Friday, May 30, 2014

Refining the Operating Script

Owning a large operating model railroad comes with a unique set of “management” challenges. The first of these is creating the operating scheme itself. Creating the schedule for a model railroad operating session is not unlike writing a play (hey, that’s an original thought, isn’t it?). Another issue is crew size. Too many people and inevitably an operating session will devolve into a gab fest. Too few and it seems like everyone is scrambling to keep up since trains are ready before bodies to man them.
With each session I’ve made tweaks to the operating scheme to refine the “script.” At this point I’ve done the following:
1.       Assign two-person crews to the local trains.
2.       Assigned a crew member as the “Southern Division” crew. He works the B&M transfers to and from WRJ and runs the CV trains in and out of staging.  
3.       Added an Essex Junction turn to the operating scheme.
But even with these changes there’s still a need to flesh out the operating schedule with a few more trains. At the time I’m modeling the CV ran a grand total of 12 trains (6 freight/6 passenger) a day on the Roxbury subdivision. Each operating session is one 12-hour trick (with a 3:1 fast clock, that’s about 4 hours). Here’s the rub – I have a group of good friends who’ve given up their spare time to help me bring the railroad to life. Running a total of six trains in four actual hours doesn’t really cut it.
We could add second-sections, extras and the like. But this is Vermont, not the Northeast Corridor, so simply piling on more trains isn’t really the answer. The tightrope is to keep my operators sufficiently entertained and engaged but not end up with so many trains that a headlight is appearing over the horizon every 10 seconds.
A more extreme possibility involves resurrecting my freelanced railroad, the Southern New England (see MRP 2000). There is still plenty of SNE lettered equipment floating around the layout. And frankly, I kind of like those engines and cars. While this change may seem extreme it really isn't. Best of all, it requires no changes to the layout itself!
The real Southern New England was a proposed extension from Palmer, Mass. on the CV mainline to Providence RI.  In the real world it was graded but never finished. My previous layouts were based on the fiction that the line was completed. The layout modeled the theoretical SNE mainline from Providence to Palmer. 

But what if, although I’m not modeling the SNE itself, I presume the SNE was finished? White River Junction could serve as a logical division point for SNE trains heading to/from Providence or New London. An additional freight train or two could be added to the schedule between Montreal and Providence. There’s even the potential to split the Washingtonian/Montrealer in WRJ into “Providence” and “New York/DC” sections.
Part of the whole point of a blog is a chance for the reader to work through such things with the blogger. I'll conclude this post by saying the addition of the SNE trains is something I'm pondering - there are some negatives to simply throwing more trains on the schedule in the effort to simply entertain one or two additional operators. Since it doesn't require any real changes to the physical layout it will be a simple matter to try it out. But I'm not sure I'm going to like it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An old stone fence - 3

Painted the stones, added fence posts from a craft store "pine broom" and then added various shades and lengths of static grass to the pasture. I still need to install the door and repair the broken piece of white trim to the right side of the large door opening on the barn. (This will be the second or third time I've repaired it!)

Wordless Wednesday #48

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Two new train pictures

"Mosby's Prize," Bradley Schmehl
From time to time my wife and I collect pieces of railroad-related art. Over the years we’ve been privileged to obtain some original works and some high-quality prints depicting various railroad-related subjects. On Saturday evening we attended a small art show at nearby Fairfax Station where Christine surprised me with a wonderful original plein air work titled “Winter Tracks” by Nick Aman. (Those familiar with railroads in this area might be able to tell this is a scene from Clifton.)
Winter Tracks, Nick Aman
Like most of the train pictures we own, and Christine prefers, this one is very stylistic – no one is going to identify the road and class of the caboose in the painting. It’s just a suggestion of a railroad car, not a mechanical drawing.

Yesterday we attended a Memorial Day parade and wreath-laying ceremony in Warrenton. After the ceremony we wandered into Black Horse Gallery, which specializes in military-related artwork. We both liked Bradley Schmehl’s oil painting titled “Mosby’s Prize” enough to spring for a Giclee print.
It’s hard to live in northern Virginia and not learn about John S Mosby, the famed Confederate "Gray Ghost” and his 43rd Virginia Battalion who spent the last two years of the Civil War raiding Union supply lines.  As you might expect, to the North he was a nothing short of a pirate, (although even the damnation of his actions in this 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly read like grudging admiration). To most Southern civilians, and in Southern newspaper editorials, he was something of a Robin Hood. Many Confederate officers felt his men would better serve their cause in front line units and not behind the lines raiding and pillaging.
Regardless of what side he fought for Mosby remains one of the most unique personas from a period in American history chock-full of interesting characters. Civil War historians are familiar with his exploits during the war, including the action at Catlett’s Station depicted in this painting. Mosby was wounded at least three times, one of them so serious that a Union surgeon examined him and pronounced the wound mortal. Later in life, he vehemently defended the controversial actions of Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg.  He was also somewhat unique among the Confederate officer corps in his opposition to slavery (he, and most of his troopers, weren't slave owners).  
As interesting as his wartime exploits were, Mosbys’ history after the war makes fascinating reading. After the war Mosby was a wanted man, with a $5,000 bounty on his head. He eluded capture in the area of Lynchburg, Virginia, until the end of June 1865, when Ulysses S. Grant intervened and paroled him. After the war, Mosby became an active Republican, saying it was the best way to help the South.  
In his autobiography Grant stated, "Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I supposed. He is able and thoroughly honest and truthful."
Mosby's friendship with Grant, and his work with those whom many Southerners considered the enemy, made Mosby a highly controversial figure in Virginia. Grant appointed him as U.S. consul to Hong Kong (1878–1885). Mosby then served as a lawyer in San Francisco, California with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Later he worked for the Department of the Interior, first enforcing federal fencing laws in Omaha. Mosby was friends with the family of George S. Patton. He visited the Patton Ranch and recreated Civil War battles with George, with Mosby playing himself and George playing General Lee.
Mosby died in 1916 at the age of 83. He is buried in the very ceremony where we attended the wreath-laying in Warrenton.
Here's the artists description of the scene depicted in the painting:

 “In the summer of 1863, after the Confederate victory at the battle of Chancellorsville, the Civil War in the East neared another crescendo as General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, camped on the Rappahannock River, prepared to invade the North. The southern partisan guerrillas stepped up their activities, with raider John Singleton Mosby in the forefront.
Late in May 1863, Mosby and his men made their way to Catlett's Station, Virginia, on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad; working from the cover of a stand of trees, they displaced a rail and waited. It was not long before a train bearing supplies for General Joseph Hooker's army, camped north of the Rappahannock, came rumbling by; suddenly the train lurched and, in a cacophony of screaming metal, ground to a halt. Down the tracks, Mosby's gunners wheeled out a little mountain howitzer ‐ which the Confederates had captured at the battle of Ball's Bluff ‐ and began firing, causing a huge hiss of steam as one of its cannon balls crashed through the locomotive's boiler. Then Mosby's partisans came swarming out of a copse of trees, gathered up as much of the train's cargo as they could carry and galloped away.
In hot pursuit came blue‐coated soldiers from three Union cavalry regiments.* The chase halted when the 40 or so guerrillas faced the howitzer about and let go with a charge of grapeshot. After a brief, whirling, hand‐to‐hand fight, Mosby signaled with a blast from a whistle he carried for the purpose, and in the best partisan style, his men  scattered in all directions ‐ to reassemble and share their prizes later. They were forced to leave behind their howitzer, but they had looted a train that contained, among other supplies, a quantity of shad, a delicacy the Virginians found very much to their taste.”
* In an effort to keep this somewhat within the topic of this blog, one of the three Union regiments was the 1st Vermont Cavalry!

Monday, May 19, 2014

An old stone fence - 2

Need to decide how to finish the upper field area.
Still playing around with shaping the stone fence - the little rocks want to roll down the hills!
I've also been thinking about what would make a good finishing touch for the "Upper Field" area - noted in the photo above.
Christine suggested an apple orchard - that might work.
My only concern with that is I don't want to draw a lot of attention to this area - the whole negative or white space thing I discussed a couple of weeks ago. (An orchard is an excellent suggestion for the layout - I'm just not sure this is the right place for one!)
Other possibilites:
1. A recently harvested corn field.
2. A second pasture - with very short grass, perhaps one larger group of trees.
3. A pumpkin patch (complete with a roadstand stand) - again a great idea, not sure a bunch of little orange pumpkins won't immediately draw the eye.
4. A field full of soon-to-be harvested corn?
If you have thoughts/opinions I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An old stone fence - 1

Reporter: "What's Vermont's leading cash crop?"
Old Farmer: "Rocks."
The start of an old stone fence. 

I spent a little time this afternoon after golf (an embarrassing round this morning) and getting my vegetable beds turned and ready, adding an old stone fence to the perimeter of the pasture. 
This is not to be confused with a "stone wall" - the stones aren't dressed or even dry stacked to create an attractive wall. All those rocks early New England farmers "harvested" had to go somewhere - and the simplest place was the edge of the field they were clearing. 
These stone stacks often had a fence constructed above, or immediately adjacent. In early days it would have been a wood split rail fence, much like the ones we have at the nearby Manassas battlefield. In later years it would have been fenceposts with barbed wire. 
I'm not sure which fence I'll go with yet.  

While these types of fences existed everywhere, they're certainly a great addition to a New England scene. 
At this point all I've done is sprinkled some decorative stones from the craft store roughly in place, then pushed them together with my fingers. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Work Session Report - May 17, 2014

Bernie stopped by after his golf lesson and round to patch the gap in the backdrop. While he was here he also tweaked some other sections on the backdrop between Randolph and Waterbury. One neat thing he did was blend a barn and farmhouse photo into the painted backdrop. 
Finally, we played around with some static grass before he left. Once he left I got out my static grass machine and worked a little on getting a pasture around the hay barn on the peninsula. All in all, a productive day. 
See the photos captions for more details. 

When we altered the peninsula last January we sliced right through the backdrop Bernie had painted. Here's what it looked like before the Masonite was installed. For several months this has been a sky blue patch in a backdrop painting.
Bernie got to work blending the new backdrop section into the one he'd previously painted. He didn't want to be photographed today - he was feeling shy….You can see the sky blue section on the bottom that denotes where the backdrop "splice" joined the old backdrop painting. This went pretty quickly. I think it took him longer to drive out to our place from the golf course than it took to paint the new backdrop! 
The finished section is seamless - Well done! There would be no way I could have matched his colors, or frankly his painting ability. A shallow-relief structure will be installed between the track and the backdrop.  
Closer to Randolph we added a barn and farmhouse from a photography to the painted backdrop. I think this is from a photo George Dutka sent me a while back. There was a pine tree in the photo obscuring the barn - so Bernie blended some additional painted pines to match the picture. We used Bernie's static grass machine for the grass in this section. 

Once Bernie headed for home, I got out my static grass machine and started to dress up the grass in the pasture and along the right-of-way just north of Waterbury. 

Christine dared me to put this on the blog….

Friday, May 16, 2014

An M-3-a on a bridge

Was playing around with some other header images and took a few pictures - this time showing the front end of a train!
CV M-3-a 450 heads a short way freight across Williams Creek. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Time for a new header banner?

I think it may be time to replace the blog header banner with something a little jazier, and with photos that are more current.
You might have noticed I reformatted the blog a few days ago to include two sidebars - this increased the overall width of the page but now the old banner is too narrow.
If anyone is interested in sending me their ideas for a new header, or better yet, a ready to use "draft," that would be wonderful.
Let me know if you're interested.
Total width is 1280px.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Re-Locating Williams Creek: 9

The scenery is still not finished, but this shot shows an eye-level view of the creamery road heading into the backdrop. The photo of the old country road seems to blend well. 
I'm rapidly approaching the end of the Williams Creek relocation project - which is a good thing since Colonel Zeb Carson "Buck" Williams III, USA, the scene's namesake, is going to be visiting sometime this summer! 
I tried painting a road onto the backdrop and found it less than satisfying. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that I stink at painting manmade objects like buildings, trains, ships, boats, and yes, even roads. But the creamery road runs directly into the backdrop so I had to find a way to lessen the shock of the transition from modeled scene to 2-dimensional backdrop. 
Bernie Kempinski has had some success at incorporating photos of structures (barns, houses, and the like) into painted backdrops. In fact we cut out some farm houses and barns and pasted them to the upper deck backdrop back when the layout was double deck. The buildings can be readily blended into the scene by painting a tree or bush around the base or even partially obscuring the building with a large tree or the like. 
I decided the concept a little further and see if I could use a photo to transition the road from the 3D scenery to the backdrop. Success rides on having the right photo. I took this photo up in Maryland last autumn.
The prototype photo. Taken in Maryland last October. 
The road had a slight rise to it, and since I'm modeling a remote two-lane road in rural Vermont in the 1950s I didn't want a lot of markings, lane lines and the like. 

I reduced the photo to the point where the road just about matched the width of the modeled road, and then printed it out on ordinary color printed paper. I trimmed the sky and some of the foreground out of the print and slid the picture into place. 
Sliding the printed photo into place. 
I did move some of the trees around since the picture has green trees on the right and almost barren trees on the left. This helped blend the image. The top photo shows how this looks in place. I need to do some fine blending of the top of the trees into the painted backdrop, and will weather the road to match the photo after I add the scenic textures, but the effect seems to work. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Relocating Williams Creek: 8

There was nothing worth watching on TV so I spent another hour in the basement planting the background trees. 

Relocating Williams Creek: 7

When I got home from work tonight I added some additional texture to the foreground hills on the backdrop. I included a fair amount of rust/brown trees in the foreground hill since I have lots of Supertrees made up that are in that color "family." It may seem like the background hills are a little too tall, and that the lack of detail at the joint between the vertical backdrop and horizontal surface of the layout may seem distracting, but remember those things will be obscured once the trees are planted. 

Randolph station

Shot of the model, almost completed:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Re-Locating Williams Creek: 6

In progress look at the backdrop with some of the tree textures added. To prevent a real circus look, even on a fall backdrop like mine the green trees should dominant the oranges, reds, and yellows. I still need to work on the foreground trunks and do something with the road in this view. 

Re-Locating Williams Creek: 5

A quick update on progress on the Williams Creek scene.
Current appearance of the Williams Creek scene, including my initial attempt at painting some distant mountains on the backdrop.
A previous post showed what I originally planned to include in this area of the layout (see photo at right).  Comparing the two images shows how things have evolved.  Inspired by the "less is more" principle espoused by some other modelers, I eliminated the planned station and country store from the scene. Also, the road running up the hill was just a little too steep so I located it between the creamery and bridge instead. In the place of the road and store the pasture (which was too small to look correct) will be expanded. The earlier view shows a stub-ended siding behind the station.  It's been replaced with a double-ended siding that will serve the Whiting Creamery (based on a prototype in Waterbury.) I recall reading somewhere (perhaps in one of John Nehrich's article on milk trains?) that ".... most" creameries were on double-ended sidings..."
I learned a long time ago to avoid such broad, declarative statements.
Most towns on the CV had at least one creamery during the time frame I'm modeling. The only two creameries I've found with this "typical" double-ended siding arrangement are the Whiting Creamery at Waterbury (below) and one of the creameries in Randolph.   
Pete McLachlan photo of the Whiting Creamery in Waterbury, Vt. This is going to be a fun scratchbuilding project.
As far as the scene goes, I might include a small section house but otherwise this is a simple scene that features the creamery, river and bridge – and not much else.
Next on the agenda is to build a mockup of the creamery building, paint the detailed trees on the backdrop and add some ground cover and texture. The entire saga of removing and resintalling Williams Creek will be featured in my next "Getting Real" column in Model Railroad Hobbyist ezine.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Aerial View of Waterbury, Vt 1938

The University of Vermont maintains an excellent web site that includes a number of vintage images of the Vermont countryside. I check the site from time to time since they are obviously still adding digital versions of these old prints to the online collection.
This image dates to 1938 (there is also one available for 1940 - enter "Waterbury-aerial-1940" into the search window on the UVM site). Clicking on the photo should take you to the UVM web site where you can select the "Zoomify" tool - a little magnifying glass icon - and zoom in on different sections of the photos.

A few notes:
1. Starting at the station area, you can follow the mainline to the top of the photo. The way the track curves to the left is the inspiration for the way the mainline bends around the end of the peninsula on my layout.
2. You can clearly see the station area, with the feedmill, coal sheds, and a creamery just beyond the station.
3. There's a large industry across the tracks and just north of the station. I believe this might be the Pilgrim Plywood plant, but I'm not sure.
4. In the far distance (where the mainline curves to the left at the top of the image) you can make out the Demeritt Canning Co. to the left of the track. Derby & Ball is to the right.
5. The "Rock of Ages" shed would become the Cooley-Wright foundry during my modeled era.
And, if you're not particularly interested in Waterbury you'll find similar aerial views (and lots of views from ground level as well) of Essex Junction, White River Junction, Randolph, Burlington, etc...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

White Space and the Model Railroader

This is clearly a working business – anyone can open a bunch of packages of “bits,” paint them and scatter them about the countryside. Purposeful placement of details is much, much more difficult. I especially like the half barrel planters – a very common site at many industries both in the 1950s and today. When was the last time you saw those modeled?
Negative or “White Space” is a concept familiar to graphic designers and fine artists. I think it’s a concept that more model railroaders should grasp.
As I continue building, and rebuilding, my layout I’m finding that less is usually more. The whole idea of not cramming every available square inch with track, structures, and the like is foreign to many modelers. But as I do the final planning or get the initial scenery completed on an “open country” scene I’m finding the less I include the more impactful the finished scene will be.
Two New England modelers, Mike Confalone (Allagash) and Jim DuFour (B&M Cheshire Branch) are prime examples of how state-of-the-art New England modelers are approaching modeling our favorite region and railroads in 2014.
Florence, Vt., on Randy Laframboise’s HO scale Rutland.
Another, perhaps less well known example is Randy Laframboise’s Rutland. Randy, along with his friend Mike Sparks are, it’s safe to say, experts on modeling not only the Rutland but Vermont.
If model railroading can be an art form (and I think it can be) then we need to approach it like an artist. And one thing an artist must have is a respect for his or her subject. Some, or perhaps a lot of this, is about modeling “home.” Mike, Jim, Randy, and I all either lived in, or live in New England. And there’s some things that are very special to each of us about that region, it's history, and railroads that compel us to recreate it in miniature.
This isn’t fantasy modeling. By that I mean you won’t find dozens of overly compressed structures, most sporting an assortment of unusual (and often implausible) architectural elements scattered throughout the countryside.
But it’s not “rivet counting” either.
The buildings are, as a rule straightforward, purposeful, and close to scale size. The familiarity and respect for the subject matter extends beyond the trains to the buildings, fields, farms, trees, fencelines, and a host of other details.
Make no mistake about it. The trains and structures are, by their very nature, the stars of the show. But they are incorporated into the scene with breathing room around them.
You focus on one building in its natural habitat, and, as your eye scans the landscape some “negative space” - a stand of trees, or a field, or even a country lane – gives the eyes, and brain, some respite before you focus on the next “star.” All the while through this agrarian landscape you might catch a glimpse of a train.   
Randy was kind enough to allow me to share a couple of photos to illustrate this post. These photos show the Florence, Vt., section of his layout.  He estimates the distance between the street on the left and creamery building on the right is about five feet. When was the last time you saw a layout that had that much “negative” space? It is accurate to the prototype, as he measured the distance.