The Waiting is the Hardest Part

A wise man once said, The Waiting is the Hardest Part….

I don’t know about others, but for me, the longer I have to think about a project or something, the more I find ways to psyche myself out.  I’m better when I can just move ahead on things, even when I don’t have experience or know what I’m doing.  I find I learn from doing and failing, and from forcing myself to pick myself up from my failures to complete a project.  This post I think is a bit of a self-help post to just say what’s rattling around in my mind about the prospects of starting construction on a layout in the coming months.  Lets call a spade a spade as it were, I’m going to spend a lot of money in the coming months on this, and while I’ve been saving and doing things to raise money, I can’t afford to make mistakes that cost hundreds or thousands or dollars in building the layout.  Those kinds of mistakes will lead to me having a spare room that causes me nightmares instead of happy times building models and being able to eventually invite friends over to run trains!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a revised track plan for the Liberty Village area, taking advantage of the increase in space afforded by having a whole room to work with for my workbench and layout in our new house when we move in late June.  I did briefly consider If I wanted to take the opportunity of the house purchase to look at a different prototype, but I’ve decided I still really like the concept and the location, and being able to design out some of the compromises of Version 1.0, has made me much happier with what I am looking at building.  I’ve been chatting with the Model Railroad Enabler (Here, here, and here to explain), and as a very experienced track plan designer and builder of layouts, not to speak for him too much, but his feedback on the track plan has been positive so far.

Here’s where the waiting becomes a problem for me. I have the great fortune of having made friends in the past few years thanks to the Enabler inviting me to the supper club of modellers and railfan’s he was organizing in Toronto, and I have the good sense to know what I don’t know, and to try to ask for help, but I regularly feel like I need to ask for help and advice and someone to help me learn how to do so many things in building a layout, that I almost feel like I can’t do anything on my own.  While I know this isn’t the case, at times I feel like I am desperate to rush the clock forward to July/August once we are in the house, and I can be certain that benchwork can be installed, and the dimensions of the room and spaces are right, I alternately feel really excited and really daunted at the same time (I’m not good at inertia or sitting around doing nothing, just ask my wife. I’m a putterer, I like being able to just putter around at something when I’m home. Doing nothing isn’t one of my great skills). I feel like I’m just super eager to get on with it, but with relying on the help/guidance of others to do so much, I sit around feeling like I’m taking more from my friends than I’m giving to ever build.

I know what parts of the hobby I’m good at, if I can get to the point of having benchwork built, track laid and wired and working, I can build the buildings and do most of the scenery in my sleep (other than maybe ballasting track, I have kinda historically been lousy in my efforts at that).  Every time I look at it I feel fringes of depression and dread at the thought of building benchwork, or laying track, or doing wiring, all things I have friends I can ask for help and education with doing, but historically, I’m not good at accepting the help of others. I get guilty pangs from not being able to do it myself, I don’t know why, I just do.  Turns out, it really is hard to say “I don’t know” when you really feel you should know how to do something.

Image result for i don't know you can't do that on television alanis
Alanis Morissette (yes, the famous singer) gets slimed on “You Can’t do that On Television“, a kids variety show from the early 1980’s where you got slimed if you said “I Don’t Know”. My sister and I weren’t allowed to watch it, so of course we snuck about when my parents weren’t paying attention to watch it. Part of my feels like this is what’s going to happen to me if I admit to not knowing how to do something in building my layout.

I think much of this is the list of things that I haven’t done that I want to do in building the layout feels longer than the list of things I have done…

  • Build Benchwork – My 2 previous layouts where a 4×8 sheet of plywood my dad built for me when I was about 10 years old, and a shelf layout where we built the benchwork out of flat pine shelves and shelf brackets. Box girder benchwork with a plywood top and then likely a foam layer isn’t rocket science, but on this especially, I can’t possibly ever build a layout without the kindness of my friends to offer me their garages/tools. I don’t have a driveway or a workshop at the new house, and I don’t own the tools to cut the lumber. I constantly feel guilty at how can I repay those who keep offering me their space and experience to build the benchwork at their place so I can bring it home and install it.
  • Build a switch – I want to do this. Could I build the layout using all ready-made switches? Yes, I think I could, but I don’t want to. I think (know?) it will look better if I build switches, almost 99% using the Fast Tracks system, But I’ve never done it
  • Install a switch machine – To go with building the switch, I want to use hand thrown switch machines, under the layout. My past layouts have all used ground throws. My layout will be high (around 62″) to facilitate bookcases beneath it, that rules out ground throws vs having the pull handles on the fascia.  So many questions again, I’ve never assembled a machine (again likely Fast Tracks Bullfrogs which friends use and seem very reliable).
  • Wire a layout, what, but you said you had two layouts? Yup, and the 4×8 had four wires, two from the controller for the inner loop to the track, and two from the controller to the outer loop for track.  The Shelf was a bit more adventurous, but I think 90% of the layout got its power from on set of feeders wired to one track. I had no idea that you really needed to wire feeders at regular lengths or to every piece of track as some people do.  Having reached the point where I am definitely buying a DCC system will ease some of this, no messing around with dead zones or isolation tracks as I did on the shelf, but I need to learn enough at least to wire the switches and where I need gaps to not short out the system and fry it.

I’m sure there are others, but a significant chunk of actually building  a layout is covered in the list above.

I think a lot of this comes from the fact there are so many different ways to do the same thing in the hobby. Person A will say the only way to do things is X, Person B will say the only way to do the same thing is Y, and then Person C will say person A&B are insane and you should be doing Z.  I’m reasonably experienced at lots of aspects of the hobby, but for the parts I’m not, I find these kinds of discussions dread inducing, so much so that sometimes when I look at my track plan, I can feel a nervous twitch coming on about whether I actually do want to build it, or if at heart I’m really an armchair modeller.  I’m not, I want nothing more than to be able to build something and actually operate all the models I’ve bought or built or will build.

So, with all that, if you are still reading, the reward is a first look at Liberty Village Line version 2.0 Trackplan:

Apr 23 18 - Liberty Layout V2.jpgLiberty Village Layout Version 2.0 – Download a PDF version for easier viewing

Some notes to help make sense, the yellow box is my future new workbench area, the blue boxes are bookcases beneath the benchwork or elsewhere in the room.  The room has a full width walk-in closet.  I’ll be taking the door off once side of the closet to allow the layout to pass right into the closet.  It’s not labelled, but the staging on the left of the plan is Canadian National, and on the right Canadian Pacific.

I’ll put a proper post up on the new layout plan sometime in the coming days when time permits. Thank you for reading today’s bit of a ramble on my state of mind about layout building. I feel better already having typed out my thoughts and fears above.

587 Yonge St/Bar Volo – Model Completed

For how small the model is (12″x12″ square), this has been a long slow burn of a project.  The idea of it was hatched in October 2016 when the original location of Bar Volo closed for the building to be demolished.  This will be a photo heavy post, but I will include links at the end as this is a project wrap-up post to earlier ones on the process of building the model.

This project had a bit of every aspect of model making and design, 3D printed components, designing signs for printing from the computer, working with styrene, using pan pastels, scenery techniques for the ivy.  The building and interior are all done. There are no loose ends.  I do want to make a sign for when it is out on display, and I am still messing about with which cars are going to be on the diorama, and where they go, but those are cosmetic things that can be changed as I desire.  There are no more “construction” tasks to do, the model is done!! (how nice it is to say that!)

My timing couldn’t be better, with the news this week that Bar Volo has finally found a new home, and that a liquor license application has been filed for a location only a block away from their old home, this time to the northwest of Yonge and Wellesley.  I look forward to seeing many good friends at Volo again in the future, and to bringing the model down to the bar for others to see.

With all that said,  I can now sit back and admire my model, and hopefully you enjoy it too!

IMGP7205RawConvCome on in to Bar Volo, the lights are on, the beer is flowing, and good company awaits.
The Dundonald Street (south) side of the building with the patio.
The Yonge Street view of Bar Volo.
The Interior View, showing the switches for lights, and the opening back wall so you can look into the bar and see the interior of the model.
The east side of the building, mostly hidden behind other buildings not modeled (the black card material)
IMGP7215RawConvAerial View of the diorama, the whole square foot of it!!!
View of the patio from street level, complete down to the blackboards with the beer lists on it.
Slightly higher view of the patio. As you can see, when the interior lights are on, its very visible.
IMG_5154A shot of the model to give a better sense of scale. For those not familiar, I model in what is known as HO Scale, a model railroad scale of 1″ of the model is equal to 87″ in the real world, often seen referred to as 1/87th.

Previous Blog Posts on Model:

Day Job and Hobby Time Collide: Researching Information on Structures on the City Website

The Internet is a wonderful thing, sometimes.  One place that is has become a wonderful thing is that as the requirements for better and more open data and making information regarding land use planning applications have been increased, in major cities in Ontario at least, a huge font of once hard to find information is now regularly posted on the internet for all to access.  I wrote about this previously many months ago in relation to my model of 587 Yonge Street, and finding survey plans for the site, as it was in the process of being Rezoning and obtaining Site Plan Approval to construct a condo.  Strangely enough, this is also work and hobby colliding.  As a Professional Urban Planner in a consulting company, this knowledge is something I am using every day in my day job, but it nicely collides with my hobby and my desire to collect information on Buildings I might model someday, such as the industrial buildings of Liberty Village, where conveniently, there are plenty of applications to collect material from.

When most planning applications are submitted you are required to post a notice sign to invite public comment (Site Plan Approval is slightly different, as it is not a public comment process, but Toronto still posts site plans to the AIC, so you can see the info, but the City isn’t obligated to engage the public as it’s a technical approval dealing with the development, as opposed to say a Zoning Amendment or Minor Variance where the application is to change the rules applicable to what you can build there).  For Official Plan or Zoning Amendments, a big sign (see below) has to be posted, for Minor Variance or Consent applications, a small 11″x17″ neon green or orange sign is required.  Different City’s have different signage requirements, but if you are driving around and see big signs, there might be plans that are public record available for you.

TorontoDevelopmentSign.jpgA Toronto Development Application Notice Sign. A Sign to modellers that there are plans and drawings out there waiting for you if you want to model the site.

I’m going to use the City of Toronto as an example, but I’ll include some links at the end to other City’s in Ontario’s similar sites.  In Toronto, the site is known as the “Application Information Centre”, and is accessed at  From the site, you can search by address, city planning district, or City Ward.  I personally find the City Ward is most useful to get down to an area and see whats going on.  The City has required electronic submission requirements for years, and staff have finally gotten good at making sure everything gets tagged and added to the application.  For a long time after the AIC launched, this wasn’t the case, and you can still find applications in the system that do not have drawings and reports attached to them unfortunately.

The City of Toronto “Application Information Centre”, an amazing tool for any modeller in Toronto, watch for properties being re-developed or where any application is proposed, and you’ll find plans!

Once you have located an application on a property you are interested in, click the pin, and it will open up a page with information on what is being proposed, what applications have been filed, and a list of supporting materials, i.e. everything the applicant has had to submit with the application.  This is the treasure for modellers.  There are two things you are most likely going to want, anything called a “Survey”, and anything listed as “Architectural Plans”.  Sometimes the survey drawings are included with the Architectural Plans as part of a set, sometimes not.

The screen that greets you when you open an application, and expanded to show the list of materials.

Survey plans are exactly what they sound like, a plan, prepared by a Land Surveyor that identifies the boundaries of the property, and the details of the existing structures, buildings, trees, railway tracks, whatever on the property.  These are a great tool for modellers as they show you exactly the size and shape of buildings.  The Architectural Plans can vary in their usefulness depending on what is going on.  If you want to model the building that’s been there for 50 years, but its being torn down, the plans probably only show the new building.  If it’s a change of use, addition, or even a new building, sometimes they then have plans that cover the existing building as well as the new.  personally, more often than not the survey is the most useful just to understand the size and layout of a site, any elevations or building drawings are a bonus.

BrunswickBalkeElevationsElevation drawings for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender building, included in the plans for a new office building adjacent on the site to allow City Heritage Staff to ensure the heritage building is protected (WZMH Architects Drawing).

In this case, one of the major buildings that I am planning on modelling is here in both survey to get the siting and dimensions, but in elevations for both the main building, and the powerhouse/chimney.  This is absolutely fantastic for me, and will make this an early project when layout construction begins.  I now have scale drawings that I can print in HO Scale to use to get the building shape and size right.

Because there is so much development happening in Liberty Village, I now have surveys for 5 or 6 blocks in the area, and at least partial plans for a couple of buildings.  Unfortunately, one of my key buildings, the Hinde and Dauch Paper Company that is now the Toy Factory Lofts when through the development process long before online posting.  If anyone at Quadrangle Architects or Lanterra Developments reads my blog and wants to share the topo survey of the building before construction, and the elevations for the original building, I’d love to hear from them!!

People often like to kick their government, and there are certainly plenty of things you can kick the City of Toronto for, but the Planning Department’s Application Information Centre and availability of public record documents certainly isn’t one of them.  As the requirements in the Planning Act that governs development in Ontario have evolved, more, not less Municipalities are going to wind up with sites like this making information available to modellers looking for it. Its a nice double whammy, makes my day job and my fun time more productive and easier!! Not often you can say that!

Other Major City Application Information Pages:

Tuesday Train #101

IMG_5070Given my history of not seeing CPR moving trains in the daylight in Toronto, it’s only fair that this week, the Tuesday Train is an admittedly lousy photograph of a CPR “Train” moving in Toronto that I took last week from the parking lot of the Toronto Archives while I was there for work.  I say “Train”, because it was a light engine move of GE ES44AC No.8756 leading GE AC4400CW No.9817 east across the City light engine, with no freight cars in tow.

Continuing Efforts to Learn how the Railroads Served Liberty Village

During my lunch break yesterday at work, when I needed to clear my mind, I spent a few minutes trying to do some historical research.  Today, I’m writing about that searching to help me get what I learned into my head a bit better.  In this case, yesterday I was specifically looking for information on “Employee Timetables”, something I know of, but which I don’t have any of for either the Canadian National or Canadian Pacific railways in the mid-late 1950’s era I am looking to set my layout based on Liberty Village in Toronto on.  These are regularly available at Train Shows at seemingly ever inflating prices, which I have usually refused to pay, though inevitably I will need to consider buying a few from the right era to help my understanding of operations on my layout.

One of the web pages I have read before, is that of Charles Cooper, a railfan and author in Ontario.  I own his excellent book “Hamilton’s Other Railway” on the Hamilton & NorthWestern that built what would become the CNR line between Hamilton and Barrie via Milton and Georgetown.  Building a model of Georgetown’s station to go with my model of CNR D-1 is a long term goal, but that’s a different story.  Where Charles Cooper is important today, is a section of his website with scanned public and employee timetables.  In the list, is a CNR Employee Timetable for the Toronto Terminals, dated April 28, 1957, square in the middle of the era I am looking to set my layout in!

CNR_TorontoTerminals_ETT38_April1957CoverCNR Employee Time Table 38, Effective April 28, 1957 for the Toronto Terminals district.

He has the entire document scanned on his website, after a quick leaf through the PDF, it has all kinds of interesting information in it for me.  Not necessarily train times, as an industrial district like Liberty Village would have been switched as needed after incoming cars were delivered to the appropriate nearby yard, or as shippers needed loaded cars moved from their docks, but on operating rules and restrictions.  It includes all kinds of information about restrictions on operations in the area, such as limits on where different locomotives can run as shown below:

CNR_TorontoTerminals_ETT38_April1957Restrictions.jpgEngine Restrictions – “over which only a standard six wheel yard engine can operate” including a number of Liberty Village destinations under the Oakville Sub including Mowat Ave, Toronto Carpet, Pardee Ave, Hinde & Dauch Paper.

The engine restrictions list is fascinating, confirming that only small steam locomotives would be allowed into Liberty Village to switch the industries.  This makes sense, as all the maps and plans indicate how tight some of the switches and curves are when you look at the narrow 20′ wide streets and maximum 60′ building to building dimensions including the street, tracks and any setbacks for the buildings from them.

Sadly, this restriction means one of the locomotives I own that I intend to use on the layout wouldn’t have been permitted into Liberty Village.  I have a Life-Like Proto 2000 0-8-0 switcher which I bought many years ago.  It was a regular runner on my old shelf layout in my parents basement when they lived in Georgetown, and I’d been planning on pulling it out of the box after I move in June to look at converting it to DCC.  I may still do that, but clearly, It will be a locomotive operating on Rule 1, “It’s My Railroad and I’ll Run what I Want” when I feel like taking it out, and not a locomotive to be used during prototypical operation sessions.

3148949101_95e3017a0b_oMy Life-Like Proto 2000 Heritage USRA 0-8-0.  I had hoped to use this as an occasional visitor to Liberty Village, by the late 1950’s, much of CN and CP’s switching jobs would have been handled by diesels, but I figured an occasional steam interloper would be allowed.

I have a small steam locomotive project for Canadian Pacific already on my workbench, a friend gifted me a Life-Like/Walthers 0-6-0 locomotive without a tender.  The dimensions almost perfectly match a CPR U-3-e yard locomotive, of which several were assigned to John Street and Lambton Yards over the years, and which likely would have switched Liberty Village.  That’s a bit of a long term project, but I’ve got the plans for the tender body from the CPR Historical Society, and have been slowly collecting detail parts to build a tender and modify the locomotive to better resemble the CPR prototype.

The next time I’m at a train show, I think I’ll need to take the time to more carefully go through the timetables and information for sale on the CNR and CPR Toronto districts in the mid-late 1950’s to try and acquire some Employee Timetables to help me fill in the operational restrictions and rules of both railroads for eventually developing Ops Sessions once the layout gets built.