Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this special day, let's remember all the wonderful blessings we have of family, friends, and - yes - a great hobby that brings so many of us together.
Here's wishing you and yours a Very Happy Thanksgiving!

Over the River and Through the Woods....
Valley Local carrying passengers southbound
over Shailerville Bridge, Higganum, CT
And here's a northbound train, showing the famous Shad Shack & part of the Middlesex Turnpike (old Rt. 9 - now Rt. 154)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wordless Wednesday #292

Wish we could see this trackside today - speeding travelers to their families at Thanksgiving . . .

Friday, November 22, 2019

If At First You Don't Succeed... (Brick Mortar)

Before I decided to use a couple of Bill Maguire's structures as the industries in East Berlin, I'd been working on scratchbuilding an approximation of Stanley Chemical using Walther's modular brick wall sections (click here for more on that). But that project got bogged down as I tried to come up with an effective, foolproof, and repeatable method for finishing the brick - specifically, dealing with the mortar lines.

Turns out, the last time I posted about this was way back in May(!). I started by trying an acrylic wash as I did with Ballantine's, using craft paint this time (instead of Polly Scale paint), and a couple of different application techniques. Unfortunately, none of them really gave me the effect I was looking for, so I put the project on the back burner - for a few months, as it turned out.

I picked the project up again with a "do over" - as in, I just sprayed the castings with a fresh coat of red paint and started again with the experimenting. This time with some spackling...

In some small areas, this ended up being an "ok" technique, but still ended up making the walls much too light with mortar/spackle all over the faces of the brick no matter what I did to try and remove it.

I thought maybe I'd start over yet again, this time spraying a gloss coat over the red - figuring part of my problem was mortar getting caught and drying up in the microscopic "pores" of the flat finish. But while I contemplated that, I decided set the craft paint and spackle aside and try some oil paint...

No gloss coat needed - the oil paint is easy to remove even from a matte finish . . .

I tried it out on a spare chimney (above) and here it is on a section of wall next to the section I did with acrylic wash (oil paint on the left, acrylic on the right, in case you were wondering...)

Now, admittedly, I should have used a gray color rather than white, and will definitely try that next time.

Other than how easy it was to remove it from the brick faces, the other thing I noticed about the oil paint is that it takes a LOOONG time to dry. The little bit above was still not completely dried through even after a few days.

I also have never worked with oil paint, so am not at all sure how it will react to subsequent weathering/finishing methods (how will alcohol & india ink washes affect it, for example?)

And, in addition to using a gray-er color for the mortar and definitely weathering the walls over all, I'll probably try and highlight/distinguish some of the bricks with these colored pencils.

I still haven't decided whether to continue with this oil paint technique or try something different. In the meantime, I decided to strip the walls I've been practicing on (soaked in Simple Green for a week) and start over.

As they say.... "if at first you don't succeed, try, try (and try) again..."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday Tips: Start Early & Use Fresh Plaster

Before I get to today's tips, here's one that transcends them all (for model railroading, anyway):

Start Early/Start Now

The earlier you start, the earlier you'll make the inevitable mistakes, and the earlier you'll learn from them and build your skills. How many of us know folks that have been in the hobby for decades, and yet still haven't even tried scenery, or built benchwork, or - worse of all - haven't even started a layout?

I can certainly relate. I've been in this hobby ever since Christmas, 1982 when my brother(!) got a train set & my dad took me to K&B Toy & Hobby at the (old) mall in Waterbury, CT to buy more track for it. I got my first Model Railroader magazine there (January, 1983 issue - which I still have) and it contained pretty much what it still contains today: lots of articles on how to get started in every aspect of the hobby.

And here I am, closing in on 40 years later, making the mistakes and learning the things I should've learned back in the early '80s. I would have been SO much further along in the hobby by now. But like many folks, I favored perfection over progress - and that kept me from even getting started on some things for years. And even after finally getting started, this left-brained OCD continues to be a headwind in my hobby.

The Struggle is Real.

So, I'm (again, finally) working on scenery and needed some new rock castings & I had some Woodland Scenics rubber rock molds on-hand, as well as an opened (but sealed) box of Plaster of Paris.

I mixed it according to the directions - 2 parts plaster, 1 part water.

Then poured scraped the mixture into the molds. It didn't actually pour. That should have been my first clue to the failure to come...

After waiting over 24 hours, the plaster finally dried - but it didn't look right...

And removing the castings was not only a pain, but they came out all crumbly . . . and useless.

ONLY THEN did I remember all this like it was a dream. Yup, I'd forgotten I went through this exact same process almost a year ago. With the same failed results.

One of the best reasons to keep a blog is to record your mistakes as well as your successes. Makes a great reference tool - provided you remember to actually consult it(!)

So, after reading my previous post, I actually did go to the hobby shop and got a carton of Woodland Scenics Lightweight Hydrocal. But while I was waiting in line, I noticed a handy chart on the carton comparing the qualities of the hydrocal with other WS plasters. Given my previous experience, I decided to go with the strongest stuff available, weight be darned (this layout ain't portable).

Brandy-new carton of plaster (though I should check to see if there's a "sell by" date - who knows how long it's been on the shelf waiting to be purchased...)

I mixed it according to the instructions - and this time, the plaster actually poured!

I sprayed "wet water" into the molds before pouring the plaster into them (makes the castings easier to remove). And since I had more than I needed for the molds I'd planned on filling, I just poured the rest of the plaster in sections of the larger molds.

And EUREKA! Everything came out just as I'd hoped (though didn't dare to expect). Nice, true fidelity, hard rock castings. They just need to be colored and put into place.

Other than being sure to use fresh plaster, I learned a couple of other things along the way you may find helpful:
  1. Use fresh plaster (I guess I can't stress this enough, if only to myself)
  2. Make sure your "wet water" (tap water with a "couple of drops" of dishwashing liquid) that you spray into the molds as a mold release doesn't have SO much soap that it leaves bubbles in the molds. Those bubbles will create hundreds of tiny voids on your rock faces. Ask me how I know. (however, the resulting castings make GREAT models of lava rocks!! #consolations)
  3. Do a better job than I did of scraping the excess plaster off the molds. In other words, don't overfill the molds. If you do, your castings will be more difficult to remove from the mold and, once you finally get the castings out, you'll have more flash to trim off.
So those are my tips for this week. Hope you at least find them entertaining, if not helpful. And if this post motivates you to get out of the armchair and get to some modeling, I hope you'll let me know!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Goff Brook Brook

It's a bit ironic that the more progress you make on the layout the less time you have to post about it. That's where I'm at lately - lots of blog fodder but little in the way of blog posts. Folks following the Valley Local group on Facebook have gotten a small taste of what's been up on the layout these past couple of months, so it's high time to start catching up here . . .
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, much of October was taken up filling in the Airline and extending the Saybrook scene. Well, somewhere during the middle of the month, BillS came over and we finally got around to adding some water to the Goff Brook scene. You know - so that there'd actually be a brook at Goff Brook. I even alluded to it in a Wordless Wednesday . . .
Water poured 10/16/19 - still covered here on 10/23 to keep the warmth in during curing and to keep the dust off. The foil really didn't need to be here any longer than a day or so.

Goff Brook circa July 2017
Goff Brook had been experiencing a severe "drought" for over 2 years and I've also been wanting to finish the Mattabesset River over in the East Berlin area I've been scenicking, so I decided to try out a new (to me) product: Woodland Scenics Deep Pour Water.

Most folks - including me - have heard of using EnviroTex for water. It's certainly a lot less expensive than the WS product, but I'd heard enough horror stories about the smell and it's tendency to creep up the banks that I figured the WS price was worth paying for the relatively small pours I'd need.

Full Disclosure: I have never used EnviroTex.

The WS product comes with a pretty detailed instruction manual, but it's basically a two-part resin that you have to mix. The exact amount can be calculated by using the handy WS calculator app (which I downloaded to my phone). I could only tell a few real differences between this product and what I've heard about EnviroTex (and affirmed by BillS, who was with me for this first try - and has used EnviroTex): It's heat activated so you should warm it up a bit before using it, per the instructions (um, we didn't do that and it turned out ok - but I will definitely do it in the future); it has no smell that I could detect; and it didn't tend to creep up the banks.

The version I got was the "Murky Water" - which is essentially their clear water product with the color already mixed in. I also purchased a package of the clear water & a separate bottle of the coloring agent to try that at another time.

I don't know if it was beginner's luck, or if I've over-psyched myself out about doing scenery, but I think it came out pretty nice:

We poured it to a thickness of probably about 3/16" (the instructions recommends only 1/8" at a time), but hopefully you can see how translucent it is, despite it's overall "murky" tone.

Old abandoned dam just to the west of the Middlesex Turnpike. Yes, it's there on the prototype (though the culvert is not) and was used to create an ice pond in the winter before electric refrigeration.
It's also just a tad cloudy when you bounce the light off of it. I read elsewhere that that's one of the side effects of not warming up the product first. But it turns out, it was perfect for what I wanted - a murky (not mucky) stream with some, um, oil slick runoff from Valley Coal (yeah, that's the ticket).

I still may try my hand at adding some ripples using gloss Modge Podge - especially around the rocks. But for now, I'll call this scene, if not actually done, at least at an acceptable level of "doneness" that I can make some progress in other areas.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Riding the Wave

Like most hobbies I guess, model railroading is subject to ebbs and flows - usually due to "real life," work commitments (both at home and the office), and the inevitable lack-of-motivation. But sometimes - and, if you're lucky most times - you catch a wave of motivation and everywhere you look you see opportunities and fun projects instead of being discouraged by seeing all you haven't done.

I'm happy to report that I've been riding that wave lately. When I'm not delving back into benchwork & backdrops, I'm trying different techniques for modeling brick buildings, dipping my toe into building a few (simple) craftsman structure kits & (trying) casting plaster rocks, and even getting back into doing scenery at East Berlin (including starting a river). After a fun-filled Fall of railroad road-tripping, it's nice to get back to the basement and make some more progress on the layout.

So hopefully you're still on board - the train is on the east leg of the Saybrook wye and ready to head up the Valley Line to show you more of what all's been going on . . .

Image may contain: outdoor

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!