Thursday, April 30, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Ballasting & Buildings

If there's anything positive about not being able to get to the basement to make more progress on the layout, it's that it's giving me a chance to catch up a bit more on the blog. Yup - it's still "Throwback Thursday" cuz I'm still reporting progress I made early this month. But at least I was making progress!

Before continuing with any static grass south of Jordan Lane, I needed to continue ballasting the line south to the Goff Brook Bridge. And I also needed - finally - to fix-in-place the Valley Coal siding and ballast it as well.

Tools for the job: Cup of ballast, spoon to scoop it out, brush to spread it, folded business card for precise placement, bamboo skewer to pick out rogues.
I've mentioned before that the line was freshly ballasted with traprock during the summer of 1945, so I got something that looked "close." I plan to add weeds and weathering to match my Autumn 1948 era.

One thing I wasn't counting on though was that it would darken so much during the gluing process. Newly-applied ballast to the left of Jordan Lane - ballast that's been glued is to the left.
The process is slow: apply ballast, spread evenly, make sure it's even with or below the tops of the ties and away from the web of the rail. Then mist heavily with alcohol (or apply alcohol using a pipette), then apply diluted white glue with a pipette to saturate it all. Ballasting is certainly time-consuming, but it's strangely therapeutic. And you can easily listen to podcasts while doing it, so the time goes by nicely. Note in the photo above, I not only ballasted the mainline, but "ballasted" the house track with a heavy layer of dirt.

One thing I should have done from the outset - but which I thankfully remembered before it was too late - was to remove the hard edge/corner from the shoulder of the cork roadbed. If you don't remove it, it wreaks havoc with your ballast. It won't want to stay put.

Ballasting isn't just about applying ballast to the mainline. As I mentioned above, I applied dirt to the house track. And here I'm applying cinders to the north end of the bulk track.

The siding at Valley Coal has been "floating" ever since I installed the coal hoist there a little over three(!) years ago so it was high time I finally committed by gluing in the hoist and gluing down the track.

Bit of a blast from the past since it's been a LONG time since I last glued down track. As per usual practice, I spread Aleene's Tacky Glue on top of the cork, pressed the track down onto it, and weighed it down overnight.
Once the track was settled, I ballasted it with a mix of dirt (toward the turnout) and cinders (toward the end of track). A liberal spilling of coal here and there finished it off.

And speaking of finishing it off - here's the ballasting job done all the way south to the Goff Brook bridge on the Wethersfield/Rocky Hill town line. It's very cool how ballasted track instantly helps things look a bit more tied together.

Next, I turned my attention to the structures at the north end. Here's Ballantine's Beer Distributors - built on the base that came with the kit. I thought I could "blend it into the scenery" by adding some fine ground foam to it. But that only made it stand out worse.

So off it came! Unfortunately, it took the loading docks with it. No matter - I really needed to weather this building anyway and the docks probably would have snapped off anyway during that process. I can just glue them back on after the weathering's done.

While the walls of the Wethersfield Lumber building had been nicely weathered during construction (simulated peeling paint using the rubber cement trick), the only weathering the roof ever got was the ambient dust in my basement. So I used some Bragdon chalks to dirty it up a bit. And, as always, I practiced on the "back" side first (the side away from the aisle). Let's just say, practice is always a good idea and in this case my lousy job on the hidden roof won't be noticed....

While I was at it, I weathered the Ballantine's office building as well. I'm discovering that weathering is one of those things that's REALLY EASY overdo. Best to work up to the level you want gradually, taking breaks to check out your work. It's often easier to add more than to back it off. I should have remembered that with this building. I think it's just a wee bit heavy on the weathering.

Still looks decent though, at least to my eye. You may recall that this was on the roof of the Walthers kit, as a second-story office. I just removed it and got a "bonus" structure.
Finally, I got around to weathering the station itself. It's been pristine ever since I got it, so adding some weathering really raised the level of realism.
And that's probably as good a spot to stop as any. If you're an eagle eye, you may have noticed some static grass growing across the tracks from the station..... yup, applying static grass south to Rocky Hill is the next huge step that has to be done to get Wethersfield to a level of "done-ness."

Hope you're enjoying following along with the progress! Blog's starting to catch up . . . which means I need to be getting back down to the basement again soon . . .

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tuesday Tip: Craft Paint Substitutes

I've mentioned before how much I like using craft paints for my modeling. They're a LOT less expensive than typical model paints ($.50-$1 for a 2 oz bottle, versus $3-4 for a .5 oz bottle) and you can usually find colors that are close to the model railroad colors we're familiar with (Click here for an alternative to grimy black). And before you get all technical about model paints being "finer," that may be so - but I've even airbrushed craft paints with no problem (click here for more on that).

So when I needed some "concrete" paint recently and realized that my bottle of Badger Model Flex "Concrete Gray" had dried up, The Missus helped me find an acceptable alternative - Folk Art "Barn Wood" #936.

Of course, YMMV, but the point is to give craft paints try. I wouldn't necessarily use them to paint my prized brass steam engines, but for most applications in our hobby, they're perfectly fine. And your wallet will thank you.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Modeling Monday: First Craftsman Structure Kit - Window Glazing and Final Assembly

For this week's edition of Modeling Monday, we'll finish up this simple craftsman structure kit. Click here if you missed the first half of this build, or just need a refresher.

At this point, the walls have been braced, and they - along with the window & door castings - have been primed, painted, and weathered. I described all that in the last post.

Next step before assembling the walls, we have to install the windows and doors. But before that we should add the window glazing. Though the glazing could be added after the castings are installed into the walls, for what I wanted to try I figured it'd be easier to handle them seperately.

The kit comes with acetate that you can cut into "window glass" but I'd heard about using canopy glue for glazing and wanted to try it out.

Here's the glue I used. It's fairly watery, which is important for this technique. Alternatively, I've heard of using Microscale's Crystal Clear product for glazing as well.

The technique is to add the product around the perimeter if each window pane opening and "pull" it across the opening. It's kinda like making bubbles.

Once the product dries, it typically results in very thin "glass" - though as you can see above, the thickness varies. And - unlike acetate (or slide glass, which I've also considered but haven't tried yet) - it's not very clear. But it's fine for depicting very old window glass - or factory glass, IMO. The only problem is that the "bubbles" may pop during the process, so you'll need a little patience.

Now the next step is an example of "don't do as I did, do as I say" . . . In my excitement to get the doors and windows into the walls, I installed those before adding the trim. Unfortunately, that made it more difficult to add the trim flush to the front of the walls (since the window castings keep the walls from sitting flat on the work surface).
No matter what order you choose though, when you're done your walls should look like the above photo - and all ready to assemble!

For me, this is the Most Fun Part - seeing it come together. Like with all the assembly, I applied wood glue using a toothpick, and for the walls I used a square to join two walls at a time. . .

. . . then glued the two pairs of walls together.

Next, I added the short wall.

Gratuitous "What's On My Workbench" photo

Next come the roof pieces. While I could have used the wood glue again (it's cardstock-to-wood, after all), I decided to use Duco Cement so I could get a quicker joint/cure and wouldn't have to weigh down the roof or clamp while drying.
Speaking of the roof, I decided to use my newly-discovered "tarpaper" roofing technique.

Once I added the roofing material, I used "grimy black" acrylic paint to paint it.
And that's it!! Of course, you can add the signs that come with this kit, but I decided to skip those in order to convey an old, not-often-used building. Heh - though I probably should weather the roof a bit!

And here it is (temporarily) on the layout (along with an outhouse I practiced weathering on before using the same technique on the structure's windows & doors).

I hope you've enjoyed following along with this build, and if you decide to try it yourself I hope you'll let us know!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

NMRA-X Virtual Convention Videos

Thanks to all of you that were able to tune in to some (some tuned into all?!) of the great clinics, presentations, and layout tours during this past weekend!

(Note at the 7am ET slot, instead of the scenery clinic, Randy Hammill presents his journey to prototype modeling of New Britain, CT)

If you missed one - or all - (and I'm sure there are at least a few of you...), don't worry! Gordy & Co. have you covered 'cuz they recorded and have made available ALL 26 hours of content!

  • Click here for the first batch (starting with Ralph Renzetti)
  • Click here for the second batch (starting with "Daz" Lee)
  • Click here for the third batch  (starting with Rob Clark)
  • Click here for the final batch (starting with Tony Cook)

Of course, if you just want to go to see the Valley Local presentation, you can click here and fast forward to the 4:06 mark (at 1:58:40 left to go).

Thanks again to Gordy, Jordan, Martyn, Gert and everyone else that made this amazing, worldwide event possible!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tune in to The Valley Local!

Today's the Day! Yes, the Worldwide NMRA Virtual Convention is actually going on now!

So be sure to tune in - especially at 1p Eastern Time when I'll be giving a presentation on using prototype inspiration and information to model a New England branchline (no points for guessing which one!)

The convention is being hosted as a Facebook Live Stream at the NMRA's Facebook Group.

Viewing is easy a 1-2-3:
  1. Go here:
  2. Click on "Follow Group" (you do not have to join the NMRA)
  3. Answer the questions that the 'bot asks you.
And then Enjoy the Show!

Here's the schedule of events, with times for North/South America & Hawaii:

Last minute change:
At 7am ET, instead of "Quick and Easy Scenery" you'll get to see my buddy Randy Hammill give a presentation on his layout. So be sure to check it out!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday Fun: NMRA Worldwide Virtual Convention, April 24-25

The current worldwide pandemic has forced all of us to change long-standing plans. From weddings, to vacations, to conventions and other events, all are on hold for the duration. Even the National Model Railroad Association's annual convention has been cancelled. And they didn't even cancel during World War II!

Now, in the grand scheme of things, the cancellation of a model railroad convention isn't the biggest deal in the world - but Gordy Robinson of the British Region of the NMRA has decided to address this worldwide problem with a world wide solution . . .

So, starting at 7pm Eastern Time TONIGHT, the NMRA will be hosting a Full 24 Hours of LIVE streaming layout tours, clinics, and informative presentations. Click on the image below for a full list of all the events:

There are folks participating from, literally, all around the world - and this may be your only chance to see some of them and their amazing layouts and presentations. I was even able to squeeze in there myself, early Saturday afternoon.

All this is happening live, in real time, and - just like a real life convention - you'll be able to participate too by asking questions & interacting with the presenters.

Best of all - unlike a real life convention - admission is free. Yes, the only "price" of admission is that you have to follow the NMRA's Facebook Group - and that's only necessary because that's where the live feed is being streamed.

So I hope you'll look over the Schedule of Events, pick the ones you find interesting, and make plans now to join us on the World Wide Web for the internet's first World Wide Model Railroad (virtual) Convention!

Hope to see you there!

(And if you're still not convinced that this is going to be awesome, click here to hear all about it from Lionel Strang and Gordy Robinson himself)

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Fernwood Street - sidewalks & yards

The blog is still catching up..... thus the "Throwback Thursday." Fortunately, it's only running a few weeks behind "real time" now. Until it's caught up, you can get real time updates on the Valley Local FB group.

Picking up where we left off last time in Wethersfield, I took a break from the static grass and decided to shift my focus to the Fernwood Street "neighborhood." You might not call two houses a neighborhood, but they at least hint at what's off the layout.

And, of course, Fernwood Street is important as the street where John Wallace grew up and got his first taste of the Valley Line. And, thanks to Dave Messer, I even have an HO scale version of John's house.

So, I wanted to try and get this area "right." Certainly no pressure there. . .

Other than the street itself, the next thing to do were the sidewalks & yards.

I used cardboard to build up the yard areas from the street level. I even thought I was being clever adding aprons to the driveways. Unfortunately, those same aprons became a problem when it came time to do the sidewalks. Notice the huge gap.

I measured the lengths of all the parts I needed, and then cut the sidewalks from .020" styrene - 4' wide, and scribed every 4'. Then I painted them primer gray. Here I'm test fitting them in place.

More test fitting. It occurred to me - both from common sense, but especially from prototype photos of the area, that the sidewalks didn't go all the way to the end of the street.

Once I figured out the length and configuration, I marked them on the back with a Sharpie to keep track of where they all went.

Then I took them back to the bench and glued them together using liquid styrene cement and .005" splices/braces underneath the joints.

After the glue cured, I glued them to the layout using Duco cement.

As you can see, there are still pretty large gaps between the sidewalks and aprons. I just planned to fill them in with ground goop - basically recreating the apron between the sidewalk and the street only.

In order to protect the paint/finish of the walks, I covered them with Tamiya 10mm masking tape.

Then I added the ground goop, not only to fill in the gaps between the sidewalks and aprons, but to go ahead and level out the driveway areas out to the fascia. Of course, to keep the goop from falling off the edge of the layout - and to maintain an even edge - I placed a masonite dam over the fascia and applied the goop up to that.

Here's a "before" shot of what I was trying to cover up/correct. Instead of this "fall off"/hillside, I wanted the yard to be level all the way to the edge of the layout.

While leveling out the yards at the fascia's edge, I went ahead and blended them in with the surrounding areas as well.

Back to the sidewalks, you can see where I backfilled the old apron area with goop and created a new apron between the street and the sidewalk.

Of course, I add to do this on both side of the street.

The next morning, I discovered that the goop had dried pretty "lumpy" so I smoothed it out with some joint compound.

Once the joint compound was dry and painted (and dry again), it was time to add some base ground cover. For my early-Autumn look, I use a combination of Woodland Scenics fine foam - Earth Blend, Green Blend, Burnt Grass, and just a smattering of green and soil. This is just the base, representing the "thatch" under the static grass that will come later. Note the cardstock "mask" keeping the foam off the tracks and the masking tape "dam" keeping the foam off the floor.

The process is to brush on full strength white glue wherever I want the foam to stick, then sprinkle on the foams, then mist with 70% isopropyl alcohol, then drizzle on 1:4 glue/water mix with a pipette.
After it all dries, vacuum it up - but you may want to put a nylon over the nozzle in order to salvage the excess foam for use some other time.

I repeated the process for the rest of the yard areas. Note the variation in the colors.

While the yards aren't finished yet, it's nice to "dry fit" the buildings along the way - not only to confirm placement, but to see how nice it's looking!

And that's where things sit until next time. I'm really glad for the distraction from all the current craziness - and it's given me the perfect opportunity to make some progress. At this rate, I daresay that Wethersfield may actually get scenicked and to a level of "done-ness" pretty soon!

Until next time . . .