Mike’s line of sight

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(Repositioning a few tree armatures opens up a view. Thanks, Mike!)

In a previous post, I included the following photograph…

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(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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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(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:

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

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!

Road crew

Stone Church Road bridge.

I’m making good progress on the twin-span deck girder bridge over the Lynn River, so today I decided to do some landform work around the Stone Church Road overpass.

This is located just west of St. Williams on the layout. It is inspired by a bridge further up the line in Rymal, Ontario. I’ve always liked the photos from the prototype location, which show a small bridge that’s dominated by its abutments, and by any train that happens to be crossing it.

The bridge is an HO scale model from Micro-Engineering – part 75-502. It’s 30 feet long in HO, which works out to just 22 feet in S (30 divided by 87, times 64).

Stone Church Road bridge.

I’ve added wooden S scale ties to the bridge and spiked Code 70 Rail to each tie, with Code 55 guard rails spiked every fourth tie or so. I still need to finish the deck with bolt heads to represent the fasteners joining the ties to the steel girders, plus guard timbers bolted to the tops of the ties.

I’m pleased with how this scene is coming together.

Eggnog isn’t the only thing that’s going to be spiked this Christmas

That’s because (drum-roll, please) I’ve started to lay rail!

First rails. Proto:87 Stores spikes on a deck girder bridge.

Now, I am cheating a bit. I’ve started laying rail on the three bridges, because I can work at the bench. In fact, I realized I was better off working at the bench while doing the bridges so I could properly support the structures while spiking the rail to their decks. (I’ll do the same with the rails over the pit at the coal dealer in Port Rowan.)

For spikes, I’m trying something different this time. I’m using scale sized spikes from Proto 87 Stores* – part of their “Ultimate” line of HO track. As Andy Reichert at Proto 87 Stores writes on his website, these are “precision milled from half-hard stainless steel sheet”. This means they’re a more realistic shape and they drive home much like a real spike does, by splitting the grain of the tie. (The more traditional round, wire spike tends to push the grain apart. I’ve also found that these stainless spikes are less likely to bend when using them than the wire spikes.)

The downside? Well, it’s not really a downside, but they are darned small:

Now that's a small spike! Proto:87 Stores spikes, with ruler.

The spikes I’m using are the style Andy offers for O and S scale. They’re about 3/16″ long, which works out to 6″ in S scale. Even the tiniest needle nose pliers tend to engulf them. I was able to use a pair of long-jawed needle nose pliers to install the spikes but will look at how to modify this set of pliers so they’re more like Micro Mark’s spike insertion pliers.

Are they worth it? Well, have a look and decide for yourself.

In this view, we’re looking down on the bridge, with a fret of spikes adjacent. (The spikes come in single frets of 250 or, as seen here, a four-fret size with 1,000.)

Proto:87 Stores Spikes - fret and bridge.

The heads are barely visible, as they would be on a real railroad. I’ve used Code 70 for the running rails and Code 55 for the guard rails. (Using a smaller rail height for the guard rails means I won’t be scrubbing away the weathering whenever Iím cleaning the track.)

I spiked the running rails to every tie. For the guard rails, I added spikes every fourth tie. I was pleased to discover that these spikes are small enough that the guard rails could be spaced very close – at the correct distance from the running rails – without the spikes getting in the way.

Despite their small size, the spikes show up well when one views the track from near eye-level, as in the lead photo. They’ll be particularly effective in photographs.

(I also note that a couple of my spikes are sitting a little high in the lead photo. That’s fine: In looking at photos of the Port Rowan branch I’ve noticed a number of spikes working themselves out of the ties due to the passage of trains, so it’s perfectly prototypical.)

I’m glad I decided to give these spikes a try. Thank you, Andy, for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for accurate, realistic track-laying.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Bridge mockups

I’ve built and installed abutments for the two steel bridges on my layout and thought I’d mock up a couple of scenes to assess how they look. So here goes…

Lynn Valley twin-span girder bridge - mock-up.

I’ve built a twin-span steel girder deck bridge based on the prototype structure across the Lynn River on the adjacent Port Dover branch. This is known as the Pennington Bridge today, and is part of the Lynn Valley Rail Trail.

Obviously, I must still paint the abutments, add rail and so on. The scenery will come up to the bottom of the centre pier, too – until then, I must squint and imagine a narrow slice of daylight between bridge and river, plus all those trees framing the scene.

Inspired by a short span across Stone Church Road in Rymal – well away from what I’m modelling on the layout but still crossed by the trains that worked the Port Rowan branch – I’ve included a short steel girder deck bridge across a road just south of St. Williams. No, it’s not there on the prototype, but it’ll be a nice spot to photograph trains:

Stone Church Road bridge - mock-up.

Subroadbed almost finished

I hosted a work session / dinner last night, with my friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney coming by after work to help build subroadbed.

It was most useful to have three pairs of hands put to the task since there were a few very long pieces of plywood to cut, install and level. These included the roadbed for the east end of St. Williams…

Roadbed at the east end of St. Williams.

… and the west end of Port Rowan:

Roadbed - Port Rowan from the end of the peninsula.

Port Rowan is going to be a long, skinny yard:

Roadbed - looking towards end of track at Port Rowan.

Earlier in the day, I added bracing for a potential third bridge on the layout – an overpass just west of St. Williams:

Roadbed bracing - Stone Church Road overpass.

This didn’t exist in real life but there’s a lovely short bridge over Stone Church Road at Rymal, further north on the Hagersville Sub, and adding the bracing means I have the option to include this bridge if the mood strikes.