Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Art of Modelling

Maybe it's a funny thing, but most of the time I read about model railroading, it's about getting things done quickly, cheaply and as efficiently as possible. While totally understandable for many obvious reasons, this mindset ends up - unintentionally - considering everything that takes up time to be done to be futile, foolish or simply a bad investment. Being on the creative side, I always hated that mentality that you are an idiot if you take time to do things right and pride yourself in jobs well done. I got it a lot when I was in high school and later in higher education. In my daily professional career, rushing and doing things on the cheap is seen as the tantamount of business practice. Nobody cares about honing skills or mastering an art. The new kid on the block that does half-baked jobs in a wink because he use the latest software is always seen as a saviour... even if under the varnish, very little true craftmanship exist.

But to put things in perspective, I'm actually in the process of replicating in 3D one of the most ornate 19th century church steeple in Quebec City. The building itself is a marvel of wood and metal working that makes our modern crap looks like... proverbial crap. As expected, I was asked to do the thing as fast as lightning, but this time, I decided to do the job right and take the extra step required to go as far as replicating acanthus leaves on Corinthian capitols. The result is interesting in two ways. First, it proves it can be done rather easily when someone takes the job seriously, but first and foremost, it was the first time in 10 years I was proud of my job and what I did. For once, I created beauty. It required - virtually - to carve and craft elements with care, using all my knowledge of geometry to retrieve the formulas used to design the structure back in 1867. It was both motivating and rewarding!

The funny thing is I also applied the same work ethic to my freight car fleet. Recently, while programming the Harlem Station layout into JMRI, I found out I lacked car and needed to have a larger fleet. I had many options: setting on cheap stand in models, buy expensive but correct RTR models, buy kits (Intermountain, Westerfield, Tichy, Rapido, etc.) or simply see what could be done with old cars in my stash. As expected, I opted for the three last options.

Handmade ice hatches made out of styrene, brass and paper

I had two Life-Like/Varney wood reefers and four Athearn steel ice reefers. Both models would hardly be considered as quality products, but I decided to check out their original prototype. It seems the Life-Like prototype was based on a generic 37 meat reefer design still in service in the 1950s. After doing some research, I found out it was really close to the GARX prototypes. Thus, using old drawings and pictures, and also Rapido's pictures of their own model, I decided to update the "el cheapo" models. My goal was clear, make sure the rebuilt cars would looks great when compared to higher end models. It meant I had to remove almost every details including roofs, doors, brakes, underframe, etc. and craft everything by myself. The process took several dozen of hours over a few weeks. It could have been tedious, but each evening I set myself in completing one small task while listening my favourite podcasts and channels.

The result was that I spent quality time doing fun modelling projects and got great cars for little money. Once primed, most people would hardly believed it was a pair of trainset cars.

This success brought me to strip the paint out of four Athearn reefer and bash them into their intended original prototype: the ubiquitous PFE R-40-23 steel reefer. As a matter of fact, I ordered two Intermountain kits and various spare parts with the intention of drastically improving the Athearn cars into worthy models. And once again, many hours are spend upgrading them with small hand crafted parts. Each detail is a challenge requiring to understand how the parts work in real life and trying to replicate them in scale. If the task seems complex, I simply do it step by step so I can feel I'm progressing each day instead of facing a wall. I don't know how much time it will take, probably well over 60 hours... but it's not a problem but rather a blessing.

In our increasingly cynical world, taking time to carefully craft beautiful things can be seen as a luxury, but also as a proof we still have the freedom to do good things.