Friday, November 24, 2023

Friday Fun: Modeling Camp Bethel (terrain prototyping) pt.1

As of my last layout update, I'd pushed basic scenery north into Deep River, CT. Since the next area to be modeled is East Haddam/Goodspeeds (actually located in Haddam, on the west side of the Connecticut River, but let's leave it at that...), I figured it high time to check in with the prototype.

This is the station area looking north. The car is heading east on Bridge Street (aka Route 82) and will be crossing the river on a 1913 swing bridge in just a few hundred yards from here. Off in the distance, left/west of the track, you can see the hill on which Camp Bethel sits.

Similar view, as it looks today, shot closer - from north of the grade crossing. Same building on the right, but modified.

Walking further north, you can't really make it out through all the trees, but Camp Bethel is up on top of that little hill on the left.

Ever since hearing of our own little version of the Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting Association, I've wanted to model at least a hint of Camp Bethel - which lies conveniently between the East Haddam scene and the Shailerville Bridge scene, providing a perfect scenic break.

In fact, I'd planned so far ahead to include it, that I'd long ago cut the fascia to form the hill profile. Unfortunately, as I started looking more closely at the prototype topography, I realized the hill profile I'd made was WAY too high. I also needed some flat area for the cottages. The masking tape above indicates the proposed cut line, and also protects the painted fascia from my saber saw.

Here's how things looked after I cut the hill down - and added foam on edge along the inside of the fascia for mounting the cardboard strips.

As you can see, I'd originally planned on adding a rock casting to the side of the hill to make up for the hillside being SO steep here.

But the more I looked "north" down the track, the more the hill still looked too tall and steep - especially when compared to the topography shown in the prototype photos.

So, out came the saber saw again and down came more of the hill. I also decided not to use a rock casting since that would be really out of place in this spot - at least, again, according to the prototype.

Looking at these photos again, I think I may redo the cardboard strips so that the stacked foam doesn't look quite so much like a huge outcropping.

Incidentally, the little cabin/cottage you're seeing in the photos was borrowed from Somerset and is being used as a mockup for sizing purposes. Unfortunately, I can't really use it here since it belongs in Somerset - and I need more than one cottage to give them impression of a "camp" anyway.

But, thanks to my friend Bruce Edgerton, I already have on-hand some cottage kits that he gave me a few years back, which I think will fit the bill nicely. But to be sure they'd work, I figured I'd need to take a field trip to do more prototype research . . . That'll be the subject of the next post. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Throwback Thursday: On Giving Thanks & Making Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

You've likely heard - and perhaps even participated - in the debate of whether model railroading is art. But have you ever thought of it as worship or contemplation?

After being sick all this past week, and almost missing Thanksgiving entirely, I woke up this morning feeling much better and noticed the beautiful sunrise from my back deck. The mood was enhanced by some nice seasonal music playing in the background (do yourself a favor and check out this song in particular). I couldn't help but try and capture it in the photograph above and the scene reminded me of the poem by Joyce Kilmer - " . . . only God can make a tree."

I think any time we engage in any creative endeavor, whether it be music, painting, dance, sculpture, or any of the arts - any time we create something for the purity of it itself - we are affirming our innate humanness and participating with God in Creation. While we can never be God, I believe our creative endeavors are reflections of the Imago Dei in our lives.

In this respect, our attempts at creating miniature worlds are echoes of our true identity as humans. We are born creators and while our attempts can never be any more than a mere reflections of the real world, I believe that the process of creating that world can itself be a contemplative exercise, affirming our humanity and providing an oasis in the midst of troubling times.

Is it any wonder, then, that a creative hobby can be so calming and restorative? And I think doing it can sometimes be an act of thanksgiving, thanking our Creator for the privilege of being able to participate in creation, in even a small way.

I've spent the past couple of Sunday afternoons dipping my toe in the deep end of this pool, trying my best to make some trees . . .

I started with armatures from Scenic Express, separating them into separate "trees" and spray painting them a medium gray color. When I was young, I always colored trees brown - but, turns out, they're often mostly shades of gray.

While the instructions recommend soaking the armatures in matte medium, I'm following the path many others have taken and am using hairspray (the cheapest, firmest hold you can get) to affix the "leaves" (various colors of flocking) to the armatures. I heavily spray the armature, then sprinkle the flocking over an old pie pan, which I then use to pour the excess flocking back into the container it came from.

It's a slow process - it took me an entire afternoon to do the trees you see above - but hopefully I'll get faster with practice.

But the results are definitely worth the time.

That's another thing I'm learning as I do more scenery on the layout: the time it takes often results in a better product, and the process itself can put you in a better, calmer, more contemplative frame of mind.

This Thanksgiving season, I hope you'll have a little extra time to spend working on your layouts - or doing whatever hobby you're in the mood for. And if you do, I hope you'll reflect on how blessed we are that, no matter what our level of skill or ability, we're able to create something that can bring us joy and maybe even a little peace.

From our home to yours, we wish you, your families and friends, a blessed Thanksgiving and holiday season.

(While this post was first published Thanksgiving, 2022 I think it fitting to repost in keeping with the spirit of the season, and to remind me to keep things in their proper perspective, being truly grateful for all my many blessings despite all that's going on in the world around us. I hope it helps you too during these difficult times.)

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Valley Local & Glenn Miller

Those that know me know that I love swing music, especially that of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. In fact, I typically pipe in such music during my 1940s-era operating sessions on a period-appropriate radio. And folks that have toured my layout, or seen my NMRA presentation on The Valley Local, will hear me tell a story about a remarkable link between The Valley Line and the famous Glenn Miller.

It has to do with a little diner in Cromwell, CT pictured in the photo above.  While it's fairly distinct, with its octagonal windows, you may not notice it right away, so here's a closeup:

The first time I heard of any connection between Miller and the Valley Line, was when I read the description that Max Miller had included on the back of this photo:

While Max misspelled the name, local dance band musician, Cromwellian Hal MacIntyre, figures prominently in the Glenn Miller Story . . .

Anyone familiar with the history of the Glenn Miller Orchestra will recall there were actually two Miller bands. The first one, started in the mid-1930s, wasn't successful. So what happened? What made Glenn Miller decide - despite his better judgement - to reform the band which ultimately went on to phenomenal success and provided the soundtrack of the early 1940s and WWII?

The answer lies within that little non-descript diner.

Apparently, the McIntyre family had a farm in Cromwell, CT where all the band equipment was stored. Hal had been a local celebrity before being discovered by Benny Goodman (briefly) then Miller, having led his own popular dance band in the early/mid 1930s. But the first Miller band never found its groove, broke up, and stored its stuff in Cromwell.

Hal, who had become one of Miller's closest personal friends during those early years, finally persuaded Glenn to take another chance. While I typically relate the story based on some conjecture, I just tonight discovered verified proof in this book:

Instead of me telling the story, why not hear it straight from Hal himself from an interview from May 1945 about a day in the early spring of 1938 (p. 112-113):
"After the first band broke up, I took all the equipment up to our farm in Cromwell, Connecticut, and got a job in a factory and played with my own band at night. I used to call up Glenn every Sunday afternoon at one and try to argue him into starting the band again. But he'd always say 'Nothing doing,' and that he hadn't gone through $18,000 too fast to want to go back into the band business. 
 "Well, one afternoon he was driving through Cromwell and he called me from a diner. I went over to see him, and we talked for a while and I brought up the subject of starting the band again. At first he said 'No,' but I sort of detected a lessening of resistance, and I kept working and working and working on him until he finally said, 'OK, we start rehearsals at the Haven Studio next week."

And the rest, as they say, is history. The Glenn Miller Band went on to become the most popular band of the Swing & Big Band era, winning the first ever gold record for Chattanooga Choo-Choo (appropriately, another railroad reference).

I actually didn't know about any of this history when I first decided to model the New Haven Railroad's Connecticut Valley Line, but once I saw Max's note during my initial research, I just knew I had to model that diner on my HO scale version of Cromwell. And, thanks to BillS, this little bit of history - and the story associated with it - can live on.