Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Monday, July 27, 2020

Video Layout Update #7

I just posted a video layout update to my "CVSNE" YouTube channel. 

You can find the video HERE

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Backdrop Painting - and some fancy art terms

I've added some additional color, highlights, and texture to the trees and fields in this section of backdrop. At this point I really need to move on from this - sometimes you can overdo a painting - and in trying to tweak just one more thing it quickly turns to "mud." 
In a response to an earlier comment, I mentioned the concept of "maniera lavata" - an Italian term for what is often called "underpainting." 
On my previous layout I tried painting the colorful fall trees first, but the resulting trees lacked depth. And when I'd try adding the darker colors as shadows on top of the colors the whole thing often got away from me. Too many colors on top of other colors resulting in a dark, dead, lifeless, mess. Lighter colors applied over the darker underpainting really helps solve his problem. 
The other issue I've had in the past is getting the tonal values and colors somewhat consistent across the backdrop. A solution to this issue is to pick a color palette and stick with it throughout. I'm using eight colors on the backdrop - which seems like a lot, but that includes a couple of grays, two greens, and the base scenery and sky colors. Every color is mixed from some combination of those eight basic colors. 
Another key to avoiding an inconsistent look to the backdrop leads us to our second fancy Italian art term in this blog post, "Alla Prima." This translates to "at first attempt." It indicates an approach where a picture is completed by painting on the entire surface of the canvas all at one time, instead of fully completing a specific section, say a corner, of a painting before moving on to the next corner. Alla Prima results in pictures from the Impressionist school of painters. Okay, enough art lesson for today.  
In this case I'm not actually completing the entire painting in one step, so it's not truly alla prima, but I am completing all the underpainting, highlighting , etc.. of the backdrop one wall at a time, trying to keep the entire thing somewhat "loose."  

Here's the next section showing the initial underpainting:

The hills and fields are represent he shadow and branch structure of the trees,
 as well as the basis for the fields. I'm careful to leave some background sky
 color visible through the base coat of trees. A solid wall of dark brown will look like exactly that. For the fields, I add a base color of my scenery "tan" and then add streaks of burnt umber to create some highlights and shadows. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Color of Older Steam Locomotive Lettering

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

More Backdrop Painting and Why "Social Media" Ain't all that ....

I started adding the next layer of texture to the backdrop - this time I'm trying to get the look of distant pastureland. I'd tried this without a lot of success on my previous railroad - the fields just didn't look "right." The trick, if there is one, seems to be keeping the distant painted pastures from looking like they're on the side of a cliff. You can do that by making the angles of the sides of the open land relatively sharp. It also helps to keep those angles somewhat consistent when one or more open areas are directly above and below each other. 
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

Progress on Backdrop

I made a little progress on the painted backdrop in the alcove area last night and early this morning 
 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. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Scene Planning

The landforms for the inside alcove curve area are complete and everything has an initial coat of "Bargain Bin Tan". Doesn't mean there won't be "tweaks" but it's time to move on to the backdrop as well as the background tree covered hill areas. 
Scenery includes several elements. Color is likely the most critical, but composition - how the elements are positioned relative to one another and the viewer - is also important. So before going any further I wanted to play around with some of the key elements of this scene and make sure they're working.  
I dug out the barn from the last layout - it has some damage that will need to be repaired. Actually, the gutter hanging off doesn't look all that unrealistic! This is a fairly high (a little above my eye level) view of the barn in a position that seemed to look best.  It was quickly obvious that if I'm going to use this particular structure I need to add some additional land under and behind it. I might build a new structure for this spot and use this barn elsewhere. But since any new structure would be about this size I wanted to see how a "box" of this size would look in this position. 

Instead of poking holes for the trees I use small spring clamps to test tree placement. Again, these may not be the trees that get used in these locations - and if you examine the photos carefully you may notice the trees moving around. 

I wanted to check  the angle of the barn compared to the road. I normally would have use a strip of cardstock to represent the road, but didn't have one handy so I used a couple of Sharpies instead to mark the edges of the road. 
More to the point, you can see the difference (and improvement) made by angling the barn slightly between the top and bottom photos. I prefer the bottom one since I think it will offer better photo angles with a train in the distance. 
This scene is actually visible from two spots - inside the curve, and then from the family room side looking at the layout from outside the curve (see the trackplan). So I took a test images showing how the scene might look from the "outside" aisle. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Terraforming II

Quick snapshot (apologies for the rather odd lighting) of progress to date. 
I've put a couple of layers of plaster cloth and a skim coat of plaster over the open areas that will eventually be farm and pastureland with a few scattered trees. The background hills are the green florist foam. The tan splotches are Sculptamold patches and fills - this hasn't worked as well as I wanted, so I'm going to use a Sculptamold/Celluclay mixture to try and fill some of the unnatural low spots in the plaster subsurface. Then everything will get a coat of flat latex paint. 

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.