Snowy Soo

Winter Railroading.

Monday, 27 October 2014

New Korex photos

Here a trackmobile is coupled to a covered hopper. 

I was in the neighbourhood over the weekend and using a long lens from a parking lot was able to snap some pictures of rolling stock on the spurs at Korex.

I wrote about modelling this industry in this post.  Some of the research about the industry I put here.

Here's a wide shot of the same hopper. Graffiti artists can't seem to resist the white canvas of these cars. 

Detail shot of a short hopper on one of the tracks

Wider shot of a line of short hoppers here

Another rusty hopper on one of four tracks that serve Korex. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A switch to Digitrax?

Due to a sale price too good to pass up, wireless Digitrax has arrived at the West Toronto Junction. Will it replace the popular NCE system already in service? Stay tuned for future updates. 

More than two years ago, shortly after I began construction on my layout, I purchased an NCE PowerCab DCC system and I haven’t looked back. I really like the system and I’ve since added three UTP panels and a Cab 04 so I can walk around my room-sized switching layout and follow the train.

When I started building the layout and making my return to this great hobby after a long time away, I knew I wanted to go DCC right off the bat. I began to research the different systems. As many do, I narrowed it down to Digitrax vs. NCE. I worked through all the pros and cons of each system (as I saw them) and made my choice. I won’t repeat the factors I chewed over in deciding to go with NCE, but you can read my old post about it here.

And although I like the NCE system very much, I always thought that if a reasonably priced used Digitrax system came my way I might pick it up. Why?

  • To have as a backup system.
  • As a way to become familiar with arguably the most popular train control system out there.
  • I’m considering getting involved in modular model railroading and it seems these groups almost always use Digitrax, though I’m sure there are some exceptions.

I figured the Digitrax starter set that would suit me best would be the Zephyr. But when I saw an ad in my area for a Super Empire Builder Xtra with Duplex (this one) for $150, I jumped at it.

The deal also included a Digitrax PM42, which is a circuit breaker than can separately protect four different sections of a layout. It's an $80 value.

The system I bought had never been out of its box. The previous owner had decided to get out of the hobby before they could execute a planned switch from DC to DCC.

Those of you familiar with Digitrax will know this was a great deal. Digitrax lists the system’s MSRP at $575. The booster/command station alone is worth at least $150. The Duplex equipped DT400 is more than $200. 

Buying this system allows me to try out a Digitrax system and operate my layout completely wireless instead of walking around, plugging and unplugging (though to be honest, I don't much mind this). Moving my NCE system to wireless would require buying an RB02 (they’re about $140) plus buying a radio equipped throttle or converting the ones I’ve got now to wireless.

I picked up this used Digitrax Super Empire Builder Xtra equipped with Duplex for $150. I plan to run the layout with this system for a while, then compare it with the NCE system in a future post. For now it's fun to operate wirelessly and become familiar with this popular train control system.

Discovering the Digitrax

Before I could try out the Digitrax, I had to buy an AC adapter to power it. One complaint I've heard about Digitrax is that some of their starter sets, including the pricier ones, don’t come with a power cable. This was no big deal for  me, I picked up one for $9 at a surplus electronics store near my work. It's essentially the same one I once had for an IBM laptop.  

When I got home, I unplugged the feeders from my PowerCab because I didn’t want the two systems both trying to run my layout at the same time, for obvious reasons! I powered up the Digitrax system, connected it to the layout’s power bus and after a few minutes working through the startup guide, I was running trains wirelessly from the DT400D.

I plan to write a future post that offers some detailed observations about how these two systems compare, so I’ll stay away from any “review type” comments for now.

For now the Digitrax will operate while sitting loose my workbench. Should I decide to keep it and sell the NCE stuff, I will install the DB 150 and the UR92  panel inside the layout fascia.

So am I selling my NCE system?

I now have the option of keeping the system I like best and selling the other. Each would make an attractive package to a modeller. I’m certain I could get more for the Digitrax system than I paid for it, if I opted to sell it and stick with NCE. My NCE stuff is in great shape and I have all the boxes, manuals, etc.

For now at least, I’ll likely keep the Digitrax even though I do acknowledge the silliness of owning two very robust DCC systems for what is a rather small HO scale layout. 

I have heard other modellers who possess both Digitrax and NCE products, even if only a throttle, so they can bring their throttles while operating at another layout. 

So stay tuned for future updates as I discover the Digitrax and compare and contrast it with the NCE. 

I welcome your comments on all this.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

September Layout update

All of this still needs work, but here are the beginnings of the underpass beneath the tracks at Runnymede.

Greetings everyone. As I said in an earlier post, I've not worked on the layout too much over the summer. 

I did manage to paint the track, get some scenery done and get the framework started on the underpass at Runnymede Road. I've also started on the parking lot where the Lambton yard office is. 

I was dithering about what colour of materials to use, where to start etc. I found that between magazines and online material I was reading more about model railroading that actually doing any of it!

I won't go into a blow-by-blow description of how I did everything to get the layout to this point. Here's the basics:

The start of the scenery and access road. The cardboard shimming the track will be covered with ballast. 

  • Scenery: I draped plaster gauze over balled up plastic bags to form the hills on either side of the underpass. I then pulled the bags out after everything was dry. I painted the scenery brown with a cheap acrylic paint and used ground foam for the grass. The gravel road is a mix of four different ballast colours (two greys, a brown and a black). There's still plenty more layers of scenery material to apply here (grass tufts, foliage clusters, etc. etc.)
  • Parking lot: This is done pretty much exactly how Lance Mindheim describes here. It's Rustoleum grey primer paint, followed with an India ink wash applied with an airbrush. The road paint (parking lots lines) also follows the Mindheim technique described here in the Aug. 24 post on his blog. I'm going to redo the road markings on the street that runs along the underpass. I  made a failed attempt at that before reading Mindheim's technique. 

  • Track paint: here I used Brown camo paint from Home Depot. Looks oK but it's a bit too uniform, I want to go back and weather up the rail and certain ties. 
What's next?

I've got to finish the scenery here in the yard, including the ballast, which I'm not looking forward to. It's a tedious job. I'm also going to a train show in a few weeks that will give me a chance to pick up some of the background structures I need. I'm also preparing some  rail photos I shot over the summer around the area to laminate buildings and use for the photo backdrop.

Sorry this isn't more detailed. I will include more pics in my next post. 

Here's a look to the right of the bridge. The cardboard rectangle in the background is a mockup of where a warehouse building will go for the spur that runs there. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Great "finished" switching layout

Modeller James McNabb has built an excellent modern-day HO-scale  layout with his Grimes Line, which you can check out here or in videos posted on his YouTube channel. The layout models a section of the Iowa Interstate Railway.

James's layout features simple, great scenery and a track plan that adheres to the prototype and resists the temptation to fill every square inch of layout surface area with track. I love his photo backdrops and how the layout is presented with the clean fascia, nice overhead lighting, etc.

Perhaps most impressive is that his layout is now "finished," a stage few layouts ever reach (though in a recent post on Model Railway Hobbyist blog he admits there are likely other details to add). Still the layout is at enough of a developed stage that he feels comfortable calling it complete, which is an achievement for any modeller.

A great source of inspiration, be sure to check out his online material which is always presented as well as the layout itself.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

RailBox and spare rails at Lambton Yard

Rail Box boxcar and some rails at Toronto's Lambton Yard.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Some more Area-H photos

A few more shots of the Area-H industrial spur from flick user CitySlicker95.

His photostream has many great shots of railfanning around Toronto.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

What's up with no updates?

When winter recedes, I'm more likely to spend my days railfanning on my bike than layout-building in the basement. 

With the last layout update stretching back a ways now, I wanted to post and  explain why I've not posted in recent weeks.

I've not lost interest in the project. In fact, I'm feeling pretty good about the progress made and lessons learned so far. I wanted to get back into the hobby by building a simple, small switching layout that is prototype-based and enjoyable to operate and I'm well on my way to doing that.

But after a long, unrelenting winter, the good weather has arrived here in Ontario and when that happens, I turn my attention to outdoor activities with my family.

The following statement may be blasphemy to many of you, but here it is: For me model railroading is largely a seasonal pursuit, a way to spend the winter hours that doesn't involve looking into some kind of screen.

I do expect to do an update in a few weeks, one that wraps the progress made over the winter months and outlines the goals for the next year. But after that, expect the posts to tail off a bit, at least until the cold weather returns. And that will surely happen before I'm ready for it.

Friday, 4 April 2014

5 excellent model railroad YouTubers

As it has with almost everything, the Internet age has transformed this hobby.

I started this blog to connect with other model railroad enthusiasts and found it's been a great tool for keeping me motived to push forward and make progress on the layout. 

YouTube is an incredible resource for model railroaders. It's one thing to read descriptions of a layout or technique in a magazine, quite another to have it demonstrated and presented to you in free video you can stop, watch, rewind and watch again.. 

To fill the time before my next layout update (soon), here's a list of 5 YouTubers whose posts I enjoy. The subheads are links to their YouTube landing page. The embeds are specific posts that I enjoyed.

1) DJ's Trains

An N scaler and real-life CSX engineer, DJ's posts are speckled with money-saving tips, first-hand insight into how real railroads operate and, something I always appreciate, a self-depricating sense of humour.

In the video embedded above, he walks his viewers through a simple scratch build of a modern, rail-served warehouse.

2) NSTrainfan

This guy, another N-scaler, posts videos weekly, including how-tos, layout tours and train show visits. What I think sets him apart is the broadcast-level production quality of his videos. He uses plenty of graphics, cool links inside the videos. multiple cuts. He also has a sense of humour, which comes through in the presentation. His layout uses the track plan from the Salt Lake Route project layout that ran a few years back in Model Railroader.

Big Al Mayo is a bit of a MR YouTube legend. His weathering videos in particular are very popular. He can be a bit brash, which may turn some people off. In one recent video he got into a tangle with some people at a train show. A black man, Al didn't like that their booth sign featured the confederate flag. 

I don't at all mind his outspoken nature, and enjoy his fearless approach to trying new modelling techniques (and the hip-hop soundtrack he lays over his videos is always cool). He conveys a very strong sense of "You can do it too," which I think is empowering for armchair modellers who might be otherwise inclined to sit on the sidelines.

4) NS Modeller 24

This young man and his father have a great double-deck HO layout modelling Norfolk Southern. There's a very high level of modelling here. The channel features plenty of great how-to videos, everything from signalling and JMRI to installing decoders, soldering handrails, etc.

5) TNSortlineFan

A nice guy with an excellent modern, HO scale shortline modelled in an around-the-walls configuration. Lots of tips and prototype information. The video above is a few years old (he's done quite a bit of work on the layout since) but it provides a good "aerial" overview of his layout. Like a lot of the YouTubers I mention here, my only quibble is that he doesn't post more frequently.

And finally....

I would like to thank John at CP Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision for his very kind mention of my layout last week. If you haven't already, check out his excellent blog.

I didn't think my in-progress switching layout ranked with some of the great ones he's highlighted but I do appreciate the mention. It certainly has helped provide some new motivation as I work to push forward my modelling. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

March Layout update

The fascia has given my in-progess layout a more finished look. The paint cost $5 from the return shelf at my local paint store.

With this winter refusing to fully retreat, I’ve managed to get quite a bit done on the layout this March. Here’s an update.

Fascia (partially) installed

Fascia installed. 

I must have read it dozens of times: layout builders impressed by what a big step forward the layout takes visually after the fascia is installed.

After humming and hawing (mostly hawing) about the depth and colour of the fascia, I let finances decide. I found a half gallon of forest green paint in the discount shelf at the local paint store and got started. As an aside, this a great money-saving tip for model railroaders: You rarely need to spend top dollar on of-the-shelf paint! Most paint stores have a shelf of paint that people have bought, taken home, decided that they hated and returned. It’s often heavily discounted (but almost never returnable). The paint I bought was a very high-quality Benjamin Moore interior latex with a flat finish. The price: $5.

Anyway the fascia was straightforward to install. I ran out of hardboard to do the peninsula, but I want to shore up the shelving under that section anyway, so it makes more sense to wait until that work is done. It does give the layout more of a finished look, less like a construction site.

Homemade throttle pockets

Now there's no excuse for leaving the throttle on the layout! Just realized the red light on the plug-in panel looks like Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Should I be worried it's going to turn on me unexpectedly?

As scenery progresses, there’s less and less empty layout space to set the throttles, but it’s time I start breaking that bad habit anyway! Commercial throttle pockets are $10 a piece and Al Mayo has a YouTube video where he makes his own using 50 cent electrical boxes. Neither option appealed to me so I made my own from bits from my scrap box. They work fine and look OK. I can always replace them down the road if I want something more elegant.

Here's the throttle pocket for the NCE PowerCab.

Without the cab in it, the throttle cradle looks like a La-Z-Boy for my PowerCab.

Area – H scenery/roads started 

Roads/scenery started near Korex. With each passing week, the pink insulation board loses precious ground.

I’ve tried two ways to do the roads: drywall compound and styrene. I have to say I prefer styrene because the process is cleaner and the results are easier to control. I generally am following the road technique outlined here by Lance Mindheim: A spray with Rustoleum primer, which I will follow with an India ink wash. I’m also hitting the roads with washes of lighter greys using my airbrush so they’re not too uniform in colour. I may also try using decals of road details like manhole covers and storm grates. So far I’m happy with how the road surface looks. I’ve poured Hydrocal between the tracks at the crossings. I’ll sand it down and clean out the rail flanges with my Dremel tool and paint it.

Pond scene progress

I’ve got mixed feelings about how this scene is turning out. Here’s the steps:

  • Mark and carve out stream bed from foam layout base.
  • Cut and glue foam piece beneath layout to provide a bottom for the stream.
  • Filled stream bed with Hyrocal to seal it (this worked well).
  • Painted the stream bed black in the middle with airbrush sprays of tan at the edges to simulate depth. Here I followed the technique David Popp outlines in his book Building A Model Railroad Step by Step.
  • Poured the stream using Woodland Scenics Realistic Water.
  • Added ripple effects using Woodlanc Scenics Water Effects

So how does it look?

The water looks ok like this, when the camera lens is dropped to the layout level. Looking down from a standing position, the water looks  almost invisible. I've added ripple effects since this shot was taken.

Look at this photo and it doesn’t look too bad. It looks like water, though I wish I’d put more rocks inside the water. But standing up and looking down at it, the water is invisible. I think this is a layout height problem (in other words the layout is too low).

If I did it again I’d add more pours for greater depth and put more material inside the stream.

Runnymede Road underpass

I'm staring work now on the underpass at Runnymede, with a print out photo showing the prototype. The bridge parts will be Hydrocal castings.

I’ve pulled out the wood abutments and I’m pouring Hydrocal ones to take their place. I just can’t make the wood look like concrete! I’ve also got the styrene painted for the road surface. I will provide an update on this later!

This spur in the corner will one day serve Polytainers. For now, it serves a distributor of model railroad scenery supplies, mainly ground foam.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Friday, 7 February 2014

February Layout Update!

It's been a long time coming, but here's an update of the work I've been doing on the layout lately. Still lots to do, but with no end in sight to this long brutal winter, I'm going to hunker down and try to get as much done as possible in the next few weeks. 

Please feel free to comment on any of my posts.  

By turning the Walthers kit into a background building, I was able to  lengthen the structure, which extends out about only five inches from the backdrop.

Korex kitbash

Though this is a smallish layout, my hope is to keep the industries as close to prototype size as possible, even if they are just background buildings. Back in the transition era, many small industries were rail-served. These days it seems only the larger industries rely on rail deliveries, which creates a challenge if you’re trying to model the modern era on a (room-sized) HO layout.

Located at the end of CP's Area-H spur in west Toronto is Korex. It's a mid-size packaging manufacturer (I believe) that takes plastic pellet hoppers. Lots of them. The industry is served by four spur tracks and I've seen as many as eight cars there at once. There’s also a handful of storage silos both on the roof and outside the building and a truck loading area on the north side.

Here's a prototype shot of Korex. The industry is served by four spur tracks.

I looked into scratch building this industry but by the time you add up the cost of all the styrene, brick sheets, windows, etc., I decided it was cheaper and easier to kitbash it.

The kit I settled on was Walthers Paper Mill as my source of raw material. It had the right general look of a modern industry, lots of brick walls, varied roof heights and even came with some of the tanks that I’d need. The kit is supposed to be built with a square(ish) footprint with four truck loading doors and a door that can accommodate a railcar into the building. My plan was to turn this kit into a background building using the “fourth wall” pieces to extend the length of the structure. It's 35 inches long, which will give it the scale that I’m looking for.

The real Korex is served by four  spur tracks. I'm thinking mine will have two.

The build

I won’t go into a cut-by-cut description of what I did, but essentially my plan worked OK.
The Feb. 2010 issue of MR had a similar kitbash: they took a large Walthers kit and made it into a background building. In the process they created a structure that suggests a large industry typically served by today's railroads.

Here's how the MR project turned out. Making this a background building allowed the builder to use the "fourth wall" material to lengthen the structure. I took a similar approach with the Walthers Paper Mill Kit.
In many ways I this kitbash was inspired by an article in the February 2010 issue of Model Railroader “Build a Big Industry in a Small Space.” Here they cut up a Walthers Tri-State Power Authority kit in a similar way, making it a background building and using the “fourth wall” material to make a large background building (see pics above). The effect is that the building looks like a part of a much larger building that is typical of a modern, rail-served industry.

In the end I opted not to follow this MR scratchbuild of a modern plastics plant. See photos below of a flickr user who did. 

Another Model Railroader piece that influenced me here is a scratchbuild covered in their 1986 book HO Lineside Industries You Can Build (I'm not sure when the story first ran in MR, if ever). That build combined Pikestuff brick block units and styrene siding to build a modern plastics plant, also a very large background structure, similar to Korex. I took a long hard look at this story but decided to stick with my kitbash plan because the end result would come closer to the prototype I was modelling.

However flickr user Larry's Trains did follow the MR piece and that build looks great. See his pic above or you can click through on this link to see it.

So how did it turn out?

Um, not bad?

Some of the seams are a bit more rough than I’d like, though I’m still working on filling some of the larger gaps and putting putty and black paper behind others to make them less conspicuous. My building isn’t exactly like the prototype (click here for an aerial shot), I didn’t try to recreate every window and piece of piping, just the general look and feel.

I still have to do some light weathering on the walls, and I want to add the larger outside tanks, possibly from the Cornerstone PlasticPellet Transfer Facility kit, but essentially the structure is done.

There are plenty of nits to pick here: the brick colour isn’t really close to the prototype but I lost a key airbrush part during cleaning (it’s now on order) and I didn’t want to hold up the build while I got the new part and new paint. The weathering on the tanks didn’t turn out right and I may go back over it.

I will say that buying the Walthers kit (even though it cost  $70) was the right way to go. I’ve got loads of parts left over: wall pieces, windows, doors, roof details, etc. This material will come in handy for future builds/kitbash projects.

For my first kitbash (and second building) I’m generally happy. I’ll be less apprehensive about attempting a kitbash next time. I’ve heard many modellers say they view all kits simply as raw material for kitbashes and don’t even bother with the kit instructions. I like this approach. As I look at more and more layout photos online, I see the same kit structures popping up again and again, which isn’t the worst thing but it’s something kitbashing avoids.

Now I've just got to build the tracks down here. Otherwise, that hopper is stranded!

I’ve yet to lay track down the Korex side of the peninsula. I’m probably only going to run two tracks to serve Korex (the prototype, as mentioned, has four). But between the two tracks, the industry will be able to hold eight hoppers, so it will generate plenty of traffic.

This build has many flaws, but then when I take a close look at other layouts, including ones in modeling magazines, I see flaws there too so I’m going to move on to the next part of the layout without worrying too much about how this building fell short.  I can always come back to this building later. I'm keen to keep things moving forward.

Other layout progress

As mentioned before, I've decided to split the peninsula in half, with Korex (and possibly Battenfield Grease) on one side of the backdrop and 2 staging tracks on the other. The photo below shows the two sides. And no, I've not yet had a chance to update the track plan posted on the front page of this blog. 

So it's industries on the left, staging on the right. And yes, I will extend the layout edge on the right to prevent cars tumbling to the concrete floor below.

With this plan, there were now be staging on both ends of the layout. This way trains can move though, exchanging cars at Lambton Yard before continuing their trip "off layout." From there a switcher can work the industries. 

Still lots to do here, but the stream is taking shape.

Adding a river (well, a stream really)

One layout design element Lance Mindheim suggests is having a scenery-only area in the middle of your switching  layout to enhance the feeling that  trains are moving from one place to another. 

My scenery area is at the base of the inverted "U," where you see the partially sceniced slope. I wanted to add a small stream here and I've read a million articles about how to do this. Right now I'm wrestling with paint colours, trying to get the black in the middle to simulate depth, with a brown (or tan) along the water's edge. This remains a work in progress. So far I've not been able to create the "feathering" effect, but I've yet to try it with my airbrush (which, as mentioned above, is awaiting a part delivery). 

Right now I feel the edge colour is too "reddish" I'd like it more tan and feathered better into the black before I pour the water. 

The stone bridge I made using Hydrocal and a casting I built. It's not perfect and I've fiddled around with a few different pours and colours and I think I'm going to use casting you see in the photo. Making plaster castings for bridges, retaining walls, etc is quite fun. I think I've leaned a few tricks that will ensure I make a better mould next time.

Check out this guy's website for some great tips about using plaster moldings in modelling (he also has a casting service if you want something made).

So that's it for now. I'll be working on tracklaying the Korex spur this weekend and fiddling with the river scene. Your comments are always welcome. 

Also, I love linking to blogs/websites of other layouts that feature modern, room-sized switching layouts. If you see one that isn't already in my link list, please let me know about it by commenting on my page.

I wil leave you with a picture that illustrates what happens when a full bottle of plastic welder is dumped, by accident, on the surface of a foam-based layout. My advice: stand back and don't breathe in.

Here's were I spilled a full bottle of plastic weld on the layout. Went right though the foam of course. Perhaps this will be the future location of an HO-scale illegal toxic waste site.  

Happy modelling.