The apple orchards at Port Rowan

Apples must’ve been big business in Port Rowan at one time, and they’ll figure prominently on my layout, too.

Down By The Bay, a history of Port Rowan that I’ve mentioned before on this blog, notes that during the First World War, an apple dehydrating plant was located across from the station. (As its name suggests, this plant created dried fruit. It was shipped out via rail, eventually to Allied soldiers fighting in Europe.)

The plant disappeared before the era I’m modelling, so I won’t have trainloads of apples heading out of Port Rowan – although when Andy Malette at MLW Services releases his highly-anticipated CNR eight-hatch refrigerator car in S scale, I will have to ship the occasional carload of apples off the team track.

Regardless, as the righthand side of my CNR track map shows, the railway entered the Port Rowan yard by passing between farm fields…
 photo PortRowan-Plot-Web_zpsli8hidhh.jpg

…and I know from speaking with people like my friend Rich Chrysler that these were apple orchards. (Indeed, one can still find Port Rowan-area orchards today.)

So, I will have to model the orchards.

While visiting a local hobby shop this week, I found a package of tree armatures (Woodland Scenics TR1121) that will make a good starting point for my trees. A three-inch model tree represents a 16-foot tree in S and one wouldn’t want apple trees much taller than that: They’d be too hard to pick. So this package of 57 armatures seemed like a good starting point.

The armatures come flat – the modeller bends them into “tree shapes”. I did this during a free moment yesterday and set them on the layout to see if I liked the effect:
Port Rowan Orchards - a beginning photo PtR-Orchard-03.jpg

I do – but I will also need two or three more bags of armatures to fill the space!

As can be seen in this photo, it will take a fair bit of work to transform them into realistic looking apple trees…
Switch stand and orchard photo PtR-Orchard-01.jpg

…but I think these plastic armatures will better capture the cultivated look of apple trees than (ironically) more natural materials such as Super Sage Trees. (I’ll have plenty of places to use Super Sage elsewhere on the layout, too.)

Have another look at the orchards on the CNR track map. Note that there’s a private crossing to allow the farmer to tend orchards on both sides of the tracks. While doing orchard-y things yesterday, I also distressed and stained some strip wood and added the farm crossing:
Farm crossing photo PtR-Orchard-02.jpg

I also added ballast between the two wooden crossings. I’ll finish this crossing when I do the ground cover in the orchard, with a lane for an old farm truck or tractor+wagon.

I’m looking forward to this project – but ask me again after I’ve done 150-200 apple trees!

From Cheltenham to St. Williams

Cheltenham Grain Building photo CheltGrainBldg-01.jpg

Today, my first S scale structure found its home.

Last year, I built an S scale model of a grain storage building that used to stand in Cheltenham, Ontario. (A feature I wrote about this model appeared in the January, 2012 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.)

Today, I installed supports for the scenery in St. Williams then added foam board on top – and got enough of it done that I could set the grain bin in place. It’s not at all appropriate for St. Williams but is appropriate for southern Ontario – and I think it looks pretty good:
From Cheltenham to St. Williams photo StW-GrainBin.jpg

Turntable polarity switcheroo

When I installed the turntable at Port Rowan, I used a Lenz LK100 to handle polarity reversing for the bridge rails. This came from a previous layout and worked fine – for the time.

But having experienced first-hand the super-fast, super-quiet, microprocessor-driven Hex Frog Juicer from Duncan Mcree at Tam Valley Depot, I was mildly annoyed by the slightly-slower, somewhat-noisy, relay-based Lenz product. (To be fair to Lenz, the LK100 has been on the market for a while and served me very well. But as we all know, All Things Electronic get smaller, cheaper, and faster – in pretty much no time at all these days.)

Dual Frog Juicer vs Lenz

So, I ordered a Dual Frog Juicer – which can also be used to manage reversing sections on DCC-equipped layouts – from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. It arrived today and before you could say, well, “Dual Frog Juicer”, I had it installed on the layout:

Dual Frog Juicer - Installed

(For those wondering, the masonite shelf above the circuit is there to offer some protection from any drips from above during eventual scenery work. No point in gumming up the works with gluey ballast or Sculptamold.)

Works great – thanks Duncan!

Compression and expansion

Selective compression is a term frequently used by model builders. It’s the process by which the modeller reduces or eliminates elements of a given prototype, in order to build a model that is smaller than a true scale model of the real thing. My friend Jim Providenza recently asked how much compression of the track and structures I was forced to do in Port Rowan.

The short answer is, “not much”. For the long answer, keep reading…

Here’s an example of selective compression – one I’m not going to pursue:

The Port Rowan station has six dormers in the roofline on the trackside of the structure. One could make the station two-thirds actual length and model it with four dormers. Or one could reduce the size of each dormer – and, by the same amount, the space between the dormers – and perhaps make a model that was only 80% as long as the real thing.

Port Rowan station - Dick Otto photo

I do not plan to do this with the Port Rowan station. My mock-up is full-size – for a few reasons, including:
– I have the space.
– It’s a signature structure.
– It’s adjacent to the railroad so its size will be compared to things I can’t compress – namely, the trains themselves:

Port Rowan station mockup

Now here’s an example where selective compression can be used – and I will:

I’m going to build a row of tobacco kilns near St. Williams. When I measured these prototypes (in Scotland, Ontario) I learned that they’re perfect layout-sized structures: They’re just 24′ x 22′:

Tobacco Kilns near Scotland, Ontario

But the kilns in the group I measured were spaced 55′ apart. If I did that on my layout, I’d only be able to model three of the kilns, and that didn’t seem like a big enough grouping. So, as suggested by my mock-ups of the kilns, I’ve selectively compressed the clear space between them to 25′:

St Williams tobacco kilns - mock ups

On my layout, all structures are being modelled full-size. Many of them are small and my layout plan is so simple that there’s plenty of room for structures around the tracks, so I really don’t feel I need to compress them.

As for track arrangements, St. Williams suffers from some liberties. Most notably, I’ve had to build part of the double-ended siding on a curve, whereas it was straight on the prototype.

In Port Rowan, I am compressing the yard, but not too badly. Using the CNR survey map I have, and knowing that the trackside wall of the station is 80′ long, I’ve worked out the prototype yard to be about 1,700 feet long from the first switch to end of track. On my layout, the distance from first switch to end of track is almost 1,100 scale feet (17 actual feet). That works out to approximately 2/3 full size – which I think is pretty good for a layout.

The turntable actually goes the other way – it’s five feet longer than the prototype. Selective Expansion?

(Thanks for asking the question, Jim!)

“How does it feel compared to Maine On2?”

Having read the report on my first operating session on the Port Rowan layout, that’s the question a friend of mine asked. He models a Maine two-footer in 1:48 scale so he knows, first-hand, some of the frustrations I had working in On2. I know a number of other readers are here because they’re friends who share my interest in the Maine two-footers as well, so I’m sure they’re curious too. It’s a great question.

From the perspective of the style of railroading depicted, this standard gauge layout and my previous, two-foot gauge layout are very similar:

– Both model steam-era common carrier railroading.
– The trains are similar too – like The Daily Effort to Port Rowan, my two-footer hosted short mixed trains consisting of a couple of freight cars plus varnish to carry passengers, mail and express.
– With the exception of the carloads generated by the slate mill, the freight traffic on the Maine two-footer was similar – building supplies, agricultural products, coal and oil, etc.
– And my two-footer served customers primarily via team tracks and other shared, public sidings as opposed to dedicated spurs – just as customers are served on the Port Rowan branch.

What’s different?

Ironically, the standard gauge terminal at Port Rowan operates more like a Maine two-foot terminal than the freelanced terminal I built in On2. At Port Rowan, trains arrive, do their work, turn and leave – much like they did in places like Monson Jct., Bridgton Jct., and Farmington. On my Maine two-footer, I never had the room to model a main yard such as the one at Phillips, so my transfer yard served double-duty as a classification yard. That never really worked.

But the biggest difference is mechanical. My S scale locomotives run beautifully – they’re smooth and reliable at all speeds, and they’re sure-footed like mountain goats. I tried hard to create bullet-proof track work on my Maine two-footer and had all of my On2 locomotives tuned up by someone comfortable with tweaking drivetrains, and still had disappointing results. My On2 equipment ran well, but not perfectly.

If that seems like a lofty goal, it shouldn’t – if locomotives, rolling stock and track work are all built with care and attention to quality, operation should be flawless. I could never come close to that in On2 – but in S, I’m almost there. I may never get there, but it’s worth trying because it will mean that when I’m hosting an operating session, I’ll be able to immerse myself completely in the miniature world I’ve created instead of spending my time fretting and fettling track and equipment. As I mentioned in my first run report, I had two derailments – pretty good for a break-in run – and I’ll attend to those. But otherwise, I enjoyed perfect performance, which meant I could enjoy watching my work in progress come to life.

In those terms, there’s no comparison – compared to On2, it felt fantastic!

The Edmund Fitzsander

The legend lives on...

So named because it evokes the look of a Great Lakes boat, I built the Edmund Fitzsander over the weekend.

Sanding ties is important when hand-laying track, to level the tops of the ties and prepare them for rail. Having done a lot of reading lately about woodworking, I realized that what we’re doing – sort of – is akin to flattening a board with a fore plane: we want to remove the high points on a length of ties without removing material from the valleys.

Fore planes do this by having a long sole that rides from peak to peak. But with a narrow point of contact with the work – the iron – planes only work on a solid surface like a panel or table top. A plane iron would rip ties right off the roadbed. For ties, we need to use a sanding block – but the same principles apply: Long is good… heavy is good… and control is good.

With just the sector plate still to do, it’s kind of late in the game for this layout but I decided to build the Edmund Fitzsander – a tie-sanding tool inspired by the fore plane.

I started with a 1″x4″ oak board I picked up from a local DIY store. Oak is nice and heavy and the surface of the board is nice and flat – important for this tool. I cut two 24″ lengths then used my bread maker to drill the top board to accept a knob and tote – replacement plane handles from Lee Valley Tools. I put the tote slightly off-centre so that when I hold it in my left (dominant) hand, my knuckles would not hang over the edge of the tool.

With the knob and tote installed, I glued and clamped the two boards. When dry, I added a slight chamfer to each top edge and the long bottom edges to make them “finger friendly”, then shaped a larger chamfer onto each end at the bottom so that the sandpaper won’t catch the edge of a tie and pull it off the roadbed.

The sandpaper is a 4″x36″ belt for a bench sander. To secure it, I marked and drilled four holes for #6 x 3/4″ wood screws and added finishing washers. To install the sandpaper, I cut the belt at the joint, trimmed it to length, screwed through it into the pre-drilled and tapped holes at one end, pulled it tight to the other end, and secured it there as well. The finishing washers grab the sanding belt by the face and press it to the body of the tool so it’s less likely to rip away from the screws during use.

Bring on the ties…

First run for The Daily Effort

I celebrated a milestone yesterday, with the first operating session on the new layout.

I finished spiking the wiring the turntable approach in Port Rowan and realized I could now test the layout with an operating session. This would be a good test of the track work (and I will admit right up front that I had a couple of derailments, which was to be expected. I’ve made note of what happened and will attend to them).

But an operating session would also confirm for me that a such a simple layout design concept – featuring a short mixed train serving a branchline terminal – could be entertaining and rewarding.

Since I do not yet have a staging yard, I used the main through the Lynn Valley to stage the mixed train – The Daily Effort, as locals called it.

Most of the time the Port Rowan yard is pretty quiet, but once per day the Mixed Train breaks the calm, rounding the corner out of the Lynn Valley:

First run

The engineer turned on 1532’s headlight as he crept through the yard and, with bell ringing, pulled up at the Port Rowan station:

First run

First run

While passengers and less-than-carload express were unloaded, the conductor picked up switching orders.

On arrival at Port Rowan, The Daily Effort consisted of:

CNR 1532 – an H-6-d class 4-6-0
CNR 487747 – a boxcar
CNR 7792 – a baggage-mail car
CNR 7184 – a combine

CNR 487747 was destined for the team track, while the crew would be lifting two cars in Port Rowan for the return trip to Hamilton:

MEC 36106 – a boxcar spotted at the feed mill
CNJ 65414 – a hopper spotted on the coal track

After a brief consultation, the crew got to work.

The first order of business was to back the train up the main, to clear the run-around siding. Then the crew pulled forward to collect the MEC boxcar:

First run

Hauling back, the crew took the siding, moving slowly past the CNR boxcar and the passenger cars:

First run

First run

First run

Having regained the main, the crew shoved forward on the main to couple onto the combine, then continued to shove ahead until the CNR boxcar cleared the track switch in front of the station:

First run

Here, the crew uncoupled the CNR boxcar and pulled back on the main, into the clear:

First run

First run

Then, they rolled forward along the siding to retrieve that CNR boxcar:

First run

First run

The crew hauled the CNR boxcar past the passenger cars and MEC boxcar, and continued up to the yard throat:

First run

Here, the switch was thrown for the coal track and – with much sanding of the rails – the crew collected the CNJ hopper:

First run

First run

(The crew always switches this track with the boiler pointing uphill to keep plenty of water over the firebox.)

Back on the main, the crew again coupled up to the train:

First run

At this point, The Daily Effort looked like this:

CNR 1532 – the 10-wheeler
CNR 487747 – a boxcar to set out
CNJ 65414 – a hopper car returning to Hamilton
MEC 36106 – a boxcar returning to Hamilton
CNR 7184 – a combine
CNR 7792 – a baggae-mail car

Shoving on the consist, the crew spotted the train so that the passenger cars were in front of the depot. Here, the engine crew left everything but the CNR boxcar and pulled back, leaving the conductor and station agent free to load passengers and outbound express:

First run

First run

With one last car to spot, the crew backed up to the yard throat, took the switch for the team track, and set off the CNR boxcar to the right of the barn:

First run

First run

First run

Back on the main, the final job was to turn the engine. More switches were thrown and the crew proceeded up the slight grade of the turntable lead and onto the turntable:

First run

First run

Turning the engine took time, giving bystanders and opportunity to admire both sides of the locomotive:

First run

First run

With the engine turned, the crew crept off the turntable and drifted down the lead to the yard throat:

First run

First run

First run

Switches were lined for the main and locked, then the crew backed down to their train. With the day’s work done, the crew could take a short break while waiting for their scheduled departure time from Port Rowan:

First run

First run

The departing mixed train looks like this:

CNR 1532 – the 10-wheeler
CNJ 65414 – a hopper car returning to Hamilton
MEC 36106 – a boxcar returning to Hamilton
CNR 7184 – a combine
CNR 7792 – a baggae-mail car

Train time came soon enough and with bell ringing, The Daily Effort pulled through the yard and out of Port Rowan…

First run

First run

…leaving a lone boxcar in the weeds … until next time.

First run

Obviously, I paused fairly frequently during this first operating session to take photos to share here – which is why my session lasted almost two hours. Without the photo-taking, the session would have run almost an hour, which is about what I expected. I’ll admit that I unlocked all switches before running the session since I wanted to focus on how well the equipment navigated my track work. With a two-person crew, the need to unlock and re-lock switches would have added time to the work in Port Rowan – but more play value, too.

The pace is relaxed, but I was never bored. With a short tail track in front of the station and a fairly short run-around, careful planning is required to avoid boxing oneself in. That said, my model of Port Rowan is also long enough that it takes a fair bit of time to get from place to place at a reasonable speed (which, thanks to a custom speed table in the 1532’s DCC decoder, is one’s only choice), so planning ahead helps save wasted moves and time.

I’m really happy with how this first session went. Now, it’s time to tweak the track and equipment to address a couple of minor issues, and add some more foam board terrain. Then I can invite a couple of friends over for an operating session!

Port Rowan turntable – installed

Chris Abbott visited last night and we tackled the final installation of the turntable in Port Rowan:

Port Rowan turntable installed

As previously described, I kit bashed my turntable, starting with a kit from Custom Model Railroads. I also bought CMR’s turntable motor and motor mount:

CMR turntable motor and motor mount

This is a small but torque-y motor, with gearing of more than 7000:1, so it turns the bridge nice and slow. The motor mount, like the turntable itself, is laser cut from acrylic. I have to admit I was a bit dubious when I first saw the motor mount kit because of the number of butt-joints involved, but I built it and it exceeded my expectations: The Plastic Weld From Plastruct worked as advertised, melting the acrylic and creating a bond as strong as the material itself. The mount includes windows on all sides to allow me to reach the grub screws and collars that connect the motor to the turntable shaft, and everything is removable if necessary for servicing. A very well-designed kit.

I’ve also finished installing, distressing and staining the ties on the approach track, and added some short lengths of rail to help align the turntable during installation. With more rail expected soon – possibly as early as today – I’ll have the approach track finished in no time, and be able to test the turntable function.

Then, I’ll actually be able to run my first operating session – staging trains on the main and siding in St. Williams until we get the sector plate finished. Exciting times…

Chris and I started our work session by ripping a pile of finger joint pine on the table saw – for use as risers, scenery supports, valance and fascia framing and so on. More layout-building fun ahead!

Lumber cut for risers

The last rail I’ll ever need?

I’ve just done a count and I’m short several pieces of rail. Calls to two local hobby shops resulted in one “we don’t have any” and one “no answer”.

So instead of keeping my business in the neighbourhood, I’ve placed an order with my friend Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. Since I don’t know when I’ll be able to get to his place, I’ve bitten the bullet and I’m having it shipped. I know he’ll have the rail – his website says he does. And Fast Tracks always delivers.

The good news is, it’ll cover the rest of the layout, including the turntable lead and the sector plate:

Port Rowan turntable approach

Sector plate with cork installed

It’s the last rail I’ll ever need. For the Port Rowan layout, anyway…

Rebuilding of this blog complete!

Well, that’s a relief…

I posted the last of the recovered entries to the blog today, following the complete loss of content earlier this year. I’ve been working on the restoration for a few weeks now, as time permits. It’s nice to have this out of the way.

Thanks again to Gordon Dobson and Chris Abbott for their assistance. Now, on to fresh material!

(But first, I think, I’ll do a save of the entire site…)