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

Jan 18, 2019

My Blog Site About Owen Sound - Park Head - Wiarton

I have been busy building my basement model railroad and working on an article for the NASG Dispatch and one for the CN Lines.  For these reasons, I have been lax in posting here.

Too, under the urging of Trevor, I have started a blog of my own about the construction of my layout.  The layout was started in the fall of 2016.  The blog was started November 2018 and if you are interested in following its progess, the address is

Here are the track plans.

So there you have it, a blog about a blog.


Andy Malette

Jan 17, 2019

Jim: A Man With A Plan 2

(The return of A Man With A Plan...)
Workshop member Jim Martin models the Canadian National Railways line to Port Dover, Ontario. As reported elsewhere on this site, Jim moved in 2018. He starts the new year with this report on his progress in his new layout room...
Work progresses nicely as the Port Dover Branch is now fully integrated into its new homeI’m a couple of sections of flex track short of being able to run from one end to the other, but I’m going to pick up a few lengths from Workshop buddy Andy Malette and then I’ll be able to drive the last spike later this month.
New Jersey pal Joe Kimber has kindly done a new drawing for me. Here it is, along with the old drawing for comparison.

(Jim's Port Dover Branch - January 2019. Click on the image for a larger view)
(Jim's Port Dover Branch - January 2017. Click on the image for a larger view)
Comparing the two drawings you can see that with one exception - Culverhouse - the principal elements remain in the same order if not along the same walls. Perhaps I could have put more layout in the new space but as I’ve mentioned earlier it would have crowded the room. That is something I didn’t want. My sense of design requires the layout to compliment the space, not dominate it. 
Happily Culverhouse is still around and in the capable hands of Workshop member Darby Marriot. 
The old layout consisted of Port Dover, Culverhouse, Silver Lake, a 180 degree curve, Lynn Valley and Simcoe. The new arrangement is Port Dover, a 90 degree curve, Silver Lake, a 95 degree curve, Lynn Valley and Simcoe.
I have lost a few sidings in the process. Culverhouse is gone, of course - as is the switchback from the Port Rowan branch exiting Simcoe. For the sake of simplicity what was to be the old Port Rowan branch does not pierce the backdrop as originally planned so I lost the room for a switchback.  Instead the track is truncated to become a fuel depot siding.
To make up for those losses I will be adding another #6 switch at the Silver Lake depot and will run a couple of tracks to a large mill structure in the corner. This is freelance so I have not yet decided what sort of mill it will be. For the time being, I’m naming it Sumkiynda Mill. I also have to construct the staging shelf for the Lake Erie and Northern and run the track through the backdrop to the Silver Lake depot.
It was necessary to swing the #8 switch behind the Port Dover coal yard toward the backdrop in order to widen the curve leading to Silver Lake. The curves in both corners, each approximately of three-foot radius, have been super-elevated.
A couple of dummy tracks will play scenic roles. One is the LE&N track crossing the CNR at Lynn Valley. The other will be a spur at Simcoe that simply vanishes behind some buildings. I will also be trying to find room for a dummy freight track (not yet illustrated) at the LE&N station at Silver Lake. There may be room for a turnout that would make it functional, but not if it has to be shoehorned in.
Why a 95 degree curve in the one corner?  That was necessary to swing Simcoe out and away from the basement stairs to allow access to storage and the rooms beyond.
I’m pleased at the ways things are progressing. I’ve been able to reuse almost the entire layout along with most of the backdrops and lumber that supported it. The only real money I’ve had to shell out has been for the false wall behind Simcoe and a new section of aluminum backdrop.
There is much more I could write about but I’ll save that for future visits. At least then, you the reader will have a notion of what I’m describing.
- Jim

Dec 7, 2018

Letting our hair down in Belleville

Workshop member Jim Martin reports on the group's appearance at the 2018 Quinte Model Railroad Show, held December 1-2 in Bellville, Ontario...


(Jim switches cars on Paul's module while John looks on)
(Up Periscope! Jim created this viewer for the shorter set. It's popular with
the kids - and with parents, whose backs are grateful...)
The Quinte Model Railroad Show is becoming something of an annual tradition for our group: The show is a favourable location for our eastern Ontario members - and it's not too distant for those members in Toronto and the Niagara Region. This year, the Workshop crew on site included myself, Paul Raham, John Johnston, and Darby Marriott.

Being Christmastime, this is a show where we let our hair down a little. An elephant grazes in Paul’s pasture, my Stegosaurus and Bovasaurus Rex roam the layout, there are candy cargos in the hopper cars, and John ran a pirate train for his grandson Decker.

(A holstein/dinosaur cross confronts crossed bones)
Paul, John, Darby and I enjoyed hanging out with each other and roaming the exhibition halls for bargains and inspiration. Thanks also to Workshop friend Daniel McConnachie for helping out Saturday, and to honorary S-scaler Dennis Rowe for his ongoing encouragement.


Incidentally, this was Darby’s first chance to participate with a module.

(Darby with his module. The "C" on the wall is not for "Culverhouse"...)
My Culverhouse module now belongs to Darby and I can’t wait to see how he makes it his own. That process has already started in how he packages it for travel. He has imagineered a clever little arched toboggan under one end of the module which makes sliding it into his car a breeze: So simple and effective.


Currently we are not sure if we have nailed down our appearance at the next Copetown Train Show (February 24, 2019: 10am-3pm) but we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime we hope you enjoy Darby’s photos from the weekend.

Happy holidays, everyone!

- Jim