Tobacco kilns ready for weathering

I promised myself that I’d finish the three tobacco kilns for St. Williams by the end of this year. Then I undertook a bunch of other projects. Suddenly, it’s November – and at last report I only had one kiln anywhere close to being done: How did that happen?!?

So over the past month, I’ve been working on them more diligently. As this photo shows, all three are now built and painted:

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The kilns definitely need weathering, but assembly is done. I can now turn to fabricating details to complete the kiln yard scene.

I have added the stoves to the foundation, with firebox doors cut from O scale Grandt Line kits for passenger car stoves (item 3068):

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They’re too small, but they’re simply glued in place on the foundations – so when I find (or build) something more appropriate I’ll simply carve off these doors and replace them.

Grandt Line also supplied the stack for the rear of the kilns (item 3552). Each kit includes two stacks, which I spliced together to get the length I needed. I scratch-built the vents in the lower corners at the rear:

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I covered the roof with peel’n’stick S scale three-tab shingles from Rusty Stumps. I always run a bead of CA before attaching shingles, because I don’t trust the peel’n’stick adhesive. Also, when the roof is finished, I brush it down with diluted Weld-Bond to lock the shingles together.

One final observation about shingles: To get them in straight lines, one usually draws a series of parallel lines on the roof stock. I’ve found a better way – I use pre-scribed styrene sheet. For the tobacco kilns, I used Evergreen “tile” sheet with 1/8″ squares. This perfectly matched the spacing for the shingle strips:

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The kilns definitely need weathering, but over the past month I’ve turned them from mock-ups into models. And I’ve beat my (self-imposed) deadline.

Two square feet?

If you’re like me – and if you build things in this hobby, then you probably are – you start with a clear workbench and then as you get into a project the tools, materials and waste start to pile up – literally. At some point, you find yourself working in a fraction of the space. A well-known hobbyist once called it something like the “two square feet rule”.

I’d love to have two square feet!

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I’ve tried, repeatedly, to be a neater modeller. It doesn’t happen. The muse grabs hold… I start creating… and I end up with stuff everywhere.

The good news is, I’m back to working on my tobacco kilns for St. Williams – and have been for a couple of days now. The last time I made any significant progress on these, it was early April. What can I say? I got distracted.

The less-good news (there’s no bad news – it’s a hobby) is that I’m down to about eight square inches of work space. Time to take time – and clean up. Then, back to building kilns – which I hope to have finished and on the layout by the end of the year…

“The Right Number”

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Last night, I hosted a mini-meet of the S Scale Workshop as three fellow members – including one who travelled quite a distance – paid a visit to my layout. And I received a lovely surprise, too…

For the past five years, Jamie Bothwell has been travelling from Pennsylvania to southern Ontario at this time of year to take part in the annual Paris to Ancaster Bike Race. He stays with our mutual friend Andy Malette – and this year, our calendars aligned and allowed the two of them to visit my layout. I invited Chris Abbott along as well, knowing that the four of us would have much to talk about.

It was a long day for me – one that included a morning sheep-herding lesson with my Border Collie, Mocean, followed by braving the weekend-long closure of a major highway in the Toronto area to attend the funeral for Oliver Clubine in Brantford. Normally that’s a 75 minute drive, but it took about two hours due to traffic chaos. It was well worth the trip, however: The service was packed to overflowing with people from many aspects of Oliver’s life. He was much loved and respected, and will be sorely missed.

Knowing that the trip home from Brantford would take a long time, we scheduled our gathering for 7:00pm. We started the evening by introducing Jamie to Harbord House – which has become a tradition for first-time visitors to my layout. Andy very generously picked up the tab – thanks, Andy!

In the layout room, I gave a quick update to my guests on recent projects and some future plans. Then Chris and Jamie formed a two-person crew – handling conductor and engineer duties, respectively – and we set to work. (I had a second train ready to run in case Andy wanted to get some track time, but he was happy to just – as he put it – “Drink it all in”.)

After a number of problems during operating sessions, the layout ran perfectly last night: no derailments, no stalls. I assumed that Chris had worked the conductor’s position more often than he had, so it was good for him to get some experience with the paperwork and I’ll be sure to give him more opportunities in the future. Jamie has DCC experience, but was new to Lenz. However, he picked up the throttles very quickly and was running Mogul 80 like an Old Head by the time the session wrapped up. A fine time was had by all.

As for the lovely surprise…

Jamie reads my blog and he was taken by my work on modelling tobacco kilns, and he liked my blog posting about sending thank you notes to layout hosts. So he put his talents to work and presented me with a lovely watercolour as a thank you for letting him visit. I found a place for it in the kitchen this morning – in a high-traffic area where I’ll get to enjoy it several times every day:
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Jamie called his painting The Right Number, after the thinking behind my decision to model three kilns on the tobacco farm in St. Williams.

Thanks so much, Jamie: What a treat! I hope today’s race goes well for you and I look forward to a return visit. Andy, Chris – great to see you both, as always. Perhaps we can make this an annual event…

Kiln conveyor modifications

In an exchange of emails with Mike Livingston, I learned more about the conveyors used to load a tobacco kiln – and as a result I’ve made a few modifications to my model. I have more painting and weathering to do on this, but thought I’d share the progress regardless…

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Mike confirmed for me that the conveyors had an electric motor so I added one under the frame. (It’s on the far side of the conveyor so not visible in the above photo.) He also told me about an interesting feature: A rod in a sleeve that connected to the motor controller at the bottom and ran to the top of the conveyor. This allowed the kiln hanger to start and stop the conveyor remotely.

This would’ve been a really small diameter rod – about 1/4″ – and the rod and tube arrangement would’ve been difficult to model accurately in 1:64. Therefore, I’ve added a conduit alongside the conveyor. I’ll assume that instead of a push-rod, this conveyor has an on/off switch.

I also relocated the hand crank, which Mike explained is used to raise and lower the conveyor.

Thanks for the additional information, Mike – much appreciated and it’s resulting in a better model!

Reworking the kiln interior

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In a previous post, I mentioned that as I built the conveyor for my tobacco kiln scene I also had to make some modifications to the kiln itself. Here’s the story…

When I first posted photos of the kiln, with the open loading doors, I received an email from Mike Livingston. Mike has been a great help with prototype information about the Port Rowan area – and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that for a few years back in the 1960s, he worked as a hanger during the tobacco harvests. Mike was able to give me some great information about the kiln interiors and the loading process – and pointed out an error that I’d made in the framing that’s visible through the loading doors.

I originally put posts in the centre of each door, as shown here:

 photo Kiln-Load-06_zps65fe14c9.jpg

This was incorrect. Mike pointed out that while the centre post was fine in the centre door, the kiln would not be able to get through the openings on the left or right.

While the arrangement struck me as odd, I have a post-card image that shows the posts in this location, as seen here:
Loading a kiln photo Tobacco-Harvest-02_zpsb4eb844c.jpg

My mistake? I realized after the fact that I’d worked from a photo of a slightly different style of kiln. For starters, the loading doors span the full width of the kiln, whereas my prototype has closed panels to either side of the loading doors. There are other differences too. One that isn’t apparent is that I don’t know the dimensions of this kiln. I can only guess. It might be a few feet longer or shorter than the one I measured, which would throw off the relationship between interior post spacing and the loading door openings.

So, after sleeping on the problem, I started the day yesterday by carefully ungluing the interior and pulling it from the kiln. I then built a new interior, with five posts. Here it is, along with the old interior – still packed with hanging tobacco:
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Fortunately, I was able to reuse the hung tobacco I made for the original interior. After transferring it from old to new, the new interior looked like this and was ready to install in the kiln:
 photo Kiln-Load-08_zpse2a080d8.jpg

Note that I left the tobacco out of one row – row 5, if you count from the left and include the tobacco hung to either side of the end posts on this frame. I did this to accommodate the conveyor after reading Mike’s description of the inside of a kiln, supported by a couple of diagrams he created to help me out. Mike writes:

A kiln has six full length sets of tiers running vertically, and another two sets of shorter tiers under the roof. Going across there will be six rows of hung tobacco.

The bottom tier is usually at the lower edge of the loading window: This allows sufficient space for the burners on the floor to prevent setting the cured tobacco on fire.

Mike also gave me permission to share his diagrams, so here they are. Note that these are not to scale – they are general arrangement drawings only:

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(Top view, looking down)

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(Side view, looking from one end)

I like that Mike has included a gang plank used by hangers. I will have to model one of these and leave it near one of the other structures in my kiln yard.

From the top-down view, it’s clear that the conveyor would be positioned in row 2, and the hangers could also hang rows 1 and 3 from there. The conveyor would then be repositioned to row 5 to hang rows 4, 5 and 6. On my model, rows 1-4 and 6 have been finished, and the crew is ready to back the conveyor out of row 5, hanging as they go.

I must admit that it was a tough decision to tear out the interior and re-do it. The original interior took me a day of modelling time. Granted, most of that time was spent figuring out how to do the interior in the first place, and the garbage can is full of failed experiments. That said, as soon as Mike pointed out my error I could feel it starting to bother me – and I know that feeling never goes away. So while it was a tough decision, I know it was the right one and I’m grateful that Mike shared his knowledge. Thanks, Mike!

Mike has also shared some great information about the conveyors. I will use this to make some modifications and additions to my model, then share the info and the results. Stay tuned!

Speaking of resources:

I’ll reserve judgement on the poetry – but this web site has some great images of people at work tying sticks and loading a kiln. There’s also a link to a video of tobacco harvesting in Tillsonburg, Ontario in 1998.

Enjoy if you visit…

A kiln conveyor

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Loading a tobacco kiln is a lot of work. A conveyor makes it a lot easier – and since they’re a neat detail I thought I’d add one to my kiln scene. Fortunately, I had a package of HO scale portable coal conveyors handy – they’re part 933-3520 in the Walthers Cornerstone series. I cannibalized one of these to create a kiln conveyor – a process that primarily involved building a new, wider conveyor belt.

I cut a piece of .040″ styrene sheet for the belt, rounding the ends to suggest that the conveyor is curling around a roller. I then added lengths of 0.040″ half-round strip at regular intervals to represent the ridges that help the belt do its job. I cut apart the frame that supports the wheels and used some 0.060″ styrene angle to stretch it to match the new, wider conveyor.

My prototype photo showed a sheet across the bottom of the conveyor – presumably where the sticks are laid, one at a time, to convey them into the belly of the kiln. I added this sheet using some thin sheet wood and more styrene angle.

Finally, I painted the conveyor then created a stick of tobacco and glued it to the belt.

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The conveyor required me to add the styrene walls to the bottom of the model what will represent the concrete foundation. I’ll write more about that – plus some modifications to the kiln to accommodate the conveyor – in a future post. Stay tuned!


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As I continue to work on the tobacco kilns for St. Williams, I decided that the first kiln I build should have open loading doors on the side facing the fascia. It’s August on my layout and the first of the tobacco is being harvested and loaded into kilns for a process known as “flue curing”. This is an important step on the path from seed to cigarette, in an industry that was vital to the region of Ontario that I’m modelling.
Tying sticks photo Tobacco-Harvest-01_zps9fd58070.jpg
(Click on the image to read about the loading process)

I’ll model the tying and loading process, complete with the covered work tables and the conveyor. But those big open loading doors will provide visitors with a good look inside the kiln on my layout and I can’t have them seeing the inside of a white styrene shell. So I had to figure out how to model – or at least, represent – the sticks of tobacco hung in a mostly loaded kiln.

For that, I turned to the ancient art of facial tissue folding.

I like using fascial tissue – kleenex – for many things on a layout, from window curtains to canvas covers. (Long-time readers will recall that I used fascial tissue for the tarp over the doorway on the team track barn in Port Rowan.) So I was pretty sure I could make something that would fill the kiln and look appropriate.

I started by colouring the kleenex, using artists inks as shown here:
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I put several drops of green on the kleenex, added a few drops of yellow and a couple of brown, then balled up the kleenex and worked the colours through it until there was no white material left. I wore disposable gloves for this step, because it is messy. I then carefully un-balled the kleenex and spread it on my glass surface to dry.

While it dried, I made a rack to mount the tobacco.
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This is not a complete kiln interior. The inside of one of these structures is a real “monkey bars” of posts and beams, notched to support the sticks as they’re loaded into the kiln. This is enough interior to hide the fact that the rest of the kiln is an empty shell.

I eyeballed the measurements from photos I’ve taken of the inside of a real kiln. The critical measurement was the distance between the three verticals at the lower right of the above image, as these needed to line up with the middle of each open loading door.

With this structure assembled and tested inside the kiln, I went back to my kleenex, tore off small pieces, and artfully folded them to look something like a bundle of tobacco ready to mount on a stick. I then added some bronze wire to the top row of the framing, turned the frame upside down, and attached my kleenex scraps to the wires with CA. When the top rows were done, I glued another series of wires into the second row and repeated the process. In all, I did three levels of sticks – being careful to leave some empty spots on the second level where they’ll be behind two of the doors, so I have a place for workers to load the final sticks into this kiln.

The two photos below show the interior, ready for installation in the kiln:
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Once the interior was glued in place, I added the doors. I used eyebolts and EZ Line for the cables that are used to open and secure the doors – and for variety, I propped open the third door half-way with the cable hanging loose. I’ve seen photos of both methods employed. The hinges are HO details from Tichy.

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There’s enough space to set a worker in the opening at the right, and have a conveyor enter the centre opening – once I build the conveyor, that is.

This kiln is almost done. It’ll need a roof and a foundation, plus a few other details. But that’s for another day…

And before you ask – no: I do not know how many bundles of tobacco I added to the kiln. I just kept adding until I was happy with the effect – and I’m glad I’m only doing one interior!

Tobacco kilns :: Aligning trusses

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As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been busy with other things in life – but I have been able to make some progress on the three tobacco kilns for St. Williams.

I started building these assembly line fashion. But along the way I decided I wanted to concentrate on building each kiln on its own. Perhaps my techniques will improve as I do each one, or perhaps I’ll have new ideas for the scene as it comes together.

So, having built three sets of ends – like the ones shown at the top of this post – I’ve now turned to doing the sides for the first kiln. My first challenge here was to fit the rafters to the tops of the sides. For rafters, I’m using roof trusses laser cut for me by Jeff Schwank at TractorFab. These were done to my specification and make it really easy to add consistent rafter tails to a structure.

But – just like on a real structure – filling the space between each truss at the top of the wall can be fiddly, especially since the trusses should be evenly spaced. I decided that I would cut the side walls a little longer than I thought would be required, then use a truss to add spacers along the top of the wall until I got close to the length I needed. If the wall ended up too long or too short by a few inches, I wouldn’t sweat it.

I cut a side wall from 0.040″ thick styrene sheet, and then cut a series of spacers from another sheet of 0.040″ thick styrene. In the photo below, I’m adding the spacers to the top of the wall. (Actually, only the top part of the wall: I have cut away the bottom, below the openings for the large loading doors, and will reassemble it later with the doors in place.)
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I’m using a truss to space the spacers. And when I got to the length I needed, I simply trimmed away the excess piece of wall. It can be seen next to the razor blade.

I made two of these – making sure that the slots for trusses lined up from wall to wall – then applied my tar paper. (As mentioned previously, I use masking tape for this. I apply it over thick CA to ensure it does not curl away from the wall over time.)
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With the tar paper in place, I used a knife to trim it to size, and to clean out the slots for the trusses.

At this point, I painted the top sections of the two side walls, then glued them in place on the end walls to start building the basic box. The photo below shows the first kiln coming together nicely:
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The trusses are slotted into place, and sharp eyes will note that I’ve added more spacers between the trusses near their peaks, to keep them upright. I’ve also added some scrap strip wood as bracing in the corners. This is lined up with the inside edge of the white-painted corner trim.

I have also started framing the openings for the doors. I’ll finish the sides next: Stay tuned!

Slow progress on kilns (brr!)

Having decided that three kilns is the right number for my tobacco farm scene in St. Williams, I promptly got busy doing other things and this structure-building project has languished. That happens when I get out of the habit of putting in regular sessions on a project – and it’s been such a cold winter this year that all I really feel like doing is huddling for warmth in front of the fireplace.

Nevertheless, they must get done. So today I hauled out the tools and supplies and added tarpaper to three more end walls – walls opposite the doorways on the kilns. I attached and painted tarpaper before lunch- and after lunch I even got a start on painting, cutting and installing wood trim on the front and back of one kiln.

No photos yet – they’ll come in due course. I just wanted to say it feels good to resume his project and I hope I can keep up the momentum. That said, it’s bitter today and the fireplace beckons…

A decision on kiln numbers

I was flattered to have so many thoughtful responses to my posting about the number of tobacco kilns I intend to build for St. Williams. To recap, I originally planned for five kilns in this scene, but lately I’ve been thinking about doing just three.

Many of you offered an opinion and with some very sound reasoning to support your thoughts. Thank you!

As I mentioned in my January 30th post, I planned to play around with the mock-ups a bit more to determine whether three or five worked best for me.

While shooting the video I posted yesterday of Extra 80 East through St. Williams, I realized that I should go with just three kilns for this scene. There are many reasons in favour of three (and of five, for that matter), but what cinched the decision was an experiment I did with photography and video angles with the kilns.

Here’s the set-up for three kilns. Note the space between the right-most kiln and the road crossing:
Kiln Test - 3 (Set-up) photo KilnTest-3-02_zps68ce2fb6.jpg

Now, here’s the set-up for five kilns. (Not all are shown – I simply moved the three mock-ups on hand to the relevant positions.) Note how much closer the right-hand kiln must be to the road crossing in order to fit five kilns:
Kiln Test - 5 (Set-up) photo KilnTest-5-02_zpsb65c9a84.jpg

While it doesn’t seem like that much – it’s one kiln length, so only about 4.5 inches. But note also in the above two photos that I’ve had to reposition the camera in order to shoot the station scene without it being blocked by the corner of the right-hand kiln. With just three kilns in the scene, I can successfully shoot a photo of the station that looks up the mainline, under the trees, and including the tree fort:
Kiln Test - 3 (Result) photo KilnTest-3-01_zps93bbce83.jpg

If I reposition the camera to shoot past a five-kiln scene, and still capture the entire station structure, here’s the best I can do:
Kiln Test - 5 (Result) photo KilnTest-5-01_zps5fa06280.jpg

It’s not a bad photo, but I like the first one better. (And of course I can shoot that second photo in a three-kiln scenario – but I can’t shoot the first photo with five kilns in the scene.)

The St. Williams station scene has become a favourite for me and it would be a shame to limit my photo-taking opportunities by placing a kiln too close to the crossing. And I don’t want to create removable structures so I can shoot past them, because that presents opportunities for accidents involving scratch-built structures and the train-room floor. So – three it is.

Thanks again to everyone who commented on the original posting. It’s difficult to offer an opinion when you don’t have the whole picture but every observation – in favour of three, five, or another number – gave me stuff to think about and helped with my decision. A number of you raised possibilities I hadn’t considered, or made me think about the scene in a different way.

It’s now time to resume building my kilns – with confidence!