Saturday Switching Tracks

Well, today was a really good day on the layout. I haven’t been working on the layout much of late, its July, the weather is nice, and we have been enjoying just sitting outside on our evenings and weekends. That said, a couple of weeks ago I did my first Operating Session attempt, and some things that were really problematic, like having trains go where I wanted as only 4 of 12 switches had Fast Tracks Bullfrog turnout machines installed to throw the switches and hold them in position while a train passes over made me crazy have been turning in my mind. On my work lunch break on Friday, for some reason the motivation hit me, and I installed a Bullfrog on the first switch leaving the CN staging yard. It took maybe 15 minutes to get it fitted, mounted and the throw rod on. This was a positive, as it gave me a nice boost of confidence in my ability to do them.

Today, Saturday was a washout here, which motivated me to go put on some tunes loud, and get going with installing more Bullfrogs. All of a sudden, in a couple of hours, I had five more installed, giving me 10 of 12 switches done.

Where there were no installed Bullfrog switch machines on Friday morning, by Saturday afternoon there were six.

The last two switches required some big decisions to be made. Because of where the switch was located, it made a simple straight run for the RC Aircraft control rod that throws the bullfrogs impossible, at least unless I made a change to the benchwork. When I designed the layout, i designed it with the peninsula being mobile, it was designed to be unlatched and turned away to free up room in the centre of the layout room. Over a year of living in the layout room 8+ hours a day thanks to work from home and my workbench becoming my work desk, I have come to the conclusion, that it does not make my life better for it to swing, and once the track was laid and I got a good look at everything, I was never able to bring myself to cut the rails so the peninsula could swing, it basically hasn’t swung since I laid the track. This is good though, as the track now won’t have gaps and alignment problems that could have made operations bad. I know these kinds of things can work, but I have enough alignment issues to work out with my staging yards that I can’t avoid, so why create headaches when I don’t need them?

Fastening the peninsula and removing the hinge. A big design decision for the future of the layout.

The last two Bullfrogs were pretty much standard installs with the decision to remove the hinge and make the peninsula fixed. One of the things that had kept me from doing this was I had some challenges with my first installs, but learning as I went. Because of this, I have spent my pandemic modelling time doing things like building freight car kits, scenery and structures that I had a higher confidence in working out rather than things I’ve convinced myself I needed a friends help to do. That said, several friends have tried to give me the pep talk that I am more than capable of doing these installs, rather than waiting on a time where I can have a friend over. I think, as much as anything, I was putting this off as it is something that having a friend help with would be nice, one of the things remaining that maybe need a friend to help with a construction session on. Though, with me getting them done, when that day which is hopefully coming soon where I can have a friend over, we might be able to run a train without turnout problems at least instead of install turnout controls. I guess I’ll need to get on with finding and solving my few electrical gremlins that seem to still have locos stalling out in places, but that’s another days problem!

Installing the last Bullfrog and marking off the task on my whiteboard of major work areas…what a great feeling.

So, with that, today was a really good day on the layout. I got a lot done, and on at least first passes of rolling freight cars through the switches, the Bullfrogs are keeping everything tight so the wheels are directed the right directions. I have the motivation to work on the layout again that had been lacking, just getting a project done has given me a real lift. I look forward to actually running some trains where I can hopefully be sure they will go where I want them to!

A Tentative First night of Ops in Liberty Village

As I wrote about at the end of June, I am starting to think about what Operating Sessions will look like on my layout as construction progresses, and as things in the world open up to possibly have visitors again to invite friends over to run trains.

Layout all set for the first attempt at a full Operating Session

This first real operations session was a solo effort, and I had to gird myself for frustrations as gremlins were no doubt going to appear as I operated, but this was about learning, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. I expected to find some electrical issues, as it hasn’t been run and the track in spots almost certainly wasn’t properly cleaned after doing scenery work nearby. As well, only four switches have bullfrogs installed, which means a lot of switches don’t stay set the way you want and equipment can force them to move instead of the switches staying put and making the wheels follow the rails.

Part of this, was to look at what things look like for an operator. You can’t run long trains on my layout, because of how the staging traversers are designed, they do allow a crew to run around cars in staging, to change between pushing or pulling cars onto the layout, but there is not a lot of spare space. The layout has separate CPR and CNR staging and operating crews. In theory, both could work at the same time, but there would be conflicts. I set the session up where every car on the layout would be moved, and new cars placed from staging (but not necessarily in the same places). I pre-staged my CPR trains in the order I thought the cars needed to be to make bringing cars from staging easier, and didn’t on CNR to see if I could actually live shunt the cars into useful order on the layout. I am not sure which option is better, other than to say that on the CPR side, the low clearance from the closet shelf makes uncoupling cars nearly impossible if they are on a track behind other equipment.

The first to run for me was CPR. My Atlas S2 seems to be my most reliable performer electrically over dirty track, the keep alive in it seems to do as it should and give it a seconds life when it wants to cut out. I don’t recall having any shorts outs while running this side. I did have some derailments from switches not staying lined, or cars that clearly need wheels cleaned/gauged or more weight added. These are all things that can be fixed. It took about an hour to switch the CPR side and move 13 cars on and off the layout.

The CNR operation, took longer, and caused more frustrations. My current pair of working CNR locomotives, a Rapido Trains SW1200RS and a Rapido Trains GMD-1, both are, to be polite, sensitive performers. They work fine for a bit, then just short out constantly, even on the same track they just worked fine on. I have installed a keep alive in the SW1200RS, though I am not entirely sure my solder joints are good enough and it may not be working. Neither of these are really appropriate CNR motive power for Liberty Village (the SW1200RS is closest), but they are what I have. Between them shorting out, derailments and finding another clearance issue with the GMD-1 that necessitated moving another hydro pole, the CNR side took about an hour and a half to run 14 cars on and off. Neither of these times are bad, and will improve when the electrical and switches become more reliable, and when there are not moments of me steaming and debating throwing trains vs. keeping calm over it being a test session and knowing it would have issues.

Scenes from an Ops Session, things that worked and look good, things that didn’t (like trying to uncouple cars in the constricted CPR staging when you have other cars in front), and what is that 8 hatch hopper doing in the last photo?

Overall, it was a success. I learned some things about my layout that will help me to create better operating sessions, things about where cars can and can’t be set before a session to allow the operators to successfully operate, and I found a bunch of little things to fix. Its also motivated me to look to get a move on with some things like getting the bullfrog controls installed on more turnouts to make operating better for me, and hopefully guests sooner than later.

Mucking around with Photo Backdrops

In my constant efforts to improve my skills and learn things, for the Canyon Road Diorama, I am experimenting with a photo backdrop on part of the diorama. The curved area on the right side which provides a backdrop for the view under the bridge photo I am trying to create, should have the Niagara Escarpment in the background. This was why I put in the curved backdrop in the first place, so this shot can be taken without it just being the end of the diorama into space. There are a number of ways to achieve this. I could try to paint something on in the background, and may come back to that, but part of the challenge is converting the geography and grade changes of the real world into something believable in 22″ that has no grade change. Part of the issue, is the alignment of the railway and the escarpment means that it is very visible looking one way down the diorama, but should be less so if you view it from the front (the pictures below will hopefully help this make sense).

Looking from a more front view, the escarpment shouldn’t be visible beyond the clear plastic cap. The other two shots show what the test piece of backdrop looks like compared to the real world.

I bought a commercial backdrop recently, I figured $20 is a small cost to experiment. I have cut off a chunk as you can see, where the treeline in the image is a bit too sloped to work for the escarpment which is reasonably straight across the background. I have lots of material to work with, this piece is for messing around with, I’ve test fitted it, and generally, I actually like the look it creates. It is a bit too vibrant for something that should be off in the distance, but I have some “haze” flat paint that I am hoping I can airbrush onto the backdrop to tone down the colours and make it look more like it is in the distance. Along the main backdrop, the trees/brush/telegraph poles and wires will hopefully help hid the eventual blend into the ridge behind the tracks.

As they say, time will tell, but so far, so good with at least the experiment of trying photo backdrops. At the end of the day, I may hate it and bin the thing, but Nothing ventured/nothing gained right?

Two more Buildings well on their way

Of late, I have been working on a couple more of the edge/foreground buildings on my layout that will at as shadow boxes along the edges of the benchwork to frame scenes and allow visitors and operators to look through the buildings onto the layout. There are 16 buildings of various sizes on my layout, with the two I have started and made a good dent in this week, I have started 7 of them. None are finished, though some are most definitely getting close to that magical “finish line” where I don’t think there is any more work to be done at the moment.

Building Cores and windows making progress. Constantly trying new things to make life easier in in getting from drawings to model with transferring a 1″ square grid onto the styrene core. The Coffman Clamp for corners makes a huge difference in making square buildings.

I am scratchbuilding all of my buildings on the layout, nothing is from a kit, as I am trying to recreate the buildings of Liberty Village as accurately as possible. This does however mean, a lot of work in constructing them. Where I can, or it is practical to do so, I am trying to use commercially available doors and windows instead of drawing and 3D printing, then resin casting them. The large building for Hinde & Dauch box factory that dominates the east end of the layout. It both faces the aisle and is huge, it needs accurate and individual windows. The two buildings I am currently building, are both facing into the layout, one on the peninsula will be fairly visible, the other, along Liberty Street fully faces into the layout, so it will largely will only be seen in photographs.

The peninsula building is marked on the Fire Atlas Maps as the Cooperage, it still exists, but it is not rail served. It is one of the buildings where I have some room for a bit of artistic license, in capturing the feel but not being 100% accurate. I could have drawn and printed windows, but that would have set me back months instead, using a combination of Tichy and Grandt Line/San Juan Details injection molded plastic windows, I have more or less completed the core of the building and have it ready for painting in a couple of days, instead of a months long process at my pace of CAD work, waiting on prints, making molds and casting. As I as noted, I have a lot of windows still to cast for H&D, I don’t need to make more work for myself!

For these buildings, I continue to evolve and experiment with how I transfer drawings and designs from paper or digital to styrene. As you can see in the pictures, with a fine Sharpie, I sketched out a 1″ square grid to match that on my grid paper. Using this and a small square I could transfer locations and mark cutting templates for the windows and doors to be cut out. Once the 0.04″ inner core was cut out, I laminated on brick sheet, and once it was bonded, I carefully trimmed through it using the openings in the core to create my window openings. I am using a variety of windows, some of which have exterior frames, some of which are masonry and do not. I am working to the “look” of these buildings rather than to plans. This frees me up to experiment and learn and work on technique a little.

Looking at the buildings in place on the layout both from the aisle side and the scenery side on the layout.

Both buildings are now nearing paint shop ready. Both need a little bit of work with some gap filling putty around the masonry windows to fill gaps where my cuts were not perfectly straight, so there are not light leaks in the future, and then I can start prepping and painting them. I have come to the conclusion, that it is easier for masonry windows to be painted along with the brick, then masked and painted their colour, where windows that have frames that sit out of the wall, are easier to paint and install later. I have varied this as I have gone along, but as I have advanced more buildings, it is becoming clear that for me at least, splitting up the windows this way makes the most sense.

As with so many things, even unfinished, going from foam core placeholders to partly built structures is a huge difference, and it’s been nice to feel the wind of motivation on the layout again after putting my efforts into side projects for a bit. Hopefully here for the next bit I can make consistent slow and steady progress on both projects.

Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

One Down, Six (and probably more) to Go

Well, that is one more car out of the reasonably manageable pile of kits in my collection. This is the first Yarmouth Model Works resin kit that I have finished. I have three more started, and three more safely in boxes to follow them, and there is at least one car recently released (Kit YMW-130, an 8′ door box with Pacific Great Eastern Decals) I will probably buy, and I am reliably informed there are more new kits coming that will likely interest me based on my prototype and era. This post however, is about one of the kits I have, and have now finished, Kit YMW-113, an ACF (American Car & Foundry) built 40′ boxcar, owned by the West India Fruit and Steamship Company. The WIF operated rail ferries between Palm Beach Florida and Havana Cuba between 1946 and 1961. They owned 150 of the cars represented in this kit. The cars operated all over North America bringing goods to and from Cuba. I have pictures of them as far away as Vancouver British Colombia, so it is entirely plausible that one would have brought goods to Toronto, then been loaded with something from Liberty Village going back to Cuba. That is my story, and I’m sticking to it, it also gives me at least one boxcar that can show up occasionally that isn’t a variation of oxide red/boxcar brown!

Scenes from building a resin kit. My first attempt at building the Yarmouth etched brass ladders, not perfect, but passable.

The Yarmouth Model Works kits are really quite nice to build. The fact that Pierre Oliver who owns the company and his pattern makers are modellers shows, as they understand kit building, and instruction writing. I take my time and regularly look at the reference photos included therein for where parts and lines go. The result, with some time put into it and the usual careful sanding and cleaning needed for resin kits, is a really nice looking model. As you can see in the pictures, the patterns for this car were done in a way that recreates the “oil canning” effect, or the wavy sides from welding the exterior sheeting to the interior support. The masters were drawn in CAD and 3D printed to get that effect, which makes sense as trying to create the effect otherwise to then create a mold to cast from would be a nightmare.

I’m not one for blow by blows of kit building, so I wont go into that, but as with all things, every kit you build, every time you do things again, they become that little bit easier to do, and every issue I ran into (which were mostly user error) will help me with the next car off the shelf to work on.

I’ve mentioned it before, but be aware of your lighting. This is the same car and paint, but in the lighting in my paint booth, you can’t trust the colour, the LED’s do a great job of lighting the workspace, but a terrible job of showing what the colour actually is.

Paint and pictures are as always, your best friend and worst enemy. As you can see above, the roof walk is not connected on one end when I painted the car. In between primer and finished colour, I dropped the car. I thought I hadn’t damaged anything when I checked, then I sprayed the paint, and found the walk was a mess. This was entirely fixable without damaging the paint, and any minor glue marks under the walk will vanish when the car is weathered, but its another important lesson/reminder to not rush when working on models.

Decalled and done and on the layout. Just needs to be flat coated and weathered to be truly finished.

The decals included in this kit are some of the nicest I have ever worked with. They went on super smooth, conformed nicely to the not flat car sides, and just melted away with a tiny bit of Microsol to blend the carrier film. It can make anyone, even a hack like me look good when you have good products to work with!

All in all, I am very happy with how this project has turned out, and it will add a pop of colour among the red/brown boxcar fleet.