Saturday, September 1, 2018

A New Modelling Season

It started last night, unannounced as the chilly early September morning. Nevertheless, a big obstacle was overcome, one that haunted me for years without ever finding a definitive solution. I've talked about it countless times, drawn plans, made mockups and refrained from taking action...

Gone is Montmorency and Dominion Textile, gone are Charlevoix towering cliffs and gone is St. Lawrence shores... Emblematic they were... and as anything emblematic, their self importance and iconic status made them compete for attention while detracting us from the railroad.

But such a bold decision couldn't have been made without an unexpected hospitalization last week that nailed me in the bed for almost a week. Chronic diseases and health issues are never a laughing matters, but after several long stay in hospitals during the last decade, I've come to appreciate that special time when I have nothing to do if not developing my patience and sifting through life and what really matters. Hospitals are probably the most striking reality check one can get, particularly when you are basically bedridden for days and the most basic human activities such as taking a meal, going to the toilet or simply sleeping can become not only challenging but also a constant source of suffering.

Such experiences, and a lot of time to think between meals and injections, provides fertile grounds for thoughts. And while I had various ones about all aspects of my life, at some point, the layout surfaced here and there. While extremely weak, my mind was still sharp enough to analyze the railroad from a distant perspective. Health became a major component of what I often call "limited resources" and it forces you to make choices... bold ones.

Finally, after a few days, it became clear to me why I was unsatisfied with the layout and particularly that long stretch of track between Villeneuve and Clermont. In recent years, I often wrote how I felt no realistic solutions could merge these scenes together... Thus I simply decided to remove them. Nothing more, nothing less... simply gaining space so the only scene in the room could breath and work according to its intended purpose.

Since focussing on CFC, it became clear the diminutive Clermont yard, which was basically a single siding was not only too short, but couldn't handle the traffic. I'm not talking about having a big yard for the sake of having a big yard, but rather underlining the fact it was mathematically not working, thus being a real liability for the railroad. Also, having curved turnouts on curved made operation awkward and prone to derailment.

Thus, since the old "signature" scenes are gone, we now have space to lengthen the yard and add the required siding. Not only there is no longer a need for unrealistic scene transition, but we now have operation going on for real on the other side of the peninsula, which wasn't the case up until now. We have basically given up our useless 12 feet of "main line" which were used about 30 seconds per operation session with a more prototypical longer yard which ensure we can  enjoy trains all over the room.

A simplified and unified track plan for Clermont

Having a longer yard is also an excellent occasion to better replicate prototypical gestures as was common on CFC, including derails and other mundane task. It also gives us enough room for improved locomotive control. Here I am thinking about recent development such as the Proto Throttle. It's no longer a matter of stop and go, but rather thinking how to start or slow down the engine to make sure the task is perform seamlessly. To be honest, looking at a locomotive performing a task at reduced speed matters much more to me than large viaducts and vistas.

That brings me to my last point: scenery. Our layout isn't small. That's a lot of real estate to decorate and cover in scenery... Too much for myself, and particularly with my frail health. Also, I'm not a fan of complicated scenery tricks. However, my appreciation for realistic track, roadbed and mundane landforms is real. Looking at several pictures of Charlevoix Railway, it struck me that the most beautiful spot where all in the middle of nowhere and, in fact, generally unknown to me because they are unreachable. Nothing happens there and since no one really live there, we are in presence of a basic philosophical question: if it is not known, does it exist? My answer, in term of model railroading is a resounding NO.

On the other hand, where action occurs and interaction with trains is the most direct, the landscape is absolutely average and banal.  Ditches, woods, dirt roads, more ditched, weeds and bushes with low mountains in the background. While extremely mundane, it felt strange that I had a far stronger emotional response to these scenes than the wonderful vistas along the St. Lawrence River. Given our relation to this hobby is generally very emotional and driven by nostalgia, it was clear what should be given up and what should be hold dear.

I could discuss about this during countless hours, but I'll make it short. Over the years, I've come to realize this hobby comes with serious limitations due to its continentally-sized subject matters. These limitations can be seen as compromises or even hindrances, but at some point, one should see them as design potential. Issues are great because they provide opportunities... A layout is the same thing. Knowing you better, knowing you strengths and your weakness helps you to know when to know which fight is worth battling for. I certainly won't discourage anybody to face up big challenges, as long as these challenges are meaningful and fruitful.

Abandoning several iconic elements of Hedley Junction can be seen as a loss, but it can also be seen as a gain if at the end of the day, it makes the project progress steadily in a satisfying way. This is one reason why we make choices.

Last evening, we scrapped at least 20 feet of mainline including our most scenic areas... I regret nothing.


  1. A brave change, but a necessary one! I think you're now focusing on what you need to include, and the layout will be the better for it.

    Sorry to hear about your health issues.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Steve! You're right, this new focus brings much ore coherence to the layout. It may looks like a simplification but we found out it makes the interaction with trains much better. Some pictures will soon follow.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words. I've seen a serious improvement over the last month and I'm ready to go back to work by next Monday.