From a Wall Hanging to My Layout, The Bat’leth of Switches

Track, you can’t run trains without it, and I’ve been semi-stalled on doing much with my layout waiting on it. That all ended last night. My friend Dan kindly offered to build my switches for the layout using the Fast Tracks system to hand lay them. This is a great thing, as I love being able to involve my friends in my layout, and he has much more experience building switches than I do (which is zero). For the layout, because of the tight curves and complicated track work, hand laid switches offer more flexibility in adjusting them and making things fit than commercial turnouts would.

IMG_7809
Track as an art piece. The Bat’leth switches hanging on Dan’s office wall. The Fast Tracks Templates used to build it from are taped on the piece of plywood below.

Dan built all the complicated trackage for one corner of the layout as one piece. There are five switches and two crossovers which he built as one combined unit to keep everything in alignment so it would hopefully work. It was built over the printed Fast Tracks templates from their website that I positioned and taped together to make sure the trackage would work. Until this big corner piece of track was in place, I have been holding off on doing any track work as everything else on the layout will be aligned from the Bat’leth (Star Trek Klingon sword, the piece of track looked kinda like on Dan’s office wall). Dan took pictures as he was building the switches, he’s hopefully going to write about it either for here, or for a Model Railroad publication. Either way, if it gets written up here or in print, I’ll post about it sometime.

IMG_7810The big block of track in its future home, the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue on the layout. Now on to aligning track, and sorting out any issues before getting electrical leads (other than for the frogs which Dan wired) and affixed into position.

I was super excited last night when I got home from a super tasty BBQ feast near his office, that I had to start messing about. First up was to clear up all my temporary bits of flex trackage so I could position equipment and get a feel for things, so I could get the Bat’leth off its board and onto the layout temporarily at least. It’s a big piece of track, but just one of 8 pieces Dan built between it, individual switches, and a couple of combined switches. The rest of my track will be Micro Engineering Code 70 rail Flex Track and Shinohara Code 70 rail crossovers.

Now that I have the piece of track that dictates everything else on the layout, I can seriously start confirming placement of buildings and roads, and pin down the last thing that needed work, the placement of the peninsula. My intention all along has been for the peninsula to be hinged so I can swing it out of the middle of the layout room, when you see the pictures of the penninsula, you can see why, it kind of hovers over where I sit at my workbench, making it a hazard for me constantly knocking it if it’s in place when the layout isn’t being operated. That said, one of the many back and forth thoughts I’ve been having tonight is on trying to find ways to live with that. My intention is to get the trackage down on the around the wall benchwork, then build and install the peninsula, as there isn’t a lot of track on it, and its easier to work when it isn’t there (another reason for making it swing or removable totally).

IMG_7816Mockup peninsula back out, you can see how it crowds the room. I’m of two minds on whether to keep with the plan to hinge it so it can swing to the right in the image in front of book cases, or permanently affix to benchwork.

With my mockup peninsula back in place, I can start making the real world tweaks from the track plan on the computer to make everything fit. I have a plot of the survey of the building that goes on the peninsula, which means I am able to lay the plan out, and check that track can reach where it should around it. I am seeing some spots where I may not be able to achieve everything I want to. One consideration is I have a large blank spot along the wall where the Women’s prison was located. There would only have been a wall there. Instead of further compressing some buildings, I may just make some adjustments given the large chunk of area in the middle of the layout that has no active industries. First things first though, need to sort out the position of the trackage from the plan to the benchwork and see how everything fits.

 

Working on peninsula track geometry. Good news is the peninsula is shifting right which widens the walkway in the “U” on the left for operators, bad news is this squeezes parts of the layout to the right.

Part of the reason I write this blog is to keep a record of what I’m doing and have done, and to help keep myself grounded and motivated.  Contemplating the peninsula, and playing around with the various switches (and discovering naturally a few places here and there where some adjustments will be needed to track gauge or guard rails so equipment will reliably track through them), I started getting what for lack of a better description was an anxiety attack about the whole layout building process. Too many things piling up in one short period of thoughts, need to fix this, and do that, and I haven’t done this, or I don’t know how to do that, or I need to change that…and just letting myself get away from myself and run ahead of myself at the same time. Its a recipe for a mistake, and I could feel myself careening towards something bad like dropping a locomotive or breaking something.

Feeling that way, I walked out of the layout room about 3 hours ago now feeling daunted and frustrated and more than a little apprehensive that even this simple layout is biting off more than I can handle. I am still nervous, the but feelings of angst from puttering for an hour when I got home from work tonight, as super excited as I was to see track and start making progress, told me it was time to down tools. Dinner and a movie on the sofa with my wife and ignoring trains has helped enough to at least let me write this post, and writing this post is giving me comfort as I know I can keep going slow and steady, and that I have friends in the hobby I can reach out to help me work through the “problems” and keep building. I’m sure tomorrow or in a couple of days, whenever I next put in some time in the office working on the layout, that a clear head will help me move forward again!

Advertisements

Operations at the Filmore Avenue Roundhouse

I still consider myself to be a novice when it comes to operating layouts. I haven’t done it a lot, and by not a lot, I can still count my number of ops sessions on two hands, and the number of different layouts I’ve operated on one hand. That said, the quality of the layouts I am fortunate enough to get the chance to operate on is incredible. And the latest is one that I’ve seen in photographs and in print, but never in person until last weekend.

Overview of the Filmore Avenue Roundhouse layout. The whole layout is terminal, operations are taking locomotives from arriving for servicing, through timed servicing, to be ready to be sent back out to work.

Getting to visit amazing layouts like Rick DeCandido’s “Filmore Avenue Roundhouse” and operate them gives me inspiration for my own layout, that it can operate as well and look as good as the layouts I’ve gotten to see do. Rick’s layout is a “proto-freelanced” layout, that is a layout based on a prototype and realistic operations, but which never actually existed. It is based on a proposed new engine terminal adjacent to the Buffalo Central Terminal that the New York Central was planning in 1929. Work hadn’t started when the stock market crashed in October 1929, and by the time World War 2 was over in 1945, the writing was on the wall for steam locomotives, and the NYC never revisited the proposal to build a new facility to service passenger locomotives. As such, the buildings are all based on NYC prototype practices (other than the gorgeous Canadian Pacific 2 road coaling tower based on John Street in Toronto, modelling it is on my to do list and Rick’s is drop dead gorgeous!). Rick’s modelling skill and attention to detail is second to none. Everything has that perfect life worn and used feel, with the right amount of weathering and grime to look like buildings that are out in the environment where work and steam locomotives are around constantly.

Some examples of Rick’s fabulous modelling. His coaling tower (a model of the CPR John Street tower at the Toronto Railway Museum as it fit his space), and a view into the stalls of the roundhouse to see locomotives being serviced.

The layout is operated in real-time, with each session about 2.5 hours long. While that may on the face of it sound like not a lot is happening. It takes three active operators and a dispatcher updating the digital “chalkboard” of the shop for incoming, under service and outgoing locomotives, plus service trains delivering supplies and coal. The session started out with a half hour or so introduction to the layout and the operator jobs. I think Rick was maybe a bit worried it is too much, but I have to say it was just perfect. He was able to clearly lay out everything we’d be doing and tie that to why the railroad did things so it all made sense, and the three of us could figure out how we were working together. Along with my friends Ryan and Doug, we’d have a lot of movements to coordinate between the Staging (me, bringing locomotives in for servicing and departing after, as well as aligning the staging for service trains), the Assistant Holster (taking over from staging after entry to the layout, running service extras, and helping the lead as needed), and the Lead Holster (taking locomotives from assistant, onto turntable and into stalls, then back out to the ready tracks for departure).

Doug has a laugh while I focus on something working the staging yard. Ryan focuses on bringing a switcher off the turntable onto the ready tracks.

I had a wonderful time. Rick was a great host, and his layout operated perfectly. The only things that went wrong were operators like yours truly putting locomotives in the dirt by failing to check that switches had been set for where they were driving!! I hope some time I can invite Rick to my house to repay the favour of an operating session in Liberty Village and that it runs half as well as his layout did!

Saturday at the Toronto Archives and a walk in Liberty Village

Spring is finally arrived, so how did I plan to spend my Saturday? Inside at the Toronto Archives poring over plans and pictures looking for reference material for building’s I’m going to be modelling in Liberty Village.

The Toronto Archives on Spadina Road. A view of the exterior and a couple of shots of the vault from the reading Room windows.

Sadly, I didn’t have much luck at the Archives. Because there are not staff working in the storage stacks on Saturdays in the winter when the Archives are open, you have to pre-order boxes during the week, and you can only order a maximum of five. On top of that, I forgot that when you order certain Blueprint/Building plans that are stored flat, they do not bring out the box, but literally just the drawings you asked for. That mean instead of three boxes of images/documents and two of plans, I literally had two plans and three boxes. The two plans weren’t even of the part of the building I was really looking for, so they didn’t do anything for me.  For the images, there were lots of interesting images of Liberty Village that I hadn’t seen before because they weren’t scanned, but they yet again failed me in my near epic quest to find pictures of literally the only critical building on my layout which has been demolished.

The Gillett Mill and Elevator circled on an image from the Toronto Archives (Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 75), and a company postcard image of their plant.

The building now known as “The Castle“, was originally built by the Gillett Company, makers of Magic Baking Powder, a product you can still buy, now made by Kraft I think. most of the complex still exists, including the former Power House on what is now Pardee Avenue on the east side of the building. What doesn’t exist, and which of course in an example of Murphy’s Law, the only building on my entire layout which is getting built complete and at full-scale is the part of this building on Pardee Avenue that has been demolished.

4683081283_b2d2267f4d_o.jpgLook, the 3 and 4 storey parts of the Mill and Elevator Buildings in 1983!!! Literally all it tells me is the 4 storey part is the same height as the remaining part of the complex! (Image Courtesy Patrick Cummings via Flickr)

Someone has to have images of this building that are better than what I’ve found, it’s just finding the right people to connect with. As far as I can tell, the building lasted until around 2004, which means I even worked but didn’t live in Toronto yet. If I’d wanted to model Liberty Village 15 years ago, I might even have been able to get pictures before it was demolished!

IMGP1629RawConvCan anyone help me fill in this hole with pictures of the Mill and Elevator Buildings? I’d love if you reached out to me via the comments if you have pictures of Pardee Avenue and these buildings before they were demolished!

After the disappointment at the Archives, I went and did a couple of other odds and ends, then went for a walk to take more reference photos of the buildings of Liberty Village. The nice thing is, the rest of the buildings are now at little risk of being demolished as the way we look at old industrial buildings and their reuse and future has changed. They may be modified or expanded, but rarely are they completely demolished anymore. While I was walking around I also focused on getting some pictures of the limited reminders that there were once railways throughout the area cris-crossing streets and serving the industrial buildings. Rails and track show up in odd places throughout Liberty Village where they never got removed as businesses stopped using them and the railways stopped serving the area.

L-R: Tracks crossing the south end of Mowat Avenue, once the point where CNR trains entered from the yard where Exhibition GO now stands; the spur between buildings at the Carpet Factory, partly still rail, partly replaced by interlocking brick; and, the rail stops at the north end of Mowat Avenue at King Street, the old end of the line.

The final thing I noticed in my walk about was the street signs. The City of Toronto partners with the Business Improvement Associations to co-brand street signs where there are BIA’s. I know they aren’t new, but I’d never really looked closely at them before. I really like the Liberty Village co branding, the graphics that use the skyline of the old industrial buildings and smokestacks are part of the visual environment that lead me to choose this area to model.

IMGP1627RawConvLiberty Village BIA branded streetsigns in Liberty Village.

Mocking Up Liberty Village

Buildings buildings buildings. No small part of my layout are the early 20th century industrial buildings that frame the streets of Liberty Village. While I’m a long way from building them all, a few hours over the past few days has at least seen them appear in mockup form while I get ready to lay track and finalize the buildings orientation and siting.

Mowat Avenue and Liberty Street – The spur at Carbide Chemicals, Canadian GE, Barrymore Cloth and the Toronto Carpet Factory.

My mockups are cheap and cheerful, generally close to scale where I’ve found drawings or taken measurements, and are intended at this point to give me a sense of what the layout will look like and help with making adjustments once my switches are done and I can start laying track. They are all cut from a single sheet of framing matte board, for less than $10 I’ve populated the layout and have a sense of scale for the buildings in relation to the trains.

60 Atlantic, Brunswick Balke Collendar and Hinde and Dauch rise on the east end of Liberty Street.

Even with my cheap and cheerful mockups, I’ve noticed a few things that when track goes in where my track plans could use some adjusting to more accurately reflect the real alignments of buildings. I’m also working with selective compression. All buildings have their full heights, but some are being compressed to fit the layout space. Obvious examples are 60 Atlantic which is about 1/2 length, and Hinde and Dauch. I’ve been struggling with Hinde and Dauch. I have enough room to do a faithful full scale representation of the eastern 2/3 of the building. The mockup however, is a compressed version to get the variations in building height that the plant had. It’s a 45%/35%/65% compression of the three segments moving from west to east. The eastern part is the most “important” to me as that is where the large painted signs on the 4th and 2nd floor brick courses were painted, and I want to be able to include these on the building. While I could do that full scale, I think the building loses something important without all three segments to give it some variation in design and appearance, and the mockup in card lets me see what that looks like, and make adjustments before I start to build a real model in styrene and bricksheet which costs a lot more!

Mowat Ave looking north. Getting there.

With at least a first pass of the buildings that are on the backdrop side of the mainline done, I have a little bit of a sense of what they layout will look like, and if I do say so myself, I’m really pleased. It’s exactly the feel I want, big early 20th century industrial buildings that will dwarf the trains that service them. There’s lots of work in building buildings once the track is down and trains can run. I suspect most if not all of these Version 1.0 Mockups will go in the garbage and be replaced by better mockups once the track is in place and I can adjust them to be better templates for permanent layout buildings, but for now, it’s really nice to walk into the layout room and see something that vaguely resembles Liberty Village!!

IMG_7469The full layout. The big gap is where the Mercer Reformatory for Women (the jail!) was located. It won’t have a building there, but it also works as when the peninsula gets built, that area wouldn’t be reachable by operators to switch cars anyways.

Never Stop Learning…But Never Forget Past Learning – The Tale of the Blue Bendy

I was working in the corner of the closet on “Parkdale Yard”, my faux staging tracks, and I wanted to put in a mockup 3rd track behind the two I laid, there is room for about half a width of track. Rather than cut a perfectly good piece of flex track in half, I have some spare rail from the supply I bought for building switches, and a giant bag of pre-cut wood ties, but before I get into what I’m doing track laying, a lesson in the importance of never stopping learning, but also never forgetting learning you’ve already done!

IMG_7239.jpgHow do I get the shape cut on this strip of ties to squeeze into the corner of the backdrop?

My lesson for tonight is in the latter, I was trying to figure out how to get a template for cutting an arc through a batch of wood ties tacked together with tape so they would perfectly slide into the corner of the benchwork, then it came to me, PLAN 110 in January 1999….The Blue Bendy!!!!

img_7238The Blue Bendy in action in the corner.

OK, so no, I haven’t had a blow to the head. But as I was thinking of how to create a pattern, I remembered something from the Introduction to Graphics course in the second semester of the first year of my Urban Planning Degree at the University of Waterloo. The “Blue Bendy” is a tool designed for transferring a line or shape from one drawing to another. It’s a plastic bar thing that you can bend to shape, and it holds the shape when you move it from one sheet to another. If you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, its real name is even less creative than Blue Bendy, the Staedtler Mars Flex Curve…. I’ll admit, the name isn’t super creative, but it does at least do what it says on the box!!

Easy does it, position the Blue Bendy where you want it, trace the side with a pen/pencil etc, then cut along the line with a sharp hobby knife.

With a cut line made from a ruler that conveniently changes shape to that of the corner, it was easy to mark the line, cut the ties with a sharp knife, and then make some minor adjustments. I can’t go any further, as I don’t seem to have any HO Scale Tie Plates or spikes to actually put a piece of rail on the ties. I guess I can probably glue them to the roadbed so that’s done at least, but another step forward on a Sunday night.

IMG_7243.jpgCut and fit into the corner to create half a 3rd track in Parkdale Yard.

First Track Laid for Liberty Village

Another week, another layout milestone. I was having a rough day the other day, lots of things going on with work and just got home feeling beat. I was looking for something to put a smile on my face in the layout room. I’ve held off on doing any track laying until my switches are built so I can make sure everything lines up at the staging sliders. Despite this, I realized there is some track I can lay in a corner of the room that is scenic only. To hide a corner in the closet at the east end, I have room for a couple of fake tracks to represent the Canadian Pacific Parkdale Yard.

img_7184Cutting foam roadbed and track to fit in the corner to represent Parkdale Yard.

To do this little bit of trackwork, I decided to use up some old Woodland Scenics Foam Roadbed roll. I used this on my previous layout built circa 2003 in my parents old house in Georgetown when I lived at home for a couple of years after finishing university before I was sure my job in Toronto was going to work out, and to let me pay off some student debt before paying rent.

The roadbed in place, with DAP silicone caulk and then track put in place.

The foam roadbed was glued down using Gorilla Wood Glue. I had done a series of tests with a bunch of adhesives to check that it would bond to the pink foam and not melt it with spare off cuts of foam and roadbed. I decided that the Gorilla Wood Glue was the best for these materials. I have to do the test again with the cork roadbed for the working tracks, but that’s a down the road matter.  I have room for two full tracks across the angle of the corner, which I can put some freight cars on to be a visual block for the join between the benchwork and the backdrop. The yard was obviously much bigger than this, but a couple of tracks provides a bit of extra staging and a visual filler for the space.

First rolling stock on the layout on track actually affixed to the benchwork (and yes, I know it’s a CNR Caboose in a CPR yard, I’m lazy and couldn’t be bothered to dig in the tubs of stored equipment to find a CPR caboose!!)

While I wait on my switches being finished for the serious track laying to commence, the next time I feel the need to do something, I have a bit of track I can practice painting, weathering and ballasting before the main layout work starts. Happy start to my weekend as well writing this post!