Saturday, March 30, 2013

Some old school track planning

I’m interested in building a smaller layout for showcasing streetcars and buildings, as well as for taking outside as a set for photographs. To me, there is nothing that can beat natural sunlight for photos, and my current layout doesn’t allow for easily moving it outside. When I built the framework for the LOL, I also had a goal to make it as light as possible, but I didn’t achieve it as I got over concerned about the rigidity of the train-board during its construction. The LOL is light enough for me to move up and downstairs, but just barely. It’s not something that can be moved outside on the spur of the moment.

I must admit I’m not much involved with prototypical operation and lots of switching. My previous layout was a point-to-point affair that incorporated John Allen’s Timesaver game, but I quickly grew bored with it.  I’m more of a person who likes to see continuous motion – in fact this point was driven home when I finally took delivery of a long on order Con Cor TTC PPC and I realized I didn’t have a loop of track on my layout to run it, which eventually led to scraping the old layout and building the LOL. I like to watch things run* from various angles and in different lighting conditions. To me switching is for changing the path of something in motion.  The problem is, this desire, combined with a small layout size and HO scale puts a tight constraint on what can be run. It isn’t a big problem, but I would like to be able to run my Bowser PCC streetcars without any difficulties. After some internet investigation, it looks like the minimum radius turn they can handle is 9 inches – although I need to construct a test track to verify that.
[Styrene master templates used to trace the blue track pieces]
So, the upshot is that I thought I’d try to come up with some switch-less, looping track plans that wind through city, town, or other sorts of urban or suburban oriented places with a focus on the places and where the track will take people. And if converted to an actual layout, it would need to be small, carry-able, and very lightweight – and this time I mean it :-)
I cut some track templates from cardboard using Atlas code 100 track for basic measurements. Although that track doesn’t have the most prototypical appearance, it’s commonly available, relatively inexpensive and quite robust. For the quasi-urban layout ideas I have in mind, the track ties won’t be visible anyway - I envision the ties will be covered with pavement, brick, or grass - so their appearance doesn’t matter as much as their ability to hold the rails firmly in place and be moderately priced. Also, the rail in Atlas track isn’t the sort of thing one would find used for actual streetcar track, but as I mentioned, convenience and cost are important to me.

The width of the track templates is determined from the tie width of the Atlas track and the body overhang of the PCC as it goes around a 9 inch radius curve. I sized the template width so that a PCC body would not extend over its edges; that is, so the PCC’s body would not infringe on any roadway or sidewalk that was adjacent. In the end, I settled on a 5 cm template width. 
[The Mouse]
I could have used a track planning CAD program, but I’m a person who likes to use real objects wherever I’m able so I can get a sense of the true size of things. This approach allows me to add track and streetcars and buildings and stuff to help see how things will look. For the LOL, I decided on its plan by playing with old pieces of track on the back patio.  And, since this isn’t going to be a large layout, CAD seems a little bit like overkill to me. But, no doubt I’ll likely switch to some sort of graphics program once I understand the sorts of layouts that are possible with these pieces.
I cut cardboard templates for quarter-circle 9 inch curves, various straight sections, and 90 degree crossings. The plans from these limited pieces are a bit reminiscent of old tinplate toy train set-ups, slot-car layouts, or even wooden Thomas track, but to me they make some sense – admittedly in a stylized way – for grid-like, urban oriented settings; more TTC Red Rocket than CN Turbo Train.

I’m going to fiddle with these pieces a while and see what happens.
* I came across a John Armstrong article called, Build Your Pike to Suit Yourself, in the November 1954 of Model Railroader where he stated that he thought there were 3 types of model railroaders: Engineer, Dispatcher, and Spectator. I’m definitely in the Spectator category.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ships in bottles

I came across the above short video last week. It's about an Australian gentleman whose hobby is building model ships and bottling them. It immediately reminded me of the film Steady As She Goes produced by the National Film Board of Canada back in '81 or '82. It's one of my favourite model building oriented movies, and somewhere around this house I have it on VHS tape. I must apologize in advance for the SnagFilms source because it has 4 obnoxious ads for Windows 8 jammed into it (there don't appear to be any unaltered versions on the web) which disturb the vibe of the film. But even those ads can't wreck it, and both of these make for a half-hour of pleasant viewing.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ready to paint

With being away and winter conditions still around, progress is slow. I've been figuring out where to place the LED units for lighting the fibres and masking the building for spray painting. Once the box has been sprayed red to match the sign's letters, work can proceed. The weather's looking like it might be favourable for painting this weekend, so I'll cross my fingers and see what happens.

Monday, March 18, 2013

AMTronic ‘track’

The AMTronic kit comes with a cardboard display stand for showing off your finished model: it's a section of the dedicated roadway that a real life AMTronic would need when it’s in full cruise mode. Forward propulsion is provided by what look like some sort of jet thrusters on the back of the AMTronic; it’s lifted off the ground by two fans on the bottom of its fuselage; guidance is by those rails, or ‘track’, which use magnetic repulsion to hold the AMTronic in the centre of the lane. Well, that’s the story. Whether it could have worked in reality is an open question, but in the right light, this low-tech display stand doesn’t look too bad.

Progress on the AMTronic itself has been pretty slow. I’m finding that every piece needs some sort of special handling to get things to fit together. The manufacturer wasn’t kidding when they rated this build a ‘3’. I’m figuring it got the ‘3’ rating not because it’s overly complex or sophisticated, but possibly because the old molds don’t produce high quality parts. I’m taking the easy way out and gluing it up in its full-flight configuration and foregoing wrestling with all the opening and closing doors and other position-able pieces. Hopefully I’ll post some more detailed build photos soon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

166 points of light

The prototype’s sign has lights in its frame. My plan to model those is by drilling small holes in the frame where the lights go, inserting optical fibres to represent the light bulbs, and then illuminating the fibres it with LEDs.  The sign is one part of the lighting story on this building: there are also some small spot lights on the front brick wall (which will also be modeled with optical fibres); a small spot over a door on the back wall (again, optical fibres); the entry interior will be lit up with LEDs; and there are some roof mounted lights that hang over the sign that light it and the sidewalk (for these I’ll be using some old, modified Model Power street lights).  This is the first project where I’ve tried to plan the lighting from the outset instead of trying to retrofit it later – and being disappointed with the result. 

The sign lights are 1 mm diameter optical fibres, and the holes for these fibres are spaced 10 mm apart. They were drilled by hand using a suitably sized drill and pin-vise. I thought this was going to be an incredibly tedious task, but once I got into it, it wasn’t too bad. 

For fibre illuminators, I’m going to use some five element LED light bars I bought at a local Dollarama store for $2 each. John tipped me off to these things and they are a very economical way to score LEDs and fixtures. Bundles of fibres will be held onto LEDs with shrink tubing. I have this grand dream of one day replacing those bar lights with some sort of electronic circuit that would create a chase lighting effect – but that’s going to need some research to figure out how to do. Right now I’ll be happy with just constant lighting.

Well, in the next phase, many of the bits and pieces might finally start to come together into something that looks like a building. Also, I’ve got some optical fibre on order to finish cabling in this thing as well as some decal paper in the mail for making the ‘painted on’ signs on the front brick wall.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


All I can say is wow!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Big box for the big store

I set the sign aside for awhile and started work on the building’s primary structure. Overall, it measures, 30 inches long by 4 1/4 inches wide by 4 1/4 inches tall. I’ve never seen anything other than the prototype’s façade, so the structure is just guess work to make something that seems plausible tempered by a need to not create a building that is too big – it’s plenty big as it is :-) I suspect the prototype is much deeper than this caricature just based on my wanderings inside. 
The back wall is built from two 15 inch long pieces of 0.060 in styrene sheet. Both pieces have doors for people, and the right piece also has three loading doors for truck deliveries. In retrospect, they are too big even though I used an HO scale truck to size them. Well, they're on the back of the building, so once everything is painted, they hopefully won't be too noticeable.
The front wall on the prototype has what looks like some sort of recessed service doors on each end of the building. The pieces for both of them are shown above. They're cut from 0.020 inch styrene.
Here are the doors glued together and waiting to be installed.
The various wall pieces were glued together on the work table. The front wall was reinforced with 1/8 inch square section styrene tubing.
Metal metre sticks were used to keep things straight while I glued the wall sheets and the reinforcing pieces together. The side walls are cut from 0.030 inch styrene sheet and reinforced with styrene T-section strips.
Here's the back wall. I didn't plan on detailing it much, and figured I just paint it in some sort of grimy fashion. But, as I looked at the wall some more, I decided to run a strip of brick across to try and break up the vast expanse of plastic. It'll be sprayed red along with the other brick surfaces.
So far I've just added enough interior structure to keep the walls from bending and making sure it can't be twisted when handled. Some more is going to be needed. The back wall still has a little curve in it that I need to fix a bit, but it's not too bad. 
Here is the door unit set behind the opening on the front wall. It hasn't be glued in yet, but it doesn't fit too bad.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Three favourite facades

I've been sorting through my photos and these are three of my favourite building facades. The one above - Park Square - is located on Elgin Street in Ottawa.
I shot the photo from the passenger seat, through the rolled-up window, while Debra drove. That's why the raw image - one of the last I took with my film camera - has an odd colour, but as you can see, the print is not too far off HO scale. A little reduction and maybe the image itself could be glued to a sheet of plastic and used as the beginning of a building.
This post office I think is located in Merrickville, Ontario. I took the photo sometime in the late '90s and didn't take note of where it's located.
This is one of the entrances on the Austin, Texas, power and light company building. I like that lightning-bolt through the 'City of Austin'. Another great thing is the sign on the side of the building - it lights up at night and looks great. Unfortunately, I don't have picture when it's lit.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Omnivagant funny papers

John told me that the March 2013 of Model Railroader magazine was pretty good, so I picked one up last weekend. He was right. There are several interesting articles on town building, and how to enhance buildings to form a town. The focus appears to be on small mid 20th century towns in the US Midwest, but the information could be applied to many small towns in both the US and Canada for eras well behind and ahead of that specific time period. The issue also has a sub-theme of giving an appreciative nod to the works of some of Model Railroader’s most influential figures from the past, Linn Westcott being one. Since I’ve been following the idea of ‘omnivagant’ layout design that was coined by Mr. Westcott in the May 1940 issue, I thought it was interesting that the cartoon by Joe Seidita that appears on page 105 of the current issue is very omnivagant, and appears in an issue that casts a spotlight on Mr. Westcott. With a little cleaning up here and there, and some addition of places to go and people to see, either of those cartoon track plans could form the basis of possible omnivagant, streetcar oriented layouts :-)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Part 2 of ’A Review of Model Railroader’s 75th Anniversary Collection’ and Art Curren's nearly omnivagant BTR RR

Back in part 1 I promised a follow-up post where I’d take a look at the collection’s search function. I’ve been putting it off for a while and some people have been asking me where it is. I guess the short answer is, although I had a plan to do a detailed examination of the search function, after trying it for awhile, I didn’t think it was worthwhile – the follow-up post that is. Although I like the content of this collection a great deal, I’d rate the search a C+: it’ll find things, but it left me with an uneasy feeling that it wasn’t finding everything it was being asked to, and it has some rather annoying quirks.

First a quirk:  the pamphlet included with the DVDs states that some searches will result in a search finding being a couple of pages away from the returned search result that is displayed to you. This in fact does happen quite often. So, if you’re looking over some search result pages, and you don’t see your search term on a displayed page, open that page anyway and then go a couple of pages further into the issue. You will eventually see a page with your search term. It does work as described, but it isn’t that acceptable given the de facto standards set by the likes of Google, Solr, Bing, and the other mainstream search engines in common use today. It's this quirk that downgrades the feature for me from a B to a C+. I’d encourage the publisher to fix this behaviour if they have a plan to release a 2nd edition; say, an 80th anniversary collection in 2014 that updates the library from where it ended in December 2009. 

And now for the feelings part. I’m working on some posts about E. L. Moore’s work and its legacy in the 21th century. I’ve used the Model Railroader 75th Collection to search for his articles and any other material by or about him. I think I have a good understanding of all the articles he published in Model Railroader, so I tried to find them with the search function and see what turned up – it seemed like a good test for both it and me :-) It did find all his articles when I entered E. L. Moore into the author search function. To find articles about him, or referenced him, or mentioned him – as well as Trackside Photos – I had to use the full text search function. I should also note that the full text search – where it searches the entire textual information of the collection – takes much longer to execute than keyword, title, or author oriented searches.

Going a little further afield, I performed some searches to look for articles by Art Curren. He was a Model Railroader staff member and writer from the late 1970s until his death in 2000, and his specialty was kitbashing plastic structures. Back then I greatly admired his work, but I never had the cash to buy plastic kits and build his projects. E. L. Moore's scratch-built projects were more economical for me to try since they typically cost only a few dollars in materials. For an introduction to Mr. Curren's work, Mike Hamer has an excellent post at his blog. Mr. Curren didn’t just write about structure kitbashing, but ranged into other areas of model railroading as well: I have a copy of Mr. Curren’s article, Kitbash a rail bus - along with parts I’ve collected - on my shelf patiently waiting for me to get around to building the vehicle. Well, I typed Art Curren into the author search function and many articles were returned. The first one was from February 1979, Kitbash a doodlebug. But, if one does a full text search on Art Curren instead of an author search, an article called Perry Shibbel Fruit & Produce Co-Op, from January 1979, appears to be his first article, but it didn't turn up in the author search.

This seemed rather odd. Mr. Curren was a prolific and high profile writer at Model Railroader during his tenure there, so an author search should have found everything he wrote. I suspect the collection's tagging, which author searching likely makes use of, is not completely accurate. My tip is: if you're concerned about completeness of your searches, use the full text search.

So, that's my anecdotal story; search does work, but it’s a bit quirky. 

[Snippet of the trackless main street from the BTR RR, September 1980 MR]
Post Script:

While doing some searches on Art Curren's work, I came across his article, The BTR RR., which appears in the September 1980 issue. The 'Break The Rules' RR is a plan for a 5 foot by 9 foot HO scale layout that "has none of these 'standard' features: no yards, no engine facilities, and no stations… and to cap it off it is just a simple oval on which the trains go round and round" because "I wanted to design a small layout that would be fun to operate, and I also wanted room for lots of structures." I like those sentiments and, given that, and looking closely at the trackplan and geography, it could readily form the basis of a streetcar oriented layout. One difference between it and those of Linn Westcott that I've previously discussed is that the BTR RR isn't truly omnivagant although it's pretty close. Take a look down the un-named main street, there's no track there even though it runs everywhere else. With a little addition in that area and this could be an omnivagant Linn Westcott ancestor.

LOL dreamin' on such a winter's day

 A few loops along the Lost Ocean Line is lookin' pretty good...
 .... considering the winter weather.

A lake and an ocean

….…. when we last left our hero, Ed Bryce, he had successfully thwarted an attempted streetcar hijacking, got involved in a tram street-race, and successfully chased down a suspect, but as a consequence was temporarily demoted to a lower rank while these events were under review. His new assignment was to investigate UFO sightings by hippies on the west coast…….

I had never travelled on the trans-Canada mag-lev before. Flying to Ward’s Pacific Island out on the west coast was outside the budget of my department, so mag-lev it was. Not first class mind you, but I can’t complain. This train was a luxurious ride even in the cheap seat I was in.

I got on at Confederation Station in New Toronto. The train was fairly full by then from its earlier stops in Montreal and St. John’s. Luckily, there weren’t any more stops between here and Winnipeg. From there it was an uninterrupted 500 kilometre-an-hour run to the coast. I’d easily be on Ward’s for a late dinner if I caught my InterTrack connection in Victoria.

Seated across from me was a chatty railfan, Melissa Messina. She’d gotten on in Newfoundland and was heading to a concert in B.C. Some band I’d never heard of, but it’s not like I was plugged into that stuff anymore.  I spend too much time at work these days. I need to get out more. Melissa had gone up to the hospitality car to see the promotional video the mag-way company shows on every run. I wasn’t interested. It’s all propaganda courtesy of its Chinese owners.

The ‘lev was getting close to the launch point for its Lake Superior crossing as Melissa came walking down the aisle looking for her seat. I caught her attention and nodded.

“How was the movie?” I asked Melissa.

“Great, but I left before it finished. I wanted to get back to get a good view as we cross. I picked a seat in this car just for this part.” She dropped into the open window seat across from me and got settled for the ride ahead.

Every seat was a window seat in this car. Even though we were sitting in second-class, this was one of those panoramic observation cars. The roof and the upper half of the side-walls was a seamless clear glass enclosure. The lower half of the car’s side walls were the usual metal, but had observation windows cut into them. Air-conditioning and active light filtering in all that glass prevented the sun from cooking us.

The ‘lev track – if that’s what you want to call it – was held high above Superior’s waters by huge concrete towers that doubled as supports for the east-west oil pipeline: two ‘lev tracks on top, and just below, two pipes carrying crude to eastern seaports. The ‘lev was essentially a deal sweetener the Chinese threw in as part of the bigger and stranger deal to build a pipeline from the oil fields in their western territories – known as ‘China-ada’ in the more irreverent  papers – to ports on the coasts.

But, be that as it may, the view from high atop those massive towers, snug inside a speeding mag-lev was awe inspiring. Especially when you were way out in the middle of Lake Superior. It was a beautiful blue, cloudless summer day, and Superior wasn’t showing any of the pitiless bleak horror it was known for when the weather turned ugly.

“You haven’t told me what you do?” Melissa asked me.

I thought I’d try the truth for a change, “I’m investigating aliens on Ward’s Pacific Island.” That didn’t quite come out the way I had meant it. Coming up with the truth isn’t my forte.

“Aliens isn’t a good word for immigrants. I guess you’re with the government?” She wrinkled her nose.

“I meant UFOs.” 

Melissa gave me a quizzical look, but before she could reply there was an announcement on the car’s speaker system, “Passengers please return to your seats as we will soon begin our crossing of Lake Superior. Thank you.”

We left the conversation hanging and attended more important business: checking out the view.

Many stragglers returned to their places. Some rebels stayed where they were. Their loss.

After some muted shuffling noises as passengers got themselves organized, a hush fell over our car.

The shore was now here and so were we.

We blasted from the edge of Ontario and followed the gradual upward arc of the bridge out over the great lake with just blue skies, green trees, gray rocks and black water in our view. Whatever civilization was out there, we couldn’t see it. For a moment we left the union’s turgid realpolitik and re-entered its primal spirit.

We were riveted to the view, as was everyone else onboard.

The silence became deafening as we sped high above the water. Whatever the water had to say, we couldn’t hear it.

But, at ‘lev speeds it was over nearly as soon as it started and we were soon decelerating for the Manisota shore just on the horizon. 

The next – and greatest - wonder on our trip would happen in a few hours when we were crossing the Rockies and soaring onto Vancouver Island. That would make this look like puddle jumping. A twenty year long ordeal of tunnelling and bridging and just plain sci-fi style terra-forming, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 19th century, had re-sculpted and tamed the landscape into a smooth, almost childish mag-way super-highway. It wasn’t one of the wonders of the world for nothing.

But that was still to come.

The next instalment can be found here.

Lot's going on