Sunday, September 2, 2018

Re-engineering Clermont: A Layout as a Song...

In my last post, I explained a few reasons - including health issues - that pushed me to propose a new orientation to the layout "Charlevoix" room. Now, I'd like to use a superposed plan of what was there and what is proposed to better understand the reasons behind this drastic decision.

To be noted, the red elements on the following track plans are from the original layout and are dismantled.

Let's start with a few shortcomings of the previous design. Each ones are numbered in black.

(1) Over the years, to accommodate Dominion Textile, we came to enlarge considerably the original benchwork 18" width. At first, it sounded like a great idea to have a track fully embedded into scenery with great photography opportunities. Unfortunately, it became a plywood central that would eat up a lot of resources to landscape, but also a hindrance for many reasons.

This wider benchwork made access to the electric panel (top left corner) harder, but also made the aisle noticeably smaller, making it hard for two persons to stand there. It was no longer fun to go there. Finally, since the benchwork was very wide, it wasn't really practical to access under layout storage.

(2) Using Dominion Textile large multi-storey brick plant to hide the tunnel entrance was a great scenic trick that looked neat and had a purpose. Unfortunately, we didn't operate the plant since our era is now set in the 1990s and it was closed. It was also not practical to operate this customer. With 3 car spots hidden behind a large structure, you never knew what was there and it wasn't fun at all. Finally, Dominion Textile is an iconic building. If you model it, it better be just like the real thing or everybody will notice you are trying to fool them. It was clear to me replicating the structure would have a towering cost both in material and available time. Too much resources for what we could ever gain from having it on the layout except to say "Hey! Looks, it's Dominion Textile!"... in the same way people want you to look at their nude figures under the bridge or their eternal burning building scene with fire trucks.

(3) The red lines are what should have been ruins of QRL&PCo old hydroelectric power plant. Very neat scene, but it required a large cliff with a waterfall, complicated concrete ruins and a mesmerizing amount of trees. Wonderful and very photogenic... but unfortunately in front of an electric panel. This project was dead on arrival for this single reason.

(4) The previous concept with the track sweeping along St. Lawrence river forced us to install a sharp curved turnout in the middle of the peninsula to salvage the impressive scenery. But as our trains grew in size to better represent the prototype and our operating patterns came closer to what used to be done on CFC, it became a serious limitation. With a 20" radius near the turnout, it was increasingly becoming a liability with some freight cars and locomotives... and it did look silly. Finally, since a lot of operations happened there since turnouts are generally where we spend the most of our times, it wasn't very practical due to other peoples always walking around you. Turnouts on a curve at the end of a peninsula are rarely an optimal design idea.

(5) This cute grade crossing what neat... but in fact not that great. Since the train emerged from a long tunnel behind the furnace, you barely knew when to use your whistle since it was impossible to know exactly where the train was. It always ended up in botched whistling at best when you had other things to do.

(6) Clermont's team track has always been hard to define. It looked great with a feedmill, but it made little sense since that customer wasn't really rail served. As a team track for lumber transloading, it wasn't very convincing because you could hardly imagine a semi-trailer truck finding its way there. Worst, there was very little space for lumber storage, making it an unlikely location for such a function. Thus, we decided this little track would be what it used to be on the prototype: a storage track. Old MoW equipment will be kept there with some front loader dedicated to ballast and rip rap loading. Maybe a rusting snow plow, which was a hallmark of Clermont... But nothing more...

Now, for the new stuff in Blue Uppercase Letters.

(A) Industrial activities in Wieland are now concentrated in one easily accessible area. It gives a purpose to a location that had none and will be easy to operate following the prototype practice. Team tracks are the best option to keep scenery low for a better access to the electric panel. Finally, with a narrower benchwork creating an alcove, someone can stay 20 minutes there and switch the customers without blocking the main aisle.

(B) In these location, I imagine a small shelf along the fascia where mechanical devices actuating the switches and derails would be located. They would also provide a writing surface useful when checking the switch list. As you can see, they are located exactly in front of turnouts because it is where we generally stand for a long time. As stated often, I'm certainly wanting to use garden scale Sunset Valley switch stands to operate the turnout, exactly how Trevor Marshall did it on his excellent Port Rowan layout. I'm having a hard time convincing my fellow club members, but I hope it will happen.

(C) This is the "scenery zone" part of Wieland. This is the kind of track were no direct interaction with trains is required. See it as a buffer between activity zones that create space. I want to use it to get the ambiance of Malbaie River valley. A single track flowing in a plain with old mountains in the background. Landforms aren't majestic, but a combination of sloping prairies, ditches and grass covered hills. I already imagine a row of trees in front of the track, barely hiding it and giving the impression the train is running across the wilderness... just like the real thing.

Let us conclude with how the new design come together as a compelling story about railroading in Clermont. This is vital because without a coherent storyline, a layout is only a collection of disjoined vignettes making very little sense.

Just like a song, the "Clermont Room" is now made of "verses" and "chorus". Chorus are the scenery zones. They repeat themselves and bring no new information. They set the mood and frame the verses which are the activity zones. Activity zones are where actions are performed and required a high level of concentration. They must happen where people can concentrate on complicated tasks without being disturbed continually. So let's have a glimpse at the new song:

First Verse: Wieland. Here, an incoming train must switch Reynolds but also the lumber yard. According to prototype pictures, it wasn't uncommon for locomotives to pick up lumber flat cars and shove them up to Clermont yard.

First Chorus: The track run in the valley at slow speed before reaching Clermont yard which is located in the middle of the woods.

Second Verse: Clermont South yard throat. A lot happens here to reverse trains but also to build consist and switch cars for Wieland. This zone is nothing more than a clearing in the woods with some turnouts.

Second Chorus: The bulk of Clermont Yard is nothing more than a bunch of curved track sweeping along a low wood covered cliff. In real life, it is barely accessible and visible... It will be the same on the layout since most switching activities happen at the throats.

Third Verse: Clermont North yard throat. A lot happens here, including the MoW and daily switching chores. This is where Donohue's switcher pick up and set out cars from the paper mill. It is also a rare place where the public can interact directly with the yard due to a nearby grade crossing and access roads.

Third Chorus: Malbaie River is the scenic divider par excellence. On one side is CFC trackage... on the other side is the paper mill with its private tracks. Only transfer runs can happen there.

Fourth and final Verse: Donohue Paper. The end of the track is the breadwinner of the layout. Intense industrial activities happen there and switching is complicated and long. In itself, the plan could be considered as a complete and self-containing layout.

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