Sunday, April 30, 2017

Legrade: Scene Composition

Photographs and artists are well aware of a basic composition principle that frame vertically and horizontally a given subject in three parts. This old trick helps to frame subject and structure was we see, focussing our observation in directed way.

In the case of Legrade, the same principle can be applied both in plan and elevation. But I wasn't aware of it when I framed the orthophotography thought I tried to balance things so they look good and well composed.

So let's analyze the layout track plan from an artistic point of view:

Column 1-2-3 is all about emptiness with an absence of structures characterizing the mainline.

Column 4-5-6 is about low elevation building and action. This is where trucks and trains are sorted out, employee cars parked, with the office acting as a focal point.

Column 7-8-9 is about density, larger structures (including the tall brick chimney) and car spotting.

We can already assign a role to each column. The first one is the switching lead, the second one the sorting area and the thir one the spotting one.

Now, let's analyze the rows:

Row 1-4-7 is the backdrop that sets the location (coastal trees, office and meat packing plant) with an left to right progression from unbuilt area to densely built area.

Row 2-5-8 is an empty area framed by two built row where action is free to take place. You'll remark all the motion on the layout is focussed in this row.

Row 3-6-9 is low elevation built area that frame the other row but with elements that acts as psychological barriers rather than real ones. They mark the public interface be it the right of way, D'Estimauville Avenue or the large concrete wall of the cattle pen that separate the nasty industrial activities from the neighborhood.

Zone 5 which is the central element is where most action occurs. You will note this open space is framed by the three most important structures: the office, the meat packing plant and the cattle pen. This area is a stage where the "performance" is set while the other zones, mainly 2 and 8, act as supporting spaces. We can consider that about 1/3 of the layout is for plain scenery while 1/3 is decicated to paved are were actions are performed. The remaining 1/3 goes to structures.

Finally, since the layout is about switching a customer, the need for a full train isn't required. However, some people will point out hiding the spot where the track goes through the backdrop at left won't be easy. The area wasn't heavily forested, there was no overpass, tunnel or any such convenient things. However, a clever way to minimize that fact would be to stage the tail end of the train on the mainline. There is suffisant space to stage two 40ft cars with a caboose without fouling the grade crossing. It could be an interesting way to show us some rolling stock while implying the action taking place is part of a bigger scheme.

Legrade: An Updated Plan

So far, I used the insurance maps as a reference to draw the plan to scale. However, I was curious to see how it would turn out if I used instead the 1948 orthophographic survey. As expected, there was a lot of discrepancies and some nice surprises.

As you can see, the cattle pen geometry was quite different and much more irregular than was the case on the insurance maps. In fact, it's not a bad thing as it bring some more life to the scene composition.

It is also nice to find out the upper left corner was a wooden area, which is perfect to hide the joint between the backdrop and the layout.

Another nice feature is the fact you can have a glimpse of the mainline. I think it bring some context into the layout, giving you an idea that Legrade is part of a larger work. Sure, the mainline and passing tracks are there for decoration, but they support the story well enough. One could easily imagine a caboose left on the passing track while performing switching moves.

Now, the big question is about rotating the track plan a little bit to make sure the cattle pen isn't sliced. I've never been a fan of sliced building on layout would try to avoid this as much as possible.

What's behind a track plan?

The more simplistic and realistic a track plan is, the more anxiety creeps about it's operation interest. The question is legitimate, but finding the balance between operation, modelling and visual coherence isn't an easy task.

The big challenge is overcoming the idea everything that can sustain trains running through a scene isn't worthy of a model railroad. At some point, it all comes down to how you experience railway activities.

Several approaches can be taken when modelling a scene and I won't tell which ones are good or bad since it always depends on what you want to focus. However, you can model a scene from the railway's perspective or from a pedestrian's perspective. The first one is self-explanatory and will try to make sure the physical plant (rails) are all there to perform a complete sequence of operations. The later is more about what we can see from a scene in a given time and place.

In the case of Legrade, the scene isn't framed to make QRL&PCo the main focus, but rather the plant. Imagine yourself in 1951, as a kid, you ride your bike down a dirt road called D'Estimauville Avenue, cross a bunch of tracks and end up at the plant. You see the office, the meat packing structure and the courtyard filled with trucks and freight cars. If you are lucky, a steam locomotive is switching a few cars here and there, bring life to the place with new sounds. After a while, the train disappears and you ride back home on your bike. In your mind, you later recall the engine and car colors, their dirtiness, the couplers sound and the steam whistle.

Now, is it a diorama? No. Is it a full-fledged layout... not really. A micro-layout? Maybe. A cameo layout? Probably. But at the end of the day, does it really matters? Most modellers have interest in many things including locomotives, building cars and structures, operating, scenery, replicating a prototype or a strong impression. I'm not advocating for a specific type of layout, but rather trying to remind us that layout comes in different shape and type, that many good ideas and worthy concepts are often trashed, denatured or disfigured because we feel they don't fit the mould and thus aren't worth pursuing...

Legrade is particularly disturbing because the subject isn't about an end of line terminus-style layout or a large plant. It's a medium-sized industry located on the mainline and served by trains orignating somewhere else and going somewhere else. In a nutshell, it's not a destination and for this reason, the decision to select such a location and frame it in this way is not conventional, hence the anxiety! But don't feel bad, I'm not agonizing over that. I've been probing that particular prototype for at least 10 years now!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Legrade & QRL&PCo

Long time ago, in the second half of the 1990s, I had a dream. Having recently discovered the existence of Quebec Railway Light & Power, I dreamed of kitbashing their MLW 2-6-0 #22. With the means and knowledge of a teenager, I bought a MDC/Roundhouse 2-6-2 Prairie kit, certain I could figure out a way to make it a worthy model. However, serious dimension discrepancies, problems assembling the drive and difficulty to work with solid metal parts plague the model.

Later, I tried my luck with a IHC 2-6-0. The tender turn out quite well, but modifying the drive was near impossible. I completed the project, but unsatisfied by the look, I decided to simply paint it as a generic CNR engine. Now that I look at it, it reminds me it's never a bad idea to try a second time a same project, learning from previous mistakes.

Kitbashed in 2009-2010: revisiting old works tells us a lot about developing skills.

But I never forgot about #22. With my Temiscouata project tied with the construction of a new garage (which I'll have to postpone to next year), I think it's a bad idea to simply sit on my chair and wait for the weekly club session.

A recent discussion about minimal layout with fellow modellers sparked my interest in minimalist layouts. Temiscouata is a good example and I can't wait to pour efforts on that project, however, many other nice prototypes exist out there, begging to be modelled.

Among many of them, Legrade in D'Estimauville is a premium choice. The variety of cars, the interesting structure and several challenges associated in reproducing the place are extremely motivating. Better, I already have a substantial fleet of QRL&PCo cars and some more waiting to be completed. It would be truly great to put this material into service. It is also good to note only one turnout is required to make this project come true, which means very realistic trackwork could be easily achieved.

According to my sketch, Legrade can be reproduced using less than 96" x 24" (even 80" x 24"). It would make for a terrific shadow box style UK layout with proscenium and integrated lighting fixtures.

I've also did some researches and found out a decent #22 could be build by merging a P2K 0-6-0 drive (same wheelbase) with a Bachmann 2-6-0 Mogul superstructure. 56" drivers from the 2-6-0 would replace the 0-6-0 smaller wheels. I already have both engine in hands and none never fitted any of my project. Anyway, they will be superseeded by new Rapido's Icons of Steam offerings in the following years. Given the excellent performance of both engine and the wealth of details each has, the project wouldn't cost that much to bring to life. Also, the great performance of the new Loksound Full Throttle steam decoders make running steam extremely attractive.

It is also interesting to note #22 was a strange locomotive. Built as a Mogul, it was designed using a switcher wheelbase, short cab and high vision small capacity tender. This make sense given the locomotive's main role was pulling transfer runs between Québec City and St. Joachim while doing some switching duties along the road.

As for a specific year, I'd say 1951. It was the last year QRL&PCo was an independant railway and just before #22 was send to Montreal for renumbering only to meet the torch in 1953. This era also makes for a nice mix of old QRL&PCo cars, CN wood and newer steel reefers, old short tank cars and classic motor and horse drawn vehicles.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revisiting Abattoir Legrade

Jérôme often tells me he would have loved to include Abattoir Legrade in D'Estimauville. While not feasible on the current layout, it is a very neat prototype I often presented here and it didn't take a long time for me to explore it again when a series of recent email discussions among fellow modellers brought back the topic of “minimal operation”.

Some may remember Lance Mindheim’s interesting one-turnout layout article he wrote back in 2012. Lance was promoting the idea a very simple layout using only one siding could sustain a fair amount of prototypical operation if the industry was carefully selected and attention to details such as realistic railroading practices were implemented. I had my share of doubt back in 2012, but since then experience taught he was right. Not that we should refrain building more complex trackwork arrangements, but that extremely simplistic ones shouldn’t be considered as diminutive or worthless endeavour. Over the recent years, we have to admit many of the most fascinating layouts that had a major influence on the hobby were generally quite streamlined in term of track.

While the discussion was going up, I tried to dig up local prototypes in Quebec that could fit the bill. To my surprise, many model-worthy locations popped up and all of them had a vibe that could certainly inspire people. Among them, Parc industriel Saint-Romuald in Lévis is a chief contender for a small layout oriented toward agro-business. It would make a terrific modern CN-based layout. It even features a short grade yet relatively steep with an important highway grade crossing in the middle. Think of it as Tom Johnson’s INRAIL meets John McNab’s Grimes Line...

Another worthy example that could lend itself very well to design a minimal shelf layout with lots of potential is the old Cascade Paper Mill located in East Angus, Quebec. In the later year, the mill was served by a single siding connect to a small yard by the mainline about 0.75 miles away. The siding dropped several feet down the valley to reach the plant where boxcars and chemical tanks were spotted. Very scenic, the siding ended in a kind of urban canyon nested between a metal-clad warehouse and an early 20th century brick boiler house. This layout could be operated as a late 1980s CP Rail operation or as the much modern Quebec Central reincarnation of the early 2000s. It must be noted Atlas released CP Newsprint boxcars with QC reporting marks. This could make a very neat shelf layout in a small room.

However, this blog is about CN Murray Bay subdivision so why not go back to a suitable local prototypes. Since 2012, I’ve been documenting (well, not that much), a mid-sized meat packing plant located on D’Estimauville Avenue called Abattoir Legrade. I didn’t find any founding date, but abattoir Legrade was in business at least from the 1940s up to the 1970s. A few pictures of the building exist and I had more than an occasion to talk about it here. However, each time I tried to insert this prototype in a larger layout, I failed. The reason was simple, while quite compact, the plant “courtyard” with the siding was quite large and didn’t lend itself well to a shelf layout. However, if one approaches Legrade as a one turnout layout and drop the mainline, things start to get interesting.

Here’s my reasoning about Legrade. I recall the late Jean-Pierre Veilleux once told me Legrade received cattle mainly by road with only a few railcars from time to time. By the 1960s, stock cars were seldom seen there thought it did happen from time to time. As a matter of fact, aerial pictures from 1948 show no stock cars on the cattle pen siding while the warehouse siding is at full capacity (5 cars). One will remark the cattle pen siding is quite long and can handle many cars without having to move any spotted stock car. That’s another interesting feature of this prototype.

To make such a layout feasible in a limited amount of space, one would have to model only a part of the switching job: sorting and spotting cars at the plant. It would mean the entire train isn’t modelled and considered to be staged off layout east of D’Estimauville Avenue. At best, a typical train would handle about 5 cars, mainly reefers, tank cars, boxcars, stock cars and maybe a few coal hoppers from time to time, depending which era is modelled. To add operational interest, it must be noted Legrade was protected by a chain-link fence and a derail.

Abattoir Legrade in 1961 (credit: BANQ)

To make sure this layout would be feasible, I scaled down the insurance map depicted Legrade and superposed an 8’ x 2’ shelf to see if everything would fit. To my surprise, eliminating the main line made it possible to model Legrade’s iconic structures without compressing them. Only small structures had to be moved a little bit to better fit the space. Add a 5 feet long cassette and you are in business!

As for a suitable era, Legrade can be done in the 50s when the structure still had its cheesy billboard plastered over the truck shipping area. Operation could be handled by a CNR small steam locomotive, probably a 0-6-0 or 0-8-0 doing the local switching chores from Limoilou yard or, more interestingly, use QRL&PCo ubiquitous electric steeple car to handle the job. Both options are possible since CNR steam locomotives started to do a lot of jobs on the line by the late 50s after CNR acquired the line.

Another possibility would be to model the plant in the 1960s. The building was modernized at that time but still retained its iconic features. Operation could be handled by GMD1 or RSC24, or even GP9 and RS18 in later times. If you ask me, I guess Legrade is best when it had that special and nostalgic 1940s-1950s vibe. Heck, pictures even show horse carts serving the plant and my father, who grew up in the 1950s has always fondly remembered that era when you could still see many merchants using horse-drawn carriage in Québec City.

Interestingly, behind all that simplicity there is a very mundane lesson to learn. The apparent simplicity of this track plan is an invitation to compress things a lot and to reduce the “useless” length of siding where you can’t spot cars. This is the approach I had every time I tried to create a scale version of Legrade. However, it means a third track had to be added to sort cars – namely – the mainline. On the other hand, if you stay faithful to the real dimensions, something “magical” happens: you get spare room to switch cars. From that point, you start to understand why the cattle pen ramps were located at the end of the siding and not all over the place because it frees some buffer space required to move cars around when switching the meat packing plant.

These considerations may sounds absolutely banal and they are, but when you have little spare room in your hands, compression for the sake of compression isn’t always the right solution. In Legrade case, keeping the sidings exactly as they were on the prototype is the most sensible way to save space and, incidentally, turnouts. It also ensures that the layout can be operated in a much prototypical way than first anticipated. Given Legrade as 9 car spots, it’s possible to say confidently this rail-served plant is quite a sizeable customer.

Another interesting aspect of remaining faithful to the prototype dimension and keeping the track ratio low is that you can truly commit yourself to details, textures and other aspect that turns a generic shelf layout into a stunning piece of work worth you engagement. One could literally spend hours reproducing the semi-paved and muddy courtyard with rail heads buried in dirt and gravel. Also, pictures show Legrade was quite a weathered building with paint peeling, color fading and various other subtle variations.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Some more scenery

Starting to work on something when you took a long pause is always hard. You loose focus and forget the reason behind the actions you didn't complete. Not a very good way to do model railroading isn't it? Crazy to think I'll have to take another break later in May.

Anyway, it since Jérôme and Louis-Marie didn't take a break, I could witness the very slow but steady progress with the grade crossing signals. This is a true labor of love and it's hard to convey with words how much efforts they are putting in something that seem so mundane.

At this point, we can say the cement plant crossing is working fine. Lots of adjustments to do, but still acceptable. On the other hand, work on D'Estimauville Avenue is just starting. All the parts are now ready to be assembled and Jérôme made a decent mock up of how it will look like when complete. It's quite close to the real thing and the scene is taking shape.

As for me, I worked on road pavement again. I'll be honest, I've tried many methods and start to think illustration board roads à la Gordon Gravett/Lance Mindheim work the best for me... I don't know why, but I'm not a fan of plaster/spackling streets. The reason may be because I only visit the layout once per week, thus plaster roads takes a lot of time to finish while cardboard ones can be done quickly at home and better.

That said, I thought applying some stactic grass would be useful for once. Using my trusty grass applicator, a new layer of vegetation was applied to the access road embankment in Clermont. But this time, I changed my recipe. I mixed long greenish 6mm fibers with straw-colored 3mm fibers and applied them on prepped terrain. The result was much better than applying each kind of grass independently. The color and lenght are now less uniform, making for a more realistic late Spring vegetation. It will probably be quite useful when making grass tuffs too.

I also applied grass more grass on the siding to show it is seldom maintained. It helps to frame the siding gravel area used to load cars. Speaking of gravel, I used a sandpaper to create vehicle ruts and add texture. This is a well-known technique that bring back the gravel powdery look and help break the ubiquitous glued down uniform look. Let's call it a well invested 5 minutes of my time!