Fuzzy Friday

Fuzzy coal track.

Having added ballast to the coal track in Port Rowan yesterday, today I broke out the static grass applicator and worked on grassing up the track and the fill on which it rests:

Fuzzy coal track.

I used the same process described earlier on this blog, but the fill was painted an earth colour then sprinkled with ground up tea leaves. (I enjoy loose tea and save the leaves after making a cuppa, drying them on a cookie sheet then running them through a blender.)

The above photos show the coal track as seen from the coal track switch. Note in the distance that the team track switch looks like it has disappeared in the grass. As the shot below illustrates, however, the grass on the coal track and team track is not as dense as it appears. The important thing is, it’s clear enough for a train to negotiate:

Fuzzy track in Port Rowan.

I’ll actually get fairly close to one of the few prototype photos of the coal track. I don’t have the prototype photo, but anybody with a copy of Ian Wilson‘s Steam Echoes of Hamilton should recognize this picture:

Sand those rails!

There’s still a lot to do, but I’m getting a better idea of what the finished scene will look like and I’m liking what I see:

Fuzzy Port Rowan.

Fuzzy Port Rowan.

Less frustrated

For several reasons…

1 – I’ve received lots of encouragement and suggestions to address the problem of the Tricky Truck under the baggage-mail car. Thank you, everyone, for the help (and for bearing with me).

2 – I think I found the problem – a very, very slight misalignment of two rail ends at a gap. I tweaked, added an extra spike, and things are better for now. I will still experiment with trucks to see if I can get the baggage-mail car to track more reliably, too.


The days are not all wine and roses in Port Rowan. I’m frustrated.

One truck on my baggage-mail car keeps derailing. It happens even on plain, tangent track and I haven’t yet been able to figure out why. I’ve checked gauge of track and wheels and all is fine. I’ve checked the play of the truck, and it has plenty of play.

The only thing I can think of is that I introduced a problem when retrofitting the wheel sets in this truck. They required some work with a drill bit to make the journals deeper. To check this, I’m going to pick up a new pair of trucks from Andy Malette at MLW Services* and have another go at retrofitting them.

If that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll take up woodworking instead – so I can burn my mistakes…

Burning furniture.

Coal track spiked

I’m a step closer to finishing the trackwork in Port Rowan – the elevated coal track is now fully spiked and I’ve applied ballast.

I need to do some more work on the landscaping around the ramp up to the coal dump. Then I’ll be able to add ground cover, weeds and more grass. I’ll share pictures, of course.

Oh – and it’s about time I started wiring, don’t you think?

Shippers and Receivers

A friend in Germany just sent me a couple of pages from a guide to shippers and receivers of carload freight, describing the railway’s principal customers in the two towns on my layout.

The guide was issued by the Grand Trunk Railway System in August 1922. It covers Canadian National, Grand Trunk, Central Vermont and affiliated companies, with stations listed in alphabetical order.

At St. Williams, the following railway customers and commodities are identified:
* Jewell, WH – Livestock, Grain
* McCall & Co – Lumber, Furniture
* Norfolk Specialty Farms – Poultry, Cattle, Feed
* Rock, TD – Mill Feed
* St. Williams Co-operative Growers – Fruit, Vegetables

At Port Rowan, the following railway customers and commodities are identified:
* Backhouse, JC – Grain, Flour, Lumber, Ties
* Buck, JL & Son – Coal, Lime, Cement, Shingles, Flour, Feed, Brick
* Buck & Lalor – Dried Apples
* Dease, JA – Lumber, Ties
* Leighfield & Abbott – Livestock
* MacDonald, JA – Lumber, Ties
* Rockefeller, D – Livestock

The guide does not distinguish between “shippers” and “receivers” – nor does it list sources of Less-Than-Carload (LCL) or occasional carload traffic. It does note that all of the customers used public sidings or team tracks for their traffic – there are no private sidings in either community.

While this guide is from 30 years before the era in which my layout is set, it’s an invaluable insight into the freight that arrived at and left from these two communities on a regular basis. I’m very grateful for the information – what a resource!

Overgrown sidings

Have a look at this photo from the Keith Sirman collection (thanks, Keith!):

Overgrown right of way.

What do you see?

There’s the mixed train – The Daily Effort, as it was known – arriving at Port Rowan on what, at first, appears to be a single track line. But look closely to either side of the train and you’ll see two more tracks – the siding on the left, and the team track to the right. Those tracks are almost invisible in the grass.

It’s a great look that really captures the character of this far end of a lightly-used branch. But can it be modelled?

Maybe not to the same degree, but I’m going to try.

With the exception of the elevated coal track, I’ve finished spiking rails in Port Rowan, so I celebrated by painting the rails and ballasting the track. I airbrushed the rails with Floquil rail brown and left it to dry. I then cleaned the paint off the tops of the rails with an emery board.

For ballast, I used two different blends to achieve the look I wanted. I blended my own ballast from various Woodland Scenics products, adding lighter “dirt” colours to the ballast to be used on the siding and team track.

I applied this in the usual way: I poured it on, shaped it, then gave it a spray of water with some alcohol in it as a wetting agent. Instead of using a squirt bottle, I went to a kitchen store and bought a pump bottle for spraying olive oil. It produces a fine mist that won’t disturb the ballast. With everything wet, I used an eyedropper to apply Weld Bond glue diluted 50/50 with water. Then I let everything dry solid.

For grass, I use the Noch Grassmaster static grass applicator and only use Noch “Wild Grass”. Both can be found on this page at Scenic Express and of course many hobby shops carry these supplies.

I work in short sections. I sprayed more water to wet the ballast, then carefully applied my Weld Bond/water solution only where I wanted grass. Between the rails, I put a couple of drops between each tie. Between tracks, I basically flooded the area.

For the main track, I applied grass using the Noch Nozzle. It provides a little more control, but also releases less grass. For the siding and team track, I used the smaller of the two sifter screens that comes with the Grassmaster.

I was worried about the ends of the grass lying over the rails, so when everything was dry I hit the tops of the rails again with an emery board. I worked with the board at 90 degrees to the direction of travel and angled slightly in towards the centre of the track so the emery board would hit the inside edge of the railhead. I then worked in one direction – pulling towards the outside of the track – so that any blades of grass I captured between the railhead and the emery board would either pull out or be sanded off. After this, I vacuumed everything.

Did I capture the character of the prototype? Decide for yourself:

Overgrown track in Port Rowan.

I like it. I love how one can see individual blades of grass when viewing scenes from ground level:

Overgrown at rail level.

I also like how it looks from a normal viewing perspective:

Overgrown in Port Rowan.

And yes, it runs. I don’t have the layout wired yet, but I was worried about this so I clipped a couple of leads to the rails and tried out a 10-wheeler. No worries. (I’m sure that this is in part due to the fact that the locomotive builder, Simon Parent, incorporates all-wheel pick-up in his models. Thanks for that, Simon!)

I’m sure I’ll need to do a bit more work with the emery board once I have everything wired and can test the area, but even if I have to snip away a bit of grass I’ll still achieve the look I’m after.

The lesson? As a friend said, “One never knows until trying”. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I needed to try. And it did.

Spikes and ballast in Port Rowan

It’s been a while since I did any significant work in the layout room but I stole a couple of hours this afternoon and addressed that.

I finished spiking the team track in Port Rowan. I still have to finish spiking the elevated coal track but otherwise I’ve done all the spiking in my layout’s terminal.

Since I was in a layout-building mood but had my fill of spiking for one day I switched to ballasting. The main, team track and siding are now ballasted with just the coal track still to do (after all spikes are in).

I’m pushing on with this because once the coal track is done I can install roadbed for the turntable approach – and then start building the turntable itself.

I’ll post some photos after the glue has set.

Turn turn turn

This week’s post brought my long-anticipated order of replacement wheel sets from Northwest Short Line.

Having discovered that my kits and ready to run equipment came with a mix of wheel profiles, including some trucks with wheels of dubious quality, I decided early on to standardize on one wheel set. I ordered a batch of 33-inch fine scale wheel sets (NWSL part 27787-4) – enough to convert all of my freight cars, plus extras for future projects. Yesterday I spent an hour or two switching over all trucks.

On many of the trucks I converted, I had to drill the bearings in the side frames a little deeper to accept the NWSL axles. It wasn’t a lot of work – about one twist of the drill in each bearing. And definitely worth the effort. Since I’m hand laying my track, I now know that I have a single wheel profile to worry about – so if I have a derailment, I’ve removed one variable. That’ll make it easier to troubleshoot.

But a word of caution: I did discover that most of the bundle of flex track I purchased for my sector plate is slightly wide in gauge. I’m reluctant to mention this because the flex works fine under the wheel sets that came with my ready to run equipment so for most modellers the slightly wide gauge will not be an issue. But if you decide to standardize on fine scale wheels, you might want to convert one car and test it on your existing track to make sure the narrow tread profile doesn’t cause any problems for you.

Gon gon gon

No, that’s not a spelling mistake. I have gondolas!

A special thank you to my friend Herbert “Matt” Matthews, who surprised me with the gift of a pair of S scale kits from Funaro & Camerlengo.

Kit S-210 is for a New York Central Railroad nine-panel gondola, while kit S-218 represents a Pennsylvania Railroad GR composite gondola.

Thanks Matt!

I also have a kit for a third style of gondola – a Southern Railway composite gon from Smoky Mountain Model Works. I believe this kit is now out of production but I picked up one earlier this year at the Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield MA.

These foreign road gons would definitely be unusual on my little backwater branch of the Canadian National. But they’ll make occasional appearances to add variety to my fleet of rolling stock.

Builder’s Plates

I’m a regular reader of the blog Marty McGuirk pens about his Central Vermont Railway and I so liked the idea in today’s posting that I thought I’d share it.

In A home for orphans, Marty writes about picking up some freight cars from another great modeler, Paul Dolkos. Some of these were built by another modeler, Tom Underwood. As Marty explains, Tom’s car includes a builder’s plate on the underside. (There’s a photo on Marty’s blog showing an example – have a look.)

This appears to be nothing more complicated than a piece of self-adhesive label printed with the relevant data. This wouldn’t work on a car with a fully detailed under frame but it got me thinking about the possibility of creating a photo-etched builder’s plate with one’s name in raised letters. Spray paint it the same colour as the under frame then clean the paint off the raised letters with a piece of strip wood dipped in thinner. A sanding stick would also work.

Such a builder’s plate would fit almost anywhere and be a nice, permanent record of who built the car. A nice touch for custom builders – and for those using their equipment on club or exhibition layouts, it would be a great way to confirm ownership.

I’m not sure about adding other information to the builder’s plate. I suppose that ensures some data follows the car if, as in this case, it changed hands. I’d be tempted to create a business-card sized record of when it was built, the trucks/couplers used, the paint and lettering used – basically, anything a modeller would want to know if they needed to replace a broken coupler, do some touch up painting, and so on. A unique number on the plate isn’t necessary either since each piece of rolling stock carries unique reporting marks that could be used to index the record.

Great idea, though. Thanks to Tom for doing it – and to Marty for sharing it!