Monday, August 3, 2020

Manic Modeling Monday

So after all the rabbit holes and navel gazing lately, I decided to do some more modeling - on a wide variety of things. . .

First off, I painted up some more (and, as it turns out, the last) of the whistle posts I got from my buddy ChrisZ. They're super cool since they not only have recessed "W"s just like the prototype, but also include the beveled corners. You can barely make them out in HO scale, but they're there - just like they should be.

And because of those recessed "W"s, they're actually pretty easy to paint. Just spray on white & once dry, use a fine tipped brush to put some black in the Ws. As you can see above, you don't need to be at all perfect . . .

. . . because once the black is dry (and craft acrylics dry very fast, especially in these small amounts), you then go back over the Ws with white paint, drybrushed on until the black "outside the lines" disappears - as you can see above.

Since I was in the paint shop anyway (and enjoying more podcasts) I decided to tackle the house I'll be putting behind the tracks at Dividend. I'd sprayed the walls white a couple of weeks ago (when I also introduced this project, toward the end of the post) so it was time to paint the foundations.

The house has a stone foundation under the main house, and a concrete foundation under the addition. Having gotten acclimated to using multiple colors to get a better effect, I decided to use a couple of "concrete colors" and applied them using a leopard spotting technique.

I used that same leopard spotting technique using 4 different grays on the stone foundation . . .

. . . then I used my alcohol and india ink wash over all the foundations to tone down the spotting, blend everything together, and make the dividing lines pop.

Unfortunately, I must not have had the masking tape tight enough - or I used too much A&I - since it bled under. I figured I'd fix it with some more white paint later.

But first, I decided to give the window frames and doors a contrasting color of green to make this house a bit different from the other one. Jury's still out on whether it was faster to do all this masking & spray paint, rather than just painting it all with a brush. But I will attest to the fact that it was much less harrowing - and no steady hand required (so I could drink as much coffee as I wanted!)

Also, to give this house a different character, I decided to use some Tichy small shutters (p/n 8039). They're a perfect match for the size of the windows in this kit. Just put them on some masking tape to hold them . . .

. . . then spray everything with Rustoleum Camouflage Deep Forest Green (p/n 279175).

It took a LOT more time to do the masking than the painting - but, again, very low stress provided you make the masking tape nice and tight. This time, I rubbed/embossed all the edges of the tape with the side of a toothpick to make sure nothing would seep under.

Speaking of seepage - it was also time to touch up my earlier masking misfortune. Out came the white craft acrylic and a brush  . . .

. . . and I just brushed right over it. I'm getting a LOT more patient with myself about not making things look perfect. And this certainly is anything but perfect. But it's a house literally right by the tracks and I also plan to weather it. So I don't think this'll end up looking all that bad - in fact, it may make it look just right.

Finally, I got around to planting the (formerly) white picket fence I put together and weathered. I used thick, gap filling CA to glue the sections to the arbor and glue the corner together. It's a pretty delicate fence and came out a bit bent, so it was critical that the mounting holes were straight. I drilled the holes with a 1/16" bit in my Dremel - the instructions suggested a 3/32, but I wanted a bit of play to make sure I could make the fence nice and straight during final positioning.

I filled the holes with Aleene's Quick Dry Tacky Glue and put the fence in. The extra play helped me get everything nice and straight, but I had to be a bit creative in bracing everything while the glue dried.

I also dusted on some Woodland Scenics Burnt Grass Fine Turf to cover up the glue & holes. I vacuumed it up once everything dried.

An old boxcar body (which I used to use for airbrush practice) fit the bill - and the plot - nicely. Actually looks kinda cool.

But the proof is in the positioning. Everything lined up nice and straight.

So that's all the modeling for the moment. I've gone back to the bench to work some more on my K-1 mogul - still vacillating between taking the time to dial-in the TCS decoder motor control vs. just using a Tsunami2. But I won't be doing any operating sessions any time soon, so there's really no hurry on that so I can take my time.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying doing more modeling and making more progress.

Until next time!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thoughtful Thursday: Is (prototype) Model Railroading Fun?

Ever since I picked up my first issue of Model Railroader (January, 1983), the motto "Model Railroading is Fun!" has been emblazoned somewhere at the top of the front cover. Model railroading is "The World's Greatest Hobby" (another motto) - and for good reason: Arguably no other hobby offers as diverse a range of opportunities to learn & practice different skills. From engineering/planning, to carpentry, electrical work & electronics, painting, sculpture, and of course modeling, model railroading really has it all.

It also has probably more than its fair share of rabbit holes to fall down. And one of the largest comes under the broad heading of "Research." We all know folks in the hobby that never get beyond the research stage (aka "armchair modelers") whether from genuine enjoyment and satisfaction, or as a result of "Analysis Paralysis." For some, research is an end in itself and all they care to do.

So-called "prototype modelers" are especially prone to falling down this rabbit hole. And, as an aspiring prototype modeler myself, I've fallen down it more times than I care to count. Most recently this past couple of weeks, while I tried to figure out a more prototypical way to operate my model of the New Haven Railroad's Connecticut Valley Line in the Autumn of 1948.

While immersed in that diversion, I got to thinking (always a scary prospect, especially for one prone to over thinking):

"Is Model Railroading actually 'Fun'?"

The answer to that question is (or at least should be) "yes." It's a hobby, after all, and if it's not fun then you're doing it wrong.

But that's "model railroading" - what about "railroad modeling" or, more specifically "prototype modeling."

Is prototype modeling "fun?" Is it supposed to be?

Think about someone who has a passion for restoring old houses or antique cars, or curating a museum, or producing a documentary. All those things are probably enjoyable to the folks doing them, and they're hopefully very satisfying endeavors. But are they actually "fun?" I don't know that we typically think of such folks as having fun doing what they're doing. They may love what they're doing and may be passionate about preservation, or research, or sharing knowledge. They're probably enthusiastic about it as well. But are they having fun?

What about prototype modelers - especially the "serious" ones (or those that aspire to be)?
"I don't operate my layout between operating sessions - it's replicating a real railroad and since the real railroad didn't operate without a purpose, neither will I."
"I'm not including that (track, structure, road, tree) - it wasn't on the prototype."
"I'm not going to use car cards to operate the layout - the prototype didn't, so neither am I." 
Sound familiar to anyone? %^) Certainly, if the intent of the prototype modeler is to create a simulation of the actual thing - an operating version of what is essentially a museum diorama - a documentary rather than a novel - then this sort of thinking becomes (hopefully) a bit more understandable to normal folks that aren't as serious committed don't follow a prototype as closely. And I can attest to the fact that there is no feeling like discovering a particular photo or artifact from my chosen prototype that I've never seen before and that answers a lot of questions I'd been asking.

But I don't know that I'd call it "fun" necessarily. "Satisfying" - "eductional" - "enriching" - "informative" - those are all words that come to mind first.

Lionel Strang illustrates the point from another perspective. He asks the question (roughly): "What type of movies do you remember most - that moved you the most - that you enjoyed the most? Were they documentaries or fiction?"

I think we can guess his answer. And I have to admit - as much as I enjoy historical research and documentaries - fiction is often more entertaining than fact. More "fun" you might say.

So I guess all these rough notes/thoughts essentially boil down to this: What is it you're trying to do with your project - be it a "model railroad" or a "railroad model"? What's your intent? What story are you trying to tell? Is it fiction, "based on true events" (as some of the movies say)? Is it total fantasy and 100% a product of your own imagination? Is it an impression of the past, or a photograph?

And perhaps the most important question: "What do you enjoy most?"

"Having fun" is a great answer - especially when it comes to a hobby.

"Recreating a time and place" is also a great answer, but be prepared that it may not be as much "fun" as it is satisfying and enriching.

I've thought for a long time that I was firmly planted on the "prototype" end of the spectrum, but I have to admit that it has its downside (producing long, navel-gazing blog posts being one of them, apparently). I don't want to have to admit how much time I've wasted spent searching for the "perfect" prototype photo or information to complete a scene or enhance my operations.

And I have to admit, while there have been many instances of joy in the discovery of a missing puzzle piece in my prototype research, some of the most fun I've had in the hobby lately has been working on the "fictional" modules or completing a freelance scene using a friend's structures instead of faithfully following the prototype at East Berlin, CT.

To a certain extent, we're all prototype modelers - and we're all freelance modelers. If nothing else, the freelancers have to use prototype railroad equipment, and the prototypers have to use selective compression to varying degrees.

And if we're all "proto-freelancers" (and not being paid by a museum to faithfully and perfectly produce a prototype scene), then we're probably free to pick whatever point on the spectrum that we enjoy most.

I, for one, won't be moving the needle too far over toward "freelance" any time soon, but I will take a break from trying to reproduce prototype paperwork and do some more modeling. There's a picket fence that needs to be installed in front of the house across the street from John Wallace's house.

Before you ask, while John's house is perfect miniature of the real thing, the house across the street - and it's fence - are purely products of my own imagination.

And I'm having a ton of fun doing it!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Minimal Modeling Monday

After the last post, and in an attempt to give my brain a bit of a break, I've decided to try and push the pendulum perceptibly towards more modeling and less mulling. So, herewith, a short update:

You might recall from last week's "Modeling Monday" that I'd started the picket fence to go with the arbor in front of the house across Fernwood Street from John Wallace's house - and had even given it a nice fresh coat of paint.

Looks really nice - but perhaps a bit too nice. The only time I've ever seen a wooden picket fence look THIS white is for about the first 10 minute after it's newly painted.

So, after a "dry fit" on the layout, but before planting it in place, I decided to take it - and some other items - down to the paint shop.

In addition to weathering the picket fence, I wanted also to do my "wood" effect on the black styrene parts that came with the billboards.

You may recall the photo above from the post where I first started the billboards (about 1/2 way down the post). As you can see, these "wood" parts started as just plain black styrene.

After using my "woodifying" technique (well, to give proper credit, it's Brett Wiley's technique), this is how they came out. Definitely click on the image for a closer look.

As great as I think it came out, I still prefer to use wood to represent wood - then all that would be needed is just a coat of stain and some light weathering, rather than six(!) different colors of drybrushing!

While in the paint shop - and listening to my favorite podcast - I painted up the bits that ChrisZ sent to me a few weeks back. Here are some crossing signs above...

... and the old time crossing sign, with the round sign attached.

And that picket fence and arbor? Check it out...

Now THAT looks like a typical picket fence. Don't worry - that long section is the section that will go between the house and the railroad tracks. The other two sections are supposed to look weathered, but not quite ready for a new coat of paint. Of course, I may have to weather the house a bit more to match. Or add a little more white paint to the fence . . .

With weathering, I'm learning that it's best to build up slowwwwly because it's easy to overdo it and a little goes a long way. The effect should be subtle. Thankfully, weathering is also often easy to reverse.

I thought I'd be installing the fence tonight, but ran out of time. Let me know what you think - or you can wait until you see it in front of the house before rendering your verdict.

No matter though - at least I'm getting out of my head and back to the layout a bit. Hope you're able to make some progress too!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Piercing the Fourth Wall

In the week since my presentation last Saturday on Valley Line operations, I've been giving a lot of thought to how to operate the my layout as prototypically and realistically as possible, but without having to also recreate all the work actual railroads had to do to operate. This initially took the form of asking over at the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum whether there was a "3rd way" to do operations that wasn't traditional Car Cards & Waybills (CC/WB) or switchlists (spoiler alert: turns out the most realistic may be a combination of both, but I'll save that for another post).

The MRH discussion (d)evolved, perhaps inevitably, into a debate about where to draw the line between "realistic/prototype" operations on our model railroads and actually having fun. Coincidentally, Tony Thompson posted recently about a similar discussion about realistic waybills versus CC/WB. Heh - posting a link at MRH to his post just seemed to stir the pot further.

But it also took the discussion to a different level, which is what I want to talk about a little bit here. These are admittedly rough notes, since my thinking on this is still developing, but here are my thoughts so far...

First and foremost, I think the main question here has to be "Where do you draw the line on realistic operation?" Is "prototype" paperwork, really necessary? If so, are you then going to have - for example - different types and colors of waybills for all the different commodities, armies of clerks to handle all that paperwork (or at least a few buddies willing to do it during an ops session)?

As Dave Husman essentially put it over at the MRH thread, the closer you get to realistic prototype operations, the closer you get to lots of hard labor and intensive work - work that folks actually got paid to do - and they certainly weren't doing it for fun.

So the answer probably depends on what your intent is with your model railroad. To outline two possible extremes: Is it to enjoy the mental exercise of switching puzzles, and the "railroad" is only incidental? Is it to simulate an actual railroad's operation as realistically as possible? Is it to have fun? Or to simulate actual work?

If "Model Railroading is Fun" - how are you having fun in the hobby?

The ultimate answer is as varied as we are as individuals, but for most of us the line of realism is probably somewhere in the middle, either by choice (we'd rather build models than model paperwork, for example) or necessity (we don't have the resources of space or time to model the railroad as realistically as we'd like).

Rob Spangler suggested drawing the line physically rather than mentally: right at the edge of the fascia. Prototype paperwork generally, and how waybills look in particular, doesn't really matter since it's all part of the "stuff" we need to operate the layout - along with "throttles, fascia labels, paperwork organizers, etc." What's most important is that "the PROCESS is realistic on the modeled portion of the layout..." And then he - perhaps unconsciously - alluded to Frank Ellison's Art of Model Railroading, but in this case, Rob likened what we're doing to showing a movie rather than putting on a play. And everything on the aisle side of the fascia (paperwork, etc) is only important to the extent that it allows us to put on a good show. Otherwise, it's just seats, lighting, and other spectators.

In theater, there's an invisible line called the "Fourth Wall" that would be located where the fascia is on our layouts. Effective theater - and, I would guess Rob would agree, an effective layout - wouldn't "pierce" that Fourth Wall. All the focus would be fixed and remain on the action happening on-stage.

Drawing the line at the fascia makes things a lot cleaner - your focus is 100% on the layout itself and you don't have to go down all the rabbit holes of prototype paperwork, etc.

But aren't we all already piercing the Fourth Wall with modeling "jobs?" Sure, we have to model "engineer" so the trains actually run. But what about a separate "conductor?" (ok if you have 2-man crews), or "dispatcher?" (depends on how complicated your layout - your show - is). What about "freight agent" - and the paperwork attendant to that position?

I think it all essentially boils down to what show you're trying to put on and how immersive you want the experience to be.

Theaters themselves have been pursuing a more immersive experience ever since at least the 1950s with 3D movies and seats that gave you a jolt during certain scenes. And even today MX4D makes you more and more a part of the movie. Pretty soon, I suspect - in some sense - audiences will somehow become actual participants.

But aren't we participants in our own show? Doing the same thing with the ProtoThrottle and more realistic paperwork? Putting switch locks on the fascia? Using G scale switchstands to operate turnouts? Including small brake wheels you have to spin to simulate setting the brakes on cars?

These are all examples of where we're already blurring the line created by the Fourth Wall.

Of course, you have to keep yourself from falling down the rabbit hole - which is apparently what's happened to me this past week with regard to prototype paperwork %^) - and you must draw the line of realism somewhere, if only to allow yourself enough time to actually build models and work on your layout - so you actually have a show to put on.

So the best place to draw that line will ultimately come down to an individual's personal choice - and that will ultimately depend on the type of show they want to produce.

Heh - I still don't know yet what I'm going to do about "more realistic & prototypical" paperwork for my model railroad. But I'm glad there are others in the hobby that find such discussions at least entertaining if not ultimately providing any firm answers.

You get your fun out of the hobby where you find it - and for some, the more immersive the experience the more fun it is. But trying to achieve that immersion uses valuable hobby time, so for now I think I'll take a break from all this mulling and go do some modeling.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Misc Modeling Monday

First off, I want to thank everyone that took some time - right smack dab in the middle of a summer Saturday - to check out my NMRA-X presentation on Valley Line operations. If you missed it, you can check it out here (YouTube, choppy feed, starts at 3:06:43) or here (better Facebook feed, starts at 4:17:57).

As I mentioned in last Thursday's post, my MO lately has been to work on whatever I feel in the mood to work on. Now, this may seem obvious to most regular, sane, rational folks - this IS a hobby, after all - but it's actually quite a change for me since I typically work on one thing at a time, plowing directly forward with blinders on  . . . and usually getting thoroughly bogged down as soon as I confront any obstacle.

So, knowing that one of the benefits of having a large-ish layout is that there is always something different that needs to be done, I've been tackling a variety of things. Such as . . .

Back in April, I got this far with the house across the street from John Wallace's house on Fernwood Street in Wethersfield. I'd always planned to have a nice white picket fence around it, and I finally got to it.

One of the things I'm learning - as part of recognizing "there's always something different that you can do" - is to have a stack of "little" projects at the bench that I can just pick up and do whenever I have a bit of time. This picket fence kit by Mini-Tales (which The Missus gave me way back on Christmas, 2017) was just such a project.

It's laser cut something-or-other (I don't think it's wood - looks like some sort of fiberboard) and goes together really easy. The most complicated part is figuring out ahead of time what lengths you need and where the corners are going to be (check out my little plot plan on the biz card above). I didn't end up needing the gates at this point.

Assembly is a simple matter of using a razor blade to remove the parts from the carrier sheet (it's thinner than an XActo blade), planning how you're going to glue it together (based on your plot plan), and gluing it.

In my case, I cut the long side to length before assembly and decided to cut the other two shorter portions after assembly/painting.

To glue it together, I used very little glue, applied with a toothpick, on the "posts/supports" part then laid the "pickets" part on top.

This is the only photo I have showing what I do for the corner. Note that the fence nearest you doesn't have a post on the far left end, but only a picket. To form the corner, you glue that picket to the side of the post at the end of the other fence. Since I wanted to paint both sides of the fence in one spraying session, I used these stands to minimize points of contact.

I figured it'd be easier to touch up the back if necessary, so I painted the back first, then flipped it over to paint the front and set it aside to dry.

Since I was painting white anyway, I decided to spray the walls of another house (I'd previously sprayed the backs for the walls flat black). Yup, this is another City Classics Railroad Street Company House kit - like I used for the farmhouse at Goff Brook. I'll be building this one in a different configuration and it'll go behind the tracks at Dividend - weathered with a nice, dusty brown haze from the rayon factory.

Finally, I took the #359 (first mentioned at the end of this post) down to the basement for a test run. I'd loaded a custom speed table into it and it seemed ok on my test loop up in the workshop, but on the layout . .  . Ugh.  Check out the video:

I have an email out to TCS to see whether they have any other suggestions. I'm confident that this isn't a mechanical problem and I'm hoping that this can all be smoothed out with better programming.

So, a little progress on a lot of different fronts - not a bad MO for moving forward!