Sunday, March 30, 2014

Trees and Line Poles at Scotch Run

So far, all the trees I've planted on the layout have been clumps of lichen, which are perfect for simulating the forest canopy. I was rolling around several ideas for the foreground trees. I tried making some of my own with some plant material used for dried floral arrangements. While some of those did make it onto the layout, it's a tedious and time-consuming process to make them.

I used Woodland Scenics trees on my last layout and I was happy enough with them. But they're also very time-consuming and messy to make. Plus they are made out of plastic and I wanted something a bit more realistic for this layout.

In need of some arboreal inspiration, I headed off to the local hobby shop. And that's where I discovered Woodland Scenic Fine Leafed Foliage. This stuff is basically plant material that's been died various shades of green. It can be removed from the stem and used with WS tree armatures or simply broken apart to make individual trees. It's a time-consuming and messy process, but it yields phenomenal results.

While I was at it, I also added some line poles to the right-of-way. The poles are cheapie Model Power stuff that came with some other MP buildings I've. Now, this cheap stuff requires some work before it gets anywhere near my layout.

First thing I did was paint the poles Floquil "Roof Brown" and then sprayed them with Dulcote to kill the plasticy shine. After that, I loped off the bases, opting instead to simply make a hole in the plaster and coat the end of the pole with some CA. Eventually, they'll be wired up.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ballasted the Track at Scotch Run

Today I took on one of my least favorite tasks, ballasting track. It never goes smoothly. When I ballast track, I pour some on the track and then use a paint brush to spread it out. Next, I wet it down with wet water (water with some denatured alcohol added to it). This allows the glue to soak into the ballast. For glue I use two parts water to one part Liquitex fluid matte medium.

The problem is not all of it sticks. I fund that out the hard way after the glue dried and I went to vacuum up what didn't stick and large chunks stared coming up. So I ended up have to touch up several spots.

I opted for Woodland Scenics fine gray ballast. It's a very close match for what is used on the former PRR main line. Now, you may be wondering about the black ballast along either side of the right-of-way. Well, during steam days railroad main lines looked quite different than they do today. On a busy main line such as the Pennsylvania, the passage of hundreds of steam locomotives each day would leave a layer of cinders that grass simply wouldn't grow on.

As you can see, I also started with the blended turf.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Installed the Scotch Run Bridge

According to Google Maps, on it's approach to Horseshoe Curve, the PRR main line crosses a small stream called Scotch Run. From the satellite view, it's next to impossible to ascertain the type of bridge employed in crossing said stream. But I did have a pair of Monroe Models Stone Arch Bridge kits laying around. When painted the right color, they certainly had the Pennsy look I was after.

Each of these kits comes with two arches, which are to be placed back to back. This creates a single-track bridge. However. since I have four tracks, I needed to do things differently. First and foremost, only the front of the bridge would be visible, I only used one of the two arches and one set of wing walls. I painted the arch wing walls Tamiya "Red Brown."  Next I took some Plastuct styrene strips in the shape of a squared-off letter "C" (Basically an I-beam cut in half), painted it Floquil "Rail Brown" and used it to fashion steel reinforcement beams. The PRR added such beams to most of its stone bridges after World War II.

For the portion of the bridge actually under the track, I bought a 2" PVC pipe coupling from Home Depot, cut it in half and painted the pieces flat black. After the pieces dried. I traced their shape on the riser and used my hot knife to cut out a tunnel under the track and the stream bed. I places the PVC arches under the tracks, and then I glued the arch and wing walls in front of the riser.I filled the gaps behind the wing walls with Woodland Scenics "Flex Paste."

Unfortunately the stream bed ended up a bit too deep in spots. My brilliant solution was to use joint compound to fill in the really deep spots. After this, it's back to the engine yard.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Finished Cornerstone's "Modern Coaling Tower" Kit

This kit contains a lot of tiny, intricate detail parts. As such it took me the better part of three nights to put together. Unlike the last kit, I wasn't really buying the stock colors on this one. I went with Floquil "Concrete" on the walls and "Grimy Black" on the roof. The windows and walkways were left in stock colors however.

After The building was painted and assembled, I brushed on a coat of weather wash. Once that dried, I took some left over Microscale PRR Keystone logo decals and applied them to the top of the tower. After that I sprayed on a coat of Matte Finish (a cheaper, stinkier version of Testors Dulcote). When that was done I added a heaping helping of black and gray chalks to get that soot and cinder-covered look I was after. I topped it off with another coat of matte finish.

So anyway, that's two buildings down but still quite a few more to go.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Finished the L1 and Cornerstone's "Union City Roundhouse" Kit

Well, the L1 one is painted, decaled and ready to roll. I started by painting the pewter locomotive shell with cheap automotive primer. Next, I painted the boiler, tender shell, cab and pilot Floquil "Brunswick Green." I used Floquil "Graphite" on the smoke box and ash pans and Pollyscale "PRR Tuscan" on the tender deck and cab roof. When that was don I added decals and sprayed on some inexpensive Dulcote knockoff.

For the coal load in the tender, I took one of the foam inserts that came with the kit and trimmed it to the right shape. Next I coated it with Matte Medium and poured some Creatology black sand (available at Michael's).

Since I'm concentrating on the eastern (Altoona) end of the layout, I decided I needed to get going on building the buildings. Since Altoona was (and still is for that matter) home of a major shop complex, I decided I definitly wanted to include a large locomotive servicing facility. The first building I built for the project is this Cornerstone "Union City Roundhouse" kit.

After the L1 project, this kit was an absolute breeze. Although it's big, it's relativly simple and has few part. I also got lucky and was able to go with the stock colors on all but the roof, chimneys and wall caps, which I painted Floquil "Grimey Black," Testors "Metalic Silver," and Floquil "concrete" respectively. I did go ahead and use gray poster paint to fill in the mortar lines on the brick walls

Where I really went nuts on this building was weathering. First, I coated the whole thing with weather wash. After that, I hit it with some Dulcote. After that dried, I went to town with the chalks. Since this was a busy steam servicing facility, it would have been covered with soot, cinders and ash. With that in mind, I limited the chalk colors to black, gray and white. The exception were the chimneys, which I hit with some brown to simulate rust.

Next up on my to do list are Cornerstones "Modern Coaling Tower" and "Cinder Conveyer and Ash Pit."

Monday, March 17, 2014

The L1 Project and Some Other Stuff

I know, I have absolutely been beating the lack of PRR steam topic to death lately. I promise, this is the last time I'm going to kick this particular dead iron horse. The situation is definitely improving. Broadway Limited is releasing their long-anticipated M1 4-8-2 this December. And guess who per-ordered one.  But it turns out there's another option for us. GHQ makes a nifty little kit to convert Kato's USRA Mikado into a PRR L1 2-8-2. A nice looking shell on top of Kato's legendary, rock-solid, bullet-proof Mikado mechanism? Who could ask for more.

Now, this kit is not for the faint of heart. It contains a lot of tiny detail parts, most of which require drilling to fit. Also, the mechanism and tender chasiss both require a good bit of modification for the shells to fit. CA glue is needed to fix all the parts together. I opted for Loctite gel super glue, which worked perfectly for this project. Normally I loath working with any type of CA, but this stuff seemed to get the job done.

The shell itself is made out of pewter and adds quite a bit of heft to the locomotive. This may significantly improve the locomotive's pulling power as a bonus.

The next step is to spray the locomotive with automotive primer before the final coat of paint. Then decals and weathering.

Work has also been progressing on the scenery. I've gotten nearly the whole mountain covered with lichen. I really do like the way this came out.

This was another quick project I took on today. I've accidentally left the layout power on a few times. So I decided to give myself a little reminder to turn it off before I leave the room. I bought this cheapie light fixture, mounted it to a cheapie junction box and ran some 12-guage lamp cord over to the master switch. I put a plug on the cord and plugged it into the main power strip. Now when the layout power is on, so is this light. Since I turn off all the other lights before leaving the room, this will be very noticeable.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Restained the rocks

As threatened, I went ahead and restained the rock formation. It's better but I;m still not sold on it. The rocks in the area are a reddish color as seen in the photo below:

Perhaps the whole rock formation needs a splash of raw umber to redden things up. And that base color? I'm just not feeling it. It looks too much like coffee and not like earth. I think that may call for some burnt umber paint.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scenery Work Continues

I've been making some steady progress on the scenery. I decided that the steepest part of the mountain would make a great rock outcrop. I made the rocks by smearing join compound on the mountain, then taking some aluminum foil, wadding it up and opening it back up. I then stuck the foil into the joint compound and allowed it to dry.

While the rock formation was drying, I glued lichen of varying shades of green to the top of the mountain to simulate distant trees. Personally, I like the look of lichen over the more traditional polly fiber "puff ball" trees used for this purpose.

After the rocks dried, I attempted to use several colors of diluted Apple Barrel acrylic paints to stain them. I think I diluted them too much because the rocks are still far to white. I'll take another stab at it soon.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

And to think, all I had to do was ask...

The Broadway Limited Imports M1a 4-8-2 (HO Version)
Hey, remember my last entry in which I was whining about the lack of Pennsy steam in N Scale? Well, as it turns out N Scale is about to get a it's first Pennsy steamer since the old Minitrix engines. See, one thing I forgot to mention in my last post was that waaay back in 2005 Broadway Limited Imports announced a model of a PRR Class M1a/b 4-8-2 in N Scale. It was one of those "We'll make it when we get enough preorders" deals. After the initial announcement, nothing ever came of it. Years went by and most people, myself included, wrote this model off.

Today, I found myself with a free moment and decided to peruse BLI's web site just to see if the M1 was listed on the delivery schedule. Guess what? These engines are slated for delivery in December of 2014 and, they were still taking orders! So needless to say, I went Brooklyn Locomotive Works' website and preordered one.

The HO scale version of the loco looks like a work of art. If the N version looks half as good, I'll be very happy. The model also comes with some really nice features like a dual-mode DC/DCC decoder and sound.

I'm excited about this not only because it's a really awesome-looking model, but also because I hope it will open up the door to more Pennsy steam being produced.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Pennsy Steam (or lack thereof) Rant

The Minitrix K4 Pacific is one of only a handful of Pennsylvania steam locomotives to be produced in N Scale.
Not to kick a dead iron horse, but after a frustrating night of trying to get my K4 Pacific running right and failing, I've got to get this off my chest. One of the most frustrating things I've run up against in modeling the Pennsylvania railroad is the dearth of steam locomotives in N Scale. Unless you want to pay a king's ransom for brass models you have exactly five options: The Minitrix K4 4-6-2, B6 0-6-0 and 2-10-0, the Bachmann 0-4-0 and the super-rare Black River Models E6 4-4-2. With the exception of the E6, none of the above are particularly good runners and require extensive modification.

The lack of PRR steam has always been baffling to me. There are tons of models PRR steamers available in HO and O scales and they sell well. Even the above-mentioned Minitrix models command premium prices on eBay!

Some will tell you that K4s and  other Pennsy locomotives are unique one railroad and the wouldn't appeal to enough customers to mass produce. Well guess what, the same can be said for Union Pacific "Big Boys" and "Challengers," Norfolk and Western J 4-8-4s and the Southern Pacific "Daylight." They were all mass produced in N Scale and sold well.

Okay, maybe this was a longer rant than it needed to be. But I do believe that any manufacturer who makes a K4 in N scale will have a smash hit.