Monday, May 25, 2020

Monday Modeling - Old Time Grade Crossing Signs

I hate being "that blogger" whose posts too-often begin with a version of "well, I haven't been able to post much lately, been too busy, blah, blah, blah..." but - unfortunately - I'm "that guy" lately. With the change in the weather, I've been catching up on house and yard projects as well as doing a minor restoration of The Missus' car. Layout progress has suffered as a result, and you can (can't?) see the evidence in my lack of posts lately.

But I have a virtual layout tour coming up on June 13, so I need to get back at it - and quick!

Modeling hasn't come to a total standstill though, thanks to my friend Chris Zygmunt. Early last month, he'd asked me if there were any details I needed for the layout. And it just so happened that I'd been working on grade crossings and had noticed some distinctive crossing signs when researching my line:

Now, admittedly, these signs were much more common up through the 1920s & 30s (which were when most of the photos I have of them were taken), but at least one lasted in Wethersfield after 1956, well after my era. Check out the following photo - you can just make out the sign just to the left of the order board:

Santa Special, southbound at Wethersfield, John Wallace photo
And they weren't only on the Valley Line that late - here's one on the Lakeville branch even later . . .

Last Lakeville Local (NX-13), Twin Lakes, CT, October 28, 1965, Pete McLachlan photo
I don't know how common these signs were nationwide - or even in Connecticut. Suffice it to say though that when I went searching for some in HO scale, I came up empty. There are hundreds of the standard crossbuck (both 90 and 30 degree angles), and various other "old time" type signs, but nobody makes signs like these.

Dave Peters, Sr. collection
So, Chris' question couldn't have come at a better time. And of course I had an answer for him :^) A few weeks later, I got some samples in the mail . . .

First step in getting them ready for the layout is to remove any sprue remnants...

And then paint them, of course.

The lettering and border are raised, just like on the prototype, so I started by painting them white, figuring it'd be easy to add the black in the recessed areas, and wipe off the "excess" to reveal the white.
Believe it or not, these have two coats of white on them already.
Looking back on it, I should have done two things differently: 1) I should have used a primer coat (rookie mistake), and 2) I should have just started out by painting them black.

Turns out, given the raised lettering, it's MUCH easier to drybrush white on black than to try adding the black later. In my defense, I thought I could paint the black over the white and just wipe the black off the raised areas.

That technique worked well on these posts:

But the big difference is that the lettering on those is recessed rather than raised. So it was a (relatively) simple matter of painting white, adding a little black to the letter, then wiping off the black leaving some in the lettering.

So, after figuring that out, it was just a matter of repainting all the signs with another shot of spray paint - this time black - and then drybrushing them with some white.

The clarity of the castings varies somewhat - and the skill of the "drybrusher" sometimes varies as well - so they don't always come out perfectly. But considering that by my era they're pretty old and probably pretty well weathered, these are minor issues. And considering nobody else makes them in HO scale - or any scale for that matter - they're perfect for what I need.

Thanks SO much to Chris for making these - and I know they're perfectly true to prototype. I don't know if he's offering them in his online store yet, but be sure to head over there to check out what all he has. You'll definitely find more than a few things there that you won't find anywhere else!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Friday Fun: ANOTHER Virtual Convention!

Riding the wave of success from the NMRA Worldwide Virtual Model Railroad Convention, Gordy Robinson & the NMRAx team have come up with another convention tomorrow, May 16.

Note: Being international, just keep in mind that these times are Eastern (New York, USA) time.

So be sure to adjust accordingly for your timezone!

And you'll definitely want to tune-in . . . just check out all of these great clinics and presentations!

click on image to enlarge
Since the Valley Local is sitting this one out, I'm looking forward to checking out some of these offerings myself. And rest assured, if the past is any indication, they'll also be recorded in case you miss one you wanted to see (and they'll eventually make their way to YouTube for those that aren't on Facebook).

But there's nothing quite like tuning in LIVE and knowing folks from around the world are watching with you. So hopefully you'll join me and your fellow modelers from near and far and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity technology provides.

Hope to "see" you there!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Thankful Thursday: Hubbard Homes Billboard

It's been almost 3 years(!) since I got this package in the mail from my friend Dave Messer. Here's what I found when I opened it all that time ago . . .

Click on the image to enlarge it. For more about Hubbard Homes, click hereand especially here.
Now that I'm making so much progress in Wethersfield (finally!), it's high time I figure out where to put this little nod to local history. Unfortunately, Dave's not here in person to confirm the location, but according to his letter, it should be about here . . .

Dave mentioned that it faced the tracks and, since it was nowhere near a street, presumably only train passengers could see it. The housing development was constructed primarily during the 1920s, when there was still passenger service on the Valley Line (commuter service between Middletown & Hartford continued until 1933). However, while this may be prototypically correct, it doesn't really look right.

So I tried it here...

And here . . .

And here . . .

And in a bunch of other places . . .

But I may end up settling on here . . .

This is Church Street and, traveling "east" (toward the aisle) you're driving into the heart of Old Wethersfield and the Hubbard housing development.

So, in a lot of ways it would make sense to put it here. But the Pull of the Prototype is strong - not to mention Dave's legacy in not only insisting on Prototype Placement (see Wethersfield Lumber), but also in providing such a cool story that I can share with others when they inevitably ask me: "So, what's the deal with that misplaced billboard?"

I think prompting such a conversation would be just the sort of thing Dave would enjoy - and it makes me smile to think of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tuesday Tip: Level Foundations & Grass Glue

With the scenery north of Church Street being at a level of "done-ness" it was time to turn my attention south and to the Gra-Rock building area. (I also wanted to avoid diving right into the backdrop for a bit longer...)

View looking north past Church Street & the station area. I posted before how I raised the Gra-Rock building to track height using foam core board, but downside of using this material became apparent after I'd started scenicking around the area.

The moisture from the scenery process caused the board to warp slightly, resulting in an unsightly gap between the building's foundation and the "ground." Now, most folks would just add bushes or other ground cover around the foundation and call it a day. But that wouldn't address the gap underneath the steps leading up to the door - and I wanted to lower the building a tiny bit more anyway.

 So, out came the utility knife and putty knife and up came some of the foam core board. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to modify and/or remove. I wonder if I would have had this problem if I'd just removed the paper and used only the foam core itself...

Now THAT's better - or maybe I'm the only one who will ever notice....

Once further recessing was done (I needed to remove some board below the back addition as well), I hid the white areas with brown paint and it was time to start grassing - starting with the area around the sidewalk.

So, after protecting Church Street, I decided to try some Woodland Scenics static grass I had on-hand. I figured a different color of grass might be nice.

I also started grassing the area behind the building - using its being obscured to do a direct comparison test between the new "static grass glue" I'd purchased and plain, straight Elmer's white glue (I was about to run out of "wood glue max" and needed to decide whether to order more or just use the Elmer's I had on-hand).

Grass going in - and you can see I got a little too close with the vacuum on the grass around the sidewalk. You can see where it hit.

I continued grassing along the back until I ran out of the "wood glue max" and from that point on I used straight Elmer's.

I also decided that something looked "off" about the grass/lawn between Gra-Rock and Church Street.

So I decided to shoot it with some hairspray and add some of the same grass I used for the lawns on Fernwood St. Bonus: the "crop circule" just about disappeared.

By the way, in case you're interested in the mix of colors and lengths I use for the "grassy fields" in Wethersfield, see the pic above (or, if you're not, then this is just for my own reference). I use approx 50% of the Heki 3378, then 15-20% each of the Heki 33701 & 33711, and then 10-20% of the Noch to give it a dying look. Shaken & stirred.

Note masking tape "dam" added to the front of the layout to (try and) keep the static grass from falling to the floor.
I continued the static grass on both sides of the mainline south to Wells Road, using straight Elmer's white glue. I couldn't detect much, if any, difference between using it and the "wood glue max" I mentioned a couple weeks ago." Both adhered the grass the same & they both dry clear. The white glue is a bit easier to spread, since it's not as thick & tacky as the wood glue. The white glue is also much less expensive (and sold by the gallon) and more versatile than the wood glue (e.g. you can use it for ground goop, ballast, other scenery, etc).

So, going forward, I'll be using Elmer's White Glue. Unlike past times though, I'll be sure and use the white glue straight, with no dilution, and spread thin. YMMV & the wood glue max is a great product (and definitely thicker/stickier), but IMO it's not SO much better that it justifies the extra cost and hassle of having to find/order it. Elmer's can be found just about anywhere by the gallon.

I finished the Gra-Rock site (well, brought it to a level of "done-ness") by adding some medium height (4-6mm) grass around the base/foundation. I'll also be adding some additional vegetation to further cover any remaining gap. And I'll glue down the stairs when I'm ready to fix the structure in place. But for now, I really need to get to that backdrop!