Saturday, May 30, 2015

Grand Trunk Western's Gentle Giant

I spent the good first half of my childhood growing up in Michigan. My favorite railroad no doubt as a kid and even now as an adult will always be the Grand Trunk Western.... in case my Michigan Interstate locomotive paint scheme didn't give it away. But now that I live in Texas one would think that sightings of original Grand Trunk equipment would be few and far between.

Graffiti tagged but FRA compliant with the reflective tape. The "Good Track Road" slogan is pretty much gone below the logo.
But there is hope! Sometime back in the mid-2000s General Motors relocated its Service Parts Operation warehouse out to Roanoke, TX north of Fort Worth. So what does the relocation have to do with Grand Trunk you ask? The answer is a steady stream of blue GTW 86' 4 and 8 door boxcars delivered daily by the UP local switcher to the GM warehouse. Seeing these boxcars is nothing new as they have been setout and picked up countless times by a UP manifest freight that I assume comes out of Muskogee, OK or Dennison, TX. enroute to Fort Worth. What I did realized though is these particular boxcars only originate from one location when hauling service part loads outbound to other GM SPO facilities like this one in Roanoke and others that I know of in Sparks, NV and Cucamonga, CA. The origin is none other than GM's Swartz Creek SPO Facility just to the west of Flint.

Even wanting to appreciate the ubiquitous blue GTW autopart boxcar I began to notice that even though they are standard blue and have the GTW logo on the side everyone has become unique in its own way especially after traveling the North American network these many years with tired battle hardened look about them. With parent CN purchasing the Illinois Central it is now not uncommon to see IC, ICG, and CN 86' auto part boxcars as well but only the Grand Trunk ones have the 8 doors. As tired as some of these cars look I have seen a few parent CN repaints with various reporting marks of CNA, GTW, and IC looking classy in the standard CN boxcar brown or on occasion a darker GTW blue adorned with the web address.

What logo? GTW305900

Parent company CN  - alot of the repaints that I have seen are coming in this brown but look much more minimalist.
So what does this post then signify you ask? Well after being away from Michigan for many years, I now have the ability to take a short drive and catch a glimpse of what Michigan railroads were synonymous for and continue to support; the Automotive Industry. These boxcars invoke memories of going downriver and watching GP38-2's shove cars over the hump at GTW's Flat Rock Yard, Henry Ford's old electrification concrete towers in Taylor, or driving through Flint seeing an endless sea of these gentle giants at Torrey Yard. These memories I have found help inspire me even more to continue modelling proto-freelance Michigan in my own way.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

Layout How To (L.H.T.) #01 Backdrops

So last week in my Mid-May update I posted two preview pictures of backdrops being mocked up for permanent installation.

While working on them tonight I thought it would be a great opportunity to create the blogs' first "Layout How To" in case anyone is interesting in achieving similar results using Sceniking or other numerous backdrops on the market.

Disclaimer: Opinions represented in this post are mine only and do not represent the official opinions of Scenking. These kits were purchased as a model railroad customer and not received as a gift in exchange for favorable reviews. Results may vary and nor do I guarantee them as each kit offers the modeler endless varieties and combinations of backdrops.

Layout Panoramic with the Residential Backdrop added on the right and the additional deciduous forest on the left.

Planning / Selection
So beings I model Mid-Michigan in the summer I had to find backdrops that were suitable and plausible as a background. Since my time is very limited having a young family, making my own at this point is not an option so turning to a commercial product was the way to go. Going commercial meant I needed some requirements to fit the layout:
    1. Price - Reasonable to allow completing entire layout in a realistic timeframe
    2. Availability - How easy can I get it
    3. Quality of print - Is is a photo or is it artwork?
    4. Ease of installation
    5. Selection of prints that would fit my era / location / season

After much search I found that Sceniking ( met all of these requirements and then some. Their online catalog allows you to view the backdrops and even print in smaller size to test mockups or get inspiration while working a scene.

Huron Eastern's Wenona Yard located on the northwest side of Bay City really sparked the inspiration for this area along Bay Yard. Looking at Bing or Google maps one can see the yard is bordered by large decidious trees in a way isolating it and on the north side transitions from Bay City to Kawkawlin / Linwood, Michigan which gave me the inspiration for the homes on the east end of the yard at Chessie Junction.

Image from Bing Maps - apologize its a little blurry, but this is the north end of Wenona Yard.

For this installation we are going to be using the R026 kit which is a trackside quarry with hardwood trees on each end. As you will find with Sceniking kits some of them connect to make really long backdrop scenes if you prefer. This particular piece will help begin the transition from treeline to quarry (I am using as gravel lot) which will be part of the large MAC Terminal Elevator.

Tools needed:
- Good Workspace
- Sharp Scissors
- Hole Puncher
- Metal Ruler
- Glue Stick
- Hobby Knife
As always with a project - make sure to read the directions about working with these backdrops. While they are very forgiving to work with, having an idea on how handling and their process is encouraged.

Once you select the piece you are going to be working on (In this case their are 12 panels for this kit) we are going to be working on panel #12 which is the far right side of the kit. First I cutout a rough shape along the treeline since I will not be using the sky. If you are using the sky I suggest then following the kit instructions.

Basic treeline cutout - ready to begin nibble process
Once the rough shape has been cut out, it is time to the use the hole puncher to nibble around the tops of the trees to give them more definition versus a real smooth cut line as you see above. When making the rough the closer that you can get to the basic tree outline will reduce the amount of "nibbling" needed.

(BEFORE) Beginning to "nibble" around the top of the treeline
(AFTER) Nibbling complete - definitely alot more defined treeline than just a basic outline cut.
Once the nibbling has been complete for one or all of the panels you are going to use, it is then time to install the panel on the layout.
Add caption

Test fit before adding glue to back of panel

Each panel has some print overlap built in to each so it allows to match them perfectly during install. As you can see above the two panels Treeline kit (on right) and Quarry kit (on left) are a little off in color but that is fine as foreground scenery and trees will help conceal this joint. This same company has also come out with Rollout kits that allow for one seamless install which comes in a roll, but for flexibility I stuck with the panel kits. 

Once you test fit and it is looks good - I then use a glue stick to add glue to the entire back of the panel making sure to get good coverage around the edges and in the body of the panel.

Adding glue to the back.
Once glue has been applied affix the panel to backdrop and smooth out from right to left center out ensuring there are no air bubbles or wrinkles.

Finished product - will blend the joint in color with trees / scenic material
Presto - you had now installed your first backdrop panel. If you already cut the outline and nibbled around the trees you can then proceed to install the other panels in order. So far this is my eight Sceniking kit installed using the glue stick method affixed to hardboard backdrop painted with latex paint. No issues but the key is.... not being cheap when applying the glue stick to the panel. Just like scenic cement, it will dry clear.

Now you have a fantastic looking backdrop that helps add a lot of depth and substance to an otherwise bland scene that was just a blue sky. I hope you have enjoyed my first Layout How - To, appreciate feedback so I can improve on others in the future. Questions or comments feel free to post. Anyone interested in the backdrops the folks at Sceniking were very helpful and always ready to answer my questions.

A few more of the finished backdrops:

Bay Yard view to the west.

East Bay Yard / Chessie Junction.

Disclaimer: Opinions represented in this post are mine only and do not represent the official opinions of Sceniking. These kits were purchased as a model railroad customer and not received as a gift in exchange for favorable reviews. Results may vary and nor do I guarantee them as each kit offers the modeler endless varieties and combinations of backdrops.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mid May Update

May has been flying by and I wanted to provide an update on the St. Clair before June gets here. Along with working on the 40 year evolution of the MCIS diesel roster this past week, there have been a few other happenings worth mentioning.

MCIS meets Youtube
Through fellow modeler Chris Palmieri we were able to upload three videos up on his YouTube channel showcasing the last ops session. These videos really help bring another dimension to the MCIS storytelling, and there is a lot of plans in store for future videos. Additionally I did start a YouTube channel of my own, no videos of my own yet..... but I have begun subscribing and sharing some great model railroad content already out there. 

Motive Power
No new acquistiins for the foreseeable future, but EMD GP38-2 #3827 just retuned this past week from Fogelsinger Rail Services in a repaint of the current phase II scheme. The motor will move to Mt. Pleasant shop for setup and completion of dash 3 electronic before returning to service. Expect a post on this engine and Soundtraxx sound install in early June.

Work to install Sceniking backdrops and more scenery along the east end of Bay Yard has been made some progress this weekend. Provided above and below are a few snapshots of the new backdrops, stay tuned for the final product which should be complete for the Late May update.

Photos didnt turn out to bad for being with layout lighting and an IPhone 6.


Friday, May 15, 2015

MCIS Diesel Roster Evolution 1975-2015

In previous posts we have talked about the Michigan Interstate diesel roster that is both modeled and not modeled. What I wanted to share in more detail today is the evolution that has taken place in the past 40 years to get us where we are today with the fleet being 70 active motors strong.

Before we look at the diagram which shows the evolution we first must understand where the MCIS originated from.

Early Years
Prior to 1975 the Michigan Interstate existed in the form of two subsidiaries and this is where our journey begins.

St. Clair & Western (Michigan Central - New York Central - Penn Central)
The 1970s were rough times for railroads and in this version of history the Penn Central decided to divest the SCW trying to streamline less profitable operations. We will dig further in another post about the various subsidiaries and how they came about but what we need to know for this post is when the line was bought by the Lakes Interstate Transportation Group the sale included motive power. During this era of PC just prior to the formation of Conrail, power was an eclectic bunch of 1st gen. EMD, GE, and Alco. So at the beginning of the Michigan Interstate Railway (MCTR) were Alco C424s, RS27s, EMD GP7s, GP30s, and SD35s for a total of 31 units that came with the property sale. Additionally Michigan Interstate's parent company purchased Alco RS3s, RS11s, and EMD SW1200s used to supplement start up for a grand total of 42 units.

The railroad with these 42 units did not make any further acquisitions for the next 10 years as current traffic levels on the line did not warrant additional motive power. However the railroads leadership knew that long term success was going to be in more modern power to leverage fuel efficiency and locomotive utilization.

Electro Motive Growth
1985 saw an opportunity present itself to the Michigan Interstate Railway and Lakes Interstate Transportation Group in the form of additional trackage extending its reach in the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.

Mackinaw Northern Railroad (Grand Trunk Corporation) 
Continuing the story of Class 1 railroads retrenching to their core products, the Grand Trunk Corporation spun off their Mackinaw Northern Division in 1985 which reached to the Mackinaw Straits and beyond. The price was right and in short order the now Michigan Interstate Railroad Inc. has doubled in size with serious need for more motive power. Part of the Grand Trunk sale also included motive power in the tune of EMD GP9s and GP38s. 1985 was the year that the tables turned on the dominant locomotive manufacturer. For the first 10 years Alco had held the #1 spot, but after the MCNR purchase EMD took the lead and did not look back.

The 1985 MCNR acquisition brought in 14 EMDs along with MCIS acquiring second hand 6 GP38-2s and 2 additional SD35s. A wreck this same year knocked the GP7 fleet down to a total of 3.
Spreadsheet in 5 year increments showing evolution of fleet. The numbers in each square are individual unit counts for that model. 
Dash 2 Era
Prior to 1990 the RS3, RS11, and GP7 fleets were traded off to make way for newer dash 2 equipped power that the railroad had originally sampled in 1985 with the GP38-2. The 1990s saw an explosion of dash 2 motors in the form of EMD GP38-2s, GP40-2s, and SD40-2s. The railroad had struck a deal with EMD to upgrade their original Grand Trunk GP38s through trading in the GP7s and Alco RS fleet. To supplement online traffic growth MCIS picked up three second hand Santa Fe CF7s to utilize on light branch lines replacing the aging Alco RS fleet. These CF7s were eventually sold off in the early 2000s to the Natchez Trace & Orient for use in the southeast U.S. Coming to the end of 1999 the fleet had changed completely with a strong stable of dash 2 motors and the sun had set for the retirement of the entire Alco fleet.

New Millennium
While eleven Alcos had made it into 2000 on the roster, it was not long before their replacements arrived on property and found their tanks drained and stacks capped in storage at the Mt. Pleasant shops awaiting sale. Any railfan could tell that by 2005 it was easy to see EMD and the venerable 645 turbo / non-turbo prime movers were the dominant player in the diesel house and here to stay. But even then there were 567s still holding their own with the original GP30 and SD35s handling local and branch line switching. These brutes were a testament to EMDs solid early design and the fit that they had with this regional. Behind the 645 dominance and 567 survival were two EMD GP60s the railroad had picked up from BNSF. Their 710s had a unique and new sound to them and would find a great niche prompting the railroad to pickup two more in 2010 from the UP. Looking to find a like replacement to the SW1200 for tighter switching areas, MCIS picked up one EMD MP15DC in 2000 on lease from GMTX ultimately returning the leasor and acquiring three of its own in 2005. The roster by 2005 had declined to 60 motors from the peak of 64 in 1995 and this was mostly due to replacing more with less in terms of early generation EMD and Alco with second generation dash 2 power.

Twenty Tens
The year 2010 saw the fleet still at 60 motors which was flat from 2005 but if you look at the diagram detail the CF7 and SW1200 were struck from the roster and the gradual phase out of the GP30 / SD35 had begun with GP40-2, GP40X, and SD40-2 incremental growth. Even SD45-2s which had labored for a long time got a new lease on life after departing Class 1s to find mainline roles on this regional. More stringent environmental laws prompted the railroad's mechanical team to find ways for a better carbon footprint and in the 2015 roster we can see the fruits of this labor.

Continued Modernization
2012 saw big modernization changes starting with an order for four EMD SD70ACe locomotives producing 4,300 hp a piece. These are by far the largest engines on roster and have really helped improve locomotives per train as two can do the work of three SD40-2s or even four GP38-2s. Additionally the EMD 567 prime mover was no longer present on the active roster as the four remaining GP30s were stored in 2013 at Mt. Pleasant awaiting conversion to road slugs which will pair up with EMD GP40-3s. A new entrant to the roster made its debut in 2012 as well from National Railway Equipment in the form of four 3GS21B gensets producing 2,100 hp a piece. These ultra low emission engines are primarily taking over yard switching roles at Grand Rapids and Bay City but occasionally can be found sandwiched between two EMD 645 prime movers on a out and back local turn. Seeing opportunity with stored serviceable SD35s the railroad is currently converting one into a 3GS21C genset through a NRE kit built in-house at Mt. Pleasant. Two other SD35s went to VMS in Virginia back in 2013 and were converted into EMD SD22ECOs which utilize at eight cylinder EMD 710 prime mover. The last SD35 was sold off to VMS which was refurbing and selling to another operator. Future plans could include refurbing the SD45-2 fleet into SD32ECOs or de-rating into SD40-3s but in a SD45-2 carbody. The fleet has leveled out at 70 active units at time of press with no orders or acquisitions in the immediate future. But in our continued effort to have a positive environmental footprint all locomotives are being or have been retrofitted with AESS Smart Start to reduce idling and wasted fuel consumption. When "railfanning" my youtube channel or blog posts, be on the lookout for the small square black logo that denotes these retrofits (Check out Wordless Wednesday #14). Additionally locomotives are receiving GPS domes, RV style air conditioners (Whoever said Michigan wasn't humid....) and updated side sill reflective striping to meet the FRA mandate.

I hope you enjoyed my synopsis of the diesel roster evolution. Normally I had more photos than words in my posts, but my goal was to paint a clear picture of where the fleet was and is going in the future.

Any questions or further detail on a particular model please post in comments.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

St. Clair Sub Meets YouTube

Enjoy a nice summary of trains that operated at my last session in April. Video taken / edited / posted by Chris Palmieri.