Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thinking Out Loud - Part 9

I think it’s never a bad idea to revisit older concepts from time to time because new information is always unearthed in the most unpredictable ways. If you are like me, you have a dedicated folder on your computer hard drive with several subfolders dedicated to specific layout projects and prototypes. Over the year, most "newer" prototypes are rehashes and refinements of older concepts. A few recent examples are related to recently discussed ideas about a “future” layout of mine. Let's see how thing evolved over the last few weeks.


Last Friday, I met Jérôme to deliver the first batch of weathered boxcars to Erie’s Harlem Station. He showed me old CN Murray Bay subdivision timetables ranging from the 40s up to 1992. The information in it was very interesting because it puts light on the decade-long absorption of QRL&PCo into regular CNR operation from 1951 to 1959.

Another interesting aspect was that older timetable cared to identify private sidings by their customers’ name and car lenght. Strangely, only Dominion Textile never appears on timetables… my guess is their siding was considered to be not privately-owned. But the best part was about Montmorency Distillery. All timetables listing this industry mentioned two sidings for the company. One facing East and one facing West. According to CNR documentation, they were two distinct and unconnected sidings. I’m not the kind of guy to take information at face-value, but all other sidings listed in the timetables were strictly correct. The weird thing is that my copy of CN early 1980 movie over the subdivision clearly shows both Montmorency Distillery sidings to be connected: it’s a double-ended siding.

Unfortunately, later timetables dropped the concept of listing private sidings. So, the big question is if the sidings were merged together later in the late 60s or 70s or the listing of them as separate entities was an error. Surprisingly enough, Omer Lavallée’s 1959 track diagram of the line (otherwise very precise), don’t list any siding for Montmorency Distillery while they are attested by historic photographs and he travelled the road often. Well, that leaves me with something to search and only CNR engineering diagrams could put the issue at rest.

However, from a layout point of view, the two-ended siding is a blessing. When I designed the S scale Beaupré layout plan, I was concerned only eastbound trains could handle operation but not, we can clearly assumed the distillery was switched on both directions, making it much more interesting in the long run.



I used to think sound was a gimmick and now I find I’m no longer able to operate without it. I made a scale mockup of Lehigh Valley New Woodstock station during the week end to test the operation potential. A printed track diagram on a hollow core door, tracks and a few boxes were enough to get into action in a matter of minutes.

However, operation was DC and quickly, making precise moves at slow speed without sound lacked interest. It seems to me the sound is much more than an ambiance, it is an indication about what’s happening. Every small action is accompanied by a sound “consequence” that makes sense and bring a touch of reality. Remove the sound and there is no longer consequence to the performed act of switching. In the end, I found out New Woodstock was extremely boring but I know I can’t use this experiment to ditch such a generic and common station track plan. Because of the lack of sound and the fact the layout height was low I wasn’t feeling I was part of the action going on. To me, being immersed in a scene is the primordial goal in model railroading. When I was 4 years old, I used to watch my Bachmann trainset with my head put against the floor and with an eye closed to see the action from a realistic point of view.

But the lesson is learned: never underestimate how the way you interact with a model can dramatically change your perception. Next time I mock up a layout, I'll do it at a decent height and with my NCE Power Cab DCC. It won't take more time to set up and I'm guaranteed to get results closer to the condition I would operate a real layout.

More Dangerous Gimmicks

Continuing with the concept of immersion, I’ve always felt Ciment St-Laurent was a nice big industry but that something was desperately lacking when switching it. Nothing is more boring that shoving hoppers over an unloading pits. Sure, you can set a time limit per car before moving the next one, but it feels fake and a pure waste of time because it seems nothing happens.

There is only one way to bring interest and it’s to “physically” make something happen. Setting a car over the pit must trigger a consequence, an action that legitimates that you wait before resuming your move. It can be performed by sound or by real action (or both in an ideal world), but simply looking at your watch for a given amount of time isn't enough. At some point, it's so artificial you'll skip it out of boredom or simply because your brain don't see the point to wait when nothing really happens. In that respect, sound is the easiest and most convincing way. When a hopper is spotted, the sound of an unloading car is heard for a realistic amount of time. When the sound ends, you remove the fake load and spot the next hopper. This is the easiest way out there. Add the ongoing surrounding sound of the conveyor and you are in business!

The next option is more akin to a gimmick, but nevertheless could be interesting if correctly implemented. You use live load and the hopper is emptied for real into the pit. While attractive, this system is far to be fool proof. I’ve seen many videos online of realistic loading of hopper, but unloading them is far less practical. But that said, the old toyish Tyco hopper car, while not prototypically interesting, self-unload pretty well. The system being basically a kid toy is almost fool proof. It could definitely be adapted and improved for realistic coal unit train operations. Unfortunately, the system works better with cars in motion, which doesn’t fit the criteria of a car that must be spotted first.

Another older design for a self-unloading scale hopper was made by Ulrich back in the 50s and 60s. This time, the hopper realistically reproduce a common 3-bay car that can be used on many layouts. The unloading mechanism is hidden in the underframe and subtle enough to not be detracting. Unfortunately, information is scarce and I didn’t find anything about the efficiency of the system or car unloading time. That said, after studying Ulrich original instruction sheet, I firmly believe one could fit their metal underframe and mechanism under a modern and well-detailed plastic shell. In fact, having an all metal underframe would enhance the car weight which would be a good thing.

Such systems, while extremely attractive in concept, needs to be experimented. In my case, the unloading track is also used to sort out other cars (including hoppers) which mean the unloading device between the rails should be removable or not interfere with other actions. Another problem is that while the Ulrich system is compatible with older 3-bay hoppers, it isn’t with more modern or larger prototypes. It means I would have to reproduce that mechanism in different sizes and configurations to fit other specific cars. That could prove to be a foolish attempt plagued with frustration.

Finally, while self-unloading scale hoppers are a nice idea, they seem to be extremely fast to unload (at least, the Tyco version). To be honest, they seem to be faster than a real car and a realistic sound file could last (but some real-life hopper unloading time is quite fast according to videos on YouTube). So we are back to square one for this one. In the end, it seems a decent sound file and removable loads should do a better job with less efforts. That said, I’m still curious about the Ulrich car. If anybody has experience with this hopper, let me know.

Temiscouata As It Should Be?

If people could probe my mind in the last two months, they would see a labyrinth of thoughts, concepts and ideas. I think the “Thinking Out Loud” series gave a good instant picture about how I can connect diverting interests. Among all that mess, it seems my interest to model Temiscouata railway as it was in the early 20th century is winning over a later period rendition.

I went back and studied my motive power diagram compiled from the roster. What will follow is only speculation based on available information and cold hard facts. The 1948 Railroad Magazine article by Mike Runey was interesting, but mainly covered operations after the heydays.

When you look at the roster, it seems the new 4-6-0 started to be added to the roster circa 1910s, mainly to pull heavier freight trains. Funnily enough, this is exactly the moment when Temiscouata ceased to be a relatively isolated branchline and became somewhat a bridge line between various between New Brunswick and Quebec. The new National Transcontinental line and various other factors probably increased local traffic over Temiscouata, requiring more modern and powerful locomotives which incidently, were acquired second-hand from contractors building the NTR line. On the other hand, we could speculate NTR was a shortcut and prime competitor for long distance traffic between Quebec and New Brunswick. The Monk subdivision was built over an ingrate landscape but to exacting standards, making it a fast mainline served by state of the art locomotives. It was far to be the case with Temiscouata. However, we must take in account railways were still in their pre-WW1 expansion without any worthy competition.

It is interesting to note that even if 4-6-0 were in use in the 1910s, a large amount of 4-4-0 were kept in service. This fact can indicate the need for power was substantial and new locomotives weren’t bough to replace older engines but to provide additional steel horses to catch up with growing business. The diagram show that prior to the 1920s, about half the fleet were 4-4-0. Interestingly, the longest trains and steepest grades were all between Rivière-du-Loup and Edmunston because the line crossed the St. Lawrence and St. John rivers divide. On the other hand, the Connor Branch was a relatively flat water level road following the St. John River north shore. Knowing Temiscouata operated 4 daily trains (2 on Connors Branch ), we can imply a substantial amount of motive power was allocated to service Connors to pull freight and passenger trains.

That means we can surmise most old 4-4-0 were used over the Connors Branch while the 4-6-0 worked on the mainline to pull freight consist over the steep grade near Rivière-du-Loup. In fact, old pictures seem to support this hypothesis because most of the time the 4-4-0 are shot while working at Connors when 4-6-0 are often seen near Rivière-du-Loup or Edmunston. Sure, we know 4-6-0 ventured to Connors, but that information comes from the later period and I suspect, at least circa 1910, the very first 4-6-0 available worked on the mainline. This is a personal hypothesis and I could also be wrong.

Temiscouata #8 as built in 1909 by MLW (Al Paterson Collection, "Canadian National Steam! Volume 4)

Now, when piecing together these circumstantial observations, I come to the conclusion Connors was mainly served by 4-4-0 for during the first two decades of Temiscouata history, maybe later. The grades and the traffic wouldn’t have made a good use of 4-6-0 when the rest of the line was far more challenging. With the acquisition of more 4-6-0, declining traffic and aging 4-4-0, the American Standard became a rarity rather than a norm over Temiscouata.

Temiscouata #4 built in 1888 by Manchester (credit: Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent)

I'm pleased to say I already have all the required parts to build a good fleet (let’s say about 3 locomotives: 2 regulars and one spare). The Bachmann modern 4-4-0 is a good starting point to model the most recent locomotives serving Connors while the old IHC Genoa is an excellent starting point to model older locomotives from the 1870. A good picture of locomotive #4 exists and it’s a good match. Sure the IHC locomotive is OO scale, but given I’m not modelling an early 1860s 4-4-0 but something newer and bigger, it should fit the bill better. I have also an Athearn/Roundhouse 2-6-0 with high drivers. This locomotive could be converted into a 4-4-0 by removing the front driver and replacing the pilot wheel with a truck. Even the superstructure could be altered significantly by using a Bachmann 4-4-0 shell.

Also, it is interesting to note that Connors Branch, back in the early days, saw more traffic and was served by four daily trains (2 freight and 2 passenger trains). This makes for slightly longer trains and complex operation.

From a rolling stock perspective, old photographs also show more Temiscouata lettered cars in the first years of operation than during the late 40s, showing that the declining railway didn’t invest in its own fleet after a certain point in history (on the other hand, ORER are a very fine tool to figure out the fleet). As I said in a previous spot, I think Temiscouata is interesting in every period, but I must admit the sweet spot is still in the early 1910s when the line was connected with the National Transcontinental and Canadian Pacific in Edmundston. Add to this that the as-built Connors track plan is well-known while the later version can only be implied from partial photographic evidence until real track diagram or timetable can give a reliable overall portrait. 

As Trevor Marshall suggested, Connors could be operated both as an early 1900s railway and as a dwindling late 40s line. Each structures could be built twice; in its original colors and in an altered and weathered version. Since the amount of structure is very limited, that wouldn’t be a crushing endeavour, but rather a nice way to beef up the modelling potential. As much as I’m fascinated with early 1900s Canadian railways, I can’t brush off my interest for more modern eras. Trevor’s suggestion cover both bases without too much problem except for glossing over the fact Connors track plan did evolve over the time.

Finally, the biggest decision is to base Connors on a definite track plan. I drafted two versions showing the evolution of tracks. It sure ain't 100% accurate, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieved. As you can see, after a while, the turnouts were significantly rationalized to optimize operation. Personally, I think the oldest version is interesting for a particular reason: most moves are done in front of the station. Remember when I talked about immersion. This is particularly crucial on a small layout where you want to maximize the impression of distance. Concentrating the switching moves in front of the build structures is a good way to immerse yourself in Connors instead of using a non descript main line in the middle of meadows. To me, this is an important aspect. We pour efforts in reproducing scale version of fancy structures and I believe they should play a more important role than background decoration, particularly when they are directly related to the railway.

So, 1894 or circa 1948? I think I've made my choice! And you? 

By the way, if you are interested to learn more about Temiscouata Raiway, it's region, Rivière-du-Loup and Intercolonial Railway, it's nice to know Musée du Bas-Saint-Laurent put together a bilingual virtual museum named "À fond de train" (At Full Throttle) well worth a visit. Lots of very old photos of early Canadian railways including the original Grand Trunk line to Rivière-du-Loup.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Pair of True Line PSC Cabooses

Once upon a time, there was a project of making a RTR HO PSC caboose... then a bunch of stuff (evil and not so evil) happened and as any tale, there was a happy ending. And fortunately and not so fortunately, I was sitting in the front row from the beginning. But eh, you faith can move mountains isn't it?

One Sylvan Scale (weathered) and two True Line Trains (at right)

That said, I recently got my pair of Pointe Saint-Charles cabooses two weeks ago. I won't start nitpicking, I think everything was said about these cars over the last few weeks. But generally, they are quite nice and an improvement over my Sylvan Scale resin kit built in my college days when I thought CA glue was the hottest thing in town.

Unfortunately, the True Line model share the same despicable defect Rapido's Angus van had: the dreaded greenish Martian interior lighting. I don't know if I'm alone to fundamentally hate interior lighting, but someone has to make them realize bad lighting is worst than no lighting at all.

The amount of lighting inside that car compete with Belgian expressways!

First of all, I'm young, but old enough to have seen countless PSC cabooses running in my hometown 4 times per day over a decade. While I have vivid memories of these little orange cars, I certainly don't remember them to be lighted in such a way. Most of the time, they were dark and during night time the lights were faint as if it was some haunted house from Scooby-Doo.

The problem is True Line and Rapido lighting is overkill. When the model is under daylight conditions, you can still see the windows glowing in their caricatural greenish hue. I didn't try with lights turn off, but I guess they cast shadows like my childhood Bachmann F9. For the anecdote, let's recall the headlight of my dear F9 burnt out when I was a kid. My older brother, who was already an avid electronic freaks replaced it with a Christmas tree light bulb. The bulb was originally green but he carefully scrapped off the green translucent paint. Unfortunately, the glass kept a certain amount of green and thus the locomotive started to glow in an eerie green hue... Now, to my delight, both manufacturers bring back some childhood memories in the form of expensive piece of rolling stock. Imagine my dismay.

But seriously, I understand the idea. It would be neat if the light wasn't so green and if they dimmed it like it should. That would be truly great. But I'm sure many people already modified their caboose to dim the light.

And if you ask me why I nitpick on such a subject, it's because I have nothing to say against the caboose and it was a good occasion to bring back dear memories! Now, I have a few months to gather my courage and weather them!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Quebec City Palace Station 100th Anniversary

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Quebec City "Gare du Palais" (Palace Station). ICI Québec (Radio-Canada / CBC) posted online footage filmed circa 1954.

The movie starts at Palace Station on CPR tracks, run along Prince-Édouard Street (semi-street running) where you can see CPR downtown roundhouse. Bonus: a CPR Royal Hudson pulls a Montreal-bound passenger manigest. It continues westward to Cadorna Junction were  the old National Transcontinental (CNR St. Malo) shops are located.

Then, the footage switch to CNR tracks back to Palace Station East ward. The long stretch of tracks in the middle of nowhere is the original Great Northern of Canada (later Canadian Northern) mainline that connects in Limoilou at Hedley Junction with the old Quebec & Lake St. John mainline. Then we travel along Limoilou yard  (ex-CNoR shops) up to Limoilou Junction (Hedleyville) were the tracks meets QRL&PCo.

Finally the train cross St. Charles River, turn into Bassin Louise before with QRL&PCo St. Paul station in sight. It is implied the train then back into Palace Station CNR tracks.

I suspect SRC made a montage and the original footage is longer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thinking Out Loud - Part 8

Summer is ending and students are back to school, but there's still some time left to publish another article under the Thinking Out Loud series, this time about S scale.

No, I'm not going nut or changing my mind! But I suspect Simon Dunkley won't be surprised by this post. It seems he foresaw everything!

When I saw S scale in real last Saturday at Exporail, my first impression was a mix of: "yes, it takes less space than I thought" and "wow, look at that presence and level of detail"... in common language it would translate as "HO scale as it should have been". Add the discussion with Trevor about "one town is OK" and I was bound to at least try a few ideas on paper, particularly QRL&PCo which used small locomotives which are hard make reliable performers with sound, keep alive and weight in HO. To be noted, Sunday I was already exploring a few options.

Scenario 1: Montmorency Falls

Dominion Textile in the early 20th century would make a terrific layout

Dominion Textile at Montmorency Falls would be ideal in term of traffic and operation. It was the number 1 railfanning spot on QRL&PCo in Omer Lavallée's days. You could spot various CNR steamers, electric steeple cabs and interurban cars pulling passenger and freight manifests.

Montmorency Falls station and wye (at left) behind the huge Dominion Textile

On our club layout, we already model the area just before Dominion Textile's closure. However, this prototype needs a substantial amount of place along a wall. Not impossible in S scale, but the factory itself would take up to 14 feet without compression. Sure it could be compressed, but because Montmorency Falls was a terminal for many trains, had a car repair shop and was the transition from single to double track mainline, the track arrangement is relativement comple. We need to implement a fair amount of curvature to make the scene entirely. In a perfect world (if my basement wasn't that much damp), I could have up to 32 feet along a wall to make this scene possible.

While continuous run isn't possible, two 5 to 6 feet long staging area can be set in place to generate traffic and destinations. Most operation on the layout will involve switching the huge Dominion Textile and shuffling car between the car shop and storage tracks. A collapsable turntable could be implemented to turn interurban passenger cars returning to Quebec City with tourists. It seems to me this track plan require a lot of turnout for semi-limited operating potential.

Scenario 2: Beaupré

Beaupré used to be Côte-de-Beaupré's industrial heart from 1927 to the mid-2000s when the paper mill closed down. While modelling the mill wouldn't be feasible nor very interesting from a QRL&PCo point of view, the other side of the town could be reproduced in S scale without compression and including the 4-span steel bridge over Ste. Anne River. I once designed and started to build a small switching layout based on that premise.

Beaupré was a very simple town with a team track, a passenger station and a freight shed. There was no passing track, but the setting with the station within 30 feet from the river was very scenic. The main attraction was the Leaside Engineering Munitions plant in business during the First World War. Later, it was converted as an industrial alcohol distillery during WW2. The alcohol was used in the manufacturing process of rubber. After the war, the Montmorency Distillery Ltd. converted to producing rye whiskey aka Canadian whiskey. They would later be a part of the Seagram empire. They made the Dominion Ten whiskey-rye that achieved an enviable reputation on Canadian market back then and which featured Montmorency Falls in its advertisement (most of their posters featured famous natural Canadian landscape). To age the whiskey over a long period of time, a large multi-storey brick warehouse was built. A smaller brick warehouse and several grain silos existed along the track. So far, photographic evidences of Montmorency Distillery is scarce.

The big problem with Beaupré is asking if the layout could be entertaining in the long run. I could add a passing track to make trains meet there, but that wouldn't mean that much for a single operator. On the other hand, I know well that very little trackage is required to sustain a 1 hour operation session. In fact, I know myself and "wasting" time switching at low speed in a nice little scene is one of my favourite aspect of operation.

Industry-wise, the distillery received various grains, coal, wood barrels and other supplies while it shipped bottled whiskey. The team track was your typical agricultural setup accepting and shipping anything. As for scenery, I already know a full-scale rendition of Ste. Anne River would yield tremendous appeal. It was a favorite spot of mine during my high school days and any train crossing it looks good. I remember purchasing 4 Central Valley bridges back then... The continuous running is also a nice feature and having a centralized staging area is good too. The passing track located east of the bridge (which exist in real life) would be perfect to operate two trains at once.

Truth to be told, the Beaupré scene is much more in line with my perception of Côte-de-Beaupré railroading: large rivers, small rural communities, one-storey high brick warehouses... meadows, lots of meadows because it's not the "Coast of Beautiful Meadows" for nothing! A big plus is the fact the two houses are typical 18th and 19th century French Canadian houses. If you want to convey the fact you are in the St. Lawrence valley, there's no easier way than have this kind of building featured.

This layout could be something like a large diorama, but when I think about it twice, the 7-car spots distillery is exactly in line with what Lance Mindheim like to say about small switching layout. It must no be forgotten the fact the huge amount of scenery (without compression) will give the impression of a train travelling across countryside for REAL.

Scenario 3: Château-Richer

This is my hometown. I made some plans in my high school days of our local saw mill and its single siding. This is very minimalist, but with the nearby river and rural grade crossing, it would make a very interesting diorama or module. The scene could be modelled without compression on three 4 feet modules. Before going crazy over some new scale, trying a module could be a good idea, particularly since I never handbuilt turnouts.

Scenario 4: Baie-Saint-Paul

I already presented Baie-Saint-Paul in a previous post. Similar in fashion to Beaupré, it had a 2-span steel bridge over Rivière du Gouffre. This time, the customers were well defined at the team track and extensive unloading equipment was located there. Without a doubt, it would be a nice "diorama" layout, but to be honest, this scene would shine better as a module and the space I have hardly do justice to the prototype.

Scenario 5: Temiscouata Railway

It means simply compressing the actual track plan I devised. As for any Temiscouata-themed plans I made, I will have to decide on an era because Connors' trackage changed over the year. In the best world, I would need to use a full lenght wall to make something decent. Once again, space is at premium and some serious mockups should be built before committing myself to anything. That will be the case with the other propositions...

Scenario 6: Donnacona Paper, Quebec (Canadian Northern)

Another nice turn of the century layout could be set on Canadian Northern Quebec Railway mainline between Montreal and Quebec City in the 1910s. The ex-Great Northern of Canada Railway line was home of a large paper mill located in Donnacona. According to old pictures, the plant was partially operating on steam and received large amount of coal. Pulpwood, chemicals and newsprint were also common sight in the area. Just a few hundred feets from the plant was the CNoR Donnacona station. Also, a railway overpass was located near the plant to access the pulpwood yard. Several intricate pipes found their ways around there.

A interesting fact is the mainline was crossing the mill property before spanning a river. It means staged trains would come out from behind plant, making it an effective device. Another great aspect of this layout is the fact the backdrop would be St. Lawrence River and the South shore. I've seen someone modelling this scene in HO many years ago (unfortunately I don't recall his name and don't want to publish his pictures without his consent) and it works great. This is also a good occasion to bring justice to CNoR and use a lot of Canadian fallen flags' cars.

Scenario 7: A Module

Finally, the most realistic approach would be two build a set of modules and try my hand with this scale before committing myself to something I do know if I'll like.

I recently discovered a very neat little community called New Woodstock located on Lehigh Valley's Cortland Branch. The information comes from an old website by P. Lord who tried (and succeeded) reproducing his childhood memories of Lehigh Valley. His attention and methodical process to document and build correct structures for a very specific era is interesting (the New Woodstock module in particular).

The nice thing about that locality is a dense core of industries is located right behind the passenger depot which means the scene is already compressed making it a nice prototype of a typical agricultural community. I think this neat prototype could benefit from a suitable 3D mockup to test up the concept. I remember an issue of MRH a few years ago featuring some guy making hyper-realistic rural community scenes without any compression. I was never able to find the article again, but it was very impressive.


Everything I said must not be taken at face value. These are layout ideas that surface from time to time in my mind and which I revisit accordingly. I just wanted to see if they could be implemented in a larger scale while keeping their appeal. Generally speaking, I suspect most of them do.

As a matter of fact, I think both Beaupré and Donnacona have huge potential as layouts that can "submerge" you into a scene. The same apply to New Woodstock. I've often noted that when I was switching such scenes, I tended to be calmer and take time to make every little moves required. When the trackage is complex, I have a habit to skip many of them. As for Temiscouata, I feel my available space would drive me to set on the later simtrack plan since it fits better.

One thing that must be noted is S scale is a "railfan" scale because the trains and scenic elements have a presence of themselves, much more than HO. Each time I bought a small HO steamer, I was mesmerized by its minuscule appearance. It doesn't happen in S scale and this is a plus when modelling older era with smaller equipment. I understand perfectly why many 19th century modellers prefer O scale when building their 4-4-0. That's the only way to do them justice.

If I ever choose the S scale route, I'll have to learn a new skill: track laying and handlaying turnouts. It could be a useful skill to develop in the future, I must agree.

Another aspect I like about that scale is how building structures is easier. Building intricate details on a HO scale passenger station can be nerve breaking. A lot of hardly discernable efforts from a normal viewing distance. Also, cross section of building parts are bigger, thus easier to shape.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Exporail - "A Great Passion For Model Trains" Post-Mortem

Last Saturday was a very long day... We left Quebec City at 7:30 AM and came back at 0:15 AM the next day. Fortunately, the weather was extremely nice making this a fun summer ride.

You can't go wrong with a CPR Royal Hudson

The afternoon was spent visiting Exporail permanent exhibit (interior and exterior) and meeting people at the model trains event. It was my first time visiting this museum and, to be honest, also the first time ever I visited a railway-related museum with a substantial collection. It may sounds a little bit weird since I've been involved in this hobby for more than 25 years, but well, let's just say I rarely travel! On the other hand, visiting such an exhibit when you already know much more than the casual visitor changes your perspective and appreciation. By example, I was much more interested in paint schemes, Grand Trunk fonts and how piping is concealed on a real locomotive.

That's the kind of pictures I shot...

Here are my impressions on the Museum:


-Exporail interior exhibit is relatively large and extensive, ranging from late 19th century to first and second generation diesel. Steam locomotives range from small 4-4-0 to larger 2-10-2 behemoth, thus providing a good overview of most types and their evolution. Among the nice pieces are the British "Dominion of Canada" of same design as the record-breaking Mallard and a few other British and French locomotives. They provide a good comparison between North American and European practices.

-In term of rolling stock, there's a good provision for old wood passenger cars, many from Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific. The Intercolonial Pullman-style car is rather impressive for its interior furnitures. Nice upholstery, large windows carefully aligned with the seats, space for the legs and large central aisle, i.e., a stark constrast with the definition of "modern" comfort. At that moment, I had very serious doubts about the notion of progress! If you've ever travelled on a TGV or VIA Renaissance coach, you know exactly what I mean! LRC and stainless coachs are still king in my heart.

-The freight cars collection, while relatively smaller compared to locomotives, covers all common types (boxcar, flatcar, hopper, tank car, caboose and reefer) in their mid-century classic lines.

-The streetcar collection is rather extensive and covers most types in use from early horse-drawn carriage to later PCC-design cars. This is truly a must see.

-Safe access to steam locomotives and rolling stock provide a good vantage point to appreciate the numerous aspects of these equipments and their details. Steam locomotive cabs made a huge impression on children around me. I tried to imagine the conditions during a stormy winter night!

-The exterior exhibit provides an on-site streetcar line connecting the major attractions in an entertaining manner for both casual visitors and hardcore fans.

-Another very interesting feature is the operation of an early 19th century 2-2-2 steam locomotive replica named "John Molson" based on a 1848 engine serving the original St-Jean-La Prairie line. While a small locomotive, this replica makes a big impact with its polished brass and copper appliances and fashionable red wheels. I wasn't aware the replica would make an appearance and it was a nice surprise. And seriously, such shiny locomotives probably made a really big impact of people back then.


-The lighting inside the main pavillion isn't good. No specific lighting is provided to bring attention on certain specific collection item. It's a generic industrial warehouse lighting that provides a poor color rendition. I suspect this isn't a problem for most visitors, but if you want to take pictures it can be challenging and worse, the colors looks weird. Under such conditions, CN Orange is Peach while CP Action Red is Orange. But the weirdest effect is on Boxcar Red which looks like a brownish leather color. Quite weird!

Within a decade, this 100-year boxcar will require a good deal of repair.

-Many artefacts outside aren't exactly in great shape and suffer from various level oof weathering. I'm well aware many museums have the same money and space issues preventing them to protect a part of the collection under a roof. You can't really do nothing against it, but I feel the path and access to the outside collection should provide a better access to walk around the cars and locomotives.

With all that said, I consider Exporail is well-worth a visit. During my presence, there was a lot of young families and without surprise, kids were hugely impressed by steam locomotives. Is that a surprise?

It was also a good occasion to take good photographs of Grand Trunk lettering. I'll have to correct my artwork for my GTR kitbash project.

A Great Passion For Model Trains

As you know, the main reason I visited Exporail was to take part to the special event about model trains. It was a general public display, meaning many layouts and exhibits were geared toward families and kids. A good variety was provided in term of locale, era and scale (British, North American), including a large LEGO trains featuring interesting rendition of real prototypes, including steam locomotives.

From the start, I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of exhibition layouts because they venture in a "fantasyland" that doesn't connect well with my passion for this hobby. Nevertheless, it was well-received by the general public, which was the main goal of the event. Many HO switching layouts were displayed, both steam and diesel with a fair level of craftmanship.

While quite peculiar, the Drummond Railway Modellers Association (Association des modélistes ferroviaires de Drummondville) layout was interesting. I particularly appreciated their mix of mainline and switching actions which provided subjects for discussion. I gladly put a few of my custom-built cars in action. Without surprise, the CN Transcona Woodchip Gondola fuelled a lot of interest.

By the way, my camera is in real bad shape and very little pictures are good enough to publish here, which is a shame. Unfortunately (or fortunately), only the S Scale Workshop layout were salvageable in some way. The poor lighting environment made things even worst.

S Scale Workshop

I have to be honest, the S Scale Workshop did steal the show and it's an opinion shared by many people at the exhibition. I've seen countless pictures and videos of their work, but seing it in real is totally another thing (and no, my pictures don't do justice to their work). First of all, the level of craftmanship is high, very high... British modellers raised the bar high in term of portable layouts, but the SSW layout isn't far behind.

A CNR Consolidation taking a break by the brewery (Andy Mallette's module)

It must be said: Simon Parent's locomotives are out of this world. I've never seen such great steam locomotives in action. His pair of CNR 2-10-2 is impressive. At eye level and in action, that's the real thing. No compromise and the S scale is perfect to appreciate all the efforts he puts in his models. I unfortunately didn't had the occasion to congratulate him, but many visitors were stuck like glue to his models.

Dunham CNoR station beautifully built by Simon Parent

Simon's modules featuring a "Dunham" Canadian Northern station are worth mentionning too. A combination of precise modelling and honest simplicity makes it an instant attention grabber. It enhances automatically the trains and no wonder his modules were the favourite spots of photographs.

Trevor Marshall's Judge Farm modules which he refered to as the "Meadows" is an exervice in simplicity. He only modelled a single track mainline crossing agricultural lands. Imagine about 20 feet of fenced right of way with attractive and realistic vegetation, sound boring isn't it? Well, in fact, it's the most suitable backdrop to appreciate fully a train and Simon's 2-10-2s pulling a coal drag in that late summer environment made a huge impression on me. I envisionned to "sacrifice" a few feets in such fashion on my next layout and now know it's the way to go. Once again, let me say it: Less is More... or rather: Do Less, Do Better.

That's right! This set of modules feature absolutely nothing worth mentioning...
...except for a grade crossing and an abandonned interurban track

Switching opportunities were provided by another set of modules depicting an icing platform, a small brewery and an oil dealer. The brewery module is the work of Andy Mallette and was an excellent rendition of small town industries in the late steam era.

About S Scale

It was my first time witnessing S scale and it was also the case with many other Quebec modellers. This is a fascinating scale. Many of us who kitbash extensively were quick to see the crushing advantage of that scale. Later during the supper, Rémi Gagnon, a talented modeller, bluntly told us it gave him the urge to sell all his HO scale stuff and start again. Sure he won't do it, but he wasn't alone aound the table to think the same.

When Trevor asked me what were my first impressions about the scale, my sole answer was "better than I ever thought".

In my find, S Scale has two big selling points:

-It has a lot of presence without being much larger than HO. In fact, it's the perfect scale because you can appreciate details at a decent distance.

In S scale, most material thicknesses scale down correctly.

-The track work is simply awesome because it looks like the real thing: rail height VS ties.

Add to this the fact it tracks better, detailing models is easier and stuffing decoder and keep alive in a locomotive is a bliss and you got a winning formula. To be honest, Simon Parent is amazing, but I'm not sure we would fully appreciate his hard work if he worked in HO. The 1/64 scale really enable him to go full throttle when building a locomotive from scratch.

Meeting Trevor

It seems I've known Trevor Marshall for years while I only met the man yesterday .I was pleased to find he was the fine gentleman I thought he was, very generous with his time. We had a nice long chat about layout design musing, future layout ideas, managing hobby time and real life obligations and, indeed, S scale!

Particularly, we discussed the limitations of layouts designed around a agricultural/isolated terminal (which is of prime interest since I have big inclinations to build a Temiscouata-themed layout). While they provide realistic track plans, interesting action and a sense of purpose, they are plagued by their lack of variety. By example, Port Rowan will always be a line serving small feedmills and coal/oil dealers. Hedley-Junction is nothing more than a line serving a paper mill, a rundown cotton mill and a cement plant. Except for a local work train, you can't expect a lot of variety from through train.

The problem is most modellers want to build a large array of interesting prototypes but can't hardly justify their presence on a layout. The generic answer to this is problem is the dreaded "I Want It All" approach which leads ultimely to failure. However, both Trevor and me think setting a layout as a single town on a connecting mainline with both staging at each end is better. You retain the local switching opportunities and achieveable nature of a small layout, but you gain the variety of mainline traffic. If both staging areas are merged together, you get a continuous run that can be useful to stage some type of traffic.

As Trevor explained, Jim Dufour's Cheshire Branch works on this very premise: small localities depicted, but linked by a shared staging yard. I firmly believe this is an elegant way to tackle the problem without overreaching. As you have seen with my Thinking Out Loud series, most scenerios I visited implied such a modus operandi.

I still have a lot of time before building my personnal layout, but definitely, if I ever decide on modelling a QRL&PCo-themed layout, I will probably gave a serious thought about S Scale for obvious reasons.. In fact, the seed is already planted and I already tried to design a few scenes. Will I give a try? Maybe! At least, S scale would be the best answer to run a layout which use very small and light locomotives. In HO, it will be a royal pain to make it feasible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hedley-Junction's Team at Exporail

I'm happy to report the team behind Hedley-Junction will pay a visit to other fellow modellers at Exporail "A Great Passion for Model Trains" event on August 20th.

Our small but dedicated delegation will be made of Louis-Marie and myself. Depending on interest, I'll probably bring a few interesting models to share with others.

It will be also an excellent occasion to finally see the S Scale Workshop in real and appreciate that particular scale.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Exporail and Project Updates

While my summer vacations are running out of steam, I think it's time to bring some updates.

First, I'm planning to visit Exporail's "A Great Passion for Model Trains" event on August 20th (next Saturday). I'm not sure if I'll be able to go since it's a matter of transportation, but I'll do my best to make it possible and meet the folks gathered there. I'm particularly interested in seeing the S Scale Workshop modules in action because it share a lot of common point with a possible Temiscouata-theme (or any steam) layout I'm interested in building in the future.

If you are from Quebec City Area and are thinking about going there, let me know! Just for fun, I try to see if it was possible to do this by train, but AMT and VIA schedules aren't compatible. Going by bus is feasible, but it means 12 hours of travel for 3 hours at Exporail! I can imagine the amount of fatigue rising at a furious rate.

About Hedley-Junction, Louis-Marie confirmed me yesterday he was putting pressure on his contractor to complete the air conditioning system repairs by the end of August. To be honest, don't expect us to be back on the layout before September. I hope so because I'm eager to continue the scenery work.

I also got my two True Line PSC cabooses last week. I dind't have the time to inspect them in detail but they look great so far. I'm aware of some defects talked at lenght online, but they look far better than my Sylvan resin kit built when I was a teenager knowing nothing about craftman kits.

The Grand Trunk locomotive projet was put on hold to focus my efforts on Harlem-Station. That small layout is a real can of worm. 66% of the rolling stock is completed and locomotives are in various stage of painting/detailing. My efforts are stopped by a Dullcote shortage at my local hobby shop. Meanwhile, I ordered a full box online but don't expect to get soon. That said, the GTR project isn't forgotten. I'm waiting after a few parts but on the positive side, the decal artwork is completed. I suspect this project will be a long term one.