Saturday, January 12, 2019

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Pierre Couture's Matapedia Valley & Eastern

On October 4, 1957, the CNR sold its 467-kilometre line from Mont-Joli to Gaspé in Quebec to a new railway: The Matapedia Valley & Eastern.

Along with the line, it sold many locomotives, freight cars, m.o.w. equipment and structures—which explains why many of the stations along the line still sport the CNR colors.

For the residents of the Matapedia Valley, the sale was welcome news; they depended on the line to transport out forest, agriculture and seafood products, along with passenger service.

That’s the story behind Pierre Couture’s N scale layout, a transition-era branchline connecting the Matapedia Valley to the CNR and the rest of Canada.

Pierre started his first version of the Matapedia Valley & Eastern in 1999. It was set in the real location with real place names (although not in geographical order).

He was initially helped by a friend who was an experience model railroader; unfortunately, that friend died about five years later. Since then, Pierre has been working on the layout himself.

When the all the track was laid, and the scenery about 40% complete, Pierre realized he wasn’t satisfied with the layout—something many modellers experience with their first efforts.

In 2007 he tore it down and started over, keeping the original concept. Today the track work is 100% complete and 95% of the scenery is done.

The layout is in a 17 by 11 ½ foot room and runs around the walls. The layout height is 54 inches from the floor. A duck under provides access.

The track is code 55 (75% Micro Engineering and 25% Atlas). All of the turnouts but two are Atlas, and all are activated by Tortoise motors.

Pierre uses a Digitrax DCC system with radio control to operate the layout. He chose Digitrax because many of his friends were using that system. But, he says, “if I had to do it again I’m not certain I would make the same choice.”

The benchwork is open frame; and the roadbed is made with Masonite spline. The yards rest on plywood. The scenery is made with plaster of paris and plaster bandages supported by cardboard or Styrofoam.

Backdrops (three of them) come from Backdrop Junction. He plans to ask them to make more custom backdrops from specific areas of the Gaspé coast.

As for operations, currently Pierre just runs trains as he sees fit, dropping or picking up cars without specific instructions. He intends to prepare switch lists in the future.

Since the layout features a rural branch line, there are no big industries. The main customers are a sawmill, a fuel and heating oil depot, a beer warehouse, a dairy, a machine shop and few others.

As for getting involved in the hobby, Pierre didn’t get a train as a kid to get him started. Instead, it was seeing a copy of Railroad Model Craftsman on a shelf at a news stand while on a business trip in the 1970s that did it.

There was a photo of Stafford Swain’s great Canadian shield layout on the cover; Pierre bought the issue, and that was it.

“I went to bed late that night,” he says. “I was hooked.”

Without the ability to start a layout at that time, he decided to start scratchbuilding structures. It turned out to be a great escape from the stress of his job.

At the same time, “the hobby also allowed me to meet wonderful people, some of whom have become great friends.”

For more information and photos, cut visit the Matapedia Valley & Eastern Facebook page.

Friday, January 11, 2019

End of the Line for the New England, Berkshire & Western?

Is the end of the line for another iconic model railroad layout?

That could be the case for the New England, Berkshire & Western at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

According to a report on the White River Division website, the layout, which is owned by the student-owned Rensselaer Model Railroad Society, has been told by the Institute to vacate its home of 47 years.

According to John Nehrich, the club’s program administrator, “the NEB&W have just gotten word that shortly, perhaps a few weeks, a professional mover is going to come in and crate up sections of the layout, along with everything else, and move them out of Davison Hall.”

The reason for the move is the need to renovate the Hall, Nehrich says; it will be easier to do  without the layout in it.

The layout “will either be stored in a warehouse or, if we are lucky, moved to a new permanent home,” he says.

Right now, the club has nothing definite in terms of a new location; one option is to locate in downtown Albany is some vacant commercial space.

One important consideration, he says, “would be to ensure this is a permanent home.”

Another option the club is discussing is “a simple (and thus cheap) steel shell building on a concrete pad floor somewhere on RPI property.”

What they do want is to “spread the word to EVERYONE you can think of.,” he says.

“Massive amounts of publicity are needed, and soon, both word-of-mouth and professional media.  In this way, we may reach some wealthy benefactor, or even just convince the school the importance of not letting us wither away in storage.”

They may launch a go-fund-me campaign.

Once the club has a definite moving date, Nehrich says they will hold one last operating session. 

I wish I lived closer so I could see it in person. As Nehrich says: “If you know of individuals who need to see the layout, I can set up an individual tour – it may be now or never.”

The Rensselaer Model Railroad Society traces its start back to 1938. The first HO layout was built in 1947. This is the third time it has been required to move.

The current layout is a historical time piece, showing about 40 scenes from Troy to the Canadian border, set in 1950.

Caveat: There is nothing about this on the club’s website, but other model railroad forums have reprinted the message from Nehrich, so I assume it to be true. 

Click here
 to visit the club’s website. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

2019: Changes Ahead

2019 is a big year for this blog, and for the layout it is based upon.

It was ten years ago I started writing about my layout, model railroading in general, and the prototype.

For me, it was a bit of fun writing—an escape from my regular work as a columnist and communicator.

I was doing it just for me, in other words. But it seems to have resonated with others.

As of today, my 854 posts have been viewed over 1.3 million times. Amazing!

While each post has brought its own kind of satisfaction, the ones I find the most fun are those about other layouts.

This is especially true of my Great Canadian Model Railroad series.

To date there are 97 posts in that series. Some are doubles of the same layout, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve featured over 80 layouts in the past decade.

There is so much great Canadian modelling out there; it's been a privilege to share some of it.

As for the layout, 2019 is the 25th anniversary of the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

It was in fall, 1994, when I started construction, shortly after moving into this house.

The M & M Sub. is my second effort at creating a real layout. I think it turned out OK.

One thing for sure: Over the past almost quarter-century it has given me a lot of joy and satisfaction.

(And a few moments of frustration when the source of a short couldn’t be found!)

I’ve enjoyed sharing the layout with friends in Winnipeg, and with visitors from afar through three model railroad conventions in the city (two regional, one national).

I’ve also been able to share it with readers of Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman and Canadian Railway Modeller—and, of course, through this blog.

It’s been a great run, in other words. 

But this year will bring changes. 

Not to the blog—I hope to keep that going. 

But I think this is the year the layout comes down.

We will be moving in the next 2-4 years; not sure exactly when. The kids have grown up and moved out, and we really don’t need this much space.

Before we move, we will want to fix up the layout room; not too many people are interested in buying a house with a layout in the basement! 

(I know; I tried once.)

My plan right now is to dismantle the lower level, but leave the upper level up as a switching layout.

This will do several things.

First, it means I can take the layout down at my leisure over the next year, not in a rush because we need to move or, worse, because of a health emergency.

Second, it will give me a new building project. As I discovered building this layout, then taking down a third of it and starting over again (and in building the N scale Thompson River Canyon), I actually like building layouts more than running trains.

And that means, third, I will have more inspiration for the blog. 

Right now, I have a mix of dread and anticipation. Dread, because it will be hard to see the M & M Sub. go. It's been like a trusted and valued friend for so many years.

And anticipation as I think about what I can build in it's place.

Anyway, we'll see how the year unfolds . . . .

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Scott Lamoureux’s N Scale Fraser River Canyon

For Scott Lamoureux, it was seeing the railway bridges over the Fraser Canyon as a child that sparked a life-long interest in the area—and that led to the construction of his great Canadian model railroad. 

“In the last ten years, I have travelled from Vancouver to the Interior of B.C. to visit family and started to make a habit of driving the Fraser and Thompson canyons and stopping to watch a train or two,” he says.

“The area was really inspiring. So when I was thinking about a new layout in 2011, this area came to mind.”

Although Scott had dabbled in HO, he was switched to N scale in 2004.

“N scale was attractive for my limited space, and the detail of the models had really improved from the 1980s and 1990s when I had first been exposed to it,” he says. 

He built his first N scale layout in 2004, and a few more after that. “Most were not well conceived, and the scenery was particularly not effective, so I tore them out one after another,” he notes.

Scott started his present 7 by 10 foot layout by building the CN “high” Cisco bridge (the name comes from the indigenous name Siska for the area). He used plans for the bridge from an article by Doug Hole in Railroad Model Craftsman.

“I had not previously undertaken such a large building project, and indeed, had never scratch built any kind of structure,” he says.

It took him almost two years to build the bridge, mostly in 2013 and 2014. 

“I wanted to have a long line of sight for the bridge scene,” he says. “It became clear that despite my intentions to model the CP bridge as well, I could not fit the latter into my modest space, tucked away in the basement corner with the furnace.”

(Click here to read about how Scott built the bridge.)

For Scott, scenery is a favorite part of modelling. The topography was built up with foam and rock castings he made from a few commercial molds, as well as a set of his own made from suitable rocks from the region around my home. 

The ground cover is a simple process of soil-coloured paint, sprinkled with grouts, light applications of ground foam, and some Woodland Scenics static grass.  The paint is the primary adhesive and he uses matte medium to secure it all afterwards.

Even though the region he is modelling is quite arid, there are a lot of trees. Since nothing commercial worked for him, Scott made trees from wire armatures, applying coarsely ground up lichen as a foliage material, and then as final spray paint coat.

“There are a lot of trees on the layout, and thousands of feet of wire,” he says. “It was good winter work in front of the TV, but I would not do it again!”

The backdrop is hand-painted on hardboard. “I’m pretty happy with it, but it required a few attempts,” he says, noting that getting the perspective right was a challenge. 

For painting the backdrop, Scott used base and sky paint colours and tinted the paints with artist acrylics, following methods of Mike Danneman in his MR articles.

For the river, Scott wanted to model the spring runoff when the river is turbid from all the snowmelt. At the suggestion of a friend, he used self-leveling cement to pour the river.

“This worked very well, giving a flat surface over the various plywood joints underneath, and providing a clean edge with the scenery on the slopes,” he says.

He painted the cured cement and then textured it with thick gel gloss, then dry brushed on waves with white, followed by a coat of Future floor polish.

After this scene was largely finished, Scott turned his attention to the other side of the layout.  He decided to model the neat scene at Skoonka (or Goldpan) on the Thompson River, just west of Spences Bridge.

 “The CN line cuts through a series of interesting tunnels at river grade and there are some nice rock shed structures as well.  I designed a scene that allowed room for a hidden, double-ended staging yard behind.”

The real challenge was the rock sheds.  Scott tried to make them plaster and wood, but nothing worked to his satisfaction. 

“In the end, I did them as 3D prints in nylon, using Tinkercad (an online free package) and a local printer,” he says. 

“They turned out to be ideal for the task and were in the end quite inexpensive.  The rastering lines from the printing were toned down with sanding and a few heavy coats of spray primer.”

The rest of the scene is built up from foam scenery, cast rocks, and lots of talus.

“I realized that I had a small space for a bit of a MOW scene so I developed that with a cosmetic siding,” he says, noting the track does not connect to the mainline but is easily hidden. He calls the rea Morris, although he knows this is not quite correct.

The river was poured the same way and painted a muddy brown, and Scott has started to lay down a lot of static grass.

The backdrop for this section was raised to 36” and hand painted again. “I learned from the Cisco scene that you can never make your backdrop too tall!” he notes.

He covered the staging yard with a lightweight foam cover and sceniced it, “but there is still much to do with this scene,” he says, noting he has also worked out a way to model the interesting sediment exposures that are found in the canyon using carved foam as a form and adding sediments to the foam face off-layout.

“It works pretty well and is very distinctive for the region,” he says.

Operationally, the layout is a simple oval with the staging yard. Scott runs NCE DCC and the turnouts are all controlled with the DCC handheld using macros.

The track is mostly Atlas code 55 flex track, but he has some Micro Engineering bridge track and concrete tie flex track.

Turnouts are Atlas code 55, on some of which he has replaced the points with solid rail. 

As for the future, Scott is enjoying the current layout but would like to build on that is more operations-oriented—if he can get a larger space.

Although Scott built the layout alone, in the last few years a model railroad group has emerged in his home town he has made some great friends on various internet forums.

“They have been a part of the process, albeit virtually, but their advice and suggestions (and critical feedback) have been really helpful for me,” he says.

“There were a lot of times when I was ready to give up but these folks helped me stay the course.”

Scott Lamoureux’s N Scale Fraser River Canyon Cisco Bridge

For an overview of Scott’s Great Canadian layout, click here.

Scott Lamoureux started his layout by building the CN “high” Cisco bridge (the name comes from the indigenous name Siska for the area). 

He had not previously undertaken such a large building project, and indeed, had never scratchbuilt any kind of structure.

He was fortunate that plans for the bridge had been published in an article by Doug Hole in Railroad Model Craftsman. 

The bridge took Scott nearly two years to build, mostly in 2013 and 2014.  

Scott scratchbuilt it with a few commercial components and followed the plans, scaling them to 80% of true scale to help fit the structure into my space. 

“I scratchbuilt it with a few commercial components and followed the plans, scaling them to 80% of true scale to help fit the structure into my space,” he says.

Scott used some HO box-girder lattice components from Micro Engineering and some Central Valley lattice parts as well.  

The main truss-arch is mostly strip styrene with some telescoping brass tubing that connect the two arch segments and keep the deck from warping. 

Some of the details took a long time; since the bridge track needed to have different tie dimensions, Scott added five pieces of styrene to each tie to build up the proper profile (over 1,000 parts alone).

The catwalk and maintenance walkways are commercial brass parts. The footings are cut from clear pine.  The main structure is about 28” long and 11” tall.

The two approach piers were more challenging.  The riveted box trusses from the 1914-era are very different from available commercial products, so Scott decided to etch these parts to build up the pillars. 

He drew the parts in a graphics program and had them commercially etched before gluing the parts together. To Scott, they are the real standout of the bridge, but strangely they are rarely seen in my photographs!

The approach deck was scratched from styrene and the walkways and railings were custom etches as well.

The first batch of railings were brass; due to a series of unfortunate incidents, culminating in our cat sitting on them, a second batch were etched from stainless steel.  There are many other etched parts for gusset plates, joints, and the footings.

Scott airbrushed the bridge to match the current unfinished look.  The orange primer dates to the repairs from a 1970s derailment; according to several former CN MOW workers Scott spoke to, they stopped painting for the season and just never got back to it.  

He has not weathered it yet, but some rust and dust would be in order.

Scott mounted the bridge on a 2’ X 4’ plywood base with foam scenery so it could be recovered if the larger layout was ever demolished.  

He wanted to have a long line of sight for the bridge scene and it became clear that despite his intentions to model the CP bridge as well, he could not fit the latter into his modest space.

For more on Scott's great Canadian layout, click here.