Monday, July 29, 2019

JM Huber Hoppers - Some Weathering

I recently completed a set of custom-decorated JM Huber covered hoppers. Before putting them into service, a mandatory coat of weathering was required.

While it could be tempting to weather the hell out of them, I selected a very subtle level of dirt and splatter to give them a realistic appearance while keeping them clean like the prototype.

It is too easy to overdo weathering on a light color car and I believe a light touch is often enough to give that "steel" look we want.

I also did the same thing with a set of Proto 2000 NSC newsprint boxcar in scheme. I recall these cars used to be quite clean back in the early 2000s too. To be noted, I'm not in the mood of doing grafitti on my cars for obvious reasons: they weren't that frequent on Murray Bay Subdivision back then and I prefer to keep my rolling stock clean so I can use then for earlier years in the 1990s.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Charlevoix Train - The Forgotten Anniversary

On July 1st 1919, Murray Bay Subdivision was officially put in service after almost a decade of hardwork. This new section of track built by Sir Rodolphe Forget would complete the original vision of Horace J. Beemer in 1889.

As with everything related to trains in our ingrate province, this anniversary was utterly forgotten... even by myself. It seems trains no longer matter. People freaks out about climate change, vegan hamburger patties but don't give a damn about concrete things that do have a real impact on their lives.

Fortunately, Bertrand Dion from St. Irenée, QC, published today an op-ed in Le Soleil underlining this forgotten anniversary. Well-written, his article cover the history of the line, its importance and future, covering various attempts at bringing it back to life. While justly critical, Mr Dion still harbour some veiled hope in a more rational future.

While it isn't exactly in good taste to publish an entire article, I took the liberty to translate it in English knowing most readers won't be able to appreciate it in its original French version. This is a doctored Google Translate version to save time. If Le Soleil or Mr Bertrand wants it removed, I will gladly comply common sense courtesy.

"Charlevoix Train - The Forgotten Anniversary

By Bertrand Dion, St. Irenée, QC

OPINION / On July 1, 1919, the first train entered La Malbaie station, putting an end to Charlevoix's isolation with the rest of the country. Sadly, 100 years later, no one seems to care or want to celebrate it. All this leaves me with this strange impression that the presence of the railway in Charlevoix remains a negligible fact, an obscure element of our transport offer and something related to the 19th century.

Remember that the railway, formerly known as the Murray Bay Subdivision, which runs from Limoilou Yard in Quebec City to that of the Resolute Paper Mill in Clermont, had sunnier days, with 25 customers served by the Canadian National freight train.

In addition, the passenger service was maintained there seven days and continuously from the opening of the track until the abandonment of this service on April 30, 1977.

Let us remember that thanks to the insight of Sir Rodolphe Forget, the insane construction site of this railway could not have been realized without the help of dynamite, the cold sweats of its promoter, millions of his personal fortune and then those of the Government. Imagine only today submitting the Rodolphe Forget project to an environmental impact study. Worse, Forget never saw his work completed, having died in mysterious circumstances a few months before the arrival of the 1st train to La Malbaie.

From the 1970s, the industrial customers of this railway have one after the other turned their backs on the rail. Over the years, Sico, St-Laurent Cement, Dominion Textile, Seagram, Abitibi-Consolidated, Pointe-au-Pic wharf, La Poulette Grise, Coop-agricole and Câbles Reynolds have all either discontinued their use from the rail or, just closed shop.

As for me, the last catastrophe of this saga was the abandonment wood chips and newsprint to the factory of Clermont with the end of freight service on this line, on May 18th, 2011. From now on, it will be all to the road.

Time travel questions were invoked for the Québec-La Malbaie passenger link. Today, bus service takes 2h15 to link La Malbaie with the Gare du Palais. Ironically, the train which also left the same station in 1967, with the use of railcars, took 2h30 for the same route. So, only 15 minutes more, but in an unparalleled setting.

Fortunately, the visionary spirit of Jean Leblond has brought back, the time of two fabulous summers, the passenger train, but in a formula that has marked the spirits: the recreational train. In 1984 and 1985, the Tortillard allowed more than 103,000 people to rediscover the splendor of one of North America's finest railroads, with the added bonus of Celebrating On Board! Then, in another formula, the same magic took place in 1995 and 1996, with more than 70,000 customers.

Note that it wasn't issues of attendance that sealed the fate of these two operations. In the first case, the laboratory character of the company and the alleged incompatibility of the product with the vision of the Charlevoix Regional Tourism Association at that time did not allow to continue the adventure. However, in the case of the 1995-1996 train, it is rather the short-sighted vision and the thirst for quick profits of some officers who literally led the way to bankruptcy. In both cases, the railway operation itself covered its costs.

Then Daniel Gauthier enters the stage and makes his circus. Pharaonic project, repair of the track, development of a gastronomic train at astronomical rates, a winter operation for its Massif, a hotel and a very ramified organizational structure, in short, a big deal. Some are jubilant, others are crying. Then, failing to achieve the desired success, we reduce and cut. The train becomes very light. The clientele still seems drawn to the line, because it is it and only it, the real star of this show.

In addition to what is left, voices are growing in number that want to tear the rail and make it a bike path. For me, this last obsession is more like a kind of pseudo-ecological hysteria. How to claim an ecological action by tearing off a railway? How to believe in any benefit for a region, when riding a bike on a right-of-way built to support huge loads, but useless for a simple bike? Coming back from Quebec City on road 138, when I double these trucks that go up to the highest point at 740 meters, near the entrance to the Massif, I scream inside my anger to see how much we underutilize our railroad while we overuse the road.

Charlevoix does not fully realize the chance to still have this terrestrial link that offers the best energy-efficient performance and the lowest carbon footprint. In road transport, more specifically in trucking, it is necessary to have 10 to 12hp per ton to give service (load of 40 tons with tractor of 400 to 500 hp). With rail, 1/2hp per ton, sometimes less, remains ample. (26,000 tons of iron with two locos totaling 8800 hp). Do the math.

We live in a pathetic time. We are celebrating Canada's 152nd birthday, Neil Armstrong's 50th Anniversary on the Moon, Woodstock's 50th and John and Yoko's 50th Bed-In.

And yet, in 2017, we forgot the 40th of the abandonment of CN's passenger service in Charlevoix. This year we have forgotten the 35th of the first Tortillard. Next year we will forget the 25th of his return in 1995. But this year, we forget the 100th of our railway, it's really sad.

I really believe that we live in a world where the rail ... does not exist!

Happy birthday anyway."

Derail Madness

Derails are probably one of the most interesting operating detail to add to tracks. Not only they look good but they do indeed makes operation more interesting by creating a track hierarchy. Indeed you can no longer roam freely the rails as if nothing really mattered. Some point of access are controlled and no longer the siding can be considered like a defacto extra mainline track.

In our case, we used GLX 3D printed parts. While very nice out of the bag, these details require a lot of work before working correctly. This is mainly due to various dimensional discrepancies, including how the derail itself doesn't clear the rail trucks when opened (requiring carving the 3D printed ties). Another problem is the ties are quite short and looks a little bit out of place when used with standard code 83 flex track. While not a bad product, I would hardly consider it a drop in detail and can't recommend it except if you are ready to invest a few hours making them working well. If you succeed, then they are indeed beautiful and works like the prototype. I hope GLX will improve its design in the future because this is definitely a neat detail on a layout.

From the scenic point of view, I painted the detail in faded yellow. While generally I favour acrylics, this time I used enamels due to their higher resistance to abrasion. These are working details that will be handled a lot, so better use more resistant paint. I mixed flat white and flat yellow to get a sun-faded look typical on the prototype. Later, when weathering the rails, a light wash will be applied to make the details pop and add a touch of grease and rust.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Layout Design Musings

My last visit at the club layout was a strange affair. It seemed everybody was kind of disheartened by the news our CFC SW1200RS project would go back on the shelf until all the missing parts are collected. Work was slow and I only managed to partially paint a few derails and wheel stops in a faded yellow color…

The reason for this lack of enthusiasm is grounded to a deep frustration with locomotives in the DCC age. Lighting, decoder, sounds… it is a never-ending task of tweaking, fiddling and tuning, with no results guaranteed.  Talk about fun!

To change my mood to something more positive, I felt I would operate a little bit with a locomotive a reliable locomotive in good order. From the glass display shelf, I grabbed a custom decorated Bachmann GP9 with an old Tsunami decoder. Nothing shiny, just a passable stand-in for the real things. Like all my locomotives when I was a kid.

No surprise, the locomotive stuttered and stalled every inch… making for another round of what could be a very tiresome evening. But I wasn’t in the mood to be defeated and the urge to run some trains won in the end. My trusty MDF board covered in 600 grit sandpaper would polish these dirty rails and probably restore some semblance of flawless electric conductivity. It was late and only the Donohue plant and Clermont yard were cleaned.

It was now time to set my newly weathered boxcars, departing quickly D’Estimauville and reaching Clermont rather quickly. No switchlist, only following my instinct, I decided to only pick up empty boxcars and switch the newsprint warehouse… Minimal work at best, but something that was a common occurrence on the prototype… 4 loaded cars where picked up at the factory, the off-spot boxcar was placed inside the factory and the new 5 empty boxcars were spotted, leaving two of them outside the warehouse, until a next working shift.

Back to Clermont, the locomotive spotted the loaded cars on the departure track then proceeded to Wieland where it was shut down and stored for the night on the wye north leg... It was now time to call it a day. I had my fill and felt much more positive than when I started.

It is in these moments I start questioning how we design our projects and their final size. We often frame the question from an outside perspective. We ask ourselves “how to make the best out of what we have in front of us”. A room is available, and we really want to make a statement, create a compelling vision, as if we were producing a piece of art or an engineering marvel to present the world. This approach can mean we will fill a basement with extravagance. In other times, we will fill it with restrain, going for subtly. The idea is generally to create something we fill coherent with our vision. Unfortunately, we often forget we are the sole spectators of our creative endeavour. This does matter.

Given a layout is a generally a self-serving project, it is interesting to see how we take too often in consideration design goals that aren’t really required (thought quite neat). Basically, a neat idea isn’t necessarily the best idea in a given situation. Hell is paved with good intentions, and I can assure you my professional practice proved me this old saying more than once.

As a matter of fact, in the case of Hedley-Junction, I would probably be more than pleased with Clermont. If I had to start again this project, I would probably keep only one room, ready to sacrifice almost half the layout. And while it’s not my intention to back track on what has been done and which I’m proud of, I must recognize some patterns in how we handle our hobby.

So far, it seems to me we rarely stage large operation sessions. Funnily enough, we often go solo when handling trains. One of our members has a urge to run some trains, grab a DCC power cab, then start switching Clermont while others work on the layout. Sessions last from 30 minutes to 1 hour most of the time, which is generally considered a decent time for one person. I have yet to wonder why I never thought about this cold hard fact when designing the layout…

Why it does matter? Because I’m trying to figure out what can be done with my future hobby room. I know operation will probably occur as small and short switching sessions. Staging must be quick, self-evident and cleaning fast and efficient. It also means if the layout is a continuous run, each segment doesn’t need to be a statement in itself. You probably recall when I compared layout design to a song structure last year. The sequence of generic but thematically strong scenes and small burst of intense interest not only provide focus from a storytelling point, but also make a rational use of time, resources and space.

I’ve yet to explore more this idea, but it is really starting to shape – once again – my perception of what makes a layout truly achievable.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Custom J.M. Huber Covered Hopper

J.M. Huber covered hoppers were a staple of CFC in the 1990s and 2000s. The iconic blue Huber logo has taken root in my memories and I wanted to model a better version than what I did a few years ago.

This time, instead of using a crude Athearn BB kit, I decided to purchase a few Atlas nicely detail cars that were on sale at some online shop. To make my life easier, I selected plane Jane cars. The reason is simple, using Solvaset it is possible to easily remove the unwanted lettering while keeping the paint job intact. In the case of J.M. Huber hoppers, a light coat of white paint was required which was made easier with the light gray factory paint.

Decals were custom made using pictures of cars that actually ran on CFC. Various other web resources provided more information. I can't vouch they are 100% accurate, but in all fairness, they are about 98% correct. Logos were redrawn from photos too.

As for weathering, I made it very, very light. My prototype pictures show these cars were extremely clean and well maintained. No graffiti, rust or dirt. Simply some road grime here and there and some very subtle rain patterns on the sides. I could have easily gone overboard and it wasn't my goal. I only wanted the weathering to give the impression these cars are made of steel.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

CP Stanbridge Subdivision - Railfanning & Layout Ideas

A recent surge in layout planning due the hobby room being almost completed lead me to resurrect my old layout concept about a derelict CP branchline in Southern Quebec during the 1980s.

This time, Stanbridge subdivision running for about twelve miles south from Farnham to Bedford and Stanbridge Station caught my attention. For once, without distorting reality, I was able to find a prototype branchline that handled all the freight I wanted, provided the possibility to fully replicate the railway operation and having mundane yet interesting "railroady" details.

Since last weekend was long due to Canada Day, I proposed to Louis-Marie to make an impromptu railfanning trip to Farnham area. He jokingly suggested to bring my passport in case we would want to railfan further in the United States... Little did I know I would venture into Marty McGuirk's territory and railfan some parts of Richford! Now I know why he choosed such a fabulous area!

The funniest part was telling the border agent at Morse Line that we were going to Richford for tourism... The best part being when he replied it was the first he ever encountered someone going to Richford for such a reason!

Here's the full rendition of this railfanning trip (part 1) and the possible implications for a future layout.

To be noted, I'm on the hunt for information and photos of Stanbridge Subdivision. It can be trains, locomotives, structures, depots, industries, etc... I highly suspect RS3 and RS18 were used as motive power.

So far, I've been able to locate a few pictures at BAnQ, but not enough to go forward!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Weathering a 50ft Boxcar Fleet

Today I completed my week-long weathering marathon. The goal was to have all my remaining older 50ft boxcars ready for layout use. The fleet mainly consist of various ribbed boxcars used in newsprint service.

I could have pushed the weathering process a little bit further, but my goal wasn't prize-winning models, but rather to blend together cars that come from various manufacturers. Also, video and picture evidences of CFC show most boxcars in newsprint service weren't rust buckets and generally in good shape. That makes sense since newsprint is generally considered a top commodity in railroading and must be handled with care in good condition rolling stock.

Given my late 1990s and early 2000s operation era, some could argue I should have included some graffiti. At that time, they started to be more common on freight cars, however, I recall not seeing a lot of them back then when railfanning CFC. It would took a few years before it became predominant. I don't feel it would be a wise move to add graffiti and lock my fleet in a very specific time frame.

And now the models. Weathering is a classic mix of fades, washes, oils, acrylics and weathering powders. My procedure is extremely standard and not worth explaining here since I've documented it more than once. The only specific trick I used was selectively spraying some flat areas with a different tone of brown to modulate the main color as it happens so often in real life.

One point I may improve in the future are the roofs. Maybe I was a little to shy to weather them too much. I can foresee some touch up in the future.

  • Old Athearn Blue Blox 50ft boxcar (custom paint)

  • Old MDC/Roundhouse FMC 50ft boxcar (custom paint)

  • Retooled Athearn FMC 50ft boxcar 

  • Athearn FMC Combo Door 50ft boxcar 

  •  Athearn 50ft boxcar 

  • Walthers Proto2000 NSC Newsprint 50ft boxcar 

  • Atlas Precision Design 50ft boxcar 

  • Fox Valley ex-Soo Line 50ft Boxcar 

  •  Atlas Precision Design 50ft Boxcar (custom paint)

  •  Atlas NSC Newsprint 50ft Boxcar

  • Walthers Proto2000 NSC Newsprint 50ft boxcar