The Oliver Ouchless

Valence First Impression photo Valence-06_zps3e196d0e.jpg

It sounds like the name of an ergonomic screwdriver or newfangled bicycle seat – but as the picture above shows, I’ve been installing the fabric valance over the layout. Named after my friend Pierre Oliver (who suggested I take a theatrical approach to framing the scene), The Oliver Ouchless won’t bash my skull when I lean in to work on the layout.

All photos in this post were shot at my eye-level, so they show the layout as a typical operator would view it.

The photo above shows St. Williams to the left and ahead, and Port Rowan to the right. Putting the operating aisle in shadow like this really throws the attention on the layout. I’m very pleased with the effect, which will be even better when I paint the fascia black to match the valance.

My wife and I are sewing the valance in sections to fit around various ceiling fixtures such as pipes and ducts. We have most of the major sections done, which have a 16.5″ drop from the ceiling. There are a few smaller pieces to do between these large sections.

Sections are attached to the previously-installed valance supports using Velcro. I’m also putting short strips of Velcro at section ends to link the sections together: This keeps light from leaking between them.

And since the valance is sewn from a doubled-over piece of fabric to ensure that the layout lighting does not bleed through it, it’s also easy to insert a length of chain into each section to weight the valance. This helps the valance to hang straight. I bought some chain to test this and I’m happy with the result. Some of the valance sections are so-weighted: Others will get chain tomorrow, when I pick up more at the local hardware store.

More photos below. Thanks for the idea, Pierre – The Oliver Ouchless is perfect!

Looking east at St. Williams
Valence - St. Williams photo Valence-08_zpsc35e47a4.jpg

East end of the Lynn River scene
Valence - Lynn Valley photo Valence-10_zps0a1377a5.jpg
(This area will benefit from a lot more trees)

West end of the Lynn River scene, and the water tank
Valence - Water Tank photo Valence-09_zps4bd537bf.jpg
(Note how little of the backdrop is visible when valence and trees are in place)

Port Rowan
Valence - Port Rowan photo Valence-11_zps96542a30.jpg

Hello World! (2013)

Anybody who has set up a WordPress blog will recognize that as the title of the default post that WordPress provides as a template.

Two years ago today, I saw that title and thought, “Well, here we go…”

So, two years later, where are we? Here’s a breakdown…


As a writer and recognizing that I wanted to use this as a diary – a means to document my modelling of the CNR Port Rowan branch in S scale – I knew that I would post fairly frequently. Well, including this post, there are 588 blog entries. (If you’ve slogged through all of them, then thank you. I’m glad you’re still here!)

Of those posts, here are the top five, in terms of popularity (recognizing that I’ll make them even more popular by including links to the full posts):

1 – “Up to my ears…” – about building the cornfield at St. Williams.

2 – “The elegance of switch lists” – about how I use prototype-based paperwork to handle freight car switching.

3 – “How about a layout plan?” – in which I provide one.

4 – “Bushes and weeds for the Lynn Valley” – describing how I’ve scenicked a corner between the Port Rowan apple orchards and the Lynn River.

5 – “Working a freight extra [1]” – this was the first of an eight-part posting in which I documented the work of X1560 to Port Rowan and back.


This really, quite pleasantly, surprised me. The blog currently contains 1,694 comments.

Now, I would guess that half of those are comments I’ve posted in response to other comments. Maybe more, maybe less. But even conservatively, that still means more than 800 comments from readers.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write!

I didn’t know if anybody would be interested in a layout that depicts a fraction of a small and little-known branch… and in a niche scale. But I’ve had wonderful responses from readers.

There are many “Attaboys”, which are always appreciated – but also many, many great comments offering information or sources of information, historical context, and so on. Plus, many thoughtful questions from people who like what they see and are finding ways to use it in their own modelling – whatever the scale, gauge, era or theme.

I’m really enjoying these conversations and look forward to many more.


This is humbling:

In my first, partial year (basically, four months of 2011), I received more than 26,000 hits on this blog.

In the 12 months of 2012, I logged more than 179,000 page views.

So far this year – with four months still to go – I’ve topped 214,000 views.

Add it up, and that’s more than 419,000 page views in two years.

Wow. Way beyond what I expected.

Thank you, everyone, for reading – and engaging with me on this blog. I look forward to more conversations in the coming year.


And if you’ve read this far, you get to enjoy my favourite comic strip commentary on writing a blog. Obviously, I’m doing it for other, more noble, compensation…

Blogging photo PearlsBlog_zpsb98fbe8f.jpg

That’s it for wood (or is it?)

No photo for this post…

Today, I achieved a milestone that I can’t recall ever before achieving when building a layout.

I realized that I’m done with wood.

Since starting this layout, I’ve had lengths of 1″x2″ and 1″x3″, plus various other odds and ends, stacked in the layout room to “season” to the layout conditions. These have been deployed as benchwork, roadbed supports, backdrop supports, valance supports, and other uses. And – unless I’m mistaken (and I could be) – I’ve built all of those things. There’s nothing else to build, benchwork-wise.

So despite it being a warm and humid day, I hauled wood from layout room to garage. I’ve stacked it neatly in one corner, where I can get to it if I need it. But I don’t think I will.

It feels great – really odd, but great – to realize that that’s it for wood!

(At least, I think it is…)

Deadfall :: Reference Photos

Deadfall-Reference Photo photo Deadfall-04_zps60b04abe.jpg

Following my recent post about modelling a forest floor, a friend got in touch by email to offer some excellent suggestions for modelling deadfall, as he has done on his layout. That got me thinking about deadfall while walking the dogs, and I took a number of reference photos in the managed forest where we like to walk.

Here they are – for my reference and yours. Enjoy!

A fallen tree, like this one, would be a good way to disguise where a stream or narrow river meets the backdrop – as my Lynn River does in two locations on the layout:
Deadfall-Reference Photo photo Deadfall-01_zpsf2b96bb3.jpg

When this tree fell, it landed in the branches of another tree. It was the only such instance of this that I saw on my walk – so not something to overdo:
Deadfall-Reference Photo photo Deadfall-02_zps9053df4c.jpg

The relationship between fallen tree and stump is interesting, and a useful reference for modelling:
Deadfall-Reference Photo photo Deadfall-03_zps0d935573.jpg

I like the peeling bark on this one – and how the birch bark draws the eye in amidst a dark forest floor:
Deadfall-Reference Photo photo Deadfall-05_zps2eb71167.jpg

S Scale Workshop at the 2013 NASG Convention

Some of the members of the S Scale Workshop – a small group of like-minded modelers who are unfortunate enough to count me as a member – took their Free-mo-influenced modular layout to the NASG Convention in Scranton earlier this month.

Fellow S Scale Workshop member Jim Martin was there, and has written a report on the Workshop’s blog.

Click on Jim, below, to read his report – and enjoy if you visit!

Jim Martin at the 2013 NASG Convention photo JimAtScranton2013_zps10c44e87.jpg

Safe Stock Storage

With yesterday’s delivery of a box of air, I made significant progress on the equipment storage shelves I started earlier this week.

It started with an assessment of needs, then a trip to the trim section of my local building supply store. I picked up some poplar “strip wood” (the full-size kind, not the stuff we use for models) in 0.5″ x 3.5″ and 0.5″ x 0.5″ sizes, plus other supplies. When I got home, I set to work adding sides and ends to the previously built shelves.

To keep rolling stock from rolling about on my shelves, I cut sheets of 0.25″ thick acoustic foam to fit the shelves. I then cut lengths from the 0.5″ square stock and screwed them in place, through the foam, to form four divisions on each shelf. The dividers are spaced with 2.5″ between them – plenty for my S scale rolling stock.

Here’s how the shelves look now:

 photo EquipmentStorage-03_zps244941ff.jpg

Equipment sits on a soft bed and doesn’t roll. Perfect!

I have not yet added a back to the shelves. And I may cut more pieces of the acoustic foam and attach them to the tops of the dividers, to extend the dividers the full height of the boxes I’ve created: While equipment doesn’t roll, some of it does rock a little. I don’t expect this to be a problem but one should always expect the best and plan for the worst, right? I am also considering options for a cover to keep dust off stored equipment.

The good news is, the equipment seen in the above photo represents most of my excess stock – and it all fits on one shelf. That means I have a second shelf that’s mostly empty and ready for more equipment.

Even better, the sector plate is now much less cluttered – and therefore more functional.

Here’s the sector plate as it looked earlier this year – with excess stock tucked behind almost every train, and on the base behind the sector plate:

Full Staging photo FullStaging-02_zps2fd626b3.jpg

The situation has actually gotten worse since that photo was taken, as I’ve been adding boxcars to the fleet.

Now, here’s how the sector plate looks today. There’s one train out on the line, but no extra stock in the scene. (Well, except for The Flying Yankee, which I need to return to its display case in my office.)

Staging without Clutter photo Staging-Decluttered_zps0b30ec9e.jpg

Much better!

I have a third shelf, which I have not yet fitted with dividers and foam. Before I do that, I’m going to think about how I want to use that third shelf. I mounted it with enough clearance to hold my waybill box and other tools necessary for hosting operating sessions.

I’m pleased with how this project is turning out, and with the space I’ve freed up in staging.

“A box of air”

Here’s a poser:

If fragile stuff – like wine glasses and brass locomotives – is shipped wrapped in foam… how is foam shipped?

– Is it stuffed inside a glass mailing tube?
– Packed into a box with a bunch of lightbulbs?
– Vacuum-packed into a letter-sized envelope? (But stand back when you open it!)

These were all questions I pondered as I placed an order for a 4×8 foot piece of 0.25″ thick acoustic foam – the kind found behind the grilles of stereo speakers – to use in the rolling stock storage shelves I’m building.

The answer is, it comes in a box:

What's in the Box? photo AcousticFoam-01_zpseee5dc57.jpg

The delivery guy said “I’ve brought you a box of air!” He wasn’t far off:

How to ship Foam photo AcousticFoam-02_zps41238eec.jpg

I’m particularly amused by all the FRAGILE stickers on the box. Presumably, these were applied because with essentially nothing inside, the box itself is fragile – and it obviously took a few knocks and dings en route.

I acquired the foam online from TCH. Service was excellent and even though they were only across the city from me, shipping was cheaper than the gas it would’ve cost me to drive out to collect the foam in person. Faster too: My order arrived within 24 hours. I’d buy again from TCH.

More on the storage shelves – and how I’ve used this foam – in my next post.

Forest Floor :: Reference Photo

Forest Floor - Reference Shot photo ForestFloor_zpsc65d9b07.jpg

Regular readers know I’ve been twisting a lot of tree armatures lately, for use in the Lynn Valley. As I plan the scenery for this area, I want to be able to look under the trees and through the bushes at the forest edge to see the trains as they progress through the scene.

 photo Trees-LV-East-01_zps8a33510a.jpg

I took the photo at the top of this post in a nearby managed forest where I like to take the dogs for walks. It’s more open than a forest with no caretaker. And it’ll be perfect for the type of scenery I’m trying to create – so I’m posting it here for reference.

Selkirk Leaf Company

I’ve had a few people get in touch with me about the status of Selkirk Scenery – the company run by my late friend Bill Kerr.

The company has a new owner – Nigel Knight – and a new name: Selkirk Leaf Company.

Nigel has set up a new website for the business, including online ordering.

NOTE: I have nothing to do with Selkirk beyond being a customer who is pleased that the excellent leaf materials that Bill used to offer will continue to be made available to the hobby. I know others who are looking for Selkirk product will find this information useful so I’m passing it along.