Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Thankful Tuesday - New Track Plan!

Way back in April (seems like an eternity ago, given global circumstances), I received an email from Ian Thorpe, a modeler in Sydney, Australia. He'd been reading the blog for some time and was intrigued by the track layout - so much so that he took advantage of some "extra" time and drew up a trackplan.

After a few iterations and back & forths, I hereby present the latest version of the Valley Line trackplan!

Click to enlarge

Thanks to my buddy Randy, I've had a trackplan on the homepage of the Valley Line website ever since the site was created almost 7(?!) years ago - but there have certainly been a few tweaks and changes since then, so it's a great time for a new version.

So THANK YOU Ian for all your work on this, but especially for reaching out from way "Down Under" to let me know you're enjoying the blog. It's so cool to be part of a worldwide community - and it's truly amazing that so many folks in this hobby are so skilled and willing to share their talent with us.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Fun(2): Getcher NMRA Convention Guidebook Here!

The NMRA (inter)National (virtual)Convention starts this Sunday! So be sure to check out yesterday's (and kinda today's) post for more info on that.

In the meantime, I've heard that some folks - especially those without Facebook accounts - are having trouble accessing the Convention Guide.

I know a Facebook account isn't required to view the presentations (and there's also a YouTube option), but it must be different for the guidebook, which is a file hosted on the NMRA's FB site.

So try this link, which the NMRA sent out via email Wednesday:

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thankful Thursday/Friday Fun: NMRA-x (inter)National (virtual)Convention July 12-18

Since the National Model Railroad Association's (NMRA) Annual National Train Show and Convention has been cancelled this year (you can guess the reason), Gordy Robinson & Co. (of worldwide convention fame) have teamed up to provide an INTERnational NMRA convention, LIVE, over the internet!

Just like the IRL national convention, it lasts the Whole Week, starting this Sunday, July 12 and going Fifteen (15!) hours every day until Saturday night, July 18. That's almost two days' worth of clinics and presentations every day, from building your first layout, to layout design, structures & scenery, painting & weathering, operations, and more. Every day has a different theme and there'll be live roundtable discussions throughout - just like an actual convention, but from the comfort of your own home.

For all the details, including how to participate (you can access it via Facebook (you don't need a FB account) or YouTube) and a full schedule of all the proceedings, you can download the convention guidebook by clicking here or here, or by going to the NMRA's Facebook Group here and scrolling down the right hand side of the page under "Recent Group Files." If none of those options work for whatever reason, leave a comment below or send me an email and I'll send you the pdf file.

It should be pretty clear why this is a "Thankful Thursday" post . . . Not only am I thankful that, despite the current circumstances, we have technology that allows us to get "together" and share this hobby with each other, whether we're right down the road or literally on the other side of the world, but I'm especially thankful that there are folks that are so willing to step up and fill in the void left by so many event cancellations.

And it should also be pretty clear why this is also a "Friday Fun" post . . . because what could be more of a BLAST! than 105 hours of FREE clinics and presentations on this great hobby from all around the world?!

Heh - and it might be vaguely clear why I'm having this post do double-duty over two days. Not only do I want to get the word out . . . but I have a presentation myself to finish up! (my April presentation will be rerun Wednesday at 10a, but I'll be doing a live presentation on layout operations Saturday at noon).

So here's hoping you can spend some time with us at GATEWAY-X 2020. And if you can't sit in front of the computer (or on your phone or iPad) for 15 hours a day :^) don't worry, Gordy's recording everything and it'll all be available on the internets later, just like before.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tuesday Tips

Some tips I learned or remembered during the past week's layout work:

  • Be sure the bottom of your backdrop is level or below your subroadbed height (unless you're modeling a mountainous area, I supposed), or else you may have to engage in some "backdropping."
  • Don't forget to install headblocks at your turnouts before painting your track (and definitely before doing scenery or ballast).
  • Make sure the foundations on your structures are tall enough so that the bottom of your freight doors are at the same height as a boxcar floor.
  • Use a respirator and/or open windows and run fans if you're painting track with aerosol spray paint. And be sure you don't spray so much that the pilot light on your furnace ignites the fumes and blows up your house (though you'll have a clean slate for your next layout, you probably won't be in any condition to actually build it).
  • If you get stuck on something while working on the layout (I dunno, for example, obsessing over how to do a particular backdrop), move on to something else. No matter how small your layout, there's always something "else" you can do.
  • Don't be afraid to redo something if you're not happy with it.
I'll probably forget a few of these (again) myself in the future, but hopefully writing them down here will help me remember them.

What are your favorite tips? What's been especially helpful to you lately to remember? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Dividend Progress Report: Structure Height, Feeders, Painting Track, More "Backdropping"

Hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday weekend, though I suspect for most of you it didn't feel quite the same. And I I suspect some of you were able to make it to your train room a bit.... I, for one, was able to make some more progress in Dividend . . .

Once I finished redoing the trackwork last Thursday, I put the Hartford Rayon structures back to double-check placement and discovered that, for some reason, the loading doors are about 3/8" too low. Maybe Dave assumed I'd be putting these on a(n additional) foundation?

In any event, after soliciting lots of feedback from the always-helpful members of the Valley Local Facebook Group on how to address this situation, I've decided to raise the buildings by adding a taller foundation. I may also raise the terrain slightly (and/or goop around the foundation), but since things are relatively level around here, I think focusing on the foundation is the best way to go.

While I was mulling structure height, I decided to get the feeders installed and out of the way. I had to disconnect them to change the track arrangement, and I added a new siding, so I needed to repower everything.  Click here and here if you want the details on how I do feeders.

After feeders are all done and tested, the next step track-wise is to paint the track. I've considered using an airbrush (even bought a 50' hose to get it around the whole layout!), but for basic track painting I just use a rattle can (Krylon Camoflage Earth Brown #279178) and clean the railheads immediately aftewards with a rag dipped in denatured alcohol.

One of the main reasons I do this blog is to document how I've done things before so I can refer to them later, if needed. And good thing: Just as I was about to start spraying, I vaguely remembered that there were a couple things I needed to be sure and do before painting. Sure enough - there's a post for that! But the skinny is: clean your solder joints, file any rough spots on the track (including tips of turnout points, add some oil to the point hinges, and add filler ties.

And one more thing that I didn't mention in that post - and, sure enough, forgot this time around: Add headblocks to your turnouts (and turnout details, if you're so inclined).

Of course, protect the surrounding areas. Then paint!

After the paint dried, I turned my attention to the scenery between the track and the backdrop. The prototype photos I've seen give the impression that the area is a bit flatter than my current scenery base.

While the small hill at the north (in the distance, just short of the Rocky Hill station area) is consistent with the prototype (and - bonus! - will make a nice scene separator), the hill here at the south (close) end - while also prototypical - will need to be a bit smaller since it currently crowds the Cromwell scene (there's no transition/it ends abruptly).

But the biggest problem - to my eye at least - is the slope from the track to the bottom of the backdrop.

This problem is especially apparent when you look at a mockup of the Cromwell scene.

Admittedly, in the far distance, there's a bit of an upward slope as the Middlesex Turnpike climbs a hill. But I don't want to foreshorten that slope right into the town area itself.

So, remembering my lesson in Wethersfield way back when I "lowered" the backdrop there, (the lesson being - it often takes more time to mull something than to actually do it), I decided to rip out the scenery base and "drop" the backdrop to allow for a flatter scene.

Once the scenery base was out, I just needed to glue in some supports/splices for the backdrop extension. . .

And once those were dry, I cut some masonite strips from scrap and glued those up. . .

The scrap I used was blue #luckybreak

Although I removed the hill from between Cromwell and Dividend (it was to the right in the pic above), there actually was a hill between the two towns (and actually included the ruling grade on the line) and it'll provide a perfect scene separator. I'll just redo it - but this time with stacked foam, and also with a more realistic transition into Cromwell.

Experienced modelers (heh - or just about anyone with a better sense of project management?) may think I'm crazy to go through all this for what may end up being marginal gains. But "gains" really are in the eye of the beholder. I'm pretty sure if I didn't make these changes, they'd nag me. And - fortunately - I've gotten pretty good at doing things over and not catching the Analysis Paralysis bug quite as often.

And the proof is in the progress. I'm making pretty quick headway in Dividend - certainly more than I'd been making in Wethersfield lately. With any luck - and some better time management - I'll be getting back to scenery and structures here again soon!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Reworking Trackwork at Dividend

As I mentioned at the end of Tuesday's post, I've skipped a couple of my usual morning bike rides this week to make some progress on the layout before heading into the office (admittedly, a "home" office - but I suspect I'm not the only one to discover that teleworking often results in longer workdays rather than shorter ones!).

Sometimes in this hobby, you have to take a couple steps back before you can move forward - and that's proving true in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill on my layout. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'd initially based the trackplan there on a combination of a(n admittedly pre-era) Sanborn map and John Wallace's personal recollections. The track arrangement in Dividend has worked well and realistically for the 6 or so years I've been operating it, but more-recent research (a combination of aerial views and additional memory jogging) has confirmed that the curved track south of the Hartford Rayon factory complex (and which was used to unload chemical tank cars) actually came directly off the main rather than off the end of the switchback track as I initially thought.

Mockup of a new mainline turnout (one of the new ME #5s, as it happens) and 18"r curve which will become  the new tank track. Current tank track is at the end of the siding that goes alongside the factory.

The new turnout, and the fact that I didn't want it located too far south (and impinging on Cromwell), meant that I'd need to move the switchback about 12" north (to the right). The switchback's mainline turnout is mocked up here for comparison.

And the other turnout in the switchback gets pushed north too - into the current  grade crossing.

I want to be sure this relocation doesn't reduce the length of the tail track. I need about 28" to accommodate a K-1 mogul and three 40' cars.
Now, nobody wants to fix what ain't broken. The trackage at the rayon plant has worked well and we know that the switchback (the existence of which has never been in dispute) makes for some interesting switching - just like on the prototype. But the more I considered redoing the track to follow the prototype more closely, the more I liked it and the more the benefits outweighed the work involved.

And bonus! Yet more information has come in that suggests that there was likely a coal dump somewhere on the property as well - either for power or maybe cars of coke for smelting engine castings (when the plant converted to building Pratt & Whitney engines later). Either way, the track changes will allow me to use a little "proto-imagineering" to add a spot for a different car type.

Once the benefits of changing the track arrangement far outweigh the work of doing so, it's time to get to work! So that's what I've been up to the past few mornings. Follow along in the pics . . .

First step is to remove all the buildings.
Next, I unsoldered the feeders and (yikes!) had to unsolder the rail joints to remove the track. PRO TIP: do not solder your rail joints ever! Except on curves, but otherwise never! Not only does it make any future adjustments like this more difficult, but it also makes it more likely you'll have a kink in the track when the benchwork expands or contracts. Ask me how I know.

Once the track was removed, it was time to install the new turnout. With Micro-Engineering turnouts, I like to remove the frog rails (they're just short bits anyway) and fashion the adjoining flextrack so that a long bit of "excess" rail slides into there instead. The result is that you have 2 less rail joints per turnout and the joints you do have are staggered. Randy showed me this technique and now I try to remember to do it with all my ME turnouts.

Once I knew precisely where the new turnout was going to go, I wanted to mock everything up again to make sure that it was all going to fit and look how I wanted. First up is the factory building (above). Note how much tighter/closer the tank track is compared to before (and, if you compare to the aerial photos here you'll see that it looks a bit more like the prototype).

Next was the warehouse building. Note the cardboard mockup of where Belamose Ave. will have to be. And it's at an angle - again, closer to the prototype. The tape measure is a stand-in for the K-1-plus-3-cars tail track length I want to retain. The end is going out over the scenery base, so I'll have to address that later.

"Aerial" view of the factory siding. Recall that this siding used to go further and around the end of the building, but you can see now that it'll have to stop short of the new tank track - again, just like the prototype.

Speaking of the tank track, I started to mock up some "storage tanks" & a "power plant" as well (note the stack). The hopper car of coal is where I thought I might put a coal dump/trestle - but then I couldn't figure how how to make that look plausible soooo far away from the power plant - how would the coal get there?

So I moved the power plant to the trackside of the factory and will put the coal dump at the end of the factory siding. Much more realistic (at least for "proto-imagineering" purposes)

Here's what I mean: coal dump at the end (left) and still room for a few freight cars at the docks. Turns out though, I can't quite fit three 40 footers as well as a hopper (they'd foul the crossover). But it'll make for some interesting switching nevertheless.

The addition of a Tichy water tank (courtesy Bill Maguire) really makes this end of the complex, I think, and provides a nice balance to the tall smoke stack. And, frankly, it won't really fit anywhere else.

After marking the final locations of the structures & road, off they went again while I put in all the final track - all while enjoying hanging out "virtually" with the AML gang on Zoom (note ipad in background - I think that's Martyn Jenkins?).

Thumb tacks and water bottles hold everything down while the Aleene's Tacky Glue dries.

Remember me mentioning the end of the tail track above? Turns out, I barely had enough plywood subroadbed under the plaster cloth to support it. It was just a matter of making a cut in the cloth so I could push it down past the edge of the plywood - and scraping up what scenery material was still under where the track would go.

And here's where things stand as of this morning... The switchback is all glued and weighted down. . .

. . .as is the new tank track (now that the cork is dry and the tacks removed)
Even though I've done a lot of trackwork on this layout, it's been a while and I'm surprised that there were a few things I needed to remind myself of (especially Randy's turnout trick). And, fortunately, as I was perusing the blog for links for this post, I came across a post I'd forgotten about what to do before you paint your track. Good thing I saw it in time - since I'm pretty sure painting the track is next on the list for Dividend (and then weathering the ties I after that, I suspect...)

Nice to be down in the basement again making progress - hope you're enjoying following along!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Flattening Dividend

I've written before about how "The Redo" can be an antidote to analysis paralysis, and knowing that I can always do something over again (as I did with a masonite backdrop and terrain in Wethersfield) is a good lesson to remember, even if I'm loathe to actually do it.

I had to remember that lesson again in Dividend.

At the end of yesterday's post, I mentioned that the arrival of the Hartford Rayon structures highlighted how rough and uneven the terrain was. Where this area is supposed to be relatively flat, this is what I actually had:

Not only did all this have to be flattened out, it had to be leveled as well. Check out that slope!

Fortunately, in Dividend as in much of the other areas of the layout, I (well, actually, Pete) used tried-and-true cardboard webbing and plaster cloth. It's not really easy to modify once it's in, but it's fairly easy to remove and redo.

So that's just what I did . . .

First step was to use a steak knife to cut around the perimeter. Yes, I have my own layout-dedicated knives. No, I didn't pilfer any of the Missus' knives (else she might have used one them - and not to remove scenery!)

You're just cutting through cardboard strips and plaster cloth, so it's relatively easy going. I'd hot-glued the strips to the masonite fascia, so those just peeled off.

Now, I could have redone this area flatter and "level-er" with a different (or additional) application of strips/cloth, but since the area under/around the structures needed to be really flat - and especially since I've had spotty success creating truly flat areas with strips/cloth and ground goop (didn't want to trowel on 5 pounds of goop as I mistakenly have before) - I figured I'd use foam board here instead.

But even 2" thick foam board needs some support, so I went to my old stash of roadbed risers from my benchwork-building days long ago . . .

. . . and glued on looooong horizontals to support the board fore/aft. Those are the clamps holding everything together - glue on top, and screwed to the joists at the bottom.

Next I used a caulk gun to lay down thick beads of foam-safe construction adhesive (Loctite PL300) around the perimeter and on top of the supports.

Then I used cans of paint & plaster as weights to hold it all down and in place while the adhesive set & cured. The wedges/shims you see between the board and the fascia created a gap that I could squeeze adhesive into to attach the fascia to the side of the foam board.

And here's the result! MUCH flatter and level-er!

The foam board definitely solved my terrain problem in this area and the structures are all nice and happy, sitting nice and even on the "ground." I'm sure I'll be able to add slight - but more realistic - undulations between a combination of light carving and judicious use of ground texture. I still prefer the strip/cloth method for most terrain since it easily - almost automatically - creates natural & random ground contours. But it's not a great method if you have a bunch of structures to place.

So plan ahead - or, if you didn't, no worries. You can just redo it, like I did.

The folks that attended my last ops session in January (I'm lookin' at you, AMLers) will attest to the fact that this is how Dividend still looked at the end of January, and I can attest to the fact that - other than some mocking up of a more-accurate track arrangement - I haven't touched this area since last December.

Until this morning when, in lieu of my morning ride and accepting the Missus' advice at the end of Sunday's post, I ventured into the basement and got to work . . .