Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Some Action on Monk Subdivision - Benchwork

The Monk Subdivision layout project is moving forward again after a hiatus due to the recent bout of lockdowns in Quebec being phased out. I didn't work on it for almost two months, if not more, and it was time to revisit the basement to push forward with this project.

To be honest, I'm impatient to run trains and nothing more. And if you don't see fancy words such as operations and prototypes, you are an astute reader. For this project, I simply don't care about that since it isn't the main goal. I think each layout is an opportunity to explore a specific set of ideas. In this case, Hedley-Junction and Harlem Station provide me with plenty of action and plenty of prototype oriented modelling. What they don't provide is running trains. Long ones, passenger ones, ones that are prototypically related to the layout concept.

I think I discussed these ideas in the past, but I really like to railfan trains and it doesn't need a lot. Also, I don't see myself building a complicated layout by my own. I just don't have that level of commitment built in me. I'll work tirelessly on short and involved projects, but don't ask me to debug or wire a 40-something turnouts with a clear schedule to respect. It won't happen.

During the last two months, I've been working on other projects and when I started to look back at my old track plan for Monk, questions and observations were made. The first thing was that several technical issues were raised. Building a long curved bridge near a swing gate and out of staging didn't work at all due to conflict with turnouts in the fiddle yard. Making a turntable to run flawlessly is a long and costly endeavour... for something that is seldom used. I do love them, I'm terrible at electronics and mechanics. Monk yard was small, very, very small... too small. And Armagh was cool, but since it's a flat switching district, each grades of both sides were now at 2.4% which I felt was unrealistic and undesirable. If the goal is to railfan, it makes no sense to have such a steep grade because I know many of my steam locomotives are mediocre or passable puller. A True Line U-2-g (yes, I got the upgraded drive version back in the days for a fraction of the price) won't be happy there. The layout must be universal and generic to fit all my needs.

Some benchwork done...

And the swing gate almost finished.

Waiting before moving forward with the project was a good idea because I read a little bit more about Monk subdivision and came to realize a good realistic layout with a modicum of operation was possible. I learned more details about Armagh being the refueling station between Joffre and Monk. From what I understand, it was an obligatory stop for almost every steam trains running on the subdivision. The coaling tower was also wooden and didn't seem to use a raised track, making it an interest small contraption. Armagh also had a nice team track used for a variety of local customers, including pulpwood, produce and fuel. Add to that the coal traffic to the coaling station and you get a clear idea switching the area is just like operating on a well thought switching layout. For those familiar with Trevor Marshall's old Port Rowan layout, just imagine Armagh is the equivalent if it wasn't a terminus.

Who needs more? (credit: C&O Piney River and Paint Creek Subdivision on FB)

Meanwhile, I was also building a 54" long replica of Rivière du Milieu trestle bridge on the NTR, near La Tuque for Yvan Déry's layout rebuilding effort. Seeing such a huge NTR structure made me recognize it was a perfect classic railfanning spot and that it would be foolish to reduce the NTR Abenakis Viaduct to a cramped space in a corner of the layout. I was convinced that if I were to give the impression of a transcontinental railway, I had no other choice but to build a full scale replicate of that bridge and enshrine it on the layout like a jewel. A few discussions with Chris Mears fully convinced me it was the path to follow.

Sketch exploring the role of scenery in a single track mainline design

At this point, you probably know where I'm going on. I reverted back to the initial layout concept and dropped Monk altogether, making Armagh the central scene. This enabled me to replicate a closer to scale Armagh with a 16 feet long siding to stage meets between long trains. This move freed space for the Abenakis Viaduct right were Armagh used to stand. Since it's a bridge, it would be on slight grade, like the prototype too, helping me to create a continuous and gentle scenic grade from staging to Armagh. The new grade is now about 1.6% which seems totally acceptable in HO scale.

A simple scene that speaks volume about the railway purpose

As for the rest of the layout, it's just plain scenery... many feet of mainlines crossing the territory like a ribbon steel cutting through ingrate topography. The layout is now less crowded and much more geared toward railfanning. Minimal radius on visible parts is about 42", which will make long passenger cars not look too silly (they always do!).

Armagh is simple yet packed with action

Two possible versions, the bottom one being more realistic

It also implement a more coherent narrative in regard to the prototype roots of this layout. Just like the real Monk subdivision, the first part is all about climbing and conquering the Appalachian piedmont by snuggling along the topography to keep a constant and acceptable grade for optimal results... After battling the grade through valleys and hills covered in forest, the train reach finally a resting spot to pause, refuel and assess the rest of its journey. This flat spot represent the human contact point with trains... the place were the ecumene can be understood by human settlement, buildings and fields... Then, our train continues it way toward the Atlantic ocean by finding its way through the Appalachian plateau characterized by relatively low hills, marshes and woods before entering staging once again.

A schematic proof of concept

It gives us a 2/3 ration of scenery VS yard, which seems about right to me to keep things simple and realistic. The number of structures to model is now relatively low, but each of them are really interesting. They can also be replaced by other similar footprint buildings to imply a completely different prototype set in a similar region.

Updated track plan and scenery design

As for staging, I've started from scratch too, now envisioning a simple two ended yard with much longer tracks and a possibility for later automation and additional track. The goal here is to get trains moving soon so the layout has a purpose.

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