Banjos, living on the equator, and sticky air hoses

Just some of the many subjects covered when my friend David Woodhead dropped in yesterday!

After a couple of strong mugs of coffee – it was cold, and he walked over from his place about 15 minutes away – we headed to the layout room and ran an extra freight behind CNR 10-wheeler 1532. David wanted to have a go as conductor, so I handled the throttle and he juggled the paperwork. A fine time was had – plus all lifts lifted and spots spotted correctly, so I guess the 1:64 customers along the Port Rowan branch were pleased, too.

We had an issue with one boxcar. The train line air hoses were too long, and were catching in the frogs of turnouts. I hauled the car off the layout, pulled the glad hands out of the ends of the flexible hoses, snipped them shorter with a handy pair of scissors and replaced the glad hands. In no time, the car was back in service – problem solved! These are the sorts of issues that only crop up if one runs their layout – yet another reason to do so often!

David snapped a few photos, including this one of 1532 on the elevated Coal Track in Port Rowan:
Woodhead-131128-CoalTrack photo Woodhead-1532-CoalTrack_zps3a5b887a.jpg

I like the tree line that he added to the image with PhotoShop – a nice touch.

Great to see you as always, David – let’s do it again soon!

Truck detailing article: November RMC

As the image below shows, the cover story in the November, 2013 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine is all about upgrading pick-up trucks for a model railway:
RMC-2013-11-Cover photo RMC-Nov2013_zps9599a898.jpg

The author, Bill Gill, works in HO scale but there’s some great information for all modellers – regardless of scale. For example, Bill shows how he’s loaded a pick-up truck with bushels of apples – and tells you how many bushels fit in a typical half-ton pickup. I now know how many milk cans a pick-up can carry too – it’s less than I thought.

Other trucks Bill models include a telephone linesman’s rig, a stake bed truck with a load of hay and a couple of beat-up pick-ups that have seen better days. Click on the magazine cover to find this issue on RMC’s website.

I’ll definitely be re-reading this feature and taking notes so I can better detail the pick-ups on my layout…

Greener Scene

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I decided, after much consideration, that my summer scene was just too hot and dry. The grass was baked to a golden straw colour – more reminiscent of California than Canada. So yesterday, I addressed the problem: I airbrushed the layout.

Having had great success using acrylic artist ink to tint the resin when I poured the Lynn River, I returned to this particular well. Sap Green from Daler Rowney was perfect and airbrushed beautifully right out of the bottle: no thinning necessary. (During and after spraying, I ran the paint booth – which is co-located in the layout room – and wore a mask.)

I added green in random splotches and stripes, being careful to not hit the backdrop or the river surface. I shot between the weeds and other plants and didn’t worry about complete coverage – this was weathering on a layout-sized scale.

My focus was the large expanses of meadow in Port Rowan… the banks of the Lynn River… and the larger areas of grass in St. Williams. But anywhere that I thought looked too burnt and dry got a spray. After leaving it alone for a few hours, I went back and buffed the rails to remove any ink that settled on them.

The green has helped blend everything together better, and the layout looks more like southern Ontario now. I’m glad I took the trouble to do this!

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Tree Fort

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What kind of parent would build a tree fort for their kids that’s 15 feet off the ground???

The awesome kind!

Injury potential aside, a tree fort has to be the coolest place for a kid to hang on a hot summer day. And a tree fort with a view of the tracks? Well, the kid would have to fight for their space with most of the model railway enthusiasts I know… myself included.

Since I’ve been working so hard on getting my trees right, I thought a tree fort would be a great detail to add to one of the big trees in the backyards at St. Williams. (The fort shows up in several other photos I’ve shared in the previous two postings, so have another look at those, too.) I built the fort into the tree armature before I planted it on the layout and added the canopy. It’s eight feet by eight feet, with a 42″ railing around the perimeter.

Here’s a closer look:
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It’s actually fairly difficult to photograph, what with it being tucked away under the canopy and all. But at left in the above image, you can make out the open lid of the trap door in the floor – and behind it, a rolled up rope ladder on the deck. The sign at right featured prominently in many Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, and in fact I created it by finding a suitable comic online… cropping, resizing and squaring up the sign… and cranking out a copy on my colour printer:
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(Yes, I’m a fan. No, I don’t think girls are gross – or slimy!)

I need to find a kid or two to finish the fort – perhaps wearing pirate hats folded out of newspapers?

And where can I find an anthropomorphic tiger?

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Tigers are great!
They can’t be beat…

Pleasing trees

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Yesterday’s post was a teaser of sorts for this one. I’ve been working on the trees near the depot in St. Williams and I have – finally – built some that I really, really like.

I’ve been working for a while on making my own trees, following the techniques Gordon Gravett has written about in his excellent series of scenery books. As I’ve written before, the armatures are twisted from many, many lengths of florist wire, then covered with Flexible Modelling Paste from Liquitex.

I’ve been very happy with the armatures, but the canopy was eluding me. For the latest set of trees, I used Woodland Scenics Poly Fiber.

I tear off small pieces – very small – and stretch them out, a lot. I then give each one a quick shot of spray adhesive, pick it up with a pair of fine tweezers dedicated to the purpose (since the glue can get, well, gluey), and lay it in a tray of leaf material from the Selkirk Leaf Company.

While holding onto the Poly Fiber, I grab a fistful of leaf material and drop it on top of the Poly Fiber – positively bury it in leaves. I then pull the Poly Fiber out of the leaf pile, rap the tweezers sharply with my other hand to knock off lose leaf material, and add my new leafy fiber material to my armatures.

Small pieces are generally better than big ones, although in some places I used large pieces to bridge between branch ends.

I’m really happy with the effect. The trees look healthy with a canopy that’s dense yet significantly see-thru. In particular, I like how the foreground tree (next to the white house mock-up) works with the ones along the back of the layout to create a short tunnel effect between the station and the farm field to the right (west).

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More on this scene in my next post…

‘Snot everything I’d hoped for

I mentioned in a recent post that my CNR 10-wheelers are slipping a fair bit. It’s especially noticeable with The Daily Effort – the mixed train that patrolled my branch line.

In part, the problem stems from the compensating trucks that I’ve added to the two passenger cars on this train. They increase the drag on the train – and while the 2-6-0s don’t seem to mind the 10-wheelers respond by losing their grip. The 2-6-0s may be tiny, but I think they’re heavier – possibly because some space in the boilers of the 10-wheelers is taken up by their DCC decoders.

Enter Bullfrog Snot:
Snot photo Bullfrog-Snot-Jar_zps12858689.jpg

This is a small jar of green goop that you apply to a pair of drivers. It cures to a thin band around the tire – a goo-it-yourself traction tire. I picked up some last week at an area hobby shop and applied it to the front pair of drivers on my two 10-wheelers over the weekend:
An undignified position photo Bullfrog-Snot-Install_zps3ba2c697.jpg
(Not a dignified position)

Early results are mixed.

CNR 1560 does exhibit some improvement and can now pull the mixed train, although there’s still some slipping. I’d like to improve it further.

But 1560’s identical stable mate – CNR 1532 – continues to spin.

I suspect it’s not a shortcoming of either the Bullfrog Snot or of the locomotive – but of my application of the goo. I found the Snot went on rather lumpy and in order to smooth it as directed, I had to dip my applicator – a piece of (scale 6″ x 6″) stripwood – into some water and thin the goop on the tire. (The manufacturer says thinning with water is fine – although I wonder if I thinned it too much.)

I have several options for next steps. The first is to add a second, thin layer of Snot on top of the first and see if that helps. If not, I can clean the Snot off the driver and try again, perhaps on the rear pair of drivers.

This isn’t really a big issue for me. The 10-wheelers run just fine pulling a freight train. And given that by 1957, the six-axle baggage-mail car was replaced with a four-axle full baggage, only one car in my later version of The Daily Effort will be fitted with compensated trucks – and that should not prove to be any trouble for a 10-wheeler.

But now I am curious as to whether I’m using the Snot correctly, and whether others have had better results than I have… so far…

TrainTown Toronto

Some of my readers from more distant parts – heck, anywhere in the world really – may have heard of Toronto this year. And given all the attention we’ve received in the news, I’m sure the question on everybody’s mind is, “What were the trains like in Toronto 40 years ago?”

Well, the answer is at hand!

Over the weekend, I had a chance to watch TrainTown Toronto – a relatively new release from Green Frog Productions that documents the area around Toronto’s union station in the early 1970s. Shot by Emery Gulash on 16mm film and running 56 minutes, Green Frog has a five-minute sample from TrainTown Toronto online. Enjoy if you watch it here, or follow this link to watch a larger version on YouTube:

I find the DVD fascinating for two reasons.

First, of course, there’s the trains. This was the era before VIA Rail took over long distance passenger service in Canada. It’s the era before massive cuts to VIA’s service. And it’s the era before passenger carriers rationalized their fleets. So, the area around Toronto Union Station was pretty busy, with an impressive variety of equipment:

Canadian National ran Rapido trains to Montreal, Tempo Trains to southwestern Ontario, commuter trains and long distance trains – including the Super Continental.

CP Rail ran a variety of passenger trains too – from short-haul trains consisting of Budd RDCs to The Canadian.

GO Transit – the provincial government-operated commuter service that’s so essential to the region today – was still relatively new and running pretty short (e.g.: model railroad-sized) commuter trains with cars from Hawker Siddley. They even ran some self-propelled cars that were reminiscent of RDCs – but, different.

Ontario Northland ran long-distance passenger service to the province’s hinterland.

Equipment was a mix of new and second-hand from U.S. railroads that had exited the passenger business. Locomotives were also varied, with examples from ALCo/MLW and EMD – including many oddballs such as CP Rail’s RSD-17 “The Empress of Agincourt”, and the GP40-TC on GO Transit. In addition to the many passenger trains, this DVD also captures freight transfers… local switching assignments… light engine movements… movements between coach yards and the train shed… and more.

The second reason I found this DVD fascinating is as a reminder of how the landscape has changed in the Rail Lands of Canada’s largest city. The skyline from the 1970s is almost unrecognizable when looking at the city today. Key buildings still stand out – notably, the bank towers. And I was pleased to see some shots of the famous (locally, anyway) billboard for Inglis, which still offers up daily inspirational messages to drivers on the Gardiner Expressway. But almost all of the industrial tenants – those who used rail service for freight in the 1970s – have fled the core and have been replaced with condo towers, office complexes, and convention centres. And the rail lands have contracted considerably. Yards have disappeared, and open spaces have been filled in until today’s Toronto Terminal Railway property runs through the base of a canyon between sound barrier walls and high rises.

Compare the footage in the TrainTown Toronto teaser to this video on YouTube. Uploaded in early 2013, it shows the same general area, shot from a pedestrian overpass east of Spadina and looking east towards the station:

It’s very, very different. It’s definitely still railroading – and more exciting than this video might suggest. (I used to work on the 17th floor of an office tower and my window overlooked the Union Station train shed. My colleagues learned very quickly that there was no point in asking me to do anything useful around 5:00 pm, when the station seemingly exploded with green and white commuter trains.) But it’s different.

This post has nothing to do with Port Rowan, except that the 1970s were a formative time for me in my model railway hobby, so it’s great to see this stuff again. Anybody who lived in Toronto in the 1970s – or rail-fanned around the GTA during that period – will enjoy this DVD. I know I did: It reminded me why I became a lifelong railway enthusiast!

Backyard Trio

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While I have minimal real estate in which to do it, I want to suggest that there’s more to the town of St. Williams than a level crossing. That said, I also don’t want to crowd the scene with structures. How to proceed?

I’ve kept clear a plot of land to the right of the depot and my plan is to use this area to suggest some back yards. Naturally, anybody living this close to the tracks – even a rail fan – would want a privacy fence. It became obvious that I would have to install this fence before I finish and plant the trees in these backyards, so I’ve spent a couple of days worth of hobby time scratch-building the fence.
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As the pictures show, I’ve actually built three styles of fence to reinforce the message that we’re looking at three backyards, not one:

The property at left (closest to the station) has a simple board fence that’s fairly roughly assembled.

The middle property has a tighter board fence built in panels between the posts, with a top board to trim things off neatly.

The property at right has a more decorative fence, with the boards trimmed in arcs.

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Each property is 60 scale feet wide – actually, three times the width of the downtown Toronto property I’m used to, and a respectable size for a property in a small Ontario town. I have about a scale 30 feet between the fence and the back of the layout, and I’ve added short sections of fence at each end of this trio of backyards. In all, I built about 240 scale feet of fence – and I did it board by board, with each board distressed and stained before assembly. The project used a lot of scale 1″ x 6″ – several packages worth!

I’ve also started to create the backyards. The glue is still wet in these photos, but I’ve added grass and some basic plantings. Look at the above photos and you’ll see some bushes separating the middle and right properties, and some flowers along the property line between the left and middle backyards. I’ll add a simple fence behind the flowers here.

The home owner of the property at right is growing tomato plants – I’ll have to add old hockey sticks redeployed as stakes. That’ll make it very Canadian:
Privacy Fence photo StW-Fence-05_zps8125d1a4.jpg

The space between

I’m catching up on other people’s blogs and while working my way through recent entries by Lance Mindheim, I found myself nodding in agreement with his thoughts about scene composition. Lance’s blog doesn’t index by post, so you’ll have to follow the link and scroll to the following post:

October 26, 2013 – What we want / How to get it

Lance notes that scene composition is the primary driver of realism. And he notes the biggest mistake modellers make is that they put elements too close together. They don’t leave enough space between features.

For those trying to model a real place, as I do, a lot of the hard work has already been done for us. Most features in real life have plenty of space around them so if we’re modelling a real place, all we have to do is copy what we see.

My terminal in Port Rowan is a good example:
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I resisted the temptation – it’s always a temptation – to pack more stuff into my layout space. I devoted almost 1200 scale feet to the yard – from the first switch to end of track. This compares favourably to the prototype yard, which measured roughly 1700 feet from first switch to end of track. And as a result of not compressing things too much, I think I’ve captured a realistic representation of the space between things. There’s space in the above scene between the four structural elements you see – the garage, the section house and turntable (barely visible over the far peak of the garage) and the small barn next to the team track.

How much space? Good question – and a quick trip to the layout room with tape measure in hand provides some answers. The following distances were measured between closest points – not from the centre of each element:

Garage to Turntable: 35 inches
Garage to Barn: 51 inches
Turntable to Section House: 17 inches
Section house to Barn: 15 inches

And while it can’t be seen in the photo, the coal dump is behind the last passenger car in the train, which places it at similar distances from other elements. It should also be noted that each of these elements is quite small, averaging 4 by 6 inches (the turntable is longer, but narrower, so it occupies roughly the same amount of visual space).

Now, don’t obsess about the measurements. There isn’t a magic formula that says, for example, “the space between two elements should equal the sum of the square footage of each element”. I provided the measurements because it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the space between when looking along a scene like this. It’s obvious the barn is some distance away – but how far? Is it 35 inches? 42 inches? 68 inches? I think that knowing it’s 51 inches from garage to barn helps one put other aspects of the image into perspective.

The structures draw the eye – so in between each, I try to keep the scene composition relatively neutral. That’s not to say that it’s dull: I’ve used big expanses of meadow, and the meadow is filled with wild flowers, shrubs and other natural features. But the eye tends to gather all of this visual data together into one concept – “meadow” – so it’s easy for one’s perception so slide across this space from one signature element to the next.

I think this scene is effective for two reasons. First, I based it on a prototype. Second, instead of asking, “How much can I fit into this space?”, I asked, “What do I really need, and how great a space can I devote to it?”

Obviously, there are times when cramming elements together actually enhances a scene’s composition. For example, running tracks between retaining walls and in the shadow of skyscrapers conveys the sense of a big-city union station – while having the track hug a narrow ledge between canyon wall and rushing river helps tell the story of narrow gauge railroading in the mountains of Colorado. But most railroad environments are not that extreme and a layout too tightly packed may do many things well but will also come off as train-setty.

Something to keep in mind if you’re at the design stage. But even if you’re already well underway, remember that course corrections can always be made…