My next throttle

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(Matthew from ESU has plenty of reasons to smile, as he shows off the Mobile Control II WiFi throttle. Click on the image to read more on the ESU website)

Yesterday, a friend and I visited George’s Trains and The Credit Valley Railway Company – my two go-to hobby shops in the Greater Toronto Area. And in both locations, we ran into Matthew Herman – general manager of ESU LLC, the North American arm of the German company that creates the awesome LokSound DCC/sound decoders.

Matt was in the area to visit various customers and show off some products – including what is destined to become my next standard for throttles on my layout.

Regular readers know I’m a fan of TouchCab – a throttle application that runs on Apple wireless devices and interfaces with Lenz DCC systems without the need for a computer running JMRI. (Unfortunately, TouchCab’s developer has announced that he’s closing down the business – so if you want a copy of it, now’s the time to get it.)

Generally, those who have experienced TouchCab on my layout have enjoyed it. They like the software-based throttle, which can be modified for various situations (for example, for left-handed or right-handed operators), and they like the well-lit screen for finding various function keys. But some have missed the tactile feel of a throttle knob, direction switches, and so on. Running with a button-less throttle requires looking at the throttle to make sure one is pressing the correct control. So using a software-defined throttle isn’t for everyone.

That’s where ESU’s Mobile Control II is set to really shine.

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This WiFi-connected wireless cab combines the best features a traditional throttle with the power of a software-defined model. I had a chance to look over Matt’s sample at Credit Valley. It wasn’t powered up – but I’m already impressed.

The unit feels really nice in the hand and the large throttle knob rolls nicely under the thumb. The throttle has a number of buttons on the sides which may be mapped to any function key, so you can put your most frequently-used functions within easy reach.

The lower 2/3 of the throttle is a capacitive touch-screen interface, which most of us are familiar with thanks to Apple and Android devices. This will display all the features and functions that we currently enjoy on throttle applications such as WiThrottle.

I can’t wait.

Now, the catch: ESU makes the hardware, and has created an open source platform based on the Android system. But it’s up to throttle apps developers to update their apps – or code new ones – to work with this controller. I’m not a coder so I’m not sure about the work required to do that, but my impression from Matt is that ESU is keen to work with those who are to integrate their apps on the Mobile Control II.

If you’re writing a throttle app – or considering writing one – I encourage you to contact Matt at LokSound to find out more. You’ll find Matt’s contact information here. I look forward to trying your Mobile Control II-compatible throttle app in the not-too-distant future!

Great to talk with you yesterday, Matt. Thanks for visiting!

CNR 470000 series boxcars : 1

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I’ve started another CNR boxcar project as I continue to diversify the fleet on my layout. This time, I’m creating some credible stand-ins for the CNR 470000-series of USRA rebuilt boxcars.

According to the Canadian Rail Car Pictorial – an excellent series of softcover books for any student of Canadian freight cars – these were the CNR’s first all-steel boxcars. There were 250 in the class, rebuilt for CNR from ex-Grand Trunk auto boxes in 1936. The Grand Trunk Western did the work.

My donor car for this is a USRA rebuilt from S Helper Service. I picked up five of these a while ago from my friend Simon Parent, because they are too new for his layout. As with the three single sheathed CNR boxcars I did back in 2013, these will be close-enough models – suitable stand-ins for the prototype. There are discrepancies – notably in the pattern of the stamped ribs on the ends (the prototype is 7/8, while the model is 5/5/5) – but I can live with those.

I decided that I’d upgrade a few details on the model, starting with the roof walks. The lateral roof walks at the ends of the car had boards running parallel to the ends, instead of parallel to the longitudinal roof walk. So, I removed these and their supports:

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(“Wow!” I hear some of you exclaim from the other end of the Internet. “What the heck is that thing stuck on the end of the car?” That’s a Hi-Rail coupler. My buddy Chris Abbott refers to them as “Knock’em-Sock’em Robot” couplers, and they’re huge. But here’s a cool thing – they make great handles while working on the car. I will replace this monstrosity with a Kadee 808 in due course.)

When I went to remove the longitudinal roof walk, I found I couldn’t do so without damaging the car. I’m not sure what glue was used at the factory, but this wasn’t going anywhere. In the end, I sanded the top of the plastic roof walk to remove the rivet detail, then glued strips of 1×6 scale lumber over top. With those in place, I then fabricated new lateral roof walks from 2×6 scale lumber and brass strip.

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I was able to re-use the car’s L-shaped grab iron on each lateral roof walk.

Turning to the under frame, I removed the K-brake and replaced it with AB brake components from BTS – catalogue number 02301. These are beautiful detailing kits. I added some phosphor bronze wire and Builders In Scale chain to complete the detailing belowdecks.

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Not shown in the above photo, but visible in the first picture in this post, are the BTS air hoses (part 02302) and some (HO scale) A-Line stirrup steps. These are a little narrower than the prototype’s stirrups, but the same height – and they’re much finer looking than the clunky stirrups that were cast as part of the body side.

(I wish someone would do suitable, metal stirrups in S – but I suspect if the market was there, somebody would have by now…)

With the addition of Kadee coupler boxes in place of those Hi-Rail couplers, this car is ready for the paint shop and I’m one step closer to adding a new class of CNR boxcar to the layout.

One down – four to go!

Ops and dinner with Jeff

Last night, my friend Jeff Young came over for an operating session, followed by dinner.

Jeff and I worked together earlier this year on a six-espiode series for Trainmasters TV called Fired Up! – and you can read more about that by clicking on the image, below:

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Jeff is a long-time live steam enthusiast, but he still enjoys running on layouts in the smaller scales, too. We ran a freight extra behind CNR 10-wheeler 1532 and the layout performed flawlessly. I love it when the layout does that.

Afterwards, we headed up to The Caledonian, a terrific local pub that’s wonderfully Scottish – from its hospitality to its food to its excellent selection of single malts. Jeff and I were like-minded about dinner, each ordering the smoked salmon appetizer and the lamb shank special, and finishing with some single malts – including a very agreeable 12-year-old Strathisla.

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We agreed that the operating session was a lot of fun, the food was great, and that we really need to do another season of Fired Up! All in all, a very agreeable evening!

Thanks for coming over, Jeff – see you again soon!

SoundCar decoders :: not now

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(They are safe – for now)

Last week, I wrote a post about the Soundtraxx SoundCar decoder. Today, I opened up the tender on a CNR 10-wheeler with an eye to installing one – but then I did some testing with the speaker I planned to install and decided that the SoundCar isn’t appropriate for this layout.

It’s a great little decoder – don’t get me wrong! – but what I really need is the occasional bit of flange squeal on a few key curves on the layout. These are:

– The main and siding in St. Williams
– The curve from the east end of the Lynn Valley to the water tank
– The curve between the Lynn Valley water tank and Port Rowan
– The S curve on the elevated coal delivery track in Port Rowan

One of the things I realized in testing the SoundCar is that, while Soundtraxx provides adjustments to acceleration and deceleration, it doesn’t provide an adjustment for top speed. That’s problematic for my layout, because I’ve created custom speed tables for the locomotives that severely limit their top speeds. I did this because I have a 20 mph speed limit on the line yet I’d like to be able to use the full range of the throttles. It makes no sense to have “rockets on rails”:

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(Flash Gordon need not apply)

Unfortunately, this means that the sounds generated by the SoundCar will quickly go out of synch with the action on the layout. I’ll be trundling along at a sedate 20 mph (at speed step 126 on my throttles), yet the SoundCar would generate flange squeal and jointed rail noises appropriate for the CNR’s Turbo Train at full throttle:

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So… no.

Instead, I’m looking at what Scott Thornton has been doing on his delightful Iowa Interstate – Milan Branch layout. As Scott writes in this blog post, he is using components from Iowa Scaled Engineering to add ambient audio to his layout – including flange squeal.

I’ve use ambient audio quite effectively on my layout already using components from Pricom Design:

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(Click on the image for more information about my ambient audio system)

I’m extremely pleased with the Pricom solution. That said, it’s expensive – and since and I’m thinking about four or five discrete locations to add flange squeal effects, I’m attracted to ISE’s more economical, if less powerful, sound player for this particular application.

I continue to ponder this. I need to figure out a number of issues – including the trigger mechanisms (which could be reed switches, IR detectors or something else), the location of speakers, the appropriately “squeal-y” sound files, and so on.

But progress has been made – and I don’t have to add more electronics inside the tenders of may already-stuffed steam engines.

A day with Pierre and Michael

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(Michael and I discuss our switching moves as our train arrives at Port Rowan)

I love this hobby for many reasons – but the main one (and I hope it comes through on this blog) is the friendships that it fosters.

I remember moving to a new city shortly after university and not knowing a soul – but I stopped in at the local hobby shop, found out where the railway modellers socialized (at a supper club called OVAR), and within no time at all I had found some like-minded individuals who have gone on to become some of my closest friends. The great thing about the hobby is that these are people that I may never have otherwise met: Our careers are different… we lived in different neighbourhoods… we have different circles of friends outside the hobby… we have different passions outside the hobby… we’re all over the map, age-wise… and so on.

But the hobby brings us together and the bonds forged through it are strong.

I was reminded of this on the weekend. Late last week, Pierre Oliver got in touch and asked if I had any free time on Sunday. Pierre and I are close friends, despite living two and a half hours down the highway from each other. We always enjoy each other’s company, and he was coming to Toronto to meet up with a modeller from California who was in town on business. It was their first meeting, and Pierre wondered if I’d like to host an operating session on Sunday morning and then go for lunch.

I’m always up for that – and I did have a free weekend – so we made plans.

Our guest for the day was Michael Gross, who is in town to shoot some episodes of a television show he’s in. I’ve seen Michael on TV of course, and I knew that he is an enthusiastic hobbyist. (He’s an ATSF modeller who is building HO scale Free-mo modules with a granger branch line aesthetic. His modelling themes – wheat fields, feed mills, stock pens, and oil dealers on the Kansas prairie – are very similar to the ones I deal with in modelling a rural community in southern Ontario.) But to be honest, I never expected to meet him – much less host him for an operating session – if for no other reason than the fact that our home bases are separated by several thousand miles and an international border.

But the common bond – this fascinating, challenging, sometimes frustrating but always rewarding hobby of ours – is one that means a writer from Toronto and a model-builder/manufacturer from St. Thomas can spend the day with a well-known actor/director from Los Angeles and do the things that all good friends in the hobby do (or should do!) when they gather:

– We ran trains (and the layout ran very well to my great relief).

– We shared techniques – discussing everything from operating patterns and enhancing a simple layout with prototype practices… to effectively modelling agricultural areas… to the use of ambient audio to enhance the story we’re trying to tell through our layouts.

– We exchanged thoughts about why we love the hobby.

– We swapped tales of conventions we’ve attend and the characters in the hobby that we’ve met.

– We visited a local hobby shop – the Credit Valley Railroad Company – because it’s always fun to look for things for one’s layout when on the road.

– And, joined by my wife Mairi, we enjoyed lunch at Harbord House and dinner at Harvest Kitchen – two of our many neighbourhood restaurants.

Most of all, we had a wonderful time. Thus are old friendships strengthened and new ones forged.

Michael: It’s wonderful to meet you and thank you for choosing to spend your day off with us. I look forward to spending more time with you whenever you’re in Toronto with some free time in your schedule and the desire to talk trains.

Pierre: Thanks for arranging the day, and for doing all that driving! (And work continues apace on the guest room – so, hopefully, you’ll soon have a place to stay when you’re in the city.)

I had a fantastic day – and I’m inspired to make some more progress on the layout as a consequence: Time to find some clear space, some tools, and another project!

Work desk :: Task lighting

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(Ikea to the rescue)

When hosting operating sessions, I like to turn off the lights in the layout room so that the layout lights are the only source of illumination. It puts the focus squarely on the layout.

However, I noticed that this arrangement meant that the work desks at St. Williams and Port Rowan were often in shadow. I needed better lighting.

I stumbled across some LED strip lighting units at Ikea and realized they would be a good addition to the facia. They’re called Striberg, and they come in various lengths – from 14″ to 36″. They’re intended for use inside the Pax wardrobe system.

I bought two of these – one for each work desk – plus two Ansluta power supply cords (sold separately).

As shown above (at St. Williams), I mounted the Striberg on the fascia above the desk. I cut the connector off the end of the power cord – leaving enough cord that I could require it later – and then I drilled a hole through the fascia just large enough to thread the power cord. (More on this, below.)

The Striberg LED strips have a three-way switch on them. They can be turned off, on, or set to light up when exposed to the room lights – for example, when opening a closet door. But I wanted the lights to come on automatically, whenever someone pulled out a work desk.

A trip to my local electronics surplus shop provided the solution, in the form of lever lever switches. These have a long lever made of springy metal that may be bent into a suitable shape. The switches have two circuits (known as “on/on”): When depressed, they switch one way – and when released they switch the other. For my application, I could leave the “depressed” circuit inactive and have them activate only when released.

I bent the lever into a suitable shape, then mounted the switch on a block of wood. I then mounted this block on the frame that supports one of the drawer slides for my work desk. I positioned this so that when the desk is fully closed, the back of the desk will fully depress the switch:

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To wire the switch, I cut the cable at the appropriate length, then introduced the switch into one of the leads. The cable then continues to the small Ikea transformer which supplies the LEDs. I mounted this on the wall of the room, near where I was going to plug it in.

I strongly dislike running house wiring through a layout. I think this is a recipe for disaster or even death. So by mounting the transformer out of the layout, near the wall receptacle, I’ve been able to only run low-voltage, low-current wires through the benchwork to the lights.

For the Port Rowan work station, this meant buying some more two-conductor cable from my electronics surplus store and threading it through the benchwork from the end of the peninsula to the wall. I needed about 25 feet of cable, which I simply added between the switch and Ikea’s connector. The length of the run did not cause any issues.

When the desk slides shut, it depresses the switch and switches to the unused circuit – the light goes off:

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As soon as it’s opened, the switch springs open – completing the circuit that I’ve wired up – and the light comes on:

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I’m pleased with how this project turned out. Operators now have plenty of light so they can sort their waybills and draft switch lists. The best part is, there’s no thinking involved on the part of the operator: The light turns on and off automatically.

SoundCar decoders :: Installation options

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(Dare I perform surgery?)

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to operate on a couple of terrific layouts whose owners have installed Soundtraxx SoundCar decoders to enhance the experience.

Bob Fallowfield uses them on his CP Rail layout and Ryan Mendell has installed them on his Algonquin Railway. While the SoundCar is intended to be installed in rolling stock, Bob and Ryan have both opted to install them under the layout, where they feed speakers mounted near specific scenes.

Both are using the SoundCar decoders to enhance operating sessions by contributing flange squeal and the distinctive “clickety-clack” of jointed rail. Bob has three SoundCar decoders on his layout – one in each work zone – while Ryan’s smaller layout requires only one, feeding two speakers.

While one might assume that with fixed speakers, the sound would not follow the train as it would if the SoundCar was mounted in a piece of rolling stock, in both cases the layout-mounted speakers were surprisingly effective. It’s also worth noting that if one were switching, any SoundCar equipped rolling stock not actually in the consist being worked would be, in effect, a stationary speaker. At least with layout-mounted speakers, one has some control over the sound source.

Bob and Ryan both work in HO. Since S scale is larger, I pondered whether I could fit a SoundCar decoder plus speaker into the tenders of my 10-wheelers and moguls. This would be the ideal solution, since the SoundCar decoders are consisted to a locomotive in normal operation anyway. With a speaker in the tender, the flange squeal and rail joint sounds would follow the locomotive – with or without a train.

I took the body off the tender of CNR 10-wheeler 1532 today to investigate. The answer is “yes” – there’s plenty of room. But I would have to do some surgery.

The tenders are modelled with the bunker for the coal portion – and the bunker is in the way of installing a decent-sized speaker in the tender. The good news is, if one were to cut away the bunker, there’s plenty of room – and the bunker is not visible under a load of coal.

Now, I have to decide if I want to take a cut-off disc to these exquisite models. The prospect scares the willies out of me…

Another option would be to install the decoders and speakers in key spots around the layout – but I would have to re-consist the decoders every time I changed locomotives, or as locomotives moved from scene to scene.

Still another option would be to install the SoundCars into cabooses and other equipment that brings up the markers. I can test this with my combines – which already have spare Tsunami decoders in them to provide a back-up whistle. If it works, I can modify my next set of cabooses to contain decoders and speakers (something I planned to do even before the SoundCar came to market).

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(Click on the image for more info)

Yet still another option is to install the SoundCars in the tenders, but with much smaller speakers. Related to this: I believe the existing speakers in the tenders, while large, are not “high-bass” designs. Perhaps I can swap in a high-bass speaker for the main sounds, and free up some room in the tenders for a larger speaker for the SoundCar decoder.

Obviously, I have more research to do. I’ll start by hooking up a SoundCar to a smaller speaker to test the quality of the rail joint and flange squeal sounds. Since they’re mostly high notes anyway, they shouldn’t suffer too much from being forced through a tiny speaker. We’ll see…

Mixed Train Traffic Study

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(The Daily Effort at Hagersville, Ontario – June 20, 1953. Photo via the Henley’s Hamilton blog. Click on the image to visit that blog and read more about the mixed train from Hamilton to Port Rowan and Port Dover)

I’ve written a few times on this blog about my desire to make operating the mixed train (M233/M238) a unique experience. M233/M238 hauls a combine, a baggage mail car, and a boxcar in LCL service. These three cars – and the people, express, LCL and mail that they transport – are essential to the character of the mixed.

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(The mixed train, with no carload traffic in the consist)

But from an operator’s perspective, these cars don’t actually do much: They trundle along at the back of the train, behind the carload freight, like a 200-foot-long caboose. They’re re-ordered at Port Rowan, but the switching is minimal. It’s one of the reasons why I like to run two short sessions when friends visit: One with the mixed train, and one with a freight extra. This way, visitors get to experience a variety of trains.

But in doing so, my concern is that if the focus is on just the carload freight in the mixed train, it will feel a lot like running a freight extra. What’s more, given the train length constraints on my layout (imposed by the length of the run-around in Port Rowan and the length of the storage tracks on my sector plate), the play value of the mixed will suffer if the focus is on carload freight. This is because the mixed typically has only one or two cars of carload freight in its consist – so there’s even less switching to do than when I run a freight extra, which can accommodate up to five cars of carload freight while still fitting within the Port Rowan run-around.

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(A freight extra, hard at work in Port Rowan. Without that 200-foot-long “caboose”, a lot more carload traffic can be handled – and that means more switching during an operating session)

I’ve already created a number of receipts and tickets to represent the LCL and express that the mixed train carries, plus tickets for mail bags and passengers. And I’ve written about the idea of defining how much time needs to be spent making each station stop – so that the volume of passengers and goods actually influences the mixed train’s progress along the line. As noted in More progress on LCL and Express, I decided to test the following formula:

*The car must be spotted for five minutes, plus one minute per 200 pounds (or portion thereof) of freight listed on the receipts.

You can read that earlier posting for the rationale, but in limited testing this formula has been working for me.

However, the challenge has been that I’ve needed something to keep track of the spotting times – especially in St. Williams, where the platform is short and the train must be repositioned if all three of the “mixed train” cars must be worked.

I was using scrap paper for this, but I’ve been looking for something better – something “more railroady” to give the conductor a reason to actually be recording the times required for the work. What I really needed was a form to tie together all the other paperwork – the freight receipts, passenger tickets, and so on.

While pondering the problem, I recalled a document Roger Chrysler shared with me, which detailed the work performed by crews on his chosen prototype. If I recall, the document was created as part of a management/labour negotiation – and that gave me an idea:

Given that in the era I model, the CNR was looking to abandon mixed train service on the Port Rowan branch, it might make sense for management to run a traffic study – complete with a form for train conductors to fill out. While it would appear the form is being filled out to collect data, it would actually work as a tool for calculating the time required to do the work.

Inspired by the concept, I’ve created a suitable form to test during future operating sessions:

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(Working on paperwork: This time, a traffic study form for the mixed train)

Each form has spots for listing mail, express, LCL and passengers. Small notes under each category appear to be targets for the study – but they actually provide the operator with a formula for calculating how much time must be spent performing each operation during a station stop.

Spaces beside each category provide room for entering the quantity (e.g.: 350 lbs of LCL) and for doing the time calculation and recording the results in the form of a start time and end time.

When the appropriate car is positioned and ready to be worked, the start time can be recorded, the calculation made, and then the end time noted. That car can’t be moved until the end time has passed.

For the sake of completeness, I’ve also included space to note the number of carload cars lifted and set off, and the time required to perform this work. Unlike the other categories, there’s no target time to perform the calculations here: The conductor will simply note the start and end times from each station’s fast clock.

The conductor will fill in one form for each station – so, three forms per operating session: One for each direction at St. Williams, and one for Port Rowan.

Is it a lot of paperwork? Not really. It’s the equivalent of writing down one’s work on a switch list – something my crews already do when handling carload traffic.

I also like that this Traffic Study form will remind operators that in the era I model, the job they are doing is being threatened by CNR management looking to abandon marginal branch lines, and annul services such as Port Rowan’s daily mixed train. I’m trying to tell a story with my layout and my operating sessions. As the tag under my blog’s title suggests, I’m trying to draw visiting operators into the world of “A Canadian National Railways branch in Ontario – in its twilight years”. This Traffic Study form may be a fabrication – but it’s one that should help me convey the story of The Daily Effort to visiting operators.

M233 at St Williams photo StW-Crossing-Trees-04_zps73bc3d71.jpg
(M233 stops at St. Williams to transfer passengers, mail, express and LCL)

“Modern” CN power – in HO

Most of my hobby tools and supplies remain stored while the house renovation continues, but one thing I do have easy access to is my spray booth and painting supplies. So – feeling the itch this week to do something hobby-related – I hauled some HO scale CNR diesel locomotives out of storage and put them through the weathering shop:

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Those who know me well know I have many interests in the hobby. I refuse to be pigeon-holed by scale, era, prototype or theme: They’re all good. But the CNR in the 1980s and early 1990s holds a special place for me, since that’s the railway and era that formed a big impression on me as a teenager growing up in southern Ontario. So I have a few models that remind me of that important time and place. (And yes, that’s 30 years ago so it hardly qualifies as “modern”, which is why I put the word in quotes in the title of this post. But, given that my modelling activities tend to focus on prototypes from the 1950s and earlier, I consider the 1980s to be my “modern” period.)

(Fortunately for my S scale Port Rowan project, my railway memories from growing up involve busy freight mainlines, commuter trains and large industry-switching operations – themes that are too big to fit into my medium-sized and definitely skinny layout space. I know, because I tried. My train room is definitely “branch line territory”, and I enjoy S scale’s combination of “big enough to see / small enough to fit” too much.)

The six-axle cowl unit – CNR 2113 – is an Overland import of a favourite Canadian prototype for many: the Bombardier-built HR-616. These were rare units – only 20 were made – and they were only moderately successful: The HR-616 experience convinced Bombardier that it should get the heck out of the locomotive business. Under the hood, they were fitted with an ALCo/MLW 251E 16-cylinder diesel that generated 3,000 HP – so I’ve installed an appropriate Tsunami decoder and 1.1″ high-bass speaker in that cavernous shell. I also upgraded the model with pico LED headlights and back-up lights, and added a crew to the cab.

The best part is, every time I work on the Bombardier unit I get a cash investment from the federal government. (Insert rimshot here. “Thank you ladies and germs. Have the fish: I’m here all week!”)

The other two units – CNR 9661 and CNR 9674 – are GP40-2 models from Atlas, factory-equipped with DCC and sound. I got these when Atlas released them, several years ago. By happy coincidence, while researching the HR-616 I found many photos of them paired with a GP40-2, since the latter were designed as 3,000 HP units to complement CNR’s SD40-2 fleet. (The HR-616’s also played well with MLW M630s, so I’ll have to acquire one when Bowser releases their models in late 2016.)

While weathering the models, the airbrush actually blew a few detail parts off the Atlas units. It seems not everything got glued in place in the factory. As well, I noticed that the distinctive snow shields over the air intakes behind the cab were factory-installed backwards: the left-hand one was on the right side, and vice versa. (There’s a lip with rivet impressions on one end of each hood: This lip goes on the cab roof.) I broke the snow shields free from the shell and re-glued them on the correct sides.

As with all models, weathering really brings these three units to life. I use a three-colour weathering palette for all my models, to give them a consistent look. This includes a light grey, an earth brown, and a weathered black. For these three, I used acrylics from Vallejo, thinned to create weathering washes and airbrushed on. I really like how a light spray of thinned light grey brings out the details on a black locomotive – especially below the frame.

These units will spend a fair bit of time as shelf queens, joining the two CNR SW1200RS units, a CNR “Sweep” and a CNR GP-9 that Pierre and I used on our “Peterborough Project” Free-mo module a few years back. That said, I do plan to take them to friends’ layouts as visiting power so they won’t remain idle all the time. In the meantime, it was nice to work on a simple project while I wait for the house renovations to be completed.

A visit to Ryan’s Workshop

Last week, Chris Abbott and I dropped in one evening to see Ryan Mendell at his work.

Ryan – who is building a terrific freelanced layout called The Algonquin Railway – runs a machine shop for an engineering school at a nearby university. The words “university” and “machine shop” should give you an idea of the kind of advanced work that Ryan and his team are doing, in support of faculty and students.

The shop is a tool-lover’s paradise: from venerable technologies like lathes and milling machines to state of the art systems including Electrical Discharge Machining and Water Jet Cutting, Ryan’s shop has it all. And yes, there are laser cutters and 3D printers on-site too. Ryan also gave us a quick tour of the software he and his colleagues use to control many of the machines on the shop floor.

It was a fascinating visit, and while Ryan’s shop is not used to create model railway products the tour did give me a new appreciation of the work and the machines involved in fabricating many of the awesome goodies we see on hobby shop shelves and at trade shows.

Thanks for the tour, Ryan!