Friday, September 25, 2020

Layout Backdrops

Model railroaders often focus on the micro, at the expense of the macro. Facing constant space constraints and a quest to make our layouts not only better but bigger, we should do everything we can to increase their apparent size. In this post, I'll show the micro view of backdropa on my Kingston's Hanley Spur HO-scale layout, while at the same time showing how they improve the macro - without even trying! 
I had a hole in the backdrop that needed something non-descript. Perhaps reflecting the Frontenac Floor & Wall Tile factory (MICRO - top photo) that was located just north of the CN Outer Station yard. A printed photo that I'd been saving for just such a project.(MACRO - above) 

Model railroad myths tell us we should prepare and perfect the ceiling, lighting, walls, flooring and even how to prepare the perfect souffle' before starting layout construction. OK, the souffle' is hyperbole, but room preparation is fine as long as it doesn't stunt our initiative to get going.I am disconcerted when I see beautiful modelling and track layouts that show a blank wall, foundation cinder blocks, vapour barrier & insulation, or other incomplete and distracting layout room distractions. One of the few improvements I made to my layout room before construction was a couple of coats of sky-blue paint. Fun fact : paint was conserved by only painting the walls from ceiling to layout height!

I prefer to view and railfan my layout like I do the prototype - mostly at ground level. But when I'm operating, even with a 48-inch layout height, which is higher than some, I feel like I'm a drone, or riding in a helicopter. 
That sky-blue paint will appear in every photo of the layout, so I would suggest selecting a shade that looks 'right' to you. This may depend on your modelled locale, type of scenery, layout dimensions and even paint availability! For instance, Jason Shron has chosen...grey on his Kingston Sub layout.  MICRO: The garage awaits an engine job on that pickup as Lam's Grocery (fun fact - BC prototype) sits across Montreal Street (above). MACRO: Pulling back the focus shows the wider view of Montreal Street, including a blended photo background view of the actual street, complete with an N scale farmhouse and tiny yellow car to aid in the streetscape perspective. Sky-blue sky postscript: puffy cloud sticker at top left:
Another MICRO view of neighbouring garages - 'structural flats' - some obsolete, and an old-school school. I prefer to use Scotch tape on the back of the printed photo backdrops. In case a better one comes along. Flexibility. Some prefer painting on the layout room walls. That is more permanent. Without a farm scene, or even a fallow field, my fertile imagination left me this vacant lot spot to park my scratchbuilt manure spreader:
MICRO: the limestone embankment between the water-level view of the Kingston's Inner Harbour and the bulk fuel tanks along Rideau Street comprises a printed limestone rock cut photo (white-glued to a 2x4!) with garden moss mat and another printed photo backdrop. I've found that finding, saving and printing such photos, or finding them in magazines and books makes a fine file of material for such use.
MACRO view shows that tiny rock cut in context of Imperial Oil and Anglin tank car delivery spurs, more of the backdrop, plus paper mock-up black bulk fuel tanks for Anglin Fuels at right. Modelling half a tank saves space while preserving that illusion of depth. Exactly what we want a backdrop to do in our quest to 'enlarge' our layouts.:
Along the prototype Railway Street, there are 1950's-era warehouses, bottling plants and builders' supply houses. MICRO: the parking lot includes trailers, tucks and a guy inspecting some lumber. Check out that Atlas track bumper on the MacCosham Moving warehouse 'structural flat'. It really works!
MACRO: The depth of background is preserved by merging that Weldwood warehouse into the one in the backdrop. I also try to match the palette of structure colours to the backdrop as well as the layout surface colours at the wall to the backdrop.Try dropping in some background trees and houses to increase visual depth:
MICRO: It's lunch-break in the Weston's Bakery lot as the 'gut-wagon' arrives. Photo backdrop of a nearby plant, homemade trees and that neutral sky-blue paint extend the wall, perhaps to infinity. Perhaps beyond infinity. Placing backdrops at a height that looks right preserves the round-earth appearance of our layouts. I can only suggest playing around with the virtual horizon until it appears natural and realistic.
MACRO: In my 'helicopter' while I'm switching two other nearby warehouses from the CP lead, I can see neighbouring buildings, the KIMCO dumpster at Weston's and an overall grey surface for the parking lot. Yes, those are Robertson screws holding my track in place! I might want to change my mind on the layout trackplan sometime. Or even add yet another spur to enhance switching possibilities!
Boathouses lined Kingston's Inner Harbour. MICRO: This low angle shows the tree shadows on the wall. A potential positive to photographing from this level is the illumination of some modelling blindspots, but also shows boathouse detail, the far shore photo background and homemade cattails at far right. That fisherman isn't getting that boat into the water by himself. He's contemplating catfish:
MACRO: The River Street bridge at left conceals a 'secret' track underpass to Anglin. The boathouses are partly hidden by telltales for the bridge. Note the backdrops that vary the apparent distance to the far shore. It's not a good idea to have detail right at the wall if you're trying to portray distance. Getting the 'water' printed photo backdrop at the right 'water level' was particularly important here.
MICRO: Farther along Montreal Street, it's heavy equipment and row houses in the photo backdrop:
MACRO: This view actually works better to make the scene look larger:
MICRO: A printed backdrop of Midland or some other Lake Huron locale includes CN switching that works for my modelled locale. A viewer might think tracks really do exist beyond the layout:
MACRO: We've come full-circle - there's that backdrop building from the top photo, right. Those telegraph poles break up the background, again adding depth. A thin layer of chunky ground foam hides the transition:
Perhaps this post has given you food for thought for your current, future or someday modelling. The old paradigm was loops of track not extending beyond the layout. Modelling interchange operations expanded the layout purpose. Adding backdrop structural flats, scenery and printed photo backdrops further extends the layout visually whether at MICRO track level or at higher MACRO level!

Running extra...

COVID losses. Be it international travel, jobs or stability in daily lives, there are non-medical collateral damages that are happening every day. CP's Holiday Train, Napanee and Kingston train shows, and now the resumption of VIA's Canadian service are delayed this fall and winter. VIA's fall colours are mostly red and orange:
VIA produces some platitudes in today's press release about why service resumption, scheduled for November 1, is being delayed with no new resumption date. Knowledgeable enthusiasts point to Amtrak long-haul service. Clearly, the Canadian relies on international travellers, including those from the U.S. for its ridership. Actual transportation for actual Canadians to a much lesser extent, perhaps moreso on the Ocean.

This has not stopped me dreaming about cross-country U.S. tours: 
  • Presidential Libraries - to see what real leadership looks like.
  • Railfan B&B's - where morning coffee is enjoyed on a trackside verandah 
  • Railfan Viewing Platforms - scanner feeds and shade, probably junk food.
  • Select Railway Museums - wallowing in nostalgia!


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Two Days at Portage, 1978


Let's turn back the clock 42 years to two days in August in Portage la Prairie, MB presenting that providential place's panoply of plethoric train movements: August 17, and 18, 1978. I photographed most of them, realizing that quality of image and quantity of remaining film were two issues I was facing! I'd arrived courtesty of VIA's Super Continental, after reaching Toronto by Turbo. CN 9434-9592 with  88 cars and caboose 79649 were the first train on the first day, westbound (above). 

Of course all the trains I observed and photographed during all my visits West are available in this easy-to-hold format! Trains are shown with time of photo, direction, power, remarks and caboose.

1105 E CN 4126-4211 and caboose 79676 on CN First No 808 from Dauphin, according to the friendly operator, with Manitoba Pool Portage 'B' grain elevator in the background:
1113 E CP 5729-4237-4438 and van 434546. The head-end trainman is out on the 'front porch' to pick up train orders:
Clean CP 434546 in front of the speeder sheds:
1153 E CN 4206-4124 and caboose 79287, running as Second No 808:
1154 Meeting westbound CN 9153-4302-4224 lumber empties 79731
After lunch: 1350 W 6515-6607-6502 No 3 with 17 cars arriving on time from Winnipeg:
1415 W CP 5518-5528-4739 speedy intermodal, trailed by 434423:
1432 E CP 8694-8702-5758 manifest with 434386. Geepalicious!
1446 W CN 5089-9543 manifest 79504. In background CP 6569 is switching grain cars.
1518 E CN 9596-9632-79315 (no photo) 
1527 W CP 5683-8803 and 434067(end cupola). Slowly starting an occupied boarding car train:
22-man sleepers CP 411728-411726:
1617 W CN 9488-9420-9454 79716 (no photo - stopped to switch in the CN yard)
1636 E CN 1070-1076-1071 79684 on a grain train. My aunt and uncle have come to pick me up, in their blue Datson, at suppertime after enjoying all these freights on what remained an overcast day.
Closeup of CN 1076 - I'd only 'discovered' these Western engines two years earlier on our way West, staying overnight in Thunder Bay. They were indeed a curiosity to this Easterner!
Evening: westbound freight setting out cars CN 9488-9420-9454:
August 18, 1978. The next morning, at 1046 westbound CN 4245-4315-4317, working the yard and the CP interchange:
Flexicoil trucks under Geeps, such as the ones CN 4245 rode on, were new for me, too.
A couple of trains in the intervening time before lunch: 
1112 E CN 1051-1027 79787 (no photo)
1130 E CN 9425-9402-9405 intermodal 79372:
1134 E CP 5762-5533 manifest 434036(end cupola) passing 6569 at the station:

Running extra...

My Uncle Wilf, with whom I stayed while railfanning at Portage recently sent along this nice photo of himself taken by his brother, at the memorial bench to my aunt at the Crescent Lake in Portage. And that's Adam the Cat! Good memories!
Driving through Big Sky Country after visiting Ontario, my brother-in-law Lorne and his wife Chris shared these photos of trackside treasure:
Harvest time! (above) Transport loading at trackless grain elevator (below):
Mobil Grain twin-SD's:

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Renewal, Roadswitcher, Rust Retrospective, September 2020

Grubbin' in da Crib! Sounds like a rap number. Actually, it's what I found this pair of Railavators doing in the concrete cribs lining the tracks at Kingston's VIA station on August 29. Previously, the foreground north track had been done - new ballast, ties and rail. Now it was the south track's turn. John Deere articulated dumptrucks carried the old ballast and dumped it at the edge of the swamp landfill that the station sits in. When doing the north track, without room to manoeuvre on the platform, and wanting to dump the ballast on the south side, the dumptrucks drove on the south track, receiving the old ballast there. Elsewhere, renewal in the form of a new parking lot arrangement, with a new access road leaving John Counter Boulevard, itself rising over the CN Kingston Sub on a new overpass!
The old rail was sawed up with ties still attached and stacked on both sides of the tracks. Now contractor OWS is disassembling it with two boom trucks. Notice the CN Rule 42 foreman perched on the overpass, at right of photo - the eye in the sky to clear approaching trains through Foreman Dan George's Mile 178-174 working limits:
The same boom truck disgorging its creosote-crunchy load on the south side:
The final results. Imagine the impossibility of dragging old ties laterally from this confined space. No wonder CN just left them to rot in place. Until now. (The previous tie program in 1995 was firmly in the LRC era!) The contractors did dislodge a few top rails of the 'tween-track 1974-vintage chain link fence. We'll see if it gets repaired. It's vintage and this is Kingston!

A side-trip near home took me through the Gardiners Road underpass, where GMTX 2264-CN 4761 were stopped, having exited the Cataraqui Spur. Waiting for the trainman to regain the cab after closing the electric lock at Mi 178 Kingston Sub, their head-end was at Home Hardware (formerly rail-served as part of the Industrial Spur, now lifted, as Weldwood). 
Starting to head west past the pedestrian-only crossing at Canatara Court, CN No 518 was heading for Ernestown then Belleville. Go!
From renewal and roadswitcher, we turn our attention to the Rust of the story. The former site of Kingston's Outer Station is now the new home of Krown Rust Control. This is hallowed ground. The old alignment of the Kingston Sub at the CN Outer Station until the mid-seventies. Still-standing is the Grand Trunk Terrace at 1-3-5 Cassidy Street, home of Grand Trunk Railway and CN workers until the 1970's. Rear view:
Front view. In Kingston, there are a lot of grey areas. They're limestone buildings. (Actually, often referred to as blue-grey limestone! Rust never sleeps and neither does history. In my ongoing research on the CN Hanley Spur, it is easy to picture the historic aspects of the treasure found trackside in this part of town. 
The 1895 addition to the Outer Station, the latter slowly dissolving into its own limestone dust at far right, is just visible behind two Canadian Forces Logistic Wheeled Vehicles LVSW's (following the American example of abbreviating VRYthing) on Krown land, to paraphrase my son. Our tax dollars at work!
Farther down Montreal Street, a brownfield site representing Cohen Steel still stands. A favourite haunt for taggers and ne'er-do-wells. This was a large, untamed land full of battery acid, rusty scrap and making money from other people's discards.
Speaking of batteries, at Maple and Cassidy Streets, the remnants of the Gould Storage Battery plant (painted tan, below) remains as part of Presland Iron & Steel. The other major industry here, Frontenac Floor and Wall Tile, has been demolished.
The large covered travelling crane was clanking its loads up and down:
Shooting into the sun, rays entered my point-and-shoot lens as a rusty retrospective of Kingston's industrial past percolated into my mind. Sounds like a good subject for a book!

Running extra...

FOB/B is my new designation. That's Father Of Bride/Blogger! On a sunny Sunday, our daughter Erika and Dustin began their new life together. My wife and I were pleased to share the day with the government-mandated 50 guests (out of a preferred 130), mostly masked except for in-bubble groups, procession and photography. Re-scheduled from June when guest list was a tenuous 10! The only train I observed that day was the one I was careful not to step on!