Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Scratchbuilding a Farmhouse - Part 2

More progress on the farmhouse today. I've added the "summer kitchen" to the main house and instead of a concrete foundation, I opted for a structure resting on piles. Salvaged roofing from the Pola/Kibri feedmill was used to created a steel screen hiding the building piles as was common in the 1970s. Also, the clapboard siding was notched on corners to look like a ColorLok siding without corner trims. Lots of work, but really pays off in the end.

A lot of bracing was added inside the roof to prevent warping. It also made gluing easier. As I often advocate, I installed soffites and fascias. These little details really bring to life mundane structure like no ones. And they aren't that hard to implement, even on plastic kit models from well-known manufacturers.

I'm quite happy how this little project is turning out. I thought about adding a veranda on the main facade, but decided to build a long wood galery as often seen on such houses. Another wood galery and a staircase will lead to the summer kitchen later.

The model is almost ready for paint. The last detail to add before painting will be a Hydro electric meter which is another one of my favorite small details. I'm also on the fence about addind a heating oil reservoir by the house. I'll see later when I'll place the structure on the layout.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Scratchbuilding a Farmhouse - Part 1

The next and last structure to build in Clermont is the little farmhouse on the hill. While an extremely mundane building, I spent a few houses browsing archive pictures of houses in Charlevoix.

I set my choice on a very common prototype found in the area which is a two storey high hosue with a low pitched roof. These were extremely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Often, is was a typical colonization house that got a second storey later on for additional space, but sometimes they were built like this from start.

Before starting the project, I needed some supplies, so I decided to salvage everything I could from the plastic kit house that I used for many months as a mockup.

After a while, I decided to reuse all the windows albeit a significant modification to the mullions and removal of the shutters. During the first half of 20th century, sash windows started to spread in the Quebec countryside. A very common model had a single glass pane in the bottom and three vertical glass panes in the upper part. I went with that very common design to ensure it will fit the ear and locale.

The walls are built with an Evergreen styrene clapboard sheet. It was easy to cut every part to size and glue them together. A lot of internal bracing was added to prevent warping. In this case, I reproduced a typical partition layout to make sure it couldn't be possible to see through the building which would looks quite bad.

The foundation and its windows are salvaged from the Pola/Kibri feedmill I destroyed two weeks ago. While I trashed most of the parts, I kept the doors, the foundation and roofing. You never know when you'll need such things for a project. The basement windows fit perfectly the bill and I added a very small access door on the rear wall.

I hope to finish this structure before next Friday, but I'll be a little bit more realistic and won't make it a serious deadline.

By the way, work is progressing again on the MLW M420. I just need to decal the snow plow and rear pilot and I'll be able to weather it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Montmorency in 1986

David Mira-Landry, a regular visitor of our layout, sent me this link via Facebook a few months ago. Since I generally don't visit my profile, it went unnoticed until tonight.

In 1986, John F. Borklund took a fantastic picture of a westbound train crossing Montmorency River and running by Dominion Textile. The phot owas shot from a spot in Boischatel just at the top of the famous Montmorency Falls.

I find this picture interesting because it confirms my memories of endless brown boxcar trains running on the Murray Bay. Better, you can see the roofs, level of weathering and how the caboose was quite clean then.

This is a scene I really wanted to model on the layout, but the lack of space made it impracticle. Not that the scene would be very large, but we just couldn't cram it. Also, as great as this scene can be, the backdrop would be extremely hard to be convincing. Having the falls on a photobackdrop near the tracks would be hard to blend with the scenic elements. A view point similar to the one of the picture - looking toward Orléans Island and St. Lawrence River - wouldn't be very convincing either. Given that, I'm not that much bothered to not have included that spot.

However, I must admit I would have really liked to build that bridge full scale!

Selling Rolling Stock

I've always been someone who keeps a lot of things instead of getting rid of them. But as a matter of fact, I run out of place for model railroad stuff.

After years of ownership, you somewhat find out that many things you thought would be great on your layout are seldom used. I have locomotives bought about 6 years ago that never saw service. I detailed some, weathered a few, installed DCC and LED... and never run them. Pretty, but don't fit my needs or tastes when it's time to operate.

So rather than keep them for me, I prefer to sell them to people who will actually have a real used for them. If some people are interested, they can take a look on Canada HO/N Yard Sale group on Facebook. And now, the big question! Will I regret it! Maybe... but well, there's plenty of other locomotives more suitable for my need that I will probably acquired over the years.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Agrivoix and Painting Rocks

Coop Agrivoix is now complete and weathered. The structure nicely blend with its surrounding and I'm quite happy with the results even if installing the window glazing in the office space was extremely tricky and frustrating.

The Coop is small but can receive two cars at a time. By the mid-80s, it was not a major rail customer and for this reason, operation will be light in this district.

However, the new team track is gonna be extremely busy and it's why I altered the access road so I can have a longer unloading/loading area for the team track. I was able to get about 30 scale feet more and to get rid of unsightly bumps in the road.

The next big challenge was painting the plaster rock with acrylic washes. I followed the Woodland Scenics "leopard" approach but altered the technic to suit my needs. I worked with prototype pictures to make sure I got the brownish tone with iron streaks typical of Charlevoix.

We are quite satisfied how it turned out for a first try and more final scenery work is going to start soon. Louis-Marie is preparing ingredients to make forested area ground cover and he sifted quite a lot of rock to make ballast.

Jérôme was also busy improving the track reliability in Clermont. He worked a lot of the turnout and relaid the team track to be level. We found out the layout wasn't perfectly horizontal. There is a very faint grade when leaving Clermont that I calculated to be 1%. It's quite funny because we found out in the past when using very heavy freight car that trains had a harder time leaving Clermont than arriving. Now we know why.

That unexpected grade isn't a bad thing because grade on Murray Bay Sub were mainly located between Pointe-au-Pic (La Malbaie) and Clermont. We suspect some structure sagging is responsible for that new realistic operating challenge. Who would have thought it was the reason why the team track cars always rolled down instead of staying in place!

Friday, November 25, 2016

JMRI Operations: Transportation Tycoon Deluxe?

I started to learn using the Operations feature of JMRI this week. While I thought the learning curve would be steep, I was surprised to find very similar to a vintage computer game from the 90s called Transportation Tycoon Deluxe (TTD). Six or seven years ago, a friend introduced me the open source version of this game called OpenTTD. The interesting thing about this new version what that fan of the game completely rebuilt it and better, they developed the railroad operations a lot to be more realistic.

Some poeple will wonder why I'm talking about that old game, but the reason is simple. Back then, I only cared about the aesthetic aspect of trains. I didn't gave that much thoughts to realistic operations as long as the trains did "look" realistic.

I played this game a lot when my modelling interest dwindled. It was a good occasion to go outside modelling the component of a railway to focus "modelling" virtually the operation and traffic patterns. Sure, OpenTDD had a lot of limitation, however, it was good enough to proove me operations were fun and understand perfectly what your trains does too. Modelling the purpose became a new interest of me and I would go as far as saying it helped me to shape my minimal approach to this hobby.

Right now, working my way up in JMRI Operations - with its quite dated Java interface - I must admit I'm at home. While the software is much more complex than OpenTTD, I recognize the same logic I came to appreciate in that old game.

The interesting fact is that a very simplistic layout like Hedley-Junction (with 5 industries and no real interchange) can become quickly complex and varied. Since we've never been fan of card system and don't have the time to set one with our very limited time at the layout, JMRI Operations is a viable and manageable option for us. We've always run the layout using switchlist and this is a nice software to generate them with a real sense of purpose. Who would have thought an irresponsible guy like me would find solace in dispatching... thought an old computer game!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Time, Space & Money: Managing a Locomotive Fleet

Well, it seems I finally reached that point in my life where I have no space or time to waste on fruitless endeavours aka useless stuff.

After three decades of train collecting – I started when I was 4 years old in 1987 – the lack of space is now dire. I’ve always went by the good old principle that you never know when you’ll need it. Well, many years later, I must admit a lot of things have been of no use for me and I can’t see it happen in the near future.

Among the many useless things is an ever growing collection of locomotives. Most of them were bought in the expectative of building specific layouts. Not so long ago, I had this nasty habit of buying locomotives before starting the project thinking it would drive me to work on the project. I can now honestly tell you this train of thoughts is going nowhere except wasting resources on failed attempts. Artificially boosting your morale with such short term incentives never pays off when dealing with long term project like layout building. A fad is a fad and nobody should take important decisions based solely on that.

It thus means I have to appraise the worth of my collection. Not only in monetary value, but rather in term of pertinence and effective pay off. I’m not someone who takes delight in looking at locomotives sitting on shelves. I loved them when they are in term environment. It means even if I absolutely love a prototype, I don’t feel the urge to own it and display it if I have no layout use for it. For this reason, except a few items with a sentimental connection, I can’t say I have a lot of fun with these boxed models.

One could say I should keep them to visit clubs and operate with my own locomotives, but I must admit the chances are quite low; I’m not a social type and know this is not my cup of tea thought I don’t hate it when I have the opportunity.

For this reason, I’m actually updating our needs in rolling stock and locomotives for the layout and comparing that data with my own collection and what I like to use.

At this point, I can safely say that we have enough material to run the layout. If we add something, we must take out something. Yes, we reached that level. The only reason to buy more cars or locomotives would be to replace the existing models with better ones.

As far I can tell, we officially rule out to run passenger trains: not prototypical, look silly on our layout and not fun to operate on a rural branchline. Anyway, rebuilding the iconic Tortillard du Saint-Laurent touristic train would cost an arm and a leg and be of little interest on the layout. In fact, it couldn’t run or be efficiently reversed!

As a matter of fact, 6-axle locomotives are also out of the picture. They don’t fit the bill in term of operation and some can’t negotiate the tight peninsula curve. And to be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of them. CN is actually replacing its old 4-axle locomotives with the bigger ones in Limoilou and they the charm of old GP9 and GP40.

Another type of locomotives out of the picture is cowl units which were seldom seen on Murray Bay. Also, while I find them attractive, they aren’t the kind of locomotives that I fancy as models.

What it leaves us with is a manageable roster of locomotives which has enough diversity to not feel boring and yet represent well the diversity of power that ran over the line. I’m not saying it is a prototypical roster, but rather a pragmatic one. I’ve often written in this blog the hardship of a line defined by a very specific locomotive that isn’t produced for the mass market (MLW M420). Maybe I’m less dogmatic as the project evolve, but I’m rather seeking to get the feeling right rather than die over details. Yes, it may sounds quite contradictory given my advocacy for prototypicalness, however, everybody in this hobby must draw a line to make sure the project moves forward. And if suitable models are available in the future, there will be room for improvement.

As it stand, the actual roster for our CN Murray Bay subdivision will be made of about 10 Canadian national locomotives and 2 industrial switchers. To be honest, this number could be reduced in half without impacting the operation. So much for collecting

Seen from that angle, it seems improving a very small fleet to high standard is a very achievable goal within a modest financial frame. As I often said in the past, I prefer to use only a few select engine which I care about rather then waste my time managing a monster fleet that do little in making me happy with my hobby. I can see, and Jérôme thinks the same, a day when our layout will be very simple and counter intuititive to mainstream model railroading practice. And now I know someone who will be busy pruning off excess motive power to other fellow modellers!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Resurrecting a Pair of Atlas GP40-2W

A year ago I commented about my hard dilemna between keeping our pair of Atlas GP40-2W or replacing them with Athearn models. The big reason is the serious discrepancies on Atlas rendition of CN wide cab. It is too obvious to be glossed over. Just to be clear, the following picture by Tim Hayman shows Atlas at left and Athearn at right... The disturbing mistakes are hard to not see, even more when switching at slow speed.

Tim Hayman's original picture from Flickr (2013)

On the other hand, the Atlas drive is exceptionnal and these models crawl at very slow speed without making noise. I feel it's a waste to get rid of them when I'll have a hard finding fine running models like them. I know the Athearn version is excellent, but not that good.

For this reason, it struck me today I could just replace the cab with a more prototypical one. A few years ago, Canadian Prototype Replica used to make a very good rendition of the comfort cab. Out of stock everywhere, hunting these cabs would still be feasible.

Atlas details (bells, headlight, grab irons, etc.) could be salvaged and installed on the new cab which would help save a lot of money. Then adding a state of the art LokSound decoder would turn them in great locomotives. Honestly, I feel I should have thought about that idea many years ago instead of complaining.

As a matter of fact, I wasn't the only one to have that idea and a member of The Diesel Detailer forum, iomalley, suggested doing the same surgery. The improvement is quite obvious as his picture shows.

Another proof the answer is sometimes closer than we think. It seems the RTR bonanza clouded my judgement.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coopérative agricole de Charlevoix - Part 3

I got a cold this weekend, but it didn't refrain me to work on the Coop. The corrugated paper roofing was glued in place. To represent a difference between the old metal roof and the new one, I applied a mist of dullcote to kill the metallic shine. Works perfectly to represent aged galvanized steel.

A light wash of oil paint was applied to the walls and roofs to add a certain level of dirt. When the wash was still wet, I used a paper towel to remove the except paint and only leave a very subtle streaking effect on the walls. No need to overdo this, the Coop isn't a rundown industry.

There is still a lot of work to do including adding the glazing, weathering the concrete foundation and painting some details. However, I don't expect to add a lot of cute detail on this structure, except for a sign. I think it should stay quite simple to blend into the very relaxed scene of Clermont.

I do hope to install the structure on the layout next week.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Custom Turnout and Rocks

A few weeks ago, fellow Canadian modeller Taylor Main offered to build a custom-built turnout to replace our geometrically awkward Shinohara one in Clermont.That old turnout was a real liability when switching because the frog was too sharp.

Thursday, Taylor's turnout was in the mail box and ready to be installed. This time, the frog is a #8 which is our mainline standard on the layout.

Friday night, Jérôme worked for quite a while to install the turnout in place. The first problem was that our theoritical 24" radius on the peninsula is probable sharper and we had to fudge a little bit the tracks to make a gentle curve. I take the blame for that, it was my fault not measuring the actual radius of the curve. Fortunately, the roadbed was wide enough to accommodate some tweaking.

When turning the power on, a short occurred. It seems a PC board tie copper plating wasn't completely scrapped off. Once done, it worked nicely. Some further tuning will be required, but so far, the new handlaid turnout is a serious improvement over the factory-built one. We all wish to thank Taylor for his generosity. He took off a serious block on our road to completing the scenery in this particular area.

With the new turnout was also an occasion to see if a 6-axle GMD1 could enter the siding without derailing. The answer is a mixed bag and the center wheel almost derail on many occasions. I think it's now clear our layout isn't meant to run 6-axle locomotives. But at least 50ft boxcar now looks less silly and that's what truly matters to us. Hard to believe no so long ago, I still thought curved turnouts were could and should be used more... I no longer agree and think they should be used only when there's no other option, just like the real railroads.

While Jérôme worked on track engineering, I glued in place a set of plaster rock castings I made this week. A friend of mine bought a dozen of Woodland Scenic molds a few months ago and I decided to make a few ones to see if Clermont scene could be improved.

After some discussion with Louis-Marie, we settled on a final arrangement of rock outcrops. It may look silly right now because of the white color, but we placed them following what looked natural and working with the pictures taken before we removed the blue foam cliff.

Keep in mind these rock outcrops will be very dark granite buried in dead leaves and dozen of trees and bushes.Our goal wasn't to create a big large cliff, but rather what you would find in the typical rural landscape of Charlevoix.

It was also a good occasion to put the feedmill in place to test the new colors. I also decided to modify the feedmill access road in such a way it would became a loading area for the team track. Removing the universal mud (papier mâché + latex paint) wasn't easy, but it looks now more natural and add a need car sport in that area.

Friday, November 18, 2016

CN 40ft Grain Boxcars - Part 1

As I recently said in a previous post, most grain shipment to Agrivoix Coop in Clermont will be handled by boxcars. When thinking aboug grain, most Canadians and Americans quickly think about strings of covered hoppers in varied paint scheme. Among these cars, the extremely attractive Canadian cylindrical hoppers – still in service after more than four decades – have garnered a large fanbase all over the continent and even oversea.

However, as much as I love these cars and that they were my first serious Internet search on Altavista using a 3.2 Netscape browser in 1996 in high school (even going as far as making a website partly dedicated to them), it would be far-fetched to imagine them visiting Murray Bay subdivision by dozens. While they could have ventured there, one must keep in mind most feedmills in the area were extremely small and with limited storage capacity. Also, weight restriction that plagued the line until the 1980s could have prevented their use up there.

Another reason I refrain from using them on the layout is because most people’s memories or freight trains over Murray Bay (including mines) are devoid of such car. Covered hoppers only started to appear frequently during the mid-1990s and were bound to the papermills (Donohue and Abitibi-Price). Some pictures from the 70s taken by Denis Fortier indicated CN covered slab hoppers did venture on Murray Bay far from Ciment St-Laurence, but they were indeed in cement service to various clients.

Generally speaking, if I could describe in one word a train on Murray Bay during from the 1960s to the 1990s I’d say “Brown”. Brown boxcars, brown gondolas, brown hoppers, brown flatcars… with a red-orange caboose. I thus want my grain cars to merge seamlessly into that general paint scheme.

By great luck, I own three CN grain boxcars with the correct paint scheme in use during the 80s. One is an old Athearn BB car while the two others are late run Roundhouse kits got from River City Railroad on Ebay. As a matter of fact, the Roundhouse cars (latest retooling) have finer details than the Athearn car and I will only work with these two. However, there can’t be used as is and some details must be canadianized to make them looking more prototypical while being less toyish.

The first step is to remove the roofwalk and end supports, then plug the holes. Nothing serious here since it’s a standard modelling procedure for anybody replicating older boxcars in a more modern era.

Another detail that much be taken care is the ladders. Canadian boxcars are well known for their 8-rung ladders combined with a stirrup. This kind of detail is extremely important to make you believe the Roundhouse car is a better quality car. It means these details must be removed – which is a labor of love – and replaced with new ones, namely Tichy ones.

Right: Solvaset + wet sanding; Right: scraping paint

Some other issues have to be addressed, but the biggest one is the painting. For unknown reason, the CN wet noodle on one of the car is vertically compressed. The logo thus looks flat and deformed which can be a liability when running next to a correct car. I tried to erase the artwork on one side by scraping the white paint, but finally decided to wet sand it using Walthers Solvaset. It always works quickly and quite well leaving minimum defect on the surface.

Repainted area - No masking required

Repainting the ladders and boxcar sides turned out to be less a serious challenge than I thought. Using several shade of acrylic paints, I tried to match the car's factory color. It is easier than you could think and I generally do my test on the roof because it can be hidden better and easier with a fresh coat of paint once the correct color is selected. In fact, in a matter of five minutes, I knew what mix to use and I'm more than happy with the result. Once weathered, this car will look as if no such surgery ever happened.

Finally, some modeller recently gave me a set of old decals including yellow wheat sheaves applied on boxcars during the 80s. Since I have several Intermountain 40ft boxcars custom painted in the old CNR Maple leaf scheme, I’m thinking about upgrading at least one to have some variety on the layout.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Shed From Scrap - Part 2

I painted the small shed yesterday. My approach to this project was to represent a dilapidated structure still in use but needing a coat of paint. To represent such a thing, I primed the model white then added a layer of dark grey and finally a coat of light grain. After a short drying time (2 hours), I took rough sandpaper and started to scrap the first coat of paint to make the boards look distressed. With an X-acto blade I scrapped all the grey paint on the windows to go back to the white paint. The same blade was used to distress the framing and door.

Once I was satisfied with the level of texture and color, a blackish oil paint wash was applied generously over the building to blend together the harsh effects of weathering I replicated. I must say I’m extremely satisfied by the result.

However, I’m less impressed by the corrugated roofing. While looking good on an industrial modern structure, this profile is far too big and exaggerated for such a small and diminutive building. For this reason, I’ll replace the roofing with the same material I used on the barn. However, I’ll keep rusting at minimum this time.