A kiln conveyor

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Loading a tobacco kiln is a lot of work. A conveyor makes it a lot easier – and since they’re a neat detail I thought I’d add one to my kiln scene. Fortunately, I had a package of HO scale portable coal conveyors handy – they’re part 933-3520 in the Walthers Cornerstone series. I cannibalized one of these to create a kiln conveyor – a process that primarily involved building a new, wider conveyor belt.

I cut a piece of .040″ styrene sheet for the belt, rounding the ends to suggest that the conveyor is curling around a roller. I then added lengths of 0.040″ half-round strip at regular intervals to represent the ridges that help the belt do its job. I cut apart the frame that supports the wheels and used some 0.060″ styrene angle to stretch it to match the new, wider conveyor.

My prototype photo showed a sheet across the bottom of the conveyor – presumably where the sticks are laid, one at a time, to convey them into the belly of the kiln. I added this sheet using some thin sheet wood and more styrene angle.

Finally, I painted the conveyor then created a stick of tobacco and glued it to the belt.

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The conveyor required me to add the styrene walls to the bottom of the model what will represent the concrete foundation. I’ll write more about that – plus some modifications to the kiln to accommodate the conveyor – in a future post. Stay tuned!

Back to Zero Derailments

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As mentioned previously, after a couple of weeks of tuning track I finally flipped over CNR 80 earlier this week, to give it an inspection. And I discovered a fair build-up of dirt on the wheels.

I scraped away the gunk, and have now run the locomotive through all of the former trouble spots about a dozen times in each direction. And it’s performing without any problems. I’m back on track towards my goal of Zero Derailments.

Now, it’s true that I found some issues with the track – so my work on that was not in vain. But in focussing on the track I forgot a cardinal rule about railways:

Wheels and rails are a system – they work, because they work together.

I should make this into a nice sign and stick it near the sector plate, where all equipment begins and ends an operating session. And next time I experience derailments (and I’m sure there will be a next time, because layouts are not static things), I will check both sides of the relationship – just to be sure, and to maybe save me a bit of grief.


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As I continue to work on the tobacco kilns for St. Williams, I decided that the first kiln I build should have open loading doors on the side facing the fascia. It’s August on my layout and the first of the tobacco is being harvested and loaded into kilns for a process known as “flue curing”. This is an important step on the path from seed to cigarette, in an industry that was vital to the region of Ontario that I’m modelling.
Tying sticks photo Tobacco-Harvest-01_zps9fd58070.jpg
(Click on the image to read about the loading process)

I’ll model the tying and loading process, complete with the covered work tables and the conveyor. But those big open loading doors will provide visitors with a good look inside the kiln on my layout and I can’t have them seeing the inside of a white styrene shell. So I had to figure out how to model – or at least, represent – the sticks of tobacco hung in a mostly loaded kiln.

For that, I turned to the ancient art of facial tissue folding.

I like using fascial tissue – kleenex – for many things on a layout, from window curtains to canvas covers. (Long-time readers will recall that I used fascial tissue for the tarp over the doorway on the team track barn in Port Rowan.) So I was pretty sure I could make something that would fill the kiln and look appropriate.

I started by colouring the kleenex, using artists inks as shown here:
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I put several drops of green on the kleenex, added a few drops of yellow and a couple of brown, then balled up the kleenex and worked the colours through it until there was no white material left. I wore disposable gloves for this step, because it is messy. I then carefully un-balled the kleenex and spread it on my glass surface to dry.

While it dried, I made a rack to mount the tobacco.
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This is not a complete kiln interior. The inside of one of these structures is a real “monkey bars” of posts and beams, notched to support the sticks as they’re loaded into the kiln. This is enough interior to hide the fact that the rest of the kiln is an empty shell.

I eyeballed the measurements from photos I’ve taken of the inside of a real kiln. The critical measurement was the distance between the three verticals at the lower right of the above image, as these needed to line up with the middle of each open loading door.

With this structure assembled and tested inside the kiln, I went back to my kleenex, tore off small pieces, and artfully folded them to look something like a bundle of tobacco ready to mount on a stick. I then added some bronze wire to the top row of the framing, turned the frame upside down, and attached my kleenex scraps to the wires with CA. When the top rows were done, I glued another series of wires into the second row and repeated the process. In all, I did three levels of sticks – being careful to leave some empty spots on the second level where they’ll be behind two of the doors, so I have a place for workers to load the final sticks into this kiln.

The two photos below show the interior, ready for installation in the kiln:
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Once the interior was glued in place, I added the doors. I used eyebolts and EZ Line for the cables that are used to open and secure the doors – and for variety, I propped open the third door half-way with the cable hanging loose. I’ve seen photos of both methods employed. The hinges are HO details from Tichy.

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There’s enough space to set a worker in the opening at the right, and have a conveyor enter the centre opening – once I build the conveyor, that is.

This kiln is almost done. It’ll need a roof and a foundation, plus a few other details. But that’s for another day…

And before you ask – no: I do not know how many bundles of tobacco I added to the kiln. I just kept adding until I was happy with the effect – and I’m glad I’m only doing one interior!

A visit from Robert Thompson

I had a great evening last night with Robert Thompson, a modeller from British Columbia who was in town for work and was able to free up some time for an evening get-together. It was Bob’s first visit to my S scale layout but while he’s currently working in HO he’s worked in Sn3 in the past so he’s familiar with the scale.

I gave him the quick overview of the layout and we discussed some of the projects I’m working on, then we ran an operating session with a freight extra.

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I was disappointed with the performance of CNR 80 – my go-to mogul for running a freight extra. I’ve written recently about some derailments I’ve been trying to correct, and thought I’d fixed the problem – but if anything, the derailments were worse than ever. We limped through the session and Bob was quite gracious about the whole boondoggle. (Thanks, Bob!)

At the end of the run, I hauled out another mogul and we tried it through the same troublesome spots. It performed perfectly. Having suspected the track for the past few weeks, I’m now convinced the problem lies with the locomotive.

It was too late, and I was too tired, to investigate CNR 80 at the time, but I made a mental note to jump on it this morning and give its pony truck some attention. Almost as soon as I turned it over on the bench this morning, I found what I suspect has been the culprit all this time. In a word, it’s “dirt”. The wheel treads had a fair bit of gunk on them – so much so that it was forming a fillet between tread and flange. This of course changes the shape of the tire, which throws off the whole wheel/rail relationship. I’m surprised it stayed on the track at all!

Fortunately, it was quick and easy to fix: I grabbed my handy graver and carefully scraped the gunk off the wheels. Only the two wheels on the pony truck were dirty, and the whole process took less than a minute. I ran the locomotive through the problem areas a half-dozen times this afternoon without any trouble.

I’m hesitant to say it, but I think I’ve finally fixed the problem.

Bob – great to see you and I hope you had fun. Apologies for the fussy locomotive – I really should’ve switched it out after the first sign of trouble. Come for another visit next time you’re in town: We’ll try another operating session, and dinner’s on me!

Yes – Bob arrived at dinner time, so we went straight to Harbord House for food and drink. Bob had been to my house a few years ago – back when I was working in On2 – so it was a great way to catch up. And the braised pork belly with mashed potatoes and purple cabbage was delicious, especially when washed down with a pint of Conductor’s Craft…

Tobacco kilns :: Aligning trusses

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As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been busy with other things in life – but I have been able to make some progress on the three tobacco kilns for St. Williams.

I started building these assembly line fashion. But along the way I decided I wanted to concentrate on building each kiln on its own. Perhaps my techniques will improve as I do each one, or perhaps I’ll have new ideas for the scene as it comes together.

So, having built three sets of ends – like the ones shown at the top of this post – I’ve now turned to doing the sides for the first kiln. My first challenge here was to fit the rafters to the tops of the sides. For rafters, I’m using roof trusses laser cut for me by Jeff Schwank at TractorFab. These were done to my specification and make it really easy to add consistent rafter tails to a structure.

But – just like on a real structure – filling the space between each truss at the top of the wall can be fiddly, especially since the trusses should be evenly spaced. I decided that I would cut the side walls a little longer than I thought would be required, then use a truss to add spacers along the top of the wall until I got close to the length I needed. If the wall ended up too long or too short by a few inches, I wouldn’t sweat it.

I cut a side wall from 0.040″ thick styrene sheet, and then cut a series of spacers from another sheet of 0.040″ thick styrene. In the photo below, I’m adding the spacers to the top of the wall. (Actually, only the top part of the wall: I have cut away the bottom, below the openings for the large loading doors, and will reassemble it later with the doors in place.)
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I’m using a truss to space the spacers. And when I got to the length I needed, I simply trimmed away the excess piece of wall. It can be seen next to the razor blade.

I made two of these – making sure that the slots for trusses lined up from wall to wall – then applied my tar paper. (As mentioned previously, I use masking tape for this. I apply it over thick CA to ensure it does not curl away from the wall over time.)
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With the tar paper in place, I used a knife to trim it to size, and to clean out the slots for the trusses.

At this point, I painted the top sections of the two side walls, then glued them in place on the end walls to start building the basic box. The photo below shows the first kiln coming together nicely:
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The trusses are slotted into place, and sharp eyes will note that I’ve added more spacers between the trusses near their peaks, to keep them upright. I’ve also added some scrap strip wood as bracing in the corners. This is lined up with the inside edge of the white-painted corner trim.

I have also started framing the openings for the doors. I’ll finish the sides next: Stay tuned!

Keeping busy

I’m always sad when I visit a blog I like that hasn’t been updated in months, because I worry that the author has lost enthusiasm for the subject.

So, just a quick note to say I’ve been busy – with work and other commitments, but also with the layout. The blog has suffered as a result. I am working on my tobacco kilns as time allows. In fact, I’m doing some of that work today and have reached a point where I should take some photos to share – so I’ll do that.

Stay tuned…

MoW: Pony truck derails at St Williams team track switch

Today felt like a good day to tackle the maintenance and repair list I drafted after last weekend’s visit by Hunter Hughson.

I started with the intermittent derailment by the moguls as they pulled out of the team track in St. Williams:
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Sometimes – but only sometimes – the two-wheel pilot truck would go onto the ties as a mogul left the switch. This was a puzzler in part because the derailment was not consistent. I slowly pushed a mogul through the whole turnout and determined that when the derailment occurred, it occurred right as the pony truck left the points, as shown here:
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Further investigation revealed that the locomotive could waddle slightly as it traversed the turnout, and the derailment only happened when the locomotive was rotated as in “C” in the diagram below. Hitting the problem spot while straight – as in “A” – or waddling the other direction – as in “B” – caused no problems:
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That led me to look closely at the diverging stock rail. I determined that the rail need to have a smoother transition between the normal track to the right of the turnout, and the notched portion that accommodates the points when the switch is set for the normal (straight) route. If the pony truck of a mogul hit this area while the mogul was oriented as in diagram “C” (above), the flange on the wheel would catch on the stock rail, ride up and over it, and voila – a derailment.

The solution called for two tools – a graver made for me by my friend Chris Abbott, and a small file:
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I used the graver to carve away a bit of the inside of the head of the stock rail to make a smoother transition – one that wouldn’t catch the flange on the pony truck. I then cleaned up the transition with a file. The photo below shows the area that needed work:
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It’s amazing how tiny a spot can cause such trouble – and it took longer to diagnose than it did to fix. But I’ve run a mogul through this switch several times since making this small adjustment and I seem to have fixed the problem. Fingers crossed!

Since I want to keep better track of issues like this, I’ve created a new category for the blog called “maintenance and repair”. It’s located in the drop-down Categories menu to the right on the main page. I’ll use it to collect future notes about fixes. It should prove useful.

When visitors arrive… or is it?

Having read my recent post about the derailments experienced the last time I hosted a guest, reader Brian Woolven made an interesting observation in the comments – one that’s worth repeating here:

It always happens when you have visitors.
It’s the same as exhibitions, everything works when at the club prior to the show. Come the opening and everything comes to a stop.

We’ve all felt that way – that a layout somehow “knows” when we’re entertaining guests and that’s when it decides to misbehave. I’ve certainly felt that way, many times over the past few decades of being in the hobby. (I’ve had a similar feeling about cars and houses that I’ve owned – that they always seem to know when one has come into an extra large bag o’ money, because that’s when they suddenly need a new transmission, or brakes, or a furnace, or a roof.)

Layouts are many things, but they are not sentient. (Neither are cars or houses.) So what’s really going on?

There are a few possibilities.

I suspect that when guests are visiting, layout owners are busy juggling too many roles so errors get made.

This isn’t so much a problem with my layout, because there’s not much going on during an operating session – just one train on the line, and just one or two guests for me to host. But larger layouts with multiple guests running multiple trains simultaneously can be a real challenge for hosts.

Most of the hobbyists I know with a large layout that supports regular operating sessions tell me that they rarely get to run a train during such sessions because they’re too busy answering questions, solving problems, making executive decisions, setting up coffee or tea for afterwards, and so on.

And at exhibitions, the challenge of operating the layout and engaging with the punters can be overwhelming – so much so that many experienced exhibitors divide the roles: Operators stand behind the layout and run the trains, while interpreters/hosts stand in front of the layout and, well, interpret and host. Even small layouts – the single-person “shunting plank” sort, built by one person – will benefit from a second person at exhibits. (In addition to dividing the duties, it gives that layout builder a chance to get away from the layout when nature calls.)

Beyond that, I would suggest that layout gremlins have always been there but as layout owners we’re more sensitive to them when they embarrass us in front of guests. If we’re running the layout by ourselves and something derails, we may simply retail and ignore the problem, or think to ourselves, “I’ll have to fix that” – then forget about it, or get busy with something else.

I try to keep on top of these things on my own layout and not let them get away from me. One of the best aids in this regard is a stack of notepaper in one of the pigeon holes that I built for the slide-out work desks at each station:
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(Click on the image to read more about the pigeon holes)

Whenever I have a problem, I grab a slip of paper and write it down so I don’t forget. Or, at least, I try to. I’m not always good at doing this during an operating session with friends. I am very good about it when I’m doing things on the layout by myself.

But the best way to do that is set aside time each week for operations or work sessions – and I’ve been less diligent about that over the past few weeks. In fact, I had ample notice that my friend Hunter Hughson was showing up – we made the arrangements a couple of days ahead of our get-together – and I should’ve taken some time to run the layout and look for any issues.

Lesson learned. Now, time to look at those notes and start checking things off the list.

(Brian: Thanks for your comment – it obviously got me thinking!)

A great time :: Too bad the layout sucked

My friend Hunter Hughson visited yesterday for brunch followed by an afternoon of talking trains – and running the layout.

I had a great time. It was fun to spend an afternoon discussing Hunter’s layout plans and he brought along a pair of in-progress modifications to Athearn 86′ boxcars that are going to be fantastic models when he’s done with them. Hunter is documenting the upgrades on his Ontario in HO Scale blog – click on the NYC boxcar below to visit:
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That’s the good news. The bad news is that the layout had other ideas yesterday. This year’s deep freeze continues – and continues to play havoc with model railways. I must also confess that I haven’t run the layout in a few weeks – I’ve just been too preoccupied with other things, mostly beyond the scope of the hobby. Nothing bad – just busy.

The result, however, is that we had about a dozen derailments. The pony truck on one of the 2-6-0s hit the ties. So did the combine. And a freight car or two joined in on the fun.

These appeared to be intermittent faults: Trying to repeat them sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. And I’ll point out again that I haven’t really run the layout in a few weeks, with the exception of a quick dash to Port Rowan with The Daily Effort about a week ago. This is important because frequent operation is not only the best way to identify problems and stay on top of fixing them, it’s also the best way to prevent problems in the first place. As proof of this…

The problem with a boxcar went away after I picked it up, turned it over, and jiggled the wheel sets and trucks a bit. I suspect the sprung side frames on the trucks got used to sitting in one position and needed to be poked a bit to free them up so they’d track on the rails properly.

I also know from experience that the track switches throw much easier when they’re thrown regularly.

As for the other problems, I suspect a shifting layout is the culprit. This is the first really harsh winter the layout has endured. I’ve already found and re-opened a couple of gaps that have closed up. I’ll need to look for more. And I’ll have to put the standards gauge to work, testing rail spacing and the like around yesterday’s trouble spots.

Hunter – great to see you: Sorry the layout sucked. I’ll do some trouble-shooting and hopefully next time it’ll be better!

On days when my layout lets me down like this, I’m tempted to order a dump box and have the entire thing carted away. But this is more than a hobby, right? It’s a way of life. Fortunately, there are many ways beyond running the layout to participate in the hobby so when one approach isn’t going well, I can always try something else…
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