Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Endless Summer?

One question I get asked from time to time is "why don't you build a winter layout?" Well that's a no brainer. Model railroading for many of us, myself included is kind of an escape from our daily lives. And since most of my model railroading activity occurs in the winter months, where even here in the Palmetto State, the world is a grey, bleak, depressing wasteland; why on Earth would I want to model it? Frankly, I'd much rather come upstairs, flip on the lights and see my favorite part of Pennsylvania on a summer day, and it's warm.

Also, part of the reason I chose this area to model was I spent many a happy hour railfanning there with my dad. And always during the summer. So the summer setting is definitely evocative of those memories.

Now that said, I did briefly toy with the idea of doing an autumn-themed layout with all the brightly colored foliage. However, that would've required making hundreds of different color puffball trees. I never would have made this amount of progress if I'd modeled the fall.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Progress at Cassandra

I've spent the past few nights plugging away at Cassandra and the Danager Coal mine. At the coal mine, I created the large rock outcroping by using Dap patching plaster. I've used it for most of the rocks on the layout. It has a nice long working time and as it dries, it cracks, not unlike real rocks. After it dried for a few days, I stained it with some inexpensive Wal Mart acrylic paints. I must say I think this one came out better than many of the others on the layout.

Once the rocks were finished, I added some lichen to the top of the hill and started turfing around the coal mine itself. I plan on using a lot of cinder ballast as ground cover in the area as well. 

As for the railfan overlook at Cassandra, I added a small relay box I acquired off eBay a few years ago and some more trees. I also ordered some more vehicles off eBay (seller chucktheprinter) and added one to the small parking area.

Unfortunately, I seem to have exhausted a lot of my scenery supplies. So I'll need to turn my attention to other things until I can replenish it. But that's the great thing about model railroading. Can't do scenery? Weather some rolling stock, or build a structure, or do some wiring (yuck). There's always something to do.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I'm not quite dead! Feeling a bit better actually...

Wow, well over a month since my last update. I hope you didn't think I wasn't coming back.  Simply stated, after finishing Gallitzin, I hadn't felt motivated to work on the layout. But, than I started chipping away at Casandra in fits and starts. So Here's what I've gotten done so far: I, I've gotten most of the earthworks built along the wall between Gallitzin and the conemagh river, Ballasted the tracks of the main line from Gallitzin to Cassandra and the Southfork Branch from the river up to the end of track. I've created rock outcrops and begun landscaping the Casandra and Southfork areas.

Cassandra doesn't offer much in the way of industry or operation but, it's one of my favorite railfanning spots and I had to include it on the layout. Here, the tracks come around a cure, downhill and pass under an old iron truss bridge before plunging into a rock cut. 
I built the iron bridge out of some Plastruct trusses and a bit of Model Power structure base. I glued the thing together and painted the trusses Floquil "Grimy Black." It will be mounted on a pair of Chooch Enterprises abutments. Right now it's only in place temporarily while other work is taking place.

I also went ahead and created the small railfan park. Check out the side by side comparison:

A Loram Rail Grinder passes through the real Cassndra, PA in August of 2010
And M1A 6720 thundering through the modeled Cassandra circa 1956

While the modeled scene isn't 100% accurate by any stretch of the imagination, it certainly captures the basic flavor. 

Meanwhile at Southfork, The track is ballasted and the groundcover applied. Also, the coal truck dump is finally in place of waiting patiently for two years. As you can see in the above photo, there is a gravel road running away from the truck dump. This goes to a small cabin on the Conemaugh River.

Monday, October 24, 2016

2015-16 Layout Progress Report

Well folks, it's that time of year again when I recap what I've done over the past year. Boy it's been a productive year too! Let's start with the basics.

Track: 100% complete

Wiring: All main lines and yards wired up and operational. Only four Industrial sidings remain to be wired along with part of the Altoona shop.

DCC Conversion: System Installation 100% complete, Fleet Conversion: PRR: 99% complete, Conrail Fleet 0%, NS: 80%.

The goal for last year was to complete Gallitizn. I managed to do all that and more. In fact I've moved into Cassandra and am making good progress there. I've also completed the crossing of the Conemaugh River.

Another goal I set for last year was to start working on the operating scheme for the railroad. Well, I still haven't made any progress on that front. At some point I will need to install a signal system, an expense I'm not looking forward to.

So let's talk goals for next year. My main area of focus will be the area from Cassandra to Johnstown. This leaves only the urban areas of Johnstown and Altoona to finish up. Whatever else I get done this year is gravy. And you know what? I'm in no hurry to get it done. While it's nice to start seeing an actual model railroad emerge from the swath of pink styrofoam, after finishing Gallitzin, I kind of felt like Ahab at the end of Moby Dick.

That bare styrofoam is a non-renewable resource and for me model railroading is very much about the journey more than the destination. There's still plenty to do after the scenery work is finished, like the aforementioned signal system and then serious detailing.  But what will I do when the layout's done? There's that old cliche about a layout never being done. I imagine I'll focus operating for a while. Once my kids get older, I may well end up sharing more of the space up there with them. Until then however, all aboard!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bachmann Ten-Wheeler Restoration: New Headlight

This has absolutely nothing to do with the layout, but since I need more materials before I can move on, I thought I'd share it. As you all know, I once had a garden railway and as such have lots of G Scale equipment. One loco is this Bachmann 4-6-0 lettered for the South Pacific Coast Railroad. I received it for my tenth birthday and, being a 10-year-old boy, I played rough with it. I dug her out of storage and she wasn't a pretty sight. So I decided a full restoration was in order.

Tonight, I started that restoration by replacing the headlight. The original filament bulb burned out decades ago. Seriously, I hasn't worked since Hootie and The Blowfish "I only wanna be with you" was in the top 40! Anyway, instead of another fillament bulb I opted for an LED. Here's how it went down:

The LED is a bright white 3mm with presoldered resister. These can be scored off eBay usually from Chinese seller for dirt cheap prices.

The headlight bezel needs a larger hole to accomodate the LED. Bother wires and the resister can fit through the existing hole in the top of the smoke box.
The wires from the headlight lead to a small switch on the back of the smoke box front. I clipped these wires about an inch or so from the end and stripped them. Then, I used a pair of alligator clips to temporarily connect these wires to the leads from the LED. Since polarity is crucial with LEDs, I applied power to the locomotive and made sure the headlight illuminated while the locomotive was running forward. With correct polarity determined, I spliced the wires, soldered them and covered the joints with Kapton tape. I reassembled the locomotive and called it done.

The headlight is quite bright, perhaps maybe too bright. But still, it's nice to see it lit once more. What's more, despite sitting in storage for nine years and having the crappy white plastic gears Bachmann used in all it's mid-1990s models, she still ran. She will need her gears greased and moving parts oild before I really run her for any length of time, but I think I'm on the right track.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Thises and Thats

I've been piddling a away on a few little odds and ends as of late. First and foremost, I took my son up to Day Out with Thomas at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer last weekend. Anytime I go up to Spencer, I stop in at the Little Choo Choo shop. I spied the Conerstone Municipal Water Tower on the shelf and picked it up. The stock colors were spot on perfect so all I did was use some Woodland Scenics dry transfers to add "Gallitzin" to the side of the tank. Now, rather than apply the letter directly, I applied them to some clear decal paper and then put the lettering on just like a regular decal. I then added the "Welcomes You" decal that came with the tower, did some weathering and called it done.

Next on my list was this small farm scene located between  Gallitzin and Cassandra. The Farmhouse and Barn are American Model Builders structures. I built these years ago and honestly don't remember the colors I used. The windmill is a Conerstone Van Dyke Farms Windmill. The uprights are painted Floquil "Rust" and the blades are Testors white.

I also went ahead I put in a gravel driveway, turf and some details. All that remains for this area is trees, both background and foreground and ballast. 

The last thing I took care of is a project I've been dragging my feet on for a while and that's putting a new decoder into my L1 Mike. Originally I'd used a Digitrax DZ123. It did the job but cause the shell to sit too high. This looked really stupid. After living with it for a while, I pulled the decoder out and stuck it in my Model Power mogul. While in Spencer, I went ahead and picked up a DZ126T. This is the same practically microscopic decoder I used in my Minitrix B6. This decoder is a perfect fit. All that remains is to use some fiber optic to get the headlight working. 

The Digitrax DZ126T is a much better fit

Monday, September 12, 2016

Here Come the Trees!

This past week, I planted just a ton of foreground trees in Gallitzin. The effect was immediate.  The deciduous trees quickly transported the layout from high plains Colorado back to Pennsylvania. With the exception of a select few, the trees are all Woodland Scenics. Some were salvaged from my previous layout and some were even salvaged from my old PR&Y layout (link). 

Now, as you know, over by Horseshoe Curve, I chose to use trees made from goldenrod to save money. Well, I think the Woodland Scenics trees look a ton better, so I decided to just cough up the extra saw buck and go with them. Another downside of these trees is the require assembly, messy, tedious assembly. The prescribed meathod is to take the plastic armautres, bend them into the shape of a tree and slather them with Hobby Tack (yet another expensive Woodland Scenics product). Once that's done you dip the armature into the bag of "clump foliage," give it a hake and presto! You have a tree! Or so Woodland Scenics says anyway. More often than not, I pull the tree out of the bag and about 90% of the folliage falls right off.

Anyway, after assembling about three trees using the aforementioned method, I chucked the Hobby Tack and grabbed my can of Elmer's spray adhesive. This was the ticket!  I was able to crank out enough trees to finish Gallitzin in no time at all. Now, all that remains is staining some rocks, adding the power lines and some detailing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Finished with the ballast and turf at Gallitzin

The title of this post really says it all, doesn't it? As you can see from the photos I also started planting some trees and added an underpass to the eastbound tracks. Said underpass was constructed using part of the base from a Model Power house kit, the girders from an Atlas code 80 through girder bridge, some Plastruct styrene and some Floquil "Grimy Black" paint. The abutments are from Chooch.

Now, all that remains is planting some trees, adding the remaining power lines and some detailing. Hopefully, Gallitzin should be done by week's end. With that, about half the layout will be seniced.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Earthworks Finished at Gallitzin

The terrain at Gallitzin is well and truly finished. Now all that remains is to do the roads and the plaster work is done. After that, I have to paint the terrain, turf it, plan some trees and ballast the eastbound tracks. When that's done, it's on to Cassandra!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lighting up Gallitzin

Last night I sucked it up and wired up the remaining building lights in Gallitzin. All told, it wasn't that bad. I must say the results are quite impressive. Now, one problem I consistently find myself running into with these LEDs is they are so bright, the make the  buildings glow. The only real solution is to paint the inside black. 

Anyway, with that out of the way, Gallitzin is one major step closer to being done.

Friday, August 26, 2016

More Structures for Gallitzin

 I finished up a few more structures to round out Gallitzin. First and foremost, we needed a depot. For that I turned to Model Power and their built up station. The first thing I did was pull out the filament bulb and replace it with an LED. Next I painted the walls Floquil "Depot Buff," the roof "Grimy Black," and the trim and doors Polyscale "PRR Tuscan." I also lopped off most of the structure base.

For weathering, I started off with a coat of weather wash. Once that dried, I sprayed on some Dulcote and then some chalks followed by one more coat of Dulcote.

Overall, I think the station turned out quite nice. Granted, it only serves the westbound trains, so I will need something else still for the eastbound tracks.

 Next up, Gallitzin has churches, lots of them. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of N Scale! Can I get an amen? Basically you have a couple of goofy-looking prebuilts or a wood kit from Banchline Trains. Given my experience the latter's "Tower House" kit, I opted for the goofy prebuilt, Bachmann as it turns out.

Out of the box, this kit is fairly lame looking. The walls are slid white and the roof and windows black. And there were the fake-looking bushes painted on the side; those had to go! The first thing I did was attempt to remove the windows and doors so I could spray paint the walls. Unfortunately, no dice, they weren't coming out. So I painted the wall Floquil "Antique White." This presented it's own set of problems as said color is very thin and runny. As such I had to lay on several coats over the course of several days to cover the bushses.

With the walls done, I painted the corner blocks Floquil "Roof Brown" and the windows "Southern Freight Car Red." The roof got, you guessed it, "Grimy Black." After the paint, it was time for weathering. I followed the exact same procedure I followed with the depot so no point in repeating it.The building did turn out a little dingy looking but since it's a white building right next a heavily-traveled main line during steam days, it would be covered with soot and cinders.

The last structure I tackled was a Model Power house kit I had tucked away, "Mr. & Mrs. Diggers" as it turns out. What a name, could you imagin if the Mrs' maiden name was "Gold?"

Anway, one problem I've been having with most of my structures is the LEDs are so bright they make the walls glow. So I started things off by spraying the sided of the wall with some cheap Walmart black paint. Not wanting to use more of my precious and dwindling supply of Floquil paint, I used Rustoleum "Hunter Green" for the walls and Krylon "Meringue" for the windows and doors. I did end up using "Grimy Black" on the roof (don't look so shocked).

As you can see, I also started mockin up the area between the two sets of tracks. Once I'm satisfied with everything, I'll install the lights and start permanentizing things.

Monday, August 22, 2016

More Progress at Gallitzin

This poor couple has broken down in front of the Haunted House. All that's missing is Vincent Price.

Gallitsin Business District looking north.

The gas station is doing a brisk business.

Ballasted track looking towards the Gallitzin Tunnel

Looking west.

Overall view
Wow, where to even begin. I've planted trees, added details, ballasted the westbound tracks, got the business district installed and installed the western portal of Portage Tunnel. All that remains in a relativly small area between the two sets of tracks and then it's time to head west.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Entering the Home Strecth at Gallitzin


I'm continuing to make major progress at Gallitzin. The earthworks inside the westbound tracks is completed. All that remains is a small area of turfing, rock staining and planting some trees.  One major project I'd been dragging my feet on was the utility poles and power lines. For the low voltage poles, I used some Model Power poles, which I painted Floquil "Roof Brown" and then removed two of the three cross arms. 

As for the high voltage poles, these required a bit of head scratching. High voltage pylons are available in N Scale but they are quite costly. In search of a cheaper solution, I decided to take a peak over the wall and see if HO had anything I could use. I got lucky and found some HO telephone poles that would make perfect HV pylons in N Scale. Wire for the poles is black sewing thread. To secure the line, I wrap it around the pole's arm and then brush i with a bit of acetone, which melts the plastic and provides an instant bond.

With the interior largely done, I started on the area between the east and westbound tracks. This included taking the block of foam that holds Gallitzin's business district and fixing it to stanchions. All building lights were installed and attached to a single pair of leads that needed to be routed through the table top. With the foam in place, I used plaster-soaked paper towels to blend it into the existing scenery. 

The next project was the overpass to carry Main Street over the westbound tracks. This is simply a Rix Early Highway Overpass kit on some Chooch Enterprises abutments.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

And Yet More Progress at Gallitzin (These titles are getting hard to come up with)

The road leading to Horseshoe Curve. Notice how it tapers towards the far end. this also seemed like a good place for Model Power's Haunted House.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday, charcoal burnin' everywhere!

Last night was yet another very productive night on the layout. For starters, I got the driveways and the road between the houses and the industrial area plastered up and painted. With that out of the way, I was able to go ahead and get the hillside next to Vulcan painted and turfed. The entire residential area received turf as well.  

Speaking of roads, I decided to go ahead and repaint all of the roads in Gallitzin a weathered gray color. Unfortunately I think it might have been a tad too light and the roads look a bit more like Florida than Pennsylvania. Oh well, it works though. 

I think the next major projects will be situating the Gallitzin Depot along the eastbound tracks and installing utility poles and power lines.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

More Progress at Gallitzin

It's been another productive night and once again, I got a fair amount accomplished. I started with some detailing in the Gallitzin residential area. I planted a few Woodland Scenics trees around the houses, which really accented them quite nicely.  I'll be adding a few stands of trees beyond the houses as well.

Each house also received a Gold Medal Models TV antenna. These are CA glued to a dress shirt pin stuck through the roofs of the houses. I think the next project will be to add some picket fences.

Looking west from Gallitzin

New scenery at Route 53
With the houses done, I turned my attention to Route 53 once more. I began adding lichen to the mountains I built the other night and added some Woodland Scenics turf to the area to the left of the overpass. Once that was done, I went head and ballasted the track in the area.

Although I didn't take any photos, so you'll have to take my word for it, I wet ahead and plastered up some roads. I attempted to create a rock cut along the westbound tacks leading out of Gallitzin tunnel, but my hard shell scenery evidently wasn't hard enough and collapsed under the weight of the additional plaster. So I ended up having to rebuild the scenery in this area. Kind of annoying but no sense in crying about it.