Friday, January 28, 2022

Bachmann Central Vermont 4550

I recently made a list of incomplete projects on my shelves... It was both depressing and eye opening. I'm not believing it will affect my modelling habits, but at least I can say I'm all over the place, starting all kind of cool stuff and letting it die when a new shining thing capture my imagination. You see, I'm a modeller and it means that everytime I see something that catch my attention I want to model it or, more honestly, understand how it could be modelled... In my enthusiasm, often short lived, I then proceed without further notice to work on it.

Is it a bad thing? Probably? That much? Not very... But the big problem is that it takes time, resources and a lot of motivation. I don't mind modelling a little bit of everything. However, it's rather sad to see model trains never running. This is a big factor for demotivation.

With that said, you probably remember that a few years ago I acquired a bunch of cheap Bachmann diesel locomotives from Trainworld during a clearance sales. It was money I carefully put aside to pre-order a Rapido RS-18 which I obviously didn't. The model has been quite controversial at some point, but maybe the silver lining was that it provided me with a lot of quality modelling by searching for an alternative.

These models stayed on my shelves for a long time gathering (real) dust and it was time to move forward. For some reason, I just can't understand what big hurdle I faced and that made me abandon these projects. Probably something trivial like not wanting to airbrush a coat of clear before final assembly!

The first one I want to show is Central Vermont 4550 has it appeared in its original livery until the late 1970s. Looking at old pictures of the era, I am under the belief this locomotive was repainted in the 1970s in the old green scheme for some publicity purpose. Why? Because the paint was glossy, fresh and in good shape and the bell was highly polished brass when it should have been covered in paint under normal circumstances. Nevertheless, it's a beautiful classic locomotive from the 1950s and I wanted to model it.

All I needed to do was to install the custom rerailers and bits here and there. Then, spray a coat of varnish before assembly. In good old days, I would have used dullcote or Tamiya flat base, but followed Hunter Hughson advice to give a try to Tamiya XF-35 satin clear thinned with Mr. Color Leveller. I must admit I really love how that finish give a painted metal look to a shell. Not shiny, just a nice smooth satin finish. Since I have no plan to weather that locomotive in the short terms, I felt it was the best course of action and I have no regret. I really recommend that finish and can't wait to apply it to steam locomotives.

I also used this locomotive to start experimenting with photostacking. Wow! What a difference when shooting models! I've yet to get better at it, but I already like what I see. The locomotive looks much more professional than before!

Now, what's my accessment of these cheap Bachmann projects? Well, it didn't cost a lot and I had a lot of fun, leaned a bunch about the prototypes and enjoyed trying new challenges. On the other hand, these are still DCC-ready models. I may have gotten them for a song, but if I ever intend to use them, I must invest almost $150 in each of them for DCC and sound. That's a lot if you ask me, particularly when you don't know if you're going to use them. I think the GP9 is a fine model, sturdy, well-engineered and worth the efforts if one improve the electric pickups. As for the S-2 models I will talk about in a future post, it's a mixed bag. The model itself is decent, but the cab rear windows aren't very great. It's a OK entry model, I'm not sure I would invest so much money on it if I can find a good Atlas model in good shape. In all honesty, I think if you can get a Bachmann DCC sound version at a good price, go for it. George Dutka did a great job with one he converted to Central Vermont. However, if you buy a DC model and want DCC then got for an Atlas, it will be more cost effective and you get a much nicer model, even if it's an old Kato one.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Being Creative with Brickwork

If you are like me, each time you look at a layout, you can't help but see the Walthers catalog right in front of your eyes. Indeed, this is a generalization since many kitbash and scratchbuild their own structures. However, what ever your opinion on the subject, commercial structures can be useful in many cases, particularly when dealing with brick building. Indeed, even if you kitbash them, a trained eye will tell quickly if it's DPM, Walthers, Vollmer or Revell to name only the most common ones.

One thing that can truly change their appearance is how we paint them. Different colors, texture and patterns can greatly disguise their origin, hide no so great splices and offer more character to the layout.

Over the last month, I've been experimenting quite extensively on brickwork and while I will probably do a more in-deep write up, here's a neat little trick I want to share.

From the 1880s up to the 1910s, architects and masons outdid themselves with brick patterns to create intricate and attractive motifs on facades. It was a period of prosperity at the crossroad of the industrial revolution and the traditional aesthetic canons. The two world wars would put a definitive end to these labor intensive and costly sophistications. "Plain" was the new way of showing off your wealth which would lead notorious architect Philipp Johnson to say: "Less is Bore" as a reaction to the more famous "Less is More"! I'll leave that counter productive yet fascinating debate for another time!

In Quebec City, this tendency was even more important as the city tried to create a new romantic international image to attract tourism. This obsession with anything castle-like would merge with the Second Empire style and many other American trends into a very eclectic blend that percolated from Government buildings to sheds.

It was also an era when it was particularly fashionable to mix pale Scottish brick with regular common red brick to enhance corners, pilasters, windows and cornices. These beautitul works of art are unfortunately seldom replicated in model form. They certainly take a long time to paint, but I feel the result is well worth your time, particularly when dealing with a signature building.

Dominion Corset: the most beautiful factory in Quebec City

As a proof of concept, I used a remnant of an Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing Co. structure to replicate a common pattern that could be found on many factories in downtown Quebec City. This building has an intricate cornice typical of that era and it reminded me of the old Dominion Corset Factory still standing on Boulevard Charest.

As a proof of concept, I simply used beige paint to pick up some bricks that were previously coated with red primer. Keep in mind this isn't a real paint job, only a test to see if it would be feasible to replicate early 1900s brickwork.

The result seems convincing to me. Sure, the habit of tool makers to punch windows without taking into account the brick pattern shows off on each sides of the windows, but otherwise, it completely transform the well-known Atlas kit.

No great isn't it!

Mind you, it's only paint... No kitbashing done at this point, no careful painting, no weathering. For the sake of realism, I also added a weathered copper-color cornice salvaged from an old Roundhosue 3-in-1 kit. It's a little bit crude and I would probably 3D print better looking cornice if needed, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieve. Don't be fooled by the results! No special skill is required there. Get yourself a good precision paint brush, thin down correctly your paint, take your time and correct your mistakes by covering them with you main brick color. You'll be surprised!

By varying the colors, great results await you!

If you approach this paint job by doing a little bit each day, at the end of the week, you will end up with a fantastic structure!

Friday, January 21, 2022

What's in a Scene?

With the new lockdown, I've been working on many projects including more B/A cars, a CNR rebuilt single-sheathed boxcar (modified Tichy USRA rebuilt car), 3 brick buildings for a friend, redesigning a layout for a friend and, mind you, revisiting yet again Avenue Industrielle and a new proposition for a pure French Canadian style Downtown Quebec City CPR cameo layout... Lots of stuff I wish I'll write about!

But today, two pictures struck my eyes as a modeller because they teach us great scene composition and modelling lessons.

Can't model the early 20th century, no commercial model available!

I've heard that lame excuse so often in the last two decades it has become a joke...

The following picture is E.D. Tillson's oatmeal factory in Tillsonburgs, ON and rail served by the GTR. But honestly, it doesn't matter at all... This is your generic early 20th century North American industrial scene that can fit any layout which needs one... and bear in mind these scenes existed well into the 1980s. The interesting part is that it's so mundane anybody could replicate it with ease and get a wonderful achievable modelling project for a few months at a leisure pace.

E.D. Tillson's factory, no date (credit: Annandale NHS)

How would I model this scene? First, use the rear wall of an Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing Company kit, customize some windows, add downsprouts and install Tichy fire escape staircases. Take you time and put several evenings painting the bricks individually and weathering it nicely. You'll be surprised by the results! It will no longer be a recognizable Atlas product, but a brick factory. Since you are happy with you work, don't stop there and scratchbuild the wooden loading bay to provide more relief to the building!

For the ground, use all kind of sifted soil, clay, sand and whatever materials you have in hands. Paint it, don't rely on their natural color, weather them, add washes and powders... take you time. If you are not happy, restart the coloring process. That's the beauty, the materials are just there to provide texture, paint take cares of everything else and can be redone! Do it the armour modeller's way and stop relying on luck to get realistic results.

Then, it's rolling stock time! Sightly bash three Roundhouse or Accurail 36ft cars you got for a palm sum. You can shorten a few to 32ft if you want with your razor saw! Change grabirons, use different type of underframes (fishbelly, truss rod, etc.). In an evening, you will have a customized car nobody will recognize! Then Black Cat Publishing will be there to provide accurate period decals for them. Don't forget to look at the car trucks too! Different types of archbar trucks and even, if I'm not wrong, a pair of MDC/Roundhouse Fox trucks. These little details makes a difference! Once again, take your time and weather the cars with care, it's well worth. Finally, track down a few old Jordan Miniatures horse drawn wagons, they are wonderful!

As you can see, nothing fancy here, no expensive products, but lots of fun working with readily available material and giving them a new life by cleverly repurposing them. The entire scene can be done on a 24" x 8" and fit your shelves. I can work as a real layout too... and best of all, you get a fantastic backdrop to photograph your models!

Total cost:

-Atlas Middlesex Manufacturing Company: $60
-3x 36ft boxcars: about 20$ each + $8 decals + 8$ wheels, couplers and details: $108
-3x Jordan Miniatures horse drawn wagons: about $20 each: $60
-Scratchbuilding supplies: $15
-Scenery material: almost free...

A little bit over $200... countless hours of fun taking probably 3 to 6 months, you can brag about it and it will be the start of a new adventure.

It's the color palette folks!

This one is interesting because it's so generic we can easily spot what really matters.

Clip from Yard Limit movie (1970) (credit: CINETEL)

This snapshot is from the beautifully filme short movie Yard Limit. It depicts typical switching work at a Canadian Pacific yard in 1970. This picture caught my attention because it tells us a lot about color palettes. Without a consistent choice of color, it's hard to create cohesive scenes... let's break this one down.

First, almost 90% of the picture is made of browns, grays, greiges and other derivatives, including the sky. Generic brown freight cars distinguishable only by their logos, dirt brown ballast merging with dirt brown tracks... dirty switchstands... every mundane, generic or repetitive element is a massive blob of discolored and heavily weathered dirt colors. Interestingly enough, the polished rail surface provide just enough shine to indicate something going on here.On the other hand, every exceptional and unique objects are brightly colored and clean: the fresly repainted red caboose and the well-maintained green bridge. As exceptions, they are treated differently.

On a layout, using such a palette helps to blend cars of different manufacturers, quality and types into one coherent fleet. It also helps to blend the track in the scenery, creating a free flowing and immersive experience. Finally, the bright colored objects are worth our attention. Something is happening and they remind us of that. In that regard, the yellow targets on the switchstands remind us that something important happens in that blurry mass of dirty brown... look out!!!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Customizing a CN USRA Rebuilt Boxcar

This is the sad story of how cautionary tales comes to life...

I've been working a lot on British-American Oil tank cars and customizing several old DMP and Magnuson kits recently. Fantastic projects, but quite time consuming. Having a goal of going through my pile of unbuilt kits in my stash, I thought a good old Tichy USRA rebuilt boxcar would be the kind of activity that requires very little mind power for a change. How wrong I was!

As always, I started assembling the model per instruction (loosely to be honest!). The shell, the floor, the ends and voilà! Then it was time to have a good look at the prototype in Richard Yaremko's Canadian Rail Car Pictorial. I had a faint memory CNR cars used grabirons instead of ladders and wanted to make sure I would get that detail right!

While looking a the picture, I noticed that puzzling shadow under the car... a fishbelly sill! Oups! I'll have to scratchbuild then, but nothing very hard... Then looking I went online to search for more pictures and found a beautiful one showing perfectly the car end and the grabirons! Great! Until it became quickly apparent I should have used a Tichy boxcar end with ladders and not the plain one... Oh, and the CNR ladder had 6 rungs instead of 7... Carefully, with a chisel, I started to pry off the plastic ends from the shell then fitted the correct ends. But right before cementing them back in place, some very small detail caught my attention. Indeed, the rib pattern on the Murphy 5/5/5 ends was wrong. CNR used a 8/7 rib pattern instead! Imagine my distress! It was supposed to be a straightforward and relaxing project!

Completed car with chopped up Murphy ends.

After a few long minutes, I figured out I could rebuild a 8/7 Murphy end by splicing together parts of Tichy ends together. On the positive side, I could also build the ladder exactly like I wanted it with its 6 rungs. Fortunately, the surgery went well and after one hour, I now had 2 prototypically correct ends.

It was now time to install the grabirons. Using Tichy drilling template, I started to drill holes only to discover the template was made in such a way it had to be used before gluing the ends!!! All the holes were now offset by about 2 mm!!! What a mess. Reluctantly, I plugged the holes with putty and drilled new ones in the correct alignment. A pure waste of time! But I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel... or so I thought.

Happy with the assembled shell, I installed the doors and their tracks, gluing them permanently. I decided to install the trucks and see how the car was performing on track. Strangely enough, the rear axles were touching the fishbelly, which added friction. No a very free rolling car if you ask me! I was puzzled because I used an Accurail fishbelly boxcar to get the dimension rights. Seems I was off by about 1mm. Unfortunately, I did such a good job at gluing I couldn't remove the fishbelly. Using my X-Acto knife, I pried the steel angle, then cut by hand the excess material from the fishbelly. Let's just say it was awkward! I left more material than required and filed it down smooth. I then glued back the steel angle. Let's just say I was happy at this point!

I took the car again for a test on a piece of track. Perfomance was now flawless, but the boxcar was so light! I put it on the scale and it was barely 3.5 oz. But how do you add weight in an enclosed car you can no longer open? Simple, you take a chisel and you gently pry a door. Since I use very little solvent cement, one door easily popped out and I gained access. A few wheel weights were added until I got the weight I wanted then the door was glued back in place. I had finally overcame all the hurdles for real!

Why do I call it a cautionary tale? Simply because a cursory look at a prototype picture from the start would have saved a look of work. Maybe I was tired, but I overlooked many crucial things like making sure the weight was correct, how the drilling template should be used (the instruction weren't clear, but it was a very old Tichy kit and I recall their newer instructions were much more precise about thing specific task) and making sure I understood what I did. If I had done this, I would have saved probablt 6 hours of my life and the car would already be in the spray booth with a nice coat of primer.

We could easily believe customizing a kit is hard. In this case, it was not: replacing an underframe sill takes a few minutes only, splicing correct Murphy ends takes about one hour. But I rushed and went auto-pilot, which was my downfall and made the project less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I'm glad to have learn again to slow down and understand what I'm doing before commiting to glue. Woodworkers often say: "measure twice, cut once"... and it's still relevant to my story.

That said, I also think it's a good attitude, when making mistakes to access them and find a way to correct them. At any point, I could have said good enough and called it a day. However, I've became a better modeller by finding ways to correct my mistakes. And as a bonus, I'll have a fairly accurate model on the layout!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Variations on British-American Oil Tank Cars - Part 3

Over the last two weeks, I've been working on a future series of virtual clinics about a pragmatic approach to modelling British-American Oil tank car fleet. While my previous attempts were semi-serious, in the sense that a few cars were stand-ins or good enough, I'm now exploring more prototypical options and I've come to understand from a few Facebook posts on modelling forums that the B-A cars have a special place in the heart of most Canadian railway modellers.

I've often seen people in the past - and that includes myself - finding a close enough car, slapping decals on it and calling it a day. While I see absolutely no issue doing that, I was curious how one could be more prototypical in its approach using on the shelf and easily available plastic models. I'm generally not a big tank car guy, so it was great to really take some time to look up at what's now available on the market, both new and used. Surprisingly, there is a lot of choice and fortunately, quite enough to be able to replicate most B-A cars.

Preparing theses two clinics took a lot of time, probably well over 100 hours. Using Ian Cranstone's ORER compilations and several historical photographs, I attempted to crunch the data and better understand the fleet. Then, I compared every pictures and group of cars with models, trying to figure out which one were the best for each series of tank cars. Once done, kitbashing or detailing notes were written and an accuracy score was attributed to the finish model, from accurate to stand-in or close enough. When data was sparse or unreliable, it was noted. I also refined Ian's car grouping to better reflect variations within certain groups. Indeed, I found out some series had insulated and non-insulated cars of different design.

Excerpt from the clinic

A tentative visual analysis of British-American Oil paint scheme design was also made. I say tentative because I didn't have access to any data about specific dates when some designs were implemented. However, builder pictures and freshly repainted cars helped to create a timeline which I hope more knowledgeable people will built upon.

Finally, the second clinic deals with real models I built, observations on my mistakes, hints to make them better and a few suggestions for future kitbashes. I've also acquired a few more tank cars and decals to try my own ideas before presenting them. I hope to build a few of them in January and February.

Excerpt from the clinic

After the clinics, research material will be made available, including an Excel spreadsheet with each prototype and its closest model and alterations required to make it more prototypical.

Meanwhile, most of Hedley Junction and Monk Subdivision projects are on hold due to the current lockdown. However, I'm working on another structure project that will complement VIA Drummondville station I modelled last summer, experimenting with brick painting and canadianizing American-style downtown structures.