2017 Project Planning


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):


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.


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.


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.’


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.


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.


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


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.