Following my post earlier this week on adding weeds and bushes to the coal track, I had a wonderful phone call from my friend Bill Kerr. He really likes what I’m doing with the scenery (which is very high praise since he does brilliant work in this regard). He did, however, offer a couple of good suggestions, which I acted upon.

Bill noted that 50-60 years of coal dust around the bin itself would’ve killed a lot of vegetation, including all but the heartiest of weeds. Makes sense to me. So, I did some transplanting last night.

As a reminder, here’s how the scene looked earlier this week. The weeds are quite thick below the coal dock and up each side of the concrete bunker:
Coal Track with more weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-03_zps0f11f2c2.jpg

I’ve now thinned out this area, removing all but a few weeds in front of the concrete wall and adding some sand/gravel around the walls:
Fewer weeds around coal bin photo CoalTrack-Weeds-07_zps4f512a4f.jpg

I think it looks a lot better for a couple of reasons. First, it looks less like the coal dealer is planting a garden around his bin. And second, it makes the coal bin stand out more from the rest of the scenery along this track.

The weeds did not go to waste. I simply moved them elsewhere. Most went to the embankment at the end of the coal track:
More weeds and end of coal track photo CoalTrack-Weeds-08_zps846ca50e.jpg

Following another suggestion from Bill, I used the rest to narrow the path up the embankment so it looks more like a footpath (seen just to the left of the switch stand in this photo):
Narrower path up embankment photo CoalTrack-Weeds-09_zps8db04ad5.jpg

Thanks Bill – great feedback!

Weeds and bushes

Today is a holiday where I live. Its official title is “Family Day”, but I prefer to think of it as “It’s bloody cold outside, let’s have a holiday Day”. And true to its word, it’s cold – and therefore a perfect day to spend in the room next to the furnace.

That’s the layout room, of course.

I started by organizing my scenery supplies, which have drifted into chaos of late. Grass supplies in several spots – same thing with ballasts and other ground cover materials, tree and shrub materials, and scenic details.

It didn’t take long to get things in order – and realize that the best place for all of this scenery material is on the layout. After all, that’s why I bought it!

So (as the title of this post suggests) I spent a couple of hours planting weeds and bushes. I decided to focus on the area around the elevated Coal Track in Port Rowan, since I’ve never really liked the look of the grass on the elevated track.

As a reminder, here’s a photo from last year, which is pretty much how it looked when I started this morning. I’ve also included a closer look at the coal bin itself:
Purple meadow flowers photo PtR-MeadowFlowers-02.jpg

Coal dump complete photo CoalDumpMech-01.jpg

Not too inspiring, is it!

Now, here’s the same area after a couple of hours work:
Coal Track with more weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-03_zps0f11f2c2.jpg

I used various weeds from Silflor, plus Super Tree material, to add life and character to the scene. The weeds and bushes are pretty heavy, suggesting that the nobody’s really bothering to look after the spur now that traffic has almost completely dried up. That said, the railway crews have worn a footpath into the slope as a shortcut between coal bin and yard throat:

Coal Track - more weed detail photo CoalTrack-Weeds-05_zps14ef8c3c.jpg

Footpath on the Coal Track photo CoalTrack-Weeds-06_zpsf7631779.jpg

(Truth be told, there’s more weed and bush on my model of the coal track than is apparent on photos of the prototype. The prototype is mostly covered in long grass. That said, the prototype also doesn’t have to deal with a backdrop that’s just a few inches behind the scene, whereas I do. So, I’m exercising the First Rule of Model Railroading: It’s My Layout.)

In doing this planting, I kept two things in mind. First, I regularly checked my work looking from the base of the Port Rowan peninsula to make sure my plantings were not going to interfere with the passage of locomotives or rolling stock:
Coal Track Corridor photo CoalTrack-Weeds-01_zps71ad79d7.jpg

Second, I wanted to add more clumps of brighter colours in front of the Coal Track, and use muted colours further back, ending with a line of dull green shrubs against the back edge of the layout to soften the transition to the backdrop. This would draw the eye away from the backdrop and into the centre of the scene:
Coal Track - weed detail photo CoalTrack-Weeds-04_zps80020531.jpg

I have a lot more scenery material, and I plan to add more weeds and bushes to the meadow between yard and fascia (although not as thick as I did on the coal track, since people will be reaching over the meadow frequently during an operating session). But that’s for another day. For now, I think today’s work turned out quite well!
Coal Track with weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-02_zpse536954d.jpg

Port Rowan coal bin detailed

Coal dump complete photo CoalDumpMech-01.jpg

Thanks to my friend Terry Smith in the United Kingdom, I’ve been able to finish the elevated coal bin in Port Rowan.

Terry’s contribution was a package of Ground Frame Point Levers. These are levers used to throw track switches, set signals and so on. They can be similar to the levers one would find in an interlocking tower here in North America, or they can be much simpler as the first photographs on this page illustrate.

I’m not actually sure what the levers do on the coal bin. My best guess is that they open doors between the rails, so that one doesn’t accidentally fall through when walking around on the top of the bin. I’m sure the brakemen appreciate it but if I’ve guessed right then this is the only concession to safety: There are no railings, stairs, or other features that might make the job of unloading a car easier or safer.

Surprisingly, such levers are not available in S scale – at least, not that I could find. So I talked to Terry, and he found a set in white metal from a company called Knightwing. They are modelled to 4mm scale (1:72 – the British scale that most closely corresponds to HO), but work just fine when placed next to an S scale person, such as this fellow from Arttista:
Emptying a hopper at Port Rowan photo CoalDumpMech-03.jpg

I carefully bent the levers so they were more upright, cleaned up the flash on the castings, and painted them a warm black. When dry, I added some white to the handles.

I worked from my only photograph of the prototype coal bin. I built a platform from S scale strip wood, and glued the painted levers in place after staining the wood. I glued the finished assembly to the top of the coal bin. The bin also had an angled wall built from wooden boards on the opposite side of the track from the levers, so I modelled that and glued it to the coal bin too. I’m not sure what it was for – perhaps it was to keep coal from hitting anybody standing in front of the bin when a hopper car was being unloaded. Regardless, it’s a neat detail.

Thanks, Terry, for the great find!
Coal Dump Details photo CoalDumpMech-02.jpg

Unloading coal photo CoalDumpMech-04.jpg

Port Rowan coal dealer

Coal bin at Port Rowan.

Trackwork has been progressing on the layout but in order to finish the track in Port Rowan, I needed to build and install the coal dealer’s bin on the elevated track. And I kept putting this off while I debated how to approach it.

The problem that vexed me was whether to build a fully-detailed model of the bin, when the most interesting side – the opening under the track – would face the backdrop and never be seen by layout visitors or operators.

Normally, I would’ve gone ahead and built the structure with full detail, even on the backdrop side – because one never knows, a future change might make that side visible. But then it occurred to me that there was more at stake than appearance.

The problem is illustrated in this photo of a test train on the coal delivery track, taken back when the layout was still in its plywood subroadbed stage:

Test train on the coal track photo Roadbed-PtR-TestTrain.jpg

To elevate the siding, I used the cookie-cutter method: I laid in a large sheet of 3/4 inch plywood, cut a slot on either side of the future location of the track, then wedged, glued and screwed wooden blocks under the elevated portion. I left a clear space – under the black hopper car in the photo – for the future coal bin.

The problem? Well, the ramp track has really nice transitions at each end of it, and I started to worry that cutting away the portion of the subroadbed under the hopper car might allow things to shift. This would ruin the smooth transition at the top of the grade – essential if this is to operate reliably.

In the end, I solved the dilemma in favour of reliable construction and operation. As a famous model railway enthusiast is known to say:

It ain’t no fun if the trains don’t run

I therefore decided to leave the plywood in place and build the coal bin around it.

I have but a single photo of the bin, taken from the end of the elevated track:

Port Rowan Yard Lead.
(This photo was taken from the end of the elevated coal delivery track. The bin is just ahead, on the right.)

It doesn’t show much – concrete bin sides, a planked top, and a couple of levers – like those in an interlocking tower (or more accurately, like a ground frame on a British railway). I assume these levers open doors between the rails when cars are emptied. (It would not be safe to have open pits when no car is in place.)

Therefore, most of the structure is freelanced, but based on drawings of similar structures from various sources. I cut a piece of styrene sheet to use as a platform on which the detailed top would be built. This platform would be glued directly to the top of the plywood subroadbed when I installed the bin.

I added styrene walls around all four sides of the platform, leaving gaps in the two side walls so it could drop in place over the plywood subroadbed. I built up the top of the platform with styrene strip to represent the tops of the bin walls, including a dividing wall in the middle of the bin. I cut some more styrene sheet to create two wing walls to hold back the earth fill to either side of the bin. A smear of Squadron White modelling putty gave the styrene the texture of concrete.

I added some wood to represent the stringers that would support the ties, then added ties on top. The bin is not finished, but I’ve made enough progress that I’ve been able to permanently install it and lay the rails on the coal track.

So what did I do with the back side? I simply painted it black:

The side of the bin that visitors will never see.

The above photo also shows some of the detail on the top of the bin. I’ve added drop-down doors (closed) in the two pits between the rails. Still to come is planking on the top of the bins to either side of the rails and the operating levers. (I must get in touch with some of my UK friends to see if they can find me an S scale ground frame.)

I have to admit that I’ve pondered how to tackle this project for far longer than it actually took to build the bin. The problem was not technique, construction or even data, but one of deciding what my priorities were for this layout. In the end, I decided that I will detail all four walls of other structures that face the backdrop – including the coal bin at St. Williams. But this bin was an exception because to build it with an open back would’ve compromised the integrity of a section of the subroadbed that’s under considerable stress – and that’s a line I’m not willing to cross.

A good lesson to remember for future projects.