The 1798 Backus Mills of Long Point

This week’s mail brought a copy of The 1798 Backus Mills of Long Point, a 158-page book self-published in 1977 by Donald A Buscombe of Port Dover.
Backus Mills of Long Point photo BackusBook_zps8a25a8a4.jpg

I grabbed a copy for $15 via the Advanced Book Exchange, thanks to an alert by regular reader Mike Livingston that it included a photo of the (railroad East) side of the shed that stands next to the team track in Port Rowan. I recently completed my model of this shed – which I call The Barn, because of its roofline – and wrote about it on the blog:
Team Track Barn photo PtR-Barn-01_zps2cd0bf26.jpg
(Click on the image to read more about the model)

Backus is an important name in Port Rowan / Long Point history, owning sawmills and grist mills in the area. The family’s legacy includes a heritage conservation area anchored by the the grist mill shown below, which was built in 1798:
Backus Mill photo BackusMill_zpsc5b10bae.jpg
(Click on the image to visit the Backus Heritage Conservation Area online)

Ironically, the Barn has nothing to do with Backus – at least, not that I know of. But it appears in the book, in a photo taken in the 1920s of a young member of the Backus family standing on a flat car spotted at the team track. The flat car is loaded with 16-inch squared white oak timbers being shipped out for use in building the gates for the locks on the Welland Canal. According to the caption, the Backus family also supplied all the ties for the line from Port Rowan to Simcoe – some 30,000 in total.

With this detailed look at the family’s grist mills and sawmills in the area, I’m certain that I will find additional information in this book that will help me model the traffic carried on the Port Rowan branch. (Thanks for the lead, Mike!)

Meanwhile, the photo of the Barn shows what I believe is a vent near the top of the peaked end wall. I’ll assume that there’s a vent on the opposite side as well. I will have to build a pair of vents and add them to my model – easy enough to do, as they can sit right on top of the existing siding. Off to the workbench – stay tuned for an update!

Figuring It Out (more on the little people)

Further to my recent post about figures, I was reminded today that a lot (not all, but a lot) of the sins of poor figure rendering can be addressed through effective painting techniques. The reminder came from the blog of George Dent, an excellent modeller in the UK.

George notes that the July, 2013 issue of the UK magazine Model Rail includes a feature on figure painting. While I have not seen the issue, the figures on George’s blog are very well done so I’m sure the article is worth a look.

Here’s George’s post, called Figuring It Out. Enjoy if you visit!
Switching in Port Rowan photo SwitchingPortRowan.jpg


Between the Kilns photo Tobacco-BackField-01_zps2e5562e0.jpg

I’m not a smoker, but thanks to the leetle trains I’ve learned some things about the growing, curing and marketing of flue-cured tobacco – the type of tobacco that would be destined for the kilns I plan to model for the St. Williams area on my layout.

To wit:

– Flue-cured tobacco was introduced to Ontario in 1913.

– In 1953, more than 88,000 acres in Ontario were planted with flue-cured tobacco, mostly in the counties in southwestern Ontario. This produced more than 127-million pounds of tobacco worth more than $55 million.

– In 1957, more than 117,000 acres produced more than 147-million pounds of tobacco, worth more than $74 million.

– The growing process starts in greenhouses in the spring. These are not artificially heated, but do require a lot of “black muck” – the goop found in swamp lands. Before planting, the muck would be sterilized – either by chemicals, by steaming, or both. Steaming required a boiler – usually a relic fired by coal or wood.

– Popular varieties of tobacco in grown in Ontario included Hicks Broadleaf, Delcrest and White Gold. Hicks Broadleaf accounted for about 65% of Ontario’s crop. Seeds were usually purchased from specialized growers. Fertilizers were applied at seeding time.

– Seedlings were transplanted to the field around the middle of May. It required 6,000-7,000 seedlings per acre. Most Ontario tobacco growers had 20 to 40 acres.

– Special fertilizers were used, keyed to the type of soil the farmer would be planting in. Light sandy soils are preferred but tobacco could also be grown in heavier loamy soils. Drainage is important, as is regular watering. Fertilizers tend to be low in nitrogen – 2-10-15 for example – and one acre of tobacco required anywhere from 800-1500 pounds of fertilizer.

– Transplanting was usually finished by the middle of June.

– Crops were quite tasty to bugs, so insecticides were used regularly to control them. Bugs and pests included cutworm, wireworm, seed maggots, horn worm… you get the idea. 🙁

– Tobacco requires well-drained soil, but also lots of water. 75% of farmers have irrigation systems in their fields (by the late 1960s).

– Harvesting begins in early August. By the second week, it’s definitely on. Harvest can take until October, although more typically it was finished by mid-September.

– Leaves that are ready for harvesting are picked by a crew of Primers, and moved to the kilns to be tied and loaded.
 photo Tobacco-Kilns-HO-Finished_zps6cbeb1e6.jpg
(HO kilns built for my friend Pierre Oliver. Click on the photo for more info.)

– A kiln holds 1,200 sticks of tobacco, with each stick holding about 90 leaves.

– Curing involves careful management of temperature and humidity. The flues are heated by stoves fueled by coal, wood or oil. The curing process takes three to six days.

– A farm typically has one kiln for every five to six acres of tobacco, so each kiln is refilled several times during the harvest season.

– Cured tobacco was then moved to a pack barn. It takes some time to remove the leaves from the stalks, bundle and tie it, mark it, and generally prepare it for auction. Auctions began in early November.

– Tobacco farmers rotate their crops. They’ll plant tobacco on a field, then another crop. Suitable alternate crops include rye and wheat, but also potatoes…

M233 at St. Williams depot photo M233-StW-Depot_zps73d83bf1.jpg

… and corn:

M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg

So… all very interesting, right? But what does it mean for my layout?


From this information, I can now create freight waybills to deliver everything from tobacco seeds, fertilizers and insecticides, to coal and oil for the kilns and irrigation system and drainage tile for the fields.

I can also create seasonal operating sessions, with deliveries corresponding to different times of the year. Even though my modelled season is “August”, I think that tweaking operating sessions to reflect the current month (in the 1:1 world – so right now, I would be running June operating sessions) is a great way to add variety to a layout.

Does it matter that the St. Williams Plantation (yes, there was one and that’s what it was called) is receiving sacks of Hicks Broadleaf Seed as LCL during a February operating session, even though operators can see full-grown tobacco plants ready for harvest on the layout? I don’t think anybody will mind.

My source for this information is Tobacco in Canada, a booklet produced in the early 1970s by The Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board based on a book by a one-time vice-chair of the board, Lyal Tait:
Tobacco in Canada booklet photo TobaccoInCanada_zps29121979.jpg

I picked up my copy of the booklet a couple of summers ago while visiting the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre, part of a fact-finding mission to help me build tobacco kilns for St. Williams. I know I paid less than $5 for it, and encourage anybody who is modelling southwestern Ontario from 1913 onward to grab a copy.

Lunch and Locals :: A visit from Andy

My friend Andy Malette visited yesterday, for pub lunch and an operating session.
Andy and reefers photo AndyKits_zpsdb018739.jpg
(Andy’s always a happy guy, and a great promoter of S scale. He’s also a manufacturer, responsible for the two CNR combines on my layout and three CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars yet to be built. Click on Andy’s smiling face to visit his web site.)

Andy has seen my layout several times, but yesterday was his first opportunity to actually run a train.

Things went really well, although one of my recently-finished 460000 series CNR boxcars derailed in St. Williams:
CNR-461000-0 photo CNR-461000-03_zps8eb52a6a.jpg
Embarrassing, but not surprising given that it had recently come off the bench and I had not had an opportunity to test it on the layout. I made note of the problem and afterwards I adjusted the truck screw, which ought to do the trick. I guess I’ll find out in future sessions, right?

(One of the many advantages of a modest layout such as the one I’ve built is that it’s easy to keep on top of maintenance issues such as wonky wheel sets.)

It was also Andy’s first exposure to the Lenz DCC system – he uses NCE at home, and Digitrax when he participates in exhibitions with the S Scale Workshop. My choice of Lenz once again proved wise as it’s very intuitive to use and Andy was impressed by the ergonomics of the throttles. (I wish I could take credit for the decision, but I chose Lenz because that’s what my friends were using when I was first exposed to DCC.)

Andy – who runs MLW Services – also brought along some decals and details to help me finish some CNR boxcars, including the CNR double-door boxcar that’s currently on my bench:
CNR Double Door Box - Sills and Doors photo CNR-DD-Box-SidesDoors_zps77605234.jpg

Unfortunately, we ran out of time about halfway through the operating session – we were able to get a local freight to Port Rowan and start the switching before Andy had to leave. I finished the run myself – but that’s fine: Andy will just have to come over another time, soon!

As seen by others

To date, I think, all the photos of my layout that I have shared on this blog have been taken by me. Obviously, I try to show my layout in its best light and I have developed a style (for lack of a better word): I tend to photograph the layout from certain vantage points, relative heights, and so on.

But other people do take pictures of the layout – mostly during operating sessions. I’m always interested to see how others perceive the layout and I thought I’d share a few here.

Often, as is the case with these first images, the photos are very similar to pictures I have taken. That’s understandable, since there are scenes on the layout that are naturally more photogenic than others.

Here, from an operating session this past Sunday, David Woodhead has captured Extra 80 East as it leaves Port Rowan and heads into the curve en route to the Lynn Valley:
DW-2013-06 (03) photo DW-02_zpsf2db0645.jpg

Another photo by David – taken during a visit in April – shows another Extra 80 East as it passes through the Port Rowan yard throat on the way out of town:
DW-2013-04 (01) photo DW-04_zps98e409b3.jpg

Everybody sees differently, however, and visitors sometimes discover views I haven’t previously considered when photographing the layout. Here are two examples from Sunday’s operating session.

Chris Abbott captured this unique view of the farmer’s pick-up truck in the apple orchard. To do this, he had to pre-focus his camera above the scene, then lower it down to the fascia:
CA-2013-06 (01) photo CA-01_zps5cf3ccf6.jpg

I’ve shared a number of photos via this blog that sight along the three parallel tracks in the Port Rowan yard – but looking up the line towards the orchards. Here, David aimed his camera the other way – towards the station – and captured the crew of Mogul 80 shoving cars into the team track:
DW-2013-06 (02) photo DW-01_zps49add9dd.jpg

Finally, when I host guests I’m too busy assisting with operating sessions to take photos, so I’ve never shared any pictures of operating sessions that show the relationship between people and the layout. So, here are a few now.

From Sunday’s session, Chris captured this view of intense concentration as I explain the workings of the Port Rowan turntable to Ben Rechel (L) and David (R):
CA-2013-06 (02) photo CA-02_zpsea0ee40c.jpg

Also from Sunday, a shot (L to R) of Chris, me and Ben. I think I’m locking a switch:
DW-2013-06 (01) photo DW-03_zps6afd1c57.jpg

Here, Chris has caught me checking out the view he took of the pickup truck in the orchard, while Ben and David sort cars for the team track:
 photo CA-03_zps33bae187.jpg

And from a session in April, David photographed our friend Keith Stamper overseeing his train (he was conductor that day) as Extra 80 West pauses for water from the Lynn Valley tank:
DW-2013-04 (02) photo DW-05_zps3f3e0b9e.jpg

What I like about all of these shots is they show the physical relationship between operators and the layout. The scenes are deep, so I’ve built the layout low enough (if memory serves, about 45″ from floor to railhead) that one can reach in comfortably to uncouple cars.

Thanks, Chris and David, for the photographs (and I hope you don’t mind that I’ve shared them here – but I guess that’s the price of admission!)

Progress on the CNR Double Door boxcar

CNR Double Door Box - Sills and Doors photo CNR-DD-Box-SidesDoors_zps77605234.jpg

I’ve been making lots of progress over the past couple of weeks – including on my CNR double-door boxcar project. As the photo shows, I’ve started working on the Superior Six Panel Doors. I’m scratch-building these from styrene sheet and strip, with rivets from Archer Transfers. This is my first experience with Archer’s product and I’m really, really impressed. (I ordered directly from Archer and service was excellent, too – so check them out. Archer offers four sizes/styles of rivets for S scalers – I bought one sheet of each.)

The doors are ready for detailing – tack boards, latching mechanisms, etc. I’ll do this work before gluing them in place.

As the photo also shows, I’ve replaced the side sills on my PRS donor car with longer sills made from styrene strip. I will add appropriate rivets to the sills – again using Archer’s product.

This has turned into quite a project, which prompts two observations:

1 – I’m glad I only want / need to do one of these cars for my layout!

2 – I expect the S scale resin kit to appear about one week after I finish my model – because that’s how it works!

On the subject of boxcar surgery, my friend Andy Malette points out that I should carve away the lower side extensions and the poling pockets in the corners. That’ll be a bigger job so I’ll decide whether I can do that neatly enough to be happy with the end result. And, before I install the doors, I will have to extend the upper and lower tracks to accommodate these monster doors: There’s no point in having a 15-foot opening if the doors can’t be slid all the way out of the way, right?

At that point, this will become a “normal” kit again – with the surgery giving away to the usual process of adding details such as ladders, roof walks, brake rigging and so on. I’m looking forward to the return to normalcy!

A visit from Ben, Chris and David

Last night I hosted a couple of friends and a guest from out of town for a layout tour and operating session. David Woodhead and Chris Abbott set up the get-together with Ben Rechel, a modeller and musician from the United States who is in town for a couple of weeks. (Some readers may recognize the name, as he’s a regular voice on the Model Rail Radio podcast.)

I had a freight extra set up behind Mogul 80, with work in St. Williams and Port Rowan. David jumped into the cab (in reality, grabbed the throttle) while Ben stepped into the daunting role of conductor – daunting because it involves a fair bit of paperwork in addition to learning the ropes of a layout that was completely new to him.

Chris and I offered advice from the sidelines – but not too much advice. Ben and David did a fine job and almost nobody was killed – although one of my brakemen did get run over by the Mogul. No harm done, though, and he was back on the job this morning:
X1560 West: Pulling ahead photo Tour-2013-01-005_zpsf382c963.jpg

I think people are often surprised at just how involved the switching can be on a layout that looks so simple on paper. The thing is, Port Rowan has enough track to do the job – but only just. There are no extra sidings sprinkled about, just in case one needs a spot to park a car temporarily. And with every spur serving multiple spots, there can be a fair bit of juggling to get cars into the proper order, especially if one has to pull and re-spot a car that’s not coming back with the train when it leaves town.

So it’s not too surprising that the session lasted more than two hours, when one takes into account a brief introduction to the layout and pauses for railfan photography. The layout ran well – with no derailments or finger-poking required. (Just as it should be, I know – and frankly, the layout has never really let me down in this regard. But I’m still relieved – and pleasantly surprised that I’ve built a layout that has proven itself to be as reliable as it has. I guess I don’t ask too much of it, given that trains operate very slowly, the track plan is not too complex, and the switches have fairly high frog numbers (7 to 10)… but still: I’m pleased!)

Chris, as always, is a great sounding board for ideas and we discussed several things I’d like to do next on the layout – including adding a valance. Chris also wants to tackle a mechanism to move the sector plate, which I do right now by grabbing the end and sliding it by hand. So, there’s plenty to do.

I sent Chris home with a project, too – but more on that in good time…

Great to see you, Chris and David – and well met, Ben!

The Team Track Barn

Team Track Barn photo PtR-Barn-01_zps2cd0bf26.jpg

I felt like doing a structure yesterday, so I built the small “barn” that sat next to the team track in Port Rowan. I know very little about this barn, and only have one photo of it – in the background at right in this image (with thanks, again, to Keith Sirman for the scan from his collection):
Where's the track? photo PortRowan-KS2.jpg

The CNR track diagram describes it as a 21.5′ by 20′ frame shed:
 photo PortRowan-Plot-Web_zpsli8hidhh.jpg

Since it’s near the back of the scene, I didn’t need to worry about doing an interior. Therefore, for the four walls I stained scale wood of various widths, chopped a bunch to length, and laminated the strips over black styrene sheet. I braced the finished walls with more styrene inside.

Four styrene panels formed a sub roof. I framed these with wood strips to simulate the boards under the roof covering.

I don’t have a good picture of the roof of this structure, but I decided a corrugated roof would look nice – and I had a package of corrugated metal from Builders In Scale in stock (Part 839, if you’re interested). I cut this into 26″ wide strips as recommended in the directions, and glued the panels in place with thick CA. The weathering was applied later – using weathering powders to create that rusted out look that are de rigeur on old corrugated roofs.
 photo PtR-Barn-03_zps175f9eb2.jpg

I took a magnifying glass to the prototype photo to try to discern details on the shed, and what really showed up under magnification was a canvas tarp covering part of the end. I assume it serves as a door, since the photo shows a horizontal bar like a track directly above it. Perhaps there was a sliding door at one point, but by the 1950s this had been replaced with the tarp. Regardless, it’s a neat feature so that’s how I modelled my barn. For the tarp, I cut a piece of kleenex oversize with scissors, lay it on a piece of wax paper, and carefully brushed it with acrylic paints. I then left it to dry. Several hours later, I was able to carefully peel the kleenex off the wax paper, then trim it to final size with a fresh blade. It’s naturally wrinkled, and adds a different colour/texture to the finished structure
Team Track Barn photo PtR-Barn-02_zpsc33c53a1.jpg

Not all of my structures will come together in a single day, but it’s great to have this one done. Next time I’m doing scenery I’ll work on the ground around the base of this barn. Meantime, onto another structure for Port Rowan!

Not a silly rant at all

My friend Hunter Hughson has written a very sensible rant about how hard it is to find scale figures that are doing “normal” things, in “normal” clothing. Hunter is writing specifically about HO scale, but my experience is that this is a problem regardless of the scale in which we work.

Want a circus on your layout? Fill your boots with clowns, jugglers, ringmasters, and more. But, if you want typical people going about their business in, say, 1950s attire (as I do), well… good luck.

If I had the talent, I would sculpt my own line of figures. I’d start with fashion books or websites – such as Fashion Era, which documents style in the UK… or Vintage Toronto, which documents just about everything related to Canada’s largest city. Or, just Google “1950s summer fashion” (or whatever era and season you’re modelling) and check out the images.

From this, I would create era-specific and season-specific sets of figures featuring men, women and children. I’d work on the premise that what we really need are people at rest – standing, leaning or sitting – and doing the normal things we do through the day.

Imagine being able to order a set of figures called “Summer – 1950s – professionals waiting for a train (commuters)”? Such as set would include standing men in suits, standing women in dresses, and everybody in hats. But what if you model November? Well, pick up the “Winter – 1950s – professionals waiting for a train (commuters)” set, featuring standing men and women wearing hats, coats, boots and possibly gloves.

Imagine how these figures would be different if you era was the 1940s or 1960s. Imagine how they’d be different if it was blue-collar workers waiting for a train – or people on the weekend, wearing more casual attire – but still readily identifiable as being era and season appropriate?

But, I’m not that talented sculptor.

Perhaps when 3D scanning and printing technology improves to do a better job of small items (a 6-foot figure in S is just 1-1/8 inches tall, after all), we can scan ourselves wearing era and seasonally appropriate clothing and reproduce ourselves as figures, in the poses that we want.

(Good rant, Hunter! Not silly at all!)

Joe Giannovario

I was sad to read this morning that O Scale Trains magazine founder and publisher Joe Giannovario has passed away after a battle with cancer.

Joe was one of the best class of hobbyists – a fellow who identified that something was missing – and then, instead of complaining about it, he took action: the result was O Scale Trains magazine – a publication dedicated to scale modelling in 1:48. That was back in 2001 – an era when the hobby was losing magazines, so it must’ve taken serious stones to decide to launch one.

Unlike many in the hobby publishing business, Joe was also not afraid to be political about the hobby. He advocated for the repatriation of manufacturing from overseas, arguing that when it comes to a luxury like a hobby, we should be prepared to pay decent wages to those who produce our goods. He urged people to learn skills and do better, rather than accept the status quo. And this is reflected in the magazine he created, which is full of how-to articles useful for people in all scales.

Joe was an early champion of The Model Railway Show – the podcast that Jim Martin and I co-hosted for two and a half years. He was our first guest, on our first show, in which he discussed the state of O scale. That interview set the tone for future shows. O Scale Trains magazine was also an early sponsor of the show.

I was fortunate to meet Joe at an O Scale March Meet in Lombard, Illinois a couple of years ago. It was a highlight of the trip.

My sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues at a difficult time. Cancer’s a bastard.