Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Painted or Photo mural backdrops?

Same section of layout - one with my initial attempt at a painted backdrop, the other (below) with a commercial photo backdrop that has had the "sky" cut away. 

Here I moved the photo print to another section of the layout and tried again. Obviously for photo backdrops to work you have to be a little more careful of how you cut the landscape from the sky. Among photo backdrops fans there is some disagreement - there are the "cut into the tree line" adherents and the "leave a little sky at the top of the photo and blend into the rest of the wall" fans. I, as of yet, remain unaffiliated. 

Yes, it's a question that divides otherwise peace-loving and agreeable model railroaders into two warring camps - do we use photos for a backdrop or go with a painted image? 
Painting an effective backdrop is a skill - and a talent. It can be mastered but it's not easy. 
Frankly, anyone can put a photo behind the scene on the layout. 
And you'd think a photo, being a photo, would automatically be "better." It's not. It takes some skill and talent - and the right photos - to get a photo backdrop to look right. 
Biggest issue I've seen with photo backdrops is the way the backdrop colors aren't even close to the colors of the scenery on the model railroad. Another issue is the photo backdrops can be just a little too much in the viewer's face, and there can be issues with light and shadow that are in a real photo but don't translate (or conflict) with the shadows and lighting on the layout. 
Clearly there's no easy answer. 
One of the most talented model railroaders I know who's built world-class layouts, has identified his limits and decided that plain "sky blue" with perhaps a slightly lighter horizon line with perhaps a very thin streak of "ground," is enough backdrop for him. 
I decided to do a little experiment with a photo backdrop put temporarily in place of some of my attempts at painting. 
I'm not sure what this proves, other than I'm not much of a painter. 
I also haven't made a decision one way or the other - but I know what way I'm leaning. 
In the meantime I have to finish prepping my clinic for Cocoa Beach, so I doubt I'll get this resolved before then. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Crepe Myrtle foreground trees

Some folks have asked how I use the Crepe Myrtle tips as armatures for foreground trees. I think this (new) photo shows the process pretty well:

Step 1:  The raw Crepe Myrtle tip with the open seed pods still in place
Step 2:  Remove the seed pods and discard. Trim the branches to a "tree" shape as needed.
Step 3: I use hot glue to attach the leftover "bits" from Supertrees to create the basic tree armature. 
Step 4: The tree painted with some type of "gray" color - this is Krylon "Camouflage." If you're modeling the leafless season I wouldn't use such a dark color. Of course, if you're modeling leafless trees the tree is ready to plant!
Step 5: The finished tree has been flocked with two or three shades of Noch leaves and fine ground foam.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Marathon scenery session

An overall view of the next area of the layout to get the scenic treatment - between Williams Creek bridge and the south switch at Richmond. 
At this point this section of the layout look more like the surface of the moon than Vermont pastureland. Need to let the "dirt" dry before I start adding the grass …. tomorrow. 
I'm sick of looking at unfinished sections of the layout. I've also signed up to do a clinic on the techniques and materials I use to model fall scenery at the upcoming Cocoa Beach RPM meet titled "Modeling the October Scene." 
I had enough scenes to do the "finished" photos for the clinic, but needed some step-by-step pictures. 
Combine all this together with a long holiday weekend and I'm on my third day of working on scenery. Last weekend I did some backdrop tweaks and worked on some trees. 
Here's what I've done since Friday:
1. Painted, and repainted, the backdrop north of Williams Creek. 
2. Finished carving and gap filling the landforms all the gaps filled from Randolph through to the south switch at Richmond. 
3. Airbrushed the track at Randolph and north of Williams Creek. 
4. Added the first "coat" to the scenery - leaf fall in the areas that will be forested and sifted earth for those areas that will get some form of "grass." 

And, I even started assembling my clinic. 
Lots still to do. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Local Histories as Reference

Although the internet can be a great resource sometimes I think we've become just a little too dependent on the "Google Machine."  Sure, "Googling" is a great start whether you're shopping or researching how a 200 year-old building looked in 1954, but it's not the only way to get from "here to there." 
I've found local town histories are one resource that many modelers overlook.  Although in many cases the railroad history in these is thin on details (if not outright incorrect!) they often have wonderful vintage photos and lots of details in the text that may seem a little too down in the weeds for a history not centered on one town or city. 
Two of the Arcadia histories I've found useful. 
The most obvious source of these are the small format photo books published by Arcadia Publishing. I have the books on most of the towns along the CV, including Essex Junction and White River Junction (which is actually located in Hartford, VT).
The History of Waterbury is a little heavier on text with fewer photos - but there are some images useful to the model railroader such as this shot of Pilgrim Plywood. 
Although not as readily available, detailed town histories can be obtained either through local historical societies (which usually are the publishers and distributors of these books) or located and purchased through online book sellers such as Amazon and Alibris. 
Most of the ones I've located are reasonably priced, so I simply purchased them. If you locate one that's truly rare the price may be a little steep - especially if you're unsure of how useful the information in the book may be. If you don't wish to purchase the book you try to borrow it through interlibrary loan. Another possibility is to stop in the town library next time you're in the area you're modeling on a research trip - you might find other sources there like old maps and newspapers.
I've had the Acadia books and the Waterbury town history book shown in the photo above for a number of years. 
I thought this might make a worthwhile blog post when I was trying to uncover photos of different sides of some of the buildings in Randolph - and not having a lot of look with online searches. I also wanted to find any photos of the Randolph Furniture factory.
After exhausting my usual sources I resigned myself to having to use a commercial model as a "filler" and turned my attention to some of the other buildings. As I was researching the Brigham Gelatine plant I came across an article online from the Randolph newspaper. Although the article was about plans to convert the Gelatine plant to a condo, there was a small photo in the article that credited Wes Herwig's Early Photographs of Randolph Vermont, 1855-1948. 
I'd never heard of this book, but a quick search on Amazon revealed a copy for sale. Less than a week later it arrived. It proved well worth the price. There wasn't a single picture of the furniture plant, there were four or five, along with lots of photos of the other buildings in town. (Ironically, there were no pictures of the old coal and ice building, perhaps one of the best known structures in Randolph).
Randolph Furniture. Eventually this would become part of the Ethan Allen Company. 
I hope my chance encounter with this book inspires you to check with the local historical societies in the areas you're modeling. You never know what you might uncover.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Festivus is Here!

As SNE 617 races southward with an express car loaded with aluminum poles....

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fourth Anniversary!

This week marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. I started the blog on December 17, 2010 with a simple "Test" post. The first "real" post was on December 23rd.
For those of you who like numbers here are a few -

On the Second Anniversary* of the blog, December 2012:
Total Views: 44,690
# Followers: 88
Total Posts (2011 and 2012): 90
Average Posts/Week: .86

Third Anniversary, December 2013:
Total Views: 100,000
Total Posts (2011-2013): 175
Average Posts/Week: .89

Fourth Anniversary, December 2014:
Total Views: 186,301
#Followers: 165
Total Posts (All time): 313
Average Posts/Week: 1.5

In case you're curious, here's the Top Ten list of most viewed posts (the number to the right is the total number of unique page views for the year):


Sep 4, 2013, 10 comments

Dec 23, 2010, 3 comments

Jan 15, 2014, 7 comments

Oct 9, 2012, 6 comments


Aug 4, 2014, 6 comments


Oct 29, 2012, 6 comments

Aug 5, 2011, 4 comments

I'm not sure what any of these numbers mean, other than someone seems to be reading this stuff. I don't get hung up on post counts and the like - I also don't practice the "post a day minimum" you hear about in blogging circles. I write a post if I have something to say I think you may find interesting.
Posts dealing with modeling projects and the layout tend to garner the most responses - either through the blog or directly to my email inbox. I'm not particularly suprised many of the posts with the most views are editorial comments on the model railroad hobby as a whole. "Hoarding, Collecting or Savvy Buying?" and "Clinic Etiquette" both provoked a lot of discussion and response. I think the MicroLux paint post sitting firmly at number 2 is a result of Google searches for Micro-Mark or Micro-Mark paint....As for the others, who knows why they've risen to the top.**
I'm particularly pleased at the increase in the number of meaningful comments (there's always been some spam comments, which I eliminate as soon as I find them) I've been seeing on the blog, particularly in the past few months. At this point there's just over 510 comments - and some of the comments are almost "mini-posts."
The one comment this year that I was particularly surprised and thrilled to receive was to my Model Railroad Influences post. I admired Russ Griffith's modeling and articles - and was especially thrilled to get a heartfelt note from his son in the form of a blog post comment.
I'm not sure why there's been an increase in subscribers to this blog, and an increase in comments, but I think many modelers are using blogs as a replacement for the long-standard "Yahoo" mail lists and the like.
I started this blog to create a diary of sorts that would document the building, rebuilding and operating my home layout.
At this point I'd consider the blogging experiment to have a success, and plan to keep writing as long as I'm able and have something to say. The fact that so many other modelers seem to enjoy it is particularly gratifying.

* There are no stats available for the first year since I didn't include them in the first anniversary post!

** Of course, by including the list of Top Ten posts and associated links here all I've done is guaranteed people will click on them, increasing their total views more!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What's been happening - Wiring, new car, new automobile, and a firehouse....

I've been getting some wiring completed on the Richmond side of the peninsula (and wiring makes for compelling photographs, which is why you haven't seen many posts this week!). I'm also putting some finishing touches on the Resin Car Works chemical tank car - will do a separate post on it in the next few days here and on the freight car blog.
The other big project this week had nothing to do with model railroading - my 10-year old car picked last Thursday to develop a bad leak in several key places...
Without going into too much detail, it was going to cost more than the car was worth (by a factor of 2x!) to repair it so I ended up shopping for a new car. Not my favorite thing to do....
All that is behind me though.
An ongoing project (something I can do in front of the television) is researching the various structures needed for the railroad. At this point I'm trying to locate photos of the Randolph Vermont fire house (currently the town museum) - the building with a tower just north of the depot. Specifically, I'm looking for photos that show the door/window arrangements on the side and gable walls as they looked in the 1940s/50s - I believe at one point it may have had large "firehouse" style doors that have been replaced but the contemporary building doesn't make the arrangement obvious. After studying it for a while David Emery feels the building as it now stands is pretty much original - or at least relatively unchanged from my modeling era.
Hoping someone took a photo of a train and got more of the building in the foreground or background than I've found to date.
If I can't find that, we'll go with the current arrangement. The firehouse, and the coal and ice dealer from last week's Wordless Wednesday, will be key elements in the Randolph scene.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Old Time Trains Web Site and Model Railroad Hobbyist Getting Real column

You'd think I'd found every site on the inter webs that had Central Vermont related information by this point, but every so often I get an email with a link to a site I didn't know about. This was the case tonight when Ian Stronach sent me a note with a link to R.L. Kennedy's web site "Old Time Trains."
There's a lot of neat photos of CV steam, including some wonderful action shots and even a color image of one of the older 2-8-0s, no. 402. 
The link below will take you to the page:
 Old Time Trains
I should add that Ian contacted me through the Model Railroad Hobbyist website. It reminded me that the current issue of the online ezine has my Getting Real column discussing the large rebuilding effort that saw the Randolph scene replacing the old freelanced paper mill. Most of that has been discussed at one point or another on the blog, but the article tells the whole sordid tale from start to finish!
And thanks Ian for the link!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A time for every purpose....

There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and on the model railroad.
In this case late fall in Virginia means it's time to harvest tree armatures from the Crepe Myrtle plants.
Making foreground trees is great fun while watching football on a late autumn/early winter Sunday afternoon!