Monday, February 17, 2020

Prototype Junction: Changing the World 11 Freight Cars at a Time

You don't have to read this blog for very long before you come across Randy's name. Not only has he been with this Valley Line project since the very beginning, he's been a big help - everything from track planning, to construction, to even helping me start a blog and website. His New Britain Station website is a great repository of New Haven RR info and his approach to the hobby - as shared through his blog - is a big influence. It's not too much to say that it's sometimes difficult to see where his work ends and mine begins.

And that's how it often is with train buddies. The relationships tend to be very symbiotic, with a lot of non-RR topics fading into the background as you share the hobby. It's not too much of a stretch to say that if more folks were model railroaders, the world would be a happier place. There would certainly be less talk of politics - the most controversial conversations would focus on debates between prototype and freelance, TT&TO vs. CTC, paperwork or not.

Pretty nice, eh?

Randy explores this phenomena a bit in his latest post over at his new endeavor - Prototype Junction, a company dedicated to producing HO scale freight cars of never-before-produced prototypes. Using a crowd-funding financing model, Prototype Junction is as much about building a community of modelers as it is about producing models.

Can model railroading change the world? Click over to find out - and don't be surprised at the answer. You may discover not only a new world of like-minded folks that want to build cool models, but if you dive in you'll likely discover your own little world - the one that resides in your basement or spare room - being changed for the better with the acquisition of some really amazing freight cars.

So be sure to check it out. The direct link to the website is
You can also find them on Facebook where they have a page at
and a group at

Whether you visit directly or through social media, I hope you'll take a few minutes to take a look around. I think you'll find it a pretty great place to be.

Monday Morning Motivation: Progress on Many Fronts

Like many folks, I have a definite love/hate relationship with Facebook. It's a time suck, and often a source of frustration (typically remedied by, um, "modifying" one's feed to eliminate political posts), but it can also be a source of quick feedback when posting about modeling projects. That's the main reason I started the FB group - "The Valley Local - Modeling the New Haven RR, Autumn 1948" (be sure to check it out - and join if you like), but maintaining two "journals" (three, if you count the Valley Local website) can be a challenge.

All three platforms have their strengths. Typically, the most-up-to-the-minute progress is shared on the FB group. Topics/posts too large for a quick FB post - and/or that are heavy on photos - get posted to the blog. Eventually, the more permanent info I want to keep gets loaded into the website.

But human nature being what it is, I too-often take the easiest path in sharing my progress on the layout. Facebook makes it VERY easy to just post a few quick pics with a description - and it's also VERY easy to post comments/feedback and replies. So, despite its drawbacks, the Valley Local Facebook group tends to get much of my attention.

Case in point: Just about every day, I do a "Morning Progress" post on FB showing what I'm up to. And I admit, it's pretty cool not only to see all the "Likes" but the feedback and answers I get usually come within a few hours. It's pretty hard to top that.

But I want to make a concerted effort to preserve my progress here on the blog as well. I own the content here, it's easily searchable and retrievable, and I don't have to worry about FB taking it or erasing it.

So, in that spirit - and because I realize that I haven't done a proper layout update here since before Springfield - here's a compilation of what I've been up to lately, with a promise to be more regular in my posting here.

BEST Trains Garages

Some lessons have to be continually re-learned. I've been in this hobby for 37 years and I'm still discovering that so many aspects of it are so much easier than you imagine. You just have to get started. I'd psyched myself out about "craftsman structure kits" so much that I couldn't even do a little garage. Well, that's finally changed.

Believe it or not, I opened the first of these kits back in August of 2017(!) There it languished a while, and in the meantime, I picked up two more kits. This past autumn, I decided to do an assembly-line build of all three kits at once (my first-ever craftsman structures) in order to gain some new skills and try new techniques.

Construction was really straight forward - provided you realize that, in this case at least, "finishing" comes before "construction." Here are the quick steps I took:

  • Braced the walls
  • Sprayed all the parts with rattle can gray primer to seal them
  • Drybrushed the colors, letting some of the primer show through (for a weathered effect)
  • Added the clear plastic to the windows
  • Assembled the walls using wood glue applied with a microbrush
  • Glued on the roofs

I used some car weights in small plastic bags to weigh down the roofs while drying.

And - in the new skills department - I'd added some Campbell shingles to one of the roofs for variety:

  • Drew guide lines on the roof 3/32" apart
  • Used a microbrush and applied glue along a line (I didn't want to rely on the adhesive backing)
  • Applied a strip of shingles, lining to the guideline
  • Repeated 24 times (12 each side)
  • Added medical tape for the roof peak, and painted to match.

Speaking of roofing, along the way I got a great tip for using medical tape. Click here for more on that. At least one of the other roofs were done with this cool tape.

Buildings Formerly for East Berlin

A corollary to the maxim: "Once you scratchbuild a freightcar, somebody will produce it Ready to Run" must be "If you wait long enough to finish a structure, one will be provided."

That may be an extreme example of wishful thinking, but it worked out that way in East Berlin.

You may recall way back last April(!) that I'd planned on freelancing a brick factory from Walthers modular parts to be Stanley Chemical, and using a Rutland RR station kit(!) for the station in East Berlin (in my defense, at least it was the station from New Haven, um, Vermont).

Well, two wonderful things happened shortly thereafter. In June, I got some beautiful structures from Bill Maguire that fit perfectly in the East Berlin space (and I eagerly used my Modeler's License to include them, despite the prototype), and the next month I discovered a prototype photo of the East Berlin station, which my friend Dave Messer agreed to build.

So, I went from totally freelancing two structures for East Berlin to getting three structures - two freelanced, one prototype, and all built exquisitely by others :^)

The structures I'd started for the space languished a bit, but I figured I'd gain some more skill and experience by finishing them. So that's another thing I've been up to in recent weeks . . .

The factory building actually got rearranged to swap the narrow end for the wide end. That way, it will fit nicely in a spot I found for it in Middletown. As you can see above, the walls are done - including the foundation - but I still have to add the roof and other details. I'll be posting further progress on this build later.

As for the station, it's all finished and came out pretty great, IMO. I've debated whether to weather it, but there's really no place for it on my layout, so I'm considering selling it. Let me know if you're interested and I'll send more detailed photos.

When I haven't been at the bench working on structures (and having an absolute BLAST, btw), I've been (finally) getting to the scenery in Wethersfield. Seeing how great trains look going into East Berlin has really lit a fire of motivation to continue the scenery south. And "Finish Wethersfield" has been a New Year's Resolution for - literally - years(!) It's high time I got around to it - and this week's Wordless Wednesday shows I've tackled it with a vengeance!

And that brings this here blog up-to-date. The photo above was the "Morning Progress" photo I posted to the FB group just Saturday morning. It shows the Wethersfield Lumber Co. siding modified to more closely follow the prototype (which also had an S curve going into the lumber shed which is/was parallel to the mainline).

There's a lot of work left ahead - more terraforming, ground gooping, and scenicking - but I can happily say that I'm looking forward to it - and hope you'll enjoy following along!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tuesday Tip - Best Ever Roofing Material?

Every once in a while you come across a way of doing something that is so perfect and so obvious you think - "Now, why didn't I think of that?!" Well, that happened to me a few days ago when my buddy Randy suggested I try using medical tape for roofing material.

I'd been hemming and hawing about what to use on a few little garages I'm building, and even went so far as to do one with some old Campbell shingles I had lying around. But I didn't want to do THAT again if I could avoid it (no matter how great it looks - more on that later...). Besides, a little ol' garage in the late '40s would probably have simple rolled tarpaper roofing. I'd considered strips of paper, paper towel, or masking tape to simulate it - but Randy's suggestion was a game changer.

The stuff he uses is 3M paper medical tape. I took the pic above at my local Walmart, but you can get it at Amazon too (what can't you get from Amazon?)

I also had on-hand some paper medical tape left over from my crashing racing days. Here's a comparison of the two:

Randy's tape is on the left (he'd given me some to try) and my tape's on the right. I really like his better - it has a more pronounced texture and it's thinner. But I suppose I could use the other in a pinch (or if I wanted a slightly different look).

Since it's "tape" it has an adhesive backing, but Randy also uses Aleene's Tacky Glue to make sure it stays. It seemed sticky enough to me as-is, so I just applied it straight to the roof.  This was after I'd narrowed the tape by cutting it into 42" wide strips (in HO scale). The tape is actually 1" wide, and cutting it in half length-wise gives you strips just a bit over 3.5 feet wide in HO.

I started at the bottom edge of the roof and overlapped strips, working my way toward the top. I then added a 1' wide strip at the top for a peak cap which would "hang" 6 inches down each side. Next time, I'll overlap the strips to be a bit more even.

Once that's done, you can paint the tape with regular acrylics, or whatever else you like. Randy uses a rattle can of Rustoleum black primer. I just brushed on my "grimy black" craft paint (at $.50/ bottle, it's a bargain).

I painted the other roof - which was just the cardstock that came with the kit - with the same paint for comparison. Even with no weathering yet, I think you'll agree that the roof with the medical tape came out MUCH better (as always, you can click on the photo for a closer view). I can't wait to hit this with some chalks and PanPastels - I think the texture will really stand out and grab the colors.

So that's a little tip, by way of my buddy Randy, and just a quick glance into what I've been working on lately. Hope to have a more about these garages posted soon. In the meantime, I hope you'll try using medical tape for tarpaper roofing - and if you do, let us know!

Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday Fun - Jerry Britton's Springfield Show Recap

Jerry Britton (who attended the ops session last Thursday) attended the Big Show for the first time this year (can't believe he's been able to avoid it this long(!)) and made up a little video of his experience. Not only does he share his experience of the show itself, but he also included quite a bit of footage of the Valley Line ops session. Thanks Jerry - VERY cool!

Listeners of the A Modeler's Life podcast will recognize many of the folks here, but whether you're part of the AML nation or not, if you want a little taste of what the Springfield show is like, you'll definitely want to check it out!


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

AML Ops Session & Open House

Whew! I had a great (but exhausting) time attending the largest train show in the country (and probably the world) and having good friends stay with us for the weekend. Unfortunately, I don't have much in the way of photos of the show itself, but I DO have a few of the Valley Line Ops Session I hosted to kick off the 3 day festival. And I'm so glad I remembered to take them - especially since this was by far the session with the most geographically diverse operators I've ever had . . .

I finished up all the last-minute prep the morning of the session, powered by strong coffee in a New Haven RR mug. Note the panel is lit up since trains are test-running in the background, and all the paperwork is laid out ready to go.

Speaking of paperwork, I had my guinea pigs operators try out some new forms I added for this session. While I use switchlists rather than car cards and waybills, that system doesn't work well when you have to transfer a car from one local freight to another. I'd been using a made-up "Car Transfer Form" that conductors had to use to transcribe car info from the list to the card that he would then leave with the car. But that was a lot of work for the conductors, and not prototypical. So, at much more work for the host (me), I decided to make up bills for just the cars being transferred - "Empty Car" bills for, um, empty cars, and "Freight Waybills" for loaded cars. They seemed to work well on first-time Valley Line operators. We'll see how my regular crew likes them.

Tom Jacobs (PA) and Seth Gartner (NC) operated the flagship train - HDX-7/The Valley Local. Here they are switching at Middletown. They got there much quicker than I'd expected, but then the volume of Middletown switching hit - as well as a First Revenue Run up the branch (click here for a video of the first test run....)

One downside of a much-larger-than-usual session is that my aisles can get crowded (typical sessions have 8 operators), but folks didn't seem to mind (at least they didn't say so....) Here, James Mattern (PA) operates PDX-2 (aka the westbound Shoreline local, aka The Haddam Local) in Essex, while Kaylee Zheng (CT) takes care of West End Staging. First time operators Rod Diery (all the way from Australia!) and Christina Zambri (NJ) operate the Air Line local in Somerset. Speaking of Rod and Christina - I was super psyched not only that they wanted to jump right in to operations, not having operated much at all before, but that they had such a good time. And did so well!
I had 13 folks attending this session, but fortunately a few of them decided they'd rather railfan than operate (much to my relief since I didn't have enough jobs for everybody and I didn't want anybody to be bored). Gordy Robinson (all the way from Scotland!) was able to do a little of both. Here he's operating PDX-1 (aka the eastbound Shoreline local) switching Old Saybrook. It's the shortest job on the layout, but since it does all the work in Saybrook and has to go back and forth across the mainline while dodging heavy traffic, it's one of the more complicated jobs.

Speaking of railfans - here's Neill Horton (all the way from England!) doing some 'fanning while Kaylee checks the Shoreline script. Jerry Britton (PA) is taking a break from taking pictures and video to check out the west end staging box.

I'm always pleasantly surprised when the layout works just like the prototype.... Here the crews of the Air Line local and Valley Local are in Middletown at the same time, trying to stay out of each other's way while coordinating switching.

Not last and not least, Arry Dodd (also from Scotland!) is here holding down the "right hand seat" on PDX-2 along with James in Essex.
Last, but certainly not least, Mike and Mel Redden (MD) held down duties at East End Staging. Unfortunately, they were - literally - behind a curtain so they didn't get their picture taken :^(

Speaking of the staging operations, it's unfortunately become fairly typical that there were some problems with derailing while exiting west end staging. But what should I expect? I'm having the east end operator run the train, which s/he can't see, through an S-curve and multiple turnouts, around a 24" radius, using full-length passenger cars. Ugh! Other than that everybody seemed to have a good time and the rest of the layout ran really well. Considering the high number of folks, with a diverse range of experience, I call that a success!

The next day was a lot more laid back. No formal ops session planned (though Mike and I did have some fun running an extra - but I'll post about that later), just an open house for a contingent of folks from the Syracuse, NY area (including AML Superfan #12) and some additional AML-ers later in the day. Unfortunately, despite having made brownies especially for the occasion, The Evil Overlord wasn't able to make an appearance. But, as they say, "there's always next year!"

So ended Friday. I felt like I'd already had a pretty big RR weekend, and the Big Springfield Show hadn't even started yet!

Heading off to the Big Shew . . .

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday Fun: East Berlin Done (kinda)

They say no model railroad is ever finished, and now that I've reached a level of "done-ness" in East Berlin, I can attest to the fact that you can Always Add More.

So yes, I have a lot more I want to do here - including adding trees, people, details, more scenery texture, a new concrete loading dock - but I think for now it's time to move on and try and get the rest of the layout up to at least this level.

Cuz it's certainly nicer to watch a train go through even rudimentary scenery rather than over plywood and foam.

Before I leave East Berlin though, I thought it'd be fun to pause and take stock of how far it's come since I started the scenery last August.


(PS: if you're at Springfield tomorrow and happen to see me, please be sure to stop me and say "hi!")