Monday, April 27, 2015

Weathering Roofless Boxcars

I started to weather my roofless boxcars yesterday. They were airbrushed with thinned sand color to fade the paint and thinned brown/black to represent accumulation of dirt on the lower parts. Then, several effects were obtain using oil paint and mineral spirit. A very classic way to weather but that gives great realistic results.

When everything will be dry, I'll touch down the model with pastel chalk and paint the wheels.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Some Good News

Well, in the end, Louis-Marie was able to troubleshoot our DCC issues. It was mainly a desoldered ground wire into the DCC module.  So can now program again our locomotives and adjust their CV according to our needs. It was getting really annoying. Louis alwo took some time to solder a few more feeder on some difficult trackage and turnouts. Seems everything is now much more reliable.

If you wonder why progress as been slow recently, there's many reasons for all club members. Many of them are out of our control, so we do what we can with the little time we have. I hope things will get back on track, but I take that "vacation" to complete long due home improvement work. Over the last weeks, most of my time was going in preparing a 4 hours conference.

That said, I'm still working on my set of woodchip boxcar and I'm happy to announce I started doing some weathering on them. George Dutka's pictures are a great help for getting the right weathering pattern on these heavily abused cars. I'll also try to make some removable woodchip load for them using sawdust and foam blocks.

When these cars are done, my next project will be to pimp this RS18. It will probably be among the regular motive power on the layout for a while. We are actually thinking about adding capacitors to the electronic circuitry to make sure this locomotive (and other others too) will be able to handle small electric gap without problem. When this is done, I'll be free to weather the locomotive as I wish. I'll also make resin copies of some parts (intercooler fans) for my other RS18 projects.

About the layout, scenery is slowly progressing in Maizerets. We need to complete the backdrop then paste the photobackdrop before doing any scenery work. I wish to ballast the track as soon as possible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Once Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Well, you know the song! I've been crushed under voluntary work for a local convention lately (not train-related) and progress was slow.

Among the achievement, I'm happy to announce my 5 other CN woodchip roofless boxcars are almost done. Some numbers are missing and that should be done shortly. Finally, we will be able to operate real trains to Donohue. The next project will be to complete my 3 CN RS18, at least weather the Proto 1000 zebra version I already have.

I also painted the track ties in Maizerets. I followed the same recipe I used when doing the small Quebec Southern Railway layout last year. It gave nice results and I feel no need to change a winning formula. I only imporved the random coloration to better match real ties colors (often reddish).

The bad part is about recurring electrical problems plaguing the layout. Early this year, everything ran fine and now things are getting messy. Locomotives stall everywhere. Some issues are because not enough feeders were soldered to rails. I once advice my fellow club members to put many around turnouts, which they found repetitive. Sounds like I was right that time! Louis-Marie did some corrections and it should now be OK.

But, at the same time, we started to have serious problem with the DCC module. Troubleshooting took a while and finally we discovered some wire inside the box was badly damaged because it was loosely installed at the factory. The connector broke. It will be repaired as soon as possible. This was quite annoying because it was now impossible to adjust decoders using a computer.

And the last one is about the unreliability of some locomotives. At some point, upgrading pickups and track work doesn't do the job. It has been decided we will try to install capacitors into some locomotives to test if it would be enough to get rid of these annoying dead spots. I'm really starting to think some engines would benefit being battery-powered at some point. I'm not there yet, but my recent interest in G scale train convinced me there was some hope there, particularly for critters (smaller GE locomotives, etc.).

I'm also seriously thinking about downsizing my locomotive fleet. Many models are outdated and not worth getting an overhaul to run on the layout again. Many doesn't fit the setting anymore or are from prototypes that doesn't interest me that much. I feel hoarding more rolling stock is just a crazy idea and that it's time to move forward.

Am I discouraged by all that? Not at all. I was expecting we would encounter highly undesirable electrical problem and that some locomotives would pose a few problem. It was only a matter of time and now's the perfect moment to address them to make operations work smoother.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fool's Day

As many of you probably suspected, today’s blog entry was a hoax and Rapido Trains Inc. never announced any intention to produce a HO scale MLW M420. The only “truth” is that Jason Shron once told me that M420 could be an interesting prototype, stating no direct intention to produce it and talking about the industry in general, not his company. From what I can understand, many have interest in the prototype, but so far, nobody feels it is actually feasible.

In a newsletter, Jason once wrote about the strange discrepancies he observed between perceived demand and real orders. We often think some great prototype will sell like hot cake, but in fact, when pre-orders open, nothing really happens. Would M420 be a popular product? Would the American market find it interesting enough? Does it has its place among others offering? Many questions are left unanswered. From my limited standpoint, I perceive RS18 are far more popular among Canadian railways modellers. The prototype was used by both CN and CP (and many regional carriers), nationwide and for a far longer period than M420. Many are still in service, they’ve been part of North American landscape for 60 years! Kitbashing a RS18 is quite common and relatively affordable. However, except the limited edition issued by Life-Like Canada many years ago, all other attempts to produce this model for wide distribution failed so far.

In contrast, M420’s service life was short (about 2 decades), originally owned by CN and P&W. Some found their way on the second hand market, but most met the torch. Also, the contemporary GP40 and GP38 had a better fare and are still working around and look quite similar with their wide cab. These prototypes were released with commercial success in recent years. On the other hand, M420 is only available in brass or hard to build resin kit. They cost a lot and only a few tackle this costly and exacting process. If RS18 failed miserably, does M420 even stand a chance? Anyway, most people really wanting a M420 probably own a Kaslo resin or a brass version. Thus, the real market could be already saturated.

With Canadian economy going down the drain, such limited scale and risky projects won’t probably take shape in the near future. Manufacturers aren’t stupid, they give people what they want to stay economically viable. You wonder why there’s hundreds of F-unit versions available, why loooong passenger cars that no average Joe’s layout can handle sell so well and why articulated steam locomotives (a rarity) are the most popular steamers? Don’t look too far, each of them embody some kind of nostalgic dream. When come the time to buy, most people follow their guts, not their mind. If I were a businessman, I’d tap into that natural flaw to stay afloat. Never underestimate escapism, model railroading isn’t immune to this sweet disease!

On the other hand, what makes the bulk of a train is fully neglected. It’s only in recent years more prototypical freight cars are widely available (and that comes with a cost). But think about it, about 90% to 95% of a consist is made of freight cars, locomotives are akind to a Christmas tree’s star ornament; only the tip. As stated in many other previous blog entries, I’m always amazed how woodchip cars are badly represented on Canadian layouts. They are everywhere and in large quantity, yet no decent product is available while most people have a paper mill scene! Talk about consistency!

When you think about a typical Canadian layout set between the transition era and early 1990s, probably the most popular era, you should find about almost 50% of MLW products… Many would think a M420 (or RS18) would be a novelty item when it fact it should be a staple item along a few C424, M630 and various switchers. But such locomotives won’t make you dream as much as your Big Boy, your Zephyr or a Turbo Train!!!

If this hoax awakened your interest in seeing this prototype produced, the best solution is still to send suggestions to manufacturers. Most of them like to get input from their customers to improve their offer and stay competitive. Who knows, maybe we’ll see M420 on layout in 5 or 10 years.