Queen Anne’s Lace

This week, I enjoyed another wonderful email exchange with reader Dick Otto, who had some useful insights on the turntable for Port Rowan. (Thanks, Dick!)

Dick recalls – and photos support this, now that I look at them – that rather than dig a pit for the turntable bridge, the railway laid the approach track on a slight uphill grade to reach the turntable. Dick recalls it to be about a five-foot rise and that’ll certainly work on my layout.

He also points out that the turntable “pit” is quite rudimentary, describing it as…

A cribbed depression awash in a sea of Queen Anne’s Lace and other meadow flora.

CNR mogul 88 on the Port Rowan turntable.

I have not yet installed the approach track or the turntable. The table will be in front of the run-around track, to the left of the roadbed in this photo:

Port Rowan with ties - from the end of the peninsula.

But I want to spike the rail in place on the existing roadbed before I put such a large obstacle in my way.

Meantime, thanks to Dick, I can think about how I’m going to model all that Queen Anne’s Lace.

Unwanted traffic (or, “If the train is going west at 30 mph and the wind is blowing east at 45 mph…”

A windy day on the railway.

I’ve been getting a tonne of spam in the “comments” field on posts. I had been dealing with 5 or 6 per day but overnight this jumped to more than 100 in 10 hours.

So, I’ve added a little math problem plug-in to the comments function to try to defeat the robots and the bas***ds behind them.

Apologies to legit readers who must now brush off their math skills…

If this fails to stop the flood I’ll be forced to disable comments entirely, which I’d hate to do. I’ve learned a lot from the insights of my real readers.

Too much light

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Yes, you can.

After installing the brackets for layout lighting, I stood back and had a look at it and realized I had so many lights planned that the layout would look completely washed out. Worse, I’d be missing the sun and cloud effect that I achieved with my O scale, Maine two-foot layout – an effect illustrated by the following images:

Meet in the Quarry - Maine On2 layout.

Quarry Creeper - Maine On2 layout.

Light and Shadow stairs - Maine On2 layout.

I went back through my notes on that layout and realized I’ve planned for too many floodlights. I originally planned for a 10w flood every two feet, with a 20w spotlight every six feet or so. Looking at my On2 layout notes, I see I actually only used one 10w flood (plus a 20w spot) per six feet of layout. I will adjust my brackets accordingly.

This means that at our last work session, Chris Abbott, Mark Zagrodney and I actually made enough brackets to do all of the lighting, although some will need to be moved. I will also need to mount more brackets for the valance in places where I will no longer have lights.

But that’s easy enough to do.

Look up. Look way up.

Last night, my friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney came over for dinner and a work session.

The three of us built 20 of the 30 or so brackets needed to support my 12-volt halogen lighting system. The brackets are now up for Port Rowan and St. Williams – the two towns I’m modelling – as well as for the mainline through the Lynn Valley.

Lighting brackets over Port Rowan

Lighting brackets over Port Rowan.

Lighting brackets over St. Williams

Lighting brackets over St. Williams.

The brackets feature hinged sections at their base that will allow us to adjust the beam from the 10-watt halogen floodlights so as much light as possible falls on the layout itself.

Next time we get to work on lights, we’ll build and install brackets for the 20-watt spotlights, which will highlight key scenes around the layout. They will be easier since the fixtures include their own adjustable mounts.

The lights will eventually be hidden behind a valance.

Dinner for our work session was basic yet hearty bangers’n’mash (otherwise known as sausages and mashed potatoes).

Rowe Farms does an excellent selection of sausages. We enjoyed Hot Mexican, Honey and Garlic, and French Herb – served with a variety of great mustards from Anton Kozlik.

Rowe also had lovely potatoes which I finished with organic milk and local butter.

We washed down our feast with an appropriate brew – Celt Bronze Ale from Wales. Highly recommended.

A water tank for the Lynn Valley

Thanks to my friend Jim Martin who suggested it, I ordered an S scale kit for a water tank from Altoona Model Works*.

The kit arrived today and it looks like a wise purchase. It includes everything I need to get started on the Lynn Valley water tank (although I’ll make a few modifications as I go to make it look more like my prototype) and all parts appear to be of high quality. I’ve had a quick flip through the instruction book as well, and it looks very thorough.

Thanks Jim, and thanks to Bud Spaulding at Altoona Model Works for a nice kit and a great online buying experience!

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


I had a question about how my three-point gauges work.

The answer is, just like any others. But if you haven’t seen this type of gauge before, here’s a photo showing how they would sit over the rails to gauge them properly:

Trifecta gauges in use.

The gauge in the upper left is right side up. The others are upside down. The two at the bottom have some rails laid in the slots. Easy peasy, lemon squeezey…

Three-point track gauges

Trifecta track gauges.

A special thanks to Tim Warris at Fast Tracks* for machining up these beautiful three-point track gauges.

These were a custom job for me but Tim is considering adding a full line of three-point gauges to his catalogue, under the Trifecta name. I bought six of them and I’m really pleased. In fact, “really pleased” doesn’t begin to describe it. (Thanks Tim!)

Tim also delivered a track building fixture for S scale #9 turnouts, again, for Code 70 rail. This was not in his catalogue when I ordered it, although he did have a #7, #8 and #10 so it seemed like a natural to add. Again, thanks Tim!

I now have all of my track tools in place. As soon as I get these ties done…

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

The Port Rowan station

One of the great things about doing this blog is that I’m being introduced to people I might not otherwise have met. Dick Otto is one such person.

Dick lives in Connecticut. As a kid, he visited Port Rowan (and nearby Port Dover) and took pictures of the trains that called there. He’s been kind enough to share some photos with me, which will help greatly in my layout-building effort.

Today’s treat from Dick is this colour photo of the Port Rowan station. Dick took this in the summer of 1965 and it’s obvious that the train no longer calls here. (Thanks, Dick, for allowing me to share this on my blog.)

Port Rowan station - 1965.

This is the track side of the station. As can be seen on the railway’s plan of the yard, the structure is L-shaped with a small outbuilding in the L.

Port Rown - CNR plan.
(Right-click on the image to open a larger version in a separate window)

It may be hard to see online but there are a few dimensions on the drawing that help size the station. The short leg of the L is 59 feet long, while the width of the building is about 22 feet. Based on these measurements, I estimate the track side of the structure at about 80 feet.

There are several first-hand accounts from people who remember the station in Down By The Bay, a history of Long Point and Port Rowan published in 2000.

One contributor to that book, Lynn Cairns, is the grand-daughter of WG Livingston, the station agent in Port Rowan until 1935. Her description of the station includes the agent’s office in the bay window, a waiting room and baggage area, and a freight room. A door led from the agent’s office into the living quarters, which included a combined living/dining room and a parlour. Cairns describes the station as…

… a gloomy building, dark walls and lit only by kerosene lamps as there was no electricity, also no indoor plumbing.

Gloomy building or not, it will be an impressive model.

Congrats to the S Scale Workshop

One of the people responsible for my decision to switch to S scale is Jim Martin, my co-host on The Model Railway Show podcast.

Hanging around with Jim and other members of the S Scale Workshop exposed me to what can be done in 1:64. And I talked with Jim a lot before deciding to make the switch.

Jim’s enthusiasm for S and his modest yet positive approach to the hobby is infectious, and he spent a lot of time answering my questions and putting my mind at ease about jumping into what is, let’s face it, a niche scale.

Jim and other members of the S Scale Workshop are too modest to sing their own praises – so I will.

Three members of this group – Jim, Andy Malette of MLW Services*, and Pete Moffett, who among other things, is a founder and director of the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers – took portions of the Workshop’s exhibition layout to TrainFest in Milwaukee this past weekend. And they brought home the “Best in Show – Layout” award.

Given that this annual show, now in its 40th year, covers some 200,000 square feet and featured more than 60 layouts, that’s quite an accomplishment. Well done, guys!

(As an aside, I think it’s interesting that so many of the talented members of the Workshop are so active in giving back to the hobby – as podcasters/authors, manufacturers, volunteers in hobby organizations, and so on.)

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

Progress on ties

I’ve made considerable progress on distressing and staining the ties on my layout.

Ties in Port Rowan.

I’m almost finished with the ties in Port Rowan. I must still do the ties on the elevated coal delivery track. (Plus, of course, the turntable lead – but that will wait until the rest of the track is finished so I don’t have to lean over the turntable to work.)

For inspiration, I turned to the book Detailing Track by Mike Cougill, from OST Publications*. It has given me plenty of information to get me started on distressing and staining my ties.

My tool kit is fairly simple. It consists of two knives, a bottle of Weather-It, a tube of burnt umber oil paint and thinner (in this case, a non-toxic/non-flammable variety) and a bottle of rubbing alcohol into which I’ve added 1.5 tsp of India Ink:

Tie tools and materials.

The knives deserve a closer look:

Knives for ties.

On the left, we have a home-made tool called a “Wood Wrecker”. I learned of this from Gerry Cornwell, who knows a fair bit about wood (as he should, since he owned Mt. Albert Scale Lumber*).

To make my Wood Wrecker, I saved up a half-dozen used X-acto blades and found a suitable piece of rectangular brass tube to fit them in. I then located, drilled and tapped a hole for a screw that runs through a slot already present in the blades to keep them in place. I added a drop of CA along the backs of the blades to glue them together.

The Wood Wrecker adds parallel grain lines to ties with a light pass. Just be careful with the thing – it is sharp and of course dull knifes are more dangerous than sharp ones. But sharp blades tend to cut the grain too fine and too deeply, I found.

The knife on the right is the Veritas carver’s knife from Lee Valley Tools*. Here’s the stock number: 05K73.01

This knife is a joy to use. It will hold standard X-acto blades as well as scalpel blades sold by Lee Valley, and has a magnetic holder in the handle so one can keep a selection of styles close by. The hooked blade shown here is particularly useful for adding splits to ties because one pulls this blade towards oneself.

Below I’ve included three detail photos of the ties in Port Rowan. In each photo, the tracks – from front to back – are the run-around, the main, and the team track:

Tie detail - Port Rowan (1)

Tie detail - Port Rowan (2)

Tie detail - Port Rowan (3)

I used a war-gamer’s dice-rolling app on my iPhone – there are several available – to generate random amounts of distress on each track, using percentile dice. I would roll, then, based on the result, add 1, 2 or 3 light tick marks (“I”, “II”, “III”) to the top of each tie with a pencil.

For the main, I rolled as follows: 1-19 = Newer (I); 20-79 = standard (II); 80-100 = older (III).

For the other two tracks, I rolled as follows: 1-9 = Newer (I); 10-69 = standard (II); 70-100 = older (III).

This would give me a greater percentage of distressed ties on the siding and spur.

These tick marks gave me a more random distribution of ties than I could have achieved otherwise, since humans tend to like patterns, and it’s easy to fall into them.

Type I ties were given a light pass with the Wood Wrecker, or not touched at all. They were then stained with the India Ink mixture. Some were later lightly brushed with burnt umber.

Type II ties were given a deeper pass with the Wood Wrecker. They were then stained with either Weather-It or India Ink, at random. When dry, they were all finished with burnt umber.

Type III ties were given a deeper pass with the Wood Wrecker, then worked over with the carver’s knife. Some were split, some had the ends carved away, some were worn away between the rails, etc. Sometimes, a second pass with the Wood Wrecker was needed to restore some grain. These were then stained with Weather-It, with no additional colouring applied.

While it’s tempting to rush ahead to rail, I highly recommend taking time to do the ties right. Yes, it does take time, but one can pick away at it when one has a spare 15 minutes and it’ll get done. And the results are worth it – at least, I think so.

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