“Steady…”

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“Steady” is a vital command when working a Border Collie on sheep – and nowhere is it more useful than at a pen. There are two keys, I’ve found, to penning sheep:

First, do not try to force the sheep into the pen – they’ll squirt out like you’ve stomped on a ketchup package. Instead, the handler and the dog must work together to close off all other avenues the sheep might take, so that going into the pen looks like an escape route.

Second, one must let the sheep figure this out for themselves. They need time to look at the pen and decide it’s less of a danger than either the handler or dog.

Working sheep is exciting for a Border Collie, and penning is a task that requires a lot of restraint and subtle moves.

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It can be a nerve-wracking exercise for the dog, who either must remain still or make only minor adjustments to its position. This is where “steady” becomes important, because it’s a command to the dog to slow down or stop in its tracks. (Some handlers use “stand” or “take time”, or just “time”.)

The handler in these pictures is having a good run at Judge Farm: The sheep are checking out the pen – and they’re aimed at the hinge on the pen door, which is the best possible position to minimize their chance of either turning back (towards the handler) or squirting between the far side of the opening and the dog. The dog is on the hips of the sheep, ready to cut off escape to either side as commanded by the handler. And if the sheep do enter the pen as hoped, the handler is ready to follow along behind and swing the door shut.

But they’d better complete the pen soon. If a train goes by, all bets are off…

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For the Judge Farm module, I wanted to model something relevant to my other passion – working my Border Collie on sheep. I picked the penning task because it would give me the opportunity to model the pen itself – an interesting structure built from four panels, linked together by rods at the corners. It’s also a scene in which everybody is at rest, which also looks better on a model railway than modelling action frozen in time.

The railway now has more greenery on the right of way. I wrote about reducing the ballast slope in an earlier post. In the photos here, I’ve also added static grass, and installed (but not yet stained) RoW fence posts.

The sheep are from The Aspen Modeling Company. I painted them and added some weathering powder to muddy them up a bit.

The handler is a figure from Arttista. He started life as a “Man with Pry Bar” (Item 718). I tossed the pry bar, adjusted his hands, then bent up a shepherd’s crook from wire and put it in his right hand. It can be seen in the lead photo.

The dog is an HO scale wolf figure – I believe from Woodland Scenics. It’s the right size and general shape for a Border Collie. I bent down the tail further (Border Collies hold their tails down when they’re calm and “thinking”, while the tail tends to fly up when they’re excited). and then gave the wolf figure a repaint into classic Border Collie black and white. I used my dog, Mocean, as my model, checking things like how high the white fur goes on his legs and so on.

I think he got fed up with the attention…

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“Leather Brown”

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Today I airbrushed the rails on two four-foot sections from the Judge Farm module that I’m building for TrainMasters TV.

“Rail Brown” is hard to find these days as traditional railway hobby paint lines dry up. Instead of fretting about this, I grabbed a bottle of “Leather Brown” from Acrylicos Vallejo – item 70871 in the “Model Color” line – and used it instead. These paints spray well and dry dead flat – and I think it worked just fine. I’ll have to grab another bottle, though – the one I have may run out before I finish all the track.

Sharp-eyed readers will note the joint between two rail sections in the foreground rail, just to the left of centre. I notched the top of the rail head with a fine saw before applying the joint bars to either side of the web. The paint gets into the notch and does not get removed when cleaning the top of the rails after airbrushing.

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These two sections aren’t yet finished – there’s a lot more scenery work to do. But they’re now close enough to finished that I can show them as part of the S Scale Workshop modular layout at The North Shore Train Show in Laval, Québec in a week and a half.

That’s the good news. The bad news is I still have two more four-foot rectangle sections – plus four small trapezoids – to wire. And then I have to sling scenery, ballast and more “Leather Brown” paint. I’ll get there – and my friend Chris Abbott is coming over tonight so we can work on more wiring together.

But I’m going to spend a lot of time in the workshop between now and next Friday morning when I hit the road…

“And such an instrument I was to use…”

“Is this an Olfa knife which I see before me / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.”

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(Chris recites the Olfa knife soliloquy)

Over the weekend, Chris Abbott joined me in the TrainMasters TV studio to demonstrate some best practices and neat ideas for wiring the two modules I’m building and documenting for the show. We covered a lot of ground – from installing drop feeders and track power mains… to using Anderson Power Poles for connections… to building our own cables for the throttle network and mounting the throttle panels… to adding strain relief to all wires and cables.

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TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn captured the process in electrons and seemed most pleased with our presentation, too. He even bought us lunch! (To be fair, he does that for everyone who takes part in the show…)

And of course, there are always trains to watch, since the studio is located next to one of the busiest mainlines in Canada:

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(Me and Barry, taking a break from making TV)

When we got home, my lovely wife invited Chris for dinner and – knowing that wiring is thirsty work – she’d even slipped out to grab some Cameron’s Auburn Ale for us. (Yay – beer!)

I’m really pleased with how the day went – and, it gets me closer to being ready for the exhibition at which I’ll join other members of the S Scale Workshop to entertain the public for two days. Thanks again, Chris!

The time is running out, however, so I’ve been working ahead. Today, I added ballast and started on basic ground cover on the two four-foot sections that are now wired:

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(Brown areas will receive crops while some of the green areas will be further enhanced with static grass – and a lot of fence lines will be required…)

I don’t consider this anywhere near finished, but if I get all sections done to this point they will at least be respectable enough to show.

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(I will have to go back over my track to scrape the ballast off the tie tops once the glue has dried: A single-edge razor blade makes a great scraper)

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(I opted for a gravel road through the underpass: The surface needs more work but this is a good start…)

I may have to cover some scenery-building techniques after the exhibition – fabricating dioramas as needed to demonstrate various approaches. We’ll see how things go.

Chris is coming over this week to help me with the wiring on the rest of the module sections. With luck and focus, we’ll get it done in an evening. That will give me some breathing space to demonstrate some basic ground cover during my next visit to the TrainMasters TV studio.

The clock is ticking…

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

With apologies to Robert Frost…
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I’m waiting for some detail parts to arrive for my tobacco kilns, so I’ve set them aside for now. Instead, I’ve been working at the other end of St. Williams – the west end where (on my layout, at least) the line passes over Stone Church Road then plunges into the Lynn Valley en route to Port Rowan. With time on my hands this weekend I pulled the wire tree armatures from this area and turned them into finished trees, following my usual take on the Gordon Gravett method.

This area has looked pretty much like this since last summer:
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Now, it looks like this:
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Much, much better, I think.

Before planting any trees, I added fence lines between the road overpass and the trestle. The white-painted boards and posts near the overpass nicely frame the scene:
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I did not bother adding the white boards at the other end of the fence as it’s out of sight – and I’m not going to add fences between here and Port Rowan because I feel they’ll clutter the scene unnecessarily.

Once the fences were in place, I added bushes along the fence lines, then shorter trees behind those, then taller trees behind the shorter trees. My tallest trees are about a foot high and create a leafy canyon through which the line runs. In effect, it’s a short tunnel – a view block to separate St. Williams from the Lynn River and give operators the feeling of going places:
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At the other end of this new stand of trees – near the trestle over the Lynn River – I planted trees in arrangements that would disguise the point where the river meets the backdrop:
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Since the forest here is supposed to continue beyond the fascia, the tall trees at the front of the layout have leaf canopies only at their top. The branches in the forest are devoid of leaves for the most part. This provides an interesting view of a train as it rolls through the valley:
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(Note the ferns on the forest floor. These are HO scale details from JTT-Microscale and I’ll be planting more throughout the forest.)

Finally, I added a visual reinforcement of the ambient audio in this area by installing a mated pair of cardinals in one of the trees. (These are from the same source as the Redwing Blackbirds in the meadow at Port Rowan.) Now, when people hear a cardinal call, they’ll be able to see the source:
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(Hmm: It looks like there’s another male in the distance at right. Get ready for a noisy territorial sing-off!)

This newly scenicked area will give visitors a better idea of my plans for the rest of the Lynn Valley. That said, I planted about 20 trees here over the weekend and based on that I expect I’ll have to build another 80-90 trees to complete the valley scene. Fortunately, the armatures – which take the longest – can be twisted while watching TV, minding a pot of stew in the kitchen, etc., so it shouldn’t take that long.

Besides – I’m inspired now, and keen to see the completed valley!

Cattails at the trestle

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I haven’t had much time to work on the layout this month but over the weekend, I made some time – just enough to get started on planting cattails along the banks of the Lynn River.

I ordered 10 packages of HO scale cattails (plus other goodies) from JTT Microscale – the same folks who make the HO scale corn I’ve used in St. Williams. Each package has two dozen cattails in it, and over the weekend I used six packages to create three stands of cattails along the stretch of river near the trestle:
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I’ll use the remaining four packages to add some cattails near the twin-span steel girder bridge, then decide if I need to buy more. Each grouping of cattails is located on the inside of a curve in the river, where the water is a little slower: I avoided outside curves since water tends to erode riverbanks in these locations. The water flows left to right in these photos, so at the sharp curve near the trestle I located the planting after the curve, in the lee of the flow.

To plant the cattails, I drilled holes in the scenery base using a Dremel tool, dipped the end of each plant into a blob of Weld-Bond, and stuck them into the holes: easy-peasy. The Magic Water I used for the river drills extremely easily. But the sand I used as part of my ground cover does a great job of ruining drill bits – it’ll take the point off a bit in no time, and I wrecked two bits while planting six packages worth of cattails. The lesson: Use cheap bits in readily available sizes.

Keep in mind that this is early days – I have a lot more vegetation to add along the banks of the Lynn River, especially in this stretch that flows under the trestle. I will need to create many, many bushes and small trees to line the banks – but these bulrushes will add a different texture to the scene. I think it looks better already!

UPDATE: I originally called this post “Bullrushes / Cattails at the trestle” and used the term interchangeably. As reader Neil Froese notes in the comments, they are in fact very different plants. So I’ve updated the post accordingly. (Neil: Thanks for this – and it’s one of the reasons I write the blog. Now I know more about cattails and bullrushes. Cheers!)

Greener Scene

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I decided, after much consideration, that my summer scene was just too hot and dry. The grass was baked to a golden straw colour – more reminiscent of California than Canada. So yesterday, I addressed the problem: I airbrushed the layout.

Having had great success using acrylic artist ink to tint the resin when I poured the Lynn River, I returned to this particular well. Sap Green from Daler Rowney was perfect and airbrushed beautifully right out of the bottle: no thinning necessary. (During and after spraying, I ran the paint booth – which is co-located in the layout room – and wore a mask.)

I added green in random splotches and stripes, being careful to not hit the backdrop or the river surface. I shot between the weeds and other plants and didn’t worry about complete coverage – this was weathering on a layout-sized scale.

My focus was the large expanses of meadow in Port Rowan… the banks of the Lynn River… and the larger areas of grass in St. Williams. But anywhere that I thought looked too burnt and dry got a spray. After leaving it alone for a few hours, I went back and buffed the rails to remove any ink that settled on them.

The green has helped blend everything together better, and the layout looks more like southern Ontario now. I’m glad I took the trouble to do this!

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Return of the Giant Hogw… er, Fern

Turn and run!
Nothing can stop them:
Around every river and canal their power is growing!

I recently wrote about finding scale fern plants from two suppliers. I decided to give the ferns sold by Scenic Express a try so I ordered a bunch and they arrived today. (Well, sort of: More on that in a moment.)

They are invincible:
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering!

I opened a package and put four clusters of them – one package worth – under some in-progress trees in the Lynn Valley to see how they look:
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Well, they’re very good looking, but…

As I noted in my previous posting, Scenic Express did not give a scale for these plants. Their website described them as approximately a half-inch tall.

They’re actually considerably taller.

Botanical creature stirs – seeking revenge
Royal beast did not forget.
Soon they escaped – spreading their seed
Preparing for an onslaught – threatening the human race!

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(Poor guy: He doesn’t stand a chance.)

I definitely can use these plants. But as they stand, they’re about twice as high as the ferns in my back garden (which grow slightly taller than the deck of the baggage wagon). To make them work, I will snip apart the clusters into individual fronds and glue the pieces into the terrain as I detail this area. That’ll reduce their height to something realistic. As a bonus, I expect the finished scene will look much better with the fronds spread out more.

Experimenting with products and techniques isn’t confined to 70s prog-rock…

Heracleum mantegazziani!

One of the great things about ordering from Scenic Express is they always – without asking – provide a parcel tracking number. This makes it easy to track shipments online through either the USPS or Canada Post websites, or even via the Canada Post smart phone app. That helps me plan my day – I know whether I’m expecting an international package so I try to be home when the mail arrives in case there are taxes to pay.

Checking the app this morning, I saw that my ferns were to arrive today (“out for delivery” the app reported). The letter carrier arrived and had packages for both my wife and me – but no ferns. I didn’t think anything of it – maybe the package didn’t make it onto the truck.

So imagine my surprise when I checked the app about a half-hour later and the app reported “Package successfully delivered”! I checked the porch again: No package.

I suspected the box went to the wrong house. So I whistled for the dogs and they got another walk as we went around the neighbourhood looking for the letter carrier. Fortunately, I spotted the Canada Post delivery van a couple of blocks from home and caught up with the carrier.

We talked about it and I showed her the tracking info. I don’t think she’d ever seen the app. She told me that she’d delivered three packages to one other house on our street, and that someone had received them at the house. But she wouldn’t go back to check with them. So I did.

I rang the doorbell and explained the situation, and sure enough – my package had been delivered to the wrong address.

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“Well, it says here that I delivered it somewhere, so I guess that’s been successfully delivered…”

Gordon Gravett v3 on the way

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Shirley Rowe at Wild Swan Publications: My copy of Volume 3 of the scenery modelling series by Gordon Gravett is on its way.

This volume covers grass and general landscape – including weeds, wild flowers, hedges, roads, pavements, mud, puddles and rivers. In short, all that stuff we should put under Gordon’s wonderful trees.

108 pages – £24.95 plus shipping. But it’ll be well worth it.

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Ferns

Here’s more stuff I don’t need to know about…

These ferns by military company Eduard are photo-etched and scaled for 1:72 – a bit tiny for S, but that’s okay when one’s talking plants. I use HO scale scenery items on the layout all the time.

Click on the photo for more details:
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Scenic Express also offers ferns, in two styles. No scale is given but they measure approximately 0.5″ tall.

Click on each photo for more info:
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Used sparingly, these would look right at home on the forest floor in the Lynn Valley.

Time to tackle St. Williams

While working out how to handle the LCL traffic at St. Williams, it occurred to me that it’s probably time to focus more on this area of the layout.
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I’ve done an overall first pass of scenery on the layout, but the Port Rowan area has received a lot more attention in this regard, with the addition of second-wave elements such as weeds and bushes. Port Rowan has also benefitted from the addition of a few finished structures such as the coal dump, the section house, and the team track barn.

St. Williams has crops, but no fences. There are no trees, no weeds, and no bushes. The team track area has one finished structure – the grain storage building I’ve relocated from Cheltenham – but the station area is still 100% mocked up.

And I’m in the mood to tackle the very modest St. Williams station. (Much more modest than the original, Grand Trunk-era station, which was similar to the one I have to build for Port Rowan.)

Interestingly, this web site says the station still exists as a storage shed somewhere…

No promises on when I’ll get this done. But stay tuned.