Saturday, November 9, 2019

On the Valley Line Today - HOTT

Too cold and too lazy to head to the grade crossing to shoot the northbound trip of today's "Hand on the Throttle" guest run this morning, so just shot from my train room window instead. Note the "non-regulation" grade crossing whistle.

Steam train through my backyard? Yeah, I'm a pretty lucky guy...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Construction Update - "Extending" the Saybrook Scene

Crews operating PDX-1 in Old Saybrook typically have to use a long lead off the east (left) end of Track 6 (aka the "Balloon" track behind the station). The good news about that long lead track is that they're able to stay off the busy Shore Line while switching. The bad news is that they have to go "off scene" into the other room (shop/New London staging area) to do it. So, at the (very high) risk of some "mission layout creep," I decided to extend the Saybrook scene "just a little" and finish the rest of the east end of Track 6.

This is what you used to see as you looked through the door into the shop/New London staging area. The Saybrook scene is at your right shoulder here. I've already added a vertical support (2x2) for the end of the backdrop.

Other than the fact that I'd like to keep the door, this is the other reason I don't just remove this short portion of wall. These are all the power distribution wires going from the Saybrook control panel to all the switch machines on the layout.
I started by fitting in a curved backdrop - again, of 1/8" Masonite

It looked ok, but really cut into the scene and would make adding the overpass (to the right) and the signal bridge (to the left) much more difficult.
So I decided instead on more of a "box" to maximize the horizontal real estate for the scene. Frankly, it's also constructed this way so that it'll be easy to remove if I change my mind later.

View looking from the shop back toward the Saybrook scene, so show how it fits together.

I went ahead and decided to finish the fascia here too, while I was at it. Eagle eyes will notice that the screw I used are not countersunk or hidden in any way. That's no problem at all in the corners - since, if I decide to keep this here I'll just cove the corners with vinyl (and that'll cover the screws). For the ends, I can just replace the screws sometime later.

View at the bottom of the stairs, showing the other side of the wall. Plan is to have two overpasses - one on each side of the wall - represent two sides of the same overpass.
Swing your head to the left, and this is what you see now.

I went ahead and filled in behind the track with foam and painted everything for a more finished look - including continuing the fascia color right across the doorframe in an attempt to tie the two sections together into one cohesive scene.

Compare this view to the earlier shots. I'm pretty happy with how it came out - but I'm still deciding how best to deal with scenicking it....
* * *

So that's all the major work on the layout that I've done lately - and it (hopefully) represents the last of the "heavy" construction needed for the layout (e.g. benchwork/masonite backdrop) - at least until I decide what to do about a valence.

I've also been doing a bit more scenery, have built & finished some scenic details, and have even started water & started building a few craftsman structure kits(!!). But details on those projects will have to wait til next time!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Construction Update - Filling in around the Airline

Wow - Happy November already(!) It's been a fun-filled couple of months what with all the railroady events coming all at once right during my favorite season. If you haven't already, be sure to scroll back through the posts for my reports on the NHRHTA Reunion, MARPM, and OPtoberfest.

The only downside of so much goodness is that the layout has taken a bit of a back seat these past weeks - I haven't posted any construction update since I last did scenery in East Berlin at the end of August(!) But things haven't been totally idle. Since my last ops session, I've taken a break from scenery-making and instead have been been busy making a few changes and upgrades to the layout itself, with a view to finally finishing basic construction (well, except for the valence and maybe some other sundries that don't occur to me at the moment).

* * *

I'd always planned to do a "generic Airline" scene to the left of Somerset, but after accidentally knocking a loco off the elevated Airline track - and seeing it careen through the still-open benchwork to the floor - I decided it was finally time to start closing things up and get a backdrop in there.

A scene something like this . . .
Or this . . .
Here's what I started with. This is the area to the left of Somerset with the "Airline" on the upper level and the west end return loop on the lower level. Lead into west end staging is off to the right on the lower level. Where that little bit of tree backdrop fell off? Yeah, that's where the loco took a dive.

I used some scrap pieces of plywood for a base for the foam (figuring I could use the larger piece that was there before somewhere else)

First layer of foam is 1" thick with 1.5" thick spacers on that.
I'll top this off with another layer of 1" foam. Note that I've also added a 2nd "fascia" to face the foam and blend the scene into the upper level, leaving the Shore Line in a trench on the lower level to de-emphasize it. It shouldn't really be there, distracting from the Airline, but the location is a necessary evil. Not smart to bury it all since we still need easy access during operations.

Since the foam was just placed temporarily to get an idea of contours, I removed it in order to install the backdrop of 1/8" Masonite.

Clamps are your friend when you're doing this by yourself. I secured the two end pieces, then pressed/wedged the middle section in, secured right to the studs.

Screws are all countersunk, seams sanded smooth, with fiberglass mesh tape over that.

Then it's just a matter of topping, sanding, then topping again to make it all nice and smooth.

Final steps are two coats of "sky" paint. Another good view of the "2nd fascia"

Finally, needed to engineer some support for the foam behind the Airline track, which also has to be high enough to provide clearance for trains on the loop below. Here are a couple of long risers on the joists, along with foam block spacers in the middle at the back.

Provided a little lip of support at the back left corner as well.

A nice new one-piece of 1" foam cut to shape.

I'm leaving the foam off the front and the "slats" (plywood supports) loose for now so I can pop up from below and have easy access to scenic behind the Airline main.

So that's what's going on on the Airline. Tune in next time for an improvement on the Shore Line!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Friday Fun: Then & Now - "Valley Local" Southbound at Middletown

I love "Then & Now" comparison photos, even if it's sometimes sad to see how much things have changed, because they're a great way to "see" that the past is still with us - even if only in faint vestiges.

Sometimes though, things that once were no longer come back again.... Case in point - The Valley Local, which you can see here in 1947 as well as just last month...

Today's version of the Valley Local
Southbound at Miller Street crossing, Middletown, CT - October 2, 2019
(Click here to see the "same" train in the same location, 1947)
(Click here to see the same view as above, 2013)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's Halloween, 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 it's Halloween, 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 when I used to ride 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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tuesday Tip: Long Strip Storage

It would appear I owe at least a small apology to those of you who follow the Valley Local here on this blog (or, even better, through the website - you do know there's a website, right? :^) rather than on Facebook. Yes, there is a Facebook Group for the Valley Local and if you're not following there already, be sure you do!

Turns out, I tend to post there more frequently than I do here - and for that, I apologize. I'll try to do better. At least the posts here tend to be more detailed, and hopefully more useful (the FB posts tend to be quick grab shots of what I'm working on at the moment, but at least they're more up-to-date).

Case in point: Today's Tuesday Tip

FB followers know that I've started on my first craftsman structure kits. Simple affairs, really, and that's kinda the point. Just want to get started and build some skills. More on that in up-coming posts, but for now, I needed to figure out a way to store some extra-long wood strip stock I had to get for the project. (click here for a tip on how to store standard-length strip stock).

It's important to keep such long stock straight, so after looking at my standard strip stock storage, I surmised a solution (sheesh!):

Yup - I got meself some more paper towel tubes and hot glued a couple of them to the front of one of my storage shelves. It was such a quick project that I totally forgot to spray paint them white first. Since the price is right (basically, free), I may just pull these off at some point and put up painted ones. But for now, my strip stock is safe and secure!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Ops Session - Sept. 26, 2019

You can tell things have been busy 'round here lately since I'm just now getting around to doing a post about my last/latest operating session which took place almost a month ago(!). But, fortunately, my tardiness has been for good - and fun - reasons, being able to do so many RR-related things the past couple of months. If you don't know what I mean, just scroll back through the recent posts on the NHRHTA Reunion, the MARPM, and "OP"toberfest!

But despite the crazy/great schedule, I can't skip over reporting on one of my ops sessions - since getting folks together to bring the railroad to life is one of the main reasons I'm doing this project!

So, without further ado, here's a little slideshow of the evening. . .

BillS held down the Saybrook Tower/Dispatcher's role again this time. I think he actually likes it!

Having finished operating PDX-1, BobM is helping out in staging as RickB starts out on PDX-2 from New London/East End Staging while ChrisZ (conductor on PDX-2) looks on back in Saybrook.

Randy took care of East End Staging again - and it looks like Rick is having a good time. But the session is just starting...

ChrisZ reviews the paperwork for PDX-2 as it switches Old Saybrook

JamesM held down the duties at West End Staging, only having enough time to raise a hand to wave. No smile this time - too much concentration!

GregL and BobV working the Airline Local in Mill Hollow

PDX-2 heads up the Valley Line on the east leg of the wye in Saybrook

Cool view looking "north" into Essex

TIME WARP! BobV brought is battery-powered(!) ("dead rail") GP-9 to use on the Airline Local. Yeah - it's almost 10 yrs too new for my era, but at least it's New Haven. And looks and runs great!
As during every Autumn season, I have big expectations of hosting as many ops sessions as possible. I think one October, I actually hosted three of them in one month! My layout is set in Autumn, after all, so I want to operate the layout as much as I can during Sept/Oct. But - alas! - it looks like Autumn 2019 isn't going to quite work out that way. Sure, I had 2 sessions during September (this one, and the one during NHRHTA Reunion weekend), but not a single one so far in October - and none expected.

But, like the reason for this report being late, my lack of sessions is due mostly to being out and about doing other RR stuff I haven't been able to do before. And if there's one good reason to put off an ops session or two, I figure that's it!

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Jewel" Layouts - Kip Grant's D&H Sonnyvale Branch

I suppose this post could have been titled "OP"toberfest Day 3 since we were able to visit one last layout on the Sunday before heading back home - Kip Grant's D&H Sonnyvale Branch.

The Sonnyvale Branch is based on the real Lake George Branch of the D&H, with just enough variation and variety to provide a bit more operation than the prototype. It wends its way from the D&H mainline at "Junction" and works its way through bucolic farmland at Sheldon's Curve and the town of Jasperdale before terminating at Sonnyvale. Just outside of Sonnyvale, a short branch takes off from Fenimore Jct. to serve the industrial area of Fenimore.

More esoterically, Kip's layout is part of a small group of layouts in my mind that I'm beginning to call "Jewel" layouts - small to medium sized layouts that do one thing very well and are, for the most part, finished. Not overwhelming at all in scope, they convey the essence of local, retail railroading through small-to-medium sized towns and typically include - or are themselves - a branch line of a larger railroad. Other than Kip's D&H Sonnyvale Branch, I'd include in this esteemed group (in reverse chronological order of when I visited them), Ken Karlewicz's Cherry Valley Branch, and Jim Dufour's Cheshire Branch of the B&M.

Sound familiar? Yeah, a "jewel layout" is kinda what I hope my Valley Line will be someday.

I first saw Kip's layout in person during last year's "OP"toberfest, and made plans even then to visit again as soon as possible. Alas, my next visit didn't come until a year later, but - as I expected - even though I don't think he's changed or added much since last time, I saw a lot I didn't remember seeing before. It's so full of "modelable" details and interesting scenes, that you can't possibly take it all in during one visit. As testament to this fact, I probably took 3 times as many photos this time as last time!

But enough of me trying to describe it - I'll let the pictures do the talking, 1000 words at a time...

How many folks have you heard of that model discarded switchlists?

Little details like this abandoned car in the woods really provide a lot of flavor and texture of the time and place.

Kip has a number of unique vehicles on his layout, but this one impressed me most with its detail and, um, weathering.

I purposely avoided saying too much about any of the photos since I think they really do speak for themselves. If you want to see more of an overview of the layout - with "overview type" (rather than closeup) photos of Kip's layout - including descriptions - be sure to click here and scroll down towards the bottom.

Hopefully, these photos give you at least a little taste of what I mean by a "jewel" layout and - even more - that they inspire and motivate you to work on your own efforts. That's certainly what *I* plan to do!