Thursday, July 20, 2017

LOTS of stuff added to the website

In addition to working in Wethersfield, I've been trying to beef up the Valley Local website with distilled versions of the information scattered all around on this blog - as well as some new website-only content.

So be sure to head over to and check it out. Addition highlights include a whole new section on "Prototype Inspiration" where I've posted some of the photos that really got/get me into doing this project (along with a very evocative essay on the Valley Local by Tony Koester, courtesy White River Productions), photos of some of my modeling, and an extensive new "tips" section which has a lot of information I think you'll find useful.

There's also a new "accountability" section <g> where I post my layout goals & highlights, mostly so I don't forget them, and I've added a lot of content to the "Trains of Thought" section as well as the "Projects" section (found under "Modeling").

These are just the highlights - lots of other stuff has been added in the past couple of weeks. So if you have some time during your morning coffee break or lunch, browse around and let me know what you think - and if there's something more/different you'd like to see.

Happy Friday Eve!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #179 - Recent Arrivals

Recent additions to the Valley Line from two fans of Wethersfield....

Scratchbuilt Hubbard Homes billboard and whistle posts from Dave Messer

And a milk delivery truck and milkman from John Wallace - shown here making a stop for the crew of the 0510 in Saybrook before he heads up to Wethersfield.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rt. 15 Overpass Update and Things to Do Before You Paint Your Track!

While Bill has been working down at Goff Brook on the Wethersfield/Rocky Hill line, I've been focusing on the north end of Wethersfield, and am happy to report some (glacial) progress on the Rt. 15 bridge:

Old-school "Sketchup" - literally sketching up a mockup of the Rt. 15 bridge girders, with prototype photo on the iPad

I drew (like, with a pencil and ruler - nothing computer/fancy) my best approximation of what the support girders will look like under my model of the Rt. 15 overpass, based on the prototype photos, the bridge model I expect to use for the deck, and the space I have. As you can see in the "proof-of-concept" photo above, it looks like it's going to work out well. Thankfully, my buddy MikeR is doing some computer/fancy drawing in Sketchup for an actual resin master of these parts. VERY exciting!

Lest you think otherwise, I'm not totally computer-drawing-phobic: I've been fooling around a bit with my Model Builder software in an attempt to create some building mockups for East Berlin (specifically, Stanley Chemical and the Kane Brickyard). Unfortunately, I've found the learning curve to be just a bit steep, so I need to take a break from time to time and do something simple.

Like paint track!

The only downside to how fast Bill works is that sometimes we get ahead of ourselves a bit. Case in point - we (I) almost forgot to paint the track before the scenery went in at Goff Brook. It would have been a pain to have to hand paint it later - it's MUCH easier to get out the rattle can and shoot it with abandon.

And that was the plan for this past weekend - get all the sensitive stuff (structures, rolling stock, etc) out of the way, put up some masking/dropcloths  and have at it.

All ready to paint - well, gotta block off/mask some areas but at least all the stuff's removed.
I was just getting ready to get out my favorite track paint base coat (Krylon Camouflage Earth Brown #279178) when I stopped..... and just in time. I just remembered a few things that I still needed to do before painting the track. Hopefully, you'll do these too before it's too late (or a real pain to do later...)

First off, I assume that your track as been down and operable for a while, so you've done any major adjustments and minor tune-ups to be sure it runs flawlessly. To be sure of this, the first thing I did was file down the points on the turnouts a bit:

Slightly round off that hard corner at the top/tip and file the end edge to fit super snugly against the stock rail. Do for both points.

The points are fed electrically at two (well, four) points: Primarily where joined to the closure rails, and secondarily where the points come into contact with the stock rails. That secondary point can be easily cleaned after painting, but to keep paint from gumming up the point/closure rail connection, I add a drop of plastic compatible oil, as above.

Filler ties are easily overlooked until after you're done spraying. Best to put them in beforehand so they get the same base coat as all the other ties around them.

Important note: You'll want to be sure to shave off the spikes from any ties you use as filler ties (or, better yet, use thinner profile ties). Otherwise, you'll risk creating a vertical hump/kink at the rail joint which is just asking for a derailment or separated couplers.

Ah - that's MUCH better looking and ready for painting.

But don't get out the spray can just yet!

We haven't had any ops sessions using the Berlin Branch - heck, the trackwork isn't (wasn't) even completed there - so I hadn't bothered putting feeders in yet. But it's a VERY good idea to get those in before you paint the track 1) because it's much easier to solder feeders to clean/unpainted rail, and 2) because painting the track will cause those solder joints to disappear. So the little sign above reminds me that I've got to put some feeders in. 

But before I do that I really needed to finalize the trackwork in East Berlin and finally complete the Berlin Branch. So out came the Aleen's glue and water bottles:

And that's the current state of things. Next step is to remove the bottles, install the feeders, and mask everything off. THEN, and only then, will I actually be ready to paint my track.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Little Whimsy - Roma Wine Tankcar

The first - and until recently, the only - HO model of a Roma Wine tank car I'd ever seen. An eBay find, it's probably Tyco or AHM. All I know is it has "Made in Austria" embossed on the bottom. BION, a prototype photo can be found here.
Longtime readers know that I consider Trevor Marshall a great example of a prototype modeler and he's doing a beautiful job depicting the Canadian National's Port Rowan branch during the 1950s (in S scale, no less). But recently, he departed - ever so slightly - from strict prototype emulating to include a little mini-scene that most likely never actually happened. I won't spoil it for you, so click here if you haven't seen it. . .

The post he wrote on this scene - as well as the backstory - gave rise in the comments to a brief discussion about the use of whimsy in model railroading. Now, this is a concept that's certainly familiar to those more on the freelance end of the model railroading spectrum - but it's pretty rare among serious prototype modelers who want primarily, if not exclusively, to tell a non-fiction and historically accurate story of their chosen railroad. A discussion of whether - and/or to what extent - whimsy or other elements of fiction are "appropriate" on our model railroads would be very interesting indeed, but beyond the scope of this post. Maybe (likely) some other time . . .

As hopefully you can tell, I have pretty firmly planted my flag on the "nonfiction" end of the spectrum and take modeling the prototype fairly seriously (well, as seriously as you can take model trains :^), but I know I'd really be missing something if I didn't relax this rigidity at least some of the time.

Thus, the Roma Wine tank car.

Decidedly not the Roma Wine tank car I first purchased, here spotted on the house track at Old Saybrook. Click here for some info on Roman Wines, including photos of prototype and model freight cars.
One of the reasons I depict the era I do (late 1940s) is because I find everything about the post-war period fascinating - the music, the movies, the radio shows. Especially the radio shows. I'm often listening to my favorites (Bob Hope, The Shadow, and just about any detective series) while working on my layout. But perhaps my most favorite show is SUSPENSE! which aired for over 20 years but had its heyday during the late 1940s when Roma Wines was its main sponsor.

Now, I haven't impulse-purchased a freight car in a long time - my friends know that I obsess deliberate over additions to the railroad and being a strict prototype modeler means having to say "no" to a lot of purchases. But when Tangent recently announced its new tank car model (a General American 8,000 gallon 1917-design insulated radial course tank car, if you must know) and one of the offerings was a Roma Wine tankcar, I just had to get one!

Does it matter that I have no place on my entire layout that would receive such a car? No.

Does it help that it's possible one may have, at one time or another, been seen in a freight train between New York and Boston (and thus pass through Old Saybrook)? Admittedly, yes.

On Track 6, as seen through the platform at the Saybrook station.
This purchase represents just one very small step towards "what-might-have-been" rather than "what-was-and-can-be-conclusively-proven-with-photos-and-official-documentation" but I think it's a large step towards a little more flexibility and likely a lot more fun . . .

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Fun - Valley Line Crew Info

Despite my recent hemming & hawing, I'll be hosting my first NMRA Regional ops session in a few months. So in preparation for that I've created a new section over at the website called "Valley Line Crew Info" where new operators can get oriented as well as find additional information and details on the layout. The goal is to provide a great "first introduction" to Valley Line ops and (hopefully) answer ahead of time a lot of the questions that first-time operators might have.

But it's most definitely a work in progress. So, especially you more seasoned operating veterans (and most especially anybody that's operated the Valley Line before), please weigh in and let me know if I'm forgetting anything and what else would be helpful to add!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Function Mapping - What Do YOU do?

I posted this over at the Model Railroad Hobbyist site, but wanted to be sure and get input from those of you here that don't make it over there . . .
So - what functions do you use the most and what buttons do you have them assigned to?
I've been having a good time playing around with my new LokProgrammer and have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to change function mapping.
Perhaps TOO easy . . . because I just can't decide how I want to map the buttons.
I have an NCE system and am using Select decoders with Full Throttle. Unfortunately, the independent brake is on F10 (which requires the shift key) and the "hammerhead" throttle display only shows the status of the first 6 function keys (I know when I'm plugged into the cab bus, I can hit the EXPN key to get the status of the other keys, but that doesn't work when I'm operating wirelessly). So I've been playing around with different function key button assignments, especially for the Drive Hold and Independent Brake.
Here's where I'm at so far:
  • F0 Direction Headlights
  • F1 Bell
  • F2 Horn
  • F3 Coupling/Uncoupling
  • F4 Dim Headlight (Rule 17)
  • F5 Drive Hold
  • F6 Independent Brake
  • F7 Both Headlights Dim (yard switching)
  • F8 Startup/Shutdown/Mute
  • F9 Compressor
  • F10 Fan
  • F11 Switching Mode
The line I'm modeling is pretty flat, so I don't need dynamic brakes and the Run8 & Coast features aren't really necessary.
Figuring many of you are further down the road on this than I am and have much more operating experience to glean from, I'd love to hear what functions you use most and what buttons have you assigned them to!

PS - and not to mix threads - but while working on this I've been fooling around with the programming in an old Atlas S-2 (with the cast-on detail) that has an almost-as-old MRC Atlas S2/S4 sound decoder w/speaker in it. I'm considering installing a LokSound Select and iPhone speaker instead. Should I "waste" a great decoder/speaker on an old unit that at least has SOME sort of sound already? #askingforafriend

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday Tip: Layout Curtains from Landscape Fabric

Layout curtains are one of those things that nag you, but you never seem to get around to. They're great for hiding all the benchwork - not to mention the various sundry items that collect beneath our layouts - but they can be expensive and a pain to install.

But I read somewhere recently (unfortunately, I don't remember where) where somebody idly wondered whether landscape fabric would work. And that little rhetorical question was just enough to light the bulb above my head. Fortunately, as I was at the local Wal-Mart helping the Missus find some stuff for her garden, right there in front of me was this roll of landscape fabric. So I figured for a $7 investment, it was worth trying out.

The roll languished in my basement for a few weeks while I mulled how to attach it to the fascia. But during my recent scenery base build, I began eyeing the spring clothespins I was using to secure the cardboard webbing while the hot glue cures. "Why not use those?" I thought. Why not, indeed...

I wanted a little break from cardboard strips and plastercloth anyway, so off I went with glue gun in hand and a bag of clothespins. 20 minutes later, here's what I had - clips glued to the back of the fascia.

And another 10 minutes after that - with a little help from the Missus (more than 2 hands required) - here's what it looked like under the Saybrook Wye.

Not bad for 7 bucks and half-an-hour - and there's enough material for 50 linear feet of layout - but the verdict is decidedly mixed. I don't like seeing the clothespins, the fabric itself isn't wide/deep enough (looks like high-water pants), and it's also very "curly."

So what would I do differently?

  • The fabric really has no weight of its own so just tends to curl in on itself.  So I cured the "curly-ness" a bit by taping the ends of the fabric to the wall.
  • You can see in the 2nd photo that the lever ends/tops of the clothespins hit the bottom of the benchwork/girders. That, coupled with a fascia of this particular depth, and the result is clothespins that you can see. This can be easily fixed by just cutting off part of the "lever" ends so the pins go up higher. Unfortunately, they're hot glued so I don't know how tough it'll be to remove & replace them. If too difficult, I can just paint them black. But I won't make this mistake again.
  • Finally, given the overall height of my layout, I'll see if I can find landscape fabric that is 4' wide rather than 3'. That would get me down to the floor with a little to spare (maybe for a hem with a weight in it, so it would hang better?). I suppose I could just cut 4' lengths of fabric and hang 3x4' sections around the layout, but that seems like a lot of work - and a lot of curly edges to have to secure.
But for now, it results in a look that's just a bit better than before. Certainly not my final product here, but definitely worth the time and money to try it out.

If you or someone you know has used landscape fabric for layout curtains, let me know! I'd love to hear whether folks use it differently (and not just in the garden %^)

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Great Railroad At Work

If you don't know anything about the New York, New Haven & Hartford (a.k.a. "the New Haven), "A Great Railroad at Work" is the definitive view of the railroad during its prime and the perfect way to get acquainted. It's just a little bit before my era, and all B&W, but nothing can beat it for setting the proper context for my four local freights, not to mention the many mainline trains - every single one of the Shore Line trains between Boston and New York went through Old Saybrook. But - alas! - no footage of Saybrook here.

Nevertheless, in keeping with our video theme from yesterday, I herewith offer probably the single best video produced for the Mighty New Haven . . .

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fun Film - New Alco/GE FA Locomotives

Not the Valley Line, but certainly the New York, New Haven & Hartford! Many of you may already be familiar with this great 15 minute film, produced by Alco-GE to promote they new FA freight locomotives and their use on the New Haven's Maybrook Line.

It's admittedly slightly off topic here, but it's great color footage from right smack dab in the middle of my era, so I wanted to be sure and post it for my - and hopefully your - enjoyment.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

North Wethersfield & East Berlin: Cardboard Strips & Plaster Cloth

After the sessions last Thursday and Saturday, I was itchin' to get back to the Rt. 15 overpass area at the north end of Wethersfield and East Berlin. As you may recall, this is pretty much what the area has looked like for months (if not years) now. . .

Rt. 15 overpass with Hartford skyline in the back, Valley Line coming south on the left toward Ballantine's Beer Distributor, Berlin Branch heading, um, north across the Mattabessett River toward East Berlin on the right. 
Not knowing how to go about doing the Rt. 15 overpass accurately has really held things up since I've been assuming all along that I needed to have that - as well as the abutments - done and in before I could start the scenery base in that area. Fortunately, friend MikeR is fooling around with Sketchup and coming up with some really cool and encouraging mockups for what might be possible with the bridge - and in the meantime, I decided I could at least get the scenery support started - stopping just short of the bridge area (figuring I could fill it in later).

I'm still not quite comfortable with foam as a scenery base (click here for my erstwhile experience), so I rely pretty heavily on tried-and-true cardboard strips and plaster cloth. It's easy, relatively cheap, and - most importantly - I'm familiar and comfortable with it.

I started by hot gluing the first profile strips to the backdrop . . .

The terrain from Ballantine's to the Rt. 15 overpass is a gradual upslope, as you can start to see here.

Construction goes pretty quickly with hot glue and clothespins. I filled in the area between the Valley Line and the Berlin Branch with a small hill to visually separate the two. On the prototype they're miles apart - might as well do what I can to diminish their proximity. The Mattabessett River will be on the right there.

Despite my reluctance to using foam, I admit there are some times when it works much better than cardboard strips - and the area behind the Berlin Branch next to the wall is a good example. Just stack and glue. And rasp. LOTS of rasping - and mess! Not a fan of all those little static-charged particles, but the ShopVac came in handy, for sure!

This was the state of things as I turned my attention to the right & East Berlin proper:

One purpose for the East Berlin branch was to serve brickyards along the line - and the reason the branch went as far as it did was to serve Stanley Chemical, a fairly large paint supplier. On my (admittedly truncated) version of the branch, Kane Brickyard will be in the back right corner and Stanley Chemical will be in the right foreground. It's a fairly compact space, so after the scenery support is done my next step will be to make some mockup structures to see how/whether everything will fit.

Here's the same shot as above with the cardboard strips in. Note that in the narrow areas (foreground), I didn't need a crosspiece. Also note that I covered a gap between the plywood and the wall (on the right side) with a layer of cardboard. That'll all get covered with ground goop later.

While I could have easily covered this gap between the foam and the plywood with a layer of cardboard too (or foamcore as a base for a structure that'll go here), I decided to try some of my drywall mesh tape which is much thinner. All that's needed is something for the ground goop to hang on to.

Did I mention how fast this process goes? I swear, SO much more time is wasted used up by wondering what to do in a particular area than actually doing it. Plaster cloth, while a bit more expensive, is certainly better than plaster-soaked paper towels. I overlapped the sheets by about 30%, but in areas subject to some flexing (leaning on the fascia, for example), I used a double layer.

Compare this with the shot above - and, for that matter, compare these shots with where I was when I started. It's already starting to look better! Certainly evidence of some significant progress - and it only took a few hours!

With the plaster cloth done, the next step would be ground goop and the first layer of scenery, but I'm done here for the time being. Before gooping, I really want to figure out how the brickyard and Stanley Chemical are going to fit in. So more fun research is needed!

I was mentioning to Bill that one of the things I'm really enjoying about this section of the layout is that I don't know a lot about it - and there's not a lot of information available - so I can feel free to freelance a bit and not be so OCD about getting it perfectly identical to the prototype. Just conveying the impression - and telling the story of the line - will be accomplishment enough. And I'm discovering it's an effective antidote to Analysis Paralysis as well.

So I'll continue to surf this wave of motivation for as long as possible. Next, I gotta get back down into Wethersfield proper - and Goff Brook!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Whither the Air Line Local? and some Friday Fun Video

In my last post, I mentioned that we didn't run the Air Line local. I'd done all the prep, paperwork, and staging, so it was all ready to go - just didn't have enough takers for last week's session. Fortunately, Roman was able to come over during last Saturday's rainy afternoon to run the local from "Cedar Hill" (staging) through the towns of Somerset and Mill Hollow to Middletown and back. Here are a few shots taken along the way by the local foamers railfans . . .

They missed the local going north/eastbound through Somerset, but caught up to us entering Mill Hollow.
While we were paused next to the bulk track (but still short of the crossing), they scurried up to the top of a short hill to get this broadside shot.

They got back to the crossing just as we were ready to continue on our way.

Heading into "downtown" Mill Hollow.

Having completed the work in town, we headed across Main Street to continue to Middletown.

A better view of the station at Mill Hollow.

Arriving in Middletown. Not much to see here, but lots of switching.

On the return trip, southbound through Mill Hollow. That photo backdrop behind the station is surprisingly effective (must be due to the colors matching the scenery materials - at least according to my color-blind eyes...).

And doing the late-afternoon switching in Somerset before heading back to Cedar Hill.
With the local tied up again in Cedar Hill, Roman activated the Way Up Machine (just like a "Way Back Machine" - only it goes forward in time...) and got to run his MBTA GP-18 (newly-equipped with LokSound Full Throttle) around Saybrook for a bit. Thankfully, the Saybrook tower operator called his colleagues in Westbrook and Niantic to have them hold the Shore Line trains back for a bit to give the visitor from the future a chance to stretch her legs. . .

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Shore Line Shake Down #2

Hope you all had a great Independence Day Weekend/Holiday! While many of you are on vacation this week, the Missus and I had a little "stay-cation" which resulted in some progress on the layout. So much to catch up on over the next few days, but we'll start with last "Friday Eve" (Thursday).

I hadn't had an ops session since April and just realized I never posted about it. Not a lot to report though - it was Shore Line Shake Down #1 and it was all about dialing in the 33 trains that go through the Saybrook Scene in a given session. As I've mentioned before, friend BillC graphically laid out the prototype timetable I'd transcribed for Old Saybrook and since then - with some additional help from Randy, Bill, and Tom - I've been ironing out any/all remaining wrinkles in the choreography. Last April's session was the first run-through/shakedown using BillC's sheet and there was no ops session in May due to my work schedule.

But I was able to get in a June session, right under the wire. It was another Shore Line Shake Down, but this time I added the two Shore Line local freights (PDX-1 & 2) into the mix to see 1) how they'd interact with all the mainline trains, and 2) how the extra personnel would manage with my aisle space.

Verdict? Success! Things are still working out well, despite the addition of a "permanent" guy/crew at Cedar Hill Staging (Tom's our biggest guy, so yeah I figured he'd be the best guy to put in a narrow aisle to really test capacity LOL!). There's still a bit more to learn: I had only 1-man crews on the locals, and I didn't end up running the Air Line local at all (which also occupies the same room as Cedar Hill staging and most of PDX-2's run), but so far so good. At least no big problems emerged and I plan to try a "full capacity" ops session at the end of this month. That should really test things out.

In the meantime, I got another session under my belt, learned some more, added a few more punch list items, and had a lot of fun. If the photos are any indication, I wasn't the only one. . .

PeteL - crew for PDX-1 - has just arrived from the west on Track 6 in Saybrook (aka the "Balloon Track") behind DEY-5 (S-2) #0615 and is figuring out his moves.

Randy played the role of A/O, Tower Operator, and Dispatcher for the session.

PDX-2 rolls into Saybrook from the east behind DERS-1b (RS-1) #0669 with Pieter as crew. You can just make out the "Fort Yard/New London/Points East" crew (aka "Bill") there in the far background.
When both locals are in town, it can get pretty busy - and crowded! - especially with all the mainline trains. Pete & Pieter are trying to coordinate their work while Tom (the New Haven/Cedar Hill/Points West operator) brings a Shore Line express westbound from New London.

A (admittedly poor) shot of another in the parade of westbound expresses through Old Saybrook - with PDX-1 waiting in the clear on Track 6.

A very rare, quiet moment between trains at Saybrook, shot from the "bleachers/viewing stand" (aka "The Basement Stairs")

On my layout, PDX-1 has only to work Old Saybrook, and even though it has a lot of waiting to do to try and work around all the Shore Line trains, it's the first job to end. So Pete - having tied up PDX-1 in "New London" (staging) - has joined Pieter to help with PDX-2 up the Valley line here in East Haddam.

PDX-2 does most of its work southbound from E.Haddam, since most of the sidings are trailing point southbound. Here the local is back in Essex with the "Points West" operator keeping an eye on his express train going through the Saybrook scene.

Not positive, but this could in fact be the train itself - stopped, for the moment, at the Saybrook station.
As with most ops sessions, especially "shake down" sessions, there's more to do on the To Do list than when you started. But just like bubbles that creep to the surface as you softly blow across your newly-poured resin pond, such sessions show you what more you need to do to make your more formal sessions as glitch-free as possible. In this respect, SLSD#2 certainly did not disappoint. I have a few things to address, but the more I have these sessions, the fewer things get added to the list. So I know I'm heading in exactly the right direction.

Stay tuned - it's been a busy "staycation" on the Valley Line, so more updates coming in the next few days!