Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Fun? Making Room for Dickinson's Warehouse

"No plan survives contact with the enemy."
-paraphrased quote by Helmuth von Moltke

Building a successful model railroad shouldn't be likened to going into battle, but it sometimes seems that way. Despite the most-detailed plans, Harsh Reality (the "enemy" in our little metaphor) has a way of at least modifying said plans, if not totally laying them to waste. You can fuss and fret all you want, but the path to success is being flexible enough to accommodate/overcome/go around the inevitable hurdles reality puts in your way and confront them head-on.

The most common hurdles are planning curve radii which won't actually fit, or turnouts that turn out to be much longer than expected. But sometimes, the hurdle is the result of an unanticipated opportunity. Case in point: the Dickinson Witch Hazel Warehouse in Essex.

Ain't she a beaut? And she still exists today...

Other than the station itself (actually, the freight house in my era), the Dickinson warehouse really establishes & anchors the entire Essex scene. So there was never any question that I would have to include a model of it on my layout.

For the longest time, I just had this as a temporary mockup. I figured the 3" or so between the track and the backdrop would be enough space for a deep-relief flat version of the warehouse.

And a flat would be just about all I'd be able to accommodate since Deep River is directly on the opposite side of the backdrop - and, as you can see, it's already a bit snug there (especially down by the transfer siding in the distance). No worries though - all that's on the backdrop side of the track here is a riverbank - and the river itself will be on the backdrop.

So that was my rough plan - a 2" or so deep flat version of the Dickinson warehouse. Then reality hit in the form of an unanticipated opportunity courtesy Bill Maguire.

Yup, that's a full-scale model of the Dickinson warehouse that Bill built and gave to me when he dismantled his layout. That's the good news. The, um, not so good news is - well, you can see how it fits . . .

Now, there was absolutely no way I was going to cut or in any way modify such a gorgeous model, so I moved it down the siding until it actually fit . . .

It "fits" but certainly isn't located where it really needs to be. So next I decided to see what I'd need to do in order to get the warehouse to fit where it's supposed to go.

Turned out, I needed about 4 more inches(!) between the track and the backdrop in order to get the warehouse to fit properly. Ugh!

I pushed a long bamboo skewer through the foam to mark the corners of the building. In this overall view, you can see how much track would need to be moved in order to create enough space. Moving all that track was a non-starter. I'd end up losing the sidings closest to the aisle, not to mention creating unrealistic - and probably non-working - big S curves at each end of the scene.

So, if I couldn't move the track, the only other option (other than cutting the building, which was another non-starter) was to move the backdrop. So that's what I did.

The skewers helped me "see" where the limits of the building were when viewed from the Deep River side of the backdrop. I sighted those limits and marked them on the foam on the Deep River side, and started cutting . . .

My friend RonD has often said that "the toughest aspect of  any modeling action is the first step" and, once I'd decided to move the backdrop, things progressed pretty quickly. It's amazing what you can do with a sharp steak knife, despite the foam being 2" thick (based on a previous experience with BillS, I decided against burning through the foam with a hot knife).

Fortunately, the backdrop rests on the slats and within a slot that had been cut into the foam (with said hot knife), so I figured "all I have to do" is remove more foam and push the backdrop over enough to make space for the warehouse.

Well, that was mostly correct. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that I did install one vertical support to hold things up . . .

And, also unfortunately, when I went to move the backdrop toward the Deep River side of the peninsula, it got hung up on this L-bracket. It took me longer to get in there with a screwdriver and move the L-bracket than the whole rest of the moving project did (and I never did get the bracket totally removed). But at least I got it unhooked and was able to move the backdrop just enough.

A piece of foam, wedged in the gap on the Essex side, is enough to hold the backdrop at bay. Voila! There's enough space (finally!) for the Dickinson warehouse!

But the Deep River side has suffered a bit, admittedly. See how close the bow in the backdrop comes to the transfer siding?

There's enough clearance to get cars past there, but it doesn't look that great. There's going to have to be some creative sleight-of-hand scenery-wise to disguise this. And I'll probably move the siding a bit further north (left) as well.

But, in my mind at least, that's a small price to pay for such a signature structure in one of the most important towns on the Valley Line.

Whattaya think? I know everyone has their own "givens & druthers" and you may have decided differently. How do you tend to confront the inevitable obstacles you encounter during layout construction? Any helpful tips or suggestions? Weigh in in the comments below.

And thanks again to all of you who either posted here or emailed me directly about Wethersfield Lumber. I really appreciate your taking the time to write and share your thoughts and perspectives. Stay tuned for more progress there. For now though, I think I'll give the Essex scene a rest.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thankful Thursday: John Wallace's House

If you've been 'round these parts for very long at all, you know that this project owes a huge debt to one John Wallace. Not only did he grow up along the Valley Line during the era I'm modeling, and not only did he work (unofficially) on the Valley Local, but he had the presence of mind to take LOTS of pictures along the way. And as if that wasn't enough, he preserved his memories and recollections in print. John and his work are a big part of why I chose the era and locale I'm modeling.

So, once he found and shared with me a photo of where he grew up, taken in 1948, and in color, I knew immediately that I just had to have a model of his house right along the mainline in Wethersfield - just like it was.

Now, one of the very few things John doesn't do is modeling. So while he provided the photo, I was on my own for the model. Well, enter another fella that's contributed a lot to the Valley Line over the years - especially in the way of structures - Dave Messer. Like John, Dave grew up in Wethersfield (albeit a few years later) and he has a great memory for detail. He's also an accomplished (and published) modeler.

So, when he offered to add John Wallace's house to the lengthening list of models he's built for the Wethersfield section of the layout, who was I to refuse? Lord knows it would be a very long time before I'd develop the skills needed to do it justice myself. Let's just say, I'm so glad Dave's as interested in this project as I am.

If you're not impressed, you probably don't know what's involved in replicating a structure from a few photos and measurements (heh - that was the extent of my contribution. LOTS of photos and measurements of the prototype). The only thing missing - other than the landscaping - are the awnings. And they're not needed in October, the season I'm modeling.

He even did the garage, based on the little bit that shows in John's photo - and based a lot on John's memory of it.

I'm so lucky that John and Dave are as enthusiastic about this layout project as I am and so willing to contribute their skills and memories to helping me capture a little bit of what life was like along the Valley Line.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wordless Wednesday #270

F&C flat-side kit, with full underbody brake detail and "kitbashed" stir-,er, sill steps (A-line step with an additional rung soldered in)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Wethersfield Lumber Co & Prototype Fidelity - Worth the Cost?

Long-time readers will recall that I'm willing to redo things on the layout to make things more prototypically accurate - including removing & reconstructing trackwork and even redoing a backdrop to better match the prototype topography. But I may have reached the limit of my willingness to toe the line of prototype fidelity with the Wethersfield Lumber Co.

As with all things having to do with "prototype modeling," we of course consult the prototype. The older your chosen era, the harder that is - and you're limited to photos and maps (and the memories & recollections of those who were there... but more on that later).

In the case of the Wethersfield Lumber Co., I've got one not-so-decent photo. . .

Click here for the story of how I got it
. . . and one relatively accurate map:

For the longest time, I just had the siding branching off the mainline, all loose and whatnot - waiting for the day I got some additional information. Well, once I saw the photo and saw that a Walthers kit would make a reasonable stand-in, I built the kit and started roughing in the scene.

Unfortunately, given my space constraints and the size of the lumber shed (already WAY shorter than the 21" long a true-scale model would be), this is the scene that resulted and how it looks today:

Eagle eyes (such as those possessed by my friend and structure builder DaveM) will notice right away that something is amiss. Namely, that the lumber company siding is not parallel to the mainline(!)

There are a few reasons for this, all having to do with the space constraints alluded to above. Primarily, I wanted to maintain some space/distance between Wethersfield Lumber and the Fernwood Street scene (a focal point, since John Wallace's house is there - more on that in an upcoming post). On the prototype, there's over half-a-mile between them, so I wanted them to be visually separate.

Also, there is the matter of the siding and surrounding area all being thoroughly gooped in...

Nevertheless, not being bashful about doing major changes for the sake of prototype accuracy, I decided to at least mock-up what a change would look like . . .

Changing things so that the siding & shed are parallel to the mainline (and, incidentally, perpendicular to Jordan Lane - seen between the shed and Ballantine's in the pic above) would require chiseling out all the ground goop, risking damage to the subroadbed (in this post you'll see that the area is built on a combination of plywood and foamboard) and, of course, prying up & moving the track. I'm up to the task, but I'm not convinced the work would really be worth it. Sure, the siding and shed would match the Sanborn map, but it starts to crowd into the Fernwood neighborhood a bit.

All prototype modeling is a compromise of accuracy within the space available. But the "best" examples of prototype modeling strike the balance in such an effective way that you hardly notice any compromises made. In the case of (finally) locating the Wethersfield Lumber Co., the "best" location may be what makes the scene look right overall, especially when there's nothing but one blurry photo and an insurance map to tip my hand.

Well, that and the razor-sharp memories of a certain couple fellas that grew up in the neighborhood during the era I'm modeling!

What would you do? How far are you willing to go in the pursuit of true prototype fidelity? How do you balance space constraints with prototype accuracy?

Weigh in in the comments below!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Another Quick Update with More to Come, including the MARPM!

The last time I did a "quick update" was May 24th. At that point, there was only a week-and-a-half left to go with my busy time at work and I figured with the end of legislative session that layout progress would ramp up quickly.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way - for both good and not-so-good reasons. On the good (actually, great) side, I got to spend a week visiting my parents in Tennessee. It just so happened that I was able to be there with my brother over Father's Day Weekend and didn't have to leave until just a couple days before mom's birthday. On the bad side, while I was gone, the Missus' grandmother passed away. She'd just turned 96 at the beginning of the month, so lived a good long life. But it's never a good time to lose family.

But while there hasn't been as much layout progress as I'd hoped lately, there's still a pretty decent amount to report. If you follow The Valley Local Facebook group, you've already seen a few teaser photos. But, rest assured, whether or not you've seen those, there'll be more photos and details coming soon.

One thing I can't wait to report though, is that I'll be presenting at the Mid-Atlantic Railroad Prototype Modeler's Meet (MARPM) this September in Baltimore, MD! Friend MikeR (of resin girder fame) suggested attending with him after seeing how disappointed I was at missing this year's NERPM. And I figured I'd try and help out too if I could. Turns out, I can:

Helps to have a last name beginning with "A" :^)
Some of you may remember a similar presentation I gave at the NERPM years ago when it was in Collinsville (the "other" Collinsville), and if you do then you won't miss too much if you decide to attend a different clinic during the same time slot. But there will be many new photos that weren't included the first time around - including all of Old Saybrook - and I hope being in a whole new region I'll see lots of new faces!

I'll provide more details and info as we get closer, but suffice it to say I've heard Bernie Kempinski and his crew do an outstanding job. And I know already that he's lined up a number of amazing clinicians including Tom Jacobs, Ted Dilorio, Dave Ramos, Jim Dufour, and Eric Hansmann - just to mention the ones I've seen before. Click here for a full list of the amazing topics these folks and others are presenting and make plans now to join us!

So that's the latest big news - but stay tuned for posts on the progress I've made over the last bunch of weeks. And thanks for hanging in there despite the dearth of updates. Hope you'll continue to check in!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wordless Wednesday #268

New Haven Class NE caboose, built using F&C kit as a base, with real wood running boards & endwalks, Crown Custom trucks, O&W ladders (courtesy BillS), full underbody detail, and hand-formed/soldered endrails.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Weekend Fun - Bill Maguire's Layout

Every other year I miss the local ProtoMeet due to work. And unfortunately this is that year.

So, in lieu of seeing all the cool clinics and model displays at the 'meet this weekend, I offer what I did a couple weeks ago today - visited Bill Maguire's layout.

Bill is one of those "lone wolf" modelers who you sometimes hear about, but often miss seeing their work. And the kicker is, their work is usually exquisite - which makes their "lone wolfness" all the more disappointing for those who never get to see it.

I first met Bill when he attended one of my open houses a few years back and I had heard that he had an impressive layout which included models of a lot of prototype buildings from the area (though the layout itself is freelanced). I'd been wanting to wrangle a visit for some time, so when my friend Greg arranged an invitation, I was sure to jump on it.

So, with permission, I get to share with you some of the photos I took that day - including some really impressive structures.

When you first walk into the room, and under a duckunder, you turn left 90 degrees and see this view:

The layout is basically point-to-point with stacked staging loops at each end. In the far right corner, you can see the mainline as it comes out of the upper and lower staging loops. The left and right sides of the aisle are the ends of the modeled portions of the railroad - a city scene on the left and a mill town scene on the right.

Turning back right 90 degrees, you continue around the end of the blob/peninsula and come into the other half of the layout. The mainline continues around the blob and up past Bob and BillS.

At the end of that left side of the aisle, you get to a couple of my favorite buildings on the layout - including a scale model of the Dickinson Witch Hazel warehouse from Essex, CT. Check out the prototype here:

Continuing on our tour to the end of the aisle, here's one of the completely-scenicked scenes featuring a beautiful wood trestle:

As we continue right around the end of the aisle, we come to another small mill town, featuring more impressive structures (and, as far as I can tell, all completely scratchbuilt!):

For this next shot, I've moved back to the end of the peninsula and shot an overall view of the south(?)/right end of that wall. By reference, you can see the tall stack in the picture above and in the pic below...

If you turn, say, 45 degrees to the right from the perspective above, your eyes alight on another highlight structure:

This one is based on the J.A. Smith Manufacturing Co. in Deep River, CT. See prototype photo below:

Like the Dickinson building, this structure is also still around today serving as a popular venue for weddings and such.

Ending near where we began, we turn about 180 degrees from the last shot and see an overview photo of the city scene. And here are some closer views...

Scale model of the station in Willimantic, CT
I'm so glad I finally got to visit Bill's layout, but I have to admit the visit was bittersweet. His layout has since been dismantled in anticipation of an upcoming move. But the good news is that - due to Bill's wonderful generosity and willingness to share his modeling with us, all of his structures have been preserved and will see future service on other layouts - including The Valley Line (you may already be able to guess which buildings I had my eye on :^)

So stay tuned!