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!")

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Thankful Thursday: Lineside Details (but, really, the people)

This photo may not look like much, but it actually represents one of the greatest things about being in this hobby.

A relatively new friend, ChrisZ, came over to operate The Valley Line for the first time last fall and, being a fellow employee of the real-life Valley Railroad (which operates over the same line), he took to it quickly and had a good time.

Fast-forward through the holidays and such, and I get a text from him out of the blue asking if he can drop something off. He didn't know whether he'd need to leave it in the mailbox, so he included a note. Fortunately, I was home so he was able to give me this in person.

What we have here are some lineside details (whistle posts, "Ring" posts, mile markers) patterned after the real-life Valley RR, shrunk down to HO scale. Yes, the "W" is recessed, and the posts even have beveled edges, just like the prototype!

But what we really have here is a great example of the camaraderie, thoughtfulness, and generosity of so many people in this hobby. Chris had gotten a resin printer for Christmas and just thought it'd be fun to create some "real world" details that are absolutely perfect for my layout. Just because he could.

I've often mentioned how lucky and thankful I am to have so many folks who have become friends through this project and who have so willingly spent some of their time and talent to help. I loathe to list them all, for fear of overlooking someone, but Bill Schneider, Dave Messer, Randy Hammill, Pete Luchini, Tom Derwin, Pieter Roos, Jim DufourBill Maguire (via Greg Lane), Dick Otto, Mike Redden, Bill Chapin, Craig Bisgeier, Roman Daniels, Joseph Viener, Kaylee Zheng, and Lou Papineau have all - at one time or another - put time in on the layout. And of course, I wouldn't have even started without prototype inspiration from John Wallace's Shoreliner articles & photos and Max Miller's photos & support.

And there's no way I'm going to try and list all of the sources of model railroad inspiration - if you've followed this blog for a while, you know who they are.

Whether you've visited here and offered some feedback, tips, or advice - or you've taken the time to leave a comment or word of encouragement, I'm thankful and grateful.

But today, I'm especially thankful to ChrisZ for stopping by and reminding me again that, as many wonderful aspects there are to this hobby, the best part really is the people.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tuesday Tool: Hot Foam Cutter

One of the things I got this past Christmas was this cool foam cutter:

I have a Woodland Scenics hot wire foam cutter on loan, but it only has the thin wire which takes forever and isn't easy to control precisely. Also, ever since my and Bill's excellent adventure with a big hot knife foam cutter over 3 1/2 years ago, I wanted something a little less - um - dangerous.

So, it was time to get my own tool which includes the best of both worlds. On to the "unboxing"!

There are two trays of attachments. Here's the top tray....

... and here's the bottom tray, which includes extra wire and a stand.

It comes with two rods which will allow you to cut foam like you can with a hot knife, but since they're not as thick they won't create as much fumes.

And here's the hot wire attachment - similar to the WS tool.
Other than the versatility of the attachments, the other two features I really like over the WS model are the on/off switch (the WS model requires you to press and hold a slide switch to energize the wire), and the fact that the attachments are so easy to change - just pull one out and press/snap the other one in.

Here I did a little test over by the Middletown Meat Packing area . . .

I really like using a hot foam cutting tool over a steak knife or rasp (ugh!). All those little statically-charged foam shavings drive me nuts and get all over the place. But with a tool like this, the only thing you have to worry about are the fumes - and the size of wire/rod is small enough that not as many fumes are generated.

At under $30 ($10 less than the WS model), it's inexpensive enough to give it a try. And if you do, , be sure to let me know how you like it.

Monday, January 20, 2020

East Berlin Scene: Ripples & Roads

Nothing like imminent visits by folks to come see the layout to keep me motivated! So I'm really trying to get this scene finished before Thursday and the Big Springfield weekend.

If visits are motivating, having to try something new can be very DEmotivating. Thankfully, one of the things I'm learning during this process is that experimenting helps you get over the hump of starting - and with little to no risk.

Case in point here is ripples on the water. I mentioned last week that I'd made a little "practice pond" to test out different ripple/wave effects. Well, the experimenting continues . . .

Ripples on the left made with the end of a craft stick. The ones on the right made with a 1/2" brush.

Here's how it dried - looks shiny since I bounced the light off of it so you could see the effect better.

And the brush one
Neither effect is really capturing what I think looks right. Part of the problem though is that I'm not sure quite what exactly looks "right." The craft stick waves/ripples look more natural, while the brush ripples look - well - like brush strokes.

So, more research needed, but considering my New Years' Resolution, I figured I'd just try experimenting on the part of the river which will be behind and under the bridge. That way, if it's a fail, it won't be that noticeable. And being on the actual river, I'll at least get some "real world" practice.
Here's how things started.

I squeezed out a little of the Woodland Scenics Water Effects . . .

. . . then used a craft stick to move it around a bit, trying to create something that looks convincing.

Did the same on the other side of the river . . .

. . .  and must've had beginner's luck since I think the first attempt looks a bit better.
I'm not sure how this is going to work out - especially since the "still" water looks so nice and reflective. And I fear that the edges of the ripples are too uniform - too much "in line" parallel with the banks. But at least the bridge will cover it :^)

While that was drying, I decided to try and finish up my road. I briefly mentioned at the end of my backdrop post that I made the road out of 3/16" thick foamcore board. That thickness matches up perfectly with Micro-Engineering Code 70 track. Just glue it to the same base that the track is glued to and trim it to match the ends of the ties. A quick coat of paint will getcha most of the way to "finished" but if you really want it to look good, you have to do a little more (but, surprisingly, not much more). 

The first thing you'll want to do is peel off the top paper layer, revealing the white foam underneath. Luckily, the texture is very close to looking like concrete (to my eye at least) and, being foam, it's super easy to work with. I used a straightedge and made some "expansion joints" with an X-Acto knife - one down the center, then one crosswise every twenty-five feet. While I was at it, I also gouged in some cracks and potholes.

Next, I painted it with a gray craft paint which was a good match for the color of the road in the backdrop photo. But what really made things pop was when I took some brown and black weathering powders and matched the tire tracks & oil stains in the backdrop photo - "pulling" those colors from the backdrop and onto the foreground.

I really like how it turned out. My only regret - and I still am not quite sure how I managed it - is that the road isn't matched up and the expansion joints don't line up either. Somehow, the foreground section of road ended up narrower than the back section, and the centerline joint is off too as a result.

But would you have noticed it if I hadn't mentioned it? (hmmm.... maybe don't answer that :^)

I'm certainly no Tom Johnson (click here for more of his work), but I think it came out pretty great.

Next, I'm gonna have to figure out what to do about a grade crossing. But all in due time - at least I'm making progress!

Friday, January 17, 2020

East Berlin Scenery Update: Mattabesset River

I have a confession to make - since I started the Valley Local group over on Facebook, the blog has lagged behind my progress a bit. In some cases, really far.

So (again with the New Year's Resolutions), I resolve to do better in 2020 and try and keep the blog more up-to-date. After all, it's a (web)log of my layout's progress that I own and can keep without worrying that Mark Zuckerberg will someday take it away.

With that in mind, this post will bring you up-to-date with what's been going on in East Berlin (click here for the posts so far). Here's a grab pic of where we left off last time:

I'd painted the Mattabesset river bed and installed the backdrop. Things were looking so good I was afraid no matter what I did next that I'd somehow mess it up. But the only way forward (to your end goal) is through (your fears) so I continued by working more on the river banks.

The first thing I did was try to get away from the river looking too much like a road (as The Missus put it) by roughing up the edges of the banks with more blended brown & black paint.

I also added some trees and ground scrub toward the back of the scene, not only for texture, but to hide the bottom edge of the backdrop. I used a variety of materials here, including static grass, lichen, Woodland Scenics foliage net, and even some stuff I picked up from the dry flower section of my local craft store.

I added tufts of taller grasses by rolling some longer fibers between my fingers, cutting to a length that looked good, dipping the cut end into some glue, and "planting" in place along the banks.

Meanwile, I decided to make the edges of the banks even more irregular and created some "shallow" spots in the center of the river, all with brown and black paint.

Don't be afraid to go over even "done" scenery to add more texture/variety. Here I'm adding some patchy glue that will hold some more static grass (for a patchy grassy look).

Looks a mess when you first do it . . .

. . . but it improves when you vacuum it . . .

. . . and looks eve better when it starts to dry.

After getting some feedback, I decided to add some "deadfall" (twigs) - again, more variety and texture.
 After all this working and reworking, I ended up with this:

And that's where things ground to a halt while I worked on some other projects and ginned up the nerve to actually pour the resin "water."

But like with many things in this hobby, the fear proved to be unfounded. Doing the water effect ended up being easier than I thought.

I used Woodland Scenics' Deep Pour water product (which Bill used in Goff Brook) and followed the instructions to the letter: basically, warming the two parts of resin beforehand, mixing them in the proper proportion in the right amount (calculated using a handy water volume estimator app available from Woodland Scenics), and then pouring . . .

This is what it looked like immediately after I finished pouring. WOW! I really like how the riverbed looks. Looks really deep (it's actually only 1/8" deep here).

Warmth is important to this product, so Woodland Scenics recommends covering the pour with aluminum foil to keep the heat in (the curing process itself generates some heat) and to keep dust off the resin as it cures.
 Believe it or not (BION), this is what it looks like after it's all cured!

Just as "wet" looking as when it was poured.
 One thing I did notice was that the product does tend to creep up the sides a bit. . .

But I don't really see that as a problem since I think riverbanks would be wet along the edges anyway. And check out the depth!

Speaking of depth: Be sure to pour the right amount! The calculator proved extra handy when I realized (AFTER the pour, of course) that I hadn't created a dam at the edge of the layout!

Turned out, the resin filled just to the top of the fascia. Talk about beginner's luck! Whew!

And this is what the scene looks like as of today:

Compare this to the photo at the top of the post
So now you're all up-to-date on the Mattabesset River. Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the East Berlin Scenery Update - I've been working on the road and a grade crossing as well. And I still need to decide how to do some ripples on the river. I love the beautiful reflection, but no river is that still...

Hope to get this scene to a level of "done-ness" by the Springfield show. Wish me luck!