Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Painted or Photo mural backdrops?

Same section of layout - one with my initial attempt at a painted backdrop, the other (below) with a commercial photo backdrop that has had the "sky" cut away. 

Here I moved the photo print to another section of the layout and tried again. Obviously for photo backdrops to work you have to be a little more careful of how you cut the landscape from the sky. Among photo backdrops fans there is some disagreement - there are the "cut into the tree line" adherents and the "leave a little sky at the top of the photo and blend into the rest of the wall" fans. I, as of yet, remain unaffiliated. 

Yes, it's a question that divides otherwise peace-loving and agreeable model railroaders into two warring camps - do we use photos for a backdrop or go with a painted image? 
Painting an effective backdrop is a skill - and a talent. It can be mastered but it's not easy. 
Frankly, anyone can put a photo behind the scene on the layout. 
And you'd think a photo, being a photo, would automatically be "better." It's not. It takes some skill and talent - and the right photos - to get a photo backdrop to look right. 
Biggest issue I've seen with photo backdrops is the way the backdrop colors aren't even close to the colors of the scenery on the model railroad. Another issue is the photo backdrops can be just a little too much in the viewer's face, and there can be issues with light and shadow that are in a real photo but don't translate (or conflict) with the shadows and lighting on the layout. 
Clearly there's no easy answer. 
One of the most talented model railroaders I know who's built world-class layouts, has identified his limits and decided that plain "sky blue" with perhaps a slightly lighter horizon line with perhaps a very thin streak of "ground," is enough backdrop for him. 
I decided to do a little experiment with a photo backdrop put temporarily in place of some of my attempts at painting. 
I'm not sure what this proves, other than I'm not much of a painter. 
I also haven't made a decision one way or the other - but I know what way I'm leaning. 
In the meantime I have to finish prepping my clinic for Cocoa Beach, so I doubt I'll get this resolved before then. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Crepe Myrtle foreground trees

Some folks have asked how I use the Crepe Myrtle tips as armatures for foreground trees. I think this (new) photo shows the process pretty well:
Step 1:  The raw Crepe Myrtle tip with the open seed pods still in place
Step 2:  Remove the seed pods and discard. Trim the branches to a "tree" shape as needed.
Step 3: I use hot glue to attach the leftover "bits" from Supertrees to create the basic tree armature. 
Step 4: The tree painted with some type of "gray" color - this is Krylon "Camouflage." If you're modeling the leafless season I wouldn't use such a dark color. Of course, if you're modeling leafless trees the tree is ready to plant!
Step 5: The finished tree has been flocked with two or three shades of Noch leaves and fine ground foam.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Marathon scenery session

An overall view of the next area of the layout to get the scenic treatment - between Williams Creek bridge and the south switch at Richmond. 
At this point this section of the layout look more like the surface of the moon than Vermont pastureland. Need to let the "dirt" dry before I start adding the grass …. tomorrow. 
I'm sick of looking at unfinished sections of the layout. I've also signed up to do a clinic on the techniques and materials I use to model fall scenery at the upcoming Cocoa Beach RPM meet titled "Modeling the October Scene." 
I had enough scenes to do the "finished" photos for the clinic, but needed some step-by-step pictures. 
Combine all this together with a long holiday weekend and I'm my third day of working on scenery. Last weekend I did some backdrop tweaks and worked on some trees. 
Here's what I've done since Friday:
1. Painted, and repainted, the backdrop north of Williams Creek. 
2. Finished carving and gap filling the landforms all the gaps filled from Randolph through to the south switch at Richmond. 
3. Airbrushed the track at Randolph and north of Williams Creek. 
4. Added the first "coat" to the scenery - leaf fall in the areas that will be forested and sifted earth for those areas that will get some form of "grass." 

And, I even started assembling my clinic. 
Lots still to do. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Local Histories as Reference

Although the internet can be a great resource sometimes I think we've become just a little too dependent on the "Google Machine."  Sure, "Googling" is a great start whether you're shopping or researching how a 200 year-old building looked in 1954, but it's not the only way to get from "here to there." 
I've found local town histories are one resource that many modelers overlook.  Although in many cases the railroad history in these is thin on details (if not outright incorrect!) they often have wonderful vintage photos and lots of details in the text that may seem a little too down in the weeds for a history not centered on one town or city. 
Two of the Arcadia histories I've found useful. 
The most obvious source of these are the small format photo books published by Arcadia Publishing. I have the books on most of the towns along the CV, including Essex Junction and White River Junction (which is actually located in Hartford, VT).
The History of Waterbury is a little heavier on text with fewer photos - but there are some images useful to the model railroader such as this shot of Pilgrim Plywood. 
Although not as readily available, detailed town histories can be obtained either through local historical societies (which usually are the publishers and distributors of these books) or located and purchased through online book sellers such as Amazon and Alibris. 
Most of the ones I've located are reasonably priced, so I simply purchased them. If you locate one that's truly rare the price may be a little steep - especially if you're unsure of how useful the information in the book may be. If you don't wish to purchase the book you try to borrow it through interlibrary loan. Another possibility is to stop in the town library next time you're in the area you're modeling on a research trip - you might find other sources there like old maps and newspapers.
I've had the Acadia books and the Waterbury town history book shown in the photo above for a number of years. 
I thought this might make a worthwhile blog post when I was trying to uncover photos of different sides of some of the buildings in Randolph - and not having a lot of look with online searches. I also wanted to find any photos of the Randolph Furniture factory.
After exhausting my usual sources I resigned myself to having to use a commercial model as a "filler" and turned my attention to some of the other buildings. As I was researching the Brigham Gelatine plant I came across an article online from the Randolph newspaper. Although the article was about plans to convert the Gelatine plant to a condo, there was a small photo in the article that credited Wes Herwig's Early Photographs of Randolph Vermont, 1855-1948. 
I'd never heard of this book, but a quick search on Amazon revealed a copy for sale. Less than a week later it arrived. It proved well worth the price. There wasn't a single picture of the furniture plant, there were four or five, along with lots of photos of the other buildings in town. (Ironically, there were no pictures of the old coal and ice building, perhaps one of the best known structures in Randolph).
Randolph Furniture. Eventually this would become part of the Ethan Allen Company. 
I hope my chance encounter with this book inspires you to check with the local historical societies in the areas you're modeling. You never know what you might uncover.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Festivus is Here!

As SNE 617 races southward with an express car loaded with aluminum poles....

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Backdrop tweak

The backdrop in the just north of the curve in my Randolph scene dates back to last year when the Williams Creek bridge was here. So before I added the background trees and ground cover I needed to make it look less like a river valley and more like pastureland and forests with distant mountains and hills. 
The photo shows my efforts - I'm very rusty at backdrop painting, but the good news is if it doesn't work out a "reset" is a coat of sky blue paint away….
I need to add some foreground textures and foliage to the "trunks" on the left, tone down the "shadow" on some of the trunks, get a little more definition to the other trees, and get rid of the "ghost" effect of the distant ridge showing through the trees to the left. But first I need to let this dry. 
One lesson I've learned from painting backdrops is that you can add just a little too much paint. When you do things start looking awful muddy. 

…. and even more Gap Filling

At last approaching the end of the "gap filling" project, at least in the "front aisle."
 The area behind the freight house/coal dealer and in the location where Eldredge Woodworking will go in Waterbury had some gaps between the 3D scenery and backdrop, so I got those filled in (the green florist foam is the easiest way to fill these gaps I've found as it "compresses" into the gaps. 

A quick coat of earth tone latex paint and it's ready for some scenic textures. 

Sitting in front of the television last night I got some more foreground trees prepped and ready for installation in the scene. (The tree on the right shows what these look like when the leaf flocking is added). I just purchased some of the new Scenic Express open cell flocking that I'm looking forward to trying. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fourth Anniversary!

This week marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. I started the blog on December 17, 2010 with a simple "Test" post. The first "real" post was on December 23rd.
For those of you who like numbers here are a few -

On the Second Anniversary* of the blog, December 2012:
Total Views: 44,690
# Followers: 88
Total Posts (2011 and 2012): 90
Average Posts/Week: .86

Third Anniversary, December 2013:
Total Views: 100,000
Total Posts (2011-2013): 175
Average Posts/Week: .89

Fourth Anniversary, December 2014:
Total Views: 186,301
#Followers: 165
Total Posts (All time): 313
Average Posts/Week: 1.5

In case you're curious, here's the Top Ten list of most viewed posts (the number to the right is the total number of unique page views for the year):


Sep 4, 2013, 10 comments

Dec 23, 2010, 3 comments

Jan 15, 2014, 7 comments

Oct 9, 2012, 6 comments


Aug 4, 2014, 6 comments


Oct 29, 2012, 6 comments

Aug 5, 2011, 4 comments

I'm not sure what any of these numbers mean, other than someone seems to be reading this stuff. I don't get hung up on post counts and the like - I also don't practice the "post a day minimum" you hear about in blogging circles. I write a post if I have something to say I think you may find interesting.
Posts dealing with modeling projects and the layout tend to garner the most responses - either through the blog or directly to my email inbox. I'm not particularly suprised many of the posts with the most views are editorial comments on the model railroad hobby as a whole. "Hoarding, Collecting or Savvy Buying?" and "Clinic Etiquette" both provoked a lot of discussion and response. I think the MicroLux paint post sitting firmly at number 2 is a result of Google searches for Micro-Mark or Micro-Mark paint....As for the others, who knows why they've risen to the top.**
I'm particularly pleased at the increase in the number of meaningful comments (there's always been some spam comments, which I eliminate as soon as I find them) I've been seeing on the blog, particularly in the past few months. At this point there's just over 510 comments - and some of the comments are almost "mini-posts."
The one comment this year that I was particularly surprised and thrilled to receive was to my Model Railroad Influences post. I admired Russ Griffith's modeling and articles - and was especially thrilled to get a heartfelt note from his son in the form of a blog post comment.
I'm not sure why there's been an increase in subscribers to this blog, and an increase in comments, but I think many modelers are using blogs as a replacement for the long-standard "Yahoo" mail lists and the like.
I started this blog to create a diary of sorts that would document the building, rebuilding and operating my home layout.
At this point I'd consider the blogging experiment to have a success, and plan to keep writing as long as I'm able and have something to say. The fact that so many other modelers seem to enjoy it is particularly gratifying.

* There are no stats available for the first year since I didn't include them in the first anniversary post!

** Of course, by including the list of Top Ten posts and associated links here all I've done is guaranteed people will click on them, increasing their total views more!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

More gap filling

In between working on my chemical tank car model I made good progress filling in the gaps in scenery.  I also got a lot of the foam carved to the basic landform shape. This isn't as messy as plaster, but it generates a lot of styrofoam "chips" - if you're going to use foam for your scenery have a shop van handy and be prepared to give it a workout! You can see how I used the green florist foam to fill the gaps between the pink foam sections. The florist foam compresses easily enough to really fill those gaps. 
Next step is some paint and basic ground texture - that and the addition of some trees and this portion of the railroad will start to look "finished."
In the meantime I'm going to take a break - my arms and wrist are really sore….

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Filling in the gaps

I had several large pieces of pink foam board and some florist foam taking up room in the workshop. So instead of tripping over them I went ahead and filled in some of the gaps between the plywood sub roadbed and backdrop and fascia, mostly around Randolph. 
I'll do some carving and terrain forming tomorrow. The pink and green landscape doesn't look like much, but it's better than the big gaps that used to be there. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What's been happening - Wiring, new car, new automobile, and a firehouse....

I've been getting some wiring completed on the Richmond side of the peninsula (and wiring makes for compelling photographs, which is why you haven't seen many posts this week!). I'm also putting some finishing touches on the Resin Car Works chemical tank car - will do a separate post on it in the next few days here and on the freight car blog.
The other big project this week had nothing to do with model railroading - my 10-year old car picked last Thursday to develop a bad leak in several key places...
Without going into too much detail, it was going to cost more than the car was worth (by a factor of 2x!) to repair it so I ended up shopping for a new car. Not my favorite thing to do....
All that is behind me though.
An ongoing project (something I can do in front of the television) is researching the various structures needed for the railroad. At this point I'm trying to locate photos of the Randolph Vermont fire house (currently the town museum) - the building with a tower just north of the depot. Specifically, I'm looking for photos that show the door/window arrangements on the side and gable walls as they looked in the 1940s/50s - I believe at one point it may have had large "firehouse" style doors that have been replaced but the contemporary building doesn't make the arrangement obvious. After studying it for a while David Emery feels the building as it now stands is pretty much original - or at least relatively unchanged from my modeling era.
Hoping someone took a photo of a train and got more of the building in the foreground or background than I've found to date.
If I can't find that, we'll go with the current arrangement. The firehouse, and the coal and ice dealer from last week's Wordless Wednesday, will be key elements in the Randolph scene.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Old Time Trains Web Site and Model Railroad Hobbyist Getting Real column

You'd think I'd found every site on the inter webs that had Central Vermont related information by this point, but every so often I get an email with a link to a site I didn't know about. This was the case tonight when Ian Stronach sent me a note with a link to R.L. Kennedy's web site "Old Time Trains."
There's a lot of neat photos of CV steam, including some wonderful action shots and even a color image of one of the older 2-8-0s, no. 402. 
The link below will take you to the page:
 Old Time Trains
I should add that Ian contacted me through the Model Railroad Hobbyist website. It reminded me that the current issue of the online ezine has my Getting Real column discussing the large rebuilding effort that saw the Randolph scene replacing the old freelanced paper mill. Most of that has been discussed at one point or another on the blog, but the article tells the whole sordid tale from start to finish!
And thanks Ian for the link!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A time for every purpose....

There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and on the model railroad.
In this case late fall in Virginia means it's time to harvest tree armatures from the Crepe Myrtle plants.
Making foreground trees is great fun while watching football on a late autumn/early winter Sunday afternoon!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

We actually had our "official" Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday night - which means today was a quiet day at home - so Christine prepared a small (but very delicious) meal (well, I made the mashed potatoes … apparently that's the one thing an Irishman CAN do right in the kitchen!!)

I spent a pleasant couple of hours sorting through and cleaning up the resin parts needed for my RCW AC&F Type 27 chemical tank car. Here's a closeup of the sheet of resin bits and pieces - 
And to all the readers of this blog, our best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shepley Coal Company Sheds

These two sheds make up most of the Shepley Coal complex at Waterbury. 
View from the opposite end. Still need to stain the end wall!
You can see the two coal sheds to the right (in front of 2-8-0 452) in this George Corey picture of Waterbury. The next industry I plan to work on in Waterbury is the Cooley-Wright foundry, visible in the distance to the left. 
 We have family visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday week, so I simply can't spend a great deal of time in the basement. Since I tend to wake up early (thanks to two dogs who don't seem to get the concept of "sleeping in on the weekend") I have some time in the morning to get a little modeling done before the rest of the family rolls out of bed. 
Since I need to be quiet for these morning work sessions I've chosen to finish up the coal dealer and freight house in Waterbury. 
Photos show the current state of the Shepley Coal Company sheds. Though not as interesting as silo or elevated ramp style sheds, these lean-to sheds were perhaps the most common in New England in the 1940s and 50s. 
Mine is made from Scribed basswood sheets with 6 x 6 posts glued along the side. The bracing crossmembers are 2 x 8s. Everything is stained with a combination of Hunterline Blue Gray, Creosote, and Light Brown stains. The roof is black .040" styrene - I'll add tissue to the roof to represent tarpaper. 
Also, the rear walls of the two sheds face the backdrop, so these are also plain styrene. No reason to expend effort on something no one will ever be able to see. 
You'll notice there is some pink foam crumbs visible where I carved away some scenery to make room for the sheds. I didn't vacuum it up before taking the pictures - need to be quiet, remember?
Finally - about the name - Shepley was the name of the company as seen on prototype Sanborn Maps. I didn't have room to model the sheds full size - but my sheds are plenty long. I have a small shack that will serve as a scale house that will be installed when I add the scenery texture to this scene. I'm not sure I'm going to call the industry Shepley. I might name it after a friend. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

A little re-organizing

I've been spending a lot of time (too much it feels like, but it needs to be done) reorganizing the house, basement, and garage. 
So it seemed like maybe the blog needed a little reorg and freshening up. So I've made some changes to the page layout in an effort to make the blog look cleaner and more streamlined. If only it was as easy to clean up the area under the railroad!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Would the real CN Red #11 Please Stand Up?

All five of the Canadian National boxcars visible in this photo are the same color - CN Red #11 - aren't they? 
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the percentages by road name of the boxcars running through White River Junction in 1954. (You can find that post here). 
The one thing that survey revealed was the overwhelming majority of boxcars running through town, and therefore along the line I'm modeling, were Canadian National. I do have a fair number of CN boxcars, but figured I could always add more to the mix. I'll do a separate post at some point on the specific makeup of my CN boxcar fleet, but that's not the point of this post. 
A number of years ago some knowledgeable CN experts, notably Stafford Swain, researched the colors of paint used as "standards" on the CN system. The result of this study indicated "CN Red #11" is the "standard color." You can get it from several model paint manufacturers (for the record, my preferred brand for this color is Scalecoat, but TruColor and Badger both market "CN Freight Car Red" paints.)
But having the "standard" color is nothing but a starting point - a benchmark. 
Note the photo above - all of these boxcars (every one of them) was painted at some point a variation of "CN Red #11."
See how they all look alike?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Work Session Report - November 11, 2014

First of all, to all my fellow veterans and to those who are still on active duty in the Armed Forces, thank you for you services and sacrifices. You're the reason we get to enjoy hobbies like model railroading. 

An overall view of the Richmond area as it looked after today's work session.
Progress on the layout had kind of sputtered out a little - I was finding it hard to get motivated to put the mainline back together and finish the track in the Richmond area. 
Stic and I had arranged a work session for today a couple of weeks ago - and knowing Stic was coming over shamed me into finishing up the track. I managed to finish all the track on Sunday. 
Since I was still left with a bunch of pink styrofoam pieces in the workshop it seemed to make the most sense to spend today's work session cutting the gluing the styrofoam landforms in place. 
We made pretty good progress - next step is to carve the foam to shape - which will be as task I'll tackle in short sessions after work in the evenings. 
Appreciate Stic spending his day off over here helping with the layout.
Beauregard and Molly are in charge of keeping up morale…. and wrestling!
You can't use an electronic magazine for this! Bound volumes and magazine holders filled with MRs, RMCs, and the like make perfect weights to hold the foam in place as the glue dries! The mockup is a rough approximation of the Richmond creamery. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Putting trolls in their place

Several times I've started typing, deleted, and re-started a post expressing my reaction to an email I received via the Model Rail Radio mailing list from Jim Gore earlier this week.
I can't begin to describe how angry this email made me - (posted as I received it):

Dear All,
First, I want to thank so many of you who have said nice things about my layout feature in Model Railroader. Never intended that to be one of my goals in model railroading – it just happened because a friend of a friend talked with Lou Sassi who needed some place to visit in Florida during the winter.
I have always believed that this hobby of ours is exactly that … a hobby. It is something that gives us individual satisfaction and a certain amount of contentment. Ultimately, there is only one person that has to be satisfied, the owner of the model railroad; the rest being “gravy”.
It seems that my fictionalized railroad, as a branch-line of the Chili Lines, has sparked outright hatred and animosity among a group of prototype modelers, presumably who are strict Chili Line adherents. If you know any of these persons, can you tell them to stop sending me nasty emails and phone calls. Good gravy … it’s a hobby !!!!

As I blogged in my post on Clinic Etiquette, most model railroaders - the overwhelming majority - are well adjusted people who appreciate good modeling and a good story. They also know to appreciate a layout - I still remember some sage words I first heard years ago "Learn something from every layout you see - every modeler has a story to tell, and it's worthwhile even if it's not the layout you'd build."
Sadly there area few  (thankfully only a few) "model railroaders" for whom the hobby is more about badgering others than any worthwhile efforts -
My friend Trevor Marshall has expressed it better than I could, so I'll simply provide a link to his excellent post -

As far as the Trolls go - I've decided I'm not going to tolerate them any more.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lunch in Baltimore….

When all else fails, hold the directions with one hand...
and start pushing buttons with the other!
… Well, not exactly. 

Had a nice visit and lunch with Paul Dolkos over in Alexandria. The occasion was delivery of one of the new (at least to me) Easy DCC T5000E throttles. A mutual friend, Fred Scheer was ordering an Easy DCC system and several of us piggybacked on his order to get some of these new throttles. The visit to Paul's was to pick up the throttle, and was also an excuse to inspect progress on his HO Baltimore Harbor District. I also made a separate trade with Paul… more on that shortly. 
Paul has been making great progress on the layout. The theme couldn't be more different than Paul's former world class B&M White Mountain Division, but the execution and modeling are top-notch. Paul is, simply put, one of the most precise modelers I've ever encountered. Every model on the railroad is beautiful - there's no hastily hidden misaligned joints, patchy ballast or ground cover, or anything of the sort. He also has the neatest layout rooms I've ever seen. There isn't a single box, random pile of stuff, or household junk hidden on or under the layout. He doesn't have curtains below the fascia because, well, frankly, he doesn't need them. 
Paul's been a great friend for more than two decades and I appreciate any and every opportunity to visit with him - like most model railroaders I know he likes to talk about a wide variety of subjects, although modeling and photography are perhaps his two favorites. 

Here's a few snapshots I took of the layout - 
Bernie admiring the layout - that's the WM car float in the foreground. See Bernie's blog HERE for his take on our visit.

This fertilizer plant - also visible overall photo above, is a combination of scratch built components and Walthers kits. There will be an article on this section of the layout in an upcoming issue of Model Railroader. 

Wouldn't be Baltimore without swing bridges and oysters!

This was the first section of the layout Paul completed. 

There was a bit of a controversy (well, not really, it was in good fun) about whether Paul or Lance Mindheim started using photos of buildings with cutout windows and the like. Paul claims Lance first saw this on a background building on the B&M layout … we're not convinced. The issue remains unresolved. 
I mentioned Paul and I did a little additional horse trading before the other guests arrived. I had a couple of Walthers kits that he wants to use for his "Fells Point" inspired scene - and he still feels he had too many "New Englandy" cars on his roster - so we made a trade. A couple of Walthers kits for a nicely detailed, painted and weathered Accurail CN boxcar and a Westerfield New York Central car - both built by Tom Underwood for Paul. 
They're already in service on the Roxbury Sub…