kitbashing and scratchbuilding.

I started by painting the roof. I used 3 different spray paint colors including grey primer, camouflage brown and camouflage beige. Recently, I found out you could get a realistic gravel look by spraying different colors from afar. This way, the paint start to dry mid-air and makes a grainy finish. Under normal circumstances, you don't want it. But for a roof, that's an easy way to get a realistic textured and weathered look without effort. You must remembers that inverted multi-plies roofs were popular in the 70s and 80s. It means you only saw exposed crushed stones from the top. This gravel was used as ballast to keep things in place and protect bituminous products from UV. I could have used small ballast for this purpose, but didn't had any on hands. Also, painting the roof was less messy and took less than 5 minutes.

Building was painted with custom acrylic colors from Citadel. I tried to match colors on picture by fading them with white and beige. However, I didn't go as far as my 2014 pictures because back in the early 1980s, the warehouse was relatively brand new and wasn't completely faded.

With this weathered True Line caboose, the warehouse looks like an engine house!

Other details would be painted later by hand. To be noted, I spray the interior with grey primer to kill the shiny reflection of plexiglass. It also stopped the annoying electrostatic phenomenon that gathered the dust on its surface.

Finally, it was time to weather the building. I used oil washes. Unfortunately, they dried leaving unwanted streaking effects. I was a little bit annoyed by it as it made the building looks rundown instead of faded.

The first wash was pure white, followed later by a dark brown wash. Concrete footings were generously coated with a dirty brown wash.

Finally, I used plain mineral spirit to "erase" the streaking and unsightly pooling effects. Using a hairdrier, I made sure drying would be even all over the building and I got rid of the problem. When dry, I lightly brushed pastel chalks over the concrete footings to imitate dirt. Building was then coated again with Dullcote to seal everything.

I only need to add the weathered transluscent corrugated material over the window and add small details like a photo-etched roof ladder and light fixtures over door. I'll also model partially the warehouse railcar's door just like the prototype.

It's funny how building those mundane structures is fun and rewarding. But you really feel bad when you have to build them in real life! That's the nice thing with model railroading: the more it is nasty, ugly, rusty, noisy, dusty, the better!

Cement Traffic... From A Lawsuit

Imagine my joy yesterday when I stumbled upon first-hand information about Ciment St-Laurent… while searching facts about a defective type of brick produced in early 1990s at Brique Citadelle, Villeneuve.

By luck, I ended up reading official transcriptions from a lawsuit from Montmorency’s citizen againt Ciment St-Laurent. The cement plant was a serious source of health and property hazards and shut down in 1997 when it was sold to ALCAN.

At some point, Mr. Mercier testifies about the plant’s rail operation. Here’s a loose translation of what is written in the report:

About railcars, they are loaded with cement from 8 AM to 4 PM. CN brings empties between 4 and 6 PM. There is three tracks in the vicinity; a main line alongside Ste-Anne Boulevard, and two tracks serving the cement plant. Otherwise, another track is located near Montmorency borough. It is used as a storage track.

This means Ciment St-Laurent switcher was only in service during the day shift. Also, Limoilou switcher was working the cement plant late in the afternoon. The document also indicates the plant was built in 1952 and started operation by 1956.

Ciment St-Laurent in 1966, Benoît Robert Collection

Also, I also found a interesting PDF brochure – Histoire de raconter – published by the local historical society and Quebec City. In it, an interesting aerial photograph from Benoît Robert collection and taken in 1966 shows us the plan in all its glory. A 10-cars cut of CN slabside hoppers can be seen on one storage track. Good thing! I own several of those cars!