Dec 9, 2019

We're thinking about Exporail: August 15-16, 2020

The members of the S Scale Workshop have just received news of the dates for the annual celebration of railway modelling at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum Saint-Constant, Qu├ębec. This coming year, it'll be held the weekend of August 15-16.

A video from our first appearance at Exporail, in 2016

We have appeared at this show a couple of times now and really enjoy it. We were last at Exporail in 2018, so its time we made the trip once again.

We’re discussing it amongst ourselves and we’ll let you know via this blog if we decide to take part. Meantime, if you’re wondering where you’ll run into us, make a note to check back regularly – you’ll find our exhibition schedule under Visiting the S Scale Workshop.

Dec 4, 2019

This Little Light Of Mine

S Scale Workshop member Darby Marriott sheds light on a recent project undertaken with a member of the next generation of railway modelling enthusiasts...


Sometimes it’s the simplest of projects that give you the most pleasure. We attended a recent train show in Ancaster, Ontario where incidentally we met up with fellow Workshop member John Johnston. I’ve been taking my son Kellan to shows since he was a baby, including the first time seeing the S Scale Workshop in 2016. He’s now four, and while his attention span is shorter than mine, he’s now able to appreciate more about the hobby. At the Ancaster show, we stopped by the table of S Scaler Phil Lomax. He graciously offered my son an item of his choice from a “goody bin”. He picked out a little switch (whether he knew it or not) as his desired object.

When we got home, Kellan was curious what the item was and upon finding out, what we could do with it. I promised him we’d come up with a little project in which to incorporate his new switch. The following weekend, he was anxious to start the switch project. Since becoming owner of Jim Martin’s Culverhouse Cannery module, I’ve been adding some minor details here and there. One of the hidden details already present was the loading dock of the cannery, and the crates and figure within the open door. However, it is difficult to see inside, so adding a light might set the scene even better.

A light needs a switch – or perhaps in this case, a switch needs a light. The project was on! My son was excited we had a use for his switch on “Uncle Jim’s” module. We found a grain-o-wheat bulb – one of the those I’ve been removing out of Dead Rail locomotive installs I’ve been doing recently: Incandescent bulbs aren’t a good fit for the modern controller’s low-amp accessory circuits, but perfect for higher power with a nice warm glow.

Since the module still sees regular show duty, the buildings are removable, including the cannery. The light was to be ceiling mounted, as to cast some prototypical shadows, so we’d need to mount it on the base separate from the building shell. A quick trip up from the basement to the kitchen, with Kellan ever in tow, was in order to fetch a bamboo skewer. This would make for a nice, sturdy mounting pole.
A simple project becomes an opportunity to
pass on some useful skills - like measuring
We sized the diameter of the skewer against the proper drill bit and drilled a hole just inside the wall. The skewer fit nice and snug into the hole in the plaster foundation. A measure of the first story roof height gave us the interior clearance we’d be working with. It was also a good opportunity for my son to get more acquainted with detailed measuring. We then cut the skewer down to fit and taped the light to the top of the pole.

We needed another hole to drop the wire down, but didn’t have a drill bit long enough to penetrate the foundation, foam and plywood base. We ended up having to come up from the bottom to meet our hole from the top. Kellan was ever hopeful we’d get it lined up – and on the third try we did! With the remainder of the skewer, we fished the wire leads down through the new hole.
It was relatively straightforward to modify the existing
structure to accommodate the new light
Now the little light needed some power, so we traced the wires of the existing bus power, which also supplies power to the module’s lone turnout. The little switch was soldered in between the light leads and some jumpers off the power bus. Kellan held a light while I laid solder beneath the module. I had picked up a new universal AC adaptor a while back for another project which never came to fruition. Now it had a purpose! We ended up using one of the 6 adaptor plugs to solder in the wires while maintaining the quick-connector plug if we ever wanted to use the adaptor for other purposes.

Now for the moment of truth as we plugged in the adapter for the grand reveal! And… no light. We had inverted the wires and the switch required correct polarity. A quick re-solder with my trusty light holder and we were in business. Let there be light! The universal adaptor also had a variable voltage switch, so we were able to perfectly dial in the brightness we wanted to set the scene.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear...
So thanks to the inspiration and help from my little guy, the little switch now turns on and off the little light in the cannery. We’re looking forward to sharing the enhanced scene at future shows and working on the next little project that comes our way!

- Darby and Kellan

Nov 25, 2019

Not your usual Christmas tree

(Workshop member Jim Martin has been quiet lately. We catch up with him, haunting the aisles at the dollar store...)
(Jim turns a gaudy bauble into a credible bit of scenery)
It’s been quite a while since I last checked in. I’ve been distracted away from 1:64 over the past several months with a side project: I am constructing a 7mm British O scale switching layout (or shunting layout in UK parlance) for exhibit at the Great British Train Show in Brampton, Ontario in April. Perhaps I’ll tell you about that on a future post, but the track is down and the juice flows so I’ve been playing with a bit of scenery.
Captain Cheap here is always casting his eye for unlikely scenery materials and I’ve found the latest among the dollar store Christmas decorations. Why twist wire in the workhouse when instead, your bleeding fingers can pull tree armatures off the peg at Dollarama?
Check out the gaudy offering on the left side of the photo. You can get two for a buck and a half at the dollar store. Looking through the red glitter, I thought a tree might be hiding inside. Open up the wire branches, trim, and hit with a couple of coats of rattle can primer to seal the glitter. Things now look more promising (centre). Finally dress the armature with your favourite tree netting and leaf material and there you have it.
(The dollar store tree as purchased, as primed, and as finished)
These little guys scale out to just under 20 feet tall in O scale or 25 feet in S*.
Till next time...
- Jim
(*required S scale content)

May 6, 2019

Bits and Pieces (Spring 2019)

Workshop member Jim Martin checks in...


My model railroading activities have slowed down somewhat. With our 50thwedding anniversary approaching, Cheryl and I have turned to sorting through thousands of slides and family photos. (There are some shots of young people who look suspiciously like we used to.) However, the hobby hasn’t gone totally wanting: I have been playing with my battery powered turnout idea.
I’ve concocted a prototype all-in-one throttle case using the cheapest of materials. My smart phone throttle is smaller than most new examples, so I bought an iPhone 6 protective case at the local dollar store and went to work.

Double-sided contact tape holds the throttle and turnout battery in place. A double pole-double throw switch connects the battery to a strip of Printed Circuit Tie with contact springs soldered to it. Now everything fits in one hand. To operate a turnout, I simply flick the toggle switch while touching the spring contacts to the strip at the bottom of the layout facia. (If you are new to this blog just go back a few posts and you’ll see what I’m fooling around with.)
As a bonus, there’s also room for an uncoupling tool beside the throttle. So far, everything has been working reliably although I’m not sure it isn’t just as convenient to carry the 9-volt battery separately. Time will tell.
Old money: It pays to open your railroad books a little more often. While I was sorting my library, a book fell open to where an envelope had been hiding for ten years. $120 fell out, along with a receipt from 2009 written by my late friend Oliver Clubine of Ridgehill Hobbies. That must have been the change from the loco I bought.
It’s like a Revenue Canada refund: It’s your money and you could have been having fun with it, but nevertheless it still feels like Christmas.

I attended a plastic modellers show in Hamilton about a month ago. Damn, those guys know how to paint and weather!

If you’ve never attended one of these shows, you should. You’ll find products and techniques not generally known to the model railroad community and, like us, they’re a helpful bunch.
Finally, before drywall screws became so popular for layout construction, we used to bore Americans by touting the virtues of the Canadian-developed Robertson socket head screw. While attending a business meeting in Milton, Ontario in April I happened on the old plant.

Even though it’s been empty for a long time it still looks well kept. It’s a handsome old building and I got to thinking that some entrepreneurial sort might make a go out of offering iconic Canadian structure kits…the Robertson factory… the Lightning Zipper factory in St Catharines…  the first Canadian Tire store… the first Princess Auto store in Winnipeg… the first Tim Horton’s… and so on. The idea would never work in S – the market’s not large enough. But in HO? 
Enough of the basement: The MG is waiting outdoors.

Mar 31, 2019

Sumkynda Mill: $3 and counting...

Workshop member Jim Martin checks in with a report on a new structure for his layout...
March was a productive month in the Martin basement. I completed the necessary corner trackwork, finished installing my battery control for the turnouts, built a roll-away paint booth, got a wee bit of scenery done, and started filling an empty back corner on the layout with my mystery mill.
Still in-progress, but a quick coat of craft store paint brings the basic shell to life,
and gives Jim an idea of what the final structure will look like on the layout.
Some years back on The Model Railway Show podcast I co-hosted*, I had an enjoyable chat with Bob Walker.  Bob’s Scratchbuilder’s Corner appears regularly in Railroad Model Craftsman.
We both agreed there’s a special satisfaction in being able to build a structure for free, or almost nothing, using accumulated materials from past projects.  
So it is with Sumkynda Mill. Sumkynda Mill is currently morphing from the mock up stage into something presenting a more finished appearance. 
This all began some months ago when a friend showed me the Danby Mill kit she had assembled for the HO layout she and her husband are building together. I was smitten by the look of the thing and decided I should have an S scale approximation for myself.
The Danby Mill by American Model Builders was reviewed by Trevor in the June 2003 issue of RMC. That kit was inspired by the Hinkle Mill article in the January 1982 issue of RMC. Written by Mike Small and illustrated by Julian Cavalier, it begs to be modelled. Armed with both issues, I’m attempting my own take on the rambling, rustic structure.
My total cost so far is just three dollars. That’s enough for two sheets of dollar store Foamcore for the basic structure shapes. Everything else is being sourced from various trays and boxes around the workshop.
Odd assortments of Grandt Line doors and windows are the principal second ingredients. Old, rambling mills are great for using up various sizes of windows. Also tossed into the mix are parts from damaged plastic kits, industrial fittings from Ratio, Rusty Stumps warehouse doors, a variety of stacks, scraps of wood, matboard, styrene, and so on. The bits I’m finding will inform the final design while still paying tribute to Hinkle. I think Bob Walker would approve.
Foam core is lightweight, fairly rigid and easy to work. I mortise the corners so no bare foam is exposed. Window and door openings are cut on the surface and the foam backing is gouged out. The bottom layer of paper remains. The cavity is painted flat black and once the glazed windows are installed the effect is sufficient.
Foamcore board is inexpensive, lightweight, rigid and easy to work.
I’ve used this stuff in the past for smaller mock ups but I’m not sure it’s the final answer for something this size. Before proceeding any further, I may construct new core shapes from heavy matboard. It wouldn’t be too difficult at this stage because I can easily copy the measurements from the foam core structure with my digital caliper.
This will not be an exact copy of either Danby or Hinkle but so far I’m pleased with my efforts to capture the proportions and essential character of both mills. I would have liked a little more room on the layout to model the full width and depth of the complex but the most interesting shapes have been captured. I am adding a kit-built general store constructed and given to me by Pete Moffett.  It will become the mill office.
A quickly-applied coat of craft acrylics hides the white foam. These base colours will suffice until I get around to applying various textures of building papers. I will print those onto photographic paper from my Model Builders program.
Having gotten this far, I will likely let this sit for several months before starting up again. Spring has arrived and I’m getting anxious to leave the basement and play with my outdoor toys.
One last thing: Sumkynda Mill is a name that’s going to get old pretty fast. It’s simply a play on words while I figure what kind of mill it will be. Right now I’m leaning toward wood products.
- Jim

(*Want to hear that episode? All of The Model Railway Show episodes are still available to enjoy. He's the link to Jim's interview with Bob Walker.)

Mar 5, 2019

Stoopid, Simple Turnout Control

(Workshop member Jim Martin describes what he calls "Dead Rail’s Dimwitted Cousin"...)
Electric turnout control, about as easy as it gets!
As I switch over to Dead Rail (battery powered locos) - obviating the need to climb under the layout to solder feeders - I got to thinking about those Tortoise switch machines lurking beneath.
Conventional thinking would still have me climbing under the layout with a soldering iron to connect to the power bus and toggle switches. Why would I want to do that? So I’ve put into practice a method I experimented with years ago, using a small 9-volt battery as an external power source - an electronic switch key if you will.
Here’s how it works:
Quite simply, the two wires required to power the switch motor are brought out to the front of the layout fascia where they can be activated by the battery contacts. Touch for one direction - flip the battery for the other direction. I actually thought of drawing a wiring schematic for this article but that would be akin to listing the ingredients in milk. The photos are the schematic:

Ignore the wire colours. They mean nothing: I was just using up scraps of wire. The polarity is either one way or the other, and as you will soon find out, that’s really easy to change.
Tortoises are stall motors - that is, they are supposed to be under power at all time. That would require connecting them to an under-the-layout power bus. But my experiments have shown negligible creep-back once the power is removed. So I thought it might be feasible to use external battery power. As the late John Armstrong would have said, the method has been “feased”.
Most of the work can be done at the workbench. For each switch machine cut two lengths of wire and solder alligator clips to one end of each. Cut an electrical gap in a short length of printed circuit tie and solder the other ends of the wires to each side.
Glue the tie to the bottom of the facia in front of the switch points you want to control, bend the wires under the layout, and connect the alligator clips to the switch machine’s outside terminals. Don’t worry yet about which wire goes where.
Draw arrows on each side of the battery indicating point travel and start testing each switch. If the point travel is contrary to the arrow simply swap the alligator clips. That’s it for the under-the-layout work.
 A close-up of the printed circuit board tie, glue to the bottom edge of the fascia.
As you can see, the contact points on the front of the layout are pretty unobtrusive but I’ll probably improve the cosmetics. I also plan to build a more elegant battery case, one with spring contacts and a DPDT switch to control turnout direction.
In the meantime I have an inexpensive and uncomplicated way to operate my switch machines - one that’s stoopid simple.
- Jim

Feb 1, 2019

Creating in the Closet

Workshop member Jim Martin checks in with a progress report on his S scale model railway. This time, he describes his new workshop, which hides from view when not in use...


An overview of Jim's new workshop
 I spent some quality time recently organizing my new, compact workshop. It has been in use for several months on various small projects but it was hastily thrown together during the move into the house. The shelving and primary work surfaces along with pegboard and lighting went into place quite early, but tools and building supplies were not optimally located. So I gathered up all my tools from a variety of locations, spread them out on a table and started sorting.

A well-organized work space, with everything within
easy reach, can inspire great modelling!
In addition to the main work area, I am setting up a secondary work surface inside an old roll top desk. That’s where I will play with plastic models and other lighter projects from time to time to escape the model railroad regimen. I also maintain a travel tool kit for train shows, and another tool kit that I use for my conservator work at the local marine museum. I am well along to acquiring duplicate tools so I won’t have to scurry from tool box to tool box.

My chief complaint about the new house is that it’s too perfect. Every square inch of the basement is finished. There is no room to make a mess. There is no utility room as such for cleaning brushes, spaying paint and glue, etc. Thankfully the basement has large closets so I grabbed one for myself.

Just off my train library is a seven-foot long by four-foot deep closet with an eight-foot ceiling. The wire shelving was already in place, along with lighting and a handy electrical outlet. All I had to do was rearrange the shelving, hang a power bar on the wall and move my old filing cabinet and work desk into place. I then built a cork-topped work surface to the right for larger tools, and hung some pegboard.

A view to the left, through the doors:
Note the filing cabinet for reference material
A view to the right through the doors:
Larger tools have their own area on the bench
As you can see there is still lots of room on the shelves and on the pegboards for the additional stuff that I will inevitably accumulate. The pictures here show the shop as clean as it will ever be, but whatever mess I make I will be able to hide behind the bi-fold doors and no one will be the wiser.

(Well, we'll know it's there - because we've read the blog!)
Spray painting of models currently awaits the warmer outdoor weather, or the completion of a portable spray booth. When done I will be able to roll it from behind the layout and into the basement bathroom where it will vent out the window. More on that when I do it.

Until next time... happy modelling!

- Jim