Why Don’t We Take the Train?

Last weekend my 11-year old son and I took VIA Rail from Toronto to Ottawa for a quick two-day father/son road trip. The main reason for the trip was for some onboard railfanning but I hadn’t been on VIA in many years and was curious to see how it measured up.


I was lucky enough to ‘win’ a free business class return trip ticket from work, however when I learned that the seat for my son would add an additional $398, I traded in my biz class ticket to buy him a more affordable $106 economy ride. 


We left Toronto’s Union Station on VIA 52 (6411 to Montreal and 6429 splitting of to Ottawa) departing Saturday at 9:20 and luckily enough we were able to hitch a ride in business class there (long story with details omitted to protect the innocent). It was a fabulous way to travel.


A friend who works as a CN dispatcher warned me that we wouldn’t likely see much from the train as “The Kingston sub Is Canada’s high speed rail corridor, It’s not the TGV, but things move fast on there and…You are either traveling at 92 or 95 mph so the meets are a blur, you may overtake a moving freight train so you might get to see the side of some box and tank cars going by at 45 or 50 mph if they are on your side of the train...”


Turns out it wasn’t such a bad way to railfan. In addition to some high speed and lower speed freight train meets, I enjoyed seeing customer sidings and the general lay of the land. Unexpected bonus included this pretty awesome flatcar load in the Belleville yard.


On the way home on Sunday (VIA 55 departing Ottawa for Toronto at 3:20pm) we were back where we ‘belonged’ in Car 5. The difference with business class was very apparent as the old LRC train car was literally falling apart. 

One benefit of being in the last car of the train; however, was that I was able to grab some excellent video out the back door including this VIA meet in Brockville yard. Also notice the flatcar loads of ingots/alumina from Arvida at left/north side.

All in all an excellent weekend away in Ottawa and a really fun way to travel there. Thanks VIA!

2017 Project Planning

loweunfinished

Like most modelers I seem to have an endless list of unfinished projects.

Many projects start, but very few seem to finish. So in the spirit of making January new year’s resolutions, and in the hope that by writing them down they will miraculously get done, I present my overly optimistic list of 2017 ‘to-dos’ (in no particular order):

DCC

1.Troubleshoot JMRI. No idea why, but when my laptop updated to the most recent MacOS v 10.11.x my JMRI stopped working. Or more specifically JMRI is working fine, but Decoder Pro isn’t programming decoders anymore. No idea why I can no longer read or write to decoders, but my guess is that it has something to do with my Zephyr Xtra DCS 51 not properly communicating with the Digitrax PR3 and I am sure that this little project will occupy many frustrating hours.

2. Set up Command Stations & Boosters. Happily, Steve Juranics gave me a great deal on a used DB 150 Command Station and I plan to hook this up to the DCS 51 – as either the command station or as a booster. The DB 150 has 5 amps of programming power and provides that bit of extra juice to program the troublesome Atlas engines with QSI sound decoders that didn’t seem to want to work with the Zephyr (unless I was  programming in blast mode). Part of this project will also involve setting up power districts and hooking up a couple of PM42 Quad Power Managers.

3. Speed Match all my locos. Conditional on actually getting Decoder Pro to successfully program a decoder, the plan is to start speed-matching pairs of locos so that I can have consists that actually run well together. It will be nice to finally have smooth running pairs instead of the pushing and pulling that I’m used to.

Tech

4. Arduino. I am inspired. After reading Geoff Bunza’s great article A modeler’s introduction to the Arduino in MRH in Dec, I have most of the bits (and almost enough very basic knowledge) to put together a couple of really neat Arduino projects. First up, I will finish the Tardis project  started a year-and-a-half ago. The plan is to trigger the flashing light on top of the tardis and play the dematerialisation sound whenever someone approaches it on the layout. This can easily be accomplished with a PIR motion sensor; all I need to do is figure out how! Next up will be railroad crossing lights and bells for three roads on the layout. Also check out a great series starting on YouTube Model Builders called the YTMB Arduino workshop.

Layout

5. Oh yeah, that. I guess that in all the ‘fun’ stuff I should also include the track and scenery to-dos. After laying the mainline and key switches with tortoise switch machines, I have been troubleshooting my track work and have found a couple of places that need a little TLC. I will continue to sand, fill, gap and redo until the mainline track is flawless.

6. The Paper Mill. I plan to attack the complex track work in the paper mill section next on the theory that once done, I can have some fun switching if I want a distraction. There is no shortage of track to lay and it would be nice to have it all finished by the time the year comes to a close.

7. Scenery. I’m not one for the step-by-step approach to model railroading. I know that some people attack all of the benchwork, then all of the track and wiring before moving on to scenery. Call it hobby ADD but I get bored easily and like to mix things up a bit. Two areas of the layout are ‘done’ and the track in those sections isn’t (yes I know) going to change. I’d like to start building the farm scene in some detail and start on the Ciment Quebec scenery.

8. Structures. I’ve never built a kit. Yup. It’s true. Not plastic, not wood… nuthin’. And that’s gotta change soon. I have quite a large supply of wood and plastic kits that I purchased over the years and now it’s time to start building. First up will probably be a wood barn kit for the farm scene or a couple of the cement work structures.

Rolling Stock

9. Weathering, couplers and weight. Early on I made a promise to myself that I would only run cars on the layout that had at least a minimal level of weathering. I plan to give each car a spray of Dullcote to remove the plastic sheen, a quick dusting of Pan Pastels and a little detail work on the trucks and wheels. In addition, i’ve noticed that most of the couplers need a little bit of attention. I plan to swap out all plastic couplers for Kadees and check their height. At the same time at cars will be weighed and extra weights will be added if necessary.

10. Locomotives.  I have a number of locomotive projects planned; from simple weathering and modifications right up to complete strip and repaint jobs. These include:

  • CFL 114 – MLW S13u BELL-GAZ switcher
  • QGRY 6908 – a SD40-3 originally built as CN 5198 (SD40)
  • a couple of fictional additions to the G&W family including the B&B (named for Bernard & Ben)

11. Centerbeam Lumber Flatcars. One of my most important goals this year is to have some decent items to bring to the 2017 Toronto Railway Prototype Modelers Meet. Last year I met Chris van der Heide who showed me some of his fantastic lumber loads, and I’ve been busy at work getting this project ready for the next Meet on Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

12. Ecofab gondola covers. The project that I am most proud of and most excited about is my scratch-building of some Ecofab gondola covers out of styrene. This will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, so I’ll leave the details of this project til then.

13. PQTX. I haven’t blogged about this in any great detail other than here, but I have one ‘fun’ and fictional industry on the layout. Poutine Quebec (PQ) will be a poutine factory located outside of Montreal and will have a number of company owned cars. Inbound will be cheese curds in PQTX reefers, potatoes in PQTX boxcars and light brown gravy powder in PQTX hopper cars along with packaging and other assorted supplies. Once a week there would be a PQTX tank car shipment called the ‘gravy train’ that would bring in a heavier grade of gravy for storage in onsite tanks. Outbound would be the finished Poutine Quebec product to market.

Phew. There are more ideas in the works but that is certainly a good start for now. It’s likely that each of these projects will morph into it’s own blog post…so please stay tuned for many more details coming soon.

As always, comments, ideas and your thoughts are very welcome!

Mystical Landscapes (and trains)

Screen Shot 2016-12-30 at 8.28.11 PM.pngI went to see the Mystical Landscapes exhibition at the AGO last week and it got me thinking about light. Specifically how I was lighting the layout. What got me going on this theme was the series of haystacks by Monet. The series is known for its ‘thematic use of repetition to show differences in perception of light across various times of day, seasons, and types of weather.’

215c926e60c0d233d5b2bf98c3730a27

Up until now I had been using the standard 4′ fluorescent fixtures above the benchwork. At 5000K they do a good job and they work well at making colours look natural, but they only provide the look of a bright sunny day. Not always the average lighting in late October on my prototype. What if I wanted to explore how a scene on the railroad might look in early morning, or at dusk? As Monet’s haystacks revealed, changing the light creates a whole new scene. Changing light also creates new emotions associated with that light.

15724991_10155593132679128_3688396642672824261_o

For example, recently I found the image pictured above on Tom Vaughan’s Facebook page. It struck me in a way that no other photo of a train had. It’s a powerful and gloomy image full of emotion. The photograph conveys the sense of the damp and cold. It was taken on a cloudy short winter day, in an isolated and northern landscape. Not the prototypical train porn shot usually taken in bright sun. The focus of the picture seems to me not to be the train at all. The train is simply part of the landscape. Indeed I would call this a landscape photo with a train in it. That’s what I hope to recreate on my layout and light is one of the ways I hope to achieve this goal.

While I was at Costco picking up some New Year treats, I noticed a great deal on a multi-colour LED strip. With 8 different colours in addition to white (red, purple, blue, green, yellow etc.) and 4 different light levels, this gave me 36 different lighting options to play with. At $40 for 24 feet, this worked out to $1.66/ft. Reasonable enough for a bit of fun.

img_2347

Initial results have been quite positive. I really enjoy being in the layout room and running trains with different and dimmer light sources. While perhaps not achieving a 100% realistic version of a night scene (above), the soft, diffused light, muted tones and hazy outlined objects introduce the strong sense of mood that I had not previously experienced on my layout.

The Golden Spike Ceremony

img_2401

My goal for the layout this holiday break was to get the mainline loop completed so that I could run trains out of staging, do a complete loop around the layout and then back into staging. I am happy to report that yesterday, under the watchful eye of fellow model railroaders Sheldon Frankel and Marek Karwowski, we held a golden spike ceremony to celebrate the completion of that goal.

The good news is that I can now run continuously and had a 16 car manifest freight running trouble-free for a couple of hours today. That feels like progress.

The bad news is that by running the mainline I have found a few areas that need a little bit more work, and one area that will probably get a rebuild in the next few weeks. As always for every three steps forward there is a step or two back, but that too feels like progress.

Happy New Year and wishing your 2017 be filled with health, happiness, model trains and trouble-free running.

2016 in Review

In retrospect, I will remember 2016 as the year that I discovered operations.

I knew early on that I wanted to build the layout so that it would be more than a railfanning concept and could eventually grow (with me) into full operations. But I had no idea what that practically meant. Like most things, reading about it theoretically wasn’t doing it for me – I really needed to see it and experience it.

This year I got to operate on four very different layouts, each of which was a complete joy and all of them have informed my thinking and have contributed to the evolution of my trackplan.

IMG_1441

First up, was the N scale Grand Trunk Southern layout of John Johnson (CARM founder and Canadian editor, above) in Hamilton, ON.  You can read all about it at the blog post here.

IMG_1333

Then in  June, I was invited to operate on Sheldon Frankel’s fantastic Quebec & New England layout. I first discovered the Q&NE on Sheldon’s YouTube channel and was amazed to learn that this was a local layout. I have since become a regular monthly operator on the Q&NE and very much enjoy being part of an operating group.

ops-2016-08-17-01_zpsmp4nv9om

Trevor Marshall, who I met at the Copetown Show this year, invited me over to operate on his S scale Port Rowan in 1:64 and blogged about it here. I had listened to Trevor on his podcast, The Model Railway Show, watched him on trainmasters.tv and was an avid follower of his blog. This was another layout that I was on my ‘TOP 10 to visit’ list!

img_1919

Finally, I had the pleasure to be a guest operator on the Waterloo Region Model Railroad Club. I was invited by Chris van der Heide because he knew of my interest in learning more about OCS operations.

 

In addition to being a ton of fun, I learned something from each of these experiences. A little bit of each of these layouts will make it into my trackplan and operating concept.

Which beings me to the second theme of 2016… the year that I ‘finalized’ my trackplan. I was really struggling with the trackplan and had actually thought about soliciting some professional help and purchasing some design services. Like most things, a number of people/factors came together to break the logjam.

After watching Bill Beranek, The Track Planner’s excellent Operations presentation on the YouTube Model Builders channel, I became very interested in the AnyRail track planning software. It was fun, easy and finally I was able to try out ideas and really see what would work!

This got me to a trackplan – good but not great. Many thanks to Sheldon Frankel, who in addition to being the owner of the Q&NE is a professional civil engineer and happens to have worked for the railways. No better person to take my previous mess and clean it up with some good, practical, prototypical track design. You can view the revised track plan as a more detailed PDF here.

The final theme of 2016 is friendships. None of the above would have been possible without the friendship of some pretty incredible people.

Being located in Toronto, ON means that I am lucky to be surrounded by hundreds of fantastic modellers and their layouts. I’ve said it before, but I am constantly amazed how generous this community is with their time and encouragement and I have had the good fortune of learning from some of the best. Thank you.

 

Have you ever smashed a model?

marysville1

I mean really trashed it.

And not to recreate a prototype photo or to model an effect. Have you ever been soooo FRUSTRATED that something wasn’t working out the way that you wanted it to, that you just said ‘F*%K-IT‘ and smash…you destroyed it? I admit it, I have.

If by some super-human feat of self-control you have not, I bet you’ve been close and wanted to.

But here’s the thing. I don’t feel that way anymore. And I have the hobby of model railroading, in part, to thank for that.

This is a hobby for patient people. I’ve learned that projects can’t be rushed, steps need to be followed in logical and methodical, well thought out order, or mistakes happen. First fill, then wait, then sand and wait, then prime and let dry, then paint one thin coat and let dry, then repeat… dear God can’t I get this done TONIGHT? And when I inevitably do try to shortcut the process, and the model gets ruined, I have a choice. Trash it or fit it.

Funny thing is that it can almost always be fixed. And fixing the mistake is sooo satisfying. I really enjoy the feeling of working through the fix and coming out the backend with something, that in some cases, is even better than the original.

And for those unlucky models that don’t quite work out, as the pic above shows, there is always a creative and prototypical way to use those rejects on the layout.

This might just be the beginning of a series of blog posts titled, ‘Lessons I’ve Learned from the Hobby‘.

Operating the QGRY… and a revised track plan!

Plan.indd

First, the revised track plan. Many thanks to Sheldon Frankel, the owner of the Q&NE, and a professional civil engineer who happens to have worked for the railways. No better person to take my previous mess and clean it up with some good, practical, prototypical track design.

You can view the revised track plan as a more detailed PDF here.

541473_10200622867431185_354836159_n

Now for some thoughts on Operations…

Thanks to the wonder of Facebook I was able to connect with some kind (and very knowledgable) folks on the Genesee & Wyoming RR Fan Page who shared the current QGRY schedule with me. This has led me to the beginning thoughts for a proto-freelance operations plan:

Eastbound mains
Train 1. Train 726: Ste-Therese (Montreal staging) to Trois-Rivieres Yard
Train 2. Train 728: Trois-Rivières Yard to Triage Henri IV (Quebec staging)

Westbound mains
Train 3. Train 729: Triage Henri IV (Quebec staging) to Trois-Rivières Yard
Train 4. Train 727: Trois-Rivieres Yard to Ste-Therese (Montreal staging)

Locals (turns)
Train 5. Train 28: Trois-Rivières – Joliette and back to switch Bell-Gaz
Train 6. Train 33: Trois-Rivières – Shawinigan and back (to Quebec staging to simulate CN interchange)
Train 7. NOT a prototypical train BUT I will create a local that runs Trois-Rivières – Paper Mill and back to switch the Paper Mill and other industries
Train 8. NOT a prototypical train BUT I will create a local that runs Trois-Rivières – Ciment Quebec and back to switch Ciment Quebec and Marmen

While this train list makes sense to me, I have NO IDEA what order to run the trains. For example, should the local trains run before or after the east/westbound mains? Not even sure how to determine this… any thoughts are very welcome!

Still pondering JMRI computer ops vs. car cards and waybills, but think that I will try JMRI first and then move to CC & WBs if I don’t like the computer-generated switchlists.

One of the things that I’m targeting is more frequent but less time consuming operating sessions. I want to be able to pop down to the basement and run a couple of trains either by myself or with a couple of people. Partly this is because I have two young boys who want to ‘play’ and partly because I just enjoy frequent sessions that last no longer than two – three hours.

That’s my current thinking for now and no doubt that it will change/evolve as I learn more about the real QGRY, meet new people, ask more questions and continue this fun and fascinating journey!

 

 

September 10th, 1976

image-4

Yesterday I had the pleasure to be a guest operator on the Waterloo Region Model Railroad Club. I was invited by Chris van der Heide because he kindly replied to my last post regarding my interest in learning more about OCS operations. The club uses this method in its operations and he thought that it would be of interest to me to learn how they approach this. Thanks Chris!

The Waterloo Region Model Railway Club (WRMRC) is a 2000 square foot, HO-scale (1:87) recreation of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Sudbury Division, as it appeared and operated during the 1970s. The layout features include:

  • a multi-level (mushroom) design over 2 floors with tracks interconnected by helices
  • track arrangements of the modelled towns are duplicated closely to the prototype locations
  • locomotives and rolling stock match real equipment that operated in northern Ontario during the ’70s
  • long freight trains rolling smoothly over handlaid trackage powered by NCE Digital Command Control

The session started at Noon and first task was to sign in and get on a crew. I joined Crew 4 and my partner was a 20-year club veteran Peter Korschefsky. Trains are operated with 2-man crews and we communicated with the isolated dispatchers via Motorola radios. Real freight and passenger schedules were followed, along with proper blocking of freight traffic between trains. Freight delivery was governed by a car-card and waybill system mimicing the prototypical generation of traffic by railway customers. In short, we were operating the Sudbury Division prototypically – as a miniature transportation system.

image
Peter at home in his dispatcher’s chair.

Peter is usually a dispatcher on the WRMRC, however yesterday he and I were Conductor and Engineer on three Manifest trains. Peter and I quickly started scheming about how to model CN 1501 using Rapido’s upcoming RDC-1 Phase 2 and I fear that I might have pulled him over to the dark side. Sorry about that Peter.

Over the course of a 6 hour session, a group of around 14 guys ran 21 trains – all simulating the traffic found around Sudbury on September 10th, 1976. And man was it FUN!

Peter and Phil are trying to figure out where we are – or more specifically -where we are supposed to be.

This was my fifth time operating (each time a different layout) and I have to say that I am hooked. Every session has been very unique; whether its been N-scale or  HO-scale, big club layout or small basement layout; fully sceniced or ‘plywood pacific’; mainline freight operations or switching layouts – it doesn’t matter. Each experience is fun and teaches me a little bit more. The more I operate on other layouts the closer I feel to knowing what I want for my QGRY in HO scale.

image-1
Hunter Hughson‘ working the Sudbury Yard Switcher.
image-2
Bob Fallowfield looks to be up to no good in the Sudbury Yard.

I really enjoyed my time on the WRMRC and hope to be back for another visit. Special thanks to Chis for inviting me, Peter and Ted who showed me the ropes, and everyone else that made me feel welcome.

If you are interested in a club with great prototype operations check out the WRMRC at their upcoming  2016 Annual Fall Open House on October 15th.

Rules, rules, rules!

2016 CTGSo I finally went out and bought myself a copy of the 2016 Canadian Trackside Guide. The book by the Bytown Railway Society is “the comprehensive listing of Canadian railways including their US-based operations. The 2016 edition features the latest updates (to end of February) to all the sections including motive power, industrial locomotives, preserved equipment, passenger equipment, work train equipment, subdivision details, radio frequencies and more.”

The reason I wanted The Guide was to gain insight on how trains operate on my prototype (the QGRY). I had hoped to find a timetable of trains and gain insights into operations, and while I was unsuccessful in this regard, I did learn something new.

Beside the listing of subs and milemakers I found the initials OCS which I learned stood for OCCUPANCY CONTROL SYSTEM. The QGRY operates in what is known as “dark territory” and no signals are used to govern train movements. All movements must be authorized by the dispatcher, who verbally instructs the train to proceed, usually by radio. The dispatcher selects the stations or mileposts between which the train may move – a segment of track known as the authority limit. In the US this is called Track Warrant Control.

Googling ‘Occupancy Control System (OCS)’ lead me to Transport Canada’s Canadian Rail Operating Rules – an amazing resource that I will attempt to digest and understand. You can download the entire PDF doc here:

https://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/railsafety/CROR_English_July_27_2015_F.pdf

Not sure yet how this will inform my plan for operations, but at least I have learned that I don’t have to worry about installing signals on the QGRY.

 

 

HO/NOT TO SCALE

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 7.22.12 PM

Spent yesterday in Cobourg, and caught a very interesting show at the Art Gallery of Northumberland on the 3rd Floor of Victoria Hall. MICRO MACRO features the amazing photographs of Toni Hafkenscheild.

Thought this would be of interest to all of the prototype modelers out there. We spend so much of our time trying to make 1/87 scale look as real as possible; and here is a photographer whose works go the other way and capture reality in a way that makes it look toy-like.

Toni Hafkenscheid is a Toronto-based photographer originally from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In 1989, he graduated from the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and shortly thereafter moved to Toronto. He has exhibited in solo and group shows throughout Canada, the US and Europe, and he has taught photography at York University, OCADU, Ryerson University and Sheridan College.

IMG_1701

Using traditional Tilt Shift analog photographic techniques, Hafkenscheid manipulates his camera to narrow the depth of field in his images, resulting in a visual sleight-of-hand that suggests model train sets, toy buildings and miniatures of all kinds.

This idea occurred to him on a summer trip to British Columbia a few years ago. How bizarre and almost fake the landscape looked. Train tracks were set in an artificial plain of faux cotton trees, plastic buildings, and cardboard mountains, with suggested men and women walking, shopping, etc.

Check out this GlobeandMail article for more on this amazing photographer.

20100810124644-Diggers_copy