More trees for Port Rowan

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I’ll get to the trees in a minute. But first: I had a fun day yesterday…

A colleague from university got in touch and arranged to visit with his wife. Doug Moorhouse and I were both railway modelling enthusiasts all through school, but it never really came up.

(Apparently, when one is 20 years old, trying to get through post-secondary education, start a career, and impress the many beautiful 20-year-old women in your classes, professing a passion for model trains isn’t considered a conversation-starter: Who knew? Anyway…)

So, fast-forward 30 years or so, and Doug gets in touch. He and his wife Rose are going to hit a local club railway open house on the weekend, and could they come by to see the layout afterwards? Of course!

We had a great time. I gave Doug and Rose a tour of the layout. We even ran a train, and although we didn’t spot any freight or follow a schedule, we did turn the train in Port Rowan and take it back to Simcoe, so we did do a bit of switching. I learned that I still had an emergency stop button programmed on one of my two wireless throttles – a feature that’s easy to accidentally hit, so the DCC system shut off a couple of times mysteriously. (I figured out the problem this morning and reprogrammed the button in question to do something less disruptive to operations.)

Doug works in audio production and was really interested in the ambient audio on my layout, so we discussed the hardware and sound files that I use for that. It was nice to talk audio with another person trained in this stuff…

After tying up the train in Simcoe, the four of us went up the street for dinner at Harbord House (as is the tradition with new visitors to the layout). It was wonderful to reconnect with Doug and to meet Rose. It was interesting to learn that other people from my past life were also railway modellers – including at least one professor. And we’re already planning another get-together.

I decided that I wanted to get a little more done on the layout before Doug and Rose visited, so over the past week I worked on more trees for Port Rowan. I’m sure there was still a whiff of hairspray in the air, because the canopy went on Saturday night. But I have finished the trees behind the elevated coal delivery spur and it makes a huge difference to the appearance of this scene. I’ve taken way more photos of St. Williams than of Port Rowan – and I realize that’s in part because Port Rowan has not been as visually interesting, because the scenes lacked the drama of tall trees. Drama? Well, I think they make all the difference in terms of framing what I see through the camera lens. But have a look and judge for yourself.

Here’s a photo from four years ago, without trees:
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And here are two photos taken today, from a similar point of view:
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I know which look I prefer.

The forest continues to march towards the end of the Port Rowan peninsula. Time to make more trees…

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First finished trees for Port Rowan

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(A tree towering over the billboard on Bay Street completes this scene, which welcomes visitors to the layout. The billboard is my layout’s Establishing Shot)

Recently, a friend on Facebook shared a photo he took during an operating session at my house a couple of years ago. When I looked at the photo, I realized it included several twisted wire tree armatures in the Port Rowan scene. And then I realized that those same trees were still in the “twisted wire armature” stage.

Now, I do like to plant the tree armatures and leave them in place for a while before finishing them, so I can determine whether I like the arrangement and whether they will interfere with operations. After all, crew members have to reach in to the scenes to uncouple – and some will use their left arm, while others will use their right.

But two years is more than sufficient time to determine this, so my friend’s Facebook memory was a call to action. Therefore, I decided it’s time to finish these trees. I started with four trees that are in the foreground of the scene.

This tree – about 10″ tall – is positioned in the meadow, near the apple orchard. It’s in front of the yard throat – but that actually means it’s out of the way of operators, because no uncoupling takes place there:

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A shorter tree to the right of that tall one also has a smaller footprint, keeping it out of the way of operators:

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This tree – also around 10″ tall – is located next to the garage in Port Rowan. It’s across from the station and, again, in front of a turnout where uncoupling will never happen:

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(Note the row of wire tree armatures in the background. Those are next!)

A parting shot – the tree behind the billboard at the end of the Port Rowan peninsula:

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I think the tree and the Airstream trailer nicely capture the mood I’m trying to create.

Backus trucks

Here’s a detail I’ll have to create for the team track at Port Rowan:

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(Photo taken 1956 or 1957)

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(Photo taken in the late 1950s)

“Backus” is an important family name, closely tied to the area I’m modelling. And the family’s lumber and feed company was a key customer for the railway.

I’m grateful to John Backus for sharing his family’s photos on the Stories and Legends of Long Point and Port Rowan Area group on Facebook, and for giving me permission to share these photos via this blog.

The information I received with the first photo notes that the railway delivered the lumber stacked on the truck in the middle. That will make a great scene on my layout.

I’ve done a similar scene before. Several years ago when I modelled a Maine two-footer in O scale, I built a lumber truck for a team track, using a white metal kit for a Nash Quad from McKenzie Iron & Steel. Here’s a rather grainy photo showing the truck at the site of a future team track on that layout:

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I always liked the look of the lumber overhanging the truck, so I’m looking forward to recreating this using a 1950s era truck in S scale.

(Thanks for sharing the photos, John!)

Fresh perspectives and little details

This morning I needed a photo to illustrate something on my layout in an email, and while I was in the layout room I decided to try to find some fresh perspectives from which to shoot images. I was particularly pleased with the two images here – both taken near the station in St. Williams.

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In both, it’s the little details that stand out for me: The red waybill box on the station wall. The door handle. The telegraph service sign. The rail braces on the stock rails of the turnout.

Often, I overlook these details when I’m running trains. But they show up in photos, so I’m glad I made the effort to include them.

I have many more details to add to the layout. Some will require a fair bit of time and effort to build. But it’s photos like these that remind me why I want to include them.

“S” is for “Scarecrow”

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(I built this detail for a friend’s S scale module, well before I started my own layout.)

An email this week from Charles Malinowski reminded me of a project I did several years ago, and have always meant to repeat.

At the time, I was helping my friend Chris Abbott work on his module for the S Scale Workshop and – while planting a farm field – I realized that making a scarecrow for the scene would be a nice detail (and a nice present for a friend who had helped me on so many things, and still does). So, I got in touch with Jim Martin, another buddy who works in 1:64, and asked if he had a poorly rendered plastic figure of a standing person that I could take off his hands. From there, I built this neat scarecrow.

The figure gave me the correct dimensions – I didn’t have any of my own, and I didn’t have enough experience in S to have a sense of the scale.

I wanted a plastic figure so I could do surgery – cutting and rearranging the arms, for example.

And I wanted something poorly rendered, if possible, because I was going to cover it anyway: Basically, I’d be saving an awful figure from the scrap box, or from being sawn in half to create a “car driver” (top half) and “mechanic working under the car” (legs).

The fellow at the top of this post is the result. He’s a classic scarecrow – I remember being inspired by the ones in the Family of Blood episodes from Season 3 of the rebooted Doctor Who.

To make him, I wrapped the re-arranged figure in scraps of facial tissue, spot-glued in place and painted brown (the paint would stick everything together nicely without overdoing the gluing). The straw was cut from rope. The face was done with a fine marker, and some thread provided ropes to tie the scarecrow in place on a rod.

I wrote a feature about creating this figure for Railroad Model Craftsman. It was was published in the September 2009 issue. (I know many of my fellow enthusiasts working in 1:64 will have a copy, because it featured an S scale layout on the cover.)

Since I have farm fields on my current layout, I’ll have to build another scarecrow. I’ll add it to the “projects” list…

(Thanks for the reminder, Charles!)

Tigers are mean! Tigers are fierce!

Ahoy!

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(The Tree Fort is occupied!)

A big shout-out to my friend Stephen Gardiner, who surprised me with a wonderful gift during last night’s meeting of our monthly supper club.

Stephen remembered that a couple of years ago, I had written on this blog about building a tree fort for St. Williams. My model included a copy of the hand-made sign that graced the tree fort in Calvin and Hobbes and at the end of the post, I asked,

“And where can I find an anthropomorphic tiger?”

Well Stephen – being the talented sort of guy that he is – made me an S scale Hobbes:

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Stephen crafted Hobbes as the stuffed toy that adults see, and hand-painted him. Thank you, Stephen: he’s wonderful! And he looks right at home in the tree fort:

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I’m sure I can find and kit-bash a suitable Calvin to stand at the base of the tree, singing the password…

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If I was a tiger, that would be neat!

Establishing Shot

In movie and television production, an Establishing Shot conveys the context for a scene. It gives the audience important information about where and when the subsequent action and/or dialogue is taking place.

For example, if a film is set in Paris, it’s a good bet that the Eiffel Tower will be featured on the skyline – even if the subsequent story does not take place in the 7th Arrondissement. For the same reason, a movie set in Toronto almost always features the CN Tower in its establishing shot. Other clues within the shot – such as the vintage of the vehicles – can help convey era, while clothing styles and weather can help convey season.

Today, Port Rowan has a large town water tank in the area where the rail yard used to be. But as far as I know, in the 1950s it did not have a signature tower of any sort – certainly nothing that first-time visitors to the town would immediately recognize as being uniquely Port Rowan.

Since I’m modelling the branchline to Port Rowan set in the summer in the 1950s, how do I help convey that information to first-time visitors to my layout?

Today, I completed a key component of my Establishing Shot:

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(“Are we there yet?” A tourist hauls his pride and joy – an Airstream trailer – with the promise of summer fun ahead. Click on the image to read more about the trailer.)

This scene – still a work in progress – is located at the very end of the Port Rowan peninsula, which is the first thing one sees as one enters the layout. I have no idea if there were billboards in Port Rowan to advertise Long Point. But I don’t care either – because I’m pleased that in much less than a square foot of layout real estate, I’ve managed to convey a wealth of information, including:

– We’re close to a place called Long Point.
– Long Point is on Lake Erie.
– Long Point is a summer destination, with cottages, beaches and campgrounds.
– It’s the 1950s: The vehicles tell us so.
– It’s summer, because the driver of the grey car has his windows down and he’s pulling a camper.

Note that the scene does not, specifically, convey that we’re in Port Rowan – only that we’re close to Long Point and Lake Erie. As the visitor moves further into the layout – about three feet to the left, to be precise – they well encounter the railway’s impressive station, complete with “Port Rowan” signs. The Establishing Shot doesn’t have to tell the whole story: subsequent shots can fill in more of the details even as the action and dialogue commence.

I built the billboard from a laser kit I picked up from Barry Silverthorn, who used to manufacturer and market 1:64 structures and details under the Grand River Models brand. (While Barry is no longer running that business as a going concern, he has quite a few of these still in stock.) It’s not obvious in this photo, but I enhanced the kit with nut-bolt-washer hardware on the frame and support legs.

For the sign, I found a suitable vintage image online – it’s actually from the 1940s if I recall, but I plan to add some weathering to the billboard so it appears to have been in place for a while. I added my own text in PhotoShop. I then asked Barry about the size of his billboard so I could adjust the image – and Barry not only resized it for me, but he also took my text and did a much better job of laying it out on the image. (Thanks, Barry!)

This scene still needs work. I plan to add static grass, flowers, weeds and bushes – and possibly even a tree behind the billboard. But already, this little scene is playing an important role in telling layout visitors where they are – and when.

(I’m interested in hearing from others about their Establishing Shot. Use the comments section of this post to share…)

(For those of you who participate in the forums at Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine, there’s also an active discussion of this subject over there…)

Scenery on The Roadshow – on TrainMasters TV

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(Chris Abbott looks on as I add leaves to what will become a whole mess o’ shrubs while behind us, a CNR intermodal train hauling a single-height stack of containers is barrelling past outside)

My layout gets a lot of compliments on the scenery – especially the large meadow around the turntable at Port Rowan. Those of you who want to see how I create meadows will enjoy the final, regularly-scheduled instalment of The Roadshow, currently playing on TrainMasters TV.

With my friend Chris Abbott in the studio to help, I demonstrate how I do basic ground cover, then add grass, bushes, weeds and flowers. The segment runs about an hour and covers all of the steps, step-by-step, to create basic yet convincing scenery, ready for super-detailing. While I model a railway set in the 1950s, I think my meadow-building techniques would make for a good start on the overgrown railway land bordering a modern right of way – the kind one sees right outside the TrainMasters TV studio.

Thanks, again, to TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn for letting me be a part of his terrific show.

Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

Cooking show scenery

Yesterday, I visited Barry Silverthorn at the TrainMasters TV studios in Belleville to record another instalment of The Roadshow series. I was joined by my friend Chris Abbott, and we spent a delightful few hours in front of the cameras to craft a video on creating a meadow.

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(Barry and Chris look on as I lay out four work-in-progress boards, finished to various stages. Note the backlight on the cabinet, and the camera mounted on the ceiling)

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(Barry ponders a helicopter shot as Christian Cantarutti looks on. The monitor between them allows those on-camera to see what the ceiling-mounted camera is shooting. It takes a lot of people – and equipment – to make great TV)

To prepare for shooting day, I created four 12″ by 12″ demonstration pieces out of foam board insulation. These, I finished to various stages, each building on the previous stage:

1 – Plain foam, roughed up on one surface.
2 – Sculpta-mold applied to create some rolling terrain.
3 – Base coat of paint, plus various scatter materials, glued in place with dilute Weld-Bond.
4 – Static grass applied and airbrushed.

Chris and I used these as our starting points to demonstrate various techniques. (For example, we added scatter material to board number 2 and static grass to board #3.) On a layout, this work can take several days – mostly spent waiting for the previous step to dry. But when doing this on camera, it needs to be done in hours, not days. So the approach is similar to a cooking show, where recipes are prepared to various stages. Rather than wait for the glue to dry on a scenery board (or for the chicken to roast in the oven), we can simply move to the board that represents the next stage, and demonstrate what happens next.

Also like a cooking show, where recipes are tested and perfected before the camera rolls, doing the scenery boards ahead of time allowed me to think through what I wanted to demonstrate, what tools and materials I’d need for each step, and so on.

The result is that shooting the segment went smoothly and the final board looked really good. It received flowers, weeds and bushes on top of grass and basic ground cover, and I think TrainMasters TV subscribers will enjoy the process and like the results, when this segment airs this summer.

We even had a couple of great meals as part of the day. Chris and I started with breakfast at Fran’s – a Toronto institution since 1940. For lunch, Barry took us to The Boathouse for fish and chips: Yum!

Thanks, Chris, for coming along – always fun! And thanks as always, Barry, for allowing me to be a part of your awesome show!