Thursday, February 29, 2024

A New Addition to the Layout - Part VIII: Setting up the Connection

Hit another bump in the road in the process of incorporating the Northern SNE's Charlton Branch into my layout. Luckily this bump was not the same as the literal bumps in the road I experienced driving the Northern SNE section from Massachusetts to Virginia last summer! (see my blog post: for more on that part of the adventure. 

In this case the latest challenge was an intermittent short somewhere in the track or wiring. In the end I traced the issue to one or two of the turnouts - and/or their switch motors. Attempting to fix the issues with the turnout would require working under and over all the detailed power lines and the like I opted instead to simply replace one of the turnouts. The turnout I really think had an issue was simply removed and will be replaced with a section of straight track. The turnout led to a very short stub-ended spur - I'll heavily weather the "cut off" spur to make it look like the industry is no longer rail served. 

Removing the two turnouts wasn't easy. After soaking the track in an alcohol and water mixture in order to soften the ballast and ground foam I worked a putty knife in and around those overhead power lines and managed to carefully work the turnouts loose. 

While I was in a track prying mood, I went ahead and removed the track that had crossed the bridge over the river - after scraping off the ballast I used to a sanding block to smooth the area. I plan to use the roadbed this track was on as a basis for a street - more on that in the future. 

The next step is one I've been dreading - cutting a swath out of the finished scenery on the main layout to accommodate the track connecting the mainline to the new layout section. That is going better than I anticipated. 

And although not shown in these photos, I've essentially replaced all the original wiring for both the track and the switch motors. All in all, these it's been a lot of effort integrating this section into the railroad. 

But I keep telling myself I've rounded the corner on "destroying" things and can finally start putting stuff back together - I truly hope that's the case! 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Maryland and Ohio - My First "Railroad of Lies"

I came up with the idea for my freelanced Southern New England Railway in conjunction with Iain Rice during one of his visits to Wisconsin. But not many people know that I had a "railroad of lies" long before the SNE named the Maryland & Ohio Railroad. I created the M&O when I was 10 or 11. As the name implies it was an Appalachian bridge route with lots of coal traffic. It had blue first generation diesels, and a lot of coal hoppers … I’ll let you guess which railroad may have heavily inspired the M&O… they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. 

With the news that Jim Hediger recently passed away, I was digging through my box of freelanced railroad cars looking for an Ohio Southern (Jim's railroad) car and came across what I believe is the one surviving example of M&O rolling stock. Note the use of Champ "word" decals - an alternative at a time when I certainly didn't have the resources to get custom decals made! 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A New Addition to the Layout - Part VII: Hills and trees

Work continues on connecting the Charlton Branch from the Northern SNE* to the main layout. In previous chapters of this seemingly never-ending saga I mentioned how I planned to use several sections of the large mountain that had concealed a helix on Jason's layout - meaning these were large, heavy plaster mountains! I placed the large mountain chunk in a place I thought looked good and would work - and there it sat for at least a month or more. I've learned over the years that if I run into something that stops progress on a project it usually means I'm not taking the right approach. It became obvious that reusing the big mountain chunk was simply not going to work. It was taller than the adjoining hill on the main layout, and would have required altering the existing finished scenery to effectively blend it into place. It was also going to be a challenge to route the track around the thing. So I removed it and replaced it with the salvaged piece that had been the very top of the original mountain. Immediately I could see this was a much better solution. Since the space on the layout was longer than the salvaged hill I sawed it in half and built up a new section of hill in the middle. I also used some of the loose rock castings salvaged from the original layout. 

In addition to the rock castings I was able to salvage a lot of Super trees from Jason's mountain. I did dip each of the armatures in dilute matte medium before coating them with a variety of Scenic Express Super Leaf fall colors. You can find more on what flocking I use and the color combinations in my blog post HERE.

After "planting" the trees I stepped back and admired my handiwork. (Forgive the plaster dust visible in some spots - obviously that will get covered with some ground texture!) I think the renovated hillside nicely compliments the structures on the Charlton section. Next step is to add the track connecting Charlton to the main layout. Then I can do something about that stretch of track to nowhere that runs over the bridge. 

* Jason sent some photos showing the progress he's making  rebuilding in his new digs in Florida. So does that mean mine is now the "Northern SNE"? 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A New Addition to the Layout - Part VI: Basic Background Scenery

Test fitting the background scenery foam panel. I think the road "extension" blends fairly well. 

I haven't touched the northern SNE branch section for almost a month or more since I've been focusing on background scenery on the mainline "loop" around the room. But I'd made a bunch more trees, and I was getting sick of tripping over the two chunks of the mountain that we'd recovered from the helix move disaster - but the mountain chunks were useable even if looking a little dusty and faded. 
We'd built a box framework section to fill the space between the main layout and the branch. I took two of the mountain sections and test fit them in place as seen here:
Obviously there's a need to fill the gap between the "chunks" of mountain! The roof of Charleton station is to the left. I grabbed a quick test shot from the "normal" viewing height looking over Martin Machine as well. 

Mostly to avoid working over the finished portions of the branch I cut a piece of foam board to fit the space between the wall and the finished portion of the branch. I added a couple of small hills to break up the pool table look and added two roads after marking where they connected into the existing roads on the branch section. One road runs straight across the addition (lead photo above) while the road by the station curves and goes up a slight hill. I'll show how these blend into the wall in a future post. I test-fitted the piece (below) before adding the initial scenic texturing in the workshop.  

Friday, January 19, 2024

This time with a Train


Lots of snow this week. And lots of tree making. 

Flocked a bunch of Super Trees - most of them using a variation of one my favorite tree color blends:

These will be getting "planted" (hopefully) this weekend. 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

2023 Year in Review

 A quick review of 2023 on this blog. 

Total unique page views (all time) sit at 1,124,248. 

For 2023 there were 148,000 unique page views. 

There were 748 posts in 2023, and in case you're curious here are the top ten posts for last year in terms of total views:

As far as progress (or lack thereof!) on the layout. By far the most significant project last year was the still ongoing incorporation of the "northern SNE" section. I suppose it should be no surprise that posts about the whole process accounts for three of last year's top ten posts. 

The other major project (also still ongoing) was the structures and basic landforms for the Stafford Mills area of the layout. 

As a rule I don't make New Year's Resolutions since I rarely, if ever, keep them - but I didn't accomplish as much in the basement as I'd hoped in 2023 so I'm going to set a few broad goals so if I'm blessed enough to see the end of 2024 I'll at least feel like I've accomplished something

So what's ahead for 2024? 

Goal #1: Get the scenery completed on the main "loop" of the railroad - with the possible exception of the Enosburg Falls Main Street scene. I'm going to treat that as a separate project from the open country running that predominates on the rest of the layout. 

Goal #2: Finish integrating the Northern SNE section into the layout. 

As mentioned above, these two are ongoing and actually are being worked concurrently. 

Goal #3: Rough landscape (to include building mockups as appropriate) on both the paper mill and Richford yard peninsulas. 

Goal #4: Get the steam roster out of the boxes and operational. 

And I want to get the Autumn Scenery book complete, and be well on the way to getting the Rolling Stock book finished by the end of the year. 

There is another possible large project - reworking the shop area in the basement - that may come to fruition in 2024 - but that waits to be seen. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Some New Scenery

After setting a record of not accomplishing anything on the layout for the last two months (holiday visitors, combined with a nasty head cold that I just couldn't shake for weeks...) I took some time between Christmas and New Years to get some additional scenery added to the layout. 

Actually, I started out intending to do some sorting of the scenery material bins - in the end it seemed to make more sense - and sounded a lot more fun - to actually use the stuff on the layout rather than simply sort it and store it. 

On a more pragmatic note, I also needed to get some step by step photos for my planned Autumn Scenery book. 

After making scads of trees, I concentrated my efforts on the open country running section between Berkshire and Stafford Mills. One thing I tried to create was the extreme overgrowth between a pasture or field and the railroad right-of-way. 

This scene still needs some refinement (I think the poles are a little taller than they need to be, and the clumps of Martin Welberg materials could be blended a little better, for example) but the scene is getting there. 

On disadvantage of modeling fall colors is the need for so many different colors, and textures, of materials. So the work area tends to spread out over adjacent areas of the layout, as you can see from this overall view of the layout section I'm working on -