Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sprague Coal

I've always thought this would make a neat scene from Providence, RI. There's a lot of background and (potential) history here - essentially centered on the connection between the proposed Southern New England and the C&O. (Hint: There's a reason the book on the Southern New England has a jacket painting featuring a coal train). I could go into more detail on that at some future date if there is any interest. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A New Addition to the Layout: Part V: De-Wiring

Real quick update on the process of adding the Charlton Branch section of the Northern SNE to my layout. 

Took some time over the weekend to really study how Jason had wired this thing. As I mentioned previously it was originally wired for DC cab control, then modified for DCC a couple of decades ago. 

There were also a few things I simply couldn't figure out - a few quick texts back and forth with Jason cleared those things up. I just wanted to make sure I didn't snip any wires that were important! 

If you've ever converted a layout from DC to DCC you know it's not really a "wiring" process, it's more like a "De-wiring" process. Add to that the fact that there were a couple of reversing sections that required auto-reversers on Jason's layout that won't be on mine - and a couple fewer switch motors I started tracing wires and removing those that weren't necessary. 

Essentially I kept the track feeders and the control wiring for four turnouts - all the rest came out. 

The photo above shows about a third of the wiring I removed from this one segment of layout. 

Now time to start putting things back together! 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

New Addition to the Layout - Part IV : Back on its own two (four) feet...


The stars aligned last Saturday and Stic and I were both in town and had some free time to raise the Charlton section of the "Northern SNE" from the spot on the basement floor where it has sat unceremoniously since the day we unloaded it from the truck. One lesson I'd learned from previously layouts is to paint the legs BEFORE installing them - especially when the layout room is carpeted like mine. So earlier in the week I dug out the fascia paint and painted the four legs for the Charlton section. And while the paint and rollers were out I painted the fascia panels on the paper mill peninsula. 

I'd thought about trying to install the legs on the Charlton section myself - if for no other reason than I was getting sick of seeing this thing on the floor. As an aside - is there anything sadder looking in the hobby besides a chopped up layout viewed out of context? But I waited until I could get some help since (1) It didn't seem like a one person job - in actuality it turned out to be a three person job; and (2) Like most model railroads this thing is heavy, awkward, and delicate. A bad combination when the desire is to avoid as much damage as possible! 

Stic arrived nice and early and after we got ourselves a game plan the first step was to cut out the pieces of the layout section that we knew we wouldn't be using. This included a real hodgepodge of wood on one end that connected to the rest of Jason's layout. There was also some track that had popped from the ties in the process of moving, and a turnout and associated siding that simply would not make any sense in the context of the new arrangement. Those all went into the scrap bucket. When we took the layout out of Jason's basement we cut away more of the river than I knew I could use - I reasoned it would be easier to cut away more of the river than leave it short and be forced to splice more water onto the river. So out came the jigsaw and more water went away. 

Frankly at this point I was doubting even trying to incorporate this into the railroad. We went to lunch, which, for the record, is our favorite part of any work session! 

After using my handy laser level (if you don't have a laser level, get one!) to determine the height the new legs would need to be we got the 2x2 legs cut to length, including two spacers for each. My wife lent a hand as we lifted the section up, slid the sawhorses out from under the layout, clamped the first leg section in place, made sure it was level and screwed the legs into the L girders. 

Actually the first pair of legs went in and were leveled and installed quickly. The second set of legs took a lot longer to get lined up and leveled for whatever reason, but by the end of the day the Charlton section was up on its new legs. 

My task for this week is to get the wall behind the Charlton section painted the match the rest of the layout (sky blue above the benchwork, Riverway below). I've already removed the fascia "extension" in the junction corner of the existing layout and patched and sanded the screw holes. 

Jason had this layout section situated as a narrow peninsula - I plan to place one side against the wall since I think it will fit the space better. I do plan to make the scene a little wider (something like 6-10" or so) where the long side of the section connects to the wall. That way the track won't be 3/4" from the wall - there'll be some space for a transition from the modeled area to the backdrop. 

Another issue we noticed as we worked this weekend was the wiring - there's a LOT of wiring under this one layout section! Not surprising since Jason's layout was originally wired for block control. I know he had NCE for the last couple of decades - and I know the wiring worked with NCE, but frankly I'm tempted to take out everything but the feeders (and the wires to the powered frogs on the turnouts) and essentially rewire the section using my color coding and standard process. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Another building for Stafford Mills

The church in the approximate location on top of the hillside. I'll add a small fenced grave yard alongside the church when the building is installed in place. 

I've just about completed another building, in this case a small wood frame church, for Stafford Mills. This is the classic Campbell Scale Models Community Church. 

I don't know when this kit was introduced but I remember seeing it when I was a kid on layouts and in advertisements. I picked this up for a song at a Timonium show a few years ago. Frankly, it remains one of the few church kits on the market. It's really too small to a be represent a small town New England church, but it certainly looks like a church. I shingled the overhang above the door  but as you can see from the photos I haven't installed it yet. I'm thinking leaving it off may help it look a little more like some of the New England churches I'm using for inspiration.

I built it pretty much according to the instructions - even using the stained glass windows which are essentially images of stained glass on 35mm film strips. I've built a number of these kits over the years (this is the first time I built the church) and found the text in the instructions is somewhat lacking. I tend to read through the steps once or twice to get a feel for the approximate order and then use the exploded diagram(s) to actually get the pieces in the right place! 

I found the wood shingles in the kit were kind of stuck together. I've also tried to use the Campbell shingles in the past and found they were almost impossible to straighten and get to lay flat so I pitched them and substituted Northeastern Scale Models pre made shingled roofs instead. 

For the steeple sections I used BEST shingles leftover from the Inn project a few weeks ago since the coloration of the BEST shingles was close to the Northeastern roofs - beside, the BEST shingles were piled up in the corner of my cutting mat!

The roof does need just a little bit of weathering to tone it down a bit. 

I think there's room for one more structure along this street in Stafford Mills, then I can proceed with planting the buildings, finishing the road surface, and getting the scenic textures in place. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

A New Addition to the Layout - Part III - A New Home

 By popular demand I'll wrap up the story of moving sections of the "Northern SNE" to Virginia. 

A quick glance into the back of the truck at dusk showed nothing had broken loose, and everything seemed relatively intact. 

On the drive back I had texted Stic Harris and asked him to round up some volunteers to help offload the truck. Todd Hermann, Bill Schultheiss, Mat Thompson, and of course Stic showed up on time at 1100 on a hot, muggy, Virginia day. "Friends" show up to help unload a truck - "Real Friends" show up to help unload a truck on a hot, muggy July day!!! I didn't take note of the temperature but it was certainly in the 90s, and the humidity made it feel like it was over 100 degrees. 

We started with the mountain section. We had too since it was in the back of the truck. As I've told Jason he takes no prisoners when it comes to hardshell scenery. This thing had to weigh close to 300 pounds! In Massachusetts we had to remove the mountain (and more importantly the supports for the helix inside the mountain) from the L girder frame. We then constructed a set of braces from 2x4s - meaning the whole thing could be carried like a stretcher. 

The mountain section just before the big lift. You can see the 2x4 "stretcher" arms - as well as the helix sections and helix uprights. These would prove to be less sturdy than we'd hoped. 

We found the section was heavy but moveable as long as it stayed level. Stic had removed both the glass door panels from the basement door - meaning we had a six foot or so wide opening. The only limit was getting through the four foot wide gate into the backyard. That's where the trouble began. 

This thing was too heavy to lift over the fence, even for five strapping model railroaders! So we tilted it slightly - I'd say 20 degrees or so. Then there were several loud snap and crunching sounds as the helix roadbed (which was a fiberboard material not unlike Homasote) broke. That in turn caused the whole mountain to start tipping over. For a couple of seconds it looked like the whole thing may have ended up upside down on the ground, but we got it righted and managed to set her down right side up. 

The fact that the mountain was sitting on those 2x4s that were secured to the floor of the truck created a situation where there was enough bounce on the ride to Virginia to crack some of the helix supports and roadbed. Moving it the 100 feet or so to the backyard was just too much stress for the helix. We also lost some of the mountain, but about 2/3rds or so of the mountain, including the curved trestle and tunnel portals, remained intact. 

We picked up the chunks of helix, and the broken plaster chunks and assessed the damage. 

After putting the mountain aside, we turned our attention to the Charlton Branch section. I was more than a little relieved (and amazed!) that the buildings that were secured in place hadn't broken loose. 
We eventually moved the mountain section into the basement where it's currently sitting on sawhorses. I'm still not sure what, if anything, I can do with it. 

Halfway to the basement - time to take a break! It was HOT!
Like most model railroad sections this one was awkward and clumsy to handle, but we managed to get it off the truck around the side yard, and down the steps into the basement with no damage. 

After it was on the basement floor I checked it for damage - other than some damage to the track in front of the station - that had occurred when we took the layout apart up north, the only other issue I found was a small crack behind one of the retaining walls by Martin Machine. 

Minor track damage.
Would I ever do this again? Honestly, probably not. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled I was able to save a piece of Jason's version of the Southern New England, but the only reason I even attempted this was it was a cohesive piece of the layout that fit with mine thematically and scenically. This section also included beautifully built structure kits - I had several of these in kit form that I planned to get to "someday." Now I have them already completed. (If anyone is interested in the kits let me know!) 

In general I don't think it's a good idea to try and combine pieces of layouts since it's very difficult to end up with a cohesive whole. For example, my good friend Paul Dolkos is selling his wonderful Baltimore Harbor District. But as much as I admire Paul's layout, I couldn't combine parts of it with mine and have the result look cohesive. And I pretty firmly believe a cohesive theme is critical to a successful model railroad. But if you're interested in Paul's railroad contact Bernie Kempinski or Mat Thompson or see Bernie's post on his blog HERE for more details. 

Here's the branch on the floor of the basement in its approximate final location. The next step will be to raise the branch on some new legs and attach it to the junction area of the layout. 

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Coloring Laser Cut Shingles

The shingled potion of the roof on shows the results of this method of coloring roof shingles. 

A quick tip that I stole from someone else but works so well it's worth passing along. 

The only thing more tedious than applying roofing shingles to a model has to be coloring those shingles after they're installed. I spent many an hour using a fine tip marker to color each shingle. The results looked fine, but it seemed to take forever. 

Then I ran across a tip in a South River Modelworks kit. SRMW owner Bob VanGelder showed how he colored the shingles quickly, and randomly, before cutting the rows from the sheet. 

The effect was quite effective and the technique reduces the shingle coloring chore to a matter of minutes. 

Here's the starting point, a sheet of plain gray shingles:

Using several shades (I think I used 20%, 30%, 50%, and 70% Warm Gray) of Prismacolor markers simply draw random lines using the markers in line with the shingles. Once the sheet is colored, cut out all the rows, jumble then up on the table and select the rows at random as you apply them to the model. 

It looks that it will never work at this stage - the trick here is to trim all the rows off the sheet and mix them up before applying them.

One caution - unless you're going for a specific effect - like a deliberate decorative pattern on the roof shingles - don't color along the length of the row or you won't get any randomness to the finished roof! 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Richford Branch in the Press

About a year ago I was contacted by Peter Bowen, the editor of the Roundhouse, the British Region of the NMRA's excellent magazine. Peter was interested in an article on my HO scale Richford Branch. Once I got a scene or two to the point where I felt it could be photographed without embarrassment, I sent him an article. I was thrilled to see it appear in the May/June 2023 issue. I should mention this same issue includes articles by two other Americans, Gerry Leone and Tom Johnson. 

For the record, this represents the first time my current layout has appeared "in print" and the first article I've had in a printed magazine since an article in a 2015 issue of Model Railroader. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

A New Addition to the Layout - Part 2 - The Voyage Home


This view of the Charlton section in Jason's garage shows the Sherman's necktie
in front of the station!  

Krr-chunk!! Slam!! Krr-chunk!! Slam!! - As I drove the rental truck from Massachusetts through Connecticut and across New York I thought I'd dealt with the worst of the rough roads. Then I hit I-78 in Pennsylvania. The truck managed to find every bump along the way, and the suspension took those bumps just as well as you might imagine a rental truck with almost 200,000 miles on the odometer would. 

I'd already dealt with a remarkably uncooperative GPS - that kept trying to send me off the highway to take shortcuts (that may have saved a minute or two) - including sending me on a 10 mile side trip - halfway through that little sidelight a bridge tender waived me off the drawbridge since trucks weren't allowed across! 

Relying on my old sailor sense of dead reckoning I eventually found my way back onto the highway. And that was just one of the three diversions the GPS sent me on. 

To make matters worse, my phone battery was dropping at an alarming rate (and I was getting an endless stream of text and voice messages from friends checking in to see how the journey was going!) And the truck, of course, had no way to recharge the phone. I considered purchasing a cigarette lighter charger converter, but before I spent any money on that I checked and confirmed that the cigarette lighter in the cab was nothing more than an empty hole...

The phone battery died on I-78 about 60 miles short of Harrisburg - but that wasn't my biggest concern. With each of those Krr-chunks I was picturing plaster pieces from the mountain flying about the rear of the truck like cannon balls - and destroying the finished structures on the Charlton Branch section which were the whole reason I'd started on this adventure. 

Once I got to Harrisburg I found myself on Route 15 south heading towards Gettysburg and the final leg home. 

I pulled up to the house around 9:00 pm. I grew up in Connecticut, went to school in South Carolina, and lived in Virginia for the majority of my adult life. Trips up and down the east coast are nothing new to me - I must have made this drive a hundred times - and this makes the top five worst. Before I went into the house I briefly opened the truck to see if there was any damage. To my immense relief, and shock, everything looked fine. Of course, that wasn't the case but I wouldn't find that out until we tried to move things into the house. 

Upon arriving in Virginia, all I quickly opened the truck to make sure the pieces were still intact. 

But that's for Part 3 ...

Wordless Wednesday #266


Tuesday, July 11, 2023

A New Addition to the Layout: Part 1

Part 1: Dismantling the Northern SNE:

As I mentioned in my post "Farewell to the Northern SNE" (if you missed that post you can find it HERE) I planned to take some of Jason and Pam Fontaine's wonderful layout off their hands as they prepared to relocate down south. 

I just realized something - with Jason moving the Florida, does that mean the Northern SNE will now become the Southern SNE - and my SNE which was the Southern SNE is now the Northern SNE??? .... ugh, I'm giving myself a headache ...

To summarize the events of the last week: I flew up to Connecticut from Dulles early Friday morning. After hearing horror stories all last week about airport delays the flight was on time (technically we landed a few minutes early) and I found myself in a cab, driven by a pleasant and talkative chap named Khan (no relation to the Star Trek villain of the same name) on the way to the Budget rental truck outlet in Enfield.

The truck was - let's say it was 16 feet long as promised and leave it at that. 

Before heading up north Jason and I came to an arrangement and I would take the Charlton Branch (essentially an approximately two foot wide and 9-10 foot long section of layout with several very nicely done structures and scenery, as well as "Fenton Mountain" - a large - and extremely heavy - mountain with a three lap helix inside. 

I drove to Charlton Mass, to find Jason and Derek (who's taking several other sections of the layout) already starting the process of disassembly. After some considerable discussion of the best place to cut through the Envirotex river we concluded the more "water" we could leave in place the better. 

Since the pieces I was taking were essentially the cork in the bottle, basically blocking everything else from getting through the layout room door, we had to start with them. So after cutting along the base of the mountain that served as one "end" of the Charlton Branch, Jason turned the Saws all on the river. 

Halfway through the first cut into the base of the mountain alongside the riverbank. 

The area of the river that looks like rapids is plaster dust! 

I realize Jason started work on this layout in 1990 - and having tore layouts down in the past I know how painful the process can be. 

The biggest challenge we faced in getting things out of the layout room with minimal damage was the width of the door opening - 31" or so of clearance - and the mountain was almost 45" tall from base of the L girders to the peak. The solution was to cut off the top portion of the mountain. The plan for moving the mountain was to remove the side braces that held the helix baseboard inside the mountain, letting the helix collapse like a slinky, add 2x4 bracing to the underside of the helix framework so we could remove the helix essentially intact, but collapsed, inside the mountain, and then take it out in three pieces - the benchwork holding the mountain and helix up, the mountain section with the helix inside, and the top of the mountain. 

There was one side of the helix that had a weak spot that was especially noticeable when the section was tilted. But we managed to get the pieces onto a dolly, turned 90 degrees, and moved into the garage. 

The (second) worst part of the disassembly process was moving the mountain out of the layout room into the garage. The worst part of the move is still to come! 
After a long day of cutting, bracing, and moving the two sections of the layout I was taking, along with a section containing a lumberyard that Stic Harris wanted, all the pieces that were coming with me were sitting on Jason's garage floor. We retired for a well deserved pizza dinner. 

Next Step: Part 2: A New Home

Monday, July 3, 2023

An Inn for Stafford Mills

For some reason I always seem to manage to find the time to complete a model over the 4th of July weekend. This year that model is this BEST Trains Colonial house with kitchen addition. I intend to brand this as a small New England inn.  

Nothing particularly noteworthy about the assembly process. I did note that all of the window openings (and there's a LOT of them!) are cut just slightly undersize - meaning I had to enlarge them just a little to get the plastic windows to fit. Also, the stone foundations on a lot of these BEST kits seem to be a just a little undersized - leaving an exaggerated amount of overhang between the wood structure and the stone foundation. In this case not a big deal and an issue that can be disguised with foundation plantings. I did a pair of Woodland Scenics carriage lamps on both sides of the front door. Other than that this was a real basic build. 

It's shown in the drone shot above in the approximate location on the Stafford Mills town area. I'm thinking on one or two more buildings for the upper street - perhaps a church or maybe a small town garage? Another option is a house or perhaps a cafe???? 

On the other hand I want this to look like a New England country lane, not a downtown Main Street!

One additional detail needed before this is planted in place - a sign:

Extra points to anyone who gets the reference ...

Friday, June 30, 2023

Canadian Pacific E8 in St. Albans

 Here's something you don't see everyday:

CP E8 at St. Albans, photographer/date unknown

A Canadian Pacific locomotive sitting in the St. Albans trainshed. 

I had the pleasure of catching up with Ian Stronach at the recently concluded New England RPM. Somehow we got on the subject of CP E8 locomotives, and he mentioned the photo above. 

Just what was a CP E8 1801, in its original paint and lettering, doing heading a passenger train in St. Albans on the Central Vermont? 

The reason for this detour remains a mystery.  The most likely would have been because the CPR was blocked between Wells River and Newport. It is a shame we cannot see the switch stand to determine if the turnout under the lead truck is lined for the Richford Branch.  Since the train is facing north we can surmise it either arrived from somewhere south on the CV or it arrived from the north and has been turned at St. Albans to return north. The former is far more likely. 

We can assume two possibilities of where the train is heading:

1. Up the Richford Branch to Richford and then onto the CPR Newport Sub.  

2. Over the CV and then CN to St. Jean, Quebec and then onto the CPR.

One thing that may eliminate possibility #1 from consideration: 

The 1955 ETT states the following for the Richford Sub.:


Engines heavier than the 460 class must not operate. EXCEPTI0N 600 class may be used in helper or special service on main track and sidings only. So, is an E-8 heavier on the drivers than a 460 or 600 class?

In the meantime, the first possibility offers me a chance to run that beautiful CP E8 over my version of the Richford sub! 

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Southern New England Train

I was digging through the boxes of rolling stock the other day in an effort to fully populate the layout with cars. Just for the heck of it I posed an all Southern New England train and snapped some photos. 

Sharing them here:

The first two cars are from a special run of PS-1s Kadee did a few years ago. In both the older square herald scheme (above) and the maple leaf scheme (below). There was a LOT of debate on my old SNE Yahoo (now mailing list about which scheme was the most appropriate. Personally I prefer the square herald since it doesn't read like a CN car. But I sent the North Shore club (that actually commissioned and sold the cars) both sets of art work. Perhaps they couldn't decide and went with both?!!

The next three cars show how most of the SNE cars are decorated ("decorated" may be too fancy a term!) in accordance with Central Vermont practices. Cars are one color - CN Red #11, with plain white lettering. All three of these (Accurail) cars (the gondola, hopper, and single sheathed boxcar) are painted the same color. In fact I painted them at the same time. Guess I really need to weather that single sheathed boxcar!

Not in the train in the lead photo (it was already out on the layout!) is one of the SNE's 50-foot boxcars. Central Vermont didn't have any 50 footers until the early 1960s, but that's the magic of freelancing. This is either a Proto 2000 or Branchline 50 foot boxcar (I honestly don't remember which but suspect it's a Proto 2000) car. I got some feedback years ago (again, on the SNE chat list) that I should have used the square herald. I didn't since I didn't have decals for that herald, so I went with the maple leaf. I also opted not to spell out the roadname to the left of the door since the spelled out Southern New England lettering looked a little small on vast expanse of car side! Note the embarrassing obvious decal film showing around the reporting marks....

Walthers did a Grand Trunk three window caboose that I quickly adopted as the SNE standard long caboose. To make it look a little more like a CV van I replaced the Walthers cupola with one from Funaro resin CV caboose kits (each kit included a couple of styles of cupola) 

As I said before some days I really miss the ole' SNE stuff.... they're not necessarily the best models I've ever built but it's like seeing old friends. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Farewell to the "northern" SNE

I'll never understand some model railroaders and their myopic view of things. Jason and Pam had their layout open for the New England RPM meet, but had very few meet attendees who bothered to come look at the railroad. I suspect the fact that it's a freelanced railroad turned a lot of RPM attendees off? Their loss. With the exception of two visitors in this photo, these visitors are contractors who saw the layout during previous week and thought it was so neat they brought their parents, wives, and kids by to see the SNE! 

I've mentioned Jason Fontaine's excellent Southern New England in this blog before, most recently reviewing a visit to see Jason's layout back before Covid. I refer to Jason's railroad as the "northern SNE" since he's using the same basic fiction - that the "Titanic Railroad" was actually completed - as I do for my proto-freelanced line. We came up with this theme independently - and he (and his wife Pam!) tell me the fact that my SNE appeared in print before his was a bitter disappointment for him at the time. In the years since he's become one of those model railroaders who I consider a friend I don't get to visit with half as often as I'd like. 

Here's an overall view of one side of Jason's version of the SNE. 

Sadly, that pervious trip (see a report HERE) was also the last time we'd have a chance to visit with Dick Elwell and his amazing Hoosac Valley. 

Walking down the aisle and turning back toward the layout entrance Mt. Fenton dominants one end of the layout - and nicely screens the stairs and entry to the staging yard area. 

I was surprised when I heard from Jason a couple of weeks ago that he and Pam are moving to Florida and would be taking some, but not all, of his SNE RR with them. He was wondering if I might be interested in any rolling stock, structures, etc... 

Charlton is at the end of a branch. Jason tells me that Dick Elwell always enjoyed switching this area whenever he visited. The structures here (and across the entire layout) are extremely nicely built, painted and weathered craftsman kits. 

Luckily the timing actually worked for once and I was already planning to be in his neck of the woods for the New England RPM meet. 

Although I didn't have a chance to obtain any of Dick Elwell's models from the  Hoosac Valley I'll spill the beans a bit and mention that I have made arrangements to obtain this mill complex from Jason. Dick was involved in constructing this model. 

Long story short, I came home from the RPM meet with a nicely lettered and weathered SNE passenger train. We've also made arrangements for me to salvage some other elements once Jason begins the painful process (and I know how painful it is to take a sledgehammer to a model railroad having done it plenty of times!) of dismantling his version of the SNE. 

I've already given the SNE passenger train a couple of test laps around my layout - I think it looks great rounding the big curve between Williams Creek and the Junction. 

I'll hold off on describing what elements of the layout I'm planning to take off Jason's hands until we (1) work through some of the logistics and (2) actually get things out of his house and into mine in one piece. 

At that point I may offer some thoughts on saving pieces of other layouts, incorporating them into our own layouts, and whether the whole process is worth the time and effort.