Monson 4

My friend (and fellow two-foot enthusiast) Terry Smith alerted me to a story in the Bangor (ME) Daily News that the boiler certificate has expired on Monson Railroad 0-4-4T Number 4, and that the locomotive took its last runs Saturday on the Maine Narrow Gauge RR Co and Museum in Portland.

While this may seem like a non-sequitor for my blog on modelling the (standard gauge) CNR branch to Port Rowan, the two are actually closely related. Regular readers know that I used to model the Maine two-footers in On2, but it goes beyond my interest in the Lilliput lines of the Pine Tree State.

Because of my interest, several years ago I ended up volunteering for the museum. It was a long haul from my house – 12 hours by highway, plus an international border crossing – so I didn’t get to visit the museum nearly as often as I would’ve liked. But when I did manage the trek I would help out as a fireman’s apprentice:
Me firing Monson RR 4 photo Firing-002.jpg
(In the cab – sort of – and learning about steam first-hand. The two-foot locomotives were so small that this is the normal position for working the throttle – at least in nice weather)

A great bunch of people make up the steam team at the museum and they were very welcoming of this odd fellow from Canada who wanted to learn how to operate a real locomotive. Monson 4 was a great locomotive to learn on, too, because it is equipped with all of the essentials – injectors, water gauges, lubricators, and so on – but none of the extras like low water alarms or other ancillary systems. I learned to shovel coal and build a proper fire – but the firebox was small enough that the task was not too daunting for a newbie. I learned about watching three things at once – the fire, the water level and the steam pressure – plus keeping an eye on the track ahead.

From a model railway perspective, I learned enough about a real steam locomotive to understand the sounds that are generated by a Tsunami decoder. I know what they are, and when to use the equipment that generates the sounds. This goes beyond knowing when to use the bell and whistle, to include things like when to run injectors, how often to stop for water and how long it takes to fill a tank.
Maine Two-Foot Water Crane photo WaterCrane-MNGRR.jpg
(Filling the tank. My friend Pierre Oliver and I built the water crane for the museum – that was a fun project that earned me a spot on the steam team)

My experience with Monson 4 changed my hobby – for the better. I realized there can be a lot more to running a steam locomotive on a layout than setting the direction switch and speed. Having experienced steam first-hand, I programmed my Tsunami decoders to turn off all the automatic sounds for which that was an option. On my layout, engineers are responsible for making sure the correct signals are given (and for using other appliances correctly, such as the injectors). It adds to the fun – and helps a relatively simple layout to still offer a demanding, yet entertaining, operating experience.

I also learned many things about railroading beyond the locomotive, and the experienced fuelled my desire to know more and then figure out ways to apply this knowledge to my layout and my operating sessions.

I haven’t been to Portland for a few years but I’m grateful for the experience. I encourage others trying to model the steam era to jump at the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cab of a real steam locomotive – either by joining a steam team, taking an “engineer for a day” course, or by taking cab rides. (The same goes for more modern era layouts and diesel locomotives too, of course.) Just be sure to go into the experience with open eyes and ears – and don’t forget to ask questions.

I’m pleased that while this is the final run in Portland for Monson 4, it’s definitely not the end of the line for this locomotive. The steam team is currently getting Bridgton and Saco River 2-4-4T Number 7 ready for service and the museum is planning a move away from the Portland waterfront. But I suspect at sometime in the future the steam team will retube the boiler on Monson 4 and this Forney, built in 1918, will again pull trainloads of tourists and enthusiasts – even as it continues to help tell the story of the Maine two-footers.

(Thanks for the heads-up, Terry!)

Kiln conveyor modifications

In an exchange of emails with Mike Livingston, I learned more about the conveyors used to load a tobacco kiln – and as a result I’ve made a few modifications to my model. I have more painting and weathering to do on this, but thought I’d share the progress regardless…

 photo Kiln-Conveyor-02_zps3b04edff.jpg

Mike confirmed for me that the conveyors had an electric motor so I added one under the frame. (It’s on the far side of the conveyor so not visible in the above photo.) He also told me about an interesting feature: A rod in a sleeve that connected to the motor controller at the bottom and ran to the top of the conveyor. This allowed the kiln hanger to start and stop the conveyor remotely.

This would’ve been a really small diameter rod – about 1/4″ – and the rod and tube arrangement would’ve been difficult to model accurately in 1:64. Therefore, I’ve added a conduit alongside the conveyor. I’ll assume that instead of a push-rod, this conveyor has an on/off switch.

I also relocated the hand crank, which Mike explained is used to raise and lower the conveyor.

Thanks for the additional information, Mike – much appreciated and it’s resulting in a better model!

Better forms for train orders

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Back in February I worked with my friend Pierre Oliver to create artwork for CNR’s Form 19 and Form 31 train orders. These are essential for the Time Table and Train Order operating sessions Pierre will hold on his layout – and we used a number of the forms during Pierre’s first formal operating session last weekend.

As a thank you for my help, Pierre gave me a pad of each for use on my own layout. There aren’t many occasions for writing orders and generally I don’t bother during operating sessions. But these pads will give me the option to do so when I’m in the mood for an even more realistic experience.

I designed the forms based on a CNR Form 31 order that Pierre shared with me. In discussing the project and doing several tests, we determined that making them 5″ by 7″ would be close to the size of a prototype form, while still meeting the requirement of being a standard size available from a full service print shop. As the photo below shows, they’re considerably larger than the forms sold by Micro Mark. This is an advantage in that it makes it easier for an operator to copy a complex order from the dispatcher.
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Thanks Pierre – I’ll put them to good use!

Reworking the kiln interior

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In a previous post, I mentioned that as I built the conveyor for my tobacco kiln scene I also had to make some modifications to the kiln itself. Here’s the story…

When I first posted photos of the kiln, with the open loading doors, I received an email from Mike Livingston. Mike has been a great help with prototype information about the Port Rowan area – and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that for a few years back in the 1960s, he worked as a hanger during the tobacco harvests. Mike was able to give me some great information about the kiln interiors and the loading process – and pointed out an error that I’d made in the framing that’s visible through the loading doors.

I originally put posts in the centre of each door, as shown here:

 photo Kiln-Load-06_zps65fe14c9.jpg

This was incorrect. Mike pointed out that while the centre post was fine in the centre door, the kiln would not be able to get through the openings on the left or right.

While the arrangement struck me as odd, I have a post-card image that shows the posts in this location, as seen here:
Loading a kiln photo Tobacco-Harvest-02_zpsb4eb844c.jpg

My mistake? I realized after the fact that I’d worked from a photo of a slightly different style of kiln. For starters, the loading doors span the full width of the kiln, whereas my prototype has closed panels to either side of the loading doors. There are other differences too. One that isn’t apparent is that I don’t know the dimensions of this kiln. I can only guess. It might be a few feet longer or shorter than the one I measured, which would throw off the relationship between interior post spacing and the loading door openings.

So, after sleeping on the problem, I started the day yesterday by carefully ungluing the interior and pulling it from the kiln. I then built a new interior, with five posts. Here it is, along with the old interior – still packed with hanging tobacco:
 photo Kiln-Load-07_zps12b157f0.jpg

Fortunately, I was able to reuse the hung tobacco I made for the original interior. After transferring it from old to new, the new interior looked like this and was ready to install in the kiln:
 photo Kiln-Load-08_zpse2a080d8.jpg

Note that I left the tobacco out of one row – row 5, if you count from the left and include the tobacco hung to either side of the end posts on this frame. I did this to accommodate the conveyor after reading Mike’s description of the inside of a kiln, supported by a couple of diagrams he created to help me out. Mike writes:

A kiln has six full length sets of tiers running vertically, and another two sets of shorter tiers under the roof. Going across there will be six rows of hung tobacco.

The bottom tier is usually at the lower edge of the loading window: This allows sufficient space for the burners on the floor to prevent setting the cured tobacco on fire.

Mike also gave me permission to share his diagrams, so here they are. Note that these are not to scale – they are general arrangement drawings only:

 photo Kiln-Interior-ML-Top_zpscd267869.jpg
(Top view, looking down)

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(Side view, looking from one end)

I like that Mike has included a gang plank used by hangers. I will have to model one of these and leave it near one of the other structures in my kiln yard.

From the top-down view, it’s clear that the conveyor would be positioned in row 2, and the hangers could also hang rows 1 and 3 from there. The conveyor would then be repositioned to row 5 to hang rows 4, 5 and 6. On my model, rows 1-4 and 6 have been finished, and the crew is ready to back the conveyor out of row 5, hanging as they go.

I must admit that it was a tough decision to tear out the interior and re-do it. The original interior took me a day of modelling time. Granted, most of that time was spent figuring out how to do the interior in the first place, and the garbage can is full of failed experiments. That said, as soon as Mike pointed out my error I could feel it starting to bother me – and I know that feeling never goes away. So while it was a tough decision, I know it was the right one and I’m grateful that Mike shared his knowledge. Thanks, Mike!

Mike has also shared some great information about the conveyors. I will use this to make some modifications and additions to my model, then share the info and the results. Stay tuned!

Speaking of resources:

I’ll reserve judgement on the poetry – but this web site has some great images of people at work tying sticks and loading a kiln. There’s also a link to a video of tobacco harvesting in Tillsonburg, Ontario in 1998.

Enjoy if you visit…

Lights! Camera! Wabash!


(You may also enjoy this video directly on YouTube)

On Sunday, my friend Pierre Oliver celebrated a milestone that’s been several years in the making as some friends and I descended on his train room to hold the first formal operating session on Pierre’s HO scale Wabash Buffalo Division.

Pierre models a half dozen towns on the division, which cut across southern Ontario to connect Detroit and Buffalo. Wabash “Red Ball” fast freights rule the rails in 1951. (There’s also a connection to my layout, since Pierre is modelling the portion of the division that includes the stretch between Jarvis and Simcoe. This is the section that trains on my layout traverse as they work their way between Hamilton and Port Rowan.)

As noted, this was the first formal operating session on Pierre’s, using Time Table and Train Order to govern movements. Other participants included Chris Abbott, Brian Dickey and John Mellow.

We had a great time and learned a lot, which will be reflected in the next iteration of the time table – and tested during the next operating session.

I was able to grab a few video clips while running trains. I apologize for the auto-focus fun’n’games – but the above video will give viewers a sense of what Pierre is building in his layout room.

For more on Pierre’s layout, visit his website. Congrats, Pierre!