Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CN Woodchip Gondola - In Service

Finally, the dreaded woodchip car made its revenue service debut last weekend during an official operating session with guest operator Julien Boily. With very limited knowledge of the subdivision, he was still able to perform quite well the task to run the train up to Clermont.

Things started to get spiced up when he had to deal with Donohue, which is truly a challenge even if it looks quite tame at first sight. Nevertheless, Julien never lost his cool and found his own original way to switch the plant, once again proving you don't need a lot of turnouts to generate lots of interest.

Julien taking a pause to think over the next move in Clermont.

Funnily enough, it was the first time since we started rebuilding the layout back in early 2014 that a guest did operate the layout in a serious manner. I was quite pleased to see Julien enjoyed his time on the layout and found it interesting.

Most Canadians used to think modelling our country railways needed huge space to get the feels of large open spaces, but it seems the mid-sized realistic layouts are taking roots and prooving their worth.

While operating, we had a nice discussion about the future of Canadian models on the market, mainly such obvious things as the CN Transcona woodchip gondola. Julien himself own a large fleet of woodchip gondolas - mainly Walthers proxies - and would probably buy a dozen if they were available. Once again, one wonders why such a staple car seen from coast to coast for half a century isn't available. Mystery! Anyway, I succeed to convince another man MLW M420 should be the next big Canadian locomotive announcement!

Meanwhile, Mathieu Gosselin was also among us with David that evening. Mathieu decided to bring his new Vermont Railway locomotive to test it on the layout and we took an official picture over Malbaie River bridge. Once again, I must admit Athearn did an outstanding job with this model.

David did some operation by switching Ciment St-Laurent and doing some transfer move between Villeveuve and D'Estimauville.

As for Jérôme, he has now engaged himself on a slippery slope: adding weight and sound to a Bachmann GE 45-ton locomotive. I'm not sure you can have both, but he did some pulling power testing. The results are encouraging, but on the other hand, our Bowser hopper fleet will need a serious rebuilding program. So far, the locomotive is able to pull about six 10 oz. hopper cars, which is our goal. At some point, we believe the answer will be a compromise that will require a slight weight reduction of the cement hoppers. Maybe I went a little bit overboard with the weight, but I'd rather alter the locomotive than remove weight if I had to choose.

Finally, Louis-Marie and I agreed to start scenery work at D'Estimauville since the area is the less challenging and the one ready for such work. The track is already ballasted and painted. The initial work will be to scratchbuild roads before proceeding to ground cover. I've got quite a precise idea of what I'm trying to achieve and Jérôme gave some interesting advices on a realistic way to build D'Estimauville Avenue.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Montmorency Falls Station - Part 4

The new station in context.
The project is moving forward nicely I must say!

I recently made the roof overhang brackets. Once again, the good old trick of using template save a lot of time and headache.

While the brackets were drying, new fascias where cut and cemented. Too make things easier, I measured exactly the roof dimension and made the gable's fascias as one part.

The next was to install new beams under the roof on which the brackets will rest. It went easier than expected. I laminated 3 strips of styrene cut to length. The final adjustment was done using a file rather than trying to make a perfect piece from the start. There are times like that were incredible precision is more a hindrance than an asset.

 At this moment, I was ready to install the brackets. Using an X-Acto blage, I chamfreined the bracket's diagonal members. It may seems a very small detail, but it has an impact in making the brackets look far less bulky.

Unfortunately, while looking at old pictures, I found out the station had more brackets than I first thought. At this point, I have two options: make the missing brackets for the invisible rear wall or let it be because nobody will ever notice... My inner conscience tells me I shouldn't cut corners!

Finally, I added small trims under the soffite to make a nice junction between the walls and roof. This is also another small detail that is a difference maker when building scale structure.

So now, only a few remaining brackets and the bow window roof needs to be addressed prior to painting and adding the roof material.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Montmorency Falls Station - Part 3

This project is running smoothly and yesterday was another busy day. Four hours of work were required to put together the small bow window in front of the station. While it is a very small feature, it required extra care when laying the masking tape. Truth to be told, the smaller the surface, the harder it is to make it perfectly straight because of the nature bulge occurring when the tape goes around the corners.

For this reason, I decided to install the tape cladding first, then cut the window openings later and add the window trims last. It did work OK even if it wasn’t perfect.

When the bow window was done, I set it in place on the station and using a brand new X-Acto blade, I cut the cladding along the bow window’s profile. It resulted in a perfect and seamless match between the two parts. Then I cemented the bow window once for all.

A final coat of Krylon tan camouflage paint blended everything together. I’m planning to use this color as a base for the concrete foundation. In the past, I got excellent results using this particular color for old weathered concrete. It had this particular shade of tan that mimick perfectly when sand aggregate in older concrete is exposed by weathering process.

The roof is made of 1.5 mm styrene. I made a 3D model in SketchUp of the structure as built and determined the exact size of each part to make sure the parts would fit without guess work. When cemented in place, I scribed 0.25 styrene sheet to make soffite material. It was then cut to size in place and cemented. Some adjustements will be required to make sure everything fits perfectly before installing trims and gutters. Even if you work with precise CAD drawing, you are bound shim here and there.

For the roof, I’ll use Rusty Stumps auto adhesive asphalt shingle products to save me from severe mental pain. It was supposed to be used for Limoilou station in a previous iteration of the layout, but that project was abandoned long ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Montmorency Falls Station - Part 2

Mark my words. It only took 12 hours to install and scribe the cladding on the station... I almost lost my sanity toward the end when my eyes were unable to focus anymore. It was time to go outside, take the bike out of the shed and ride for the first time of the year under the glaring sun.

This is when I lost my sanity... and eyesight.

Each row of shingles was made out of 6 mm Tamiya masking tape (in fact, it took an entire roll). Each single was individually scribe with a metal point. In the end, I felt building the real station would have be less mentally tiring!

The bow window area will be cut later when the exact profile will be known

Fortunately, the result is exactly what I wanted and after a coat of paint, it looks great. I don't care the amount of work I put in a model as long as the pay off is worth the effort. No pain no gain isn't it?

Next step will be to build the roof structure. I suspect the front gable will be quite a challenge thought... Oh, and more asphal shingles on the roof!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Montmorency Falls Station - Part 1

This project started out of nowhere this morning after I weathered the woodchip gondola. During the last club meeting, Jérôme expressed interest that I work a little bit on the station behind Dominion Textile.

Montmorency Falls station and Dominion Textile in the background.
Up until now, the Beaupré station has been in use as a stand in. Most major QRL&PCo stations, while different in architectural details, shared common interior layout, general dimension and openings. For this reason, it fitted the bill nicely.

Beaupré station (not boarded up) circa 1980 (CN Betamax videotape). Note the old style croosbuck in the background.

However, the Beaupré station sports the old orange and olive green QRL&PCo paint scheme that was in used until 1959. Back in late 1958, CNR started to renovate the stations on the line (it means the simplified the trims, get rid of any architectural details reminiscent of gingerbread, installed new asphalt roofing instead of "à la canadienne" tin roof and cheap fake shingle cladding). According to official CN Betamax footage from the early 1980s, all remaining stations were in that simplified paint scheme. Except Beaupré station, all other buildings were boarded up and in a relative state of disrepair. Most would be demolished in the upcoming years. The last one to fell was Baie-Saint-Paul back in 2014 (if my memory serves me right) which is just another proof how the new tourist train is BS gimmick.

Abandonned St. Joachim station (boarded up) circa 1980 (CN Betamax videotape)

So here we are, back in the mid 80s, with a late 1950s station building. Two choices: alter, repaint and board up the existing model, which I would consider sacrilege. Or build a correct Montmorency Falls station. I decided on the second choice for obvious reasons.

First, I decided to build a 1.5 mm thick styrene core with lots of internal bracing. I was quite easy to assemble. A good thing about boaded up building is you don't have to waste time cutting window openings. I let them blank and glued trims around the opening. After everything was glued, I came to the realisation I made a small mistakes with the trim. I used the dimensions required to insert a Tichy window... but didn't take in account the trims overlap the opening a little bit. Thus, my windows are about 1mm larger than they should be. I'm not sure I was to start making trims from scratch at this point thought! Maybe I'll keep them as they are and save me some pain.

The styrene core will then be covered with layer of painted masking tape to imitate the cheap cladding CN put on the buildings back in 1958-1959. When that will be done, I'll add the roof and bow window.

The new paint scheme will be quite spartan. Most trims will be dark green or white, depending on their location, the cladding will be medium gray and the roof will be black. I think it will suit better the layout. I'm also thinking it will be a good opportunity to install the speeder shed in the vicinity since it was common on Murray Bay subdivision.

CN Woodchip Gondola - The End?

If you are interested in this particular prototype, let me know (more details at the end of the post).

Hard to believe this project finally reached fruitition... It was a prototype and everything went wrong: bad material for the job, high cost, wrong decals, wrong scale proportions... just name it!

At some point, I truly grew dissatisfied with the model blatant mistakes. Since then, I made a correct 3D model, but didn't venture as far as print it. Making this car in Frosted Ultra Detail is gonna cost a lot of money. Making it out of styrene is quite feasible, but making a 10-car fleet would be a real chore.

Anyway, I spent more and time over this project. Instead of throwing it in the garbage bin, I decided to just complete it. It's just another foobie, but I think it is still much more plausible than Walthers woodchip cars.

The decals are a mix of several Microscale sheets mashed together and altered to look the part. Most knowledgeable people will quickly find out this particular car should be lettered "CN RAIL". Well, there's no commercial suitable decals for that so I settled on the regular wet noodle.

The weathering was a little bit experimental since I didn't have any oil paint at home at the moment. I decided to try Mike Confalone recipe by fading the paint with pastel. I used regular pastel, so the result is quite subtle. But that's OK because these gondolas were relatively in good shape back in the late 80s. Only by the mid-90s did they start to turn into rust buckets.

Several other shade of pastel were also used to give depth to both car ends: gray, tan and black. To be noted, to make sure the ribs would stand out, I took the pastel stick and directly rub it against them. It was quite garish, but once covered with the final dull finish, it would blend correctly I guess... And I was right.

I didn't want to use Dullcote on the model. I put several coat on it yesterday and it never really killed the shine on the model. So I decided to use Swanny's trick with Future. To get a very flat finish, you mix 3 part of Future and 1 part of Tamiya Flat Base. To be honest, the result is excellent. Not only the model got a very flat finish but it also slightly made the color to fade a little bit, which was the result I was looking for.

Unfortunately, I learned quickly that alcohol react nastily with the flat finish by whitening the finish. And unlike Dullcote, you can't make it disappear with a second coat of finish. So I had a lot of fun trying to hide my mistake. Lesson learned!

And I'll be honest, once weathered, the car looks gorgeous albeith for the obviously wrong proportions and lettering. But generally speaking, I think it will fool most people.

That said, I'm still intererested in building a prototypical fleet in the future, but for the roofless boxcars still have a long revenue service life in front of them on the layout. It will all depend if I can print new models at a decent cost and in a better finish. That means a second prototype in Frosted Ultra Detail or similar material will be required.

By the way, if anybody is interested in developping a more practical model of this iconic Canadian car, just contact me and let me know. With a custom made set of decals, it could be an easy model to build for any modelers.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Modern Progress

Yesterday I started working on Donohue's scenery, mainly the access road and employees parking lot. Everywhere on the layout I used gray paint to mockup asphalt, but Donohue was ready to get a layer of the real thing.

In the past, I used several different methods of making road: painted cardboard or styrene à la Lance Mindheim, Gordon Gravett's talc powder trick and drywall joint compound tinted when dry. Most of these method can yield great results depending on you color choice. Getting the right color is in fact much more important than which material you use. As a kid, I used tar paper on my first layout, but let discard that one for obvious reasons.

This time, I decided to use lightweight spackling following Mike Confalone's recipe. Once again, it looks easy on video, but it's quite something else! First of all, it is far thicker than regular drywall mud. I precolored it with black and raw umber to get a decent tone of grey, but let me tell you stirring the mix was a real challenge.

Spackling is also a little bit harder to spread evenly and smoothly. My first batch was full of air bubbles and it was hard to get rid of it. At this point, I put a very thick layer so I would plenty enough material to sand down when drying. Such is the way I made the road.

The job was much more easier when I did the parking lot. For some reason, the mix had less air bubble and was easier to spread.

You probably saw my mix is pink! I couldn't find regular white spackling so I purchased the pink one. The pink color is an indicator and when the stuff is dry, it turns white. As some spackling started to dry, it took a nice warm gray color. Unfortunately, the pink color makes it hard to guess the final color when you mix in the pigment.

As a matter of fact, I believe this method is good for small rural roads without curbs and have some complex geometry. It is also quite good for large expanse of asphalt. But for more urban roads with curbs and other details like that, I think I'll go back to the cardboard method. At least, in Villeneuve and D'Estimauville. Since these roads have very complex painted line works, I'd rather paint them at the benchwork than in place.

Signs... Lots of Signs

When I visited Modèle B.T. last weekend, I purchase a few railway signs made by a small one-person company called in S.T.T. and based in Quebec. All I know is that the company makes limited batches based on demand and mainly sell through Modèle B.T. in Drummondville. I’m not aware of any other outlets.
Clermont's grade crossing protected with typical Canadian-style crossbucks.

Quality-wise, the product is top notch and made of sturdy metal, which make them strong enough to sustain layout usage while still looking good. The guy making them took great care to design them and all signs follow prototypical practices found in Canada, including the iconic red and white Canadian crossbucks. Road signs are also available and follow M.T.Q. (Ministère des Transport du Québec) practices, making it useful for people modelling Quebec. To some extent, many of the signs could be used for other Canadian provinces without problem.

A very old French Canadian crossbuck surviving at Dominion Textile.

 The signs are interesting because they follow the prototypical practices of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific from the late 60s to now. They can fit a lots of Canadian-themed layout over a 50 years period.

Just like the prototype... forbidden access to Donohue's bridge.

The downside is their price which can be quite steep if you want to populate a large layout.  It varies from less than 2$ up to 5$ depending the sign complexity and size. Smaller signs are sold in 2 and 4-packs. But that said, one should keep in mind they are craftman limited productions. And seriously, instead of buying yet another useless 30-40$ car, I suspect it is a better investment in the end with a better play value is you like when things look and work like the prototype.

Signs are small, but they have a great impact on a scene.

Sure, one can scratchbuild his own signs – which I would do if I had more time – but I felt it wasn’t a bad idea to support a local guy trying to do something special for the train community. Also, the possibility to make special orders seems to be possible, which makes it even more interesting for custom projects (station name signs, etc.).

Whistle posts signaling D'Estimauville Avenue.

So far, I thought I bought about 50% of required signs. But just like trees, a layout can absorb a lot of them. Jérôme installed a few of them in key location and the result is quite good. We will probably order more in a near future.

Finally, Jérôme added a custom made derail for the propane dealer siding in Clermont. All sidings in Clermont are protected by such devices. His prototype isn't that great, but there's place for improvement.  Also, Louis-Marie started working on infrared detecting units for our grade crossing. He figured out how to make a decent system with an Arduino board. Don't ask me the details, I'm illeterate in electronics, but from what I heard, it will do the same thing as higher end commercial systems but at a fraction of the price. So far, the mockup works nicely, so I'm pretty sure this is going to be an amazing achievement on the layout.

On a side note, I started working on scenery, particularly at Donohue and D'Estimauville. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Trip to the not so local Hobby Shop

As many of you know, I altogether stopped to purchase anything you since a few months. I consider buying more cars, locomotives and structures is an utter waste of money and fun. Not that I won't ever buy any of them, but rather that it will happen only on a per case method for replacing obsolete things with more prototypical ones. Since there isn't that much unprototypical cars running on the layout, I see no need to get more. As for locomotives, I'll only purchase 2 to 3 sound-equipped MLW M420s when Rapido will finally see the light! Oh yeah, count on me for driving this into our poor Jason's mind!

But there's a more deep reasoning behing that. I remember reading many years ago a post by Trevor Marshall - or maybe someone else even if I think Trevor would agree anyway - that modellers don't think twice to compulsively buy any piece of rolling stock that catches their fancy but will cringe a lot before investing in scenic materials. Well, I took the advice and after a few months of spending nothing, I had enough cash to dare to visit some hobby shop and spend money on grass, turf, leaves, weeds and tree armatures.

A few friends well into wargaming were driving to Montreal to visit some hobby shop there so I decided to take the ride too. I didn't expect to find a lot and was kind of disappointed after I only found very few useful items. Mainly dozens of ready made ridiculous trees. Anyway, there was a few relevant supplies.

On the return trip, I decided to stop by Jeff Boudreau's shop in Drummondville: Modèles BT. I'm not here to do any advertisement, but the experience is always interesting there. The shop is very small, but the range of product is wide and pertinent to most decicated modellers. I'm not in quantity, but into quality and selection. Also, I love how the staff there is kind, polite and full of helpful advices, somewhat a rarity in a few local stores.
Another good thing at Jeff's shop was the chance to meet fellow railfan and railroader Mathieu Gosselin who was purchasing some neat Vermont Railway GP locomotives. Don't ask me why he is investing in a VR fleet, he wasn't able to answer to that question himself. But I guess it caught its fancy and I won't blame him for it! Reminds me the days I was buying to much locomotives for my own good. M630C? Why not isn't it?

Finally, I also decided to invest in some prototypical canadian railway signs. Jeff is the exclusive dealer for some very neat product made by a talented guy. A little bit pricey, but definitely top notch. I started to nitpick the crossbuck dimension and Jeff decided to make it clear it was accurate. He measured a real crossbuck in the backstore and we compared it to the HO scale rendition: perfect. So I bought enough crossbuck for 3 grade crossings, several whistle posts, flanger signs and derail signs. I'll probably order much more in the future as needed.

I could make my own signs, but I'll be honest, it takes a lot of time I actually don't have. I prefer to put my time on scenery, structures, tracks and rolling stock. Life is finite and I decided I could pay for this and make more progress on more significant projects. Speaking of which, I now have absolutely no reason to postpone scenery work!

And maybe I'll bite my tongue by the end of the year, but I expect Donohue and Rivière Malbaie to be fully scenicked by Christmas!

And don't forget, if MLW M420 should be a staple on your layout or you just like the prototype, don't forget to pester Rapido and Jason about doing it! We have waited for too long!

Bachmann ACF Centerflow Hopper Kitbash - Part 2

Let's continue with this bash.

After applying the first coat of primer, I quickly found out I forgot to add some brake details. A set of Accurail details probided most parts required.

I also added a chain to the brake wheel housing to make it more plausible. Fortunately, I had some spare part in the junk box. I was also a good occasion to add end platforms made by Intermountain. Subtle, but truly makes a difference.

Finally, weld seams were made using white acrylic paint and masking tape. You probably remember I did a similar trick with my Athearn Centerflow hopper kitbashes. It was OK, but I felt the results was a little bit rough and coarse. With paint, you have more control and the finish is closer to a prototypical welded seam than CA glue.

And the coat of grey paint.

And the decals.

And back in the original Bachman box! Looks almost like an official release!

And while in service on the layout at Clermont. Another enjoyable small project that improved my skills. I'll will be even better with a light coat of weathering.