Ops and dinner with Stephen

Cornfield meet: Oct 2019 Ops

Recently, at a gathering chez Harbord House of like-minded modellers, I lamented that I don’t get enough opportunities to operate my layout. More on that in a moment – but my friend Stephen Gardiner, who was part of the group, said, “Let’s pick a date and do it!”

So we did – yesterday. I prepped the layout in the morning and when Stephen arrived after work we were ready to go.

The first order of the day was to run a short work extra eastbound out of Port Rowan. This was hauled by CNR 1 – a 44-Tonner. I have equipped this model with a decoder and electronic flywheel, but it did experience a few pick-up problems regardless. I will have to look into that. Fortunately, it was not the main event and soon cleared the line.

Extra 1 East met Extra 80 West at St. Williams. Extra 80 West was the day’s local freight, with cars for St. Williams and Port Rowan. With the exception of a few missed couplings – caused by not having the knuckles properly aligned – the session proceeded flawlessly. It’s a testament to the beautiful locomotives designed and built by my friend Simon Parent, as well as to the power of rubbing the rails with a graphite stick.

Stephen took on the dual role of conductor/brakeman, planning our moves, tracking the paperwork and operating the track switches. I perched in the engineer’s seat. The session lasted just over an hour, by which time we were ready to head for Harbord House for pints and a meal.

Stephen at St. Williams
(Stephen collects the waybills for cars in St. Williams from the bill box, which represents the station. He’ll then use the desk behind him to plan our moves in this small community)

Trevor at Lynn Valley
(Stephen caught me as I ran our train through the Lynn Valley and past the water tank. I look pensive. I’m probably not…)

Mocean at Port Rowan
(Mocean – one of my three border collies – keeps us company during the session. It’s not an ops session in my layout room without a dog under foot!)

Stephen at Port Rowan
(We’ve recently arrived in Port Rowan, and Stephen is planing our moves at the slide out desk opposite the not-yet-built station)

As I said off the top, I don’t get that many opportunities to run the layout. Of course, I could run it by myself – and for the first few years, I did that – a lot. It is well-suited for one-person operations. But once one has mastered the operating scheme, it becomes fairly repetitive. Any layout will do that – but it’s especially true of a layout designed for solo ops.

But that’s okay, because I don’t build layouts for the trains – I build them for the friendships. I enjoy the relaxed ops sessions that my layout enables, because it gives my friends and I breathing space to talk – about the hobby, about other things going on in our lives, and so on.

From a purely practical perspective, I’m grateful that the layout performs as well as it does, given the infrequency with which it gets operated. The layout’s simplicity sure helps here – with a minimal number of switches and no other fancy track work or wiring, there’s relatively little on it to go wrong. And the aforementioned graphite stick is really the bees knees for track conductivity. It’s been more than six years since I so treated the rails and I have yet to clean the track, other than after I’ve worked on something messy in the area.

It was great to run a train or two – and the session reminded me of many of the things I like about the layout – from its relaxed pace of operations to the scenery:track ratio I’ve achieved, which really places the trains in the scene instead of overwhelming it. That’s such a compelling argument for me.

The answer, for me, is not to run the layout more often – but to make opportunities to run it more often because I’m hosting one or two of my friends in the hobby. I’ll work on that.

When Scott and Sharon came to town

What do you do when there’s a federal election on, and you’re worried about the outcome? You entertain visitors from out of town – that’s what! The timing was perfect when Scott Thornton (one of the creators of the ProtoThrottle) emailed to say he and his wife Sharon would be in town, and asked if he could visit to see the layout. Of course!

ProtoThrottle

Back when Scott and his friends started selling the ProtoThrottle, I polled a few friends about whether they were interested in one. I figured we could do a bulk order to save some hassle on shipping. Hunter Hughson and Ryan Mendell were both interested, so I ended up ordering three of them. And since I figured that a dinner was long overdue with Hunter and Ryan, I invited them and their better halves to join us too.

I gave Scott a quick tour of the layout – well, not that quick: I think we disappeared to the basement for the best part of an hour. Once everybody arrived at my place, eight of us walked up to Harvest Kitchen – a neighbourhood restaurant that specializes in locally-sourced food and general yumminess. We had a wonderful time.

I was reminded, again, that the true strength of the hobby is in the friendships it fosters. For me, that’s more important than the trains themselves. I’m really glad Scott got in touch.

And it was a great way to forget about the election for a few hours.

Santé!

CNR 3640 in RMC

RS18-Potrait

I’ve written a feature for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine about my model of CNR RS-18 3640 (shown above). This is an Overland brass import from many years ago, which I tuned so it would run better. I then made some basic cosmetic changes and added DCC, sound (with two speakers) and lights. I then painted the model – including creating my own masks for colour separation.

You can read about the model in the October, 2019 issue of RMC. Click on the cover to visit the RMC website:

RMC Oct 2019 cover

“Buzzard” at the World of Film International Festival in Glasgow

If you’re in Scotland on October 6th, Buzzard – the short dramatic film shot partially in my layout room last summer – will be enjoying its film festival premiere at the World of Film International Festival in Glasgow. It is competing against 16 other shorts from around the world.

Joy and Filip at Port Rowan
(Joy and Filip discuss a shot overlooking Port Rowan. Click on the image to read all the posts about this film…)

In other news, Joy’s 2017 film – the award-winning Game – is now available for viewing via Omeleto on YouTube. And you can still catch In The Weeds – another award-winner, from 2015 – on Vimeo.

I am super excited for director Joy Webster, co-writer Ben O’Neil, co-producer Lucas Ford, and the rest of the Buzzard cast and crew. And I’d like to once again thank those of you who joined me in backing Buzzard during its fundraising effort last fall. Your contribution helped complete this film, and helped market it to festival selection committees – so it wouldn’t be in Glasgow without you.

I wish Joy the best of luck at the Glasgow festival. I only wish I could attend…

Port Rowan in Cannes

Buzzard film shoot  - July 2018

It seems my model railway is going to make it to Cannes before I do…

Longtime readers will recall that last summer, my layout room and workshop were used as locations for Buzzard – a short film co-written and directed by Joy Webster. Today, I learned from Joy that the film has been chosen as one of 16 to be featured as part of Telefilm’s Canada: Not Short on Talent market showcase at the Cannes Film Festival, May 20-23.

Joy and her co-writer Ben O’Neil will be in Cannes to represent the film as part of this showcase. (More information about the films that make up this collection can be found on the RDV Canada website.)

Congrats to everyone involved!

SP 1010 at work in California

I visited my friend Pierre Oliver this week to take photos of my HO scale model of Southern Pacific 1010 for an article I’ve prepared for the June, 2019 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. (I’ve written previously about this model on this blog, but only in the most general terms as I knew I would be doing a construction article on it.)

There’s more about my trip to Pierre’s place on my Achievable Layouts blog – and you can read about it by clicking on this image of the SW1 earning its keep on his layout…

SP 1010 - Clovis van hop

Enjoy if you visit!

SP 1010 in HO

As mentioned previously on this blog, I’ve been keeping my hand in the hobby by doing some projects for other people’s layouts. Last November, I wrote about CNR 7456 – a venerable brass HO scale 0-6-0 that I updated and finished to I can take it to run on a layout being built by my friend Stephen Gardiner. Now, I’ve completed another such “boomer” engine:

Southern Pacific 1010

Southern Pacific 1010

Southern Pacific 1010 is an EMD SW1 that I’ve built to take along for operating sessions on the SP layout being built by my friend Pierre Oliver. He’s modelling the Clovis Branch – from Fresno to Friant, California – which definitely was not home turf for these pint-sized switchers. They patrolled parts of the SP’s Pacific Electric subsidiary (which explains the trolley poles: these were needed to activate grade crossing protection in PE territory).

But I can’t resist a locomotive with trolley poles – and I found a new-in-the-box, factory-painted Walthers SW1 for a reasonable price – so the die was cast.

The Walthers model is from the first run – circa 1993. DCC was relatively new then, so this locomotive was not set up to accommodate a decoder. It also featured a bizarre drive train, with an enormous motor driving the rear truck through a universal, but the front truck through a rubber tube coupling. I decided to replace the motor with a smaller, more modern offering from NWSL, in part to make room for a sound decoder. I also added new universals and drive shafts, and updated the wheels with semi-scale replacements.

Then I went mad with details, including photo etched upgrades, a number of scratch-built items, and – of course – trolley poles. I originally had functioning poles, but I didn’t like the huge springs and wanted to add the ropes, so I removed the springs and glued the poles in the stowed position.

I won’t say too much more about this locomotive because I plan to write a feature on it. But I will say it was a very tight, ship-in-a-bottle DCC installation – but a very satisfying project – and I can’t wait to put SP 1010 through its paces, spotting and lifting PFE reefers in the valley…

On Hiatus

I hate it when I follow a blog and the author stops writing posts for no apparent reason. But this year I’ve been infrequent in my posts, and realize I run the risk of others wondering what’s going on.

So, this is a note to say I’m putting this blog on hold for a bit – mostly, because I have nothing of consequence to share about my model railway.

When I have something more to say, I’ll start posting again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the return of this blog, I have described a couple of ways to follow along which will notify you whenever I make a new post.

Happy modelling, everyone!

CNR 7456 in HO

I haven’t been doing much on Port Rowan this year for various reasons. Truth be told, I haven’t done too much in the hobby this year, period. But I have been trying to keep my hand in – primarily with some projects for others.

This locomotive is one of them:

CNR 7456 - Weathered
(CNR 7456 in HO scale)

A while back, my friend Stephen Gardiner and his wife Heather bought a townhouse – and in the summer, a bunch of us descended on his place to build benchwork for Stephen’s HO scale layout based on Toronto’s Liberty Village district. (You can read more about the benchwork party on my Achievable Layouts blog, and more about Stephen’s Liberty Village layout on his blog.)

Even before Stephen moved into his new place, I knew that I wanted to have a locomotive to take out to operating sessions. And when I happened to stumble across a “like-new” example of the brass CNR O-18-a imported many years ago by Van Hobbies, the die was cast. I picked up this model earlier this year, and started working on it back in May.

If I’m counting correctly, this is the fourth example of the VH O-18-a that I’ve owned, and I’ve regretted selling on every previous model, so I was excited to find this one. And it was indeed in great condition. Every one of these that I’ve owned has enjoyed a super smooth mechanism ideal for slow speed running, and this model continued in that tradition. However, the models are quite venerable now – they were imported a couple of decades before anybody had even heard of DCC – so they do need their motor upgraded. I also needed to drill the headlight and back up light and provide holes for wire runs.

(As an aside, after I acquired my O-18-a, another friend – Ryan Mendell – also picked up one, which he’ll use on his new Grand Trunk layout. And that led Stephen to find his own O-18-a – so we’ve started a club of sorts and have been sharing ideas for updating them.)

To make a long story short, I’ve done all that. I’ve added a LokSound Select, a TCS Keep-Alive (with a cut-out switch for programming, accessible from between the centre sills of the tender frame), LED lights, and a pair of ESU sugar cube speakers. It’s pretty crowded in the tender!

CNR 7456 Tender gubbins
(A view of the gubbins)

Up front, I’ve replaced the old open frame motor with a NSWL can motor, including a new bracket I fabricated from brass. This was a hurdle for me – but it turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be. The lesson learned is “Just go ahead and try, because it will probably work – and if it doesn’t, it’s just a bit of brass sheet”.

For this model, I decided to branch out from the typical model railway suppliers and experimented with Tamiya paints from my local plastic modelling hobby shop. I’m really impressed and will be using these a lot more on future projects.

But of course it wouldn’t be one of my projects without some sort of disaster. Yesterday, I reassembled the model and went to test it – and the decoder blew. I traced the fault to the bare contact on one of the sugar cube speakers, which came into contact with the bare brass of the tender interior. I thought I had secured the speaker enclosure to the underside of the top of the tender shell, but it worked its way loose. Lessons learned: Do a better job of securing the speaker enclosure and cover up those contacts.

Meantime, I’m in for another decoder – and a lot more fussy wiring. I’m kind of discouraged by that, so I’m not going to tackle it just yet. But I have plenty of time to get this model ready to run on Stephen’s new layout…

UPDATE: December 13, 2018

CNR 7456 - Fixed
(That’s more like it!)

On the weekend I was able to nip through an area hobby shop and pick up a replacement decoder – and yesterday, I installed it. This time, I made sure all speaker terminals were insulated (I applied Bondic to each one) and I also wrapped some of the interior of the brass tender shell with Kaptan tape.

The ESU approach to decoders once again proved its value: since any LokSound decoder may be loaded with the user’s choice of ESU sound file, and managed through LokProgrammer, I was able to buy the appropriate decoder – a LokSound Select Micro – with a diesel sound package preloaded on it. I then simply used the LokProgrammer to overwrite the package with my file for CNR 7456, which not only replaced all the sounds but also rewrote all the CVs to those I’d established before I blew the previous decoder.

The locomotive is now back together and running as it should. I still have a few details to address, such as a crew, window glazing and – perhaps – cab curtains. And I may want to adjust the brightness of those LED headlights. But the hard work is done!

As an aside, I picked the locomotive number – 7456 – back in the summer while visiting my friend Andy Malette. The choice was practical: Andy had a limited selection of etched brass CNR number plates and 7456 was one of the ones still available. Andy also supplied the lovely brass numerals for the cab sides. (Thanks for those, Andy!)

After deciding on 7456, I was pleased to discover a photo of the prototype when I visited the Andrew Merrilees Collection at Library and Archives Canada in September:

CNR 7456 - Merrilees

You’ll note there are a number of small differences between the prototype and my model of it. Notably, the coal bunker should be taller, the handrails are different on the tender and around the smokebox, and the headlight is lower on the smokebox front. The number board is also at the back of the headlight bracket, instead of at the front as it is on the model. However, I had already painted the locomotive when I found this photo, and a decided I could live with the discrepancies. Maybe on my next one…

Garden Renovation

Back yard - September 28 2018
(Well, all of this just has to go…)

It may seem quiet around these parts – and it is. That’s because there’s stuff happening elsewhere in the house – specifically, in the back yard. My wife and I are busy overseeing a scorched earth-style garden renovation to transform a jungle into a space we actually want to use.

Is there a railway modelling angle in all of this? You bet – as I explain on my Adventures in Live Steam blog. You can start at “Clearing the Jungle” and click your way forward through the posts. Or you can bookmark the “Garden Renovation” category and see all the posts, from most recent to oldest.

Enjoy if you visit!