Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tuesday Tips: Airbrushing Craft Paints & CHEAP Grimy Black (and other colors!)

Ever since Floquil's Polly-Scale line of acrylic paints were discontinued - and especially given the health concerns with solvent-based paints - there's been much hand-wringing about an equivalent replacement. Now, I've just started getting into the painting side of the hobby, so I fortunately don't have a lot to unlearn. But I can tell you that $4 for a half-ounce of paint is pricey no matter how good it is.

"Grimy Black" is one of those old Polly-Scale "railroad" colors that remains popular today, so this this post is going to show you how to create an "airbrush-able" Grimy Black equivalent for about $.20 cents an ounce. This'll be a quick post though since I'm totally cribbing off of Gregory M. LaRocca's excellent article in the June 2015 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman (all due credit - and much appreciation - given).

Here's the skinny. First, you'll need paint. I used Apple Barrel brand that I got from WalMart for about $.50 cents for a two-ounce bottle.

You'll also need to invest in some Liquitex products - Airbrush Medium & Flow Aid. Total cost, about $15 (but it'll last you a long time).

Mix them all together, and Voila!! airbrushable Grimy Black. Here are my notes:

And since I'm not going to leave you there, here are the details. . .

I first mixed Apple Barrel "Pavement" and Apple Barrel "White" until I got it to match the Grimy Black I had on-hand (admittedly Badger's product rather than Floquil's, but it's all the same to my eye). FWIW, the ratio of "Pavement" to "White" is about 5:1. YMMV

That's a fine, inexpensive Grimy Black paint to bristle-brush, but if you want to air-brush it, a few more steps are required.

Next - as the article suggested - I used a Sharpie to mark my paint bottle into two equal parts:

I filled the bottom half of the bottle (up to the first mark) with my craft paint (in this case, mixed for a custom color).

Then I added an equal part of Airbrush Medium to the bottle, filling to the next mark.

Finally, I added 1 ml of Flow Aid. The article suggests ".5 - 1ml" but I wanted to be certain it would flow, so I used the maximum recommended amount. (It occurred to me later that the different range may be due to different sizes of paint bottle. The bottle I used is about 5/8 oz, so 1 ml of Flow Aid is/was probably overkill).

Once that was all mixed with my powered stirrer, I set my airbrush to 20 lbs pressure, test shot on a scrap of newspaper, and started painting!

I needed two coats for complete coverage, but the first coat got it to - I'd estimate - about 85-90% coverage. The acrylic craft paints dry quickly (I think the bottle recommends only two hours between coats), but I let it dry overnight anyway.

All of the "metal" girders on the overpass in the photo above were done using this paint and method (the "concrete" was done with an old rattle can of Floquil "Concrete" from my buddy Pete - and the fumes from that are what convinced me to try acrylics!)

And that's it! Maybe it's just beginner's luck, but this worked great for me - hopefully it will for you too.

A few quick notes:

  • First and foremost - as with any acrylic paint - be sure to have a Q-tip or something with thinner on it at the ready to keep your airbrush tip clean. The main problem I had during this project was with paint flow stopping. Every time, that was due to paint which had dried at the tip clogging things up. Fortunately, a cotton swab dipped in thinner and twisted onto the tip cleaned things enough to get paint flowing again.
  • Experiment with your pressures. At one point, I went as high as 30 psi, but only because I hadn't quite figured out point 1 above (cleaning the tip). You may be able to go lower than 20 psi, but I haven't tried that yet.
  • Be careful if you shake the bottle or use a powered stirrer to mix the paint - you WILL get bubbles in the paint. I don't know if they'll be a problem (they didn't seem to be), but I'd rather they weren't there. I think next time, I'll mix the paint far in advance of when I need it, and then just gently stir it before use.
  • I was really happy with the finish I got - a nice, smooth satin sheen - but I'm not confident enough with this method to go shooting locomotives (yet).
  • Best tip of all: Practice and, if you're like me, do so on something that you can afford to mess up a little (i.e. it'll be weathered) and preferably near the back of the layout :^)
I hope you'll try out this method. And if you do, please let me know - especially if any other tips/suggestions occur to you!

(Full disclosure - after I posted this, and while looking for something else, I discovered a post I did almost exactly a year ago on airbrushing craft paint. Check it out for a different approach that uses Joe Fugate's recommended acrylic thinner with craft paint to airbrush it.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Operating on the NEB&W

It's been a roller-coaster week between the election, the Missus finding out she'll be out of a job as of the end of next month, and then her dad going into the ER for low blood pressure and being admitted on his birthday.

But there've been some highlights as well, starting off the week with a visit to the New England, Berkshire & Western railroad at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. They have operating sessions there in the fall & spring and, since I can never make the spring session due to my work schedule, I always try to make it in the fall.

As usual, there were MANY trains to be run, including full dispatching via phone and the layout operated very well, especially considering its size and age. I always enjoy running a local freight (shocking, I know) and this time I also took a number of reference photos since I'm starting scenery on my own layout.

I won't dump all of those pics here, but here are a few of the better photos I took along the way. . .

Since I'll be modeling Wethersfield Lumber, I figured I'd take some shots of any lumber companies on the layout.

I also hope to model some farmland along the Valley Line, so I definitely had to shoot this scene.

Passenger service is long gone on my layout by the late 1940s, but not on the NEB&W. This is a shot of my local freight passing the station at Proctor, having finished its work at the marble company.

Local freight heading south out of Chester. This scene is very closely based on Chester, VT - but on the prototype, this train would be heading northbound to Rutland. Though the NEB&W has many scenes modeled perfectly after the prototype, their order and actual location on the railroad is dependent on what works best for this "proto-freelanced" layout.

Speaking of modeling scenes to strict prototype fidelity, here's the famous Bartonsville covered bridge. The prototype for this scene was made famous by Jim Shaughnessy since he used it for the cover of his book "The Rutland Road."

Speaking of Rutland, this is the "back" of the Rutland yard and car shops. LOTS of activity and detail here - especially for such a large layout!

And just to give you an idea of the scope and size, this is downtown Troy, modeled as faithfully as space will allow. What a scene!
The NEB&W has been covered extensively by the model press, so I won't repeat any of that here. Suffice it to say that a visit has to be on the top of any model railroader's bucket list - especially if they're a fan of eastern NY and New England railroading.

I, for one, got a big shot in the arm to get back to my layout and make some more progress. And I have! - which I hope to share with you over the next few days....

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wordless(ish) Wednesday #240 - Valley Line Video

(Pieter made a cool video putting together some clips he took of Valley Line ops sessions from a couple years back. Observant folks will notice that there's more scenery done these days, but it's still cool to see the trains actually moving. Thanks for doing this Pieter! Hope you enjoy - like, comment, and share!)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday Motivation and Modeling: MRH Ratings & Rt. 15 Overpass Progress

First off, I want to say a quick but HUGE THANK YOU for all of you that took the time to rate my latest article in Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine!
With your help, it was the top-rated article in last month's issue - and the You-Tube video has over 4,900 views (and those aren't all from me clicking). Talk about about a HUGE shot of motivation - so thank you so much! This is all still very new to me, but I'm glad if I've been able to convince even a few folks to try something new in the hobby and make some more progress. Certainly makes it much more fun!

Speaking of progress, when we last left the Rt. 15 Overpass Project, I'd just extended the right abutment a bit to fit better against the wall. After that dried, I finished up the details and started painting! Here are some photos of the progress . . .

Next step was to figure out the exact shape/size of the roadway, using cheap cardstock.

Also needed to add supports for said roadway. I used hot glue to attach the 1/4" square styrene to the Strathmore.

After lots of cutting/fitting, I had my template for cutting the styrene roadway.

Roadway in place, awaiting final details (parapet & sidewalk).

The State of Affairs at this point - just starting to sand the concrete pier bases.

Cutting up said bases from .060" styrene scrap to squares that "look right" under the pier shoes.

A few quick passes on the sanding block angles off the top edge to make it look like a support pad.
All the bases done and attached to tape for painting.

To raise the abutments to match the height of the bridge on its supporting bases, I cut out some more .060" styrene as a base.
Bases done.

I attached the bases with hot glue, but wouldn't recommend it. Considering the long runs of glue, some of the glue had started to cool & harden before I could attach the base (even though I used my extra hot gun). Consequently, I wasn't able to get the base as tight to the bottom of the abutment as I wanted. I'd try Walther's Goo or WeldBond next time.

Everything mocked up all ready for painting.

Based on a post from Kathy Millatt, I tried some Rustoleum "Desert Bisque" texture paint. She recommends it for concrete roads, so I thought it'd work for the abutments. It actually seems to have some fine grade sand in it so, while it might be great for roads (and I'll certainly try it for that), I thought it was a bit too textured for the abutments.

Another view - note the texture on the left.
I also considered a non-descript light gray for the base color, but it looked too blue to my eye. I finally settled on - wait for it! - "Concrete" color from Floquil. Fortunately, my friend Pete had a small spray can of it left that he let me use.

So with the concrete color choice out of the way, it was time to mask off the girders to paint the concrete bridge and abutments.

I used a combination of tape and paper to cover all the girders & supports, and here's everything painted and drying.

Unfortunately, as I was removing the paper, I ended up breaking off three of the delicate vertical supports - despite my being careful and having added some bracing, I guess they're still pretty delicate.

Fortunately, they all broke at the brittle ACC glue joints, so fixing them was just a matter of sanding off the old glue and regluing.

So that's where things stand - literally - for now while I get some other non-modeling stuff done and choose a color for the girders. I was just going to use a rattle can of flat black, but I think that might just make them disappear. I do plan to highlight them with some weathering so all wouldn't be lost. But I'm now - based on a suggestion from Bill - considering Model Masters "Aircraft Interior Black." Apparently, it's a little lighter - though not as light as "Grimy Black." I'll see if the local shop has any. If not, I have some Grimy Black on-hand and may just end up using that.

As always, I hope that you'll chime in if you have any suggestions or recommendations on anything I'm doing here. With the layout done up through benchwork, trackwork, and wiring (and a bunch of successful ops sessions under my belt), I'm blazing new-for-me ground with structures & scenery. So stay tuned for my mishaps and - hopefully - some successes.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Can This Paint Be Saved?

A little something different today - a VLOG post, asking a very important question:

Can Tru-Color paint, which has separated and turned to gel, be salvaged and used?

Click on the video below for the details - and please weigh in by posting a comment (or contacting me directly).

Thanks and Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Throwback Thursday - Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's All Saints Day, I hereby repost this from last October. I think you'll agree it's especially fitting this time of year...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley Line is to keep alive the memory of the men & women who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat to a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered almost exclusively by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, your historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that Halloween was just yesterday, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or goulish wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? What were their dreams and plans? Were they anything like us? While dead people don't actually haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...

Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back during the summer when I was riding my bike to work, but only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the right-of-way. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.