Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Fun: When In Doubt - Organize!

As you may have noticed, I've really hit the ground running so far this New Year, with a blog post Every Single Day This Week(!) - but that has everything to do with 1) motivation to accomplish SOMEthing, anything, even if it's small, and 2) the Missus allowing me a lot of room on the weekends to do so.

But, if you're like me, those blocks of time can sometimes be wasted just staring at the layout and getting overwhelmed with all there is to do. All too often, that feeling just sends me back upstairs to the comfort of a soft couch and a good book - or, worse, TV.

With my new mantra though (ANY progress is progress), it's amazing what I can find to accomplish. Case in point - adding more shelves. As hobbyists we can NEVER have enough shelf space, so here's how I did a little something on the first day of the New Year (which will hopefully spark additional progress in the coming days and weeks all year long...)

Since I got a new, smaller compressor and got rid of the FrankenPipe, I discovered I could cover this open space with a proper shelf.

In keeping with another of my new mantras - "don't make the perfect the enemy of the good" - I decided all I needed to support the new shelf was a couple of pieces of scrap wood, glued to the studs.

The shelf itself is another piece of scrap plywood, cut to fit.

Walla! Voila! This shelf will not only hold some more things, but will keep things from falling down between the studs.

Heady from my accomplishment, I decided to do the same in between the studs to the left as well. . .

Same process . . .

And there we are - although this shelf acts more as an extension of the bench top.

Finally, I turned my attention to the existing shelf above my spray booth. This was another area where things could scoot off the back of the shelf and fall down between the studs. But this time, since it didn't need to hold much weight (and I'd run out of scrap plywood), I decided to just hot glue a piece of foamboard between the studs - with a craft stick support glued in the middle(!)

Makes for a nice place to hold my painting holders - and no chance of things falling between the studs.

Since I was on such an organizing kick (friends will tell you that I really need to be more organized *ahem*), I found a perfect place for my new pastels - right next to the PanPastel rack.

And, finally, I added my new scenery materials to the Wall of Scenery - all organized for quick finding.

If you're even a little OCD, beware that your hobby doesn't devolve into anything more than collecting and organizing. At some point, you really should DO SOMETHING with all that stuff. But if you're stuck in a bit of a rut and aren't motivated to do anything on the layout, take some time to tidy the layout room & your workshop. You may discover that by the time you're done you're just itching to get back to work - even if it means making another mess.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A Few Words about Wordless Wednesday #381 - and an Unboxing!

Wow - I'm really starting off 2022 with a bang, posting-wise. Talk about feast or famine! Well, I don't expect I'll be able to sustain this pace, but for now I have a lot to post about so want to try and catch up while I can...

I always love seeing what Santa brought folks - and often see things I didn't know existed and sometimes get some cool ideas. So here's a few quick words about what I got (railroad/layout-wise) for Christmas. . . starting from the top . . .

  • Those two block-looking things at the top of the photo are, actually, blocks. 1-2-3 blocks, to be precise (see what I did there?) and they're great for assembling structures.
  • At the top corners are some much-needed packages of foliage from Heki. This stuff makes excellent brambles and general brush along the ROW. Even though I'm not a huge fan of doing scenery, I AM a huge fan of collecting every type of scenery material I can.
  • What's Christmas without books? Although my layout design days are (probably) behind me (for the time being, at least), like many in the hobby I always enjoy a bit of daydreaming - and little jewel layouts, and imagining how I can fit them in various/sundry rooms, are definite dream fodder.
  • And speaking of books - who gets Volume 2 of a set? Someone who already has Volumes 1 and 3, that's who. These books from Bob's Photo are always great sources of prototype information and inspiration. And now this set is complete!
  • Those masonite looking things to the left are actually sidewalks that I plan to use in Middletown...
  • And the pastels to the right were recommended by Lou Sassi in his "HO Layout for Beginners" Sure, I have a lot of pastels already, but who am I to ignore Lou's advice?
Oh - and I almost forgot that funny tube-looking thing under the blocks from Nicpro . . . Turns out, that contained a full set of micro paint brushes(!) So here's the promised unboxing . . .

These brushes are very cool - and if they're as good as their packaging/presentation, they should work really well for detail & figure painting. Can't wait to try them out!

So, what'd Santa bring YOU for Christmas?

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Tuesday Tip: ProtoThrottle Holder Mod

I ended 2021 by finally getting down to the basement and picking some low-hanging fruit. The first thing that I decided to tackle was to modify the throttle holder for my ProtoThrottle.

You see, I'd attached the "love handle" in a location on the back of the throttle that I found comfortable - but unfortunately, it wasn't until the adhesive was firmly secured that I realized that the throttle wouldn't seat all the way in the holder. UGH!

No worries though - I figured I'd make short work of modifying the holder to accommodate the throttle & handle.

First step was to figure out how much material I'd have to remove. This was easily determined by seeing how much further the throttle would have to go down if it was firmly seated. The handle is7/8" wide and there was a gap of 1/2" between the throttle and the bottom of the holder.

So I marked off those dimensions . . .

. . . and used a cut-off disk in my Dremel to make three quick, straight cuts.

The cutting created some melted plastic around the cuts themselves, which I trimmed off with a chisel blade in my X-Acto knife.

Then it was just a matter of filing down the corners to make things look a bit nicer.

Here's the finished product, with the throttle firmly seated and the handle adequately accommodated.

Since the holder was finally finished, there was no longer any reason to hold off on installing it. Unfortunately, it didn't come with any mounting screws but I had some suitable ones on-hand (would've been more suitable if they'd been black though).

And here it is in place along with the other electronics under Middletown.

After a few days, I realized two things: 1) I'd mounted the throttle a bit too low on the fascia and figured it'd look better up higher. So I moved it. . .

and 2) I could probably have saved all this effort by just moving the "love handle" about 1/2" further up on the back of the throttle.

Ah well - at least this little project got me back in the basement after a long hiatus and kicked off the Winter 2022 modeling season. I suppose motivation sometimes arrives in mysterious fashion.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2021 Accomplishments/2022 Goals

Although I'm loathe to make any hard & fast New Year's Resolutions, I do find it helpful to look back and look forward. But unlike that more general post I did the other day, this "accomplishments/goals" post is a no-nonsense, no-frills (and no pics) comparison of what I'd set out to do in '21 versus how I actually did.  While not "resolutions" per se, I'll at least note where I'd like to be a year from now.

And, unlike last year, I'm posting this a day earlier. So that's a step in the right direction at least...

A layout is never done - there are always additional details and scenic textures we can add. But there's definitely a level of "done-ness" that I definitely want to achieve - if not by the end of this year, then as soon as possible. By "done-ness" I mean the following:

  • All trackwork is in and operable (mission already accomplished here, mostly, despite some persistent shorting issues);
  • Main structures, roads, and grade crossings are done and in place;
  • There's a basic layer of scenery (at least ground foam & static grass, and ballast on the track - trees are a bonus);
  • Backdrops are all installed.
Other than the inevitable detailing/scenicking that will go on (and on), additional items that will move a layout to more "done" than "in progress" have to do mostly with the layout room itself and include fascia & valences being installed and painted (fascia definitely - valences optional), layout curtains installed below the fascia to the floor, and carpet or carpet squares.

I completed the fascia as part of the benchwork, but I've only installed valences and layout curtains in a few areas. And operators don't have nice carpeting yet - or even carpet squares - to stand on during sessions, but foam squares do in a pinch.

So my main focus is on the layout itself - which unfortunately still has quite a way to go before it's at even a basic level of "done-ness." I'm making progress - but never fast enough for my liking. So in the hopes of spurring some additional motivation here at the beginning of the year, here's a current assessment, starting at the north end of the line. . .


How I did: After major progress in 2020, including finishing basic scenery, I only got started on the backdrop and did a little more scenic texture.

How (I hope) I'll do: Finish the backdrop. That's it. There are no more structures that need to be done here, and basic scenery is already in. Of course, there's LOTS AND LOTS of detailing that needs to be done here - including lumber piles, chain link fences, additional scenic colors/textures, and switchstands (cosmetic only, but needed throughout the layout) - but to hit the level of "done-ness" I outlined earlier, I just need to get the stupid backdrop done, finally.

East Berlin

While technically branching off the mainline, north of Middletown, in my basement East Berlin is located in the corner next to Wethersfield, so it's next . . .

How I did: Ditto Wethersfield. Major progress in 2020, but only a little more scenic texturing in 2021 - including trees though!

How I'll do: I actually just started working on the last structural element there today - a concrete loading dock for loading bricks from local brickyards. Other than that, I'd like to improve the transition between the foreground and backdrop on the right side of the scene. And other than just a few more details, this area should be very close to "done" by the end of this year - if not the end of this month(!)

Rocky Hill

Continuing south from Wethersfield, the Rocky Hill scene has been close to done for years, lacking only a backdrop.

How I did: I started the backdrop here last year, finishing it from the Goff Brook scene around the end of the peninsula.

How I'll do:  I have only to finish the backdrop from the peninsula to the backdrop in Dividend for this area (at least "north" <to the right> of Glastonbury Road) to be done.


How I did: Progress in Dividend was my major accomplishment in 2021, including a speed record in getting the backdrop done start to finish, as well as finishing most of the basic scenery - including a rock cut(!)

How I'll do: I'm working more here now, having just finished painting the major structure foundations and starting to rough in the rest of the backdrop. Other than that and the remaining basic scenery (which will have to include a lot of trees), I need to build the tank farm at the south end of the Hartford Rayon complex.


How I did: Other than mocking it up enough to figure out where/how to place the hill that divides this town from Dividend, I think all I did here last year was some cardboard lattice and plaster cloth.

How I'll do: Other than a distinctive diner, and perhaps scratchbuilding the station, most of the buildings here will be generic DPM-type town buildings - some of which are already built. The other challenge will be colorizing an era-appropriate postcard of Main Street and integrating it into the photo backdrop here. 

But the MAIN accomplishment in this area is actually also the last major (re)work that needs to be done on the layout - I need to remove part of the benchwork and add-in the Mattabessett River and a rail bridge. On the prototype, that represents the line between Cromwell and Middletown, so if there's any way I can figure out how to replicate that on my layout, I'm gonna try.


How I did: I did a lot of mocking up and trying different street/terrain levels to try and get things to look "right" in the limited space I have for the major town on the Valley Line. Other than that, I reworked the terrain at the north end of the yard.

How (I hope) I'll do: There's a LOT of structures to build for Middletown, even though I have a huge head start thanks to Bill Maguire and Dave Messer. Some of them - like the freighthouse and Meech & Stoddard - will have to be scratchbuilt, but most of the rest of the city structures will be a mix of DPM, Walthers, and Magnuson Models kits.

Given all the structures needed - as well as all the area I need to cover with even cardboard lattice and plaster cloth (it's mostly bare benchwork here) - I think it'll be a long time before Middletown is at any level of done-ness. But I at least hope to get the backdrop done this year.... fingers crossed.

East Haddam/Deep River/Essex

How I did: I painted the foam board.

How I'll do: Since I plan to focus on getting everything north of Middletown "done" this year, I don't expect I'll be accomplishing much on the south end of the Valley Line. But I'll see if I can at least finish the structures in East Haddam that Dave Messer started.

Old Saybrook

How I did: Um, nuthin' - zero - zilch - nada

How (I hope) I'll do: The Saybrook Scene is the first thing you see when you come down the basement stairs, so I'd really like to get this area to a level of "done-ness" in 2022. The good news/bad news here for years has been that (thanks to BillS), Saybrook has been within striking distance of "done" - all major structures in, and most of the scenery completed. However, before it checks all the "done-ness" boxes, I have to at least ballast the track (still vacillating on what to use), finish the backdrop, and get the Route 1 overpass done. Signal bridges will be a bonus (I figure actual signals are a detail that's way off in the future).

Unlike the rest of the layout though, Saybrook can boast that it's the only area that has not only painted fascia, but painted valence and layout curtains. Still no carpet though (I don't think having it on the basement stairs really counts...)

Other Projects

J-1 Class 2-8-2 #3022: I worked on the cut-down tender a bit in 2021, but still have to do the over-the-top-of-the-smokebox handrail (the bending of which is surprisingly tricky), and finish detailing the tender and the loco itself. I really hope to get that done this year.

DEY-3 & DEY-5 Class diesels (Alco S-1 & S-2): Last year, I finally got these undec models out of the box(!) and started putting them together. And THIS year so far (even though we're only 9 days in...), I got the DEY-5 primed and painted. So that should definitely get done by the end of this year month. The DEY-3 will need a little more work (3D printed fan housing, perhaps thinner radiator shutters), but it should definitely get done (finally) this year - perhaps even by the end of winter. Fingers crossed!

Ops Sessions: Unlike 2020, I was able to operate monthly for a few months last year, but ops sessions are on hiatus for the time being. Turns out, some of my shorting problems have resurfaced, so - in addition to more sessions in 2022, I want to figure out - once and for all - what the source of the shorting problem is, and fix it.

Blog Posting: If there's one thing I can almost guarantee that I'll improve on in 2022 vs. 2021 it's the number of posts on the blog. Of course, the more I can accomplish, the more there'll be to write about.

So there you have it - a thorough & current, if not quick, assessment of the layout and what I hope to accomplish by this time next year. Here's hoping you'll continue to follow along and provide some much-needed motivation and encouragement (as well as guidance & tips) over the coming months. 

With your help, I hope next year I'll be able to report a LOT more on the "How I did" side of the ledger.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Looking Back, Looking Forward

The beginning of a new year is a common time to take stock of where you've been and where you'd like to go. Such an assessment is a common pathway to progress and further accomplishment. And, if you think about it, one's hobby could benefit from the same sort of looking back and looking forward - especially if you discover (sometimes to your pleasant surprise) that you learned more and got more done than you thought you did.  But even if you didn't, going through the exercise often provides at least a little shot of motivation.

So, without further ado, here's where the Valley Line was - and where it is. And, with a little motivation, where it may be heading...

The first thing that occurred to me as I reviewed the past year was how little I actually posted here on the blog:
That's way less than half of my usual number of posts for the year, but for good reason. I started a new position at the end of 2020 which has required a lot more of my time - and taken time from the layout. And an axiom of blogging is that if you don't do it you can't write about it.

So in 2022 I hope to do more on the layout - and more posts should follow.

Speaking of doing more on the layout, while 2021 wasn't quite as productive as 2020, I did get a few things done...

The north end of Wethersfield got some additional layers of scenery, including a few trees - some more ground texture - and even some photo backdrop.  Well, at least a start. The lack of a backdrop in Wethersfield has been a persistent frustration for years. Literally. Hopefully 2022 will see this finally get done.

Here are a some closer views of the additional work in this area (thanks again to Jim Dufour for the the tips & guidance).

As you can (hopefully) see, while a base layer of static grass certainly is better than nothing, the more variety & texture you add, the better it looks.

Here's the current state of Ballantine's Beer Distributors - but I included this photo mostly to show more of the photo backdrop in progress, including a colorized historic photo that I'm using to finally address how to deal with Jordan Lane going into the backdrop. While I've blogged before about this technique, I'm hoping to have a more in-depth article on the process in one of the modeling magazines soon. Stay tuned!

Here's how the Fernwood Street/Lumber Yard area looked at the beginning on 2021 . . .

. . . and how it looks today. Just a few added details, but you can really see what a difference a backdrop makes - even if it's only just mocked up.

I've learned that one of the biggest sources of anxiety and reticence in doing the Wethersfield backdrop is that I know way too much about how it ought to look - and I find it difficult, if not impossible to recreate that. But one way I've discovered to get over that anxiety is to do a backdrop in an area has no such baggage and is just freelanced.

This is a transition area at the end of the peninsula between the Goff Brook scene and Rocky Hill. "All" I wanted to achieve here was a generic New England farm scene in autumn & to provide some "resting"/open space for the operators as they go from one aisle to another. I'm pretty psyched how it came out (I've since blended out the white border at the top) and it was actually pretty fun to do too. It's amazing how much fun you can have when you're not putting so much pressure on yourself...

This is what you see as you step back and pan left. Huge thanks to Bill for showing me a tool in PhotoShop that allowed me to "pull" the treeline down to match the hillside. Not knowing how to do that kept this part of the backdrop from getting done for months.  You can make out the additional mockup in the distance.

Here's how Rocky Hill looked a year ago . . .

. . . and how it looks today. Yet another example of the "instant scenery" and improvement that a backdrop provides.

The most significant improvement on the layout since last year though has to be the Dividend section of Rocky Hill. Here's how it looked at the beginning of 2021 . . .

I'd flattened the terrain a bit and had started to create a scenic block/hill/cut at the far (left) end of the scene.

And this is how it looks today - backdrop and start of scenery done.

If I need any extra motivation to continue doing photo backdrops, this scene provides it.

Other than a bit of photo-backdropping and more static grass, the major new scenic skill I acquired this past year was doing a rock cut. Here's the start of it as the south end of Dividend - creating a scenic divide from Cromwell (to the left).

And here it is as it sits today. Lots of scenery left to do here, but I'm really happy with how it came out.

Taking a break from "pure scenery" (land forms, vegetation, and such), I've also started to try and do something better with Middletown. Here's the north end of the yard last year . . .

And how it looks today . . .

In keeping closer to the prototype, I did some terra-forming in the corner in anticipation for starting a transition from town to country. The north end of Middletown yard in the late 1940s was really on the outskirts of town and the scenery will now reflect that. I also found a good place for the imagineered structure I built and was going to use for Stanley Chemical before I got Bill Maguire's structures in East Berlin.

Moving south into the town proper, I'm finding it a bit difficult to figure out the right amount of structures. Here's how things were mocked up last year...

But the more I look at the prototype, the more I realize that so many of the buildings are going to be on the backdrop - so fewer 3D buildings are needed . . .

Still really unsure where this will all land. Maybe installing a photo backdrop here first will help :^)

Unfortunately, there hasn't been any significant progress on the rest of the layout during the past year. But one thing I *did* do - after much persistent prodding by my friend Dean - was to at least paint the foam board . . .

After resisting his prodding for months - if not years - I finally got around to it. Took less than 2 hours of easy work with a roller and is probably the best bang for the time I can imagine.

Comparing last year's photos to the same scenes this year has really given me a kick in the pants to have more progress to show this time next year. But if that's going to happen, I have to remember two important things:
  1. ANY progress, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is still progress. Large accomplishments are the sum of many small ones. So always do SOMEthing on the layout when you can.
  2. Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. Trying to create the "perfect" backdrop in Wethersfield has prevented further progress there for years. While I know I won't be able to settle for just any ol' generic backdrop there, I can probably do a better job of finding the right balance between the impossible and the presentable.
I've made a bunch of layout-related New Year's Resolutions in past years, but I think for 2022 if I can just internalize these two deceptively simple but powerful thoughts I'll make more progress in the coming months than I have in a long time - and will be sure to report it here. Hopefully you'll enjoy continuing to follow along - and will have your OWN progress to share.

In the meantime, here's wishing you and yours a healthy, happy - and productive - New Year!