Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sierra West Machine Shop Build

Sierra West Machine Shop Build
We take a hiatus from the model railroad to check in on my progress of the build of the Sierra West Machine Shop for my friend, Doug Matheson.  Below is an article I wrote for my local club, OVAR (Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders) detailing some of the steps involved.
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Here are a few images I took outdoors showcasing my progress on the Sierra West Scale Models machine shop in O-scale.

The machines came from Sierra West, but I scratchbuilt the shop building.

The water tower came from B.T.S. models and I built it at two-thirds its regular height for my needs.  To see a detailed step-by-step clinic of this build with hundreds of images you can visit my Craftsman Structures blog at the following address.  Simple copy and paste it into your computer's browser.

Below is a shorter version of the build with a limited number of images. 

Retirement is glorious!  Following my 40 year teaching career I now find myself with the time required to complete large modeling projects which had been started when I was still in front of a classroom of students.   The image above showcases the machines in their place along the shop floor belted to the countershafts.  A "mock" roof is momentarily in place.  

One such project is the Machine Shop Diorama build I am working on for my good friend, Doug Matheson.  A couple of years ago Doug approached me and asked if I would build the remaining machines from his Sierra West collection. 

Doug had already finished two of the smaller machines as well as the boiler.  My task would be to build the remaining six machines along with the machine shop engine before taking on the building of the shop structure itself. 

While the size is O-scale (1:48) these machines remain small and packed with many detail items.  For example, the universal miller above is but a mere inch and a half tall yet it contains some 40 smaller individual detail parts.  The main body of the machine came in a few pieces as well and had to be constructed, painted and weathered. 

To help “busy” up the scene, Doug had purchased a few extraneous detail collections offered through Sierra West.  The level and quality of these detail castings is spectacular offering the modeler a great blank canvas for painting and weathering with very little cleaning necessary.  I enjoyed “going to town” on these!  

Doug drew up the scale plans on paper for the main building and I created the wall sections using the board and batten method out of basswood material.  The walls were placed on a plywood base Doug created.  I added scale flooring which I stained and weathered with a combination of paint, stain and weathering powders.  I used the same methods for the interior walls.  Doug's favourite colour was chosen for the exterior wall, Prussion blue.  I applied the paint in a series of washes before weathering.  Grandt Line windows were coloured off-white.  The window presented a problem as they would be seen from both sides.  I would have to paint the opposite (interior) sides and add glass between all smaller window segments.  I thank my longtime friend, Bill Meek, for lending me a bottle of Micro Kristal Klear, as I had none at my workbench...and we were in the midst of Covid times with stores shut.  He had met with success with this product in HO scale.  I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to "spread" the clear material across the larger openings in O-scale, but my fears never materialized.  The product worked beautifully.  Doug tells me the stone foundation comes from a company in Greece, of all places!  Cut to size, it looks totally realistic viewed from very close up.  Once the walls were erected and the office area created, I focused on creating the rafters, of which there are nine in total.  They must match the configuration of the upper area of the two end walls.  Seeing as I would have to remove the rafters to offer arm access while creating the interior of the shop I added a tiny dab of glue to hold them in placed momentarily for the photo to offer me an indication of how they would look at the time.

Pleased with the result, they were taken down.  I then determined the exact location of all the machines on the floor of the shop taking care to “visualize” where the belts from the machines would reach up to the countershafts.  Seeing as a belt could not reach up beneath a rafter beam, some “trial and error” positioning attempts would have to be made.  I then drew a floorplan noting machine locations and placed the rafters atop the plan allowing me to determine the exact location of all of the bearings and respective pulleys for the shafts and the countershafts.  The main (or central) drive shaft was centred between countershafts on either side

Following the addition of miscellaneous benches, tables and shelves I built the shop heater as it came from a kit. I painted it black and weathered it with rust coloured powders.  I then extended its pipe up to where it would meet the roof and built from scratch a small box to hold firewood. 

The next procedure was the painting, weathering and positioning of the hearth.  I built a small coal storage area from scratch and placed it nearby against the far wall.  Next up were the support posts for the rafter footings.  To each post I added a lantern carefully hiding its wiring in a recessed area along the back of the post.  The lanterns came from Gilbert Lacroix (GLX Scale Models Inc.).  Joining the shop engine to the boiler with metal piping proved rather difficult.  I had to bring the two models out from the shop floor and carefully determine the distance between them.  Some of the piping also exited out the side of the building.  Once the two objects were carefully joined I took “surgeon’s care” in moving the conjoined units back onto the shop floor in the hope the piping would “hold” and it did, thankfully!  The shop engine became the first item joined by a belt up to the main drive shaft in the rafters.  

I removed the upper rafter sections from their footings as the process of glueing the machines in place, one at a time, began.  I again referenced the drawing I had made to determine the proper location of each machine on the shop floor before attaching a belt from the pulley on the machine up to its’ appointed countershaft.  The countershaft for each machine was created on the workbench as a full assembly and then placed up top the rafter beam.  As for the belting, I pondered for a while the material to use that could be painted and not warp over time due to climate and moisture conditions.  Doug had read about Tyvek and we decided to give it a go.  It worked perfectly!  I painted the belts a burnt sienna colour and later weathered them down.  They match the colours perfectly from many images of belts I found on-line.  Following the shop engine, the first machine to go in place was the 36” vertical drill.  Because it has a belt shifter on its lower pulley, it was not necessary for me to create a shifter up top.  

The next machine on the list was the 24” engine lathe.  It would require a belt shifter up in the rafters to move the belts to the various sized pulleys down below.  This meant the creation from scratch of the countershaft along with the planking to allow the wooden belt shifter to be swung along its fulcrum to move the belts.  I took care to determine the proper distances for the bearings to hold the assembly.  Tiny detail parts were glued along the smaller rod attached to the belt shifter that would act as guides to move the belts.  (Image 9)  I scratchbuilt each wooden paddle that acts as the belt shifter.  It typically tapers down to a narrow handle at the base which is painted red for safety. 

Should the operator wish to engage (or disengage) the machine, he simply “bats” the wooden belt shifter with his gloved hand and it moves the belt up top, starting the machine spinning or stopping it from spinning.   (On each countershaft there are three pulleys, one attached to the main drive shaft with one attached to the machine below located beside another pulley that spins free of the shaft, the one that would essentially turn the machine off.)   Should the operator wish to change the speed of the machine he simply moves the belt to the left or right of the cone pulley attached to the machine itself.  (Some of the smaller machines only operate at the fixed speed of the main drive shaft and do not contain cone pulleys.) 

With all of the machines in place it was time to create the venting for the blacksmith’s hearth including the hood above the hearth.  The vent would lead up through the roof.  Since there was no kit, I scratchbuilt the entire assembly from styrene.  (I first created a mock-up from cardboard.)  

I shaped the vent hood in a rectangular fashion in order to match the shape of the hearth, then painted and weathered it.  

In order to remain in place, I glued a couple of supports up in the rafters between the rafter beams.  Since the roof will be removeable I chose to truncate the top of the vent just below the roof.  It's extension up top of the roof will be glued directly to the roof itself.  (I used this same strategy for the piping leading up through the roof for the shop heater.)

There remains a great deal of work yet to be done on the machine shop.  I have taken images indoors with incandescent lighting.

 as well as outdoors on a sunny day with my old “point and shoot” camera to share with Doug during these pandemic times.  Doug recently asked me how many hours I had put into the project and he mused, “Two hundred, three hundred?”  I’m not really sure how many hours have been spent at the workbench but I am certain of one thing.  It is pure joy working on a project with a theme I had been totally unfamiliar with as it has been a tremendous learning experience for me!

As a tandem of Bluebirds head outbound from North Dover, destination...Portland, Maine, I wish to take this time to say, "Thank you for checking in on my latest project!"
Mike Hamer, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Waybills to Switch Lists to Train Orders

Waybills to Switch Lists to Train Orders

A large scale model railroad friend was asking me the other day how I keep track of car movements on my HO scale layout.

This image taken from a friend who visited the layout showcases a number of the industries offering a good mixture of trailing and facing sidings for variety when switching.  My friend had a little fun air-brushing a deeper blue sky.  

Seeing as my layout is located in a spare bedroom in our basement with a diminutive size of 11' x 13', I knew that I would have to pack a lot in a small space.  One major industry would anchor the town with a number of smaller companies sharing spurs.  The Phillips Furniture Factory is that large industry with two facing sidings for outbound trains such as this B&M manifest arriving town.  (Note the "Back to the Future" Smart Car as a little pun!)

On another day, the train is inbound.  The spur to the left houses the Haney Fuels Facility (with two tankcars spotted on this day) as well as the Holy Spirits Distillery containing two 40' boxcars in the distance.  While this siding is facing for this train, it is trailing for its counterpart on the previous day as witnessed  in the previous image.  (Note the fire escape on the Distillery.  I built it from scratch out of styrene and each step has the actual metal bars spaced apart.  This took a ton of time to create using a scratchbuilt jig.  Just as I had completed the ad for brass etched fire escapes appeared in the magazine press!  Murphy's Law!)

In this image of Maine Central's "Oil Can" arriving town on a slow order in front of the station you can see another spur to the left where a reefer is spotted in the distance.  This siding penetrates between two buildings and houses two industries, Scodras Grocers and Wingate Wholesalers.  The boxcar to the lower right is on another spur housing the freight shed, a team track and a creamery.

This image is in the opposing direction of the preceding one.  There is that boxcar at the freight shed to the lower left.

The Alco switcher has just travelled past the freight shed and dropped off the flat with tractors at the team track.  The creamery is the grey building nearly out of sight to the right.

Here is a closer look at the team track located behind the station which shares the spur with the freight shed and creamery.  Yes, three industries sharing the same siding offers up some great switching challenges for the North Dover crew!

The Marshall Creamery located at the end of the spur sees freight cars jutting out over the water.

Conley Lumber & Coal located a few miles out of town sees two industries sharing the single siding, once again offering interesting challenges when switching.

Because the structure at Conley has a wooden overhang, an idler car is required to reach the cars beyond the overhang.  This restriction enforces safety as sparks from the diesel locomotive could ignite the upper section of the structure.

When I first started operations on the layout, I used "double-sided" waybills for my switching orders.  This side tells us that freight car PRR 38160 was last classified at Lowell Jct.   It is loaded with glues from Halpern Ltd. destined for the Phillips Furniture Factory, Track 21, and is traveling via B&M rails.  Should I wish to have the freight car remain at Phillips, I simply would leave it facing out at the industry slot.  If I wished the car to be lifted from Phillips Factory I would flip the card over in the slot on the fascia.

Here we see the card as being flipped.  The car is now laden with finished furniture for Grady Stores and will depart the industry here in North Dover destined for Old Town, Maine. The last B&M classification point is Rigby Yard in Portland.  The Maine Central will continue the car's journey from there. 

I used this system for the first couple of years in my layout's life.  Very realistic!  I soon found that some of the lads and lasses in the session would take the waybills and create their own switch lists, just as the conductor would do at the station.  He'd pick up the bills and sit in the "hack" and write up his lists.

Of course, this would take some eventually I decided to "lighten" my session and create the lists myself beforehand.  This made sessions run more smoothly and eliminated the need for the actual waybill...a sacrifice, so to speak.  Now, from waybills, we have only train orders and switch lists.  The only thing missing is the fact that operators don't really know what is in the cars and their final destinations.  They just know that they need to be lifted to the siding to be picked up by the next train or that the car now needs to be spotted at a siding in town.  A "given and druther" if you will.

Here we have a train order of Train N2 "The Newboy" carrying newsprint to market in a long string of boxcars.  The date is always May 27th, 1958 on the layout, my date of birth!  The orders tell the crew that they will meet a Maine Central train at the interlocking junction (where a tower is located) and that they will being making an exchange of traffic in North Dover on the North Siding on this day.  Even though the train may contain some 25 or 30 actual HO scale freight cars, the only ones I reference on the orders are those that must be handled in my town of North Dover as it is the only "on-line" destination modelled on the layout.  It's pretty simple.  I also like the fact that the lists are handwritten just like in the olden days!  (Big grin!)

Here is but one example of the many things the local crew in North Dover must handle on any given day.  Their orders here are to classify and block a cut of cars for a "local turn" which will arrive town shortly.  They must block the traffic in proper order of the towns they will reach along the route (off layout).  I provide a map on the fascia showing the route map with all towns along the line.  This particular train handles cars for smaller towns between North Dover and Portland, Maine; towns that the larger (longer) manifest freights wouldn't stop in.

Of course, the local town crew at North Dover must service the many industries in and around the town as well as set out cars for the Conley Lumber & Coal crew that arrives town a couple of times a week.  On this particular switch list there appears to be a balance of set-outs and lifts to and from the local industries, although this quite often varies with more or fewer set-outs than lifts on any given day.

Just a few more progress shots...

...of the O Scale machine shop...

...I am building from scratch...

...for my friend, Doug Matheson.

I'm sure glad I retired after my 40 years of teaching... I need time to complete this assignment!

Rest In Peace Walter Gretzky

It is with a great deal of sadness that we recently learned of the passing of a great Canadian, Walter Gretzky, father of hockey great, #99, Wayne Gretzky.

What a thrill it was for me to host this fine gentleman to my model railroad a couple of years ago.

He was a great mentor to so many...always willing to give, waiting patiently until every child and fan had a picture taken with him or an item autographed.  He was known to dispense words of wisdom for anyone wishing to learn more about hockey or about life in general.  All of Canada will miss you, Walter.

Thank you for checking in on the blog.
Stay safe, stay healthy!
Mike Hamer, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, February 21, 2021

 The Little Engine That Could

This is my "personal" story of the illustrious member of my railroad's "Black Aces!"

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The story of my 44 tonner mirrors the personal events in my life in many ways. My story begins in childhood.  

 When I was born, my parents were told that I may not make it through the first few months of life, being the tiniest of the two babies to emerge into the world as the second child of the "Hamer twins" born to my wonderful parents who were about to turn forty years of age.

Due to the fact I am writing this piece, you are aware that I proved the medical authorities wrong.

 Spending the first three months of my life in an incubator back in 1958, I finally was given "my release" from hospital and allowed to go home to meet my twin brother who I previously spent nine months with and my older sister!

I was always the smallest child in my grade school classroom.  This presented a number of problems...but I learned at a young age that "Problems are opportunities for solutions!"

Due to my small stature, I was that "last kid picked" for the teams on the school playground.

While initially finding my feelings hurt, I rallied and came up with a plan.  I would practise my skills in the various playground sports on my own at home...devoting many hours to the task!

In no time at all, word spread around the playground that the smaller Hamer lad could really play, and, boy oh boy, due to his size, he could out-maneuver the bigger kids with ease!

It didn't take long for the bigger kids to realize this fact no time at all...I was among the earliest "picked" for the teams on the playground.

When I grew up and became a teacher, "I" made up the team rosters when it came to gym time.  I also promoted cooperation, collaboration and respectful behaviour out on the recess playground where I would not necessarily be in attendance at all times. 

Yes, society is competitive and we must prepare youngsters for this future environment, but at a tender young age, no one deserves to feel neglected.

The 115 pictured above is very much like me.

She is short in stature, small in size...

...but she demonstrates fortitude, determination, enthusiasm and perseverance to get any job asked of her done!

She won't quit until the task is completed!

As a model railroader and a rail enthusiast, I have always appreciated the colour black for diesel locomotives.

Not that I don't appreciate the lovely maroon and gold of the Minute Man scheme or the McGinnis interlaced B&M of the Bluebird scheme.  They are wonderful diesels to admire.

Up here in Canada, in the hockey world (NHL included), there is a group of players known collectively as the "Black Aces".

The NHL, of course, is an acronym for the National Hockey League.

These are the players who are talented enough to make it to the big leagues, but not talented enough to keep a regular spot in the line-up.  They are kept on the roster in case an injury to one of the regulars creates an opening for them.

The "Black Aces" may not see very much "game action" in front of the fans, but they must commit themselves to practise each day throughout the season, just in case! 

Without them, their team falters.  Yes, they may not be utilized all that much, but they are truly team players!

Copy this link into your computer's browser to learn more about this rarely seen group of players!

Indeed, my 44-tonner is a member of the "Black Aces" on my railroad.

She reminds me of me and those hard-working hockey players.

Mostly dedicated to switching service in my city of North Dover, the 115 appreciates the times when she gets called into the line-up to run a local train out of town!

Yes, the viewing public does not get the opportunity to see her too much...

...but she's okay with that!

She's also proud of the fact she shares illustrious company with another group of "Black Aces" from another sport.

In baseball, the "Black Aces" are the group of African-American pitchers who have achieved an amazing feat.

They have at least one major league baseball season under their belt where they had won twenty or more games in a single season.

In order to win twenty games, you must demonstrate the same dedication and commitment to excellence that our diminutive 44-tonner has shown over its years of work on many a railroad...including my Boston and Maine!

To learn more about this incredible group of professional baseball pitchers, copy the link below into your computer's browser.

Hey, this railfan has spotted another member of the "Black Aces" on my model railroad, the 1170, an Alco S1.

We catch the centre cab on a slow order as she passes the station platform in my fictitious town of North Dover.

The red striping on the front along with the Minute Man herald on the cab give it an "upgraded" appearance, shall we say!

She's a four axle diesel electric.

The B&M's sister railroad, the Maine Central also stabled a number of these friendly units.

The 115 was built in 1941.

She was initially delivered in an "all black" scheme...

...and received her striping and herald at a later date.

Indeed, she is a testament to perseverance and a greatly appreciated member of my locomotive roster!

Speaking of perseverance, my little 44-tonner inspires me when I need it the most with a challenging scratch build!

I just retired from 40 years of teaching and now find myself with more time for my hobbies, of which I have many.

A good friend of mine, Doug Matheson, had asked me to build the Sierra West machines in O-Scale for him.

With the machines completed, they begged for a "home".

This scratch building project of the machine shop is now taking up most of my modeling time.

With my layout "complete" I am appreciative of Doug for asking me to undertake this project.  I am not charging any money for the's a favour for a friend.

His favour to me is offering me the opportunity to build the model for him!

I had built the machines over the last couple of years...and now the shop is "materializing" on a "slow order"!  Big grin.

As I was progressing along on the build, Doug and I gave a clinic to our local chapter of the NMRA on the machines. At the point this picture was taken, Doug had built the two machines on the right side of the image and I had finished up the other four leading up to the boiler.  Doug explained the operations of a machine shop and I outlined the steps I had taken to finish the models.  Lots of fun!

Thanks so much for checking in on my blog!
Mike Hamer, "An honorary member of the Black Aces!"
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada