Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thoughtful Thursday: Is (prototype) Model Railroading Fun?

Ever since I picked up my first issue of Model Railroader (January, 1983), the motto "Model Railroading is Fun!" has been emblazoned somewhere at the top of the front cover. Model railroading is "The World's Greatest Hobby" (another motto) - and for good reason: Arguably no other hobby offers as diverse a range of opportunities to learn & practice different skills. From engineering/planning, to carpentry, electrical work & electronics, painting, sculpture, and of course modeling, model railroading really has it all.

It also has probably more than its fair share of rabbit holes to fall down. And one of the largest comes under the broad heading of "Research." We all know folks in the hobby that never get beyond the research stage (aka "armchair modelers") whether from genuine enjoyment and satisfaction, or as a result of "Analysis Paralysis." For some, research is an end in itself and all they care to do.

So-called "prototype modelers" are especially prone to falling down this rabbit hole. And, as an aspiring prototype modeler myself, I've fallen down it more times than I care to count. Most recently this past couple of weeks, while I tried to figure out a more prototypical way to operate my model of the New Haven Railroad's Connecticut Valley Line in the Autumn of 1948.

While immersed in that diversion, I got to thinking (always a scary prospect, especially for one prone to over thinking):

"Is Model Railroading actually 'Fun'?"

The answer to that question is (or at least should be) "yes." It's a hobby, after all, and if it's not fun then you're doing it wrong.

But that's "model railroading" - what about "railroad modeling" or, more specifically "prototype modeling."

Is prototype modeling "fun?" Is it supposed to be?

Think about someone who has a passion for restoring old houses or antique cars, or curating a museum, or producing a documentary. All those things are probably enjoyable to the folks doing them, and they're hopefully very satisfying endeavors. But are they actually "fun?" I don't know that we typically think of such folks as having fun doing what they're doing. They may love what they're doing and may be passionate about preservation, or research, or sharing knowledge. They're probably enthusiastic about it as well. But are they having fun?

What about prototype modelers - especially the "serious" ones (or those that aspire to be)?
"I don't operate my layout between operating sessions - it's replicating a real railroad and since the real railroad didn't operate without a purpose, neither will I."
"I'm not including that (track, structure, road, tree) - it wasn't on the prototype."
"I'm not going to use car cards to operate the layout - the prototype didn't, so neither am I." 
Sound familiar to anyone? %^) Certainly, if the intent of the prototype modeler is to create a simulation of the actual thing - an operating version of what is essentially a museum diorama - a documentary rather than a novel - then this sort of thinking becomes (hopefully) a bit more understandable to normal folks that aren't as serious committed don't follow a prototype as closely. And I can attest to the fact that there is no feeling like discovering a particular photo or artifact from my chosen prototype that I've never seen before and that answers a lot of questions I'd been asking.

But I don't know that I'd call it "fun" necessarily. "Satisfying" - "eductional" - "enriching" - "informative" - those are all words that come to mind first.

Lionel Strang illustrates the point from another perspective. He asks the question (roughly): "What type of movies do you remember most - that moved you the most - that you enjoyed the most? Were they documentaries or fiction?"

I think we can guess his answer. And I have to admit - as much as I enjoy historical research and documentaries - fiction is often more entertaining than fact. More "fun" you might say.

So I guess all these rough notes/thoughts essentially boil down to this: What is it you're trying to do with your project - be it a "model railroad" or a "railroad model"? What's your intent? What story are you trying to tell? Is it fiction, "based on true events" (as some of the movies say)? Is it total fantasy and 100% a product of your own imagination? Is it an impression of the past, or a photograph?

And perhaps the most important question: "What do you enjoy most?"

"Having fun" is a great answer - especially when it comes to a hobby.

"Recreating a time and place" is also a great answer, but be prepared that it may not be as much "fun" as it is satisfying and enriching.

I've thought for a long time that I was firmly planted on the "prototype" end of the spectrum, but I have to admit that it has its downside (producing long, navel-gazing blog posts being one of them, apparently). I don't want to have to admit how much time I've wasted spent searching for the "perfect" prototype photo or information to complete a scene or enhance my operations.

And I have to admit, while there have been many instances of joy in the discovery of a missing puzzle piece in my prototype research, some of the most fun I've had in the hobby lately has been working on the "fictional" modules or completing a freelance scene using a friend's structures instead of faithfully following the prototype at East Berlin, CT.

To a certain extent, we're all prototype modelers - and we're all freelance modelers. If nothing else, the freelancers have to use prototype railroad equipment, and the prototypers have to use selective compression to varying degrees.

And if we're all "proto-freelancers" (and not being paid by a museum to faithfully and perfectly produce a prototype scene), then we're probably free to pick whatever point on the spectrum that we enjoy most.

I, for one, won't be moving the needle too far over toward "freelance" any time soon, but I will take a break from trying to reproduce prototype paperwork and do some more modeling. There's a picket fence that needs to be installed in front of the house across the street from John Wallace's house.

Before you ask, while John's house is perfect miniature of the real thing, the house across the street - and it's fence - are purely products of my own imagination.

And I'm having a ton of fun doing it!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Minimal Modeling Monday

After the last post, and in an attempt to give my brain a bit of a break, I've decided to try and push the pendulum perceptibly towards more modeling and less mulling. So, herewith, a short update:

You might recall from last week's "Modeling Monday" that I'd started the picket fence to go with the arbor in front of the house across Fernwood Street from John Wallace's house - and had even given it a nice fresh coat of paint.

Looks really nice - but perhaps a bit too nice. The only time I've ever seen a wooden picket fence look THIS white is for about the first 10 minute after it's newly painted.

So, after a "dry fit" on the layout, but before planting it in place, I decided to take it - and some other items - down to the paint shop.

In addition to weathering the picket fence, I wanted also to do my "wood" effect on the black styrene parts that came with the billboards.

You may recall the photo above from the post where I first started the billboards (about 1/2 way down the post). As you can see, these "wood" parts started as just plain black styrene.

After using my "woodifying" technique (well, to give proper credit, it's Brett Wiley's technique), this is how they came out. Definitely click on the image for a closer look.

As great as I think it came out, I still prefer to use wood to represent wood - then all that would be needed is just a coat of stain and some light weathering, rather than six(!) different colors of drybrushing!

While in the paint shop - and listening to my favorite podcast - I painted up the bits that ChrisZ sent to me a few weeks back. Here are some crossing signs above...

... and the old time crossing sign, with the round sign attached.

And that picket fence and arbor? Check it out...

Now THAT looks like a typical picket fence. Don't worry - that long section is the section that will go between the house and the railroad tracks. The other two sections are supposed to look weathered, but not quite ready for a new coat of paint. Of course, I may have to weather the house a bit more to match. Or add a little more white paint to the fence . . .

With weathering, I'm learning that it's best to build up slowwwwly because it's easy to overdo it and a little goes a long way. The effect should be subtle. Thankfully, weathering is also often easy to reverse.

I thought I'd be installing the fence tonight, but ran out of time. Let me know what you think - or you can wait until you see it in front of the house before rendering your verdict.

No matter though - at least I'm getting out of my head and back to the layout a bit. Hope you're able to make some progress too!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Piercing the Fourth Wall

In the week since my presentation last Saturday on Valley Line operations, I've been giving a lot of thought to how to operate the my layout as prototypically and realistically as possible, but without having to also recreate all the work actual railroads had to do to operate. This initially took the form of asking over at the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum whether there was a "3rd way" to do operations that wasn't traditional Car Cards & Waybills (CC/WB) or switchlists (spoiler alert: turns out the most realistic may be a combination of both, but I'll save that for another post).

The MRH discussion (d)evolved, perhaps inevitably, into a debate about where to draw the line between "realistic/prototype" operations on our model railroads and actually having fun. Coincidentally, Tony Thompson posted recently about a similar discussion about realistic waybills versus CC/WB. Heh - posting a link at MRH to his post just seemed to stir the pot further.

But it also took the discussion to a different level, which is what I want to talk about a little bit here. These are admittedly rough notes, since my thinking on this is still developing, but here are my thoughts so far...

First and foremost, I think the main question here has to be "Where do you draw the line on realistic operation?" Is "prototype" paperwork, really necessary? If so, are you then going to have - for example - different types and colors of waybills for all the different commodities, armies of clerks to handle all that paperwork (or at least a few buddies willing to do it during an ops session)?

As Dave Husman essentially put it over at the MRH thread, the closer you get to realistic prototype operations, the closer you get to lots of hard labor and intensive work - work that folks actually got paid to do - and they certainly weren't doing it for fun.

So the answer probably depends on what your intent is with your model railroad. To outline two possible extremes: Is it to enjoy the mental exercise of switching puzzles, and the "railroad" is only incidental? Is it to simulate an actual railroad's operation as realistically as possible? Is it to have fun? Or to simulate actual work?

If "Model Railroading is Fun" - how are you having fun in the hobby?

The ultimate answer is as varied as we are as individuals, but for most of us the line of realism is probably somewhere in the middle, either by choice (we'd rather build models than model paperwork, for example) or necessity (we don't have the resources of space or time to model the railroad as realistically as we'd like).

Rob Spangler suggested drawing the line physically rather than mentally: right at the edge of the fascia. Prototype paperwork generally, and how waybills look in particular, doesn't really matter since it's all part of the "stuff" we need to operate the layout - along with "throttles, fascia labels, paperwork organizers, etc." What's most important is that "the PROCESS is realistic on the modeled portion of the layout..." And then he - perhaps unconsciously - alluded to Frank Ellison's Art of Model Railroading, but in this case, Rob likened what we're doing to showing a movie rather than putting on a play. And everything on the aisle side of the fascia (paperwork, etc) is only important to the extent that it allows us to put on a good show. Otherwise, it's just seats, lighting, and other spectators.

In theater, there's an invisible line called the "Fourth Wall" that would be located where the fascia is on our layouts. Effective theater - and, I would guess Rob would agree, an effective layout - wouldn't "pierce" that Fourth Wall. All the focus would be fixed and remain on the action happening on-stage.

Drawing the line at the fascia makes things a lot cleaner - your focus is 100% on the layout itself and you don't have to go down all the rabbit holes of prototype paperwork, etc.

But aren't we all already piercing the Fourth Wall with modeling "jobs?" Sure, we have to model "engineer" so the trains actually run. But what about a separate "conductor?" (ok if you have 2-man crews), or "dispatcher?" (depends on how complicated your layout - your show - is). What about "freight agent" - and the paperwork attendant to that position?

I think it all essentially boils down to what show you're trying to put on and how immersive you want the experience to be.

Theaters themselves have been pursuing a more immersive experience ever since at least the 1950s with 3D movies and seats that gave you a jolt during certain scenes. And even today MX4D makes you more and more a part of the movie. Pretty soon, I suspect - in some sense - audiences will somehow become actual participants.

But aren't we participants in our own show? Doing the same thing with the ProtoThrottle and more realistic paperwork? Putting switch locks on the fascia? Using G scale switchstands to operate turnouts? Including small brake wheels you have to spin to simulate setting the brakes on cars?

These are all examples of where we're already blurring the line created by the Fourth Wall.

Of course, you have to keep yourself from falling down the rabbit hole - which is apparently what's happened to me this past week with regard to prototype paperwork %^) - and you must draw the line of realism somewhere, if only to allow yourself enough time to actually build models and work on your layout - so you actually have a show to put on.

So the best place to draw that line will ultimately come down to an individual's personal choice - and that will ultimately depend on the type of show they want to produce.

Heh - I still don't know yet what I'm going to do about "more realistic & prototypical" paperwork for my model railroad. But I'm glad there are others in the hobby that find such discussions at least entertaining if not ultimately providing any firm answers.

You get your fun out of the hobby where you find it - and for some, the more immersive the experience the more fun it is. But trying to achieve that immersion uses valuable hobby time, so for now I think I'll take a break from all this mulling and go do some modeling.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Misc Modeling Monday

First off, I want to thank everyone that took some time - right smack dab in the middle of a summer Saturday - to check out my NMRA-X presentation on Valley Line operations. If you missed it, you can check it out here (YouTube, choppy feed, starts at 3:06:43) or here (better Facebook feed, starts at 4:17:57).

As I mentioned in last Thursday's post, my MO lately has been to work on whatever I feel in the mood to work on. Now, this may seem obvious to most regular, sane, rational folks - this IS a hobby, after all - but it's actually quite a change for me since I typically work on one thing at a time, plowing directly forward with blinders on  . . . and usually getting thoroughly bogged down as soon as I confront any obstacle.

So, knowing that one of the benefits of having a large-ish layout is that there is always something different that needs to be done, I've been tackling a variety of things. Such as . . .

Back in April, I got this far with the house across the street from John Wallace's house on Fernwood Street in Wethersfield. I'd always planned to have a nice white picket fence around it, and I finally got to it.

One of the things I'm learning - as part of recognizing "there's always something different that you can do" - is to have a stack of "little" projects at the bench that I can just pick up and do whenever I have a bit of time. This picket fence kit by Mini-Tales (which The Missus gave me way back on Christmas, 2017) was just such a project.

It's laser cut something-or-other (I don't think it's wood - looks like some sort of fiberboard) and goes together really easy. The most complicated part is figuring out ahead of time what lengths you need and where the corners are going to be (check out my little plot plan on the biz card above). I didn't end up needing the gates at this point.

Assembly is a simple matter of using a razor blade to remove the parts from the carrier sheet (it's thinner than an XActo blade), planning how you're going to glue it together (based on your plot plan), and gluing it.

In my case, I cut the long side to length before assembly and decided to cut the other two shorter portions after assembly/painting.

To glue it together, I used very little glue, applied with a toothpick, on the "posts/supports" part then laid the "pickets" part on top.

This is the only photo I have showing what I do for the corner. Note that the fence nearest you doesn't have a post on the far left end, but only a picket. To form the corner, you glue that picket to the side of the post at the end of the other fence. Since I wanted to paint both sides of the fence in one spraying session, I used these stands to minimize points of contact.

I figured it'd be easier to touch up the back if necessary, so I painted the back first, then flipped it over to paint the front and set it aside to dry.

Since I was painting white anyway, I decided to spray the walls of another house (I'd previously sprayed the backs for the walls flat black). Yup, this is another City Classics Railroad Street Company House kit - like I used for the farmhouse at Goff Brook. I'll be building this one in a different configuration and it'll go behind the tracks at Dividend - weathered with a nice, dusty brown haze from the rayon factory.

Finally, I took the #359 (first mentioned at the end of this post) down to the basement for a test run. I'd loaded a custom speed table into it and it seemed ok on my test loop up in the workshop, but on the layout . .  . Ugh.  Check out the video:

I have an email out to TCS to see whether they have any other suggestions. I'm confident that this isn't a mechanical problem and I'm hoping that this can all be smoothed out with better programming.

So, a little progress on a lot of different fronts - not a bad MO for moving forward!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Friday Fun: MRH & NMRA-X Presentation

Happy Friday! Just a quick post to highlight a couple of fun things for this week's edition of Friday Fun!

First, my buddy Dean (way over in Calgary, Alberta, Canada(!)) gave me a heads up that The Valley Local was mentioned in the latest issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine. I've had a few articles published over at MRH, and I occasionally post on their forum as well.

MRH July 2020, p. 28
They have a section in their magazine where they pick from the forum and my "Backed Up at the Backdrop" post got featured. Of course, since you follow this blog, you pretty much saw this already here - but it's cool to see it in MRH too!

And I definitely want to mention again that the NMRA-X is running its virtual national convention all this week. In fact, tomorrow (Saturday 7/18) is the last day - and I'll be presenting at High Noon!

Each of the days of the convention has a theme, and tomorrow's theme is model railroad operations. As it happens, I'll be doing a presentation on how I do ops on the Valley Line. I hope you'll have a chance to tune in, but if you can't cuz you're mowing the grass or washing the car, don't worry. This clinic - like all of the NMRA-X presentations - will be recorded and available for later viewing at your convenience.

So whether you're able to tune in live (when you can ask questions which hopefully I can answer :^) or if you choose to watch later, I hope you'll get a good sense of prototype operations. Even better if you have some information or tips that will help me refine my approach.

No matter what you're doing this weekend, whether down in the basement, in the train room, or sitting in your favorite chair, I hope it includes some time enjoying this great hobby. And maybe I'll "see" you sometime tomorrow!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thankful Thursday & Progress Report

Anybody that's known me for a while knows that I tend to work in a pretty linear fashion, often to my detriment (thus minor roadblocks for anyone else become major, progress-stopping obstacles for me). But thankfully, lately I've somehow worked myself out of that mode - and have been making lots of (minor) progress on many (little) things.

But first, it being "Thankful Thursday," I want to acknowledge a debt of gratitude that's piled up a bit over the last bunch of days...

I finally got around to framing a cool New Haven RR placemat that I got from Pieter Roos some time ago.
Found out that there's actually such a thing as an 11x15 frame!

And it goes awesome with my plates!
Another Pete (Pete Luchini this time) came up with some tanks for Hartford Rayon and an N-scale farmhouse for some forced perspective I'm planning.

I was going to use the farmhouse behind the track at Dividend, but there's just not enough space there for the illusion to be effective - so I think I'll be using it in the "Middlefield" section of the Airline (whenever I can get around to it).

And finally, courtesy of "Add to Cart" (and a great Independence Day sale), I got a large tank for Hartford Rayon, some bumpers, a couple of billboards (including one for Ballantine's!) and enough doors and windows to do quite a few custom structures.

When speaking of Hartford Rayon, you're essentially speaking of Dividend and at the end of my last progress report there I'd just dropped the backdrop. So the next step was to get out the fiberglass mesh tape and topping to cover the joint/seam. . .


After the topping dried on the backdrop and I blended it all in with some of my blue sky paint, I backfilled the void left by removing the old scenery base with some foam board (done like this), glued with PL300, and weighed down.

Just when I was starting to get that old bogged down feeling in the basement, I decided to change tack and spend some time up at the workbench. Besides, I needed to make up some "car protection" for the ends of the new sidings I've put in . . .

The Tichy bumpers are inexpensive, but finicky to assemble. I think I'll make up an assembly jig if I end up doing any more of these.

I also got to the billboards, which turned out to be a pretty fun & quick build . . .

The main "addition" I'd make to the instructions is to use a metal brush of some sort to add some wood grain to the otherwise-smooth plastic pieces. Note the glossiness of the parts above.

And here they are "distressed." It's a subtle effect, but I think my drybrushing technique for making styrene look like wood will work well here.

Billboards all ready to go to the paint shop to be "wood-i-fied"!

Speaking of the paint shop, I got some more "old time" crossing signs and whistle posts from my buddy Chris Zygmunt so I added them to the pile of bumpers and wheel stops that needed to be painted.

I use three colors of rattle-can paint for this - Black (for the crossing signs), Brown (for the bumpers), and White (for the whistle posts).

As you can see, the main "pro tip" for handling such small parts while painting is to use clothespins and masking tape, sticky-side-up. Of course, sticking the tape to some scrap cardboard makes everything easy to handle.

Taking the Missus' admonition ("you have plenty of different things you can do on the layout so you shouldn't get bogged down"), I pivoted from painting to electronics - pecifically, addressing an issue with K-1d #359 and its TCS decoder. As you can see from the photo above, it looks fantastic (painting/weathering not done by me), but it really ran like garbage at the lower speed steps. That really kills the illusion for a local freight engine.

I figured the "easy" thing to do would be to "just" swap out the TCS decoder for a Soundtraxx/Tsunami (which is what all my other K-1 locos have onboard). 

I've done decoder installs before, but just in diesels. It took me a while to gin up the courage to open up the K-1 . . . and I immediately regretted it %^)

Yeah, I pretty much know what all those wires do - and I know conceptually what I'd need to do to change out the decoder - but with an onboard Keep Alive, a hard-wired steam chuff cam, and a speaker in the smokebox, I decided to put everything back together and see if I couldn't solve the problem through some additional programming.

To circle back completely to the "Thankful Thursday" theme - I'm thankful that fellow AMLer Shawn Becher saw my dilemma when I posted about it on the Valley Local FB group and arranged a time for us to get together to try and fix the problem.

But he's in Wisconsin. I'm in Connecticut.

One "COVID Consolation" is the explosion of virtual visits that we've all had to get accustomed to through Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and such. In this case, Shawn and I were about to get "together" and work on the decoder.

Thanks to his help, I was able to create a custom speed table that smoothed out operation quite a bit. It's still not quite as smooth as my Tsunami-equipped steamers, but it's nice enough that I created a "Loco Card" for it (which is especially helpful here since TCS has many more sound functions than the Tsunami) and took it back down to the layout.

So that's where I'm headed next - back to the basement. I have to get back to work at Dividend - and I also want to put the 359 on a couple of test local freights to see how it runs when it's not on a test track.

Oh - and speaking of operations, be sure to tune in to the NMRA-x at noon this Saturday. I'll be doing a presentation on how I operate the Valley Line. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Thankful Tuesday - New Track Plan!

Way back in April (seems like an eternity ago, given global circumstances), I received an email from Ian Thorpe, a modeler in Sydney, Australia. He'd been reading the blog for some time and was intrigued by the track layout - so much so that he took advantage of some "extra" time and drew up a trackplan.

After a few iterations and back & forths, I hereby present the latest version of the Valley Line trackplan!

Click to enlarge

Thanks to my buddy Randy, I've had a trackplan on the homepage of the Valley Line website ever since the site was created almost 7(?!) years ago - but there have certainly been a few tweaks and changes since then, so it's a great time for a new version.

So THANK YOU Ian for all your work on this, but especially for reaching out from way "Down Under" to let me know you're enjoying the blog. It's so cool to be part of a worldwide community - and it's truly amazing that so many folks in this hobby are so skilled and willing to share their talent with us.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday Fun(2): Getcher NMRA Convention Guidebook Here!

The NMRA (inter)National (virtual)Convention starts this Sunday! So be sure to check out yesterday's (and kinda today's) post for more info on that.

In the meantime, I've heard that some folks - especially those without Facebook accounts - are having trouble accessing the Convention Guide.

I know a Facebook account isn't required to view the presentations (and there's also a YouTube option), but it must be different for the guidebook, which is a file hosted on the NMRA's FB site.

So try this link, which the NMRA sent out via email Wednesday:

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thankful Thursday/Friday Fun: NMRA-x (inter)National (virtual)Convention July 12-18

Since the National Model Railroad Association's (NMRA) Annual National Train Show and Convention has been cancelled this year (you can guess the reason), Gordy Robinson & Co. (of worldwide convention fame) have teamed up to provide an INTERnational NMRA convention, LIVE, over the internet!

Just like the IRL national convention, it lasts the Whole Week, starting this Sunday, July 12 and going Fifteen (15!) hours every day until Saturday night, July 18. That's almost two days' worth of clinics and presentations every day, from building your first layout, to layout design, structures & scenery, painting & weathering, operations, and more. Every day has a different theme and there'll be live roundtable discussions throughout - just like an actual convention, but from the comfort of your own home.

For all the details, including how to participate (you can access it via Facebook (you don't need a FB account) or YouTube) and a full schedule of all the proceedings, you can download the convention guidebook by clicking here or here, or by going to the NMRA's Facebook Group here and scrolling down the right hand side of the page under "Recent Group Files." If none of those options work for whatever reason, leave a comment below or send me an email and I'll send you the pdf file.

It should be pretty clear why this is a "Thankful Thursday" post . . . Not only am I thankful that, despite the current circumstances, we have technology that allows us to get "together" and share this hobby with each other, whether we're right down the road or literally on the other side of the world, but I'm especially thankful that there are folks that are so willing to step up and fill in the void left by so many event cancellations.

And it should also be pretty clear why this is also a "Friday Fun" post . . . because what could be more of a BLAST! than 105 hours of FREE clinics and presentations on this great hobby from all around the world?!

Heh - and it might be vaguely clear why I'm having this post do double-duty over two days. Not only do I want to get the word out . . . but I have a presentation myself to finish up! (my April presentation will be rerun Wednesday at 10a, but I'll be doing a live presentation on layout operations Saturday at noon).

So here's hoping you can spend some time with us at GATEWAY-X 2020. And if you can't sit in front of the computer (or on your phone or iPad) for 15 hours a day :^) don't worry, Gordy's recording everything and it'll all be available on the internets later, just like before.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tuesday Tips

Some tips I learned or remembered during the past week's layout work:

  • Be sure the bottom of your backdrop is level or below your subroadbed height (unless you're modeling a mountainous area, I supposed), or else you may have to engage in some "backdropping."
  • Don't forget to install headblocks at your turnouts before painting your track (and definitely before doing scenery or ballast).
  • Make sure the foundations on your structures are tall enough so that the bottom of your freight doors are at the same height as a boxcar floor.
  • Use a respirator and/or open windows and run fans if you're painting track with aerosol spray paint. And be sure you don't spray so much that the pilot light on your furnace ignites the fumes and blows up your house (though you'll have a clean slate for your next layout, you probably won't be in any condition to actually build it).
  • If you get stuck on something while working on the layout (I dunno, for example, obsessing over how to do a particular backdrop), move on to something else. No matter how small your layout, there's always something "else" you can do.
  • Don't be afraid to redo something if you're not happy with it.
I'll probably forget a few of these (again) myself in the future, but hopefully writing them down here will help me remember them.

What are your favorite tips? What's been especially helpful to you lately to remember? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Dividend Progress Report: Structure Height, Feeders, Painting Track, More "Backdropping"

Hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday weekend, though I suspect for most of you it didn't feel quite the same. And I I suspect some of you were able to make it to your train room a bit.... I, for one, was able to make some more progress in Dividend . . .

Once I finished redoing the trackwork last Thursday, I put the Hartford Rayon structures back to double-check placement and discovered that, for some reason, the loading doors are about 3/8" too low. Maybe Dave assumed I'd be putting these on a(n additional) foundation?

In any event, after soliciting lots of feedback from the always-helpful members of the Valley Local Facebook Group on how to address this situation, I've decided to raise the buildings by adding a taller foundation. I may also raise the terrain slightly (and/or goop around the foundation), but since things are relatively level around here, I think focusing on the foundation is the best way to go.

While I was mulling structure height, I decided to get the feeders installed and out of the way. I had to disconnect them to change the track arrangement, and I added a new siding, so I needed to repower everything.  Click here and here if you want the details on how I do feeders.

After feeders are all done and tested, the next step track-wise is to paint the track. I've considered using an airbrush (even bought a 50' hose to get it around the whole layout!), but for basic track painting I just use a rattle can (Krylon Camoflage Earth Brown #279178) and clean the railheads immediately aftewards with a rag dipped in denatured alcohol.

One of the main reasons I do this blog is to document how I've done things before so I can refer to them later, if needed. And good thing: Just as I was about to start spraying, I vaguely remembered that there were a couple things I needed to be sure and do before painting. Sure enough - there's a post for that! But the skinny is: clean your solder joints, file any rough spots on the track (including tips of turnout points, add some oil to the point hinges, and add filler ties.

And one more thing that I didn't mention in that post - and, sure enough, forgot this time around: Add headblocks to your turnouts (and turnout details, if you're so inclined).

Of course, protect the surrounding areas. Then paint!

After the paint dried, I turned my attention to the scenery between the track and the backdrop. The prototype photos I've seen give the impression that the area is a bit flatter than my current scenery base.

While the small hill at the north (in the distance, just short of the Rocky Hill station area) is consistent with the prototype (and - bonus! - will make a nice scene separator), the hill here at the south (close) end - while also prototypical - will need to be a bit smaller since it currently crowds the Cromwell scene (there's no transition/it ends abruptly).

But the biggest problem - to my eye at least - is the slope from the track to the bottom of the backdrop.

This problem is especially apparent when you look at a mockup of the Cromwell scene.

Admittedly, in the far distance, there's a bit of an upward slope as the Middlesex Turnpike climbs a hill. But I don't want to foreshorten that slope right into the town area itself.

So, remembering my lesson in Wethersfield way back when I "lowered" the backdrop there, (the lesson being - it often takes more time to mull something than to actually do it), I decided to rip out the scenery base and "drop" the backdrop to allow for a flatter scene.

Once the scenery base was out, I just needed to glue in some supports/splices for the backdrop extension. . .

And once those were dry, I cut some masonite strips from scrap and glued those up. . .

The scrap I used was blue #luckybreak

Although I removed the hill from between Cromwell and Dividend (it was to the right in the pic above), there actually was a hill between the two towns (and actually included the ruling grade on the line) and it'll provide a perfect scene separator. I'll just redo it - but this time with stacked foam, and also with a more realistic transition into Cromwell.

Experienced modelers (heh - or just about anyone with a better sense of project management?) may think I'm crazy to go through all this for what may end up being marginal gains. But "gains" really are in the eye of the beholder. I'm pretty sure if I didn't make these changes, they'd nag me. And - fortunately - I've gotten pretty good at doing things over and not catching the Analysis Paralysis bug quite as often.

And the proof is in the progress. I'm making pretty quick headway in Dividend - certainly more than I'd been making in Wethersfield lately. With any luck - and some better time management - I'll be getting back to scenery and structures here again soon!