Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Terraforming at Dividend

Well, it's only a "Throwback Thursday" because we have to go "way back" to New Year's Day/weekend for the content of today's post. But good news! This also means the blog is slowly - but surely - catching up to Real Time . . .

I needed to add a scenic divider between Dividend and Cromwell, and thankfully, this area on the prototype suits itself to the task nicely. While the Valley Line follows the Connecticut River most of the way, just south of Dividend it turns inland (or, rather, the river runs further to the east) and goes up and over the ruling grade on the line. So a hill here - and a cut - is perfectly appropriate and plausible (though, admittedly, I'm not following a specific prototype scene).

The area from Dividend to Rocky Hill proper, while hilly, also has some less hilly spots of farmland. So I wanted to be sure to replicate that as well (and removed some hills - and even lowered the backdrop - to make that task easier) - especially since that would also allow me to include a small house, complete with brown rayon weathering.*

So follow along in the captions as I describe how I got started . . .

My terraforming technique has typically consisted of standard cardboard webbing, plastercloth, and ground goop. But I'd never modeled a cut before, so wanted a bit more control. After fussing with foamboard layering, I decided on a hybrid approach - use foamboard on edge as profile boards, and glue the webbing to that.

Actually, you can see yet a third technique the photo above - wadded up newspaper, held down by masking tape. Scenery support doesn't have to be pretty - it just has to give you the contours you want.

And here's a 4th method - just foamboard, carved to shape. This technique is especially useful for flat(ish) areas, like around where the house and garage will be (you can see the outlines I traced).

Here, I'm adding some 3/16" foamcore (with the paper peeled off) to make a concrete road. I frankly don't remember why I added it on top of the yellow foam board, since the yellow board has a realistic texture. Maybe I needed to backfill to raise the road level? I did sand it to taper it down to merge as seamlessly as possible.

Speaking of roads, on the prototype, Belamose Ave comes downhill from the Middlesex Turnpike to Hartford Rayon. So it does on my layout as well - although admittedly my model of it has a much more pronounced curve. But it works with my space. In the photo above, I've hot-glued some supports for the road. 

And here's the road in place. You might be able to make out that there's a farmhouse at the left end of the backdrop mockup. The idea would be that the road goes "into" the backdrop and past the front of that house.

Getting back to the cut, I used my rasp to round off the edges of the foam board to make a more natural contour.

Rasping foam makes SUCH a mess! This is from just a little area. I'm so glad I'm not trying to rasp down multiple layers of foam to create this hill!

While this is a nice overview of the progress so far, it's not so great at showing the reason for showing this view - which is to show the cardboard strips and masking tape support from Belamose Ave down to the "field" level.

And here's what all that support is for - adding plaster cloth for the (semi)final terrain contour. The final final contours will be provided by either a layer of Sculptamold, ground goop, or both.

So far, none of these steps are difficult or require any special tools or talent. The main challenge, at least for me, is to figure out where exactly you want the contours, how high, and what "footprint." If you're a prototype modeler, trying to replicate a prototype scene, that can be a little challenging (unless you're following a photo). But for the most part this step of the process is pretty easy and gives you a big bang of progress for the time spent.

While I'm happy with how this is looking, the cut looks a little too - I dunno - "even"? "Perfect"? Not sure, but it definitely needs something - probably more variety in the contour along the top edges.

But at this point, I'd run out of time for the weekend - and wanted to take some time to step back, sleep on it, and see what - if any - changes/additions I might want to make.

Over all though, it's just nice to be making some progress on this scene. It's definitely coming along! Next time, I'll tackle adding rock castings to the cut so it actually looks like a cut through an actual hill. I've never done anything like that before, so be sure to follow along and see if I learn anything new!
* * *
*I'll try to explain further at some point, but suffice it to say here that John Wallace specifically recalls white-painted houses near Hartford Rayon always having a dusting of brown on them - a byproduct of the emissions from the rayon manufacturing process. Replicating that in this scene preserves that memory and gives me an opportunity to share that story. It's sharing little historic details like this that's such a big part of the reason I'm a prototype modeler.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tuesday Tip: Rock Coloring 1-2-3

How many of you have hit a roadblock in this hobby, coming face to face with a task that needed to be done and you didn't have the confidence or skill to confront it head on and Just Do It? For some, it's benchwork - and they never even start a layout, contenting themselves with being "armchair modelers" and dreaming about "someday" when they'll build a layout - as if reading Just One More Article will magically endow them with the tools & skills they need. Heck, the same thing can be said about so many aspects of the hobby, whether it's electrical work, trackwork, structure building, or - in my case - scenery.

But if I've resolved anything for this hobby in the New Year, it's to confront this obstacle head on. I've been lucky enough to have some early success - and even luckier to have friends that have helped me along the way (e.g. less than 1/2 of the finished scenery on the layout was actually done by me). Having others help you - or actually do the work for you - while wonderful, does little to nothing to help you build YOUR skill and proficiency.

You just have to do it yourself - and try, try again if at first you don't succeed.

Fortunately, I'm here to share one of the rare times when a seemingly-insurmountable scenery obstacle actually turned out to be No Big Deal. 

I'm talking about rock coloring.

Before yesterday, I'd never colored any rock castings & the only ones on the layout were done by others. But modeling a line set in Southern New England pretty much guarantees that I have to figure out how to do rocks at some point. So, now that I'm working in Dividend and will be modeling a railroad cut through a hill, it was high time to figure out how to do it.

Bare castings

I'd made some rock castings some months ago - a pretty easy process, all things considered - but they'd sat for months in the glaring white of new plaster. So, figuring I had a bunch of "extras" to practice on, I did some quick research in my extensive library of scenery books and got to it.

The same castings, now colored

In the process I discovered a technique for coloring rocks that's ridiculously simple and produces rocks that look very similar to what I see along my RR ROW everyday. I've only been coloring rocks for 2 days, so I'm certainly no expert - but I hope by sharing this super-easy technique that you'll be encouraged to try coloring some rocks too. It really is as easy as 1-2-3.

The same castings once all dry

But first, you'll need some materials.

  • 3 Colors of Acrylic Craft Paint
    • I used Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, and Black ($.50 ea at Walmart)
  • Water
    • Regular tap water is fine
  • Brush
    • I used a 1/4" wide cheap china brush
  • Small Dixie Cups
    • Bonus if they're plastic, so you don't have to worry about them getting soggy
  • Medicine dosage cup
    • Optional - I have plenty on-hand and the measurement markings are handy
  • Stirring stick

  • Measure out 1 tablespoon of water, and pour it into one of your cups.
    • Put 20 drops of Raw Sienna in the cup and mix it by stirring thoroughly
  • Measure out another tablespoon of water, and pour it into your second cup.
    • Put 20 drops of Raw Umber in the cup and mix it by stirring thoroughly.
  • Measure out a final tablespoon of water, and pour it into your final cup.
    • Put 7 drops of Black in the cup and mix it by stirring thoroughly.
Here's what you should have when you're done - 3 cups of very thin paint which we'll use to "wash" over the rock casting:

Coloring - Easy as 1-2-3

Here's the rock casting I started with - all nice and white plaster, but doesn't look like a rock.

Step 1 - Brush on Raw Sienna

Literally, just dip your brush in the cup of Raw Sienna wash and brush it all over the casting. If you get any pooled wash, just wipe your brush off on a paper towel and use the brush to daub up the puddle. When you're done, the casting will look like this:

Before you go to the next step, you need to let the casting dry. Acrylics dry relatively fast, but if you're impatient like me, you can use your wife's a hairdryer you bought just for such things to blow dry the casting much faster. Here it is once it's all dry:

Step 2 - Brush on Raw Umber

Yup - same "technique" - just dip your brush in the cup of Raw Umber wash and brush it all over the casting, using your brush to daub up any pooling as I described above. Here's the casting right after applying the Raw Umber wash:

And here it is after blow-drying:

Step 3 - Brush on Black

Can you guess what comes next? RIGHT! Just dip your brush in the cup of Black wash and brush it all over the casting, daubing up any pooling. The black really makes things start to pop. Here it is semi-wet:

And - voila! - here it is after blow-drying:

That is really all there is to it! Compare this "rock" to the stark-white plaster casting we started with. There's really no comparison. All of the variations of color really bring out the texture and make it look authentic. And, interestingly, different castings also take the colors a bit differently (as does different types and ages of plaster, apparently).

All that's left to do on this rock to is to weather it (if desired), maybe do some drybrushing to create more highlights, add some "mosses" and other vegetation (ground foam, etc), and - of course - place it on the layout. . . probably somewhere near the front, where such a wonderful bit of modeling can be seen and enjoyed.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit how long I'd put off coloring rocks - you can bet I would've tried it sooner if I'd realized it'd be this easy to do. Of course, this is just one technique - there are certainly others out there and you can play around with different colors to suit the locale you're modeling.

I hope seeing how crazy easy rock coloring is will encourage you to try it for yourself. And if you do, I hope you'll let us know and share your results with us in the comments below.

Happy Modeling & Rock On!*

*sorry - you didn't really think I could resist, did you?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Hartford Rayon Foundation

Continuing work at Hartford Rayon in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill . . .

Follow along with the captions . . .

The foundation & docks for the warehouse, as well as the truck loading area/turnaround, being pretty much all set, I started fiddling more with the foundation under the factory/office building.

As you can see from the two pics above, I'd initially thought to have it continue right to the edge of the layout.

The height on the trackside of the building was spot on with a boxcar floor. . .

. . . and I even went so far as to trim the foam to fit.

But it still didn't look right, so I decided to trim the non-trackside back to the edge of the building.

Unfortunately, trimming it resulting in some rough spots which would definitely show up when I color the foam to make it look like concrete.

Fortunately though, a sanding block made quick work of that  . . .

. . . and the result was darn near perfect.

With the foundation done, it was time to step back and assess the progress of the scene.

I'm especially happy with how the foundation/loading dock combo is working out under the warehouse.

But the foundation under the office/factory building is a bit more problematic. It occurred to me later that I should have planned ahead for some truck loading docks at the back (aisle) side of the building. Thankfully though, after soliciting some feedback, Ken Rutherford weighed in with some great suggestions for how to treat this side. . . I'm still mulling them, but stay tuned!

Having hot-glued in the building foundations (though the truck turnaround is still loose), I started to mockup some backdrop photos . . . I sure hope the backdrop here goes quicker than Wethersfield has . . . Heh - wouldn't take much!

I hope you enjoyed this (very) quick overview of how I went about raising some structures so that the loading dock doors would line up with the height of the freight car floors. I'll be especially interested to see whether I can paint this foam to look enough like concrete to be convincing. As always, thoughts and feedback are welcome!

Progress in Dividend is going along pretty steadily, though I'm only able to get to it on Sunday afternoons. Thankfully, I haven't allowed myself to get too bogged down with Analysis Paralysis and - imagine! - I'm actually having fun! It's cool to see this scene developing . . . sure, it may not be perfectly prototypical, but it's pretty darn close. And it's a heckuva lot better than leaving it unfinished and all to the imagination. 

Here's hoping you'll enjoy continuing to follow along as I get to the landforms, a rock cut, and other fun stuff!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Fun: 1940s Radio

One of the things I enjoy most about living in New England is that so much of the past is still around. There are so many places you can visit - from an old seaport village, to the last operating steam-powered cider mill in the US, to even a steam locomotive powered railroad - where it takes very little imagination to convince yourself that you've fallen through a portal and traveled back in time. And all that is just within 20 minutes of my house(!). Christmastime is especially magical, of course, with all the many memories from the past that come flooding back into our minds - whether we actually experienced them first-hand or not.

One example of that is a little shop that pops up in Niantic, CT every Christmas. The coolest thing about this particular shop is that everything is vintage. You really feel like you've stepped back in time to a Christmas store sometime in the 1930s-50s.

There are SO many cool things to see and, of course, buy. But as I was browsing this particular time, I noticed the big band music playing in the background, setting the perfect mood. The coolest thing about it though was that it seemed to actually be coming from some of the old radios that were on the shelves.

There were 1950s vintage Bakelite radios, as well as older wood-veneered radios, all playing the music they would have been playing Way Back When.

Talk about a Twilight Zone moment . . . I thought at first that the shop owners had found an oldies (really old oldies) radio station - until I heard the vintage commercials. Then I was REALLY floored.

As I stepped closer, I realized these little treasures were for sale - and I discovered the secret. They'd been converted to super-cool Bluetooth speakers(!) So you could use them to broadcast anything you want!

I found one in particular that looked cool and The Missus (wise woman that she is) reminded me that, although Christmas shopping was done, I still had a birthday coming up. Suffice it to say, one of those treasures came home with me that day . . .

So what we have here is a 1940 Zenith model 6S439 radio. It's a small tabletop 6-tube AC circuit radio, which originally received signals over the standard broadcast band and two short wave bands. It also has "automatic" or push-button tuning, and the Zenith RadiOrgan tone control (but has only two controls rather than the usual 5 or 6).

While many of the innards are still intact, it would be very difficult to restore to original operating condition. Turns out, there's a local kid (to me, anyway - he's under 30 and gives me hope for the younger generation :^) who finds old radios and tries to restore them to operating condition if possible (and to his credit), but if he can't he installs Bluetooth so that they can still be enjoyed.

And that's what he did to this old Zenith. It makes the PERFECT compliment to my 1940s-era layout and fits in nicely on the operator's sign-in table. Just look at that beautiful two-toned wood!

Certainly fits in nicely, literally and figuratively. And - best of all - not only does it look like it belongs in and amongst a 1940s railroad. . . it sounds like it too! Just give it a listen . . .

We enjoy such a multi-faceted hobby that touches on SO many different aspects of life, from carpentry to electrical, to the artistry of scenery building, the challenge of realistic operations, and even - in this case - the collecting of antiques that help create just the right setting and ambiance for your guests.

No wonder it's called the World's Greatest Hobby!

Have you acquired some non-railroad item that you're using to compliment your layout, train room, or crew lounge? If so, I hope you'll share it with us all in the comments below!

Happy Friday and here's hoping you have a wonderful weekend and some hobby time!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Continuing Work at Dividend

As you may have deduced from my 2020 retrospective posts (here and here), I made quite a bit of progress on the layout during the first half of last year. But, other than some misc modeling and min modeling, and major progress on the Goff Brook Farmhouse house at Dividend, that's where layout progress pretty much stopped. At the Dividend section of Rocky Hill, CT. Way back in July.

But after an autumn filled with solo ops sessionsfun acquisitions, and railfanning both near and far - not to mention a total "boxing in" of the east end staging yard - and, of course, the Holiday Season, it was time to get back to the layout and pick up where I left off.

The House at Dividend

The main roofs had been attached and the roofing applied. All that was left was final assembly.

Given such relatively delicate subassemblies (that would be hard to brace or clamp), I decided to try some gel ACC. It worked just as I'd hoped - just a little bit of glue, stick it on, just a second or two to position (best if you don't have to move it though) and it creates a very strong bond.

So much so that I decided to use the same thing on the delicate step assemblies. Note that this little set of steps was from a set of Central Valley steps & ladders pack. The City Classics kit comes with only two sets of stairs and my modifications exposed a third outside doorway - requiring another set of steps.

But I'm really glad how it came out, putting the lean-to on the side and narrowing the front porch.

So now it's all ready to be placed across the tracks at Dividend (well, as soon as I weather the roof - and add chimneys).

Hartford Rayon Raising

Speaking of Dividend proper, and structures, I needed to revisit the height of the Hartford Rayon buildings (click here to see the problem).

I ended up using two thicknesses to raise the warehouse to the proper height. A piece of foamcore provides the base and then I used some insulation board (I had to peel off the foil on both sides) that had a nice concrete texture - so nice, in fact, I decided to use it not only for a foundation, but for loading docks too, as you can see above.

To get a sense of how long to make the foundation/loading dock, I positioned standard 40' freight cars at different dock and door locations . . .

Once I finalized the warehouse foundation/dock, I turned my attention to raising the main office/factory building . . .

. . . first tracing the outline of the building . . .

. . . and then cutting it to fit. A little bit of a failure to plan ahead here - I should have included a loading dock and some porches in front of the doors along the back here. I'll add them later - but am debating whether or not to do individual porches/dock, or have a full-length loading dock along this back side. Of course, that would likely require a full-length dock roof . . . Thoughts?

Envisioning trucks being loaded & unloaded here too, it was clear I needed to raise the height of the parking lot as well.

So I cut a piece of foamcore to fit, and peeled off the paper to reveal the nice concrete-like texture of the foam itself. Beware: not all foam core paper will peel off easily! But this brand does.

Perfect height! Once this is all painted concrete color and weathered with oil drippings, expansion joints, and weeds here and there, I think it'll look pretty good!

I'll end this little update on Dividend with this teaser . . .

Yes, I'm going to build a nice scenic divider between Dividend and Cromwell - and as one of the few cuts on the line, it'll be a nice scenic highlight too. There may not have been quite as large a cut anywhere between these two towns, but I don't know for sure that there wasn't. What I DO know is that the ruling grade on the line was at this point and it was a bit hilly. So having a hill and cut here is certainly plausible, if nothing else.

And it'll give me a chance to experiment with adding & coloring rock castings! I don't mind admitting that allowing myself even a modicum of freedom from strict prototype fidelity is very liberating and makes things quite a bit more fun for an obsessive such as myself.

Will this part of the project actually turn out to <gasp!> FUN?! 

I sure hope so! And hope you'll continue to follow along to find out . . .