Monday, November 28, 2022

Stanstead - Steady Progress and Stone Carving

Work has continued on the Stanstead module. Maybe not at the pace I wanted due to waiting for some scenic material to be shipped at my door. Nevertheless, progress is progress and meanwhile I worked on kitbashing Roundhouse Overland passenger cars into something closer to GTR practices of the time.

Among the chief achievements is the station platform made of 6mm plywood covered in Mt Albert scale lumbers individually stained. It took two good evenings at a leisure pace to get it done. However, I've learned from my mistakes and decided it will be screwed in place when the wet scenery is in place to make sure it won't warp due to water.

I really like the result and you can get a sense of the place just looking at this picture. Such a classic sight seen on so many old time pictures. The platform is a little too clean to my taste, but weathering will come later.

I then tried to carve stone foundations for the water tank and the freight shed as depicted on the few pictures I have of Stanstead station. I started with a frame of pine covered in carpenter's glue on which I wrapped a 1mm layer of DAS air drying clay. With a small piece of sharpened styrene, I started to sculpt individually each stone according to pictures found online. Working in heritage building preservation certainly helps with this step.

When dry, the clay was painted dark gray and I started to pick up each stone in a different color. About 4 colors varying from warm light gray to rusty brown were used. At that point, mortar lines were added using unsanded light beige tile grout fixed in place with water.

Weathering was done by streaking the surface with AK Kerosene and Oil wash. It's a blackish grungy color that works well with old weathered stone work. Streaking was achieved by using their Odorless Solvent to work the effect around. Finally, dark olive green PanPastel was brushed at the base of the wall to add a layer of damp moss growing there.

The final product is not bad, but it looks a little bit dark on the layer and I'm really tempted to mist it later with a vey light white wash to blend it better with its surrounding. I may be tempted to do the same with the structures. Adding a wash really made them look dark and gloomy!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Stanstead - Where Vegetation Grows

Time to move forward with covering the ground with vegetation. The layout being set in late summer/early fall, a mix of dry and green grass is required.

CPR, St-Gabriel-de-Brandon in the 1950s (source: unknown)

Looking at several prototype pictures from my "inspiration" folder, it became evident that burnt dead grass was often lining the tracks on the gravel shoulder, followed by straw colored dying grass, then some dull greens. Thus, I decided to go forward with that recipe.

I worked by stretches of about 2 or 3 feet at a time, repeating the same procedure over and over, making sure to implement a few variation to break the pattern. Most grass was applied by hand directly in white glue, using a random daubing motion. I really like that step.

Ground foam was also sprinkled here and there to model small plants and I added some tall grass on the lower portion of the roadbed and ditches. That's probably where I made a first mistake. I used very dark green long static grass thinking that vegetation in the ditches would be greener, but looking at pictures again, I found out they also die rather quickly (at least, the very long shafts dries early). Using my airbrush, I toned them down a little bit and added leaves over them to create bushes.

Speaking of bushes, it was my first time using polyfiber and creating them. Quite easy and effective. They were sprinkled with Noch leaves and foam. I only add very bright green leaves, thus I decided to change their color by mixing them with some PanPastel into a small container. A really effective way to alter their color! However, I made them brown and they should have been closer to a yellowish green. I'll probably fix that in the future by making another batch of leaves. As you can see, ones should always follow pictures in such cases.

I haven't yet covered the fields because I want to experiment with basket liners as often shown in UK modelling books. It looks like a very interesting way to create tall grass in an effective and realistic manner.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Stanstead - Ground and Scenery

So much things happened in Stanstead I lost track of the blog. To make a long story short, I made steady progress during the week, including finalizing the wiring and installing push rods to control turnouts. With tracks working well, it's time to move forward with scenery.

At first, I glued several small rocks and sands on the roadbed sides to replicate earth that was piled up there to build the grade. It's crude, but works as a layer foundation for future vegetation.

I also glued small plaster rock faces on the hills to replicate granite outcrops. The idea came to me after seeing such outcrops on Google Earth where the old Stanstead station used to be. Also, I always like this sight of fields with rocks and cows. Some ground foam of various size and colors were added around them to model the moss that grows generally around them. With a sponge, I also dabbed light grey spots to replicate lichens. I'm quite happy with the results! 

Then it was time to ballast the tracks. This time, I wanted something different, looking like the dirty and loose ballast used at the turn of the century. That ballast was generally sourced in some "gravelish" sand pit or nearby cut. Made of soil, it was natural, not crushed stone. To replicate it, I mixed 1/3 sand color tile grout (unsanded type), 1/3 sifted dirt from my backyard and 1/3 crushed limestone dust. I kept the small pebbles (1mm) from the dirt as you can often see them on old prototype pictures. The grout helps to keep the color light. I'm not a fan of how natural ballast gets very dark when glued, so grout is perfect to counter that.

Unfortunately, even if I had sealed the MDF turntable pit ring, it did swell a little bit when the glue was drying, ruining all my previous fine tuning. Still some work to do...

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Stanstead – 3D Print VS Scratchbuiding

The station is 3D printed and the freight house is scratchbuilt

The 3D printing debate is still raging, with some purists considering it a form of repudiation of craftsmanship. Others, on the other hand, like any new technology, consider it a panacea and forget it’s only one tool in the toolbox. More nuanced point of views do exist too and a few do recognize they don’t have the desire to develop the skills required to learn how to be efficient with 3D printing. I won’t argue with that. It can be a monumental waste of time in certain circumstances.


3D modelling enables you to go fully prototypical with details

As an experiment, I decided to 3D print Stanstead station. It was not my initial plan and to be honest, I had already purchased clapboard siding sheets for the project. However, after building a cardboard mockup, I quickly found out getting the roof perfect was hard. Also, replicating the intricate mouldings and plinths on the wainscotting would be almost impossible. As for doors and windows, it was all compromises which I didn’t want to make. I thought 3D printing would be a suitable way to get things done quickly and accurately.


Before printing the full station, I printed a slice of it.

It took half a day to create the 3D model. I simply extruded the clapboard profiles, created window and door types and added a few details. I elected to print the walls and roof as a monolith and created holes so the resin could flow out of the station as it printed (pooling resin in a closed volume is never a good idea). Roof brackets were printed individually thought for ease of printing and painting. My theory that it should be printed like a freight car shell. The roof eaves would be added later (printed or styrene). The model took 4 hours and half to print and had a cost of a few dollars. Assembly was straight forward, details accurate and geometry relatively straight. I modelled the interior partitions walls, so the model was already reinforced against warping which is a real issue with resin.


The station is printed as a single part to make it sturdy

Painting was fast and honestly; I consider printing the station was a good decision overall. The design and printing phase was enjoyable, took less time than a full scratchbuilt and was much more accurate, enabling me to recreate intricate architectural details that Tichy and Grandt don’t offer.


A partially painted station to see how it looks on the layout

When came time to build the water tower and freight house, I decided to go full scratchbuilt with styrene. These structures are simpler and use basic components. I used Tichy windows and doors, all the rest was crafted by hand, including the large doors. It took about 8 hours to put together the freight house and maybe 3 hours for the water tower. These structures involved a lot of guesswork since I had only poor photographic evidence to work with. It consumed a lot of time even if they were simpler than the station.


After 8 hours and lots of compromises

Custom distressed wooden planks are fun to make by hand

The tower was straighforward and enjoyable

Was it enjoyable? The water tower was… but the freight station was not as I had to make a lot on annoying compromises to fit the commercial detail parts I used. At the end of the day, it made the freight house look a little bit awkward. Since I didn’t have a 3D model, it was impossible to validate my design choice and the building proportions, which was a hindrance until the end. Even with a coat of paint, I’m not sure I like the building. I may simply print it from scratch and sell the original styrene one point in the future. Even if I would scratchbuild it, I think creating a 3D model helps to iron out the details as it’s a useful mockup that can be modified and improved.

The freight house after some paint.

At the end of the day, I don’t see any clear winner. Each technique has its pros and cons. 3D printing is fast and accurate if you know what you are doing. It’s cost efficient too, but produce a lot of toxic waste and fumes that must be handled carefully. That’s an aspect I hate of 3D printing. Scratchbuilding is cool, fun, intuitive, but can lead to unsightly results. It’s also more costly in material (though cheaper since a 3D printed is not cheap), more involving and, depending on if you work with commercial parts, less accurate. When I look at it, I consider each technique has its merits, and to be honest, they are complementary. The water tower sprout and freight house chimney are good examples of things that are better printed. Windows and doors are also nice to print since it removes the accuracy issues caused by commercial parts. 

Completed tower with a Heljan water sprout

I’m quite glad to have experimented both techniques at the same time on the same type of objects. It really put things in perspective.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Stanstead - A Custom Turntable - A Follow Up

Stanstead may be seen as a race, or a marathon… but at least some experiment with a deadline and a need to move forward instead of getting bogged down. As a module, it is nothing more than a general rehearsal before delving more into Monk Subdivision later. The time limit is somewhat artificial but is basically tied to Christmas and having time to figure out the electronics that will be the brain of Monk.


One of the big challenges has been to build a suitable turntable. This is something that was on the back of my head for years but which I never dared to do. I was convinced I would use the tried-and-true Bob Hayden’s method with the phone jack plug once explained in a Model Railroader article many years ago and previously shown in a post written a few days ago.


I decided early on the turntable would be 9 inches long to fit most of my locomotives which translates roughly to 65 scale feet. I felt it was a quite prototypical length for a branchline turntable built in the late 1800s. A quick search online shown me the old CPR St. Mary’s pitless steel turntable would be a perfect fit for the project. I had only one goal, make the turntable as mundane, small and subdued as possible. I didn’t want it to be the center of attention, but merely a supporting character. Having had the joy to operate once on Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan layout, I knew they simpler these elements are, the better they blend into a compelling scene.


As for designing the turntable, I decided to build it on the go, not bogging me down trying to figure out each detail (analysis paralysis isn’t it!). I started with a decent understanding of what I was doing then elected to go forward quickly and troubleshoot issues has they would arise during the building process.

Last time I wrote about the turntable, it was painted and ready to be installed. I thought some more info on the painting process could be shared.

The girders were primed dark brown, then with a sponge, I added lots of colors including light blue, orange, red oxide and purple. When you look at a read rusted girder bridge, you can see a lot of color variation going far beyond earth and rust colors. When dry, I applied 2 coats of hairspray and a light coat of weathered black (mainly black with white, blue and green mixed in it). After an hour, using an old brush with water, I started to dab the black paint to create chipping effects. I didn’t go overboard as I wanted a weathering level adequate for a 20 years old steel structure that wasn’t repainted since installation. After that, I drybrushed the rivets with a light color to make them pop, applied a few washes and some rust weathering powder on top of the lower and top chords. Classic stuff if you ask me. Later, I’ll add wooden handle as per prototype since it’s an Armstrong type turntable.


Fitting the turntable to the layout was more complicated than anticipated. I removed all the scenic materials, including fiberboard and cork until I reached the original plywood board. As this is a recycled baseboard, several layers had been added over the years. A 1/2” plywood plank was cut to size and a hole drilled to host the female part of the jack plug. Once again, that part was mounted on a 2.5 styrene sheet secured on the plywood with screws. Unfortunately, the turntable bridge was too high and I had to carve a niche into the plywood with a chisel to sink the styrene mounting plate.

The pit rail on glued on the MDF ring

 At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted a pit rail but it became obvious it was prototypical and that I needed it to make sure the bridge was perfectly aligned. The jack plug can induce some wobble than must be countered. The pit rail was mounted on a ¼ MDF ring that I sealed with carpenter glue. A strip of cardboard was temporarily glued on the outside and would be used as a guide to install the rail and make sure it was perfectly circle. I used Atlas code 55 rails slided into Peco code 83 ties cut in half. Before gluing, I carefully curved the rail by hand to give it the correct curvature. You don’t want tension forces in your rails when the radius is about 4.25”. The pit rail joint was soldered and the assembly was cemented with 5-minutes epoxy glue. When dry, the MDF ring was then glued and screwed into place. Why screws? MDF is notoriously knowns for warping, thus adding 8 screws and glue made sure it wouldn’t bulge in the future.

Finally, pit assembly was permanently fastened on the layout board with screws in the right alignment and the approach track was laid in place. Old grey leftover timbers from a very old wooden bridge project were used, cut to length and assembled to create a retaining wall at the end of the approach track as was usual for turntable that didn’t have a concrete or stone walled pit.


On prototype, the spacing between the rail is minimal

The last step will be to add brass bearings (probably brass tubing) under each end of the turntable. These will slide on the pit rail and ensure the bridge is always perfectly aligned and horizontal. The girders are about 1.5mm over the rail head. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Clermont - The Grass is Always Greener...

Work around the houses is progressing steadily. Last weekend, some time was spent adding grass in the backyards to, eventually, blend them with the adjacent woods.

The piece of land right by the street was covered in shrubs and overgrown weeds as this is owned by the municipality and they never put that much effort maintaining the talus. However, as you move toward the houses private lots, the grass is better cared for and slightly greener. At the edge of the woods, grass is taller with an accumulation of dead leaves. Some bushes will probably be planted there later.

Front lawns will require much more care as I have to figure out how I will model the veranda concrete foundations and the parking lots. It will probably be simple but I'm not ruling out having some patchy asphalt there.

One thing I find mesmerizing is how the street blends into the scenery now and look at the right place. For a long period of time, I feared this road to nowhere would look silly, but it indeed has its place on the layout. With more trees in the area, it should hide completely that scenery trick.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

CN Monk Subdivision - Back to the Drawing Board

As work progress on Stanstead at a steady pace, I also learn or relearn lessons. The same can apply to the club layout, which provides me with some food for thoughts. Work will resume on Monk in maybe a month of so and I can’t help but revisit some ideas as the automation scheme, using Mini Panel, seems to materialize in a positive way.


The current Monk version is relatively linear and simplistic. It isn’t a defect, but exactly what I wanted. But when we are speaking of railfanning layouts, some liberties must be taken to create interesting vistas to stage the trains. Even a small layout such as Stanstead shows that a clever use of curved tracks and fascia can bring life to what should be considered minimalistic and maybe even plain.

At this point, the staging area of Monk has been completed and I’m happy to have had enough foresight to design something both simple and generic. It means I can almost build any track plan and scenery I want over the current yard without needing modification.


Chris Mears sketch that sparked everything

By pure coincidence, I stumbled upon an old plan for Monk that was based on a suggestion by Chris Mear to use a helix not to gain elevation but separation between scenes. The inclusion of that helix created a very aesthetic sweeping S-curve opening lots of scenic potential. I wondered if such an idea could be feasible given the lessons I’ve learned recently and how grades and curves can reduce greatly locomotive traction.


The track plan derived from Chris' sketch... still clumsy.

The helix serves three purposes. First, it provides a few more inches of clearance for the staging yard, which would be greatly welcomed on the layout. I wouldn’t mind 2 or 3 extra inches there for obvious reasons.

The revised layout with the old design under...

Second, it changes direction of a train moving on the layout. When you leave the Ste-Euphémie valley, your train is moving from left to right. However, when it exits the helix in Armagh, it appears to move from right to left for a while. This change of direction creates a sense of distance between scene and cuts the direct visual link between them. However, it doesn’t break the railfanning sequence because then disappear right under the spot where it will eventually reappear. This is, from a railfanning point of view, a comfortable proposition because you don’t have to move to get a good glimpse at all the action.


A cleaner version...

Third, it creates a time separation between scenes. A helix turn at 10 MPH, which is a speed I like a lot to appreciate a long train, 1:30 minute will elapse between the movement the locomotive disappears and reappears in the next scene. It may seem long, which it is, but if you break down the sequence, it also means the locomotive will emerge from the “time tunnel” only a few seconds after the caboose is gone from your sight, meaning you can seamlessly see an entire train moving and catch it up without waiting too much about 20 seconds later. Enough to install yourself at the right spot, by the grade crossing.


Ste-Euphémie Valley concept

Another aspect I revised on the layout is the Ste-Euphémie section which used to be Langlois Siding. This is on a grade and I think it’s wise to not have any operation occurring there. Instead, removing the feed mill adds 5 or 6 feet of mainline and spread the grade on a longer stretch of track. I’d like to imagine it as a valley on which the train is slowly climbing the grade up to Armagh. It would also be a perfect opportunity to showcase two typical National Transcontinental type of bridge: the large concrete culvert and the multi-span deck bridge.


I think such a long scenic mainline suits better the narrative of the layout and, incidentally, calling it the Ste-Euphémie valley is quite suitable since Euphemia means “who speaks appropriately/accurately” in Greek. At the end of the day, long trains need space to breath and to deploy themselves in front of the public. This is part of the modelling journey too.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Clermont - Updated Track Plan

A regular reader pointed out no official updated track plan existed for the Clermont-Charlevoix area of the layout. I was a little bit surprised since I've drawn hundred of plans for that part of the layout, yet nothing definitive was published.

To fill that void, you'll find here a brand new and updated track plan documenting the progresses between Wieland and Donohue. Older plans had much more scenic elements, but as we built the layout and added scenery, many of them proved to be superfluous.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Some Vegetation in the Talus

While detailing is still taking place around the houses, I've started to add rocks and grass on the road talus where a transition from the woods to the backyard will occur.

This is one of these relaxing and very artistic process where various materials are added in a seemingly haphazard way though some logic brings things together.

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite spot

It's not a big scene, but it already helps to blend the road into the layout and making it part of the scenery instead of being a hard limit between plywood (or universal mud!) central and the yard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Some Sidewalks for Clermont Houses

Before applying grass, little houses in Clermont must be put into context. It means concrete slabs, sidewalks, retaining walls and patios. All of them are made of 1.5mm thick styrene sheet laminated and scribed to represent different patterns.

Painting is straigthforward; some camouflage beige spray can followed with sponge to add some aggregate texture and drybrushing. Various dark and light washes are added to weather them and they are glued in place using latex caulk.

Not a big project, but certainly another step forward completion of this scene. A new staircase will be added in front of the grey house while concrete piles will support the veranda posts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Cheap Trees Are Made of This...

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to Louis-Marie we should keep an eye open for cheap Christmas trees. They would be useful for background conifers... then, a few days ago, he call me. At a garage sale, someone is selling a bunch of used ones for a song. He send me a picture, they look horrible, but at that price what can go wrong?

Then yesterday evening. I finally can see them... What a let down. In bad shape, full of fibrous imitation snow. But eh, a beggar can't be a chooser. Why not experiment with them. With a pair of scissor, looking at real spruce, I start to trim branches here and there to reshape them and change their caricatural silhouette. After a while, I get this...

Not too bad, but still a lot of excess branches which I trim accordingly. Them, it's time to move in the garage with some spray cans. The tree armature is painted dark camouflage brown then misted generously with dark green. When the paint is still wet, dark green 3mm static grass is sprinkled on it. The color is a little bit too uniform, so I spray dark brown shadows in the recesses and some dark green on the main branches... Still a little bit dark to my taste, until I mist it from the top with very light passes of bright apple green to creates highlights as can be seen on real evergreens.

Finally, a few trees are ready to plant on the layout. They are not perfect, but for a 1 hour project, they certainly blend well with the backgrop and provide variety and colors to the layout while hiding the photobackdrop seem.

I think I'm sold. Next time, I'll try to model  a few cedar trees out of these cheap Christmas decoration.