Sunday, June 25, 2017

Space VS Place

The layout benchwork is complete and it was time to move it in my office. It now sat on a small shelf, at a comfortable height to operate when I'm sitting on my chair. For the first time, I can now start to see the project from the intended perspective...

Before building anything, I still have to install LED strips and prepare some conduits to operate accessories. Installing the NCE Power Cab module is also an important future step. I generally have a tendency to neglect the mechanical aspect of my home layouts and it's a good occasion to do it right.

But there is more than mechanical and electrical components involved. As said by Marty McGuirk recently, a layout should tell a story, whatever it is... and a story doesn't need to be complicated and convoluted to be compelling. I'd like to come up with a big one for the feedmill, but it is mundane. All we know is that a medium-sized feed mill in an average rural town gets a few loads per week. The train serving the town is minimal, slow and somewhat lazy. There isn't a lot of job to do and you do it according to the rules. Since there's no hurry here, better safe than sorry.

Going so minimal may shake one's confidence because we are used to try to justify everything when building and describing a layout. Be assured I freaked out at some point and had to fight the urge to add a proverbial team track to the layout. Fortunately, I put that idea aside, preferring to stay true to the prototype. That layout isn't about "operation" but about switching a few cars at a rural feed mill in late summer under the harsh sun at the height of the day. That's the story. Once you know that, you can start to frame and build up the layout according to your vision.

I've also came to the realisation I should stop to think small layouts are a transitory step before reaching the dream layout stage. I probably will never have the space to make anything significant in term of rail miles. But I know for sure trains are fun to watch, even from a single spot. Railfanning every grade crossings at the speed of light in car isn't as impressive as waiting that moment of the day when you hear the whistle and come see the action. It's no longer a matter of space, but rather a matter of place... In that regard, small layouts are better at framing a place because we focus our effort on what counts rather than compromise while trying to fit as much as we can. And don't get me wrong, a place don't necessarily needs to be minuscule to be modelled... it is independant from the space available.

How will that translate on the QSSR? I've got no idea, but I know I already framed the place where the story is told... all the rest is a matter of development and directing. And that's the moment I'll see if I can transcend my modelling skills and start painting on a canvas.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Progress and LEGO Mockup

I'm glad to announce the module and it's fascia are completed. Everything was sanded down, primed and sanded again to get a nice smooth finish that will look good in my office room. I wasn't sure about the color to use, but finally settled down to the tried and true black as so often used by British modellers. Honestly, I'm quite happy with the result and can't wait to add the last coat this evening.

I also decided to make a scale mockup of Moulée St-Pie feed mill. Honestly, the structure probably date back to the 1950s and is far larger than our usual grain elevators. The main building is a tower with a 50ft x 50ft footprint flanked with two other 50ft x 50ft warehouses.

I wasn't eager to waste material making a mock up so I decided to use LEGO bricks and make one as close as possible to the prototype. Honestly, it turned out far better than I thought. I was also able to use a LEGO rolling door as can be seen on the real building. It would make a very interesting feature on the layout and I'm actually thinking about including LEGO parts inside the final structure. I suppose it could be activated with a fairly simple hand-activated mechanism.

However, all things being good, I must admit the structure looks quite tall and I'll need to adjust the dimensions a little bit to better fit the space available and make sure it looks good.

As a side note, I consider one could use LEGO bricks to make sturdy structure cores. Aftermarket parts can be bought at good prices online and would ensure building wouldn't warp. Being plastic, you can glue styrene and other materials to it just like we do with styrene cores. I don't know if it would be economically viable with Moulée St-Pie, but it wouldn't hurt to try something out.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Module

The baseboard and fascia are now progressing at a decent pace which means going small is also a way to ensure progress is steady and rewarding. That may sound cheesy, but it's an important motivational factor. That should never be underestimated.

I'm also starting the assembly of a Sunset Valley garden train switch stand to operate the Peco turnout. The idea is not new and was pioneered a few years ago by Trevor Marshall on his excellent S scale Port Rowan layout. This is probably the most prototypical way to operate a turnout and I'm certainly eager to try it out. It makes sense on a small switching layout where every prototypical moves are reproduced to bring life to the models.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Vision

The new layout wasn't design as a plan, but as an illustration. As I previously said, I was rather interested in composing and framing a scene to create a plausible small universe.

In that respect, I first draw an elevation of what I wanted, composing the scene as I've witnessed in Japanese gardens last month. First, the elevator was set on a corner then forested areas were created in front of it to frame the action as railcars are pulling in front of the building. The idea was to have the impression the person looking at the layout is standing in an open field or clearing and can only grasp a part of the train.

Second, I thought it would be better to compose the scene as a succession of planes rather than create hard to conceal things like perpendicular road. It means almost everything is parallel to the tracks, which emphasized the linear nature of a railway. In fact, this is not to different from the way traditional animators created scenes by using several planes to build up the illusion.

Finally, as you can see, the foreground forested areas are carefully located so they not only frame the view but aren't a hindrance for operation. The turnout may not be visible, but it's not important since no uncoupling occurs there. Also, from experience, I know we rarely observe a train while standing by a stand switch.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Good news my friend, as promised, the QSSR is back on track, this time as a 48" x 18" portable layout. As always, it is set in Quebec's Eastern Township, will deal with a local feedmill on a derelict branchline remnant and is served by our good old Canadian Pacific Railway. If you want to route if a little bit more into reality, it is yet again based on ex-Maine Central's Hereford Railway branch. Until the mid-1980s, a chunk of the former line was still used to reach a few customers in Sawyerville, a few miles south of Cookshire. As you can guess, this is really just an excuse for inspiration since I'm not fond of fantasy layouts.

However, the approach will be different as described in this post I made on Hedley-Junction. QSSR is perfect to try this approach and go fully artistic with the project. While I gave a lot of thoughts about the operation aspect of the layout, I'm approach it as a canvas.  Rails and trains will be a part of the picture, but not the main focus. Will it pay off? Maybe, maybe not. But at least, I need to try it out once to see if my ideas are sound and worth implementing on my other projects (Hedley-Junction and Connors). It is also a good occasion to operate a little bit at home as I once did with the original QSSR. I miss that time!

As we speak, the baseboard is completed and I'm soon make the proscenium as often seen on British exhibit layouts.

Oh, and you probably want a track plan? No need for one... A mainline, a turnout and a  siding: yes, the proverbial one turnout layout as originally envisioned.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Building the Fleet

It will be a long time before I build a CPR themed layout, but it won't stop me from building the fleet. Over the years, I collected many Canadian Pacific locomotives and rolling stock which can make up for a nice little fleet. They include all kind of rolling stock and many will need extensive rebuilding to be up to my modelling standards (separate ladders, metal stirrups and wire grabiron). Since I don't plan to add any cars to Hedley-Junction, when I feel like building an HO scale car, it will probably be a CP one.

To start this long term program, I acquired a few decals and paint supplies. The first projects will be about the conversion of old Bachmann, Model Power and MDC/Roundhouse 50ft plug door boxcars. CP Rail used to have a large fleet of them in lumber service and they were a staple of Quebec Central back in the 1970s and 1980s.

I this regard, I'll build a few variation of them with different door arrangements, roof types and car ends. The next project to be documented here will be CP 49100, a one-of-a-kind double door boxcar.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Improving a Track Plan

I believe a good design is one that is simple, easy to understand and free of hindrance. While I want continuous running, I certainly don’t want gimmick such as duck unders and lift out sections. Also, having large aisles is on top of my list. Because, it's much practical when building the layout and doing maintenance. I'd rather sacrifice layout benchwork than aisle space.

For this reason, I bumped the room width to 14’. It makes a huge difference and will be much more interesting in the long run.

It was also a good opportunity to fine tune the concept. No surprise I removed some trackage and took the occasion to slightly relocate Tring on the long wall. Many reasons are behind this but the first one is to clear the staircase well. I have no problem having trains running over the the staircase, but I don’t want any operation to happen there, particularly such an important spot as Tring. Also, the prototype was located on a long straight stretch of track right after a curve, exactly as represented on my most recent track plan. It also allocates more space to correctly model the old Placo veneer factory which is a landmark in the area. While it could be operated, this industry was a dying one at that time and probably saw very little rail traffic. I'll will be a scenic element so I’m not bothered it is over the staircase. Placo can use Tring team track if they want to ship by rail!

Another benefit from this new Tring location is I can decently stage large way freight trains on the wye legs. Two operators could virtually schedule meets if wanted. There is also a better spatial and scenic separation between Tring and St-Sébastien, made even more dramatic by the staircase. Finally, removing curves from Tring yard will make operation far easier. I certainly hate coupling cars on curves and I’m probably not alone. With repeat mistakes of the past when they can easily be avoided.

Also, I decided to place all the industries siding facing the same direction. Not only it makes operation easier (yes, I’m not that much excited running around a train) but improve the feel of a long main line run. The reason is easy to understand. We you leave Tring, you have to travel all over the layout without stopping nowhere. You blow the horn and control your speed, that’s all. But the best as yet to come: you’ll meet the 1.6% ruling grade in this direction which will be more interesting to battle against that way. On the return trip, you take your time and switch the industries one by one as required, taking your time and increasing the perceived distance. With five industries, whom many have multiple spots, I think there would be more than enough action for a single operator. Keep in mind designing a track plan for operation isn't just about meeting the requirements, but also about telling a story.

It is certainly a little bit weird to put so little track in such a comfortable space (14’ x 23’), but I think it’s for the best to be immersed in scenery. You can't reproduce a backwood branchkine with dozen of towns and industries! Such a railway is generally dominated by forests and fields which can’t be traded for a higher track ratio. Keep thing simple and manageable! Also, given my freight cars weight a lot and only stations are on flat lands, there should be enough challenge to make this a decent layout. Also, you can’t model the branchline look by stuffing all kind of stuff.