Changes to Nelson Yard, Part 1

Two things led me to make some fairly major changes to Nelson, the largest yard on the layout, and one that has its own assigned switch crew (and possibly 2 in the future)

The first was a comment from the yard crew, mixed in with others from my last op session, that it would be nice if Nelson had a yard lead so the switch job wouldn’t need to clear the main. No problem!

I decided to pull out 2 of the 3 switches at the east end of Nelson, push the main track outside of where it previously met with the yard lead, and effectively double track it through Procter. I also put a crossover in where the east siding switch previously was.

Removing the 2 switches from the east end was easy, but turned out to be fantastic, as even though they were cut to fit a specific space, they fit perfectly in with the new switches in Procter!

Original position. At left is an industry track to various warehouses, centre is the main, the MLW S2s are on the yard lead, and to the right is the shops.

With switches carefully removed…

…I took them to their new position, and cut out that precise length of track.

Then I installed them by sliding the rail joiners completely onto the turnouts, and then sliding them back once in place.

Mission complete!

Now, the crossover was difficult. I couldn’t fit a pair of turnouts into the space available as a traditional crossover, so I opted to use a curved turnout on the main. A Fast Tracks 30″/20″ radius #8 turnout would fit, but I wouldn’t want to spend $150 on a fixture for a single turnout. So I downloaded their template, printed it out, and went at it! I made sure to bend all the rails to just the right curvature and shape before soldering them down.

It ended up being very sexy, even though it took more than twice as long to build as a regular turnout! I installed it across from a normal #8, making the S curve very gentle.

I use Ribbonrail track alignment gauges on my curves, and in this case, I used it to keep the curve flowing properly into the switch as I laid it.

Looking good!

I throw my turnouts with servos controlled by Tam Valley Octopus IIIa boards, and to save on outputs, my crossovers are thrown by a single output together.

So far, it’s been operating nearly flawlessly. Huzzah!

There are more changes to tracks that haven’t been laid yet. Let’s look at the plan again.

I’ve had issues with JMRI not being able to move all the cars it should, and it’s due to limitations within the yard. Look just below the diesel shops and left of the roundhouse, and you’ll see the RIP (Repair In Place) yard. I had 2 tracks in the original plan, and I was simply going to put bad ordered cars there until I could get to them.

Instead, I moved things around so that there were 4 tracks of the maximum length that fit (#5 ladder) to use as an overflow for the class yard. I may even end up building the shorter trains, such as the Creston turn and my Tadanac wayfreight on them. (The second may be short lived, however.)

I also moved the drop-down wye further into the aisle. It’s still up in the air whether it will be built as such.

Lastly, I moved the top right tracks a bit. In real life, the merchandise terminal is on the north (aisle) side of its tracks, but I moved it to the far side so the switch crew could actually reach it!

Time to have an op session to test this out.

Nelson, BC yard and Cranbrook staging build

Well, it’s been a very busy summer for me! I got a lot done immediately after the first operating session in April. That showed me that my idea of building the layout in stages didn’t particularly work with my vision, and Nelson as a staging yard became a very confusing place. So, I removed the temporary staging tracks, and built the yard.

The Yard: Prototype Nelson includes the mainline, 3 long tracks, and 5 short tracks in the yard. I ended up with 4 long tracks in the 1500-1900′ range, and 4 short tracks in the 500-1100′ range. As on the prototype, there are 2 curves to the north within the yard. My plan includes a RIP yard, wye, and roundhouse that I have yet to install, but are marked out. Here’s an overview:

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If you think the yard seems empty, you’re right – I took most of the cars out to body mount the couplers and weight them closer to NMRA spec.

I built the yard ladder with the turnout points nearly butting into the frogs to allow for the longest possible tracks with a #6 ladder.


After installing that, I realized that the engines for all these trains that terminate and originate at Nelson need to go somewhere, so I sucked it up and built the run-through portion of the shops!


The Operations: I’ve decided the 4 long tracks are arrival/departure tracks, and worked hard to make them run fluidly with JMRI. Track 1 has setouts from all Nelson sub freights as well as the east Boundary freight (for chip gons from Grand Forks and Midway) and pickups by the Kraft Switcher, train 87, only – This allows that track to be the one on which the Kraft is built. Similarly, train 81, the westbound Boundary freight is built on 2, and the Nelson freights are built on 3 and 4. (This is subject to change. I’m thinking of using 4, which is only useful for 1100′, as a build track for an extra train to Trail to get pressure off the Hotshot)

The yard tracks, 5-8, are used for all trains. There’s one little tweak within them, which might be eliminated with the previously mentioned change. The smelter at Trail takes in lime cars from the tipple at Fife, and since the hotshot isn’t built at Nelson, the east Boundary freight drops these cars off specifically in track 5. Track 5 is split into two tracks within JMRI, 5, and 5-5. These are pooled, and 5-5 can only be worked by the east and west Boundary freights and the east and west hotshot. This allows the lime cars to stay together without a kernal, so only one move needs to be made. Calling it 5-5 makes them both show up as the same track, so without explanation, you’d simply think it’s running very nicely!

The yard is run with a pair of MLW switchers from the east end. Currently I’m having fun with the sound-equipped Atlas S2s. (Note: The layout is always viewed from the north, so east is left, west is right)


There is an industrial area behind and west of the station, and when that is built I may need to add a second yard job with a single unit at the west end. My idea is to have the Nelson crew also be responsible for hostling power and getting crews and trains together – this means it will probably be a 2 person job, regardless of whether 1 or 2 sets are in use.

As for the shops, they work like this: Any incoming train, save for the Hotshot and passenger trains, will pull into its assigned arrival/departure track. The power will be cut off and run to the west end of the shops – this is where the near track that runs around the north side of the yard comes in. The engines are run into the shop and then, when the next set of power leaves ahead of them, they’re moved forward to sand/fuel pad. Each of the two shop tracks, including the fuel area, accommodates 2 4-unit consists. Once they’re ready to go, they may be taking a westbound train – I didn’t want them to have to run down the main to get to the west end of the yard, so they’ll take the runaround track all the way to the west ladder. This is prototypical.

On to Cranbrook!

The Yard:

Prototype Cranbrook is a division point where trains arrive and depart, in effect, in 5 directions – East, the Crowsnest subdivision to southern Alberta, west, the Nelson subdivision to the Kootenays, north, the Windermere sub to Golden, northwest, the Kimberley sub to the Sullivan mine at Kimberley, and southwest, the Kingsgate sub to the UP line in Idaho. Note that none of these junctions are near Cranbrook save for North Star junction to Kimberley. My modeling picks up after Curzon Junction, so we don’t see any of the Kingsgate traffic. However, most of the tonnage on the Kootenay Division moves east from Nelson through Cranbrook to points beyond. It’s a staging yard, so I kept things simple. 5 ~2000′ tracks are containing within a staging loop, and one 1200′ track sits outside of the loop. This is nearly identical to Midway. I have potential for more levels of storage between Cranbrook and Midway, but I don’t want to add them until I feel it’s necessary. The layout is shown on this masterfully drawn temporary panel.


I try to keep run-through freights balanced between Cranbrook and Midway, that way operators who aren’t into switching have something to do.

I’ve decided to not lay the industries on the Nelson subdivision at this point. This includes a lot of spots at Creston, a log reload at Tye, and the Kootenay Lake barge operation at Procter. I’ve built enough for now, and it’s time to see how it works!


All turnouts in both yards above are controlled with Tam Valley Octopus controllers and 9g micro servos.

PS – It’s not quite cleaned up at the moment. There’s still lots to do before the next op session!

The Long Overdue Update!

Well, I’ve been focusing so hard on Past Matt/Future Matt on youtube that I kind of abandoned my blog for the past year. Back on track now, with no pun intended! (And apologies for having such inertia..)

I updated my post on programming realistic lighting effects to include NCE decoders!

This comes in light of the fact that I finished Cuprum Junction in Grand Forks – The interchange with the GN line to Republic and the hi-line. In fact, I have laid all the track on the Boundary Subdivision! Save staging, that is – The swing gate that sneaks beneath the duckunder is a bit daunting, but the first thing I’ll lay if I start doing track again.

Wait, what do I mean if?

Well, I’ve spent the last half a year laying track and putting in electronics, and with the amount of the stuff I’ve done in that regard I am SO ready to do something else! On the other hand, I’ve done a TON. Instead of the track only being in the area of the pulp mill, it goes up a 2.6% grade out of the top of the helix, through the short Shields siding, through a short tunnel, across the tall link and pin Farr Creek bridge, into the 1km long Bulldog tunnel (1500′ modeled) before soaring over the duckunder at Farron Summit, where there’s a 2000’ish siding, wye, lumber spur, and various MoW tracks. From Farron, it tips over down a 2.6% grade, winding its way around a small pond on McRae creek before entering Paulson canyon, with its towering cliffs, tight curves, tunnel and snowshed, often avalanche ravaged on the wet side of the Monashee mountains. Further downgrade the coniferous trees thin out as the line soars high above Christina Lake on the dry hillsides around Fife, a very short siding with a lumber spur and limestone tipple. The bottom is reached at the Kettle River bridge at Cascade, the longest bridge on the layout at over 500′ long! On the west side is the Grand Forks Sawmills and Cuprum interchange, all tucked neatly together in a little package. Another crossing of the Kettle River using a truss bridge reaches Grand Forks proper – I may do a history post later – and the wye, 3 track yard, and long passing siding with many varied industries. Great spot to turn around as you reach the end of the layout!

You’ll want to see some photos, of course.

The first section of new track from the past year, Shields siding:

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This siding prototypically was above Shields Creek, with a medium length siding for loading lumber. Today, the Shields Forestry Service Road crosses the abandoned railgrade here, where a picnic table and outhouse sit across from the hidden foundation of the old station. On my model, the siding twists in a tight S curve over a high fill – A scenic feature I’m excited for.

After wrapping around through a tunnel, the line crosses the second of the 3 major bridges on the line – Farr Creek


Though this may not be constructed for an eternity due to its unique nature, the scenery presents some constructive difficulties. The front of the benchwork could not be very high, even though it was dropped down for the valley, due to the height of the hills on the lower deck. What you see is the best compromise.

Next is the Bulldog Tunnel:


This is not going to be an obvious helix, with the track disappearing into a near-prototypical hill on both sides of the ridge, with a backdrop to top the scenic divide. Originally, the line completed in 1900 used a series of switchbacks (5 on one side, 7 on the other) to get over this ridge, but the 1km long Bulldog Tunnel was completed 2 years later. With a slight curve at the west end, this was unsettling to bike through – No light at the end of this incredibly long bore!


We get into the almost-scenicked are at Porcupine Creek


Porcupine Creek was originally one of the CP’s famous wooden trestles, until it was filled in like so many others. Trestles are cheap to construct, hard to maintain, and make super good kindling. This is the most major side valley in the Dog Creek valley, which we follow to the summit.


At the summit, the wye leg winds prototypically toward a side valley before unprototypically slinking behind some hills with its long tail. You can see that I’m experimenting with a bristol board/hot glue lattice in this area.

Past the summit is a bunch of windy track that will eventually be snowsheds, tunnels, canyons, and loads of interesting stuff. The landscape changes from a high mountain pass to lush forest to near desert, an incredible variation that was found in only 19 railway miles of the prototype! Near the bottom is the Fife limestone tipple, a 2 car lumber loading spur, and runaround track. The level tipple track makes a huge visual impact highlighting how steep the grade is, much as in real life!


At the end of a solid 2.65% grade we find the big Kettle River bridge:


At over 500′ long, this is/will be the longest – But not the highest – bridge on the layout. The backdrop behind hides the Great Northern Railway’s Carson spur staging track, enough to hide a small train.

Next is the biggest industry this side of the pass, Grand Forks Sawmills. I designed this to be an interesting track plan by itself, and was fairly faithful to the prototype.

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Grand Forks GE sawmill

On the near (north) side, there’s the lumber loading sheds, the far side has the chip pile, there’s a runaround and potential loading track that may be used for switching, a potato warehouse from a mile down the line, and smack in the middle of everything is the GN Carson Spur! Today, this is the only operational part of the Boundary sub west of Castlegar. The Grand Forks Railway sporadically serves the sawmill, interchanging with the Kettle Falls International, which bought the old BNSF/ex-BN/exx GN line up from Republic, Washington.

Zip across the smaller Kettle River bridge and you find yourself in Grand Forks itself.


A nice little yard, perfect for handling sawmill and interchange traffic. As you can see, the track zips through the backdrop. This will eventually lead to the upper/west staging, but I’ll need to build a swing bridge and I am DONE LAYING TRACK.

The east end has seen some work, too, though not much.

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Nelson yard is home to some 60 billion – or perhaps just 52 – turnouts, not counting the Kootenay Forestry Products sawmill and Procter yard/barge slip to the east. I couldn’t stomach or justify laying that at the moment, so I laid all the west end turnouts, 13 in all, to get the first 5 tracks in to be used temporarily as staging tracks. Just 40 more and I could have the whole yard, except I don’t care! Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! I think I have turnout-brain.


So, you say, this guy has a lot of turnouts, how does he control them? Well, the cheapest solution would be solenoids, but those would snap my points right off. I instead use 9g servos controlled by Tam Valley octopuses. I’m working on a youtube video to show all of this, and I won’t duplicate that here. Have a link to part 1 and part 2 as they are up, though!

Temporary control panels are in, and I’ve retrofitted servos onto all the mainline switches in the Castlegar/Kraft area. Those DPDT slide switches I used earlier just don’t last.

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Lots and lots and lots of wires, oh yes! I never do things the easy way.

That was a TON of work condensed into a long blog post, I hope I can update more regularly now without the weight of this hanging over my head!

In addition, I’ve been trying to get some more operational sense into my layout. You’ll have noticed the yellow post-its hanging out on the side of the roadbed. The show both passenger and freight speed limits, as well as the mileage.  These hopefully work in conjunction with the timetable that I created…

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I hope that makes any sort of sense to someone with experience with TT&TO operations.

Well, that’s my hundred dozen words for the day! If you made it through, high five!

How to replace trashed track.

Okay, so here’s this week’s post. There’s this curve that I put in at the very beginning that I’ve never been completely satisfied with – There’s a join in the middle that kinked slightly, and eventually went out of gauge. After that, I tried soldering PCB ties to it to keep it in gauge, but it was ugly. Recently, it started getting worse, so I did this!

Firstly, I shaped a new section of flextrack to fit the old curve.

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Next, I used my dremel with metal cutting wheel to precisely cut at the ends of it.

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Then use a chisel to gently…gently…lift…and carefully…destroy the track. You could save track if you want, but this is for replacing damaged track so forget it!

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This is a good time to remove the old feeders. Save them if you’re happy with them, but I put new smaller gauge ones in.

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Once you’ve got the old section lifted, you have a choice of whether to lay track on the old roadbed or not. My roadbed was covered with 2 kinds of caulking as well as wood glue in addition to masking tape for superelevation (banking) so it was going to be very difficult to give it a level and consistent base, so I used my chisel to take up the old cork as well. Sometimes a fresh start is good.

I cut the roadbed with a knife at either end of the section I was replacing, and then chiseled it up, being careful not to damage the rest that I left.

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Once all the cork was up I was left with a bit of gluey residue, I took care of that with sandpaper on a narrow piece of wood until it was smooth.

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Now, the process begins anew! I used wood glue to secure the new cork and cut it at the ends to match the existing sections. After that, the rest was a breeze. Sanded down the ends to make sure that there wouldn’t be any bumps before I added superelevation using this method.

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After that, slathered on a slightly-too-generous helping of caulking and tacked it down to dry.

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And voila! As smooth as I could ask for.

Kootenay Division video series launch – A conversation through time!

Hey, everyone. I’ve been working on this huge project all year and will continue to for the upcoming year. I’d love it if you would all subscribe to it! The premise is that every Wednesday I upload a video taken a year ago and every Saturday I upload a video taken that week, and converse with myself about all manner of things.

It’s called Past Matt/Future Matt.

First Past Matt:

First Future Matt:


Thanks in advance, please enjoy this 104-video long series!

I should really write one of these.

Geez, I’ve been putting this off. Why? I wanted to provide finished stuff, not updates! Too bad, nothing’s finished. Where am I? Wellll….

Just after my last post, I fixed up the track going from the Boundary sub to the Rossland sub main, which is the straight through track of the wye. Things kept decoupling on it because the transition was too steep, so I pulled it up and sanded it the hell down – dumb me also forgot to feed it! All is now well.


A few tracks over, however, more problems arose. The track buckled and an earlier attempt was made to secure it, but alas, it only made it worse. I had to pull it up and sand out all the caulking from underneath it. Remember, when securing track to a surface that isn’t perfectly level, make sure to secure it VERY securely.

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I bought a whiteboard and whipped up a timetable for it. I’ll do an actual printed timetable eventually, but I need to learn how to use design programs first.

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So that’s it for January…Awaiting resources, I made no posts and no progress. A week in, I realized something I could do – Though I had yet to calculate where to put the backdrop and scenery behind McCormack Creek bridge, I could totally divide it into two sections, doing the front first, leaving room to put the bridge in! First I put in a good solid support for the fascia, which is extremely tall to accommodate the bridge. This is comprised of 1×4 salvaged from the 10 year old scrap pile, some 1x3s for vertical support, and a failed cut for the helix to perfectly match the curve above.

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Next up were the scenery supports. Working from my CPR plans, printed to 1:160 scale, I positioned pads for the piers at the right points, and cut out the exact profile of the valley. How ridiculous is that?! I also put profiles in a few other places for good measure.

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At the same time, I set up a new cut for Castlegar, one that shall have smooth sides. It’s all glued, supported in obvious ways.20130215 2

After that I didn’t get much done for a while. I ended up soaking those 6 deluxe innovations chip hoppers in brake fluid (prestone dot 3) which worked very well, if apparently toxically. I filtered out most of the large bits of paint floating in it by running it back into the bottles through a coffee filter. This clogged up pretty badly, and though the first bottle filtered through in about half an hour, the second half of the second bottle took four days. FOUR FREAKING DAYS.

Oh yeah, then something pretty cool happened.


After over a hundred applications, perhaps closer to 200, I finally found SOMEONE who was hiring. That’s awesome. I won’t have a big budget, though, since I did my fiscal planning and my budget is much the same as before. Oh well!

My current project, besides the planning for the upper deck (which is finally gaining traction) is working on the helix.  I’m offsetting the top by 2.5″ to allow some room for scenery as it curves around the top, so I’m planning the tie-in for the upper deck. This is very exciting. I removed the last section of the helix, leaving cool hanging track while I added in the spacer section.

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Having taken off the masonite I had previously wrapped it in allowed me to become acquainted yet again with how terribly skewed my supports are.

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Also, I don’t believe I’ve posted a photo of all the feeders going into the bus, so here it is:

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Maybe someday I’ll get some ty-raps and tidy it up.

Next up, I positioned the section and found out that GUESS WHAT there are problems. First off, it doesn’t make it to the next support. Not a huge deal, I’ll deal with it. The best way to deal with it, unfortunately, is to add another inter-deck support like I’ve done in many places. That doesn’t work because the inside of this subroadbed strip is outside of the outside of the next one down.

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In the end I figured out that the inside of the top should line up quite well with the outside of the next one down, so I screwed and glued a 1×2 to the outside of the second to top level and the underside of the top level. It’s now fairly solid, but I’ve got more tweaks and a cool idea to put into practice.

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Well, back to work! Someone’s gotta make a bunch of cash for flextrack – oops, I mean, a house. I’ll try to come back quickly!

New year: Lighting, Track maintenance, and a valence

Well, it’s been Christmas, so it’s been hectic. It’s been especially full of not-trains since I spent so much time moving and re-organizing everything upstairs!

So after Christmas, I started thinking about how dingy the layout was. There were the 2 60W bulbs at either end, plus the one pair of fluorescent tubes at the far, far end. With more scenery going in, Castlegar to Kraft was so dark you could barely read the road numbers on the cars! Solution: Move the fluorescent to the middle of the room aaaaaand….I bought a pair of 37W CFLs. They’re enormous. ENORMOUS! They’re about 4 times the size of your average CFL! They’re equivalent to 200W incandescents, so they throw a LOT of light. They’re also white balanced to 4500K, which while not daylight, is the same as a standard ‘cool white’ fluorescent tube, so I don’t have to worry about inconsistencies in light when taking casual photos. I also replaced the hallway light with a 23W 4500K fluorescent. Everything is quite bright and white, and I’m not sure if daylight balanced would be too cold!

I also moved the fluorescent tubes to the centre of the room, over the aisle at Robson West. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it brought the light to where it needed to be.

Here’s your after photo:

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Hey, now you can see how terrible the room looks! Fantastic, another thing to think about =)

On the same tack, I took back a couple dozen fluorescent tubes to the local hardware store for disposal.

Or at least I tried.

There was a little accident…9 bulbs ended up on the floor in about a zillion billion pieces.

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That was fun.

Then the big milestone happened. I had my first operating session! That is to say, the first time a real train ran and did real work, and the first time I had a real person holding a real throttle. In this case, my lovely lady played engineer and I conductor on train 87, the Kraft Switcher. It took an hour to work all of the pulp mill and sawmill and get ready to depart Castlegar. Of course, there’s no Nelson, and nowhere for it to go, but the thought is there!

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I also ran trains 12 and 81 past to give some interest, using the helix as staging.

There were a lot of derailments, though. The trackwork was far from flawless, and much of the last week has been soldering, filing, and gluing. Some of the points didn’t have sufficient clearance for all of the different wheelsets, and so I repositioned them. The same was true of many flangeways for guardrails and frogs, especially with the old wheels of the C-liner and GP9 which were about as big as you could get on code 55! Filing the flangeways worked wonders. Finally, the caulk I used to secure the turnouts down wasn’t enough to combat track forces in a couple of instances, and the turnout had drifted slightly causing the points to not close against the stock rail. I used CA (Cyanoacrylate adhesive, superglue) to secure them in place. Now there are perhaps a tenth of the derailments, though that is still enough to be a pain. That’s not including the staging yard, where I’m having trouble with tortoises.

Securing down a turnout while the CA cures:

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Later that week, a friend dropped into town unexpectedly. We ran the same op session, but it was a bit different – he used to be a conductor with CP. He finished in 45 minutes, although I don’t think he ran as carefully as my girlfriend!

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So, in at least the pulp mill, things are going reasonably well. Maybe next time we won’t shove quite as long a cut of cars.

The next project to tackle was also lighting related. I was on a crusade against darkness in the most literal sense. I decided to build a quick valence above the to-be-scenicked portion of the staging yard/Castlegar.  I built it purely out of what I had lying around. 1/2″ ply for the main structure with bracing of 1x2s, a 7″ tall masonite panel spray painted flat black for the valence, and a few bits of 1×3 to support it here and there.

Under construction, gluing on the bracing:

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Test fitting the light, a 39″ under cabinet fluorescent:

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I decided because of the way it was designed I would be losing a lot of light, since the shell would throw light towards the aisle due to the end the cord came out of, so I used spray adhesive and staples to line the entire thing with aluminum foil for a reflector.

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On the inside of the masonite I made sure that there would be a surface to glue to, since I didn’t want any screws showing on this one.

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The finished product seemed to be nice.

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In place:

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And finally, fully completed and lit up. It’s not perfect and I would have preferred a slightly longer fluorescent, but for a days’ worth of work I think it made a big difference.

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That’s it for now, I hope I’ll have more to cover for another post before the end of the month!