Friday, October 27, 2023

Refurbishing an IHC 2-6-0 - A 15 years Project

Refurbished IHC Southern Pacific 2-6-0

In 2007, I acquired an IHC 2-6-0 for a good price at Udisco in Montreal. It was painted for Southern Pacific lines, but I didn't care because it would be an excellent starting point to model QRL&PCo #22. My previous attempt with a MDC Prairie kit hadn't paid off and I felt the IHC Mogul would live up to my expectation. Having read the old mid-1990s Canadian Railway Modellers issue about converting one to a CNR prototype made me believe so.
Back at home, I started quickly to butcher the tender to conform to Omer Lavallée's drawings and pictures found in an old 1959 QRL&PCo historical brochure. It went well. It wasn't my first kitbash, but I was breaking new ground in terms of hacking a steam model.

Then, it was time to alter the locomotive proper. It's at this moment that big discrepancies started to appear. Wheels were to big and the wheelbase was much larger than the prototype. The boiler was too long and the cab somewhat wrong. It became quite evident that cutting down the boiler and fiddling with the drive could lead to a catastrophe. I thus accepted the discrepancies and decided they would be considered as modeller's license. Sure, I didn't like it because the silhouette was completely wrong. It was becoming clearer and clearer that QRL&PCo #22 was in fact an 0-6-0 with a pilot to make it track better on road duty.

That said, I soldiered on and started to modify the cab window to fit my prototype as best as I could. The results were OK and the model was soon covered with a coat of Krylon black primer. A picture was taken and the good old thing fell into the memory hole.

QRL&PCo #22 after it initial coat of primer.

A few years later, with more experience, I decided to revive the model. This time, it would be a CNR prototype. Or more exactly, a what if model, if #22 had been repainted in CNR colors as was supposed to happen back in 1952. I kept the tender as I had bashed it, then proceeded to correct the cab and finish the details. A neat coat of paint and decals concluded the saga and once again, a picture was shot. I then tried the loco on the club layout, found out the performance was poor due to not having be maintained nor breaked in and it went in its box a few minutes later. To be honest, I was never satisfied with this loco and its compromises...

CNR 429 was supposed to be QRL&PCo #22's new identity

Fast forward to 2023 and yet again, I'm digging that model out from the failed project purgatory. I kind of wanted to restore it as it should have been. Recalling it was based on a Southern Pacific prototype, I started to search for the locomotive it was supposed to replicate. SP Class M-4 seemed to be a good fit overall and I elected to restore the bashed model into it. After collecting a few historic and preservation pictures, I explored the possibility to add a  MDC shorty Vanderbilt tender. It was indeed very SP, but I felt improving the MDC tender I had would be a waste of time. I would keep the original tender and revert it back to SP appearance.

Restored tender with original oil and water hatches

For some reasons, I had keep several pieces I had cut from the tender more than 15 years ago and I was able to rebuild a decent oil bunker out of them. Styrene and Archer rivets completed the rest.

As for the locomotive, the biggest challenge was to rebuild the cab windows to specs. Styrene once again was used until a satisfactory appearance was restored. Unfortunately, during the original bashing project, I had cut and bashed the numberboards and they couldn't be reverted to their original appearance. They were replaced with correct SP brass ones.

Restored cab with correct size windows

My goal wasn't to make a superdetailed model, but rather to see how would the IHC Mogul look if it was painted and weathered with care. For this reason, I didn't add details that weren't on the original plastic shell. Sure, the bell and dynamo were brass parts I added during the earlier kitbashing project, but they were in the same place and had the same appearance. I also took care to rebuild the boiler handrails according to SP pratices.

Restored boiler with shiny brass replacement parts.

At some point, I was kind of surprised how the old IHC Mogul was finely tooled for its era. The original tooling was by PEMCO in the very early 1980s. The molded details were crisp, the backhead of the boiler was finely modelled, the part assembly was clever and generally speaking, it was certainly a good quality model back then. Sure, PEMCO powered their locomotives with motors hidden in the tender. That design decision would plague IHC steam models (which were inherited partially from PEMCO) until the company stopped existing. In the mogul case, PEMCO made the tender much longer than it was to install the motor and drive. This is why most modellers always consider this model quite silly. But after close examination of M-4 pictures, it's clear the tender is prototypical for SP, except its length. You don't need to rebuild it completely or use another tender. You just need to shorten it to prototypical length. Since IHC doesn't use tender drive, it's an easy modification.

I wouldn't say the IHC mogul is free of discrepancies compared to a real M-4, but it's certainly close enough to be a fun project to tackle. Painting and decalling the model was a breeze. I also experimented with preweathering the entire model prior to final assembly. It made application of fading, dirt and other weathering processes much easier. For example, I didn't have to care about covering the drive in paint while weathering  the firebox. This is an approach I have since used on a few other steamers and that makes my workflow faster and more enjoyable.

Once weathered, I had some fun taking pictures of my new SP M-4 outside on the diorama. It's certainly not a California setting, but sunlight brings forward the qualities of this budget model. I wouldn't recommend it to die hard SP fan, but has a funny quick modelling project, it certainly paid off! 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Return to Monk Subdivision

Last September, when the fall colors were still subtle and  subdued, I went to Bellechasse to hunt for backdrop pictures and visit a few spots I missed last time I followed the old National Transcontinental Railway roadbed.


It was one of these strange autumn days when nights are cool and days are warm, generating a deep fog that clings on hill and wood. This luminous and eerie ambiance was perfect for a road trip yet a little bit less for backdrop photographs since Appalachian mountains were virtually invisible to the naked eye even if they were only a few miles away. That said, they were plenty of good opportunities and I didn’t miss them when they shown up!


As expected, railfanning the old NTR is a fool’s errand in the sense that there is very little to see and most of the adventure is about driving long rural roads dotted with colonization era farmhouses, crumbling barns and lost fields. Forest is regaining its rights in these countries and soon, nothing will be left to be seen. That said, I was for a great start when the main street leading to Tourville (Monk station) gently curved around the calm and beautiful Lac Noir (Black Lake). Serene and scenic, the lake reminded me I entered a territory well known for being a sportsman paradise.

Lac Noir, in Tourville

Tourville was, as always, that sleepy town it has been since 1955 when the steam locomotive shops were closed down. That said, while it’s no longer the vibrant place it used to be, it’s still quite alive due to a renewed touristic vocation. Taking the gravel road westward, my goal was to finally get a glimpse of the causeway at Lac Therrien which was immortalized to vividly by the late Richard Manicom back in 1963.


Google Maps indicated a parking lot and a hiking trail leading to the Monk subdivision under the pompous Tourville Nature Park which convinced me it would be relatively easy to reach the roadbed… however, as is always the case, the parking lot was inexistant and the hiking trail was long lost to nature. My only choice was to park the car by the ditch and walk a muddy ATV trail. Since it was the beginning of hunting season, I wore my bright orange pullover, but it didn’t feel safe to walk there alone! But Monk always reserve surprises and after a while, the muddy path was consolidated by using wood planks… or should I say, old railway ties. Unmistakably, the roadbed was nearby and sure it was.


NTR ties are always found where you least expect them

I climbed the gentle slope of the fill then found myself in the middle of a long straight corridor lined with conifers until it vanished into the horizon on both side. That was the hallmark of NTR exacting standards of construction applied in the most remote areas. On the right, toward Tourville, I could see a break in scenery that was the old bridge over the lake discharge. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken the Nature Park trail up there, but that would be for another time. I turned on my left and walked for about 500m until I reached the old causeway.

The causeway reveals itself after a short walk

In any circumstance, there is nothing exceptional about Lac Therrien. It’s one of these thousands of similar lakes that can be found everywhere in Canada, yet that’s why it’s interesting because it’s such a classic sight. At that point, as was common with railway building practices of the time, the roadbed was built at the boundary between the lake and the marshes. In early Autumn, the marshes were covered in a beautiful array of colors ranging from various greens to yellows. Straw color, brown and reddish hues completed that mundane yet subtle landscape painting. In the middle of nature, nothing could be heard and a peaceful feeling filled the place.

A large marsh lies north of the causeway

After meeting a few peoples on ATV, I started to explore the causeways and soon, details started to pop up. I was looking for a small steel deck bridge over the creek, but was welcomed by a concrete culvert. At some points, big lumber were added to the original structure to widen it. But at the time of my visit, they were crumbling and sliding down the causeway. Nevertheless, I went down and stood on them to get a better glimpse of the culvert. It was quite obscured by the fallen lumbers, but a quick examination shown the concrete was in perfect condition after all these years. Better, a built date could be still read on the span: 1913, which was consistent with the first year of operation under Intercolonial Railway care in 1914.


This culvert was built in 1913

Nearby in the dark stagnant water of the marshes was a straight stump from a tree, but that also revealed itself to be the remnant of a telegraph pole. I would discover later that is was common practice to install the lines right in the water when crossing water courses on the NTR. I then proceeded to shoot several panoramic pictures with the goal of replicating that neat scenery on the home layout. When walking back to the car, I was tempted to walk another 1.5km to reach the other bridge, but decided to postpone that trek due to active hunters and a sun that was going down faster than I thought.


An old telegraph pole blending into the landscape

Driving on the country roads, I could see the fog starting to gather faster than I thought. I stopped in several places to shoot typical Appalachian landscapes, but I perfectly knew most of them would be unusable. When I reached Ste-Apolline-de-Patton, you could have bet a wildfire was in the area.


Atmospherical fog layering Ste. Apolline's landscape

From that point on, I decided to change my plans and drive to Armagh as fast as I could. In Ste. Euphémie, I tried to shoot the classic Ken Goslett scene, but trees had completely obscured the sight and it was no longer possible to replicate it. The concrete culvert was barely visible, yet the old houses and barns were still standing.


In Armagh, road construction blocked the main route and I had to take a rickety detour which yielded a couple of nice panoramas that could have some use on the layout. So, when I thought my trip was just a fun autumn ride, it finally provided some results. It was time to go back home before the sunset.


It was the third time I visited Monk Subdivision and it left the same weird feeling about the NTR. The malaise of seeing such beautiful track standards but serving almost no tangible goals, except political ones, is quite strange. A weird mix of being baffled by a nonsensical piece of work yet astounded by the skills and resources poured into it.  I’m not done with the NTR in Quebec and will need to revisit it again and again to make sense of that Transcontinental that could have been…