Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday Fun: DERS-2b in September MRH!

I was at a NHRHTA volunteer appreciation picnic last Sunday and visiting with fellow member John Kasey, who had sent me lots of modeling information for the New Haven's Alco RS-1s and 2s (classes DERS-1b & DERS-2b). I asked him if I ever sent him photos of the finished models, and when he said I hadn't, I got on my phone and into my cloud photo storage to show him.

He enjoyed seeing the pics, but about half-way through as I was describing some of the details I'd added, he mentioned offhand: "You know, I could just wait and see it in next month's Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine."

What?!

I knew I'd submitted the article, but - although I'd downloaded the August issue - I hadn't gotten to the back page yet . . .

Color me surprised - or, rather, blush red. %^)

This will be my third major article for MRH (posts about the first article here and the second article here) and I'm especially lucky to be sharing a little bit of space with one of my idols in the hobby: Jack Burgess. His Yosemite Valley RR layout was one of the first - if not the first - "strict prototype" model railroads I ever came across. And it really set the hook in me to try and do something similar with the New Haven.... "someday."

Thankfully, in this case "someday" did eventually come & I've been working on the Valley Line for some time now - and needed some additional motive power for the Airline Local. Which is where DERS-2b #0510 comes in.

So be sure to check out next month's MRH for the story behind the engine - and, more importantly, how I went about superdetailing a factory-painted locomotive to match the prototype.

At least I know JohnK will be checking it out!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Thankful Thursday: A Few Words About Wordless Wednesday #278


This is Bill Maguire and his lovely wife Georgie. You first heard about Bill a couple months ago when I was able to visit his layout (click here for the layout tour). Since then, the layout's been dismantled but fortunately all of his beautiful scratchbuilt structures are finding homes on other layouts - including the Valley Line (click here for what I was willing to do for the Dickinson warehouse and click here for the first foray of his structures into East Berlin).

Bill & Georgie have been busy over the summer with relocating and all, but now that they're getting settled in, it was time for them to go on a tour of a couple layouts where the structures landed. Not only did he get over to the sadly-blogless Bob Murphy's New Haven layout (he may not have a blog, but he has his own layout movie - click here for that), but Bill & his Missus visited Essex, Deep River, Middletown, and East Berlin in my basement on the Valley as well.

Looking over the old Pratt & Reed factory - future home of Middletown Meat Packing
I know I've said it before many times, but it's worth repeating: One of the best things about this hobby are the people. All the model railroaders I've met have been among the nicest folks I know. And their generosity with their time & talent is seemingly boundless.

Sadly, there are many of them that we'll never get a chance to meet. They enjoy the hobby as an individual pursuit and we don't get the chance to see, appreciate, and enjoy their work. Thankfully, in Bill's case, he knew a mutual friend of ours and gave him a heads up about his plan to retire. And that led to our getting the opportunity to host his work and to share it with you.

So thank you Bill & Georgie for giving us the privilege of being able to include such amazing art works on our layouts - for that's truly what they are.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Fun with Static Grass: UNdoing it, and using it to plant structures

Once you decide that something doesn't look quite right, usually the best thing to do is just dive right in and fix it. Too often we (I - maybe it's just me) hem and haw, looking at the problem from all sorts of angles, trying to justify it as "good enough" so we can keep moving forward. And, if fixing the problem is going to cost a lot more in time (and/or money) than will justify the improvement, well - maybe it IS better to leave well enough alone.

But be ruthless with yourself and don't underestimate the benefit of just fixing the problem. Turns out, knowing "you can always do it over" is one of the best antidotes to analysis paralysis. Just keep going - and if things don't turn out as you thought, go at it again.

I've been in this place a few times before, even having to lower the backdrop in Wethersfield (click here for that story). And here I am again - realizing that the cool static grass I applied next to some loading docks at "Tartan Textiles" (future home of Stanley Chemical), needed to come out.

Heh - it hardly had the chance to dry! Guess I'm starting to practice a little of what I preach. Thankfully, it wasn't as hard or as painful to fix as I'd feared...



The first step to turning this grassy area into a loading area was to get a putty knife and scrape off the grass. Thankfully, the grass (cuz it's all "static-y") stays nice and close in little piles as you scrape it off the ground goop and you can collect it to reuse somewhere else. Little/no waste!


Believe it or not, this is how it looked after the grass was scraped off. Of course, you can still see the remnants/stubble.

Next, all this area was covered with my ground goop mixture, troweling it thicker toward the fascia to level out the lot (it's not that clear in the photo above, but the terrain dropped off here toward the aisle).

Note how much goop there is at the edge of the fascia - shows how much I had to build up the terrain to level it off.
Once I'd added the goop, I sifted on the dirt and used a vehicle to add some wheel ruts. The staining that had bothered me in previous applications actually turned out to be a blessing here, making the wheel ruts look wet and very realistic. And they sure make it look like a well-used truck lot!

So much for UNdoing some grass. Next, I used some grass to "plant" the structures (since my experiment with planting them in goop didn't work out so well). Of course, by "planting" structures I mean to cover up the unsightly gaps between the foundations and the uneven ground. And what better way to do that than with tall weeds and grass!


First step was to mark the footprint of the structure itself. I also made marks noting other places I'd add grass (see the curved pencil line on the ground, upper left).


Then I dropped a bead of thick Aleene's Tacky Glue along my pencil lines, and swirled it over the larger areas where I wanted grass to "grow." I then spread it with a brush dipped in water - brushing it toward the center of the building's footprint. This would ensure 1) that grass wouldn't go too far outside the outline of the building, and 2) it would go a bit under the foundations.


Then it was a matter of shaking on the grass. This time, I used shorter lengths (more 4-6mm rather than 8-10mm) and added more green to get the color closer to what's on the backdrop.


I went through the same process around the textile building, but here I experimented with a few "dots/blobs" of glue to simulate isolated clumps of weeds.


Grass applied and waiting a LONG time (at least overnight) for the thick glue to dry.


And here's what awaited me the next morning (after I vacuumed up the excess grass with my static-grass-dedicated hand vac).


Note the clump of grass/weeds there at the top left, and in the foreground near where the loading docks will go.

I think the grass does a much better job of "planting" the building than the goop did. Of course, I'll likely come back and add some individual clumps of weeds along the platform supports and such. But for now, I'm really liking how this is turning out. Note there's no grass in front of the side door nor by the bottom of the stairs. That was all planned ahead with my pencil marks.


Front view. Remember, you can always click on the photos to get a larger view.


And here's the loading dock area, looking much more like a loading dock area than a grassy field.


Again note the clumps of grass/weeds here and there - all the result of planning ahead of time with my pencil marks and glue application.


I especially like how the grass disguises the fact that not all of the platform supports actually touch the ground(! don't tell anyone....)

The next thing I should really do is try and apply some static grass between the rails and ties - but I'm worried I'm going to mess things up. Have any of you done that successfully? If so, help a brotha out and let me know how you did it. Exactly. With detailed step-by-step instructions. ;^)

Since I don't yet have the courage to try that myself, I figured I'd tackle something easy. Like pouring my first river.

Yeah. Right.


But at least I got started. Actually removed the bridge without damaging it, and troweled on - you guessed it - some ground goop to hide the plywood grain and cover the screw heads. Hopefully the surface texture won't be a problem. But if you think it will be, please let me know!

All in all, a pretty productive weekend. I may have to take a step back occasionally, but as long as I can get at least two steps forward here and there, actually getting some scenery on the layout makes it more than worthwhile.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Redoing Scenery in East Berlin: Fixing "waterstains" & Over-Eagerness with static grass

I'm learning that the best way to learn how to do scenery is to get really good at making mistakes and then correcting them. Even "two steps forward and one step back" results in progress over time. And I've spent far too long avoiding the "one step back," never getting around to the "two steps forward."

And that, in a nutshell, explains why it's taken me so long to get around to doing scenery. But, thankfully, my attitude is changing and I'm making some (slow but steady) progress as a result.

When last I left the scenery in East Berlin, I had just completed what I thought was a pretty clever idea of pressing the structures down into a layer of ground goop (protected by plastic wrap) so that the structures would literally sit down into the scenery. Well, I think I didn't use enough goop and/or the goop I had was too lumpy. Suffice it to say that that experiment didn't quite work out as planned. But I'll try it again sometime.

Unfortunately, the process resulted in some "watermarks" in the scenery:

You can see the "goop outline" of the structure in the upper left, with ground foam along the border. But note the "water staining" effect along the backdrop, as well as along the ground foam.
I'm not sure whether I used too much water in my mixes, or there's too much clay in my dirt, or I just saturated things too much. But fortunately, it was relatively easy to fix.

Just add more dirt (using the steps below...)

Here's a closer view of what I started with, and how bad it looked (even with the structure in place).

First, I squirted full-strength white glue on the "water stained" areas...

then spread it with a brush dipped in water (to help the glue spread more easily).

Next, I sifted on more dirt. To the right of the track, I experimented by adding just enough dirt to cover the glue. But to the left, I experimented by adding more and more dirt until all the "darkness" (wetness) was gone.
That seemed to work well until I checked the next morning after, presumably, everything was dry . . .


There wasn't much difference on the right side of the track from when I started. The left side of the track is better, but still not where I wanted it.

The answer, it turned out, was More Dirt! Well, that and a little bit of alcohol (sprayed on, not consumed).

I took my diluted glue mix and brushed it on the entire area in the corner, then sifted on More Dirt until the glue was completely covered (even waiting a few minutes to see if any wetness/dark spots would emerge - then covered that with Even More Dirt).

Then - and I think this may have been critical - I lightly sprayed the entire area with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Just enough to dampen everything - not enough to make it wet or dark. That's supposed to cause the glue to wick up through the dirt to secure it, but not with enough moisture to darken it.


The above photo shows the result. Notice not only are the "water stains" gone from the right end of the pic, but the overall "tone" of the area is much more even than it had been.


And here's the structure in place, looking pretty nice. But it needs some static grass. So that's what I experimented with next . . .


Here's Tartan Textiles (future home of Stanley Chemical) in place with some "burnt grass" and "green blend" fine ground foam in the foreground corner.

And here's what that corner looked like after, literally, about 15 minutes - using the technique Marty McGuirk described in his article "Modeling Fall Forests" (Model Railroader, Nov. 2015). I took pinches of a variety of colors and lengths of static grass, "cocktail shakered" together, and applied to full-strength white glue, spread evenly, and spritzed lightly with "wet" water for conductivity.


The lengths varied from 6-10mm, which turned out to be a little tall for this area (at least to my eye - what do you think?).


It also didn't cover as completely as I expected it would, even after going over it a couple times during the same application. Next time, I may try hitting the grass with some hair spray and applying another "coat." I may also apply the base ground foam more heavily, so that less of the brown/dirt shows through (heh - that would certainly undermine my reason to obsess over how "even" the dirt layer is...)


One of the things that occurred to me when looking at the photos (versus during the heat of application) is that color of the static grass is nowhere close to the color of the grass on the backdrop - which, despite its being a prototype photo taken in early October, still looks too green. But I'm slightly color-blind, so what do I know?


But the main reason I'm planning on ripping out all this static grass is that this area really should be a gravel/dirt lot to allow trucks to back up to those loading docks in the corner. Thanks to KenR who pointed that out on the The Valley Local Facebook group and to PeteL for confirmation.

This is also a strong reminder to really think through what you want to accomplish in a scene, how you want it to look, what you want it do do, before getting too far along with your scenery.

So the next step will be to rip out this area. I'm not even gonna bother trying to salvage the grass. It only cost me a few pinches of flock and a few minutes of time. But the lesson learned here is worth so much more. And, hopefully, the scene that results from the re-do will look even better and more realistic.

As always - and especially as I'm learning this scenery stuff - please weigh in with your suggestions/tips/guidance!


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thankful Thursday: Good Firing Manual

MelR pic
Wow - I can't believe it's been almost three years since I first saw this New Haven RR firing manual at the NHRHTA Reunion train show. I'd never seen one of these before and didn't even know it existed. And, in perhaps a further indication of its rarity, the owner didn't want to part with it at any price. Ever since then, I've been on the lookout for one. I did at least find and acquire a companion exam book later that day.


So, after all this time, imagine my surprise when Randy said he had an "early Christmas present" for me and, you guessed it, it was the New Haven RR firing manual!


There are many things that make model railroading the World's Greatest Hobby. One of them is the myriad of rabbit holes different things you can learn about real railroading through researching and reading prototype paperwork and publications. But probably the biggest one is the great people that you meet. Folks that are so generous with their time and resources - and thoughtful enough to keep an eye out for something they know you'll find interesting and that will fit in with your project.

Adding this firing manual to my collection hit on all those themes at the same time - thanks to Randy and his eagle eye!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Some Actual Progress: Tank Car Repair and Starting Scenery in East Berlin

It's been a while since I've been able to get some bench time, so I was actually glad to discover that I'd somehow lost a grab iron on my new tank car. No worries though - "all I had to do" was scratchbuild a replacement...

.015" phosphor bronze wire, "painted" with a black Sharpie. No NBW detail though (I doubt anybody will really miss it).

Looking at the ends so closely, the lack of airhoses bothered me, so I decided to install a pair of KD #438
Also snipped off the KD "airhoses"/trip pins - and with that, the car is ready for service. All in all, this little project made for an enjoyable evening at the workbench. I'll get around to weathering this car some other time

Speaking of right-brained things like weathering, I decided to get out my machete and start hacking my way to grooving some new neural pathways. In other words, I started on some scenery. BillM and his Missus are coming this Sunday to "visit" his structures, so I thought it'd be nice if at least a couple of them could be in a finished/scenicked setting. Here's what I started with:



Just a bunch of painted Scultamold/ground goop. JimD came by to help get me started and I quickly realized how much I hadn't given sufficient thought to what specifically I wanted to do where, scenery-wise. It's amazing how long you can go in this hobby with just a vague sense of what you want to accomplish, but when it comes to actually doing it - if you ever get around to doing it (and, sadly, many don't) - you realize that you need to be much more clear about your vision than you thought. Consequently, I spent a lot more time thinking through things more intentionally and nailing down some decisions than I did doing actual scenery.

But at least I got started...

Adding a dirt layer: Brushed on some 1:1 diluted white glue, sifted on dirt (thanks to Randy for some great dirt!), soaked with 70% isopropyl alcohol from a sprayer, and applied more glue with a pipette.

I used a different grade of dirt on the tracks, trying to (mostly) bury the ties. Similar process, though here I placed the dirt first, then wet it with alcohol, then applied the glue with a pipette.
We applied dirt all over the East Berlin area (everything to the right/north of the Mattabesset River) and we also had to extend the river bank to accommodate a more-accurately-sized station than I'd originally planned. I thought I'd get more accomplished than one layer of dirt, but at least I got started.

After everything dried, I realized that it all came out pretty splotchy and uneven - almost looking like some areas were still wet (they weren't) while others looked bone dry and maybe not even glued down (they were).



I didn't want to spend another large block of time doing more dirt, so I decided to turn my attention to the backdrop. I'd vacillated a lot between keeping the sky, or even using this photo at all. But one thing I'm learning is how easily I allow myself to get bogged down in such minutia. Analysis paralysis is real, so best to make a decision as soon as you've done your due diligence - and not over think things.

I decided to cut out the sky (like the rest of my backdrops) and glue it to the wall (yup - full glue. No tape, and no turning back now).


One of the things I'd noticed when placing the structures is that there were a lot of gaps at the foundations - the inevitable result of uneven terrain. One tip I read about long ago (and which worked out really well on my Christmas layout) is to press the structure down into a layer of ground goop. This will accomplish two things: 1) it'll provide a clear marking of where the structure goes (for when you need to get it out of the way to do scenery), and 2) it'll make the structure look like it's really "settled into" the terrain - because, of course, now it is.



The process is simple. First, spread a thin layer of ground goop roughly following the outline of the structure (which you marked first). Then cover it with plastic wrap.


Then press your structure down into the goop (protected by the plastic wrap).


Then, carefully remove the plastic wrap and add ground cover over the ground goop to blend it all in.


I feel like this whole scenery process is going pretty slowly, but I keep reminding myself that learning any new skill is going to take some time. It takes a while to create those new pathways in your brain.

Here's where I ended up - so far...
But despite my impatience for more results, I'm happy I at least got started and am determined to keep going. The only thing worse than slow progress is no progress at all. And the quicker I get going, the quicker I'll learn and develop the skill I need to make faster progress.

Hopefully something I've shared here resonates with some of you and encourages you to get started too. Or am I the only one that has this problem?

As always, if you have any suggestions or tips for how I could do things differently/better, weigh in with a comment!