Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Wordy Wednesday: (Lots of) Progress Report

There's definitely an inverse proportion of layout progress to blog posts. You wouldn't think that would be so, but it's certainly true in my case. The more progress I'm making, the less time I have (or want to take) to blog about it. Facebook actually makes it easier to put off blogging, since I can post quick updates to my Valley Local group page (and get pretty instant feedback too).

So the lack of posts doesn't necessary mean lack of progress - and in this case, it's been just the opposite. Here's a (hopefully) brief rundown of activity since my last progress report:

Wethersfield Backdrop @Jordan Lane
I mentioned in passing that Deb (aka The Missus) had helped me with some color choice for blending the foreground road with the background road at Jordan Lane. Here's how I went about it...

I should have taken a "before" photo, but here it is in progress... The foreground is what the entire road looked like (and as documented in this post - included a *fail* for using actual concrete). It was WAY too different from the color of the background road. So I got a craft paint color that matched the "overall" color of the background road and applied it with a 1/4" wide brush, not worrying about (and actually embracing) the variation that resulted.

I then blended it all in with a slightly lighter color of Pan Pastel.

Lastly, I used black PanPastel to add "oil marks" down the middle of the lanes, even carrying them up slightly onto the backdrop. I think you'll agree the road looks MUCH better now than how it started out!

Continuing Cromwell
I realize now that I never did a post starting Cromwell, so just by way of a quick overview...

I used foamcore (with the paper peeled off) for Main Street (aka Middlesex Turnpike), and a combo of cardboard strip lattice and plaster cloth for the subterrain. Then I started playing with structure placement, guided by my embryonic Cromwell backdrop.

For the sidewalks, I decided to try these laser-cut MDF ones that I got for Christmas.

I laid the structures out on top of chip board that was the same thickness as the sidewalks (about 1/16"). These cutouts would form the base/foundation for the structures and raise them up even with the walks.

Alternately, I made a sidewalk/structure base combo out of foamcore (again, with the paper removed) for the station. After scribing in the lines, I painted this "concrete" with Apple Barrel Country Grey.

The road "north" of the tracks, as well as the subbase for the town structures, was cut from one large piece of foamcore. Like with all my foamcore, I remove the paper to reveal nice texture for concrete roads - it's also impervious to water (no warping) and is easy to scribe. Here, after scribing in the expansion joints, I've masked off the road for painting.

Main Street and town subbase in place, with structure base outlines marked in.

Mine is a very slow, iterative process - especially when it comes to structure placement and backdrop positioning.

But all this time pays off when you get the result that looks "right" to your eye - like this.

One of my biggest challenges is actually committing - whether it's gluing down structures, or sending a photo-shopped background image to be printed. But at some point, you have to "Just Do It" or be paralyzed by over-analysis. Here's the final Cromwell backdrop. It won't stand the scrutiny of eagle-eyes, but should work fine as a background for the main activity up front.

Once I got the final background print, I realized that the road color was a little off. So I repainted it to better match and I glued down the foam core (brushed on full strength white glue), glued on the structure bases, and weighed everything down. 

Once that was all dry, I masked off where the sidewalks would go, applied some craft paint for color and adhesion, and sifted on fine dirt in the parking areas (per prototype photos).

The paint I used as a base for the dirt was Apple Barrel Pewter Gray, to match the undertone in the shoulders/parking areas of the background photo. I sifted the dirt on using a tea strainer.

While that was all drying, I used Folk Art "Barn Wood" to paint the sidewalks.

Taping them down kept them still while I used a 1/4" brush to paint the top and curbs. I didn't worry too much about brush strokes - you won't see them from the aisle and whatever your eye happens to pick up will perceive them as texture. At least that's true to my eye. YMMV.

And here's where things stand in Cromwell at the moment. I used the rest of my old Ground Goop to fill in behind the structures and fill the "triangle" between the road and tracks, and added fine ground foam (WS Burnt Grass and Green Blend) as a base for future static grass. I even used my new WS Static King for the first time to apply some grass between the buildings and the backdrop. But as you can see, I still haven't committed to gluing the backdrop in place (I really don't know what I'm waiting for). Ditto the sidewalks. BTW - note the track, how uniform it looks (shot with rattle-can Rustoleum Camo Earth Brown).

For a little diversion, I decided to finish off the grade crossing in Dividend. The gray you see is all foam core (without paper). I've filled in with DAP Vinyl Spackle.

Turns out, the spackle is really smooth and has none of the "concrete" looking texture of the foam core. But colored right it doesn't look too obvious (though I'll be looking for an alternative patching material - may try plaster). The spackle was first painted with the same base color as the road, then weathered with PanPastels. Did the same with the large parking/truck area (including oil/grease drips under where the engines of the loading trucks would be).

Remember the uniform-looking ties? Well, I spent a fun evening (truly!) listening to a couple of podcasts and drybrushing ties. Click here & scroll down for details on the process I use. IMO, the results are VERY much worth it!

So there you have it - progress over the course of a few weeknights and a weekend. It's still glacially slow, IMO, but at least I continue to move forward.

But now, I have some "honey-do" items that The Missus has been kind enough to let me postpone while I recover from legislative session. It's getting warmer though, and those projects can't be put off any longer. They're all outdoor projects, so don't be surprised if I pray for a little rain now and then! >:^)

Until next time - hope to see you back in Cromwell soon!

Monday, May 9, 2022

Modeling Monday: RMC Article & Cromwell Backdrop

With all the hubbub at work and end of session (finally!), I totally forgot to post here that I have an article in this month's Railroad Model Craftsman! (though, admittedly, I did post about it over at the Valley Local Facebook Group last week)

And this weekend - with some color help from the Missus - I finally got around to finishing that transition between road and backdrop.

Also this weekend, in addition to starting work in Cromwell (roads, sidewalks, building placement, and such), I used this article as a guide to starting the backdrop . . . 

Long time readers will recognize the photo I started with: 
Source: Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut, via Robert J. Belletzkie. Max Miller Collection.

This is the Middlesex Turnpike in Cromwell, looking north across the Valley Line. Though the quality/resolution of the photo itself isn't great, it's shot from the perfect vantage point for use on my layout - and it even has the proper-era vehicles.

The main problem is - it's a black & white photo.

No problem though (see RMC article above - and go here if you need a copy :^), I used an online colorizer (in this case, MyHeritage) to make it suitable for photo backdrop use:

These colorizers are super quick and easy to use. Now for the real work. . .

First step was to bring the photo into PhotoShop Elements and crop it (can't have the Valley Line in the background and foreground both!

Cropping was easy enough, but I had a LOT of photo editing to do. Here's a short list of what I wanted to do, from left to right:
  • Remove right edge of diner
  • Remove sparse trees, and fill in others
  • Remove light pole
  • Remove power lines
  • Remove white flag pole
  • Remove black sign and reconstruct rear fender of white car
  • Remove crossing sign pole & sign
  • Fill sky with "sky color" to match paint color on my masonite backdrop
Here's the result (as always, you can click on the image for a larger view:

Using the hill on the right (view block between Cromwell and Dividend) and the buildings on the left as the "bookends", I determined I'd need this section of backdrop to be 24" wide and 6" high. You can barely make out two people in the Cromwell photo, so I scaled the photo so that they'd be about 5/8" tall (instead of a typical HO scale height of 3/4", to account for the fact that the scene is in the distance).

So here's where things currently stand... the "canvas" is 6"x24" & filled with my "sky color" and the rescaled photo is in place. I determined its exact location by noting where my foreground road centerline hit the backdrop and then locating the road centerline of the photo at that same location.

After obsessing for, literally, years over the backdrop at Wethersfield (that's Jordan Lane in Wethersfield in the RMC article), I'm psyched that I'm not getting bogged down with the Cromwell backdrop. In fact, once I fill in to the right and left of the main photo (likely with trees), it'll be ready for printing and installation (click here the process I use).

In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me busy in Cromwell - including getting back to the roads, sidewalks, and structures... and of course, scenery. I'll be sure and post my progress here - and hope that you'll provide some helpful feedback/suggestions in the comments below. . .

Until next time!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The "Pre-Quel"

Watching Rapido's latest video visit to the Valley Line reminded me of the last time Bill was here with the camera crew - almost exactly 3(?!) years ago. It took a little digging, but in case you're interested in the "rest of the story" here it is... Enjoy!

(and try not to point out that my ballast samples are still in the same place 3 years later - and in that same time Bill has not only finished his basement, but constructed an entire double-deck layout, with scenery, and will be hosting his second full ops session next week...)

Friday, May 6, 2022

Friday Fun: Rapido's New New Haven PA and County Cars

So this just posted . . .  

Rapido's new New Haven PA and County Cars visit the Valley Line - Enjoy!

And if this is your first time visiting, be sure also to check out the Valley Local group over on Facebook.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Preparing for Post-Session: Hartford Rayon Tank Farm

Now that DEY-5 #0604 is (almost) done*, I thought I'd turn my sights to something different. . .

Hartord Rayon receives chemicals by tank car - and those chemicals need to be stored in tanks where they're held for later use in the manufacturing process. For more about Hartford Rayon, click here and here.

I considered a number of different tank configurations . . .

Large Tichy tank, split into two smaller tanks

One of the Tichy halves, with another two smaller-diameter vertical tanks

Same as before, but with another horizontal tank

Based on feedback from the Valley Local FB Group (be sure to check it out & consider joining if you haven't already!), I decided not to use the large Tichy tank here at all and started playing around with different configurations of scrap tanks. By the time I got to the point of the above pic, I figured "all" I needed was some additional piping.

But while looking for piping at the always-fantastic (and often overwhelming) AA Hobbies, I came across these Walthers kits and figured they'd have everything I needed, all conveniently together in one (well, two) package(s).

Of course, it wasn't until I got home that it occurred to me that - if I couldn't rearrange the stock configuration of the kit components - everything may not fit.

So I did a quick mockup of the footprint dimensions on the box - whew! It'll all actually fit VERY nicely! 

And since a quick poll of folks over at the group concluded that I should assemble before painting, it looks like I can dive right in! It's been a LONG time since I've built a kit, having been driven to distraction by the DEY-5 project, but I'm really looking forward to this change of pace.

I'll have to wait a bit though - the 2022 legislative session doesn't adjourn until midnight this Wednesday and it's 18-20 hr days until then. But at least now I have a fun project to look forward to! Hope you do too!

*Apparently, locomotives - like layouts - are never really done. In addition to weathering, I have a few minor things left to do on the 0604. I'll cover those, as well as share some lessons learned, in a future post.