Tuesday, December 31, 2013

John Pryke, 1940-2013

While 2013 has been a great year in many ways, it's ending on a sad note.  On the day after Christmas, I heard that friend and fellow modeler John Pryke had passed away.  He'd been sick for some time, but I'd received a "test" email from him a little over a month ago (he was no stranger to computer issues) and I replied asking him for an update.  Unfortunately, I never heard back.

Any time I think of folks that have been a great influence on me in the hobby, John Pryke comes first to mind.  His was the first layout I saw that depicted the New Haven Railroad, and his frequent writings in Model Railroader magazine gave me, and other NHRR modelers, lots to be proud of and lots to (try and) emulate.  John's chosen era was September, 1948 and while my choice for the longest time was firmly in the diesel era of 1952, John eventually persuaded me that the Steam Era was far superior.  Due in no small part to his influence, I eventually backdated my railroad to October, 1947 (even further in the past, I enjoyed reminding him) and became an avid "steam era" modeler.

I always enjoyed hearing John tell the story of how his passion for the New Haven Railroad was ignited: he would tell me of a time in September 1948 when he was on the platform of the Old Saybrook railroad station and saw a double headed steam passenger train going by. When I moved to Old Saybrook a few years ago, I enjoyed letting him know that I would eventually be modeling the station area and would be including an HO scale version of him on the platform as a youngster.

John's influence in the hobby is long-standing and pervasive and I consider him one of the giants - up there with the best of them.  My condolences go out to his wife Sandy and the rest of his family. I'm so thankful to them for sharing him with us.

Announcement on the Model Railroader website


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mind the Gaps

About this time last year, I went down to operate the layout and it wouldn't work - there was a short somewhere but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what had caused it and i couldn't track it down.

A panic email to Craig Bisgeier, who had just done a podcast on layout wiring, was a huge help. He said the likely culprit was that a rail gap or gaps had somehow closed. This can happen in at least two ways: in the summertime when the rails get warm they can sometimes expand, thereby causing intended rail gaps to shrink or disappear altogether. A similar thing happens in the winter when, due to the low humidity, wood will contract and thereby cause the same problem.

This is only an actual problem if you have either a reverse loop on your layout or require rail gaps for other electrical purposes. In my case, I have a reverse loop where I had gapped the rails to separate it from the rest of the layout. And sure enough, those gaps had closed. After a few short minutes with my cut off disc in the Dremel Moto tool and ACC-ing little plastic bits in the gaps to keep the rails from coming together in the future, my problem was solved.

Until this year that is… This time I don't have a problem with gaps closing - I've been having a problem with tracks humping.  Apparently, I soldered too many of my railjoints and the rails were too tight everywhere else. So when the inevitable shrinkage of wood occurred, the rails had no place to go - but up.  Thankfully, another session with my Dremel cutoff disc solved the problem. I just cut a couple of gaps here and there to relieve the tension on the rails and everything settled back down to normal.

The take away? If you tend to solder your rails together, be sure you're leaving gaps somewhere to relieve any tension on the rails that might occur. I, for one, will never solder turnouts to the adjoining rails again in the future (this also makes it much easier to remove a turnout for maintenance or repair). Also, where you have to have a gap remain open for electrical purposes, be sure to glue little bits of plastic in the gaps to keep the rails from coming together.

Just remember to do what the British Underground riders do and Mind the Gap(s)!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hot Glue Lessons

As anybody that's been to a work session at my layout knows, I love my hot glue gun. it's such a versatile and handy tool. But today, I learned a few things I almost wish I hadn't...

1) Be very careful using a hot glue gun above your head (this rule applies to soldering irons as well), or any time the gun is pointed "up" - you risk having hot glue drop back onto your fingers/hand.

2) If you get hot glue on you - especially a large amount - do NOT wait for the glue to cool. Get it off as quickly as possible (preferably not with another unprotected hand).

3) Hot glue that is allowed to remain on your skin will remove a layer (or two) of skin. This is especially true as you try to peel off the hot glue.

I'll leave it to the experts to explain how best to treat flesh where the skin has been melted off. I ran my finger under cold water, daubed it dry, and applied Neosporin & a bandage to cover it. We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I'm discovering just how important that middle finger is (and not just for flipping off rogue hot glue guns). Hopefully, it won't be too much of a pain when I'm firing the steam locomotive tomorrow...

Status quo ante

Well, mostly....

Here's the Ballantine warehouse area at the north end of Wethersfield after removing all the scenery base I installed last week. As I mentioned in a previous post, the resulting topography - especially the steep slope that was necessary to connect the subroadbed to the bottom of the backdrop - was just unacceptable. This area of Wethersfield is relatively flat.

So, out came the cardboard webbing. Boy, it sure did come out quicker than it went in! Next step will be to "extend" the backdrop lower and redo this area.

Stay tuned - hopefully I'll have some progress to show soon.  In the meantime, here's hoping you and yours are enjoying this holiday season!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Scenery Base Started!

Looking north toward Hartford (staging).  Engine is about where the Rt. 15 overpass will be.
Here's my First Cardboard Webbing Strip!  It's like the Golden Spike, except it's done at the beginning, and it's not track.  But it's a milestone nevertheless.  This strip is at the location of the Route 15 overpass that marks the beginning of the "on stage" portion of the railroad.  As such, the resulting slope is no problem and, in fact, has to be there.

But as I mentioned in my last post, I'm much less confident that continuing this slope southward will be a good idea.  There's no such slope on the prototype, but the height of the bottom of the backdrop makes such a slope necessary (you have to attach the strips to something).  Since I won't know how much of an actual problem that is until I can see it, I decided to just dive right in...

First strips hot glued to side of subroadbed (to keep terrain profile/slope as low as possible)

Strips hot-glued to back of backdrop - again, to keep slope as low as possible.  Also showing base for Silas Deane Hwy.
Once I got the strips installed far enough south to get to the Ballantine site, it started getting real - you can see below where I've mocked-up a flat base & the Silas Deane Hwy...
And you can see how steep that slope is going to have to be to get from the flat industrial area to the Hwy.  Here's a current-day comparison to give you an idea of what the prototype looks like:

This is Jordan Ln. looking west toward Silas Deane Hwy. from the RR crossing.  The self-storage facility is on the Ballantine site
So you can see that this slope is all wrong - what I've got is more in tune with Appalachia than the flat CT river valley.

To try and get at least the Ballantine site flatter, I hot-glued some foamcore board to the bottom of the strips and to allow me to press the strips down as much as possible - and to not cause the Silas Deane to tilt at the same time - you can see that I temporarily installed a strip of masonite on edge to support the east side of the Hwy. (see it clamped in place below the webbing). Problem is, I don't know whether I'll be able to remove that masonite and expect the terrain to stay in place.  But you can see where I've started installing the "horizontal" strips to the north to create the hopefully-sturdier basketweave.

So this is where things sit at this point.  It's not a bad looking scene, but it looks all wrong to me considering the prototype.  I figured I'd live with it for a bit and see if I'd feel any better about it, but I'm not optimistic. I'll probably rip this all out and rework it.  Pieter and I have been kicking around some different ideas, but so far I think the best approach may be to just add a 3" strip of masonite to the bottom of the backdrop, to give something lower for cardboard strips to attach to - and thereby make this whole area as flat as possible.

While I'm at it, I'll probably also install some more plywood to provide a solid, flat base for Ballantines.  As I mentioned in my last post, I should have anticipated this need and provided for it when I planned & cut the plywood for this area.  Fortunately, the L-girder benchwork I used is pretty easy to modify when necessary, so this should just be a matter of installing some additional risers to support some additional plywood.  Then I can do the cardboard lattice again.

At least now, I've got some experience doing that so it shouldn't take as long the next time....

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prototype Modeling with No Photos: Ballantine Beer Distributors

Possible basis of a sign - John Wallace Collection
Prototype modelers by definition model buildings, scenes & equipment that actually exist - or existed.  Problem is, the further back in history you go the harder it is to find information/photos/etc.

Now that I have a couple successful operating sessions under my belt, I thought I'd turn my attention to creating some authentic scenes for the trains to travel through.  Starting at the north end of the railroad, the first stop is P. Ballantine & Sons beer distributors & Wethersfield Lumber Company, both in the vicinity of Jordan Lane in Wethersfield.

Problem is, there are ABSOLUTELY NO photos of either Ballantine's or Wethersfield Lumber. I'm still looking, but I don't have much hope. So what's a prototype modeler to do?  Just freelance (in a limited way, admittedly, but still...)?  Well, maybe that won't be necessary.  This post will introduce how I'm handling the problem...

First stop, check out the Sanborn map of the area.  If you're a prototype modeler, you probably already have maps of the area that you used to help plan your track.  These cool maps not only show track arrangements though, they show at least the footprint of the buildings too.

Here's the Sanborn map of the Jordan Lane area of Wethersfield:

North is to your right.  Ballantines is northwest of the Jordan Lane grade crossing.  Wethersfield Lumber Co. is to the southwest.  I've penciled in a few prototype dimensions.  Click to see the small print.
I'm not sure why there is no siding shown at Ballantine's - maybe it wasn't put in yet when the map was produced; maybe it had just been removed; maybe it's just an oversight.  But I know from multiple sources that Ballantine's was, in fact, served by the railroad in 1947 - and the loading dock that's shown on the east side of the building shows the likely location of the siding (despite a fuzzy aerial photo that seemed to indicate the siding curved to the west side of the bulding).

In addition to the Sanborn map, I also have the benefit of John Wallace's personal recollections of the area during the era I'm modeling.  And also fortunately, John's memory is as sharp as a tempered steel blade...  So when I asked him if he remembered at all what Ballantine's looked like, here's what he emailed me:

Ballantine's Beer Distributors - Sketch by John Wallace
Notice where the siding is - right where expected, along the loading dock on the east side of the building.  Followup questions elicited some additional information:  It was of brick construction, the loading platform was covered and the freight doors were spaced to match boxcar doors.  The platform and building were 3 cars long and the siding was a total of 5 cars long.  There was also a track bumper at the end of the siding.  All the windows were on the south side (Jordan Ln), where the office was.  There were no windows on the east or north side (the west side will face the backdrop).

Ok, with a rough idea of how the prototype building looked, how large was it?  Again, the Sanborn map helps, providing the building's footprint.  You first have to figure out the scale of the drawing, which - due to zooming/enlarging - may actually be different than what the scale rule on the drawing itself.  Once you determine a dimension in prototype feet, it's then fairly easy to convert to model (actual) inches using a standard scale ruler alongside a regular ruler (or, for HO scale, you divide the prototype measurement by 87 and convert the resulting decimal to inches)

If you zoom into the Sanborn map image above, you'll see that the prototype Ballantine building measured 58.3' x 83.3' and the loading platform was 116.6' long.  So modeled full-size, without selective compression, the model would measure 8" x 11.5" and the loading platform would be 16" long.

Incidentally, a 40' boxcar is a good standard of measurement - especially in HO scale, where a 40' boxcar is about 6 actual inches long.  So the Ballantine siding, if modeled full size, would be about 30" long (5 cars).  The siding I have is 3 cars long (about 18").

When I went to measure my space, I got a few nasty surprises:

1) Since the prototype terrain here is relatively flat, my backdrop is WAY (about 3") too high, which will require including an unprototypical slope unless it's fixed.  Lesson: Unless you're modeling mountainous terrain, the bottom of the backdrop should always be at least even with subroadbed level. Not sure yet what - if anything - I'm going to do about this.

2) To save material, I tailored my plywood subroadbed to support track only & should have extended it to support anticipated buildings as well.  Lesson: You may not know ahead of time where buildings will be, but your plan should at least show where "signature" buildings/towns are and you should provide nice flat support for such areas.  I figured I could create a flat area at the scenery stage with my cardboard webbing.  That may not be as easy as I thought - especially in this case when I'm trying hard to avoid too much of a slope.

3) According to the measurement above, there may not be enough room for Silas Deane Hwy between the building and the backdrop, especially if the building is modeled full-size.

Since the building might end up against the backdrop anyway, I tried a mock-up that curved the siding from the main in order to gain more seperation, with the result below:

Initially, I liked the look of this, so grabbed an old building to enhance the mock-up:

It's starting to look like an actual scene now (and that's pretty exciting). Unfortunatley, with the high backdrop (and resulting steep slope imagined behind the building), it doesn't look much like Wethersfield. Concern about such facts is one of the things that seperates a prototype modeler from a freelancer. A freelancer would be fine keeping such a nice scene as-is. Me? I've got to make it look as close to my prototype as I can.

So, setting the "slope problem" aside for the moment, I remeasured to see how the prototype building might fit with the more-curved siding:
The prototype building would be too deep, even if placed right against the backdrop.

The loading platform would fit, even if modeled full size.
While I was measuring building footprints, I figured I'd get a quick view of how Wethersfield Lumber Co. (WLCo) might fit.  Looking at the Sanborn map, there were a number of buildings associated with Wethersfield Lumber, but the largest was the lumber shed at the end of the siding.  In HO scale, it would be 21" long...
Uh oh.
Um, yeah.  Not going to model the lumber shed full-size then.  Selective compression by like 70%?  Looks like it.

Once I got over my initial shock & depression re WLCo., I decided to see if I had a more-appropriate building on-hand for Ballantine's.  Here's what I found:

2 stories, brick, roof overhang over loading doors.
Looks pretty good to me.  Seeing how it would fit was only a matter of taping the inside corners of the walls and setting it up:

Notice I've moved the siding back toward the main to provide some space for Silas Deane Hwy. (and a hopefully more-gradual slope) between the building and the backdrop.  The above shot shows the building mocked-up, unmodified.

Here's the same building with two walls butted end-to-end along the Jordan Lane (south) side to make a more-imposing industry:

Cool loading docks too!  Incidentally, another lesson (or thing for me to keep in mind for the future): Have as many of your buildings/bridges/loading docks/etc built beforehand as possible. This certainly makes it easier to mockup things and see what you really have to work with.  It's not always practical, but if you don't have a layout yet, your hobby time would be well spent building stuff ahead of time.
So, this is where the Ballantine's Beer Distributors scene is currently.  It's clear I'm going to have to compress things.  Is the building (especially the unmodified/smaller version) large enough to justify rail service (two cars' worth)?  And if I decide to move the turnout north and thereby lengthen the siding for more cars, I'd have to make the building even larger.  Any recommendations?  I look forward to hearing/reading what you think.
Next, I think I'll try my hand at some scenery - at least some scenery support (cardboard webbing) - and see whether that slope/backdrop problem is as bad as I fear it may be...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Old Saybrook Coffee & Trains

Old Saybrook is the southern end of the Valley Line.  It looks a lot different today than it did in 1947.

But, even today, it has its - um - "perks" as in coffee.

Yes, Ashlawn Farm has opened a new coffee shop right next to the historic Old Saybrook railroad station...

I spent a wonderful afternoon there recently sipping coffee and watching the trains go by.
The trains that went by were Acelas though - by the time I got out to take a photo, they were already gone.


It's a great place to spend a few hours - and if you get hungry, Pizza Works (which is in the old freight house) is right next store and has two operating model railroads(!)
'Tis the Season!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

HO Scale Modeling with N Scale Imagination

And I thought I was so clever...

I've been pretty proud of myself that I've been able to model the New Haven Railroad's CT Valley Line just about "perfectly" from Wethersfield to Middletown.  By "perfectly" I mean I've included on my layout almost every single turnout the prototype had.  Sure, I've had to compress the linear feet/miles of running track so those turnouts are much closer together, but they're all there.  So I have a prototypically accurate railroad.


Not quite.  Not yet, anyway.

It looks like I've made the rookie mistake of allowing my imagination to write checks my space can't cash. In other words, I've assumed everything will fit - and in my mind's eye, it will.  Folks building their first layout usually make this mistake at the track planning stage.  They look at the space they have and they imagine the layout they're going to put in that space.  Unfortunately, they usually imagine that MUCH more can fit in the space than actually can. They imagine 30 car freight trains running comfortably along a 10 foot wall - forgetting that, in HO scale at least, the cars alone will take up 15 feet - and that's not counting the engine(s) and caboose!

Well, *I* wasn't going to fall in THAT trap.  No, not me.  Sure, I didn't plan my layout in the traditional sense, using drafting paper or even track planning software.  I took what I think is a better approach: I did my track planning full-size, on the floor:

This is where Middletown would end up.  Once I discovered that a train would fit - and look "right" - I knew my layout concept would work.  Fitting Middletown was my biggest challenge; now that that was "solved" I'd just work out from there.

So for the past months, I've been pretty smug & self-satisfied happy with how the layout has turned out. Since I followed the prototype track arrangements so well, the layout has operated - not surprisingly - just like the prototype. But a true model railroad - especially one you want to use as a time machine of sorts - includes much more than just track.  It has to include buildings & scenery too....

Pieter was over for Train Time Tuesday last week and (shame on me) I didn't have anything really pressing or ready to work on.  So I used him as a sounding board to explore "next steps" in my layout construction which, now that the track is down and the ops sessions have gone so well, are buildings & scenery - specifically in Wethersfield.

Every time I imagine Wethersfield, I envision the Ballantine's beer distributor, Wethersfield Lumber, the station, Gra-Rock Bottling, Valley Coal.  Everything fits - in my mind.  Unfortunately, it looks like I've made the same old rookie mistake - just at a later point in the layout construction process.  I'm modeling in HO scale, but my imaginary buildings - the ones that all fit "no problem" on my layout - are apparently N scale or, worse, Z scale.

I did a pretty good job of planning the track layout, but my lack of planning for structures and scenery is becoming painfully apparent now.  I've never gotten a layout past the benchwork & track stage.  I wonder if this "N scale thinking" is one of the reasons why.  Usually, once I discover that my imagination is so constrained by my space, I become frustrated and start over.

Well, I've come too far to rip everything out and start over.  The track plan itself is sound, as attested by the successful & prototypical operating sessions.  And even if I did rip everything out and redid it, I can't imagine doing it much differently, considering my space and what all I want to include.  I guess I could eliminate Cromwell, but that doesn't get me much.  I could move Middletown yard further south and thereby expand it, but my problem isn't too little track - it's too little space for the buildings/structures/industries I need.

So since I can't retreat, I must advance - full speed ahead.  I'll have to develop some good selective-compression skills pretty quickly and start getting better - much better - at what I consider the real "art" of model railroading: the ability to capture the essence of a prototype scene, it's essential elements, when you have only a fraction of the space in which to do it.

If the result of my effort conveys the prototype faithfully enough so that people recognize it for what it's supposed to be, then I know I'll have succeeded.  Otherwise, like any other rookie, I'll just have to "try, try again" until I get it right.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Modeling Influences: Bill Schneider's NYO&W

Well, the holiday season has well and truly hit - with dire consequences for the regularity of this blog.  Since mid-November, other than a follow-up post on CT River Valley motive power, I've only posted the bite-sized candies of the blogging world - the "drive-by" post: Wordless Wednesday.  Modeling and blogging have taken a back seat to shopping and egg-nogging...

So there's not much going on hereabouts modeling-wise - barely a ripple - but there's been some seismic activity in my model railroading world this past week: Bill Schneider decided to retire The Old Woman in the Back Bedroom.

I first saw Bill's New York Ontario & Western in Ted Culotta's Prototype Railroad Modeling magazine - I think it may have even been in the premier issue - which didn't surprise me because it became very obvious very fast that what Bill was doing was "Prototype Modeling."  I'd heard that term before, attached to just about any and every modeling effort that wasn't freelanced.  But this was one of the first times I'd seen it practiced to such an extent.  The only other layout I was aware of at the time that modeled a prototype with such fidelity was Jack Burgess' Yosemite Valley.  I knew right then and there that this level of fidelity would become my standard - or at least my aspiration.

When I finally got to meet Bill & see his layout in person, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at just how small it was.  I was absolutely astonished how well and how accurately he was able to model two entire towns in the space he had.  And not only did he model the buildings and track layout accurately, he'd modeled the details - things like period billboards & signs, and even flagstone walkways that he knew, from talking to local old-timers, were there in the era he was modeling - and exactly where they had been in real life.  On Bill's layout, everything is in the right place and even some of the figures represent actual residents and railroad employees of the time.  The only way you could experience Roscoe or Livingston Manor, NY in the early 1950s any better is with a time machine.  With this level of fidelity to the prototype and attention to detail - especially given the limited space - I knew I'd found a true inspiration for my own modeling effort. I don't mind admitting that my layout seeks to do for a branchline of the New Haven Railroad what Bill was able to do for the O&W.

Although Bill's current iteration of the O&W will move on, literally and figuratively, I know this won't be his last modeling effort.  Can't be.  Anybody that talented and that passionate about recreating a specific time and place has to give vent to his art & creativity somehow.  Of course, he has an open invitation to work his magic anytime he wants on the Valley Line - provided 1947 isn't too far back for him to travel.  But whether he comes down the Valley or not, I'm very much looking forward to his future efforts and especially to the continued inspiration of his art.

Wordless Wednesday #8