Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

Just wanted to do a quick post to wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas!

Like many of us, things have been pretty busy around The Valley Line. Not much progress to report, but I've been getting to stuff as I can - mostly structure part prep for Ballantine's and Wethersfield Lumber. I hope to have progress photos - and maybe even some tips - posted soon. And I'm really looking forward to ramping up progress after the holidays (including a brief planned diversion to build a couple of F&C New Haven RR gondolas that I received from Santa TomD!) despite the up-coming legislative session.

I hope your "Santa" brings you lots of fun RR stuff - but I wish most for you that you get the gift of some time to enjoy what you have: build some kits, work on your layout, or even enjoy some "armchair modeling" by the fire (or a video of one playing on your TV/ipad). It's a wonderful time of year, made all the more wonderful by this amazing hobby and the people you meet along the way.

G. Fox & Co. - Where CT Valley folks did some of their Christmas shopping back in the day (or at least visited for the amazing displays). Not 1947, but close enough to provide some fun holiday time-travel!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Swapping Wheels, Painting Sills

After switching out some wheels, I decided to change things up a bit and paint the "concrete" sills on the Ballantine building. Small brush, strained Floquil Foundation paint (still lumpy, go figure) and a steady hand.

Surprisingly therapeutic - and perfect for a spare hour on a Sunday afternoon. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Layout

Just a quick grab shot of the only layout I ever completed (so far). A loop of track, assorted buildings (all lit), and a bunch of mini-scenes including skaters on a pond, a Christmas tree salesman, a snowball fight, etc. There's even a town tree and Santa in the gazebo. 

It's fun to spruce it up each year - and is a great way to get into the spirit of the season. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quick-Changing Styrene to Wood

Here's a question for you . . .

Pictured are the "wood" parts representing interior bracing & racks for the Walthers Walton & Sons Lumber Co. kit. I'll be using this kit to represent the Wethersfield Lumber Co. on my layout.

I've come across a couple of nice websites here and here that do a good job of explaining how to distress & paint/stain/finish styrene to look like weathered wood. The results are nothing short of contest-quality, but seem to be a bit of overkill for something that will be mostly hidden (I plan to build the kit like this:

...so, as you can see, most of that detail will be hidden).

The question is: How would you paint/finish all that interior detail? I know not to just build it "as-is", relying on the molded plastic color.

So what's a quick and easy approach you'd recommend?

Barring any alternatives, perhaps I'll use these parts as a way to practice that "contest quality" approach - but that will make the build take longer. And I think that's time that would be better spent on things you can actually see :)

While I'm at it, here's another question.... How would you do the exterior walls and roof?

I was thinking just shooting Grimy Black on the roof parts and weathering them. As for the walls, I'm considering trying a "peeling paint" technique - where I spray it with some sort of "weathered wood" base color (or perhaps - yikes! - do the weathered wood technique from those websites!) and then brush on some rubber cement before shooting a top coat. Erase the paint from the rubber and - voila! - peeling paint.

What do you think? Any other tips/approaches you'd suggest?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Operating Session - 11/28/14

Or "actually" October 19, 1947...

Yes, it was a post-war Sunday in mid-October when the crews for the Air Line and Valley Locals were called on-duty. New operator JimA - who, like me, moonlights as engine crew on the real Valley Railroad - took over the throttle of K-1 mogul #278 and headed south from Hartford, stopping first in Wethersfield...

Valley Local switching Wethersfield, Jim at the throttle

Valley Local southbound, slowing to observe the 10 mph speed restriction on the curve north of Rocky Hill, according to the Bulletin Order.

Looking south into Rocky Hill, we see the Air Line crew in the distance, arriving in Middletown.

Valley Local in Cromwell switching the elevated coal trestle of Lee & Son's Coal Co.

Record-length Air Line Local, pumping up its brakes in preparation to leave Middletown to head back to Cedar Hill yard in New Haven (i.e. staging)
There wasn't much in the way of "new" things to show for this session. The mockups are still working well, though I am getting a little impatient for actual buildings & scenery. All in good time....

The main reason for the session was to finally get Jim over to run the layout. He hadn't seen it in a while, so there was a lot that was "new" to him. I also wanted/needed a good excuse to address some of the issues that had cropped up during the last session: some feeder wires came unattached, and the 278's pilot coupler had started to fail (I fixed that here). Thankfully, the replacement coupler worked just fine - and the engineer on the Air Line Local (i.e. BillS) let me know there's a "scale" sized option.

I do have to admit a couple of "fails" however:

1) I'm not as impressed with my "innovative" uncoupling tools as I thought I'd be. I asked a couple of the other operators and the consensus was that "they work like a champ on #58s, when coupled to other #58s - less good on others, or mixed types." So, more experimentation needed. For next session, I'll provide some skinny bamboo skewers (thick skewers - and the damage they tend to cause - are what pushed me to develop an alternative in the first place).

2) The #278 - inexplicably - started to short more often as the session went on. No idea why. I checked the brake shoes/hangars, and everything was fine. I'll have to continue to inspect...

3) Related to the 278 shorting, I noticed that I'm still having trouble with shorting when exiting (and sometimes entering) the reversing section. The polarity in that section is controlled by 2 bays on a Frog Juicer. Unfortunately, the problem is intermittent and can't be consistently replicated. I thought at first that the section may have been too, um, short (as in too short for the length of trains I run over it) and the Juicer was trying to switch polarity under the engine at the same time as it was trying to switch polarity under another car toward the end of the train. But that would require wheels (all my wheels are metal) to be bridging the two sets of rail gaps at precisely the same time. Even when I did that myself manually, I couldn't get things to short out. So, more investigation needed. Let me know if you have any ideas - electrical gremlins can be notoriously difficult to fix.

4) Actually, this doesn't really rise to the level of a "fail" - it's more the cost of doing business operations: I had a coupler fall off one car during the session, and discovered another car (on semi-permanent loan from a buddy) had plastic instead of metal wheels. So those cars are on the workbench for repair/upgrade.

I've said it before - and so have others: Ops Sessions are the ideal catalyst for keeping on top of your layout maintenance, as well as highlighting what else needs to be Done Right Away and what upgrades make the most sense to do sooner rather than later. I can't recommend them enough.

So get your layout to running & operating status as soon as you can!  You certainly won't regret it (though you may end up being busier with it than ever - but that results in "progress made" as well!)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Installing a Pilot-Mounted Coupler on a Brass Steam Locomotive, Part 2

Thanks again to those commenting on Part 1 of this series. I took your comments to heart - and promptly chickened out. I'm going to wait a bit before attempt to drill such a small hole in the (very) narrow shank of a KD #58 metal coupler, drill press or no drill press.

To my credit - or at least an argument against my "chicken-ness" - I found an alternative solution. McHenry makes a plastic coupler that has a much-more-reliable closing mechanism: metal spring rather than a sliver of plastic. There's even a little letter "E" pressed into the underside of the shank that you can use to start your hole (with the point of a safety pin, in my case) and then it's a snap (not literally, thankfully) to drill out the hole with a #72 bit.

There're only two problems:

  1. The couplers are oversized - but BillS told me at my last operating session on Friday (report coming soon) that they make a "scale" size coupler. So this won't be a problem for long.
  2. The coupler shank is much thinner than the draft gear box, resulting in some drooping...

Droopy McHenry Coupler
The solution was easy to figure, but a little more difficult to do. I basically had to "thicken" the coupler shank using two bits of scale 1x6 styrene strip. Since I wanted everything to continue to move nice and easily, I had to - yup, you guessed it - drill some more holes. I recommend you mark/drill the hole first then cut the length to fit. Ask me how I know....

Teeny Tiny Coupler Shim
The resulting shims (one pictured above) are so small, I couldn't even get my camera to focus properly for a picture (note to self: get a macro lens app). But I used some copper wire to thread a shim, then the coupler, then another shim into a "sandwich" (shank between two shim "slices") and then used just the tiniest amount of styrene glue you can imagine to stick things together just long enough to keep the 3 holes lined up for positioning in the pilot draft gear box and sliding the fixing pin down from the top and through the holes.

It actually took me much longer to type that out than it did to do. The result was certainly worth it:

Non-droopy coupler
I'm very happy with how this turned out, and the coupler performed like a champ at the ops session. Pilot couplers on brass steamers are usually just dummies, but if your engine is in anything but dedicated passenger service, it's likely it's going to have to switch a car or two at some point using the pilot. On a local freight engine like my K-1 mogul, a working front coupler is an absolute must. And now I have a pretty easy way of modifying couplers to fit what the brass manufacturer left me with. Hope you find this method helpful too.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Picking low-hanging fruit on a Thanksgiving morning

Doing something fun & easy on this Thanksgiving morning - replacing the awful Atlas couplers on my New Haven HH660 with KD #58s. No shank-drilling required - and that's something else to be grateful for on this wonderful day of thanks :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

New Haven diesel in Thanksgiving colors

Monday, November 24, 2014

Installing a Pilot-Mounted Coupler on a Brass Steam Locomotive, Part 1

The engine is an HO scale New England Rail Service New Haven class K-1b 2-6-0. The old coupler is a plastic KD clone with a mounting hole drilled in the shank. A .020 diameter pin goes through the shank & the holes in the cast-on scale coupler box. The new coupler is an all-metal KD #58 coupler with the trip pin cut off and the shank cut down. 

The Problem: the old coupler is starting to fail - i.e. the coupler face spring has lost its, um, "springiness" so (too) often the couple uncouples unexpectedly. 

The Solution: install a KD

The Second Problem: drilling a hole into that narrow, metal shank. 

I started a guide hole using the point of a safety pin, so the drill bit wouldn't travel. 

Yes, I'm drilling a hole. Or trying to. 

I'll eventually need a .025" hole to clear the mounting pin. That's a #72 drill bit. No way can I start that "large" (too big for the guide hole), so I started with a #80 bit. 

Yup - a .0135" diameter drill bit. 

I used a pin vise at first, but didn't get very far before - yup, you guessed it - the bit broke. 

I had another #80 bit, so I mounted that in my Dremel flex shaft and, using my variable speed foot pedal, I continued drilling.

I actually got the hole .005" deep before that bit broke. I'm actually pretty proud I got that far, considering I'm drilling metal with a microscopic drill bit. In a Dremel. 

But I still have .045" to go. 

And I don't have another #80 bit on-hand. 

Ah,well. There's always tomorrow. 

Yes, "Model Railroading is Fun" - or at least a lot more fun than bathroom remodeling or raking leaves. I'll take a couple broken drill bits over that any day. 

(Btw, if any of you have any tips/suggestions for a better way of doing this, please let me know :^)

A few quick words about Wordless Wednesday #44

John Wallace sent the photo along with some additional information. Firstly, it wasn't a Carl Weber photo (I've updated the caption), but likely printed from a negative he purchased for his collection.

The photo itself was taken in Middletown on June 4, 1950. The occasion was a fantrip sponsored by the Boston Railroad Enthusiasts, using I-4 class Pacific #1380 - very rare power for this line. The route was especially interesting as it originated in Boston, took the Shore Line down to Providence, the Highland west to Plainfield, the Norwich & Worcester south to Groton, then back on the Shore Line to Old Saybrook, north on the Valley Line to Middletown & Hartford, then the Highland back through Willimantic, Putnam, and Blackstone back to Boston. The line to Willimantic would be severed by Hurricane Diana just 5 years after this photo was taken.

Sounds like a really amazing trip - what I would give to be able to take a trip like that behind an I-4 today!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hijacked by Life - and License Plates

I know you know how it is. Sometimes - more often than you'd like, to be sure - your hobby gets hijacked by Life: all those things on various lists to do.

For me lately, it's been a "light" remodeling of the downstairs bathroom (which is, typical of such projects, taking much longer than planned) as well as the usual seasonal chores of leaf raking & wood splitting/piling. In addition, I decided to finally cut down some huge trees limbs (but they're as big as trees, and tougher to get to), which resulted in a huge mess to clean up (and more firewood).

Fortunately though, the NHRHTA Photo Library volunteers nights have restarted - moving to Fridays temporarily since every single Thursday night until the end of the year is booked with various work & charity meetings as well as holiday parties(!)

And so it goes. I'm sure you have similar tales of hobby time thwarted.

But the bathroom will be done soon (hopefully this week) and the leaves/trees will be taken care of (hopefully this weekend), and with all the "new found" time, work will continue on The Valley Line. In the meantime, here's something fun....

Depending on your scale, it may not be all that noticeable, but starting in HO scale and larger, you might want to consider....

...wait for it ....

License plates

Along with automobiles and reweigh stencils on your freight cars, license plates set your layout in a particular time. For Connecticut, here's what a license plate looks/looked like in my modeling year of 1947:
Here's where I found it:
http://www.ctplates.info/ct_pass40-49.html  There should be similar websites for other states.

Many kudos to you if you're at that level of detail on your layout. But even if you're not, I think they're another great way of researching and experiencing the history of what you're modeling. With a little PhotoShop work, the numbers should be easy enough to change. Now I just have to figure out how large tiny these things are gonna be . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tool Tip Tuesday: Uncoupling Tool

What do you use to uncouple your cars? Unless you're using magnets of some kind, you're probably using some sort of skewer. Bamboo or other wood skewers are readily available, easy to use, and pretty effective. But they can sometimes be heavy-handed, especially when used by a heavy-handed person. And their thickness and width can make them a menace to a freight car's end details.

So, when I noticed some dental picks in the package of model railroad tools I got at the drugstore, I got to thinkin'..... and then I got my morning coffee, and got thinkin' some more . . . .

Why not put'em together?

The result is a VERY lightweight, inexpensive, easy to handle, and very narrow uncoupling tool. Not only is there a pointed tip to get in between coupler faces, but a little twist and those little tines help disengage the faces more easily than a wood skewer. My crews have been beta testing them during the last couple of operating sessions and they've been working well.

I used both gap-filling ACC and Canopy Glue to glue the picks into the stirrers. Both methods are effective, but one tool did fail during my last operating session (the pick got pushed up into the stirrer). I just need to figure out which adhesive I used on that one. I suppose one could insert a crosspiece of wire through the side of stirrer and through the pick (um, "skewering" it I guess), but that seems more trouble than it's worth. They've been working fine with just glue.

So you might want to try one of these out - you may like it. And if you think it innovative, don't bother sending the idea to MRH - they've already seen it. :)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NEB&W Ops Session

The New England Berkshire & Western was the first model railroad I ever saw that actually replicated prototype scenes. I didn't know what a "prototype" was at the time, but I thought it incredibly cool that a model railroad could depict an actual scene from the past. Consequently, the NEB&W set me firmly on the path of prototype modeling.

Located in the basement of the student union building at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, the students/members do a lot of research on architecture, electrical engineering, building, etc. to bring the NEB&W to life. Although the railroad itself is fictional, almost all - if not all - of the scene are direct copies of the actual real-life scenes.

I first discovered the NEB&W in the pages of Model Railroader, and then got to visit it for the first time in the early '90s. What an amazing visit that was! To see it "in person" was a real treat. But the "open houses" that the railroad used to host are long gone, and now it's only operated twice a year by invitation only. And, fortunately, I got on the ops list a couple years ago.

The most recent session took place last Saturday (Nov. 1). Pieter and I got to run a total of 4 trains over the course of a 24 hour "day" (6 actual hrs on a 4:1 fast clock). Although my own layout is pretty laid back, having only a couple of local freights, the NEB&W is a true transportation system with name trains and symbol freights as well as locals. No matter what your operational proclivities, you owe it to yourself to operate on a large layout at least once.

Here are some photos from the day....

Pieter & I started with a local passenger job that originated in Saratoga Springs.

Here's our local arriving in Troy. The sheer scope of this model city is amazing, and very true to prototype. Since so much of the city has changed in the last 50yrs, the model has become the only way to "travel back in time" to experience the city in 3d.

This is our local leaving town. Yup, there was a lot of street running in Troy.

Although the NEB&W is a huge layout, there's still an abundance of detail. The only thing that consoles me about that is the fact that they've been working on this layout for over 40 years.

The detail in Downtown Troy is especially amazing. There's something new to see everywhere you look.

A great example of not only modeling historical accuracy, but a great example of a model telling a story. There was obviously another building attached to this at one time.

And another great example of (hi)story-telling: this is a fire escape design that is unique to Troy, NY.

While we were waiting for our next train in the crew lounge, I took a picture of the "wall of fame" - the NEB&W has been featured multiple times in the hobby press. And these are just the times it made the cover!

I'll need some cattle pens at Middletown Meat Packing, so I figured it'd be a good idea to take a reference photo.

Another reference photo - This area looks a bit like the Valley Line, so I wanted to capture how they did their scenery.

Ditto here - I can easily imagine the Wethersfield area of my layout looking something like this. Someday.

You can't "railfan" the Berkshire Lines without shooting a train across the causeway.

And here's the beach at the end. Really amazing work. We're on a local freight now.

While our train took the siding, a southbound ore train went by.

The other "must have" shot on the NEB&W is the Red Rocks section, modeled after the prototype located on the Delaware & Hudson along Lake Champlain.

Another nice shot - this could easily be the Valley Local heading north along the Connecticut River.

Except this looks decidedly more like Vermont than Connecticut.
Google any photo of "Bartonsville Covered Bridge" and you'll see this scene...
... which looks a lot like this.

As the freight enters into its terminal yard, we'll leave with one last reference photo - that bridge abutment there looks a bit like the "typical" Valley Line abutment, though not as long (or tall). But it sure gets me to thinking more about how I can duplicate it.
Ops sessions at the NEB&W are always a blast. We got there about noon, and didn't leave until after 8pm (with a dinner break in the middle). I don't know how many folks were there, but it had to be somewhere around 20. And between the number of trains, and the full dispatcher, phones, etc. I really got lost back in the 1950s, operating a "real" railroad during a New England Autumn.

I want to be able to do something like that in my own basement someday!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hartford Rayon Mockup

The Hartford Rayon Company was, by far, the largest industry on the Valley Line. Located in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill, it received tank cars of chemicals and shipped boxcars of - you guessed it - rayon. It was especially busy during WWII 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.

As the largest industry, I know the building is going to have to be large. And - typical of anybody's layout - I don't have a lot of space, so a mockup is absolutely critical.  So, as promised, here's more on the mockup of Hartford Rayon.

Again, I went to BillS for help producing the mockup and - thankfully - he enjoyed the challenge enough to take it on. Unfortunately, he didn't have much to work with as far as prototype photos.

Hartford Rayon on left, looking south in 1925 - the cool "station" is gone by my era.
Even though we only had one "historic" photo to go on, the complex is still around today, so I got a few more photos:

Hartford Rayon, looking southeast

Detail of original section

Detail of south end offices
Based on these photos alone, Bill worked his magic and produced the "parts" for the mockup:

Mockup parts, printed out.
Then it was just a matter of gluing/laminating the parts to matte board and then cutting them out:

The "cutting out" actually took the longest amount of time, given all the sawtooth roof profile.

The other challenge was that the building is so large that the parts couldn't fit on one sheet.  No problem - Bill organized them so they could printout on standard size paper, but I had to join the parts together:

Scraps make good splices
Using my handy dandy gluing jig made gluing the corners a lot easier (those gray squares indicate where the jut-out portions of the building will go):

Once all the parts were glued together, I fit it on the layout:

Shows how large it is in relation to the space, but all that nice trackside detail faces away from the aisle(!) - and there's no roof or back(aisle)side wall.
 Here are a couple more views showing the initial placement on the layout:

Looking "southwest"

Looking "northwest"
Of course, the lack of a back wall would bug me - even in a mockup - and you can't have a roof without that 4th wall to support it. So, since it was the aisle-side anyway, I decided to just do a plain wall:

Step 1 was to trace the outline of the front (trackside) wall

Then cut it out:

Fortunately, the matte board was large enough to do this all in one piece. Unfortunately, there were a LOT of cuts necessary.

Once the back was cut out, I concentrated on adding the building jut-outs:

 And then had to cut out, fold, and glue on all those roof sections. But the result was well worth it:

The completed building - trackside

Completed building, back(aisle)side

Here's how it looks on the layout
It's a shame that all that wonderful detail is trackside and hidden from the aisle. I'm tempted to reverse-print the parts again on paper and cut'em out & glue them to the backside for SOMEthing to look at. But then I remind myself that this is "only" a mockup and I shouldn't spend too much time on it.

But taking photos from trackside is pretty cool - even if they're "rare" (impossible) views:

Looking "northeast" with the old Billings & Spencer building (now - in 1947 - a warehouse for Hartford Rayon) in the background
And here's the prototype comparison shot - again, unfortunately, not easily viewed under normal circumstances:

Not too bad at all - at least for now!