Snowy Soo

Winter Railroading.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

(Mini) layout update

Some progress to report

Greetings, the snow is starting to fall so it's officially model railroad season. I've managed to make some small progress on my layout in the past few weeks. Here's a summary.

Tweaking the track plan

I felt the layout would operate better if there was some "off layout" staging on the peninsula. That way a train could start on the workbench (east) staging move through the layout and exchange cars, then head to the staging track on the peninsula (west staging). I have more rolling stock than can operate on the layout at once (anyone else?) so I want to put a drawer under the layout beneath the staging tracks so cars can come on and off the layout. 

The trackplan on the home page does not yet reflect these changes, but what I also wanted to do was divide the peninsula with a view block, separating Korex from a two-track staging yard. But to do this I really needed to lengthen and widen the end of the peninsula. Which brings me to the point below: 

Move to extend, widen the peninsula

The move to extend and widen the peninsula took some re-jigging of the benchwork.  But I had the space in the aisle, so I figured I should take it. The staging tracks will be on the right. There will be a scene divider (backdrop) about six inches in from that right edge. Korex will go on the other side. 
Here it is with the foam added. 
I decided that the original peninsula width (21 inches) was too narrow to accomplish what I wanted. So I extended it two feet in length and widened it about eight inches at the end and tapered that back to the 21 inches. About six inches of the peninsula will be a two-track staging yard and Korex will be on the other side of the scene divider. 

I want to try and model Korex true to its size, but as a background building. The prototype has four siding tracks and at any given time there can be up to a dozen hoppers at this industry, including the off spots. I may have to crunch that down a bit, but I don't like having all small industries, even on a small layout. Here's an aerial shot of Korex:

This is an aerial of Korex from the west. You can see it's a large industry that takes plenty of plastic pellet hoppers. 

Here's a shot from the ground level where the tracks diverge:

This is Korex from ground level. This is where the tracks diverge: off-spots on the left, unloading tracks on the right. The fact that it's a big, busy customer makes modelling this industry appealing to me. 

Adding a hill to the "back turn"

The hill begins to take shape. I'm considering adding a drainage ditch between the track and facia you see at the left. 

While I was waiting to get some lumber to re-jig the peninsula, I decided to fill the area between the back turn of the "U" and the backdrop. I used left-over foam insulation and covered it with Sculptamold. 

This is the start of the hill. The south wall is to the left, the west wall is straight ahead. 

This is the first time I've done any scenery but I'm fairly happy with how it turned out. I found the Sculptamold a bit dry at the suggested mixing instructions, so I added more water. Upside: it spread more smoothly. Downside: it took forever to dry. Next time I'll stick to instructions. I think it's supposed to be that dry.

This is the hill after the Sculptamold was applied. The camera light meter wasn't set right here so it's hard to see the detail in the white Sculptamold here. 

I worked left to right and the first effort was much lumpier than where I finished up on the right side. Next step is to cover it with some tan latex paint and ground turf, foam, etc. I'd like to add a shallow drainage ditch between the track and facia in this area. 

What's next?

Here's a brief list of what I hope to accomplish in the next few weeks.

  • Build the scenic divider for the peninsula.
  • Figure out where the buildings and road will go on the left (non staging) side of the peninsula. 
  • lay track on the peninsula, wire and test it. This will mean the entire layout (aside from the east staging) is operation.
  • Cut and contour the shape of the drainage ditch.
  • Get the facia attached to the layout. 
  • I may also paint the foam all over the layout, with plans to scenic it later. The pink is driving me nuts!
I love to get comments. Come back for future posts, in which i will introduce the layout's motive power.  

Happy modelling.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Layout update coming, in the meantime

Greetings everyone, I've managed to make some progress with the layout recently and an update is in the works. In the meantime, enjoy this video which I think really illustrates the importance of always taking great care when handling a new locomotive.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Railfanning the Junction

Things were moving right along at Lambton on Saturday.

A commenter to this blog recently said he'd heard that Lambton Yard had closed and asked whether I knew if this was true.

I don't know the answer to his question but sometimes after stopping in and seeing long stretches of empty tracks at the yard, I wonder myself. There's been times the yard tracks are empty and no power is parked in its usual spot near the southwest corner of Runnymede Park.

Canadian Pacific Railway is undergoing an intense slimming down under CEO (and former CN boss) Hunter Harrison. This excellent story in Canadian Business magazine spells out some of Harrison's sweeping plans to streamline the railway's operations. They include selling off locomotives, trimming the payroll and closing certain yards, though Lambton is not mentioned specifically in the story.

I spent much of a sunny, humid Saturday on my bike photographing and railfanning movements in and around the yard and I'm happy to report it was a busy place with lots of freight moving. Of course, much of this traffic involved trains moving past the yard along the main but there was a lift, a crew change at the office and some power parked in its usual place in the few hours I was there.

So hopefully Lambton will remain a busy place, with lots of switching to see. Watching trains roll at this location is always a good source of inspiration as I attempt to model part of this area.

Here are some pictures of the excursion in sweltering weather.

AC44CW awaits its next assignment 

I've seen this AC44CW sitting at Lambton  a few times in recent weeks. This shot was taken through the fence from the Wal-Mart parking lot. Are they using this big guy for yard work?

Yard power ready to roll

CP 5994, an SD40-2 parked in the power spot

The following images are from one train that arrived from the west, changed crews at Lambton, then rolled north through the diamond after leaving the yard

Lead unit a leased unit

This leased CEFX unit led a long train out of Lambton and north at the diamond. 

Always fun to see a lash-up with leased power. This one led an easbound into Lambton where it changed crews before heading north up the diamond with a long train.

These leased units really get around. This flicker image shows CEFX 1051 working in Romulus, MI, back in Sept. 2011.

Steel coil cars

This was a long train (I didn't count the cars). The entire lead end was a long cut of these steel coil cars, like this one:
There must have been 100 of these cars alone. 

Great tags

Some of the cars on this train I shot because they had great tags. I often crop these image tags, print them out on photo paper and use them on models. I describe that process here

Nice bright colours on this boxcar. Modellers, you have my permission to right click and 'steal' this tag for use in your fleet! It's not like the artist (vandal) will come after you for copyright!

I liked this tag too. The blue robot thingy would look good on a model. 

Que Seca, Seca. This would look great on an auto rack model too. 

Another nice bright auto rack tag you could use. Sorry that I cut off the right side. This is why shooting stationary rolling stock is better for using the tag. 

Auto-Max cars

We make a lot of vehicles here in Ontario. Here's two tight shots of some AutoMax monsters. Again, all this rolling stock was in the same train. 

These Auto-Max cars stack autos on three levels. 

We're not in Kansas anymore. 

Hey, how did you get Soo rusty?

The guys over at the Rustbucket forum might want to take a look at this Soo boxcar.

As for the layout? I've been pecking away that the wiring and track laying. Though it's hot and sticky now the cool fall weather is surely on its way. Before we all know it the snow will start flying and modelling season will resume.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The allure of modular model railroading

As a member of a modular club, I would only be "partly" responsible if the layout is terrible!
Having only recently made my re-entry into this hobby, I’ve not yet had a chance to actively pursue becoming a member of a model railroad club. I’m sure it’s great to share the hobby with others, but on Internet forums I often hear complaints about the challenges of being a club member.

Many report struggles with other members who are overly rigid about the adherence to a particular prototype, strict layout standards, etc. At the other end of the scale, others complain about members who are too flippant in their approach to modeling. It seems most club members have experienced at least some level of squabbling, difficult personalities and political infighting.

I’m sure most of you know how this goes. One member wants to model the transition era of a specific railroad; the other wants the rules relaxed so modern diesels can run alongside steam locomotives (including an HO version of Thomas the Tank Engine). Some members want a longstanding club to make the switch to DCC; others don’t see the sense in spending money to replace a block control system that’s worked well for years.

Almost any group, in any hobby, experiences these kinds of issues. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get a group of people who all want to row the boat in the same direction at all times.

This is partly what makes modular model railroading so appealing to me. You’re still part of a group, still get to run trains and share the hobby with others, but you’re also free to do what you want with your little bit of the layout (within the design standard parameters of course).

You can model as much or as little as you want, see and learn from what others have done and when the day’s done, your layout comes home with you (in most cases). Any interpersonal annoyances are minimized because you don’t have to iron out the intricacies of layout planning with three dozen other people.

Like anything, there are tradeoffs. My sense is that it’s more difficult for a modular club to achieve the same level of realism as a permanent club layout whose members have all agreed to put their collective efforts toward recreating a particular prototype.  Take the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club as an example. Although based in southwestern Ontario, the club models Canadian Pacific operations in Northern Ontario in the 1970s. I’ve not seen the layout myself but the results look amazing on the club’s website.

Obviously every member has agreed to this plan and as a statement on the club’s website explains, the adherence to such a specific prototype has actually helped the membership avoid infighting.

“By choosing a specific prototype, no one individual or internal group could determine what the WRMRC will or will not model, because the prototype railway has already dictated how it must be done,” reads the statement. “The decision to model a prototype freed us from a lot of undesirable politics, and united us towards a common goal.”
Interesting. Still I’m keen on checking out an HO scale modular club, which I also think better suits my (rather limited) skills as a modeller. There doesn’t appear to be one in Toronto proper, but if anyone knows of one or is interested in talking about it, please email me at

As for my layout .... I've got track and wiring to complete and only recently addressed a pressing wire shortage, which was holding up progress. Update soon.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Rolling through the diamond

Caught this train at Ostler Street crossing. It was heading southeast from the CN end of the diamond.  A transfer run I'm  guessing. Lots of boxcars but a few tanks, covered hoppers and some autoracks too. 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Blue sky ahead! Backdrop installed

Goodbye tool rack; hello blue backdrop. 

Layout progress is inching along. Summer is here and I've always considered model railroading more of a winter pursuit. Still, I managed to get the backdrop installed last week, so no more brick wall/tool rack backdrop.

I was worried the colour was too light but the paint store guy convinced me it would be blue enough, and I'm glad he did. In these photos it looks almost too white, but in real life, it more closely resembles sky.

Here's two more pics.

Here's one looking in the other direction.

Here's one looking toward south west corner of the layout. Throttle pockets would be a good idea about now!
I realize that I could have curved the hardboard here for a more eye-pleasing corner, put I found it would have made it too hard to put a building there. 

Next will be to finish getting the track down and wired. I'm pondering widening the peninsula (not pictured) to make way for a larger industry.  Future plans also include uploading a short video to show the trains running. Happy with the way everything is operating during the test runs so far. Really enjoying DCC.

After that, the plan is to add the staging yard behind the workbench and fascia. 

Until next time...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

CSX train derailment video....

You think your derailments are frustrating?

Derailments are a pain ... but next time you have one on your layout, watch this video and imagine how the crew of this CSX freight feels!

If you're the impatient type, zip ahead to about the 3:40 mark.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

June layout update

This is the Lambton Yard area, where the railroad has expropriated a former leg of my workbench. I'm going to have to do something with that tool rack. It will give me a lot more yard space though. 

It’s been a long time since the last layout update but despite this, I’ve managed to do a fair bit of work. Here’s a quick breakdown.

Layout extension

Hungry for more layout space, I’ve added about six feet to the layout by placing it on top what was one leg of my L-shaped workbench. I decided I’d be using the layout more than the workbench, plus I’ve got sawhorses a Black and Decker Workmate and other options if I need more workspace for projects. In order to make way for the extension, I placed some 2x4s on the former workbench, turned them on their ends and screwed them to the plywood. Then I laid the foam over the 2x4 sleepers, glued that down and voila, instant layout extension. The problem now is that the peg board holding the tools will likely have to be moved to make way for a backdrop and to prevent hammers, chisels, adjustable wrenches, etc. from raining down on my locos and rolling stock.


I followed NCE’s wiring recommendations: a 14-gauge buss under the layout and 18-gauge feeders to each (almost) each piece of track. At first I used those suitcase connectors to attach the feeders to the buss, but I found them too finicky to use. I’m pretty adept at soldering, so I just stripped ½ of insulation off the buss, then about ¾ of insulation off the feeder. Then I wrapped the feeder around the bare spot on the buss a few times, soldered it and covered the connection with electrical tape. It’s hard to get a better electrical connection than that. Over the yard, where I needed lots of feeders in one area of the layout, I brought a feeder line from the buss to a terminal block, then made little loops connecting the points so all screws on the block were powered by the same circuit. Then if I needed to connect a feeder in the area, I just ran it back to that terminal block. Cuts down on the soldering a bit.

Many suggest running feeder to every piece of track. The thinking is that this way you’re not relying on rail joiners to carry power from one section of rail to the other. I laid a bunch of track a long way from the nearest feeder and ran trains, just to see if it would work (the nearest feeder was four feet and many rail sections away) it ran no problem, I couldn’t make any of my locos stall even at slow speeds. But I still followed best practices and added feeders to most (though not every) piece of rail. The layout runs great, I’ve yet to have a stall. Also I performed the “quarter test” on every track and the NCE PowerCab short circuit detector shut down the layout each time, as it’s supposed to do. When wiring, I always test as I go, running trains over the spot after making every connection to ensure I’ve not wired a short, which would become tough to pinpoint later on.

At first I had trouble, and was melting ties when attaching the feeders to the rails but that improved when I switched to a 40-watt soldering iron with very thin solder. I also place a piece of metal over the rails to act as a heat sink, which helps keep the ties in a solid state.

This is the subway that goes under the tracks at Runnymede Road.

Here's the prototype shot of the Runnymede Road subway. I still have plenty of work to do!.

Track laying

I have great admiration for those who handlay their track, and it’s something I may attempt one day. For now, I just want to get trains running quickly so I’m using Atlas and Peco Code 100 track and turnouts, which are widely available. I laid the track right on the lines sharpied onto the foam. I found a few dabs of glue under the flextrack gives enough adhesion while leaving open the possibility of pulling up and reusing the track down the line. I’ve laid much of the track in the Lambton yard area and the spurs around it. I’ve also started the extension that leads to the staging yard. I’ve not yet laid the track around the peninsula (on the south end of the layout).

There are those who would take more time with all of these steps while using more prototypical track, but I have very limited available modeling time and I wanted to get trains running right away.

I’m enjoying picking up and setting off cars on my small layout … even though the track is running over pink foam and there’s no backdrop or buildings.

Looking from Lamton Yard over toward the West wall of the basement.

Close up of some of my motive power, anxious to get to work!

So what’s next:

  1. Finish track laying. I’ve still got to do the spurs that lead to Korex.
  2. Adding the backdrop. This will involve removing the tool rack. Not looking forward to that. I’m thinking of using hardboard painted a light sky blue at a height of 24 inches.
  3.  Fascia. I love the finished look the fascia gives the layout and so I’m going to add a hardboard fascia soon.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A great room-sized layout (and no, it's not mine)

I'm always on the lookout for websites that chronicle the construction of modern, room-sized HO-scale layouts. I'm particularly interested in diesel-era, point-to-point switching layouts and modules.

A few of the links on this blog (look to the right) will take you to some of the favourites I've found. Please feel free to email me with suggestions of other sites/blogs that fit this description and that I've not already linked to. The web is a big place!

Dan Gaken is building such a layout in his basement called the Huron & Eastern. He doesn't have one website or blog devoted to the project but has posted pictures on his flickr site (including a track plan) and what I hope will be the first of many video journals of the layout's progress on YouTube.

Here's the track plan, click on the image to make it bigger:

A very well-executed track plan! Can't wait to see his layout progress

First I'm impressed by how well his track plan looks compared to mine, which let's face it is a bit of a disaster.

I'm also struck by the inventiveness of this plan. Even though the shelves are fairly narrow, the plan doesn't look too crowded. The deep facia gives the layout a nice clean look, even though the layout is in the mid stages of construction. The aisles are also not crowded, a nice feature for visitors.

Having the ship and Saginaw river in the middle peninsula is a great design feature as well, it nicely incorporates the prototype. I also like how he included an interchange and managed to avoid a back-bending duck under.

Here's his YouTube video of Dan explaining what his layout is all about and some of the design elements he tried to fold into it:

Finally here's a link to his set of flickr pictures documenting the layout progress

Here's one of those flickr pictures but the YouTube video looks much more up to date.

New HO Layout Progress - Fascia Installation

If anyone out there sees other layouts projects like this one on the web, I'd love to see them. Send an email here or comment on this post.

I'm hoping my next post will be about progress on my layout. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Tentative track plan!

This plan was done in PowerPoint, which caused me to struggle a bit with the line curvatures. I realize some of those turnout shapes are screwy!


Posted above is a tentative track plan. I don't have PhotoShop on my new computer and the old computer has all but died, so following the lead of Don Carman of the Conral Hagerstown Division, I did the track plan in PowerPoint, which worked not too badly. 

Some notes about this track plan:

  • It isn't to scale. The proportions are approximate but I have done a test fit of the track sections on the layout itself and everything will fit roughly as shown here. 
  • I realize the geometry of the curves isn't accurate. Particularly with the turnouts. I struggled with the  curved line function in PowerPoint. For this reason consider this as a rough-in plan, or more like a schematic.  
  • It strays from the prototype. This is done for many reasons. For example, I added the fictional Monarch Auto Parts because I wanted an industry that required boxcars. The real area I'm modelling has no such industry. 
  • The three-track staging yard is removable. The three tracks will be on a cassette that sits on top of the workbench, which is four inches below the layout height. That way if I need the workbench space for one of my woodworking projects, I can detach the staging yard and move it under the workbench. It will connect to the rest of the layout with a short piece of sectional track, in the same manner that modular layout sections are connected. I may knock the yard down to two tracks if three seems to take over too much of the space. I've heard many modellers say you can never have too much staging, so that's why I went with three long tracks. They will represent locations off the layout.
  • I may still add Polytainers. CP's map of industries along the spur is here. You can see I left a few out but I may add Polytainers to the open space on the west wall. I was worried the track plan was getting too crammed. Polytainers takes covered hoppers filled with plastic pellets, as does Korex.
  • Final note. I forgot to label it as such but the area near the yard office is a greatly chopped down version of CP's Lambton Yard, which runs (roughly) between Jane Street and Keele Streets. 
Next I'm adding the backdrop and laying track. I'd love to hear your input!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

2 Geeps working the spur

Here's a great YouTube Video of the same two GP9s I mentioned in my previous post working the spur.

They head down the spur, take the passing siding, uncouple from the cars, do an end-run around their train and push the cars down the spur.

Thanks to YouTube user gotransitf59PH for posting this.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Two GP9s left idling on the spur

These geeps were left idling at the end of the CP's Area H industrial spur, no sign of the train crew in sight. 

This afternoon while running errands I stopped in to area H industrial spur (the spur I intend to model in west Toronto) and saw something interesting.

Sitting near the end of the spur, just past the spot where it branches off toward Korex Canada, was a pair of Canadian Pacific GP9s. They were coupled together, sitting there idling with no sign of the train crew in sight.

Here's a google map showing the spot where the locos were sitting. Except ... don't refer to the marker! It's in the wrong spot. They were sitting along the curve near Goodrich Road (just south of Titan Road) where the track curves south to east. 

View Larger Map

Now the industry Korex Canada is at the end of this spur. Two tracks of Korex’s four spur tracks appear to be holding tracks. Korex appears to be a manufacturer of some sort (packaging I think) and I believe the hoppers contain plastic pellets.

This link  contains a shot of Korex from above using You can see the four tracks that serve this industry. Now when I visited today, all four of Korex spurs were jammed with covered hoppers. I’m guessing the two locomotives were sitting there for the purpose of swapping empties for loaded cars as Korex goes through production. They must be busy.

Just seems strange to me that CP would keep two locos sitting at the end of a spur to shift cars around for one customer (although judging by their car turnover, they appear to be a major customer). Anyway it’s something I’ve not seen there before and so I snapped a few shots of the two locos, including the one posted above. Unfortunately I didn’t have my real camera and had to use the crappy one on my cellphone. 

If I’m in the area again this week, I’ll go back to see if the locos are still sitting there. I’d like to see them switch Korex. 

If any Canadian Pacific expert (or employee) has some insight into this, I'd love to hear it and share it. 
Post script: The locomotives were gone by the time I returned the next day. Maybe the train crew was just having lunch. Doesn't look like the cars at Korex have been moved.