Zebra stripes on white

While I model the CNR in the steam era, I really like more contemporary modelling, too. I spent a lot of time at a more impressionable age watching CNR switch engines of various sizes – up to the GS-412 (SW1200RS) and GS-413 (SWEEP) switchers – working the spur along Louisa Street to General Motors on Ontario Street in St. Catharines. Here are a couple of photos of GS-412 7302, returning from switching at the north end of the plant:
 photo CN-StCatharines-04_zps58c6a22c.jpg
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This trackage was part of the former Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto interurban line – and when Pierre Oliver and I built The Peterboro Project Free-mo module, I made a point of decorating my CNR locomotive for units that ran on the St. Catharines lines, such as this HO model of CNR 7302:
Canoe Trip photo Pboro-Railfan-SwingBridge.jpg

The crews were based out of a small yard off the CNR mainline at Merritton – on the St. Catharines/Thorold boundary:
 photo CN-StCatharines-03_zps96c5352e.jpg

The Canadian National no longer switches in St. Catharines – the lines have been spun off to the Trillium Railway, which has some awesome oddball diesels on its roster (like this one):
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(There’s a bucket of information about railroads in this part of the world at www.NiagaraRails.com. Enjoy if you visit.)

What brought on this trip down memory lane? A posting on the White River Division blog penned by George Dutka. George is a retired CNR engineer and he recently wrote about heading to work at the railway’s yard in London, Ontario one cold looking February day in 1994. (Thanks for posting, George!)

I really like the photo George took: It reminds me just how great the CNR’s orange, black and white paint scheme looks in snow. What’s more, with the ties buried in snow, the rails just leap out at the eye – as do the details such as switch stands.

Given that winter is such a big part of life in Canada, I wonder why more of us don’t model it? Maybe because we spend too much time in the cold months squirrelled away in our train rooms, so we fail to see just how stark and beautiful – and worthy of modelling – such scenes are?

A full plate

All of my steam locomotives are now equipped with brackets to hold classification flags – something about which I’ve already written – so the full roster is now in regular service. Here’s the lineup at the start of a session:
Curtain Call photo FullStaging-01_zps7487614a.jpg

CNR 1532 is on the mixed train today, so it’s not carrying white flags. CNR 1560, 80 and 86 are ready to run as freight extras. (CNR 902 is parked behind one of these trains so is not in the picture.)

I can now stage four trains at a time, which means I can run the layout for several hours before I need to re-stage. The sector plate is getting pretty full, though:
Full Staging photo FullStaging-02_zps2fd626b3.jpg

I will have to do something about that.

I’m looking for a suitable set of drawers to put under the layout, below the sector plate. Since they need to be pretty shallow to make best use of the space, I expect I’ll have to build my own. No rush on this.

I should remove some of the excess equipment from the sector plate area – including that beautiful (but entirely inappropriate) S scale version of the Flying Yankee. (What can I say? I used to model the Boston and Maine in HO and thought the River Raisin Models import would make a lovely mantlepiece model…) I need to paint and finish the brass tank cars too – but in the meantime, they can go back in the display case in my office.

Flags for Monte

In a comment on yesterday’s post about my new motive power, Monte Reeves wrote:

Nice looking work extra!
Mogul on Work Extra photo Moguls-04_zps8b031e8e.jpg
Could I suggest white extra flags on the front to be authentic and set off the mogul?

I think it’s a great idea, and in fact I’ve been thinking about doing that. But as I wrote in reply to Monte’s suggestion, I want to make the flags removable so I don’t limit any locomotive to being used only in extra service.

I’ve done this before. In the 1990s I modelled the Boston and Maine Railroad’s Claremont Branch in HO scale, and I equipped my BM 2-6-0s with removable extra flags, as seen in this photo of a passenger extra at Warner NH:
 photo BM-1483-1437-Warner_zps1e061a37.jpg

These were relatively easy to do as the flags were mounted next to the class lamps. It was a simple procedure to drill a small hole in the class lamp bracket. Flags were cut and bent from thin brass, soldered to fine wire, and painted. They could be mounted with tweezers.

The challenge for the CNR locomotives is the flags were mounted in holders on the handrails next to the smokebox. Simon Parent has included these holders on the Moguls and on the 10-Wheelers – but they’re too small to actually drill out and use. However, I gave Monte’s comment some thought and I’ve come up with a solution that involves what could be the smallest eyebolt details available in the hobby today.

Today, I tested it out on Mogul 80. I started with a pair of the etched eyebolts that my friend Pierre Oliver offers through his Yarmouth Model Works business. I trimmed them from their fret and introduced a 90-degree bend in the shaft, just beyond the head. I then carefully mounted them on the underside of the handrails on either side of the smokebox, immediately ahead of the existing flag holders:
Flag Holders photo ClassFlags-02_zpsa6d0e44f.jpg

I mounted them on the underside of the handrails because through some tests I determined that a flag staff will flop around if it’s placed in a single eyebolt. They would require better support to sit upright on the handrails.

To build my flags, I used 0.015″ dia. phosphor bronze wire for the staff and very thin brass sheet (from a package of shim stock) for the flags. I cut a small rectangle of brass sheet (a scale 12″ x 16″), glued a wire along one of the 12″ sides, then wrapped the sheet around the wire staff and secured it with more CA. I carefully crumpled the sheet to make it look like a flag flapping in the breeze.

I trimmed the staff to length, and then mounted another eyebolt on the staff, then introduced a 90-degree bend into the shaft of the eyebolt. It’s easier to show than explain, so here’s a photo of the assembled flags – ready for painting. Note that the flags are “handed” – the eyebolt is in a different location on each:
Class Flags (brass) photo ClassFlags-01_zps855ef750.jpg

It takes a steady hand, good light and a sharp eye to mount the flags – but it can be done and they don’t need to be added and removed all the time – only when I want to mix up the assignments for various locomotives. Here are the flags in a test-fit on Mogul 80:
Class Flags - Test Fit photo ClassFlags-03_zpsc099cae9.jpg

This was a test – I’ll have to build permanent flags using solder, I expect – but so far so good. When I blacken the holders and staffs, and paint the flags themselves white, they’ll look great – and aid operations.

E times 3 (Thanks Simon!)

Sometimes, it’s great to just do something crazy, like visit another city – in another province – for just five hours.

And that’s exactly what I did yesterday. But I had a good reason…

Three good reasons, actually. I met up with my friend and fellow S scale enthusiast Simon Parent for a long lunch, during which I collected the three CNR E-10 2-6-0s that he’s been building for me:
E times 3 photo Moguls-01_zps20dd9132.jpg

To be perfectly accurate, I collected two locomotives, but three models: While you see three in the above photo, 86 and 908 are actually the same locomotive in two different eras. (I’ll be able to model an even earlier era on the layout now, if I so desire.) Simon designed these locomotives and fabricated the parts – and if I recall, 86 was the prototype engine from which he worked. Number 80 sports different details specific to that locomotive – most notably a different tender and headlight.

Like the 10-wheelers he has also built for me, these moguls feature 14-wheel pick-up and a sound decoder driving two speakers. They run really well – no problem on my grassy track – and they sound great.

What’s immediately apparent is just how small the moguls are compared to the 10-wheelers. As the photos below show, the boiler is much smaller and the whole locomotive is lower to the ground – at least until you get back to 86’s cab, which is about the same size as that found on 1532. But when I look at the two styles of locomotive, there’s definitely a family resemblance – from pilot style and the triangular number boards, to the tenders.
CNR 86 and 1532 photo Moguls-07_zpsc5a6c097.jpg

Mogul and 10-Wheeler photo Moguls-06_zpsec8754a1.jpg

Cousins photo Moguls-05_zps2afbeb4e.jpg

I unpacked the models this morning and did some final tweaking to the Tsunami decoders, then enjoyed running them back and forth on the layout. A 40-foot boxcar positively dwarfs a mogul:
Mogul and MILW photo Moguls-02_zps1a3b0b97.jpg

I’ve set Number 80 on the head of a Work Extra. During my next operating session, I will use it to switch hopper cars on company service in Port Rowan.

CNR 80 photo Moguls-03_zps07bf2aba.jpg

Mogul on Work Extra photo Moguls-04_zps8b031e8e.jpg

What a treat! Thank you, Simon – they’re exquisite!

There’s a reason it’s called “VIA 1”

VIA Rail‘s first class service (VIA 1) is second to none. The train is comfortable, the service is exceptional, the staff is friendly, the food and drink are generous – you’re left with nothing wanting.

Yesterday, I boarded VIA Train 52 – the morning express to Montreal – at Toronto’s Union Station and the first cup of coffee was in my hand even before I was asked for my ticket. And it just got better from there. We left on time at 6:40, and in short order I enjoyed a hot breakfast and a newspaper, then sat back and let somebody else worry about traffic and weather. The free drink once the clock struck 11:00 put me in a great mood by the time we pulled into Gare Centrale at 11:55.

On the return trip (VIA Train 67 leaving at 5:00 pm, arriving at 9:43), the staff poured cocktails before collecting tickets – again proving that their first consideration is for customer satisfaction. Another generous hot meal, with coffee and wine, plus an after dinner drink and chocolate. I snoozed on the way home and arrived refreshed.

The kicker is, the cost for the discounted business class fare was about the same as I would’ve paid to drive, once gas and food was taken into account. The worry-free nature of the trip feels like a huge bonus.

I’ve never had a bad experience riding VIA 1 – so, again, well done!

Terminal buildings back in place

The preliminary scenery work at the end of the Port Rowan peninsula is now dry enough to return the building mockups to the layout, so here are a couple of updated photos of the area.

The feed mill occupies a large patch of gravel and cinders. The station can be seen just beyond the mill at right:
A return to normalcy photo PtR-EOT-Green-04_zps9fadf3b6.jpg

In this image, the first view a visitor sees of the layout, the automobile at lower right sits on the future site of a driveway for the first of the houses on Chestnut Street. The mill, the garage, and the station can also be seen:
Buildings, grass and gravel photo PtR-EOT-Green-05_zps666fe8da.jpg

A short work extra has arrived at the station. Curiously, it’s not being pulled by a 10-wheeler…

Scattering green and brown

I’ve made great progress on the layout, but I’ve been a little bothered of late that the first thing a visitor sees when they enter the room is a big blob of unscenery at the end of the Port Rowan peninsula:
1stAnniversary-Overview photo FirstAnniversary-01.jpg

So I decided to do something about it.

The problem is that this area will require a lot of complex structures. As the above photo shows, they include the station, the feed mill complex and a small garage. And while they’re not on the layout, there are also a couple of houses to go in the pink area in the right foreground.

I didn’t want to add scenery here until I built the structures. But then I realised that even basic scenery would be better than nothing – and won’t actually affect the construction or placement of the buildings at all.

So, I’ve removed all the mock-ups and added basic ground cover in the last place where it was missing on the layout. Here’s a photo similar to the earlier photo – but with a start on green grassy backyards and gravel/cinder drives:
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Sharp-eyed readers will note I’ve built up a ramp for the station drive as it approaches Bay Street (the white road in the foreground), using a couple of cedar shingles glued to the 3/4″ plywood. I’ve also added some leftover cork roadbed where the station’s cinder platform will be. And in the lower right, some cork roadbed creates a base for a very small section of Chestnut Street.

Here are a couple more views, with more cinders and greenery in place. I’ve completed the station driveway and added some green for the area to the inside of the L-shaped station. (This will become more clear when my glue has dried and I can replace the structure mockups.):
Green and brown in Port Rowan photo PtR-EOT-Green-02_zpse2571d5b.jpg

End of track and driveway photo PtR-EOT-Green-03_zps9c29b851.jpg

I’m looking forward to watching a train arrive at Port Rowan, without the distraction of plywood and pink!


Following my post earlier this week on adding weeds and bushes to the coal track, I had a wonderful phone call from my friend Bill Kerr. He really likes what I’m doing with the scenery (which is very high praise since he does brilliant work in this regard). He did, however, offer a couple of good suggestions, which I acted upon.

Bill noted that 50-60 years of coal dust around the bin itself would’ve killed a lot of vegetation, including all but the heartiest of weeds. Makes sense to me. So, I did some transplanting last night.

As a reminder, here’s how the scene looked earlier this week. The weeds are quite thick below the coal dock and up each side of the concrete bunker:
Coal Track with more weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-03_zps0f11f2c2.jpg

I’ve now thinned out this area, removing all but a few weeds in front of the concrete wall and adding some sand/gravel around the walls:
Fewer weeds around coal bin photo CoalTrack-Weeds-07_zps4f512a4f.jpg

I think it looks a lot better for a couple of reasons. First, it looks less like the coal dealer is planting a garden around his bin. And second, it makes the coal bin stand out more from the rest of the scenery along this track.

The weeds did not go to waste. I simply moved them elsewhere. Most went to the embankment at the end of the coal track:
More weeds and end of coal track photo CoalTrack-Weeds-08_zps846ca50e.jpg

Following another suggestion from Bill, I used the rest to narrow the path up the embankment so it looks more like a footpath (seen just to the left of the switch stand in this photo):
Narrower path up embankment photo CoalTrack-Weeds-09_zps8db04ad5.jpg

Thanks Bill – great feedback!

“19 East, Copy Three”

That’s the title of a brand new book – in fact, the first book – from the Operations Special Interest Group:
19 East Copy Three photo 19East-Copy3_zps4477fa36.jpg
(Click on the book for ordering information.)

My copy arrived yesterday and I’m already getting some great ideas for my layout.

“19 East, Copy Three” explains how to use Time Table and Train Order operations on a model railroad.

The book starts with a reprint of a series that David Sprau wrote about TT&TO operations for the SIG’s quarterly magazine. David is a professional railroader – a retired dispatcher who walks readers through how TT&TO operation works. I remember the original series – it’s a great read.

In the second part of the book, co-author Steve King – another one-time railroader whose duties included turns at the dipatcher’s desk – translates TT&TO operation to the model railway environment. This is the magic that’s really needed for many people – an understanding of how to design a layout for TT&TO operation, especially given that so many hobbyists (myself included) are not professional railroaders who do this every day.

Do I need Time Table and Train Order operation on my modest layout? From a practical perspective, of course not. I run a single train on the line at a time. That said, the prototype was governed by TT&TO – even though the entire branch was considered part of yard limits from the first switch south of Simcoe to end of track in Port Rowan. So to make my paperwork complete, I should issue a crew with a condensed employee time table, a clearance form, and any relevant orders in addition to freight waybills. It’s all about creating – or, re-creating – a slice of a real railroad and that includes the paperwork.

Since we’re unlikely to kill anybody if orders aren’t understood and obeyed, I’m not going to be a dragon about any of this. So visitors don’t have to worry – if they just want to turn on the power and switch a few cars, I’m cool with that. But I want to better understand what it was like to work this branch – and understanding the environment in which crews performed their duties is an essential piece of that puzzle.

I’ve read a couple of chapters, and that’s enough to highly recommend this book to anybody interested in building their knowledge of TT&TO. Well done, David, Steve, the editors, and the many contributors who helped bring this book to print!

Weeds and bushes

Today is a holiday where I live. Its official title is “Family Day”, but I prefer to think of it as “It’s bloody cold outside, let’s have a holiday Day”. And true to its word, it’s cold – and therefore a perfect day to spend in the room next to the furnace.

That’s the layout room, of course.

I started by organizing my scenery supplies, which have drifted into chaos of late. Grass supplies in several spots – same thing with ballasts and other ground cover materials, tree and shrub materials, and scenic details.

It didn’t take long to get things in order – and realize that the best place for all of this scenery material is on the layout. After all, that’s why I bought it!

So (as the title of this post suggests) I spent a couple of hours planting weeds and bushes. I decided to focus on the area around the elevated Coal Track in Port Rowan, since I’ve never really liked the look of the grass on the elevated track.

As a reminder, here’s a photo from last year, which is pretty much how it looked when I started this morning. I’ve also included a closer look at the coal bin itself:
Purple meadow flowers photo PtR-MeadowFlowers-02.jpg

Coal dump complete photo CoalDumpMech-01.jpg

Not too inspiring, is it!

Now, here’s the same area after a couple of hours work:
Coal Track with more weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-03_zps0f11f2c2.jpg

I used various weeds from Silflor, plus Super Tree material, to add life and character to the scene. The weeds and bushes are pretty heavy, suggesting that the nobody’s really bothering to look after the spur now that traffic has almost completely dried up. That said, the railway crews have worn a footpath into the slope as a shortcut between coal bin and yard throat:

Coal Track - more weed detail photo CoalTrack-Weeds-05_zps14ef8c3c.jpg

Footpath on the Coal Track photo CoalTrack-Weeds-06_zpsf7631779.jpg

(Truth be told, there’s more weed and bush on my model of the coal track than is apparent on photos of the prototype. The prototype is mostly covered in long grass. That said, the prototype also doesn’t have to deal with a backdrop that’s just a few inches behind the scene, whereas I do. So, I’m exercising the First Rule of Model Railroading: It’s My Layout.)

In doing this planting, I kept two things in mind. First, I regularly checked my work looking from the base of the Port Rowan peninsula to make sure my plantings were not going to interfere with the passage of locomotives or rolling stock:
Coal Track Corridor photo CoalTrack-Weeds-01_zps71ad79d7.jpg

Second, I wanted to add more clumps of brighter colours in front of the Coal Track, and use muted colours further back, ending with a line of dull green shrubs against the back edge of the layout to soften the transition to the backdrop. This would draw the eye away from the backdrop and into the centre of the scene:
Coal Track - weed detail photo CoalTrack-Weeds-04_zps80020531.jpg

I have a lot more scenery material, and I plan to add more weeds and bushes to the meadow between yard and fascia (although not as thick as I did on the coal track, since people will be reaching over the meadow frequently during an operating session). But that’s for another day. For now, I think today’s work turned out quite well!
Coal Track with weeds photo CoalTrack-Weeds-02_zpse536954d.jpg