Atmosphere structures

I received an email from a friend who read my post earlier today about the blue house on Chestnut Street and he used an interesting term that I wanted to share. He wrote:

Glad you’ll have room for some atmosphere structures.

I like that term, as it neatly sums up the important role on a layout played by houses, garages, shops, gas stations and other buildings not served by rail. Such structures are every bit as important as the industries we model and the rolling stock that serves them – and they deserve the same degree of care, even if (as I have with this house), one does not choose to model these atmosphere structures faithfully from the prototype.

I’m going to keep this term in mind as I plan other offline structures for my layout.

The Blue House on Chestnut Street

The Blue House on Chestnut Street.

My scan of the CNR track map for Port Rowan shows that the railroad ends at Bay Street, and there’s a cluster of buildings around the end of track. I flew over the area using the satellite view of Google Maps and here’s what I found:

Aerial photo of Port Rowan.

The yellow line represents the approximate location of the main track, which ends at Bay Street in Port Rowan. The cluster of buildings that comprised the feed mill are on one side of the track. These structures are all that remains today of the railroad presence in Port Rowan. I have never seen photos of the feed mill as it appeared in the 1950s so I’m pleased that it still stands today. While it has changed over the years – most notably, with the addition of a cluster of metal storage silos – enough remains to give me a good starting point to model it.

Near the top of the photo, I’ve labelled “the garage”. This building appears in a number of prototype photos and I have enough room to model it – so I will.

Across the track to the south, visitors in the 1950s would find the gravel drive leading to the station (now long gone). I’ve labelled it on my aerial view. And south of that is a the back of a house, at an angle to the station road. This is the first house on Chestnut Street, which intersects Bay Street just south of the station driveway. Chestnut Street will be off the back edge of my layout, and since it runs at an angle away from the scene most of the houses will be beyond my modelled slice of Port Rowan. But I have just enough room on the layout for that first house in its wedge-shaped lot. I’ve labelled it (appropriately enough) “the house” on my aerial view, and it will add a nice “non-railroad” structure to the scene.

I’m not overly concerned with building an accurate model of this house – instead, I’ll invest my time and effort on railroad structures. But a suitable kit house would work for me, and I’m pleased to have found one.

A few months ago while prowling around the Walthers web site I discovered a sale on a laser cut kit for the Whitehall House from Branchline Trains*. It’s kit 522 – one of four house styles Branchline offers in S scale. I added it to my shopping cart and set it aside until the mood struck me.

Well, the struck this past week, and after a few evenings of work the house is now essentially finished and ready for the layout. The lead photo shows my model posed under my layout lighting.

I liked the blue used on Branchline’s kit sample, and thought it would add a dash of colour to the scene, so I used an appropriate blue for my model. I built the kit pretty much to instructions, although I substituted real glass (microscope slide covers) in the windows, instead of the kit’s clear plastic glazing. I also added eavestroughs and downspouts. As of this writing I still need to paint the chimney, add a power meter and pole, add curtains, and do some light weathering.

As on the prototype, I’ll add some trees between the house and Bay Street to provide some privacy, and build a suitable, matching garage for the back corner of the lot. There’s even some room for a washing line in the backyard.

The kit is straightforward, although I was underwhelmed by the execution of the roof panels in the kit. With CAD and laser cutters, there’s really no excuse for roof segments that don’t line up.

With that reservation noted, however, I’m pleased with the house and it’s nice to have my first structure ready for Port Rowan.

S Scale SIG

S Scale SIG Logo photo s-scale-sig-logo_zps881ddb6b.jpg

S scale – like O scale – has an image problem, which is this: The scale is dominated by toy trains.

In O, it’s Lionel and other three-rail. In S, it’s American Flyer and AF-compatible equipment. I should make clear right from the start that I’m not passing judgment on those who are fans of these options. Model railroading is a hobby and everybody should engage with a hobby in the way they find most enjoyable.

But the reality is, the dominance of these less “scale” alternatives means that those building realistic layouts or models in HO and N are more likely to overlook S and O as viable alternatives. They hear “S” and think “Flyer” – they hear “O” and think “three rail”.

And that’s unfortunate since both S and O have a lot to offer modellers – especially those of advancing age who are finding HO gets smaller and smaller as the years pass (and, like me, never could see or work with N).

That’s why it’s great that some enterprising scale modellers in S have formed the S Scale Special Interest Group*.

SIGs (as the groups are known) are organizations affiliated with the National Model Railroad Association. As such, they can secure exhibition space at NMRA conventions, are listed on the NMRA web site* and enjoy other benefits. (For more on SIGs, I suggest readers listen to my interview with Doug Harding, the NMRA’s SIG Co-ordinator, on Episode 30 of The Model Railway Show podcast*. This episode also features an interview with well-known S scale enthusiast Ed Loizeaux about the state of S scale today.)

If for no other reason, the additional visibility at NMRA conventions will help promote scale modelling in S to the wider world of model railway enthusiasts. But that’s just the start.

The S Scale SIG’s online presence will act as a great landing spot for those wishing to find out more about scale modelling in 1:64. It’s a place to bring together manufacturers, modellers, clubs and other sources of information about S scale. And it’s a great way for folks like me to have a ready answer when someone asks, “Is S scale for me?” or “What’s available in S?” or “Where do I get information about S?”

I’ve joined up – it’s free to register. I’ve also donated a modest amount to the SIG to help pay for their server space (and I encourage others who enjoy working in S to do the same). And to help spread the word, I’ve added a link to the SIG to my list of Interesting Links that runs down the right-hand side of this blog. If you’re building scale models in S, why don’t you do the same?

Congratulations to the SIG organizers on the launch, and best wishes for a successful SIG!—

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

Photos of the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout

I’m an associate member of the S Scale Workshop* – a group of talented modellers (and me) who have built an exhibition layout in 1:64, using a system inspired by the HO scale Free-mo standard.

My friend Chris Abbott – also a Workshop member – maintains a gallery of photos of the group’s efforts. Check it out. Sharp-eyed visitors will note that Marshall’s Siding – Chris’ contribution to the Workshop – was built in my train room before I filled it with my own stuff.

The high-quality work by these friends of mine were ultimately what convinced me to try my hand at S. I’m glad I did.

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

Working switch stands

Switch stand, installed.

The last time my friend Chris Abbott visited, he brought along a real treat for me: The eight switch stands I needed to control the turnouts on my layout! We’ve installed them and hooked them up, and they work wonderfully.

Switch stand, installed.

Chris was over a couple of weeks ago with a proof of concept for these turnout controls, and since I wrote about it then I won’t repeat the information here. Since it worked as planned, we made notes about how to mount the finished stands on the layout and he went away to modify the stands to work with radio control aircraft control rods:

The view from below.

Chris also created some nice shelves for each stand.

(In case you think he was doing all the work, while Chris was beavering away on the stands I was spiking down rails so that we’d be able to install all the mechanisms. A couple of thousand spikes later…)

Installation involved mounting the shelves on the front of the benchwork. We added a square of Masonite behind each stand to offer some protection from errant elbows:

A row of switch stands.

The squares will be replaced when the permanent fascia is installed but in the meantime it is the same height as the planned fascia so we’ll see how effectively the stands are protected.

The stands move a control rod, which in turn moves a mechanical turnout linkage under each track switch. This linkage is called a Bullfrog and is a product from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks*:

A Bullfrog, installed.

Since it’s easier to show people how this control works than it would be to describe it, I’ve created a 30-second video showing how these switch stands enhance the play value of an operating session. As a bonus, the video shows how a length of brass chain and a luggage lock can be used to lock the stands. (I bought eight locks from a local hardware store for $1 each. All came keyed to the same key – not the best for securing one’s luggage, perhaps, but great for this application.)

Switch Stand Video - Cover photo
(Click on the image to watch the video.)

Today, model railway enthusiasts can control turnouts from the keypad on a DCC throttle, so this mechanical system may seem old fashioned. But having thrown a few switches at museum railroads, I’m pleased at how well this system recreates the work of a real crew. It’ll add a lot of fun to switching my layout.

Rails: Really!

On the not-so-high iron.

If you’ve been wondering where the updates have been, well, I’ve been too busy in the layout room to write.

Track-laying is well underway. In fact, it’s almost finished in Port Rowan.

I have spiked down all the track switches as well as all rails for the main track, passing siding and team track in my terminal. Looking from the entrance to the yard, the rails are halfway up the elevated coal delivery track at left, too:

Rail in Port Rowan.

There’s still much work to do: I’ve spiked about every 12th tie to set the alignment, and have been going back to add spikes in between so I’ll have every sixth tie spiked. I’ll then make another pass to bring it up to at least every third tie… and then decide if I want to do every tie as originally planned. I’m not shirking from the work but recognize that it will be a lot of wasted effort if the spikes can’t be seen, and the grass is going to do a good job of hiding that.

I must also add joint bars to all rails. This work has started, mostly around the switches, where I’ve also added rail braces to the stock rails in the point area. The joint bars and rail braces are castings from Details West. They’re designed for HO scale, but Code 70 rail is Code 70, no matter what the scale, so they’ll do fine for S:

Track details, labelled.

Track extends out of Port Rowan and around to the first bridge. I’m also spiking down switches in St. Williams. When this work is done – and all spikes are driven that I need to drive – I will go back to Port Rowan and finish the roadbed, ties and rails for the turntable lead. And the rails need to be painted. And… and… and…

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not going to take very long to get trains running – one of the many advantages of designing an achievable layout.

You can have “The Canadian”, “The Super Chief”, “The 20th Century Limited”…

Passenger trains often had names. Some names were conferred by railroad marketing departments, while others were applied by the citizens the trains served.

In talking with my friend and fellow Port Rowan modeller Rich Chrysler earlier this week, I learned that the locals had a name for the mixed train that served Port Rowan.

They called it The Daily Effort.

Isn’t that great?

Progress Report.

I declare the combines “finished”!

CNR 7184 - Finished.

CNR 7176 - Finished.

While re-watching an old TV series I enjoy, I finished up the two CNR combines built for me by my friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops*, from the kits offered by another friend, Andy Malette at MLW Services*. (Hey – S Scale is like that: Everybody knows everybody!)

Pierre did a wonderful job on these kits, but I asked him to leave some of the final work to me. This included upgrading the American Models wheel sets that came with the trucks to semi-scale 36-inch wheel sets from Northwest Short Line*. I held off on adding Kadee couplers until the wheel sets were in place, in case I needed to adjust the coupler heights to match the S scale NMRA standard (I didn’t) – and this meant I would also have to add the air/steam/signal lines that sit to either side of the coupler boxes. You can see these in this 3/4 view of Combine 7184, in the pre-1954 all-green scheme.

Other details included real glass – cut from microscope slide covers and installed using Micro Kristal Klear from Microscale. A translucent report cover backed with a piece of white styrene created the frosted white toilet window, while the buff window shades are cut from an appropriately-coloured envelope. These too were installed with Kristal Klear.

Finally, each car received a conductor in the passenger-end vestibule. Sharp-eyed readers should be able to pick out the conductor in the photo of CNR 7176, in the post-1954 green and black scheme.

To finish things off, I airbrushed some light weathering on the cars. Most of this is applied to the trucks and underbody appliances in order to lighten them and bring out the details. A bit of grime is added around the connections and safety gates on the car ends, and some weathering across the roof represents soot and dirt.

Thanks again to Andy for producing these kits… to my two friends who sold me theirs so I could finish my Port Rowan Mixed train… and to Pierre for doing such a great job building them.

On to the next project!

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

Envisioning Port Rowan

Layouts under construction are often messy affairs, and no wonder: Construction requires plenty of tools and materials, and layouts tend to have plenty of horizontal surfaces on which those tools and materials can collect.

But at some point, it becomes too messy to work. So yesterday I cleaned up. And since it looked so much better, I thought I’d add a couple of mock-ups to the layout and take a couple of photos. Much squinting and imagineering is required, but here we go:

Arriving in Port Rowan

Port Rowan - rough mock-up.

Mixed train M233 arrives in Port Rowan behind a CNR 4-6-0. The consist includes a boxcar in LCL service, a CNR baggage-mail car, and a CNR combine. A boxcar sits at the end of the team track to the right of the train, while in the distance (above the passenger cars) one can see a two-bay hopper car spotted on the elevated coal delivery track.

The white box at left represents the future location of the turntable (although it will be higher – up at track level, obviously). The blonde wood box at right, just ahead of the train, marks the location of the Port Rowan station. And the tin box in the foreground is a placeholder for the feed mill.

The red plastic tube in the left foreground is a sleeve for the turnout control rod. In the distance, one can discern the twin steel deck girder bridges over the Lynn River and the short steel girder bridge over Stone Church Road.

The end is near

Port Rowan - rough mock-up.

In fact, it’s just a few car-lengths away as the mixed train arrives in Port Rowan. See the previous caption for a general description. The run-around track is to the right of the mixed, and just long enough for the locomotive to clear its train. A boxcar is at end of track, tucked next to the tin box that represents the feed mill.

The turntable and its approach track will be installed after I finish spiking track elsewhere, so I’m not leaning across the turntable to do this.

While only a mock-up, I’m pleased with the feeling of spaciousness I’m achieving on this layout.