Thursday, July 2, 2020

Reworking Trackwork at Dividend

As I mentioned at the end of Tuesday's post, I've skipped a couple of my usual morning bike rides this week to make some progress on the layout before heading into the office (admittedly, a "home" office - but I suspect I'm not the only one to discover that teleworking often results in longer workdays rather than shorter ones!).

Sometimes in this hobby, you have to take a couple steps back before you can move forward - and that's proving true in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill on my layout. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'd initially based the trackplan there on a combination of a(n admittedly pre-era) Sanborn map and John Wallace's personal recollections. The track arrangement in Dividend has worked well and realistically for the 6 or so years I've been operating it, but more-recent research (a combination of aerial views and additional memory jogging) has confirmed that the curved track south of the Hartford Rayon factory complex (and which was used to unload chemical tank cars) actually came directly off the main rather than off the end of the switchback track as I initially thought.

Mockup of a new mainline turnout (one of the new ME #5s, as it happens) and 18"r curve which will become  the new tank track. Current tank track is at the end of the siding that goes alongside the factory.

The new turnout, and the fact that I didn't want it located too far south (and impinging on Cromwell), meant that I'd need to move the switchback about 12" north (to the right). The switchback's mainline turnout is mocked up here for comparison.

And the other turnout in the switchback gets pushed north too - into the current  grade crossing.

I want to be sure this relocation doesn't reduce the length of the tail track. I need about 28" to accommodate a K-1 mogul and three 40' cars.
Now, nobody wants to fix what ain't broken. The trackage at the rayon plant has worked well and we know that the switchback (the existence of which has never been in dispute) makes for some interesting switching - just like on the prototype. But the more I considered redoing the track to follow the prototype more closely, the more I liked it and the more the benefits outweighed the work involved.

And bonus! Yet more information has come in that suggests that there was likely a coal dump somewhere on the property as well - either for power or maybe cars of coke for smelting engine castings (when the plant converted to building Pratt & Whitney engines later). Either way, the track changes will allow me to use a little "proto-imagineering" to add a spot for a different car type.

Once the benefits of changing the track arrangement far outweigh the work of doing so, it's time to get to work! So that's what I've been up to the past few mornings. Follow along in the pics . . .

First step is to remove all the buildings.
Next, I unsoldered the feeders and (yikes!) had to unsolder the rail joints to remove the track. PRO TIP: do not solder your rail joints ever! Except on curves, but otherwise never! Not only does it make any future adjustments like this more difficult, but it also makes it more likely you'll have a kink in the track when the benchwork expands or contracts. Ask me how I know.

Once the track was removed, it was time to install the new turnout. With Micro-Engineering turnouts, I like to remove the frog rails (they're just short bits anyway) and fashion the adjoining flextrack so that a long bit of "excess" rail slides into there instead. The result is that you have 2 less rail joints per turnout and the joints you do have are staggered. Randy showed me this technique and now I try to remember to do it with all my ME turnouts.

Once I knew precisely where the new turnout was going to go, I wanted to mock everything up again to make sure that it was all going to fit and look how I wanted. First up is the factory building (above). Note how much tighter/closer the tank track is compared to before (and, if you compare to the aerial photos here you'll see that it looks a bit more like the prototype).

Next was the warehouse building. Note the cardboard mockup of where Belamose Ave. will have to be. And it's at an angle - again, closer to the prototype. The tape measure is a stand-in for the K-1-plus-3-cars tail track length I want to retain. The end is going out over the scenery base, so I'll have to address that later.

"Aerial" view of the factory siding. Recall that this siding used to go further and around the end of the building, but you can see now that it'll have to stop short of the new tank track - again, just like the prototype.

Speaking of the tank track, I started to mock up some "storage tanks" & a "power plant" as well (note the stack). The hopper car of coal is where I thought I might put a coal dump/trestle - but then I couldn't figure how how to make that look plausible soooo far away from the power plant - how would the coal get there?

So I moved the power plant to the trackside of the factory and will put the coal dump at the end of the factory siding. Much more realistic (at least for "proto-imagineering" purposes)

Here's what I mean: coal dump at the end (left) and still room for a few freight cars at the docks. Turns out though, I can't quite fit three 40 footers as well as a hopper (they'd foul the crossover). But it'll make for some interesting switching nevertheless.

The addition of a Tichy water tank (courtesy Bill Maguire) really makes this end of the complex, I think, and provides a nice balance to the tall smoke stack. And, frankly, it won't really fit anywhere else.

After marking the final locations of the structures & road, off they went again while I put in all the final track - all while enjoying hanging out "virtually" with the AML gang on Zoom (note ipad in background - I think that's Martyn Jenkins?).

Thumb tacks and water bottles hold everything down while the Aleene's Tacky Glue dries.

Remember me mentioning the end of the tail track above? Turns out, I barely had enough plywood subroadbed under the plaster cloth to support it. It was just a matter of making a cut in the cloth so I could push it down past the edge of the plywood - and scraping up what scenery material was still under where the track would go.

And here's where things stand as of this morning... The switchback is all glued and weighted down. . .

. . .as is the new tank track (now that the cork is dry and the tacks removed)
Even though I've done a lot of trackwork on this layout, it's been a while and I'm surprised that there were a few things I needed to remind myself of (especially Randy's turnout trick). And, fortunately, as I was perusing the blog for links for this post, I came across a post I'd forgotten about what to do before you paint your track. Good thing I saw it in time - since I'm pretty sure painting the track is next on the list for Dividend (and then weathering the ties I after that, I suspect...)

Nice to be down in the basement again making progress - hope you're enjoying following along!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Flattening Dividend

I've written before about how "The Redo" can be an antidote to analysis paralysis, and knowing that I can always do something over again (as I did with a masonite backdrop and terrain in Wethersfield) is a good lesson to remember, even if I'm loathe to actually do it.

I had to remember that lesson again in Dividend.

At the end of yesterday's post, I mentioned that the arrival of the Hartford Rayon structures highlighted how rough and uneven the terrain was. Where this area is supposed to be relatively flat, this is what I actually had:

Not only did all this have to be flattened out, it had to be leveled as well. Check out that slope!

Fortunately, in Dividend as in much of the other areas of the layout, I (well, actually, Pete) used tried-and-true cardboard webbing and plaster cloth. It's not really easy to modify once it's in, but it's fairly easy to remove and redo.

So that's just what I did . . .

First step was to use a steak knife to cut around the perimeter. Yes, I have my own layout-dedicated knives. No, I didn't pilfer any of the Missus' knives (else she might have used one them - and not to remove scenery!)

You're just cutting through cardboard strips and plaster cloth, so it's relatively easy going. I'd hot-glued the strips to the masonite fascia, so those just peeled off.

Now, I could have redone this area flatter and "level-er" with a different (or additional) application of strips/cloth, but since the area under/around the structures needed to be really flat - and especially since I've had spotty success creating truly flat areas with strips/cloth and ground goop (didn't want to trowel on 5 pounds of goop as I mistakenly have before) - I figured I'd use foam board here instead.

But even 2" thick foam board needs some support, so I went to my old stash of roadbed risers from my benchwork-building days long ago . . .

. . . and glued on looooong horizontals to support the board fore/aft. Those are the clamps holding everything together - glue on top, and screwed to the joists at the bottom.

Next I used a caulk gun to lay down thick beads of foam-safe construction adhesive (Loctite PL300) around the perimeter and on top of the supports.

Then I used cans of paint & plaster as weights to hold it all down and in place while the adhesive set & cured. The wedges/shims you see between the board and the fascia created a gap that I could squeeze adhesive into to attach the fascia to the side of the foam board.

And here's the result! MUCH flatter and level-er!

The foam board definitely solved my terrain problem in this area and the structures are all nice and happy, sitting nice and even on the "ground." I'm sure I'll be able to add slight - but more realistic - undulations between a combination of light carving and judicious use of ground texture. I still prefer the strip/cloth method for most terrain since it easily - almost automatically - creates natural & random ground contours. But it's not a great method if you have a bunch of structures to place.

So plan ahead - or, if you didn't, no worries. You can just redo it, like I did.

The folks that attended my last ops session in January (I'm lookin' at you, AMLers) will attest to the fact that this is how Dividend still looked at the end of January, and I can attest to the fact that - other than some mocking up of a more-accurate track arrangement - I haven't touched this area since last December.

Until this morning when, in lieu of my morning ride and accepting the Missus' advice at the end of Sunday's post, I ventured into the basement and got to work . . .

Monday, June 29, 2020

Modeling Monday: Paying Dividend (some attention)

Thanks to all of you that have taken some time to comment on my Backdrop Backup, whether in the comments below, on The Valley Local Facebook Group, or by direct email. I really appreciate it and am enjoying feasting on all the food for thought. If you haven't weighed in yet, I hope you will. It's this sort of feedback that's such a big part of the reason for blogging in the first place - so thank you!

As promised at the end of yesterday's post though (prompted by The Missus, and confirmed by some of you), I'm turning my attention for the time being to the Dividend section of Rocky Hill.

In case you're relatively new 'round here, and by way of introduction, Dividend was the location of the largest industry on the Valley Line during the era I model - The Hartford Rayon Company.

Thanks to some research from my friend Bill Shanaman (who also models the Valley Line), I've learned that Hartford Rayon received tank cars of chemicals in Stauffer tank cars, pulp wood mostly in Canadian National boxcars (though occasionally MEC or BM cars) and twin hoppers of coal from the B&O (though I'm unsure where those were unloaded... Bill?). Finished rayon was shipped out in (probably/mostly New Haven) boxcars. The plant was especially busy during WW2 producing parachutes. But even after the war, with the post-war boom of consumer production & consumption (pantyhose, anyone?), it kept the Valley Local busy with traffic.

There's some additional detailed history of Hartford Rayon at this site and if you want a a really in-depth education about the rayon industry, check out this 1944 report prepared by the Textile Division of the United States Tariff Commission (courtesy Google Books).

But back to the layout - literally. Here's the Sanborn map of the area to orient you:

Dividend - north (to Rocky Hill & Hartford) to the right.  Hartford Rayon main plant to the south (left) of Belamose Ave.  Old Hartford Electric Steel building (used as the rayon warehouse in 1948) to the north of Belamose Ave.  Switchback not shown on this early map.
Unfortunately, if I followed this old map, my track layout would be all wrong for 1948 since John Wallace specifically described the switchback operations in his Shoreliner article (and was also confirmed by photos closer to my era).  During WW2, there was a bulk oil distributor further north on the tailtrack (which you can see at the far right end of the map), but that business went back to barges after the war so I won't be modeling it (and don't have the space for it anyway).  To the left (south) end, you see the "tank" track curving off to the southeast

Fortunately, much of the plant is still around. It ceased being a rayon plant after 1965 and was owned by Pratt & Whitney from then until 1997. I'm not certain what it is now.

The old warehouse, looking north, originally built as Hartford Electric Steel in 1917.
Same view in 1929. Note the beginning of the switchback going down the embankment.

Main factory building, looking southwest. The siding that goes in front of these loading docks is still buried there.

Roughly the same view, but before the rest of the switchback/siding was put in. Also note the passenger car/station for employees. At its peak in 1925, Hartford Rayon employed 550 people.

Office building

Aerial view - north to the top. Note the tank track curving around the south end of the complex.

An early view on the layout (Oct. 2013) - Dividend, looking southwest.  Cars are on the old Hartford Electric Steel tail track.  You can see the switchback and curving tank track in the distance.

Regular readers will know that since the photo above, I filled in the terrain with cardboard strips and plaster cloth (actually, I think my friend PeteL actually did that during a scenery blitz in July 2015 and here's proof!). But the last time I actually posted anything specific about modeling Dividend was way back in November, 2014(!) when I made the mockups for Hartford Rayon and I haven't done much there since. 

So this Dividend is a bit overdue (ok - I'll try to keep the puns to a minimum).

After the mockups went in, here's how the area looked for about 5(!) years:

The mockups consisted of scratchbuilt/cardboard for the factory and an old enginehouse building (courtesy PieterR) for the warehouse.

And here are a couple of photos of the current track arrangement, which is going to be changed based on some new research.

The pics above are especially bittersweet since at the time they were part of a series of photos I sent to Dave Messer so he could build the final buildings that would make up Hartford Rayon. I didn't realize at the time that they would end up being the final buildings that he would send me.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember seeing them shortly after they arrived last October. But at the time, I was doing a lot of posts about MARPM, "OP"toberfest, and up to my neck extending the Saybrook scene, filling in around the Air Line, and working on East Berlin.

I did at least place them on the layout though, which was an immediate huge improvement over the stand-ins that had been there since Fall of 2014. But, like adding "just" a coat of fresh paint to a room sometimes leads to a total redecoration, these fine structures made it clear right away that my terrain was all wrong.

So during the first couple of weeks in December, I changed all that but never got around to posting about it. I'll remedy that in the next post.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Backed Up at the Backdrop

While it's true that layout progress has lagged these past two months due to other projects, another (and maybe even bigger) reason is that I allowed myself to get stuck trying to create the backdrop at Wethersfield.  My problem is essentially that I know too much about the prototype, how it's supposed to look. And I don't have any photos that come anywhere close to that - nor do I have the painting or PhotoShop skills to make them up.

Maybe you can offer some advice that'll help me get past this roadblock.

By way of background (excuse the pun), when you're standing in the aisle looking at the Wethersfield scene, you're looking west. North (to Hartford) is to the right and south (to Middletown & Old Saybrook) is to the left. The Silas Deane Highway (aka "New State Highway" during my era; aka Route 99 today) runs parallel and to the west of the Valley Line anywhere from 200 to 1000 feet away, though typically around 500 feet away.

Adding to the challenge are 3 roads I model that cross the Valley Line and head straight back into the backdrop (and intersect with the highway). Going from south (left) to north (right) those roads are Wells Road (Valley Coal), Church Street (Gra-Rock & station), and Jordan Lane (Wethersfield Lumber & Ballantine's).

Here are a couple of maps showing the relationship between highway and road:
Wells Road & Valley Coal

Church Street, with Gra-Rock and the station

Jordan Lane, with Wethersfield Lumber and Ballantine's
 And here are a few recent photos to show you how things look today:

Wells Road - Valley Coal was on the far side of the tracks, off to the right. The highway is at the stoplights (click on image to enlarge).

Church Street - the old Gra-Rock building is still there to the left & the station is on this side of the tracks off to the right. The highway is at the stoplights.

Jordan Lane - Wethersfield lumber was on the left on the other side of the tracks and Ballantine's was on the other side of the tracks to the right. The highway is at the stoplights.
Now, admittedly, things are much more built-up now than they were in 1948. But the topography is the same as is the location of the highway in relation to the railroad.

By way of comparison, here are some shots from the other extreme - about 20 years before my era (and, incidentally, taken around the same time as the Sanborn maps above):
Wells Road (was Robbins St in 1929) - Valley Coal office is there on the right, just on the other side of the tracks.

Church Street - Note Gra-Rock building on the left.

Jordan Lane - heh, just a country lane & looks nothing like what it would even in 1948, much less today.
That's all the prototype/primary source material I have on these roads and backgrounds. The only other info I have are reminisces/memories from John Wallace & Dave Messer - that in the late '40s you'd see it a bit built up, with a smattering of commercial buildings, houses, and trees (though the trees weren't as prominent then as now). The only photo John had that was taken looking west from the highway was this shot of the (old) Wethersfield High School, just south of Church Street and west of the highway:

Wethersfield HS, taken from the Silas Deane Hwy, looking west. Church Street is just off to the right. John Wallace photo.
(edited to add): Thanks to Bruce Wilson over at the AML Nation, I was reminded that I also have this overall view of Wethersfield, looking north in 1938:

Click to enlarge.
Landmarks highlighted, north to south: Wethersfield Lumber, station & Gra-Rock, high school, Valley Coal.
So far I just have a mockup of some backdrop photos that, while taken in Wethersfield, don't look anything like the area west of the mainline (or how I imagine it to look in 1948).

Note the mock up of the historic Church Street photo.

Note the photos on the fascia (click on the images to enlarge), many of which were taken around my era and give at least some sense of the right look and feel of the area.

Trying to figure out a way to reconcile all this information into a credible backdrop for Wethersfield is what has me well and thoroughly stumped. I even started trying to PhotoShop a background for Jordan Lane (using - incredibly - a screenshot from a color video of Cortland, NY filmed in 1960. Click here for the result of that experiment).

I guess the easy - and perhaps only - resolution would be to just put a low treeline on the backdrop, contriving it as screening the highway from view. But I still have to deal with those pesky roads heading straight into the backdrop, and the intersections with the highway that would be obvious to anyone familiar with Wethersfield. And of course there should be at least a hint of "something" back there - house roofs, commercial buildings - might even try somehow to include that nice color picture of the high school.

Oh to have a drone - and a time machine - to go back to 1948 and shoot the color photos I need from the height I need them!!

A guy can dream.

But I also figure I'm not the only one that's ever confronted this sort of challenge. If you're one of those folks, I definitely want to hear if/how you prevailed. Actually, I'd love to hear from anyone that has some advice for getting me past this obstacle.

In the meantime, the Missus came up with a temporary solution: "You have three whole rooms of layout in the basement," says she, "and there's a lot of it that is just foam and plywood - not even any ground goop or basic scenery. [ed. note: yes, the Missus knows about "ground goop"] You've made lots of progress doing that - why don't you do that on some other parts of the layout while you're figuring out what to do with the Wethersfield backdrop? At least you'll still be making SOME progress and your operators won't have to run trains over bare foam and plywood."

Why, indeed.

Yes, I married a smart Missus, for sure.

So, while I continue to mull the backdrop - and wait to receive what I hope will be lots of sage advice - I think I'll move on to the Dividend section of Rocky Hill. It's the next section south that's only plywood & plaster (and now foam) and I already have all the buildings that go there.

In the meantime, I hope you'll have some fun trying to help me around my Wethersfield roadblock.