Monday, February 25, 2019

Molding Monday

With apologies for those of you who saw the punchline already over at the Valley Local Facebook site (you're a member, aren't you? Membership is free :^) here's my first foray into the not-so-wonderful (as it turned out) world of rock casting...

I need a few small rock castings along the ROW on the East Berlin branch, so I figured I'd use a couple of the Woodland Scenics rock molds I had on-hand.

Problem is (or perhaps, turned out to be) that the Plaster of Paris I had on-hand is probably about 25-30 years old. But it was unopened so I figured it'd be ok. So I mixed it up according to the directions...

... and filled up the molds, scraping & leveling them off with a little putty knife.

Then, I waited for over a week . . .

After over a week, the large rock casting on the left is STILL not cured (see how it's a bit darker/grayer than the other, whiter castings?)

But the worst was when I went to take the castings out, they were all so soft and crumbly. Totally unusable! Certainly nothing like my beginner's luck first time resin casting...

So - what did I do wrong? Heh - could probably be a number of things, but I'll start by purchasing some new Woodland Scenics Lightweight Hydrocal and will try again...

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Facebook Follow Fun!

The Valley Local now has a presence on Facebook! Yes, I've created a new "group" called "The Valley Local - Modeling the New Haven RR, Autumn 1948" and you can access it here. As many issues as FB has, one of the enduring reasons to continue to participate in FB is that it remains one of the easiest ways to interact with each other. It's no surprise that it's one of the most pervasive of social media platforms.

It's also super easy to follow not only individuals but also groups - and if you find a group that interests you, it's a given that others following the group feel the same way, and you can interact. It's also super easy to comment on posts and otherwise provide quick feedback (even if only a "Like").

Now, I hope this doesn't discourage folks from following this blog or especially The Valley Local website. And remember, you can always "subscribe" to the blog and get notices of new posts via email. All you have to do is submit your email in the upper left corner of the blog (click here for more info).

The new FB group won't substitute at all for the blog or 'site, but will hopefully be a nice supplement. So, if you're on Facebook and want to add this new functionality, follow The Valley Local on Facebook - and if you do, please be sure to "Like" & comment. It'll be great to see you there!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Tuesday Touch Up - More Wethersfield Landscaping

I'm beginning to wonder if Ground Goop - at least the way I make it - is such a great idea. Maybe I'm not mixing it enough. Maybe I'm not wetting it enough. It's certainly not smooth enough. I get all sorts of lumps and bumps - which look pretty awful in HO scale.

So, out comes the wood rasp . . .

And yet-another coat of goop . . .

And another round of rasping . . .

And another - hopefully last - coat of .... not goop but paint!

I do like how the cardboard web/plaster cloth/ground goop combo creates random terrain undulations automatically, without having to be carved like foam (and with much less mess). But I have to say, this process isn't turning out not to be that much quicker - especially for relatively flat areas.

What would you have done differently here, if anything?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Mockups & Modeling

Since the major structures are close to being done in Wethersfield (and it seems like I'm still waiting for that ground goop to dry), I decided to shift over to the end of the East Berlin Branch and come up with something for the Stanley Chemical Co.

By way of background, the East Berlin Branch heads north from the north end of Middletown yard to serve brickyards along the way and it terminates at the Stanley Chemical Co. - producers of paint - at the end of the line. The line had originally extended all the way to the Kensington section of Berlin for a connection with the New Haven's Hartford-Springfield line. But the line had been cut back to East Berlin in 1940 and the rest of the branch was abandoned back to Middletown in 1961.

East Berlin was also the site of the Berlin Iron Bridge Company. Unfortunately, it was gone by 1948 but the Valley Local still serves StanChem and the brickyards - even if it has to back all the way caboose-first over sketchy track at no more than 10 mph.

Unlike much of the rest of the railroad, I don't have much in the way of photos of the area. And, considering my existential angst, this is a good thing. I can do a little proto-freelancing and come up with my own version of what I imagine StanChem, circa 1948, to look like.

I started out by mocking up some DPM modular wall sections.

The good news is that it looks pretty good and it'd fit nice. The bad news is that, despite having a pretty good collection of DPM parts (thanks to friend Pieter), I don't have enough of the correct ones to actually build this building. I'd have to make a pretty large order, and I'd rather try and use what I have on-hand.

Thanks to friend Peter (not to be confused with friend Pieter...), I have a good collection of Walthers modulars. The pic above isn't my collection - I took it at a local shop for reference to see what, if anything, I might be missing.

The Walthers modulars come with a template you can copy/cut/paste/tape into a mockup to plan your building. And here's what I came up with:

Compare these photos to the DPM mockup above. The Walther's mockup is a bit shorter and a bit deeper (requiring it to be moved further up the siding toward the turnout), but I think I can make a nice dock area at the back (right end) of the building to serve an additional car.

Also, for my birthday, I got a Walthers "Commissary/Freight Transfer" structure kit and an "Armstrong Electric Motors" kit. These are low-relief buildings, so I mocked them up to see how they'd look:

They both looked pretty good, but as low-relief buildings, weren't quite deep enough. If I placed them against the wall/backdrop as designed, the loading doors would be far too far away from the siding. And if I place them right next to the siding, I'd have all sorts of crazy empty space behind the structure.

So these two structures will likely go to Middletown.

Finally, I tried a City Classics structure I got at Springfield last month. It looks nice, but it's really too deep for this location. To fit it without cutting it down (which I'm loathe to do), I'd have to move it WAY up the siding toward the turnout, wreaking havoc with the scene - not to mention the car spots.

So, I think I'm going to go with the Walthers modulars. I have the right parts on-hand and my mockup shows that it's almost as ideal for the space as the DPM mockup I'd started with.

And since I do have the parts on-hand, I was able to start putting the walls together while hanging out (via teleconference) with a bunch of modeling buddies. Being at the bench while chatting with friends - and getting some timely advice on kit assembly (thanks Kaylee!) - was a great way to spend an evening.

Next, I'll need to prime and paint the walls. So if any of you have any advice/tips/suggestions on how best to do that (paint choices, techniques, etc), I'd love to hear them! At this rate, I may be able to get the Berlin Branch done a bit earlier than I expected!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Latest Ops Session & Open House

The Valley Line has been a bit busy over the last few days. After all the focus I've been putting on scenery & structures lately (with precious little actual progress to show considering the time spent), I haven't been operating the layout much lately. In fact, given my father-in-law taking a turn for the worse last fall, then his passing, then the holidays, and the start of legislative session, the last time we actually had an operating session was last September 8th(!)

But that changed last Thursday - I got a few of my regulars together to make sure the thing still ran. Thankfully, all went relatively well - just a few glitches (I need to be sure I have fresh batteries for the radios and it seems the wireless transmitter needs some attention), but all in all a good session.

And I even operated the Shoreline trains for the first time(!) Heh - let's just say I got a new appreciation for what I expect my Shoreline crew to do during a session. It's busy! Thankfully though, I remembered to take some photos to commemorate the occasion . . .

My co-Shoreline operator Bill, working the East End of the line (New London/Boston)

BobV sorting out his paperwork after finishing PDX-1, the Shoreline Local from Cedar Hill (New Haven) to New London (Fort Yard),

Dick - who should be head-down busy as the Tower Operator - couldn't help but turn around and watch the action going through Saybrook.

Pete with the Haddam Local (PDX-2, the Shoreline Local that works westbound between Fort Yard and Cedar Hill Yard, as well as up the Valley Line to East Haddam)

And, way off in the distance at Middletown, Randy and (barely visible) Tom working the flagship job - The Valley Local - from Hartford to Middletown/East Berlin (it being a "Friday" - Oct. 8, 1948).
As I've said before, other than the primary reasons of camaraderie and getting to see the layout come to life, a secondary - but very important - reason to host an ops session is to highlight any potential issues - and to address those issues on your punch list to make the layout run even better. Thankfully, my punch list from this session is relatively small, especially considering the hiatus, which is good since I'm hoping to have more regular sessions over the coming months!

NMRA Nutmeg Division Open House
Just a couple of days after the ops session, I needed to get the layout back in order in time for an Open House for the members of the Nutmeg Division of the NMRA. This was only my second such occasion, the first one having been over 3 years ago(! and much-better documented %^)

But it was pretty cool to go back and look at what the layout looked like then and compare that to now - very encouraging to see the progress and get some motivation for making some more. Open houses have a way of doing that - egging you on to have more to show off and share than you did last time.

If you haven't hosted an open house before, I highly recommend it for that reason alone if nothing else. But an added benefit is the great new people you'll likely meet - and discover that they may have some great tips and knowledge to share with you as well.

Unfortunately, I was on my own hosting this time. My usual helpers all had other things they needed to do, so I didn't get any photos. It was pretty crowded at times and that would have been cool to show - but I was too busy chatting, answering questions, and generally having a good time sharing the Valley Line that I totally forgot to document anything.

THANKfully though, my welcome signage included a lot of not-so-subtle hints to sign my guestbook - so at least I have that, in addition to my memories, as a keepsake for the day.

Now, if I'd just remembered to do that during Springfield weekend..... ah well, there's always next year. %^)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Thoughtful Thursday: The Futility of Prototype Model Railroading

As I dive deeper and deeper into modeling Wethersfield, CT, and learn more about it, the harder it is to model it convincingly, especially since I don’t have a gymnasium at my disposal - not to mention the time & money needed to model the prototype to actual scale, even if I had enough space. 

Model Railroading is certainly an art, and not just in the traditional sense that we're using paint and plaster, and wood to depict something in three-dimensions, like sculpture. In many ways it is the art of compromise. And the best artists/modelers are able to convey a prototype scene effectively within the constraints of time, money, and especially space. 

Of course, such compromises can’t possibly hold up under the scrutiny of those who know what the prototype actually looks/looked like, or what was actually there, or how far apart those locations were, etc. And the more you research your prototype, the more you know, and the more you realize that you can't really model it. At least not accurately.

That’s the rub - and the challenge. My “Wethersfield” section of the layout is about 18 feet long. That’s only 1,567 feet in HO scale - and yet it's being asked to represent a little over 3 miles in the real world. That’s admittedly a huge compromise.

Say hello to "selective compression" - the necessary evil of most model railroading, and especially of prototype modeling. The key to using this tool effectively is in making "good" decisions about what to select to compress. And "good" is primarily defined by what you're trying to accomplish.

My goal with this layout wasn’t to model the prototype to scale (likely impossible - who has 180 linear feet available for that?), or to create a museum diorama (though I do aspire to that as far as practicable), but to replicate each rail move described by John Wallace in his “Typical Day on the Valley Local” in the NHRHTA's Shoreliner magazine - while (hopefully) capturing the “look & feel” of the locale. That goal drove the trackplan (which is perfectly prototypical, if severely compressed in length), the choice of industries (which are also modeled as accurately as practicable, thanks to my friend DaveM, especially given the dearth of photographs), as well as what non-railroad-related stuff I decided to include (enough to convey the overall scene, without crowding out the stuff necessary to achieving my goal). One of the exceptions to this will be my including a model of John's house, since he inspired this project (and even then, it's only close to accurately located, given the space constraints).

At best, this layout can only be an impressionist painting, not a photograph. It's not - nor can it ever be - a perfect depiction of the prototype. And, given my goal with the layout, I think I’m ok with that.
Prototype modeling - at least when it comes to the layout itself (we'll leave a discussion of modeling locomotives & rolling stock for another time) - is an exercise in frustration, if not futility.  So maybe I'll just admit, if only to myself, that I’m not able to model the Valley Line of the New Haven Railroad, at least not prototypically. I can only ever hope - or claim - to build a model railroad that at best captures the “feel” of the Valley Line. At least that way I can actually hope to accomplish SOMEthing rather than focus - as I did for far too many years - on what I can’t do, or include, or model. 

Building a model railroad based on a New Haven branchline in the late 1940s.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday Tip - You can always REdo it

If at first you don't succeed . . .
Try, try (and try, and try) again.

One of the things I'm learning about scenery is that it's sometimes (often?) necessary to do it over. Especially when you're first starting out, you seldom hit your target the first time (or is that just me?) But that bit of knowledge can be liberating too - if you know "you can always redo it" then you don't get so easily paralyzed and it's easier to get started.

While waiting for the northern end of the Wethersfield scene to dry, I decided to turn my attention a little further south - to the lumber yard area. I did the scenery base (cardboard-strips-&-plaster-cloth) here in the spring of 2014 (almost 5 yrs ago?!), and actually REdid it in the fall, after I decided to lower/extend the backdrop in this area. But now that I'm focusing more on this part of the layout, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that the terrain wasn't at all what I needed.

As you can see in the two photos above, the scenery base drops down quite considerably in the area (click on any photo for a larger view). This was actually by design (it didn't just sag) - I'd originally planned on having a wetlands scene here, replicating an area where John used to ice skate in the winter. But looking more and more at the space that Wethersfield Lumber would need in order to be a LARGE lumber company, I realized I needed a lot more area for lumber stacks and such. Which meant I needed a lot more flat land.

First step to adding some flat land was to get a tracing of the existing topography. That way I'd have a template for cutting some foamcore board to fit.

The photo above shows the result - board cut to fit, and hot glued in place.

Next, I added some scraps of foam board to support the eventual cardboard lattice (scenery base):

I placed these in the lowest areas. I could have used wadded up newspapers as well, but I really don't like using that method - seems WAY too much of a fire hazard to me.

First layer of cardboard strips, hot glued at the back and front.

Second layer of strips, woven under & over the first strips and hot glued in place. Note the strips to the right go under the foamcore board.

Lastly, I added plaster cloth over the web and smoothed everything over with a wet brush and allowed it to dry. From start to finish, it took me just 40 minutes to redo this area. Literally. The first and last photos of this post so far are separated by only 40 minutes. I think I spent WAY longer than that vacillating over what to do here.

The lesson is simple: Just Do It (or, in this case, REdo it...). It often takes longer to redo than to think about redoing it.

Speaking of waiting for things to dry, turns out, despite running a humidifier vaporizer in the basement, it still gets pretty dry down there this time of year. Check out my mockup of John's house...

Yup, I went down in the basement the next morning and the masking tape had dried out and come undone. But that wasn't all I discovered . . .

Turned out, I still didn't have enough large, flat area for what I wanted to do. See the photo above for the relative topography.

So, taking a note from my own book, I decided - yes - to redo this area a THIRD time!

Thankfully, I'm learning that scenery modifications - or at least scenery base modifications - are super easy. I just used an old steak knife to cut out a section of plaster cloth . . .

Then used a pair of scissors to cut away the cardboard web . . .

And pressed the area down a bit to flatten it some more (yup, I removed those scraps of foam board) . . .

Next, since I was adding yet-more foamcore to expand the flat area, I created a template of the area out of some scrap paper . . .

And cut the foamcore to fit. In order to tone down any transitions - and keep any plastercloth from sinking into any cracks/separations, I covered the cracks with painters tape and made a flatter hill toward the back out of masking tape . . .

Here's a closer view:

I sprayed some wet water on the part of the old plaster cloth that would be overlapped by new plaster cloth and then added the new cloth . . .

And here's the final result:

Heh - the improvement may not be readily apparent, even if you compare it to the first photo (I just couldn't bring myself to use a level again on scenery - especially since the plaster was still wet here...). Trust me though - it's a LOT flatter than it was, and flat over a much larger area. So I should have ample room to make Wethersfield Lumber Co. look like the large outfit it's supposed to be.