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.

Tuesday Train #253

Maintenance is an ongoing and essential part of safe railroad operations. Here a CN Maintenance-of-Way crew is parked up at Stewarttown in the siding for the weekend on the Halton Subdivision. They are often not seen, or not paid a lot of attention to, but crews like this are constantly out doing the essential work of keeping the track in safe condition for the trains bringing so many goods to us, and passengers to and from their destinations.

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.

Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

One Down, Six (and probably more) to Go

Well, that is one more car out of the reasonably manageable pile of kits in my collection. This is the first Yarmouth Model Works resin kit that I have finished. I have three more started, and three more safely in boxes to follow them, and there is at least one car recently released (Kit YMW-130, an 8′ door box with Pacific Great Eastern Decals) I will probably buy, and I am reliably informed there are more new kits coming that will likely interest me based on my prototype and era. This post however, is about one of the kits I have, and have now finished, Kit YMW-113, an ACF (American Car & Foundry) built 40′ boxcar, owned by the West India Fruit and Steamship Company. The WIF operated rail ferries between Palm Beach Florida and Havana Cuba between 1946 and 1961. They owned 150 of the cars represented in this kit. The cars operated all over North America bringing goods to and from Cuba. I have pictures of them as far away as Vancouver British Colombia, so it is entirely plausible that one would have brought goods to Toronto, then been loaded with something from Liberty Village going back to Cuba. That is my story, and I’m sticking to it, it also gives me at least one boxcar that can show up occasionally that isn’t a variation of oxide red/boxcar brown!

Scenes from building a resin kit. My first attempt at building the Yarmouth etched brass ladders, not perfect, but passable.

The Yarmouth Model Works kits are really quite nice to build. The fact that Pierre Oliver who owns the company and his pattern makers are modellers shows, as they understand kit building, and instruction writing. I take my time and regularly look at the reference photos included therein for where parts and lines go. The result, with some time put into it and the usual careful sanding and cleaning needed for resin kits, is a really nice looking model. As you can see in the pictures, the patterns for this car were done in a way that recreates the “oil canning” effect, or the wavy sides from welding the exterior sheeting to the interior support. The masters were drawn in CAD and 3D printed to get that effect, which makes sense as trying to create the effect otherwise to then create a mold to cast from would be a nightmare.

I’m not one for blow by blows of kit building, so I wont go into that, but as with all things, every kit you build, every time you do things again, they become that little bit easier to do, and every issue I ran into (which were mostly user error) will help me with the next car off the shelf to work on.

I’ve mentioned it before, but be aware of your lighting. This is the same car and paint, but in the lighting in my paint booth, you can’t trust the colour, the LED’s do a great job of lighting the workspace, but a terrible job of showing what the colour actually is.

Paint and pictures are as always, your best friend and worst enemy. As you can see above, the roof walk is not connected on one end when I painted the car. In between primer and finished colour, I dropped the car. I thought I hadn’t damaged anything when I checked, then I sprayed the paint, and found the walk was a mess. This was entirely fixable without damaging the paint, and any minor glue marks under the walk will vanish when the car is weathered, but its another important lesson/reminder to not rush when working on models.

Decalled and done and on the layout. Just needs to be flat coated and weathered to be truly finished.

The decals included in this kit are some of the nicest I have ever worked with. They went on super smooth, conformed nicely to the not flat car sides, and just melted away with a tiny bit of Microsol to blend the carrier film. It can make anyone, even a hack like me look good when you have good products to work with!

All in all, I am very happy with how this project has turned out, and it will add a pop of colour among the red/brown boxcar fleet.