Snowy Soo

Winter Railroading.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Cool video/layout: Port of Los Angeles in HO scale

I won't bother with a long description here, instead I'll let this great video speak for itself.

I'm adding it as a link to my list of favourite modern, room-sized layouts (listed down the right side of my blog landing page).


Saturday, 24 September 2016

Playing around with container images

Greetings everyone,

They say slow progress is better than no progress, so I'll take some heart in that. 

I am getting some modelling done this weekend, focusing on what I see as the two most urgent and glaring problems my layout has right now: 

  1. Too much bare blue-sky backdrop badly in need of photographic images to give the layout some depth.
  2. Still too much pink insulation board showing. I mean ... it's been three years. You'd think by now I would have put some paint and ground cover over the bare spots (and yet they're still there). 
So it's these two things I'm trying to focus on this weekend. 

I decided to do something with what looks like a vacant lot between two industries: the warehouse (which I think I'm going to call Queensway Transfer), and Hymopak. 

Here's the spot on the layout, empty and adorned by only my four pathetic shipping containers:

Those four containers look lonely against the backdrop. But at $10 a piece now, filling the space with more would cost more then I'm willing to pay.

On the prototype, across Medulla Road from Hymopak, there's a large industry that sells, rents and fixes shipping containers. I'm guessing the business is there due to its proximity to Obico container terminal, which CP shuttered a few years ago. 

This shot shows the industry I'm modelling. I like the multi-coloured stacks of shipping containers. 
The place always has stacks of containers, in a multi-coloured mosaic that I think would make an interesting addition to my layout, while sticking to the prototype and not using a lot of space.

Now, I could just model it using HO scale plastic shipping containers, but they're surprisingly expensive. Even when bought in packs, they're in the range of $40 for three, which seems like a lot. I mean, they're just plastic boxes!

I've managed to pick up a few cheap containers (four in total) at train hows. But it's not enough to create the kind of mass I need for this spot. So, I decided to try something that's quick and almost free: printing digital photos of real containers, printing them out to size and combining them to form a background image. 

There was an article about this in one of my older Model Railroader magazines that I now can't locate. 

One challenge is that I no longer have layout programs or Photoshop on my computer. Those are expensive too (I know what you're thinking and you're right, I am cheap). I know they're are free photo editing and layout programs out there, but I wanted to know if I could get useable images uploading photo files and placing them in a Google doc (simple). 

So I went to work this morning. The hardest part was finding images of containers shot directly from the side, and not off on an angle. I uploaded them onto the Google doc, moved and cropped the rectangular container images until they looked like stacks and printed them out on photo paper. 

You can see the results here. Sorry this pic is so blurry. 

Camera shake made this photo come out blurry. Images of the actual containers are fairly sharp.
So I trimmed the containers and stuck them to the backdrop using double-sided tape. 

You can see the results here: 

The images don't look bad. But I think the effect would be much better in 3D, which will be more work.

Here's a wider view. 

So how well did this work?

Well, I'm glad I to know I can use Google Docs to contain the images for printing. Though its function is very limited for layout tasks, I was able to crop and stack the containers. This is a good thing to know. 

I'm happy with the image quality but I'm convinced the containers need to be "built out" and made 3D, not pressed flat against the backdrop. I think I'm going to go back and do this here, but it's going to be more work. I could photo laminate the images onto a wood or styrene blocks. Then of course, I would need shots of a few container ends, which means another hunting expedition on Google images. 

I still think that for now, the containers add a bit of visual interest to what was a barren section of the layout. This is going to be one of those situations where it will have to be "good enough for now" until I can circle back and maybe improve the scene when I have more time. 

A chain link fence, maybe a small utility building and some scenery to blend the images in would help the scene out a lot. 

I once saw at a train show very cool N scale module of a large shipping container facility. The man who build it combined dozens of images like the ones below to create a convincing scene along the backdrop. He also had scores of actual shipping container models stacked between the loading tracks, which really helped give the scene the scale it needed. 

I'd be interested to hear your comments.

Also, if anyone out there is interested in trying something like this on their layout, I've included some downloadable image files below. You will need to re-size them. I'm no expert in posting downloads. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Very cool: Lego gears for a modern roll-up door

No, I've not died or given up the hobby.

With a full-time job and two young children, my modelling comes in fits and starts ...  with long gaps in between, which is fine.

I have been working on the layout and plan to post an update this weekend. In the meantime, I thought I'd share this cool idea I spotted on Thomas Klimoski's excellent Georgia Northeastern layout.

On his layout, there's a modern building with a roll-up door that allows freight cars to be delivered inside. The difference is, he's got a door you can roll up by twisting a knob disguised as a roofing vent.

Best of all: it uses gears from a Lego Techniques set to drive the door mechanism. Very clever. A Model Railroader how-to article waiting to be written.

Check it out:

Thomas's layout is my favourite kind to check out: a room-sided modern-era layout that features industrial switching.

Here's an embed of a video tour of his layout.

Enjoy this and be sure to check out the rest of his videos.

Friday, 26 February 2016

If you're needing inspiration....

The layout featured in the YouTube embed above is Per Laursen's amazing "UP/BNSF in Texas layout."

This is a complete video overview of his layout, but he's also posted some more video embeds, photos and general information about the railroad on his website here. The track plan is here.

He also runs his own company supplying modern model railroad structures. If you need a Denny's or Lowe's store on your layout, Per just might be your guy. The website for his company Summit Customcuts is here.

With its modern equipment and simple track plan, Laursen's modelling reminds me right away of Pelle Soeborg, a contributing editor of Model Railroader whose well-known work you can see here.  Apparently, these two Danes are friends.

His layout is 44'x28' with loads of staging, cameras to monitor the hidden tracks, automated electronics, etc., etc. The layout presentation is also exceptional (lighting, backdrop, panels ... all first rate)

Many modellers would run into some serious limitations trying to create a layout like this: space, time, money, skill ... or in my case, all four.

And though I'll certainly never build a layout like this I find it a source of inspiration to look at layouts of this quality.

Modern buildings and outstanding layout presentation are hallmarks of Per Laursen's modern-day layout set in Texas. (Photo: Per Laursen/

Monday, 8 February 2016

Want to save your modelling dollars? Buy Canadian

Those gold coins don't hold chocolates. They are Loonies, each worth one Canadian dollar or, as of January 2016, about 72 cents U.S.
Let's face it, this isn't the cheapest of hobbies, though there are more expensive ones out there (polo, boating and cocaine come immediately to mind).

The Internet is full of good-sense tips to help modellers save a few bucks. There are, for example, YouTube videos about building static grass applicators from battery-powered fly zappers, tips about using craft paint instead of the stuff on hobby shop shelves, there's even a YouTube channel called The Frugal Modeller devoted almost entirely to helping modellers stretch the old layout-building budget.

For example in the Frugal Modeller episode embedded above (URL is here), he tells of using old loading pallets to build benchwork for his N-scale layout.

Now scouring through construction sites and back alleys in an effort to find warped, wet, splinter-ridden wood shot through with 800 nails is not everyone's cup of tea, but you have to praise his ingenuity.

Or maybe I just like his channel because he's a Canadian who models CP. The point is, money saved on lumber (or anything else) is cash you could better spend on custom locos or a DCC system.

I'd like to offer another another money-saving modelling tip, this one directed at my many friends and followers who reside in the United States.

The top-secret tip? Buy Canadian.

Though it's big news up here, my American neighbours may not know the Canadian dollar is trading particularly poorly against the U.S. dollar right now. To get specific, a U.S. dollar is worth about $1.40 Canadian at current exchange rates.

Expressed another way, U.S. shoppers get a 40 per cent discount when they buy Canadian, though that's before they pay shipping, taxes and duty. But even with that factored in, there are bargains to be had up here. It's at least worth a look.

Now I'm a regular troller for deals on eBay but lately I only search Canadian sellers because the current exchange rate punishes me so severely. But what hinders me, can help my U.S. friends.

I'm not suggesting my American friends and relatives (and I have many) stop buying in the USA, but before making your next MR purchase, why not run the numbers and check prices on the sites of a few Canadian retailers?

I've ordered model railroad goods -- everything from my DCC system to structures and locomotives -- from the following three retailers and have found them all to be top-rate vendors:
  1. Credit Valley Railway - A massive hobby store located in Mississauga (just west of Toronto). This place is 100 per cent devoted to model railroading and they have excellent customer service. If you're ever in the Toronto area, drop in (they have a great in-store HO-scale layout) but if you can't make it here and you live in the U.S., check them out, remembering all the while that one of your dollars is worth $1.40 to them.
  2. Otter Valley Railway - Another excellent retailer I can recommend with a very good online store. They're located in Aylmer, Ontario. I'd explain where that is but why bother? You're going to order from the comfort of your home in Wichita or wherever. Check out their site and knock 40 per cent off every price you see. (Note: 40 per cent discount does not apply to Canadians; try not to take it personally.)
  3. Canadian Express Line - A smaller operation but one I've used with great satisfaction. I purchased my NCE PowerCab there. Again, a reminder, prices are in (cheap) Canadian dollars.
Other Canadian retailers I've not used but with excellent reputations are Rapido Trains, Fast Tracks (they make supplies for hand-laying track) and Pacific Western Rail Systems out in Vancouver. 

There are other retailers I could mention in this post but I'm holding back until they agree to accept my Canadian dollars on par with the U.S. Greenback for my next purchase. I issued that request a while ago and am still awaiting their reply.

Also, I am accepting commission cheques (or MR supplies) from Canadian model railroading retailers who've sold goods to U.S. customers who've read this blog post. 

And as good as this potentially is for U.S. residents who suffer from model train addiction, you can consider this a limited time offer. Note that the exchange rates between our respective currencies does bounce around. As recently as spring 2013 our dollar traded at par with the U.S. dollar.

So as they say in the ads for Shamwow and Flex Seal, act now. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

February update

A ground-level view of Hympoak, a new industry on my layout. The prototype takes deliveries of plastic pellets in hoppers and produces plastic merchandise shopping bags. 

Greetings everyone,

I'll start with a tip: a full time job and two kids under four years old really cuts into your modelling time! This explains the long absence from posting anything other than prototype photos of Area H for the past few months.

I have made slow progress sorting out all sorts of little things on the layout. Here's what I've been working on


In this post, I shared research and photos about Hympopak, an industry I wanted to model. It takes rail deliveries of plastic pellet hoppers and turns them into shopping bags, like the kind you get at Home Depot and other large retail stores. 

The build

When I kitbashed Korex -- another plastic pellet factory on my layout (see here) -- I had trouble keeping the styrene roof and walls from bowing. For this background building flat I wanted to use a more solid base so I wouldn't have this problem again. I built the base of the building out of scrap plywood then laminated styrene sheets to that. This seemed to work well as it kept the long walls arrow straight. The building is long, about 40 inches, so any bowing would really show up and spoil the effect.

I used some scrap MDF for the roof of the building. I set the roof slightly below the edge of the wall to create a little "lip" above the roof.

This is the wood base I used as the structure for the building. The walls are plywood, the roof is two pieces of MDF. 

The worst part of the build was cutting the openings for the windows.

I used brick styrene sheets for the walls, a strip of regular styrene painted a concrete colour for the foundation and corrugated styrene painted black for the cladding at the top. I used doors and windows from other kits for the window and door openings. 

Here's what the finished building looks like in place on the layout. 

Here's an overall shot of Hymopak. The team track spur is in the foreground.

Here's a track-level shot. I built the small loading dock out of styrene. The doors, windows and hand railings were left over from the Paper Mill kit, which was kit bashed into Korex. 

The spur can hold three plastic-pellet hoppers. 

Here are the storage silos, made from the Walthers plastic pellet silos kit. I made the sign with a photo I took of the prototype ... then printed it out on decal paper and stuck it to the silos. The building and silos still need weathering. 

Another track-level shot. The vertical piping was made from sprues from a kit. They add some detail but here's a secret: they're really there to hide the seams between the brick sheets!

Now I realize that building doesn't capture many of the details and dimensions of the prototype. The real Hymopak is taller, less of a pure rectangle, has more details, nooks and crannies. I just don't have time to create a model that is that detailed. Because I'm always pressed for modelling time, I have to take a bit of a 'good enough' approach and move on to the next thing. I can always replace it with a more detailed building down the road but for now, there are just too many bare spots on my layout to linger too long on any one industry. 

Despite this, I still plan to:
  • Weather the building and silos.
  • Enhance the windows, possibly using photos of real factory windows.
  • Ballast and weather the track (I need to cover that white styrene ramp below the track). 
  • Add some safety signs, boxes, maybe a forklift, figures, etc. to add "life" to the structure and make it look busy. It's funny how just placing the truck near the building for these photos helped improve the look.

For now, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. 

Plastics industry: a great addition to any modern layout

I would encourage anyone with a modern layout to consider a plastics facility like this.

I was interested to see that just today, John Longhurst, who writes the excellent CP Rail & Minnesota Subdivision blog, wrote about a somewhat similar industry in Mississauga (which is just west of Toronto). The industry is called Katoen Natie and it also takes plastic hoppers. You can read John's post about it here

I've visited this industry myself. Often there is a large boxcar spotted on the spur among the covered hoppers (though there wasn't one there the day John visited).

Modelling this industry (or one like it) would require a similar, simple approach. A building flat (though of steel walls, not brick) and a few storage tanks and you're essentially done.

I now have two plastics facilities on my layout (Korex and Hymopak) and I could have had three. On the Area H spur there's also Polytainers, which takes pellet hoppers and turns them into plastic containers, like the kind that ice cream and yogurt comes in. Again, modelling that would be as simple as a brick building flat with some silos, like the kind in the Walthers Plastic Pellet hoppers kit. I've never seen this industry without two hoppers on its spur.

Some may say these simple industries are not as "eye-catching" as a sawmill, oil refinery or coal mine. Maybe not. But to me they say "modern suburban industry" which is what my layout models. 

Other layout additions

Rocking the hill

I added puffball trees and some rock castings to the area near the creek. I didn't like the look of the rolling hill  so I cut out some of the foam and added the castings and foliage. 

I've managed to squeeze in a few other additions. Here I've added a rock face behind the creek. Though there isn't a prototype for this on the area I model, I wanted to try out making and painting plaster rocks. I think they turned out OK. I also added some puffball trees to the top of the hill (and still have to add more). 

Before I added the rocks, the hill just seemed too bland. I think this adds some much-needed visual interest. I plan on adding a photo backdrop with a skyline here to enhance the scene's depth.
GMTX 125 is now in service. Adding all the little detailed parts nearly killed me. I don't think this is the kind of modelling I'm best at (or enjoy most).

GMTX 125

For reasons I can't explain, I wanted a leased locomotive on my layout. GATX 102 started life as an undecorated Athearn SW1500. I painted it, added decals and details. I honestly struggled with getting some of the details on this model. Some did not survive my hammer hands. I may go back and fix these problems later. I'm not sure I would attempt a project like this again. The upside is the loco doesn't look too bad and is a good runner. It was DCC ready so I just had to lift the shell, pull out the jumper and plug in a Digitrax decoder. The ease of this has convinced me that I'm only buying DCC-ready locos from now on!

Here's a prototype shot I was working from. Another problem? I didn't get the colour close to correct. 

That's it for now. As always I welcome your comments.