Thursday, October 31, 2019

How Much Layout Do You Need?

Previously published on Hedley Junction
As introduced in my previous blog, I’m actually in the process of developing a final vision – or should I say framework – for my Connors layout. I’ve found over the years doing justice about a prototype wasn’t always replicating perfectly a prototype. Some artistic license must be used and this license isn’t about doing going loose and veering toward indulgence, but rather trying to understand what matters and how to push it forward in a coherent fashion.
Framing a subject is a complex and subjective task. No wonder I’ve been pondering a central question this year more than once; how much layout do you really need? I feel this question is absolutely central to our understanding of our hobby as I suspect, for many of us, the railway empire is both an improbable pursue but also one that would thin down our vision of this hobby. It would also be a preposterous assumption to believe everyone shares this goal as if it was a mandatory objective per se. That’s the funny thing about North American values in general, this idea that sky is the limit can be both an enabling force both also a crushing goal to try to reach.
This isn’t an easy question and I’ve never found a compelling answer over the last three decades I’ve been dabbling with this hobby. The only thing I know for sure is it’s better to have some kind of layout rather than none. The physical existence of a layout is a key element to make sure you are actually doing something and not only thinking about doing something. Take away the material manifestation of this hobby and you fell a sad feeling of underachievement. It may not be perfect, but at least it is a canvas to paint on a picture and that very picture is probably not the last one you’ll paint. Indeed, it may lack accuracy but it is a continuous learning experiment.
With that said, I gave a lot of thoughts about my longstanding personal home layout in recent days, revisiting yet again several basic concepts. This prompted me to make a serious distinction between what I can build and want I want to build. More than just a question of semantics, this raises several important issues and my personal way to interact with my hobby.
What would be best? A larger layout set in a dedicated room in the basement, or something smaller and more personal in my office room? What kind of interaction I want with my models beyond simply running them? In fact, the layout appears to be only a cog in a much more complex mechanism.
Until recently, I felt a layout in my office would feel contrived and also out of place. Being a railway modellers since my youth, I know this hobby comes with a despicable reputation and social stigma. I know more than one guy taking great care to hide their involvement with trains and certainly can understand.  Recent conversations about layouts with people of the common taught me the stigma wasn’t that bad nowadays. Trainsets are no longer a staple of childhood and many, due to 3D modelling and video games, are now more open to this craft. It was evident that more people admire the sophistication involved than I initially thought. If they have a good grasp of workmanship, technologies or simply creative arts, they generally recognize immediately the merit of the hobby. It’s not a matter of hiding it, but rather showcasing it in a proper way that makes people fully appreciate this piece of art and technology.
It also made me recognize my own interaction with this hobby. How I often wished the layout would be at hands, ready to be put into action. Small enough to care about details and scene composition while staying achievable. Able to take apart a part of the layout, work on it under optimal conditions then set it back in place.
Also, the layout shouldn’t be far from the workbench and reference material (both books and online). Building and operating are activities going hand in hand. Given these criterions, I feel it is better to build small but in the right place where the layout can be displayed, built and operated eagerly in a comfortable environment rather than waste time hiding it in a subpar and distant room. I have no doubt this could be done with taste and look great both as a game board and an artistic diorama.
Certainly, such advantages come with restrictions. The best spot in the room is on top a set of Ikea Kallax shelves. These have been hacked several years ago and create a nice 102” long 15” wide continuous countertop. While I could use more space, it would look good in the room and the idea of a nice diorama sitting on shelves would be lost. Such space is more than adequate for a small switching layout given a 45” small and unobtrusive cassette can be attach without ruining the room.

Indeed, this kind of setup would be neat for Connors, but obviously, I can’t cram everything there. I must cut some corners and if I do so, better think about what matters. According to various written sources, I was able to trace down a typical timetable for the early 20th century operations. It was both extremely simplistic and yet eye opening. It really put things in perspective in my mind.
Back then, the daily mixed train left Edmunston at noon and reached Connors in the afternoon. The locomotive was then stored in the engine house and serviced. On the next morning, the train came back to Edmunston, reaching the station before noon. Quite simple isn’t it? Certainly, I have no details about it, but given the tight schedule, it seems the small yard and sidings could only be switched in late afternoon since the morning train left Connors quite early and starting a steam locomotive needs lengthy preparations. This simple fact helps to understand what matters if I ever operate a small Temiscouata layout. What does matter in a typical day at Connors? What can fit the bill for a regular 20 to 45 minutes operation session? What fits my interest? What doesn’t? Lots of question I can now start to answer.
If you ask me, I like the look of a locomotive entering a station and performing some work there. Shoving cars here, exchanging others there, rebuilding the train, etc. On the other hand, I have very little interest in servicing locomotives. Also, I’m not that much into building intricate craftsman engine house full of details and far too cute for my own taste. Given that, do I need to model entirely Connors? The answer is no. Connors has irrelevant sections that I don’t care about, add very little to my story and take up space and resources I don’t want to allow them. Maybe some readers will recall Lance Mindheim’s advice to crop a scene and not compress it. Well, I believe he is indeed touching an important point when building a layout. Connors is long but only a part of it frames a well composed scene and makes a compelling stage for trains.
Speaking of scene and staging, modelling must support my story and, according to my own biases, the arriving train in the afternoon is probably the most interesting aspect of this script. The morning train is a dull formality involving no switching and simply backing the train in front of the station after leaving the roundhouse. Given most locomotives were often refuelled before being stored for the night; the morning preparation would lack relief.
Knowing  that, only the trackage pertaining to this afternoon train matters. The rest is inconsequential. Anyway, I have very little good data about the engine house except bad front view photographs taken from a distance and an 1894 panorama leaving many crucial details blurred or in the dark. Remember, since day 1, the Connors station caught my interest and not the engine facilities.
From a practical standpoint, it means only the yard, station, fueling facilities and turntable matter in my story. It easily removes about 4-5 feet of irrelevant layout, providing a more relaxed and better framed scene. In fact, just like Mike Cougill and I discussed, maybe some end parts of a layout are better when they gradually fade away into darkness, leaving the mind to imagine what lies beyond this fuzzy boundary. In a few words, shadows can be used for modelling purpose, the same way they are in theater, museum exhibits, movies and dioramas.
Funnily enough, I recently discovered the old scale model of this layout I made many years ago when exploring this concept for the first time. You won’t be surprised the engine house wasn’t there, only the core project. Once again, my late grandmother would probably tell me “the first idea is always the best”. But I should add, it becomes the best only because other options have been evaluated before going back to the first impression.
Having reduced my scope and knowing I’m only interested in modelling the afternoon train and occasional freight extra, I can now take a hard look at reality. How much layout do I really need? A few technical elements set the track plan: siding capacity must be large enough to run around the train, the cassette must provide enough space for shoving to 50ft coaches. Finally, the leading track in front of the station must provide room to switch about 3 empty and 3 loaded freight cars at the team track. Fortunately, without compression, this can be done in exactly the space available.
Interestingly enough, without effort, most actions on this layout take place in front of the passenger depot, making for a compelling scene. Depending on train composition, a session can be straightforward or slightly more complex. In fact, some days, a coach and a combine will be required to handle sportsman and hunters while on other day, only a coach will do a fine job. Extra freight trains are also an option. Regular mixed freight train can pull from 1 to 4 freight cars, making for a lot of variety. Short 32’ and 36’ cars also help to keep some degree of variety. It is also possible to stage excursion trains from time to time since Connors used to be somewhat of a lesser tourist destination due to the presence of a deluxe hotel near the station.
Also, the interesting thing about cropping this particular scene according to my available space and intended story is that I don’t have to make compromises on track work. When I asked myself if I could compress Connors, I instinctively veered toward using unrealistic #6 turnouts. Then, doing some maths, it was quite evident the intended #10 turnouts did have their place even if they took about 15” each. On a small layout such as this one, looking closely at operation is the biggest show you’ll see. A cute turn-of-the-century steamer crawling over the rail is a nice show and ruining it with toyish track parameters would defeat this purpose. Take my words for granted on this, my small Bachmann 4-6-0 looks absolutely great on a #10 turnout… Even from a technical standpoint, small steamers do perform better on large radius turnouts. There light and short tenders no longer randomly derail, which can be a real let down when operating with old time locomotives.  Don’t ask me with I know, but I can assure you the idea small rolling stock means small radius is the most laughable principle. Sure it can be done, sure it will look camp and whimsical. Some love that quaint old time look that never existed, but I’m not one. In the same regard, René Gourley was kind enough to remind me of his excellent efforts with prototypical turn-of-the-century modelling based on pre-WW1 Canadian Atlantic Railway. He also has to deal with these pesky issues and takes extensive care to ensure the end results is both artistically attractive and technically sound. Yes, there's is no reasons to take shortcuts when dealing with old time subjects. We wouldn't tolerate it with modern subjects, why settle for less when dealing with the past?
Finally, another neat aspect of the layout is it can be stored easily as modules. I know that at some point, I'll have interests in other eras and locales. I could easily imagine this pre-WW1 layout being used half the year and another one, sharing the same physical parameters taking its place later. Once again, Mike Cougill's concept of dissociating the substructure from the layout seems to be a sensible approach. In my case, the Kallax shelves acting as a structure to support various dioramas/modules following the evolution of my tastes without having do deal with wall anchors and such. Once again, it seems my intuition kind of overlapped with his own, though I'm glad his post made me see the benefit of something that was only a blurry concept in my mind. As they say, nothing new under the sun!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Framing a Subject...

Previously published on Hedley Junction

A great aspect of this hobby is about sharing. And by sharing, I don’t mean that meaningless unboxing carnival that has plagued modelling forums for the last few years, where everyone to ride the proverbial bandwagon in search of cheap attention. I’m talking about sharing musings about the hobby, its goals and philosophy. I recall Trevor Marshall often advocating hobbyists to enter the conversation by means of blogs and other such platform. While a good advice, I only started to appreciate this invitation to the public debate in later years. Writing a blog is a strange thing because you barely know who will be interested in your quests. So far, I’ve been blessed by many people that helped me shape my vision, providing both encouragement but also constructive criticism.

Developing a vision isn't a straightforward process...

Many years ago, I promised I would build a small layout depicting Connors, NB; a lovely Temiscouata Railway end-of-line station set in the St. John River valley on Maine’s border. However, I had a single condition to meet before starting this project: I need a clear artistic vision because I wanted it to be an impressionist piece, a layout with a soothing atmosphere, just like a well-executed painting.

A big part of this condition was conditioned by the way I would frame the scene. Until now, I had serious doubts how to do it, but thanks to Mike Cougill’s recent blog posts (one, two and three) about setting a layout in a room, I feel more confident in my work. That’s the nice thing with Mike, he has done enough in this hobby to be able to question the obvious. By doing so, not only he enable conversations, but also brings with it a level of sophistication we rarely see. Many modellers in the past influenced me and I’ve wrote about them a few time. They mainly confirmed my intuitions in providing coherent visions that shared many of my own observations. However, Mike’s influence doesn’t work like this. He is the kind of nagging little voice in your head asking “are you sure?” He isn’t aware of it, but his little voice guided me through the rebuilding of Clermont since last year. I no longer approach design as a set of steps to follow in order, but I now take a lot of time contemplating my work and looking how to make it better. It could have stalled me in a sort of paralysis; however, it provided in fact a reason to do better each time.

His recent posts triggered me to rethink about Connors as I am looking for a small and manageable home project. Many questions arose: how much layout, what to crop from the scene, how to frame the subject, how to work on it in a practical way, etc.

Interestingly enough, I’m coming close to a vision for this project. Like a professional photographer, I framed the subject from all possible angles, than worked on focus and lighting. I now feel I’m ready to shot the final picture. I suspect this picture will be blurry, kind of impressionist, with not so well defined borders. Light will be uneven, drastically enhancing some details and leaving others in the dark. Colors and textures will play an important role too and trains will be set in such a way they are the main actor on the stage. As you will discover in a future post, the framing goes beyond the scenic nature of this small layout and will also imply framing the action itself. I’m not sure many people attempted this artistic vision with pre-WW1 railways in Canada, but I sure feel it is a worthy pursue…

Monday, July 8, 2019

Connors Depot Drawings

This is a long due update about Connors Branch; a minimalistic approach to pre-WWI modelling.

Even if this structure has been tore down decades ago and I’ve never found (nor looked for) actual plans, a very similar Temiscouata depot still survives in Degelis, QC. My guess was the architect set a building depth of 24ft, which is quite a typical dimension for the era, and used 36 inches wide windows. I was right and when I started drawing, several dimensions were corroborated by scaled pictures from the time. All in all, it took about 45 minutes to draw.

It means this set of drawing is fairly accurate given the partial data at my hand. The left side, front and right sides are probably exact within an inch or two. However, the openings layout at the back is pure speculation based on Degelis station. I’ve never seen a picture of Connors station backside and suspect it was quite similar since Temiscouata Railway stations were fairly consistent, following a standard plan with very little deviation.

If I build this structure, I’m seriously thinking about making two versions. The earlier dark red siding and pale trims scheme and the later worn down pale siding and dark trims scheme. Unfortunately, at this point I don’t know what the later scheme colors were. I suspect the pale color was probably some kind of yellow/tan/buff while the trims were a brownish/red color. In a word, something similar to the later Boston & Maine scheme.

I also discovered recently Connors used to be spelled "Connor" during its few first decades of existence. Later in the 20th century, the name became known as Connors. When modelling the station name plate, I'll have to take this into account. Temiscouata used to paint the station name on the siding directly, generally in letters that were about 30 inches high.

And for those able to read between lines, yes, I am indeed working part time on Connors right now. So far, three 14" x 60" waffle-type module have been built to support the layout. I've also found out it was useless to try kitbashing a Walthers 90ft turntable into a 65ft turntable. Living with others' compromises isn't my cup of tea and I prefer to build things from scratch. Home improvement left me with a huge stack of scale lumbers and thin pine planks which will be put to good use.

As for the rest, Connors as always been a slow burning project and will probably stay that way! I've learned to temper my expectations while striving for a meaningful hobby experience. I'll have many occasions to write about these compromises and the way the enable positive things in the future...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Planning Follow Up

To Stage or Not To Stage

This Temiscouata layout project is probably the one I've been planning for the longest time in my life while having the most basic track plan ever. Not that I'm having that much problems finding out a definite answer in terms of track planning which was complete on day one, but rather about the way I want to frame the subject.

Basically, the layout will be on a 17 feet long shelf which is quite vast for such a simple terminal. However, I've been pondering for a while if I wanted staging or if the layout would be self-contained. The answer is simple: my mind is better fooled when I'm under the impression the train emerges from outside the modelled world, meaning a sort of staging/fiddling yard will be required.

Keeping things simple in terms of staging

Several options are possibles, but I'm looking for something extremely simple like a long stretch of track on a narrow shelf that goes beyond the layout and can handle a train. Not only it creates a virtual space from where trains come from or vanish, but it gives room to better replicate switching moves at Connors without having to take into account space limitation of the modelled portion of the world.

I see no need to over complicate the staging area with turnouts but would probably install an "el cheapo" manual turntable to reverse locomotives without having to handle them. A display case for rolling stock would be install nearby for ease of access when staging or storing cars.

CDS Lettering

Meanwhile, I'm sourcing old CDS Lettering dry transfer in HO and S scale for the sake of this project. While some are still commercially available, they are no longer in production and some sets are already sold out and hard to find. Temiscouata and Intercolonial cars are quite hard to find. If you ever find some sets or have ones that you don't plan to use, let me know and maybe we can work out a deal.

I'm mainly looking for boxcars (both single-sheathed and double-sheathed) lettering, including such roads:

-Canadian Northern
-Canadian Pacific (arched lettering paints scheme)
-Grand Trunk
-Dominion Atlantic
-Canadian Government Railway

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Preparing and Planning: Additionnal Bits of Information

As I revisit my early designs for Connors and compare them against photographic evidences, I'm starting to find interesting details I used to overlook.

Among them, I discovered the coaling shed located by the turntable seems to have survived until the end of the line. According to an old photograph of the depot (which I can't unfortunately share due to copyright), it appears the shed seen on the 1894 panoramic shot used on the blog banner was still standing. This little bit of information is crucial, because it helps to better understand how the station evolved. Particularly in a case where I have yet to find out Temiscouata Railway archives (if ever possible).

This discovery is important, because it means - in term of structures - Connors changed very little between the initial construction back in the late 1880s and the demise in the mid-1940s. During that period, the only notable change is the addition of a well-documented section/bunk house. The architectural details on that structure are also a good indication it was built in a time of relative prosperity, probably just before the First World War. Another small difference is the adjunction of a post office to the passenger depot, which incidently probably occured early in history.

Given that, I feel I have a better grasp of Connors, particularly given the scarcity of my knowledge on that subject matter. However, new information is bound to be discovered during the project as it always happens. Thus, instead of postponing the project in hope of reaching the truth, I'm seriously thinking about creating a first working scale version and improve it until I can move to something more substantial. There are a lot of areas I want to experiment better, starting with scenery in general, and vegetation in particular. Since practice makes perfect, I see little benefit constantly procrastinating.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

If Connors was set in the 1940s

While the long due renovation of my house are underway, I’m still giving some thoughts about the Connors layout, mainly due to Jamie Bothwell who prepared some elements for the layout. To be honest, I’ve never seen this project as something that had to be done as fast as possible, but rather as something well worth taking time to do things right and progress.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been revisiting my original design set in the 1910s and looked at what could be done for something set in the post-1930 era. A lot of data from that era exist, making it easier to figure out how trains were handled by Temiscouata Railway.

So, for this reason, I decided to put together a more modern version of the terminal before it was abandoned. The biggest changes at that time were the MoW track that was moved in front of the station while the second turnout on the team track siding was simply removed. These changes don’t impact that much the operation process at Connors, but they do show the railway tried to eliminate useless elements to streamline as much as possible the terminal. To be honest, it is rather efficient and from a layout perspective, makes things much easier to handle. As a layout building, I must admit I'm kind of impressed by elegant simplicity of this track plan.

At the end of the day, I must admit I am still lingering asking myself which era suits my needs best. Not an easy answer, but at this point, it is all about conveys the sense of the place. To me, Temiscouata is all about small time railroading, light weight rails, tall grass and serene countryside. Backwood location, retreating agriculture and hard working men struggling to keep a failing yet proud enterprise all speak to me. This is probably due to my own personal background being raised at the fringe of a dying colonization village.

That said, focussing the project on the ambiance rather than the train themselves (and no, it doesn’t mean neglecting that aspect at all) helps me to set the priorities on the project. Particularly in terms of motive power, which is always the worst “I want it all” situation we must face. As things stand if a post-1930s scenario is adopted, only one locomotive would be required to operate the layout, namely an ex-Quebec Central 4-4-0. Less is more they say, and it seems to me having one loco is a good way to cherish, maintain, detail and care about it. A personal association is created with this little working horse. And at the end of the day, it helps to keep the project affordable and manageable. And let's be honest, given this locomotive will be probably built almost from scratch, it will far less intimidating!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Temiscouata #1 - A Project?

It will be no surprise for people following this blog that TMC #1 is going to be my first 1:64 locomotive. Many factors lie behind this decision, but mainly, it's the easiest one to build with my actual skills and available components.

To be honest, knowing where to start with such a crazy layout project isn't a piece of cake... A module? A piece of track? A freight car? A structure? or a locomotive? Well... I don't know but I'm looking at several possible project to officially start working on something.

At least, I was recently able to get old CDS Lettering dry transfer sets and that's a big problem behind me! In that regard, I'm now hunting old Ridgehill Models Fowler boxcars suitable for Intercolonial and Grand Trunk. I guess they had the original wood roofs and 5' doors back then.

C-5-b diagram, almost virtually similar to a C-3-c (credit:

But a far bigger problem is finding suitable motive power. Old time 4-4-0s are on my list, but it probably won't happen until much later... and certainly, a 4-6-0 would be sweet in the long run. However, I've got to start somewhere, taking into account my skills, resources and what's available.

I've been studying the sole Mogul ever owned by Temiscouata and it seems the little locomotive could be kitbashed in S scale. After looking at CNR locomotive diagrams (C-3-c and C-5-b) and a few pictures including #1 builder picture (which can be seen in Donald R. McQueen's Canadian National Steam! Volume 3, p. C-7). It must be noted I found some discrepancies between McQueen's and others histories about #1. McQueen states it was purchased in 1916 from a NTR contractor (Cavicchi & Pagano Contractors #5) and sold circa 1920 (other sources say 1918) while others indicate it was purchased new from MLW in 1910 and sold in 1911 when found unsastisfactory.

From what I've seen, and this is only my opinion, I find it weird TMC sold the original #1 in 1910, left the number not used for almost 6 years while acquiring many other locomotives and reassigning available numbers. It makes more sense to have scrapped the old #1, replaced it with a local mogul used by a contractor in the area and swapped quickly with Canadian Government Railway #4537 (ten-wheeler) when deemed unfit for its purpose. However, other sources indicate the original #1 left Temiscouata in 1916 for Davie Shipbuilding in Lévis, QC.

But that said, we know NTR opened the line between Moncton & Estcourt in 1913. It was operated on a limited scale by ICR then. Could McQueen be right? Maybe. He got the builder pictures and MLW order story to back up his claim. Given the road was still under construction up to 1913, it's unlikely the contractor sold the engine before that date. He also indicates a lot of misunderstanding did exist about this particular MLW order. One thing is sure, I'm seriously starting to believe the roster published along with Mr. Lemon's article on Old Time Trains musn't be taken at face value. Thus, the second #1, replacing the old Dübs 4-4-0 in 1916 is starting to make a lot of sense...

Well, we could speculate a lot and be completely wrong. At this point, I won't make a ruckus about that, it seems quite trivial to the grand scheme.

But leaving aside the historical inaccuracies, I have enough technical data to start to figure out how to build this particular locomotive. I’ve discussed the project with David Clubine and Simon Dunkley, which have parts that could help to build up a decent drive. We discovered the old Rex 2-6-0 frame has the correct driver wheelbase (approx.. 12’-6”) and that River Raisin Models 0-6-0 51” drivers are compatible. Add to this a NWSL gearbox and good motor and we can say we have a solid base to start.

On the other hand, almost everything else on the Rex model is inadequate and can’t be directly reused. At least, some detail parts and bits can be of use. However, it is a fact virtually everything else will have to be scratchbuilt including the boiler, cab and tender. It shouldn't be that much of a problem at this point using brass, styrene and other materials. Anyway, my HO Grand Trunk 2-8-0 kitbash thought me sometimes it’s better that start from scratch than pour countless hours modifying a part.

The next step will be to measure and draw the drive to scale in CAD then start designing the superstructure to fit it according to dimensional data from old steam locomotive diragrams. Then, I'll bash the model in SketchUp to see how everything fits together before building. I wouldn't be surprised if some parts are 3D printed and maybe some involve lasercut down the road. That aside, it will probably built the good old way.

Meanwhile, the drive will have to be assembled, drivers quartered and motorization fine-tuned. At this point, I’m glad I’m modelling an early 1910s locomotive that didn’t saw too much modifications since its original construction.