Monday, September 11, 2017

H16-44 Repaint

Enough blather about hobby, it's time for a post about an actual modeling project. Once of the first locomotives to join my fleet was an Atlas Fairbanks Morse H16-44. I started out life as an undercoated shell. Long story short, I was never happy with how it turned out. It had wrong handrails and looked like it was lettered by a bunch of drunks.

Vis a vis:


At any rate, I decided I'd lived with it ling enough and chucked the shell into bath of 91% propyl alcohol. About a day later, all the paint was stripped off. Once the body was completely dry, I installed the correct handrails, which was no easy task. I'd get one end seated, the other would pop out. But I persevered. On the subject of handrails, I managed to lose one despite my best efforts.

I repainted the body, much more carefully and patiently this time, Floquil "Brunswick Green." The ends of the handrails and edges of the steps got Testors' yellow. The decals are all Micorscale. The last bit will be Dulcote and weathering.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The "Right Way" to Build a Layout

Okay, I know I've gotten up on my soap box these last few posts, but this is something has to be said. One biggest pet peeves about model railroading or any hobby in general is people who think their approach is the only right way. As far I'm concerned the "right approach" to model railroading is to build a layout you're proud of and provides you enjoyment. It doesn't matter if it's a super-accurate recreation of a prototype or a loop of Lionel tubular track on a sheet of plywood painted green.

How'd I get on this topic you ask? Well, week before last I had to have a medical test done and the doctor performing said test is notorious about being late. So I brought a copy of Sam Posey's book Playing With Trains. At one point in the book the author visits the layouts of Tony Koester and Malcolm Furlow. The two are both famous modelers whose approaches to the hobby are 180 degrees apart. Mr. Koester a staunch prototype modeler while Mr. Furlow was a freelancer who saw the layout as a form of artistic expression. There's nothing wrong with either approach.

While I'm quite familiar with Tony Koester since I always enjoy his Trains of Thought column in Model Railroader, I was very curious about Mr. Furlow. So I Googled him. What I found was a blog post that infuriated me.  Another model was wondering about Mr. Furlow and reached out to him. Here's what he had to say:

"I quit the hobby because most folks in it that I knew except for the likes of John Olson, and the work of John Allen, everyone else seemed a bit too tight-minded. I could not believe the anger that was associated with my participation in the hobby. I had a lot of admirers of my work in trains but the bombardment of hate mail just got ridiculous."

Hate mail? Really? If you're so perturbed by another modeler's approach to the hobby you'd write hate mail, I have to know, who the hell do you think you are? You need to get over yourself. Your way works for you and Furlow's way works for him. Just because you do model railroading a certain way does not make you God's gift to the hobby and being dogmatic about your approach to it does more harm than good by scaring off potential new hobbyists.

I've seen some spectacular layout that are strict models of prototypes like Jack Burgess' phenomenal Yosemite Valley (link). I've also seen some exceptional layouts that are purely freelanced yet operate in prototypical manor like Allen McClelland's legendary Virginian & Ohio and Dick Elwell's Hoosac Valley. And then there are folks like my Dad who just wants a place to run and display his childhood Lionel Trains and accessories.

As for me, my approach is somewhere between that of Tony Koester and Malcolm Furlow. I try to follow a particular prototype in a set time period. But, I do take some creative liberties. My intent is not to make a 1:160 scale carbon copy but rather to capture the basic flavor of places like Gallitzin, PA. This works for me, but it may not work for you and that's fine. After all, at the end of the day, we're just, as Sam Posey put it, playing with trains.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Model Railroading Items That are Slowley Going Extinct

As an add-on to my last post about attracting young people to the hobby, I think it's important to not the hobby is not dying. In fact, a podcast provided by a reader of this blog (Hi Joe!) provided some real insight into the state of the hobby. However, as model railroading evolves some elements of the hobby are dying. So here's a list of things I see as slowly going extinct. Again, I don;t have any stats to back this up, merely my own observations.

1. Brick and Mortar Hobby Shops:

Let's start with the obvious. Hobby shops are dying a long, slow death. The rise of mail-order firms in the 1990s and then online shopping in the 2000s have done them in. Model manufactures going to the "we'll make the model when we get enough preorders" business model hasn't helped either.

2. Rapido and Horn Hook Couplers:

It seems to me, at least in n scale that most new models come with some form of knuckle coupler. Most of the Rapido-equiped cars I've had to convert in the last few years have been train show or ebay purchases.

3. Brass Locomotives:

Model manufacturers seems to be introducing more and more road-specific power, eliminating the need for brass. The quality and detail level of plastic models has also improved considerably over the years.

4. Locomotives that don't support DCC:

More and more it seems manufacturers are coming out with decoder-equipped locomotives. DCC is becoming ever more popular. I believe in the next few years all locomotives will have either a dual-mode decoder or at least be DCC-ready. I believe we will also see an increasing number of Bluetooth locomotives in the more distant future.

5. O-Gauge Tubular Track:

Yes, it's horribly unrealistic, but nothing conjures up images of Christmas moring like this track. Lionel discontinued it in 2016. However, Williams by Bachmann and Menards are still making it. But with most hobbyists in 3-rail O-Gauge opting for either Gargrave or Atlas, I don;t see much of a future for the old track.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Attracting Fresh Blood

My son enjoying his Brio trains. Hopefully his interest continues and Brio can give way to Lionel.
A topic of many forum flame war is attracting young people to the hobby. Threads on this topic always get to be something of a broken record with such played-out hits as: "young people want everything ready made and don't want kits!" "The hobby is too expensive," "Kids can't put down their electronics," and so on. Then the young people on the forum more often than not stat push back, things get ugly, the thread gets locked and nothing is accomplished. As a young-ish person (I'm 33), let me address some of the above points and offer my own two cents worth.

The first criticism that often gets heaped on younger modelers is we're impatient and we wan things ready run. We don't want to assemble kits or scratch-build. Baloney! I say! I love putting structure kits together and taking the time to paint them and make them look appropriate for the era and locale. I would love to scratch build more but my skills are sadly lacking. That brings me to another point, not everybody is good at scratch-building and having the ready-to-run stuff makes the hobby more accessible.

Then there's "the hobby costs too much." I know, model manufacturers aren't exactly giving the stuff away. But there are still affordable trains out there. When I was a kid in early 1990s, most toy stores still carried trains. A new HO freight car set you back $3. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $5.32 today. No the cars weren't super detailed or road specific and they had the old horn hook couplers. But you could buy them on a week's allowance.

As for the fact that kids can't put down their electronics, this might be a valid point. It's not so much electronics as it is other toys in general. Lionel found themselves losing the interests of children back in the 1960s. Railroads for a lot of the country aren't visible and children aren't aware of the role they play in everyday life. On top of that many local hobby shops have long since gone out of business.

We know what the problem is, now how do we fix it? My son loves Thomas the Tank Engine and Chuggington. When we get stuck at a grade crossing we couldn't be happier. My wife and I bought him Brio set and loves playing with it. If he continues to show interest, I'll encourage him .Same goes for my daughter.

Encouraging that early interest may very well be the key to getting more kids involved in the hobby. Shows like Thomas and Chuggington may create that initial interest but all too often, I believe parents think it's something their child will outgrow and they don't encourage them. So how do we reach out to these parents? I really don't know. I do know model railroading has a lot more offer than video games. It's great teacher. It taught me woodworking, electricity, how use tools and fostered and interest history.

I do believe things aren't as dire as a lot of the old timers make them out to be. When I volunteered at the Hub City Railroad Museum, I was the oldest among the sizable group of young people there. Some of them will hopefully become part of my operating group. Many parents brought young children through and they were enthralled by the museum and the chance to see real Norfolk Southern freight trains roll by too. I try my best to mentor fellow modelers and help them out anyway that I can. And there's still a lot I have to learn.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Whipped up a Phone System and Finally Finished Water Street Frieght Terminal



I seem to have exited my summer modeling doldrums a few months early and tackled a few projects on the layout.  The most exciting of which is the installation of a telephone system. It turns out, this can relatively simply. I read online that all you need is a 9-volt battery and a 300-ohm resistor. This will allow you to pickup the phones and talk. Unfortunately making them ring requires 90 volts 20-cycles AC current. 

As of right now I have four phones, one at my desk, which will be the Altoona dispatcher. Another is at Altoona yard and serves Alto Tower. The next is at Gallitzin and serves AR tower. The final phone is in Johnstown and serves both J and SF towers. J Tower controls the main interlocking at the throat of Johnstown yard and SF Tower controls the interchange with the South Fork Branch.

Given the railorad will be operated via time table and train order, the dispatcher can relay order to the towers, who in turn pass them to the train crews. Just like the real thing. Of course, this means I will need a large operating group. Any volunteers?

To actually build the phone system, I used a buck converter to step the power from the lighting power supply down to nine volts, added a resister and soldered some two-connector phone wire to it. I crimped an RJ-11 plug on the other end, connected various spliters and ran lines. This essentially gives me an old-fashioned party line, which is certainly period appropriate. As mentioned above, I can't make the phones ring, so I will have to devise some system so the towermen and dispatcher know to answer the phone.

Basic telephony isn't the only thing I've been up to lately. In Johnstown, I went ahead and stained the rocks and planted trees on the small ridge between the main line and South Fork Branch. I also ballasted the main line and did a bit of landscaping.

 
Oh, and I finally finished Water Street Freight Terminal. Okay, I actually finished it a month ago and never got around to writing it up. I went with Floquil "Oxide Red" for the bricks, "Roof Brown" for the foundation and loading docks, "Grimy Black" for the roof. I used Polyscale "Penn Central Green" for the roof supports, Tamiya "Gloss Aluminum" for the roll-up doors and Testors "Flat Light Aircraft Grey" for the concrete parts.

FOr the brickwork, I used my usual trick of coating it with cheap grey poster paint and wiping most of it off to fill in the mortar lines. After that, it was weather wash, decals,the first round of clear flat finish, chalks and a finally round of clear flat finish. I'm quite happy with how he building turned out. It looks right at home in this part of Pennsylvania. Although the name Water Street seems a tad inappropriate for Johnstown. This will look perfect with a bunch of PRR merchendise service box cars nextto it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hello. Yeah, it's been a while. Not much, how 'bout you?

Wow, four months almost since my last entry. Frankly there hasn't been to post lately. In February, I changed jobs and have been working some long hours. On top of that, my wife and I have welcomed our second child, a beautiful baby girl. Also, as I blathered on in several previus posts this time of year, summer is upon us along with all of it's distractions. So yeah, a lot of time or energy for the layout.

Now all that said, I did manage to make some progress on the layout before all of the craziness started. I'm only just getting to write about it now. I managed to build a few structures. I also built some scenery and ballasted most of the South Fork Branch.

The first building I knocked out was Plasticville's Pink Lady Boutique. Unfortunately, I kind of screwed the pooch with my choice of colors. For the front wall of the building, I used Krylon "Meringue," which is basically Floquil's "Antique White." And just like it's Floquil counterpart, I ended up having to lay on coat after coat to cover up the base pink color. As a result I lost a lot detailing. The rest of the building, save for the roof, which is Tamiya silver, is Floquil "roof Brown."

I decided to turn this structure into a sort of seedy, run down bar that would sit in the middle of the Johnstown industrial area, giving the plant workers a place to grab a cold one after work. I weathered it heavily with chalks, added an Olympia Beer billboard and sealed it with clear flat finish.

Next up was Heljan's Bank Black. The architecture of this building just had Central Pennsylvania written all over it. I still don;t know it if will live in Altoona or Johnstown, but I'll definitely find a home for it. Floquil "Boxcar Red" for the walls, which I then coated with grey poster paint and wiped off to fill the mortar lines. I used Krylon "Meringue" for the doors and windows and with more success than on the previous building. The cornices are Floquil "Roof Brown."

For the roof, I decided to do something a bit different. Rather than paint the roof, I coated it with matte medium and dumped on some Woodland Scenics buff colored ballast. After letting it sit for a few minutes, I dumped off the ballast that didn't stick and I was left with a fairly convincing gravel roof.


Last up was Conrerstone's Brallick Building. I paint parts of the walls "Reefer white" while leaving the pilasters in their stock colors. The windows and doors are stock as well. The stairways are Testors "Flat Light Aircraft Grey." As for the water tower? The tank is "Roof Brown" and the supports are "Grimy black." I decided L liked the look of the gravel roof and repeated it here. Again, I not sure which end of the layout this building will end up on but I will definitely find room for it.

In addition to he buildings, I started building roads in the Johnstown industrial area, finished painting the rails between the Johnstown and Altoona yard limits and ballasted the South Fork Branch. Lastly I built a small ridge between the Main Line and the South Fork Branch to serve as a view block. I also installed lights in the structures.

Most of this was done in late February and early March. As mentioned above, time and energy for the layout has been largely non-existant at the moment. As of right now, I've had a Cornerstone Water Street Frieght Terminal sitting on my work bench for the past month waiting for me to finish it. Who knows when that will happen. Hopefully by the autumn, things will settle into place and I'll be back at work.

And in case you're wondering, yes, this entry's title is a reference to the Dan Seals & John Ford Coley song "I'd really like to see you tonight."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

In broad daylight


The scene illuminated with GE Reveal compact florescent lamps.


Same scene, illuminated with daylight LEDs

It's been pointed out to me that my photos often have a reddish cast to them. I rectified that problem by replacing my GE Reveal CFL light bulbs with daylight LEDs. I figured since trains run outside, ie, in daylight, this made the most since. It's kind of annoying considering GE advertised their Reveal bulbs as showing color accurately. But, the above photos speak for themselves.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Finished the "Cassandra Crossing"

I took the final step in finishing the scenery at Cassandra. This consisted of applying turf to the banks of the Little Conemaugh River. There's nothing really special to report here, so there's really no need for a blow by blow.

In other news, I'm finally getting serious about the layout's operating scheme. In the early days, the main line was operated by time table and train order. There were first class and second class trains. Passenger trains were first class and ran on a schedule. All freight trains were second class and ran as extras with train orders.

Now, this operating scheme sounds quite cumbersome. Indeed it is. But, since signals and detection circuits are still a long way off, it will have to do. On top of that, the South Fork Branch is always going to be dark territory and as such will be run with track warrants. What remains to be figured out is a schedule of passenger trains, both locals and through and the fast clock.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Finished wiring the industrial sidings

The first locomotive to enter the feed mill siding under its own power.

And spotting a car on the Vulcan spur.

Headed back to the main line.


Yesterday I tackled another project I've been dragging my feet on, wiring up the sidings for Vulcan Manufacturing and the feed mill in Gallitzin.  Long-time readers of this blog know how much I love wiring, but withmy goal of hosting an honest to gosh operating session soon, I had to get it done. Anyway, on to the blow by blow.

The first thing I tackeled was soldering a feeder wire to the inner rail of the feed mill siding, which for some reason, I'd neglected to do earlier. This turned out to be rather painless and encouraged by my early success, I went ahead and connected all the feeders to the bus wires.

And here's where things started getting squirrely. I grabbed my Bachman RS3, which normally paired with an Atlas Geep, provides motive power for the local trains. I slowly backed the Alco off the main line onto the siding. As soon as we hit the first turnout, we stopped dead. "Okay, maybe to rails are dirty," I thought and gave the engine nudge. The engine started moving once more until it encountered the second turnout and ground to a halt once more. Still convinced the problem was dirty track, I gave the loco another nudge and she ran in a rather herky-jerky fashion down the feed mill siding.

I followed my gut, grabbed my bright boy and gave the siding and both turnouts a good cleaning. On the siding, the loco ran nice an smoothly, but instantly came to a stop on the turnout again. Long story short, after spending several hours farting around with cleaning the turnouts and even adding another feeder between them, the locomotive simply would not run through them.

Now the turnouts in question are Peco electrofrogs. Unlike the old Atlas Code 80 switched, which used a plastic frog, the switches have powered frogs and the polarity changes based on which way the turnout is thrown. To accomplish this, the movable point rails conducted power from the tow outside rails. This is dependant on them making good contact and in fact neither of these turnouts were. At any rate, the lightbulb finally went on and what I ended up doing was slightly bending the end of the point rails outward ever so slightly. This forced them into contact with the outer rails and solved the problem.

With this project out of the way, I've conquered one major barrier to operating. Now it's time to seriously think about the operating scheme.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Finished Tichy Train Group's "Signal Tower" and Cornerstone's "Steel Water Tank" kits



These are the two structures I  alluded to in my last post. The first is a Tichy Train Group Signal tower kit. I went with Floquil "Depot Buff" on the walls, "Tuscan Red" and just plain "Tuscan" on the windows. The roof is Floquil "Roof Brown," I know inspired choice. The foundation is Testors "Flat Light Aircraft Grey."

As of right now, I not entirely sure where this building is going. It will either be at Johnstown where the South Fork Branch diverges or at the east portals of the tunnels to stand in for MG tower. 


The second kit is Cornerstone's "Steel Water Tank." This was a fairly easy kit to put together. I used "Flat Light Aircraft Grey" for the base and Floquil "Grimy Black" for the rest. I hit the base with some weather wash, followed by chalk. For the tank itself, I limtied weathering to brown chalk along the rivet lines to simulate rust. The kit also came with three water columns. These were panted in the same color scheme. The tank and columns will be located in the Altoona shop.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Cassandra Crossing

No, not the abortion starting Burt Lancaster and Ingrid Bergman, rather the crossing of the Little Conemaugh River at Cassandra PA. Anyway for this first post of 2017, I thought I share the progress on this project.

I stared out by using my hot knife to dig out the river bed. Next I used plaster-soaked paper towels to smooth out the banks. The bridge itself is one half a of a Monroe Models stone arch bridge kit.I painted it with some inexpensive grey acrylic paint. Then I added some Plastruc C Channels painted Floquil "Rust" to simulate the steel reinforcements the PRR added to it's stone bridges after WWII. The actual tunnel under the tracks is a PVC pipe coupling cut in half and painted black. I added a Plastruct Handrail to each side of the bridge and painted them Floquil "Grimy Black."

As for the river bed, I painted the whole thing raw umber to give it and earthy undercoat. Then I used all three sizes of Woodland Scenics Talus to create the rocky bottom and added some "Dead Fall" to simulated fallen trees and submerged logs. With that done, I used some WS field Grass to simulate reeds and bulrushes.

The step I'm currently on is adding water. This phase takes forever because it must be done in multiple layers. For water, I use Modpodge Super Gloss Medium. It's basically the same stuff as Woodland Scenics Realistic Water only it's cheap and readily obtainable at Wal Mart. Once the water is done, I will be adding turf to the banks.



In between coats of water, I've also been working on weathering rolling stock. Nothing too special to report here. I start out with an India Ink wash followed by a coat of Acrylic Matte Finish. Next come the chalks and then another coat of matte finish. All in all I think these cars turned out pretty good.

I've also been working on some structure projects but that's another post for another day.