Getting Up Steam

Undated photo of the steam canal boat Ashford. Piles of salt in the background indicate it may have been taken in the Syracuse area (Historical Collections of the Great Lakes/Bowling Green State University).

The end of the animal-powered canal boat, after decades of encroachment by steam vessels, came quickly.

Primitive steamboats had been sighted on the canal since the 1840s but  would remain a novelty for most of the century. Canal enlargement in the mid-19th century and improved steamer designs gradually changed things, though, and around 1880 the first practical steamers were introduced. The advantage of steam power was immediately apparent. While animal-powered fleets were limited to two vessels – so-called doubleheaders – a single steamer could push one boat (a consort) and tow up to five or six more.

The final Barge Canal enlargement of 1908–1918 permanently settled things. As each new section came online the towpath itself began to disappear. When the enlargement was completed, only powered boats could navigate the entire distance between Buffalo and Albany.

In 1916, the date of my scene, most steam-powered boats on the canal were of two types, both built of wood:  tugboats and steam canal boats. The U.S. government’s 1884 Report on the Ship-Building Industry of the United States helpfully includes a diagram of a steam canal boat, a functional design (besides pushing and towing unpowered boats, it could carry its own full cargo) that remained in service well into the 20th century.

Steam Canal Boat Diagram
Diagram from the 1884 Report on the Ship-Building Industry of the United States illustrates a typical wooden steamer built on a laker hull.

This was the design I wanted for my 3D model – new technology (steam power) grafted onto traditional design (the wooden laker hull). Now I just needed to find a specific vessel on which to base the model.

Unfortunately, period photographs of Erie Canal steamers are about as rare as hen’s teeth. Repeated online searches turned up nothing.

Eventually I learned to combine two sources: the List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, published annually by the Department of Commerce, and the Great Lakes Vessels Online Index, maintained by Bowling Green State University. The 1916 edition of the List included around 40 vessels designated as “Scb,” or steam canal boat. Searching for each of these on the Bowling Green site resulted in a handful of matches – some of which included photographs.

For various reasons, including the clarity of the photo and strong evidence that the boat operated in this area, I chose a steamer named the Ashford. It is pictured at the top of this post.

According to the Index, the Ashford was 95 feet long and 17 feet 8 inches wide. It was built in 1883 in Buffalo and sank in the Barge Canal near Schenectady in November 1919 – “a total loss.”

Filling in the blanks

Online searches (mostly through Google Books) turned up several references to the Ashford. The earliest was a notice from the Buffalo Express reprinted in the August 22, 1883 issue of The Coal Trade Journal:

The Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad Company was founded in 1881 to haul coal from western Pennsylvania to Rochester and Buffalo. That was as far as its lines extended. The canal boats were to be used to ship the coal to the lucrative New York City market. The company’s 1883 annual report explains that land purchased in Buffalo will be developed into a railyard, but also that

. . . We have made two slips to accommodate eight canal boats . . . and have constructed coal shutes [sic] . . . so that coal can be shipped in canal boats at minimum cost.

The assumption that the Erie Canal was always in competition with the railroads, then, is an oversimplification. Things were more complicated, especially early on when hundreds of railways were being formed and struggling to grow and survive. In this case the R&P’s fledgling rail barons were merely attempting to leverage an existing resource – the canal – to give them a leg up on the competition – other railroads.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. The Rochester and Pittsburgh went bankrupt and in 1887 all of its assets were sold. The rolling stock and track were converted into the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad, which would be absorbed into the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1932.

The company’s steamers apparently went their separate ways. The next mention of the Ashford that I can find is in the 1899 edition of The Blue Book of American Shipping, which gives the owner as one William Barker of Buffalo. The following year the Ashford is listed as one of two steamers owned by William J. Warwick, also of Buffalo. Ten years later the Ashford would be sold to Joseph A. Hutton of Rondout, on the Hudson River. Hutton may have been the final owner – I could find no others listed – and since this was the only steamer he owned, perhaps he was the skipper as well. Was he on board in November 1919 when the Ashford sank near Schenectady? It would be nice to know, but here the trail grows cold.

Here’s an interesting postscript:

In September, 1889, the Bishop, a canal boat towed by the Ashford, collided with the F.  W. Whalen, towed by the steamer Lizzie Crandal, while the two fleets passed each other a few miles west of the location pictured in my scene. Both the Bishop and the Whalen went down, and the owners of the Whalen sued the owners of the Ashford and the Bishop for damages.

The following year the District Court of the Southern District of New York dismissed the suit based on evidence that the Whalen had been on the wrong side of the canal at the time of the collision.

Steamer Hull
The Ashford’s hull is based on that of an 1870s-style laker.
Rebuilding the Ashford

My sources for the model are a high-resolution photo of the Ashford (provided by Bowling Green University), and Robert E. Hagar’s excellent drawings of an 1870s-era laker, held by the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum.

The photograph isn’t the best quality, unfortunately, and some detail (especially behind the wheelhouse) is impossible to figure out. As usual, my rule is to leave out details rather than make them up. (The model will be seen at a distance and the stern won’t be prominent, anyway.)

Final Ashford Model
3D model of the Ashford, shaded and ready to be placed in the scene.

Once it’s finished the model is placed in the scene along with the three lakers. Our mighty fleet is at last under way.

Expanding the Fleet

The original laker model is modified to create three different boats, all based on the same basic hull shape.

Our Erie Canal laker model, shunted into digital dry dock last spring, will be expanded into a small fleet for our scene.

Of all the types of boats on the Erie Canal in 1916, the laker was the most common. Unpowered (or, in the jargon of the time, “unrigged”), it was the workhorse of the Erie Canal from the late 19th to the early 20th century. According to a Report on the Ship-Building Industry of the United States, published in 1884 by the U.S. Department of the Interior:

The laker is a regularly framed boat, with perfectly flat bottom, square bilge, perpendicular sides, straight body, round bow and stern, and decked entirely over. It is made of oak and white pine . . . and it is 97 or 98 feet long, 17½ or 17⅔ beam, and 10 or 10½ feet in depth of side. . . .

These boats . . . weigh from 65 to 72 tons, and carry 225 to 240 tons of cargo. They are usually painted white, and the stern is often profusely ornamented by a sign-painter, the name and home port being conspicuously painted in gilt and red and blue letters. About one-half of the boats on the Erie Canal are of this type. Being good for almost any service, these boats . . . are popularly used in forwarding grain from Buffalo and Oswego to New York city [sic] via the canal and the Hudson River.

In 1883 a newly built laker cost an average of $3,800, roughly equivalent to $95,000 today. It would see service for 10 to 15 years, perhaps longer if it were well maintained.

Canal Boats
A mule is put aboard an Erie Canal laker in Fultonville, New York, around 1900 (Perinton Municipal Historian Collection).

For much of this period most canal boats were animal-powered. A team of three mules, walking along the canal’s towpath, could pull two fully loaded lakers lashed together. These doubleheaders would allow the owner to maximize his or her carrying capacity (and profit) with a minimum crew.

That crew, which often included family members, lived in the aft cabins. The animals were housed in the bow cabin or bowstable. Two teams of three mules were switched every six hours and kept the boats moving 24 hours a day. The speed limit was 4 miles per hour – a brisk walking pace – but most boats averaged less, covering the 360 miles between Buffalo and Albany in five to seven days.

Canal Boat Graveyard
Abandoned canal boats choke the shallows of the Eastern Widewaters near downtown Rochester, New York, in the early 1900s (Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center).

From 1880, steam-powered boats began to replace animal power. By 1916 – the date of our scene – the transition was virtually complete. Steel barges, another innovation, had made an appearance but their adoption would be interrupted by World War I, when all steel production would be diverted to the war effort.

So for the time being wooden lakers would be pushed and towed by wooden steamers. (There will be more about steamers in the next post.)

When they reached the end of their useful lives, wooden canal boats were often simply abandoned by their owners at “graveyards” where the canal was wide enough to accommodate their decaying wrecks.

One old graveyard, in Pittsford, New York, can still be seen on Google Maps, where the ghostly outlines of 100-year-old hulks are visible just below the water’s surface or jutting above it along the shore.

The sad, old frames are fully exposed when the canal is drained for winter. It’s amazing that they have survived for so long.

Old Canal Boats
Remains of old scows lie on the bed of an old turning basin in Pittsford, New York.

Growth Opportunities

New England aster (left) and goldenrod.

Now that the terrain and major human-built objects are in place, it’s time to work on the scene’s natural elements: grass, wildflowers, weeds, and trees.

But before I could start modeling, I had to familiarize myself with the species that are native to this area – and would have been a hundred years ago. The National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America and the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America became my constant companions this fall. Both are densely packed with photos, maps and detailed descriptions of hundreds of species. Great for browsing at home as well as using in the field.

Assortment of sugar maple models, from 100-foot tall adults to saplings.

Sometimes it was possible to identify trees in historical photos. I settled on a mix of northern red oak, black walnut, and sugar maple. Some trees that are common here now, such as black locust and honey locust, were omitted because they are not native and I was not able to find out when they would have been introduced.

I collected and scanned leaves for identification and to use for modeling. Scanned leaves can be processed to create the different textures needed for 3D model construction.

Northern Red Oak leaf scan and processed images, from left: Diffuse (color), specular (reflection), and alpha (opacity).

All of the foliage was created in SpeedTree, an industrial-strength tree and foliage 3D modeling tool that’s widely used in the motion picture and gaming industries. SpeedTree is one of those applications that does only one thing, but it does it very, very well. It has a short (but steep) learning curve. But once you begin to master it you can build just about anything.

SpeedTree workspace.

I used SpeedTree to make several models of each tree species, in various stages of growth. I also made about a half-dozen types of wildflowers, all of which should have been present in late September-early October 1916.

Test scene combines several species of trees, grass and wildflowers.

As a test, many of the species were mixed and placed in a new Terragen scene. Terragen shines when it comes to foliage because of its ability to place populations of thousands of models, its sophisticated noise and fractal functions that can be used to create natural-looking species distributions, and because of its renderer. This scene consists of billions of polygons, yet Terragen produced a rendering in a couple of hours without breaking a sweat. Impressive indeed.

An assortment of barrels.

Besides foliage, I’ve also started building an assortment of small objects that will add detail to the scene. Here’s a selection of barrels that will be placed around the terminal area, on horse-drawn vehicles, and on the canal barges.

Working scene with foliage added.

Some care has to be taken in placing the trees in the working scene. It’s easy to overdo it. A hundred years ago this area would have been nearly clearcut to make space for farming and canal construction. In the decades since, unchecked second-growth woods have filled in much of the area depicted in our scene.

The new scene rendering shows the foliage in place with a scattering of cirrus clouds in the sky. It’s beginning to look like a picture.

Building Boom

Ryan House
Today the Ryan House exists as a bed and breakfast, though the barn and shed have long disappeared.

The past few weeks have been spent modeling and placing the buildings in the scene, just as they would have appeared in 1916. Enough historical photos of the area survive to allow us to do this with some accuracy.

The largest building is the hotel, known then as the Ryan House, located on the north side of the canal. The front section of the building dates from 1815, prior to the construction of the original Erie Canal. The back half was a separate home, moved into position and attached in 1850.

To make room for the canal enlargement in 1912, the entire structure was moved again – on rollers, 50 yards due north, where it remains today as the Adams Basin Inn, a local bed and breakfast.

Post Office
The square building served as a post office and telegraph office. It was later moved about 100 yards southwest, where today it serves as a private residence.

The second group of buildings is on the south side of the canal. The main building served as the post office and telegraph office as well as, apparently, the telephone office for Adams Basin. A square, rather nondescript frame building, it was also moved to make room for the canal enlargement and turned 90 degrees to face Washington Street, the road that the bridge carries over the canal.

The purpose of the small shed behind the post office is a puzzle. It shows up in every historical photo of this location that I’ve seen. All of those images date from the period of the canal enlargement and bridge construction, so there may be some connection. A tool shed, perhaps, or a field kitchen to feed hungry workers? The chimney vent and side windows, which open vertically like the panels on a street vendor’s cart, suggest the latter. By 1916 it that service would no longer be needed, but the shed will remain in our scene.

The interurban railway station was located between the existing tracks and the enlarged canal – a tight fit.

The final building was the most difficult to track down. The Buffalo, Lockport & Rochester railway station is clearly marked on the 1924 plat map of the area. But no trace of it survives. No photographs, either. At least, so it seemed.

But after several months of searching I came across a reference, via Google, to a small box of photos housed in the rare books section of a local library. The photos documented the enlargement of this section of the canal from 1908 through 1912. A visit to the library and perusal of the box turned up three images that included – yes – the interurban railway station.

The photos confirmed the station’s location. The design was similar to those used in other small communities, such as Spencerport and Gasport, though this one was smaller than those.

In placing the buildings I discovered that the interurban railway track was located in the wrong place. It was moved a few meters south and “regraded” to fix the road crossing. Other changes to the base terrain followed so that now, overall, it’s more accurate than before.

Besides the buildings, I’ve also placed the utility poles that carried the electrical power lines for the railway, the telegraph lines for the steam road, and telegraph and telephone lines along Washington Street.

It seems our ancestors were getting used to living beneath an expanding web of wires that, today, we take for granted and rarely notice. I’ve often wondered what they must have thought.

Shading Car 505

Completed model of Car 505, shaded and placed in the working Terragen scene.

The exterior of the finished passenger car model is based on the original color scheme as delivered by the Cincinnati Car Company in 1909: Pullman Green body, Tuscan Red roof, Mandarin Red doors and sashes, gold lettering and stripes.

At some point the railway’s cars were repainted completely in red, but I haven’t been able to determine when that happened. But even if I learned that it happened before 1916, I’d be tempted to leave the original colors. They look pretty sharp.

A little rust on the trucks and undercarriage and a moderate amount of chipped paint and dust on the body has been added to show that the car has been in use for few years.

The model fits perfectly on the existing railway tracks in the Terragen scene. The image below shows the approximate final angle and framing of the scene with the car in place.

Wide-angle view shows the entire Terragen scene with the car in place.

Raising Car 505

Car No. 505
Car No. 505 stands in the yard at the Cincinnati Car Company before delivery to the BL&R railway. The trucks, trolleys, and electrical and brake systems are not yet installed. They will be purchased from other vendors and installed at the Rochester carshop. (Photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society)

The Buffalo, Lockport and Rochester electric interurban railway began service in late 1908 with 15 passenger motor cars built by the Niles Car and Manufacturing Company of Ohio. The BL&R had experienced financial trouble during construction but the future must have looked bright: Six more cars were ordered and put into service the following year.

The new cars were built by the Cincinnati Car Company. Like the Niles cars these were high quality and comfortable, with mahogany interiors, plush seats, a separate smoking compartment, and room for 54 passengers.

Z Axis
Z-axis view of the front of the traction car model.

The cars, constructed of wood and measuring 51 feet 6 inches in length, were double-ended and painted Pullman green with gold trim. They were powered by four 140-horsepower General Electric motors, originally geared for speeds up to 80 miles per hour, later reduced to 60. (There are stories of BL&R cars overtaking steam locomotives on the parallel New York Central Falls Line.)

They were numbered 500-505 and remained in service until the company, later reorganized as the Rochester, Lockport and Buffalo Railroad, went out of business in 1931.

Marker Lamp
Mounted on the rear of the car, marker lamps displayed red and green lights to indicate the car’s direction at night.

Because of the huge online “railfans” community, historical railway information is plentiful and easy to find. This is especially true for steam railways. Electric railway information is harder to come by but is available. The Electric Railroad Dictionary, published in 1911, is a rich resource and is available on Google Books and as a 1972 reprint.

The model for my scene is based on Car No. 505. The overall shape and dimensions are guided by a fine set of drawings by C. L. Richardson, published in William R. Gordon’s Rochester, Lockport and Buffalo R. R. in 1963. The Dictionary and historical photos help fill in the details.

Trolley Base
The trolley pole will be mounted in this trolley base. Springs keep the wheel in contact with the underside of the overhead wire.

The model is more a collection of several models than a single piece. I’m not sure how much will appear in the final scene, or even what the viewing angle will be, so I’m erring on the side of too much detail.

Walkover Seat
Walkover Car Seat, No. 199-A, manufactured by Hale & Kilburn.

The most difficult part is the undercarriage, which is visually complex and difficult to see in photographs. But it’s possible to piece everything together with Richardson’s diagrams, the Dictionary, and a little patience.

In the process I learned a bit about how it all worked. The technology may have been crude, compared to today’s, but the engineers and designers were inventing a new form of transportation. The machines they built were ingenious, rugged, and beautiful. It’s interesting stuff.

Car 505 Model
Front and rear views of the completed model of Car No. 505. Shading will add color and more detail.

Electric Ghosts

Postcard photo taken at Adams Basin between 1908 and 1910 shows the general store and old Erie Canal arch bridge. The new interurban railroad line crosses from left to right in the middle foreground with a warning sign at the extreme right. By 1913, a new lift bridge replaced the arch bridge.

Work on the bridge scene has taken a few unexpected twists and turns. But few have been as intriguing as this.

It turned up very early. While searching for information about the area around the bridge, I turned to contemporary plat maps digitized by the local library. The maps, which show property lines, buildings, bridges, roads and railroads, were published in 1902 and 1924. The first one is too early – the lift bridge was completed in 1913. Here is a section of the 1924 map.

1924 plat map of Adams Basin names each property and shows buildings, roads and railroads.

Everything in this map was familiar except for the line labeled “Rochester, Lockport & Buffalo.” I knew about the New York Central rail line, also labeled. But what was this?

A bit of digging quickly turned up more information. The RL&B was an electric interurban railway that connected Rochester with points west. Built in 1908, it was part of a web of interurbans that spread across western New York and the rest of the country.

At that time it wasn’t at all apparent that the automobile would be the transportation mode of the future. Roads were narrow and rutted, automobiles expensive and undependable. Railroads were the way to go. A mania spread as investors sank their fortunes into the burgeoning interurban industry.

But instead of buying stock in interurbans, ordinary people used their savings to buy Henry Ford’s new Model T. Roads were gradually improved and the automobile industry expanded. Interurban ridership declined and finally the bubble burst. Nearly all of the rail lines were defunct by the early 1930s.

What’s left of the Buffalo, Lockport & Rochester right of way, next to the canal near Adams Basin.

The Buffalo, Lockport and Rochester Railroad had been sturdily built because it was expected to last for decades. Instead it was abandoned and literally ripped up: Cars, tracks, bridges, electric generating stations, and most passenger stations were simply scrapped.

The interurbans used traction cars, either singly or coupled in pairs, to carry passengers and some freight over standard gauge rails at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. These were not “trolleys.” They were light, high-speed electric railroads. Today, the fate of these innovative transportation systems seems to represent a missed opportunity.

Little survives. Traces of the overgrown right of way are barely visible from the air or on Google Earth. Some passenger stations have been preserved, and a derelict steel bridge crosses the canal in Rochester.

Photograph of a 1909 fire in Adams Basin inadvertently includes details of the interurban line, including the track and trolley wire.

Sometimes it’s impossible to pinpoint track and station locations. That’s the case with Adams Basin – the right of way vanishes in the immediate vicinity of the bridge. I feel like I’m chasing ghosts.

But it’s clear that the railroad must be in the scene. So, while the sleuthing continues, I’ve started modeling the traction car itself, starting with the “truck” or wheel assembly.

Model of a M.C.B. type Baldwin interurban railway truck. Two 140-horsepower General Electric motors (not shown) powered each truck. The traction car will include two of these.

Have Boat, Will Travel

Test rendering of a partially completed laker model with a Kelvin wake pattern.

The canal scene is to be set in 1915 or 1916, a time of change for the Erie Canal. At enormous public expense, the canal was being upgraded to compete with the railroads. It was widened, all of the locks were replaced and enlarged, and dams and reservoirs were built to replace much of the original channel with “canalized” sections of the Mohawk River and other streams. The work began in 1909 and continued into 1917.

Wooden canal boats pulled by teams of horses or mules were being phased out. Eventually they would be replaced by large steel barges pulled by commercial tugboats. But change comes gradually at best and in 1917 all U.S. steel production was diverted to the war effort. So at this time there were still many traditional wooden Erie Canal boats in service. Some were animal-powered, some were towed by tugs. Some were combined into fleets of two or three boats and pushed and pulled by wooden steamers.

Traffic jam, 1905: Canal boats line up to pass through the Rochester weighlock. (Photo from the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center.)

At this time the classic Erie Canal boat was the lakeboat or “laker,” which was around 98 feet long and had a cargo capacity of 240 tons. Lakers carried lumber, coal, gravel, and grain between Buffalo and Albany, or all the way to New York City via tug along the Hudson River.

Fore and aft views of the completed laker model.

My laker is based on plans drawn by Robert E. Hagar and now held by the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum. It measure 97½ feet from bow to stern and has a draft of about 9 feet. In the traditional laker, the front cabin served as the stable (or “bowstable”) for the animal teams. Living quarters were in the stern cabin. It wasn’t unusual for entire families to live and work on board all season.

Completed laker model, shaded and in place on the canal.

Building the Bridge

Unshaded model of the Washington Street lift bridge in place. Unshaded model of the Washington Street lift bridge in place. Unshaded model of the Washington Street lift bridge in place. Unshaded model of the Washington Street lift bridge in place.

The lift bridge that crosses the canal at Adams Basin was completed in 1913. The technical name of this type of bridge is a mouthful: Warren pony truss towerless lift bridge. Warren bridges use equilateral triangles to spread out the load on the bridge. “Pony truss” refers to the fact that there are no braces across the top of the bridge framework. (This is curious term. I’d like to know where it comes from.)

But the operative word here is “towerless.” This bridge is one of 16 similar bridges constructed along the western section of the Erie Canal in the early 1900s. Unlike traditional lift bridge designs, they do not use towers to lift the roadbed. Instead, the machinery is contained in concrete-lined pits on either side of the bridge. Two 12-horsepower electric motors are sufficient to raise and lower the bridge. The heavy lifting, so to speak, is done by counterweights and a system of cables that ensure that all four corners are raised and lowered at the same rate.

These may the first such bridges ever built, and they are virtually unique. Designed by a team of anonymous New York state engineers, the bridges’ durability and reliability are attested to by the fact that almost all are still in daily use.

Bridge piers are placed to check scale.

Precise scale drawings of this particular bridge are not available. But they do exist for similar bridges and can be adapted. The bridge model is based on those as well as photos and a few direct measurements. [Note added Sept. 10, 2021: Actually, the original construction diagrams for this bridge have been preserved at the New York State Archives in Albany. I didn’t know this when this post was originally published.] The piers are built first and placed in the Terragen scene (above) to check the scale.

Full-scale model of the bridge, built in Maya.

The bridge model is built in Maya and is highly detailed. Here is an unshaded version of the model, rendered in Maya. Below, two views of the shaded model in place and rendered in Terragen.

Shaded models of the bridge and bridge tender’s tower, rendered in Terragen.
Reverse view of the bridge, rendered in Terragen to check shading.

Bridging the Erie Canal

Just add water: The canal is filled and vegetation placed in the landscape.

The Erie Canal, which runs just a mile or so from our home, has a long and colorful history.

For some time I’ve wondered if it might be possible to use 3D imaging software to recreate specific scenes along the canal at different moments in time. As a proof of concept I decided to work on a simple example: The Washington Street lift bridge in Adams Basin, shortly after the bridge was constructed in 1914.

Simple, because the terrain is flat and, at the time, Adams Basin was (or so I thought) a sleepy rural hamlet. A canal, a bridge, a road. Maybe a boat or two.

A bit of cursory research demolished that notion pretty quickly. As it turns out, Adams Basin was a much more interesting place a hundred years ago than it is today. It was a thriving community with its own canal terminal, post office, school, railroad station, and trolley station. (Yes, trolley. More on that later.) Retail and wholesale businesses – now long gone – lined the roads and canal. It had a lively political scene, too, with a dedicated group of civic-minded activists who, among other things, successfully lobbied the state for the construction of the lift bridge.

So there is much to do. The project has been underway now for several weeks (months), and as yet there is no end in site. But the research has been fascinating, and I’ve met some interesting people and have been able to hone my 3D visualization skills along the way.

Visualization of digital elevation data available from New York state.

The first problem: How to set up the underlying terrain for a 4-square-mile area around the bridge. New York state provides high-resolution digital elevation data for free. But a quick rendering of that data (above) revealed that it is pretty rough, full of gaps and artifacts. Cleaning this up would take a lot more effort than it would be worth.

A small section of the hand-painted displacement map.

The solution was to create a displacement map by hand. Using aerial photos as a guide, the canal, streams, and railroad embankments were carefully painted in Photoshop, working in 32-bit mode for the widest range of grayscale values. Dark values are depressions. Lighter values are higher elevations.

A rendering of the hand-painted displacement map.

An oblique rendering of the displacement map in Terragen reveals a landscape that’s not much to look at, but it will work. The main feature is the canal bed, of course. But it also includes a north-south roadbed (north is to the right) and two long railroad embankments.

Grass and a temporary population of trees are added, a water surface is placed in the canal, and railways are placed to create the view shown at the top of this post.