Monday, July 13, 2020


A week or so ago, Lance Mindheim asked me to provide a couple of photos showing the railroad as it sits in the basement for a layout design book he's writing. 
My first thought was "I really need to clean this place up" - Covid-related quarantine has meant no visitors, group work sessions or the like, so the tendency to leave tools and supplies on the surface of the layout has become an issue. One I needed to deal with whether or not there's a photo shoot looming!
Then I reflected on my own books, and how they can stay in print for a number of years. "Do I really want," said I to me (since there's no one else here most days....) "to have the first photo of the layout published to show a sea of unpainted plywood with unballasted track?"
The answer led me to put aside the Great Tortoise Install and focus this weekend on trying to get some scenery looking at least a little respectable. 
The result can be seen in the photo above. One neat part about building landforms is that any one of several methods can be used. And all that really matters in the end is the top 1/64" or so - since that's all that really shows. 
My preferred method for open, or relatively open, areas such as fields and pastures, is cardboard webbing. For tree-covered hillsides I really prefer green florists foam. The webbing will get a coat of plaster cloth followed by a skim coat of plaster to create the hardshell. The green florist foam will get a coat of paint followed by ground texture. As an aside, I've never understood why anyone would go through the added expense of using the foam scenery base, and the added trouble of carving it to shape, to then cover it with plaster cloth of other texture material. That seems to me to be negating the primary advantage of using the stuff - which is to easily "plant" trees an the like. 
After finishing the waterfall on the Thresher's Mill diorama "off layout" I installed it in place. I still need to  blend the river surface and finish the rough landforms to the right of the river crossing. I hope to spend some time this evening getting that done and getting a start on the plaster cloth. 

Luckily, I saved a lot (three large appliance boxes!) full of finished fall trees from the old layout, so the hillsides should be tree covered very quickly. LAst winter I trimmed our two Crepe Myrtle trees to get some tree armatures. Those have been sitting untrimmed in a couple of boxes in the garage, so yesterday while waiting for the dogs to dry off from their baths I sat with them on the deck and trimmed the seed pods off. 
I don't think I'll have time to complete the foreground trees for the photos for Lance, but I did want to get my car in the garage and these things were in the way!
One more note - the scenery doesn't connect directly to the walls - I cut profile boards and mounted the cardboard strips and pieces of foam to the profile board - leaving about a 1/4" or so gap between the back of the scenery and the wall. This way, if I want to add a photo mural backdrop in the future I don't have to try to trim the bottom edge to follow the scenic contours. I also might try something with the lighting to shine light "up" on the sky. But that's a project for a day in the far future!

Monday, July 6, 2020

CV Form 852

I've had requests over the years for various "official" Central Vermont forms and the like - particularly operating paperwork. These requests have ranged from Form 19 "flimsies" - which are fairly easy to locate - to more esoteric paperwork.  For example, in the past week I've received requests from two people modeling the CV (on opposite ends of the country) for a copy of a CV switchlist.
The answer is I did find one, or at least a photocopy of one, shown above, buried in my file cabinet.  At least I think this is what they're looking for.  
A number of years ago (more than 40 years ago at this point!) a former railroad employee, who shall remain nameless, found a stack of CV switchlists/train consist lists, versions of which you may seen referred to as "Conductor's wheel reports" on other railroads - tucked away in the attic of the White River Junction station and/or freight office (the story varies as to the actual location of the original repository). 
What was interesting was the "stack" included a number of lists all from the same month - November 1955. 
In the early 1990s and early 2000s a number of freight car modelers across the country, primarily Tim Gilbert, conducted detailed studies of freight car distribution. While I don't think it was the original intent of Tim's research it didn't take long for layout builders interested in car routing and the like to glom onto these percentages in order to create a "correct" mix appearing freight car rosters. In other words, if you were modeling railroad x and had a total of 300 cars, you should include cars from 20 cars from railroad y and 15 from railroad z since they would likely appear based on traffic patterns, percentage of the national freight car pool, and other factors, including good ole' plain dumb luck. 
Frankly, this is a real rabbit hole and one you could spend months and years going down. 
All this was going on about the time this stash of 1955 lists appeared. And several members of the CVRHS took this stock of lists and outlined all the road names and car numbers that appeared on these lists. While it presents an interesting snapshot, it's only that. My main purpose is getting ahold of this data was to create a list of possible freight car modeling candidates - a goal not without its own tripwires. 
I covered the results of their analysis in a couple of prior posts on this blog and on my Steam Era Freight Cars Blog, and won't belabor the point here except to say it was an interesting exercise and if you want to model just one of almost any North American railroads boxcars you could do worse than White River Junction in 1955. (If you want to learn more about this, those posts can be found here and here). Note: The posts are identical, but the comments certainly are not. 
I only repeat the tale to share this image - a very bad photocopy - of just one of the sheets. 
Obviously it's noted as CV Form 852. Since I don't believe there's a CV Form 851 or 853, I surmise that it's "852" because it was introduced in August,1952. I welcome any challenges to that assumption, backed up by proof of course!
It would be easy enough to create a version of this in Excel or Word for someone wanting to duplicate this list. The notations in the right column are fairly interesting. 
I also cropped in on the top of the list for easier reference. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Batting Clean Up - I

Batting Clean up. For those who aren't familiar with baseball, that's a baseball reference. Of course, with the way things have been going in the last four months, no one's been doing much batting, 'clean up' or otherwise! 
We're all still healthy here, and hope all reading this are the same. I'm still on "max teleworking." For April and May all that commuting time I'd thought I'd be able to "convert" to hobby projects never really panned out. It seems like I just worked more hours every day. A couple of weeks ago things slowed down just enough to allow me to catch up on some hobby (and gardening) projects.
Instead of starting (yet) another modeling project, I opted to focus whatever extra hobby time I had on finishing up some half completed (half started?) projects. 

Structure Bases
When I scrapped my old layout before we moved I did my best to carefully remove the structures and packed them so they wouldn't be damaged. For the most part I was successful, but I really think I got lucky. One thing I'm trying this time around is placing each structure on its own base. The dimensions of these bases (I'm using Gatorboard) is determined by the structure's dimensions plus a buffer. At this point I've got about a dozen structures installed on scenic bases. A couple of these are shown below. 
Of course, Threshers Mill needs a mill pond and falls, so once I'd determined where it would go on the layout I made an extra large base for it.

This old Branchline Creamery dates back to the first Southern New England layout and needed some repairs before it got installed on it's own base. I plan to replace this one "someday" - but for now it will serve as a nice placeholder. 

And ... Let There Be Light (Sometimes)
You may have noticed the wires under the creamery base in the photo above. I've been retrofitting LED lighting in several of the structures as I place them on bases. The two main requirements to determine is a structure gets lighting are:
(1) How logical is the lighting for that building and, most important; 
(2) How easy is it to add lighting? 
In some cases, it's not possible without risking extensive damage. I'll have more thoughts on lighting in a future blog post. 
And Finally, For Now
I have some other Batting Clean Up projects to share - but here's another before we close out this chapter. The photo below shows blending the roadbed into the surrounding terrain.But that's not the real point of the image. The real point is the toggle switch on the fascia. After several layouts where I used hand thrown turnouts I've opted to return to powering the turnouts with Tortoise switch motors on this layout. To that end I've got the entire outer "loop" powered at this point. This is one of those projects I really have to be in the mood to do. I'll get on a roll and install four motors in an evening. Then I don't want to look at a Tortoise for a week. But slow and steady wins the race.... Get it? Tortoise? Slow and steady?? 
"I'm here all week folks....!!"

Monday, May 4, 2020

A huge Milestone and mocking up backdrops

My original goal when I started this layout was to have the major infrastructure - benchwork, track, and wiring with basic scenery. I'm pleased to report that this afternoon, approximately 18 months after starting construction on the layout, all the track and wiring are completed well ahead of schedule. 
I've even gotten a start at roughing in the scenery, especially in the Enosburg Falls area around the implement dealer (come on, you didn't think I'd have a blog post without mentioning the implement dealer, did you?!)
One thing I've been thinking about before starting the around the walls scenery is the backdrop. One possibility I'm looking at is using Trackside Scenery's (for their website, click HERE) line of photo backdrops. 
I even mocked up a couple of possible arrangements. 
Trackside Scenery offers a varied and versatile line of backdrops, and the quality of the images is second to none. 
Unfortunately, they have a limited selection of fall backdrops, and the ones they do have are very - uh "vivid" - neat but as this test shows, so much fall backdrop might be a bit overwhelming on a relatively large layout. And since there's only a "Fall Valley" series (in the center of the image below) and a Fall Mountain series, I think the backdrop may end up just a bit repetitive. I don't know a lot about backdrops but I do know you (1) don't want them to be obviously repetitive and (2) they should complement, and not distract from the 3d modeling. 

For my second attempt I used backdrops from two different sets the Hickory Hollow and Valley Flats series - both of these are in the "green season." 
Frankly, I'm seriously considering doing the layout's scenery in the green season - for variety if nothing else. All, and I mean, all of my layouts since I was a teenager have had falls trees. Maybe it's time for a change of pace?
To that end, I even tried painting a couple of my fall colored Super trees with an overcoat of green paint. I'm happy to report that works, and actually adds another layer of color to the tree that makes it look pretty realistic. In fact, if I stick with the autumn trees I'd likely give each one a misting with the airbrush before installing them. 
But let's return to the backdrop:
Frankly, I think the profile of the distant landscape looks much better than with the autumn backdrop. 
I also like how the fascia (and the underpinnings of the layout) are all the same bluish green color. 
What I don't like about either of these is the obvious point where the top of the "sky" ends and the sky blue wall color begins. 
There's something like 2 feet of additional light blue wall up there - and it doesn't look natural. 
One solution would be to trim the backdrops at the treeline - and eliminate the photo sky. Frankly, I think that border between the photo backdrop and the wall can be as difficult to get right as painting the whole backdrop in the first place. 
A possible solution would be to simply paint the band of blue above the sky to match the fascia - creating an upper valence with paint. 
Photoshop makes it easy to rough this in, just to see how it would look. Forgive my rough photoshop skills, but I did this in literally 5 minutes before dinner. 
I wasn't sure I'd even like this, but frankly I think it sets the layout off better than running the blue up to the ceiling. 
I still haven't made a final decision on the backdrop, but I do really like the darker color defining the upper limits of the sky.