Posse comes to Pembroke

I could hold them off no longer. It was time for the posse to descend on my own basement, which has been in renovation for over a year. When I invited them, I had grand hopes of being in a place where they could actually help me with benchwork construction, but as the date loomed, it became clearer and clearer that this would not be the case.

So, they arrived to find the basement clean, but the walls still unfinished, and the floor still bare plywood. There was no electrictricity, save for the old lights and an extension chord from far away.

However, I had cut out the shape for the top of the baseboard that will go in the corner. This will provide a home for the engine facilities and Pembroke Manufacturing. I was most curious to see if the engine house will fit on the baseboard, and so, we set out with a large compass and pencils, some paper and various boxes and blocks of wood and mocked it up.

The result can be seen in the photo. The container to the left will be the engine house. The coffee cup and jar of screws on the right will be the water tower, which will mark the end of the scenicked portion of the layout. Staging is out of bounds on the window sill to the right. In behind, the pieces of wood represent Pembroke Manufacturing, which I have moved from its original location north of the engine facilities because, well, I don’t have room to represent the whole line!

Pembroke Manufacturing will be the only trailing-point spur as a train is inbound to Pembroke, and thus makes an important operational element. In fact, the more I run through operations in my head, the more excited I become to get to operations. I had originally thought it would be a one-horse layout, but further study of the timetable shows that, with the operation of a special, I may be able to keep two trains busy. The sequence would go something like this:

  1. Operator 1 takes Train 51, the daily direct train to Ottawa (staging)
  2. Operator 2 takes Mixed Train 45, to Golden Lake (staging)
  3. Operator 1 brings the baseball special from Ottawa
  4. Operator 2 returns from Golden Lake with Passenger Train 44
  5. Operator 1 takes the baseball special to, say, Barry’s Bay (staging). These were quite common along the CA, although I’m not as certain about the Pembroke Branch
  6. Operator 2 takes passenger Train 43 to Golden Lake
  7. Operator 2 returns from Golden Lake with mixed Train 46
  8. Operator 1 brings the baseball special back from Barry’s Bay, and returns it to Ottawa
  9. Operator 1 takes the baseball special returns to Ottawa
  10. Operator 1 returns from Ottawa with Train 52

Will it keep two operators sufficiently engaged for an evening’s fun? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. Of course, we’re years away from having enough stock! Two more engines need to be built, as well as the layout, and the first engine took me four years. However, we model railroaders are great at imagining things that have yet to be built.

Meanwhile, the drywall goes up next Tuesday and the room needs to be ready to serve as a guest room for our Christmas guest. It’s been a full-court press for months, and there is no sign of abating. There is a long list of tasks to complete before the drywallers arrive, and I guess I’d better get to it!

Proto:87 Posse Builds Turnouts

Last night was a hideous night for driving to Langley. The roads were deep and shining with rain, and in traffic my windshield wipers could barely keep up. As with most North Vancouverites, I rarely go across the Second Narrows, much less the Port Mann Bridge, and so, of course we missed our turn and overshot. Fortunately, Julian had his phone with him and was able to redirect me back to the true path.

Jim Peters was our gracious host for the evening. And thrust drinks into our hands as soon as we were in the door; that helped to cool our nerves after the drive.

Jim has started benchwork for his model of a chunk of Prince Rupert yard. The yard throat will be to scale, although he’s elided a few tracks. He will also replace the western-most turnouts with a sector plate to save a little more room. In an unusual solution to prototype modeling in a small space, the mainline will curve across two of the yard tracks so it can avoid disappearing out the window, and follow the walls around to a small staging yard behind his drafting table.

Jim’s not quite committed to Proto:87 yet as he’s unsure if he can build track that will work. At the last meeting we realized that most of the Posse are in the same boat and have never built a turnout before. So we brought along Brian Pate, who has built more track than anyone I know. With Brian, we had a little hand-laying mini-clinic right in Jim’s train room.

Brian provided some short instruction and then a couple of us sallied forth with soldering irons blazing. Key takeaways for me were that Brian only uses PC board ties through his turnouts, rather than mixing PC board and wood as many people do. He tins all his ties as well as the underside of his rail.

He builds all his turnouts on full-size templates off the layout; the template is affixed to his favorite piece of plywood with Lepage spray on adhesive, and the ties are glued down with Lepage Hobby Cement. These both dissolve with lacquer thinner when he’s finished the soldering and ready to move the track to the layout. Between turnouts, Brian uses flex track.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t room for everyone to sling their solder, and so, most watched and listened. I built a curved number 7 because Chris declared he couldn’t understand how to make curved turnouts work. Brian already had a turnout under construction.

We take different approaches to building turnouts. Brian uses the method that I was originally taught many years ago: lay the two stock rails, and then joggle the frog around until it is in perfect gauge relative to the stock rails.

Brian’s is the easier way to build track, but it typically results in the point of the frog falling wherever it wants to, rather than on a specific tie as per the prototype. Since people started nit-picking my track, I’ve been gauging the frog to one stock rail, then laying the other stock rail to the frog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t bring anything to pin my rail down with as I was soldering it, and so, the gauge on the diverging route got kind of wonky. In particular the flangeway was much too wide, and we got a good demonstration of why that is no good when I ran a truck through. The main route was perfect, however, and a truck ran through nicely without a guard rail.

I think everyone finished the night with a little more knowledge and inspiration to try out handlaying themselves. Next meetup is tentatively schedule for Julian’s place. I’m hoping for every extra month I can get as my basement is nowhere near ready to host the posse!

Proto:87 Posse Progress

It’s been a few months since I posted on the progress of the Proto:87 Posse. Since that time, we have visited Jim Peters and Julian Watson and mostly talked about their plans. This month we were out to Andrew Hutchinson’s place, where we spent a little time reviewing his ideas for a small display layout. Then it was out to the shop to work on Julian’s modules.

Julian is building a P:87w63 (That’s Proto:87 5’3″ gauge) layout of Victorian Railways. He started with six modules that he built in Perth and had shipped over here, but has decided to redo the bases as he was not happy with their precision. For the mulligan, he is going with the new-fangled construction popularized in MRJ.

By golly this is a lot of work! It had better be worth it! At the end of the evening, with four of us working on gluing and nailing, we had enough bits to put together three modules, but we pulled the plug before doing more than a test-fit.

The Continuing Travels of the Proto:87 Posse

It’s been two months since we were at Chris’s house. In October we traveled out to Langley to visit Jim and see his space. It was largely a talking session, and I think he’s been convinced to bend Prince Rupert around the room to allow a little running room. He’s in the middle of renovating the main floor of his house right now, and just sawed off the ends of his fingers, and so, it will be interesting to see his progress the next time we’re out there.

This month we went to Julian’s place and mostly thumbed through his collection of books on Victorian railways and checked out his baseboards. We made a giant stack of baseboards so we could work on height visualization.

Next month we’re out to Andrew’s where he’s coming up with a plan for a small portable display. Then in February, we’re at my place again. Hopefully by then the basement’s ready to receive a layout, as I have every intention of putting these eight hands to work and getting a start on building when they’re here.

I’d better get to work! Where did I put that Tuck Tape?

The Proto:87 Posse at Chris Reid’s House

This week, the Proto:87 Posse (we had to come up with a catchy name) showed up at Chris’ house. Chris has benchwork in place for half his layout and wanted some help on figuring out what to do with it. He’s new to Proto:87, but I have a feeling, judging by some of the track he’s handlaid before, that he’s going to be a big producer once he gets going.

He’s been collecting passenger equipment and has a ton of really nice cars. Sadly, like all of us, he is a wee bit tight for space, and so, we’re not going to see the Super Continental winding its way through the Rockies on his layout. We did come up with what we believe is a workable concept for terminal switching his passenger trains, though. There is also space for a tiny bit of freight switching, but the focus is going to be passenger.

We left him with a table top covered in trains and boxes, all aligned along hastily drafted full-size track center lines. By the time we were done, we were all excited about the concept, and we really hope that the radii actually work out.

His homework for next time is to get some P87 wheels under some of his passenger cars, the Rapido ones especially, and play with them on the different radii of tracks. We’re quite concerned that the working diaphragms are going to be a problem on 42″ curves.

Proto:87 Vancouver

On Saturday, September 3, we had the first ever meeting of Proto:87 modelers in Vancouver. Julian Watson, who moved from Australia a week ago Thursday, suggested we get together, and Jim and I put out a notice to our respective networks. In the end, there were five of us to share burgers and beers on my deck.

We had a good time jawing about wheels and track and ultimately decided we would form a round robin group to help with each other’s layouts. We’ll be meeting the first Wednesday of the month, starting at Chris’ in October. Watch this space!

Sacramento NMRA National

The Sacramento NMRA convention is all over, and I’m returning back to Vancouver to get properly started on the layout room renovation. I presented a well-received Proto:87 clinic on the Monday. I started with an overview of the history of Proto:87 back to the early days of the Model Railway Study Group in the late ’60s, and brought everyone up to date with the currently available products. I guess there were about 25 people in attendance.

One surprise for me was the amount of the confusion between Proto:87 and Code 88. Code 88 refers to a popular, though non-conforming, wheel dimension used by some HO modelers. The “88” is the width of the wheel in thousandths of an inch. While code 88 wheels do not conform with the HO standards, and thus will not work on all HO track, many modelers have success with them on a subset of available track. Because they spend all their time looking at rolling stock, and the track is an afterthought, these modelers are content to run with a wheel that is merely 37% oversize (rather than 71% as the standard code 110 wheels are). They ignore the flangeways and other compromises in the track. Proto:87, of course, specifies both track and wheels that are accurately scaled from the prototype.

There was much Proto:48 action in the contest room, but I didn’t notice any Proto:87 other than my own.

Passenger Car Finished

My passenger car is finished and packed ready to go down to Sacramento to show in the NMRA national show next week. To support my display in Sacramento (and likely in Burnaby this fall, and who knows where else), I threw together a quick 20-page Blurb book on the project. It is laid out like an NMRA merit judging form, and I’ve pasted the bulk of the content below:


Surely I could have chosen something simpler for a first passenger car project. Surely I could have found a car where we have actual drawings if not clear photographs. Surely nobody would mind, even, if I bought a kit for a passenger car, lettered it for the Canada Atlantic, and challenged anyone to call me a liar.
I would mind.
The prototype modeling path is a personal choice, and we all must decide how far down the path we will go. For myself, there are so few resources showing the Canada Atlantic as it really existed, that I feel I must replicate ever one of them as closely as I can.
My current modeling project is the town of Pembroke, Ontario, and we have four photographs of the same passenger car on the line. This, then, is the car I need. Substituting another car would be akin to ignoring one of my sources in prototype modeling, and ultimately diminish the total effect.
So, without drawings, photographs, incontrovertible dimensions, without even a car number, I set off to replicate the car and the train, pulling into Pembroke sometime around 1905.


My model of Canada Atlantic #2 is based entirely on four photographs that show a combine on the Pembroke Southern. From the photos, it is impossible to discern the number; however an undated roster from the Grand Trunk Railway shows two 1st/2nd/baggage cars that were inherited from the CA — numbers 2 and 4. Assuming our Pembroke Southern car was leased from the CA, which was the operating railroad, and assuming it survived until the GTR roster was compiled, the PS car was either CA 2 or 4. We have a clear photo of CA 4, and it does not match the PS car. So, if all our conjectures are true, then the PS car was CA 2.
Having said that, by the time of the roster, the GTR car was clearly different from the PS car. Notably, on the GTR car, the windows were double, not single. This seems a major structural difference, but all the other dimensions match. It is possible that the car was modified by the GTR or that the roster was incorrect. In any case, this model represents the Pembroke Southern car, which was certainly leased as the PS had no passenger equipment of their own, and the CA seems a likely lessor, and CA #2 is a likely identity.
The length of the PS car was drawn from the photo of the train at Golden Lake and the known length of the bridge spans at Golden Lake. Dimensions such as height and width were standard on the CA to within three inches, and so, I used those standard dimensions where they were applicable.
Where I had no data for the PS car or for the CA, I resorted to industry information. The CA built many of their own coaches, but they also bought cars from Crossen in their earlier years, and Pullman later on. We are fortunate that Ted Rafuse has written an excellent book on the Crossen Car Company, and this served to furnish some typical details.
Further information on typical car construction was gleaned from the Voss book on Railway Car Construction, especially the chapter on a NYC&HRR day coach. The cross-section of the clerestory was especially helpful in getting the roof correct, as was the body bolster drawing. Many other details were pulled from the White’s book on passenger cars and from a visual dictionary for car builders.
Finally the question of colour took months to resolve. Obviously, we have no colour photographs of CA rolling stock. There is one colorized post card that may show some of passenger cars, although the cars are on the Canadian Pacific’s track, and so they are just as likely the CP’s. We also have a newspaper account suggesting that CA passenger trains were “Turkish Rouge.” This note lead me on a lengthy mission that ultimately culminated in replicating an antique cosmetics recipe using the original ingredients; the key ingredient is Alkanet, and it has a beautiful pinky-red colour under some light. I’ve never seen a colour change so dramatically from one light source to the next, however, and the colour of the model depends heavily on the light under which it is viewed.


Roof and Body

The hard part of passenger car modeling is the roof, specifically the end where it is all compound curves, and not a straight line in sight. As I pondered how to create these ends, I became aware that 3D printing was becoming increasingly capable and within reach. So, I resolved to print the roof.
A common failing of passenger cars, especially those with separate roofs is that the ends of the letterboard are very fragile and never properly engage with the ends of the roof. Printing the letterboards along with the roof meant that the colour separation would have to be masked, but the parts would mate perfectly. Once the decision to mask the letterboards was sealed, it seemed obvious that I may as well print the whole body.
So that is what I did. Working from dimensions pulled from photographs and prototype practice, I developed a 3D computer model of the body and roof. The resulting model contains some 31 thousand vertices, and includes details such as door handles and flag holders. This model was then exported and printed using stereolithography. The stereolithograph required cleaning and sanding to remove evidence of the production process, especially on the roof.
Sadly, the stereolithography process does not facilitate very thin sections, and so, the window sashes could not be printed. However, because I had a computer model, it was a simple matter to create a pattern for a laser cutter, and cut these out by machine. The grooves where the real sashes ride were included in the model, and the laser-cut sashes ride in these grooves as per the prototype (they are fixed in place, however).
For a while I thought I would leave one of the baggage compartment doors open on the model, and to support the thin cross-section, I laser cut these at the same time as the window sashes. As long as I was laser cutting, I also cut all the glazing as well.
The roof was dressed with a number of scratchbuilt detail parts such as the baker heater expansion tanks and stacks, the lamp jacks and the toilet vents. I created these separately rather than integrally with the model either to facilitate colour separations or so that they wouldn’t get in the way of finishing the roof.
The only details left off the body in the computer model were the handrails. The flattened ends of these were included, but the handrails themselves were too fine to print, and so, they were built up in brass.

Underframe and Platforms

The core of the underframe is a 1/8” thick piece of steel, cut to fit precisely into the body. This provides almost the correct amount of weight as well as super-strength to what could be a troublesome floppy piece of modeling if done in wood or styrene.
The steel underframe is covered with a wooden sound-deadening ceiling that I built board-by-board. The needle beams and body bolsters were incorporated into the ceiling as, being frame members, the ceiling would have been built around them.
The platforms, steps and end beams were stereolithographed together with the interior, ensuring that they are straight. They are somewhat vulnerable out there, however, and so, my next car will incorporate more of the steel in the platforms.
Various details, such as the brakes, levers, train line and so on were glued straight to the sound deadening ceiling or between the frame members under the platforms. These details are all made from commercial parts or fabricated from plastic, brass or steel, as appropriate.


The interiors for the two passenger sections were also stereolithographed, complete with seats, toilets, sinks, baker heaters and partitions. Even the door handles on the interior doors were printed. The figures are from Preiser.


I airbrushed the body, roof and interior. Because the colour reference – a reporter’s impression of the colour – is so imprecise, I used Polly Scale Pacemaker Red straight from the bottle after comparing all my reds with my Turkish rouge sample.
The lettering was drawn in Corel Draw, working from some distant shots of CA coaches along with a crisper Grand Trunk car that seemed to exhibit similar lettering. From this lettering, I produced dry transfers, and installed on the letterboards and on the sides.
The lining was a nightmare. At first, I thought I would use a paint pen from Sharpie. While my initial tests on scraps went fine, I couldn’t manage a consistently fine line on the model. I wound up stripping the side and taking a mulligan. The successful technique employs coloured pencil, and is convincingly understated. When you see photos of CA cars in the nineties and early 20th Century, the lining is barely there.
The interior was brush-painted with acrylics, as were the passengers.
The underframe is mostly wood, stained before installation. To obtain clean colour separations, the brakes and other parts were painted before installation.
The underframe along with the roof received the bulk of the weathering. On the underframe, this consists largely of dry-brushing and an overspray with the airbrush. On the roof, I used chalks and weathering powders.

New content

I’ve been researching for my upcoming clinic on the State of Proto:87, which I’ll be giving in Sacramento next week, and found a couple of Aussie sites that indicated that this site hasn’t been changing much. What the? If there’s one thing I try to do, it’s post here occasionally. It usually doesn’t appear on the home page because I never particularly considered the home page mine. So, yes the homepage didn’t change for years, but the blog has been updated at least every few months.

Speaking of blogs, if you’re actively building a layout right now in Proto:87, and are looking for a place to put a blog, I’d be happy to host it here. Now, I’ve never put much effort into making this Drupal installation much to write home about, and it’s a couple of versions old, but if you would like to blog here, drop me a note and I’ll get it set up for you.

Incidentally, I found some interesting sites while I was researching for my clinic. You can find them in the Links and Products sections of this site.

Now Available in Paperback

I’ve just published the story of Canada Atlantic Number 10, my first scratchbuilt locomotive on Blurb. This is a compilation of progress emails I sent to a couple of email lists over the course of four years as I was completing the model. I got my own copy, and I must say, I quite like having this memento of the construction process. While the web page is always good for shock factor when someone starts to ask me about my hobby, there is something about seeing your words and photos in print that makes you feel accomplished.

I’m going to bring the locomotive and the book with me to Sacremento next week, and if you’re there, you’ll find them in either the big display or in the RPM room. More likely it will be the latter, where you’ll also find me on Wednesday and Thursday and whatever part of Friday I spend there instead of at the train show.