CNR 1 :: The DCC squeeze

It’s been a while since I worked on my model of CNR 1 – one of the railway’s GE 44-Tonner centre-cab units.

But I recently acquired decals for this unit, so this project – long dormant – can now go ahead.

Today I opened up the model to tape up the windows to protect the cab interior when I airbrush the model – and it occurred to me that I had enough room under the hood to add an electronic flywheel module. So that’s what I did:

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It’s quite a squeeze, but it works.

The Soundtraxx Current Keeper is the larger of the two purple things (don’t you love my technical jargon?) – in the upper portion of the left-hand hood.

The DCC decoder is a Soundtraxx TSU-750 – the smaller of the two sizes Soundtraxx offers, and the only size loaded with the GE Cummins diesel switcher sound package. (Part Number 827014 if you’re curious.)

(I find that odd, since loading the package shouldn’t be any different between the two decoder sizes, but I guess Soundtraxx feels only people working in HO scale would want a sound-equipped 44 Tonner.)

A curiosity with this model is that the cab floor is part of the frame, and bowed upwards to clear the motor. This is fine, except it means one has to run wires across the floor of the cab to connect the decoder to the speaker and headlight in the right-hand hood. That’s fine, really: They won’t be seen on the finished model.

With the windows taped up from the inside (to preserve the grey, which will make a fine cab interior colour), this model is now ready for the paint shop, and a coat of basic CNR Warm Black.

On a technical note, I’ve now created a 44 Tonner Category on this blog, so those interested in the project can find all of the relevant postings in one place.

Establishing Shot

In movie and television production, an Establishing Shot conveys the context for a scene. It gives the audience important information about where and when the subsequent action and/or dialogue is taking place.

For example, if a film is set in Paris, it’s a good bet that the Eiffel Tower will be featured on the skyline – even if the subsequent story does not take place in the 7th Arrondissement. For the same reason, a movie set in Toronto almost always features the CN Tower in its establishing shot. Other clues within the shot – such as the vintage of the vehicles – can help convey era, while clothing styles and weather can help convey season.

Today, Port Rowan has a large town water tank in the area where the rail yard used to be. But as far as I know, in the 1950s it did not have a signature tower of any sort – certainly nothing that first-time visitors to the town would immediately recognize as being uniquely Port Rowan.

Since I’m modelling the branchline to Port Rowan set in the summer in the 1950s, how do I help convey that information to first-time visitors to my layout?

Today, I completed a key component of my Establishing Shot:

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(“Are we there yet?” A tourist hauls his pride and joy – an Airstream trailer – with the promise of summer fun ahead. Click on the image to read more about the trailer.)

This scene – still a work in progress – is located at the very end of the Port Rowan peninsula, which is the first thing one sees as one enters the layout. I have no idea if there were billboards in Port Rowan to advertise Long Point. But I don’t care either – because I’m pleased that in much less than a square foot of layout real estate, I’ve managed to convey a wealth of information, including:

– We’re close to a place called Long Point.
– Long Point is on Lake Erie.
– Long Point is a summer destination, with cottages, beaches and campgrounds.
– It’s the 1950s: The vehicles tell us so.
– It’s summer, because the driver of the grey car has his windows down and he’s pulling a camper.

Note that the scene does not, specifically, convey that we’re in Port Rowan – only that we’re close to Long Point and Lake Erie. As the visitor moves further into the layout – about three feet to the left, to be precise – they well encounter the railway’s impressive station, complete with “Port Rowan” signs. The Establishing Shot doesn’t have to tell the whole story: subsequent shots can fill in more of the details even as the action and dialogue commence.

I built the billboard from a laser kit I picked up from Barry Silverthorn, who used to manufacturer and market 1:64 structures and details under the Grand River Models brand. (While Barry is no longer running that business as a going concern, he has quite a few of these still in stock.) It’s not obvious in this photo, but I enhanced the kit with nut-bolt-washer hardware on the frame and support legs.

For the sign, I found a suitable vintage image online – it’s actually from the 1940s if I recall, but I plan to add some weathering to the billboard so it appears to have been in place for a while. I added my own text in PhotoShop. I then asked Barry about the size of his billboard so I could adjust the image – and Barry not only resized it for me, but he also took my text and did a much better job of laying it out on the image. (Thanks, Barry!)

This scene still needs work. I plan to add static grass, flowers, weeds and bushes – and possibly even a tree behind the billboard. But already, this little scene is playing an important role in telling layout visitors where they are – and when.

(I’m interested in hearing from others about their Establishing Shot. Use the comments section of this post to share…)

(For those of you who participate in the forums at Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine, there’s also an active discussion of this subject over there…)

An evening with Mark and Doug

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(CNR 80 grabs the van off the back of a freight extra at Port Rowan. The van will be shoved down the run-around track in the foreground to the station. Then the switching work can be begin in earnest)

Last night, two friends – Doug Currie and Mark Harris – came over for an operating session, followed by dinner.

Doug and Mark are both narrow gauge enthusiasts – in fact, I’ve known Mark for several years through our mutual interest in Maine two-footers. While my layout is standard gauge, it has a very “narrow gauge” sensibility about it – with trains, traffic patterns, and structures that would look right at home on rails spaced 24″, 30″ or 36″ apart.

It was Doug’s first visit to the layout, and I always enjoy introducing people to my 1:64 world. I like to start by walking visitors along the line, explaining the features and what story they’re meant to tell. (For example, the tobacco fields and kilns help set the layout squarely in southwestern Ontario.) Referring to the chapter on the branch in Steam Echoes of Hamilton helps, too. Doug had many perceptive questions and observations as we toured the line.

Following the orientation, we ran a freight extra behind CNR 2-6-0 number 80. Doug stepped up as conductor, Mark loaded into the cab to be engineer, and I split my time between hosting and uncoupling cars. It was a fairly busy session, with four cars to spot and three to lift. That’s probably as much traffic as the prototype would’ve seen in a month. But people like to switch, and we had a great time.

Operating sessions are always relaxed on the Simcoe Sub to Port Rowan, and plenty of stops were made to take photographs:

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(Extra 80 West is seen across a field at St. Williams: The photographer caught the venerable mogul in a classic “rods down” pose)

While Doug pondered paperwork, Mark learned the ins and outs of running a locomotive using an iPod loaded with TouchCab. I’ve had the layout set up to use TouchCab for a while now, but it was only a couple of months ago that I decided to use TouchCab as my primary throttle. Everybody’s still on the steep slope of the learning curve – including me. But we’ll get there. (Next time I see Mark I’ll get more feedback from him.)

Over all, the layout ran well – with only one derailment: Our van found the ties as we rolled through St. Williams on the way back to Simcoe. So close to a perfect run! I’ll have a look at the trucks under the van and see if they need any work. I suspect more regular operating sessions would help. I need to be better about finding time to run the layout.

Mark has run trains on the layout before – but it’s been almost two years since he and Andy Malette visited on a swampy July evening and a lot has been done on the layout since then.

Unlike that visit, the weather last night was delightful – so my wife joined us after our operating session and the four of us strolled up the street to The Boulevard Cafe, which has one of the nicest patios in the city. We enjoyed a wonderful summer evening of food, drink and conversation.

Among the many topics covered, we chatted about the change in hobby magazines over the years – and how the coverage of layouts, for example, has moved from an inclusive approach in which even average efforts were profiled to an era where only the best (or, at least, the finished) get ink. We observed that this is in part a consequence of better photography and printing capabilities, which make shortcomings in the modelling even more apparent. It was an interesting discussion and it prompted me to convert Doug’s photos from last night’s session to black and white, which was the norm in magazines for many, many years.

Too soon, the clock struck “It’s how late?” But before calling it a night, we promised to get together again soon for another session. I’m looking forward to it!

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(Number 80 creeps off the turntable at Port Rowan. A load of apple evaporating machinery has arrived at the team track from the US Northwest, aboard a Crooked Mountain Lines boxcar.)

Taking ownership of your hobby

I found myself nodding along today as I read the latest blog post from Mike Cougill on his OST Publications website. The post – “How do you add value?” – explores how, when talking to others, we often offer up what Mike has succinctly called “biased opinions thinly disguised as ‘advice’.”

We are all guilty of this, I suspect. I know I am, although I try to avoid it. For example, we often advocate for our favourite scale(s), gauge(s), or theme(s) – the ones in which we like to work – with no regard for the preferences of the person to whom we are talking.

This happens a lot in the niche corners of our hobby. Somebody will decide for themselves that modelling the D&RGW in On3 or the CNR in S is the perfect choice and then try to convince everybody they encounter in the hobby to do it, too. Or, they don’t bother to help others see the light – they simply turn up their noses at the HO scale, standard gauge, modern era layout or the live steam loop in the garden. Wouldn’t it be better to ask questions about the builder’s vision, than pass judgement based on one’s own prejudices?

At this point in my journey through the hobby, I find that 1:64 is the perfect scale for me. But I try very hard to not proselytize about it. It works for me – it may work for you, or not. And I’m fine with that.

I do advocate for simpler layouts – and even write about them on occasion on my Achievable Layouts blog. But I try to do this in a way that I’m offering choices for people to make up their own minds about whether such layouts are right for them. For example, I try to highlight how my Port Rowan layout, while simple in design, is satisfying to build and entertaining to operate. I also try to convey how this layout fits comfortably into my life, rather than dominating it to the exclusion of other interests and commitments.

There is one aspect of the hobby that I encourage everyone to embrace – and that’s experimentation.

I’ve written previously about the Lesson of Bendy Elm:

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(Click on the image to read more)

Today’s blog post from Mike reminded me of that lesson – specifically, a comment in “Conversation No. 3” near the bottom of the piece, about taking ownership of the work.

I meet a lot of people in the hobby – at conventions, hobby shops, operating sessions, social events, train shows and elsewhere. I’m reasonably well known in the hobby thanks to dozens of features in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, my co-hosting of The Model Railway Show podcast and, more recently, several appearances on TrainMasters TV. But that notoriety often gets confused with being an “expert”.

I’m not – I just find it easy to blather about what I’m doing, and I’m not afraid to look like an idiot when it goes wrong.

However, this misconception that I’m an expert at anything means people ask me questions such as, “What’s the best way to lay track?” or “What products did you use to make a tree?” or “What DCC system do you use?”

If the questions are being asked because a person is gathering data, then I’m comfortable in providing answers. I can usually tell if that’s the case because the questions don’t ask “What?” but “Why?” – as in “Why do you use this type of leaf material for your trees?” or “Why do you like the DCC system you use?”

But if the question is, “What did you do – because I want to do it exactly like you?” then I start to twitch. This is a hobby, and I can’t tell others how they should engage with it. I can share what I’ve done, but as I’ve said before on this blog it pays to do one’s own experiments.

Reading Mike’s blog post also resonated with me in relation to a discussion currently taking place on the S Scale SIG forum about the merits and drawbacks of using three-point gauges to hand lay track.

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Points were made about gauge widening on curves, which three-point gauges facilitate. And there were comments in favour of doing this – and against it – which depended on whether a model steam locomotive’s driving axles have sufficient side-to-side play. There were points made about the angle at which front and rear flanges meet the inside rail on a curve. And so on.

I must admit that if I had no experience with three-point gauges, the conflicting views and the warnings might’ve convinced me to not try them. That would be easier than experimenting and would prevent the possibility of failure.

And that’s my point: Failure is good for the hobby. So, take ownership of your hobby – experiment and fail – and, if you’re so inclined, share your experiences on a blog of your own. I look forward to reading it!

Just make sure that you’re telling the world what you did, and not what others should do

Scenery on The Roadshow – on TrainMasters TV

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(Chris Abbott looks on as I add leaves to what will become a whole mess o’ shrubs while behind us, a CNR intermodal train hauling a single-height stack of containers is barrelling past outside)

My layout gets a lot of compliments on the scenery – especially the large meadow around the turntable at Port Rowan. Those of you who want to see how I create meadows will enjoy the final, regularly-scheduled instalment of The Roadshow, currently playing on TrainMasters TV.

With my friend Chris Abbott in the studio to help, I demonstrate how I do basic ground cover, then add grass, bushes, weeds and flowers. The segment runs about an hour and covers all of the steps, step-by-step, to create basic yet convincing scenery, ready for super-detailing. While I model a railway set in the 1950s, I think my meadow-building techniques would make for a good start on the overgrown railway land bordering a modern right of way – the kind one sees right outside the TrainMasters TV studio.

Thanks, again, to TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn for letting me be a part of his terrific show.

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.

Happy trails, Hoquat Hobbies

Today’s post brought an announcement from New Jersey-based S scale specialty store, Hoquat Hobbies:

“Having returned from the Spring Spree in Dayton, it is time for a major announcement. I expect to close up shop for good and retire from the business at the end of 2015. I am busily doing inventory on all our stuff to make sure of exactly what is hiding on the shelves here. Once we finish, we will post inventory lists on the web site.”

Hobby shop closings are, unfortunately, frequent these days. S scale specialty shop closings are rare – but only because S scale speciality shops themselves are rare. And Hoquat has been serving the S scale community since 1977.

I did not buy much from Hoquat Hobbies – as a CNR prototype modeller, my needs are largely met through the purchase of basic materials and tools, rather than ready-to-run equipment. But I did pick up a few things from this store from time to time and always appreciated the excellent service.

I know the S scale community will miss Hoquat, but I’m sure everybody in that community wishes the folks at Hoquat all the best in their retirement.

It’s going to be a quiet summer

Not completely quiet, but not like my usual rate of posting.

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(Destination: Workroom – a new one – next to the layout room. But it’s going to be a while before these get unpacked…)

My wife and I live in a 125+ year old example of the city’s traditional “bay and gable” home. And this summer, we’re doing a major renovation on it. We’ll be clearing one floor at a time for our architect/contractor and his crew, so floors that aren’t completely empty and under demolition/renovation will be packed to the ceilings with furniture and boxes.

It’s like moving, but without the moving truck.

I expect to get very little model-building or layout-building done this summer. In fact, even the operator’s aisle in the layout room may become temporary storage.

I don’t expect to hold operating sessions. But we’ll see how it goes.

I do hope to keep a couple of small projects out and within easy reach so I have something to work on. And of course I’ll post about those if I make any progress on them. But – as noted earlier – we’ll see how it goes.

I expect regular postings to resume when the plaster dust has settled.

Clinics at the New England RPM

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I have to admit, I didn’t attend many clinics at last weekend’s New England / Northeast RPM Meet – I was too busy getting photos of the display for RMC. That said, the few I did attend were very interesting and, as the photo above suggests, many were standing room only. Congratulations to the organizers for a terrific slate of clinics!

(If you want to check out what you missed, here’s the clinic schedule as a PDF.)

Not on the schedule, but certainly interesting, was this demonstration of knife skills by Craig Bisgeier:
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Bill Gill is keen to take part as well, with his jack knife at the ready should Craig lose that thumb. 🙂

Maybe this will be on the schedule for next year…

Shooting clinics with Don Railton

Back in March, when I reported on my trip to the 2015 Finescale Model Railroader Expo, I mentioned that one of my favourite structures on display at that event was a bait shop in 1:24 scale:

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This exquisite structure was built by Don Railton – and yesterday, I had the opportunity to host Don for some future segments of The BackShop Clinic on TrainMasters TV.

Don is an amazing modeller – check Google Images or Don’s Facebook page for the evidence. What’s more, he’s an absolute gentleman. We had a great time and I’m so glad Barry Silverthorn invited me to host these clinics.

I’m looking forward to the segments, too!

Friends, old and new, at the 2015 New England RPM

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(From left: Me, Glenn Glasstetter, Marty McGuirk. Photo courtesy Jim Dufour)

Over the weekend, Pierre Oliver and I attended the 13th annual New England / Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers meet in Collinsville, Connecticut. We had a great time.

The hundreds of examples of finely detailed and finished equipment are always a draw at RPM meets. But step back from the display tables and it’s the opportunity to renew friendships and create new ones – with like-minded enthusiasts – that really drives the prototype modelling movement.

The above photo is a good example. The gentleman in the middle is Glenn Glasstetter. It’s the first time we’ve met and we got along famously. I really enjoyed talking with Glenn and was delighted to discover that he knows my good friend Michel Boucher. Great to meet you, Glenn!

On the “renewal” side, it seems like Marty McGuirk and I have known each other forever, but it’s been several years since we’ve seen each other. It was wonderful to spend some time with Marty – to discuss layout plans, interesting characters in the hobby, manufacturing, and much much more. A tale about cats and model railroads had Pierre and I in tears. Marty – I hope it’s not so darned long between get-togethers. Come up for a visit sometime!

Of course, there were many other friendships established, and others renewed – and with 180 attendees, there are too many to list here. But thank you, everyone, for contributing to such a terrific weekend. Thanks also to the organizers for putting together a great event. Well done!

As for the displays… there are always many online galleries filled with photos of models after events like these, and I’m working up a report with photos for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, so I’ll leave it at that.

If you have never attended one of these meets, I encourage you to do so. You do not have to bring models to display, although I hope you will. It can be intimidating to put your work in front of such talent, but I find that the most accomplished people in the hobby are almost always the most polite about one’s work. Perhaps it’s because they remember the time when they were barely able to glue together two pieces of styrene or wood – and remember the encouragement they received from those more accomplished in the hobby.

This hobby is about sharing skills and techniques as much as it is about friendships, so that we can all become better modellers. And RPM meets are a great way to do that.