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 . . .

Monday, June 29, 2020

Modeling Monday: Paying Dividend (some attention)

Thanks to all of you that have taken some time to comment on my Backdrop Backup, whether in the comments below, on The Valley Local Facebook Group, or by direct email. I really appreciate it and am enjoying feasting on all the food for thought. If you haven't weighed in yet, I hope you will. It's this sort of feedback that's such a big part of the reason for blogging in the first place - so thank you!

As promised at the end of yesterday's post though (prompted by The Missus, and confirmed by some of you), I'm turning my attention for the time being to the Dividend section of Rocky Hill.

In case you're relatively new 'round here, and by way of introduction, Dividend was the location of the largest industry on the Valley Line during the era I model - The Hartford Rayon Company.

Thanks to some research from my friend Bill Shanaman (who also models the Valley Line), I've learned that Hartford Rayon received tank cars of chemicals in Stauffer tank cars, pulp wood mostly in Canadian National boxcars (though occasionally MEC or BM cars) and twin hoppers of coal from the B&O (though I'm unsure where those were unloaded... Bill?). Finished rayon was shipped out in (probably/mostly New Haven) boxcars. The plant was especially busy during WW2 producing parachutes. But even after the war, with the post-war boom of consumer production & consumption (pantyhose, anyone?), it kept the Valley Local busy with traffic.

There's some additional detailed history of Hartford Rayon at this site and if you want a a really in-depth education about the rayon industry, check out this 1944 report prepared by the Textile Division of the United States Tariff Commission (courtesy Google Books).

But back to the layout - literally. Here's the Sanborn map of the area to orient you:

Dividend - north (to Rocky Hill & Hartford) to the right.  Hartford Rayon main plant to the south (left) of Belamose Ave.  Old Hartford Electric Steel building (used as the rayon warehouse in 1948) to the north of Belamose Ave.  Switchback not shown on this early map.
Unfortunately, if I followed this old map, my track layout would be all wrong for 1948 since John Wallace specifically described the switchback operations in his Shoreliner article (and was also confirmed by photos closer to my era).  During WW2, there was a bulk oil distributor further north on the tailtrack (which you can see at the far right end of the map), but that business went back to barges after the war so I won't be modeling it (and don't have the space for it anyway).  To the left (south) end, you see the "tank" track curving off to the southeast

Fortunately, much of the plant is still around. It ceased being a rayon plant after 1965 and was owned by Pratt & Whitney from then until 1997. I'm not certain what it is now.

The old warehouse, looking north, originally built as Hartford Electric Steel in 1917.
Same view in 1929. Note the beginning of the switchback going down the embankment.

Main factory building, looking southwest. The siding that goes in front of these loading docks is still buried there.

Roughly the same view, but before the rest of the switchback/siding was put in. Also note the passenger car/station for employees. At its peak in 1925, Hartford Rayon employed 550 people.

Office building

Aerial view - north to the top. Note the tank track curving around the south end of the complex.

An early view on the layout (Oct. 2013) - Dividend, looking southwest.  Cars are on the old Hartford Electric Steel tail track.  You can see the switchback and curving tank track in the distance.

Regular readers will know that since the photo above, I filled in the terrain with cardboard strips and plaster cloth (actually, I think my friend PeteL actually did that during a scenery blitz in July 2015 and here's proof!). But the last time I actually posted anything specific about modeling Dividend was way back in November, 2014(!) when I made the mockups for Hartford Rayon and I haven't done much there since. 

So this Dividend is a bit overdue (ok - I'll try to keep the puns to a minimum).

After the mockups went in, here's how the area looked for about 5(!) years:

The mockups consisted of scratchbuilt/cardboard for the factory and an old enginehouse building (courtesy PieterR) for the warehouse.

And here are a couple of photos of the current track arrangement, which is going to be changed based on some new research.

The pics above are especially bittersweet since at the time they were part of a series of photos I sent to Dave Messer so he could build the final buildings that would make up Hartford Rayon. I didn't realize at the time that they would end up being the final buildings that he would send me.

Eagle-eyed readers will remember seeing them shortly after they arrived last October. But at the time, I was doing a lot of posts about MARPM, "OP"toberfest, and up to my neck extending the Saybrook scene, filling in around the Air Line, and working on East Berlin.

I did at least place them on the layout though, which was an immediate huge improvement over the stand-ins that had been there since Fall of 2014. But, like adding "just" a coat of fresh paint to a room sometimes leads to a total redecoration, these fine structures made it clear right away that my terrain was all wrong.

So during the first couple of weeks in December, I changed all that but never got around to posting about it. I'll remedy that in the next post.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Backed Up at the Backdrop

While it's true that layout progress has lagged these past two months due to other projects, another (and maybe even bigger) reason is that I allowed myself to get stuck trying to create the backdrop at Wethersfield.  My problem is essentially that I know too much about the prototype, how it's supposed to look. And I don't have any photos that come anywhere close to that - nor do I have the painting or PhotoShop skills to make them up.

Maybe you can offer some advice that'll help me get past this roadblock.

By way of background (excuse the pun), when you're standing in the aisle looking at the Wethersfield scene, you're looking west. North (to Hartford) is to the right and south (to Middletown & Old Saybrook) is to the left. The Silas Deane Highway (aka "New State Highway" during my era; aka Route 99 today) runs parallel and to the west of the Valley Line anywhere from 200 to 1000 feet away, though typically around 500 feet away.

Adding to the challenge are 3 roads I model that cross the Valley Line and head straight back into the backdrop (and intersect with the highway). Going from south (left) to north (right) those roads are Wells Road (Valley Coal), Church Street (Gra-Rock & station), and Jordan Lane (Wethersfield Lumber & Ballantine's).

Here are a couple of maps showing the relationship between highway and road:
Wells Road & Valley Coal

Church Street, with Gra-Rock and the station

Jordan Lane, with Wethersfield Lumber and Ballantine's
 And here are a few recent photos to show you how things look today:

Wells Road - Valley Coal was on the far side of the tracks, off to the right. The highway is at the stoplights (click on image to enlarge).

Church Street - the old Gra-Rock building is still there to the left & the station is on this side of the tracks off to the right. The highway is at the stoplights.

Jordan Lane - Wethersfield lumber was on the left on the other side of the tracks and Ballantine's was on the other side of the tracks to the right. The highway is at the stoplights.
Now, admittedly, things are much more built-up now than they were in 1948. But the topography is the same as is the location of the highway in relation to the railroad.

By way of comparison, here are some shots from the other extreme - about 20 years before my era (and, incidentally, taken around the same time as the Sanborn maps above):
Wells Road (was Robbins St in 1929) - Valley Coal office is there on the right, just on the other side of the tracks.

Church Street - Note Gra-Rock building on the left.

Jordan Lane - heh, just a country lane & looks nothing like what it would even in 1948, much less today.
That's all the prototype/primary source material I have on these roads and backgrounds. The only other info I have are reminisces/memories from John Wallace & Dave Messer - that in the late '40s you'd see it a bit built up, with a smattering of commercial buildings, houses, and trees (though the trees weren't as prominent then as now). The only photo John had that was taken looking west from the highway was this shot of the (old) Wethersfield High School, just south of Church Street and west of the highway:

Wethersfield HS, taken from the Silas Deane Hwy, looking west. Church Street is just off to the right. John Wallace photo.
(edited to add): Thanks to Bruce Wilson over at the AML Nation, I was reminded that I also have this overall view of Wethersfield, looking north in 1938:

Click to enlarge.
Landmarks highlighted, north to south: Wethersfield Lumber, station & Gra-Rock, high school, Valley Coal.
So far I just have a mockup of some backdrop photos that, while taken in Wethersfield, don't look anything like the area west of the mainline (or how I imagine it to look in 1948).

Note the mock up of the historic Church Street photo.

Note the photos on the fascia (click on the images to enlarge), many of which were taken around my era and give at least some sense of the right look and feel of the area.

Trying to figure out a way to reconcile all this information into a credible backdrop for Wethersfield is what has me well and thoroughly stumped. I even started trying to PhotoShop a background for Jordan Lane (using - incredibly - a screenshot from a color video of Cortland, NY filmed in 1960. Click here for the result of that experiment).

I guess the easy - and perhaps only - resolution would be to just put a low treeline on the backdrop, contriving it as screening the highway from view. But I still have to deal with those pesky roads heading straight into the backdrop, and the intersections with the highway that would be obvious to anyone familiar with Wethersfield. And of course there should be at least a hint of "something" back there - house roofs, commercial buildings - might even try somehow to include that nice color picture of the high school.

Oh to have a drone - and a time machine - to go back to 1948 and shoot the color photos I need from the height I need them!!

A guy can dream.

But I also figure I'm not the only one that's ever confronted this sort of challenge. If you're one of those folks, I definitely want to hear if/how you prevailed. Actually, I'd love to hear from anyone that has some advice for getting me past this obstacle.

In the meantime, the Missus came up with a temporary solution: "You have three whole rooms of layout in the basement," says she, "and there's a lot of it that is just foam and plywood - not even any ground goop or basic scenery. [ed. note: yes, the Missus knows about "ground goop"] You've made lots of progress doing that - why don't you do that on some other parts of the layout while you're figuring out what to do with the Wethersfield backdrop? At least you'll still be making SOME progress and your operators won't have to run trains over bare foam and plywood."

Why, indeed.

Yes, I married a smart Missus, for sure.

So, while I continue to mull the backdrop - and wait to receive what I hope will be lots of sage advice - I think I'll move on to the Dividend section of Rocky Hill. It's the next section south that's only plywood & plaster (and now foam) and I already have all the buildings that go there.

In the meantime, I hope you'll have some fun trying to help me around my Wethersfield roadblock.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Thankful & Thoughtful Thursday: Whither Ops Sessions?

Yes, this here ol' blog is starting to ramp back up a bit. Counting yesterday's Wordless Wednesday (which I don't think I've ever missed, no matter how busy I've been), this will be the third post this week! So that's something to be thankful for - for me, anyway. Means I'm able to get back down to the basement.

Speaking of which:

Compare this to yesterday's view and you'll see that I did, in fact, get down to the basement - if only to clean it up for a "Virtual Layout Tour" last night. Thankfully, after a months-long hiatus (including some scenery work), the layout fired up fine (no shorts!) and ran fine as well.

One definite effect COVID has had: we've all gotten VERY creative about how we get "together" for such things. It wasn't that long ago when an online, real-time layout tour would have been the stuff of sci-fi dreams. And now, thanks to the necessity of the current situation, it's become pretty common.

Another thing to be thankful for is a great virtual - which often evolves into in-person - model railroad community. Probably the largest one I'm part of is the AML group. I've mentioned "A Modeler's Life" podcast many times before, and sometimes they mention me too - yesterday "officially." I got the above certificate and swag in the mail just in time to share it with the folks on the AML's Patreon chat last night.

And thanks to my buddy ChrisZ, I finally got around to opening the latest package that he dropped off waaaaaay back on May 25 (right before I got distracted by house & car projects). Looks like I have more whistle posts to paint. And, yup!, those are the latest iteration of the "old time" RR crossing signs that aren't available anywhere else but here. These have the round sign included on the pole too - with and without reflectors(!) Frankly, on first look, I can even see the reflectors (I think on the prototype they're only 1/2" in diameter!), so he may not bother with them on future castings, but I'll hold my verdict until I paint them.

So LOTS to be thankful for lately!!

But now, some food for thought. I won't ever be thankful for COVID, but one consolation noted above is that it's really amped up everyone's creativity. From having more time for our hobbies to figuring out new ways to share our progress and get "together" (including virtual conventions and layout tours).

What about operating sessions though?? How are the larger layouts that require multiple operators going to fare in this COVID world? There had already been a trend toward smaller, more portable layouts, driven primarily by increased levels of detail, more attention to realistic operations, and increasing mobility of our society.

Now, on the one hand, it looks like that trend is an even smarter way to go in the future - building something you can manage either alone or with one other person (or two at most). Less chance of exposure that way. On the other hand, I suspect our society may get a lot less mobile as folks do more staying-at-home, "staycations" and such. They may even buy larger houses since they'll be spending more time there (and maybe even working there full time through telecommuting as well). But will larger houses translate to larger layouts - and more operators?

One thing that seems certain, at least for the short term: large operating sessions are on hiatus. Do you think they'll come back? Or is this the start of a "new normal" in model railroading?

The recent explosion of virtual meeting technology and experience has demonstrated that a modeler doesn't have to ever be a "lone wolf" if they don't want to be - no matter where in the world they live and no matter how much this or any other pandemic prevents us from getting together in person. A guy named Dave Abeles has even figured out a way to do remote, virtual operating sessions where his crew gathers online, from their own homes, to operate his large home layout - and he's the only one actually in the basement (you'll definitely want to check out his blog about it here).

Will that become the new normal?

At the other end of the spectrum, I know of another layout owner that's restarting his large ops sessions next month. I won't be able to attend (I'm rarely able to get there under even normal circumstances), but I'll be watching his progress and precautions with great interest. The reality is that many of our fellow hobbyists are part of the vulnerable population (including yours truly, thanks to Crohn's), and as much as we crave getting back to normal, we want to be sure to do so responsibly.

I guess what a lot of this boils down to for me is that, if I'd had a crystal ball during the winter of 2015, would I have decided to triple the size of the layout? At the time, I figured "expand the layout, increase the operators, maximize the fun" and that's proved true over the many operating sessions I've had since. But if I'd known that 5 years later it could possibly be dangerous to have large groups of vulnerable people together in a closed basement, I may very well have decided differently.

Heh - crystal balls are way overrated. Usually it's best not to know the future and just live your life.

But give some thought to what that means for the future of model railroad ops sessions - especially those at large layouts. And if you have some thoughts/recommendations/musings to share, I hope you will. I think we'll all benefit from hearing other perspectives.

So are socially-distanced ops sessions (or no big ops sessions at all) going to be the new normal or is this just a blip in the grand scheme of things? Weigh in below!

Yankee Clipper held at Saybrook Station while a Boston-bound freight passes on Track 1 during last night's virtual layout tour. New Haven fans will note all that's wrong with this picture. Here's hoping someday to run the Shoreline for real again, accurately and with in-person operators . . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2020