Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Hedleyville Shows Its True Colors

I'm actually writing an article for a small book documenting the case for the return of strong passenger services to Quebec City. It means I went back to Quebec national archives to dig for more informations. Little did I know I would be rewarded with Quebec Montmorency & Charlevoix Railway original track plan showing how they shared properties with the Quebec & Lake St. John Railway and the exact location of the long lost town of Hedleyville and its station.

While it may seems rather uneventful for most people, this is the first time I finally see a primary source documenting this era and the first generation of infrastructure dating back to QM&C founding days. I've heard about his railway for over 30 years and many books, yet, I finally have a definite image in front of my eyes.

Also of interest, this plan was drawn in 1898 when QM&C and Q&LStJ were concluding a deal that took almost a decade to come to fruition so QM&C could build a station in downtown Quebec City. The document is signed by none other than Horace Jansen Beemer, one of the most memorable railroad baron in Quebec.

Plan annexed to agreement between the Quebec & Lake St.John Rly Co. and the Quebec, Montmorency & Charlevoix Rly Co (credit: BAnQ)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

1:87 Railfanning in Wieland

Instead of writing yet another "I added some static grass" post, I thought it would make for a change to simply present the results altered with Photoshopped backdrops. While scenery is far to be complete, simply adding a muted sky can help a great deal to better appreciate how far we've gone since August 2018. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Subtle colors...

While shooting pictures of my recent scenery progress in Wieland, I photographed the CFC shops with a pair of GP15. Interestingly enough, the camera caught a small detail that was less visible in real life: colors.

As it stands, the shops can't play the role of a background for locomotives because they are too close in colors and too dark. It indeed merge everything in a dark bluish blob where details are hard to appreciate.

Also, the dark color of the shops doesn't blend well with the pale dead grass and photo backdrop. Thus, I'll have to fade the structure and filter the colors to bring it closer to a medium gray. Nothing very hard there, quite similar to freight car weathering, but it should make a sizable difference. Just like a painting, we need to balance the colors of the layout elements so they play together instead of competing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Grass for Wieland

Wieland used to be a wasteland of painted fiberboard and cork. Such a large swat of nondescript terrain made it quite hard to imagine the final effect, but after an evening, basic static grass covering is in place. While some areas need to be covered, mainly the highway and the barn vicinity, it is now possible to experience this large Clermont yard and Wieland area as a single and cohesive scene.

As designed, the track is now perfectly blended into grass and weeds, minimizing its visual impact while telling us we are now reaching "end of steel" territory. I feel it is uttermost important to convey a feeling of a rural branch in the countryside. Only carefully scene planning and refraining from cluttering the layout with railroad structure can support such a narrative.

But as you will probably agree, this first layer of scenic material is still quite drab and will need much more to be brought fully to life. This will include installing the photo backdrop - a task that I postponed as much as I could but can anymore - to convey a sense of place and depth to the layout.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Little Barn of Clermont

A few weeks ago, I made some test on the layout to see if the new more prototypical barn looked as good as I wanted.

A few pictures convinced me it was right to replace the generic kitbashed Revell barn with a more prototypical structure fitting better the locale and era.

While a lot of scenery and detailing are still required to complete this scene, this give already a good idea how this structure helps framing scenes and giving a sense of place.

Some weathering, vegetation and soil cover whould take care of the rest, which reminds me it's time to design and print a new photo backdrop before going to fast with this project!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Fast Growing Woods

Without further delay, I started to scenic the peninsula. This is a large piece of land covered by woods – mainly deciduous trees – is about 16 square feet. While I could go crazy over detailing, the sheer amount of scenic elements consumed by this disproportionate chunk of forest would make it both impractical and little rewarding. For these obvious reasons, I elected to use an impressionistic approach, relying on overall effect rather than fine rendition of individual trees.

Gloss acrylic medium not yet dry on the river...

Nevertheless, I aim to achieve two goals: create a dense enough forested cover to create a sense of distance and separation between both sides of the peninsula while creating an effective background to trains. For this reason, tree armatures used near the border are carefully selected while the ones in the middle are less than perfect. Some bare Super Trees are also used, mainly to add texture, but also to create opacity to hide defects or things I want to tone down such as the rock faces.

At this point, only trees are planted, with some vegetal debris here and there. However, the transition between the woods and the ditch as yet to be improved by addition of bushes, small trees and dead grass.

Forest floor is far too uniform

Interestingly enough, this woods works better than I thought. First, it did require far less trees than I expected when I made mock ups earlier this year. Second, since our eyes focus on the track and foreground, the wooden area get blurred in our field of vision, effectively disrupting the need for a solid backdrop between the two scenes. Interestingly enough, the creek scene works far better than we expected. Not only it becomes impossible to see where this river originates from, but the trees and meanders create a compelling impression of depth. Honestly, when covered in trees, the peninsula looks about 1.5 times deeper.

Pine trees add a touch of color to a drab scene

As for the color palettes, I kept it quite bland and regular. Greyish barks and brownish dead leaves as per prototype. Some greenish small plants add a touch of color. However, as prototypical it was, these colors were quite drab and I made about 8 Eastern pine trees using twigs, paint ad static grass. They are far to be perfect and I will probably replace them someday in the future, but they do add a touch of color that brings life to the scene. It doesn’t need a lot to completely transform our perceptions.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with this forest as it stand now. It only took a few hours to put together and the results speak for themselves. It also brings us back exactly to the same level of completion before we tore down Clermont yard last year.

However, pictures show the woods are far too homogenous compared to the prototype. Trees haven't enough branches and some super trees will need to add texture in that department. In that regard, the problem with super trees is their branches start too long on the trunk while in a real wood, most branches are on top of the trees. I'll probably need to create hybrid trees using twigs and super trees branches. I suspect a dozen of them would make a sizeable improvement.

Another caveat is the forest floor. Shredded dead leaves does a good basic job but they can't be used in solo for a spring scene. A closer examination of photos show the leaves on the creek banks are much yellowish than anticipated. Also, many small grow plants are quite green and makes for a big contrast. Finally, ferns are also quite visible here and there among small bushes.

It means I'm about half done and probably two other layers of vegetation and debris will be required to add color and texture to this scene. The big issue being to not overdo it in the process. As for completion, about half the woods are in place, the other half to be done at a later date before starting to work again on Wieland scenery when all structures will be done and backdrop printed. I suspect I have about one month of work until I feel completely satisfied with this scene.

Monday, November 4, 2019

CFQ Shops - A proof of Concept

Having built the shops from scratch, it was time to test if it played its intended role yet again... Certainly, some details, painting and weathering are still to be done, but the now assembled structure gives a between idea of how it bring some visual balance to the scene. It is to be expected the ground will be covered in grass and parts of the siding too...

Back in the days, before the Baie-Saint-Paul engine house was built it the early 2010s, all motive power was stationed in Wieland. It wasn't unusual to see up to three locomotives there.

While the shop track can hold up to 3 locomotives, we probably won't store more than two, including the decrepit snow plow in storage as it used to be back in the days when I was railfanning the line.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Does it matters?

When I started building the small barn in Clermont, I faced a big question. While the structure is entirely scratchbuilt with high level of prototypicalness, the idea of using commercial window castings was in my mind.

Who in our modern world of available parts would waste hours painstakingly assembly microscopic mullions to obtain exact replica? So, like any good modeller, I took a lot in my junk box, hoping to find something good. Except for one cheap window and a Tichy door, everything else fell short from the real deal.

I could have compromised, but this barn is an iconic structure seen on many pictures of Wieland. After so many efforts, it felt a betrayal to use expedients. Also, the barn windows are of a typical 6-panes model quite typical to province of Quebec due to their French original design. A sash window wouldn't have worked. Thus, I reluctantly started to build prototypical windows to maintain a sense of place and time.

Left: commercial casting, right: the real thing.

It's no surprise the process was in fact less arduous than originally imagined. Certainly, I wouldn't do dozen of them, but three windows were a manageable task. At the end of the day, it was a good call to push the limits further to ensure a good-looking barn. I know I wouldn't have like a toned down commercial approach with this structure in the long run.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

CFQ Shops in Wieland

While musing about a personal layout at home, I'm actually doing some real modelling work for Hedley Junction! So far, I'm avidly scratchbuilding two "iconic" structures in Wieland, namely the small barn near Desbiens Street and the CFQ shops.

CFC shops are a converted non-descript ex-paper warehouse

CFQ shops will help to hide the unsightly corner on the layout due to the electrical panel being located there. While we often said we wouldn't add a building there to keep the scene uncluttered, it quickly became apparent it wasn't visually appealing. Something was lacking to balance the scene and give the loco track a purpose.

After some careful measurement, we found out we could model the entire CFQ shops without resorting to unsightly compression. The old 28' x 120' steel warehouse would fit the corner perfectly, albeit we straighten a little bit the piece of track there.

Giving a purpose to a corner

Using scraps of styrene, I was able to put together a decent rendition of the structure in about 3 evenings. Nothing, exceptional, but this mundane structure does give the vibe of representing a busy industrial park. Some detailing such as electric pipes, lamps and vents will be added later, but the main structure is there.

The barn is also almost completely built except for doors and windows. But that's a story for another day!

Friday, October 25, 2019

How Much Layout Do You Need?

As introduced in my previous blog, I’m actually in the process of developing a final vision – or should I say framework – for my Connors layout. I’ve found over the years doing justice about a prototype wasn’t always replicating perfectly a prototype. Some artistic license must be used and this license isn’t about doing going loose and veering toward indulgence, but rather trying to understand what matters and how to push it forward in a coherent fashion.
Framing a subject is a complex and subjective task. No wonder I’ve been pondering a central question this year more than once; how much layout do you really need? I feel this question is absolutely central to our understanding of our hobby as I suspect, for many of us, the railway empire is both an improbable pursue but also one that would thin down our vision of this hobby. It would also be a preposterous assumption to believe everyone shares this goal as if it was a mandatory objective per se. That’s the funny thing about North American values in general, this idea that sky is the limit can be both an enabling force both also a crushing goal to try to reach.

This isn’t an easy question and I’ve never found a compelling answer over the last three decades I’ve been dabbling with this hobby. The only thing I know for sure is it’s better to have some kind of layout rather than none. The physical existence of a layout is a key element to make sure you are actually doing something and not only thinking about doing something. Take away the material manifestation of this hobby and you fell a sad feeling of underachievement. It may not be perfect, but at least it is a canvas to paint on a picture and that very picture is probably not the last one you’ll paint. Indeed, it may lack accuracy but it is a continuous learning experiment.

With that said, I gave a lot of thoughts about my longstanding personal home layout in recent days, revisiting yet again several basic concepts. This prompted me to make a serious distinction between what I can build and want I want to build. More than just a question of semantics, this raises several important issues and my personal way to interact with my hobby.

What would be best? A larger layout set in a dedicated room in the basement, or something smaller and more personal in my office room? What kind of interaction I want with my models beyond simply running them? In fact, the layout appears to be only a cog in a much more complex mechanism.

Until recently, I felt a layout in my office would feel contrived and also out of place. Being a railway modellers since my youth, I know this hobby comes with a despicable reputation and social stigma. I know more than one guy taking great care to hide their involvement with trains and certainly can understand.  Recent conversations about layouts with people of the common taught me the stigma wasn’t that bad nowadays. Trainsets are no longer a staple of childhood and many, due to 3D modelling and video games, are now more open to this craft. It was evident that more people admire the sophistication involved than I initially thought. If they have a good grasp of workmanship, technologies or simply creative arts, they generally recognize immediately the merit of the hobby. It’s not a matter of hiding it, but rather showcasing it in a proper way that makes people fully appreciate this piece of art and technology.

It also made me recognize my own interaction with this hobby. How I often wished the layout would be at hands, ready to be put into action. Small enough to care about details and scene composition while staying achievable. Able to take apart a part of the layout, work on it under optimal conditions then set it back in place.

Also, the layout shouldn’t be far from the workbench and reference material (both books and online). Building and operating are activities going hand in hand. Given these criterions, I feel it is better to build small but in the right place where the layout can be displayed, built and operated eagerly in a comfortable environment rather than waste time hiding it in a subpar and distant room. I have no doubt this could be done with taste and look great both as a game board and an artistic diorama.

Certainly, such advantages come with restrictions. The best spot in the room is on top a set of Ikea Kallax shelves. These have been hacked several years ago and create a nice 102” long 15” wide continuous countertop. While I could use more space, it would look good in the room and the idea of a nice diorama sitting on shelves would be lost. Such space is more than adequate for a small switching layout given a 45” small and unobtrusive cassette can be attach without ruining the room.

Indeed, this kind of setup would be neat for Connors, but obviously, I can’t cram everything there. I must cut some corners and if I do so, better think about what matters. According to various written sources, I was able to trace down a typical timetable for the early 20th century operations. It was both extremely simplistic and yet eye opening. It really put things in perspective in my mind.

Back then, the daily mixed train left Edmunston at noon and reached Connors in the afternoon. The locomotive was then stored in the engine house and serviced. On the next morning, the train came back to Edmunston, reaching the station before noon. Quite simple isn’t it? Certainly, I have no details about it, but given the tight schedule, it seems the small yard and sidings could only be switched in late afternoon since the morning train left Connors quite early and starting a steam locomotive needs lengthy preparations. This simple fact helps to understand what matters if I ever operate a small Temiscouata layout. What does matter in a typical day at Connors? What can fit the bill for a regular 20 to 45 minutes operation session? What fits my interest? What doesn’t? Lots of question I can now start to answer.

If you ask me, I like the look of a locomotive entering a station and performing some work there. Shoving cars here, exchanging others there, rebuilding the train, etc. On the other hand, I have very little interest in servicing locomotives. Also, I’m not that much into building intricate craftsman engine house full of details and far too cute for my own taste. Given that, do I need to model entirely Connors? The answer is no. Connors has irrelevant sections that I don’t care about, add very little to my story and take up space and resources I don’t want to allow them. Maybe some readers will recall Lance Mindheim’s advice to crop a scene and not compress it. Well, I believe he is indeed touching an important point when building a layout. Connors is long but only a part of it frames a well composed scene and makes a compelling stage for trains.

Speaking of scene and staging, modelling must support my story and, according to my own biases, the arriving train in the afternoon is probably the most interesting aspect of this script. The morning train is a dull formality involving no switching and simply backing the train in front of the station after leaving the roundhouse. Given most locomotives were often refuelled before being stored for the night; the morning preparation would lack relief.

Knowing  that, only the trackage pertaining to this afternoon train matters. The rest is inconsequential. Anyway, I have very little good data about the engine house except bad front view photographs taken from a distance and an 1894 panorama leaving many crucial details blurred or in the dark. Remember, since day 1, the Connors station caught my interest and not the engine facilities.

From a practical standpoint, it means only the yard, station, fueling facilities and turntable matter in my story. It easily removes about 4-5 feet of irrelevant layout, providing a more relaxed and better framed scene. In fact, just like Mike Cougill and I discussed, maybe some end parts of a layout are better when they gradually fade away into darkness, leaving the mind to imagine what lies beyond this fuzzy boundary. In a few words, shadows can be used for modelling purpose, the same way they are in theater, museum exhibits, movies and dioramas.

Funnily enough, I recently discovered the old scale model of this layout I made many years ago when exploring this concept for the first time. You won’t be surprised the engine house wasn’t there, only the core project. Once again, my late grandmother would probably tell me “the first idea is always the best”. But I should add, it becomes the best only because other options have been evaluated before going back to the first impression.

Having reduced my scope and knowing I’m only interested in modelling the afternoon train and occasional freight extra, I can now take a hard look at reality. How much layout do I really need? A few technical elements set the track plan: siding capacity must be large enough to run around the train, the cassette must provide enough space for shoving to 50ft coaches. Finally, the leading track in front of the station must provide room to switch about 3 empty and 3 loaded freight cars at the team track. Fortunately, without compression, this can be done in exactly the space available.

Interestingly enough, without effort, most actions on this layout take place in front of the passenger depot, making for a compelling scene. Depending on train composition, a session can be straightforward or slightly more complex. In fact, some days, a coach and a combine will be required to handle sportsman and hunters while on other day, only a coach will do a fine job. Extra freight trains are also an option. Regular mixed freight train can pull from 1 to 4 freight cars, making for a lot of variety. Short 32’ and 36’ cars also help to keep some degree of variety. It is also possible to stage excursion trains from time to time since Connors used to be somewhat of a lesser tourist destination due to the presence of a deluxe hotel near the station.

Finally, the interesting thing about cropping this particular scene according to my available space and intended story is that I don’t have to make compromises on track work. When I asked myself if I could compress Connors, I instinctively veered toward using unrealistic #6 turnouts. Then, doing some maths, it was quite evident the intended #10 turnouts did have their place even if they took about 15” each. On a small layout such as this one, looking closely at operation is the biggest show you’ll see. A cute turn-of-the-century steamer crawling over the rail is a nice show and ruining it with toyish track parameters would defeat this purpose. Take my words for granted on this, my small Bachmann 4-6-0 looks absolutely great on a #10 turnout… Even from a technical standpoint, small steamers do perform better on large radius turnouts. There light and short tenders no longer randomly derail, which can be a real let down when operating with old time locomotives.  Don’t ask me with I know, but I can assure you the idea small rolling stock means small radius is the most laughable principle. Sure it can be done, sure it will look camp and whimsical. Some love that quaint old time look that never existed, but I’m not one. In the same regard, René Gourley was kind enough to remind me of his excellent efforts with prototypical turn-of-the-century modelling based on pre-WW1 Canadian Atlantic Railway. He also has to deal with these pesky issues and takes extensive care to ensure the end results is both artistically attractive and technically sound. Yes, there's is no reasons to take shortcuts when dealing with old time subjects. We wouldn't tolerate it with modern subjects, why settle for less when dealing with the past?

Finally, another neat aspect of the layout is it can be stored easily as modules. I know that at some point, I'll have interests in other eras and locales. I could easily imagine this pre-WW1 layout being used half the year and another one, sharing the same physical parameters taking its place later. Once again, Mike Cougill's concept of dissociating the substructure from the layout seems to be a sensible approach. In my case, the Kallax shelves acting as a structure to support various dioramas/modules following the evolution of my tastes without having do deal with wall anchors and such. Once again, it seems my intuition kind of overlapped with his own, though I'm glad his post made me see the benefit of something that was only a blurry concept in my mind. As they say, nothing new under the sun!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Framing a Subject...

A great aspect of this hobby is about sharing. And by sharing, I don’t mean that meaningless unboxing carnival that has plagued modelling forums for the last few years, where everyone to ride the proverbial bandwagon in search of cheap attention. I’m talking about sharing musings about the hobby, its goals and philosophy. I recall Trevor Marshall often advocating hobbyists to enter the conversation by means of blogs and other such platform. While a good advice, I only started to appreciate this invitation to the public debate in later years. Writing a blog is a strange thing because you barely know who will be interested in your quests. So far, I’ve been blessed by many people that helped me shape my vision, providing both encouragement but also constructive criticism.

Developing a vision isn't a straightforward process...

Many years ago, I promised I would build a small layout depicting Connors, NB; a lovely Temiscouata Railway end-of-line station set in the St. John River valley on Maine’s border. However, I had a single condition to meet before starting this project: I need a clear artistic vision because I wanted it to be an impressionist piece, a layout with a soothing atmosphere, just like a well-executed painting.

A big part of this condition was conditioned by the way I would frame the scene. Until now, I had serious doubts how to do it, but thanks to Mike Cougill’s recent blog posts (one, two and three) about setting a layout in a room, I feel more confident in my work. That’s the nice thing with Mike, he has done enough in this hobby to be able to question the obvious. By doing so, not only he enable conversations, but also brings with it a level of sophistication we rarely see. Many modellers in the past influenced me and I’ve wrote about them a few time. They mainly confirmed my intuitions in providing coherent visions that shared many of my own observations. However, Mike’s influence doesn’t work like this. He is the kind of nagging little voice in your head asking “are you sure?” He isn’t aware of it, but his little voice guided me through the rebuilding of Clermont since last year. I no longer approach design as a set of steps to follow in order, but I now take a lot of time contemplating my work and looking how to make it better. It could have stalled me in a sort of paralysis; however, it provided in fact a reason to do better each time.

His recent posts triggered me to rethink about Connors as I am looking for a small and manageable home project. Many questions arose: how much layout, what to crop from the scene, how to frame the subject, how to work on it in a practical way, etc.

Interestingly enough, I’m coming close to a vision for this project. Like a professional photographer, I framed the subject from all possible angles, than worked on focus and lighting. I now feel I’m ready to shot the final picture. I suspect this picture will be blurry, kind of impressionist, with not so well defined borders. Light will be uneven, drastically enhancing some details and leaving others in the dark. Colors and textures will play an important role too and trains will be set in such a way they are the main actor on the stage. As you will discover in a future post, the framing goes beyond the scenic nature of this small layout and will also imply framing the action itself. I’m not sure many people attempted this artistic vision with pre-WW1 railways in Canada, but I sure feel it is a worthy pursue…