Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Weathering the Abutments

I woke up pretty early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I figured I'd see what I could accomplish down in the basement.

When I last left the Route 15 Overpass, I'd finished the building & painting and even added little concrete footpads under the piers. Then I put it in place on the layout . . .

Looks pretty awesome, if I don't say so myself. But it looks way too new.

So, what better thing to do in the basement during the pre-dawn hours on less than 4hrs sleep and hopped up on 3/4 of a pot of coffee? How about trying my hand at weathering and potentially screwing up months of work?

Why not

Since my brain wasn't totally foggy, I at least knew enough to start by practicing on the back side of the large abutment - a side which will never be seen. My first attempts were - predictably - pretty awful. But knowing that I had the freedom to experiment helped me get comfortable with a technique that ended up passable, I think:

I used a combination of gray & black chalks & pan pastels, with a bit of rusty colors mixed in, and India Ink wash. Kept applying, and wiping it off, and reapplying until I came up with what you see here. I haven't done the actual bridge, girders, and piers yet, so any feedback/suggestions/guidance on what I've done so far is MOST welcome, as always.

And that's where things stand currently. Knowing that our days and evenings are already packed with work/life stuff, it's nice to be able to steal a little time in the morning - even if I have to pay for it later with more pots of coffee.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Modeling Monday: Pergola & Trellises

Just a quick post since I've been offline for a bit - and will likely be sporadic for a bit longer. We got some bad news about Deb's dad a couple weeks back so we're spending as much time with him as possible.

So not much of anything going on with the layout, although I did have a chance to pull out a few things that Deb got for me last Christmas - and spent a little time putting them together before heading to the hospital. It's the "Pergola & Trellis Set" (#12341) from GC Laser. Fun little project, though it takes a steady hand.

I'll eventually post a more detailed build with some tips & lessons learned. But for now, thanks for your patience with the blog and especially for your continued thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wordless Wednesday #242

Back of photo says:
"Main Line thru Pine Orchard, CT 3/22/47 - on
the New Haven - a sad state of affairs!
ain't it? #3504 - east is
passing this halfbreed"

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Fun: Dave Messer's "E-Z Bild-It" Gra-Rock Kit

So, Dave Messer and I are collaborating on the construction of the Gra-Rock bottling plant in Wethersfield. This building is one of the few "brick factory" looking industries on the layout, plus it received materials (and maybe even shipped finished product) by rail, so I had to include it. The fact that the prototype sits just south and west of the Wethersfield station makes it a huge part of the Wethersfield scene (for more about this area on the layout, click here).

Here's how it looked back in the 1920s:

As the "caption" says, this is looking south. Church Street is the grade crossing, and the long passing track (middle track) is long gone by my era of 1948.

And, to show how everything fits, here's the scene in recent times. Still looking south, with Church Street (now long since paved) in the distance and the station on the left (BTW, that's Randy on the defunct track).

As part of our collaboration, Dave wanted to send me a "test mockup" before starting construction. So, lo and behold, I get this in the mail:

The first-ever (and perhaps only) "E-Z Bild-It" kit!

As with any kit, "some assembly is required." This particular "kit" consists of flat cardstock wall sections based on measurements that Bill and I calculated. It was difficult at first to figure out how to "selectively compress" a pretty large prototype building. One of my pet peeves in the hobby is (are?) industries that are so severely compressed they can barely justify a carload of freight. However, it became obvious pretty early on that if we built Gra-Rock to perfect prototype dimensions, it would overwhelm the scene and everything around it. Read on to see whether we hit the mark and achieved the right impression . . .

Here are all the pieces laid out:

As you may have guessed, things went together easily and quickly with a flat surface and some masking tape (used instead of blue painter's tape for the stickiness as well as look).

Just match up the edges, apply tape, fold, and . . .

BOOM - You've got a building!

And here are some photos of the building in the scene (with a printed front wall showing the windows):

It's often difficult for a left-brained guy like me to embrace the "compromise" of compression. But the fact is, we seldom have the space on our layouts to recreate the prototype in perfect scale. That's where we really have to rely on our "right-brain" - becoming an artist that can convey the impression of a scene modeled in perfect scale, without actually doing so.

Hopefully, this mockup shows that we're on the right track.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Throwback Thursday: The Choice of the '80s

If you've been on the Valley Local website (you do know about the website, right?), you may already know this from my "About" page, but I was introduced to the hobby 36 years ago this coming Christmas. Like many newbies, I went in both feet first - made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot in the process.

A couple of years in, I decided to become a "serious" modeler and that meant learning how to airbrush.

So I got myself an airbrush and - typical of me - my first project was painting a green & orange scheme New Haven Alco S-2 locomotive (heh - sound familiar?). Now, I wasn't sophisticated enough to mask & do the little curve of green between the cab and the hood, but I could certainly paint the two parts separately. I did - and it came out pretty nice, if I don't say so myself (shortly thereafter I sold that engine for double what I paid for it, based on the "custom" paint job).

Then, inexplicably, I didn't touch the airbrush again - or much else in the hobby -  for over 25 more years(!!). Despite my early success, its mystery continued to grow way beyond any reasonable proportion to reality.

When I went to pick it up again a few years ago, all the lost time really hit me. Heh - maybe it was the fact that I still had the original packaging and Propel can (partially used on that Atlas S-2). But it was just the kick in the pants that I needed. And thankfully - with some help & guidance from my friends - I'm no longer intimidated by airbrushing. Heck, I almost even find it fun.

Proof I actually still use Badger's "Choice of the 80s"- although, given the current state of my airbrush booth, you'll have to take my word for it.
Don't make the same mistake I did. There's nothing in this hobby that you should be too scared to try. And the longer you wait, the more time passes during which you could have made all the inevitable mistakes - and you'd be an expert by now (even if almost).

So give that scary thing a try - especially if you have something that's been sitting around for over 30 years just waiting to spend some quality hobby time with you.

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.