Hope all had a Merry Christmas - and wish all nothing but the best for 2021!Just prior to the holidays I posted a layout update video on YouTube.
Monday, December 28, 2020
Hope all had a Merry Christmas - and wish all nothing but the best for 2021!Just prior to the holidays I posted a layout update video on YouTube.
Saturday, December 19, 2020
December 17th (Thursday) marked the 10th anniversary of this blog. In keeping with what has become a blog anniversary tradition, here are a few numbers, going back to December 2012* (first month I actually took notice of these statistics!).
I started this blog to create a diary of sorts that would document the building, rebuilding and operating my home layout. As of today, there's a total of 812,581 unique page views! That's an increase of about 100,000 since last year's anniversary post. It's not as many new views over the course of the 2020 as in prior years.
While it could be that I'm not as interesting as I think I am, I think there's something else going on. I've noticed a slight decrease in readership/page views in this (and other) model railroad blogs. While there are some model railroad blogs that are quite active, it's telling that they all seem to be blogs that were started 5+ years ago. That tells me those folks started blogging, liked doing it, and have stuck with it. I've also noted the same phenomenon with various message boards, email list and groups.
But overall, I think a lot of model railroaders who wish to share their efforts with the wider community have shifted towards other platforms - especially Facebook. Although I have a Facebook account, I don't particularly like the Facebook interface. Facebook's very nature means individual posts seem very fleeting - quickly dropping out of sight. Considering one of the main reasons I have maintained this blog is to keep a diary of hobby thoughts and progress of sorts, don't look for a wholesale shift to Facebook anytime soon.
But even more archaic than blogs are email lists. I do own and maintain a groups.io email list that's really geared towards my proto-freelance Southern New England Railway. I actually started that list almost 20 years ago, and once I started this blog a lot of the traffic on that list dried up. Ironically, I started the blog since posting and sharing photos on the yahoo group had become such a pain. That group is still around - there is less traffic than I'd like, but since a few friends whom I like to keep in touch with seem to prefer to stay in touch through the group I keep it going. Actually, the neatest part about that group is the archive of photos of the earlier SNE layouts! (If you're interested in signing up for the email list you can subscribe by sending an email to :
But one area where I plan to continue placing emphasis is on my YouTube channel. You can find my channel by searching YouTube for "CVSNE" or simply clicking the link HERE. I even tried adding a how-to video to the channel - and have plans to do a few more this coming year.
In what's become somewhat of an anniversary post tradition, here are the top ten all time posts:
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!! You can find these by entering the title of the post in the search box.
I'm continually surprised, thrilled, and more than a little humbled at how many people follow (and I hope enjoy!) my various corners of the model railroad internet.
* There are no stats available for the first year since I didn't include them in the first anniversary post! I also didn't do a "End of 2018" Anniversary post for some reason.
Monday, December 7, 2020
I've been making steady progress on the layout. As you can see in the lead photo scenery is well along in one area. I was about to dig out the static grass when a shift in priorities has meant the latest progress, while important, is not quite photogenic.
When I first planned the layout, my goal was to complete major construction - essentially all track in place and operating, and a base coat of scenery everywhere - in three years.
In my mind that meant manually thrown turnouts (for example) were acceptable for "Phase 1" - and I may or may not at some point after that magic three year deadline go back and add switch motors, or replace some initial kit buildings with scratchbuilt ones, or replace the stand in Bachmann steamers with finished, sound equipped models.
But the overriding goal was to get things looking "complete" to the casual visitor in three years. (For the record, the third year anniversary is August 2021, so this isn't a matter of missing a deadline and copping out!).
Why three years? Because two years seemed like it would be too much effort, and five years sounded too long. You can find more discussion in previous posts "The Design Questions We SHOULD be Asking" and "Think Layout's Lifetime, Not Lifetime Layout."
Since I figured I would power the turnouts, and more importantly, the frogs, at some point as I laid the track I cut a slot under the points for the throw wire. I also soldered a wire to the underside of each frog.
Then Covid hit, and the plan to maybe have some initial operating sessions was scrapped. And it became obvious a couple of months ago that our annual Christmas open house for friends and neighbors was also not going to happen.
Perhaps I should shift gears and focus on getting the planned future "electrical improvements" done now instead of later? Besides, getting the frogs powered would also move the brass engines up on the "to do" list.
I burned through my initial supply of Tortoises equipping the mainline "loop". I managed to replenish my supply of switch motors, meaning yesterday's layout work session was spent pre-wiring a bunch of Tortoises and the associated toggle switches. These are destined for the paper mill peninsula.I also added a DCC circuit breaker (visible in the photo with the pile of pre-wired toggles!) to the paper mill peninsula. And during my lunch break this afternoon I got the Walthers turntable (re)programmed.
I might even dig the Diamond Scale turntable and NYRS controller out - after all, it's going to be months before anyone comes over!
Saturday, December 5, 2020
This pair of Stan Bolton images, that I am sharing courtesy of Stan's good friend George Corey, show a pair of Central Vermont Consolidations (#s 465 and 466) working the daily local through Sheldon Junction, Vt., on an obviously "chilly" February 23, 1957.
A few of the cars are fairly easy to identify (click on the image to enlarge).
I'll go first - the lead car in the second image is a Central Vermont 40,000-series boxcar. Typically one of these cars was used to handle LCL on the Richford job.
A side note:
Almost exactly two years to the day before this image was taken, no. 466 and her sister no. 471 were both sent to the Grand Trunk (NEL). No. 466 made exactly one trip - actually less than one trip - when she experienced mechanical problems on an Island Pond to Portland, ME extra and was promptly returned to the CV.
No 471 faired much better than her sister on her assignment to Maine. She remained on the GT (NEL) through the end of August 1955 where she made 24 mainline trips, primarily on wayfreights. She even made a half dozen or so trips hauling passenger train no. 16, and spent 36 days as the Lewiston branch engine.
Obviously the St. Albans shop crew fixed whatever ailed no. 466 and she's steaming pretty well in these shots.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Saturday, October 31, 2020
I just posted a 10 minute (or so) video on how I make some of the foreground trees on my layout.
Here’s a link to the YouTube video:
I tried to be clever and use two cameras to shoot this. My hope was I'd have a close up camera and one for an overall shot. I didn't expect my video editing software to make cutting between those two such a struggle! That's why you may notice the tree dropping out of the frame a few times. But I don't think it's unwatchable.
I have plans for the next how-to video, but need to figure out the software issues before trying to use two cameras again!
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Although I'd thought the Hindsight presentation was recorded - I don't think anyone has ever posted it (it's fine if they do, and if you've happened to stumble across that one please let me know!)
The most recent presentation to the local NMRA division was recorded and uploaded to You Tube - you can find it here:
I haven't watched the video - so I have no idea how I sound or how it looks. I was planning to actually record the presentation and upload it to my You Tube channel, but frankly life has been getting in the way a lot lately.
Anyway, thought some may be interested.
Let me know what you thought of the clinic if you're brave enough to sit through it.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
I should start this by saying that although I'm using Crepe Myrtle "tips" as the basis for these foreground trees, those of you north of southern New Jersey are going to have a hard time finding Crepe Myrtles. These plants truly do not like extended cold weather.
But don't despair. Next time you're down south you'll find these things everywhere from Virginia south to Florida. I understand they're also quite common in southern California.
Of course you don't have to use Crepe Myrtles - the key is to find something that has a fairly tight branching structure. I've used hydrangeas, and while they don't work quite as well for the process I'm sharing, they're not bad. Another option is to create your own armature from florists wire. That can produce truly stunning results, but can be extremely time consuming.
But this post will focus on starting with natural armatures. No matter what plant you find, you want an armature that looks something like this:
These are from one of the Crepe Myrtles in our yard. I let the Crepe Myrtle flowers go to seed and leave them on the plant until mid-winter before cutting them from the plant. This way they'll be completely dried out.
After cutting them from the plant, and removing the seed pods, you'll be left with something like the ones shown in the photo. These are extremely bent - the flowers kind of droop a lot on that particular plant, and the result is a bent seed head.When I encounter this problem I usually combine the individual branches together to create the basic armature of the tree. By placing two or three of these with the branches arching away from one another you can quickly create the look of a tree. I often need to trim away bits and pieces of the main "stems" to get something that looks like a tree and not a handful of branches!
If the bend is very severe I'll glue the branches together at some point other than the base of each - and then trim the remainder away once the glued has dried completely.
I also have found it useful to trim an angle into the bottom of some of the larger separate branches so the join looks more natural.
Next Step: Finer branches and a fancy new glue pot!
Friday, October 2, 2020
I've spent some time over the last few evenings getting some foreground trees built up. These will be for the alcove scene, as well as helping to frame a special new structure that I haven't shared on the blog yet over in Enosburg.
I'm building these up using the Crepe Myrtle tips I harvested last winter - some of them had a considerable "bow" to them, but by gluing a few of them together and selectively pruning some of the large or more oddly placed branches, it makes a nice basic tree armature. In some cases, it's pretty close to the basic shape of an elm tree.
I then fill out the basic armature with Super tree tips.
The next step will be to add some bulk and blending to the trunks.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Saturday, September 12, 2020
|A pasture scene almost ready for static grass and foreground trees.|
Super trees, marketed by Scenic Express, are perhaps the best looking tree armatures on the market today - at least if the goal is a tree covered hillsides. The weakest part of the Super Tree is the slender trunk compared to the rest of the tree. Planting them in mass effectively minimizes that limitation. Of course, the scene will benefit immensely from some true foreground trees. I have a couple of ways to construct this that I may cover in a future blog post.
But there's one other issue with Super trees that I haven't seen addressed in any of the videos, articles, or other tips I've seen published about using them.
Look carefully at the top of most of the armatures and you'll notice a "crown" at the very peak of the tree. Look at the dark orange tree in the center of the image below:
Typically there's a gap between the top of the main "mass" of the tree and this little extra crown shaped branch. While it's acceptable sometimes it's usually something that doesn't look much like the growth pattern of a real tree, and therefore makes it obvious that this is a Super tree and not an oak, maple, elm, or whatever.
The easiest solution is to nip off the crown. I usually do this after the tree is planted. I simply look over the trees, identify the odd-shaped or unusually large "crowns" and snip them off the tree.
Only about 70% or so of the material in any average Super Tree box is really usable. But don't throw the bits and pieces and oddly curved armatures away - they're useful for making those foreground trees.
I've been experimenting with using sanded tile grout for a dirt or gravel road. This is a mixture of a dark and light tan, as well as a medium gray. I simply applied it to the surface of the layout, smoothed it with a putty knife, and then misted it with water mixed with alcohol. This is the first layer to build up the basic road. I need to go back and add a second finish coat - at the that time I'll add some planks to between the rails to create a road crossing.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
The unpainted foam is a dead giveaway that the scenery isn't finished in the junction corner.
But there are enough of the basic elements in place that I can tell the scene
will meet my original vision for this area.
All model railroads start with a vision. Then there's the construction - when saws, drills, plywood, screws, and wires replace all other aspects of the hobby. This phase can be disheartening, and seemingly never-ending when a large layout is involved. The more artistic side of the hobby is put aside in an effort to get the railroad operating.
Sometimes the modeler tells all who will listen he is so interested in operation that he's having too much fun to build scenery. Frankly, I think it's often not a lack of interest but . instead their enthusiasm for more construction - of any kind - has sucked the fun out of the project and they simply don't have the heart to press on.
But someone once wrote that scenery is the "the most critical 1/16th of an inch." After all it's what everyone sees in the end. But it's too often the last thing that's done - which is why so many railroads never make it past the plywood pacific stage.
|The background hills are nothing more than painted foam with some ground up leaves added as a forest floor texture. Next step will be to plant the trees. The trees will be fairly dense on the hillside in the center - mostly to mask the unnatural steepness of the slope. But I need make sure the trees don't completely hide the backdrop painting. |
But for those who feel that scenery is at least as important as operation know there's a magical moment - when the layout starts to look less like a "train table" and more like the railroad scene we first envisioned. It snaps into focus. And it often occurs before the scene is "finished."
It's been a busier last few weeks than I had planned - a trip out of town and a couple of intense work projects made more onerous by the current remote working environment have left me feeling like a hollow shell by the time the dinner bell rings. But I have managed to get some puttering done in the basement. I didn't have the heart to install (more) Tortoises. Perhaps I was looking for a project where I, and anyone else, can immediately see that progress has been made. I'll get back to the Tortoise installation chore, but in the meantime I've gotten most of the base scenery landforms roughed in for the junction scene. I even managed to get a car shed and ball signal built up to protect the junction. Was there ever a ball signal at Sheldon Junction? I don't know. I've never seen any proof that there was. I've also never seen proof there wasn't. But a ball signal between a branchline and a shortline hardly seems to out of place and frankly seems a necessity. For the record the ball signal and car shed are a BEST Trains kit. An easy couple of evening build.
When did your vision for your railroad, or even car, locomotive, or structure build first start to realize your vision? In other words, when did it snap into focus?
|Here's a higher view of the in-progress scene. I find it's easier to complete the scenery on the far side of the track before starting on the foreground scenery. |
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Progress continues in the basement, but some limited summertime activities and a distraction (more on that below) have kept me away from any long duration model railroad work sessions.
I did, however, manage to get the implement dealer completed, mostly in preparation for a clinic I'm called "Researching and Scratchbuilding Tips for Prototype Structures" at an online RPM meet later today. I wanted to finish the building for the clinic, which I did, but the bigger challenge was taking what was a long clinic (last time I presented this live it ran 55 minutes), adding more information to it, and then editing it down to fit the 30 minute time slot. I think I'm in good shape - but I did remove some of the "here's two or three ways you can do this step" - limiting the talk to what I actually did.
|Just after dusk. Obviously some light discipline is called for!|
We'll see how that works out. I'm doing the same clinic for our local NMRA division later in the year (October, as I recall). So at least I'll get one more use out of it. I think the idea of 30 minute clinic slots is particularly good - frankly I think it should be used when (or if) we get back to having live meets and conventions. I've sat through a lot of clinics over the years that would have benefitted from some harsh editing!
On to the main topic for today's post. When I built the implement dealer I added a poured concrete foundation made from .040" plain sheet styrene. I did sand the surface of the styrene prior to painting in order to get it to look like something other than smooth plastic. I painted it and thought it looked okay - until I took some test photos of the building, Those foundation walls were missing any texture.
I have AK Interactive's Concrete (they make an identical material for asphalt, the only difference is the color). It's basically some sort of joint compound-like stuff with a gritty texture added. And, while the texture is great for larger scales, or even HO scale pavement if you apply it carefully and smooth it well - it's really meant for larger scales such as 1/32nd military models and the like. In HO it looks just a little too chunky to make a convincing concrete wall.
I showed the AK Interactive stuff to my wife (leaving out how much I'd paid for a tiny tub of this stuff!) and explained the chunky problem. She dug through her art supplies and handed me acontainer of "Ceramic Stucco Medium" - basically matte gel medium with some fine, gritty material added. The difference was this gritty material was much finer than the AK Interactive stuff.
After I taped off the clapboard sections of the walls to avoid any overspill, I dabbed this stuff right out of the jar (you can thin it and color it with acrylic paints, in fact that's what it's made for) along the base of the styrene. In this case, I didn't color it, or even paint it. It dries to nice "almost new" concrete color out of the jar. It has a decent working time - so I had lots of time to spread it smooth with an artists spatula.
I found it naturally formed some uneven spots in various places - looking exactly like a poured concrete wall. If you were modeling a stucco building you could easily use this to create a look of failing stucco with the underlying brick showing through. Or, if you wanted it to look like patched concrete you could let an initial application dry, and then add a second partial coat in a different color.
Before the next step I suggest letting it dry completely - preferably 24 hours or so. When it dried it looked just a little too heavy - but some light sanding to just knock the surface down, followed by a couple of applications of Pan Pastels gave some variation to the color and helped smooth the surface just a little. One more tip - if you're going to color it add the paint to the material before you apply it. I don't think "surface painting" this after it's dried would be as effective.
All in all I'm pretty pleased with the final result:
About that distraction - over the last couple of weeks of evenings I've been painting some 28mm Revolutionary War (American War of Independence to any Brits out there!) figures. Years ago I was heavily into wargaming - even did some re-enacting way, way back when. I was never into "winning" war games - but I did always enjoy researching the uniforms and painting figures to represent them. I haven't done any miniature figure painting for many, many, years - but out of the blue a few weeks ago I dug out a couple of old boxes of figures and decided to paint them. I quickly found I'm really out of practice.
But here's a very much in progress shot of a British Regiment - the various figures shown are representative of the Center (also called Line, or "Hat"), Grenadier, and Light Companies of His Majesty's 63rd Regiment of Foot.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Monday, July 27, 2020
Saturday, July 25, 2020
In a response to an earlier comment, I mentioned the concept of "maniera lavata" - an Italian term for what is often called "underpainting."
Friday, July 24, 2020
I've blogged about Central Vermont steam locomotive paint and lettering schemes prior to the familiar "tilted wafer" that became a Canadian National system wide standard in the 1930s. You can find that discussion here.
A while back, Matthieu Lachance was kind enough to prepare the artwork for the CV steam locomotives in this era (there was an even earlier CV steam lettering style, shown below on 4-4-0 no. 100), but the style in the artwork and shown on no. 101 above dates to 1900, and lasted up through the mid 1930s with some variations.
I've just about got the artwork arranged into number jungles that match some of the engines I might want to model someday. So I'm all set to get decals printed, Right? Wrong.
I don't know what color the lettering was.
My best guess is it was either some form of "white" - even a very light gray. I don't think it would have been aluminum paste lettering, like that found on Santa Fe locomotives up through the end of steam.
Or the lettering was some version of yellow - "Deluxe Gold" - best described as "mustardy" yellow and applied to Pullman and other passenger cars starting in the early 20th century.
I don't think it would have been gold leaf - which would appear like glittery gold lettering - since gold leaf was more expensive and likely went out of style about the same time locomotives lost their Russia Iron boilers jackets.
Perhaps in-depth examination of the railroad's accounting records would reveal if, and when, they bought a particular stock of paint for the locomotive shops. Perhaps, but I simply don't have the resources or information to conduct such detailed research.
Of course, it's also possible they did something like apply gold lettering to passenger engines, and white to freight hogs.
I have reached out to some experts in the railroad's early history to see if they can offer any insight. Otherwise, I'll figure it's a best guess and press on. I know which way I'm leaning. I'm leaning towards some form of yellow lettering, , but that's wishful thinking based on the fact I think the locomotives would look sharp - but I have absolutely no evidence to support that choice.
Come to think of it, I have no evidence to dispute it either!
Maybe I should have the decals printed up in both colors to hedge my bets?
Thursday, July 23, 2020
The trees you see here are really the shadows and forms of distant trees. Next I want to try adding just a little bit of additional foliage matched to the modeled trees. I may wait until some of the three-dimensional trees are in place.
Overall, I'd give this effort a C+. Good thing most of it will be screened by trees!
Which leads to the second part of this post, which I'm going to try avoid turning into a rant. Longtime readers of this blog, all three of you, know that I really don't succumb to the temptation to editorialize about any aspect of the hobby - but this one thing just kind of stuck in my craw.
Since the current health crisis started it's been interesting to watch the impact it had on the hobby. Suddenly everyone was staying home, meaning they finally were able to work on their layouts and burn through some portion of the basement hobbyshop. Others, of course, complained endlessly about the fact all their shows and conventions were being cancelled.
One thing that was suggested to me was to post some photos on Facebook - " . . . that's where a lot of model railroaders are going - it's really great!" would be a summary of what I'd been hearing.
I have a Facebook account - I don't really post anything on my feed, or wall, or whatever it's called. I use Facebook primarily to stay in touch with my college classmates, a couple of Navy buddies, and yes, even a few model railroaders. But I'm hardly a regular user of Facebook.
"What the heck," thought I, "maybe I should post some photos just to share what I'm doing."
I do know enough about Facebook to know to limit my involvement to groups and the like - otherwise you can get quickly overwhelmed with, well, bullshit. (Sorry, I can't think of a better term for it).
So I posted the photo below to the NMRA Facebook page, as well as the NMRA Achievement Program Page - since my goal in building the scene I've been working on is to see if I can finally get my Scenery AP Certificate.
I know the photo is nothing to write home about. I was really posting a progress shot on the background. Within minutes, if not seconds, (isn't social media "truly wonderful?") I got a comment. It wasn't a platitude like "good job" or even a constructive criticism like "How are you going to handle the relatively steep hillside behind the track?"
In those examples, the former would have been fine, but entirely unnecessary; the latter appreciated as a fellow modeler offering some help, or at least some warning about a potential trip wire.
No, the first comment I got was:
"Is that rock outcropping the stain from a couch?" <Smiley Face/ crying and laughing emoji>."
Now, I've gotten some weird comments in the past - see the last comment in this post HERE for one that, seven years later, remains the oddest comment I've gotten on this blog.
The Facebook comment wasn't on this blog, of course, but was just as weird.
The rock casting is exactly as it comes out of the Cripplebush Casting package - I like it because it's flexible and can be bent to fit the space.
Maybe this guy didn't like the color of the casting? I admit the lighting in the photo is lousy, since it's a grap shot with my phone, and my focus wasn't the rock outcropping, although for some weird reason he was fixated on it, and seemed to think it was funny that it looked like a stain to him.
I explained that I plan to do some additional coloration and drybrushing on the thing - which he didn't seem to understand or acknowledge.
I think moving forward I'll stick to my little corner of the internet - right here.
Monday, July 20, 2020
A couple of photos, one (above) showing the current state of the scene from the main operator aisle, the second (below) showing the long view from the outside viewing area.