Thursday, November 26, 2020

Skirting "New London" Staging

To those of you in the US - Happy Thanksgiving! And no matter where you are, here's hoping today - and every day - you're able to enjoy some quality time with your family, despite the current crazy circumstances.

Speaking of crazy, the crazy long work hours I mentioned in my last post may finally be calming down from "crazy long" to just plain "long" :^) so I hope to be able to get to the layout a little more often than just a few hours on Sunday afternoons. But even a small block of time can be very productive if you have a specific project in mind, and the materials on-hand to do it.

By way of quick background, "New London" staging represents Fort Yard in New London, Connecticut, where trains from the east (Providence, Boston), and northeast (Worcester, Maine) will originate on my layout. Also, as on the prototype (though not modeled), there's an interchange with the Central Vermont at New London as well. The staging yard itself is - and will remain - "off stage" to support the illusion that the trains coming from there are coming from "the East or Northeast." As such, it's located in my workshop (an unfinished portion of the basement) - WAY offstage from the rest of the layout. Unfortunately, that also means it's subject to dust and such.

Thus the "boxing in" which was the subject of my last post. And here's where things stood at that point:

Like many/most layout owners, I take advantage of the area beneath the layout for some storage. In this case, I gathered all the random construction materials (foamboard, cardboard) from around the rest of the layout and put it all here. That certainly decluttered the rest of the basement, but now I had all that clutter here.

And what's the best way to deal with clutter? "Get rid of it" you say? Well, I suppose you COULD do that. But what if you're convinced you'll need it "someday?"

Just hide it!

And that's what I did, with some super simple and inexpensive skirting . . .

I started by hot gluing clothespin "clips" on the back of the fascia.

Then it was just a simple matter of rolling out and clipping up some landscape fabric. I had 3' width on-hand, but depending on your layout height, you may want wider/taller fabric. To secure the end of the fabric at this door . . .

. . . I just used some duct tape. See what I mean? Easy peasy - and inexpensive!

But, despite the inexpensive nature of this approach, you can see it gives you all the visual benefit of more elaborate (and expensive) skirting. And it literally took me about 30 minutes to do - start to finish.

Now, admittedly, my standards for a staging yard in an unfinished portion of the basement are a bit, um, "lower" than they might be on the rest of the layout. In other words, I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to use landscape material for all my skirting. But given how quick and easy it is to install - and given how outrageously expensive curtain material would be for a large layout like mine - I may just figure that it'll do just as fine a job and blend into the background.

If folks are paying any attention to my skirting, the layout isn't as compelling as it should be. And we can't have that. :^) 

One final step I took - and which, unfortunately isn't really easy to notice in the photo above (so click on it for a larger view) - is that I "filled in" all the open areas (except the access hole in the back left corner) with cardboard. Not only does that cover the remaining benchwork, but has the practical benefit of keeping things from falling to the floor. And that's a good thing.

What's not such a good thing is discovering a switch point that has come unsoldered. UGH! I don't know whether all my vacuuming of the yard pulled up this point, or how it might have happened, but fixing it is now at the top of my to-do list for the next time I have a spare 30 minutes or so to get back to the basement.

Here's hoping you're able to get to your layouts as well - whether today (if you have the day off) or sometime during the upcoming weekend. In the meantime, here's wishing you and your families health and happiness today and during the upcoming holiday season!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Update on Layout & Life: Boxing in New London Staging

What a crazy bunch of weeks it's been! It may seem like I've fallen off the planet since my last blog post was waaaaay back on October 30, and I've even missed not one, not two, but three Wordless Wednesday posts. That has to be a new record - and not a good one.  So if you've been wondering what I've been up to, or if I owe you an email, etc. this post will let you know what's going on & will bring you up to date.

Long story short: You may have heard there was an election recently. I was pretty heavily involved in the days leading up to it, and then very heavily involved in recounts (all at the state level, btw). After all that was said and done, I got a significant promotion and as a result - and I guess as I should have expected - my life went from being just very busy to hyper overdrive. But I know I'm in the right place since I find that I have to pull myself away from work rather than dread doing it. So that's been filling just about all my time lately. Fortunately for the layout, 1) it won't (hopefully shouldn't) always be this way. This is the inevitable ramping up and steep learning curve time. 2) I've actually been able to get to the basement for a few hours each Sunday.

So Beware! This post is super heavy on photos, but it should be a quick read with just captions. And when you get to the end - whether all in one sitting, or viewed over a couple of days - you (and I!) will be all caught up with where the layout is Right Now . . .

I decided to try and get the last of the layout "heavy construction" finally done. I'd been wanting to "box in" New London staging since it's the only part of the layout that's in an unfinished part of the basement and subject to dust. And I figured this would be a LOT easier than dismantling staging to finish this corner with studs, sheetrock & dropped ceiling. This photo and the next shows the first stick of "roof & valence support" going up.

I spaced the supports around the perimeter and put one in the middle to support the "roof girders" that would come later.

Basement time is usually Sunday afternoon, but if I'm able to get some hobby time on a weekday evening, I'm trying to dial-in the decoder on K-1 #359. It has a Tsunami2, so no chuff cam. Jury's out on whether the new "digital cam" can be made to be as good. I'll letcha know...

Back to the basement! Clamps are your friend when working alone (an unfortunate reality these days). Since this is "only" staging, I decided not to bother painting the backdrop or do any real "finishing" (taping/topping seams, hiding screws, etc). But I did want a little bit of a finished look. So instead of buying regular masonite - and to keep the area nice and bright - I got white finished masonite that's typically used for kitchen/bathroom backsplashes and such. In this photo and the one below, I'm positioning the backdrop and holding it up with clamps.

One annoying reality of doing this after the track is all in, is that you have to have to put up the masonite twice - once to mock it up for marking, then for final installation.

But the backdrop is only the "sides" of the box(ing in). I wanted a lighting valence, and I figured that would support the "roof" as well. Here's the first piece going in over the east end of Saybrook (the only portion of finished layout that's located in the unfinished part of the basement).

See what I mean about clamps? Here, I've already screwed in & secured the far end of the backdrop, and I'm gluing one side of the splice between the two sections of backdrop.

One of the challenges of gluing backdrop sections together is how to clamp them while the glue sets. Here I've used a long piece of wood to "extend" the clamps along the seam.

Once the backdrop was in place, the next step was to add "roof girders." These were made from two 1x3s screwed together to make an L-girder 1) to make it more rigid across the span, and 2) to provide a wider base of support for the foam board roof.

For additional rigidity and support, I added a cross piece and a diagonal brace.

And here's the first piece of valence going up! At first, I lined up the top of it with the top of the backdrop - but then I realized that wouldn't cover the edge of the foam board roof that would be sitting on top of the backdrop. Since the foam board is 1.5" thick, I raised the valence an additional 1.5" above the top edge of the backdrop.

Here's a better view of the "raised" valence. The foam board roof will rest on top of the backdrop & girders and nest in behind the valence.

Here's my trick for making sure the top of the girder lines up perfectly with the top of the backdrop and holds it there while I screw everything together.

Valence finished! Next comes lighting . . .

For the lighting, I decided to try out some LED tubes. I got a 6 pack of 4 footers from Amazon for $35.

They're very easy to install - basically just install the clips & clip them in. But I did run into a problem with the very first one . . . Apparently, the east end of Saybrook is exactly four feet wide. Problem was - the tube - with the plug - was too long & wouldn't fit!

One of the lessons I'm learning over and over again while building this layout is that you can never anticipate every single problem. And trying to is an invitation to Analysis Paralysis. It's often better to Just Get Started and deal with problems as they come up. The problem with the light length was a perfect case in point. I ended up just routing out enough material to accommodate the plug. Turned out to be a fine solution to what I feared would be an impossible problem!

Lighting done!

And now the roof goes in . . . This was a relatively simple matter of laying the foam board on top, snugging it against the wall and corner, and tracing the outline of the valance so I could cut it to fit.

The roof used up two 4x8 pieces of foam board, cut into three sections to cover the whole staging yard.

But hopefully you'll agree, it came out pretty nice!

That last pic there shows the state of things as of November 20. The idea will be to cover the "slot" between the fascia and valence with some sort of curtain whenever I'm doing any cutting in the shop (that's the area I'm standing in in the photo above). There's really nothing left to do with the boxing in, but I will need to do more on the "east end of Saybrook" area: Vinyl backdrop & paint - and of course structures and scenery.

But it looks like Major Construction on the layout is finally done! The only thing left to do is decide whether to add any valence to the rest of the layout. I'm still mulling that over. I really like the shadow box effect here (and I have it in the Saybrook Scene as well), but I don't know yet if I want/need to replicate that effect across the whole layout (see Mike Confalone's Allagash Rwy for an example of not using valences).

So all that's left to do here is to install the 2nd/last shop light over the bench (I moved the two shop lights from above staging), and do a massive cleanup of this whole area. Those who know me well know that I'm pretty OCD when it comes to keeping my work areas clean and tidy - so the state of things here is a HUGE departure from my norm!

And hopefully soon there will be at least a small departure from what's become the "norm" in my life lately and I'm able to post more frequent layout updates. Thanks for being patient and for continuing to follow my progress. As always, I appreciate any feedback & hope you'll stay tuned!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's All Hallows' Eve Eve ;^) I hereby repost this from last October. I think you'll agree it's especially fitting this time of year...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley Line is to keep alive the memory of the men & women who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat to a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered almost exclusively by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, your historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that Halloween-time, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or goulish wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? What were their dreams and plans? Were they anything like us? While dead people don't actually haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...

Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back when I used to ride my bike to work, but only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the right-of-way. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Portals into the Past: Railfanning the Batten Kill RR

What do you think about when you think about October?

The smell of wood smoke? The crisp nip in the air? The brilliant fall foliage? The shushing sounds your shoes make through the leaves after they've fallen to the ground?

What about ghosts? Sure, there's Halloween, but what about the ghosts of the past?

I've always thought of the month of October as the perfect time to see some ghosts. As the leaves reveal their true colors, right before they fall from the trees, and things begin to slow down a bit, we can start to recall - or sometimes we have to imagine - what life used to be like, before all the craziness of modern life.

And if you find yourself in just the right spot during the month of October, you might just think you've fallen through a portal into the past - and if you're truly lucky, you might just see some ghosts of 1950s railroading in upstate New York.

That's what happened to me on a recent Autumn day, exploring the Rod Serling countryside along the Batten Kill River. Follow along as I share some of the memories with you . . .

Evoking the old D&H, switching the feed mill near Greenwich Jct., NY

The main ghost, spotted - Former D&H RS-3, near the end of its life and fading, like so much of the foliage surrounding it, but still serving the same stretch of railroad it's run on for years - shot through the Rexleigh Covered Bridge.

And just off to the right, you can make out the ghost of an old mill along the river....

Southbound through Shushan, NY - only the modern vehicles spoil the specter of a mid-20th century meet between two freight trains in small-town America.

Two ghosts, divided by 100 years - Station built c. 1852, Locomotive built 1952

21st century digital zoom softens the colors and captures an echo of railroading from almost 70 years ago.

Our fading pumpkin of a locomotive makes its way over the railroad's namesake river and past a fading farm.

A little paint, a little polish, and a lot of elbow grease, and this ghost of a car might just live to chase another train on another day . . .

Grab shot tension

New meets Old

The gathering clouds and fading foliage provide the perfect metaphor for a farm which has seen better days.

Heading back north from Eagle Bridge, NY

Ghosts sometimes do cast a reflection...

Cornfield, barn, trees, engine - all fading, evocative, beautiful.

Only another unfortunately parked vehicle spoils the illusion of 1950s railroading, including one of the last (if not THE last) crossing sign of this type in the country.

Nature's Reclamation

Mirrored Streaks of Weathering - Heading back to the Junction, and finishing up for the day.

I hope you've enjoyed this little portal into the past - and that it's inspired you to keep your eyes open, especially during this time of year. You may find a few happy hauntings of your own. And if you do, I hope you'll share them here . . . I'm always looking for new opportunities for a little time travel . . .

* * * * *

Given the ephemeral nature of the BKRR, you really can never just "find yourself in 'just the right spot" when trying to capture it. You need a guide - someone who knows the place as well as the member of the family that it's become. My guide for this once-in-a-lifetime trip was Ken Karlewicz, who went out of his way - literally and figuratively - not only to give me the heads up that the BK was running the RS-3, but to make sure I was in every good location at every right moment all throughout the day. While "finding oneself in just the right spot" works well as a foil for telling a story of ghosts, the reality is that it doesn't actually happen that way, and never by accident. Thank you, Ken, for an amazing day and especially for sharing your love of the BKRR.

Technical Info: All original, unretouched, unfiltered photos shot with iPhone SE