2021 Year in Review

Its that time of year again, the end, where we look back at what we’ve done, and think about what is to come in the new year. Sadly again, 2021 has been a year dominated outside the modelsphere by the ongoing bad news of the pandemic. Fortunately, we have given the pandemic a pass and remain mostly cloistered at home and have not gotten sick with Covid (knock on wood). I have however, had the second half of my year impacted by illness, leading to a slowdown in progress on model making from August on when I was diagnosed with Kidney Stones. Initially, my illness didn’t impact me much, but as the months rolled on without getting any progress into November and December, my work rate definitely slowed down as all my energy was needed to stay on top of work for my day job, leaving not a lot of energy or motivation for modelling. By a couple of weeks before Christmas, I found myself in the ER in absolute agony, followed by surgery to remove a massive kidney stone two days before Christmas. The up side of this, is that I am feeling so much better than I have the past few months. Still some slow recovery time to go here into January and the requisite follow ups, but it is really nice to feel well again, its the little things. I don’t think I’ve been taking my health for granted, but clearly there is room for improvement given the past few months.

In the hospital waiting on going in for my surgery to remove a very large kidney stone. I am feeling much better but almost 5 months of dealing with the stones before surgery became the only option wasn’t great for my 2021.

Despite having been unwell in varying degrees for about half the year, it was a good year. A lot of the progress on the layout is incremental. Sometimes I don’t even notice it when an hour here or 15 minutes there add up to things getting done, but they do. As such, my review bellow really is a high level of big things, where so many things just sort of add up to make a whole.

Liberty Village Layout Panorama, December 30, 2021. It really does make me happy to see how it looks, even in a half finished state!
Looking along Liberty Street at Atlantic Avenue. Buildings and Scenery here are nearing completion. Still some weathering on the buildings and work on the road to paint/weather to go.
Canyon Road Diorama. I pulled out my Rapido Canadian to get the FP9’s, and pulled some equipment off the layout for a quick photo shoot of its progress. It is definitely starting to give me the feel I was aiming for as a photo diorama for models.

Projects Completed in 2021

  • Switch/Turnout Controls – As of July, all 12 of the turnouts on my layout now have Bullfrog Manual Turnout throws installed. They still need some minor adjusting as I use them, and eventually the grabs on the end of the control rods will need upgrading, but this means that not only is all the track on the layout laid, its all operational.
  • Freight Cars – I actually did finish some kit builds this year. At least 7 freight car kits for the layout were finished in 2021. Some have received some weathering, some haven’t, but they are all presentable and operable.
  • Non Train Things – Pop Vinyl Selfie, Darth Vader Diorama, Lego Batmobile

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.
  • Canyon Road Diorama – A new project, a chance to work on something different and scratch some itches for scenery skills and things I don’t need for Liberty Village. Made good progress. Might have even finished it in a year had it not been for my August on slowing down of work progress on models. See this page for all my posts on the project.
  • Freight Car Kits – I did actually finish some this year, and even get to first attempts at weathering. I had set a mini-goal in early December when I thought I was feeling better to get the three partially built kits finished by new years, I don’t think I will, but such is life. Once those three are done early in the new year, I have 8 more kits sitting in the pile waiting to be started. Plenty to keep me busy in 2022 even if I don’t buy any more kits!


  • Weathering – I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, but it was finally time to actually get on with doing it. I re-created weathering on a container well car from prototype photos, along with applying basic fleet techniques to cars on the layout to start making the equipment look used instead of fresh from the factory.
  • Scenery – Lots of progress on this, both on the Liberty Village layout and on the Canyon Road Diorama. I’ve gotten confident at Static Grass, creating basic topography, and even worked on making trees again.
  • DCC/Electronics – After starting the year with a bang (literal not proverbial sadly), I did make some progress with my wiring. I successfully installed keep alive capacitors in all my layout locomotives, and worked out a bunch of other little electrical gremlins and shorts on the layout that were causing problems.
  • Operations – I don’t know if this is a skill, or a project in progress, but someday I intend to operate the layout, both on my own and with friends over (visitors, what?). I took some tentative steps into this world, mocking up car cards, setting up a session and running some trains. I need to do it again along with start the work of making car cards for all the equipment on the layout.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2022 (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 & Bombardier Bi-Level Coaches – See Here
  • Athearn Genersis Canadian Pacific SD70ACu – See Here
  • Accurascale British Railways Class 37 “Loch Lomond” – 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!

So, this wasn’t the year I thought it would be, I had been feeling really good the first half or so, making progress, then, health issues started to get in the way. A lot of the pandemic related and work related stresses I had been dealing with in 2020 got resolved early in 2021, so for a while I was in a real good space. Hopefully, as I write this and am slowly feeling better from the surgery last week, 2022 can slowly pick up speed as I continue to recover and be a good year, and a year that brings us to the point where we have gotten on top of Covid, and things like travelling to see friends, or friends travelling to visit us can happen again. It will be two years in February since anyone saw the layout in person other than me, I think by then it will be tidied up enough in the layout room that I could even have people over to operate. I don’t know if it will happen that early in the year, but I am going to be positive with the hope it does happen next year.

In terms of where I am going, I won’t be doing a 2022 Preview, its pretty obvious what the big goals are, finish the Canyon Road Diorama, and keep on plugging away on the Liberty Village Layout. I really want to finish the large Hinde & Dauch Paper company in 2022, that I had hoped to finish in 2021. I have made progress, but it’s one of those projects that has kept getting pushed aside. I think my 2022 goal will be to try and stay more focused on the core projects, rather than looking for side projects (he says knowing he has another side project he is collecting stuff to build next year…).

So, with that, I hope you have a wonderful New Years Eve. We are ordering all the Chinese Food for dinner and I am going to torture myself watching the US NCAA College Football playoff games (Go Blue!), because that seems as good as anything else to do on a Friday night! Stay well friends.

Stephen Gardiner
December 31, 2021

Advancing Scenes in Liberty Village

Sometimes just looking at the layout is good to remind myself how much things have advanced. A bit over a year or so ago, I wrote about “Making a Scene” and compared some Toronto Archives shots to shots taken on the layout. I got asked recently to consider giving a presentation on my layout that I gave at a Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM in December 2020 to another club. In considering that, I looked at the presentation and started thinking about images that need updating after a year. For me, even with unfinished buildings, and roads needing weathering and grime, seeing buildings go from foam core placeholders or unpainted work in progress to styrene and partially painted really brings things to life. This is the good part of the hobby, seeing things advance when you step back from an individual building or project to look at the sum of what happens when a lot of things you are working on start to come together.

Left, Toronto Archives Picture (series 1465, Folder, 0051, Item 0007), on the right, as close as I could get my hands in to recreate the view looking east on Liberty Street at Jefferson Avenue in October 2020 and November 2021.
Left, Toronto Archives Picture (series 1465, Folder, 0037, Item 0023), on the right, as close as I could get my hands in to recreate the view looking west on Liberty Street at Hanna Avenue in October 2020 and November 2021.

Switch Stands for Liberty Village

Continuing to work on scenery for Liberty Village, a year ago now I ordered some 3D printed CN and CP switch stands from Steve Hunter’s “Eastern Road Models” store on Shapeways. Recently I was reading my friend Matthieu Lachance’s blog and he wrote about his experience installing these switch stands. Seeing his post, it finally got me going on mine. I can’t install them all, but there are a half dozen spaces on my layout where I can start to add these to the scenery.

The bare 3D prints of the switch stands, CPR and CNR versions.

While I certainly am capable of designing these myself, why re-create the wheel? Steve Hunter’s done them, and they are excellent. On Liberty Village, most of my switch stands are CPR style, with open sides, and the remaining are Racor style CNR ones. The pictures I have all show the stands with short posts and the switch targets mounted on them. The 3D printed cores take a 0.015 wire for the rod to go through the main casting and have the target glued onto it. I used Tichy Phosphor Bronze wire as its strong and won’t bend unless I want it to sticking the long post in as a pin to place the stands on the layout and hold them for painting.

Assembling and priming the switch stands. Followed by a quick hit of yellow on the targets. A couple of days later, the targets were masked, and the stands hit with some Black-Grey. Wasn’t too picky about the colour, something flat and dark, as they will get a little bit of weathering powder to show some rust and help them pop.

With the stands assembled, or at least my first batch of them, it was off to the paint booth. I have saved scraps of the insulation used in building the layout. It comes in quite handy to make paint tools to hold parts, and its not something I need to worry about if it gets beaten up or if I need to cut it to change the size for a part. For paint on these, three passes, first Vallejo primer, then some Vallejo yellow on the targets. I didn’t wait on that, I sprayed the primer, and about 20 minutes later, hit the yellow. I wanted the yellow on before I sprayed the bases black, as its easier to mask a light colour than spray a light colour over black. I waited a couple of days on everything curing before spaying the black as I didn’t want my masks on the targets to pull away the paint if it wasn’t cured fully.

Installing the stands on my layout, is easy, just push them into the foam beneath the scenery. This means I can take them out for weathering, or for cleaning the track if needed. It also means they have a bit of flex for people operating and knocking them if they need to reach into the layout. Fortunately, almost all the stands are on the back side of the track, which reduces the risk someone reaching in will hit them.

Installed switch stands. They just poke into the foam underlay, so I can take them out as needed for cleaning track or doing scenery.

I am really happy with how these came out. Being 3D printed they are fragile, but I managed not to break any. Hopefully the other 8 I need to do when scenery progresses that far go as well. I’m also really glad to be able to help a fellow Canadian modeller/designer in the 3D printing universe by buying Steve Hunter’s stands. Its a small but growing group of modellers in the country who are making things we’ve designed available, and it hopefully helps us all to support each other.

Progress Painting Buildings

As with my last post, I haven’t made a lot of progress, but its good progress. I have also been working on the structures. Partly, the never ending task of cutting out window openings.. I’m still on the first wall…so that’s going well…but I have made some progress on other parts of the structures for the layout.

Progress on painting buildings. Applying new to me techniques with mortar washes and using PanPastels to very the brick tone. The first two shots of the foundry show some work with PanPastels over paint. The second show Roberts Brick Mortar on the warehouse and boiler house.

For the buildings, I am still in experimenting mode, trying to learn techniques, and improve ones I have used before. I am working to find a look and feel for my buidings that feels real to me, and look like their actual selves. One of the challenges of modelling a real place, is that you can quite literally drive down the street and compare your models with the real thing!

The first product I have been playing around with is Roberts Mortar. It is a paint product designed to be applied to brick, then wiped away to create mortar lines. There are many different ways to achieve this. This product is designed for where you have already painted buildings and need to bring the lines out. An alternative that I will be trying is painting the building white/light grey (primer basically), then dry brushing the brick. Dry brushing is when you take a bit of paint, wipe the brush so almost none is left, then wipe it across the surface That applies a little bit of paint to the top of bricks, but not into the mortar courses. This is a technique I have used, badly, and am working to get better at. With the Roberts, I have found that it leaves a fairly bright mortar course, but that you can remove more even after you think its dried with a damp cloth. I have also found that subsequent weathering with PanPastels helps to tone down the courses.

PanPastels are the second tool I am working on expanding my use of. I have used them for weathering, and for roads, but they are also great for creating brick tone variation and weathering on buildings. I am still figuring out the right way to do it, but thus far, I have learned that its similar to dry brushing, once you’ve got some pastel on the applicator, wipe off most on a piece of paper towel so that you are only applying a little bit to the top surface, you don’t want to fill in the mortar courses with the pastels. Once they are applied and you are satisfied, they do need to be sprayed with a fixative, or clear coat. They will stay in place, but if you might need to handle the buildings, not sealing the pan pastels runs the risks of getting future fingerprints in your work.

Still more to go, and more to try, but the buildings are slowly coming to life as they get some paint and grime and such on them. It isn’t where I want it to be at the end of the day, but I can see the vision coming to life every time I experiment with some more paint or powder, and that is a very good thing.

I mended something!

No burying the lede here, I am going full on Jeremy Clarkson excited about this one. I fixed one of my switches last night!

So, how did we get to me needing to fix a switch you might ask? Our tale begins with me picking up a couple of new Tangent Scale Models Pullman Standard 40′ 9′ door boxcars for the layout yesterday. A bit ago after a chat with my friend Trevor about my rolling stock needs, he pointed out that while CN and CP cars would dominate, Toronto was a “centre” of the railroad world, and cars from pretty much any railroad would be found here, so I can justify box cars from pretty much anyone. So, these cars fit my era, and provided railroads I don’t have cars from to add to my roster. The Tangent cars are nicely detailed, and are really not that expensive by today’s standards. The $65 Canadian price compares nicely to a $60 US resin kit, and I can spend the kit budget on things that are not available as RTR, which most of the Canadian cars I need are not.

New Southern Railway and Chicago & North Western Boxcars waiting on entering service in the CPR Staging Yard.

So, you might be asking yourself, how does a pair of new box cars lead to fixing a switch, and the answer my friends, is user error. After replacing the wheel sets in the cars with Code 88 Semi-Scale Wheels (all the cars on my layout have the same Code 88 wheels beneath them), and clipping off the coupler trip pins, I was rolling the cars through the switch on the peninsula to check that they were tracking, and if the truck screws were too tight, or for any other obvious adjustments needed. In doing so, I somehow, and I honestly don’t know if it was with one of the cars, or with an overly vigorous pull on the Bullfrog Turnout Machine throw, snapped off one of the rails.

Getting set to re-solder the rail. The top rail in the photograph has come off the throw bar. It required some patience to get everything back to a point where it could be re-soldered.

So, this should be a simple fix right? It should be, if I could successfully do one solder joint. As anyone whose seen my adventures in simple wiring for locomotives, that is no sure thing. To do it, I would need to hold the parts of the switch together in the correct place with the right track spacing to do the job. Fortunately, this is detailed work, but not nearly as precision as soldering on a locomotive. Once I figured out how to brace the throw bar in place with a bit of 0.040″ styrene, and slipping some bits of paper into places I didn’t want to accidentally get solder, I applied some flux paste to the solder pad where the rail had been attached, got a little bit of solder onto the tip of my iron, and then held the rail in place. With the rail in place, I held the iron down and let the flux and solder do their thing. It appears, a day on and plenty of testing, that I have a strong solder joint. As you can see from the pictures, the throw bar that connects the moving rails is a bit mangled. This was the first switch I installed a Bullfrog on, and I had some issues and for a while had a lot of vertical movement happening. I finally resolved that by widening out the hole just a bit, but not before the copper bar was weakened. Sometime I will have to brave a full replacement, but that day is not today!

Pictures of the repaired switch in both positions.
It works! Video of my repaired switch. The not quite as perfect as it could be solder joint will vanish with some paint touch-ups.

So, this is all in all, a good thing. I have hand laid switches, but I did not build them myself, my friend Dan built them as he’s both good at it, and volunteered to. But, I do need to be able to maintain them. I can’t be stopping all operations every time I break a switch or one needs adjusting to beg Dan to come over whenever we are comfortable to have people come over again! Another step in the adventure of learning the skills and doing the things I need to build my layout.

Three Years of Liberty Village

Time flies when you are having fun…Three years ago today, three friends came to our house and helped me build most of my benchwork in a day. Since then, I have made lots of progress on the layout, both with friends helping and alone as the pandemic has sat on us the past 16 months or so.

Benchwork at the end of the day on August 11, 2018 top, and today, August 11, 2021 bottom, an almost unbelievable amount of progress, far more than I had thought I would make.

Its hard to imagine how far I would have gotten without having Trevor, Ryan and Doug kindly come and help build benchwork, not just because I didn’t own the necessary power tools for the job, but because frankly, even my very simple benchwork of plywood on shelf brackets would have been very difficult to install even close to level on my own.

Looking into the CPR Staging in the Closet, again on August 11, 2018 on the left, and August 11, 2021 on the right.

When we bought our house in 2018 and building a layout became a reality, I kind of envisioned it as a ten year project to build. I think I am well ahead of that timeline in 3 years, as I have all the track laid, basic scenery close to completed, and about 1/3 of the buildings well on their way. There is still lots of work to do, but I have passed some major milestones in a short period of time, and more importantly, it continues to make me happy and I want to continue the project on to completion. I am eagerly awaiting the day where I can again have friends over to visit, and see the progress that has happened, instead of sucking them in to do hard labour and help me learn the techniques for so many parts of building a layout!