Friday, January 27, 2023

Railroad Hobby Show, West Springfield, MA

For those interested and that may attend, just to let you that I'll pay a visit to the Railroad Hobby Show in West Spingfield, MA this weekend.

Feel free to talk to me if you recognize me which may be quite unlikely!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

More Vintage Fowler Boxcars

It seems changing job means less time to post on Hedley Junction. I wish my posting could be on par with my modelling frenzy to be honest! But putting that aside, today I share more oldies: Accurail shells with custom decals. As a matter of fact, I'd like to give a shout out to William Brillinger who did a terrific job at printing the decals. Don't consider it an ad, but just a token of appreciation for the honest advices he gave me and the quality product he provided.

The first car is rarely modelled in HO or any other scale to be perfectly honest. The Canadian Government Railway car depicts an order of 5000 cars placed in 1917 equipped with Andrews trucks (a previous one of 1000 car having been placed in 1916). CGR was a crown corporation that managed the assets of various government owned railways and CNoR until the Canadian National was officially created. CGR placed the orders and distributed the rolling stock and locomotives according to the needs of each railway. Many of CNR large modern steamers trace their origins in these orders.

As for Intercolonial, they placed many orders between 1912 and 1914 for a total of almost 6000 cars. Being built years before the CGR ones, they rode on archbar trucks. I used Tahoe trucks which I consider a little bit pricey, but excellent in quality, very crisp, free rolling and worth every penny. They differed from the Accurail cars because they had a 5 feet door instead of a 6 feet one. Westerfield resin kits provide a more prototypical starting point for those interested in greater accuracy.

In the future, I wish to replicate a 1917 Canadian Northern Fowler car and several CPR prototypes and variants. At that point, I will have modelled almost every pre-1918 variations in Canada. If some people are aware of other Canadian railways owning Fowler cars before 1918, let me know! I've never seen a Grand Trunk Pacific Fowler car picture and would like to replicate one.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Great Northern Railway of Canada 34ft Boxcar

In the « Most Pretentious Railway Name In Canada » category, the Great Northern Railway of Canada is a serious nominee. The French version of the name was even worse, giving birth to a contrived translation that was so long it covered almost an entire side of the car. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that at that time, only a handful of railways painted their French corporate name on their rolling stock. To my knowledge, only “Chemin de fer de Colonisation de Montfort”, “Chemin de fer Québec Montréal Ottawa & Occidental” and Chemin de fer de la Baie des Ha! Ha! did so. Most lines in Quebec City area generally went by with an English name even if a good chunk of the board and customers spoke French (which to be honest, was a serious rarity). It was, in a sense, more fashionable. In France, railways generally kept their name very short and poetic instead (Paris-Orléans, Chemin de fer du Nord or Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée). 

That said, the Great Northern is still remembered faintly in Limoilou where the old mainline is sometime refered to as “Le Grand Nord”. Aside that pompous name, GNRofC was a successful quick money scheme deviced by the infamous Charles N. Armstrong and John Eno, an American who fled to Canada to escape prosecution. The goal was to create a direct line between the Canadian Atlantic Railway and Quebec City to cut travelling distance by 800 miles and tap into the lucrative lumber and grain trades. Started in 1892, but fully completed in 1900, the line became highly profitable by becoming a grain pipeline between Depot Harbour and Bassin Louise in Quebec City. It was the fastest and most direct line to ship grain on the Atlantic and grain trains would depart at every 20 minutes in peak season. In 1907, C.N. Armstrong was able to sell that line to Canadian Northern who quickly made improvement with the goal of making it the backbone of it’s Eastern transcontinental line. The route was shortened by building a cutoff crossing Portneuf County between Garneau and Cap-Rouge. Had CNoR succeeded in its plan, this line would have reached Nova Scotia following a route similar to the National Transcontinental. In 1909, the Great Northern elevator in Quebec City caught fire and started a conflagration. The beautiful neoclassical Custom House was set ablaze and burned down, but was rebuilt quickly. While GNRofC and CNoR are distant souvenirs from the past, the mainline they built is now a major link between Montréal, Abitibi and Lake St. John.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

GTR 2215 - A Classic 4-4-0

I intended to post a lot about my current old time projects, yet failed miserably because I was too immersed building these models. So nothing of value was really lost because it means more stuff to share.

Having a good locomotive on a project is generally the face of the layout. It's the ambassador, the motivator and the enabler all wrapped in one. A personal link is created between us and the overall world we try to create. Probably because the locomotive is generally where the human element plays a crucial role on the railway stage.

For this reason, I wanted to capture the essence of a classic Grand Trunk locomotive in the early 1910s. While Grand Trunk did use a lot of engine type, it must be acknowledge they had a humongous fleet of 4-4-0s crisscrossing the country from the 1850s up to the 1920s when many of these locomotives found a new life under Canadian National. Look online or in book, if you find a GTR pictures, odds it's a 4-4-0 are  extremely high...

Cows and engines are mutual friends, as long as there's a fence!

Interestingly enough, GTR 4-4-0s weren't generic but rather peculiar in appearance because Grand Trunk maintained huge locomotive shops in Pointe-Saint-Charles near Montréal. Several thousands people worked there, repairing, maintaining but also building entire locomotives from parts or scratch. Even the engines acquired for other manufacturers were poised to get rebuilt with typical GTR features such as slatted pilots, typical headlights and ubiquitous torpedo shaped steam domes. While paint schemes varied a lot in the early days, by the 1890s, GTR settled upon an austere black scheme with white lining. Some would say GTR was getting extremely cheap, which was true, but it was also the trend elsewhere in North America where ornate locomotives were getting slicker as the mid-1800s fad died out. I would try to capture that early 20th century vibe as much as I could.

To recreate such an engine, I started with a Bachmann Modern 4-4-0, which is probably one of the great RTR small steamer on the market. Bachmann was smart enough to provide a lot of customization opportunities to recreate various locomotives. All domes can be swapped for three different styles. The same apply to the stack, cab (wooden and two different steel ones) and pilots. This is, to my mind, a great way to get the most you can out of a tooling and a chassis. Also, the boiler and cabs are die cast, giving enough weight for the locomotive to perform adequatly.

Modifications were done on cab windows that were too small and the wrong shape. Hours of careful filing was required, but it was well worth my time. Modern domes were modified using Magic Sculpt putty and some custom 3D printed valve bonnet. Running boards were altered and the tender letterboards completely redone with new tool boxes. 

A crew is life...

Painting was straightforward and I used a lightly faded black paint. I could have gone with grimy black, but I have no idea what type of weathering I'll apply and GTR locomotives back then were quite clean and shiny. Decals were provided by Black Cat Publishing who made our lives easier since the old CDS Lettering dry transfers are getting hard to source and not always reliable to apply.

Once the locomotive was completed, it felt drab and soulless, which was a disappointment. It needed some figures to add life. Finding Edwardian locomotive drivers isn't exactly easy. A few figure makers in UK propose such products, but the people depicted are a little bit too British in their clothing. After looking at several pictures of GTR locomotive crews, I found out most people wore a flat cap and about half the guys worked without overall. Looking into my spare part box, I found two old 1950s Revell HO figures that could fit the bill. Their pose was wrong, but by cutting and moving their limbs around, they could be worthy engineer and fireman. Painting was straightforward, but I took care of never using bright colors. As is becoming common recently in my modelling approach, I prefer to use faded colors right from the start. Light colored shirts become tan or buff, heavy wool pants are a dirty grey and jeans overalls are a grimy bluish gray. Nothing must stand out.

With the crew onboard, the locomotive is now alive and ready to run on the layout. I like how the engineer raise is hand, as if his communicating with the crew or waving at someone. As for the fireman, he's small and focused on his task. He reminds me a railway friend of mine, Charles-Étienne, so I guess the figure is now unofficially named after him.

It still need to complete a lot of things on the module, but so far, one of the biggest hurdle is cleared and I'll be able to focus on new challenges! 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Year In Review

2022 was probably, in hindsight, my most productive year ever as a modeller and I’m not saying it lightly. Listing everything here would be a fool’s errand, but just from the top of my head, it includes completing more than 16 linear feet of scenery on the club layout, including the entire paper mill, replicating a few real houses, experimenting with various carving and weathering technique, customizing over 3 dozens 40ft boxcars, designing a Grand Trunk caboose kit, overseeing the final steps that led to the release of two Canadian National woodchip cars, building the backbone of my future Monk Subdivision layout (including wiring), compiling modelling notes about British-American tank cars, writing a book chapter on weathering and finally, going all out about early Canadian railways modelling. On top of that, starting the adventure of launching a cottage industry of custom parts and kits, which I have no idea where it will lead. My only regrets is not having had enough time to write up a few articles I’ve been asked for by a major publication… something I’d like to do in 2023.

It is probably the first year ever I’ve felt I know what I’m doing, that I’m starting, humbly, to master my art, find my groove and my personal artistic approach to modelling. I see myself less and less relying on others’ work as a template and building more on my skills and experience. It doesn’t mean I’m working in isolation, but rather that I no longer look at other’s recipe, but prefer to understand the logic behind their choices and make what I can out of that. Armour modelling, mainly Martin Kovac’s excellent and entertaining videos, have pushed me to try things without fear. That’s mainly true about weathering which I no longer approach from a step by step process, but rather as an additive artistic process. In that regard, it was inspiring to see Hunther Hughson taking the lead in challenging the common wisdom of model railroad weathering. I think he has shattered many misconceptions and started to freed many people’s mind. That said, it is never easy to go against the grain and often, when I tried to challenge the crowd this year, I could read many comments that wanted to go back to the old ways. Not that I care which way is better, but it is a little bit sad to see that many are too afraid to try, only once, something different and see if it works for them. I’ve always been the kind of person who want things to stay accessible and pragmatic, and when I challenge people, it’s generally because I believe that just changing one or two steps in a well-known process can enable surprising results.


The year has also been full of 3D printing adventures. I was, to be honest, about to simply drop the towel and leave that technology to others, but has I mentioned to Trevor Marshall this week, I’ve finally reached the point where 3D printing is no longer that frustrating one-fits-all solution, but a convenient tool in the toolbox. It’s not the beginning and end of everything, but something that has its place for some stuff. I’ve also learned the hard way the limitation of the machine and resin, which made me confident in developing new products such as the CNR steam conversion mini-kits or, more recently, the old time Canadian freight cars that can be designed in less than 6-8 hours and printed in about 2-3 hours at max. I’ve even been able to print an entire station in one shot, which was a huge confidence boost.


Later in the year, when I knew I had to wait to continue working on Monk Subdivision, I thought about finally building an old design of mine based on a small Quebec railway terminal using a minimal footprint. This is, in some way, the spiritual successor of Connors. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a keen interest in pre-CNR railways in Canada. This theme is generally not covered by the hobby press or even social media which, to be honest, is somewhat surprising. When we think old time in North America, it’s the narrow gauge lines or other fanciful endeavor. The late Craig Bisgeier’s Housatonic Railroad used to do a good job a tackling the subject in a honest way. As for Bernard Kempinski, his work on the U.S. Military Railroad in O scale can be considered top notch museum quality with the caveat of being so well-researched and executed with such talent that it can be intimidating. Also, let’s not fool ourselves, the American Civil War is basically a non-event for Canadians and I’m not sure it is a good vehicle to promote 19th century railroading here in Canada. We know about it, but it doesn’t resonate with our identity and history. However, I tip my hat to Bernard for tackling such a terrible subject with such tact, taste, elegance and talent. Another one to add to this list would be John Ott’s imaginary Miskatonic Railroad, which replicate the heydays of 19th century railroading in the Northeast, but even his work with intricate paint schemes of the Victorian era can be intimidating to any mid-level modeller.


That said, in Canada, the subject is almost taboo as if anything before 1918 was irrelevant for the modeller. Nobody talks about it… except Rene Gourley who, for some reason, has decided to heroically soldier in Proto:87 to replicate the Canadian Atlantic Railway in HO scale. Rene’s endeavor is so frightening and imposing that even him regularly write about how this subject can be crushing! That’s plain madness, the kind of gorgeous madness that provides inspiration and doubt at the same time! Yes, it is!


Strangely enough, Canada was one of the earliest adopter of railways. One of the earliest project was devised in 1830 to provide Quebec City with a winter port on Maine’s coast when commercial railways were in their infancy. During all the 19th century, the talk in town was about trains. Countless colorful companies were created in the same fashion that happened in the United States. However, since most funds and many engineers came from the United Kindgom, our railways had a distinct British flavor that gave it a touch of originality. Americanized Birkenhead locomotives being probably the most eloquent example, or the practice of lining cabs and tenders during the Grand Trunk era. The country was crisscrossed by small rural branchlines, regional carriers and transcontinentals. All built under a fever dream that couldn’t be stopped. We may, nowadays, often forget that most of our key rail infrastructure was designed and built in the mid and late 19th century.


So, for the last few months of the year, I’ve been pondering why nobody was modelling that great era full of hundreds of layout ideas. And the answer I got from online discussions and private chats shook my beliefs. Pre-nationalization railways weren’t forgotten at all. People of all ages still research them… even when they are interested in the post-1918 world, they will often refer to that era in a way or another. In fact, many do model the era… Lettering a GTR locomotive here or building an old Juneco wooden kit there. It seems the hunt for old CDS Lettering dry transfers is also a popular habits among modellers. Yet, nothing of that surface in social media.


It would be easy to blame manufacturers, but they can’t start to provide models when the market simply seems to not be there. Just take a look at Rapido’s Icons of Steam series. The pre-orders dried out the moment it was time to produce mundane small steam locomotives that everybody complain the hobby is lacking. Certainly, many reasons didn’t help to boost sales such as questionable quality control or perceived prices, but it should have been an instant hit. In contrast, Accurail has been releasing Canadian cars in its 36ft boxcar series, including the Fowler car. If you look at their website, all Canadian cars are sold out and some, including Grand Trunk, are in their second release and already sold out. In a recent discussion with an American how commission custom orders of Accurail cars in pre-1918 paint scheme, he admitted that all is run sell almost instantly. For him, ordering a 48-cars custom run of old time Canadian car is a no-brainer. The biggest challenge is picking up the next paint scheme.


Some have argued the biggest problem of old Canadian model railroading is sourcing decals. Black Cat Publishing has done a good service to us by providing a few Grand Trunk sets, but it’s a far cry from CDS catalogue that offered everything under the sun. Someone will have to step in and fill the void… This is something I’m trying to do because I think there is a place for early Canadian railways modelling and currently redrawing and improving a lot of artwork using the historic photos once used by CDS.


Custom decals save the day... maybe there is a market.

As for my own personal journey, I’ve learned firsthand that working with small 32ft-36ft freight cars, 4-4-0s and wooden passenger cars can save a lot of space when designing a layout. Think about it, a 32ft boxcar in O scale is about the same size than a modern 60ft hi-cube boxcar in HO scale. You can complain about the lack of available models, but keep in mind old cars were simply wooden boxes. If you can put together a box with tongue-and-groove styrene, most of the battle is won. Kitbashing current models is also possible and several cars can be sourced from Accurail, Bowser and Roundhouse if you don’t want to venture into the costly and complicated resin world.


Stepping down from my soap box, I can also look forward with the new skills learned when working on the old time Standstead module. This new knowledge will be applied to the Charlevoix railway which, I hope, will continue to progress. At the time of writing this, the Clermont scene is about 90% completed. It’s only a matter of a few months before we can think about taking professional photos of the layout and seriously think about publishing something about it.


I wish you a fulfilling 2023 modelling year. Don’t fear and dare to build your model in unusual ways to develop your own approach. Don’t fear to go artistic and overdo things, because later, you will be able to calibrate your effort on the next project. Take care!