CNR RS18: “NO disassemble!”

Too late, Johnny 5!

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Those who know their diesels (or who have been reading my blog lately) will know that these are the trucks for my S scale CNR RS-18 – an impressive model that’s been sitting on the shelf in “lifetime brass” for far too long.

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There have been several reasons for the delay in tackling this project. I’ve now started to address those. To wit:

The builder (Ajin) and the importer (Overland) did a wonderful job on this locomotive, but the cab interior on the as-delivered model was set up for “short hood forward” operation. The CNR locomotives were set up “long hood forward”. (Whoopsie!)

Since this is fairly obvious when looking through the (36% larger than HO) cab windows, I decided I needed to fix that. It was fairly straightforward to unsolder the seats and control stand, drill some new holes, and re-solder the parts into the new positions. The control stand is too far back from the front wall in its new position – but that was necessary to clear a cut-out in the floor that accommodates one of the flywheels, and still better (in my mind) than no control stand at all…

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(The old holes in the floor will not be seen when the model is reassembled, so I won’t bother filling them. The flywheel notch can be seen behind the control stand)

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(The control stand is now on the correct side of the cab)

As for the trucks…

I decided to take apart the trucks so I could properly prep and paint them – and I’m glad I did, because there was a fair bit of binding in some of the axle boxes (I’m not sure the term “horn blocks” is appropriate for a diesel but that’s what they’d be called in steam locomotive terms). It turns out that the faces that slide in the guides still had bits of brass sprue on them. I filed those smooth and polished the faces, so the trucks should sit better when they’re reassembled.

Not shown, I’ve added some holes to some of the body components (e.g.: end walls of the cab) so I will be able to run wires for lighting. And I’ve determined how I’m going to install the various components for DCC.

With the modification work and planning out of the way, I set aside the plastic bits and the motors, and ran all of the brass pieces – side frames, axle boxes, locomotive underframe/fuel tank, frame/walkways, short hood, and long hood/cab – through my ultrasonic cleaner prior to priming them.

There will be a lot of masking on this unit, which has a three-colour paint scheme. That said, it should be handsome when it’s finished!

flammis acribus addictis

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(… doomed to flames of woe…)

I enjoy building structures – it’s one of my favourite aspects of the hobby – but they’re always a huge undertaking.

So when I finish one, such as the Leedham’s Mill coal bin I completed over the weekend, I take great satisfaction in the Ceremonial Burning of the Mock-Up in our wood stove.

(When I finish a structure in warmer months, I save the mock-ups in the wood box so I can start off the winter right.)

Every hobbyist needs his or her rituals…

Coal bin for Leedham’s Mill

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I’ve just finished building the first of two coal bin kits – this one, for the Leedham’s mill at the end of track in Port Rowan. (The second kit is for the team track in St. Williams.)

The kit – from Crystal River Products – builds into a much larger commercial coal house, as shown on the company’s website.

I cut down the kit to half the size – which is closer to the size of the prototype bin as described on my map of the yard area. It’ll hold a gondola car’s worth of coal and not much more – but that will add up to dozens of bags of coal for the mill’s customers, and I’m sure the mill will order more coal as the pile dwindles.

This was an excellent kit for many reasons – but the main one is that the designer departed from the standard use of a laser cutter in this hobby: Instead of creating a standard laser-cut kit, the laser was used to create fixtures in which to build up the walls and doors, board by board. The boards were also cut to length using the laser, so things went together with the precision that a laser offers, while still enabling the modeller to individually distress and stain each board for a terrific “weathered wood” finish:

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Too often in the hobby, we’re enamoured by the tools: We have a laser cutter so everything needs to be laser cut. More recently, we’ve seen the same phenomenon with 3D printers. Like laser cutters, they’re great for some operations, and completely inappropriate for others. (I have a friend who runs a high-end machine shop. He has a 3D printer and 3D scanner at work that’s used mainly to create fixtures to hold pieces for machining.)

This kit is a good example of placing the priority on the finished model, not the easiest way to manufacture it. There’s a lot more laser time involved to create this kit than there would be for the standard “four walls plus a roof” approach. This is reflected in the price for the kit (US$140 last time I checked).

That may seem steep for a structure that fits in the palm of one’s hand. But I feel this is entirely worth the price.

There are literally hundreds of pieces of wood in this little shed. I stained each piece individually using three Hunterline stains in various combinations.

When I add up the time spent staining, distressing and assembling, I’ve invested about 50 hours into this kit so far. This works out to $2.80 per hour for hobby fun – so far – with the cost per hour to drop further as I invest more hours to install this structure on the layout and detail the area to turn it into a vignette. (Certainly, I got more enjoyable bench time than I would have had I spent that $140 on a ready-to-run locomotive.)

On top of this, I picked up many techniques – new to me – that I can put to good use on future projects. I can’t put a price on that.

This shed is the first structure for the feed mill complex. I have three more buildings to create, and all will be scratch-built. The coal bin has set a standard of quality for this scene: It was a great place to start.

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Visiting Jim – and my RS18

Last week, I decided I hadn’t seen enough of my friend Jim Martin – so I braved the weather and drove to his place near Port Colborne, on the north shore of Lake Erie.

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The weather was nice when I set out, although turned foul later in the day. However, a good cup of coffee and some homemade cookies – chocolate chip – took care of that. I spent a couple of hours with Jim, his wife and their daughter, who was in town for a visit – and we had a great, wide-ranging chat about things train-related and otherwise.

The trip reminded me that I have an S scale CNR RS18 that I need to tackle:

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Jim has one of these and it’s a solid performer on the S Scale Workshop modules whenever we’re at an exhibition. I’d like to prep mine for use with the modules, too. A quick search through my blog reminds me that this model has been collecting dust on a shelf in my home office for more than two years. It’s time to do something about that.

I’ve been stalled on this project for a couple of reasons, but the big one has been figuring out how to wire it for DCC. The model has some unusual features – including paltry four-wheel pick-up (left rail on one truck, right rail on the other: seriously!) and two motors, back to back, where one would’ve done just fine. I’m not sure what the importer was thinking – except possibly that, like many brass models, it would never turn a wheel.

I’ve proven the importer right on that – at least, for the past two years. But while pondering the model and its problems on the drive home from Jim’s place, I came up with a viable solution that solves both the pick-up and the power issues, while reusing a decoder in my stock that would otherwise be surplus to requirements.

There are a couple of other issues with this model – all cosmetic. I need to decide which ones I can live with, and which ones must be addressed. But in the meantime, it’s time to start planning the decoder installation. Stay tuned!

New look for Lance’s website

This is good news…

Like many of my readers, I’m a big fan of the work that Lance Mindheim has been doing to encourage hobbyists to build what I call “achievable layouts“. I’ve always been frustrated, though, that Lance’s website and it’s always thought-provoking blog 1) was not searchable and 2) did not support RSS or other means of automatically notifying me when he’d posted a new entry.

Apparently, I’m not alone: As Lance notes in a post from last week, he’s in the process of addressing these by migrating this website engine over to something that includes a WordPress blog (the same blogging engine I use here).

The RSS feed does not yet appear to be active. But I will post an update as part of this post when it is. (And here’s an update: I plugged the URL for the blog page into my RSS reader and it worked.)

I know Lance will be pleased by the change, particularly the ability for readers to follow his blog. I have two following options on this blog and I’m flattered by the number of people who use it to keep tabs on what I’m doing.

The Kids’ Table

It was a bitterly cold day in the city yesterday, so when my friend Jeff Young visited after some meetings downtown, we broke into the Highland Park 12yo and sat around the kitchen before heading to the layout room.

Jeff and I share an interest in live steam, although as the live steam columnist for Garden Railways magazine he’s much more tuned into this interesting aspect of the hobby than am I. So it was a great opportunity to learn about various happenings in the water-boiling community.

I find it interesting that, just as with the smaller (indoor) scales, North American manufacturers serving the live steam community are evolving – with more ready to run product highlighted by more examples of large, mainline locomotives.

When I look at my S scale layout, and the modest trains I pull behind my 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s, I have trouble imagining the space I would need for a train long enough to justify an articulated engine like an SP Cab Forward – yet a quick look at the Accucraft “Gauge One” live steam locomotive page shows such brutes are popular choices. There, one finds 2-10-2s, 2-10-4s, 4-8-8-4s and 2-6-6-6s (plus, I must point out, a couple of smaller wheel arrangements including a sweet little SP Mogul).

Just like in the smaller scales, the live steam fraternity likes their locos large – and I suspect quite a few of these spend their time on display shelves or mantlepieces. And while I’m sure there are many garden railways large enough for a big SP loco to pull a 30-40 car block of reefers, that’s not happening in my backyard.

When I consider my own garden railway ambitions (as I do, infrequently, on my Live Steam blog), I realize I’m at the “Kids’ Table”. They’ll always be modest – much like my Port Rowan line. And I’m fine with that.

In my ideal world, a manufacturer will produce a 7/8″ (1:13.7) narrow gauge tank engine suitable for an estate railway – my current favourite source of inspiration being the Sand Hutton Light Railway and its locomotives, similar to the Maxitrak “Jack”. I’d grab an adult beverage and enjoy a nice, modest, city-yard-sized marvel of miniature engineering as it putters about the garden on a summer evening.

Exactly the opposite of last night’s winter chill.

Jeff and I intended to run trains on Port Rowan, but the conversation was just too engaging. I gave him a brief tour of the line to show him my tree progress. Then we headed to Harbord House (yes, that place!) for dinner.

We were meeting my wife there as she was holding a post-work meeting with some colleagues. Their meeting ran longer than expected so Jeff and I sat at an adjacent table – which quickly became known as the “Kids’ Table”. Our server picked up on this and before we knew it…

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A great evening, Jeff – thanks for coming over! Maybe next time, we’ll run that operating session. Weather permitting, of course…

A visit from Paul and Linda

On Tuesday night, our friends Paul and Linda Dolkos came over. They live in Virginia, but took a detour to get here – arriving via Vancouver on board The Canadian. It was a short stop in Toronto – Paul and Linda were flying home the next morning – so I’m flattered they made time to visit and it was great to see them both.

Paul was quite enthusiastic about my layout It’s always nice when someone as accomplished as he is in the hobby says nice things about my efforts – and to its credit (and my relief), the layout performed flawlessly.

I’m really glad I did all of the new trees, too. (In case you missed it, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished 49 wire armature trees. Yes – I counted the trunks.) They made a huge difference to the layout’s presentation, and helped convey to Paul the story of steam-era railroading in southern Ontario…

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Paul was very interested in the various operations aids that I’ve employed on the layout – including my large-scale handbrakes and air hoses, the large-scale switch stands for turnout control, and the pull-out work desks for conductors.

Paul is well-known in the hobby. I first met him in the late 1990s, when we were both modellers of the Boston and Maine Railroad. He’s now modelling several railroads in the Baltimore area and like his old B&M layout, this new one has been used to illustrate several stories in the Model Railroad Planning annuals. He’s also a regular feature writer for Model Railroader and one of the company’s go-to guys for layout photography.

I too moved on from the B&M – first, in 2003, to model the Maine two-footers in On2, then to a flirtation with Proto:48 before embarking on my current project (well documented on this blog) in 2011. But Paul and I have kept in touch through the changes and see each other occasionally – with or without our wonderful wives.

It’s always a great time when we get together and swap tales of layouts that we’ve visited and hobbyists that we’ve known. (I’ve been a huge beneficiary in this regard. It was through Paul that I had a chance to run trains on the On3 Denver South Park and Pacific layout built by Andrew Dodge. That session, in 2007, introduced me to the idea of using a working telegraph network to OS trains – something I’ve finally been able to incorporate into a layout. And I’ll forever be in Paul’s debt for arranging an operating session, back in 2002, with John Armstrong on his legendary Canandaigua Southern layout. It was John’s many superb features and books that fostered in me a lifelong interest in layout design, so that was an unforgettable day.)

We toured the layout while waiting for my wife to get home from work, Then the four of us walked up the street to enjoy a lovely dinner at The Boulevard Cafe – a nearby restaurant that’s become a neighbourhood institution over the past 35 years.

Thanks for visiting, Paul and Linda – I look forward to visiting your new layout at some point!

Overview of St. Williams with trees

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(Click on the image for a larger view)

Over the past couple of weeks I decided to finish the trees that form the backdrop to the trains in St. Williams. In the above photo, the two boxcars are on the team track while the locomotive at left is on the mainline. The layout makes a 90-degree bend here – not a feature on the prototype – but the trees help to visually soften this. I will further enhance this area with bushes and other undergrowth, but for now the trees make a huge difference and I’m pleased with the change in the layout’s overall appearance.

(With the trees in place, I really notice that my coal shed is still a mock-up. I have a kit in hand for that structure – time to get started on it, I guess!)

I’m especially happy with the small cluster of trees in the foreground at left, which effectively divide the St. Williams run-around into two scenes. Here, CNR 86 enters the “team track” scene heading westbound:

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And here, the CNR 15815 leaves the team track scene as it heads eastbound:

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Note how the foreground trees (at right in the above photo) effectively obscure the grain storage building. One has to get right into the scene before it is revealed:

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While planting the tree armatures the other day, I realized that some of them were too close together. As I adjusted the spacing, I ended up with a spare armature. Since it was a fairly small specimen, I decided it would look nice behind the garage of the house on Charlotteville Street in St. Williams. It now helps frame the depot when viewing the scene from the west:

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I note in the above photo that the trees behind the depot represent some of my earlier efforts. They don’t look as nice as my more recent trees, so I’ll have to improve their canopies with better leaf material.

There’s always something to do… and always opportunities to make things better!

More like Ontario

I’ve finished adding trees to St. Williams – and what a difference they make to the scene! Compare the two photos below.

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More on the new trees in a future post, but it’s a busy day today. In addition to all the usual things, I’m preparing for a special visitor tomorrow. He’s a friend from out of town – and he’s riding The Canadian to get here!

Copetown 2015

The weather was dicey, but that didn’t stop us. I was joined by friends Ryan Mendell, Jeff Young and Mark Zagrodney for the annual trek to the Copetown Train Show.

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(Al Ferguson (l) from Black Cat Publishing and Mark Zagrodney. That’s Clare Gilbert from Sylvan Scale Models behind the booth to the right. And if you look carefully, you’ll spot fellow S scale enthusiast and MLW Services brass hat Andy Malette, wearing green and standing in front of the doorway on the far wall)

The show is billed as “Canada’s best-kept model railway secret” – and that’s a good thing: Unlike most shows, which cater to enthusiasts across the spectrum from Thomas The Tank Engine on up, this is a show purely for the life-long hobbyist. In lieu of junk tables, toys and basement hobby shops, the exhibitor list includes photo, book and video dealers, historical societies, restoration projects, and manufacturers. In fact, there are very few hobby retailers or layouts at Copetown. It’s just not that kind of show. And since we have many such shows in the area over the year, everybody is fine with that.

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(Not a typical Ontario train show – and that’s a very good thing!)

I always enjoy Copetown for the opportunity to catch up with people I haven’t seen in a while. For example, I haven’t seen Andy Malette in many weeks, and it’s been several months since I exchanged pleasantries with Bill Dewar, Dan Garcia, Clare Gilbert and Jeff Pinchbeck. (Great to see you, fellas!)

I had a good chat with Roger Chrysler, who is well known in these parts as an excellent modeller of the electrified lines that ran from Kitchener-Waterloo, through Brantford and down to Port Dover. (My friend Hunter Hughson has written about Roger’s layout on his blog). Roger shared some terrific information about a portion of the Grand River Railway that intrigues me – not as a modelling subject for myself, but hopefully for somebody else. More on that once I’ve digested the information…

After the show, we retired to The Black Bull – a nearby pub – for a pint and a late lunch. That too has become a Copetown tradition for me.

A fun day out – thanks to Ryan, Jeff and Mark. I’m already looking forward to next year!