“Buzzard” by Joy Webster (Trailer)

Back in July, I hosted director Joy Webster and her crew for a day of film shooting in my layout room and workshop. This week, Joy released the first trailer for the film, called Buzzard. You can view the trailer – part of a fundraising campaign to finish the film – by clicking on the image, below:

Buzzard-Trailer

While the trailer only includes a brief shot taken on my layout, Joy and her team filmed more than two dozen shots in my workshop and layout room and it will feature more in the final film. In fact, Joy and cinematographer Filip Funk visited on Sunday to film a few more shots on the layout – and overview, and close-ups – to fill out some of the scenes.

The film is not about model railways – or railway modelling – but the layout is an important ice-breaker in the relationship between the two main characters, Hanna and Frank. The Indiegogo page for the trailer includes more information about Buzzard, including the following description of the film:

Buzzard is a film about the fragility of the human conscience, and the corrupt corporate system that threatens it. It’s about two very different characters that have both been manipulated by corporations to their own detriment. Hannah is a young girl who is recently out to make it on her own and trying to navigate through life, and Frank an older man who has given up on his own life after losing his daughter and sinking into depression. Both are vulnerable to the overarching corporate trap – Hannah as a young person trying to pay her bills who gets roped into working for the corrupt company, and Frank as a man struggling with depression who becomes one of the company’s prey.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to play a small part in the creation of this film and can’t wait to see it! It’s only natural that I’ve invested in the Indiegogo campaign – because I really want to see this project finished. And no, I’m not asking you to do contribute, but of course if you wish to do so (even as little as Cdn$10), I know it would be greatly appreciated.

And while I’ve never asked for a dime for the blogs I’ve written over the past seven years, if you’ve enjoyed Port Rowan in 1:64 and are looking for a way to express that appreciation, a Cdn$10 investment to Buzzard would be a terrific way to do that. If fifty of us gave $10 each, that would put Joy and her team way over the top.

Thanks in advance for considering it. And enjoy the trailer if you watch!

The Andrew Merrilees Collection :: 1

Canadian railway historians owe a huge debt to this man:

Andrew Merrilees

Andrew Merrilees was a Toronto-area businessman who dealt in railways, boats and other large equipment. He was also a very active collector of photographs and other materials related to transportation. A huge portion of his collection – said to number 375,000 photographs and other documents – ended up at Library and Archives Canada.

I’ve known about the Merrilees collection for a while now, but I’ve never been into the archives to have a look. I rectified that oversight this past week, as I joined my friends Jeff Young, Peter Foley and Mike Walton on a trip to Ottawa for two days of document diving.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but already my mind is blown.

Fireless loco.
(An example of the weird and wonderful things we discovered. Photographer and date – and subject – unknown. But everybody agreed we want one!)

We photographed many of the interesting things we saw, and I’ll be sharing them on my blogs as I have time to process the material.

NST 60 - Terminal
(NS&T 60 at the Geneva Street terminal in St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown.)

I was looking primarily for photographs and information related to the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, and therefore much of what I found will appear on my Niagara Electrics in 1:64 blog.

Other fascinating finds may end up on my blog about Achievable Layouts, as much of what I saw could act as inspiration for a wonderful model – or model railway.

Toronto York Radial Railway rotary plow
(This piece of equipment just begs to be modelled. An unknown photographer shot this image in 1905 of a Toronto & York Radial Railway (Metropolitan Division) rotary snow plow. According to notes on the back of the photo, the plow was built by J. Coghlan Company and T&Y purchased it secondhand in 1904. The photo was taken on Yonge Street, at the GTR Belt Line Subway, outside the old T&YR Mount Pleasant shop. The gentleman is identified as Joseph Middlebrook.)

CNR 91 - Simcoe - AMC
(While I wasn’t looking for photos related to Port Rowan in 1:64, I did stumble across this nice shot of CNR 2-6-0 Number 91 leading a mixed train near Simcoe, Ontario. Photographer and date unknown.)

If you’re not following my Niagara Electrics or Achievable Layouts blogs, you might want to add your email to the distribution lists. You’ll find information on how to do that on each blog – in the righthand column on the home page.

Also, I’ve added “Andrew Merrilees Collection” to my list of Categories. You’ll find that list as a drop-down menu in the right column on the home page for this blog. In the future, if you want to find all posts related to images from this collection, that’s one way to do it.

Seven years of blogging about Port Rowan

Blog Caveman

Blogs are more properly called “web logs” – and, like a diary, one of their uses is to record significant dates. Like today. Because on August 29, 2011, I made my first post to “Port Rowan in 1:64”.

At the time, I hadn’t yet started my S scale layout – that would happen in October – but I had done enough research into S scale and into the CNR’s line to Port Rowan that I’d decided I would be building a layout in 1:64. I’m very pleased that I did.

The layout isn’t yet finished, although it’s the closest I’ve ever come and I do intend to finish it. After that: who knows? But until that happens, I’ll be sharing my progress here. Thanks to everyone who is following along – and an extra thanks to everyone who has joined in the discussion!

A pair of Seltzers

Well, I’m honoured!

Seltzers x2

Yesterday’s post included a pleasant gift. This website won the 2018 Josh Seltzer Award from the National Association of S Gaugers. Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

As the photo above shows, my blog also won in 2016. Not to make light of these awards, but if I win every other year I’m going to quickly run out of wall space. So here’s the challenge:

If you’re modelling in S scale, and you haven’t already done so… start a blog.

Share your progress on models. Give us a tour of your layout. Share your thoughts on the state of the hobby in general, and of S scale in particular. (If you need some ideas about how to start, check out my post, “Why you should consider blogging“.)

Let others know you’re doing this so they can follow along – by cross-posting to the S Scale newsgroups, S Scale SIG, S Scale groups on social media, etc.

And perhaps in a couple of years, you will be looking for a spot to hang your Josh Seltzer Award!

(Thank you, again, to the members of the NASG for these awards. They’re wonderful!)

Ready to roll

This beast landed with a thump on my doorstep yesterday:

GW Models 10

It’s a 10″ roller built by GW Models in the UK – useful for everything from putting a curl in a sheet of brass for a cab roof, to rolling a boiler for a steam locomotive.

About 15 years ago, I was vacationing in the UK and arranged to visit GW Models to buy a rivet making tool. At the time, I had no need for the roller so I didn’t get one. More recently, I’ve been getting into projects where such a device would be useful – for example, working on the CNR 2-8-2 brass-bashing project, or building equipment for the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway from photo-etched kits.

Then in April, I attended the 2018 Great British Train Show to help a friend exhibit his layout. While on a break from running trains, I wandered the hall and had a lovely conversation with another exhibitor. He had a selection of tools on display to show how he built his models – including a roller. We got to talking and I realized that if I wanted to acquire my own roller, I’d better do it sooner rather than later.

GW Models - MRJ Advertisement

GW Models is not online. It’s an old-school operation: You write a letter or phone, and wait for a response. So I found the address in a recent issue of Railway Model Journal, and fired off a letter, asking about the cost of shipping to Canada. And waited. And waited. Perhaps I was too late?

I mentioned to Terry Smith – a friend in the UK – that I was looking for one of these rollers and he graciously offered to call GW to ask about them. With Terry’s help, I was able to purchase the roller.

(The lesson here is not, “Ask Terry”. The lesson is, phone GW Models to place your order. I don’t want Terry’s kindness to me repaid with a deluge of similar requests for help. I should’ve called GW Models in the first place.)

The tool consists of three rollers – two of them parallel to each other and connected by a gear train so they turn in the same direction, at the same speed, when the handle is cranked. The third roller is above and between the first two: It can be moved closer to, or further from, the base rollers to adjust the degree of curvature one puts into the material fed through the tool – and can be removed entirely to allow one to remove a closed tube, such as a boiler, after rolling it on the device. The GW roller can accommodate brass sheet up to 0.020″ thick – more than enough for any projects I will undertake.

This is a heavy tool – about 2KG – and is designed to clamp into a vise as shown in the lead photo. Last year, I restored my father’s Number 0 Record Vise and mounted it on a base that clamps to my work table, so I’m ready to roll.

(Thanks so much for your help, Terry!)

ProtoThrottle Progress

Setting up ProtoThrottle

Over the weekend, I set up the decoders in my GE 44 Tonner and my Gas Electric to work with the ProtoThrottle, and I’m very pleased with the results.

Introducing the ProtoThrottle to a layout is a multi-step process.

– The ProtoThrottle must be connected to the layout’s DCC system (which I wrote about earlier this month).

– Each locomotive that will be used with the ProtoThrottle must have its decoder setting tweaked. This isn’t necessary to run with the ProtoThrottle – but doing so allows one to leverage all the capabilities of this realistic control stand.

– For each locomotive, a configuration must be built and saved within the ProtoThrottle itself. This includes address, plus settings such as the braking behaviour, notch points for the throttle, and rules governing the lighting switches.

For this work, it definitely helps to have a programmer at the workbench. Depending on the decoder being used, that’s going to be either something like DecoderPro (JMRI) or – in my case – the ESU LokProgrammer. (These are good ideas for anybody with even a single sound-equipped DCC locomotive, regardless of whether one’s using a ProtoThrottle, because they greatly simplify setting CVs.)

To provide an idea of what’s involved, I’ll share the adjustments I made for my 44 Tonner. I’ll also share some of the adjustments I made for the gas electric, to demonstrate some of the changes one might consider for a locomotive with different performance characteristics.

ProtoThrottle set up for CNR #1

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

The ProtoThrottle can store up to 20 configurations. These include the locomotive address, function mappings, throttle notch settings, and other options. These are some of the values that went into the configuration for my 44 Tonner, which is equipped with an ESU decoder and a sound file with the Full Throttle features:

Under the Configuration Function menu (CONFIG FUNC), I set the Horn to F02, Bell to F01, Brake to F10, Brake Off to F — (not set), Aux to F09 (to enable Drive Hold) Front (F) Light to F00, F DIM #1 to F00, F DIM #2 to F12, Rear (R) Light to F05, R DIM #1 to F05, R DIM to F12.

The next task was to match the engine sounds from the decoder to the notches on the ProtoThrottle. When I move from Notch 3 to Notch 4 on the throttle, I want to hear the model notch up accordingly. To determine the notches for my 44 Tonner, I first ran the locomotive with a regular DCC throttle equipped with a speed step indicator. Working with 128 speed steps, I increased the throttle one speed step at a time, and made a note of the speed step at which the engine sound changed – in other words, the point at which the decoder generated a “notch up” sound. I then picked values that lay between the notching steps.

For example, if the decoder notched up from 2 to 3 at speed step 20, and notched up from 3 to 4 at speed step 35, I decided that notch 3 would be set to speed step 29.

Having noted the values, I then returned to the ProtoThrottle. Under the Notch Configuration menu (NOTCH CFG), one sets the speed step that each notch on the ProtoThrottle will send to the decoder. As noted earlier, this can be set for each of the 20 configurations saved in the throttle. Based on my tests, I set the notches for CNR #1 as follows:

1 = 8, 2 = 17, 3 = 29, 4 = 40, 5 = 49, 6 = 60, 7 = 70, 8 = 90

Finally, I configured the brake handle. I tried both approaches, and decided that I did not gain anything by using the Variable Brake capability. So in the OPTIONS menu, so I set this to OFF. I also set the emergency stop to OFF, since I’ve never needed it using other throttles on my layout.

That completed the configuration of the ProtoThrottle for CNR #1. I saved the configuration, then turned to the decoder itself.

Using my LokProgrammer, setting the characteristics for the decoder in CNR #1 was intuitive and adjustments were easy. It required a fair bit of time, however, as I would make a change or two, then switch to driving mode and test my updates.

I wanted to use a Full Throttle file from ESU, but while ESU offers a sound package for a 44 Tonner, it has not yet been upgraded to include Full Throttle features. The great thing about Loksound decoders, though, is that I can load anything into the decoder for now – and upgrade it to the proper sound file if/when it’s made available. 44 Tonners were powered by a pair of Caterpillar D17000 V8 prime movers. I scrolled through the Full Throttle options and decided that the file for CP Rail’s oddball CAT 3608-powered M636 would do for the time being. (Again – I know that’s not right. But I can update the sound if/when the correct file is available with Full Throttle features.)

I won’t list every value here – that would take a book – but I will share the thinking behind some of the key decisions I made. (I’ll include the LokProgrammer language for those who use it, but also try to explain it so it doesn’t sound like gibberish to those who do not.)

Under Motor Settings, I enabled Back EMF and the heavy load/coast load settings that enable Drive Hold on a Full Throttle-equipped Loksound decoder.

Still under Motor Settings, I then used the Three Values option (Voltage Start, Voltage Mid, Voltage High) to adjust the motor speed. In the LokProgrammer, there’s a graph for this, with a slider. I dropped the top speed (V High) from 255 to 50. That may seem slow, but I get frustrated when I’m running on a layout with a throttle that offers me 128 speed steps, and I’m stuck using about 25 percent of that because anything higher is too fast. What’s the point of having 128 steps if you’re never running above speed step 30? So on my own layout, I knock down the top speed of every locomotive so that I can take advantage of the full range of speed steps on the throttle. According to this neat article about the prototype, GE 44 Tonners were limited to a top speed of 45 mph, “although it’s doubtful many actually achieved it”. What’s more, the top speed on my layout is a blistering 20 mph. Scale speed is subjective – what works for me may not work for others – but to my mind, setting the maximum voltage to 50 seemed to provide the right top speed for this little locomotive.

Under Driving Characteristics, I set Acceleration Time to 170 (42.5 seconds from full stop to top speed) and the Deceleration Time to 255 (63.75 seconds from full speed to stop). High values for these settings serve two functions. First, they allow the prime mover sound on the decoder to ramp up before the locomotive moves… or drop off to idle while the locomotive continues to roll (representing the momentum of a heavy object rolling on rails). Secondly, on the ProtoThrottle they smooth the transition from one speed step to the next.

Obviously, one can get into real trouble with the deceleration set at 255. On my layout, the 44 Tonner running at full speed (which is not very fast) will roll about 11 feet before coming to a stop if I simply drop the throttle to “idle”! That’s where the brake handle comes in. Under Brake Settings, I set the Dynamic Brake to 64. This will bring the locomotive to a stop from its maximum speed in 16 seconds. I arrived at this value by testing the locomotive to find a brake that was responsive enough to allow me to stop the locomotive where I wanted to fairly reliably, without being too aggressive. With the Dynamic Brake set to 64, CNR #1 will go from full speed to full stop in about 15 inches when the throttle is shut off and the brake is applied.

The following Function Mapping are relevant to the configuration settings in the ProtoThrottle. To set up the front and rear lights so they work with the throttle’s rotary switches, I mapped the physical outputs for the front light to FO(Forward) and FO(Reverse), and the rear light to F5. To enable dimming, I mapped the logical function on F12 to “Dimmer”. (For each light, I also entered the Function Outputs menu and set them up as dimmable lights with fade in/out, knocked down the brightness a bit, and enabled the Dimmer and LED mode special functions.)

Again, these are all personal preferences, based on setting values, then running the locomotive and making notes of what worked and what didn’t. If you have a ProtoThrottle, don’t simply do what I did: do your own tests and pick settings that are right for you.

Proto Throttle - first run with Gas Electric

I also set up my gas electric. Many of the settings are the same as in the 44 Tonner – in both the model’s Loksound decoder and the ProtoThrottle configuration. For example, the front headlight settings are the same. Since the model does not have a rear headlight, I disabled those settings in both the decoder and on the ProtoThrottle.

As a passenger unit, I wanted the gas electric to have a higher top speed than the 44 Tonner. Therefore, using the slider under Motor Settings, I gave it a top speed of 100 (versus 50 for the 44 Tonner). Note that this does not mean the gas electric goes twice as fast as the 44 Tonner: each model has a different drive train set-up, including unique gear ratios. So I set the top speed based on each model, by setting a value, testing the unit on the layout, and adjusting as necessary.

I also wanted it to have snappier throttle response so under Driving Characteristics, I set the Acceleration Time to 125 (versus 170 for the 44 Tonner) while keeping the deceleration value at 255.

The introduction of the ProtoThrottle has definitely been worth the investment for these two models. Switching with the 44 Tonner is a completely different experience than it was with a standard DCC throttle. And driving the gas electric with the ProtoThrottle makes a straightforward passenger run into a much more engaging experience. I’m glad I did this, and I look forward to setting up more locomotives to take advantage of this throttle. As mentioned in a previous post, I need to upgrade the decoder in my CNR RS18 and the ProtoThrottle is the incentive to move that project up the to-do list.

Now, when will I see a “Proto Johnson Bar” controller for my steam engines?

ProtoThrottle set-up

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

I’m pleased to report that my ProtoThottle is up and running on my layout, and I’ve been enjoying using it to run CNR #1 – my GE 44-Tonner.

I’m also pleased to report that set-up went very smoothly and as advertised in the instructions. Well done, ProtoThrottle team!

I’m embarrassed to report that it took me three days to set up the throttle – which was entirely my fault. Here’s why:

I’ve been using wireless cabs for a while now, starting with the TouchCab application on my smart phone, which interfaced with my Lenz DCC system through a dedicated Apple Airport Express wireless router.

When I switched DCC systems to my ESU ECoS 50200, the unit came with its own WiFi Wireless Access Point to connect ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles. These throttles are customized Android-powered tablet devices, so to connect one simply enters the ID and password for the WiFi network (which one sets in the ECoS 50200).

When interfacing the ProtoThrottle to an ESU system, one essentially treats it like a Mobile Control II. To enter the ID and password for the network, one edits a Text File housed on a micro SD card that slots into the ProtoThrottle’s receiver. So that’s what I did – and it failed to connect. I tried making several other adjustments to the ProtoThrottle, with no luck.

Stymied, I got in touch with Matt Herman at ESU. I know he had set up a ProtoThrottle to work with an ECoS system, so I asked if there was something I missed.

That’s when I realized I was using the ID and password for the old Apple Airport Express – NOT the ID and password for the ECoS 50200.

I edited the file, and the ProtoThrottle connected flawlessly. And I’ve updated my logbook of passwords for the layout.

Boy is my face red…

WiFi WiFi

The ProtoThrottle has landed

ProtoThrottle

One of the advantages of having a modest layout is I can afford to indulge in cool model railway products even if they don’t fit my primary modelling interests.

An example of this is the ProtoThrottle – a wireless DCC throttle designed to mimic the look and feel of a diesel control stand. Mine arrived this week and while Port Rowan is firmly set in the steam era, I do have a few CNR-liveried internal combustion engines on the roster – including a GE 44-tonner, an RS-18, and a self-propelled passenger car. All of these will be more fun to run with the ProtoThrottle. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to upgrade the decoder in my RS-18 for a while now – and this might just be the reason to get on with that project.)

Once I get mine set up on Port Rowan, I’ll share my thoughts on its performance via this blog. But I think the ProtoThottle is set to become a game-changer for diesel-equipped layouts running on DCC – and as I’ve written on my Achievable Layouts blog, it might even influence layout design choices for some modellers. You can read by by clicking on the ProtoThrottle, above, or by following this link.

Enjoy if you visit!

My friend Mike Cougill test-drove a ProtoThrottle at the RPM in St. Louis this month, and shares his thoughts on his blog. It’s definitely worth a visit:

ProtoThrottle: ProtoThinking

Meantime, a couple of my friends in my area have also acquired ProtoThrottles of their own – we bundled our orders to make it easier to ship to Canada, and I have now delivered the throttles to them. I expect they will blog about their new throttle too, and I’ll update this post with links to their blogs if they do.

“Cue the train…”

Joy W - Film Shoot
(Setting up for a scene – one of more than two dozen shot during a 13-hour day in my basement)

In 1968, artist Andy Warhol wrote in an exhibition programme, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Yesterday, I was fortunate to experience a bit of what that feels like, when my Port Rowan layout was used as a location for a short drama directed by Toronto filmmaker Joy Webster.

Joy checking storyboard
(Joy reviews her storyboard prior to shooting a scene)

Joy contacted me in April via this blog. She’d found my layout online and wrote (in part)…

I’ve been on the hunt for a model railroad setup in a residential home (ideally in a basement) to use as a location for a short film that I am directing this summer … I’d love to get in touch with you and chat about seeing more of your train room and work. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Well, that was pretty much all it took. We arranged a site visit, and she decided almost immediately that the layout worked for her story. (I won’t give away details now – but will update this post when the film is released.)

What’s more, Joy was very accommodating with a couple of important technical requirements on my part.

First, I would be the only person touching the trains or adjusting scenic elements on the layout – I’d be happy to move things about, but of course I know best how to pick them up.

Second, we arranged a meeting with her lighting person to find a lighting solution that would not generate any heat (because aiming traditional film lights at the layout would quickly melt things). In the end, the lighting person found some awesome LED lights that look like a fluorescent tube, but run off a self-contained battery pack, are dimmable, colour-tunable (not only through various colour temperatures of “white” such as indoor and daylight, but also through the full RGB spectrum), and controlled via Bluetooth and an app on a smart phone.

Layout lighting
(Setting up lights on the fascia to create the look of actors being illuminated by the layout lighting. It was very effective!)

Joy and her producer Lucas Ford appreciated the time, effort and money that I’ve invested in my hobby, and they were terrific about making sure I felt comfortable having a film crew of approximately 20 people in the layout room and workshop for the day. For my part, I was thrilled to be able to take part: I studied television in university and while many of the details differ between TV and film, there were enough similarities that I appreciated what was going on (and knew when to shut the heck up), even as it reminded me of what I’m missing as someone who abandoned a career in media and who now works largely by himself.

What’s more, it was an easy decision to welcome this film project in our home. Joy’s work is stunning: Two previous films “Game” (2017) and “In The Weeds” (2015) have garnered multiple film festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. I feel privileged to have worked with her.

Here are some more pictures from the shoot, with permission from Joy to share them:

Reviewing script.
(Joy and one of the actors discuss a scene in my workshop)

Actor and machine tools
(Framed by machine tools, an actor delivers her performance on the basement stairs)

Sound and makeup
(Capturing audio for a shoot on the basement stairs, while the makeup department takes a break in the kitchen)

Backyard
(The baggage wagon in the backyard was an ideal staging area for equipment. That’s Lucas checking his phone at left)

Monitor
(Joy and her crew in my workshop, watching on a monitor as a scene unfolds in the layout room next door. My comfortable workshop chairs were most welcome by the end of the day…)

Final scene
(The actors have been released and Joy’s cinematographer is shooting the final scene of the day. “Cue the train…”)

Thanks, Joy and Lucas, for inviting me to take part in your project. I loved every minute of it – everyone on set was fantastic, professional, and respectful of my work and our home. I look forward to seeing the film when it’s released!