Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Doubling Staging Capacity

One advantage of modeling a one-train-a-day branch is that solo operation is no problem. Sure, I'd love to have two- or three-person crews, but until enough folks get vaccinated (happy to report I got my first vaccine a couple of weeks ago!) solo sessions aren't going away anytime soon!

My staging consisted of exactly one track for St. Albans and one track for the CP in Richford!). About 10 days ago I noticed  everything - and I mean everything - was derailing as it came out of the St. Albans track.  

I'd had some noticeable rail kinks in one or two spots on the layout a few weeks ago - likely due to the rather sudden change in temperature and humidity. Most of these were easily fixed but in the case of this particular track something about the temperature and humidity shift, and/or the track itself, caused the rail to actually separate from the ties in the meat of a curve. 

Even before it became my version of a monorail, I'd noticed  issues with the brass 2-8-0s on this curve. As they went through the curve the top of the extended tender coal bunker would just touch the edge of the cab roof causing the locomotive to short. 

Since I had to relay the track anyway I opted to increase the radius of the curve. I even found I could add a Peco curved turnout and add another staging track - doubling the storage/display capacity of my yard. 
This hill, built in somewhat of a rush prior to an open house, never really looked right to me. 

I'd never liked how the hardshell hill at the other end of the staging track had come out. When I built it - just before our Christmas 2019 open house - I didn't brace it sufficiently so the whole thing kind of sagged in all sorts of odd ways. 

One thing that made this spot a little problematic was access to the wall switch that controls the room lights. I didn't want the switch plate to be visible, so I added a opening in the fascia that I can reach into to turn the lights on and off. To prevent another sagging hillside incident I constructed a Gatorboard former cut to the rough outline of the hillside with a hole cut to clear the light switch. A box from a couple of pieces of Gatorboard was added to make the recessed area look a little cleaner and to stop the hill from dropping down. 

The new hill under construction, with the Gatorboard former against the wall. (The two staging tracks are visible center left against the wall).  

The hillside is made from strips of foamboard cut to rough dimensions, glued in place vertically and side to side, and then formed to the final shape. That hill is basically solid so it isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The very top surface is florist foam to facilitate installing trees. 

Next step will be to fill in some of the gaps in the hillside, paint, and add ground texture and foliage. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Why no backdrops?

Why I didn't add backdrops (other than the room walls) to my layout can be summarized by this photo. 
I got an interesting email on one of my recent video layout updates the other day. ***

Essentially, the email questioned why I didn't include backdrops along behind both peninsulas and behind the "front" section of the layout where the Enosburg Falls and "Junction" scenes are located. An earlier view of the layout from the front "viewing aisle" is shown below for reference:

There's a couple of reasons I didn't include backdrops on those sections of the layout. In no particular order they are:

1. One of the toughest things to deal with in model photography and videography are shadows reflected from the 3-d world onto the 2-d wall, which is supposed to represent sky. Last time I checked, the sky outside my window doesn't reflect anything. 

Adding more backdrops is simply adding more walls - creating more distracting shadows that have to be addressed. 

2. Somewhat related to #1 is the issues with lighting that additional backdrops would introduce. If there's one area where we model railroaders really need to focus it's on thinking through and improving layout room lighting. I really failed in this area on my previous layout, and although I feel the current layout room lighting is better,  it's far short of ideal. 

More backdrops means more light is getting blocked from reaching the layout - the solution of just adding more light fixtures in the hope the problem goes away only goes so far!

3. Multiple peninsulas broken up with backdrops may help create a sense of isolation and distance - and if that's the goal that's fine. But such a benchwork footprint usually means narrow shelves (a few inches on each side of the track has been promoted by some) which may serve the purpose of stretching the mainline length but at the expense of visual impact. The only photo angle available is the "extreme 3/4 wedge shot." Worse than that, when viewing the layout in person you achieve the sense of a train in the environment - it looks like exactly what it is - a model train running along a narrow shelf with a modicum of scenery on each side. 

The 3/4 wedgie view of a train - you better like this perspective - a lot - unless you include some deeper scenes somewhere on your layout. 

4. The last, and perhaps most important reason I didn't add a bunch of backdrops to the layout room is simply the fact that I enjoy stepping back and surveying the landscape. In person it's pleasant to look at the layout. And, when you drop the camera down to eye level you can achieve some truly deep, realistic vistas. 

If you don't care for my thoughts on rabbit warren layout design, you don't want to hear about my preference for continuous running! 

(***I tried to illustrate some of this in my latest video layout update - you can see that on YouTube by clicking HERE. )

Friday, March 5, 2021

Milk Car Quandry

 One of the dogs has been a little under the weather this week, and she's really not supposed to go up and down stairs - and if I go downstairs and she doesn't, well, let's just say I hear all about it - the constant baying of an angry basset hound is not conducive to getting work done on the layout. 

So I've been spending my hobby time this week upstairs working on a couple of article drafts and finalizing a clinic I'd started putting together back in the pre-Covid days. 

One of the things I've been researching are the creameries, and associated milk cars, along the Richford branch. 

To start with every town along the branch had at least one active creamery. 

Most milk cars were either railroad owned (CV, B&M, etc...) or were private owner cars (GPEX perhaps the most numerous but there were others) leased to various dairy companies (Borden's, Hood, Whiting, etc ...). The leasee names were stenciled on the sides of the car, and, for obvious reasons, you wouldn't find a Hood car spotted at a Whiting creamery (or vice versa). Complicating matters, the specific car number may have been lettered for Whiting one year and Borden's the next! 

My research, using a variety of sources, has led me to:

1. The Richford creamery was an H. P. Hood Creamery at the time I'm modeling. 

2. Enosburg Falls had a creamery (Paul Dolkos has built the model of it for me), New England Dairies that shipped cans of milk in a CV car, so that's covered. 

4. There was also a condensary in Enosburg Falls, but frankly that deserves its own blog post. 

5. Which leads to East Berkshire. I know there was a creamery in East Berkshire, and I know it was a United Farmers Co-Op, since it said so on the side in huge lettering, and it's listed in the CV list of customers for East Berkshire. (Just beneath another creamery!).  

Which leads to the question - what kind of milk cars would be delivered to this creamery? 
And what how would they be lettered? 

I know United Farmers had a couple of cars lettered for them - the 53-foot wood cars that are identical to express reefers without ice bunkers and roof hatches. 
But all the references I can find inidcate these United Farmers cars were in dedicated service on the B&M between Boston and Morrisville, Vt. Walthers even made a two-pack of them - 

Any help/thoughts/references, etc... would be appreciated. At this point I'd settle for a couple of prototype photos showing the United Farmers cars in something other than the round logo scheme on the Walthers models. Tichy makes decals for United Farmers that are more typical of the later era plain green cars with Deluxe lettering - but I can't find a picture of a United Farmers car painted in that scheme!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Pulling together the Junction Scene


The Junction scene can have some structures - but the prototype scene that's inspiring it was really in the middle of nowhere, with a few buildings clustered around the junction trackage proper. Temporarily arranging the structures shows the open air feeling of the prototype can be maintained with three or four buildings. More than that and it will quickly fall apart visually. 

With the freight car catch up project completed, I've redirected my efforts to finishing up the Junction/River scene, based in spirit, if not entirely in fact, on Sheldon Junction, Vt. 

I've been making good progress on South river Model Works Streeters & Clear Brook kit, and have managed to get the store walls assembled, meaning I'm at the point in this project where I can start locating an appropriate spot for thing. One nice thing about this particular store is the fact that there is little or selective compression, meaning it's the size an HO scale country store should be, and not, as is often the case with a craftsman structure kit, more like an N scale building with HO windows!

A logical place for it seems to be some place between the bridge and St. J & LC crossing. 

Here's the prototype inspiration for my scene. Note the bridge to the left, behind the darker structure. 

I have seen numerous references to a store being located at Sheldon Junction - and though I'm not modeling the prototype exactly, including the South River Streeters Store doesn't seem like much of a stretch. I don't think the building in the b&w photo is a store - I think it may be an old creamery that has been converted to a residence. 

My plan was to place the feed mill that's part of the SRMW kit on the siding in the foreground (the one that dead ends in front of the St. J track by the crossing). 

Three issues: 

1. One of the neat things about the kit's feed mill is the way the rear shed addition is slightly downhill from the main part of the building. While the structure is designed to be built on either or a slope or flat ground, the slope adds a lot of character. Problem is the rear of the building would be at the St. J. track - meaning the ground would have to slope UP sharply to the meet the track. I think it could be done, but there's a river to the right - and the feed mill may very well end up below water level.  At best, the whole thing may look forced. 

2. I haven't assembled the walls on yet, but placing the foundation in position looks like to me like the building will just seem, well, small. 

3. This last one is really more aesthetic than practical, but the store and feedmill are shown arranged on a single diorama on the SRMW kit box. In other words, they go together. And that might not be a good thing. While most people won't know the difference, people familiar with these kits will instantly look at the scene and say "hey that's Streeter's from South River - I have that kit also...!" Not something I want to hear either from visitors - or from myself in my head. Seems the best way to prevent that is to not use the kits next to one another in a scene. 

This last item is of course the bane of kits when it comes to a prototype model railroad layout. You really do need to scratchbuild most, if not all, of the buildings if the goal is to get something realistic, and not merely artistic. 

I do have a feed mill leftover from the old layout. It's based on a structure that once stood across the tracks from the Waterbury, Vt. station. It's prototype size, which means it looks like it can handle a car or two of feed a week. It's also finished, which is a rare commodity around here, and not one to be taken lightly. 

After playing around with several arrangements, the photo below seems to include the essential elements. The white house in the center of the photo is a stand in for the structure in the prototype shot. I plan to build a new model for this scene. Besides, I want something that's painted a color other than white - even if that "other" color is some form of barn red!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

L&N Rebuilt Boxcar

Yet another half started freight car project that I've dug out of the box and completed. This is a Sunshine Models L&N rebuilt boxcar with Murphy ends, Sunshine Kit #64.11. I likely replaced the bracket grabs, ladder, and brake wheel that came in the kit with other after market parts. I did use some bits and pieces of Speedwitch's L&N boxcar decals (which are not specifically made for this car) to complement the kit decals. The carman's chalk marks are a combination of various Sunshine decals. It obviously still needs a little running weathering. That's the basic description of thing, but there's really a little more background to why I built this particular car. 

Back when Sunshine Models hosted the Naperville RPM meets, Martin Lofton, the owner of Sunshine Models, often asked me to do an ongoing hands-on display showing people how to build these resin cars.. One "perk" for doing this was I'd often get early access to the coveted Sunshine "sale room" room before it opened for the other attendees. In this case he'd sent me the kit before the meet so I could get some of the basic assembly work done beforehand. I'm not sure I would have chosen this car on my own, since I haven't seen an L&N boxcar, let alone a pre war rebuild, in a photo on my prototype. 

What really pushed this one to the top of the "finish it" pile was the passing of my good friend Bill Welch. Bill's first modeling love was the railroads of the Southeastern U. S., which he often called "Y'All Railroads." I'd gotten to know him on the prototype modeling "circuit" - and always appreciated a chance to visit with him. When I moved to the DC area Bill still lived here, and he organized several informal prototype modeling "show and tell" get togethers. Very small, very informal, and great fun. 

Bill had sent me an email in late 2019 asking for my help in designing a small switching layout. We went back and forth on that a few times, and then several months passed. It was sometime last summer he wrote to tell me of his cancer diagnosis. By November he was gone. 

I realize it's been a few months since Bill passed away, but I figured what better tribute to a friend than to finally finish up this Y'all road boxcar. 

It seemed doubly appropriate since the very last email I received from Bill was a response to my question - "What color should I paint this thing?" 

He recommended Badger's Light Tuscan Oxide Red. I don't really like Badger's paints after some truly miserable experiences with them early on. But Bill seemed adamant about this brand and color so that's the paint I used.  

Perhaps they've improved the paint somehow? 

Or perhaps Bill was looking over my shoulder? 

In any event, if you don't like the model take it up with me. But if you don't like the color, you'll have to discuss that with Bill. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Trio of CN boxcars


Took some time over the weekend to get this trio of True Line CN boxcars weathered and on the rails. 

These are straight out of the box, although I did replace the factory couplers with Kadee #58s and the used Intermountain semi-scale wheelsets in place of the TLT ones. 

I might go back at some point and add chalkmarks and change the reweigh dates. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

New Video and a (quick) Progress Report

I realized that I haven't posted an update since just after Christmas. Yikes! time flies when you're (not) having fun!!

Frankly the first two weeks of January I was simply too depressed to head into the basement and do anything but binge watch Netflix shows on Formula One racing and a sci-fi action series called "The Expanse."

Then Chrissy came home one day and announced someone at her office had tested positive for Covid-19. She had a cough at the time, so figured she should get tested "just in case." Well, she turned out to be positive as well. 

I actually tested negative - so we did the whole "you live upstairs and I'll live downstairs thing" for the latter half of January. 

Good times.... 

And, although work has been nuts lately with the changeover in administrations etc... I did manage, at long last - to finally finish the Tortoise install project! I can also announce that the vast majority of wiring is also completed! 

My plan is to turn my attention from the layout and focus on bench projects - there are a number of half finished freight cars sitting around in various corners of the layout and workshop, and I want to focus on getting a South River kit finished. 

Which leads to a link to a video update on my progress so far on the South River kit, which you can find on YouTube  HERE