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.

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.

Sorting out some Small Part Storage

I am a bit of an organizer, I like to keep all my projects, parts, supplies and work bench organized. Some things I have been doing for organization are working, some things are not. One of the things that wasn’t was my organization of small parts you go through a lot of building freight cars, like grab irons and screws. I found a variety of options for little screw top containers on Amazon, so I bought one to see if I liked it (a $10 investment tacked onto an Amazon order isn’t a big deal). I really liked the little screw top containers I chose, and they came with a little clear plastic box to keep the 12 individual jars together, so I bought a 2nd. Then, I realized that wasn’t enough storage, so I bought two more and now Amazon Canada seems to be sold out! (sorry, I won’t bother linking as they are out of stock).

All in all, I am really happy with these, two are full, one is half full, and one is empty for future re-organization and expansion of my small part storage. Each tub is labelled with sharpie on the top of the jar, I tested, it will wipe off (despite Sharpie supposedly being permanent!), so I should be able to relabel them in the future.

Shot of one of the organizers after it arrived from amazon, easier to see the 12 tubs inside the bigger tub in this picture.

There are a mountain of listings marketed as cosmetic pots or bead containers or similar on Amazon if you too are looking for something to boost your small part organization. These are now a lot easier to get at rather than having to drag out the big container of detail parts they used to be stored in in the cupboard, as they can now stay in a corner of the work space out of the way and readily accessible.

A new Task Lamp for the Workbench

IMG_2288New task lamp ready for unboxing and setting up

At the beginning of February we got together at my friend Hunter Hughson’s, and I was admiring his LED task lamp on his workbench. During Train Night In Canada last week, I was asking him about it and if he liked it. He reported that he loved it, so that was enough to sell me on buying one to try. Generally I’m happy with my workbench, except for the fact that I don’t have light shining at my work, its shining at me. This isn’t something I can easily fix, but a fixture like this that has super solid joints, and bright LED’s is perfect, as it can sit beside me and shine light on what I’m working on instead of in my face.

New light out of the box on my workbench, and set up in at least the first place I’m going to have it sit.

The light is touch on and off, which is great as it means it won’t get marked up by paint and glue if I’ve got any on my fingers. It also has three colour temperatures and can be dimmed/brightened on each setting. The lamp is by Tensor (there only seems to be a website for their parent company, not them individually), I bought it through Amazon, I don’t know if its available from others. As I write, Amazon.ca shows one left in stock. The model number on the box is 20276-002 if you are google searching for it.

So far, I’m quite happy with it. My workbench isn’t bad in the daytime because of the skylight, but at night, the current room lighting is garbage, and when I replace that with layout lighting, it won’t necessarily help the workbench, so this was an affordable approach to get some more light easily that I can direct where I want. It’s also helping with workbench photography as now I can get light from behind the camera instead of in front of it!

Finishing a Tool Organizer

A couple of months ago I ordered a new desk tool organizer. When it arrived, I was mostly happy with it, aside from a couple of lazy/sloppy design “features”. The main one was that the tool organizer was a thin piece of laser cut wood, but there was no lower organizer to keep tools upright or in the slot, things just flopped about. This to me defeats the purpose, so today I visited one of my off-site workshops that has a drill press to quickly make an insert piece to provide some hold for tools put in the slots.

My drilled out wood block in place, with spacers beneath to raise it from the bottom of the tool organizer, and the laser cut top piece back in place.

With the new piece in place, tools actually stand up in their hole, and the organizer becomes useful. I’m still working on which tools I want where, and what all i’m going to keep in this long term, but it brings me closer to one of my 2019 goals of improving my workbench organization a bit.

IMG_1040Tool organizer doing its job, organizing tools!

Workbench Cleanup and Reorganization

I like to have a fairly tidy and organized workspace. Detail parts and bits and pieces for model trains are pretty tiny, if your workbench is a mess, you’re going to lose something. I’ve seen a few workbenches over the years, and generally, those who I know and whose work I’ve seen have the same thing going, keep it clean and organized.

When I built my custom bench last year after we moved, my friend Ryan suggested including a piece of off-cut pegboard from his workshop, and boy am I glad I listened and did. I’ve never had a bench with pegboard before, but it is so flexible. Last night and today I’ve been reorganizing all my tools and odds and ends that I use, having lived with the bench for over a year, I’ve learned what tools I use often, which I am using less often, and which things are in inconvenient places. The pegboard has made it super easy to reorganize the hanging tools, along with reusing a parts tray to organize many little bits and getting them closer at hand when I’m working so I don’t have to grasp at a distance of go looking for them. I’m not done the reorganization yet, but I’m quite pleased with how its turning out so far.

IMG_0064A organized and cleaned up workbench ready for me to get back at modelling rather than cleaning (once I finish up cleaning my side cabinet on the right!)