Division Street and Judge Farm

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(Who wouldn’t want to play trains with these guys?)

S Scale Workshop member Simon Parent suggested that the group exhibit at The North Shore Train Show – a new show in Laval, Québec – and the group has agreed.

The show takes place October 4-5 and according to the show’s web site, that’s 133 days away as I write this.

Is that time enough to build a module? How about two?

Well, I’m going to try.

Fortunately, my module designs are pretty simple. The Workshop already has plenty of modules featuring towns, industries, passing sidings and so on. What’s really needed is some open country running. So I’m planning two module sets, each featuring single track mainline. No turnouts – no significant structures – just 20+ feet of additional room for my fellow Workshop members to show off their fine locomotives and rolling stock.

One module will feature a level crossing in a rural area – something like this:
 photo LevelCrossing-Inspiration_zpsacb57c25.jpeg

I chose the name “Division Street” because there are a lot of those in Ontario, and they tend to extend out of towns and into the countryside. This will be a place for trains at speed to blow for a crossing, and the rest of the module will be given over to meadow, similar to what I’ve built in Port Rowan on my home layout.

The other module will feature a farm – or part of one: I’ll create a slice of pasture to either side of the track, with a cattle passage/culvert linking the two. I chose this scene because of a wonderful photograph from the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway, published on the Old Time Trains website:
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(Click on the image to read more about the TG&B Ry at Old Time Trains)

“Judge Farm” sounds like a good name – and I don’t think TG&B/CPR fans will mind that CNR trains use this crossing, since it’s typical of many in the region.

(The Old Time Trains site notes that the abutments still stand – and includes a photograph of them taken in 2006. I would love to visit these first-hand: If you know where they are and can give me directions, can you get in touch? You can use the comments section for this post, or the contact form at the bottom of this page. Thanks in advance!)

Rather than build modules with an arrow-straight track through the middle, I’ve designed each module with a broad radius curve. I drew the modules free-hand, but Simon put my plans into CAD and the curves work out to something north of 33-foot radius – so trains should look really good on them.

The modules will be made up of several sections – two sections four feet long by 18 inches wide, and two trapezoids 18 inches long, 18 inches wide at one end, and 24 inches wide at the other. The trapezoids bring the modules back out to the Workshop standard of 24 inches wide at the interface points, while the 18-inch width through the module allows me to rack and stack both of them in my vehicle.

Each module set will assemble into a chevron shape. This makes it compact to store and transport, while allowing for the broad curve. A chevron is much more stable than a long, skinny rectangle – important when exhibiting in public, especially when the railhead is 50 inches above the floor and the module is only 18″ deep.

Here’s the preliminary sketch for Division Street, with some key dimensions labelled:
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(Click on the image for a larger view)

I’m still debating that abandoned interurban line, but it would give me an opportunity to do some of the “ties in the weeds” detailing that I have done on my Port Rowan layout so I’ll incorporate it if time allows.

Here’s a preliminary sketch for Judge Farm:
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(Click on the image for a larger view)

While the plans look simple – barren, perhaps – I have some ideas to add commonplace details to provide plenty of things to look at, without crowding the scenes.

The two chevron shapes will allow for more flexibility than two rectangles when setting up at shows. The two modules are designed to set up in various configurations, including:

– a very long curve
– an S curve
– a reverse S curve
– two short curves separated by one or more modules

Here are some examples of potential set-ups:
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I’ve made a shopping list and I’ve started to recruit The Usual Suspects for various parts of the construction. I’m starting with my friend Pierre Oliver, who will help me build the module frames and legs. (Okay – let’s be honest: I’ll be helping him.)

Pierre does not model in S scale, but he has forgotten more about building transportable stuff than most of us have ever learned. Together, we have a fair bit of module-building experience – including the summer we built The Peterboro Project, and our mutual participation in the CASO Free-mo group.

We work well together – we Get Things Done – so the benchwork will be ready for track and terrain in no time.

Which is good – because we’re counting down: 133… 132… 131…

I will share some progress reports here, but because it’s not crazy enough to build 20-something feet of module in four months, I’ve also been talking to Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV about documenting the process.

Barry is putting together a top-notch show with professional production values and buckets of information and entertainment – so be sure to check it out:
TrainMastersTV-Logo photo TMTV-by-MRH-vert_zpsfe09237b.jpg

Of course, I’ll continue to work on projects for my Port Rowan layout during the next four months, too – so there will be a lot to share here.

Sergent couplers :: Now available

An update on the redesigned Sergent couplers for S scale: They’re now available!

I’ve written before about Sergent couplers. Click on the photo to revisit that post:
Sergent S Couplers vs HO photo Sergent-S-Couplers_zps5663a6c6.jpg
(Three EC64 S scale couplers, plus one RC87 HO coupler for comparison)

Frank Sergent has done S scalers a real service by improving the design and reintroducing these couplers. (Thanks, Frank!)

Frank has provided some context for the reintroduction. From his website…

Anybody that models in S scale deserves respect because there is very little commercially available to work with. Somehow the original Sergent Engineering S scale coupler became a legend in the few years that it was offered at the beginning of this century. The truth is that it wasn’t that great, but the S scale community was very happy to have it and saddened when it went away.

The completely new and improved Sergent Engineering S scale couplers feature highly detailed castings. They are simple to assemble and they are reliable. No draft gear is provided.

Frank warned us up front that they wouldn’t be cheap – and at $14 for four couplers – enough for two pieces of equipment – these will appeal mostly to those of us, like myself, with smaller fleets to equip. Having used the Sergent HO couplers on my On2 equipment, I’m very familiar with them. What’s more, I designed this S scale layout from the start to be “Sergent-friendly” – with good sight-lines and reach-in access – knowing that such a layout would work fine with Kadees as well.

I’ve ordered five packages – enough to equip a locomotive, a van, seven freight cars and a passenger car (to check for cornering ability when coupled to a freight car in a mixed train). That’ll give me a great test-bed to determine two things:

1 – Can I build them so they operate as reliably as the Kadees I currently use? (I think I can…)

2 – Did I, in fact, design a Sergent-friendly layout? (I think I did…)

Assuming the answer is “Yes” and “Yes”, I’ll then order enough couplers to convert the existing fleet, as well as any rolling stock kits that are still on the shelf.

If that happens, I’ll have a lot of spare Kadee 808s kicking around…

CNR 1560 – Sound comparison

As a follow-up to yesterday’s decoder replacement project, I’ve done a quick video comparing the sound of the old (light steam) and new (heavy steam) Tsunami decoder in CNR 10-wheeler 1560:

(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in a larger format)

The first clip in the video features sound from the old (light steam) decoder. It was shot a couple of years ago and featured in a video on this blog at the time. I followed this first clip with several clips of the locomotive in action with the replacement (heavy steam) decoder.

I’m much happier with the sound of the exhaust, the dynamo/generator, and the bell. I still need to tweak some of the decoder settings and adjust the speed table, but I’m glad I did the swap.

Faded film

As mentioned earlier today, I have replaced the decoders in my two CNR 4-6-0s.

In that post, I mentioned that my preferred style of railroading – the stuff I like to model – is the “up close and personal” railroading. Like this:

(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in a larger format)

It’s a style of railroading that was found on numerous branch lines in Southern Ontario. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t fast. But it got the job done.

This video is actually a product of playing around with some of the filters in iMovie. I liked the effect – which looks like the film stock has colour shifted as it aged – and thought I’d share it with you.

And yes – that’s a mogul. I will have to shoot some video of a 10-wheeler with its new decoder because I’m really pleased with the retrofit. Watch this space…

Tsunami Tswap-a-roo

Today I tackled a job that I’d been putting off because I thought it would be harder than it turned out to be:

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My first S scale locomotives were two 10-wheelers built for me by Simon Parent. I took delivery of these a couple of years before I decided to make the switch from “The Standard Gauge of Maine” in On2 scale to the CNR in 1:64.

When Simon built these two locomotives for me, I asked him to install DCC+Sound. It made more sense for him to do this while building them – rather than me taking delivery then dismantling them to do so. And in all that time, I’ve never peeked under the hood.

But at the time, we settled on the Tsunami Light Steam Decoder. This made a lot of sense since these are relatively light locomotives. But…

I’m not enamoured of the Light Steam sounds. The bell is anemic and an auto-ringer: It delivers a series of single strikes – “ding – ding – ding” like a diesel, instead of the “ding-ding – ding-ding – ding-ding” that I associate with steam locomotive bells. What’s more, the chuff is apologetic – more like something one would get out of a garden scale live steam engine than a real locomotive.

Therefore, when I commissioned Simon to build some 2-6-0s for me we picked the Tsunami Medium Steam Decoder – and I’ve been much happier with the sound of the 2-6-0s as a result. The exhaust is throatier and the bell has more presence. The whistles are nicer, too.

I knew at some point I would want to replace the decoders in the 10-wheelers. But with the decoder mounted in the boiler, plus multiple lighting effects and a speaker in the boiler and in the tender, I figured it would be an unpleasant job.

But as with so many things in this hobby, the phrase “Nothing ventured – nothing gained” applies here as well. I realized a few weeks ago that I rarely run the 10-wheelers these days, because I preferred the sound of the 2-6-0s. Since there’s no point in having the locomotives on the layout if I’m not running them, I ordered a couple of replacement decoders.

I could’ve gone with the Tsunami Medium Steam Decoders – like the ones in the 2-6-0s. But I opted instead for Tsumami Heavy Steam Decoders. My rationale was simple: I wanted the 10-wheelers to sound different than the 2-6-0s – and since they’re bigger prototypes I wanted them to sound bigger, too.

While it may seem odd to install a heavy steam decoder in a 4-6-0, keep in mind that on my layout, the 10-wheelers are the heavy power:
CNR 80 and 1560 - lights photo CNR80-CNR1560-StW-Lights_zps0b2f7a58.jpg

I will never run anything larger – because the prototype didn’t, because anything larger looks awful on my 42″ radius curves, and because anything larger won’t fit on the turntable in Port Rowan.

I also really like the style of layout I’m building. I admire layouts that feature long trains snaking through mountains or speeding across wide open spaces – but the railroading that really speaks to me is the stuff that’s up close and personal. And from my experience working as an apprentice fireman on Monson RR #4 at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum, I know that even a tiny 0-4-4T – so small that the engineer routinely sits on the window ledge, with upper body outside of the cab – can sound huge when one is standing next to it.

Given that small models with small speakers already have trouble generating big noise – and given that most people (myself included) don’t actually want big noise in a layout room, because it quickly becomes overwhelming – using the heavy decoders seemed like the best choice. If I were building a more extensive layout and planned to roster larger steam power on it, I would’ve made different choices.

But enough philosophy: Today, I decided to tackle the Tsunami Tswap-a-roo. To my surprise, each locomotive took just 20 minutes, and involved making three easy solder connections then insulating the joints with heat shrink tubing.

Easy peasy – lemon squeezy.

It took longer to program the new decoders than it did to do the exchange.

In part, this is because Simon did a great job designing these kits. I simply popped off the smokebox front and unplugged it, then unplugged and hauled out the front speaker. From that point on, it was easy to lift the superstructure off the mechanism. The Tsunamis have a plug/socket connector that handles most of the wiring (to the right of the purple-wrapped decoder in the lead photo). I had to trim back some purple heat shrink on the decoders to unplug the old and plug in the new. The soldering was confined to the other end of the decoder, and involved two speaker wires and the cam wire to synchronize the exhaust.

(When the speaker is in place, it rides under the decoder, facing down. The bottom of the boiler in this area is perforated to allow the sound out.)

I’ve now programmed the various CVs on the two new decoders – setting volumes, assigning functions to function buttons, creating custom speed tables, and so on. I’m relieved that the 10-wheelers are working as well as they did before I started, and sound better than ever.

I’m glad I took the plunge and look forward to running the 10-wheelers on the layout more often.

No water today

I’ve been working on some video for another project, and shot a couple of extra clips on the layout. This is one of them – a brief video of Extra 908 West running past the water tank in the Lynn Valley.

Normally, engineers working a 2-6-0 stop at the tank in both directions but 908 must be steaming particularly well today…


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in a larger format)

I’m always impressed at how well these locomotives run. Getting small steam mechanisms to operate smoothly is a real challenge in any scale, but Simon Parent certainly figured it out.

I’m also pleased by how well the camera picks up the environmental sounds – the bird calls and such. They really do contribute to my enjoyment of the layout so I’m glad online visitors can hear them, too.

Gordon Gravett’s trees (via Lance Mindheim)

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Lance Mindheim and I have exchanged a couple of emails about trees, and I note that today on his blog, he posted a mention of my blog and of Gordon Gravett’s trees. If you’ve arrived here because of Lance’s posting – welcome!

You’re probably looking for more information about Gordon’s trees and his three scenery books. I’ve posted about these in the past but to save you the trouble searching (and because everybody needs to be reminded of these books once in a while), I’ve collected the information here.

Yes, the two photos above were shot on Pempoul – Gordon’s 1:50 scale, French meter gauge layout. Those are not real scenes you’re admiring. Gordon has written three books that describe how he makes such convincing scenery – from trees, to grass, to water. They are:

“Modelling Trees – Part One: Broadleaf Trees”
(ISBN 978 1 905184 88 0)

“Modelling Trees – Part Two: Conifers”
(ISBN 978 1 905184 98 9)

“Modelling Grassland and Landscape Detailing”
(ISBN 978 1 908763 06 8)

The books are available directly from the publisher, Wild Swan Publications. Wild Swan does not have a web site or email address. But the books are stock by a number of online bookshops in the United Kingdom and in the United States that specialize in railways and railway modeling. Three such shops are:

International Hobbies (California, USA)
Titfield Thunderbolt Bookshop (Bath, UK)
Camden Miniature Steam Services (Somerset, UK)

The books may also be ordered directly from the publisher. As I’m in Canada, I deal with the Overseas Department. I phone them, they mail me a quote, I mail them a bank draft, and the books arrive. It’s old-fashioned, but it works.

Wild Swan Publications
Overseas Department – Attn: Shirley Rowe
9 Hacker Close – Newton Poppleford
Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 0HF
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 1395 568925

If you want to know more about Gordon and how he came to make such great trees, I had the opportunity to interview him for The Model Railway Show – Episode 49. (All episodes of the podcast are still available online for your listening enjoyment.)

Speeder crew

 photo SpeederCrew-Tank-02_zps89dc3151.jpg

Following some great feedback from readers (you know who you are!) I’ve added not one but two figures to the speeder setoff scene.

Sometimes, moving figures about a scene can suggest stories that their final placement can tell. In this case, I grabbed my box of figures, sorted about a few likely candidates, and started trying various arrangements.

The guy at left in the above photo has both hands in front of him – I believe he’s supposed to be a brakeman hanging on a boxcar ladder. Naturally, I tried positioning him on the water tank’s ladder – but then I started to wonder, “What’s he doing up the ladder?” “How long is he going to be up there?”

Frankly, he looked hokey.

Then I realized he could be leaning on the speeder – but the question was, why? And what would the second guy be doing?

The second figure provided part of the answer – he’s looking down, and wiping his hands on a rag. He looks like he’s thinking. And then it occurred to me that if I added one more detail to the speeder, they could be planning their work at the job site. The two figures together look like their having a discussion, and the first figure could be holding down a plan to keep it from blowing away.

It was a simple matter to cut a couple of small rectangles from a paper bag and create some plans for the guys to be studying:
 photo SpeederCrew-Tank-01_zpsd67bed26.jpg
(As the photo shows, I’ve also stained some 2″ x 8″ strip wood and added it between the rails to make it easier for crews to get their speeder on and off the track.)

Maybe it’s a leak in the plumbing? Maybe it’s an inspection of the pump? Or maybe the guy in blue is showing off the plans for his new layout? Whatever it is, I think it works.

The little yellow speeder

As mentioned yesterday, while building the setoff near the Lynn Valley water tank I also started work on crafting a speeder to put on it. Today, I finished the speeder and set it in place on the layout:
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To the best of my knowledge, there are no kits currently offered in S standard gauge for a speeder. So I started with a white metal kit for an Sn3 model, Kit T-2220 offered by Wiseman Model Services. When I ordered the kit, I wondered whether it would be a simple matter to substitute longer lengths of wire for the axles – but the prototype on which the kit did not accommodate that. Therefore, I cut apart the white metal frame and substituted appropriately-sized styrene strip to widen the speeder.

This required building the kit in a different order than given in the instructions. I assembled the frame sides and fenders for each side, then added the axles and wheels – properly gauged – and then connected the two sides with styrene strip. For the top deck, I used the white metal deck casting, but glued scale 1″ x 8″ boards on top. Where the original Sn3 deck had three boards, the new S-std deck has five. I stained these boards and painted the speeder body a mix of bright yellow and warm black. Weathering powders gave it a well-used look:
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The shovel was included with the speeder kit. The pipe wrenches are beautifully rendered in photo-etch, and part of the Hand Tool Set (Kit 102) from TractorFab. I thought they would be appropriate for a job call to the water tank.

Since this is in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking, a speeder could not have been left here unattended so I will search through my supply to find a suitable figure to represent the CNR employee who drove it here. He can lean against the water tank to provide a roll-by inspection, or be working on something on or around the tank. A tool box would be a nice addition, too.

The speeder is a subtle detail on my layout. It’s a bright speck of yellow, mostly obscured by trees:
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But while it’s difficult to photograph because of the trees, it will be easy for visitors to spot and appreciate – providing they’re looking for such details.
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I like to build vignettes for people to discover – providing such vignettes are realistic (in the sense that they convey an authentic sense of life in the place and era I’m modelling). I love the idea of rewarding careful observation of my layout – and the little yellow speeder does just that in a way that (I hope) isn’t hokey or contrived.
 photo Speeder-02_zps1ea6eaf5.jpg

Lynn Valley speeder setoff

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Many months ago (Okay: many, many months ago…) I mentioned that I had discovered a photo of the Lynn Valley water tank that showed a setoff for a track speeder. I’ve been meaning to add such a setoff to my water tank scene – but I kept finding other things to do.

This week, however, I’ve been working on trees that will stand between the water tank and the fascia – and today I realized that if I didn’t get that speeder setoff built and installed soon, I wouldn’t be able to do so without damaging finished scenery.

So the speeder setoff became this afternoon’s project. As the lead photo shows, it’s now in place and the ballast/ground cover is drying.

I started by figuring out how much space I had, and what would work best for the base for this setoff. I planned to build it at the bench and drop it into place, then add ground cover to blend it into the scene.

The setoff is about 2.5 inches long. I cut a square of 0.060″ styrene sheet to fit about half that length, and glued some ties in place with CA. I then distressed and stained the ties. Next, I used CA to glue some short lengths of rail in place – gauged with an NMRA-style standards gauge. I cut the base shorter than the rails on purpose, since the rails would have to rest on the existing ballast. To complete the base, I shaved a tie into several thin sections with a razor blade, and used two of the best pieces to create a pair of profile ties. These would rest on the existing ballast on the layout, and be blended into the scene with ground cover.
 photo Tank-Handcar-Setoff-02_zpsffa01e4b.jpg
(The setoff, ready to install – plus an in-progress regauging of a Wiseman Model Services Sn3 speeder.)

As a final step, I drilled a couple of holes in the base between the last two ties. One hole can be seen just to the left of the righthand rail in the above photo. The reason for the holes will soon be revealed…
 photo Tank-Handcar-Setoff-03_zpsb890a31a.jpg

In the above photo, I’ve glued the setoff in place on the layout. I used CA on the underside of the rails to glue the setoff to the ties on the mainline. Since the ballast slopes away from the track, the far end of the setoff was hanging in space. I threaded a pair of brass rods through the two holes in the base and pushed them into the terrain underneath. Then I added some thick CA to the rods to secure them to the styrene base.

In the photo below, I have spread a mix of ballast and ground foam around the setoff and glued it in place with dilute Weld-Bond.
 photo Tank-Handcar-Setoff-04_zpsf4cb00e0.jpg

The white in the photo is glue that has not yet cured. As the photo notes, when it has cured I will snip off the brass rods flush with the top of the ballast. The completed track speeder will cover any portion of the rods that I can’t snip flush.

I will also have to add a few boards between the rails of the main track to facilitate moving a speeder between the track and the setoff. I’ll do that once the ballast glue has cured.

The speeder itself? Well, that’s still a work in progress – and therefore a story for another time…