Scenery work (photos to come)

Just a quick update…

I slipped out to the hobby shop today and picked up some really nice corn stalks. They’re HO scale, by JTT (a division of Model Rectifier Corp), and they work great for S scale. I planted these in St. Williams and will post more on this, including photos, tomorrow.

Before heading out, I did some work on the layout with the static grass applicator – adding grass to the right of way from the water tank, through the Lynn Valley and St. Williams, to staging. It looks a lot better – more in keeping with my end-of-life branch line.

Tomorrow, when the glue is set, I’ll give the grass a good vacuuming to make sure everything’s standing up properly and remove any grass that didn’t stick. Then I’ll do some testing, to make sure trains can negoitate the grass: I’ll probably have to thin some of the thick patches between the rails. When everything is as it should be, I’ll post an update – with photos, of course!

A visit with Chris

Chris Abbott stopped by last night after work, for a quick operating session followed by dinner.

I haven’t seen Chris in a while – that little thing we like to call reality kept getting in the way – so it was his first chance to check out the brake wheels, air hoses, brakemen and other operations aids that I’ve added to the layout.

Chris took on the engineer’s duties, while I wore the conductor/brakeman hat. We ran a short extra freight with just a single car out of Simcoe to set off at St. Williams. Checking the waybill boxes as we arrived in each town on the line, we discovered we had one car to lift in St. Williams, and one car to lift in Port Rowan. So, not a lot of traffic on the branch. Two cars were still unloading in St. Williams – and one car was still being worked in Port Rowan.

That said, it took us more than an hour to do the work, mostly because we had to move and re-spot a car at St. Williams while doing our drop and lift. My brakemen operational aids came in very handy during this work, helping me to visualize where my crew members were – on the ground, riding cars, throwing switches and so on. They’re definitely a good addition to the tool kit:
Out standing in his field photo OpsAid-Brakeman-02.jpg

The switch to the spur in St. Williams has been giving me some trouble. It’s a little tight in gauge through the points. I did some work on it in the afternoon, in preparation for our session, and it performed better but not perfectly. I have one car in particular – a two-bay hopper – that climbs the rails here, but I think the problem now is one of insufficient weight. I will place some weights in the car to see if that solves the problem. If it does, I’ll figure out how to add some weight to the car without it being too noticeable: It may require adding a partial load of scale coal to cover some weights in the bottom of the hoppers. We’ll see…

After our session, Chris and I retired to Harbord House for a hearty dinner and discussion of the world’s problems. It was a great way to go to ground on a brisk December night.

Great to see you, Chris: I’m already looking forward to our next session!

Some vintage photos of the S Scale Workshop

It’s funny calling anything to do with the S Scale Workshop “vintage” since their modular layout – based on an S scale interpretation of the Free-mo standard – has only been around since 2006 or so.

But the members are fast workers and the layout has evolved a lot since its early days.

I’ve just posted some photos of the Workshop’s layout as it appeared at the 2007 Copetown Train Show. You can find them at the Workshop’s Blog.

Enjoy if you visit.

The origin of “Finescale Ops”?

I’m re-reading a series from Railmodel Journal (available on TrainLife) in which author Jeff Lemke refers to “Finescale Ops” and offers some examples.

I wonder if it’s the first instance of the term “Finescale Ops” in print? Regardless, it’s the style of operation I’m trying to emulate on my own layout.

If you’re interested, here are links to the articles…

November 1989
March 1990
June 1991
January 1992
January 1994
March 1994

Thanks to David Lotz at TrainLife for bringing these to my attention!

Where are your brakemen?

Switching in Port Rowan photo SwitchingPortRowan.jpg

As previously mentioned, I recently placed an order for S scale figures from Arttista, and they arrived yesterday.

My order included a number of train crew figures. Some of these will decorate the walkways on my CNR vans, but I also ordered a few to use as operations aids.

My recent experiment with adding brake wheels and air hoses to the fascia as operations aids reminded me that back in the 1990s (if I recall correctly), Linda Sand wrote about using scale figures to represent brakemen on a layout. The idea was that these figures would remind people that things on a railroad do not happen automatically: Cars do not uncouple themselves, crossings don’t flag themselves, and so on.

The reality is that even in the days of large crews all work on the ground was done by two brakemen and they couldn’t be everywhere at once. So moves were planned to make sure the brakemen were where they needed to be, with a minimum of walking. Walking takes time and can be exhausting, so it makes sense to give the guys on the ground a break.

When I read Linda’s piece, I got it immediately. Since I was working in HO at the time and was a regular member of the crew on Michel Boucher‘s Delaware and Hudson layout, I glued a pair of HO brakemen to styrene squares and took them to an operating session to try this out.

I think the other operators thought I was crazy.

But as I explained to them, it wasn’t necessary to use the brakemen all the time. Rather, I used them for a few sessions to train myself to think like a member of a real crew. It definitely changed how I switched Michel’s layout, and sparked my interest in what’s become known as Finescale Ops.

Fast forward to yesterday’s Arttista delivery (terrific service, by the way): I picked some likely candidates, cut round styrene bases, and glued them to the bottom of each figure’s boots.

One potential problem is that much of my railroad – including a lot of the track – is covered in tall static grass: How was I going to make the figures stand up reliably on an uneven surface, without gluing them to a huge disc (which would crush the grass anyway)?

I thought about this and realized that the answer comes from the insect world – specifically, an insect that every kid calls a Water Walker.

I grabbed some fine phosphor bronze wire, cut two pieces each 1.5″ long, gave each a 90-degree bend in the middle, and then glued them point-to-point on the underside of the styrene base so that they formed a cross. The resulting brakeman operations aid looks like this:
Scale brakeman photo OpsAid-Brakeman-01.jpg

And – as I hoped – they stand up just fine in long grass:
Out standing in his field photo OpsAid-Brakeman-02.jpg

Now during operating sessions, I can quickly and easily deploy brakemen to help me visualize the moves that must be made while setting off and lifting freight cars. For example, I know which brakeman is connecting glad hands and which is locking up the switch stand…
Brakemen at work photo OpsAid-Brakeman-03.jpg

… and when it’s time to pull out of town I know where I have to slow down so they can climb aboard the locomotive or caboose.

With their phosphor bronze whiskers the brakemen are surprisingly stable, too – in fact, they can safely ride on top of most freight cars during switching moves:
Riding High photo OpsAid-Brakeman-04.jpg

While making up these two brakemen, I also made up a special flagman for the Charlotteville Street crossing in St. Williams. He’ll hang out at the station and can be placed on the road whenever crews are conducting switching moves that foul the crossing:
Flagging Charlottevile Street photo OpsAid-Brakeman-05.jpg

As with the hand brakes, air hoses and other operations aids I’ve incorporated into the layout, crews are not required to use the brakemen figures. But if they want to, the figures are available. Personally, I enjoy how they change one’s thinking about what one is doing when switching on the Port Rowan branch.