Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Morning Motivation: A Week in Wethersfield

Many model railroaders are familiar with the "ebbs & flows" of working on a layout. Unfortunately, all too often, we find ourselves on the "ebb" side - not too motivated, stuck at an impasse, content just to sit in the armchair or watch TV. But sometimes - if we're lucky - we experience the "flow" and it seems everywhere we look there are things we're exciting to be doing on the layout.

That's where I've been lately. For the last month, ever since finishing the East Berlin scene, I've been motivated to get down into the basement every morning and get a little more done - even if it's only 15-30 minutes worth of work, it's at least something. And riding this wave is paying off. Just check out the photos from the last week . . . 

After adding some foam core as a base for the Gra-Rock building and surrounding area (needed to bring it up to the same height as the track), I decided to fill in just south of the area to flatten that out a bit as well.

While I typically use a cardboard lattice to support my plaster gauze, the area wasn't deep are large enough for that, so I just used some wadded up newspaper held in place with masking tape.

Instead of dipping the plaster strips in water and draping as I usually do, this time I tried just laying the dry strips down, spraying them with water, then blending them in with a brush dipped in water.

I did the same thing at the north end of the Wethersfield bulk track, making a flat area for the coal hopper offloading, and blending it in with plaster gauze.
Here's an overview of the Gra-Rock/bulk track area done and drying.

Next, I turned my attention to the north end of Wethersfield, adding a base layer of ground foam from the previously done area down to Jordan Lane. Matching the blend of colors wasn't easy. In fact, this was my second attempt - not so much due to the colors, but to the fact that during my first attempt, I'd "streamed" rather than "dripped" the glue on and created swirly dark lines where the glue had washed away the foam. Based on feedback from Facebook followers, I just went over it again with this 2nd layer, and it came out great.

At the end of last week's Monday Motivation progress report, I showed how I started to modify the lumber co. siding. Here's the shed being pressed down into some wet joint compound to make an impression of the footprint. The shed itself is protected by a layer of plastic wrap. This technique allows the building to "sit down into" the scenery rather than on top of it. It also allows you to just place the building in the impression without having to fix it in place. Makes it a lot easier to remove!
This area south of Church Street has bothered me for a long time. Unlike what I ended up with here, the prototype area is pretty flat. Unfortunately, the fascia is a bit too low here to make leveling it very easy. 

And you can see from the, um, level how unlevel the area is.

If I were to do this again, I'd try filling in with pieces of foam, carved to shape (despite the mess). I don't know why it didn't occur to me to just add another layer of cardboard lattice to support the plaster gauze, but you can see I ended up using masking tape as a support. Part way through, I realized that I shouldn't drape the tape over the fascia (would make it impossible to hide later and the plaster gauze would stick to it rather than the scenery. If the tape failed, so would the gauze). So I hot glued some N scale roadbed just inside the fascia for something to stick the tape to and added my gauze over that.

Here's the completed masking tape support. Still not flat, but at least back toward Church Street is much better.

Looking south from Church Street.

Speaking of Church Street - don't just drape your plaster gauze over foamcore roadways - it won't stick. I'll be installing a styrene sheet street here but first needed to remove the "bouncy" plaster gauze.

And speaking of plaster gauze, here it is draped over the masking tape support. Since I wanted to be sure it would drape nicely, I did dunk it first and then went over it with a wet brush.

I also added two layers of gauze since it's near the front of the layout and I wanted stronger support. I'm afraid adding two layers of wet gauze at the same time might have been too heavy and weighed down the tape a bit. Next time, I'll let the first layer dry & harden before adding a second layer.

Terraforming continued with more joint compound - and I turned my attention to the Fernwood Street area, deciding to raise the yards/houses above the street using cardboard.

The street is pretty obvious, but note also the cutouts for the driveway entrances from the street. I just cut out some of the cardboard and blended it with more joint compound. And speaking of joint compound - look how much I used to fill in between the cardboard and the scenery base!! That's gonna take a while to dry & harden!!
So that's where things stand as of now. Not bad progress for a week of mornings-before-work. Once I'm satisfied that the bulk of the terraforming-with-topping is done, I'll be going over everything and blending it all in with my ground goop mix. Since that's already brown and has some glue in it, I'll be applying ground foam to it right after I apply it. This one 2-part step ought to make for a huge visual impact.

Of course, I have at least one building to finish and a photo backdrop to do as well. But I'm very glad to finally be working in Wethersfield and getting it toward some level of finish.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Prototype Junction Interview

I've written before how much I enjoy model railroad podcasts, but it's especially cool when I hear a buddy being interviewed on one of my favorites.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I saw A Modeler's Life podcast had just posted a rare Sunday 'cast interviewing my friend Randy of Prototype Junction. I introduced you guys to Prototype Junction earlier this week, but this is a chance to hear more about this cool new approach to producing freight cars - and directly from Randy himself.

There's a March 9 deadline to get involved in this project, so click here to hear the interview and learn more about it!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Eastern-izing" an "Old West" Building

I'm certainly no expert when it comes to architecture west of the Mississippi, but when you imagine an "Old West" town, what kind of buildings come to mind? Saloons? Assayer's offices? General stores? What do they all usually have in common?

False fronts.

Well, waaaaay back when I first started modeling the Wethersfield Lumber Co., I decided that Walthers' Walton & Sons Lumber kit would make a fine stand-in until I came across photos of the prototype.

Unfortunately, only the main shed was suitable based on the the one obscure prototype photo I was able to find:

The office building included with the kit, was decidedly - well - "western" looking:

No problem - my original orientation of the shed didn't allow any room for the office building (which was located on the west side of the shed - which would be between the shed and backdrop on my layout). But now that I've moved the siding, I have room for the office.

Well now.

After going through my stash of structure kits looking for something suitable, and not wanting to bother to scratchbuild since I haven't ANY idea what the prototype looked like, I gave the Walton Lumber Co. office a second look.

Hmmm...... if I "un-western-ized" it, it might just fit the bill - especially since it's at the back of the scene next to the backdrop. So I decided to tackle it, and build some new skills along the way.

Here's the problematic wall as it comes.

First step was to razor saw off the top part, using the overhang as a guide for cutting.

And here's the result. I considered just moving the cutoff piece down to splice, but realized pretty quickly that wouldn't work.

So I got a piece of .020 x .188" strip styrene (Evergreen #128) and, after marking it for cutting to fit, chopped it with my NWSL Chopper.

I ended up cutting it just a little bit long - but it's always best to cut long and sand to fit than vice versa. So that's what I did here, using my NWSL True Sander.

Here it is, ready for cementing in place with Scalecoat Probond liquid cement, applied with a microbrush.

Once in place and the glue set (which only took a minute or so), I used different grades of sanding stick to smooth out the joints and blend everything in.

Next, I tackled the overhang. At first, I considered splicing a piece in there, but it was hard to match the dimensions with what I had on-hand. And I figured a splice on the overhang would be especially difficult to do well and/or hide. So out came the snippers and off came the overhangs.

I just used the snips to remove most of the overhang. I took off the rest with a chisel from Micro-Mark and sanded smooth.

To replicate the overhang (or at least come very close), I used a strip of .030 x .100" styrene (Evergreen #135). I cut it roughly to length then used the end of a square to make sure the strip would be perfectly perpendicular to the wall. I tack glued it with the Probond, let that set, then applied more solvent to the rest of the joint.

Then all I had to do was use a razor blade to chop off the ends flush with the wall.
 Here's where I started:

And here's where I ended up:

The stock kit wasn't really suitable for my locale, but by doing this simple modification I can put it to work on my layout. Plus, I developed some new splicing/patching skills along the way. Not bad for an evening's work! 

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!