Monday, September 17, 2018

Back on Station

Work has resumed on the Fallburgh Station kit.  A while back I made interior wainscoting and chair rail/trim using Gimp.  The donor image was a door I found online.  I liked the classic lines of the door and the color.  Here are the doors, wainscoting and trim printed on plain paper:

Here are the doors in the office:

And here's the other side of the office as seen from the street-side doors:

I've also given the exterior walls a few light coats of a basic acrylic black wash to enhance the board and batten detail and tone down the stark white color.  The green trim and windows also received a highlight coat of Seminole Green, just a shade lighter and a bit more yellow than the Forest Green I used as the primary trim color.  This is to give them a little depth and represent sunlight.

Since these images were taken I've added all the wainscoting and some of the chair rail.  I left them separate in order to allow for any discrepancy in height from the floor to the bottom of the windows.  However, it has been a real pain to get the chair rail glued in without grunting and grumbling.  Even so, the effect is really nice. 

I have also built a desk out of balsa for the office, and have a few other pieces of furniture along with accessories like a clock and a phone to go in.  Some of these are castings, some printed and some scratchbuilt.  I also have a station master, courtesy of Model Power, that will eventually take up residence in the office.

Much more to do, but it's great fun and I'll share more as it happens.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Miniature Benchwork

In preparation for building the framework for my next layout, the Pine Branch Park, I decided to try something I'd read about before; building a model of the model.  I enlarged my plan to a scale of 1/8 inch equals 1 inch, or 1-1/2 inch equals a foot.  This allowed me to cut thin strips to represent 1 inch wide material that I could handle without much trouble.  The overall size of the model at this scale works out to 6 inches by 9 inches, keeping the whole thing within a regular sheet of card stock.

Here's what I came up with:

Glamorous, ain't it?  Okay, so maybe it won't win any awards but it has served a very important function.  It showed me a few pitfalls and mistakes I might have made - these are easier to correct and far cheaper in card stock than plywood.  For instance, I want 1 inch flanges on the outer sides and 2 inch flanges on the inner members.  It was also fun to see flat sheets of card become a surprisingly strong framework.  The card stock is glued with Titebond II wood glue.

I will be using 1/4 inch plywood for the actual framework as well as the top.  I hope that by using girder construction for the frame I can avoid the eventual warping that comes from dimensional lumber exposed to temperature and moisture changes, as well as produce a light and strong frame that can be easily handled.  While I won't be moving this railroad as much as I would a portable module, I will be moving it eventually and early in the construction phase may be tipping it on its side to do wiring and turnout control work from the underside.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pine Branch Park

After some consideration, I've decided to name my next model railroad the "Pine Branch Park".  This is a play on words and a nod to the region and specific context I'll be modeling.  "Pine Branch" refers to the little creek running through the area and across a corner of the modeled scene while conjuring images of a literal bough or limb of a pine tree.  Yes, a Florida railroad perhaps more commonly calls to mind palms instead, but for central Florida, the pine was the more lucrative tree.  Several will be modeled on this section of the line.

"Park" refers to the industrial park.  While a small street scene with shops and residences will be modeled, the real reason for the railroad is the industrial complex.  As I've pored over period photos, the ones grabbing my interest are scenes of industry and residential areas, more than the countryside and open wilderness.  I hope to expand this railroad into those areas eventually, but for now the city, or rather, this aspect of the city will dominate the scene.  Here's one such photo that lived on my desktop for a while:

Ocala Manufacturing Company - Ocala, Florida. 192-. Black & white photograph, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <>, accessed 5 August 2018.  Right-click and open in a new tab for a much larger view.
 I've also had good input from folks over on the Railroad-Line forum into the track plan.  Here is the latest incarnation.  Note the yellow highlighted line, signifying the main track.  At some point I'd like to continue this track to another area in order to run through trains.  For now, however, the area modeled is self contained and can be run simply as a loop of track or switched in a more formalized operating scheme.

Finally, a word on how I plan to proceed.  I remember fondly the series "Especially for Beginners" in Model Railroader magazine, running from January 1991 through December 1992.  That's a full two years dedicated, essentially, to one model railroad dubbed the Cripple Creek Central.  In my opinion it was not the best name choice as I can't see the model railroad resembling either well-known Cripple Creek, i.e. Colorado or Virginia.  At least it was closer to the western example scenically, but I digress.

Looking back at this series years later, I have come to realize what is perhaps unique about the approach taken to building this railroad.  I imagine Jim Kelly had an idea in mind as to what direction the build would take and how the railroad would progress, but that wasn't clear up front.  Seems like MR project layouts are presented, most often, after they've been completed.  The step-by-step articles that follow are retrospectives on what was done and how. 

In the case of the Cripple Creek Central there seems to be an organic, 'let's see where this leads' approach.  Track was 'laid', but not fastened down so that changes could be made later.  Buildings were purchased because the author liked the way they looked, almost like the average person would do when perusing their local hobby shop.  Scenes were built then later modified.  The control method was changed half-way through the series.  While the general direction remained coherent, the details were more fluid and it almost seemed as if you got a glimpse inside the mind of the creators (there were multiple contributing authors!) as they each worked on the project.

This seems very different than the more dominant approach put forward by the conventional school of planning, often attributed to John Armstrong.  In this method the track plan is made to fit the space and is driven most often by the goal of getting in as much operation as possible.  That approach, combined with the emphasis on prototype modeling, has been a strong current in the hobby for a long time, certainly since the days of the great freelancers like John Allen and W. Allen McClelland or the artists like Malcolm Furlow and Dave Methlie. 

My approach to building this railroad is, as I see it, somewhere in between.  I want some operations so I've planned those in.  I think it is best to do that up front when you have specific structures you want to include such as the Purina Mill and Union Ice industries shown on the plan.  But I've also left room for other elements to change.  Currently I'm considering a coal dealer for the unnamed Industry A.  That would fit well next to the Ice plant, but we'll see what I feel like doing when I get to that stage in the construction.

The primary reason I mention the Cripple Creek Central, however, is the measured monthly approach they took to build this model railroad over the course of two years.  The series was so comprehensive, including everything from soup to nuts, that Kalmbach made it into a book.  I would like to build and complete - yes, complete - this model railroad in a couple years.  I don't buy the tired trope, "a model railroad is never finished".  While the progressive steps I take in building the Pine Branch Park won't exactly parallel the stages of construction seen in the CCC series, I will aim for monthly installments that show visible progress on the construction of the railroad with a varying focus for each.

Naturally benchwork and trackwork comes first, but soon after I will be installing a station and some streets.  I may devote a month to the Purina Mill, but also to the Woodland Scenics grain truck and the Purina ventilated box cars (former reefers) I have to upgrade and rebuild.  Static grass wasn't really a thing in 1991, but I have all the parts to build a static grass applicator so that'll feature one month along with putting down some ground cover. 

But beyond a few vague ideas, I'm going to let the build take me where it will.  Adam Savage talks about the way a project actually leads you as you build it and suddenly new directions appear which you wouldn't have seen before you began.  I know this to be true and it is an exciting aspect of any long-term project.  I hope you'll journey along with me as I build the Pine Branch Park Model Railroad.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

White Walls, Green Trim

Airbrushed Delta Ceramcoat Acrylics, thinned with windshield wiper fluid.
White and Forest Green

Here's a tip; paint in the garage in the morning when it's cool, then let it dry and cure throughout the day when it's pushing 100 out there.  I started painting the corner trim and rafter tails, but decided to brush paint those.  The castings were primed with rattle can gray primer whereas the wood was not.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Layout Alternative

When did a model railroad become a train layout?  I'm no model railroad historian, but I bet there was a time before we called it a "layout".  I've seen it described as a "pike" and this term seems even more dated, as if I should be wearing an engineer's hat with my shirt and tie and smoking a pipe as I run the trains while my family gazes on adoringly.  If I told a non-model-railroader I'm building a train layout in my garage, would they know what that meant?  Would they wonder if I were planning to set it up for a while then take it down, like a train around the Christmas tree? 

As someone who has worked in a field with specialized language, I also recognize that some words don't mean much to the average person.  If you go to a traditional church on Sunday you probably enter the narthex before going into the sanctuary for worship and perhaps afterwards spend time in the fellowship hall.  However, you didn't go to church, you went to a campus.  The church is the body of people, not the building they meet in, but how many folks know this distinction?  The narthex is the foyer or lobby or entryway and the sanctuary is the auditorium.  The fellowship hall is a different auditorium, but sometimes resembles a gymnasium or large meeting hall.  Some churches work hard to eliminate "churchy" language and label their spaces accordingly.  Others stick with traditional names and expect newcomers to learn them. offers TEN variant definitions of the word "layout" and NONE of them reference model railroading.  Not that this is inaccurate for our use, as most of the definitions refer to the arrangement of elements in a space whether on an advertisement or in a room.  I don't think "layout" presents the same difficulty in understanding, but I wonder if there are better words that describe what we're building and perhaps even what we're doing.  Language is important and if we model railroaders want to share our hobby with a non-modeling public in a straight-forward way perhaps some more useful language is in order.  Even within our ranks it might be helpful. 

Miriam Webster does include a reference to model trains in their definition of layout, but there's an issue with that one.  "Something that is laid out".  Sounds like something that is set up only to be taken down later.  When we build our model railroad do we do so in a temporary manner?  Very few times have I seen articles about model train setups that are meant to be run then put away by taking the thing apart and putting it back in a box.  And, I'd bet we wouldn't call those things "layouts", but train sets or something similar.

So what is the alternative?  What about simply calling it a model railroad?  If we are scaling down reality or some version of it, and running scaled-down electric trains through that setting, then we are modeling a railroad and railroading in miniature.  In light of my previous post on a track plan, I'm going to make a conscious effort to change my language from now on.  I'm not building a train layout in my garage.  I'm building a model railroad.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Garage Railroad Plan

I've always looked at those 4x8 project railroads in the model train magazines with an eye for what could be.  Sometimes there is great potential, sometimes they just don't work that well.  Granted, there has been much ink spilled over how to create a better plan using the same space required for a 4x8 (much greater than 4x8, considering aisles and access to three sides) so I won't go into that here.  But I will posit a contrary view for the utility of such plans as they are - a rectangle in the middle of a room.  When you have a room in which you can't use the walls, one of these space-hogging 4x's may be just the answer.

I have space in our house for a nice railroad on a shelf, but barring some sections that must be put up to run and taken down when done, that doesn't make for easy loop running.  Sometimes (quite often) I like to just sit back and watch a train roll.  In order to do that I need to build something larger, and the only space for that is our garage.  Bob Smaus once wrote an article in Model Railroader about the hazards of building in the garage, and I recommend it if you can find it.  Summer heat, winter cold, dust, spiders (black widows, and not the Southern Pacific RR kind!) and clutter all make for a challenging environment in which to build a model railroad.

However, I have decided I'm up for the challenge.  I recently set up a test loop of EZ track in the garage, ostensibly for testing the 2-6-0.  This is actually our Christmas loop but only when there's a tree in the middle.  I've been having so much fun running trains on that loop - despite the rough conditions in the garage - that I decided I could be very happy with a layout out there.

After much cogitation (the details of which I will spare you), I returned to a simple plan.  Behold the HO scale Morgan Valley RR, first featured in the January 1989 issue of Model Railroader in an article by Rick Henderson (click for larger, or right click and open in a new tab):

This plan has always stuck with me, dating back to the first days of my subscription to Model Railroader.  However, I've learned much since then about railroad operations, model and prototype, and right away I knew I'd need to modify this plan.  I started by removing the short switchback siding and a few others.
I added a parallel siding to an existing one, and shifted a few tracks to align on 90 degree lines.  This was because I was already envisioning a grid of streets.
The dark gray are major roads while the lighter gray are secondary alleys and parking areas.  I believe this should be a consideration in the earliest stages of a plan, as this is often how city planners would view development.  People inhabit cities, and need a way to get around.  On so many model railroads, particularly smaller ones like this, roads seem to be an afterthought and consequently the scene lacks believability.  Roads lead to structures, or in the case of the driveways, connect structures to streets.
Here the olive drab colored shapes represent industries or railroad structures, the blue colored blocks represent city buildings and the dusty rose colored shapes are residential homes.  Trees and water features have been added and some track features labeled.   It is my intention that the streets and buildings will provide a strong grid-like structural element.  The tracks interact with this structure as if, in some cases, they were put in place after the grid was laid down, and in others in concert with it or before it.  The tracks follow a small creek in one corner and pass through a low cut in another, next to the orange grove; otherwise the topography is essentially flat.

While I will discuss operating this layout in another post, suffice it to say for now that the railroad can handle both freight and passenger trains as it stands.  With a connection to staging (most likely a train-length turntable) as a fiddle yard, the variety of equipment increases.  For now it can be built using track I already own, and using many key structures which I already own.  One final note - the 'Motorcycle Cop' is a nod to a scene from an extinct Epcot Center attraction, the World of Motion.  Find a good video of this ride on YouTube and see if you can spot the cop behind the billboard.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Slingin Shingles

I was well on my way applying shingles to the Fallburgh station when I realized I'd need to do something about the valleys.  Usually there's some sort of flashing to direct rainwater down the roof, rather than allowing it to seep into the attic.  So I Googled cedar shake shingles images and found some inspiration.  Seems like most of the time, especially on older applications, the flashing is copper.

I used the same brown paper bag I had used for the shingles to make the flashing.  I painted a section of paper with a metallic copper paint and let it dry before cutting it into strips.  This I used at the bend in the roof at the change in pitch.  I actually creased the strip and applied the next row of shingles on the steeper pitched roof over the paper. 

For the valley itself where the gabled portion meets the main roof, I just painted the roof card with the copper paint.

As of this post the roof is 97% shingled, with only the top row of shingles to apply before I add the fancy decorative roof trim, an etched brass part, and then the horizontal 'cap' shingles alongside that.  The trim, along with all the metal castings in the kit, has been primed and is awaiting paint.