Tim Trucks! Get your Tim Trucks!

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(Tim Warris at Fast Tracks developed these a couple of years ago to help me with a problem. He’s now offering them for sale. Click on the image to visit the page on these trucks at the Fast Tracks online store)

A couple of years ago I was unhappy with the six-wheel trucks under my heavyweight passenger cars. They looked fine, but they did not track reliably. Longtime readers will know that to solve the problem, I talked to my friend Tim Warris and – for the cost of a couple of meals at a very nice local sushi restaurant – he developed and manufactured a laser-cut subframe that incorporated rigid beam compensation.

Fast forward to last week, when the tracking qualities of American Models six-wheel passenger car trucks generated much discussion on the forum run by the S Scale SIG. I mentioned how I solved the problem on my layout – and it seems that enough forum members contacted Tim about these that he’s now added them to his online catalogue. Click on the image, above, to visit the store.

Since Tim is now offering these, here’s some additional information that any other users should find helpful:

Before you buy:

1 – The subframes are sold without wheels, and without the American Models side frames.

2 – I use 36″ P:64 (Code 88) wheels on 1.265″ shouldered axles from Northwest Short Line. I believe these are NWSL part 57708-4: Mine were ordered a while ago, and I think the part number has changed.

3 – I do not know if other 36″ wheels will work in these, so buyer beware!

Assembling the side frames:

4 – Read all instructions before attempting assembly!

5 – Paint the outside face of the wheels before assembly.

6 – There are no instructions supplied with the Tim Trucks, that I know of. Look at the photos below for general arrangement. Do not assemble yet.

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7 – In the photo above, note that the threaded rod has four nuts on it. There’s a nut inside each rigid beam, and a nut to either side of the centre pivot. We found these two central nuts prevented the rod from travelling too far to the left or the right, and jamming in the side frame. The prototype (shown in the first two photos) did not have these nuts.

Preparing to mount the Tim Truck:

8 – In the photos above, note that there are three screw holes in the top plate. This is because a centre-mount screw will be directly above the centre axle, which would make it impossible to install or remove the finished trucks. To address this, I cut a bolster plate from styrene. If I recall, I used .020″ thick sheet for this. It should be big enough to cover the three holes, but not huge. Look closely at the photo of the truck mounted on a passenger car and you can see the plate.

9 – With this arrangement, the styrene bolster plate can be screwed to the body bolster on the passenger car, and then the truck can be screwed to the styrene bolster plate.

10 – Use a sanding stick to round the edges of this plate so there are no sharp corners. Sand off any flash from scoring/snapping the plate.

11 – I drilled three holes in this styrene plate:
– I drilled the centre hole to clear my truck-mounting screw.
– I drilled and tapped the two outer holes to accept screws to secure the truck to the bolster plate. I used Nylon 2-56 screws from Kadee, so that after I mounted the truck to the bolster plate, I could simply snip these off and file them flush with the top of the plate.

12 – Check the head of the screw you plan to use to mount the styrene plate to the passenger car, to make sure it clears the larger centre hole in the wooden plate that forms the bolster on the Tim Truck. Use a reamer to enlarge the hole if necessary.

Assembling the Tim Truck:

13 – Dry fit the parts and figure out how they go together. Note that the wheels will be trapped in the frame once assembled. Plan your assembly and then start gluing up the pieces.

14 – I used Thick CA for my initial glue-up, then added a thin bead of Weld-Bond along every seam.

15 – In some places, I added small lengths of square strip wood (not supplied) to increase the gluing surface.

16 – Paint the sides of the Tim Truck flat black.

Prepping and mounting the American Models side frames:

17 – I like to paint and weather the side frames before removing them from the stock American Models truck, since the truck provides a handy way to hold them.

18 – Snip off any protrusions on the backs of the American Models side frames, including the pins that hold the frames to the truck bolster. File the backs smooth.

19 – The recesses for the axle ends (I won’t call them “bearings”) need to be reshaped into slots so the compensated axles can move freely up and down. The axles don’t need to move far for the compensation to work: Only about +/- 1mm.

20 – I use a ball-shaped high-speed cutter in a drill press. This is a process of removing a bit of material, testing the the side frame against the Tim Truck, then removing a bit more material. Do it a bit at a time so you don’t remove too much, but you want the axles to move freely inside the slots.

21 – On the Tim Truck, use a tooth pick to carefully apply a small amount of white grease (e.g.: Labelle 106) to the axles where they contact the wooden compensation beams. A very tiny dot on each axle will be sufficient. Be sure to do the trapped axle, too.

22 – Line up the cosmetic side frames and glue in place on the sides of the Tim Truck. The journal boxes should be centred over the axles. Use Thick CA – sparingly! Be sure it doesn’t squeeze out and into the axles.

Passenger car modifications:

23 – The Tim Truck bolster is higher than the stock bolster on the American Models trucks, so the passenger car will have to be modified before the new trucks can be mounted. Modifications will depend upon the passenger car, so I will not offer specifics here, but I will provide two examples:

24 – On an MLW Services combine, the model had a small brass post soldered to the floor as a body bolster. I unsoldered this. I then determined the height by stacking strips of styrene on the Tim Truck and setting the car body in place until the couplers were at the NMRA standard. I noted this height, and built up replacement bolsters from styrene strip.

Compensated  Trucks - Combine photo Trucks-Warris-03_zps39ee3131.jpg
(Under an MLW Services combine)

25 – On an American Models RPO, the body bolster was a square plastic block, injection moulded as part of the floor. I drilled a series of holes around this block, then cut from hole to hole with a cutter in a Dremel Tool, until I could remove the body bolster. I then cut a large piece of styrene sheet to cover the hole. Before installing it on the car, I added a block of styrene to the top of the sheet, sized to fit inside the opening of the car floor and centred on the truck pivot point. I then drilled through the centre of this assembly and tapped it for a 2-56 screw. The added styrene block goes inside the car, and provides extra depth for the truck screw. I glued this plate in place, then fashioned a body bolster on it.

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(Under an American Models RPO)

26 – In both cases, once the modifications were made and the new body bolsters fabricated, I screwed the styrene plate to each body bolster and left it loose enough to swivel. To this plate, I then screwed the compensation unit (see notes 8-12). This allows me to remove the trucks without having to access the screw that’s directly above the centre axle.

Why is it derailing?

The new trucks will better support a passenger car. My passenger cars no longer wobble, and they ride level – which was a challenge before due to the sloppy engineering of the American Models trucks. However, while they reduced derailments considerably – they did not eliminate derailments.

When I started running a train with these new trucks, I still experienced a few derailments. I had far fewer derailments than before, but some of the derailments I experienced were new – they were in places that the old trucks had negotiated without any problems.

I spent a fair bit of time troubleshooting the new trucks and learned several things:

A) – With the axles now held perpendicular to the side frames, instead of being able to wobble in loosely moulded holes in the backs of the side frames, I no longer experienced derailments caused by a wobbly wheel set picking a rail joint or a turnout frog.

B) – I initially mounted the trucks with the trapped axles closest to the ends of the car. I had a fair number of derailments. I rotated the trucks 180 degrees – putting the trapped axles towards the centre of the car, and letting the car lead with compensated axles. That solved 90% of the problems.

C) – The ride is a lot smoother and quieter with these new trucks, as all six wheels on each truck are in contact with the rail at all times. The compensation unit takes up minor variations in rail height.

New derailments were in three spots:

D) – One trouble spot was due to the track gauge being slightly too wide. This allowed one wheel to drop enough that it would send the wheel at the other end of the axle up and over the rail. The non-compensated factory trucks probably rode over this spot with each wheel doing a bit of “hang time”, but the new compensated trucks will ride all the ups and downs. Once I determined the problem, a couple of spikes fixed it.

E) – One trouble spot was due to the track gauge being slightly too tight. Since two axles in each truck are compensated, they’re quite happy to ride up and over the rail at a tight spot. Again, once the problem was identified I was able to fix it with a couple of spikes. I’m not sure how the factory trucks made it through this spot. As an aside, the train slowed significantly at this spot as the tight gauge created enough additional drag to slip the drivers on the mogul. Fixing the tight spot fixed that problem, too.

F) – One trouble spot was due to a slight misalignment between two adjacent pieces of rail on the outside of a curve. The lead wheel would hit the end of the misaligned rail, and the compensated axle would deal with the issue by riding up and over the railhead. The factory trucks probably hit the misaligned rail and bounced away from it, instead of riding over it. Again, a few spikes fixed the issue.

Are they worth it?

Are the Tim Trucks worth the extra trouble of assembly, and the time to tune the layout afterwards? I certainly think so. The stock trucks from American Models are wildcards – the axles can wobble about in the side frames, and when a derailment occurs it’s impossible to determine whether it was caused by the track, by the wobbling axles, or by a combination of the two. Often, when I had a derailment in a particular spot I could not repeat the derailment. How can one even begin to fix that?

What the Tim Trucks do – and do very well – is eliminate the truck from the derailment equation. If there’s a derailment, I know I must check and adjust the track work.

Of course, if there are any questions, use the comments feature to ask and I’ll try to answer them. I’d also like to hear from anybody who buys some of these trucks and experiments with them.

Thanks, again, to Tim Warris for solving my passenger car truck problem – and now, for making this solution available to others!

Blogging for TrainMasters TV

Barry Silverthorn and I had a lot of time to talk in the truck as we drove down to Scranton PA at the end of March to cover the 2015 Finescale Model Railroader Expo for TrainMasters TV… and at some point the conversation turned to blogging.

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I think one of the most important things a blogger can do is post regularly: If readers like what you’re doing, they look forward to new content. It keeps readers reading and encourages them to comment – and that’s valuable on a hobby blog like this one because I learn so much from the comments on my posts:

– I learn about Port Rowan and St. Williams.
– I learn about the Canadian National Railway.
– I learn about the 1950s in southern Ontario.
– I learn about S scale.

All of this combines to make me a better modeller. (And thank you, yet again, to those of you who contribute regularly! Your engagement with this blog is always appreciated.)

(I must admit that while I do a great job of posting to this blog, I’m not as good about maintaining the Achievable Layouts or Adventures in Live Steam blogs that I started. Writing entries for the Layout Design blog requires time to draw up plans and a lot of prototype research – something that I enjoy doing but that takes away from the research I need to conduct for my own layout. As for the other blog – there hasn’t been much of an adventure. I’m not the gardener my mother hoped I would be – and time to devote to my live steam interest always seems to take a back seat to Port Rowan, working my border collie Mocean on sheep, and other activities.)

Barry’s website, TrainMasters TV, also has a blog, but between shooting and editing stories for the show he’s finding he hasn’t had the time he would like to devote to keeping the blog updated. And as we discussed the problem while en route to Scranton, I realized I could help with that.

So, I’m going to be posting regularly to The TrainMasters TV Blog. This blog is open to everybody – one does not need to subscribe to TrainMasters TV in order to read it, although obviously I hope that you are subscribing. (And if you’re not, then perhaps something I write on the blog will encourage you to give it a trial run.)

My first post is about Streamliners at Spencer – a remarkable event that took place in North Carolina about a year ago. Barry produced a three-part report for TrainMasters TV on this gathering of vintage cab units – plus one streamlined steam locomotive. Knowing that some hobbyists would prefer a hard copy, that others do not have the bandwidth required to watch an HD video online, and that still others may enjoy seeing the event on a larger screen (or even in their home theatre), Streamliners at Spencer has now been reformatted as a documentary and will soon be available on DVD. Click on the image, below, to read more about this and find out how to pre-order:

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I have more posts in the pipeline, and plenty of ideas. Some will be related to stories that have been covered on TrainMasters TV in the past. Others will take readers behind-the-scenes, to shed light on what goes into making a professionally-produced show about our wonderful hobby. And while we’re not yet sure of the frequency, I’m hoping that as I get into the groove of writing for for the blog I’ll offer up one post per week at a minimum.

Enjoy if you visit, and I hope you’ll bookmark The TrainMasters TV Blog.

The Roadshow, at the show – on TrainMasters TV

For most of us, there’s a point in the hobby that we approach with anticipation and – it must be said – some anxiety. It comes after the track is laid and the layout is wired, and it’s time to turn on the power and run the first train.

Is the track work good enough, or will the train derail?

Will it even run at all? Maybe there’s a short, or a bad solder joint, or something else?

The anxiety is even more acute when the first attempt at running a train takes place in a public venue – like a train show. And, for a real case of the jitters, there’s nothing like testing modules, for the first time, in public… while the whole thing is being recorded for an Internet TV show.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I did with the two modules I built as my contribution to the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout. As regular readers know, I took these two modules to the inaugural North Shore Train Show in the Montréal, Canada area last October – and yes, they did work as advertised.

But the full story – from unpacking to set-up to running at the show – is the subject of this week’s episode of “The Roadshow” on TrainMasters TV:

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Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

As always, a tip of the hat to TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn for making me look like I know what I’m doing.

Enjoy if you watch: I did!

Cooking show scenery

Yesterday, I visited Barry Silverthorn at the TrainMasters TV studios in Belleville to record another instalment of The Roadshow series. I was joined by my friend Chris Abbott, and we spent a delightful few hours in front of the cameras to craft a video on creating a meadow.

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(Barry and Chris look on as I lay out four work-in-progress boards, finished to various stages. Note the backlight on the cabinet, and the camera mounted on the ceiling)

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(Barry ponders a helicopter shot as Christian Cantarutti looks on. The monitor between them allows those on-camera to see what the ceiling-mounted camera is shooting. It takes a lot of people – and equipment – to make great TV)

To prepare for shooting day, I created four 12″ by 12″ demonstration pieces out of foam board insulation. These, I finished to various stages, each building on the previous stage:

1 – Plain foam, roughed up on one surface.
2 – Sculpta-mold applied to create some rolling terrain.
3 – Base coat of paint, plus various scatter materials, glued in place with dilute Weld-Bond.
4 – Static grass applied and airbrushed.

Chris and I used these as our starting points to demonstrate various techniques. (For example, we added scatter material to board number 2 and static grass to board #3.) On a layout, this work can take several days – mostly spent waiting for the previous step to dry. But when doing this on camera, it needs to be done in hours, not days. So the approach is similar to a cooking show, where recipes are prepared to various stages. Rather than wait for the glue to dry on a scenery board (or for the chicken to roast in the oven), we can simply move to the board that represents the next stage, and demonstrate what happens next.

Also like a cooking show, where recipes are tested and perfected before the camera rolls, doing the scenery boards ahead of time allowed me to think through what I wanted to demonstrate, what tools and materials I’d need for each step, and so on.

The result is that shooting the segment went smoothly and the final board looked really good. It received flowers, weeds and bushes on top of grass and basic ground cover, and I think TrainMasters TV subscribers will enjoy the process and like the results, when this segment airs this summer.

We even had a couple of great meals as part of the day. Chris and I started with breakfast at Fran’s – a Toronto institution since 1940. For lunch, Barry took us to The Boathouse for fish and chips: Yum!

Thanks, Chris, for coming along – always fun! And thanks as always, Barry, for allowing me to be a part of your awesome show!

Cardigan Bay and Green Mountain shout-outs

A couple of notes from the blogosphere…

Congratulations to my friend Don Janes, who has just driven the last spike on his HO scale Green Mountain Division layout. Finishing the mainline is always a big event for us, isn’t it? It deserves to be celebrated. Well done, Don!

Click on the image, below, to read more and see photos of the inaugural run of the Ambassador:

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Thanks to my friend Simon Dunkley at The Erratic and Wandering Journey, I’ve been introduced to the wonderful work of Martin Welberg. The photo below says it all – and clicking on it will take you to Martin’s blog about his On30 Cardigan Bay Coastal Railroad:

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Two very different layouts, but two modellers who are obviously talented and enjoying their chosen subjects. Enjoy if you visit either – or both!

Photos in context :: A visit with Fredrick

Sometimes, things just fall into place…

Last Thursday, my friend and fellow member of the S Scale Workshop, Fredrick Adlhoch emailed with a last-minute request. He and his partner were going to be in town Friday morning – could they drop by, briefly, to see the layout?

As it turned out, I had a 9:00 am meeting at home on Friday, and needed to leave by 11:30 for a lunchtime appointment – but I had a 90-minute window and it dovetailed nicely with Fredrick’s free time.

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(Readers will recognize many of my favourite mini-scenes in this overview of Port Rowan)

I’m glad it worked out, because it was Fredrick’s first opportunity to see the layout in person. One of his comments that stuck with me was the observation that seeing the layout in person helped him put into context the many vignettes that I’ve shared via photos on this blog.

In the above overview photo of Port Rowan, one can see the apple orchards, the elevated coal delivery track, the section house and its oil shack, the turntable, the barn at the team track and – near the end of the peninsula – the mockups for the station and feed mill. When I photograph the layout, I tend to focus on these areas.

I have favourite compositions, which I have discovered while peering through the viewfinder on my camera. These are the combinations of scenery, trains, lighting and camera position that tell a compelling story. And I tend to photograph variations of those favourite compositions. It’s not that I ignore others – I’m always looking for new ways to view, photograph and share the layout – but that they are the ones that I find most convincing.

As such, I rarely take overview photographs. The exceptions tend to be photos used to illustrate something related to ergonomics or lighting. I also share overview photos on the anniversary of starting the layout, because they help document my progress from year to year.

But I should try to take more context photos in the future…

Great to see you, Fredrick – come back when you have more time and we’ll run some trains!

Spot order and small layouts :: A visit with Gord and Andy

Late last month, I ran into Gord Ross at one of the local hobby shops. Gord’s a regular reader and after talking with him a while, I invited him to visit. Well, we had that visit on Thursday.

I also invited my friend Andy Malette to join us, because I know Gord has put his toe into the water in S scale, and Andy knows just about anything one could want to know about building a layout in 1:64. Andy was able to provide Gord with lots of information about sources for equipment and other stuff one needs for a satisfying S scale layout.

We started with lunch at Harbord House, then headed to the layout room to run a freight extra to Port Rowan behind 10-wheeler number 1532:

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The layout ran well and the work took about two hours to complete. The three of us had a great time.

Gord is considering an S scale layout for a small space, and noted that having a chance to run my layout answered several questions for him about whether a modest layout can be entertaining. I’m convinced they can be, as I’ve written about this on this blog and on my Achievable Layouts blog. But it’s one thing to read something – quite another to experience it for oneself.

We discussed the advantage of choosing industries that support a variety of car types with specific spotting rules. I think this is particularly important for smaller layouts.

For example, a furniture factory might require the same layout space as a grain elevator, but it would require more switching.

That’s because the furniture factory could receive inbound loads of lumber, fabric, leather, glass, hardware, adhesives, finishes, solvents, and the occasional delivery of machinery. Finished furniture could fill outbound cars. What’s more, these inbound and outbound carloads would likely need to be spotted in specific order along the factory’s siding – and some cars spotted at the factory might not be ready for pick-up.

By contrast, a grain elevator might receive several cars for loading, but if they’re all going to be loaded with the same commodity, spot order doesn’t matter.

If we assume six cars will be switched at our furniture factory, that could require a fair amount of back-and-forth shuttling to lift cars that are outbound, then sort inbound cars and cars that are staying put into correct spot order. A grain elevator – even one with a 12-car capacity – would require much less switching.

For an example of a prototype for an Achievable Layout with not one, but two furniture factories on it, have a look at the CNR Southampton Sub. Click on the image for more:

Southampton Depot - GTR photo SouthamptonDepot-GTR_zpsfe992786.jpg

(Lance Mindheim has written a fair bit about the philosophy of choosing industries for their spotting locations, as opposed to their car capacity. Here’s a good example on Lance’s blog, using an article by Jim Lincoln on a corn syrup facility as his example.)

Even a team track – the easiest and most space efficient industry to model – can offer this sort of play value. In fact, team tracks account for the majority of the spotting locations on my layout. I make this work by dividing the team track into several spotting locations and then assigning specific spots to specific customers. For example, Potter Motors in Port Rowan receives the occasional flat car load of tractors.

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This car must be spotted at the very end of the team track, so that Potter can set up a ramp to drive the tractors off the end of the flat car. On my layout, I’ve designated four spots on the Port Rowan team track and labelled them “T1-T4”, counting from the wheel stops. Then, on the waybill for the flat car with tractor load, I have noted it must be spotted in “T1”.

Gord and I also talked about small, prototype examples. My go-to example is the CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt, Ontario. I’ve given this example to several friends and know at least one person who is building a version of it in HO. I’ve also written it up on my Achievable Layouts blog: Click on the image, below, to read more about this subdivision.

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Andy, Gord: Great to see you both and I’m looking forward to more operating sessions!

RS18s and violins :: A visit with David

One of the great things about having friends over to see the layout is I never know where the conversation is going to head. I always learn things – and not always about trains.

For instance, on Wednesday my friend David Woodhead visited and I learned about this odd instrument:

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(Click on the Stroh Violin to learn more about it on Wikipedia)

Curiously, the instrument in question actually came up in relation to my recently-completed RS18 model:

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(Click on the image to read all posts about the RS18)

The connection, of course, was the DCC sound unit I put in the model. David was impressed by the sound, and wanted to know about the speaker I’d used and how I mounted it. Here’s a look at the gubbins:

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The speaker is mounted facing up, and the sound escapes the body shell though several avenues – including the various grilles along the sides of the long hood, the exhaust stacks on the top (which are open) and the large rooftop radiator fan.

I mentioned to David that the speaker was ported, but that I was unable to determine whether the port made any difference to the sound. I’d tried a simple test – blocking the port with a finger – and I failed to discern a difference.

That got us talking about ports in speakers for audio systems, secondary sound holes on acoustic guitars and – eventually – the Stroh Violin, which certainly looks like something conjured up by a model railway enthusiast with a well-equipped shop and some spare instruments lying about.

I’ve always thought that the best in our hobby are extremely curious. We love chasing down obscure facts and revel in the unusual – and Wednesday’s visit was yet another example of that.

David and I even ran trains – sort of. Mostly, we talked about various projects over coffee. And that’s always fine.

Great to see you as always, David: Come again soon!

Pelicans and Presentations

As mentioned earlier, I’ll be attending the 2015 New England / Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers Meet later this month. While many things happen at an RPM, these events thrive on two things: presentations and displays. I’ve been working on both.

I’ve taken locomotives and rolling stock on the road before but I’ve never been happy about my arrangements for secure transport. Since many people at this upcoming RPM have probably never encountered scale modelling in 1:64, I wanted to take a good cross section of things to display. I also wanted my displayed equipment to tie into my layout, so that meant – at a minimum – I would have to display a 1:64 version of the daily mixed train to Port Rowan:

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My solution is not cheap – but definitely effective: I bought a Pelican case. These come in many sizes but I opted for the 1510 because it’s a rugged case that’s also carry-on compliant in case I ever decide to attend an RPM or other event that requires flying. The case was about $200, which sounds like a lot but it’s a fraction of the cost of the equipment that I’ll pack into it so I feel it’s justified. (This is not the answer for everyone: We all have different priorities in the hobby.)

I was pleased that I will be able to get two layers of equipment into the Pelican – in fact, the pluck-foam provided comes in two pieces, like a layer cake, which made it easy for me to create slots for equipment.

For the top layer, I created openings in the foam to accommodate long equipment. I can hold two passenger cars plus a locomotive here:

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I’ve separated the two levels with a thin layer of acoustic foam – the same stuff I used to line the layout’s equipment storage drawers. The bottom level has spaces for five cars. Four slots will accommodate cars up to 50 feet long. The lowermost slot is smaller because the case has indents here to accommodate its wheels. But it can hold a caboose or hopper car:

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With secure transport figured out, I will be able to display eight models at the NERPM. And I’m ready for other meets or gatherings, too!

This week, I also put the finishing touches on a slide deck for a clinic about being a prototype modeller in 1:64. I was late to register for the NERPM (entirely my fault), and at this time the clinic schedule is fully booked. But the organizers asked if I could bring along a presentation in case they have a last-minute cancellation. What’s more, I now have a presentation in the can, ready for other conventions, so the effort hasn’t been wasted.

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As the title slide suggests, I’ve drafted a clinic about the opportunities and challenges of modelling a specific prototype in 1:64 – using my layout as an example. I’ll cover why I ended up in S scale, why I picked the Port Rowan branch and things to research and ponder to determine whether S is a viable scale in which to work. I’ll also explain why I write this blog and now consider it as essential to building a layout as having a good supply of ties and rail. And I’ll wrap up with a quick tour of the line – because everybody likes pretty pictures.

All of this information is available in the 1000+ postings on this blog, for those who care to sift through it. But I’ve added some fresh photos – including several of earlier layouts in other scales and gauges. And, of course, I’ve boiled down the story to what I hope is an entertaining and informative 45 minutes.

I’m looking forward to giving this presentation – if not at this month’s NERPM, then at future conventions and prototype meets. Hmm… time to check the events calendar, I think…

TV Is The Thing This Year*

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(The farmhouse at St. Williams has all modern conveniences for 1953, including a television. Somebody is doing well on sales of tobacco, it seems!)

Little details often go a long way to setting the year on a layout – especially for those who are not in the hobby or not familiar with the railway being modelled.

For example, I know that 2-6-0s ran on the branch to Port Rowan until sometime in the mid-1950s, when a bridge at Caledonia was rebuilt to allow larger power to cross. By 1957, Port Rowan trains were hauled by CNR 10-wheelers. Somebody who is only generally familiar with railroading may see steam locomotives and be able to guess that the layout is set before 1960 – but they would need more clues before they could even pin down the decade.

Vehicles help. Even if one can’t tell a 1953 Ford from a 1955 Chevy, there are certain signature styles that say “1950s” versus earlier or later decades: Nobody will mistake that 1953 Ford Crestline Victoria for a 1935 Ford Phaeton.

But little details also help tell the story. Like a TV antenna.

As the lead photo shows, I’ve used an HO scale photo-etched antenna from Gold Medal Models. I glued this to a length of phosphor bronze wire (not included) and added a block at the bottom from 0.040″ square styrene strip. I painted the block and wire black and then glued the antenna assembly to the side of the chimney. I added a loop of black E-Z Line around the chimney to represent a strap of metal, securing the antenna to the brick work.

The signal has to get from the antenna to the TV, so I used more black E-Z Line to add a cable. I threaded an eyebolt onto the line, and glued this into a hole drilled on the wall below the eavestrough, as shown below. Next, I drilled a hole in the siding next to the parlour window and glued one end of the cable into this. I then pulled the line tight – but not too tight – and glued the other end of the cable to the bottom of the antenna mast.

 photo TV-Antenna-02_zpsniismoeq.jpg

For most North Americans, a roof-top antenna defines a period from the launch of broadcast TV in the mid-1940s to the widespread adoption of cable TV services in the 1980s.

TV came to Canada a little later than in the United States. Canadians living along the border had been picking up American signals since 1946, and thousands of TV sets were watching ABC, NBC or CBS from border cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Seattle.

The first Canadian stations – CBC Montreal and CBC Toronto – signed on in September 1952. That year, it’s estimated that some 85,000 sets were sold, 95% of them in Ontario. Most of these – 57.4% – were sold in the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Regions as people took advantage of clear signals beamed across Lake Ontario.

St. Williams and Port Rowan are a fair distance from Toronto so picking up CBC would’ve been impossible until further affiliates were launched. But they are right along the shore of Lake Erie – and from a broadcast signal perspective they’re in clear view of Buffalo. Could they have received television signals from there? Would they have bothered?

WBEN-TV signed on the air in 1948 and WGR-TV joined it in 1954, so signal or two existed. But televisions were expensive and the signal quality would’ve been dicey. That said, TVs were also a status symbol. It seems that my tobacco farmer in St. Williams is keen to impress the neighbours with a television in the parlour. Or maybe he just loves The Howdy Doody Show?

Regardless of reason, the antenna adds a nice bit of rooftop clutter that helps define the era.

*Dinah Washington’s recording of “TV Is The Thing This Year” was released in 1953 – one of the years I use for operating sessions on my layout:

FYI, Diane Reeves did a great version of it on the soundtrack for “Good Night and Good Luck”: