Sunday, December 24, 2017

A 2017 Retrospective

While it isn’t exactly the end of the year, there is very little time left to undertake any significant task on the layout at this point. As always, even if I didn’t have any expectations, our output wasn’t as impressive as I thought. Most of us were quite busy all over the year, which explained why we met more infrequently than usually. Also, and I’m to blame, my tendency to overthink every minor detail once again kicked back… but at least, I think I managed it better than usually.

About the layout itself, progresses were slow but nevertheless significant. Ballasting and starting scenery in Villeneuve certainly improved the overall project and freed us from the Plywood Central syndrome. Experimenting with new ways of painting, weathering and ballasting track was also an excellent positive experiment. Once again, it proved us it was worth our time. Nothing was rushed and the results show off: it doesn’t look likes plastic. I still can see improvement in the future, but the foundation work is sound.

In term of structures, 2017 was sincerely underwhelming. I wished the cement plant would be done by Christmas, but alas, it is now a 2018 project. Designing this structure is extremely complex. It could be done fast and dirty, however take in account details, accessibility issues and warping add an extra level of difficulty. Nevertheless, I almost found the solution and will likely implement it as soon as possible.

From a layout design perspective, I also ventured into the other extreme, trying to oversimplify D’Estimauville for the sake of realism. As Simon Dunkley once cautioned me, it was a slippery road that was as fallacious as cramping out the place. The danger became evident when I reach the point scenes could no longer be recognized because they lost their personality. Like salt in a recipe, it was a matter of bringing out the taste. No salt would have simply meant a tasteless project devoid of interest. For this, I’m really glad Simon had the courage to clearly warn me. Not that it stopped me trying, but when I failed, I knew why and his words in my mind I was able to figure out what went wrong. You can’t learn without breaking a few eggs. Flattery wouldn’t have been any good for me. And this anecdote once again proved my late grandmother’s right: “the first idea is always the right one”. Looking back at my initial design, it was clear scenic elements were carefully balanced, thus I went back there.

In terms of layout identity, I was surprised to discover a manufacturer would help make this project even better and closer to my childhood memories. Indeed, when Rapido announced their 3800ft cylindrical hoppers, it enabled us to build a correct fleet of cars to serve the cement plant. Before that, it was a matter of using stand-ins or older prototypes that didn’t fit the era. Finally, the future release of SW1200RS locomotives will enable us to replicate Chemin de fer du Québec’s three switchers that used to serve the line during a decade starting in 1993. Yes, the project shifted yet again in era, but it now reached a stable spot. CFC operations are well-documented and known. Their operation practices and train routes are also easier to implement on our layout. All in all, it simplifies the project around its core identity elements. Certainly we won’t drop completely CN trains, but focussing on CFC clear off the road from many unwanted issues. And also, we also reached the point we have acquired every piece of rolling stock required to run the layout… Hard to believe, but yes we did.

Speaking of rolling stock, we learned the hard way this year to standardize the fleet (weight, couplers, wheels, etc.). We used to be negligent fellows, but at some point you hit a wall when you want smooth operation. Over the last few months, we had to teach us simple but efficient practices to make sure we could track down every bug. It’s not complete, but we can already see the positive results.

Finally, 2018 will be the year the new Proto Throttle developed by Scott Thornton and his friends of Iowa Scale Engineering will be released. This new product is promising and the idea of coupling it with our NCE DCC system and Rapido SW1200RS could be extremely interesting. Our realistic approach to railroading and our track plan seems perfectly suited to such a ground breaking technological advance. Oh, and one’s gotta love the throttle’s vintage design.

Finally, 2017 was also another interesting year for my other project Harlem Station. It allowed me to go back to building and bashing freight cars. I’ve learned a lot, improved my skills and took a strong commitment into freight car accuracy. I’m not river counter, but when you start understanding how real things are built and work, you naturally care about details other wouldn’t. Discovering the history of boxcar development between the early 1900s and the early 1950s was fascinating!

Thus, at the end of the day, I consider the year was extremely positive in term of model railroading. I also tried to have an active presence on social media, but I must admit I’m not a fan.  I loved the interaction with other fellow modellers, but I lack the regularity to take advantage of that. I’m a solitary man and it hardly fits my laid back pace. Blogs, forums and emails are still my favorite places to share and learn. Places where it is possible to hold a detailed discussion with a fellow modeller, archive it and revisit it from time to time. In the long run, instant gratification doesn’t hold long before it wears off. I hope people who wonder why I’m no longer following Facebook groups regularly can understand I’m hardly motivated using that channel. To me, model railroading has always been a “monastic” endeavour. A time of introspection and betterment. I’m less attracted by the idea of making friends for the sake of filling my social life than having a few deep discussions with like-minded folks. To each his own… this hobby has certainly variety for ever kind of people, which is great!

I hope your own year was also a positive experience whatever your progress. 2017 was a gloomy year and finding solace in a positive and constructive hobby is a blessing. I certainly wish every model railroaders and other hobbyist are aware their passion is much more than a childish caprice. Never forget people without hobbies or personal endeavours are sad and often prone to distress. Consider your passion has a great gift, because your still is still alive and sparkling!

Happy modelling!  


  1. A great retrospective. It sounds like you accomplished a lot this year.

    All the best for the holidays, Mattheiu!

    1. Thank you Steve! My best wishes for the year to come!

  2. Rolling stock is always a great area to focus on! I for one appreciate what you post and frequency of posting is not as important as posting what interests you and likely others.
    Have a great 2018, Matthieu!

    1. Thank you for your interest Eric! Writing without genuine passion certainly fails to reach others, that's a given!

      A very happy new year to you!

  3. I really enjoy your thoughtful writing and your approach to model railroading. You are one of the people who are most influencing my rethinking of my model railroad activity.

    I hope 2018 is good for you and that you continue to share with us.

    Marshall Keys

    1. Thank you Marshall. It's always rewarding to hear my random thoughts on model railroading can help others shape their own vision. This is a complex hobby and we all struggle finding that sweet spot where we belong. I wish you a wonderful 2018 year and to continue enjoying your hobby!

      Best regards!