Thursday, February 20, 2020

Additional Thoughts on Avenue Industrielle

After  a few days, I thought it would be nice to try and see if the Avenue Industrielle layout could have aesthetic appeal given its sheer simplicity and strong horizontal composition. Working with well-defined benchwork dimension and insurance maps, I plotted the most optimal track plan I could think of.

Some compression was required, but so little it doesn’t really matter. However, the tracks were redrawn with a slight diagonal so I could reduce the length of the curved siding and get a longer straight piece of track in front of the produce warehouse. Not only it does provide a better track arrangement, but it does bring some life into a quite simplistic track plan.

However, these are basically technical and mechanical considerations. Would this layout look good and provide visual impact upon the viewer? That’s a good question. I believe the roundhouse and various sheds and offices would provide a neat transition at the end of the layout, hiding well the rest of the world we believe lies just beyond these buildings. The large sweeping curve with several warehouses, tanks and chain link fence would also provide a lot of visual appeal. Interestingly enough, this scene then transitions with the lumber yard were lumber piles and sheds create a scenic break before reaching the end of the layout.  In some way, there is a gradual building up of structure and density.

The lumber piles and sheds creates an interesting foreground element that hides momentarily the train before it makes its entrance in the last stretch of track which lies within an enclosed perimeter well-defined by the B-A oil warehouse, fences, the used car lot and the back of the lumber shed.

From an artistic point of view, I believe this layout has potential, however, several elements will have to be crafted with care. First, the backdrop will truly bring life and perspective. Second, the foreground between the roundhouse and the lumber yard should be carefully made, including slightly variation in terrain, mud patches and debris indicating the industrial waste nature of the site. Playing with topography should create the impression the train travels unstructured areas. Some visual code could be implemented, meaning level areas with tracks are active and rail-served while unattended mild depressions in the ground indicate wasteland. That way, I believe, it will be possible to create a story of a train leaving the yard and travelling a few hundred feet to reach an industrial spur.

The last composition element would be verticality. All structures are extremely vertical, with the roundhouse being the largest and tallest. None had large smoke stacks or similar accessoires, meaning vertical elements will be provided by utility poles and a few trees. In some case, one could add a large brick smokestack to the roundhouse, but  I feel it wouldn’t be very realistic. Maybe a steel water tower could be a possibility too, but even then, it would look contrived.

All these observations means that such a minimalist layout should first get a scale mockup to see how element works together. Interestingly enough, the East Angus layout wouldn’t require such a mockup because it is already quite theatrical. But that said, I firmly believe framing the layout with IKEA cabinets would indeed create an already strong context within which a simpler layout could find its way.

By the way, I read this morning in an old publication CNR used 0-8-0 switchers in Limoilou... Good to know!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Another Look at East Angus Paper Mill

The more I design layouts, the more I find out they are just like movies. Their length should be relevant to the story they are telling. Sometimes, we have great layout ideas but we forgot that the scope of the benchwork should be sized according to the real point of interest. What’s the deal with filling an entire room if the neat scene only requires half of it? Why dilute the narrative by fear of lacking interest? I feel it is often there that we end up outreaching ourselves and burdening our soul with the daunting task of filling up the space.

Chris Mears, as always, triggered these questions during our discussion two weeks ago in Toronto. He simply asked me how I would frame a layout according to the room so the visitor, in a glimpse, would understand the essence of the entire project. I promised I would give some thought about it and here we are. The case of East Angus – the small paper mill layout idea – comes to my mind as a perfect case.

Originally, it was designed as a single long shelf on a wall. In about 16 feet, you have the industrial “urban” canyon, a newsprint warehouse built on a river bank and a large bridge connecting a spur lost in the woods that connect half a mile away with the main line. As you know, I’ve revisited this idea many times, adding the interchange and spur to the recipe. Though I believe they are inherently good ideas, they are required. In fact, the only place we will spend a lot of time is at the mill, looking at the train shuffling cars and crossing the bridge dozens of time, making it a great train spotting vista. This is not very far from Mike Cougill telling us he loves to watch trains from a single trackside spot since it is closer to the real life experience.

To be honest, if one would railfan the paper mill, he would indeed place himself near the bridge. A big part of the excitement would be to wait for the incoming train to pop out of the woods and cross the steel span over St. Francis River. On the other hand, the spur linking the mainline would be hardly accessible and wouldn’t provide that much interest. Operation on the mainline would also be insignificant in terms of time spent there. Thus raising again our original question about the scope of a layout. Would it make sense to dedicate about 60%, if not more, of a layout for about 5% of operations? We will stand in front of the paper mill for about 30-45 minutes, but will barely care about the rest of the layout. Does it require the same amount of resources? Maybe… but in this case, I don’t think so because the rest of the layout isn’t compelling as much as the paper mill itself that got me to start designing.

If this connection with the mainline was part of a whole story larger than the paper mill, maybe it would make a lot of sense. But as a switching layout, this is a waste of time, resources and energy that should be spent on building the main scene. Thus, if I had to frame this layout, it would be on the longest wall of the room, with the paper mill aligned with the entrance door to clearly state the goal and purpose of this layout and showcase the best part.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Another Look at Avenue Industrielle

Once again, it is time to revisit an old friend of mine: Avenue Industrielle. This layout idea was built around the discovery I made a few years ago of a switching spur located in Limoilou yard, Quebec City. Regular readers are well aware of this prototype and I was prompted to revisit this idea after an interesting discussion about framing a layout with Chris Mears in Toronto last week end.

I won't say this is the greatest attempt at framing a subject, but I wanted to see what could be done from a model railroading perspective by using the space allocated by a set of IKEA cabinets that will find their way in my hobby room. And, to be honest, Stephen Gardiner's Liberty Street layout also provided some food for thoughts.

Here you can see the hobby room as it should look when done. The lower cabinets provide a 10' x 10' x 12" deep benchwork that could easily be lighted by a valence under the high cabinet. This is a fairly average dimension for most people having a spare room and a L shape is always an interesting setup. I could also create a U-shaped layout (probably my Brompton Paper Mill concept) or even a continous loop around the room as presented last week. I'm not sure the continous loop would look great to be honest, but I won't hide the fact I certainly would love to run some very long trains. I have far too much rolling stock and motive power that I liked but that can't be used.

Anyway, here is a newer version of Avenue Industrielle bending around a corner.

Basically, the concept only use 2 turnouts, like the prototype, keeping cost, maintenance and derailments low. I've used a straight #8 and a curved #7 and provided for 36" minimum radius to make operation smooth, particularly when coupling and uncoupling cars on the curve. The longest cars would be 40ft since it would be set in the 1950s. Motive power could be provided by 0-6-0, 0-8-0 and early Alco switchers such as S2.

All the customers on the spur are there and almost scaled down without real compression. British-American Oil had a warehouse where tank cars and boxcars were used for fuel and oil. Auger & Auger had a sizeable lumber yard and shipped a lot of wood by rails. It seems both their small siding and the main spur were used for loading cars.

Next to it, an unnamed produce warehouse received reefers, about two at a time and shared a siding with three oil businesses: Cities Service, Champlain Oil Products and Supertest Petroleum. Another customer, Perlite de Quebec was also rail-served and could be modelled.

While 4 customers out of 7 are oil-related, it would provide for colorful operation. B-A Oils had a their own tank car fleet sporting their nice red and green logo while Cities Service had their owns too. Both can be easily modelled using decals or available cars.

At any given time, it seems about 12 cars were spotted on the different sidings. Operation would be quite straighforward with an incoming switcher with a few cars (about 6 of them maximum) staged near the roundhouse and yard office. The switching lead can handle 12 cars and a locomotive, so one would probably start by working the longest and busiest siding first, pulling all the cars and sorting them on the "main" track. Blue flags identifying cars being unloaded would provide some additional interest. Then the crew would work the rest of the line including B-A and Auger & Auger. My guess is sessions could run anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour long.

The roundhouse would provide a beautiful background against which the locomotive could be seen shuffling cars. While simple, the layout would also require a lot of attention to ground cover since the area was industrial, muddy and contaminated by loads. I would imagine, as aerial pictures seem to show, that some part of the spur where used as an occasional team track, meaning flat bed trucks and such would be seen by the track.

I suspect this layout could provide a lot of modelling opportunities while being highly affordable and achievable.  Car types would be varied, including boxcars, tank cars, reefers, some hoppers, gondolas and flat cars. It wouldn't be far-fetched to replace one of the many oil distributors with a coal dealer to spice things up a little bit.

As for which railway prototype that could be depicted, Canadian National would be a prime choice, but to be honest, this could be anything including Canadian Pacific, Quebec Railway Light & Power or whatever you like!

I feel the layout would merge beautifully with the IKEA cabinets which would provide for rolling stock storage underneat the layout. No need for complicated benchwork, the layout could be built out of three modules or simply in place on cheap shelf brackets, using only a 3/4" thick sheet of plywood cut to length.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Guilty Pleasure Layout Planning

Over the last couple of weeks I had a few discussions with fellow railfan André-Pierre Savard. He is your typical HO scale collector that buy a few brass locomotives, try to assemble  a fleet based on his nostalgia as a kid growing up by CN mainline in Quebec City and who don't model nor will ever build a layout on his own. I know, I'm painting him in black, but be assured he's the kind to like to be teased about his armchair modelling.

That said, André-Pierre has visited many layout and ran trains on them. Probably about 100 times much more than I did and I'm not exaggerating. Most people would be surprised, but I rarely visit or operate on others layouts. Interestingly enough, André-Pierre has come to the same realization that model railroading is a matter of "less is more" even without living the frustration of building a layout. Many people have great skills, but a lot are lost when it is time to select only a few idea. More than often, the "I want it all" mentality simply crushes their good intentions and skills.

Naturally, our discussion wandered on the subject of the layout in my new hobby room. As I told him, I had many ideas, but nothing very serious in mind. We convened the best choice would probably to keep thing generic and simple. In André-Pierre's words, "a team track is more than enough". He loves well made scenery, single track mainline and as little turnout as possible. I can agree with that. So I sent him a track plan I drawn a few years ago based on Erie Railroad's Dayton Branch near Springfield, OH. The exact location is where Maitland Interlocking tower was standing not so long ago.

Original "Erie-based" layout plan (2018)

As I told him, the location is irrelevant. I only found it visually appealing, "railroady" enough to make my modeller's blood happy and in fact, quite simple. He found it quite interesting, noticing that it could even be simplified quite a bit which I did today.

I'll be honest, I tried a lot of things for this prospective layout and I'm always back to Dayton Branch. I don't know why, but I feel this place is quite universal in its appeal and capture the essence of North American railroading as I like it. I would call it a "guilty pleasure layout" because it's a no brainer.

Revised track plan

However, it doesn't mean it is a stupid idea. Far from it. The focus is given to a single mainline track running through fields and woods. Only one large customer is there and cleverly located near a junction, which would be indeed a wise decision for a business.

Another reason why I call it a guilty pleasure layout is because you can railfan your trains on such a layout. A neat mainline run is always the best way to display your trains. You want a small steam mixed freight? You can do it. You want a 5-locomotive consist pulling 20 cars, you can do it. Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Erie, Maine Central, why not? The track plan is so simple and generic it fits all scenarios. And don't believe this is laziness. In fact, it is more honest, I think, than taking a prototype you like then trying to shove something here and something there.

Not only you can ran any trains, but you can also replace the industry with something else. The footprint is versatile enough to model various structure you can replace. A feed mill, a manufacturing plant, a food processor... anything goes on. Even the tower can be replaced with different prototypes depending on era and railway.

I could add more things, but it is enough to make a point. It is enough to correctly model railway operation. Is it more than enough to care about details, track details, topography details, vegetation details... Insignificant stuff that makes a railroad real.

This is also the kind of layout that can evolve with you. You can replace structure and scenery as you get better. It is also possible to use all your rolling stock and motive power as you wish. Modelling a perfect prototype is an interesting process, but in all honestly, I like that simple vibe. You know, when you can sit in your armchair, look at your trains running by, as if you were standing at a nearby grade crossing and enjoying the moment. Which, incidently, can only reminds me of Mike Cougill's words in his most recent ebook "The Modeling Conversation", reflecting on his evolutive relation with his craft. Far from giving a recipe for success, Mike has once again touched that sensible subject: finding solace in your hobby should be of great importance... whatever the shape it takes, as long as you realize it is the one that fulfills you. To me something is missing, and I know it is being a spectator of trains... maybe it's why I often have more fun watching Jérôme operate on the Murray Bay subdivision than when I'm controlling the trains.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

CN Woodchip Cars - Official Unveiling

I'm pleased to announce both pre-production models of CN 878000 and 879000 series are now painted, lettered and dullcoted. It was a marathon to complete them during the last few weeks including a last minute reprinting of custom decals, but it is done.

I'm quite pleased with the finished result even thought assembly and sanding was a little bit sloppy on my part. Several points will need to be addressed, but overall, the end result is quite close to what I hope to put on the market.

At this point, you must wonder why I share no picture. Simply because the models will be officially unveiled in Toronto next Saturday at the invitation of fellow modeller Hunter Hughson. It will be a good occasion to get feedback from a few well-known modellers before moving forward into production.

As for the next steps, I'm slowly but steadily working on a second set of models with improvement. Minor changes include thickening the floor and sides from 1mm to 1.2mm to limit warping, improving the locating tabs, adding locating pins on detail parts such as ladders and finding a way to provide easy to install brake rod and chain.

Many questions still need answers at this point, particularly due to production constrains. I hope to find some of them during the weekend. Building the pre-production models changed my perspective on many things, including how the assembly process should be streamlined to ensure most modellers can build these cars in a reasonable amount of time.

Saty tuned!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Indiegogo New Single Sheathed Boxcars Project (1929-1970)

Sometimes people come with great projects that can change your perspective on rolling stock in an era, bringing products that can provide some diversity into a well-known and loved era.

This is what Randall Hammill and his team at Prototype Junction are trying to do by fundraising the production of RTR plastic models of classic single sheathed boxcars, in particular, the ubiquitous ATSF Bx-11, Bx-12 and Bx-13 and other variation such as Rock Island, Pere Marquette, CGQ, L&N, C&O and others.

If you are into the transition era, it is quite likely you'll need these cars since they travelled all over North America... A few years ago, I scratchbuilt a few with old MDC OSB boxcars, but it was tedious and far to be accurate. Now, that would be a game changer since it would bring to life many models only available in resin kit, which can really put off many people.

To do this, Prototype Junction is doing an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. The goal is quite optimistic, but the rationale behind it does make a lot of sense since it is based on hard facts. However, like any social financing, the words must go out.

As Joe Fugate and others recently pointed out, contrary to what people would think, the transition era is still by far the most popular era. It seems steam locomotives, early diesels and 40ft boxcars do connect with younger generations. It's for this reason I think this project needs much more publicity because there is a customer base for it and "old geezers" methods would work to reach a younger crowd.

You can participate and find more information here:

And take a look and discuss on their Facebook page:

Disclaimer: I'm not a part in this project, only providing my own enthusiasm toward something of interest for me and wanting to encourage more people to enter the field of manufacturing so the offer can grow.