Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A truly universal tool

Ever wonder what the original universal tool might be? 
It just may be the file. 
Beyond the obvious purpose to either smooth or file metal, plastic or wood to shape consider you can also:

1. Cut material to length (using sharp corners)
2. Hammer nails or brads - provided it's a beefy enough file
3. Use it to pry two or more boards apart
4. Open a can of paint with it 

And, of course, once the paint can is open, you can work most efficiently by using it to stir the paint. 
I'm starting a new trend here, that I hope will catch on. Despite my known tool-alcoholic tendency, I'm turning over a new leaf - I think I can get by with two or three tools - 
something that makes holes, such as a drill; drives screws (hey, a cordless "drill" also works - even more efficiency!) and, of course:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Traffic in (and out) of a plywood plant

Most of the industries along the Central Vermont, at least in Vermont, can be summed up in one word - lumber. 
Furniture makers, door and window manufacturers, and even ski and baseball bat manufacturers all had one thing in common - their raw material was primarily hardwoods harvested from the verdent Green Mountains. One could even say another famed Vermont product - maple syrup - was directly related to the lumber industry.  
So it was no surprise to me when I learned one of the larger industries (click on photo above to enlarge) along the CV yard in Richford was a plywood manufacturing facility. Specifically, this  particular plant specialized in making plywood shipping crates for shipping a variety of items, including "special talking machines." 
So the outbound shipments are fairly obvious. Plywood crates, shipped flat in "shooks" (kind of like the Ikea of its day, I guess!) that can go almost anywhere other products are made. 

But I'm wondering what, if anything, would be shipped in to the plant?
To make plywood you start with a log, strip the bark, and slice it into thin strips, called "plys."Glue is applied to the plys and they are stacked with the grain running alternate directions from one layer to the next and then they are subject to high temperature steam before the stacked plys are placed into a hydraulic press (below) that laminates the layers together forming, you guessed it, "plywood." 
The raw sheets are then heated and stacked to dry, and will eventually be cut to size and/or sanded before being shipped to the customer (the illustrations with this post came from a 1921 Atlas Co. brochure - you can find the entire brochure HERE). 
I'm fairly certain the plant in Richford generated enough wood scrap that the boilers - visible at the location of the stacks in the photo above - were likely wood fired, but who knows - it's possible they were coal fired or the coal provided supplemental power to the plant. 
"Adhesive" of some sort may also have been delivered to the plant - at least that seems fairly logical. I don't believe the plant received wood by rail, although it may have in earlier times or in the event a unique species of wood was needed. 
Turning up the brochure has given me enough knowledge to press forward with planning how to model the industry on the layout. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Model Railroad Hobbyist and Podcasts

Couple of quick updates - 

Although I haven't written anything for a couple of years for Model Railroad Hobbyist, Joe Fugate asked me to participate in the 100th issue version of the "Getting Real" column. You can find that here: 
The fantastic images in that issue of Mike Confalone's latest visit to Allagash country are well worth your time. 

The column produced some interesting comments - some of which went down a rabbit hole and led to some interesting, and widely divergent, commentary dealing with spouses, money, and the hobby. 
And somewhat out of the blue Lionel Strang asked me to appear on his "A Modelers Life" podcast to update him on what I'm doing. We spent almost as much time talking about the Navy as we did model railroading. You can find it here:
A few weeks ago I got a short spot for an update on Tom Barbalet's Model Rail Radio (Show #141) podcast - you can find it here: 

Friday, May 25, 2018

IKEA Ivar Benchwork - User Report

I first saw the IKEA Ivar system used for model railroad benchwork at Bernie Kempinski's. (See his blog post HERE). 
Pricing dimensional lumber can be a bit of shock. And picking through the stacks of torqued/twisted and warped lumber at the home improvement center searching for straight lumber can drive you downright nuts. 
The IKEA Ivar turns out to be less expensive than clear pine - and it's precut and ready to assemble into a stable, good looking layout base. 
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I'm going to try the IKEA Ivar system for the basic structure of the layout. Greg Stubbings saw that and offered the following experiences he has had with the same system: 

We have a number a mutual friends and have met a few times over the years.  Last time was at Dick Elwell"s place, I was running trains and you were buying Dick's CV 2-8-0 ! Stic and Bernie were also there.  I model CNR in the Lindsay Ontario are in fall 1957.
Anyway, I follow your blog with interest and noticed that you were considering using IKEA IVAR bookshelves as a basis for your benchwork.  I did this 2 years ago and found they worked very well.  They go together fast, are temperature and humidity  stable, sturdy, readily available, cost effective and you can put them up with only one person.  Best of all, you have a lot of organized shelving that can be covered with drop curtains etc when guests are coming.
I used the 20 " wide shelves 48" high for most areas and 12 " wide shelves in a penninsula. On top of the L girders is 3/4 plywood and 2 X1" foam insulation board. Track ends up at about 51"
The only modification that I made was to use levelling bolts and tee nuts on all 4 corner posts.  I used 1X3 and 1X2 pine for the L girders - good quality plywood that you have already ripped will also work.  I set each shelf unit up with at least 2 shelves (you can add more later as storage need and budget permits).  I levelled each unit.  When I had a section / phase done with a number of units, I installed the L girder on the front edge and back edge with a level and clamps.  Depending on how level your floor is, the position of the L girder does not always match the top of the shelving unit.  I also used smaller L girders on a horizontal plane so that I could attach the plywood  top from below.  It is amazing how sturdy these are once the L girders are in place and the front fascia is attached.
I have attached a couple of photos.  I do not have a blog but a friend of mine, Chris Lyon has done a number of You Tube videos of my layout on his CNLVN channel. 

Take care

Greg Stubbings

Here's some photos of Greg's IVAR benchwork:

Thanks for writing Greg, and for allowing me to share your experience with readers of this blog.

I plan to follow the same basic approach as Bernie and Greg - with one exception. I'm going to use a couple of the Ivar cabinets on the "front" section of the layout. It will not only make that portion of the layout appear more finished, the points where the two sections of the layout are spanned by a removable section needs to be stable. I'm counting on the Ivar cabinets - which are plenty heavy - combined with books and magazines (or bricks!) on the shelves inside the cabinet to keep the end of the layout in place. 
Modelers lacking the tools, skills, or desire to build their benchwork from scratch might want to check out the Ivar system, perhaps combined with components from a company such as Sievers, to get their benchwork completed. I'm sure you could fill a spare room with such "screw together" benchwork in an weekend morning. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

100% Started?

The June 10 "Benchwork Started By" date is looming closer. 
But that begs the question - exactly when does construction start? 
I've gotten a good start at the Phase 1 benchwork/framing plan - basically the Richford peninsula and it's approach tracks. In fact, I'm at the point where I could start assembling open grid "boxes."
Of course, benchwork building will require some wood - as I mentioned previously Bernie was getting some 3/4" "plywood ripped into 3" boards (essentially creating strong and straight 1x3s at less cost than dimensional lumber). So he was kind enough to tack on some to his order. A whole bunch of it in fact. 
The final photo I took of the previous layout showed the scrap in the back of a truck on its way to the recycling center, it seems fitting that the first photo of the new layout mimics that - in this case the wood in Bernie's wife's car.
Having seen some local modelers use the IKEA Ivar shelving system as a base for their layouts I decided to adopt the same approach for the Richford peninsula and the "front" section of layout running the length of the room. So yesterday I drove to IKEA and managed to completely fill a Mazda6 with a bunch of Ivar components. I also picked up some stain. Next step will be staining those legs and shelves. 

Philosophical query of the day: 
Can you ever be less than 100% started on benchwork?
Does obtaining the wood count as "starting construction?"
And, if not, does staining the legs and shelves count as "starting?"
Or, does sawdust actually have to be produced to be considered 100% started? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Stuff to do BEFORE starting the layout

Things have been busy and hectic around the new digs. First of all, the garage is still home to a lot of "last minute pack" items - stuff that we shuttled from the apartment to the house as time, and mostly the weather, permitted. 
Adding considerably to the delays in household accomplishments, I severely sprained my knee a few weeks ago and ended up in a knee brace. I'm just now getting to a point where I can get up and down stairs in a reasonable manner. Very frustrating. 
I think both Christine and I are suffering from "moving burnout" - but we need one more push to get the main level of the house completed - something that has to be done by 1 June as we have house guests coming and it would be nice if they could get into the guest room!
We ended up at IKEA the other day, and I took a photo of a new line of utility room cabinets - likely not as nice as the kitchen cabinets, but seem like they would be plenty good for the workshop. 
Speaking of the workshop - although I planned to get it finished before starting the layout I really want to live with the space for a while before committing to a permanent arrangement. So I've set it up in temporary fashion with tables and cabinets I have on hand. A real dog's breakfast but workable, at least for now. 
We took a much needed break from house chores to walk around the Reston Art Festival last Saturday. We had a nice lunch with Stic and Stephanie (actually we brought them a bunch of empty moving boxes - only slightly used - since they are moving this summer!) 
It's not unusual to find railroad theme art - typically photography - at the show in Reston. I liked this large photo enough that I was tempted - but for the price I didn't LOVE it. So we passed. 
Last week Bernie Kempinski mentioned his idea for a PRR-based set of Free-Mo modules. He also mentioned he was going to Colonial Hardwood, a local lumber dealer, to get the wood for his two planned modules. I signed up for a module to connect with Bernie's. I'll have more details on that in the next couple of months. But since I still have a J-O-B and Bernie is now officially old and retired, he agreed to get some 3/4" birch plywood ripped for me - thanks to his help the core of the Richford Branch, phase 1, now resides in my garage. 
On Sunday Bernie, John Drye, and me got together at Bernie's house to have a module building party. See his USMRR blog for more detail. In the end we got five modules framed up - several are awaiting the hardware to install the legs.  

While I have a layout design for the Richford Branch, the plan doesn't really show how to actually build the thing. So the next step is to develop a benchwork/framing plan. This doesn't have to be overly complicated or elaborate, but on previous layouts I seemed to be constantly finding benchwork components in the way that needed to be moved. I'm going to try minimizing that this time around. 
I also still need to figure out a way to support the layout structure that looks good. My instructions from Christine is that this layout should look like a piece of built-in furniture. Anyone who's seen my woodworking knows that is a tall order. But I'll try my best.  
Speaking of benchwork, I was originally planning to wait until the fall to commence construction - but have now established June 10th as the official "ground breaking" date. Why June 10? Simple. It's exactly one year after my previous layout went down the street. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Richford Industries

Here are the industries in Richford that had their own dedicated siding tracks, or portions of a shared track, as of December, 1945

1. Atlas Plywood Co. (formerly Richford Mfg. Co.) 
- Box Material Manufacturer - Manufacturer of plywood shipping crates
- 1,000 feet of track

2. Hilton F. Marcy 
- Retail Grain and Building Supply Dealer (80 feet of the team track)

3. J. E. Martel Hay Dealer (50 feet of the team track)

4. Powell & Comings Co. 
- Hardware and Fuel Dealer (80 feet of siding)

Not on the Central Vermont, but on the Canadian Pacific in Richford (and accounting for a fair amount of CV traffic) was the Quaker Oats Co. Feed Mill - here's an aerial view of the plant from the era modeled:

The 1959 List of Industries shows more detail - I'm not sure if there were actually more online customers, or if the compiler of the 1959 list was more diligent - I suspect it's the latter. 

1. A. Deschenes 
- Retail Feed, Fertilizer and Hay Dealer

2. H. P. Hood & Sons 
- Creamery

3. Hilton F. Marcy 
- Retail Grain and Building Supplies Dealer

4. Powell and Comings Co. 
- Hardware and Fuel Dealer

5. Richford Grain Co. 
- Retail Grain Dealer

6. Sweat Comings Co. 
- Furniture Manufacturer

7. H. K. Webster Co. (formerly "Quaker Oats" 
- On Canadian Pacific
- Wholesale Grain Miller and Dealer

I also know that Atlas Plywood burned down in late 1954. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sheldon Junction Bridge

Richford Local crossing Missisquoi River, John Krause photo
It's been a number of years since I've bought bridge kits. The scenic highlight of the new layout, as on the prototype, will be the crossing of the Missisquoi River at Sheldon Junction. The railroad crossed the river on three through truss bridges. At least it was three until June 29, 1984. On that date the last four cars on a B&M/CP detour train derailed, and in the process destroyed one of the spans beyond repair. 
Ian Stronach photo
That derailment was really the end of the Richford branch as a railroad line - as the tracks were abandoned east of that point and the damaged span removed. 
I've seen photos of the bridge - such as John Krause's photo above and Ian Stronach's photo shown to the right. 
I figured the bridge looks close enough to the Central Valley Truss bridge that I'd simply order three of them and build them up. 
But in the years since I've bought a bridge - or seriously looked at bridge kits - Central Valley has added to their product line by offering their "classic" bridge as an Eastern Gusseted or Punch Plate bridge. Great, knowing my luck I'll pick one of the three, guess wrong and find out only after it's installed on the railroad!
Google to the rescue. 
Even the railroad tracks are long gone the Richford Branch right-of-way is still there - as a bike trail. And Google Maps
Google Street View of the Sheldon Springs bridge. 
offers a street view from the bike trail taken from the bridge. 

A few quick clicks and I was able to determine the original Central Valley Pratt Truss bridge is the closest to the prototype. I was also able to use the map
to determine the length of the span - the Central Valley bridge is 150 feet long, meaning three spans measure 450 feet. Google Maps indicates the river is about 370 feet or so across - but that's today's bike trail - as shown in the John Krause photo above, the abutments weren't located on the edge of the river, meaning 450 feet or so should be close enough, and ought to make for an impressive scene. 
Naturally, guess which version was nowhere to be found at Timomium last weekend!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Crafting a Strategy

Although we’re not completely “moved in” to the new house (read: the cars are still in the driveway as the garage is plenty full of boxes) we are almost moved in – which means I’m looking forward to getting started on the new layout – hopefully at some point this summer. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking through how to approach building the layout.
The first possible approach is to build all the benchwork, lay track (even using something like Atlas code 83 track and turnouts as a temporary track), wire up the DCC system and be railroading. At that point I can go back and add more detailed track, scenery, structures and the like one scene at a time. 
One of my favorite model railroad design books is John Armstrong’s “Creative Layout Design” that I got when it was first published in 1978. While the cover
Can a valid approach to layout
 construction, be found
in one of the more
obscure plans in this classic? 
and interior layout of the book screams “1970s”!!, and some of the plans show the too-tight aisles and stacked track of many of Armstrong’s plans, the text and reasoning behind the designs is still valid – and the layout designs in this book were among John’s most creative and innovative.

One of the most unusual designs is for a large scale indoor layout based on the Maine Central’s interchange with a two-foot railroad. What was interesting and relevant to the topic of this blog post is the way John suggested approaching the project. 
He included a table in the book that showed how someone could approach this particular project that required virtually everything be scratchbuilt. First build a section of layout, then build a narrow gauge locomotive, a combine, and several flat cars… once that was done build the connecting MEC standard gauge track, followed by an MEC Ten Wheeler… that sort of thing.
So how would that look on my Richford project? 

The trackplan highlights how I’d divide the layout construction into three phases – the first would be the Richford peninsula proper, with enough benchwork on either end of the base of the peninsula to firmly secure it in place and allow for a temporary staging track on both ends. Why start with Richford? 
The answer in my case is that, with the exception of the plywood plant and perhaps the Richford depot, I have structures that I can use here. 
Phase II would continue the benchwork around the walls (not shown is there may be a Phase IIa, Phase IIb approach – where I’d complete “Enosburg Falls” before completing Sheldon Junction, or some such. 
Phase III would see the Sheldon Springs peninsula added. 

Taking some inspiration from the approach outlined in Creative Layout Design, I’d plan on completing other other projects to the list. For example, I have two CV brass N-5-a 2-8-0s. Both of them need decoders and a paint job. With my prior layout the work on the layout took priority over all else, meaning I was using “stand in” locomotives awaiting a chance to “get to” the correct locomotives. Likewise, I had a lot of unweathered, out of the box freight cars to “fill out” the trains – with unbuilt resin kits in sitting in their boxes. 

Here's a tabular view of how this might look for Phase I: 

Rolling Stock
Install track lighting fixtures

Benchwork complete for peninsula, with temporary staging on both ends.


At least 32 “completed” freight cars appropriate for layout*

Track laid, feeders installed, and switch frogs powered to include:
1 custom curved turnout
7 LH no 6 turnouts
4 RH no. 6 turnouts

Install DCC system and wiring to include turntable controller


Install existing structures – freight house, warehouse, mockups for others

Base scenery complete

Paint, weather, and install decoder in one N-5-a 2-8-0

* This particular task is already complete as I have far more than 32 “completed” cars! ("Completed" means mechanically tuned, detailed including complete underbody, and weathered). The quantity of 32 is based on the total track capacity of Richford, divided by 50% - with one staged 14 car train. Thirty two cars is too many cars on the Phase I layout at once, so some of the 32 would serve to add variety to trains even at an early stage. 

Once I reach “Task 8” in the table above I can either proceed to start Phase II or refine and “tweak” Phase I perhaps by adding more details to the scenery, scratchbuilding the structures to replace the mockups, build more freight cars and the like.
Of course one could combine both approaches shown – build all the benchwork, lay temporary track, and then go through a step-by-step approach for each scene as shown above.
My goal here is not to create Gandtt charts, schedules and the like but instead to develop something of a methodical approach – otherwise it can become far too easy to either get bogged down in the constant slog of a huge undertaking, or end up jumping from one project to another in such a manner that nothing gets done. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Finding virtual (and actual) stuff ...

N-5-a 463 on the Richford local, George Corey photo. 
Moving is ... well I was going to say "is an adventure" but frankly it just plain sucks....
But the weirdest part is the unboxing - it's like Christmas morning - especially when you find a few months have passed before you're reunited with your stuff. 
Of course there's a fair amount of "what did we save this for?" Followed by the amusement of discovering the movers carefully wrapped and boxed up everything - even the plastic knives and forks from the local fast food place that happened to be sitting on the kitchen counter on moving day!
Then there's this file folder of papers that I'm constantly loosing and finding again. I swear it has legs. In my case it's copies of three typewritten booklets listing the industries served by the CV.  I thought I'd included the folder in a small file box of reference material I brought to the apartment. Went to look for it a few weeks later only to spend most of a frustrating Sunday afternoon looking for them, concluding the folder must have gotten boxed up (maybe with the plastic knives and forks?). 
Of course yesterday I was emptying a few more boxes in the office, including that box of reference material I'd taken to the apartment. Sure enough, there was that stupid file folder with list of industries. It wouldn't be so bad except this isn't the first time this folder has gone rogue. It disappeared in the old house a couple of times. And I wouldn't be surprised if I went home tonight to find it's gone over the hill again.
In addition to the "analog" unpacking, there's also the fun of virtual unpacking. I'd packed up my large Mac desktop since there simply wasn't room for it in the apartment. Saturday I unpacked it, plugged it in, and turned it on for the first time in months. Thankfully, she fired right up - and I ran across several Richford branch photos George Corey had emailed me a few months back, including the one above. I think it nicely captures the spirit of the Richford Branch in the late steam era. 
It also reminded me I need to include a few wood pile trestles on the layout. 
And speaking of the layout, for ease of reference I've added a tab just below the header that should take you directly to the most current CV Richford Branch layout design. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Admin note - new email address

One quick note - in moving to the new house we had to swtich from Comcast to Verizon (our new HOA has a service agreement with Verizon). Actually, we've been very pleased with the WiFi functionality - Verizon's TV interface - from the actual remotes to trying to use the channel guide or access on-demand shows is a real PIA compared with Comcast - but that's another story. 
Anyway, when we cancel Comcast at the end of the month I'm not sure if I can continue to use the "comcast.net" email address I've been using for years (I doubt it, but I'm certainly going to ask). 
While you can contact me through the comments section on the blog, some folks prefer to email me directly. I have no problem with that. But please, moving forward use the following email address:

cvrrfan AT gmail DOT com. 

(Naturally, remove the "AT" and "DOT" with the appropriate symbols and remove the extra spaces). 



Shop Thoughts?

My birthday was on the 21st. Normally I'm able to get a round of golf in on my birthday - this year Northern Virginia was carpeted in snow so we stayed inside and got more boxes emptied. I'm almost at the point where I can get started unpacking/sorting out the basement. I'm also starting to think more about the model building "heavy shop" that I'd like to create in the smaller of the two presently unfinished storage areas. 
I've received only a few comments on the Richford layout design  - and a few of those seemed considerably less than enthusiastic. Since we're actually in the house I've been getting a better feel for the space and think another scope reduction may be in order. Perhaps the 180-degree turn in the lower left of the plan between Sheldon Jct and the lead switch to the paper mill, should be removed. Or perhaps the paper mill could shift to a narrow stub ended shelf against the wall and eliminate the turn back curve? 
It simply seems like the layout footprint where that curve is shown would be intruding too much into the space. On the other hand, I have no idea what I would do with that floor area if the layout wasn't there.
In any event, this would mean eliminating Enosburg Falls or Sheldon Jct. from the plan. Not an appealing prospect. 
I plan to mock up the benchwork footprint full size with cardboard (there's no shortage of that at the moment!) and see how all this actually looks, and how it fits the space when combined with other uses for the basement. 
More on this to follow - hopefully with photos. But first I need to get the cars in the garage - so there's more to do upstairs!
Honestly, getting what I'm calling the "heavy modeling shop" is going to take priority over the layout for the forseeable future. Currently this is a raw space, so it needs studs/drywall, and lighting. To many times in the past I've jumped right into layout construction before I'd gotten things organized. I also found I wasn't using the tools I do have since it was too much trouble to dig them out, set them up, and then try to use them in a cramped, underlit room. 
The result was I found myself tripping over my tools, myself, and others. 
This time I want to have tools and materials where I can find them before starting the layout. And, frankly, I also want to build some models before I start lugging a bunch of wood into the basement. 
The sketch (not to scale, but the dimensions are accurate) show my initial cut at how to arrange countertops/cabinets and the like. 
I do have a large (and extremely heavy!) Ikea island with gobs of drawer space. Christine had been using it in her craft room in the old house, but it doesn't fit in her new sewing room so she gave it to me. 
At first I was going to use kitchen-style base cabinets (with one or doors) as the base - then it occurred to me it may be more efficient to have large open shelves below the countertop for storing tools that are not in use. Some tools get used for most projects. These, the drill press or belt sander for example, will have permanent spots on the counter. Others, such as the mill, can live on the storage shelves and then be moved to the countertop when they're needed.  
One more note - this isn't the space where I envision myself sitting in the evening building a freight car or structure - this is for the "power tools" and bench tools. In other words, most of the work here will be done while standing. I have a modeling desk upstairs (immediately adjacent to Christine's new craft room) where I plan to do kit assembly and the like. 
Appreciate any thoughts on what does and doesn't make a good shop.