Friday, October 26, 2018

Rolling Stock Standards

With track laying and wiring completed, the layout is now ready for regular operation under JMRI Operations management, or so we could think. Jumping to the next step (paint and ballast) is  enticing, but the real challenge now is to improve the rolling stock performance. Last year many cars were tested (wheel gauge and coupler height) but many new cars found their way in the collection and certainly don’t meet our standards. Meanwhile, we have settled on a weight standard that better suits our needs.

Why the fleet now standing at 115 cars, my new Excel spreadsheet roster is quite useful in tracking them and monitor which ones must be improved.

I consider three types of mechanical improvements: car weight, coupler type/height and metal wheel/gauge.  Weathering, correct paint scheme and customization/kitbashing can also be added to this list though they don't directly relate with operation. They improve the realism and immersion, which at the end of the day is our goal since we are replicating a real railway. Many cars only require renumbering or relettering, some must be repainted and a very few ones must be kitbashed. Weathering on all rolling stock is definitely a goal but far to be a priority at this time.

That brings me to the heated topic of car weight. I’ve read a lot about it and came to the conclusion I didn’t care about what most people advocate for because my interaction with trains isn’t similar to most of them. We aren't a club, we don't run excessively long train with large motive power consist, we don't have grades nor tunnels nor helixes. The last three elements are among things I consider vastly overrated in this hobby, but this is my own personal opinion based on my goals in this hobby. Your mileage may vary and I certainly would say "go for it" if these things do matters to you.

That said, once again it’s a matter of finding the right solution to the right problem. Someone running very long train on a multi-deck layout with certainly push for lighter cars while another person with a smaller layout (or no helix) could go with heavier cars. Mike Confalone proved that many years ago and I don't see the need for a debate. You must also take in account that steam locomotives are generally poor pullers, particularly smaller ones while diesel are relatively good pullers. Era and locale will have an impact too since older trains were far shorter than modern ones by several factor. Finally, depending on electronics on board (decoder, sound, keep alive), a locomotive can lose a lot of pulling power too. It's surprising how these gadgets can eat up space and remove weight from a locomotive!

In our case, we tried Mike Confalone recipe a few years ago. It means most cars weighed about 8 oz to 11 oz. This is quite a lot. I liked it a lot and it was perfectly fine, but I must admit it was a little bit hard on our locomotives when pulling trains on the peninsula. The 24 inches radius there was a killer and I expect the new 28 inches radius won't make that much of a difference. Since this area is now a yard, this limitation can quickly become a liability.

But in fact, the real problem is that heavy cars are a little bit harder to handle and store with our drawer system. Many cars must rest on their side with their fragile ladders supporting quite a lot of weight. Not ideal in the long run for fragile cars such as tanks. Also, most people are so accustomed to light cars they have a tendency to not grasp them firmly enough. While not accident happened so far, I'm pretty sure it was bound to happen.

Thus we decided to find a middle ground between NMRA standards and Mike Confalone’s one. Using Excel, I created various options including an altered NMRA formula. The classic NMRA formula is 1 oz. per car plus ½ oz./inch of car length. I tried using 2 oz., then 3 oz. I also replaced the ½ oz. with ¾ oz. or 1 oz. By coincidence, I came close to Joe Fugate’s simple formula of 1 oz./inch.

At the end of the day, I felt Joe’s formula was interesting by its simplicity; however, you quickly end up with high numbers with longer cars. Given most longer cars on our layout are flat cars and gondolas, this is physically impossible to implement with normal means. A 10 oz. centerbeam flat car isn't realistic at all if your loads are removeable.

Knowing that, I decided to determine what would be the optimal weight for a standard 50ft car. I wanted a car that was sufficiently heavy to not roll easily during coupling while being light enough to not crush details when stored. The 6.5 oz. to 7 oz. range seems to be right. It fitted Joe Fugate’s formula but also the altered NMRA formula if using 3 oz. instead of 1 oz.

At the end of the day, I settled on the altered 3 oz. NMRA formula. It makes shorter cars a little bit heavier, which is a good thing, while keeping longer cars within a more realistic range. On the positive side, it means less lead is required to weight a car. Given the price of lead wheel weights at auto parts stores, this is much more economical. Also, when handling the car, they feel heavy, but not to the point you feel it's a brick (which was the case before).

So far, the entire 50ft boxcar fleet have an average weight of 6.5 oz. Now is time to standardize other car types, including very tricky closed cars such as kaolin tank cars and covered hoppers. I may not reach my goal with centerbeam flat cars, but I'll try to go as close as I can.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Working Manual Switch Stand – Improving a Winning Recipe

When good friend Trevor Marshall, with the help of Chris Abbott, got the idea to use Sunset Valley switch stands to active turnouts on his Port Rowan 1:64 layout, he was on something that had the potential to change the way we interact with model trackwork.

Canadian prototype-based targets

Using his excellent design as a starting point, I’ve decided to push it a little bit further by using the stand switches as a mean to tell my train conductors where they are. As we know, most stand switches are equipped with a colored target that gives us an indication about which direction the point is facing and the siding identification number. It is my belief this feature can be easily implemented on a Sunset Valley switch stand to improve safety and awareness about turnouts.

Original SV switch stand with new parts

Indeed, the large colored target would be an efficient visual device to tell at a glance how tracks are aligned. Furthermore, by adding the track name on the target – per prototype procedure – it helps the operator to know where he is without resorting overly blatant contraptions such as miniature track plans or various labels on the fascia. Given the JMRI switchlists are built using the track numbers, it will be easy to know where a task must be performed.

Modified SV switch stand ready for paint

Jérôme also suggested bringing things much closer to the prototype by replacing the target with something much more in line with Canadian National practices. Modifications to the Sunset Valley stand switch are minimal and only require removing the old round target and replacing it with an appropriate CNR one. I cut mine in a 0.81 thick brass sheet (the same thickness used by Sunset Valley). Also, a small disk and square were also crafted in brass and soldered on top of the shaft to better indicate the selected turnout route. The disk and square are assembled together using half length slots. Small slots are also provided on the switch stand shaft to provide a sturdy joint.

Targets are painted in an appropriate color with spray can enamel paint and self-adhesive or dry transfer 3/16” letters applied to complete the stand switch identification. A good coat of varnish protect the finish.

Completed switch stand with siding identification number

Interestingly enough, when browsing again my photo archives, I found out that main line switch stand handles are painted in yellow to enhance their visibility in Clermont yard. While paint wouldn’t make a lot of sense or stand out a lot, Trevor Marshall pointed out in his article he added a rubber sleeve on the handle so that an operator using this particular switch would instantly recognize it as a specific function due to the change of texture. I suspect a chunk of shrink tubing could do the job nicely.

Turnout diverging route selected

This is basically a test and I’ll be honest here, my fellow club members felt I was wasting my time (and theirs) on a gimmick. I was glad to find out Jérôme did like the concept once implemented. While this is a neat idea, we feel it would be better to only equip turnouts in Clermont. However, we are not sure about implementing this system at Donohue or Villeneuve right now due to the prohibitive cost of Sunset Valley stand switches and the extensive work required to modify and install them. It also takes up some space and Villeneuve benchwork has several desks and tables under it... Having about 4 or 5 switch stands cluttered together near a yard throat could be a serious space issues. We will have to think about it for a while.

Without taxes and shipping cost, each turnout control system cost about CDN$45 or US$34 (including Bullfrog turnout control, SV switch stand and brass plate). Certainly great for smaller layouts or simple designs, but definitely prohibitive. With 26 turnouts on our layout, that would be a sizeable investment and I feel it is better to add these turnout controls where they can make a significant difference: the main yard. I feel having at least this specific location prototypically operated would be a big step forward and the addition of working derails on the sidings will also add another layer of realism.

Friday, October 12, 2018

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 19

Rebuilding Clermont, my daily job, university classes and urgent renovation work on my house have kept me quite busy and drained my strenghts over the last few weeks, so I'll take things easy over the few next weeks. Fortunately, remaining modelling work is less demanding and can be done in a more relaxed manner.

During the last week end, I started to weather NBEC 1816. After giving some thoughts about this task, it was convinced to approach this complex matter in several steps instead of rushing it in one day.

Among the first step was to add paint peeling and rust effect. Indeed, according to prototype pictures, paint was flaking off badly on 1816, particularly on the ends and battery box panels. It was also evident the exposed layer of rusted steel was covered in dust and grime. This is why I elected to do it as a first step prior to any fading or wash.

Using an extremely fine paint brush and thinned down dark brown acrylic paint, each rust spot was replicated. I went a few extra steps to ensure each rust spots was as close as possible as real. It took about 2 hours, but it paid off because what you get is a true 1816 and not some stand in.

When done, I used some very thinned down CP Action Red paint and added red spots on the black sill. On 1816, the black paint was eroding, showing the red color underneath. I felt it was a really nice effect seldom modelled that was well worth my efforts. The trick was to build up the color with several thin layers instead of coating heavily the model. You probably recall that when I painted the locomotive, I already airbrushed some red in these areas to feather the future eroding paint effects.

Also, I discovered some decals were missing on my model. Several warning labels and white dots were applied to the 1816's pilots. Fortunately, these labels are included with Microscale CP Rail diesel locomotive decals. Now, only the NBEC initials need to be added... I'm still waiting to get some decal in the mail.

Finally, classification light lenses were made with blobs of paint. Green and Red lights are old Testor metallic enamel paint. The trick was to not shake the bottle so metallic flakes would stay in the bottom and the translucent paint would sit on top of it. Enamels are great for this purpose because they won't dry flat like acrylics but will make semi-circular lenses.

The white class lights are made differently. A bright aluminium acrylic paint was brushed where the lenses would sit. When dry, I took some gloss medium (in this case Micro Gloss) and tinted it with a hint of black. No need to put too much black, just enough to look slightly dirty. When applied and dry, it creates a characteristic glass translucent effect typical of uncleaned class lights.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont – Succesful Mission

It took about 7 sessions of work over a little bit more than 10 days to completely rebuild Clermont and Wieland. It was indeed exhausting, with several 10-hour long days including frustrating steps backward. But it is done and better than ever.

I certainly had my doubts when I proposed this major redesign, but the improvement in terms of train movement can't be denied. From a scenic perspective, it is certainly less glamour than a mainline nested between a cliff and a mighty rive, but it can have it's merit. Maybe the most unusual feature of the yard is being on a curve. Generally, people will try to build them as linear as possible. This is, indeed what common sense would tell us. More than once, you end up with curved yard ladders that are hard to operate due to couplers misalignment. My guess was that it was far better to put our turnouts on almost straight tracks and curve the yard itself where no coupling generally occur. This gave us the opportunity to use #8 and #7 turnouts without compromise or resorting to S-curves.

The new yard completed

However, rebuilding the layout in such an extensive way required some sacrifice. But at the end of the day, it was a good decision to cram as much work as we could during the last week because we estimated this would have taken at least 2 months under our habitual schedule. It would have been unacceptable.

Our last rebuilding session yesterday went smoothly. Due to the new roadbed, installing the track only took 5 hours and we got no particular issue during the process. Also, it seems our yard throats are better laid than the first time we did it a week ago. The smooth transitions ensure reliable operation with longer cars.

As for next week, we will put priority rewiring the layout. It shouldn't be too hard because bus wires are still in place and only new feeders need to be installed. Once done, it will be time to operate once again but this time with MRI switchlists and fine tune everything before even thinking about scenery.

But scenery will soon have to be taken in account and I can already say the peninsula will see quite a few drastic changes more in line with the prototype. For the moment, it has been agreed to work scenery from Wieland toward Donohue. I’d really like if we could start fleshing out Wieland by Christmas, but we will see in due time because some other tasks are more urgent.

Roadbed height variation per prototype

Among these tasks, we are planning to clean the room and get rid of unwanted material. We own several items that are no longer of any use for us and they clutter the space. Some will have to be simply thrown in the dumpster, others will probably be sold or simply given to whom can have a use for them.

Meanwhile, I’m a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of projects accumulating on my workbench at home. Several locomotives, completing woodchip car 3D design, working switch stand for turnout control and several others.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

How can't we think about that old country song chorus when reflecting on what happened yesterday... But contrary to the song, it seems we will get farther that way.

Quite a patchwork!

I mentioned two days ago we found a lot of irregularity on track geometry in both axis. It was bad enough that cars wobbled badly and noticeably. It was unrealistic and unreliable. When investing so much time on a layout, you expect good results. Rushing bad trackwork wasn't a solution.

No wonder cars wobbled...

Reluctantly, we pulled up the tracks and cork roadbed, obliterating one full day of work. Under it laid a patchwork of irregular fiberboard shapes. A real shame honestly. I shouldn't post that kind of pictures, but I feel we learn much more from our mistakes and this is a perfect case study of sloppiness.

Instead of getting the benchwork level, we groove fiberboard!?!?

In many case, the fiberboard was sanded down to cancel the uneven nature of the benchwork. In the case of Clermont's team track, the cork was buried more than 1/8" into the board!

A stratigraphy of mismatched wood bits that should have ended in the dumpster...

Under the fiberboard was an even worst substructure made of various bits of particle boards cemented with hot glue! Ashaming...

Back to the plywood... still some particle board shims to remove

Plywood surface was sanded down to get it as smooth as possible

Then we reached the plywood... at least. But some adjustment had to be done before we could start building up again the roadbed. The peninsula legs were lowered of 3/8" to get the benchwork level again. For some reason we jackep up the structure about 3/4" a few years ago, inducing quite a grade (almost 1%) which made some train stall... Now we know why! Also, we found out the peninsula circular end wasn't sufficiently braced and new structural members were added. Once done, we had a perfectly level and sturdy base to rebuild the layout.

The new roadbed use the same principles as the first one, however, it has been improved to provide a stable and regular foundation. Arc segments of fiberboard of correct radius were prepared and track centerlines were traced prior to any assembly. This way, we have a perfect circle and laying track will be easier that way than trying to draw a circle on the peninsula. Particle board pieces we cut using the fiberboard as a template. This way, 100% of the roadbed will be firmly supported to eliminate all wobbles.

Joints that match perfectly!

So another day and another lesson learned. Once again, cutting corners isn't an option. We almost rebuilt this section a week ago but deemed we could do with the actual situation... only to find out it was unacceptable. Rebuilding the roadbed took about 6 hours but trying to shim the uneven track would have taken much more time with no guarantee for good results. I'm glad it is now done.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - Track Laying

Last Friday was spent installing the cork roadbed and laying track. While these things are relatively straightforward process, we had to give it some thought, particularly in Wieland where space is premium and operation must be smooth.

The wye west leg dedicated to lumber transloading

Finding a solution to Reynold's (General Cable) spur took a good hour if not more. Various iterations were tried until we reached a track geometry that was both reliable and good looking. Fortunately, we were able fullfil our goal of having one car spot long enough for a 65ft gondola while keeping the chain-link fence gate and derail. However, we came to the conclusion the new alcove is kind of dark due to shadows and will have to be enlarged a little bit to look better.

General Cable (Reynolds) in the shadow. Better lighting will have to be provided.

We also managed to install all the cork roadbed including the sidings. In the case of Clermont Yard, it was decided the exterior siding would be sitting directly on fiberboard, making this track obviously lower that the main line. On the prototype, it is the case and there is a good feet if not 18" of difference. In HO scale, this translate to almost 5mm, which is shy of a 1/4". We agreed this difference in roadbed height have several advantages. First, you can see a train moving on the mainline even if the siding is full of cars. Visually, it makes the scene more dynamic. Ans finally, it helps to break the impression of a large web of track out of nowhere on the peninsula.

And that's all for the positive things that happened that evening. Next step will be to complete track laying on the siding (the mainline is completed now) and start rewiring everything.

On the negative sides, we had to remove ballast and some tracks that we
re kept until now in Clermont. It means all tracks will be new starting at the grade crossing. The final decision was reached because the ballast and track paint job weren't on par with our better work. Also, we found out it was required to realign the small siding that used to serve as a team track because it didn't look good with the yard alignment.

Virtually all tracks up to the grade crossing are replaced or cleaned.

We also discovered while making operation simulations the team track will have to be used to store excess cars. Our yard will be busy and this piece of track will be quite useful during operation. on the prototype, this track was indeed an extra storage siding and thus, we end up having to follow it up. A team track with MoW cars would have been cool, but it makes very little sense if this goes against layout operations. Also, from a scenery perspective, it will be easier to blend things together and I have already a few ideas. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see that where we went proto-freelance it wasn't optimal and we have to come back to ideas that are already used in real life.
The interior siding will have to be redone...

The final negative point is much more annoying. The interior siding in the yard isn't level. It was to be expected since we kept the old fiberboard there. Well, it just doesn't work and shimming every piece of track here and there will be both time consuming and won,t guaranty a goal result. Quite frustrating to remove track that had been relaid, but I see no point compromising on track reliability. Less is more also means you must have better quality and standard. If not, it's just cheap.

And now we can talk about something interesting. Jérôme started to sift through old paperwork, timetables and official documents in his archives. He discovered CFC timetables fitting our era, but also official paperwork, instructions to switching crews and car blocking in Limoilou. Very neat stuff that will certainly bring more life into operation.

I also started to work improving Trevor Marshall's turnout manual control made from FastTrack's bullfrogs control and Sunset Valley brass switch stand. Mechanically, it is the same principle, but I decided to had another layer of realism in this neat design. I hope to be able to share it within a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

MLW RS18 Madness - Part 18

Today this project finally reached a significant step. Can't go back anymore, the locomotive shell is now completely painted in CP Rail Multimark scheme and additional details and handrails in place.

Talking of decalling a CP Rail locomotive, getting the stripes right is always quite challenging. To make my life easier with stripe decals, I cut paper templates that fitted the RS18u curved geometry then cut the decal to size making sure the stripes aligned as shown on the prototype. Not only it eliminated the guess work, but it also made application speedy, easy and accurate.

Back numberboards are 3D printed from Shapeways. I designed them in SketchUp and I'm pleased how they turned out. However, I made some mistakes and their location isn't 100% accurate. This is the kind of detail that won't be really noticeable, but to be honest finishing touches really makes me realize this model is full of shortcomings. Starting with a Life-Like shell wasn't exactly the greatest idea on Earth and I would probably never do it again.

A set of Rapido ditch lights was also added on the front pilot. They aren't exactly the correct prototype for this particular model, but I decided it was better to compromise a little bit on that and have a working model in a decent amount of time. However, I did paint them as can be seen on pictures, with the red brackets and silver rings.

You will also notice I added a triangular shaped handrail on each ends that projects over the drop steps. I didn't initially plan to do it, however, since I've taken additional steps elsewhere to make this model as close as I could to the prototype, I thought a little bit extra work would pay off. A little chain was also hanged at the same time.

Now, the only remaining steps are installing DCC, a sound baffle and, of course, patching and weathering the hell out of that shell. I'm really looking forward to it!

Rebuilding Clermont - A Quick Update

A quick update about some progress  yesterday. Missing benchwork was rebuilt and the fiberboard underlay in Wieland was completely replaced with a new board, eliminating a lot of uneven seams and thickness issues.

It was also decided to raise the electrical panel door a few inches so it could open without hitting cars on the wye leg. This will also great a larger area to apply the photo backdrop. I wouldn't have been really happy with a big gap in the middle of the photo.

Next working sessions are planned on Thursday and Friday. This is Thanksgiving weeked in Canada, better take advantage of it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Rebuilding Clermont - There's No Easy Way Out

We could have expected the rebuilding program to have been relatively straightforward... almost a piece of cake... But the walk in the park kind of turned into a substantial carpentry project as more bumps, dinks and other annoying problems started to surface when cork laying was in progress.

It quickly appeared that many structural elements had suffered deterioration over the year and this caused serious vertical variation that were far beyond tolerable. Near the electric panel, the benchwork was in really bad shape and warped. This was caused because it used to be a lifting section that was lightly built and warped. It was later altered to include a small river, which further weaken the parts. Adding extra material later didn't help the situation either.

A steep grade where none was expected nor desired

Where we planned to model the wood transloading terminal, the benchwork had a grade of 1/8" per 2 feet toward the electrical panel. It meant any car set on this track would roll back on the mainline, which is far to be the intended result! Rebuilding in this case isn't a luxury.

Starting from scratch...

On the other side of Wieland, where the track goes through the furnace room, it was evident the transition between the benchwork and hidden shelf supporting the track was far to be stable and sturdy. Back then, access there was quite limited and we did what we could. After a quick deliberation, it was decided to simply open up the wall and redo our job better. During the process, we found out the partition wall was built in the most haphazard way by the previous owner... Fortunately, it was sturdy enough to be kept.

Extra space was secured by removing an obsolete relay box on the furnace plenum.

On the positive side, we discovered several obsolete apparatus on the furnace weren't removed when it was recently refurbished due to access limitation. Having a hole in the wall was a good occasion to take them away, which gave us additional space to better align our tracks. At this point, I'm contemplation the idea to enlarge the hole a little bit and make it an alcove. This way, I hope, it will be possible to create a better transition between hidden track and Wieland, and more room to create a more fonctional Reynolds's siding.

As you can guess, the next working sessions will deal with carpentry and rebuilding the benchwork to better standard. Meanwhile, Jérôme has proposed to narrow a little bit more the benchwork in the between the yard west end throat and Wieland to improve access to rolling stock during switching. At first I had my doubt, but his argument is perfectly sound and it will make for more balanced scenes.

Meannwhile, I also started to prepare tracks, replacing missing ties on salvaged Peco flex tracks and prepping them for installation. We also completed DCC sound installation in my Atlas GP40-2W, which means this project can now be completed. I also got my airbrush nozzle replacement, so basically, my locomotive reworking program won't suffer delay.

Finally, I also did some work on a functional switch stand to manually control a turnout. This idea isn't new and has been (succesfully) advocated by Trevor Marshall for many years. I recall buying a Sunset Valley brass switch stand about 4 or 5 years ago but not doing anything with it. Now is time to put this neat idea in action. I'll probably go a little bit further and replace the round target with an oval one as CN uses and paint it yellow with it's intended spur number. Given the switchlist in JMRI are programmed using the sidings numbers, it will be a visual key to know where you are when operating. If you are interested in the mechanical aspect of this system, Trevor has put together a nice How To article for Model Railroad Hobbyist in August 2014. It can be consulted online and provides instructions and a bill of materials.

Now it's time to go back to locomotive building and weathering!