Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hereford Railway - A discussion about layout design

Layout design can be the most intoxicating aspect of this hobby. To be sure, once you start doing it, there's no end. I can testify about that as my sleep hours are quite shortened by storming ideas that make my night shorter. Every moment becomes a good time to doodle some track on a piece of paper.

But we all know it's fruitless without some other form of validation. Many layout designers stree scene composition to be a kew element to build credible railways. Often, a few will say you've got to try it for real in 3D and see how things work together.

When you are unsure about a project, you hardly have any incensitive to strat building a benchwork just to test a few ideas. Some people just try doing it with a computer 3D  model. Even if I have the skill, I quickly learned that was time consuming and restrictive. You can't fudge with a 3D model, you have to know what you want to do. Hum... no grest if you want to try different landforms.

At this point, the last - and best - resort is to make a scale model of your scale model. I've learned this old trick from British modeller Gordon Gravett and made a good use of it. When I wanted to convince Jérôme we got to scrap Limoilou yard and build Villeneuve and Maizerst instead (Hedley-Junction layout), the scale model convinced him in a matter of seconds. I know it would have taken months and a pile of drawings otherwise.

Now, as you know, I'm actually in the process of rebuilding my home layout. I've often complained I couldn't do nothing with the space available, but I decided this time to build something for "real" and see if there are opportunities. To make it clear, I've been designing dozen of layout EACH year since 2009. Nothing came to fruitition except for a few that actually went as far as the benchwork stage.

Two major pitfalls plagued the project: finding a suitable prototype and getting the idea the train is truly going from point A to point B.

To be honest, the hardest problem to solve is finding a suitable prototype. Dozen of prototype caught my eyes and would be suitable, but very little stood the test of time. But it doesn't mean these ideas have some major trends.

Most ideas have in common a set of consistent parameters:

  • Small steam locomotives (2-8-0, 2-6-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-0) and/or early diesel (EMD/ALCO/MLW).
  • Canadian Pacific, New England neighbouring railroads (MEC, etc.) or Temiscouata Railway.
  • Set in the 1950s or early 1960s.
  • Rural location on a branchline set around farming and logging.
  • Short trains and mixed trains.
  • Located in Quebec South Shore, mainly the Appalachian Mountains.
So far, two prototypes are constantly appearing in my design:

  • The Hereford Railway between Lime Ridge, QC and Beecher Falls, VT.
  • The Temiscouata Railway located on Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine boundary.

Thus, I decided to mock up both prototype using a 18" x 10' shelf as starting point with the possibility to add a small extension if required.

Hereford Railway

I already introduced this excellent prototype recently. To make it workable, I'd need to protofreelance the line so it could be fitting my era of interest. No big deal. I'm not trying to model a specific location but to get the general feeling of the area between Cookshire and Beecher Falls: rolling country side.

The first option is straight forward and represent a generic city located along the line. Some hills in the background hide the track leading to the staging area. The town is rather simplistic, which is realistic. With this scenario, the town serves as the terminal for a local mixed train. To turn a steam locomotive, it is required to go back to staging where it is manually reverse with an amovible cassette. No great, but an easy way to save space and wiring issues. I feel the big issue with this layout is the pulpwood loading siding which is near the layout edge and leaves very little scenery opportunities.

This layout takes very little real estate and have a lot of operation opportunities (team track, pulpwood and feedmill).

The second option replace the pulpwood loading siding with a wye. Makes for the interesting possibility to reverse steam locomotives directly on the layout. To be noted, the scenery wraps the L-shaped benchwork which fools the eyes in believing the scene is larger. I like the idea to model a lot of fields along the line and a wye almost buried in vegetation isn't a bad idea to me. Unfortunately, this layout takes up a lot of space. I'm not sure the extension would fit well in my room. Also, I'm not very fond of obstructing the wye with cars. I'd be glad to get your feedback on that matter because maybe this version is actually over reaching.

Temiscouata Railway

This little independant railroad in Eastern Quebec and New Brunswick has always been a favorite of mine. Years ago, Trevor Marshall included it in his "achievable layout" database. It was only an idea but I always thought someone should build it some day. I've design many version of this layout in the recent years but I think I finally nailed it this morning. Cramping a small terminal in 10 feet including a locomotive facilities isn't a piece of cake. Here's the result:

Honestly, I'm more satisfied than I thought. First, this layout breathe. No cluttering, no overdone details and for once, gigantic and believable fields of grass (+ cows!). The track plan is so classic it fits any place in North America (and elsewhere in the world). The downside is that there's no specific industries at Connors, NB. Lots of wood products (pulpwood, lumber) were exported, but the industries weren't trackside. Only a long but busy team track was available.

On the other hand, the engine facility provides enough action because there was a coaling track to refuel engines. On my mock up, I didn't model the engine house, but if someone would extend the shelf up to 11 feet, that would be perfectly possible. Another option would be to compress the scene a little bit to save some space for it. I think modelling the complete enginehouse isn't required. One could only build a part of the building and bury it in overgrown vegetation to hide the trick.

A good point for this prototype is that information - including motive power, rolling stock, structures and timetable - is available online. Temiscouata ran 4-6-0 and 4-4-0 and some interesting combine car and caboose. Everything should be kitbashed or scratchbuilt, but that would provide countless hours of fun. The big question is that I'm not sure my heart's beating for Temiscouata, the project risk to be shelved one day or another. Also, Temiscouata as we loved it ceased to exist in 1948.

The last word

I certainly believe both designs are worthwhile. At some point, onw could expand them as fully-fledged layouts if that notion truly means something!

To be honest, I have a preference for Hereford Railway because it isn't set in a specific location and time, which is a good thing when I want to run my diesel or my steam locomotives. I know myself and can't hardly be dedicated absolutely to one project. Having a layout that has enough flexibility could be a good thing. The wye idea isn't half bad and I like how it breaks the perception of looking at a scenicked plank of wood.

On the other hand, I like the striking realism of Connors. That layout is as simple as one can wish yet still perfectly full of action to operate for a 45 minutes to 1 hour (similar to Hereford Railway). As one forum member on Big Blue Trains - a real railroader - once said:

"Having spent many months off and on, trying out different track arrangements for my switching layout, I've come to the conclusion that the simplest track plan is going to work the best and be the most realistic. It's not how many tracks/industries/switches you have, but what the industries are and how they are switched."

At this point, I'm curious to hear your comments and feedbacks about these options. Feel free to share your observations and impressions.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

QSSR Track Plan Mk II

After a few days pondering about a track plan, I came to narrow down ideas to a single concept based on ex-Maine Central "Hereford Railway" between Beecher Falls, VT and Dudswell Jct, QC. The line was bought and operated by Canadian Pacific in the late 20s. Quickly, that anemic line was cut off and ended its life as a small decrepit branchline called the Sawyerville Subdivision. Hereford Railway was famous for the raspberries growing along its embankment and got the nickname "The Raspberry Branch". When I railfanned the area last summer, I had the occasion to feed myself on many of those raspberry along CMQ tracks at Cookshire.

In real life, the deal with CPR was that it would keep the line from Cookshire to Malvina, QC. The few miles between Beecher Falls and Malvina were quickly pulled off. In my proto-freelanced layout, CPR kept the connection to Beecher Falls and Maine Central kept running rights up to CPR's International of Maine in Cookshire. Since Malvina was the therminal for CPR local trains, a small steam locomotive facility and a turntable were built.

Historically, Hereford Railway heavily relied on lumber products to get revenue. Old topographic maps show many small stations with a siding called "Camp no.X". For this reason, I decided Malvina would get a small spur leading to a sawmill. The other industry is a feed mill which is also a coal/oil dealer. Finally, there's a small team track by the station were you can find a cattle pen. Cattle pens were once a staple of Quebec rural stations up to the 60s. They were virtually anywhere.

The layout is based on a standard 4' x 8' plywood sheet. My goal is to make this a realistic continuous running switching layout. To achieve this goal, I decided to only model the town of Malvina. Beecher Falls and Cookshire will be staged. The top level will represent the station and local industries while the lower level will provide staging and continuous run. The stretch of track going down on the other side of the layout will represent a steep 3% grade along "Raspberry Hill".

From an operation point of view, it will be possible to run the local mixed train to Malvina, but also several other run-through faster trains. The long siding will make it possible to stage trains meeting there and getting their order to continue.

Quebec South Shore Railway Mark II

As some of you may know, the layout is partially gone. Some home improvement required to dismantle it and I know longer have the luxury to have a layout in that room.

However, some space in the basement makes me able to move forward. I'm actually building a 4' x 8' table out of junk wood that will serve as a starting base (more on that later).

Building and operating the original QSSR layout was an excellent way to better understand my needs.

On the positive side, I found out a single turnout layout was more than enough to sustain enjoyable and realistic operation for a decent amount of time. Also, I may now confirm I love to model rural town and that kind of railroad traffic. I grew up in a small rural community and it's impossible to sever these natural ties.

On the negative side, I discovered I like my trains to travel some scenery before doing their switching chores. Honestly, I hated the way a staged train could would enter the scene. I was blinded by the fact our club layout - Hedley-Junction - is quite large and continuous running isn't required to get the feel you are going somewhere.

It was also quite evident I like to sit down and watch my trains run freely in nice landscape. I've always been a model railfan since my younger years. I would put my eyes at track level and watch the train run over and over for hours. To me, it wasn't silly. It was a thrill. I want it back!

Meanwhile, I enjoyed reading some recent blog posts made by Lance Mindheim. Isn't doing nothing exciting right now, but his insights about his customers is highly interesting. Two things struck me as essential: doing what you like (sounds cheesy, but any model railroader knows the dreadfulness of getting side tracked) and to see "poverty" as a blessing.

As you know, Hedley-Junction is now set firmly in modernity... a.k.a the mid-80s. That means a LOT of rolling stock and locomotives I own are now totally obsolete. And Canadian Pacific is now totally out of the picture. At the same time, canadian dollars took a serious plunge during the last year and new stuff is now unaffordable. I scavenge and upgrade everything I can and the process is actually fun, rewarding and help to develop skills.

The New QSSR

The new layout draw inspiration from many railfan trips in Quebec's Eastern Township, a well-known area with strong railway action. Canadian Pacific was the driving force there until the 80s.

I'm keeping the grain elevator/feed mill theme. However, since the layout is now set in the 50s, I'll will add a small engine facilities, a station and a team track.

The big challenge is to make a realistic switching layout out of a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. There's been a lot of badmouthing about that kind of layout plan. But honestly, I can't put the layout on any wall. A shelf layout would be better, but I just can't fit that geometry. I'm left with an island model railroad. And no, it's not that bad since I want continuous running.

The track plan is a classic twice around and by pure coincidence, the track plan ended up similar to John Allen's original Gorre & Daphetid! Well, there's a thousand solution.

At first, I thought I would make the twice around run over the mainline and cross it with a trestle. But some 3D modelling quickly convinced me it would be toyish and not practical to operate at eye level. So I now settled with a subterranean loop. It leaves more space for the town scene but also makes more sense. There's a lot of embankment and cut in the Eastern Township. I'll now have the occasion to model it realistically without have a Rockies look.


Inspiration is drawn from many southern Quebec localities served by CPR: Waterloo, Eastman, Magog and Cookshire. Many of them had strong topographic features, interesting track arrangement and very small turntable.

This proto-freelanced road will be quite similar to the ex-Maine Central's Raspberry Branch in Cookshire that was operatd by CPR after 1927.

Also, Trevor Marshall's S scale Port Rowan layout is a big influence on me. Getting that low track density out of a twice around will prove to be quite a challenge.