More trees for Port Rowan

Trees - Port Rowan

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:

Port Rowan - shrubs

And here are two photos taken today, from a similar point of view:

Trees - Port Rowan

Trees - Port Rowan

I know which look I prefer.

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

Trees - Port Rowan

Trees - Port Rowan

Trees - Port Rowan

Trees - Port Rowan

First finished trees for Port Rowan

Port Rowan - trees
(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:

Port Rowan - trees

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

Port Rowan - trees

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:

Port Rowan - trees
(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:

Port Rowan - trees

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

Overview of St. Williams with trees

 photo Trees-StW-2015-16_zpskkjirqd7.jpg
(Click on the image for a larger view)

Over the past couple of weeks I decided to finish the trees that form the backdrop to the trains in St. Williams. In the above photo, the two boxcars are on the team track while the locomotive at left is on the mainline. The layout makes a 90-degree bend here – not a feature on the prototype – but the trees help to visually soften this. I will further enhance this area with bushes and other undergrowth, but for now the trees make a huge difference and I’m pleased with the change in the layout’s overall appearance.

(With the trees in place, I really notice that my coal shed is still a mock-up. I have a kit in hand for that structure – time to get started on it, I guess!)

I’m especially happy with the small cluster of trees in the foreground at left, which effectively divide the St. Williams run-around into two scenes. Here, CNR 86 enters the “team track” scene heading westbound:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-18_zpswysgumge.jpg

And here, the CNR 15815 leaves the team track scene as it heads eastbound:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-15_zpsx6wy1udl.jpg

Note how the foreground trees (at right in the above photo) effectively obscure the grain storage building. One has to get right into the scene before it is revealed:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-14_zps5584w5oa.jpg

While planting the tree armatures the other day, I realized that some of them were too close together. As I adjusted the spacing, I ended up with a spare armature. Since it was a fairly small specimen, I decided it would look nice behind the garage of the house on Charlotteville Street in St. Williams. It now helps frame the depot when viewing the scene from the west:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-13_zpsvxbcy5wy.jpg

I note in the above photo that the trees behind the depot represent some of my earlier efforts. They don’t look as nice as my more recent trees, so I’ll have to improve their canopies with better leaf material.

There’s always something to do… and always opportunities to make things better!

More like Ontario

I’ve finished adding trees to St. Williams – and what a difference they make to the scene! Compare the two photos below.

M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg

 photo Trees-StW-2015-12_zps5xnme94o.jpg

More on the new trees in a future post, but it’s a busy day today. In addition to all the usual things, I’m preparing for a special visitor tomorrow. He’s a friend from out of town – and he’s riding The Canadian to get here!

Re-tree and a use for drywall screws

My friend Chris Abbott visited yesterday after work, and since he hadn’t seen the layout for a little while I showed him my progress on trees in St. Williams.

While discussing the trees, it occurred to us that I could easily improve some of my earlier trees by adding fresh poly-fiber finished with my leaf of choice – the exquisite line from the Nigel Knight at The Selkirk Leaf Company – directly over the top of the old canopies.

Since I had my tree-making materials handy, I gave it a try, adding some new canopy (indicated by the arrow in the photo below) over a tree behind the water tank in the Lynn Valley:

 photo ReTree-Sample_zps9bfoivpc.jpg
(That looks much better!)

The old canopy material – Woodland Scenics tree netting – can be seen above the newly applied canopy. It doesn’t catch the light as nicely and doesn’t do as nice a job of suggesting “leaves”, in my opinion. This will be an easy update to make, but I won’t do more of it until I finish my new batch of trees in St. Williams.

While enjoying dinner at our favourite local establishment, Chris and I observed that hobbyists often find one technique to do something, then stick with that for life.

Even those who do experiment (and I count myself in that group) are often reluctant to go back and redo completed areas of a layout, even though they have changed techniques, materials, or both.

It’s hard do do that when there are other, fresh projects to tackle – but as the photo above makes clear to me, making the effort is well worthwhile.

(Thanks Chris – always great to bounce ideas off you!)

I used to use drywall screws to build benchwork, until I learned better. But that means I have a large supply of drywall screws. Is there anything I can do with them? (Besides the obvious use to install drywall, of course…)

Turns out, there is: As I showed Chris last night and as the photo below demonstrates, they make handy place-holders for wire armatures when I remove them from the layout to apply my bark mixture. Kind of like a seat filler at the Oscars…

 photo DrywallScrews_zpschchvjnm.jpg

Tree progress in St. Williams

 photo Trees-StW-2015-01_zpsac71ajcr.jpg
(Looking east from the west end of ST. Williams. With trees in place, this is looking more like Ontario)

For the past couple of months, I’ve had wire tree armatures in place in St. Williams, to give me a chance to test-run some trains to make sure that my planned placements did not interfere with operations. With some very minor adjustments, all is well – so, over the past few days, I’ve been working on turning the armatures into trees.

I’m making great progress on this front. In fact, I now have trees all along the wall behind the St. Williams team track:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-02_zps9bvq1yyc.jpg

Already, this has made a huge difference to the scene. Compare the photos below with those in this post from early December:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-04_zpsgz1xlvbg.jpg

 photo Trees-StW-2015-03_zps0mlkyr0u.jpg

In the following set of photos, I illustrate the sequence in which I add leaf canopy to finished armatures. I start from the back and work my way forwards. The trees here took about an hour to finish:

 photo Trees-StW-2015-05_zpsjuldapes.jpg

 photo Trees-StW-2015-06_zpsicyyb4m7.jpg

 photo Trees-StW-2015-07_zpsr4zo2fm2.jpg

 photo Trees-StW-2015-08_zpssghfx7uv.jpg

As I’ve added the canopy, I’ve discovered some new views of the layout, too: vignettes that are now framed by trees.

 photo Trees-StW-2015-09_zpsbhiakyqg.jpg
(West siding switch, St. Williams)

 photo Trees-StW-2015-10_zpsz01v5lqh.jpg
(Mike’s line of sight)

I’m now about halfway done with the big trees in St. Williams. I’ll need to add bushes and other details, of course. Despite my layout being a fairly modest endeavour, there are always things to do on it…

 photo Trees-StW-2015-11_zpsckh4nitx.jpg

Mike’s line of sight

 photo TreeLine-StW-08_zps3ee54bc3.jpg
(Repositioning a few tree armatures opens up a view. Thanks, Mike!)

In a previous post, I included the following photograph…

 photo TreeLine-StW-07_zps9ba69f26.jpg
(Click on the image to read that post)

… and the image prompted the following comments from my friend Mike Cougill:

From the camera’s position there is a really nice sight line through the center of the foreground grove of trees to the overpass.

If you were to relocate one, two or three trees in the middle of that grove toward the left, it would enhance that sight line, making a nicely framed composition of the overpass. Just a thought.

This exchange illustrates two things:

First – the value of mocking up scenes.

Second – the value of sharing them via a blog.

Mike is an artist and knows what he’s talking about. As a result of his feedback, I’ve poked some new holes in the terrain and moved a few of the armatures about to turn a blob of trees into a small grouping at right and a longer, thinner grouping running to the left. And Mike is right – it does improve the composition – whether viewed from track level, from a normal operator’s perspective, and even from close up:

 photo TreeLine-StW-09_zpsde566450.jpg

 photo TreeLine-StW-12_zps39fee6eb.jpg

 photo TreeLine-StW-10_zpsab8ce72c.jpg

At the same time, the trees continue to do what I intend them to do, which is to visually separate the overpass from the rest of St. Williams, and help create a smoother transition from the tall forest of the Lynn Valley to the more open spaces around St. Williams:

 photo TreeLine-StW-13_zpsb1214327.jpg

Seen from straight on, the trees will continue to create a visual barrier between the bridge and the first switch in St. Williams – indicated by the switch stand just ahead of the locomotive in this image:

 photo TreeLine-StW-14_zps42c56e8c.jpg

Finally, as part of my testing, I wanted to make sure I can still capture a favourite view, looking along the track towards the Lynn Valley. I liked it so much, I used it as the lead photo for a feature I wrote for Mike’s publication – The Missing Conversation – earlier this year:

 photo TMC09-FeatureLead_zps64bbfdfe.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about that feature)

It turns out, I can still get this view with the new trees in place. In fact, I think it will look better with the tree line continuing along the scene to both sides of the track, as shown here:

 photo TreeLine-StW-11_zpsb83a3b15.jpg

Thanks for the thought, Mike – I like how you think!

Trees and Thai food :: A visit with Chris

 photo TreeLine-StW-07_zps9ba69f26.jpg
(The foreground trees here will visually separate the St. Williams team track area from the Stone Church Road bridge scene)

Chris Abbott and I spent a most enjoyable afternoon together yesterday, running a few trains, discussing my recent work on trees, plans for gathering all of my various workshop tools and materials in one place, my experiments with couplers, and more.

We ran four trains. In addition to the M233 and M238 (seen in the photos with this post), we also took the new doodlebug and a freight extra for a spin. With the exception of turning the mixed train, there was no switching to do – we were returning a couple of staged trains from Port Rowan to Simcoe and points north. But the switching with the mixed train went smoothly – validating my decision to return to using the Kadee 808 couplers.

I was particularly interested in how trains would look rolling through St. Williams, where I’ve temporarily planted a number of tree armatures in the foreground. And I’m pleased. Trains will look even better when these armatures are coated with bark mixture and topped with leafy canopies.

 photo TreeLine-StW-06_zpsf06dd747.jpg
(The new trees will form a short tunnel between St. Williams and the bridge over Stone Church Road)

In adding trees, I like to start with the bare armatures and leave them in place for a bit, while I conduct some operating sessions. This is useful for confirming that the trees will not get in the way of coupling, uncoupling and other tasks.

I make a point of testing the reach-in access for both left-handed and right-handed people. I don’t need to actually do the work with the off-hand – just make sure I can get my arm in and out of a scene without clocking a tree with an elbow. I know I will do a lot of testing with the foreground trees near the middle of the double-ended siding in St. Williams. They’re low, compact trees – but I want to make sure they don’t interfere with dropping and lifting cars in the siding.

 photo TreeLine-StW-05_zpsf27a7acf.jpg
(The foreground trees to the right of the tracks will frame the railway as it curves around this corner of the room)

Chris and I started the afternoon with a trip to Harbord House for a serving of bacon, cheese and ale dip, stuffed chicken breast, and pints – followed by a stop at Things Japanese and Bakka-Phoenix Books – all located within a few doors of each other. I have a great neighbourhood.

Chris stayed for dinner, too: A Thai beef curry done in a red sauce and finished with snow peas and clementines. It was nice to have a very relaxing afternoon, with plenty of time to do things – railway-related and otherwise.

A great time, as always, Chris – thanks for coming over!

First visit to the Algonquin Railway

 photo RyanMendell_zps32fa2f6c.jpg

On Sunday, I hopped the 506 Carlton streetcar and headed east for an operating session on the Algonquin Railway – a terrific HO scale shelf layout in a spare room that’s being built by Ryan Mendell. (Ryan recently visited my layout for the first time and was keen to return the favour.)

Ryan is doing a terrific job. He has a great eye for detail, and is obviously an accomplished modeller. What’s particularly impressive is that he’s only been back in the hobby for a few years after a long time away from it for all the usual reasons. From his layout design, to the equipment, to the structures and scenery, everything looks like the product of a modeller with decades of experience under his belt. Well done!

I’ve recently been working on trees for the St. Williams area of my layout, so I was particularly interested in Ryan’s tree-building efforts. Click on the image, below, to visit his blog and learn how he makes those terrific Eastern White Pines:

 photo RyanMendell-Pines_zps5fe712ce.jpg

The afternoon gave me some great ideas for filling in the space under my taller trees with saplings and other plantings to give my forested areas more bulk. I predict another visit to the craft store in the near future to pick up some craft brooms and other materials. And I’m going to build a few of those pines, just because they look great.

The Algonquin Railway runs very nicely and we spent a most satisfying hour or so switching out typical railway customers in northern Ontario, aided for part of the session by Ryan’s young son – who will one day make a fine railway modelling enthusiast, I expect.

After our session, we retired to The Feathers for lamb and ale stews, pints, and more conversation, and I had much to think about on the streetcar ride home.

Thanks for the great afternoon, Ryan! I’m looking forward to our next get-together…

St. Williams trees (+ “belly barrier”)

My recent work on tobacco kilns has put more focus on the St. Williams scene, and I decided it was time to build more trees. So I’ve also been working on twisting armatures – a great project to undertake while vegetating in front of the television.

I have done 28 and while they still need to be gooped and adorned with a canopy, I can already envision how they will improve the scene:

 photo TreeLine-StW-01_zps5c3471c2.jpg

 photo TreeLine-StW-02_zps8a212dd9.jpg

It’s a fair reach into the layout to plant the trees behind the grain storage building – so to protect the cornfield along the front edge of the scene I cobbled together a quick “belly barrier” from styrene sheet, scrap wood and a couple of clamps:

 photo CornProtector_zps38664893.jpg

It’s crude but it does the trick.

Layouts swallow trees – even big trees like these – distressingly quickly. I’ll need another two dozen trees (plus saplings, bushes, etc.) to complete this area. I can do a half-dozen armatures in an evening before my hands become tired of twisting wire, so I’ll be doing more of these over the coming week or two…