2020 Year in Review, well its been a year hasn’t it?

Well, what a year it has been, in so many ways, for so many people. We have been lucky in our house and family. Everyone has kept their jobs and their health, and that is thing one, far more important than model trains or anything else. Who knew what was waiting for us when I cheerfully reviewed 2019 12 months ago!

2020 Started out with a bang, a new years visit to operate on a friends layout, and friends coming here to help me wire the layout and reach a point where I could run trains, and that was just the first two weekends of the year! I then had my first “random” visitors in early February who weren’t dragged kicking and screaming through my promises of dinner being provided to help me build (Hopefully Matthieu and Chris can visit again and run trains!), then, well, we all know how the next 10 months of 2020 went. I spent a lot of time working on my own after March, but I have made good use of that time, applying myself to putting things I have learned from others into practice to actually achieve things on the layout, and make some real progress on construction, far more than I had hoped to before the pandemic and having no where else to go and nothing else to spend disposable income on other than hobby supplies.

View of the layout on December 31st showing the state at the end of 2020.

A summary of my year is below, followed by some brief thoughts on my year and the hobby:

Projects Completed in 2020

Projects In Progress

  • Building Liberty Village Layout – Did lots on this!! See page here. This whole post could really be a look at the layout, and I decided for this year, I didn’t want it to be. I want to touch on some highlights and things that mostly make me feel good in a year where feel good has been in short supply at times.
  • Freight Car Kits – I didn’t finish any as of the time of writing, though 5 are literally waiting on me setting up the airbrush to clear coat them before weathering. 5 more are partly built, 3 not started, and one on order. But that is the way of the hobby.
  • Bullfrog Switch Machines – I’ve installed 4, that leaves 8 to go. Its pretty much a laziness thing at this point that I just haven’t felt like doing it as each one takes some time.


  • Scenery. I did a lot, worked on base scenery, learned static grass. Am working on improving my painting techniques in a variety of ways
  • Wiring, well, I learned, not always good things, but I am pushing myself to become better at soldering and wiring, blown up decoder to end the year notwithstanding.
  • Resin Casting, I bought supplies and cast my own parts. Starting with simple flats like manhole and drain covers, moving on to rocks and stone, then finally windows for buildings from 3D printed masters. Its been a good year on this count.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2021 (This list doesn’t seem to move some years)

  • Rails of Sheffield Caledonian Railway No. 828 – See Here
  • Bachmann LMS Patriot “The Unknown Warrior” – See Here
  • Rapido Trains GO Transit F59 – See Here

Strangely, none of those have anything at all to do with or on a layout set in Liberty Village in the 1950’s, but that’s what display cases are for!

I mentioned at the start that this has been a year of challenges, and while things have generally been good for me, I have not been without the dark times and depressing feelings and moods. It has not been an easy year, even if it hasn’t been “bad” for me, isolation, being at home 24/7 almost with my wife (and we love each other and get along just fine, but space is also important), has worn on me, and I have written about it this year, how living, working and relaxing in our home has been a challenge at times. Talking is a good thing, its part of why I do this blog. I hope people learn something or are interested in what I am doing, but it also is an outlet for me to shout to the interwebs about the things I am doing to be happy and function, even before the pandemic struck.

I am not going to do a “preview” post of what I want to achieve in 2021 as I have some years in the past, the one thing this year has taught me is that it really is true that making plans and scheming isn’t worth it. Roll with what life gives you, take the good and the bad, and make something of it. Thank you all friends I know and those I don’t for coming back and reading. Your feedback, likes, page views helps me keep going, and I hope I reciprocate enough for those of you who blog as well to know I read and appreciate your work and efforts to.

From my workbench to yours, as we see out the end of a year we’ll all be glad to have behind us I think, be kind to each other, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we can talk trains in person.

Stephen Gardiner
December 21, 2020

What is this New Devilry (That’s No Train Part 6!)

Yes, I know, most of you come here for the train content, but, there are still two non-train projects on the go…well, one after I finish this post (Ed: or 2 because it took me so long to write this I bought another since writing this intro!). More non-train distractions here: 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5! This will be a photo heavy post, so you’ve been warned!

Wrapping up the year that has been in 2020, this is a project I finished in November, and just didn’t get around to finishing the blog post about. As things went haywire in March with pandemic fear, being sent home, lock-downs and everything else, like many, I distracted myself with hobbies. In my case, as you all know, I’ve got plenty, so why not add some more! I had picked up a single warhammer figure that I was going to do as a present for a friend, and then in looking at Meeplemart, a local Toronto gaming and miniatures store, over the years I had looked at Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings miniatures, but figure painting has never been something I’ve been good at when I’ve tried, or super interested in as a rabbit hole, yet here I am and I find myself buying the Games Workshop Balrog, as I decided I was going to build a miniature of one of my favourite characters from The Lord of The Rings, the Balrog of Morgoth from the mines of Moria/Bridge of Khazad-Dum part of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Our house is a big Tolkien house, to the point that our cat is Gandalf the Grey Fur…check out his Instagram!!

Screen capture from “Fellowship of the Ring” showing the Balrog approaching Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

The gaming miniature kits are not huge, and not complicated, the detail and artistry is in the painting of them to create layers and effects, as you don’t really have sub assemblies, you need to paint and layer and detail in order as they go. Once I had the Balrog, of course, I started thinking about how to display it, and started going down rabbit holes. A white metal Gandalf figure from eBay here, cast resin dwarven columns there, LED effects (my usual source, Evans Designs)…and a big custom wood base to house it all…and before long I’ve gone from a Balrog figure in April to a full blown 12″ square diorama by May!!

A mega-gallery of building the Games Workshop Balrog of Morgoth gaming miniature.

The Balrog assembly was pretty straight-forward, because of its size, there were some seams that needed filling so they would vanish when painted. The miniature comes with both a whip and sword for the Balrog to hold in its right hand. In looking at them, I felt the sword looked more believable. The whip was defeating me on painting to get a realistic look, so I chose the sword for the Balrog to be wielding. The painting, and in particular, trying to recreate the fire look was one of my real challenges. As you can see from the pictures, I based it in white, for the hottest part inside the Balrog, with yellows, oranges and reds the further out towards the tips. I then went back and touched up the scales on his body where the flame is wrapping around them. For the rest of him, it is subtle, but there are washes of red across all the black of his wings to add a bit of texture and flame appearance across him.

Assembling Gandalf, plotting out the relationship of him holding aloft his staff to stay the Balrog’s progress.

With the figures well in hand, I needed to make sense out of the rest of the diorama. I had plenty of bits of scrap wood from layout construction, and having bought a new Jig Saw during the early pandemic, I was able to cut out the pieces I need to build a base I worked out a roughly 12″ square design base, and then using leftover white pine and MDF, cut out the shapes and built a core for the base. This would hide wiring and create a portion of the bridge of Khazad-Dum.

Easy base building for the diorama. Complete with opening door on the side to access wiring, and a wiring channel under the bridge so I could pull wires after adding rock castings and air dry clay. The last couple show the finished diorama and the hidden wiring door in use.

For the rocks, I decided to cast my own, to both work on my casting skills, and so I could modify them as I saw fit and not be dealing with pre-painted items. I did buy a different slower setting resin because of the size of the two main rock castings for the cliff face. The molds are from Woodland Scenics, and are designed to be used with lighterweight material than the resin I used, but since the weight wasn’t an issue for me, I went with the heavier resin.

Casting Rocks in resin. I could have used a lighter weight material, but I know the resin and I had it for other casting projects. Working on the installing the castings and the resin columns once they are installed.

Once I had my rocks cast, I epoxied the large castings into place after cleaning up and adjusting them to fit, and used a number of smaller rock castings to build up the base around the columns. The base and gaps were filled in with air dry DAS clay, this let me work it into the gaps, and smooth/create rock texture and crevices as appropriate. The base was too big to primer in my paint booth, so I rattle canned on primer on the patio in the fall. I could manoeuvre it to paint the detail and layering of colours inside, which I did. Some small things are hard to see in the pictures, but if you look closely, the helms of the dwarves on the columns have a shimmer. I added metallic medium over their helmets to look like Mithrel, which was mined in Moria. It seemed to me that the dwarves would have wanted their helmets to look impressive and show off the wealth of their underground empire.

Finished Diorama Photos. It doesn’t fit in my photo softbox, so makeshift will do! Trying to give a sense of the overall scale and lighting.
Two brief videos above of the finished Diorama of Gandalf challenging the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

One more non-train project finished…and of course me being me, I’ve been buying the bits for another non-train project…but that is a distraction for another day (and after the day I had with trains today…that’s no bad thing)!

Thing’s that go “POP” on the Workbench…

Sigh, so today was one of those days. I went from feeling ecstatic that something I was doing that I haven’t done before was working, to thinking “Trains are Stupid” and wanting to see how far an HO Scale locomotive can fly in the time it takes you to hear “POP!!”. I decided that I wanted a second Alco S-2 for my Canadian Pacific Railway operating fleet. These were the main Toronto diesel switchers in the 1950’s, so having two different ones along with eventually a steam locomotive would be appropriate. I bought a second Atlas S-2 and decoder supplies in the Credit Valley Boxing Day sale, and curbside picked up the order while out to go to the dentist yesterday morning. I then spent all afternoon into the evening last night starting the decoder installation process. I came back to it this morning to finish wiring the speakers, and after some messing around with software updates, I had a locomotive that responded properly on the test track, moved back and forth, and as you can hear in the video, had sounds.

30 Seconds of glory on the test track for my decoder installation.

Then, with me satisfied everything was working, I reassembled the body onto the locomotive, this, is where it all went sadly wrong. Something, somewhere in the wiring was shifted in this process, or came into contact. I still haven’t figured out where, largely because after I turned on power to test after putting the body on and heard the loud “POP”, most of what I had to say isn’t printable on a civilized internet, and I spent the next chunk of my day trying to calm down and not throw things around or smash things.

It is, at the end of the day, not fatal to the locomotive by any means, the decoder itself is likely shot. I will talk with ESU’s rep in the states and see what they suggest if it is even worth sending to them to look at, I expect, it will really come down to when someone local has the right decoder in stock again or placing an order for another new one, which frankly, having just blown up some cash, spending more is not in the cards for a bit, so back to other layout projects. For tonight, I have cleaned my workbench, worked on blog posts, and ran a train on the layout to remind myself that my hobby is fun, and I do enjoy it, just some days more than others!

Tuesday Train #227

Winter Arriving. I went out for a day of shooting befoe Christmas after we’d had a little bit of snow. The snow has started to fall as CN Train 422 lead by 2296 climbs the hill at Milepost 30 on the Halton Subdivision toward Georgetown. The last two locomotives in this consist were the interesting ones, two ex-Illinois Central EMD SD70’s, one, 1037 has been repainted into CN colours, one, 1025 at the rear has not, a rare catch for the un-repainted locomotive, 21 years after CN and Illinois Central merged in 1999!

Reclaiming my Layout Room for the Holidays

First off, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, whatever you celebrate if you do, I hope you find a way to make the best of it given all that 2020 has thrown at us. I am using up some days off that I need to use before the end of the year, and as I write this on Christmas eve, yesterday was my first day off for a Christmas break until January. As such, first up was to reclaim my layout room/workshop from also being my home office, and banish anything that has been there since mid-March making it my office for my employer as well, and even on day one it made a huge difference. Instead of being in the layout room from 8am having to ignore my models, I meandered in around noon and looked about to choose projects to work on. Talking with my friend Trevor Marshall of late, I realized I have made a lot of progress in 2020, but I want to focus myself on “finishing” the eastern half of the layout from the peninsula into CPR staging in the closet. I am not going to set a specific time target, more of an overarching “is there a project I can work on to advance this end of the layout” plan. If the answer is no, then off I go with something else, but If i can work on things that move that end forward, that I will do.

So, with all that said, I picked out two projects to work on. Making my first telephone poles, and laying the first static grass on the layout. I’ve been practising and learning to use Static Grass, so I decided it was time to actually apply some to the one large grassy area, the prison yard for the Mercer Reformatory woman’s prison! The sad part is, most of the grass is hidden behind the security fence, so you don’t really get to see it, though it will hopefully show in photographs from a slightly higher angle. None the less, laying the static grass in the yard, has brought that area very close to finished. It needs some work around the two trees recovered from Trevor’s layout, to blend the roots in, but the static grass has brought the appearance of the area and around the fence looking much more finished.

Getting set and laying static grass on the Mercer Reformatory prison yard.

For the yard, I removed the trees and fence, and filled the holes with toothpicks so I could find them again, and keep them free of grass and glue. As you can see from the pictures above, I laid green painters tape to help keep grass and glue from getting on the track and roads where I didn’t want it at the moment. I have recently stained the green painted fence with an alcohol and ink mix to tone it down and dirty it up. Nothing earth shattering in the work, or techniques, just good solid actually getting things done.

The finished area, before the green tape was pulled and with the tape removed.

Moving on from static grass, I have had the telephone poles in place for a while, but hadn’t moved on with them. Because on my layout, these are not railway telegraph poles, but city hydro (electricity) and streetlights, I am scratch building them so they match the poles from archives photographs, and at least give me the option to install working lights. My inspiration for the how is from Australian modeller Luke Towan’s Boulder Creek Blog. I am making modifications to his technique that he shares at the link, but I am absolutely 100% using his technique as the basis for coming up with how I am going to build mine. He kindly shares his 3D print designs for components, though this is one of the big areas I am making a change. When my friend Trevor moved, he gave me a giant box of HO Scale stuff, included in it was a set of Rix products telephone poles. The poles are useless, but the cross arms were perfect to cut down to size and modified. I am likely at some point going to get a couple of the pole mount transformers Luke shares printed, as I’ve been struggling to find any available from existing manufacturers (they exist, just not in stock anywhere!). The poles in Liberty Village as seen in archives pictures had arms on both sides, connected by wooden supports, creating a box like look for the arms. To make them consistent, I made a jig using some scrap styrene to set the arms, and let me glue them to the styrene tube poles. The poles are hollow for wiring, the outsides have been scraped with a razor saw so that when painted they will look like wooden poles. We shall see as they say how my painting technique goes!

Building a jig to connect Rix telephone arms to evergreen styrene hydro poles, and cutting down the arms on my NWSL Chopper.

I still need to make a final decision on if I am going to light the streetlights or not, as that determines how I 3D print the Toronto Acorn streetlights (previously used on my Bar Volo Diorama), as Shapeways no longer prints the clear material I used several years ago. I have friends with resin printers, who may be able to print me clear globes and non-translucent fixtures, we shall see, or if I decide not to light them, I can adjust and have them printed as just detail parts. Thus far, all the work I have done with the poles and their mounts in the layout allows for me to wire them and light them, but I can walk back from that if needed. For now, I’ve build 8 poles, and have an order for a package of the Rix cross arms pending to finish the other 10 poles on the layout. It was a nice easy project. I will get the rest of the strip wood pieces I need cut for the braces while I wait, but doing the rest of the poles will be a nice evening project sometime once I have the parts, then I can move on to painting them.

The first test pole assembled, and on the layout, setting up to build the 8 I have enough cross arms for, and the first three in place to see how they look.

All in all, a good day in the layout room, and it was nice to feel positive working in my layout space. On we go with more little projects here through the holidays!

Tuesday Train #226

A lucky eureka moment. I have been trying for ages since I did a dive through my digital camera archives a couple of years ago trying to find out where I had taken some photographs. All I knew for sure was that this photo was somewhere between Campbelville and Cambridge, and I knew that as I took the picture while driving from Georgetown where my parents lived back to Waterloo to see friends at Christmas in December 2002 when I was unemployed between finishing school and getting my first job in February 2003. On a drive through the countryside a few weeks ago, a random turn lead me to a scenic crossing, and when I got home, I realized I knew that location! For those who want to know, its Concession Road 14 near the Mountsberg Conservation Area, which also has the CPR crossing the lake in the CA across a causeway. Something else to go photograph some day!

Its a great spot for westbound CPR traffic headed toward London. Its a middling location for an eastbound from London. I will have to go back, and as a Bonus, two minutes up the road is a local farm with fresh baked goods including Butter Tarts on Saturdays… Danger!!!