Congratulations on your “failure”

That’s an odd thing to say, isn’t it? “You failed – well done!”

But that’s not quite what I mean.

A big “Attaboy!” goes out to Peter Vanvliet, who recently posted on his blog about an experiment with sectional layout construction using foam board.

Peter concluded that this is not a good way for him to build the layout sections he wants. He gives the technique a “fail”. Click on the image, below, to read more about Peter’s experiment…
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So why the congratulations? Two reasons:

1 – He tried something, rather than simply ask others. This hobby thrives on experimentation of the kind Peter has just undertaken. And when experimenting, unless loss of life or limb is involved there’s really no such thing as a failure – just an undesired outcome. But Peter has learned valuable lessons from this failure, I’m sure – lessons that he’ll apply to his next attempt.

2 – Rather than hide the results, Peter has shared them online so that others can benefit from his experiment. As he writes, “I am keeping this article on my website, just in case someone is interested in pursuing this idea.” Peter’s results should not encourage others from trying – what fails to work for some may work fine for others. And to this end, I applaud him for NOT saying, “To prevent others from making the same mistake” or some other such negative statement. In fact, Peter’s statement challenges one to pursue the idea further – building on the lessons he’s learned.

So, Peter: I’m sorry it didn’t work for you, but congratulations on your “failure”, nonetheless! Very well done!

Equipment portraits :: 1

Today, I was asked by my friend Jim Martin for a couple of photos of S scale equipment for an article he’s writing. I was happy to oblige and decided I’d shoot them in a photo box – a big translucent cube that does a great job of diffusing photo lights.

The only place I can set up the box is on the dining room table so since I had everything set up anyway, I decided to shoot portraits of several pieces of equipment that run on my railway.

Here are some of my pieces, presented in no particular order. I’ve added some notes on each. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 79431

CNR 79431 - Portrait

This is a Ridgehill Scale Models resin kit for the CNR’s wooden vans (cabooses). The kits were actually offered in a few variations but I can never keep track of the details. I bought this kit and a resin kit for a CNR boxcar (shown below) in case I ever built a module for the S Scale Workshop. The kits sat on the shelf for a few years because I was busy in other scales. Then one day I realized I was never going to get around to building them so I handed them off to my friend Pierre Oliver, who does this sort of thing for a living. The finished models helped me decide to take the plunge into S scale. Despite this, Pierre and I are still good friends… 😉

CNR 408756

CNR 408756 - Portrait

This is a Ridgehill Scale Models resin kit for the CNR’s Dominion (Fowler Patent) boxcars. These also came in a couple of variants, and were offered in CPR versions as well. Like the van (shown above), Pierre Oliver built this one for me. He’s built a lot of rolling stock for me – including several indicated in this blog posting – because I’ve been just to darned busy building my layout and I wanted equipment to run on it.

CNR 487747

CNR 487747 - Portrait

This is a Pacific Rail Shops plastic kit, with several aftermarket modifications and detail upgrades. It’s one of the first rolling stock kits that I built in S scale and it helped me get a real feel for the size of equipment in 1:64. I added a real wood roof walk, Canadian-prototype ladders from Des Planes Hobbies, and a detail upgrade kit from Andy Malette at MLW Services. I replaced plastic brake rigging with wire. This particular kit had been started by the previous owner – who only got as far as adding a ton of weight inside the body, using birdshot and caulk. I was not able to get the lead out (so to speak) so this car really tips the scales. I tend to run it a lot as an LCL car on the Mixed Train.

CNR 55303

CNR 55303 - Portrait

CNR 55303 - Portrait

This wooden plow has become one of my favourite models on the railway, even though it rarely sees service (what with it being August and all). I built this from an Ambroid kit that I picked up from Andy Malette. The kit must’ve been 50 or 60 years old, but the wood was in terrific shape and was a joy to work with. I’ve written a fair bit about this plow already, but I made several changes to the kit – based on a Boston and Maine prototype – to make it more closely resemble a CNR plow. I was fortunate to have a copy of an article about Ron Keith, who modelled several CNR plows in HO scale, to help me create my version. As a box of mostly wood plus a bit of tin and some pretty rudimentary instructions (“Make and add details per the diagram”) the kit was pretty intimidating, so it sat for a few months while I worked up the nerve to start it. Once I got going, though, I found it a very enjoyable experience and was surprised at how well some of the decades-old parts went together. I was also pleasantly surprised by my ability to perform real construction operations, like sanding bevels into the parts that make up the plow bracing.

CNR 209540

CNR 209540 - Portrait

This resin kit – from Andy Malette at MLW Services – builds up into the CNR’s distinctive eight-hatch refrigerator cars. Actually, “refrigerator” is a misnomer, even though it’s spelled out on the side. This is really a “controlled temperature” car – equally at home keeping things warm as it is keeping things cool. I was surprised at the great variety of freight that these carried – everything from produce to live bees. Pierre Oliver built the kit for me, while I added the wooden roof walk, finer hatch rests, and a few other details. I also weathered the car. I really like how the grey sides with red lettering and green leaf pop out in a consist of mineral red boxcars.

NYC 399574

NYC 399574 - Portrait

This is a resin kit from Funaro and Camerlengo – better known for its HO scale resin kits, particularly of New England prototypes. But the company offers a couple of cars in 1:64 as well. I wish it would do more, as there are some interesting prototypes in the company’s catalogue. Pierre Oliver built this kit for me, while I did the weathering. I’m really pleased with the rusty interior, achieved with weathering powders.

CNR 7176

CNR 7176 - Portrait

This is a mixed media kit – etched brass sides and floor, wood roof, and cast details – produced by Andy Malette at MLW Services. (Without guys like Andy, I wouldn’t be modelling the CNR in S scale!) This combine – in its green over black scheme – is essential to running the mixed train in late 1950s sessions on my railway, when CNR 4-6-0s took over duties on the branch. Pierre Oliver built the kit for me, while I did a lot of the finishing work. My contributions included adding the train air and signal lines, the conductor and gate in the vestibule, the window glass (from microscope slide covers) and shades, the opaque toilet window glass, and the weathering. Not visible, but very important to operation, are the retrofits I did to the trucks. I’ve added rigid beam compensation to create Tim Trucks – named for my friend Tim Warris, who designed and laser cut the frames for me. The car tracks a whole lot more reliably than it did with the American Models rigid-frame trucks, which are one of the very few options for a six-wheel truck in S scale. This combine is also fitted with a DCC-enabled back-up whistle.

CofG 56309

CofG 56309 - Portrait

This is a resin kit from Jim King at Smoky Mountain Model Works, built by Pierre Oliver. It’s an unusual model to find on a lightly-trafficked branch line in southern Ontario, but these cars did come to Canada. The reality is, S scale doesn’t have the variety of rolling stock available in O scale – and barely registers compared to the variety that’s on offer in HO. So when a manufacturer takes the trouble to create a resin kit, scale modellers in 1:64 tend to buy one just to support the effort and then we figure out what to do with it. Fortunately, I’m modelling August so I assume the American owners of a huge chunk of land on Long Point are having a summer beach party and have ordered a carload of melons from back home for the festivities. Rich people with summer houses in other countries can afford to do that type of thing…

CML 1952

CML 1952 - Portrait

This is a Pacific Rail Shops plastic kit that was custom-decorated for the NMRA as part of its Legends Of The Hobby line. As I’ve mentioned before, Bob Hegge and his Crooked Mountain Lines were a huge inspiration for me back in the 1970s and 1980s, and when I found one of these custom-decorated kits for sale I just had to grab it. I’m really glad I did. This car features an unusual brake-rigging system, with the main rod from the B-end running outside the truck instead of between the side frames. This allows the car to more easily negotiate traction-radius curves. I modelled this following photos and data from an HO scale Westerfield kit for a Pacific Electric boxcar. Other upgrades include a wood running board and plastic brake rods replaced with wire. I get a kick out of running this car every time…

GATX 480

GATX 480 - Portrait

This is a WA Drake and Company brass import of an 8,000 gallon Type 103 double-dome tank car. It came factory-painted. I like the double domes. And I’m really pleased with the weathering job I did on it. As with all of my freight cars, I added flexible train line air hoses from BTS to this car: They look better than the cast hoses that come on most brass cars and because they’re flexible, they don’t break off.

Burro Model 40

Burro Model 40 Crane - Portrait

Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models imported 150 brass models of these popular MoW cranes in 1992. I found this model – unpainted – after posting a note to several newsgroups. I airbrushed the model with a warm black and weathered it with airbrush and powders. To do this, I had to unstring the rigging – making careful notes of the path of the cable so I could re-string it later. I added the operator to the cab. I also added DCC to this very small model, complete with an electronic flywheel to minimize stalling. (And in 2017, I enhanced the model with sound – a real ship-in-a-bottle experience!) Unfortunately, these models do not run well: The motor is mounted vertically and makes a terrific thrashing sound. However, I’m sure at some point someone will come up with a better gear train – probably me, if I want it to happen. Perhaps an under-floor power truck would work, or a drive train that only turns one axle instead of trying to do both. It’s not like the crane has to pull a train – just itself, and possibly a gondola of ballast. Regardless of its dubious running qualities, it’s a great looking model that is a joy to photograph on the railway, so I’m really glad I have it.

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Division Street :: Spiked!

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(Progress ensues…)

I spent a few hours today in the workshop, spiking rails on the Free-mo-style modules I’m building for the S Scale Workshop, and documenting for TrainMasters TV.

The lead photo shows one of the two four-foot long sections that make up the core of the Division Street module. Today, I spiked both sections of Division Street – every second or third tie. I’m feeling a little cross-eyed right now and my plier-wielding hand is feeling pretty angry. But I’m pleased that I’m almost halfway there: Between the two modules, I have 21 feet of track to spike, and I’ve done about 9 feet so far.

Rails are soldered to PC board ties at each end, with expansion gaps in the middle of the modules. While it’s not obvious in the lead photo, I’ve also applied joint bars to the rails. And I’ve installed some rail segments on the abandoned interurban track that parallels Division Street:

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I added the interurban as a way to demonstrate some more heavily weathered ties. I’ve even added rust streaks to the tops of the ties where the rails used to be, by masking the ties and then brushing them with rust-coloured weathering powder. I’m pleased with the effect.

My work table is silting up…
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… so before I tackle the next set of rails I’ll have to do a sort’n’store. But I’ll do that tomorrow, once the eyes and hands have had a break. The bottle of Mad Tom IPA in the photo is an essential part of the spiking process. Sadly, it’s also empty: I think another adult beverage is in order…

TrainMasters TV: I like spiking, really!

 photo TMTV-RoadShow-TrackIntro_zpsc4ca1e25.jpg(Yes – it was actually jacket weather yesterday – at least yesterday morning. So much for summer: Fall – and train shows – are approaching fast!)

I spent the day yesterday at the TrainMasters TV headquarters, working on the modules I’m building for an upcoming series.

After several work sessions that looked more like Carpentry for Dummies, I’m finally onto something directly railway-related: namely, ties and rail.

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I got a lot done in front of the camera – demonstrating how I prep, distress and weather ties (hint: dice are involved) and how I use the wickedly good steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores, which I’ve also used on my Port Rowan layout.

Now that's a small spike! photo Spikes-01.jpg
(Click on the image to read all of my posts in the “Spikes” category)

Here’s how spiking goes:

1 – Roughly gauge the rails
2 – Twist a spike off the fret
3 – Spike one side of the first rail
4 – Twist a spike off the fret
5 – Spike the other side of the first rail
6 – Check the gauge
7 – Twist a spike off the fret
8 – Spike one side of the second rail
9 – Check the gauge
10 – Twist a spike off the fret
11 – Spike the other side of the second rail
12 – Check the gauge

Repeat about 50,000 times – or until you’re ready to shoot caulk up your nose:

 photo TMTV-Roadshow-CaulkNose_zpsbc1b592b.jpg
(Professional clown. Closed course. Do not attempt at home.)

That said, I love to spike track. I find the Zen-like state required mentally relaxing. It’s a great break from thinking about work, deadlines, social commitments, chores, or other things that sometimes cause one stress.

And isn’t that what a hobby is for?

Excuse me while I blow my nose…

Barry Silverthorn is a great host. In addition to putting together a program with first-rate production values, he buys me lunch every time I visit to record a segment. Yesterday, we went to a neat fish restaurant on the water. Thanks, Barry!

Chris Abbott also stopped in to the studio, briefly. He was in the area to visit family, and we had some goodies to exchange. Chris – thanks for helping to unload the vehicle, and thanks for sharing the photos.

Great as always to see you both!

The other side of the tracks

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(CNR 4-6-0 1560 in the yard throat at Port Rowan. It’s rare for me to see the layout from this vantage point)

No – not the bad side: Just the side that’s rarely seen.

When Matt Goodman visited earlier this week, he and I discussed my use of a fabric backdrop. One of the reasons I went with fabric was for easy access to the 42″ deep Port Rowan scene from both sides of the peninsula – an important consideration for construction and maintenance.

While thinking about it later, it also occurred to me that the fabric backdrop makes it possible – easy, even – to shoot photos of Port Rowan from the back. This is a vantage point from which most visitors would never see the layout.

Today, I decided to experiment – to determine whether it was possible to get decent shots of the layout from the other side of the tracks. I was able to capture some viewpoints that remind me of prototype photos, which were often taken from this side of the tracks.

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I’m pleased that the layout presents well, even when viewed from the “wrong” side. It confirms that I was right to not take shortcuts on details that are never seen during normal operating sessions.

With layout lighting producing more back-lit compositions, I also captured images with a different feel to them.

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It was a fun experiment. I’ll need to do more of this.

“I have a book…”

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(About one-third of my railway resources, plus a comfortable place for study and contemplation)

Yesterday afternoon, my friend Chris Abbott dropped in for a visit. His timing was perfect as I was doing some prep on my S Scale Workshop modules ahead of a day in the TrainMasters TV studio this coming weekend, and the prep went a whole lot easier with a second set of hands on deck. Chris and I always have a good time too of course.

Rather than head to the layout room, we hit Harbord House for a meal and some Junction Craft Brewing Brakeman’s Session Ale. Then we retired to what’s known in my house as “The Burning Things Room” – thanks to the large working fireplace that anchors the space. (With temperatures soaring this week, a roaring fire was the last thing we would’ve wanted – but the name sticks year-round.)

There, we discussed a mutual friend who is currently trying to decide on a new prototype. He’s looking for something manageable, given his busy life with other commitments – but also wants something off the beaten path and with modelling challenges that will make for a rewarding project. I won’t delve into the choices we’ve been batting about – that’s up to our mutual friend to decide and I’m sure that if he wants more input he’ll post something to his own blog.

But the subject of picking a prototype raises a related issue for me – namely, the importance of research resources.

I get teased by Chris sometimes for starting sentences with the phrase, “I have a book…” (“You have a book?” he’ll exclaim. “Really??”) But I take the teasing in stride because Chris also recognizes the value of the printed page and having resources at one’s fingertips.

Knowing of a great prototype is of little use to the modeller if there’s no reliable way to find out more about it – either to confirm that it’s a suitable subject for modelling (and provide more information to help do that) or to raise issues of concern with attempting to re-create reality in miniature.

In The Burning Things Room, the fireplace is flanked by floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases. To the east side, those shelves are filled with some of my railway resources (at a guess, about one-third). More are loaded into other bookcases in this room and elsewhere in the house – but even so, many books don’t yet have a home. They’re piled on end tables (or, in some cases, under them), stacked on desks, or otherwise stored in a chaotic fashion. All I’m missing is the stuffed and mounted raven (and a few wrinkles) to assume the role of The Librarian:

It’s safe to say that without my collection of railway books, I would not be modelling the layout that’s the focus of this blog. It was between hardbound covers that I first discovered CNR moguls hauling a short mixed train along an overgrown main track with no tie plates – plus track maps for St. Williams and Port Rowan – that inspired me to pick up pencil, compass and graph paper. (And you know how that story is unfolding…)

When I’m searching for a prototype to model or a project to build – or simply an idea to share with others, in person or via my Achievable Layouts blog – these books are the first place I look. I’m pleased that – in a few cases, at least – I’ve been able to influence a modeller’s decision to pursue a prototype that I think he or she would enjoy. And while I don’t boast about it, I take satisfaction in the fact that there are a few very well-done and well-known layouts that are what they are in some small part because I suggested a book to their builders.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good library for any serious hobbyist. It’s worth foregoing yet another locomotive or a couple more freight cars to buy a book – and worth exploring books that lie beyond the scope of one’s personal railway modelling interests. I’ve learned a lot about railways and modelling them from books covering lines on other continents, let alone other prototypes or eras.

I love books and I’ve never, ever regretted a purchase.

(Great to see you, as always, Chris. Thanks for the help – and we’ll look through more books next time, I hope!)

Trains and dinner with Matt

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(Extra 80 East passes tobacco kilns and fields in St. Williams, Ontario)

Last night, Matt Goodman joined me for dinner and an operating session on the Port Rowan branch. Matt is from Ohio but was in my area on business. My friend Chris Abbott mentioned he would be here so I got in touch with Matt and invited him over – and I’m really glad I did.

We had a great evening, talking about trains and layouts and other things as we ran a freight extra.

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Matt was particularly interested in the turntable I built for Port Rowan – using an HO scale turntable kit from Custom Model Railroads as my starting point.

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In general, I like prototype turntables but hate the models of them, which in my experience tend to look fine but perform poorly. This turntable is an exception: It has been flawless since I installed it back in June, 2012:

Turntable pit photo PtR-Turntable-01.jpg
(The bridge mounts onto a rectangular key on the shaft and is removable, as this under construction photo shows)

Turntable-Motor photo PtR-Turntable-04.jpg
(CMR’s display motor with 7000-to-1 gearing mounts onto its own box, suspended under the turntable base. There’s plenty of access to allow the drive shaft to be disconnected for serving. That said, I’ve never had to service this turntable – it’s been consistently delightful)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the turntable, but all of the posts related to it (including this one) can be found in the Turntable Category.

We had no derailments (phew!) but I did continue to experience some trouble with the Sergent Couplers.

I haven’t given up on the Sergents – although I’m also glad I didn’t throw out my Kadees. I will order more Sergent EC64K couplers when they return to market – hopefully, soon – and do more testing before I make a final decision.

A major factor affecting coupler performance is that this summer I have not been running the layout as much as I should – and it shows: Last night’s coupler problems were almost entirely due to operator error on my part.

As an aside, I’ve started to give away copies of my Employee Time Table when people make their first visit to my railway:

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These six-page documents don’t take long for me to assemble, and I think they make a nice reminder of the visit.

They also probably answer a number of questions that visitors might have about the layout’s operation – the kind of thing we think of an hour or two afterwards and wish we could ask.

Between talking, operating and dinner at Harbord House, Matt and I covered a lot of ground in a visit that lasted more than four hours. It was after midnight when he left and I know we could’ve continued to discuss many things. We’ll have to pick up that discussion next time he’s in town.

Great to meet you in person, Matt – come again!

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Birdsong (a.k.a. “effective audio”)

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Over the long weekend, my friend David Clubine was in town with his family and they dropped in – very briefly. David had a set of freight car trucks for me and with him in town it was a great opportunity to collect those – and give him a quick look at the railway.

It’s been a year and a half since David was last here – he visited with his father, Oliver Clubine, for an operating session in January of 2013. So I had much to show him, and we had much to discuss.

One thing that sticks in my mind is comments David made about the ambient audio on my layout. I installed this system in May of last year, and it provides a very simple background soundtrack of bird songs, with the occasional insect buzz thrown in for good measure. It’s the sound one would hear while standing in a southern Ontario meadow in the summertime.
Redwing Blackbird photo RWBbird-02.jpg

Since I installed this system after David’s last visit, this was the first opportunity for him to hear the effect first-hand. I think he was impressed because he pointed out that when he first read about the system on my blog he thought it might come off as overpowering or cheesy – but that hearing it in person he realized just how effective it is.

He’s not the only one to feel that way. Everybody who has seen the layout has enjoyed the ambient audio and it does tend to simply fade out of consciousness once one is running a train. It’s there the way that bird song is there when one is outside. We filter it out of our perceptions automatically and only hear it if we’re listening for it or if something startling happens – like a blue jay screaming an alarm call.
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And yet, if we went outside on a summer’s day and the birds were not singing, we’d definitely notice that.

A similar thing is happening on the layout. If I turn off the ambient audio system, the sound-equipped locomotives start to sound out of place to me now. Adding the ambient audio has been a real winner for me. I’m so glad I took the plunge and will definitely use it on any future layouts.

Great to see you, David – come back soon!