Saturday at the WRMRC

Each summer, the WRMRC closes operation sessions for the summer in order to undertake major construction projects.  We chose to start our summer work season in May this year because we have major goals and some ambitious workers who couldn’t wait to get started.  Last Saturday, we held our May construction day.

Generally, we set our summer construction goals at our Annual General Meeting, which is slated for June.  These priorities have not yet been formalized, but the work that was done on Saturday foreshadows what some of those goals might be.  You can find the track plan here while you read through the rundown of the projects that were undertaken on the weekend.

Sudbury Roundhouse

Steve Lyons is managing a major worksite at the Sudbury roundhouse scene on Level 1.  This project involves nearly the whole summer work crew. Phil Trudel has undertaken some improvements to the flooring on the second floor, above the Sudbury roundhouse area.  There will be a helix on the second floor, directly above this scene, which serves to carry the Little Current Subdivision from Espanola to the Lawson Quarry scene, and on to Turner and Little Current.  Though the ceiling above the Sudbury roundhouse scene is in place, the flooring on the second floor was never properly completed.  Phil’s work will ensure that construction can proceed on the second floor without causing damage to the scenes below.


This view looks across the back of the Sudbury roundhouse scene. The backdrop will have the horizon scene painted this summer, and at the far end, Steve will rebuild the benchwork to accomodate a lift-out.

Phil’s flooring work needs to be completed because Steve Lyons is working on the roundhouse scene below.  This is a multifaceted project which involves rebuilding the benchwork to facilitate a lift-out section. Jurgen Kleylein will be painting the backdrop behind the scene.  Steve will be laying the track and installing the turntable.  Chris Vanderheide has commenced work on some of the building flats for this area.


This angle shows the turntable pit in the centre. The roundhouse will be behind the pit, and the car shop building will be to the right of the drill and tool box.


Cartier Subdivision Helix to the Second Floor

Another site of major construction this summer is the double track helix that will take trains to the second floor.  Bob Carter and Jurgen Kleylein worked on the math to work out how to get a helix to float in mid air through seven-sided irregular opening.

This helix is need so that we can build temporary staging on the second floor for North Bay and Cartier, and ultimately facilitate the construction of the Cartier Subdivision to its eastern and western limits.


The opening in the floor at the centre of this image is the space which will be occupied by the helix.  The flooring material will be cut back to the floor joists, so the opening will be larger than what you see here. The opening to the left is for the stairway up to an intermediate level. The steps in the foreground come up from the intermediate level to the second floor.


Naughton Helix Area

The third major project is the one I’m leading.  This area shows up in the far left corner of the track plans for Level 0, Level 1, and Level 2.  I’m carrying forward the benchwork, track, and scenery to finish off all four scenes here (two scenes on Level 1, and one each on Levels 0 and 2.  This project is a long term one, and I’ve been working on this since I joined the club in 2011.

The scenery that I’m building at the top of the helix in this area has been halted while I wait for the lighting to be installed.  I have virtually no knowledge of how to wire up electrical mains, so I need to wait while that work gets finished.  I want to be sure that all of the lighting is in place and the ceiling is finished before I proceed with scenery.  It’s probably best to work on scenery from the top level down to the bottom in this aisle.

With the scenery work stalled, I recruited Phil’s help to correct some facia that I installed last year.  It was clear to Phil that we needed to install the roadbed on Level 0 in order to get the facia right.  I’m pretty lousy with wood so I deferred to Phil’s expertise.  I embraced the role of “assistant/go-fer/comic-relief” while Phil led the process of making a cardboard template for the roadbed, then cutting out and installing it.


In this scene, we see the Copper Cliff industrial area on the left. This is Level 0 on the track plan. On the left, a track emerges through the backdrop. This track comes from the Webbwood Subdivision at upper right (where you see the blue foam scenery base) and descends a helix to get here. Trains from Sudbury into this area will enter through the backdrop, pull past this scene, and the push cars into the area curving off to the right.


Here is a tighter shot of the area showing the ramp coming down from the helix behind the backdrop. There will be two buildings in this scene, about where the wires hang down for future lighting. Three tracks will pass between the buildings and proceed through a hole in the backdrop at the right. These tracks will be long enough to hold unit trains of sulphuric acid tank cars.


Here’s a shot looking into the hole in the backdrop for the three stub-ended staging tracks. We had to join this roadbed to some roadbed that was installed last summer. The staging tracks go through the opening and curve to the left to wrap around the base of the helix.



While work on these three major projects was underway, Chris Vanderheide worked on some scenery in the area around Coniston.


Coniston is shown on the upper deck in this area. This is Level 2 on the track plan. The junction between the Cartier Sub and the Parry Sound Subdivision to Toronto was just behind and to the right of me when I took this shot.

I joined Chris, Steve, and Bob at Spice 11 in Guelph for an excellent feast of Indian cuisine.  It was a great way to finish off a productive work session.

Layout Construction Milestone: Ties

This morning, after I glued the last tie from a package of 1000, my layout reached a minor milestone.  All of the ties are are now glued in place.  Next, I’ll finish staining and weathering them in preparation of spiking rail.

The photo below shows some pieces of rolling stock placed in the various spots, and annotations describe each spot’s purpose.  The photo is taken from the middle of the layout, which is also the middle of the paper plant, looking south along Tonawanda Island.

Ties, southThe indicated capacity for each lead in the above photo doesn’t necessarily represent the number of cars that will be positioned in each spot during operating sessions.   I’ll write a blog post about the flow of cars into and out of the plant some time in the future, once I’ve done more research on the actual flow of traffic at this plant.

The photo below was posted last week.  It’s also looking south along the island, but was taken from the end of the layout, which represents approximately the north end of Tonawanda Island.   Combining these two photos, one gets an overview of the entire layout representing International Paper.

IMG_0217I’ll get working on staining all those ties using the results from my experiments over the past few days.



Weathering Ties with Acrylics

I stopped using enamel paints on my models when I came back into the hobby.  I was introduced to acrylic model paints and I’ve never gone back.  In my hobby of landscape painting, I use acrylics exclusively as well.  I prefer their fast drying time and easy cleanup.  Most important to me, though, is the fact that acrylics are far less harmful to me, the other people, and pets in my home.

When it comes to creating rust and streak effects when weathering models, I haven’t tried to get acrylics to behave the same way as oils.  Similarly, I don’t imagine acrylics as a wood staining pigment.  When it came time to stain the ties on my layout, I instinctively reached for my oil paints.  The second-greatest deficiency of oils (toxicity being their greatest) is the length of time it takes for them to dry.  I have sections of ties that were done with oils which are now on their third day of drying, and I’ve become impatient.

I wasn’t sure if acrylics could yield the kind of effects that I see in photos of railway ties, but I figured the only way to find out is to try it. In one evening I finished a sizable length of ties.  Here’s a sample:

IMG_0230I’m happy with the results.

Trevor Marshall asked me to outline my process for weathering ties in my previous post, so here’s what I did with the acrylics.

First, when I glued down the ties, I made sure that the layer of glue was as thin as possible.  I ran a bead along the roadbed and then flattened the bead to the width of the ties using a scrap of cardboard as a trowel.  This is important because if if the glue gets onto the sides of the ties, they won’t take the paint properly.

To start the actual weathering process, I scrape and gouge the tops of the ties with a chisel-shaped X-acto blade, a #1 blade (#7 would be better but I don’t have one right now) and a dental pick instrument that my dentist gave me.   For the track in the photo above, I didn’t hack as many of the ties as in my previous post because this particular track represents one that would have had at least a modicum of maintenance within the past decade.

Once I’m finished destroying a few ties, I go over all of them with raw umber acrylic (the thick kind you buy at an art supply store for painting landscapes) straight from the tube.  I apply a partial coat, so that the ties are only partly covered in paint, and then use a water-soaked brush to spread it around sides and ends.  After this, I do a with a thin wash of black while the raw umber is just barely dry.  This generally darkens the umber colour.  While I’m doing this part, I pay attention to adding some variety.  Basically, this step creates a range of dark brown and black that should look slightly different from one tie to the next. This step also darkens the sides and ends.

Each layer dries quickly, so once the ties are dry again, I put a dollop of mixing white on my palate and a tiny spot of burnt umber somewhere else on the palate.  I mix a light beige colour by dragging some of the white and a tiny spot of umber together.  This colour is used to add highlights to the tops of the ties.  After I’ve done a short section of track and I’ve used up the beige that I mixed, I go back over the same section with a lighter beige, mixed by eye again.  This time I use less paint than the first time and highlight the parts of each tie I already in beige.  I apply slightly less paint this time around.

I typically go back a third time with a beige that’s almost white. This is just used as a very delicate frosting over the ties.  This colour can really lighten up the ties, so I don’t apply to each one, and I apply it in varying amounts in order to create some variation.  That’s the whole story.

In summary, I use…

  1. thin application of raw umber full strength from the tube
  2. brush on some water to spread the raw umber around
  3. add a thin wash of black, to achieve some random darkening; let everything dry
  4. light beige mixed by eye, applied very sparingly to the tops, making sure not to fill any gouges in the ties
  5. lighter beige, applied more sparingly than the previous beige
  6. a beige that’s almost white as a dry-brushed frosting of the highlights

I don’t know if the steps make any sense.  I improvise and adjust things if the colours aren’t doing what I want.

Power for the Paper Mill

As the ties are getting glued down to the benchwork on my switching layout, I’ve been thinking ahead to the day that I will actually be able to operate. I’ve made relatively few investments into locomotives and rolling stock for the layout, so to begin, I’ll be drawing on the equipment I already own.

The benefit of building such a small layout is that I won’t need to invest in a massive fleet of rolling stock.  That’s not to say I won’t do that over time.  But it won’t be required in order to start up.

I’ve been researching the location I’m modelling, and according to Doug Kroll (an important source of historical information for me), Penn Central kept at least a pair of switcher+caboose combos at the small yard in North Tonawanda because two jobs operated from there.  One job was responsible for switching the paper plant and industries in town, and the other went up to branch line to Lockport and back.  Photos have revealed that the typical power for these assignments included Alco S2, S4, and RS1, all maintained out of Buffalo.

I bought a P2K S3 decorated in Penn Central at the Springfield show.  It’s a very nice model, but I have no photographic proof of an S3 having been assigned to North Tonawanda.  Still, I have no issues with using it on my layout.  It will likely be repainted at some point in time because I’m not pleased with the lettering font.  In addition to the P2K S3, I already owned an Atlas S2 and S4 from the original run of these models that was offered some time in the late Medieval period.  These are a bit crude by the standard of today’s models, but at a time when I’m spending a great deal of money on other things pertaining to the layout, it’s convenient for me repaint these and convert them to DCC.  They’ll serve as stand-in models until such time as I decide to flea-market them to help fund upgrades.

Here’s a photo of Penn Central 9741, an Alco S4 that was assigned to Buffalo.  At the time this photo was taken, I’d invested about 90 minutes of my time and maybe 30 bucks for a decoder and other consumable supplies, including Tamiya paint Microscale decals.  I’ll do some weathering prior to reassembling it.  I’m waiting on another decoder so that I can do the same treatment to the S2.


Layout Progress – Track Plan and Ties

I was able to start laying track for my industrial layout.  I’ve put down all of the ties on half of the layout, and most of the ties on the other half.   The track plan is the result of many hours examining topographic maps and aerial photos of the International Paper plant that once existed on Tonawanda Island NY.  A paper plant is a pretty difficult thing to try to squeeze onto a 12-foot long shelf, but I’ve moved ahead with my plan.  If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take a chainsaw to it and burn it on a camping trip.

In the photo below, you’ll see I’ve built an a siding for a building flat to represent the warehouse-end of the mill.  The lead will hold about 4 50′ boxcars, but I might designate two spots for loading and two for empty cars ready to be moved to the loading spots.

IMG_0217The track next to the shipping track will be a storage track, and it holds about 4 50′ boxcars as well.  I anticipate using that track to get cars out of the way for switching moves, and for short-term storage of empties ready to be spotted for loading.  Alternatively, I could run this area like a mini-freight shed, with loading going through the cars on the track nearest the building into the cars on the far side.   The aerial photos show that there might have been such an arrangement at the mill.

The next track out from the backdrop is the “main” into the plant.  The tail track from the runaround siding is in the foreground.  The runaround will easily hold five 50′ boxcars and a caboose.  Penn Central assigned a crew to switch the plant and some other industries in North Tonawanda, and they typically rated an Alco S2 and a caboose.

The track closest to the edge of the benchwork is for unloading coal destined for the power house. This track also runs off the edge of the layout, suggesting that it leads to the actual storage pile and unloading equipment.  The lead will be able to hold three 50′ cars, but will likely only see two hoppers spotted there at a time.  The plant consumed around 150 tons of coal per day, but they had a huge stockpile on the south side of the plant. I’ll model the edge of the pile next to this lead.

Off in the distance, at the far end of the layout, the leads for woodchips and tank car unloading will come off the runaround track on the left.  Those leads will disappear into staging in the midst of some buildings and the digester tanks.  Those will probably accomodate three tank cars and four or five woodchip cars. The “main” snakes its way around the white cardboard box, which is coincidentally positioned approximately where the paper machine building will be located.  That building will have spots for boxcars of inbound stuff.   And that’s everything I’m able to fit.