Friday, June 30, 2017

Richford Branch Maps 3, Sheldon Springs

In between painting the basement walls and boxing up household goods I did manage to find enough time to draw up Sheldon Springs. Sheldon Springs is located west of Sheldon Junction (see the close up map here). Highlight of Sheldon Springs is the Missisquoi Pulp & Paper Co. plant, which is by far the largest single industrial customer on the Richford Branch. The first map is an overall view of the area and shows how the various elements fit together. (Click on the maps to enlarge).

The Missisquoi Pulp & Paper plant was located on a spur that swung northwest from the Richford Branch proper. The mill itself was located downhill from the CV tracks at the base of a fairly steep hill. The paper mill had a small switch engine (even had it's own engine house between the mill and CV main). But the CV did switch the mill, although CV engines couldn't operate past the points denoted with the red "B" on the diagram below.
Typically the Richford freight required two engines for power. George Corey provided this shot of N-5-a 2-8-0 no. 466 shoving on the rear end of the Richford-bound freight at Sheldon Springs on February 23, 1957. Within a month steam would be dead on the CV. (And yes, freight car nuts should check out the GTW rebuilt boxcar ahead of the van). 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Story Telling and Layout Design?

The space in the basement for the new layout has been roughly defined, meaning it’s sufficient to start some rough sketches of potential benchwork shapes and the like. Or so I thought.
These sketches are nothing more than doodles … and attempts to apply the John Armstrong’s by the squares and “givens and druthers” approach proved equally unsatisfying.  It simply wasn’t working for me. 
Mike Cougill and Trevor Marshall have written extensively about their model railroading and layout design philosophy on their respective blogs.  Rather than attempting to review it all here, I’ll suggest you read them for yourself (See here and here for some examples, but be sure to look around at both of these excellent blogs while you're there).  
I believe the essence of what they’re saying can be boiled down to “What story are you trying to tell?”  While this is a novel approach to thinking about model railroading, military modelers and miniaturists have done for years. Meaning we might be able to learn something from them.
Typically we jump right into layout design by figuring out how to fit the longest possible run into the space.  The question of “why” is left unanswered.  Instead, thousands of gallons of ink are spilled on explanatory text “I’m modeling the XY&Z railroad from Town A to Point B…” I’ve edited and you’ve read more than our share of such exposes so I won’t belabor the point.  Instead I’ll simply ask shouldn’t the story we’re telling be painfully obvious with nothing more than a single glance?  For example, see Sheperd Paine’s “How to Build Dioramas” – a book that should be a part of every modeler’s library.  Paine was a master at crafting a storyline for each of his dioramas. Check out the cover photo of the diorama depicting an aircraft assembly line in WWII – what stories does that one image tell? 

Truly gifted artists and craftsman imbue their work with an indelible stamp.  And, while I think most model railroads fall well short of being “art” some model railroads do indeed cross that threshold.  These are the layouts built by excellent craftsman with a strong, well defined theme – a story they’re telling.  
Mike Cougill frequently refers to model railroading not as a hobby, but as “the craft.”  And I think it’s no accident that defining the story you’re trying to tell, not only about railroading but about yourself and your relationship to “the craft” extends far beyond the trains, curve radii, dispatching methods or other minutia that bogs us down way too early in the design process.
While it may be a little too philosophical for some, all this resonated with me to a certain extent.  I should add these same ideas are applicable individual projects as well as the layout. 
I don't know how much all of this will impact the ultimate layout design, but asking yourself “What Story do I want to tell?” is worthwhile. I know I’m going to come up with an answer before I cut the first piece of lumber for the new layout. And I'm going to keep the answer in mind throughout the process of designing and building the railroad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bye Bye Bye ....

After spending several hours hauling bits of wood up to the garage, and planning to rent a pickup up truck and make several trips to the dump,  I opted to solve the problem of removing the layout from the basement the American way and throw money at it. So first thing this morning this appeared in the driveway -
Add "cost of having a junk hauling company remove the layout from the basement and haul it off" to the list of things that cost more with a large layout. Less than an hour after they arrived what had started life as my "dream layout" looked like this:
I am still rather depressed about the whole thing, so I'm going to stop here and say this hereby closes the book on what will be from now on referred to as "the last layout."

Friday, June 9, 2017

Which way do I go?

When faced with a decision I like to outline the immediately possible choices, and research each of those possibilities to hopefully arrive at the choice that leads to the desired outcome. Sometimes there simply isn't time for deliberation, but in most cases there is at least enough time to consider various options.
And you need to take people's inputs with a grain of salt, since oftentimes their well-meaning inputs is really "This is what I'd do in your shoes based on my priorities, not yours."
Let's consider one decision - what's the next layout going to be? Instead of one question, it's actually a series of questions I continue to mull over as we box things up and get the house ready to list.
I've found over the years the typical "new layout" question starts with Joe Modeler sending a note to his friends (or posts on a blog) something like this:

"Hey Guys, We're moving into a new house shortly with a dry, finished basement perfect for a model railroad. Can't wait to get building. First I have to choose between <insert: railroad x vs. railroad y; northeastern vs. western; modern era vs. transition era, etc... you get the idea>. Thoughts anyone?"

Inevitably well-meaning modelers, and non-modelers provide answers based on what they have done, or would do, presuming that if it's right for them, it's right for everyone.
I recently had this very experience on an email list I regularly participate in. I don't know everyone on the list personally, but I do know most of them and consider all of them friends. When I outlined a few possible themes for the next layout I immediately got feedback that I can sum up as "bigger is better": Gotta have room for those 2-10-4s, White River Junction, lots of trains, and a large crew. Some of these thoughts were well-meaning from fellows who aren't model railroaders (read, they have no idea how much work, time, and expense are involved in "building White River Junction," so I take some of it with a grain of salt!)
But one of them, my friend Trevor Marshall, who knows well the frustrations I've had and continue to have with my last layout, took the time to offer his thoughts based on his experience with his layout. Trevor's note, included below:

I’ll argue in FAVOR of the Richford Branch. I model a one-train-per-day operation in my basement and I love it. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1 - 90% of the time, I run the layout by myself. Any more than one train would be too much.
2 - The smaller physical plant required for a branch like mine means more space can be devoted to each scene. The main yard of my layout - the terminal in Port Rowan - has a grand total of five turnouts, and I’ve been able to model it roughly 2/3 actual size. It looks great and is actually a lot of fun to operate.
3 - I’m 50 years old, so I’m possibly one of the younger people on this list. Yet, I find that between work and home commitments, other interests, and just getting older… I don’t want to grapple with a huge and complex layout. I was able to go from empty room to running trains with all track hand-laid and wired in about a year. Since then, I have had almost no maintenance issues with the layout. Plus, I enjoy zero derailments and no electrical “table-thumping” or “locomotive poking” issues. In short, the layout runs perfectly - with the exception of operator error - 99% of the time. When there is a problem, it’s easily spotted and fixed in next to no time.
4 - I enjoy scratch-building - everything from structures to the more than 200 trees I’ve added to the layout - and it all takes time. A simple layout, with no maintenance issues, means I have the time to do that.
5 - I have many projects in the hobby that I want to explore and my small, simple layout means I can do that. For example, I belong to a group that exhibits a free-mo style layout in S scale. I am also learning to brass-bash, with an Overland S scale 2-8-2 being converted into a CNR S-3-a. And I want to scratch build a Jordan spreader (type A) and a crane similar to the Tichy 120 ton model, both in S scale. These are all projects that will take up considerable hobby time - but thanks to having a mostly complete, easy to manage layout, I can indulge in them. - Trevor

Trevor posts regularly on his blog which I find very informative, link below...and thanks for the thoughts Trevor!

Port Rowan in 1:64

While I haven't made a decision, I know which way I'm leaning - very heavily.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Status Report - 3 June 2017

After a long day in the basement, disassembly of the peninsula is complete. Next step is getting the remnants upstairs and out to the garage. 
The massive amount of wood currently leaning against the walls and piled on the floor present the perfect argument for smaller, simpler layouts! 
Ugh, none of this was any fun, but having a good friend over to help at least made it seem to go a little faster! And we did enjoy a nice lunch trackside in Old Town Manassas - where we discussed plans for the next railroad! 
Thanks Stic!

Friday, June 2, 2017

New England Prototype Modelers Meet, June 2-3 2017

Work has been insane lately. And, as regular readers of this blog know things at home are certainly less than calm as we get the house ready to put on the market and deal with the issues of selecting items for the new house. To top it off, we will be helping my parents move from Connecticut to South Carolina later in the month.
All of these events conspired to keep me away from one of my favorite model railroad events of the year, the New England Prototype Modelers Meet, going on today and tomorrow (Jun 2-3, 2017) in Enfield, Conn.
A couple of weeks ago it actually looked like the timing of all these events might align such that I would be able to get up there for at least some portion of the meet, but it's not going to work out.
So, take this as a hearty endorsement of the meet if you can get there, and as a virtual "hello" to all my friends up that way. File this one under "Road Trips that didn't happen!"
Have one for me at the bar, I suspect I'm going to need it!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lessons Learned

An important lesson all sailors learn in bootcamp - ways to stop water from getting into the people tank.
Lessons Learned are a big thing in my work life.  We’re perpetually looking at things that didn’t go as planned (and even those that did) in an effort to identify and repeat the things that worked and to avoid repeating those times, as one of my old bosses was fond of saying “The water got into the people tank.”*
So, although I was pleased with the layout’s scenery and performance (once the initial teething pains were worked through) I find myself asking if the layout was “successful?”
The stated purpose of the railroad was to “model the equipment, structures, operations and setting of the Central Vermont Railway in the late steam-to-diesel transition era.” 
Measured against that standard, I’m not sure the railroad didn't fall short.
Here's just a few of the lessons learned:
Focus: I need more of it, and I need to stick with something once I drive the stake in the ground. "Modeling the Central Vermont of the 1950s..." is a large canvas. As I've relayed in this blog, I started modeling the Southern Division of the railroad on a double deck layout, then tried to shoehorn White River Junction and the Northern Division (with it's larger engines) into a single-deck railroad, only to later remove WRJ and install Essex in its place. The basic footprint of the layout never really changed all that much, but I think we built, and rebuilt, every section of the layout at least twice. 
My approach to layout design?

In essence, I was chasing the ever illusive squirrel - the hope of a "perfect" layout design to overlay on my theme. In the end, "perfection" became the enemy of decisiveness. That's all on me, and I truly appreciate the grace and tolerance shown by my friends throughout all this! 

Modeling the Operations:  In general, the individual operating sessions were a success (I always had a good time).  But let’s look at it from the viewpoint of return on investment.
I started construction of the layout in December, 2008.  It took several years of building (and yes, rebuilding) the layout.  In total, I ended up hosting 17 “official” operating sessions throughout the railroad’s 8.5 years of existence.  That’s averages out to a session about every 7 months.  An aside, if you really want to depress yourself, consider the following formula:
Total Cost of the Layout (in $) / Total # of Sessions = Cost/per session ($) 
No matter how it's broken down, it doesn’t seem like the time, effort, and money to build the layout was worth it when you consider the total time spent performing its main function was a fraction of the time it existed.
We didn't operate as much as I'd hoped, but Christine made sure no one left hungry!
Modeling the Equipment:  It’s great fun to tell yourself you’re going to model the railroad’s operations, six or seven towns, complete with scratchbuilt replicas of all the buildings, and run through them trains populated by accurate, detailed cars pulled by equally accurately detailed locomotives.
If you asked me what my favorite part of the hobby is I’d tell you it's building detailed freight cars. 
The one resin car I've gotten built in the last 24 months...and it's not even lettered yet!
If that's the case then why I have gotten exactly one – that’s one – resin car kit built in the last two years?
 Instead of doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, I’ve been stuck in a do-loop of sorts - “feeding the monster” – that large layout looming in the basement that required track, wiring, static grass, structures, trees (my God, the trees!), in massive quantities.  I kept telling myself I’d get the thing to “looking finished” and then turn my attention to the projects I wanted to work on.  But there was always another bunch of trees to install – or some piece of track to ballast.
I'll conclude with this. I'm not "down" on large layouts. I'm also not "down" on small layouts, or anything really. I don't think  the layout was an absolute failure. I had fun, shared some good times with friends, perfected some techniques and learned a lot about myself. My purpose in writing this is not discourage anyone else from pursuing their approach to the hobby (Lord knows, the above isn’t going to encourage anyone to do anything other than take up knitting!). Instead, I'm trying to quantify the good and bad and hopefully apply those lessons learned to the next railroad. 
 *To get the joke it helps to understand he was a submariner. And the #1 rule of all submariners is to keep the water out of the people tank…(Hey, it’s not my line, submariners are weird, everyone knows it.)

Layout Tear Down Status Report - As of 1 June 2017

Hope all took some time to reflect over the past weekend on what the holiday is really about.

Thanks to a (seemingly) never-ending string of rain storms passing through the area I've not yet started on my deck staining chore.  I did turn my attention to starting removal of the layout from the basement. Currently, the "barn curve" - a scene that I think came out pretty well, is sitting in the garage in 5 or 6 pieces awaiting a trip to the landfill.

Attempts to part out sections or pieces of the layout, even interest in basic components like 1 x 4s and the like, have fallen on deaf ears, or became too difficult to coordinate (I can't store this stuff indefinitely waiting for someone to come out and decide if they want to take any of it or not!). So, I opted to make it easy on myself and, once the layout scraps are in the garage, everything will go to the dump.

In addition to the lobe end of the peninsula I've started removing the around-the-walls sections of the benchwork. The rest of the peninsula, which involves removing the backdrop and supporting structure, will wait until the weekend when I have some additional hands available. I expect the basement will be devoid of model railroad by the middle of next week.

On the positive side I've been doing more sketching and thinking about the next layout (hey, it makes the drudgery of tear out seem like hobby time, I guess!). I'm still leaning - very hard - towards the Richford Branch theme. Some have expressed concern that this would be "too limiting" and not offer enough variety, require enough operators, or otherwise wouldn't be worth the effort. I do see the point, but in my mind, these limitations are precisely what makes it appealing. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dismantling commenced

From this:

To this:
Total elapsed time, about two hours. 
Because of how it was built, and rebuilt, this area had some of the most "complex" benchwork. I think taking the rest of the layout out will go even faster. 
They always come out A LOT faster than they go in....
Thinking about the next layout makes the process a little easier. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Richford Branch Maps - 2, Sheldon Junction, Vt.

We continue our trip up the Richford Branch with the location many consider the scenic highlight of the line - the bridge crossing the Missisquoi River in Sheldon Junction. This is milepost 10.11 on the line, measured from St. Albans. 
The word "Junction" in the name gives a hint as to the other key element of this scene, the CV's crossing with the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain RR, Vermont's famed "Covered Bridge" railroad. 
Again, this map was drawn using photos, valuation maps, and the railroad's engineering department drawings. 
(Click on the map to enlarge it. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Layout tear-down update

Thanks to all who have written individually or posted to the blog. I've been in the middle of a big project at work, and moving is well, all consuming, so I haven't been able to respond to all the notes, posts, comments, etc... Here's a quick rundown on where this project currently sits:

- The layout is still in place, but not for much longer. Thanks to my folks visiting last weekend and looking to help, the railroad is now devoid of trees ... most of the fall trees have been packed away for possible reuse. My dad proved to be quite the logger....

- Monday my folks helped me pack up my workshop - so the lathe, milling machine, scratchbuilding material etc... are all boxed up and ready to go into temporary storage. First, I have to haul all those (heavy) boxes upstairs!
- Over the course of the last couple of weeks of evenings I managed to pack up all the all the cars, locomotives, and structures, etc...
- All the salvageable track (ie. any track without ballast) has been removed from the layout. Any pieces of code 70 track longer than 2 feet have been bundled and packed away. All others bits and pieces of track, broken turnouts, etc...went to the curb. 
Next step will be the worst - removing the layout framework itself. That's on the docket for next couple of weekends...

Friday, May 5, 2017

So, What's next?

Since I posted the announcement about tearing down the current railroad I've received a lot of inquiries about the 'next' layout. Some have asked if I'm getting out of the hobby. 
I've been involved in model railroading in one form or another since I was a kid, so no, I'm not going anywhere (sorry, if you hoped otherwise!) and yes, I do plan to build at least one more model railroad. 
I honestly haven't made any final decisions. But I do have some possibilities in mind. As with most things, each has some strong and weak points. Here's where I'm at - subject to extensive change:

1. Central Vermont White River Jct. to Essex Junction, transition era - essentially, rebuild the layout I'm currently tearing down. 
PLUSES: I can reuse virtually all the structures, rolling stock, locomotives, etc...
MINUSES: That's a LOT of railroad to cram into any space, build, maintain, and crew as I've learned from all the building, and rebuilding, it's not an easy stretch of railroad to fit into a basement. 
But Bernie had a plan for a "dream" railroad that at least includes White River Junction in his last track plan book, so you never know...

2. Central Vermont - Richford Branch - 
PLUSES - Could be built one town at a time. Start with Richford, get it finished, and then move down the line. There's several interesting industries - lots of creameries, a couple of feed mills, and a paper mill, as well as interchanges with the Canadian Pacific and St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain. 
MINUSES: Well, it's a branchline, so there is some limit to the variety of motive power and rolling stock - no 2-10-4s here....

3. Southern New England Railway - Basically, revisit my old freelance railroad - Similar to the layout shown in MRP 2000 - start at Palmer and work through the New England countryside. 
PLUSES - Freelancing offers a lot of freedom, I can improve a lot of the issues I have with the CV specific prototype, but still have a railroad that looks a great deal like the CV, at least at first glance. 
MINUSES - Executing a believable freelanced railroad is a LOT of work - and you constantly have to explain the history of the freelanced railroad to, well, everybody. 

4. "Somewhere" in the Carolinas, set in the 1980s. This is getting away from the New England transition era layout - but I remember rail fanning that area at that time. 
PLUSES - A fresh start is sometimes extremely appealing. I know a little, but not much, about rolling stock of that era for example. More to learn keeps the hobby fresh. It would offer a chance to model some different scenery - a wood dock with some shrimp boats tied up, with marsh grass along the banks of the rivers, would be neat and offer a scenery challenge. 
MINUSES - This would represent a wholesale replacement of the considerable investment in time and money I've made in the transition era equipment. 

As would 

5., 6, 7, etc., . . . summarized as "Something in Proto 48" (or N, S, scale, or even narrow gauge, or ??? . . . 
I'm not discounting any options - I've actually gotten suggestions or hints to consider several of these, but I'm practical enough that it would be really, really difficult to deviate from HO at this time. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Petition to Abandon the Line

I had the pleasure of hosting an open house for the NMRA Potomac Division last Saturday. Considering this was the nicest weekend weather-wise we've had in about a month, I was pleasantly surprised by how many members (36 in total, according to the sign-in sheet) stopped by to see the railroad.
John Paganoni manned the check in desk upstairs, which allowed Christine to escape. Stic ran the trains back and forth (and back and forth). He seemed to be having a good time. Beauregard and Molly opted to go to Doggie Day Care for the afternoon, although they did have a chance to visit with Stic when they got home.

Just before the open house I posted the following notice on the layout fascia -

This layout's days are numbered - in fact I spent some time yesterday putting cars and locomotives back in their boxes, in preparation for the scrapper's train that is expected to show up sometime next week. I'll start by removing the around the walls portion of the layout, keeping the peninsula in place for a short while longer in order to have it evaluated for the NMRA Scenery Merit Award.

While some consideration was given to salvaging portions of the railroad, it seems much more logical to simply clean sheet the thing. So, with the exception of Williams Creek, which is a small section on it's own framework, the rest of the layout will be broken down to its basic components - with a lot of it going to the curb.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Station Stop - Richford, Vermont

The newest station stop map I've developed shows the end point of the Central Vermont's Richford Branch. The overall map shows the route the CV line took into town, including it's connection with the Canadian Pacific Ry. 
The close up map shows the trackage in the station area proper. (Click on the map to enlarge it). 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

NCE system up and running

Beer poster in lieu of photo of Gainesville DCC install crew. 
The Gainesville Mafia, headed by Don Pete LaGuardia, (a.k.a "The Electrician," a.k.a. "Wires", a.k.a. "Watts") stopped by last night to assist with the installation and checkout of my North Coast Engineering Wireless DCC system. 
Understandably, they don't like having their pictures taken so it worked out well that my phone battery was dead. So to have some sort of graphic with this post I've added a vintage beer poster. Enjoy....

We'd planned on a long evening in case of the need for troubleshooting. I'm happy to report the installation of the system, which includes three power districts, each with their own booster and a Tony's Train Exchange short circuit detector, went flawlessly and the system was up and running in record time. 
Thanks to Pete, Mat, Tom, and Brian for their assistance. It was much appreciated!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Essex Junction Backdrop update

Bernie came by for a short, but productive session on Sunday. His main tasker was to complete the Main Street backdrop scene in Essex Junction.  As you might recall, back in January, he came over and started to do a computer drawing of the buildings along one side of Main Street (essentially south east of the trainshed). Before he left that day we printed out a size test version of to make sure the scale and perspective would work and he finished up the drawing at home.
Yesterday he showed up with the final drawing and his bucket of backdrop paints and an assortment of brushes. He dove right into painting the background foliage and distant treeline. We’re keeping the horizon line fairly low in this section of the layout since it represents a relatively flat town.
Instead of cutting out the buildings entirely, he actually painted the sidewalks, and some bushes and grass texture onto the paper.  This proved pretty effective.
Then he cut out the printed sky from the upper portion of the printed buildings, sprayed the back of the paper with photo adhesive, and placed it on the backdrop. 

After blending the road coloration, and adding some leafless “foreground” trees, I think the finished section of backdrop looks pretty good (the 3-d structures shown here are strictly stand ins!)  Next step is on me to finish the three-dimensional scenery in the foreground, and add the “real” structures to both sides of the street to not only get the right look but to hide the edges of the backdrop section, and add the foreground foliage.
That has to wait until I finish the tracklaying/wiring in this area. While Bernie was working on his art project (and after he took off), I managed to get the track complete from north staging to the trainshed.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve handlaid a half dozen or so turnouts in Essex Junction, so it should be a simple matter to “connect the dots” with the rest of the track. 

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 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 Café 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!