Sunday, February 24, 2019

Wieland: More Terraforming

Another productive day in the bag and encouraging results to share.

A mockup of what we are trying to accomplish, note the subtle terrain shape in the background.

First of all, the terrain is now almost completely shaped from the furnace room up to Desbiens Street. We haven't yet worked on the yard topography because this is quite a large endeavour in itself and we feel it is better to complete work in Wieland.

Subtle terrain variations help anchoring the roadbed into topography

After scrutinizing a few prototype photo, I noticed some topographic elements I missed last time. It included more raised terrain near Desbiens Street that makes the track visually sinks into the scenery. Also, some small bumps of earth could be noticed near the wye right legs. These piles of soil were made to create a visual barrier hiding a semi-trailer parking lot. They are subtle terrain profile variations, but they do have quite an impact on the overall perception.

Transloading area completed: lower ground creates a sense of distance on a cramped space

When these things were done, it was time to paint the track. Since we got great results at Ciment Saint-Laurent, we decided to reuse the previous formula: white primer on all track, Krylon Camouflage Brown on the rails and oil paint washes over the ties. If things go smoothly, this task will take about 3 weekends to complete due to drying time and our schedule.

Primed track

Meanwhile, Louis-Marie did a terrific job at modelling Desbiens Street out of cardboard. I'm always surprised how he can be extremely precise with this kind of stuff. When you had the little barn to the scene, it becomes clear this will be a very nice railfanning spot. Having the road slopping gently toward the track makes for a more dynamic and engaging topography.

Desbiens street made out of Strathmore cardboard

Framing the scene with the barn

Desbiens Street: scene composition with the barn and left wye leg

Finally, Jérôme decided to remove a few extra layers of form from the mountain on the peninsula. I kind of like the work on texture I did back a year or two ago, but the mountain shape wasn't very convincing. By removing about 5 inches, it seems proportions are better. Less verticality makes the layout appear far more horizontal and longer. This kind of optic illusions counts a lot when trying to convey the sense of place. I'm well aware many will be kind of upset about us tearing apart the only "finished" scenery on the layout, but I honestly don't care. There is no point in keeping stuff that doesn't fit the level of quality work we can now do. It was our second attempt at serious scenery, it wasn't bad, but we can do better.


And after... nobody was hurt!

At this point, it seems the entire mountain will be remove and new scenery will be done from scratch. Clermont topography is far too different to waste time compromising with half-baked previous efforts. Also, it is more and more evident that some visual key elements of the scene will have to be interpreted quite a bit to be more compelling. An example, I located were the small brook is located on the prototype and it doesn't look good on the layout. Some artistic license will be required to better frame the scene and portrait Clermont in a way that feels right and natural.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Wieland: Some Progress

Some people could think the layout project is on hiatus, however it do progress every week. I would like to post more about what we are doing, but it would be basically a bunch of guys trying to shape Styrofoam and fiberboard into a decent looking topography. Otherwise, it would be about prepping, priming and painting drywall. These subjects have already been covered in previous posts about Villeneuve and I don’t feel like repeating myself.

New ditches near General Cable plant.

However, I’d like to note that while these subjects are extremely mundane they do matter. Particularly since model railroading requires us to do things in reverse. In real life, the topography already exists and the roadbed is then built upon it. On a layout, tracks and roadbed come first and makes us forget too often about the subtle variations that are conflated as an hypothetical flat land.

For this reason, we are carefully shaping the landforms using data we gathered on a field trip last year. Such things as track bed geometry, ditches and surrounding land levels are replicated as best as we can. As you can guess, some artistic license is required, but the goal is to grasp the feeling of the place which can be boiled down to a set of a roadbed surrounded by shallow ditches filled with dead grass and shrubs. Add to this a slightly raised road parallel to the track and you got a good idea of what we are looking forward.

Small ditches can make a huge difference.

Since Wieland is basically in the middle of nowhere, the only compelling way to achieve great results is by a clever use of colors and textures. This is going to be quite interesting… at least I hope so.

Roadbed must feel as if it was built upon the original topography

On another note, our DCC installation projects are on the right track. The last few issues with speakers have been solved with some baffles. Sound installation can be quite tricky and ones must not fear to experiment and start from scratch when results aren’t good. At this rate, I suspect our fleet will be fully functional next spring.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Wyeland: a Tale of Two Turnouts

CN 9423 waiting for its crew at Wieland

Some more fine tuning in Wieland last week and that’s fine with me. Drawing a concept on a sheet of paper and explaining the thought process on a blog is a part of the journey. Shaping it with materials, in 3D and bringing it to life is another. Both process are concomitant and not simultaneously exclusive. As happen too often, the best intentions don’t always bring the best results. However, it is ours to witness what happens then take action bring back the balance between intentions and results.

I often remarked how implementing a working concept on the peninsula wasn’t that easy to tackle over the last few years. This observation is still hold true and I’m still figuring out a way to make the best out of the situation. Fortunately, while the geometry is somewhat ingrate, the goals are becoming clearer. It is always easier to struggle with an issue when at least you know where you want to go.

Our layout will never be much more than an elusive suggestion of railroading in Charlevoix. It would be completely foolish to believe we can replicate the subdivision. However, getting the sense of the place right is something that we can do. It is why I had to make some compromise on the track plan to better reflect our needs and aspirations.

After operating the upgraded track plans for months since September, it became quite clear we eliminated too much trackage during the revision. Was it a mistake? Were we foolish in doing so? It could be easy to affirm we went a bridge to far with theoretical concepts. Maybe it was wrong to apply a less is more approach in such a drastic way.

In fact, the answer is no. With limited resources and space, you’ve got to make the exercise of identifying the bare minimum that defines the project. Taking out the clutter was the only way to remove the noise from the signal. It is also the best way to understand what specifically represents your subject and what is merely background decoration. It’s all about defining the essence of a project. Maybe we went a little bit overboard, but not that much if you ask me. It must be noted the new track plan works wonderfully as intended and the small glitches are… small glitches.

It would be foolish to think you can tackle a complex topic and find a perfect solution from thin air. Adjustments are required and we are now working our way out. Given our biggest shortcoming was removing a leg from the wye, we can already say we were definitely quite close from our goal.

Now, you will ask me why we made that mistake. The reason is quite simple; we tried to figure out what was required to operate all aspect of Clermont without cramming too much elements. If something was redundant, it was eliminated after seriously taking into account how it would impact freight car movements. In a nutshell, our track plan worked nicely as a representation of freight operations on a shortline. However, it failed to provide an answer to locomotive management. At first, it was thought parking locomotives on a yard siding would provide an efficient solution. Unfortunately, it was in conflict with freight movement and left our story unsatisfying.

As you know, I often like to compare a layout with a story. Train operations require a starting point and an ending point. Basically, you need an introduction and a conclusion to your story to make it meaningful. In some case, these things will be minimal… the train was already there when we catch up with the story. Sometimes, it is quite simple. In another case, a more complex introduction and conclusion is required to better understand the story finer aspects.

With Clermont, it was clear we missed some point. In our story, the yard isn’t the introduction nor the conclusion. It is in fact the space where the narrative is developed. The fact the locomotives originated from somewhere else and reached the yard after a while was part of the story. It underlined the typical nature of branchline railroading. It was the only way to make it clear the paper mill is a destination you need to reach to perform a task and not simply a vague place where train movements can happen anywhere.

In that regard, what we sorely missed was the importance of that step. We overlooked it and it came back in our faces each time we operated the layout. Leaving carefully detailed and weathered locomotives in the middle of nowhere didn’t make sense and made for an uninteresting conclusion. However, I must point out many mockups were made in the past. Based on these experiments, we came to the conclusion a locomotive shop track wasn’t required and would look contrived. As the project progressed, our fears went unsubstantiated and the issues raised by the lack of track became more and more evident.

Now, what is this track all about? It was simply a wye leg that we didn’t replicate. If you ask me today, I would tell you it was foolish to model a wye with only a leg. Back then, it made sense because this wye was seldom used to turn locomotives or cars. Its basic function wasn’t required, thus a single siding was enough. Unfortunately, its other function was locomotive storage, which was incompatible with the siding role. You couldn’t merge together both function and call it a day.

The new wye leg at left with a locomotive sitting idle.

Now, on the aesthetic side of things, representing a wye with one leg won’t cut it. Visually, it was hard to believe this single siding represented a wye at all. It looked weird and incomplete. The place is called Wieland, you expect a wye… and you’ve got not enough compelling clues to believe there is one. From a story telling perspective, it was quite a fail I must admit. From a scenery perspective, it always was making it a little bit hard to create a seamless transition between the yard and the wye. One is in the woods, the other one in a light industrial setting. Something was missing to link them in a satisfying manner…

Now, this has been taken care of and the missing wye leg is now back on the layout. To be noted, the unsightly drain pipe was routed somewhere else in the room to facilitate scenery work. A grade crossing located near the new turnout will ease the transition between the light industrial park and the wooden area, just like on the prototype. While I not that much eager to add too much scenic elements in Wieland, it seems this one will definitely help in visually separating different functions and settings while providing a visual anchor in the scene. I’ve yet to figure out how this will work in 3D, but I’m quite confident it should be fine and not look contrived.

After all that said, I'm slowly coming to the realization that following a prototype or implementing drastic measures is a required step in the process, but definitely not a goal. It should be seen as a tool to analyze our subject. But at the end of the day, the artistic touch and interpretation about what we truly want to convey must prevail. The more you stick to the prototype, the more you struggle. The more you personally know the real place, the harder it becomes to make bold artistic choice. It is a double edged sword.  Working on my capacity to evoke the sense of place instead of replicating a lifeless copy of a prototype is a worthy yet capricious road to take.