Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Understanding Stanbridge Subdivision Traffic

While I continue to document CP Stanbridge Subdivision, I discover tidbits about operation here and there. Interestingly enough, I've been able to get a better picture of what used to be hauled by combining information from Canadian Railway Historical Society's monthly Canadian Rail magazine and BAnQ aerial picture database (macro-inventaire).

As for all these remote and rural subdivision, information isn't centralized or even compiled and digested in a global vision, but is a patchwork of partial knowledge. However, so far I gathered enough to better grasp how things worked out.

It seems the small feedmill in Bedford used to receive about 2 grain cars twice per week. This is about what I expected. I suspect the Apple Grower Cooperative warehouse and Champlain Industries were also switched on a similar frequency.


However, the case of Bedford Quarry is quite interesting. This single industry is the sole reason the line was kept alive under CP's tenure and its successors. In the 60s and 70s, it was common that 7 open hoppers full of crushed limestone were hauled directly to Farnham with a final destination to Shawinigan Chemicals. At the same time, the quarry provided high quality ballast in quite impressive quantities, often hauled in Hart convertible gondolas. Finally, according to fellow modeller Paul Trudel, the quarry also shipped lime in slabside hoppers. Paul referred to a picture shot in Bedford and found in Canadian Rail, but so far, I haven't been able to locate the exact issue.

This brings us to the conclusion traffic on Bedford subdivision was surprisingly strong given the remote nature of its location. It is fairly honest to say about 10-12 cars per train each day was a common sight, which is substantial for a short 12 miles run. However, we must keep in mind the fact it hauled high quality ballast was - according to Canadian Rail - the most important reason CP kept the line from oblivion. Given the line was in operation until 2014, it is a miracle it survived for so long.

Monday, July 1, 2019

CP Stanbridge Subdivision

Moulée St-Pie's former feed mill burned down last winter...

This weekend, I took Friday off then headed toward the Eastern Township in Southern Quebec to railfan the former CP St. Guillaume Subdivision and Stanbridge Subdivision. Both were abandoned and laying in poor state of disrepair. While there are some talks about CMQ reviving some of them in the future, it seems to be a huge investment for very little profit. Except the large lime plant in Bedford on Stanbridge Subdivision, all other customers are too small or simply out of business.

Vegetation retaking its place near St-Pie bridge

St. Guillaume Subdivision near Abbotsford... yes, it's a track!

Nevertheless, they make for great layout inspiration material and to be honest, they are probably among my favorite CP branchlines in Quebec. Many readers will recall I often drawn plans based on these subdivisions and after finally railfanning them, I'm more than convinced they are top material for modellers.

Farnham station used to be a busy location during MMA's tenure... now a ruin.

What particularly caught my eye was Stanbridge Subdivision. This line was the southern part of a ill-fated and ill-designed railway that were to connect Sorel on the St. Lawrence to Lake Champlain in Philipsburg. Had it been the first in the are to propose this scheme, it could have been profitable, but it was late in the game and competition was fierce. This line ran parallel between two others similar railways that were backed by larger companies and had physical connection to the United States. Worst, they thought shipping and selling hay to New England large towns, New York and Boston would turn enough profit to keep the business afloat... at a time when horse traction was going to be a thing from the past.

As one can predict, this entire scheme quickly crumbled apart and large sections were abandoned, creating a network of small spurs serving areas of interest. As customers went down or moved, the track were pulled. Stanbridge Subdivision which used to be a junction with Central Vermont ended up being a small branch linking the railway hub Farnham to the obscure locality of Stanbridge Station. Once Central Vermont tracks were removed, it was a wye in the middle of nowhere connecting to nothing.

Stanbridge Subdivision enters Bedford in quite a dramatic fashion...

But from a modeller's perspective, these 12 miles of tracks are pure gold. Let's go back to 1980 and imagine an entire subdivision in a small room with all the tracks and customers. In Farnham, the first customer was an apple growers cooperative's warehouse. The track was nested between two large concrete sheds. After running for about 10 miles across the countryside, the line reached Bedford, a small industrial village. There, a runaround and a siding served a mid-sized feed mill and lumber supplies.

J.O. Lévsques feedmill and hardware store still in business and going strong

The feedmill could only handle a car at a time while a small unloading platform was used to receive lumber and other commodities. Back in the days, an oil dealer was also served by the siding, but it was since then derelict and abandoned.

This lot used to be Bedford team track and oil dealer...

Another interesting aspect of Bedford is a weird custom-made grade crossing signal made out of wood, street lamp post and traffic lights. It would make for a great modelling project.

Feed mill siding protected by custom grade crossing signals

A few hundred feet further, the line crossed Corey Brook over a 60ft long and 15ft high wooden trestle.

If it wasn't for topographic maps, I wouldn't have even known a bridge was there...

Then discovered it was a four-pile wooden trestle...

This bridge was the fourth rebuilt of the original bridge... Three rows of rotten piles in the river bed testified about the previous structures standing there.

An interesting detail seldom modelled...

Then, right after the bridge a turnout described a sharp curve leading to a large limestone quarry owned by Gulf Canada. This plant produced lime for industrial and agricultural processes, but also crushed stone for ballast and aggregate. A large amount of hoppers could be seen on the sidings.

This used to be the limestone quarry sidings

Finally, after half a mile, the train reached Stanbridge Station. In the middle of a field was an old wye overgrown by grass and trees. The former passenger depot, now abandoned and in dire state of disrepair was still standing and used as a shed by a local food processor - Champlain Industries -  specialize in soy sauce and soups using the wye tracks as their private siding. It was the proverbial end of steel. There, our locomotive - a mighty CP RS18 with high hood in Multimark paint scheme - would turn around its train before going back to Farnham. Such was life on the Stanbridge Subdivision in these days.

Up to Stanbridge Station rails were removed, but ties stayed in place...

Now, if you ask me how I would tackle such a subject matter, I believe I would try to capture the low density and decrepit nature of the railway. It means most scenes would be rural and oriented toward agriculture and their supporting businesses. In this case, it is interesting to note 3 customers out of 4 are directly involved in sector of activities.

Areas around Bedford reminds me of Tom Johnson's famous INRAIL grade crossings...

Farnham would be staged and only the apple warehouse would be modelled. Then Bedford and Stanbridge Station would be fully represented since it can be done. This would enable the possibility to recreate operations as they were performed by CP Rail.

The layout would be set in autumn, probably late September which would be a great time to model traffic on a rural branchline. Structures would be completely scratchbuilt, with some kitbashes. According to pictures from the late 1970s in Quebec Archives, most of them weren't in the best shape.


Typical consists would have between 3 to 7 cars at most. Operation would be light yet diversified. I've come to the conclusion covered hoppers, open hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, boxcars, insulated boxcars, reefers, tank cars and stock cars could all have been frequent visitors. Some industries would see frequent switching such as the limestone quarry and food processor, while others would be less frequent. It means not all trains would have to go Stanbridge Station... or serve Farnham and Bedford.

In terms of operation, the layout would be quite enough to run 30-45 minutes long solo sessions while being possible to operate in tandem. An extra serving the quarry could be also a possibility.

Motive power would be provided by MLW RS3 and RS18.

Finally, due to the geometry of the room, it could be possible to use the staging cassette as a bridge to perform continuous running. While accessory, it is always nice to railfan one's own trains.

Conclusion:

My Quebec South Shore Railway project was always about modelling a decaying CP branchline... particularly one that was pruned down and which end of steel was a sea of grass... Interestingly enough, Stanbridge Subdivision embodies all these aspects without resorting to fantasy. So far, I consider it another step toward my initial vision.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Weathered Grain Hoppers

The first batch of grain hopper is now officially weathered. Many techniques were used, including oil and acrylic paints, washes, fading, color modulation, chalks, color pencils and weathering powders.

All cars were weathered according to prototype pictures circa 2006-2008 and graffiti were hand drawn using color pencils.

Most cars are a mix of old Athearn Blue Box kits, Accurail and Intermountain. The weathering was intended to blend together the cars, thus narrowing the huge difference in detailing.

Another batch of hoppers is ready to meet its fate. At the end of the day, about 25 cars will have to be weathered. As a starting point, I'm doing the rib-sided cars first, keeping the smooth-sided ones for later.








Sunday, July 8, 2018

Refining the Track Plan

Last Friday could be considered a fruitless evening because we didn't permanently attach track, however, it would be a preposterous claim in fact.


It was an occasion to set tracks on the benchwork in their planned location and see if things could be improved from a visual perspective but also for operation. Sometimes you move a track half an inch and get a totally different result.


It was also a good occasion to decide where and how the structures would be. The feedmill will be framed on the layout in such a fashion we will be able to include the very photogenic 1950s store brick facade. A few houses will also be scratchbuilt to better grasp the feeling of a small rural town in Southern Quebec.


The next step will be to fix permanently the tracks and tackle the Central Valley double span truss bridge that is quite a challenge in itself. Bridge piers and abutments will probably be 3D printed according to prototype.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ready For Track Laying

Since the St-Pie layout is a summer building effort, we have to make decent steps forward to ensure the project move along. One such step was gluing down cork sheet on the plywood to create a suitable roadbed for track laying.

In real life, terrain in St-Pie is extremely flat, so we decided to install the cork all over the place. Small variations in topography will be done later by using some putty or universal mud or anything suitable.

Cork and new light fixtures.

This step is also important because from now, Jérôme can work by himself at his own pace. He's our master track layer on the club layout and I certainly expect he will do a good job.

Interestingly enough, Jérôme wants to nail down the track instead of gluing it. He has often advocated for this in the past. Nailing track is no longer considered "professional" nowadays with everybody gluing the track down. While it is debatable, his opinion is you should never permanently glue your tracks before having operated the layout for a while to trouble shoot your work and see if the planned design is really up to the task. It may be a matter of moving a turnout one inch or two to get better results or simply realign a siding a little bit for clearance. Once everything has been worked out, you can glue and ballast the track... or simply keep the nails there if it doesn't bother you that much.


I'm most admit I'm pretty curious to see how operating such a minimalist layout will turn out. We really went on a limb with this one and I hope it can project long lasting interest for an operator.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Cheap Lighting, Good Results

Over the the years, most have been said about layout lighting. You can waste enormous time reading online articles, printed press and a plethora of comments without ever doing anything close to lighting your layout.

A few years ago, I added lighting in my office room to bring some life to my figure collection displays. Basically, it was a series of small projectors on a track with LED lamps. Nothing fancy, but more than enough for the task and still good looking. I was pleased by the amount of light and ease of pivoting each lamps. As you can guess, from time to time, I did display trains on the shelves and thought to myself it would be a decent way to light a small layout.

Forward a few years to yesterday. To light Jérôme's layout, which is about 13' x 11', we used three of these track lights, one for each module. This time, instead of 3000K LED, we went with daylight 5000K. At first, it looked awkward, but in a matter of a few minutes, we couldn't tell the difference. Better, color rendition on locomotives and cars was up to the task and thus we kept the 5000K lamps.

I won't go in detail, but we found out a 3-projector track light was good enough to light an 8 foot long layout module when installed about 2 feet from the fascia. Depending on module geometry more or less lights can be needed. Another positive thing is you can orient the lamps in such a way to put emphasize on certain part of the layout, which bring some life on what we see.

Another positive aspect of track lights is they don't require complex wiring, use easily available standard components, don't need to build valence and can be located anywhere in a room. That last point is important because lights to close to the fascia cast very unrealistic shadows on model. With track lighting and no valence, you can locate the lights were they are more optimal. They look good and deliver a substantial amount of light economically. We spent about $110 on fixtures and LED bulbs to light about 20 linear feet of layout which is quite decent given the results.

I wouldn't be surprised we will soon update certain parts of Hedley-Junction to take advantage of this new lesson.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

St-Pie Layout Progress Update

Over the last few weeks, I've been working almost "full" time on the grain hopper fleet, altering, renumbering and weathering them to better reflect how they looked circa 2006-2008. I don't expect to finish that as soon as I would like, but I've set myself the goal of weathering all the rib-sided cars first then move on working on something else.

Jérôme and I also worked a tentative set of steps to achieve for the layout. No deadlines are set because his working schedule is highly atypical and we get very little time to work together. Since Jérôme is highly proficient at track laying, wiring and scene detailing and I'm bettter at scenery, rolling stock and structure building, we decided to divide the work between us in such a way we can optimize each steps.



To be honest, under most normal circumstances, this project would fail if expectations, resources and time available aren’t taken in account. This is why we decided to define our goals according to what can actually be done. The first thing that must be taken into account is the fact I won’t have access to the layout itself often. At best, once a month, probably less. It means a lot of stuff only me can do will have to be done on my benchwork then delivered to Jérôme for installation.

In that regard, it means scenery work (ground cover, grass, vegetation, river, etc.) will have to be kept to a minimum so they can be done efficiently in one session. The only way to achieve that is to minimize our expectations. It means we won’t go crazy over hyper-realistic scenery, but we will be careful to do a decent job, focussing on correct colors and textures based on the prototype. Given Jérôme’s focus is operation, this trade off isn’t that bad.

Thus, here’s the goals we set for ourselves:
  • Lay tracks and wire them as soon as possible using readily available components (NCE PowerCab and Peco track);
  • Assemble a realistic fleet of cars (correct prototypes, correct paint scheme, correct amount of weathering for the era);
  • Build required structures as close to prototype as possible. Reuse existing structures when possible, model only what was there;
Once these goals will be achieved, stuff like scenery, details, road vehicles and other secondary items will be added accordingly. 
 
Things we won’t do are backdrops (painted or photo), over the top scenery and tricky structure details. The goal is to get the sense of the place to support realistic operation. These things can be added at a later time but shouldn’t be important at first.