Early ops session reports

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(A recent ops session on my own layout. I’m seeing more and more reports of early ops sessions on the blogs I read: It’s a great time to follow what others are doing, and learning!)

For me, one of the joys of reading the blogs of others is reading about how their model railways progress from a collection of raw materials into operating layouts.

Unlike layout tours in magazines, where we often read about how a layout is supposed to operate, the early stage operating reports give us a real picture of what actually happens as the layout builder brings his/her vision to life.

Recently, my RSS feed reader has been full of such reports. For example:

Marty McGuirk held the 5th operating session on his Central Vermont Railway on Saturday – his most successful session yet, he reports.

Chris Adams held an ops session last Friday on his New Haven Railroad and has shared a couple of posts generated as a result of that – the first on handling Bad Order cars, the second on rebuilding an interlocking tower.

Last Thursday, Eric Hansmann was putting his B&O Wheeling Freight Terminal through its first formal operating session.

(Also last Thursday, my friend Pierre Oliver hosted the second full operating session on his Wabash Railroad. And here’s my report on the session, in case you missed it.)

Early sessions are not always pretty – but the reports always informative and I gather some great ideas from reading them.

(I also find it interesting, and enjoyable, that I’m seeing more blog entries that include notes of the social side of the ops session – usually involving a meal at a favourite local restaurant. As I’ve noted on this blog previously, I’m a big believer in dinner reports, which help present the model railway hobby as the social activity that it is. Those of us who build and operate layouts know that unlike many other hobbies, ours is a group effort.)

Enjoy if you visit any of these links – and kudos to my online friends who have shared their stories for all of us!

Big models of small prototypes

S is a minority scale – not many of us work in it – so it sometimes takes some explaining to those who are not familiar with it. I think a photo can convey a lot of useful information about the relationship between S and HO – and where each scale has its strengths – so I took one:
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At 1:64, S is 36 per cent larger than HO – in each direction. For me, what this means is that S is an ideal scale for building models of smaller prototypes, such as the CNR Mogul at left. This S scale 2-6-0 is roughly one foot long – or about the same length as the HO scale New York Central 2-8-2 posed with it.

From a model-building perspective, this means that the CNR 2-6-0 – which would be darned tiny in HO – is a decent size in S scale. Many HO scale models of these small locomotives look great, but run terribly. But in S, there’s space in that boiler for a decent-sized motor, there’s room to thread wires to extra electrical pick-ups, there’s an opportunity to add a decent amount of weight, and so on.

In fact, there’s arguably more space, because S scale models are taller and wider as the photo shows. The space advantage also applies to tiny details such as the lights and number boards – which are easier to illuminate in S simply because there’s more space for LEDs (or lamps) and wiring.

At the same time, this small S scale steamer requires roughly the same standards on a layout as a medium-sized HO steam locomotive. Turntables, storage tracks, tails for run-arounds, and so on – if an HO Mikado will fit, so will an S scale Mogul. The 2-6-0 will demand a larger minimum radius – in part because the equipment it pulls will also be larger, and will look better on broader curves. But it’s also likely to pull shorter trains than a 2-8-2, so the actual train lengths – and therefore the space taken up on the layout by staging, yard tracks, sidings and so on – may work out to about the same.

Since I like small steam prototypes, S scale allows me to enjoy them while also enjoying the presence and performance benefits akin to well-detailed, well-tuned, medium-sized HO scale steam.

(Thanks to my friend Pierre Oliver for the loan of this locomotive to help illustrate this post!)

Ops on the Wabash

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(Red Ball fast freights meet at Jarvis on Pierre Oliver’s Wabash layout)

I had a great time yesterday – socializing and running trains at Pierre Oliver‘s place as a busy layout operating week continued. Following last Sunday’s ops session in which Pierre, Thorsten Petschallies and Chris Abbott descended on the Port Rowan branch, I joined Thorsten, Mark Hill and Don Janes at Pierre’s place to put Pierre’s HO scale Wabash Railroad Buffalo Division through its paces.

Pierre models a much larger chunk of reality on two narrow decks in his layout room, and it’s a much busier session than my one-train-per-day effort:
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(Eastbound Red Ball fast freights at Renton (top deck) and Aylmer)

Pierre’s layout is operated via time table and train order and it requires a crew of four or five to move all the trains, so this is just the second full operating session we’ve held (and the first for Thorsten, Don and Mark). Fortunately, it’s not a jam-packed schedule – not yet – so there’s plenty of time to sit and socialize between assignments.

As Pierre’s regular operating crew becomes more comfortable with the operating scheme and we shake the gremlins out of the system (there are always gremlins when a layout first goes from “building” to “running”) there’s plenty of opportunity to add more trains in the form of extra freights and advance sections for the scheduled (third class) Red Ball freights.
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(The concentration in the room is so thick you can cut it with a knife: Mark (l), Don and Thorsten keep close eye on a meet at Jarvis)

I had a great time. It was fun to catch up with Mark and Don, and expose Thorsten (who is a friend of ours from Germany) to another example of southern Ontario prototype railroading. Pierre made some notes and I know I’m going to be doing some more work on his time table in the days ahead. But I’m already looking forward to the next operating session.
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(Gremlin stomped: Pierre packs away the test rig after debugging a turnout at Simcoe)

Well done, Pierre – and thanks for having us over!

A cleaned up layout plan

It’s been almost three years since I first posted a plan of my layout on this blog – so it’s time for a new one:
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(Click on the plan to view a larger version)

This plan is based on an original, drawn for me by my friend Chester Louis for an article I wrote for the Layout Design Journal. (Thanks again, Chester!)

There have been few alterations from the original design. Some of the benchwork is slightly different, which made the layout easier to build. But for the most part the changes are minor and cosmetic – involving the tweaking of structure locations and suchlike. The most obvious change is that I split the Lynn River into two segments to make it easier to scenic this area.

Still, I thought it would be nice to add a cleaned-up plan to this blog since my rough scribblings – while adequate to the task of building the layout – leave something to be desired from an aesthetic standpoint:
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(Click on the plan to view a larger version)

The good news is, regardless of the quality of the drawing, I remain throughly satisfied with the track arrangement and the building and operating challenges this layout presents.

The Forest AND The Trees

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My friend Mike Cougill publishes a really neat, quarterly digital magazine called The Missing Conversation, in which he uses his talent and insights as an artist to help people learn how to see – really, really see – various details that we add to our layouts: everything from trackwork to trees.

The current issue – now on sale in the store at the OST Publications website – is all about trees and forests, and what to look for when trying to model them convincingly.

As Mike notes on his blog, many modellers consider trees and other scenery elements to be “just filler”. I think that’s a shame because here’s the reality-check about our hobby:

Most of the people who visit our layouts have no clue whether we’re doing a good job of modelling locomotives and rolling stock. Even those who are lifelong hobbyists would have to be familiar with our chosen prototype, era, and location…

… but everybody knows what a real tree looks like.

Well-done, realistic scenery does more than the trains themselves to convince people that our hobby is an awesome, worthwhile pursuit.

Mike likes my trees, and asked me to contribute an article about how I use them on my layout. I was happy to do so:
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I should stress that my contribution is NOT a rehash of the material I’ve covered on this blog.

Instead, I explore some of the design challenges I faced on this layout and how I was able to use trees effectively to overcome them. With all-new photos – including many from a walk I took along the Lynn Valley Rail Trail earlier this year – I discuss how I balance three objectives that are sometimes in conflict.

These are:

– The influence of my prototype

– The practical constraints of my layout and the room in which it’s built

– The story I’m trying to convey through my modelling to both casual visitors and regular operators

What I do not cover is how to build a tree.

Mike and I discussed this at length, and we feel that Gordon Gravett has written the definitive books on this subject. (I’ve written a lot about Gordon this blog -so if you want to know more, type “Gravett” into the search box on the home page and have a shufty through the results).

Instead, Mike and I hope that this collaboration – 72 pages about trees, forests and layouts – builds on the excellent work that Gordon has done.

Mike did the heavy lifting on this volume, as he always does. He explores how a real forest grows and then focuses his artist’s eye on four common North American tree varieties to help teach readers how to really see a tree – which is the first step towards modelling one effectively.

I had so much fun working on this feature that I shot a some video and put together a short movie to give potential readers a better idea of what I cover in my portion of The Missing Conversation / 09 : The Forest and The Trees. Enjoy if you watch, and after you do I hope you’ll consider heading to OST Publications to buy a copy…

(You may also view this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Thanks again for the opportunity to work on this, Mike. It was great fun!

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up

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(Barry captures my Norma Desmond moment at the TrainMasters TV studio)

Yesterday, I started work on one of the segments in the series I’m doing for TrainMasters TV. What a great experience!

Pierre Oliver and I spent the day at TrainMasters TV World Headquarters, building the benchwork for the two multi-section modules I’m documenting for the show, produced by Barry Silverthorn. Well, Pierre built – I handed him tools and tried to stay out of the way.

I think viewers are going to learn a few neat things when this episode airs later this year – I know I sure did.

The module frames are stored at Barry’s place, ready for our next work session:
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(Some of the module frames we – well, Pierre – built during yesterday’s shoot)

It was a long day – we were on our feet for several hours, working and shooting. But it was also lots of fun.
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(Pierre takes a well-deserved break on Barry’s front deck the before we loaded up the van and headed for home. That’s the CNR mainline between Toronto and Montreal in the upper right. We saw a lot of trains yesterday!)

It’s been ages since I’ve done any TV – basically, since I was in school. So there was a bit of a (re)learning curve. But it went well. Barry’s a real professional – his attention to detail in the production process really impressed me and explains why TrainMasters TV is such a great looking show. It also forced me to up my game, which I think will be reflected in the episodes.

Pierre and I will be back in the studio in a few weeks, to add sub-roadbed and roadbed, do some terraforming, finish off the module frames, and create racks for transport and storage.

I’ve also made a few changes to my plans for the modules, which I introduced on this blog a couple of weeks ago.

The modules will retain their footprint and still feature a single track running through each scene. But I’m putting a more significant overpass into the Judge Farm scene and will make a few other changes to the scenic treatment to make the modules more meaningful to my own experiences.

For example, while I’ll still have pasture, I will substitute sheep for cattle and add a shepherd and border collie to the scene – working their sheep. Working sheep – to train for the sport of sheepdog trials – is something I do with my own border collie and it’s something I’ve always wanted to represent on a layout. Now I can.

Finally, a technical note: I’ve created a new category called “Workshop-Modules” that I’ll use to capture all posts related to this project. That’ll make it easier for interested readers to find these posts.

You’ll find this category in the drop-down menu in the right-hand column on the home page.

If you’re not already a TrainMasters TV subscriber, I hope you’ll consider trying it for a year. If you think it’s going to be like what you see on YouTube, you’re going to be very pleasantly surprised. And the cost to subscribe is no more than what most of us pay for a couple of cups of coffee each month.

I’m looking forward to doing a lot more work with Barry.

How about CNR standard plan books?

While creating some scale signs last week, I was grateful that I had a set of CNR engineering drawings as my source information:
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(Click on the image to read more about the signs)

I was able to proceed with this project only through the generosity of reader Dan Kirlin, who had the drawings in his collection and photocopied them for me. Dan is not the first person to come through in a pinch with a drawing from the CNR’s Office of Engineer of Standards. I have several pages of these from various sources – covering everything from sign to the location of rail joints in turnouts. And yet, I’m convinced my small collection only scratches the surface of what’s out there.

Before I started building this layout, I was collecting Proto:48 equipment and information to model a Southern Pacific branch line. (I may still do that, someday…)

As part of my research, I discovered that The Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society once published a five-volume set of Southern Pacific Common Standard Plans. I collected the complete set:
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Each book is 80 pages and sold – if I recall correctly – for about $25. There are a few photos and there’s a bit of text – but the books are mostly comprised of copies of engineering drawings and associated specifications. They’ve very similar to the copies of the CNR drawings that I have – covering everything from signs, to track and roadbed standards, to station platforms, hand car and tool sheds, and even stations and bridges:
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These are not plans for locomotives and rolling stock, but for the Espee’s physical plant. They are a great resource for modellers of the Southern Pacific. Beyond providing examples of structures, which may be useful only to those modelling a specific location, the standard plans for the little details – such as tie spacing, signage, grade crossing design, rail racks, handcar set-offs and so on – are valuable to every Espee modeller, regardless of the location that interests them.

Unless I’m missing something, such a collection has not been produced for the Canadian National Railways and its subsidiaries.

Maybe someone is working on such a book (or books) – if so, I’d love to hear about it.

If not, then I would be keen to scan plans, clean them up, design the book (or books) and work with the Canadian National Railways Historical Association to get this material published.

I’m sure this is information that others would find valuable in book form too, especially if it’s presented in a format that’s easy to use at the workbench. The softcover SP books fold flat. Spiral binding would be another option. The books could also generate a bit of funding for the CNRHA.

If you’re a CNR modeller, do you agree? And if you have such plans, would you be willing to contribute to such an effort?

Meantime, I’ll get in touch with someone at the CNRHA to discuss this directly.