Friday, June 30, 2017

Light & Structure

Yesterday, after few experimentation, I built the lighting rig for the layout. I came to the conclusion I needed two LED strips to get a decent amount of lighting and to avoid unwanted shadows on cars displayed on the main line.

The rig is made of a piece of wood with a beveled side. Another small slightly angled piece is added for the second LED strips. To help dissipate heat and often a better surface for gluing the strips, I applied an aluminium duct tape on both piece after gluing them. I don't have confidence on the strip adhesive thus I added CA glue to make sure the bond was good.

In case of failure, I made sure the lighting is only screwed on the fascia and can be removed easily for maintenance of replacement. So far, I only one strip is alimented but I already have a nice level of light. I'm also quite happy the warm white LEDs really provide an excellent color render.

I also started to build the feed mill cardboard core. As I previously said, the LEGO bricks building help to determine a few things and now I can proceed with the real structure. But I must admit my fear became reality: the feed mill is quite high and when I take picture, I easily see where the sky ends. I suspect I'll have to make the backdrop at least 4 inches higher to make things looks good. It means the shadow box will have to be expanded accordingly. I'm not sure how I will do it, but I suspect I'll regret not making the backdrop higher. On the other hand, I'm quite happy with the proscenium opening, thus it's really the back drop height that is the problem. I've also thought about adding a blue sky ceiling as another less intrusive option but I'm not sure it will be visually very interesting.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Back to the Basement

After a few days, I decided to cleanup the basement and make room for working on the module. After clearing the workshop, I was able to set the layout on a table to be accessible from all side while working out the wiring and lighting.

Over the years, I found out the working condition and location have a huge impact on my motivation. Poor lighting and cluttered rooms aren't winning condition and they quickly wear off enthusiasm. For this reason, the module is now resting on a table and can be worked on while sitting comfortably on a chair. That makes tedious or precise work more enjoyable to perform.

Meanwhile, I've been looking  for pictures of St-Pie on Friend Jean-François Dumont and well-known photographer Frank Jolin published many pictures of the last years of operation under MMA tenure. It is truly fascinating and inspiring. The short but colorful grain trains are quite a sight, including the MMA locomotives which would be nice weathering projects in themselves.

MMA 8569 (train 811) ready to switch St-Pie
MMA 8546 (train 811) passing by Moulée St-Pie Inc.
MMA 8546 (train 811) switching St-Pie grain elevator
MMA 8569 (train 811) pulling a few cars near Canrobert Station

Pictures also give a glimpse at how operations were handled. It appears Moulée St-Pie was switched at the same time as the other town elevator by the train bound to Farnham (East side). On the other hand, for the sake of visual interest, I planned to switch the layout from the west. My motivation was because the grain elevator better frame the scene from that side and there is also a loading/unloading door on the warehouse which adds a second car spot to the layout. If switched from the east, this part of the layout wouldn’t be easily accessible or visible.

Funny to see how real-life operations, again, change my perception of a scene. To decide, I will have to build a grain elevator mockup and move things around until I find what fits best my space. Also, problem such as backdrop and roads can be tricky and kill the illusion.

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.