Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #148


I've been sick on and off for several weeks. But the fascia is complete (Thanks Stic!). And pictures of me laying track aren't that interesting....so here's a treat from Dick Ewell's magnificent Hoosac Valley. 


Friday, February 3, 2017

Where (might) we be heading (maybe)?

As I mentioned before about a year ago I removed the White River Junction scene from the layout - it was simply too cramped in the space to effectively capture the look and function of the prototype. 
Despite rumors to the contrary, I do think through things before I start tearing into the layout, even if I don't draw up lots of detailed plans. 
White River Junction is a perfect example of that. I have several of the key structures completed, so it's merely a matter of finding a place for the scene that makes the most sense. 
When you descend the stairs into the basement and look straight ahead you're looking at the longest, straightest wall in the basement - one with no obstructions along it's entire 30+ foot length. Seems to me THAT'S the best place to put a long, skinny, and relatively straight scene such as White River Junction. 
Here's a quick sketch worked up from the White River Junction elements in Bernie's book. (This same plan also shows where Essex Junction fits in). Obviously this isn't a full track plan but it will give you an idea of how the pieces could fit together - rather effectively I think. 
Two things - I'll likely build this scene as a series of Free-Mo compatible module sections with the idea that it would be easy to move it or sell it at some point. 
Secondly, don't be looking for construction to start anytime soon - I made a commitment to the better half that the existing layout will look "finished" before adding any more benchwork to the space!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Inauguration – uh, make that “Backdrop” Day Review


I’ve been relatively successful at painting mountain scape backdrops.  The “townscape” backdrops present a far more difficult challenge.
Of course, the obvious solution would be a photographic mural behind the entire railroad.  There are two problems with this approach.  If I was modeling “today” it would be relatively simple matter to go to Vermont and take photos as needed. But I’m not modeling today – and while things change slowly in New England, they do indeed change, meaning contemporary photos are filled with structures, signs, vehicles, road markings, and a myriad of other details considerably different now than they were then. Secondly, while a full photographic backdrop (think wallpaper) may well look more realistic, I have a large layout – and the cost of such a backdrop would be prohibitive. The last quote I got to print one from my own artwork came close to what we spent on a 10-day vacation to London. Christine is very, very supportive of the hobby – but somehow I think her response would be “figure out another way to get from here to there.” Frankly, I wouldn’t blame her.
I suppose I could use photographs in the town and paint the open country backdrops. But that would look inconsistent to my eyes. Then there’s the question of blending – it would look weird to my eye to have photographs behind the towns, but painted mountainsides everywhere else. I first tried cutting the buildings out of photos, removing the inappropriate elements in Photoshop before pasting the buildings and streets to the wall.  I soon found the lighting on the photos I used from Google maps washed out several elements – primarily the church steeple. Also the trees in the photo had already dropped their leaves – a plus since I plan to model Essex as leafless, but cutting around the tops of trees created a very obvious seam between the painted wall “sky” and photograph treeline.
Prototype scene. Note how overexposed the church steeple is in this image.
Bernie Kempinski had run into a similar situation when he did a module depicting Alexandria, Va., in the pre-Civil War years for a local museum. Obviously there were no color photos. His solution was to draw the structures in Adobe Illustrator, colorize them, cut them out and paint the rest of the backdrop. Although it isn’t as “realistic” as a photograph, it is remarkably effective. So he volunteered to head away from DC on Inauguration Day to help me with the Essex Junction backdrops using the same basic approach.
He started by adjusting the angle of the main elements – the store, church, and house – to match the angle where the road meets the wall on my layout.  Then he traced over the photo in Illustrator to create the basic outline of the buildings. Once they were in place we dug out some vintage photos of this street in Essex to fill in the details that have changed over the years such as the arrangement of windows, doors, and various roof materials.
This photo shows an early “sketch” (the structures are not complete) temporarily tacked to the wall.
Before he left for the day he had added some details to the buildings and "tweaked" a few minor details. He then sketched a version with a road and some trees (plan is to actually paint the trees on the final version). These quick sketch trees are meant to help compose the scene:
I think a couple of things will work in my favor here. First of all, the left side of the backdrop shown here will be masked with a 3D “half model” of the old store that was just south of the trainshed (represented by a temporary red mockup in the photos), meaning we only have to really hide one joint. The other thing working in our favor is the scale of the elements, which isn’t really obvious in the close up pictures. The tip of the church steeple is about 6” above the layout surface and the benchwork is about 32” deep.
The Illustrator "sketched" buildings aren't as realistic as photographs, but they don't have to be. This is how the backdrop image looks from the aisle. 
Once all the 3D scenery and buildings are installed I think the result will be quite appealing. As Bernie and I discussed if it doesn’t work it’ll take about 10 seconds to erase it with some paint and start over.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trip Report - Going 'round the Southern New England Loop

Long post, but an action-packed weekend!
Stop #1: Jim DuFour's HO B&M
Stic Harris, Bernie Kempinski and I flew from DC to Hartford, Conn. early last Friday morning to attend the Springfield show and visit some layouts. We arrived back in town late last night after having a great time visiting some of the best layouts I’ve ever seen and sampling some of the local grub. 
The trip hit an early glitch when the airline decided we had everything we needed to take off, loaded everybody onto the shuttle to ride out to the plane, and then remembered that having a pilot sometimes comes in handy. So it was back to the terminal while we waited for the flight crew to be united with the aircraft. Then it was off to Springfield. 
We got a rental car “upgrade” – which apparently means “Here’s a Passat with high mileage and not-so-great brakes.” But we survived. Thanks to Bernie for driving. 

Jim DuFour's B&M Cheshire Branch
The Friday marathon continued as we bypassed the hotel and headed directly to Jim DuFour’s to visit his HO scale Boston & Maine Cheshire branch. When we arrived the sign on the door said “Come in” so we did. As I turned the corner I overheard Jim and Don Janes talking about me behind my back (happily it was all good!). I think I gave Jim a heart attack when he turned around and saw me standing in his kitchen. We headed to the basement where I got to run some trains (his steam locomotives are some of the best running, and sounding, I’ve heard). 

Also had a chance to visit with George Corey (above), whose prototype photos have provided Jim, myself, and countless others with lots of inspiration. George is not only a fantastic photographer he has a real Yankee sense of humor (translation, he’s a wise-Alek – though he uses a different term!). 
Stop #2: Old Saybrook, Conn., on Chris Adam's HO Scale New Haven Valley Branch
After we left Jim’s we headed for the coast and Chris Adam’s New Haven Valley Line in Old Saybrook. After Bernie managed to almost get us trapped by a 53-foot tractor trailer behind a mini-mart (he was hungry and wanted to stop for chips....) we arrived in Old Saybrook. 
Despite the chips, Bernie and Stic complained about being hungry, so we went to a sandwich shop in Old Saybrook and Bernie ate a five-pound Cuban sandwich (constantly commenting about how big it was as he continued devouring the thing). 
We then headed over to Chris’, but not before we met his  next door neighbor (Stic went to the wrong house…). When we got to the correct door Chris immediately reminded us that pizza was on the way. For the record, Chris had told us about the pizza, and though Bernie and Stic also got the same email it was somehow my fault they chose to eat sandwiches instead of waiting 30 minutes to have some pizza. 
We had a great time meeting Chris’ operating crew, and enjoyed running his layout. He’s just getting started on scenery, but the scenes that are finished (including Old Saybook proper, above) are excellent. I look forward to returning – if Chris will let us back in. Apparently, there’s still leftover pizza. I blame Bernie. 
We left Old Saybrook and headed to Springfield and arrived at the hotel just in the nick of time to avoid turning into pumpkins at midnight. We then retired for the evening. 
Saturday was taken up at the train show. I bought some things – luckily most of what I bought was pre-order (including a Bethlehem Car Works upcoming model of the CN CafĂ© Car – the one car needed to fill out the Ambassador consist!) so I didn’t have to figure out how to take a bunch of stuff back on the airplane! Saturday night dinner was in an old parlor car alongside the Palmer, Mass., former CV and Boston & Albany station. 
Stop #3: Jason Fontaine's Southern New England Railroad
Sunday morning we headed to Charlton to visit the next two layouts. Although they represent two different approaches to the hobby, they are both outstanding. 
Now there's something you don't see everyday on a model railroad! 
Our first stop was to see Jason Fontaine’s Southern New England. Like my prototype freelance roadname, Jason’s railroad is based on the famed “Titanic Railroad” of New England rail lore. Jason’s layout is populated with wonderful craftsman kits, has some excellent photo backdrops, and two things I’ve never seen on a layout – a lift up lake (for access) and a stock car track. 
Bernie is wondering where the lake went. 
Presently he’s working on installing touch toggle switch motor controls (we got a rundown on how they work and how easy they are to install) and finishing up a staging yard (he expanded the railroad a few years ago) in order to start hosting operating sessions. 
We left Jason's a little later than we planned, meaning we had to postpone lunch and headed for Neil Schofield’s layout. Neil's layout accurately represents railroading in and around Richford and Newport Vermont circa 1980.
Stop #4: Stic made a new friend (for the record, so did I!). Left to right: Finn and Stic. 


Neil has truly and accurately captured the structures, scenery, and rolling stock. Although the layout is only about 1/3rd done compared with the final grand scheme, what is there is outstanding. 
After leaving Neil’s we stopped for a late lunch. I forgot what Bernie ordered, but he ate all of it, once again complaining about how it was too much food. For the record, Stic and I ate everything as well, we just didn't discuss it. 

Stop #5: Dick Ewell's Hoosac Valley

Monday morning we checked out of the hotel, and since our flight wasn’t until 1930 and it was a beautiful (cold, but sunny) day we headed west to visit Dick Elwell’s Hoosac Valley. I’ve always been a fan of Dick’s layout and it never fails to disappoint. I think we each took 100 photos...Dick is simply one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – in the hobby or otherwise – and we really appreciated him hosting us on relatively short notice.  I even ended up leaving Dick’s with something truly special – a beautifully painted and great-running Central Vermont 2-8-0. Gosh, I hope he doesn't look for it any time soon. 
We stopped at a UPS Store so I could ship my newest acquisition to myself. The guys working there recommended a place called Local Burger – best burgers and fries in town. They were right – the burgers were excellent (Bernie complained about big his meal was, and proceeded to eat all of it in record time…okay, he left 3 or 4 fries in the basket). We did consider splitting the “Captain Crunch Hot Dog” just to say we tried it but we weren’t that daring. 
We drew the line at the Captain Crunch deep-fried hotdog....
The flight home was uneventful (pilot showed up this time…) and I arrived home before 2200 last night tired, but having spent a wonderful weekend with some great friends.
Thanks to all of our wonderful hosts - Jim, Chris, Jason, Neil and Dick. Y'all are welcome to visit us any time!