Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Roads and Grade Crossing Gates at Donohue

Progress on Clermont is now focussed on completing the road system. Only when these things will be permanently in place can we start working on the ground cover. Until my spray booth is functional again though, we are cutting cardboard to make our roads.

I must admit Louis-Marie developed a dangerously efficient way of making all sort of pavement follow Gordon Gravett’s methods. So efficient I decided to replace all the plaster roads at Donohue, including the large parking lot. Working with plaster is a mess to be honest. It requires a lot of sanding and unfortunately chip. I tried other products including grout, patching compound for concrete, etc. They all suffer from the same problems and don’t allow you to take them to the benchwork for painting and weathering.

Remaking the pavement is also a good occasion to revise the grade crossing gates at Donohue. These are the basic model for private crossing and we used a Walthers kit. The kit itself is a decent rendition of the real thing, however, it has a big caveat: the supporting leg can’t move, making the gate looking silly when lifted up.

The improvement is simple. We cut the leg then made a new one using phosphore bronze wire and brass tubing. Soldered in such a fashion they look like a “T”, they legs are suspended to the gates using a brass wire forming a pivot. After less than 10 minutes of work, you’ve got operating gates that looks nice down or up.

Friday, January 17, 2020

CN Woodchip Car - Pre-Production Models

As my schedule will be busy in 2020 due to various commitments, I'm going forward with the project right now before I can do nothing for months. The goal is to have the models in production as soon as possible with a release date in early summer or early fall. These are all tentative dates and you know how these have a tendency to move as time goes on!

With that said, I'm pleased to announce the actual painted prototypes will be on public display during an open house at our club layout on Saturday (January 17th) and latter in Toronto in early February. I hope these events will raise interest in the product.

So far, production will be handled by Jeff Briggs of Briggs Models. Due to improvement in 3D printing capacities and cost related to photo etching, it has been decided most parts would be printed, in the same fashion the first batch of prototype was done. I'm confident it will improve ease of assembly will providing a great detail level and for most modellers, the kit shouldn't be over complicated and similar to what was to expect from a Branchline boxcar kit in the days.

Even if costs are not all known, I can confidently say the kit should not cost more than $50 per car, including decals, trucks and metal wheels. Given the price of decals and trucks, this is on par with what you would expect from such a similar car. No weight will be provided to save on shipping cost and because most people have their own preference and standard practices in this regard.

It must be noted pre-production models of each car type are actually in the making. It should take a few weeks, as some final design decisions are being made and models improved accordingly. Once these pre-production models are printed to my satisfaction and running well in real layout operating session, real production will be launched. The production schedule is unknown at this point, but release date will be dealt with according to demand. Given 3D printing process, it will be easy to adjust the number of cars produced and provide models according to demand.

Bear in mind this is all new to me and I still have a lot of work in front of me to manage this new venture.

Once again, a heartfel thanks to all the people that have provided assistance to this project and others that have supported it over the years. I hope your efforts and hopes will shine through the finished product!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

CN Woodchip Car - Update on Printed Prototypes

I know many people were eager to get more news about the CN woodchip cars project. It took me a while to start assembling the prototypes 3D printed by Bruce Barney last year due to lack of time, unforeseen professional projects and procrastination. However, I’m glad to announce the cars have been assembled, detailed, primed and painted over the last few years.

This assembly is not only a way to show people how the models will look, but also to seek arising issues and find ways to address them so the final product is, as possible as I can, flawless, sturdy and easy to assemble.

While the assembling procedure was quite smooth, I found out a few things that I’d rather change if I were to sell the models to others who want to build a fleet. I see a significant difference between what we can live with when scratchbuilding a single model for ourselves and what we find intolerable when trying to work with a “commercial” kit.

Issues I found are various but not deal-breaking. They will be easy to fix and yet provide a great finished model. I must admit once painted, these two cars could pass easily for good quality RTR models.

From a purely technical perspective, I’ll probably add some thickness to the parts, going from 1mm to 1.2 mm to lessen risk of warping. Straightening resin or 3D printed parts is an easy process, but it can be tedious and I quickly found myself annoyed. It must be improved. Also, while trying to keep the underframe structural members within prototypical dimensions and minimum 3D print design guidelines, I feel they must be sturdier. No a lot, but just enough to make sure breaking is unlikely under normal handling conditions.

In terms of assembly, I felt the grooves and tongues I designed to make for easy alignment of parts are inadequate. First, they are too shallow. Second, they lack tabs to make sure everything is perfectly square and aligned together. It shouldn’t have a major impact on the model, but expect some kind of tabs under the car. I’ve yet to figure out how to do it but it must be done.

Speaking of underframe, I 3D printed the brake apparatus (valve, reservoir, etc.) directly on the underframe. They look good, but I’ve yet to decide if it is a good decision. I feel it works well for most modellers and that it can be upgraded with pipes, wire and other such for prototype modellers. I’ve yet to decide on the level of details. Should I locate brackets and levers? I don’t know and I’m not sure if it matters. I feel the ones who will want these details are better equipped than I am to model these and I suspect a large share of modellers won’t care. However, I think the model must have provision for people wanting to go to the next step. It means, I’ll try to provide holes in the underframe to insert air lines. I’m not interested in cast-on details that can be seen from a normal point of view. They will be of no consequence for casual modellers and be a hindrance for people with high standards.

In terms of details, I found out some parts are better 3D printed while others should be photo-etched. Brakewheel platforms and end of car platforms should all be photo-etched for the sake of sturdiness. They can be printed in great details and be strong enough, but they are still fragile and can be broken during assembly. Photo-etched parts would be easier and faster to install while surviving nicely normal handling condition and providing a great level of detail.

As for ladders, I thought the 3D printed versions would be flimsy and they are not. Better, they look like the real thing, are easy to glue and the profiles are quite close the prototype. I believe using photo-etched ladder would remove a level of detail while performing minimally better.

I also plan to include a notch in the fulcrum so the brake rigging can be easily cemented and stay in place.

Another point is related to performance and NMRA standard. I design the car using correct model truck dimension and Kadee coupler pockets. On one car, I kind of tweaked the bolster height to fit the truck and it seems I made a mistake. To get the coupler at the correct height, I must add 3 Kadee red washers. This means my first bolster version was the right one. I’ll go back to it. The other car only requires 1 red washer, meaning the bolster height is quite right. I’m reluctant to make a change because I know various trucks may have different height due to manufacturer’s preference. At this point, better leave the fine tuning to the end user, like we all do with most of our RTR cars.

Another thing I found out was the height on the coupler pocket hole is slightly too high. About 0.2mm at most… It may seem trivial, but it causes the coupler to drop instead of being perfectly horizontal, impeding coupling performances. It will be addressed.

Finally, the screw holes for the couplers and trucks are not right. Trucks have pegs too thick and need to be sanded to accept a standard truck. On the other hand, the coupler pegs are too small, inducing unwanted wiggling and exaggerating the drop I mentioned before. All these are easy fix.

Other than that, I figured out one could easily assemble the model in an afternoon when all parts are cleaned and prepped. Doing an assembly line would significantly speed up the process, particularly if the locating pins and tabs are better designed.

I tested the car on the layout yesterday and they are sturdy and track well. Weight can be added between the underframe members or inside the cars if one is not afraid of seeing steel or lead from the top.

As for availability, I can pronunce myself on a date. I will have to address the few issues and print a new pair of "final" prototype before launching production and taking order. I've yet to figure out details about sale and distribution. All that with an extremely busy professional schedule in the upcoming months. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Improving LBF Hi-cube Boxcars - Part 1

LBF Hi-cube boxcars aren’t particularly well-liked by modellers and for good reasons. Back in the days, they offered a decent alternative to populate modern layouts, but the sheer lack in details, less than optimal construction and overall look has rendered them almost obsolete.

A few years ago, I acquired a few of them for a decent price, thinking it would be a wise move in the long run. It proved to be otherwise and I was left with dilemma: replace them altogether with better models or improve them a bit. In the end, I didn’t make a choice and bought other cars and decided to experiment with what I had on hand.

LBF boxcar prior to modification

At first, I thought a good weathering job would be sufficient to breathe life in LBF cars, but it didn’t really work. To be honest, the shallow plug door details are probably the most annoying features of these cars and they won’t disappear under a mask of paint and powder. From that point on, I thus decided to remove the molded on details and add separate parts.

The central issue was to salvage the paint scheme which was generally decent. Given 50ft hi-cube decals are seldom available; it was an absolute requirement to salvage the car’s factory paint. Using a curved blade, grabirons and plug door rods were carefully shaved off.

Unwanted details carefully removed

For my first experiment, I used a NOKL boxcar and working with prototype picture, it became clear the end vertical ribs weren’t prototypical. Once removed and the surface sanded down, it was time to apply new details. Tichy ladders on styrene risers were cemented at each car ends, per prototype practice. New plug door rods were modelled using suitable diameter styrene rods. Some additional details such as tackboards were also added to complete the overall appearance of the model.

New details (door tracks, rods, etc.)

Once done, the original lettering was masked off and I spray the new details with two coats of True Line Mineral Brown paint which, a rare thing in this hobby, was a perfect match to LBF factory paint. Under that coat of paint, the boxcars got a new lease on life.

Modified and repainted car awaiting weathering

While the LBF cars still aren’t the best thing in town, they are now on part with my minimal rolling standards for the layout. The plug door now looks quite good and the ladder modifications add a little bit of variety in a somewhat dull fleet of cars.

However, a big question remains. This light kitbashing only works if I can find a perfect match paint color, which means I’m not sure it will be easy to upgrade my other cars. On the other hand, maybe I’ll take bold decision and do more extensive kitbashed of LBF cars to better replicate particular prototypes.

Many will ask me why I did bother to "waste" time on these less than perfect models. Mainly because I think making the best out of what you have is still a valuable stance. I'm not a fan of instant gratification and these projects are always a good way to improve your skills. Also, since I didn't care about the LBF cars, I was less shy experimenting with them. Some were almost ruined in weathering experiments, but at least they had a purpose. Finally, I know that many people have no other choice than live with these cars due to budget but would like to make them look better.

Monday, January 6, 2020

2019 Post Mortem

I'll remember 2019 as a generally nasty and depressing year. On the other hand, model railroading played its intended role for me and provided a a significant escape to do positive things. Hobbies are often described as fun endeavours but they indeed play a much more complex role in our lives, bringing balance as required.

As I stated earlier last year, I didn't have clear goals in mind, but it was to be known Clermont and Wieland would take a huge part of our efforts and it certainly did. Progress were made at a decent pace, reaching a satisfying level by Christmas. Most basic ground cover is in place, most structures too and several roads. It will probably take several month to reach completion, but were have definitely reached a point of no return. Interestingly, this first layer of scenery, while bringing life to the layout, only underline how nature is complex and can't replicated by applying a single-pass formula.

In terms of motive power, we started with big hopes and achieved very little. Full of guilt, we installed lenses and LED to our pair of LLPX GP15-1s on December 30th to salvage our pride! The units are now fully functional but will require quite a bit of tweaking and programming to work flawlessly. Anyway, this is a big step forward. The NBEC ex-CP Rail RS18 is almost done too. Installing LEDs proved to be extremely frustrating and thus, the locomotive isn't yet fully functional. It should be done in a matter of a few days.

This year motive power big project should be to assemble and paint three Rapido SW1200RS switchers in CFC colors. As most readers know, I had problem sourcing all the missing parts and at some point, I didn't get replies from Rapido. With the big issues plaguing their RS18, I can understand my case wouldn't be prioritized. On the positive side, I found out several GMD1 spare parts can be used on the SW1200RS and I'll try my luck.

In terms of rolling stock, I continued to build up a "prototypical" fleet for the layout. Several old Athearn Blue Box era kits were improved with better details and weathering. Also, I experimented with infamous LBF Hi-Cube boxcars so they could be made more prototypical and better detailed. All in all, the fleet is almost complete, except for gondolas which are still missing.

In that regard, I worked again on my woodchip gondola project. Unfortunately, a busy work schedule and other commitment made it hard to meet my Christmas deadline. The revised prototypes were printed but not yet assembled. I wish to do so as soon as possible. I hope this project will finally come to life in 2020.

As for my personal projects at home, they stalled at various stage due to various circumstances. I'm still working on my hobby room, which is taking far more time than anticipated. Fortunately, it didn't stop me from experimenting with small modules and I have a better vision of what I'm trying to do. I would be glad if I could put Harlem Station back in service once again! As for Temiscouata, it's only a matter of time. The vision is now clear in my mind, but until then, Hedley Junction will have my full attention.

Happy new year!