Friday, December 25, 2015

"Friendly Fridays... Merry Christmas!"

There's little debate that trains and Christmas have gone hand-in-hand for many years. Many of our earliest childhood memories of this holiday involves trains and train sets. An article was sent along by Garden State Division board member Tom Wortmann recently. It discusses the relationship between trains and the holiday. Click here to read. In the meantime...


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Harvest time... and my own field of dreams!"

Since it's the season of Chanukah bushes and Christmas trees, why not take a quick look at the potential foliage for the Old Main Line depicting mid-March when trees in Maryland are a mix of still-barren and just-blooming.

Modelers have always sought cheap (free) and plentiful natural specimens that can be applied for scenery-making purposes. Horseweed or Mare's Tail, Oak Leaf Hydrangea and Sedum seem to be the most popular and most effective.

This massive field of  horseweed is in my neighborhood here in north central New Jersey. It is typically ripe for harvest right around Thanksgiving, but the continued warm temperatures this year has lengthened the time before it has gone dormant. BTW, this looks like it would make a great photo backdrop, doesn't it?

The weed looks like this throughout the summer and typically grows to about three high. It tends to flourish along side roadways and highways. Its eventual transformation during late fall is pretty significant.

A supply that was harvested a year ago seems to have kept just fine in one of my trusty boxes. The items can be straightened out by holding over steam, but seem to be a little too dry to use the soldering iron method that works with Super Trees.

The top of each bush can be clipped to look like this and then carefully trimmed back to yield several potential trees. The key to harvesting is to wait until most leaves have dropped leaving only the seedlings. A few leaves are still evident here, but they'll fall off easily.

The trees on the right are the result of simple clipping of the top armature that is pictured above. The trees on the right come from the process of dragging through a clawed hand so the fingers knock off the seedlings.

The plan is to experiment with various treatments of matte medium, spray paint and even A/I wash. Most trees will be left bare, but some will have a hint of new growth using the traditional dip and sprinkle method. They look best when clustered closely together as background trees. But since I'm modeling a wooded river valley, I'm going to need an awful lot of that type, so why not give it a try?

But that won't be for awhile. For now, warmest wishes to everyone this holiday season. May your trains be on time and always remain on the rails.
Update: January 13, 2016

Where'd it go? The old adage says, "You snooze, you lose."  So much for my field of dreams!
What do you find is your favorite part of the holiday season?
A) Finding a non-handicapped parking spot in the mall parking lot.
B) Finding the absolutely perfect Christmas tree with your wife.
C) Finding a suitable box in which to pack and ship odd-sized gifts. 
D) Finding which outdoor decoration has shorted everything else out.
E) Finding peace on earth and goodwill towards man.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"Knock, knock! Who's there?... Redemption."

A few months ago when I evaluated my first 50 posts here in blogger's paradise, I reluctantly revealed which entry was the least popular with readers in the interest of full disclosure. It was my kitbash of two inexpensive Atlas rural station kits into a representative version of the Ilchester depot. I could live with the result since it was a not-yet-completed project and was really only undertaken as an inexpensive way to redevelop skills that I hadn't used in 30+ years.

But a funny thing has happened since then. The post has slowly been gaining momentum with readers. I've received several emails with questions about the project. And I even was engaged by a reader at a local meet recently about that specific piece. So without any further ado, here are a few more photos and some additional information about the task. Click here for the original April 26th post for the complete background in, 'Practice Makes Perfect... Really?'

The rear of the depot will actually be the side that is featured on the layout as it sits on the south side of the railroad putting it right against the aisle. The window configuration is distinctly asymmetrical so I felt that it was imperative to duplicate such.

The green putty at the base of the structure gives away the six different sections that were cut and spliced together to achieve the window arrangement. Four of the six windows have gotten their upper sashes replaced with some scrapbox extras that I was able to trim into the distinctive B&O look. The other two windows may get boarded up. The white styrene strips are plugging cavities in the kit wall that held the roof brackets.

The eastern end of the depot featured two half windows that were ganged together. This 1959 photo gleaned from the B&O Historical Society archives shows the three different siding materials of the depot which I did not worry about for this entry level project.

Cutting out half of the wall horizontally was tricky enough due to the vertical board and batten, so I did not try to gang the two windows together. A stone foundation should add to the overall look as the structure will be sited on a slight grade leading up to the tracks.

Much of the reader interest has been in the process of evaluating the wall components, deciding where to cut and keeping track of all necessary parts. This is what works for me.

I typically lay wall sections on my color copier, make multiple copies and then start marking up and cutting. Once I have arrived at a formula that maximizes the available inventory, I make a master with notes and cut marks and then go to work on the styrene.

The project is still exactly where it was several months ago while I devoted my time and energy into converting my single deck layout into a multi-deck one... and then right back into a single deck again. But I do promise to do a final post when the structure is completely built, painted, weathered and detailed.

And BTW, we all know what the response should be in the title line, but I couldn't come up with a clever reply to, "Redemption who?" But that's OK. I was never really a knock, knock joke kind of guy. Give me a good light bulb riddle any day!

Update: February 23, 2016
Boy, no one gave the light bulb joke a shot. The answer, albeit to the rhetorical question is: "Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change." ... Ba-da-bum!

How many clinical psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"Friendly Fridays... Some nods to blog buddies."

While I'm appreciative of so much that I have learned from various bloggers and their "do this, but definitely don't do that," type of postings, today I do need to highlight a few authors specifically, but for rather tangential reasons.

If Marty McGuirk can occasionally post his 'Wordless Wednesdays' on something other than hump day, then I reckon that it's more than acceptable for me to issue a 'Friendly Fridays' missive a few hours after the mark... Right?

Pierre Oliver and Trevor Marshall each recently posted delightful entries about hosting a visit from model railroad enthusiast and actor Michael Gross, detailing a full day of hobby-related operating, shopping and dining. Certainly I was familiar with Michael from his television, stage and film roles as well as his work as spokesperson for the "World's Greatest Hobby." But I forgot something very important, especially for someone depicting B&O's Old Main Line.

Actor Michael Gross has served as the celebrity spokesperson for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum. Just click on the sidebar link under References & Resources to see his personal message, videos and full biography. How could I have forgotten?... My bad!

To their credit, Trevor and Pierre reported on their enjoyable day not as star-struck fans, but as participants marveling at the many worlds that our hobby crosses. Check out their blogs on the sidebar if you somehow haven't already.

And if you do watch the latest video that Michael narrates, you may recognize the topic, The War Came by Train: 1865, a very familiar topic per Bernie Kempinski's extensive work. Enjoy.
How did those Thanksgiving travels work out for you last weekend?
We New York area travelers know that it's not about 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' but  rather, 'Holes, Tolls and River Crossings,' that leave one feeling trapped with no way home.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Friendly Fridays... the Garden State RPM."

The third annual Garden State RPM was held this past weekend right here in bucolic Scotch Plains. A few of us north Jerseyans help Ted DiIorio each year with organizing and staging the event. Ted is an instructor at the county vocational school where the meet is held. In return for getting the venue for the day, Ted donates some proceeds back to a couple of student organizations, so everybody wins. It's a neat two-day meet with about a dozen clinics, model displays and vendor tables on Saturday and about a dozen layout tours Sunday.

Serious motive power was the order of the day! James Auriemma had two tables of beautifully weathered diesels and rolling stock for attendees to drool over. The number of models on display increased dramatically this year which is a welcome trend for the event.

NYSME member Fred Wadleigh displayed several dozen prototypical trackside structures that he scratch-built in HO scale. This freight house was in fact built three times depicting three different time periods during the 20th century. Here, the all-wood model shows the most recent version and the ravages of time per the photograph.

Any clinician's worst nightmare is a technological snafu prior to presenting. Dave Ramos (seated) came to first-timer Dave Olesen's rescue by switching out laptops and some wires to get the venue's projection system to cooperate. It was deja vu for me as I had the same problem in the same classroom last year. Dave rode in on his white horse then, too.

South Jersey's Ralph DeBlasi gave a very informative Power Point presentation on weathering rolling stock and then devoted several more hours to small-groups in a hands-on clinic stressing three key points: 1- Always work from photographs; 2 - Weather in layers; 3 - Fading is not about what you put on, but what you take off.  See The Weathering Shop link on my sidebar under References & Resources for amazing work and techniques.

Travers Stavac (right) of the Layout Design SIG was available to critique track plans throughout the day. Here he and attendee John McCluskey  discuss some ideas. Travers and group founder Doug Gurin have traveled from the Baltimore/DC area each year to help out.

RPMs are great places to find research materials. Jay Held and son Nick do a tremendous job promoting the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society  schlepping an endless supply of magazines, maps, manuals, timetables, etc. to these types of meets throughout the year.

Daylene Wolf and her main squeeze Alfred, let hubby Norm tag along from Fredericksburg, VA where Norm coordinates the very popular Mid-Atlantic RPM each September. They cheerfully peddled Scotty Mason's products in his absence, while Alfred chilled out all day.
By all accounts, the 100+ attendees had a great time and the student organizations made a killing selling coffee and doughnuts throughout the day, not to mention pizza and drinks at lunch. Imagine? I do regret not getting a photo of the exceedingly long line of modelers anxiously awaiting their slices as the pizza boxes depleted at a furious pace. I would've enjoyed putting a caption to it.

If you've followed this blog, you'll understand why I chose not to open my bench work or do my Old Main Line Power Point detailing the conversion from single deck to multi-deck. As Roseanne Roseannadana used to say, "Never mind!"

He may not have gotten the Iwata airbrush or PanPastels kit, but who has two thumbs and parlayed $40 in raffle tickets into this $35 B&O Wagontop, generously donated to the meet by ExactRail?
...This guy!


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Noodling... Can the entry gate be salvaged?"

It was reassuring to see that I was not alone as the "welcome to the club" congratulations poured in from fellow model railroaders over my gaffe with the entry gate. But while many have had their own "been there, done that" moments, it still didn't mitigate the fact that I had a problem of my own creation that needed to be rectified. Did I have the goods to figure something out or was I indeed a free agent going to the village with the winning bid?

Aside from lowering the cellar floor, per my buddy Chuck Diljack's thoughtful advice, I needed to shorten the length of the span or increase the height of the drop. My priority was whatever would be easier without a loss of effectiveness.

The early morning sun poured into my favorite coffee-sipping, jazz-listening, newspaper-reading lounging spot. Meanwhile, the defective entry gate mockingly disrupted my view into the train room. But could it be that the stop plate extension was the sole issue?

Measurements showed that it was very close whether the stop plate was the only issue, so it was removed, but the gate still didn't quite clear the floor. Like my Mets, close, but no cigar. 

The stop plate was mounted to the top of the bench work and a reinforcing 1" x 3" support was switched from the end of the span to the edge of the bench work. Combined with the 1/4" expansion gap that was no longer part of the span's framing, I picked up a full 1".

The sash locks were now placed inside the end of the span while still being assured of perfect height alignment by the stop atop the bench work.

Success! The gate now swings freely and will give me maximum clearance adjacent to the entry. I may add a hydraulic closer similar to what is used for storm doors to assure that the gate drops in a controlled manner.

Here's the reworked version. Still  perfectly level, but 1" shorter and awaiting risers for the sub-roadbed. Scroll down to compare this photo to the first photo in Sunday's post.

It remains to be seen how this will work out once track is laid, but it is very solid. Hopefully the expansion/contraction cycle will be minimal since my basement is climate controlled and the kiln-dried framing has been here for a year already.

I will need to be careful as I build up from the bench work to an overall depth of about 12". The meeting-edge of the span will need to be angled back slightly to allow for clearance when the gate drops down in its pendulum arc. I will do some mock-ups to make certain that that clearance doesn't become an issue. But for now, mission accomplished. More on this down the road, I'm sure.


I'm just saying, but if a recording tells me how much my business is appreciated by the companies that I sometimes need to call, why do they make it so incredibly frustrating to reach an actual human being?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Revealed and confirmed... I are such a idiot!"

Somewhere a village has a job opening with my name on it! But before we get to that, here's the backstory. It was long over due that I get back to the layout, and task numero uno was deciding upon a method for the entry gate. Just design it, fabricate it, install it. No real worries. For me, the keys were simplicity and durability. It was imperative that it remain out-of-the-way when not in use while still allowing emergency egress when it was in place.

It seemed that a simple 36" span that could drop down out of the way was a good way to go. I had some old door and old window hardware on hand, not to mention ample 1" x 3" framing from the discarded helix. Design, construction and installation went very well and all necessary parts were indeed available. I quite possibly had the single finest model railroad gate ever known to man.

The 14" x 36" span was actually cut from the helix frame and used as is. The ends were beefed up with extra 1" x 3" members for added mass to better accept the hardware. It is hinged on the left side so it can hang alongside the wall beyond the path of circulation. The right side is assured of vertical alignment by a 1" x 3" 'stop' screwed to the bottom of the span. It butts up against the fixed bench work when it is in the raised, fully level position.

The span is locked into these two sash locks from some old windows that were replaced. I saved the hardware for the slim possibility of some unbeknownst future use. Bingo, baby!

The heavy duty brass hinges are from old solid wood doors... the ones that they just don't make anymore. Ideally the hinges should be set flush by routing or chiseling out 3/16" giving them added strength, but the gate won't take the repetitive perpendicular force that a 'cantilevered' heavy door would, so why knock myself out, right?

The sash locks are shown here... one in the locked position and one in the open position. When fully secured, the gate is as rigid as the fixed bench work, even though there are gaps at each end for expansion/contraction.

And now, drumroll please... Presenting the finest model railroad entry gate (that does not clear the floor.)  No 'splainin' this. How could I have possibly screwed this up so royally?

Somehow I had neglected to carefully measure the vertical clearance versus the length of the span, including the 1" x 3" stop extension with its hardware. I had previously known that a gate would not be an issue when my bench work was at its original height. But I did not fully consider the impact of the 7" loss when the ill-fated upper-deck was installed and this deck was lowered.
I've walked away for a day or two to gather myself. There are a couple of ideas I have to possibly salvage this. We'll see how that works out. Meanwhile, I have to get the phone. I suspect a village is calling. To be continued...

Boy oh boy... model railroading can really be fun sometimes, can't it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Honoring our veterans... a word of thanks!"

A quick word today on Veteran's Day. I can never grasp the horror of combat or even the disruptions to one's personal life while serving in peacetime. But it has never been lost on me that the life my family enjoys is due to the commitment of so many brave souls who always have, and always will, protect our nation.

It seems like the observance of today's holiday has gained some traction this year, but the cynic in me wonders if such promotion is ratings and profit driven. No matter I guess, if it results in greater awareness of our veterans and of the sacrifices each and every one of them have made to maintain our freedom.

What if the proliferation of commemorative camouflage apparel in professional sports reached our hobby? Hmmm... Should the Old Main Line salute our nation's veterans with this one-size-fits-all cap?  I'll check with NFL Properties for a suggested retail price and potential licensing fees, because after all, they are the bastion of  social conscience. 
I'll honor my dad today with a phone call and some small talk about his time on Guam with the Air Force in WWII. His memory is vivid about the old days, including never wearing camouflage, although sadly he can't recall what he had for breakfast, or if he even had breakfast. Be well and enjoy the day.

Is it possible that a not-too-sharp hunting enthusiast misses the point when professional athletes compete in commemorative camo?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"An organized workspace to call my own..."

As part of my recent pillaging and organizing, I was determined to set-up a full-time work station that would blend into the finished part of the basement, and do so using as many components that were already on hand. Two file cabinets, two hollow-core doors, some left over bead-board from household projects and 1" x 2" framing from the former upper deck did the trick. Throw in an extra extension lamp from my drafting table and plastic bins saved from our favorite take-out restaurant and I was in business. Only some cheap plastic letter holders needed to be purchased, plus a chair mat to protect the carpet.

The hollow core doors were stained and coated with several coats of urethane. One serves as the desk top while the other serves as a screen for the lower portion. They were attached to the file cabinets with heavy duty Velcro squares, so the entire assembly can be taken down quite easily. The bead-board surround is screwed to the desk top from below.

The view from the stairs upon entering the basement won't be affected by a cluttered workbench while projects are in progress. The entry to the train room is to the immediate left. The former helix yielded to a new lounge configuration and allowed for the workbench.

The work enclave is segregated from the rest of the finished basement and includes my library, drafting table, computer area and workbench. The left-over bead-board gives a nice railroady touch, but I'm not sold on the color. We'll see, but it is just the basement!

Weeee!... I can swivel my chair back-and-forth between my workbench and computer.

Most importantly, I can see the TV from the workbench! The flat-screen will be raised and mounted to the wall with an extra mount that we have on hand. Note the power strip, recovered from a 'computer stuff' storage box. It provides needed outlets for my work tasks.

The key to organizing and storing my tools, parts and materials are these plastic containers from a local take-out eatery. The larger one measures about 6" x 9" x 2-1/2". The smaller one is about 4-1/2" x 6" x 2". I've saved in excess of  50 through the years.

Serendipity! Two containers fit perfectly into each letter tray. BTW, even the peel-and-stick lettering was on hand from long ago art projects. The 1" lettering might be overkill, but it's what I had and someday might be appreciated by aging eyes. You may not understand the labels, but I do. I had to get creative based on what was available and what would fit!

I'm pleased with the revamped man cave. It suits me for all of my own personal uses and provides a great lounge for railroad guests as well as for Garden State Division board meetings. The workbench is a major upgrade over my previous use of a table that served multiple family needs, but it does still need a little fine-tuning. I'll be adding some storage for all of my styrene and wood strips with stacked PVC tubing which is currently stored in my garage. More consolidation, more pillaging and more organization! I'm lovin' it.

And I'm about done with two track plan variations for the single deck layout. I'll get those drawn up nicely for review shortly.
Can you identify this location?  (Really big hint: Trains are caught here regularly. Baseballs?... not so much!)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"For your reading pleasure... a quick fix."

If the current dearth of Old Main Line entries has you frustrated, consider getting your B&O fix from some sidebar links under 'Reference Resources' if you haven't already done so. The B&O Historical Society, the B&O Museum and the B&O Network all provide endless information on the railroad and related items. The Old Main Line Photo Tour is a wonderful exploration of the current line with a great historical narrative and some old photos for comparison.

Finally, both Bing and Google provide aerials and street views of much of the OML. Simply type in Ellicott City, MD or Sykesville, MD, etc. to locate the serpentine line. You'll note that Ilchester and Daniels barely exist anymore after once being bustling mill communities.
In addition to the great B&O links here, consider these two books. Herbert Harwood, Jr. is the pre-eminent B&O author, photographer and historian. His 'Impossible Challenge' is must reading for the enthusiast. Also, a trio of local historians has put together a splendid pictorial review of the Old Main Line, and beyond, in 'Reflections of the Capital Dome.'

I'll be back as soon as I can with several track plans for evaluation and some neat ideas for railroad uses of ever-day items, as well as a look at my new, super-duper work bench. And I guess we're overdue for another installment of the seemingly popular feature,'Friendly Fridays,' too. Wonder who it will be?

But for now I have some family responsibilities and a World Series to watch. My team is making its regular every-15-years appearance.
Did you know? Because the KC Royals have a pitcher named 'Duffy,' our Duffy will be known as 'Cespedes' for the duration of the series. She's good with that as long as she gets belly rubs. Let's go Mets!

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Available: One helix frame with legs... like new!"

Shortly after my Labor Day epiphany, Lance Mindheim wrote in his blog about the three basic areas of satisfaction that participants derive from the hobby, as he sees it. Emphasizing the need for self-awareness, Lance opined in his September 12, 2015 entry, "Hitting the Target of Design Success," that it is crucial to honestly evaluate that which we find most satisfying from the hobby: the visual component; the assembly component; or the operating component.

What he didn't say, perhaps because it's so obvious to everyone but me, was that advice and guidance is most relevant coming from those more experienced modelers who share similar levels of satisfaction from those three components. In other words, if you are most drawn to the visual and assembly components, like I am, it may not serve one too well to get all of their direction from those who are most interested in operating, like I did. Duh!

My 6'-3" x 6'-3" helix frame will not be used. The full assembly is available to anyone who is relatively local and is willing to handle its transport. Otherwise, it will be disassembled and the 1" x 3" clear pine will be reused somewhere, somehow inside the train room.

The removal of the helix will allow me to reconfigure my television/crew lounge and provide space for a neat workbench set-up which I'll cover in the very near future.

The reworked track plan is ongoing, but it looks like staging can be achieved by crossing the main line inside the east-end and west-end tunnels and then descend behind screening by 3% to (2) three-track staging yards. Crossovers will be added at the midway point where  the three tracks straighten out. An entry gate of undetermined design is a necessary compromise. Radii are 27, 30 and 33 inches respectively.
Apologies for the overall lapse in entries here on the Old Main Line and for my cancellation as a clinician at this past weekend's MER/NMRA, but family needs have zapped my time and energy. If you are fortunate enough to have/had your parents around into their 90's, you probably understand some of the daily issues that become stress-inducing and all-consuming.

In the meantime, check out Lance Mindheim's musings on the sidebar and see what he says about the areas of satisfaction. Hope to see you soon with some more updates and layout progress.

What has been the overwhelming reaction from both the railroading and dodge-ball communities to my unexpected about-face?