Slow progress on kilns (brr!)

Having decided that three kilns is the right number for my tobacco farm scene in St. Williams, I promptly got busy doing other things and this structure-building project has languished. That happens when I get out of the habit of putting in regular sessions on a project – and it’s been such a cold winter this year that all I really feel like doing is huddling for warmth in front of the fireplace.

Nevertheless, they must get done. So today I hauled out the tools and supplies and added tarpaper to three more end walls – walls opposite the doorways on the kilns. I attached and painted tarpaper before lunch- and after lunch I even got a start on painting, cutting and installing wood trim on the front and back of one kiln.

No photos yet – they’ll come in due course. I just wanted to say it feels good to resume his project and I hope I can keep up the momentum. That said, it’s bitter today and the fireplace beckons…

S scale screen doors and windows?

This morning I was enjoying a read of George Dutka‘s blog, Modeling Maine in Narrow Gauge.

George’s latest entry is about an O scale freight house he’s built for Quebec Junction and while the entire scene is really well done, the thing that caught my eye was the laser-cut screen door on the side of the structure.

Since I’m modelling August in the 1950s, I need screen doors for my structures. I haven’t seen any available for S scale. Do they exist?

Screen windows would be awesome, too.

They would have to be sized to fit the specific doors and windows offered by manufacturers in kits and as stand-alone details.

A quick look online has not turned up anything suitable for S – but I’m still relatively new to the scale and don’t know all the suppliers…

Use the “comments” section to offer suggestions and thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

Railroad Morse

My thoughts are evolving about how to use the telegraph network I recently installed on the layout.

I originally planned to use International Morse for my layout. One of the advantages of International Morse is that the alphabet was rationalized so it’s easier to learn than Railroad (American) Morse. (More on this below.)

On the other hand, I’ve realized that it’s unlikely I – or my guests – will actually learn to pound brass like Morse enthusiasts.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am creating telegraphy scripts to help operators OS trains during ops sessions. This is akin to creating a phonetic cheat-sheet to help someone properly pronounce a word or phrase, even if they don’t know what it means. If that’s the case, I might as well give Railroad Morse a go, right?

I’ve now created scripts in Railroad (American) Morse for us to try:
 photo Telegraph-Scripts-D2_zps1f5924d3.jpg

In reviewing these scripts, one challenge which I have not yet addressed is that Railroad Morse actually has more than two sounds in it:

– In addition to the dot and the dash, there are spaces (no sound) used within characters. For example, the letter “O” in Railroad Morse is “dot-space-dot”.

– As well, some dashes are longer than others. For example, the letter “L” in Railroad Morse is written as two dashes – but keyed as one long dash. And the number “0” in Railroad Morse – three dashes as written – is keyed as a dash that’s even longer than an “L”.

Given that we will be novices with the keys, it’ll be stretching our talents just to key a dot versus a dash – never mind developing perfect timing. For this reason, I’ve kept the International Morse scripts too – adding a label in mice-type to each sheet so I can tell which set we’re using. If Railroad Morse proves to be too challenging for occasional users, we’ll go back to International Morse.

I’ve also made a first attempt at creating a script sheet for the dispatcher:
 photo Telegraph-DispatcherScript_zps3b833d36.jpg

This looks complex, but the reality is that the dispatcher on my layout has but three responses to transmit. What’s more, with the exception of which station he’s answering (Port Rowan or St. Williams), the responses are always the same. The operator could key “Arrived” successfully, or it could come across the telegraph as “I’ve just set my elbows on fire”: Regardless, the dispatcher will give him an “OK”.

That said, I’m still working on my ideas about how to organize the scripts to make it easier for operators and the dispatcher to use because I do want my friends and I to be able to communicate successfully via the telegraph network. If we can’t, then we might as well be pressing a button on the fascia to send a pre-recorded string of dots and dashes – and there’s no fun in that.

Naturally as the system develops, I’ll share the progress via the blog. Stay tuned…

Paint Pen

 photo PaintPen-01_zpsced676c0.jpg

I picked up this Paint Pen during a recent visit to a hobby shop and this week I put it to good use on the layout, touching up some of the track work.

Any layout will expand and contract as humidity and temperature levels fluctuate in the train room.

For the first couple of years after I have the track laid, I always expect to find some areas of the track that need tweaking. The most common problem is rail gaps that close up as the rail expands. My friend Pierre Oliver is “enjoying” fighting the expansion gremlins on his Wabash layout, due to a particularly cold winter here in southern Ontario. I have been more lucky in this regard, in that the instances of closed gaps have been relatively rare and they have not caused any problems with shorting.

I did, however, have a spot at the west end of St. Williams where the rails expanded to the point that they actually pushed the rail ends out of alignment. It happened to both rails just east of the Stone Church Road overpass. My solution was to run a Zona saw down the gap between the two adjacent rail ends. This removed enough rail to create “winter-sized” gaps. In the summer, the layout shift should widen these gaps – but not enough to cause problems. I restored the proper alignment with some extra spikes at the rail ends:
 photo PaintPen-03_zpsd223c119.jpg

What does this have to do with Paint Pens? Well, fixing the problem scraped away some of the airbrushed paint on the rails. A quick touch with the Paint Pen took away the shine. The pen I used is a bit too “rusty” for my rails so I’ll look for other colours next time I’m at my local chooch emporium, but the pen definitely made it easy to apply the paint exactly where I wanted it to go.

And I found that the rust colour worked beautifully to touch up the guard rails around turnout frogs. These are the parts of the turnout where the wheels do not roll to keep the railhead shiny. But they’re often shiny on layouts because we scrub the tops of rails with track cleaners. I don’t have to clean my track very often – the graphite stick solved that problem – but when I do, this Paint Pen will make short work of reapplying the rust – like this:
 photo PaintPen-02_zps8fcfe292.jpg

A live steam, Port Rowan mystery

A while ago, I ran into a gentleman named Dave Pottinger. He knew that I’m modelling the Canadian National Railway branch line to Port Rowan – and he thought I might be able to help him solve a mystery. Since it’s related to the live steam hobby, I’ve posted the question on my much-neglected Adventures in Live Steam blog.

Click on the photo below to read more. If you have any information that can help, please share via the comments in the posting on the Live Steam blog – not this one – so all the information can be gathered in one place.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

Live Steam Mystery photo LiveSteam-Pottinger-02_zps916b2d32.jpg

Working through the list

A while ago I made a to-do list of things that were almost, but not quite, completed. I didn’t share the list publicly but today I knocked a bunch of those items off the list.

They included things like creating and printing waybills, empty car bills and other paperwork for the Crooked Mountain Lines boxcar and two of the three Canadian National Railway eight-hatch refrigerator cars that I added to the roster in November.

Also, while laminating the waybills, I found some that had incorrect or missing data – an “XM” boxcar classification on an “HM” hopper car, for example. I’d corrected these in ink, but before laminating the waybills I wanted to correct the files and reprint them. So that’s now done too.

It’s surprising how much of this little maintenance stuff has to be done on even a simple layout such as mine.

There’s still more to do on that list. I’d better get at it…

Progress Report photo ProgressReport.jpg

CNR Forms 19 and 31

I recently helped my buddy Pierre Oliver with a fun project for his layout.

Pierre models the Wabash Railway’s line through southern Ontario. The majority of the trains on the line are hauled behind paired Wabash F-units with a Wabash caboose bringing up the rear – but the track was actually owned by, and dispatched by, the Canadian National Railway.

Pierre is keen to follow his prototype’s use of the Time Table and Train Order system of dispatching, which means he needed pads of blank Form 19 and Form 31 train orders. Since I’m somewhat handy with the table function in MS Word, Pierre sent me a scan of a CNR Form 31 order that was issued in 1958 on his Cayuga Sub. From that, I created a reasonable facsimile in digital format. Pierre then took my artwork and had pads produced on carbonless copy paper.

Pierre has written about this on his blog – click on the artsy image below to read more:
CNR Form 31 photo Form31-Filter_zpse1ea0ecb.jpg

Pierre could have used one of the fine products already available on the hobby market, but he wanted pads in a larger format – closer to full prototype size – to make it easier for operators to copy orders. Also, since we had a real CNR train order from which to work, we thought it would be neat to create something more authentic than the generic forms. While I did not try to match fonts exactly, I did go for close matches while still picking fonts for readability. As Pierre notes, these are tools for operating sessions. That means above all else, they have to work for us. That said, I’m pleased with the result – which even includes my rendering of the original form’s “Printed in Canada” mark:

Printed in Canada photo PrintedInCanada_zps0e4e0056.jpg

While I rarely have to write an order during a session, every train needs paperwork to establish it on the schedule so I’ll have to get a pad of these from Pierre for use on my own layout.

And we’ll have to think of other CNR-specific forms we can create to help breathe authentic atmosphere into our operating sessions…

Laminated waybills

That “melting plastic” odour is rarely a good thing in this hobby, but there are exceptions. Like this:
Laminating - machine photo Waybills-Laminated-02_zps4c1032ae.jpg

Now that I’m operating the layout fairly regularly, I’ve confirmed that the waybill and switch list system I use for car forwarding works well for me. But I have noticed that as the seasons progress and humidity levels fluctuate in the layout room, some of the waybills I’m using are curling – and on rare occasions, they get stuck in the waybill boxes. I’ve also been thinking about things like finger prints or smudges that could mar the waybills over time.

As the lead photo suggests, I’m taking steps to address all of these problems by laminating the waybills and other documents used during operating sessions.

Through various tests, I’ve determined I can load a 3mm lamination pouch with two waybills and two empty car documents, as shown here:
Laminating - sheet photo Waybills-Laminated-03_zps909bd533.jpg

Note that two of the documents are loaded upside down. This is because in this case, I’m creating two waybills to move empty car off the layout (cars heading “for home”), so the empty car bill will be stapled to the loaded car waybill after each document has been trimmed out of the pouch. (See my post, “What I’m using for car forwarding“, for more details.) If I were laminating bills that did not have to match up – such as a pair of loaded cars and a pair of empty car bills directing cars onto the layout (cars heading “for loading”) – I would load all of them face up into the pouch. It’s just a visual reminder that comes in really handy since I’m laminating and trimming in assembly line fashion.

After laminating, I quickly trim a pouch into individual bills – or, as shown below, a paired set of bills:
Laminating - trimming photo Waybills-Laminated-04_zps16d3fc2d.jpg

I then trim the paperwork to final shape using a paper trimmer. As a last step, I knock the corners off the laminated document with a pair of scissors to make them finger-friendly. A laminated waybill is shown at right, below, with a non-laminated waybill at left for comparison:
Laminating - comparison photo Waybills-Laminated-01_zpsc5d713af.jpg

This has proven a success, so I’ll do other documents that do not need to be altered during a session. These include passenger tickets, LCL receipts, and telegraphy scripts. Obviously, switch lists will remain unlamented, since they’re written on during a session. But they’re disposed of after a session anyway…

The laminated waybills are just as easy to use as before – but will better stand up to the layout environment. Well worth the effort!

Copetown 2014

On Sunday Chris Abbott, Mark Zagrodney and I braved the snowy weather to take in the 2014 edition of the Copetown Train Show.

This annual event is always a grand day out. Most train shows attract a broad spectrum of visitors – including many members of the non-hobby public who are curious, or merely bored. Copetown is different in that it tends to skim the cream of the hobby. It’s not an exclusive event – anybody can visit – but those who do attend tend to be life-long hobbyists or those committed to joining our ranks.

As such, my experience at Copetown often feels like a class reunion. I look forward to the chance to catch up with many people who I know, but don’t get to see otherwise.

As they have for most (but not all) years since 2006, some members of the S Scale Workshop set up their Free-mo style modular layout at Copetown this year.

As I note above, it was a snowy day – and that meant that the show was not as crowded as it has been other years. I took advantage of the space to move about and shot some video of the Workshop’s layout. Click on the image below to visit the Copetown show report on the S Scale Workshop blog, where you can watch the movie:
Workshop video poster - Copetown 2014 photo Copetown2014-Poster_zps64528bc3.jpg

With so many S scalers in the room, talk naturally turned to future projects. A number of the Workshop members are also manufacturers so the talk was more than idle speculation. And while I cannot share specific plans (because that’s not my place), the good news is that there’s more on the way for those who model in 1:64 – especially if one has an interest in Canadian railways.

As soon as there are announcements to be made, I’ll share them here.

After the show closed to the public, Mark, Chris and I stopped the Black Bull pub in Burlington. Much hilarity ensued. The three of us used to get together regularly for round-robin work sessions but changes in work and other commitments mean it’s hard for us to do that now – so it was great to socialize over a pint and a snack before ploughing through slush and snow on the trip home.

Looking forward to the next time, guys!

A decision on kiln numbers

I was flattered to have so many thoughtful responses to my posting about the number of tobacco kilns I intend to build for St. Williams. To recap, I originally planned for five kilns in this scene, but lately I’ve been thinking about doing just three.

Many of you offered an opinion and with some very sound reasoning to support your thoughts. Thank you!

As I mentioned in my January 30th post, I planned to play around with the mock-ups a bit more to determine whether three or five worked best for me.

While shooting the video I posted yesterday of Extra 80 East through St. Williams, I realized that I should go with just three kilns for this scene. There are many reasons in favour of three (and of five, for that matter), but what cinched the decision was an experiment I did with photography and video angles with the kilns.

Here’s the set-up for three kilns. Note the space between the right-most kiln and the road crossing:
Kiln Test - 3 (Set-up) photo KilnTest-3-02_zps68ce2fb6.jpg

Now, here’s the set-up for five kilns. (Not all are shown – I simply moved the three mock-ups on hand to the relevant positions.) Note how much closer the right-hand kiln must be to the road crossing in order to fit five kilns:
Kiln Test - 5 (Set-up) photo KilnTest-5-02_zpsb65c9a84.jpg

While it doesn’t seem like that much – it’s one kiln length, so only about 4.5 inches. But note also in the above two photos that I’ve had to reposition the camera in order to shoot the station scene without it being blocked by the corner of the right-hand kiln. With just three kilns in the scene, I can successfully shoot a photo of the station that looks up the mainline, under the trees, and including the tree fort:
Kiln Test - 3 (Result) photo KilnTest-3-01_zps93bbce83.jpg

If I reposition the camera to shoot past a five-kiln scene, and still capture the entire station structure, here’s the best I can do:
Kiln Test - 5 (Result) photo KilnTest-5-01_zps5fa06280.jpg

It’s not a bad photo, but I like the first one better. (And of course I can shoot that second photo in a three-kiln scenario – but I can’t shoot the first photo with five kilns in the scene.)

The St. Williams station scene has become a favourite for me and it would be a shame to limit my photo-taking opportunities by placing a kiln too close to the crossing. And I don’t want to create removable structures so I can shoot past them, because that presents opportunities for accidents involving scratch-built structures and the train-room floor. So – three it is.

Thanks again to everyone who commented on the original posting. It’s difficult to offer an opinion when you don’t have the whole picture but every observation – in favour of three, five, or another number – gave me stuff to think about and helped with my decision. A number of you raised possibilities I hadn’t considered, or made me think about the scene in a different way.

It’s now time to resume building my kilns – with confidence!