No experience wasted

My friend Chris Mears is building turnouts for one of his friends, and he just posted a wonderful observation about the process on his website. Click on the image of his frog to read more:

Mears-Frog

I’m reminded of my all-time favourite ad for model railway products. Well done, Chris!

(I’ve disabled comments on this post. Why not join the conversation on Chris’ site?)

Model Local in 2020

Model Local

When thinking of what makes an achievable layout, we typically consider things like size, complexity, budget, available models, and so on. But access to information is also an important criteria – and there’s nothing more achievable than walking to your nearest railway line and having a look (from public property, of course).

Even if the line is no longer in existence, exploring the area where the trains used to run can reveal much – and information about local lines can also be found in local libraries, archives and historical societies. All of this is easier if you don’t have to drive across country (or fly across an ocean).

I mention this because my friend Bernard Hellen has written an amazing, inspirational piece about a potential prototype in his neighbourhood. To read more, click on the image at the top of this post – and enjoy if you visit.

While you’re there, have a look around Bernard’s blog, which is about modelling the Quebec Gatineau Railway – a modern short line running between Montreal and Quebec City. It’s worth the time.

(I’m turning off comments on this post: I encourage you to join the conversation about modelling local on Bernard’s blog.)

Pardee Peninsula Pizza Party

Yesterday, my friend Stephen Gardiner organized a work session for Liberty Village – his HO scale shelf layout that models a section of a one-time industrial neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.

The Gang's All Here
Clockwise from left: Mark, Dan, James and Stephen are Getting Things Done

A capacity crowd – Dan Garcia, James Rasor and Mark Zagrodney were also on hand – tackled wiring and track-laying projects, with most of the work focussed on the Pardee Avenue peninsula.

It was a terrific day, despite a rare mid-winter thaw and heavy rain warning, and we made excellent progress. Click on any of the photos in this post to read Stephen’s full report on his website.

Pardee Ave Peninsula
An overview of the peninsula, after an afternoon’s work and a good clean-up by Stephen. Weights and pins keep glued-down track in position while the caulk dries…

Soldering along Liberty Street
Stephen captures a plume of rising smoke in pixels as I solder drop feeders to the main bus near the Parkdale (CPR) staging area

Thanks for a great day, Stephen – and thank Heather for the awesome cookies! I look forward to our next work session. Not too many more, and we’ll be running the first trains!

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(I’ve turned off comments on this post – but you can always join the conversation on Stephen’s website!)

Around the Web: Sherton Abbas and Vernon River

I’ve been enjoying a couple of layout blogs recently, and thought I would share.

First up is Sherton Abbas. This is a 7mm (British O) layout based on the Great Western Railway and being built by David Stone in the UK. Thanks to my friend Simon Dunkley for sharing this one.

If you’ve enjoyed my occasional reports on Roweham by Brian Dickey, you’re going to love Sherton Abbas. Brew some tea, click on the photo, and settle in…

Sherton Abbas

Next up is Vernon River in 1:87 – a relatively new project by Calvin Monaghan. Thanks to my friend Chris Mears for the heads up on this one. I’ve just added Calvin’s site to my blog reader and look forward to following his progress. Again, click on the photo and enjoy if you visit…

Vernon River

These are two very different projects, in different scales. But they’re both what I like to think of as Achievable Layouts. I’m always on the lookout for ideas…

Down Another Rabbit Hole: GWR coaching stock in 7mm scale

You know, I sure do like the Great Western Railway 517 Class locomotive I bought a couple of years ago from the Lee Marsh Model Company. But while it looks fine shoving goods wagons about on Roweham – the 7mm layout being built by my friend Brian Dickey – I can’t help thinking that it would look great with a passenger train in tow.

So, I’m working on that. Click on the image below to read about my GWR passenger train project:

GWR 517 Class on Roweham

Room for context

I’m in a bit of a British railways mood these days – in large part because I’m working on some 7mm (British O scale) passenger cars*. So while poking about my library of railway books, it’s no surprise that I pulled this one off the shelf for another look:

GWR Modelling V3

In the book, author Stephen Williams describes his layout, based on a Great Western Railway branch line terminus. Because it’s designed to take to exhibitions, he made the benchwork as compact as possible so it would be easier to carry and to fit into a vehicle. Then, he makes the following observation, which really struck a chord with me:

However, now the model is complete, I realise I have made a significant error in excluding all the non-railway buildings. Because the model station is surrounded by grass, it looks for all the world like a rural outpost when in reality, it is set within a built-up area. It is probably too late to do much about this now, but more thought at the design stage might have led to the creation of a more convincing model.

What an important lesson!

The author’s layout certainly looks lovely – but it does indeed have a rural flair to it. Given that I know next to nothing about GWR branch lines in general or about the author’s specific prototype, I noticed nothing “wrong” with the layout until I read the above quoted passage. From that perspective, the layout is a success even though it presents as rural instead of urban – because I enjoyed looking at it. But others more familiar with the subject may react differently: They may feel, as the author appears to, that his prototype has been mis-represented. (Or they may fill in the missing pieces – they’re just beyond the edges of the benchwork, after all, and most of us are really good at filling in missing pieces when we know them to be there.)

I should stress that this is in no way a criticism of the author’s layout: I think it’s superb. But I’m glad that he pointed out this oversight so that I and others might learn from it.

In relating it to my own layout, I’m relieved that I included so much space around the railway – especially in the terminal at Port Rowan:

Port Rowan - overview of terminal from meadow
Click on the image to visit my Port Rowan website, where you’ll find lots of other photos of the railway in context

To be honest, I lucked out with this: the terminal includes a turntable, which is approximately 12″ in diameter, and therefore needed a foot of depth in the benchwork. But nothing else needed that space – there are no industries to model around the turnable, or other tracks.

I could have placed the turntable in a blob off the front of the layout and saved myself some space. Instead, I simply kept the front edge of the layout deep enough to accommodate the feature, and filled the rest of the space with meadow and orchard:

First Time Here - 20
This view from a few years ago shows the Port Rowan yard as seen by an arriving train. The second switch along leads off to the right – and you can follow that track through the meadow to the turntable in the distance…

Imagine how different the above scene would look if instead of orchards, I had built large warehouses on either side of the main track – or if I’d added multi-storey brick buildings along the backdrop and a combination of dirt and pavement between track and fascia. The same track arrangement would’ve told a completely different story while remaining functionally identical.

To be fair, I am building a home layout – not something that has to travel – so it’s perhaps easier to include space beyond the railway. Even so, I might have narrowed the benchwork through much of this yard in order to gain some space in the aisles. Having read the highlighted passage from this book, however, I’m glad that I included space for context.

If you’re in the design stages of your layout, consider adding an extra 6″ behind the scene, and 3″-6″ in front of it. Sometimes that isn’t possible – but chances are you can do it without sacrificing comfort in the room, or access to the track for operations or maintenance. This little bit extra is especially important for shelf layouts where those few inches may make a huge difference by placing the railway in the larger scene.

*If you want to know more about the 7mm Great Western Railway passenger cars, click on the book cover in this post.

Ringing in 2020 on the Clovis branch

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Tarpey

Extra 1736 moves a refrigerator block through under-construction vineyards en route to Clovis

On Saturday, my friend Pierre Oliver hosted the first formal operating session on his HO scale model railway, based on the Southern Pacific Clovis Branch between Fresno and Friant, California. Pierre invited four guests – myself, Stephen Gardiner, Robin Talukdar and Hunter Hughson – to take part in the Clovis Branch shakedown run.

It went well. Very well indeed!

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

The day starts in Fresno – represented by this scenicked staging area. Pierre powers up the engine service tracks at the far end while Robin and Hunter check their paperwork

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Two views of the engine service area in staging (Fresno). I brought along my Southern Pacific SW-1, which I described in the June 2019 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine

Pierre had set up two trains: the regularly-scheduled way freight would work the entire line, while a seasonal special would switch the various produce-packing houses in East Fresno and Clovis. Robin and Hunter had run a reefer extra during an earlier visit so they took the way freight, while Stephen and I teamed up on the packing house job.

The session ran just under four hours and was impressively trouble-free for a layout that’s so early in its operating life. Pierre gave us a quick pre-session briefing – explaining the throttles, the car forwarding documents, and the very simple traffic control scheme – and then we got to work.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Robin ties his 2-6-0 onto the way freight in Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - East Fresno

The way freight rolls through East Fresno, between packing houses and the small interchange yard with the Fresno Interurban

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Las Palmas

Hunter and Robin switch Las Palmas while Pierre hovers over Tulare Avenue (on the far side of the backdrop)

The schedule called for the way freight to leave Fresno first, switching Las Palmas and Tarpey en route to Clovis, where it would leave a block of cars to work on the return trip. The reefer extra would be held until the operator at Clovis reported in that the way freight was headed out of town, then head out to East Fresno to switch a row of packing houses there before travelling to Clovis. Once at Clovis, the reefer extra would own the track: the way freight would be held in Friant until the reefer extra was headed back to Fresno.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - East Fresno

With the way freight clear of Clovis, the reefer extra has rolled to East Fresno. Stephen is the engineer on this train, while I took on the conductor’s duties. Here, Stephen is backing a string of reefers towards three packing house customers

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Friant

Meantime, having switched the gravel pit at Rockfield, the way freight has arrived in Friant. Robin is weighing the gravel loads on the scale, located to the left of the station

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Friant

A look at Friant – including a section house, the scale track, and station. I scratch built the scale for Pierre

There was plenty of time in the schedule for each crew to pause, take photos, and watch what the other crew was up to. The trains were respectable: I didn’t count cars on the way freight, but the packing house extra for which I donned the conductor’s cap had 16 reefers in each direction. Even so, the trains were dwarfed by Pierre’s large but simple layout: there was a real feeling of going places as we trundled past line side structures, down the middle of Tulare Avenue, across grasslands, and through vineyards on our way to Clovis.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Maltermoro

Our switching finished in East Fresno, the reefer extra exits Tulare Avenue and rolls into Maltermoro

Our work – mostly in Clovis – was challenging without being artificially complex: There were no puzzles or “gotcha” moments, providing one planned one’s work. (With about 20 identical-looking reefers to move about in Clovis, I wrote a switch list on a scrap of paper taped to a piece of styrene sheet and that kept me out of trouble.)

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

On arrival in Clovis, we drop our cut of empty reefers in a clear track and grab the caboose. We’ll take it up the line to spot it out of the way at the station

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Towing one empty past our caboose and the Clovis station, en route to United Fruit. This is our only trailing point switch here, so we’re getting it out of the way first

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

We’re hauling a cut of loaded cars down the Clovis main, between packing houses and the ice deck. The real Clovis did not have an ice deck but Pierre wanted the modelling and operating challenge of one so we included it on the plan. It’s a fine addition!

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

The switching in Clovis proceeds apace. Stephen and I designated the left track – in front of the packing houses – as the place to collect loaded reefers that will need to be iced. The ice deck siding holds our empties, destined for the packing houses. Once we’ve emptied that track, we’ll grab the loads and spot them for top icing. We started with 10 reefers for Clovis, so it looks like we’re halfway done with today’s work

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

While the loads were iced, we retrieved our caboose and tucked it onto the far end of the cut of reefers. Here, we’re all done in Clovis and Stephen is starting our journey back to Fresno. We’ll pick up a cut of reefers in East Fresno on our way back to the yard

This is what an operating session should be. It was fun and engaging, challenging without being stressful, and at the end of the day I felt like I’d experienced a day in southern California in 1951. On a personal note, having had a hand in designing this layout, I was very pleased that it performed as I expected it would.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Stephen and I enjoy some railfanning as Hunter and Robin arrive in Clovis from Friant, with their train of weighed gravel

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020

Stephen has our reefer extra headed towards Las Palmas (left side of the aisle) while Robin and Hunter (barely visible behind Robin) ponder their work in Clovis

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Hunter and Robin switch a customer in Clovis

As the photos show, Pierre is making excellent progress on a large (although simple) layout that he started less than two years ago. Already, the scenes are coming together and they’ll only get better as more structures and ground cover, trees and details are added.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Tulare Avenue

Running tender-first, the reefer extra trundles past the under-construction homes on Tulare Avenue en route to East Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Las Palmas

Hunter and Robin switch the future home of Gallo Winery in Las Palmas

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

We’re home again! Putting on our yard crew hats, we will pluck the caboose off the end of our reefer block and spot it on the caboose track before heading to the engine house in Fresno

Thanks to Pierre for hosting… to Stephen for being my engineer… to Robin and Hunter for the company… and to Kate for the wonderful post-session dinner. That was a pretty grand way to start the year – we’ll have to do this again!

(For other perspectives on the day, you can read posts by Pierre, by Stephen and by Hunter on their websites.)

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno