Clerestory Lights Installed

I’m not overly excited about them, except to say that they’re finally done, per the plan.

The windows in the clerestory are framed deeply for some reason, and the openings were screened over. The only screen material I ever saw that was convincing was some that my friend Brian Pate salvaged from an old anti-glare screen for a computer. And, I don’t know how I would have cut so many little rectangles of that stuff. Perhaps I could have etched them, but I doubt I could have got them fine enough to be convincing.

In the end, I printed some clear blocks that are shaped to fit in the holes, and scratched the suggestion of a screen on the fronts of the blocks. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. Maybe on the next car I do, I’ll come up with a better alternative. Here are the blocks before installation

You’ll also notice that I’ve fixed the lining. The new lining is done with a coloured pencil. It reminds me of the tale of the first space pen that Nasa spent countless dollars developing; the Russians sent their cosmonauts up with pencils. Anyway, the pencil is very easy to control, and makes about as fine a line as I could want. I was even able to reproduce a little filigree in the corners.


Well, the lettering turned out quite nicely, but who let me near this model with that awful Sharpie gold paint pen? The practice runs looked good, but when I went to line the model itself, there was no way I could get anything nearly fine enough. The air turned blue as I tried to salvage it, but the more I did the worse it got. It’s definitely a repaint.

End railings etc

Here also are the end details. The railings are made by sandwiching the uprights between the top rail, and squeezing it all together. Then I filled them in with solder and filed to shape to make a railing that was round where it was vertical and flat where it was horizontal. The chains are an etching from Athabasca Scale models. I’ve always felt that the real chains are too heavy for most HO applications. Certainly on end railings, they are too coarse. These neat etchings solve the problem elegantly.

Lettering Arrived

For some reason, it’s always exciting to see the lettering for a model. Now I know I’m in the home stretch, and I can’t wait to see it on.

For all my Canada Altantic models thus far, I’ve asked All-Out Graphics to create custom dry transfers for me. It’s a bit pricey on a per-sheet basis, and so, I always squeeze as many cars as I can out of a single sheet. So, while a single sheet including negative came out to $55 for gold, I fit four passenger cars worth of sets on that sheet, which brings it down to 11 per car, and that’s not that bad considering it’s custom.

I like dry transfers because there’s no messing with decal film. Loads of people complain that they don’t like the one-shot deal, but I’ve never found that to be a problem. To apply the transfers, I always lay them out and tape them down first. Once they’re taped in place, and I’m happy with the positioning, I rub them down for good. I find it’s important to cut them straight to avoid any optical illusions.

Sure, in my youth I had to pull some up (they come off easily with tape as long as you don’t burnish them down with the backing paper), but mostly I find this method of applying dry transfers works for me. There, now I’ve probably jinxed it.

I’ll post once the car is lettered.

Goodbye to Pembroke I

I am often asked if I have a layout, and I’m always cagey about it. Technically, you could say I have a layout. This is the layout I described back in Model Railroad Planning 1999 (at least I think it was 99). Most of the photos in that article were of a little diorama I created, though, and there are few photos published of the actual layout. Here is the long, sad story of my first model of Pembroke, which never got off the ground.

In about 1996, I proposed an article on planning for Proto87 in Model Railroad Planning. The editor didn’t see the angle at first, but after a few drafts, I convinced him. Then, I decided to move to England in the summer of 1997. So, I decided I would get as much as I could done before we went so I could take some photos that highlighted it.

Through the spring, I worked feverishly on finishing some of the layout, any part of the layout, finally concentrating on the area around the crossover. Then I was ready to take pictures, but the weather wasn’t cooperative. I got some halogen flood lights because I didn’t want to plump for expensive photo floods, and attempted the photos with those. I also shot a role outside at dawn on one of the only nice days we got. Unfortunately I swapped the rolls of film (you remember rolls of film, right?) and wound up with one set that was totally yellow and another that was totally blue.

It was too late to shoot again, I was moving across the ocean in a matter of days, and the layout was already in storage under my friend Scott Calvert’s layout. So, I resolved to build a little diorama that would serve for the article once I got to England.

Pembroke looking south

So the layout sat under Scott’s layout for four years while we traveled around Europe and suffered in Henley on Thames. While we were there, some things happened. The first one was an encounter with Bruce Pappin, who had the first photos I’d actually seen of the townsite. Up until now I had been working from fire insurance plans, and some assumptions. Nothing like building a model to make a photo of the real thing show up, I always say.

In Bruce’s photos, you can clearly see that I got the level of the river completely wrong, and the gound around the station is not right either. Both of these are difficult to change, especially the river as it holds the fascia to the curve at which it is bent.

The second thing that happened is that one of the stock rails came loose. This shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but it was soldered to studs that were in turn soldered to PC board under the ballast. I can’t see how I can mend this without making a cold joint inside the ballast or lifting the ballast. That method of track laying was, it turns out, not especially good.

Frog detail

I could fix everything, but there comes a time when the list of things to fix is so long, it’s just easier to start over, and I think I’m there now. Certainly the fact that the layout sat for almost eight – count ’em – years partially set up in our current basement indicates that there is something seriously wrong.

So, I’m starting over. This is the year that we renovate the basement and make it a comfortable place for making trains and for the kids to play. Time will tell how these two activities mix.

Passenger Car

So here is the Turkish Rouge passenger car. Of course, the colour is impossible to get right, and with pretty much every monitor I see it on it is a different colour. It also shifts substantially depending on the artificial light. Overall, it was all a bit silly to go to such lengths to obtain the right colour based on a newspaper account. But here we are, the standard colour for my Canada Atlantic passenger coaches is now going to be NYC Pacemaker Red from Polly Scale.

I’m quite pleased with the way it has turned out thus far. Not much more to complete, except the lettering, of course!

The Search for Turkish Rouge

No sooner had I declared that the cosmetics industry couldn’t be counted on for historical accuracy, than I thought to myself that while that might be true of the industry itself, there are probably people out there who are interested in the historical accuracy of their cosmetics. After all, there is a slew of historical movies made every year, and I’m sure those makeup artists take their work very seriously. So, I set out to find such people.

It didn’t take long to come across the very friendly and helpful people on the EarlyPerfume Yahoo group. They not only knew what Turkish Rouge is, but how to make it (three different recipes!) and one of them even sold me a small packet of the key ingredient, Alkanet. Now, alkanet is the root of a plant, commonly known as Dyer’s Bugloss, and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed its root colour too much in the past 100 or so years.

So, all I had to do was to make some Turkish Rouge and then try to match it in paint. At the start, the root gave a very pretty pink colour, which I refuse to apply to any model I ever build. However, after a day, it’s now getting quite intensely red. By varying the depth of the container, I can get colours from the jolly pinky red shown here to a deep carmine and ultimately black.

There was an alarming shift from the orange side of red toward cerise when I brought it out of the halogen lights in the kitchen and into the daylight fluorescent down here in the train room. I see it has shifted again with the camera and my monitor. Meanwhile, the paint chips didn’t move nearly as much.

Oh what to do? And all this is because some reporter back in the late 19th Century chose “turkish rouge” to describe a new engine colour. We all know how reliable those chaps were. What if he was colour blind?

Woohoo! I’m on the Long Tail!

I’ve blogged elsewhere about the way that I see manufacturing changing from huge production to small runs. Obviously in a hobby like model trains, the ability to efficiently create a small run is even more important because there are so many things you could possibly make a model of and comparatively few modelers. Indeed, the economics for today’s short runs of injection-molded wonder-models are truly astonishing and probably only work because we offload pollution and worker safety to other countries. Enough said about that, because I believe that the future of the hobby lies with rapid prototyping anyway, and the passenger car that has been going on for almost two years is my first proof.

Today I got word from Shapeways that someone actually forked over the dough to buy my model. This is my first proof that the long tail of the hobby exists as I think it does.

I’m thrilled that someone else is going to join me in making this model. If you are that person, please contact me either through the comments or through email. I’d love to hear how your print comes out, and I’d love to see how your model progresses as you put it together. If you’re the type who blogs about it, let me know, and I’ll link over to you.

The new spur

This weekend my son and I installed a turnout on his layout. The turnout serves a spur to the winery, which we built last fall when we returned from Osoyoos (where there are lots of wineries).

It’s hard to believe how much fun we’ve had with the Bachmann Thomas set. We bought it when his sister was born and he was a very helpful and understanding three year old.

To tell the truth, I didn’t have much hope two years ago that the trains would last as they have, but they’ve proven surprisingly robust. The only failures the trains themselves have had have been the couplers, and Central Hobbies had replacements for those. The track, on the other hand, started to fail after being put together and taken apart about a dozen times. Bachmann E-Z track relies on the rail joiners to conduct the electricity, and those get looser and looser with each set-up; I spent a good fifteen minutes of every set-up going around with pliers to tighten them all. As the rail joiners were loosening, the connector for the power feeders was also beginning to fail, and finally that put a stop to the whole operation.

That’s when I decided to build a board and fix the track down permanently. The board is a big piece of blue styrofoam (not the beady stuff, or we’d have beads all over the house by now). We had to use two pieces because I couldn’t find a single wide piece, and couldn’t have squeezed it into the car if I had. The styrofoam is covered with bristol board, glued down with water-based contact cement, which holds the two pieces together; we didn’t put as much on the bottom, and the layout is consequently slightly bowed, but not enough to affect bullet train operations.

When not in use, the layout hides behind the toy wardrobe in out living room. It is light enough that my son can take it out and set it up himself. The trains and buildings (which tend to be mockups of my scratch-building efforts) get stored in a basket on a shelf, along with the original power pack. The power connects to a humongous wall transformer and hooks to the track using a phone plug. Set up takes about thirty seconds.

Thomas, Annie and Clarabel were joined by Percy, some troublesome trucks and a brake van. For two years, a circle of track was surprisingly entertaining. In the initial construction, I pondered a siding, spurs, in fact, I pondered building the whole first Gorre and Daphetid, and it would have been fun, but it would have been too much. A circle was perfect.

You might scoff at Thomas and Percy, but they have some things going for them. First, we have read all the books many times, and so, they reinforce one another – we’ll read the books then play with the trains or vice versa. Second, and much more importantly, they have only two axles (except Thomas who has three), and no trucks (bogies). It turns out that trains with trucks are remarkably difficult to put on the rails for small hands, but my son was able to rerail the English-style wagons after a few tries when he was only three.

And so it went for almost two years: Thomas would get put on the track and would run around and around with Annie and Clarabel, to be replaced by Percy, then Annie and Clarabel would get taken off and replaced with troublesome trucks and the brake van, then usually the whole cavalcade would be put on together. They run at a variety of speeds, not always full throttle as you might expect.

I bought the turnout over a year ago, expecting to install it on the next rainy day, but the circle of track just wasn’t losing its luster, until this weekend when it was found, and it needed to get installed.

Everything needs to be learned, and seeing that it takes some mental gymnastics for a five year old to predict which way the train is going to go through the switch, I’m even happier that we stuck with a plain circle for two years.

Now, however, we have a source of traffic. It’s going to be hard to avoid building a staging yard, introducing car cards, a timetable, train orders and a dispatcher. Oh well, we managed to keep from converting Thomas and friends to P4, I’m sure we can keep the Ops SIG at bay for a couple of years too.

Passenger Car Colour

When I started researching the Canada Atlantic, and thinking I might one day model it, one of the supposed benefits was that a railroad that disappeared 85 years ago (this was about 1990) offered both freelancing and prototype modeling opportunities. Sadly, it turns out that I suck at freelancing.

I think it started with a corner of the mouth comment from Pete North, now of Kelowna or is it Penticton, when as a teenager I was assembling a couple of old Ulrich zamac semi trailers for my friend Tom Hood. When it came to a question of colour, he said something like I should really find a picture of a real truck of this type and copy it. Well that was pretty much the end of freelancing for me. I did paint those trucks whatever colour Tom wanted, but I was scarred for life.

Twenty years later, I am a committed prototype modeler, and an unapologetic rivet-counter (where did that term go anyway?). But now, the fact that there is so much unknown about the Canada Atlantic is not freedom, but a paralysis. Sometimes I go ahead and build something in the face of undiscovered information, only to have a picture crop up later to confirm or deny my suppositions. The best example of this is the original Pembroke layout, which was partially built in 1997 with the river much too high; a photo emerged just as I was starting to lay track proving I was wrong, and the layout has remained uncompleted ever since. The plan is to start over this year.

Sometimes, we period modelers just have to go with the best information we have. Take this passenger car I’ve been building, for example. Assuming that it is in fact a CA car (there is reason to doubt, but that’s another story), we know very little about its actual colour. There are two sources that I’m aware of — a reference to a locomotive (414) that was painted “Turkish Rouge” (Turkish Red!, Turkish Red!, Turkish Red 😮) to match its train, and this just in time photograph that I came across last year.

True there were no colour photographs in 1896-1900, and this is consequently a colorist’s interpretation of the black and white photograph, but this is the best information I’ve got. I’m definitely not going with any of those commercial makeup colours – that industry definitely can’t be trusted for historical accuracy, but these cars are in a nice railroady reddy wine colour, and so, that’s what I’m searching for. No, I haven’t found it yet. Today’s favorite swatch is a bit of Pacemaker Red, but it’s not purple enough. So, the search continues.

Incidentally, I’ve loosened up the comments section. You no longer have to log in to post a comment, but I have to moderate them. Maybe now I’ll have fewer requests to become users with really rude names; probably I’ll have to view some really questionable posts, however.

Well that was curious

I have spent literally days on trying to figure out why one end of the passenger car was so high. The bolsters were the same height relative to the floor and the platforms were not .5 mm different from the floor, but somehow the car was sitting with one end a half millimeter higher than the other. Finally, I switched trucks end for end, and the difference went away.

A few more minutes of puzzling revealed the culprit: the hole in one of the trucks was too tight. So, when I backed it out to allow a little equalization, it was actually lifting the whole car! A few twists of a broach and all was perfect. Still, a strange puzzle.