St Williams: Wired and spiked

I made major progress on track work over the weekend. All of the track in St. Williams is now spiked and wired. I can now stage two trains in St. Williams – on the main and siding – and run them to Port Rowan and back.

With that, everything from the switch at the St. Williams station to end of track is spiked every second or third tie, and wired with two feeders to every full-length rail (and one feeder to half-length or shorter rails). The final piece of the track work and wiring puzzle is the sector plate and a short stretch of mainline out of St. Williams, behind the tobacco sheds…

St. Williams in progress

… and, of course, the turntable lead and turntable in Port Rowan.

There’s still some fine-tuning to do. For this, I’ll have to mount DCC throttle panels around the layout so I can monitor trains closely – to spot and address any track work trouble.

Would you believe… four section houses?

Four section house mock ups

Following a conversation with my friend Pierre Oliver, I created a fourth mockup of the section house at Port Rowan.

This one combines elements of two previous mockups.

Mockup “1” has no dormer, which I know is wrong but it is a good reference point because I feel it captures the rest of the structure well. Mockup “2” has a full-width dormer, but I didn’t like the roofline. Mockup “3” has a better roofline on the dormer, but overall it was too complex. At Pierre’s suggestion, I narrowed the dormer from “2”, and used the same angle for the peak that I used on the main part of the building.

I think the result – “4” – works better than the first three, so here it is in position on the layout:

Section house - the fourth contender

This blog has once again proven useful as I work to solve the puzzle of Port Rowan. But if I need to do any more of these, I’m going to have to get smart about building section house mockups.

(Thanks for the feedback, Pierre!)

Or, I could sell these houses and buy a hotel…

… except that they’re not houses – they’re tobacco kilns.

St. Williams station area - mock ups

I’ve mocked up the structures around the station area in St. Williams. The row of five green buildings with red roofs are tobacco kilns – a common sight in this part of Southwestern Ontario. Ages ago, I photographed and measured a group of kilns in Scotland, Ontario:

Prototype tobacco kilns - Scotland, Ontario

(My prototype photos are of red kilns, but that appears to be a newer colour used on these structures. Older photos show green, which is why I picked green artist board to mock up the kilns – not because it makes them look just like the plastic houses in Monopoly…)

The modest station is represented by the red building, while a black coal bin stands next to it. I will add a level crossing between station and tobacco kilns.

What pleases me most about how this scene is coming together is how the tobacco kilns draw the eye away from the sector plate staging area just beyond. I didn’t want to use a tunnel through a backdrop to exit the scene so I continued the fabric backdrop along the wall behind the sector plate and just stopped lighting it. The scene fades away. The track can disappear through a row of trees across the layout – from fascia to fabric backdrop – at the far end of this row of tobacco kilns. That will do the trick nicely.

Those looking between the kilns will be rewarded with some interesting views of the trains, and I should have just enough room along the fascia to plant a couple of rows of tobacco plants.

Port Rowan section house (or, “Pick me!” “No, pick me!” “No, pick ME!”)

One of the smallest structures on the layout is proving to be one of the most difficult.

The railway had a section house in Port Rowan – a small structure up near the yard throat to hold tools and materials for track workers. It also had space for a handcar, so workers could move along the line and get to where track needed attention.

I have a few prototype photos of the section house, but they only show three of the four sides. From these, I’ve figured out that the roofline drops lower on one side than the other as can be seen in this picture of my mockup:

Port Rowan section house

So far, so good.

But while talking with my friend Pierre Oliver, he pointed out that the fourth side features something more complex than a shed roof. We think there’s another roofline – probably a dormer – on this elusive side:

Port Rowan section house - prototype photo

The question is, what’s it look like? I’ve created three mockups of the section house…

Port Rowan section house - alternatives

… and I’m still not happy.

The one at the left is my first attempt, based on the above prototype photo as well as another picture, showing the wall opposite that suggests the complex roofline continues across the entire un-photographed side. This mockup doesn’t ring true for me. The roof seems excessively elaborate for a section house and the relatively shallow pitch of the roof reminds me more of a suburban bungalow than a railway structure.

At right, I’ve created a mockup with no dormer. This looks more like a railroad structure – except why would the railway build a structure with a wall at one end that’s only 4.5′ high? I’m pretty confident of that measurement. Yet storing things in that crawlspace would be a real pain – literally, in the head, probably caused by a roofing nail.

The mockup in the middle is a compromise. I’ve built a smaller, offset dormer with a roof pitch identical to the pitch of the main roof. I’ve also experimented with creating a change in the pitch of the main roof to suggest a higher end wall next to the dormer – perhaps a coal bin, since other photos of the section house clearly show a brick chimney.

For now, this is the mockup that I’m using:

Port Rowan section house - compromise mock up

The jury remains out on this one… but the exercise demonstrates the value of building mockups before committing to plastic or wood.

More work on mockups

For the time being, I’ve finished building mockups of the structures for my S scale interpretation of Port Rowan.

Today I added a coal bin to the feed mill complex – the black structure next to the track in this photo:

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock - now with coal bin

I’ve also repositioned the garage – moving it further away from the mill:

Relocated garage mock up

I need to make sure that viewers appreciate that the garage is not part of the mill complex, but a separate entity.

Sharp-eyed viewers will note a grey structure to the left of the train in the distance. More on that new structure in this posting.

Instant Town

… but don’t add water, because it’s made of artist board.

I enjoy structure building, although I don’t engage in the type of structure building that wins craftsman structure contests. But when I need a break from other aspects of the hobby, structures are a favourite.

That’s especially true of the planning/proof-of-concept stage. This involves no wood, styrene or glue – just artist board, a knife, a ruler, tape and so on. I almost always build a cardboard mockup of structures first, so I can confirm roof angles, overall placement on the layout and other things that are easier to fix before one starts cutting and gluing styrene or wood.

It was hot outside yesterday so I went to ground in a cool part of the house, with tools, materials, photographs, notes and a supply of adult beverages, and created mockups of almost all the structures for my model of Port Rowan. It may be helpful to have a copy of the Canadian National track map and my layout plan handy while you look at the photos:

Port Rowan - Plot

Port Rowan layout plan

Here’s an overview of my Port Rowan, taken from the end of the peninsula looking over the roof of the two buildings that make up the feed mill. The Daily Effort has arrived at the station, and for some reason there’s a freight on the team track. I’ve mocked up the barn located next to the team track and, behind the feed mill at left, a rather substantial structure labelled as a garage.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

If we were to travel down Bay Street – at the end of the peninsula – towards the backdrop and then look up the driveway towards the station, this is what we’d see. We’re looking into the L of the station at this point. The L-shaped main building has extensions at each end, and there’s a shed tucked into the L. The feed mill is in the foreground at left.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

If we were to walk to the station, then cross the tracks and look back at the feed mill, this is what we’d see. The mill consists of two buildings, each with extensions or additions. The locomotive is stopped next to a coal bin extension at the mill. To the right of the trackside mill building is the office for the mill – which appears to have been the railway’s freight house at one time. In that role, it would’ve been next to the station but was moved to the feed mill’s site. In the foreground is that garage again.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

Here’s another look at the barn mockup next to the team track. Doing the mockup was essential for getting the roofline right on this structure. The best prototype photo I have of it is from the Keith Sirman collection, taken from the station platform.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

Port Rowan - CNR 88 and M233

Here’s another view of the garage mockup. It can be seen in the prototype photo below, but I have another view in a book that shows large sliding doors on the front of the structure, in the open position, so that’s how I mocked it up. I’ll have to do a detailed interior since it’s right at the front of the layout.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

M233 at Port Rowan - Keith Sirman Collection

I’ve taken several images of the feed mill and the Port Rowan station. Click on each thumbnail for a larger version.

Feed Mill

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan Station

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

I need to give a special shout-out to my friend Mike Livingston. Mike provided many of the critical dimensions for both the station and the two buildings in the feed mill. He also photographed the feed mill earlier this year, with a measuring stick posed in each photo, which was invaluable when creating the mockups. And his photography expedition was timely, as the trackside structure was in the process of being demolished when he visited. It’s gone now – but thanks to Mike’s timely work I’ll be able to model it.

I think I’ve captured the size and proportions of each structure. But the great thing about mockups is that if I haven’t, I can make adjustments quickly and cheaply.

The last mockup to do for Port Rowan is the railway section house. Then I can mockup the depot, coal shed, tobacco kilns and other structures for St. Williams. Then I’ll have to start building the structures for real.

Skills for a lifetime

It seems everybody I know is thinking about how to approach learning in the hobby. Even as I was pressing “publish” on my post about how my friend Trevor Hodges tackles learning new skills, another friend – Mike Cougill – was hitting “publish” on his blog, sharing this thoughts about learning Skills For A Lifetime.

Depending on what time of day it is where you are, grab a coffee, tea or adult beverage and have a read.

Lynn Valley spiked

Today the section gang entered St. Williams, having finished spiking all the rail through the Lynn Valley to Port Rowan. It took less than an hour and it’s great to cross the short bridge over Stone Church Road and have St. Williams in my sights.

The Lynn Valley has already been wired so the track here is ready for rail painting and ballast – and I can finish adding Terra Foama through the valley to ensure any derailments that do occur stay on the layout – instead of plunging to the floor.

I’m really looking forward to doing more scenery in this section – although the Lynn Valley is going to swallow a lot of trees. One of these days, really soon now, I’ll have to break out the tree-making tools and materials and start building.

MTH buys S Helper Service

News today that MTH – a major supplier of O scale (three-rail) products – is acquiring the S Helper Service business.

It’s good to see that SHS is not simply folding its tent as retirement approaches for its owners. I have a number of examples of SHS rolling stock on the layout and am very impressed by the quality of design and construction evident in these models.

Perhaps MTH will have the clout to overcome S scale’s manufacturing challenges, too, and bring fresh product to market. S Helper Service was one of the companies affected by a shake-up in China a couple of years ago, in which the country’s main manufacturer of model railway equipment unilaterally decided to only work with the world’s largest hobby brands. S Helper Service, American Models and other suppliers to the 1:64 community were nowhere near “major”, so were unceremoniously cut loose. As a result, new offerings for S have been limited to resin kits and limited edition brass. I’m a fan of both of resin and brass, but know that it’s the ready to run equipment that keeps S viable so fingers are crossed that we’ll start seeing more product in the Showcase Line.

I also hope MTH continues S Helper Service’s tradition of offering products for scale modellers, as well as those who follow American Flyer standards.