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.

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.

Every Day a little bit forward, and a little bit better

This weekend is the “Civic Holiday” weekend in most of Canada, the first monday in August is a holiday for most workers in most provinces. I took the Friday off to extend it into a four day weekend. I was, feeling a bit mopey and not all that motivated yesterday, yet I found myself putting in a half hour or so at the workbench, picking up a project I’ve been ignoring for a while, construction on the Hinde and Dauch paper factory.

Working on resin casting windows from my 3D printed masters. On this one wall alone there are 19 windows and one door to go in the bottom right corner. This building has a lot of windows, and this is the “simplest” wall!

In my constant quest to improve my building technique, I decided again to try something a bit different, sort of combining techniques I have used to try and come up with a better way of marking and cutting out window openings. This remains one of my banes when it comes to scratch building structures, you get ten or twenty openings into a wall, and a careless cut or slipped blade can ruin hours of work, sometimes irreparably. It’s a task that requires patience, and time, not one I can do in a five or ten minute work break, but one I need to have actual blocks of time and calm headspace for.

Working on cutting out window openings, a never ending task when scratchbuilding large factories.

My latest combining of techniques is seen in the pictures above, using a printed paper template with the windows cut out, I then used a black sharpie to trace out the openings onto the styrene wall. With this done, I then tried two techniques, for the square windows I did what I have been doing of late, and drilling corner holes with a #66 bit. Then using a knife and ruler to cut between them until an opening is made. Once the opening is made, I use a file to expand the opening to fit. The second technique on the lower windows was to drill a large centre hole, and use the nibbler tool to open them up. I had gotten away from the nibbler as the small mountain of off cut bits gets infuriating in my office/workshop, but it also offers a lot of control that I don’t find I have with the knife.

This is one of the smaller walls on this building, but that doesn’t make it simple. The majority of the windows are arched at the top, which means careful trimming out then sanding. So far, so good with the few I have done. This is definitely a be calm and take time task. Fortunately, for this wall there are vertical columns of brick that bracket the window columns which will hide any mis cuts along the sides of the windows, so as long as I get the top and bottom tight, it will be fine. I now need to get back to casting some more windows as I haven’t actually done them for the main walls along the rails, where there are a lot of much bigger windows to make and install, and where there are no vertical columns to hide any mistakes.

See Through Layout Edge Buildings

Looking through the foundry building to the layout after spraying the interior black. I can see some light leaks now that its painted on the interior.

My layout has five structures that will be located between the edge of the layout and the tracks. I have built one of them so far. There are a number of ways that this can be tackled by modellers to make them look good. You can put a false back on so the fascia board extends to close it in, you can build full, detailed interiors, or you can make them see through “shadow boxes”. I am going with the shadow box/theatre staging version of making them see-through. I don’t really know what the interiors looked like, and they are all slightly compressed and the widest is about 1 inch deep. That doesn’t make for great model space, and I think, as you can see, it creates a bit of a shadow box effect. I don’t have “glass” in the windows yet, as I still have to paint the window frames on the finished building side, so I can’t glaze them. I think the effect of looking through a shadowbox building will be really interesting and less distracting than made up interiors.

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!

An April Sunday Night Omnibus Update

I realized I haven’t written about anything I’ve done or been working on for over two weeks, and while that’s not really all that long, its been a weird, though productive couple of weeks, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like that to me. So with that in mind, here is a kind of “month end” omnibus edition post on most everything I’ve been working on (there is one thing with a post upcoming I’ve spent a lot of time on that is not for this post), as I’m not feeling motivated to write a lot of words on one thing, but some pictures and a few words on a bunch of things feels good and again drives home that sometimes, you are making progress even when you don’t always see it! A lot of my writing is not just to share the joy model making gives me, or to share techniques, but to keep me motivated by looking at what I am doing and seeing concrete progress by putting it in words and pictures.

First up, a project that came so close to being “finished” in March, but dragged into April for decals and dull-coating. A pair of Canadian Pacific 10′-6″ interior height NSC AAR box cars. Similar to the two CNR ones I finished other than weathering in January, these are Intermountain undecorated kits built with National Scale Car mini-kits to get the correct doors and ends for Canadian built cars. These are all done other than weathering and any adjustments to make them good runners on the layout. Of course, no sooner do I finish two kits than two more from Yarmouth Model Works arrive to go in the queue. I see a pattern here!!

A pair of CPR Box Cars in final decaling and then dullcoated and on the layout.

Next up, another quick project that has happened on a whim in April! Way back in 2004, I took my first vacation from work, I’d been working for about a year and half after finishing university, and took two weeks to go to England and just do railway stuff. On that trip, I bought a 1/4 scale replica nameplate at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway of LNER/BR B17 61648 Arsenal. This class of locomotive was known as “Footballers” because they were named after English football teams. Early in April, I saw a crazy sale on a Hornby B17, but with the wrong name/number. That is a situation easily fixed. On a Sunday I ordered a locomotive and then replacement etched nameplates and number decals from Fox Transfers, and a couple of weeks later they both arrived across the ocean. A couple of hours of work with isopropyl alcohol and a toothpick to remove the wrong numbers, prying off the factory nameplates, and some carefully gluing, and a quick project I’ve wanted for years, a model of Arsenal to go with my nameplate was done. Didn’t advance the layout one iota (though as you can see, the layout doesn’t do too badly for photographing British Models!)

Voila, from 61665 “Leicester City” to 61648 “Arsenal” in a couple of hours. The replica nameplate can be seen in the background.

Another non-layout project is what started as a”Blank Canvas“, aka an Ikea shelf! I have been busy on this too, working on other scenery skills I don’t necessarily need for the layout, but which are good and where I felt I needed something different to work on to break up working on the layout scenery which is very much samey across the layout. Since I last posted, I have been working on learning to use a Hot Wire Foam Cutter to cut and trim the foam base for the terrain on either side of the tracks, along with laying and painting the track, and building the signals. I have gotten it to the point where the track and roadbed is down, the foam is carved to shape and glued in, and the signals are built and almost finished being painted and assembled. The Hot Wire Cutter probably deserves a post of its own, and I may take some pictures of me cutting a mock-up pieces to do that. Its definitely one of those things I’ve seen people write about over the years, and while I haven’t built much scenery, the difference between my rough carving the block of foam and the mess that made vs. using the Hot Wire is immense. Now I get it!

Going from a 3″ thick chunk of foam to formed terrain for along the tracks and to support the wooden bridge (currently in fancy cardboard mockup form). The GO Bi-Levels are the closest I have to AAR Plate C modern freight cars in size, so not quite tall enough, but they are a great help for making sure I have clearance. As always, any available heavy items including a “Heritage” Don Valley Brickworks brick are used to weight down track when its glued!

My layout has no signalling, but the diorama kind of needs them to make the scene I am building an homage to. Now, having built two signals that don’t even change aspect (I’ve built them with single colour aspects showing for photography), re-affirms that I don’t have the patience or wiring skills to do more than that! I ordered the kits from a company called Showcase Miniatures, and they are awesome, even if I’m no good at wiring. If you are looking for signals, I can highly recommend their kits based on my experiences thus far. What they have also illuminated, is how lucky we were pre-pandemic to just pop out to the hobby shop. I am constantly finding things I don’t have, that will then take weeks to get potentially, like the discovery that I don’t in fact have a sheet of black lettering for the signal ID boards, so I’m kinda ground to a halt, though luckily one of my local suppliers TMR Distributing had them and some other bits and pieces I need for various projects, so I may have what I need this week if the post office cooperates at all (not that I have much faith in Canada Post).

Images of signal building. Multiple aspects of this probably deserve their own post, and who knows, maybe I will get motivated to do that! Simple things, like tiny balls of blue sticky tack in the light openings while painting to protect the LED’s. Sometimes the simpliest things get the best results.

Back in December, I was briefly super excited by my progress in wiring a decoder and programming it into a second Alco S-2 for the CPR side of my loco fleet, then, I blew up the decoder with a wiring short. I managed to not throw the loco, and this weekend made some progress on painting and decalling. This locomotive is going to be in CP’s early maroon and grey “Block” lettering scheme. I have been offered by a friend to do the 2nd go round of the DCC install for me, and I am going to send the locomotive to them in a few weeks once the shell is finished, so that they can do the installation, and when it comes back to me, hopefully I won’t have to take the shell off anytime soon, and won’t risk shorting it out again!

Masking and painting the maroon parts of a CPR Also S-2 switcher. Needs a quick shot of clear coat for the decals, then I can apply lettering.

Just to prove that not everything I’ve been doing is not advancing the layout scenery itself, the last few things have been small, but important painting and learning on the buildings.

Continuing work on painting buildings. Masked and painted windows on Brunswick Balke, working on some “Natural” red sandstone details on 60 Atlantic, and testing Roberts Brick Mortar on the Brunswick power house. The super salmon pink colour on 60 Atlantic will be, toned down! The brick mortar looks better in pictures than I think it does in person. I haven’t quite got the application technique down yet for it to be subtle. Hopefully when I apply some pan pastel weathering it tones it down to the sweet spot in person and in pictures!

So, as its been said before, probably even by me, a little bit of time every day turns into big progress. I have lots of things on the go, things I am working on, things I could be working on, things I think about working on, things I should be working on instead of coming up with new distractions, but all put together, some of that scatterbrained projects all over the place is a part of my hobby as much as making progress is. I don’t know about others, but for me, hitting a point of “oh hey, that worked and looks really good” just seems to sneak up on me from periods of not feeling like I am actually doing anything.