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.

Thinking about Operations and a new Tool

It’s the start of a 4 day long weekend for me with Canada Day on Thursday and a vacation day on Friday. I’ve got some out of the house things I’m going to do as well, but after some chatting with my friend Trevor on the phone last weekend, I’m going to “reward” myself for the layout construction progress over the past 15 months by making a first serious effort to run some trains on the layout. As things open up, and we can get together with friends again, the potential to have people over to operate the layout is actually a reality again in the near future. At some point, I need to start thinking about how operations are going to look, and what does and doesn’t work. This won’t be without it’s challenges, as I have only 4 or 12 switches with their throws installed and almost tuned for operations, and I’ll be working solo and no doubt finding electrical issues as I go, but I will be running trains at some point between now and Sunday. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures.

For my operations, I am going to use a version of waybills I learned from Trevor’s Port Rowan layout, it is simple, and easy to follow for new operators. There will be empty car cards for either empties to be picked up and taken away, or being delivered for loading. There will be Freight Waybill cards for loads being delivered loaded or loaded cars to be picked up. At the start of a session, the CN and CP Crews will be given a stack of car cards, some will be on the layout waiting to be picked up and some will be in the Yards/Staging waiting to be delivered. They will then need to figure out what their order of operations is going to be, so as to not block themselves into the limited yard space, while picking up and delivering cars. I hope it will be a fun challenge for people figuring out the order of movements and what cars they should take onto the layout, and how they need to take them on (push or pull, there is no way to move a locomotive from one end of a car to the other on the layout, need to do that in staging before you start).

My new tool is the first of a couple of things I need to manufacture my own waybills is a good paper cutter for reliably trimming out things printed on the home printer. That arrived this week, and I’ve been able to print off and trim down the waybills. The next thing I’ll eventually need is a laminator. Once I actually do up proper cards on the computer, instead of the hand scrawled ones I am doing now, I will want to laminate them so they are easy to handle and can take the abuse of being used during and stored between operating sessions. Each car at a minimum will have two cards, and most will have multiple variations of empty and loaded bills. The simplest cars are those delivering a single commodity that really only have one destination (one location for chemical tank cars, and the Gillett Mill for covered hoppers). Almost all the traffic in Liberty Village was box car based, which means cars can pretty much wind up anywhere depending on need and what was available from the railroads when a shipper called for an empty to be delivered.

A new paper trimmer. Nothing fancy, but something that will let me trim my own paperwork from our home printer to size. A set of bills, an Empty Car Bill, and Freight Waybills for shipments originating on CN and CP.

Part of my conversation with Trevor stemmed from a question I asked him, as I am working on learning about operations and railroad paperwork, because I have “foreign” or non CN/CP rolling stock, what paperwork do I have for them to get there, and how do I figure out plausible reasons for a car from the west coast being in Liberty Village. He pointed out, that I don’t need to. Toronto is, in railroad terms, a centre of the universe. Stuff from everywhere and every railroad can and did wind up here, coming or going. Instead of worrying about who is sending something to Liberty Village in a Norfolk and Western box car, think about the railroads empty car forwarding rules and use them to your advantage. I won’t go into huge detail, as I need to research more myself, but in a nutshell, when a car comes from a railroad in say Florida to Toronto with a shipment, the car then has to get back home. It does this either being shipped empty, which costs the railroads money and makes none, or the railroads can use the car on a shipment going in the general direction of home based on a set of rules set up by the railroads to determine how empty cars are forwarded home.

For example, if I understood what Trevor explained, loosely speaking, a Northern Pacific Railway Car that made it to Toronto with a shipment, is now empty and looking to get home. CN/CP should send it back by the shortest possible route to minimize them being charged for having the car, but, if someone needed a boxcar, depending on the rules, they could send it to be loaded and use it to go in the general direction of home. CN/CP probably could not use an NP car to send a load from Liberty Village to Halifax, but it could from Liberty to Winnipeg, which brings the car much closer to home, which means it makes money for part of the trip of being sent back home. With that knowledge, trying to find plausible reasons for non CN/CP box cars is a bit easier. How they got to Toronto matters not, that someone in Liberty is shipping something in their general direction is more important. That doesn’t mean I can’t start with a US road car on the layout having made a delivery, it just means I don’t need to know why or how it got there. It also means, where I started asking Trevor about paperwork for US cars is more irrelevant. If a Northern Pacific car would have had an NP waybill when it entered the layout is irrelevant if it’s being moved from a yard in Toronto empty to Liberty Village for loading. It’s much more complex than this, I have a lot of reading to do on this, but simply put, that at least frees a mental roadblock to let me prepare some test paperwork, and see how trying to run an organized train goes.

Work in progress switch lists. Subtle differences for CN and CP operators, using slogans and fonts that reflect each railways employee time tables from the 1950’s. Also working on getting the size right for my mini-clipboards for operators to use.

I have also made up switch lists, using Trevor’s as a guide. We will see how they work on my layout compared to his, my layout works a bit differently as the switch jobs come and go from the yards represented by staging at either end, probably (definitely) several times a session with cuts of 3-4 cars, which is the max that can be handled at a time. It will take some thinking by operators in terms of bringing cars into and out of the staging traversers, managing the number of cars you have, and where you can stash them on the layout without blocking road crossings I think will be one of the challenges for operators of the layout. Time will obviously tell. As you can see above, my switch lists have a schematic map of the layout with notes on where industries and car spots are located. It also includes the street names to align with the street signs on my fascia to help operators with way finding on where they are.

Rough waybills for the same car. Coming Loaded to deliver, and empty to remove.

I have tried to prep enough waybills to do two operating sessions. One to move everything I’ve staged on the layout, and a second to swap them back out. Not all cars are going to the same places, and once I’ve done the first session, I may find the waybills I made up for a 2nd one don’t make sense, and may have to make others, but that’s ok. Every car on the layout will wind up with multiple bills for it being used in various places for various industries.

So with that, off to finish organizing the first set of paperwork for a real (albeit solo) operating session. Need to charge the DCC controller and give the track a quick clean to hopefully have smoothish operations. Looking forward to giving the layout a run in the next couple of days sometime.

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.

Painted & Decalled “Painted” Wall Signs

Continuing to make progress on the structures I have built for the layout, one is finally seriously nearing completion. With the windows painted on the Brunswick Balke Collender factory, the next step was the three large painted signs that adorned the southern facade of the factory. Once these are done, I can move on to weathering and getting the building with a good coat of mid 1950’s soot that adorned all of Toronto back then.

First stop, the paint booth with decals for the black part of the sign printed on our injet, and spraying the white blocks for the text onto the walls.

For the signs, there are many different ways to do them. My chosen way is to paint the white onto the walls, and make decals for the black portions. I have clear decal sheet for doing this kind of thing. I know you can get white decal paper, but my past experience with it is that you get white around the edges when you trim your decals to size and apply them. Using clear paper, means that if there is clear carrier at the edges, it can blend away.

To make the decals, I used good old Adobe Photoshop CS3 (I don’t have a computer capable of running anything more modern, nor the inclination to pay a monthly user fee forever and ever) to produce them at 1:1 size for my structure after measuring it. The top sign has been restored, the lower two were not when the building was recently renovated, but I fortunately have a single shot I took in 2005 where you can mostly make out what the two lower signs said. Between that, and some internet investigative work on Brunswick Balke and their old drawn images on corporate letterhead, I am confident that if anything is wrong, its not very wrong.

Decals going on. They are so long they need to be done in two parts. After the first half was down, I trimmed the second half to minimize overlap while leaving myself clear alignment points at a letter to match the halves.

For the decals, once they are printed, the need to be sealed to actually go in the water and slide on. I have an old rattle can of Testors Decal Bonder spray from my first efforts at making decals years ago. A little goes a long way. To be honest, I probably even in my couple of light coats applied too much, but given the size of my decals, a thicker coating so that would hopefully not tear (spoiler, they did not tear) seemed wiser than thin and having to fix issues.

2005 compared to my model. Now it just needs weathering. Somewhere between the pristine look the model currently has and the completely weather-beaten pre-restoration look of 2005.

The signs have worked out pretty much perfectly. The white paint shows the brick pattern clearly, and the black home made decals have mostly settled in to find the nooks and crannies to also look like they are paint and not a decal. They need a bit more work in a few sports with a pin and some microsol to get in underneath and finish the job, but walking into the layout room (or just down the hall toward it), this building is very prominent as you enter the room, and every bit of movement forward re-affirms my decision to build this first and work on advancing this area of the layout as seeing it continue to move from vision to reality keeps me motivated on the numerous other projects, even if I haven’t been getting as much done of late on the layout as I might want to with my focus being spent on my “distraction diorama” that I needed just to do something different for a bit to feel refreshed and re-find motivation for layout projects. After all, the 80+ windows of Hinde and Dauch are still waiting for me to cut the openings and cast the windows before I can do the next set of painted wall signs there, which are much bigger than these ones are!

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.

Skills

  • 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

Eureka!!! It Exists The E.W. Gillett Mill and Elevator!!

Well, after what seems like an eternity (Here, here and here), a picture of the E. W. Gillett Mill and Elevator exists!!! Look, there it is, an actual picture with more than enough detail to actually start figuring out how to model it, not another aerial from miles up!!

It was real!!! You’d think there would be more pictures out there of a building that existed until 2004, but until today, my search was without results! (Image courtesy Toronto Archives via City of Toronto Staff Report to Council)

So where did I find this? It was after all that time, in the Toronto Archives holdings, but in non-scanned materials, which to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t gotten around to going through as you can only request so many files/folders in advance for weekend visits when they were open to researchers pre-covid, and I couldn’t spend every weekend requesting five boxes and taking hours to sift through the archives. So how did I get it you ask? Through a City of Toronto Staff Report on designating the property as a Heritage Building under Ontario’s Heritage Act going to Council in November. The report has all kinds of materials in it that are not available to the general public, like 100 year old Building Permit plans. Sure, the reproductions in the report are not great, and unfortunately, as general public I can’t just go and request them, but every little bit helps! A sampling of the plans from the report is below.

The link to the full report on the E.W. Gillett site is below:

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2020/te/bgrd/backgroundfile-157650.pdf

So with that, a periodic reminder that if you are researching old buildings, a great resource is your local Planning Department, as they should be posting their reports to Council online for you to find!