Track Plan for a Liberty Village layout – Version 1.5?

In the nine days since I presented my first version of a track plan for Liberty Village, I have received a lot of feedback both on the blog, and off from friends in the hobby.  All of it has been very helpful in getting me to critically look at what I drew, what I want to achieve, and what will make my layout a better layout.  There are pieces of advice that I have taken and acted on, and others, that I have not acted on so far.  I don’t think the plan below quite rises to the level of a 2.0 design.  But it’s definitely a Version 1.5.

Oct 31 17 - Liberty Layout Concept 1-FastTracks 3.anyNovember 9, 2017 – Version 1.5.  Nov 09 17 – Liberty Layout Plan (PDF)

Major changes include:

  • Eliminating Curved Turnouts
  • Overall straightening of the main line adjacent to Liberty Street
  • Reducing number of industry car spots by 2
  • Adjusting building sizes to be closer to prototype where possible
  • Adjustments to Mowat/Liberty Trackage angles and spacing
  • Widening Jefferson-Atlantic and Atlantic-Hanna blocks to let industries/buildings breathe and even out spacing
  • Eliminate Run Around Loop (though this very much has the feel of the Dead Collector Scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, it’s still hanging around “I’m not dead yet…”)

I’ve looked at other options like providing an ability to run around on the staging cassettes, or making allowances for a train to use the staging for switching the last industries even if both full length tracks are occupied.  I haven’t quite figured out what I want to or can do with that, but as the Staging are both removable, they don’t have to be fully formed ideas at this point, though it wouldn’t hurt if they were for analyzing potential operations.

The run around loop remains something that my brain tells me I want for operations, my heart tells me that friends who are saying that extra trackage isn’t necessary and will bother you long-term are right.  So, for now, this version does away with it.

One thing I am really happy with is the fact that the Jefferson-Hanna area doesn’t feel so compressed in this version.  It has room to breathe, and lets me get a bit more detail of buildings that aren’t served on the layout, but where It doesn’t look as unnaturally squished as it did before. It also gives me the opportunity to model more of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company Building between Hanna and Atlantic (and I really need to pick industries with names I can reliably spell and pronounce between this and “Hinde and Dauch”!).

Where I am at now is looking at the track plan, and trying to visualize how an operating session would potentially work.  In a bit of opportune timing, I got together last night with my friend Trevor Marshall to talk about a bunch of modelling and layout stuff, and have dinner.  As always, most of our chatting was done while running a freight on his Port Rowan Layout.  Different from my past visits, instead of me being the engineer and driving, I took on the conductors role and did the paperwork.  In the few op sessions I’ve done, I’ve never been the paperwork end of it.  This is important, as while building the layout is fun, operating it, and that being enjoyable is also a part of the hobby.  Trevor wrote in detail about his Car Card forwarding system on his blog, and building an understanding of how to give operators directions to run the layout will be part of figuring out if what I’ve design will work.  I need to work on my understanding of car cards and forwarding and such if I am going to be able to come up with a scheme to operate the layout, I need to be able to explain what people who come to operate are supposed to be doing.

The layout as designed above would see some sidings which could only be switched by a locomotive pushing cars into the scene from the yards represented by staging.  From the CNR staging there are 3 sidings that could only be served by pushing cars onto the layout, and 8 which could be served by a locomotive pulling cars.  The opposite numbers apply for a train entering from the CPR staging. Given my staging is only big enough for a locomotive, caboose and 4 cars, and with two railroads serving the area, this means a lot of jobs would be 1-2 cars in and out for each railway.  I see an operating session being two jobs for each railway.  Because there is a larger area beyond the staging, it’s entirely possible that trains would bring in cars that they are leaving with, having been picked up or not yet dropped off off-scene.

Before I commit to a final plan, and start looking at construction and buying track supplies and such, I think my next step is to take the plan and make up some paper cutouts and play it like a board game to see if I can make sense of operating session schemes and switching.  If it seems to make sense, then I can continue on with the track plan refinements, if it doesn’t, then I’m back to the drawing board on the trackplan.  Regardless, its continue on apace with searching for information on the industries and buildings, and starting to sketch up what my model versions of the Liberty Village industries will look like.

Tuesday Train #80

IMGP4235RawConvUsed Geep Lot.

Get your Certified Pre-Owned Nissan, Pickup Truck or GP-40-2 and Slug here…

Well, not exactly, but the parking location used by the Goderich and Exeter of two units still painted for the “St Lawrence and Atlantic Railway” on Eagle Street in Cambridge looks like they are part of the used car lot.  The two units are a paired set, 806 on the left is identified as “RM-1”, a remote controlled slave unit to 3806 on the right, a GP-40-2 locomotive.

Research Research Research

Model Railroading is a hobby of research as much as it is of doing.  At least it is if you area “Prototype Modeller” who wants to ensure their models are as accurate a representation of what we are modelling as can be achieved in a scale model.  I spend a lot of time in libraries, archives, scouring online for information and pictures about models that I’m working on.  This is OK, as I love research and gaining knowledge.  It keeps me inspired to do better at my modelling by having as much information as possible before I start a project.

This means that modellers tend to have a lot of books and photographs around, as we are constantly looking for information and references for what we are building.  Last week while I was out to dinner with a group of modellers, a potential simultaneous build project to modify a ready-to-run steam locomotive to be more accurate to its Canadian National prototype came up.  With motivation, I finally went out and bought a book that I should have bought when it came out in 2013, “Canadian National Steam”, a book which provides as complete a history as likely will ever be possible of every steam locomotive owned by Canadian National Railways.

IMG_4436.JPGCanadian National Steam published by Railfare DC Books.  This is Volume 1, an overview and details on different aspects.  Volumes 2-8 are detailed rosters of different wheel arrangements, with lots of pictures and details of when major modifications to the locomotives were made.

Budget considerations dictated that for the moment, I bought Volume 1 and one roster book, though I should have at least 6 of the 7 roster books eventually.  I’m not sure I need Volume 2 on oddballs and Newfoundland.

Like most modellers I know, the last thing I need is another project to be added to my pile, and I’ve written about my stack of projects in the past.  Despite that, this would be a different project, a chance to collaborate with a friend on something I’ve wanted to do for a while with the locomotive I already own.  I only need to settle on which specific locomotive I am going to model, then find the appropriate detail parts to update and improve the model.  As part of this project, it will give me the opportunity to work on my electronic skills as well, as the headlight LED in the locomotive is a sickly shade of green light, and I’ll be installing DCC and sound, once I make sense of the non-standard 9 Pin plug on the locomotive and how to re-wire it for an ESU Loksound decoder!

IMG_4435Fergie “helping” with my research in one of the Roster volumes of Canadian National Steam. I think she felt it was bedtime and I should stop reading and start providing a place for her to cuddle in the night.

The good news is that I am contemplating this project the weekend before one of the larger train shows in the area, the Hamilton & Ancaster Model Train Show (formerly the TH&B Society Flea Market).  This show happens twice a year, in January and November.  The next two are Sunday November 12, 2017 and Sunday January 28, 2018.  I try to go to both, but winter roads can make the January one iffy, so whenever possible I go to the November Show.  I went with friends last year and hopefully will do so again.  The show is a good chance for me to start searching for detail parts and supplies for new and ongoing projects, as the show tends to have lots of these available.  I’ll post somewhere in the future about the specifics of the locomotive project I’m going to be working on.  For now its just the research phase!!

3D Printing Custom Design Requests or Requests to change the Scale of a Model – Not as easy or appetizing as people think

On a semi-regular basis I get two kinds of emails from people through my Shapeways 3D printing store:

  1. Hi, can you 3D draw item XYZ for me and not charge me an hourly rate for your design time.  I think you’ll sell lots of them and make money?
  2. Can you re-size item ABC that you’ve already drawn in HO Scale to N or S or O or whatever scale?

The first question is easy.  No, I can’t spend tens or hundreds of hours researching and designing something for you that I’m not interested in for no money.  The 3D modelling package I know and use is an older one that I learned in University and we bought at my office eons ago because I knew it.  It’s a bit (nee a lot) dated, but it works for me.  But, the fact that it is on my work computer means that I maybe get 30-40 minutes at lunch, and any time I want to hang around after work modelling (and contrary to popular belief, I do have a life and spending hours at work after work isn’t my idea of fun, even if it does lead to more models!).  I don’t have a sense of how long a project is going to take me to do when I start.  Some projects I thought would be easy have taken ages, and others I thought would be hard, have been advanced quickly.  And I don’t track how long I spend working on a model, as in some ways, I don’t want to know.  As my model making and Shapeways Store are a part of my HOBBY, I don’t want to put a dollar figure on my time, the hobby is expensive enough as is!!  Equally simply, in honest terms, large 3D printed items are not for the faint of heart.  The GO Single level coach is around $200US in cost before I apply any markup to make some money on it.  That’s just the cost from Shapeways.  That means, depending on how much markup I add to make some money, if I mark it up 30%, that’s a $260.00US model kit that doesn’t have wheels, decals, or detail parts.  I may not be a model railroad manufacturer, but I don’t need to be to know there isn’t a market for that when a complete resin coach kit from BGR group is around $160.00CDN and they are a niche market for people who actually want to build kits!

An accurate reflection of the transaction most people expect when they ask you to do custom 3D modelling for their Model Railroad projects, apologies for the swear word (Courtesy of Matthew Innman at

So, on to Question 2.  First up, I need to explain how I create a 3D model.  I draw whatever I am modelling at full size inside the computer program (i.e. an 89′ long passenger car is 89′ long in the computer program.  Over the 5 years I have been designing for printing at Shapeways, I have learned their material tolerances.  For example, in Frosted Ultra Detail, the material I print most of my models in, I know that the minimum width for a wall to successfully print is 0.6mm, or 0.02 inches.  This works out to 1.75 inches in the 1:1 scale real world.  This, is the minimum width that a wall of a building or car needs to be to print.  As you pay by volume of material, you want to minimize any additional thickness to parts to avoid paying for material that isn’t needed. This means, that I know exactly what i am doing in HO Scale, as that’s what i model in.  Once I am done the model, I split it into parts as appropriate (i.e. car underbody, interior, body shell), and re-scale it down to HO scale, and then upload to Shapeways.

FormZScreenshot of FormZ 6.5 and the 3D model of Don Station (before parting out for printing)

So you ask, why is it so hard to then change it to N scale or S scale or something else?  Well, its twofold.  Going smaller to N-Scale, the fine details may no longer be thick enough to print. Going bigger to S or O Scales, the walls may be too thick, and details that are passable in HO become blocky lumps that look terrible.  This is particularly a problem for buildings, as the window mullions are so fine in HO they barely print, which means they won’t print in N. In S or O Scale, if the part will even fit in the print envelope of the machine, the parts can look clunky and oversized, as they probably are over true scale in HO to meet the minimum printable dimensions.

Another problem, especially for locomotive bodies or coaches I’ve done, in shrinking them to N Scale, I know nothing about it.  I don’t have N scale equipment or couplers to understand correct heights, how things are mounted, what will and won’t negotiate a curve or switch and on and on.  When I was convinced to re-scale my CNR D-1 to N Scale, I had to go buy an N Scale mechanism for it to make sure the body would fit over it and to see where the mounting points were as opposed to the HO Scale version. I also discovered that I had to turn the roof into part of the body in N scale to make it strong enough.

When I up-sized D-1 to S Scale, that then posed the problem that the body was too big for the printer, on top of needing to thin the walls to try to bring the huge cost down to something reasonable for my friend who wanted it.  At least in S-Scale, there is no expectation of a commercial mechanism fitting it, so I only had to design with mounting blocks to allow the body to be attached to a custom-made brass frame.  For the carbody to fit in the printer, it had to be split in two.  It took me a long time to figure out where and how to split it, and make sure I had found every possible place where parts needed to be cut, and adjusted so they didn’t bind up when the two parts of the print were assembled.  It worked, but similar to the requests above, if I’d been billing time, it wouldn’t have been cost-effective.

D-1 in Many Scales.  S and HO together on Trevor Marshall’s kitchen table, and N scale on my workbench.  The S Scale required the body to be split apart, while the N-scale required the roof to become a part of the body to be strong enough.  Not just a quick click to re-size when changing scales.

Similarly, I received  a request a few months ago to re-size an HO Scale Fairmont Speeder to S scale.  A request I would normally ignore, though in this case, I didn’t.  The problem with making things bigger, is that it exposes any faults in the modelling. The smaller the model, the more a fudge here or a size issue there goes unnoticed.  I honestly think the only reason I even considered the request was that I have a friend who models in S Scale that I could at least give it to when done.  I also have a lot of respect for S Scale modellers.  They can’t generally go buy anything off the shelf and run it.  They have to work at it to find models, and build things.  I am totally behind that, and like the notion of helping them with a few hours of my time on the speeder resize to make another model available for them.  S Scale is called a “Builders Scale’, you don’t get into it because you want to buy stuff and run trains, you get into it because you are a modeller who likes building things.

The S Scale and HO Scale speeder together, and the S Scale speeder showing it modified to be two parts instead of the single piece of the HO Scale one to ease painting the larger and slightly more detailed version.

For the S Scale speeder, with the details being more visible, it gave me more opportunity to improve the model, and to fix things like the seats which hadn’t printed right in several HO attempts.  I also modified it to have some extra details, to allow wood strips to be inserted for the hand lift bars for turning it.  Making these changes probably took me 4 or 5 hours of fiddling about to make sense of where more detail was needed, trying to do things like make the axles roll (didn’t succeed). I’ve sold one to the person who requested it, which is nice as at least he was true to his word that if I did the work, he’d buy it.  This is where these resizing requests become a problem.  On top of the time sink which is not insignificant to adjust a model, and go through all the checks, I have no reason most of the time to order one myself to make sure it prints and looks right. I also don’t have the budget to be doing that, as it would be even more of a sink than doing the modelling for free is.  Suffice to say, I’m not much of a business man, as I probably made about $1/hour for the modification time on the single sale to date!!

While it may not seem like a lot of time, any time I spend working on adjusting a model for someone else, is taking away from the limited amount of time I have to work on designing things for my own projects, or going home and actually working on the models.  There are times I wish I could walk away from my day job and make enough money designing model railroad parts and models for a living, but I know from friends that turning your hobby into a job takes away the fun of the Hobby.  I am happy to offer for sale what I do come up with on Shapeways to help build a community and help others, but that’s done with the understanding that I don’t have the time to do extensive customer support or custom projects. I will continue to generally politely decline requests for projects and re-sizing for the most part, though as you can see, I’m also inconsistent and at least sometimes, something will pique my interest enough to get me to take it on.

April 28, 2017 – A Tale of a Canadian Flag

So, this is most definitely not a post about trains.  It’s a post about a flag.  A flag which on April 28, 2017 flew on top of the Peace Tower at the Houses of Parliament, and thanks to a program run by the Government of Canada, it’s now living in our apartment.  I found out about the program in 2005, and made a request in a letter which I mailed on July 1, 2005.  At the time, I was told it was a 10 year wait, it’s been a bit over 12, but I am now the proud owner of a 2.3mx4.6m (7.5’x15′) Canadian Flag which flew above our parliament.  I gather the wait time now from the Government Website that deals with requests is 73 years.  Over the years I have dutifully updated my address when I’ve moved, and wondered if and when I would ever hear back  about actually getting a flag.  I never gave much thought to what I would do with it when it was received.

Back in late September I got an email from Public Services and Procurement Canada (say that five times fast!), about my request being fulfilled, and wanting confirmation of my address for shipment. Suffice to say, I couldn’t type an email back to them fast enough!  I picked the package up this evening at the courier depot, and now it’s safely home in our apartment.  When I placed the request in 2005, the notion of the Country’s 150th birthday celebration in 2017 hadn’t even crossed my mind as a potential time for receiving the flag.

IMG_4434.JPGA flag from the Peace Tower, half unfolded, which covers our entire King sized Bed!!

What I am going to do with it, well, who knows. My initial thought is to get a big shadow box, and frame it inside the box.  I’d love to track down a picture of the Houses of Parliament and the Peace Tower from April 28th 2017 to get printed and mount with the flag.  If anyone out there who ever stumbles across my blog has such a picture you’d be willing to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

PeaceTowerFlagThe Canadian flag flying proudly above the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill on Canada Day 2016.  If anyone is reading this and has a picture of the Peace Tower & flag from April 28, 2017, I’d love to get a copy to frame with our flag for display in our apartment.

PS – This is also the 200th post I’ve made to this blog.  Didn’t see this being what I’d be writing about!

Track Plan for a Liberty Village layout – Attempt 1.0

Well, here it is, my first attempt at a track plan for a layout in our apartment.  As previously discussed here and here, I have chosen the “Liberty Village” area in the west end of downtown Toronto as my first potential (maybe only, who knows yet) option for a layout to study and assess.  I’ve been working on and off on it for the past couple of weeks since I generally identified how much space for a layout could be created in the office/spare bedroom.  As I’ve looked at track options, and learned more about the Liberty Village area, I’ve refined the conceptual design of the benchwork, and on developing a track plan.

I am trying to take inspiration from modellers like Trevor Marshall or Lance Mindheim who promote the concept of “Achievable Layouts”, i.e. setting realistic goals and expectations for what we can fit into our homes, and can reasonably hope to build.  Living in a rental apartment, we could move before I even start this project, or live there another 6 years on top of the 6 we’ve been in our current apartment and see a layout reach a point where it’s completed and the joy comes from operating rather than planning and building.  With that in mind, as I’ve written about, everything is designed to be supported by the furniture beneath, and not be anchored to the walls (because anchoring anything to the 50-year-old concrete walls in our building is a nightmare, I’ve done it enough I don’t want to do it again!).

In terms of inspiration, this is definitely a “Prototype-Inspired” layout.  Using compression and some adjustment of locations for a shelf layout, I can represent a reasonable cross-section of Liberty Village along Liberty Street.  In terms of era, I will be setting the layout in the late 1950’s.  Exact date still to be determined, I’m leaning towards somewhere between 1955-57.  In this era, Toronto would mostly have been diesel switched, using S-2’s and S-3’s for CPR, and SW8/9/900 for CN, though SW-1200RS’s may have been seen in switching duty following their delivery starting in 1955.  There is also a chance that on CN at least, steam may have shown up.  In the Toronto area, everything I’ve ever seen indicates that CPR was really fast to dieselize their freight switching operations following the arrival of the First S-2 in 1944 and the end of WW2.  I’ve seen more pictures of hanger on steam on CN.  Giving some poor crew at an ops session an end of life 0-8-0 or 0-6-0 that’s a bit to big for the trackage and set to perform as if it’s on its last legs would be an interesting challenge.

But, back to the track plan.  Before I ramble any more, here is the first version I’m sharing:

Oct 31 17 - Liberty Layout Concept 1-FastTracks 3.anyTrack Plan Version 1.0 – Bigger Version in PDF File HERE

The technical details are that I designed using Fast Tracks hand-made turnouts and crossovers.  I haven’t yet fully committed to this and building my own turnouts (with micro engineering flextrack elsewhere), but, they offer some flexibility and the opportunity to learn/improve multiple skills.  Turnouts are No.4’s aside from two curved No.6 turnouts by Hanna Avenue.  I suspect, that I will use an open grid benchwork to provide room for mounting to the desks as the base, with a high-grade plywood surface.  All of the benchwork surface can be achieved from a single 4’x8′ sheet.  Given the almost complete lack of topography, I don’t need a foam layer, but it may not be a bad option for ease of inserting details like hydro poles and the like as opposed to having to drill into the ply everytime, but that’s a down the road problem when we get to construction.  My current thinking is to use cork roadbed and sheets to build up the roads and track areas. As you can see if you go there today, or from pictures, the roads and rails were generally on the same level where track wasn’t in the streets.

Liberty Village Circa 1970’s (All Images from Toronto Archives).  On the left, the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue (looking south), on the right, the intersection of Hanna Avenue and Liberty (looking east on top and west on bottom along Liberty).  These images are from the long decay period for Liberty Village, between its industrial heyday and its rebirth in the 2000’s as a residential and high-tech neighbourhood.

The layout concept above has 8 rail served industries, with 13 possible locations for spotting cars at the industries.  On the plan, I’ve shown 40′ cars, but some tracks and locations could accommodate 50′ cars as well.  The layout attempts to capture the trackage at the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue faithfully at the “west” end (left), and a reduced version of Hinde & Dauch Paper at the “east” end (left).  Exiting down Mowat Ave leads to CNR Staging, representing the yard adjacent to the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds (where Exhibition GO Station is today) and the greater world.  Exiting past Hinde & Dauch takes you to the CPR Parkdale Yard and their connection to the greater world.  In the middle of the layout, between Fraser Ave and Atlantic Ave, I have flipped the industries from the south side of the street to the north side.  This lets me create a representation of the core area of Liberty Village between the two more faithful ends.  The space available to me and the limitations of models to negotiate crazy tight curves as existed in the real world force compromises here.  I think, so far I can live with them.

The greatest deviation from the real trackage is the provision of the “run around” loop in Liberty Street. This didn’t exist, despite the presence of sidings which could only be switched if you pushed a car in from some distance away at either yard.  For example.  CN would have had to push cars for Toronto Carpet or Thrane north on Mowat from the yard, similarly, CPR would have had to push cars into Hinde & Dauch or to Canadian GE.  Having shared a version of this plan while working on this post with my friend Trevor Marshall, he suggested ditching the run around and making operators have to work as they did in the real world, in this case, replicated in the staging yards by how the trains were marshalled before a session.  I’m of several minds on this.  For serious operating sessions, it definitely pose more of a challenge to not have it.  For days where I’m at home alone and messing about, having it potentially makes it more fun on “Stephen’s messing about switching cars for no good reason” sessions.  And yes, there will be days where I just shunt cars for the sake of shunting cars, there’s no point building a layout if you can’t just have some fun running equipment on it for no good reason!  That said, the run around loop is something that can either be built later if I leave it off and discover I really hate it, or lock it out of use for operating sessions to force visitors to work more prototypically.

In terms of next steps.  I’m going to keep researching the area and working on refining the track and benchwork plans from any feedback I receive on this post or directly from reaching out to friends.  The first thing to happen will be the replacement of my existing workbench and re-organizing the furniture that will support the layout.  I’ve budgeted to do that sometime late in January/early February 2018.  Once that is done, I can finalize the benchwork design and how it will be affixed to the furniture.  So this will still be a slow burn for a few months before any real layout construction starts.