Sunday, May 22, 2022

House for Depot Street

Before I left on my current work trip I got a start at building some houses that will eventually end up on Depot Street in Enosburg Falls. This one is started as a City Classics Company House kit. Although the houses I need to create the look of a small New England town in the 1940s/50s don't have to be fancy or large, the company house was just a little too basic. I dressed up the City Classics kit by adding an enclosed front porch using Evergreen clapboard siding and a Tichy window and doors. I removed the casement window that was part of the Tichy door casting. I also replaced the plain kit roof with Best Trains 3-tab shingles. I also painted the house red with white trim (the enclosed porch remained white) and added a Tichy chimney casting to the roof in place of the one included in the kit, which seemed a little small. Still need to add a ridge cap and the front and side steps. I can also see a couple of spots where the trim needs to be touched up. 

Eventually I need six or seven houses to create the impression of a residential street. I've gotten a start on a couple of others that I'll finish up when I get home. 

Friday, May 6, 2022

After Action Report: Macro Modeling Clinic

 As a rule I prefer to give "how-to" clinics - I figure at least the audience members can look past my clunky presentation and at least pick up a tip or two! 

But when I asked to present the keynote for the Railway Modellers Meet in British Columbia I decided to step outside my comfort zone and offer not a "how to" but a "why to do" clinic. Unfortunately I missed the chance to give this presentation in person, but I did an online virtual talk last night.* 

In general the clinic went well. Nobody threw virtual tomatoes at me, and I didn't have any of the "CLINIC HELPERS" that I've written about before

I'd give the clinic a solid C+. If we're grading on a curve I'd bump that up to a B-. Not bad considering some people (who I've never spoken to by the way) have written over the years to say I don't seem all that bright. 

What's with this "Macro" Modeling? 

The idea behind "Macro" prototype modeling is while we as model railroaders have gotten really, really, good at locomotives, rolling stock, some structures. But even if the individual models are superbly and accurately detailed sometimes our layouts fail to look much like the real world. 

The talk somehow got split into two, not necessarily cohesive sections. The latter half focuses on three ways to make a layout look bigger - Selective Compression, Forced Perspective, and something I called "Controlling Viewing Angles." With some clarification and some more specific how-to examples I think these would form the basis for a talk titled "Expanding Your Layout Horizons" or some such. 

That leaves the first half of last night's clinic. It seemed to me that it got a little muddy - I talked about the importance of identifying signature elements - those items that are "must haves" that firmly set the scene in a place and time - and I also mentioned how knowing what story you want to tell is an important aspect of model railroad design that's sometimes overlooked. In other words, a bunch of the pieces were there - but I don't think I clearly made the point. 

Here's one slide from the clinic - I included it because I wanted to emphasize the "know what story you're trying to tell". Modern theme parks, such as Disney, MGM etc... spend buckets of money to create "immersive" experiences. Perhaps that idea should have been the basis on the first half of my clinic? A clinic that focuses on model railroads as "Immersive Story Telling" experiences?  

Are model railroads Art? 

I didn't attempt to answer this question in my clinic and I won't be so bold as to elaborate on it here. A short answer is "I Think Model Railroads Can be Art." Detailed model building is really considered more of a craft - not "fine art". 

I'm sure someone is already posting comments on how "such and such ... is a model railroad artist." Most of the time when we try to answer this question we focus on model railroads as visual art - after all really good artist/model railroaders use fine art techniques - they've mastered color, texture, and sculpting, augmenting that with mastery of the craft of model building - all that mechanical stuff like tight joints, no visible glue marks or out of scale elements.  

But what if we expand our thinking beyond visual arts to include other art forms, such as story telling? Consider this - when someone asks you to describe your layout do you engage your left brain and rattle off a bunch of specs and minutia? Or do you relay the story your layout is trying to tell? 

Close, But no Cigar

One of the keys of "Immersive Story Telling" is to immerse the viewer in the builder's vision. Upon reflection, I should have tied this back into the "Controlling Viewing Angles" portion of the clinic. I sort of did with this slide - which shows how the "alcove" area on my layout can be divided up into "interest zones" in order to make the layout seem larger. 

I could have taken this a step further and shown how this relates to the design of a theme park - with visual view blocks between each of the key "vignettes,"  an approach not only intended to make the layout seem larger, but that also contribute to immersive story telling. 

Who knows, maybe I'll pursue this further. But I'm probably not qualified to ... you know, I'm not all that bright. 

*The Railway Modellers Virtual event continues on the next three Thursday evenings - starting at 7pm (Pacific time). You can find clinic descriptions etc., HERE 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Blending Williams Creek and Threshers Mill - More Progress


Planted the trees on the hillside behind the Williams Creek trestle. These represent the last of the trees my dad and I salvaged from the last layout - hope he's pleased with how this looks! I tried to gradually increase the height of the trees from the background to the foreground (left to right in the photo above). I think it adds to the effect of distance. I also cleaned off the water using warm water and a makeup sponge. I was shocked at how dirty the water was! But the stream itself looks better than it has in a long time. 

Still need to do some additional textures on the bank opposite the mill building proper - and to add the details to the front of the mill building. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Worth It?

 Glad I didn't spend more effort than I did on the covered bridge. After I got the smaller distant trees installed the bridge pretty much disappeared from view! 

But I know it's there. 

You can see if it you look really hard - of course you have to stand on a step stool and lean in over the layout ... but if you do that you'll notice it masks the joint between the river and the wall - which was kinda the whole point!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

New Video - Forced Perspective Scene - Part II "Landforms"

 Posted a video update HERE on the Forced Perspective scene. In this video I cover how to blend rivers into the backdrop and the process of creating realistic landforms out of foam. 


In the meantime here's a seriously zoomed in photo of the covered bridge mentioned in the video. Started working on ground texture and planting trees. This is really hard to reach (I knew that going in!) - frankly I should have done the scenic textures on the workbench and then positioned them on the layout. Live and learn! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Blending Williams Creek II

The first image is a horribly unrealistic angle "helicopter view" to give some context to how all these pieces fit together on the layout. It's an overview of the area between Williams Creek (you can see Thresher's Mill to the left of the photo) and Stafford Mills. 

I've added the first coat of Minwax Polycrylic - my go to water surface - to the blended river in Williams Creek. This will be followed by at least 3-4 more coats throughout the day.
 Hopefully this area will be ready for final textures and trees shortly. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Blending Williams Creek and Threshers Mill

After I got my talk basically pulled together for the British Columbia Modelers Meet I looked over the slides and decided what it really needed was another "almost finished" scene to illustrate one of the key points in the talk. So I decided to get the "forced perspective" scene to the point I could use it to illustrate the talk. This is all in the "open country" running area between the Junction and Stafford Mills. I probably bit off more than I can chew, but the result will add to the talk and allow me to have another area of the railroad to photograph! 

Before I could finish that forced perspective scene I really needed to complete the scenery between it and the Junction - otherwise the result may end up looking cobbled together when the goal is a cohesive landscape. That meant I needed to finish Williams Creek and the area inside the mainline curve between the creek itself and Stafford Mills. 

Williams Creek is comprised of two segments constructed at different times. The first is the creek and bridge itself, which is the one piece salvaged from the old layout in our former house. The second segment is the Thresher Mill building and associated falls that were built when we were renting an apartment between houses. 

One problem was the thickness of the base for Threshers Mill and that of the river are not the same - it's not too much difference, but enough that the surface of the water didn't line up. I considered cutting the Williams Creek water itself to make everything fit but the water is Envirotex - not the easiest stuff to saw through - and I was concerned there'd be an weird joint that would be difficult to hide even if the top surface of the water ended up level. 

The edge of the Masonite base for Threshers Mill compared with Williams Creek. 

So the mill sat alongside Williams Creek for more than a year with the edge of the Masonite base clearly visible. After a while I stopped seeing it - until I took some photos. At that point I decided I needed to do something about it. 

First step was to paint the Masonite edges and surfaces
without Envirotex black.
The fix was so easy that I'm embarrassed I didn't take care of this problem months ago. I painted the edge of the masonite and the river bed along the gap where there wasn't any Envirotex with black paint. Then added a slope to the river, and painted that with a mixture of black, burnt umber, and tan to come close to the gravel and sand riverbed. I deliberately made the surface a little rough here, and drew a brush in the direction of the river current to make it appear as if the water is rushing over a submerged obstruction.  

Sculptamold blends the mill stream surface
down to the level of Williams Creek. 

The new Sculptamold "water" was painted to
blend it into the creekbed.

Next step is to finish the backdrop painting and add a gloss surface to the riverbed. After that dries I'll add a gloss coat to the entire creek to blend everything together and "rewet" the water. 

While I was at it I carved the hillside behind the river to shape, and added a base layer of chopped up leaves and dirt. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Some old Slides - and good memories!

 First of all, Happy Easter to everyone!

Work was absolutely crazy for the last six weeks or so. Not only have I been busy with testing of a system I'm working on, the main contract for my company came up for re-compete, and as the proposal manager I really had to ignore everything else until the proposal was completed! 

All that means I got way behind on a bunch of hobby related stuff! My Model Railroad Hobbyist Getting Real column barely made it in on time, and even our Federal and State income tax  returns were filed using the same "just in time" approach. 

I have two things remaining on my hobby "must do" list. The first is an article for the NMRA British Region magazine. I've got the thing written, I just need to take a few additional photos! 

But before I do that I need to finish my keynote address for the Railway Modellers Meet in British Columbia. That meet will be combined virtual and in-person this year, and my presentation will be virtual - you can find out more about the meet HERE

One thing I needed to do was dig out a couple of photos of the original Southern New England layout to illustrate a couple of points for my talk. That meant diving into the slide boxes. 

Two things caught my attention and I thought it would be fun to share them here:

The first were these two maps of the SNE. 

The first shows what we eventually called "The Greater SNE". As I recall, Iain Rice, Matt Gaundynski and a few others figured the SNE won control of the Central New England instead of the New Haven, which gave the SNE a line through northwestern corner of Connecticut and across the Hudson deep into New York. It also shifted the modeled portion of the line away from the proposed actual SNE route and into Connecticut. 

After some discussions with Iain, Matt, Jack Ozanich and a couple of others I narrowed the scope of the SNE to reflect the railroad that was actually proposed and started in the first two decades of the 20th century. The map above shows that version. I was struggling with trying to design paint schemes and logos when Jim Hediger suggested I simply adopt the CN family "look."  This map shows the first use of my Southern New England tilted wafer logo that I can recall. 

The second pair of images show a couple of Iain's sketches for the "large New England mill town" on the original SNE layout. I don't think I've ever published these, but if you're familiar with some of Iain's layout design books you've seen variations on this particular layout segment. 

The town was loosely (very!) inspired by Willimantic, Conn., and ignoring the annoying various crossing New Haven lines allowed us to focus on the CV station area and have a fighting chance of fitting it into the space. Iain called it "Okehampton" at but I never took to that name - on the actual layout it was called Mohassuck Springs (see Model Railroad Planning 2000 for that layout, and to compare the track as we laid it with Iain's initial sketch!). 

Unfortunately the mill town only got as far as the track stage. But these sketches were kind of fun to stumble across. I had a lot of fun developing the concept behind the SNE and most days I kind of miss it. 

But in the meantime I need to get back to these other projects...

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

New Video - Forced Perspective

I just posted a quick video showing the mockup planning process for a scene on the layout that will utilize forced perspective to create a sense of depth and distance. 

You can find the video by clicking HERE

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Monday, February 21, 2022

"Blocking" in Atlas Plywood

Atlas Plywood in Richford is in the background. P. R. Hastings
 I've spent some time this morning gathering the information I have on the Atlas Plywood plant that once served as a backdrop to the CV's Richford yard. It didn't take long to gather the information since I don't really have all that much on it. 

I do have the Sanborn Map that shows the footprint of the building, and a few photos. I've blogged about the plant previously - mostly in the post you can find HERE. That post covers the prototype - my goal this morning was to think through how to convert the information I have into a (compressed) model of the facility. 

The brochure and Sanborn Map both date to the 1920s and early 30s. The only images I've found of the building after the war (it burned down in October 1954) were a partial view captured by Phil Hastings, and a quick snippet of the building on a DVD that was remastered from 8mm movie film shot from a moving caboose! 

Atlas Plywood - screen capture from a Central Vermont Railway in Steam DVD. 

It seemed pretty obvious that I wasn't going to find any more detailed images than I already had. Besides, a quick scaling of the map image of the facility (called Richford Mfg. on the 1920 Sanborn) revealed it was about 550 feet from stem to stern.

I'd left a large area for the model of the plywood plant - but building it full scale would completely dominant the view of the layout from anywhere in the room. 

A compressed version of the plant seemed a better approach. 

In the end I settled on a footprint about 36" long by 8" long at the widest point for the buildings themselves. That doesn't include some areas available for lumber stacks and the like. 

I drew up a footprint that seemed to capture the key elements of the building. Some of the items I wanted to include were:

1.  The two story section between the tracks in the map image

2. The walkway between it and the larger building. 

3. The portion of the three story section with the three smokestacks. 

4. The large two story area at the top of the image in the Sanborn Map. 

Rather than try to draw a scale plan of the building I blocked these key elements. 

The first draft of how this could look is shown below. I started by drawing the overhead "footprint" view. Then I carried the lines where the building went from two to three stories and the like and blocked into the basic shapes. It looks like this will fit well and produce a convincing impression of the complex. 

Before committing this to styrene I need to mockup the building in three dimensions. 

"Blocked in" sketch of how the key elements could be combined into a convincing compressed model of the prototype. 


Saturday, February 19, 2022

Central Vermont Drop Bottom Gondolas

CV drop bottom gon 4462. 
This is the third post reviewing individual classes of Central Vermont freight cars; the two previous ones featured the 40,000-series Howe truss cars, and the 42,000, 43,000 and 44,000-series boxcars

This time, our subject is perhaps the least documented of Central Vermont's roster, the four “drop bottom” gondolas. I know they existed since they appear on the CV Freight Car Classification sheets, although they apparently were never used in revenue service as they didn't appear in the ORER.

They tend to stay hidden in plain sight until you know what you're looking for - then they really jump out at you! Since they were assigned to cinder service they tend to appear in locomotive servicing areas such as New London, White River Junction, and St. Albans. I first noticed the end of one in a photo of New London. 

The end of the one of these gons is clearly visible on the New London cinder track

According to a CV Freight Car Classification Sheet, these cars were built by Pressed Steel in 1923. They were 42'-11" long, with a width of 10'-3-1/2" and a height of 9'-1". The car classification sheet makes it seem as if all four were identical, although the capacity ranged between 44,900 and 47,200.  Although they were built in 1923, I suspect the CV got them later than that – possibly acquiring them from another railroad. 

Adding to the confusion about these cars, the ones in the Classification Sheets show they were numbered 4463-4469 (obviously not consecutively!). I was thrilled to find the relatively clear side view of these cars. But note the numbers on the cars shown here. Of course, these photos date from 1951 and 1953, so perhaps the cars were renumbered at some point. But if so, why? 

Also at New London

Although I don’t know much about the early history of the cars the few photos that have come to light show enough details to allow a reasonably accurate model (see the photos in this post). They were equipped with drop bottom doors, as evidence by the actuating rod for the door along the bottom of the sides.  The cars had flat steel plate ends with one or two ribs. 

I haven’t seen any photos showing these cars in the pre-World War II Roman lettering (of course, if they arrived on the railroad later they may never have been painted in the Roman lettering). Sometime during the war years they would have been repainted in the then-standard “stacked” Gothic lettering with the Central Vermont roadname spelled out. During the late steam era the cars were painted standard Mineral Red (CN Red #11 from Scalecoat or Modelflex is a good match for this color). As they were used in cinder service, these cars tended to weather heavily.

Modeling Notes

My current layout doesn't have an engine servicing terminal, so I don't really need one of these cars but I'd still like to build one simply for the conversation value. I plan to use a Details Associates drop-bottom gondola kit as a starting point, although the Red Caboose (now Intermountain) GS gon may offer a better starting point. I actually have one of each in kit form in the stash! Detail Associates even offers an end (6222) that looks very close to those on the prototype. I will do a detailed post on the model when its complete. 

This post is hardly a definitive history on these cars. I'm posting what I have now in the hope of unearthing some more details on these cars. If any readers have any info on these cars please share in the comment section! 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Walking Tour and Layout Update Video 11

 I've just posted (finally!) a tour of the layout.  The video is basically a walking tour of the layout as it currently exists - with some train running thrown in for fun!

Here's a link to the video:

Saturday, February 12, 2022

New Life for an Iron Horse


Central Vermont 2-8-0 no. 472 is back in service after seven years sitting in a box! 
I mentioned one of my goals for this weekend was to get CV no. 472 back into service. 

This is an extensively detailed Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0. It's actually a very, very early example of the model since it was the Model Railroader review sample. After Andy Sperandeo finished reviewing it he gave it to me 

This is how the locomotive looked immediately after being pulled out of storage. 
Iain Rice happened to be visiting Wisconsin at the time and I showed him the model and the drawings of the CV locomotive. We looked it over and noted the wheelbase and overall dimensions were pretty close to a CV N-5-a class engine. Iain mentioned it shouldn't be too difficult to get pretty close to a CV 2-8-0 starting with the Bachmann model. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I sent him back to England with the locomotive and a shoebox full of Cal-Scale, Kemptron and Bowser detail parts. 

I think the project was a little more involved than Iain bargained for - the photos here of the unpainted model show just how many details he added, moved, and removed, but it is remarkable how close it looks like a CV 2-8-0. 

Views of the front and rear half of the locomotive show just how much rework and redetailing Iain Rice did to get this engine to capture the look of the CV prototypes. 

During the several months Iain was working on the engine another exciting new product arrived - a Soundtraxx DCC steam sound decoder. After the locomotive arrived back in the U. S., I installed the Soundtraxx decoder before painting, decaling and weathering the locomotive. 

The original Soundtraxx decoder 

Number 472 was in regular service on both the first and second versions of my Southern New England. In 2015 I was getting ready for an op session when I noticed 472 was just not sounding or working right. I even mentioned it in this blog post

She was "stored, awaiting disposition" for the next few years while other projects took priority. 

A few weeks ago I dug the engine out the box and put it on the track. Not surprising the poor performance hadn't gone away with age. But I decided to swap out the old decoder and speaker. The nine-pin connectors made the actual decoder swap a simple matter. Swapping out the speaker was a little trickier, mostly because of the custom made baffle that I ended up having to remove to fit the new speaker in place.

I also took the time to dust the locomotive and tender off, and to clean the wheels and the copper pickup tabs on the engine and tender.  

I'm pleased to report that 472 is back in service, looking and sounding better than ever!

Weekend to-do list

 I have a few items on my model railroad To Do list for this weekend. 

1. The first is to finally complete and upload a video update. It's been about 10 months or so since I posted an update to my You Tube channel. Of course, no one's knocking down my door asking for a video update - but I do have a (relatively) new computer and phone so I want to see if the video editing experience is any easier with this new hardware. 

2. Replace the decoder in no. 472. This particular model is a Bachmann Spectrum 2-8-0. The Soundtraxx decoder I installed more than two decades ago started showing its age - and I ended up taking the engine out of service before one of the last op sessions on my previous layout. Time to see if swapping the decoder solves its problems. 

3. Get the base scenery in place to the right of the Williams Creek trestle. I'v actually got the basic pieces of foam board cut for this area, it's merely a matter of devoting a couple of hours to gluing the pieces in place and carving the basic landforms. 

Tune back in on Monday morning to see how well I did! 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Enosburg Falls, 1941 in (Living?) Color

Jack Delano photo, Sep. 1941, Library of Congress, colorized from original black and white. 
 I've been working on drawing up some of the structures for Main Street in Enosburg Falls. Just for fun I ran the Jack Delano photo taken in September 1941 through the MyHeritage colorization app. 

I also ran a photo from an  Enosburg Falls town history that showed the Enosburg Grain Co - about the same time as the Delano image. 

I originally thought the grain company building was painted some sort of "barn red" - but I'm not leaning towards an earth tone or perhaps a slightly browner version of yellow ochre. 

But the one thing I don't trust about the colorizer is the shade of the Shell signs - I would think they should be a much brighter yellow. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Streeters Store Scenicking

 Work continues on the Streeters Store area of the Junction. 

But what I've really been working on this past week is cleaning up and organizing the workshop area and modeling desk. 

I still have some more sorting/putting stuff away to do before showing photos of the finished result. 

In the meantime, here's a couple more photos of the store!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

"Planting" the Streeter's Store Scene

It's always amazed me how adding the first round of natural growth, trees, shrubs and the like, completely transforms a scene.  Although in my mind the scene is far from complete, I did manage to find a few minutes in the basement yesterday to add some trees and undergrowth to the section between the St. J crossing and what will be the river crossing - an area I've been calling the "Streeters Store scene."

There's nothing particularly spectacular or noteworthy about the scenery - I used my typical scenery techniques (you can find a relatively complete description of these techniques in the December 2021 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine). Amazingly I still haven't used up all the trees my parents carefully salvaged from my previous layout - but we're starting to get to the bottom of the barrel so I did prep some more Super Tree armatures earlier this week. 

One note - I used ready mix joint compound for the road. It was easy enough to apply (I did pre-color it with some Bragdon light gray powder) but found the water and thinned white glue soaked into the road and left visible and unrealistic water stains on the road surface. I also found the the joint compound didn't dry rock hard - making it far too easy to gouge it with fingernails or tools. 

I solved both of these issues by adding a thin coat of Ceramic Stucco art compound, which has the added advantage of creating just the slightest texture to the road surface. I still need to do the final chalk weathering and add traffic streaks to the road. The grade crossing is built up from stripwood. The jury is still out on whether to add a working crossing flasher here or not. 

I added an old Campbell water tank kit alongside the mainline just short of the crossing. I have a small MofW shed to add alongside the water tank - and perhaps a small pumphouse.  

In looking over the blog for the past year I realized I've been messing around with this store kit since this time last year - I'm really looking forward to moving on from this scene!