Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Wonderful!... Two steps back, one step forward."

It only seems fair that if I referenced earlier changes to the layout as "one step back for two steps forward," then the opposite would hold true if another change brought me right back to where I was a year ago!

Sad to say, but I lost my way when I elected to add a second deck, focusing only on operations and allowing too many opinions to cloud what had originally been a very distinct view of what I wanted to achieve in my first-ever layout. I sought to build a detailed, high quality, mid-size layout in a reasonable amount of time. It would closely depict a modest portion of a prototype that had personal meaning to me and ultimately  provide a couple of hours of relaxed, trouble-free enjoyment for 3-5 operators, or myself alone when the urge struck.

Although I've known for quite some time that the multi-deck just didn't feel right, I delayed the inevitable. Well, Labor Day weekend came and the upper deck went. My wife summed it up succinctly. "Wow, the helix is no more!"

This is not an old photo of the upper deck being built! It shows part of the dismantling process of that deck to return to a single deck with greater depth and an optimal height  for constructing, scenicing and operating.

The benchwork which originally sat on the ledger strip, now sits  7" lower. While somewhat frustrating from an anal perspective, it's not the end of the world. Longer risers will eliminate any issue here, but I do need to be cognizant about landforms not falling lower than the styrene backdrop in the corners and along the peninsula.

The valence will remain as is, reduced from 8" to 6-1/2" when the second deck was constructed. The 8" depth shielded the lighting a bit better, but I am not readdressing that. The original pipe insulation along the valence edge, a la Kip Grant, will be reinstalled.

The original benchwork will hold the staging level at 40" and the pictured 19" risers, upon removal, will be cut in half and reused. Those 9-1/2" risers will then hold the layout at 48".

At least I can report that my 'temporarily permanent' backdrop system performed flawlessly. After staying in place perfectly for about nine months, it came apart effortlessly and, with the exception of the styrene backer strip with carpet tape, is fully reusable.

This is what one decommissioned upper deck looks like... sectional framework, backdrop and fascia. I'll be able to reuse most of the lumber and possibly some of the backdrop system for the lower level staging, unless someone would like to take the whole kit-and-caboodle. The helix frame survived intact and is leaning on a wall in the laundry for the time being.

Trevor Marshall has rightfully sung the praises of author Mike Cougill and his OST Blog. Ironically, Mike's post last week, "Cutting Through the Noise," confirmed my decision and summarized my position far better than I could. The blog's link is really worth checking out. Here's an excerpt:

"There are a lot of strong opinions and conflicting voices about the best way... Trying to listen to all of them will only leave you confused, maybe even frustrated and with all of the noise, it's hard to listen to your own voice."

I'll follow up in a few days with much more on this and allude to another timely post in another favored blog. For now, please allow me to sheepishly sign off.
Why didn't I listen to this guy's advice right from the start?
"Just listen to your heart. That's what I always do." - Napoleon Dynamite

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Ten second tidy?... or time to pillage the village?"

Like many youngsters, our daughter's pre-school years were influenced by PBS programming such as Sesame Street and Arthur. But I think it was Big Comfy Couch that taught our household about the ten second tidy... simply a conscientious and focused neatening of those things that are out of place. It's a tactic that I've always tried to adhere to during the construction of the layout.

But even ten second tidies only go so far. It was time to call in the cavalry. In the early years of wedded bliss, my wife and I used New Year's day to re-organize and re-energize our first home. It was a tradition that Gina deemed, "pillage the village." Closets, cabinets, drawers and shelves were scrutinized. Not all items escaped the fate of our local environmental engineer's pre-dawn visit.

It was time for the railroad room and surrounding areas to experience such scrutiny. I was guilty of storage build-up. A lot of extra stuff that had been saved, "in case I ever need it," had to go. Other items were more sensibly stored and/or consolidated. It may not have been a cleansing of the heart, mind or soul, but it was of the basement, and that's all that mattered.

Empty boot boxes, scrap Gator Board and bagged weeds were combined for better storage through a quick fabrication of dividers that will better protect these crafted trees as I experiment with several harvested varieties. Win, win, win.

My supply of boxes, which measure 12" x 20" x 5", will grow each time one of the ladies in the house buys boots. Scraps of cardboard, styrene, wood, foam and other assorted materials were either tossed or consolidated in larger boxes. And lots of household papers, knick-knacks and unused items were tossed too, just for good measure.

Ultimately, I concluded that for me it's psychologically more costly to continue storing items that pretty clearly will never be used. They unnecessarily take up space, create visual noise and are just too much of an inconvenience. And yes, I know that next week there might be something that I could use that I just tossed. But I'm willing to take my chances. All things considered, it's just cheaper.

I also realize the time may come where I need to use under-the-layout as storage space, but until all electrical is done, and skirting completed, I will make every effort to keep that area uncluttered so as not to distract from the layout above. Of course, we still have quite a way to go on that front.

More on that, and a rather major development, in a few days.
What development over the Labor Day holiday facilitated such a cleaning/organizing effort?

A) The layout has been expanded.
B) The layout has been contracted.
C) The layout has been modified.
D) The layout has been dismantled.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Railfanning... and my own Bermuda Triangle."

A trip to Bermuda was on tap for an end-of-summer respite from increasing personal demands. I expected a week of relaxation with little hope of any railroad-related diversions that would allow for my adjournment from the company of my wife and daughter and their pursuit of the ultimate tan.

But wait! Upon arrival I discovered that Bermuda has an abandoned railway line that has been converted to a hiking trail. I argued that I had a responsibility to all ten of my loyal followers for an in-depth OML investigative report.

The two were more than happy to agree so that their relaxation would not be interrupted with my incessant, "So exactly how long are we going to lay here?"

The 22 mile standard gauge Bermuda Railway ran from 1931 to 1948 bringing cruise ship passengers from St. George's and agricultural products from Somerset into the capital city of Hamilton. It was also Bermudan's main means of transit then since automobiles were prohibited on the island so as not to disturb the tranquility of affluent British and American tourists. Even then, tourism was the economic lifeline of the country.

Bermuda's rolling terrain posed a challenge for the railway and many wooden trestles spanned the modest valleys. I started my hike up some stairs on our hotel grounds in Southampton in the southwest part of the island. I was assured that rails and ties would be evident along the way. Maybe the steps are old railroad ties. Not too exciting.

This isn't quite what I was expecting, but this is only the first mile. The railway used gas powered engines due to the lack of available freshwater that steam would require. Neat!

This is looking more like it, now into mile two. But what's with all of the black cats? This is the fourth I've seen, along with a bunch of chickens and roosters. Where are the people?

Limestone cuts are frequent throughout the island and here is just one example that was required for the railway. Note my requisite water bottle in the 85 degree, 85 percent humidity. Still not finding much though. This isn't as much fun as I thought it would be.

Eureka! An old depot/freight house, now being used by a local charity. While the materials are purely Bermudan, the scale and proportions of the building are very traditional. 

Into mile three and the trail is getting jungle-like. Am I supposed to stop here? What does this signage mean? My water is getting low and still no rails! Jimmy is getting pissed.

A little further along I hit a pretty steep valley and decided that I was turning back... three more miles to go! The only sign of a rail was this channel for cyclists to presumably walk their bikes down the hill (You just know some yahoo has tried to ride down this, right?)

A few days later at a bookshop in the Dockyard area where cruise ships now arrive, I found an old photo of the remains of a trestle connecting the eastern end of the railway to the mainland. I saw the rebuilt version from our taxi heading back to the airport days later.

The Dockyard is my wife's dream spot with a myriad of crafts stores and artisan's workshops. I freed myself from a pottery studio and discovered this sign outside. Excellent, the local hobby shop must be right down the alley. Hello, diversion. Come to poppa!

Damn it!
BTW, I later found out that all rails have been removed for years and that my original source, our hotel concierge, relied on childhood memories. She is now a grandmother. I also found out that the eastern end of the railway trail is much more interesting and scenic. Well, I gave it a shot. Next time, I'll ride a bike.
All was not lost though. My knees and back actually spent most of the week enjoying the saltwater. Just don't ask about my tan. For more information about the railway and it's downfall, check out a neat website, The Bermuda Railway Pages by clicking here.

We'll get back to layout construction in our next post. See you in a bit.

Update: February 12, 2016
Railroad enthusiast Matt Picciotto has posted on the Model Railroad Hobbyist site his intentions to pursue the NMRA's MMR certification by replicating the Bermuda Railway in HO. His blog can be found here . He also has a Facebook page dedicated to the Railway here . Best of luck, Matt. We'll be following along.

Okay, do I really need to pose the obvious chicken question here?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"The 50th Post... Time to review, assess, decide."

"Who'd a thunk it?" My golden anniversary! Fifty posts since the introduction of this blog April 1, 2015. With that in mind, here's a brief end-of-summer summary of this effort. Keep in mind, I'm learning as I go... hopefully.

I'm not quite sure how Google measures views, but I am curious about the total number of views, as well as the number of views by post. I can understand when a viewer clicks on a post, but what about once that reader starts scrolling, reading other posts? I also don't understand the benefits of membership to any blog, so I haven't provided that side-bar feature for followers... that, and the fear of embarrassment of not getting anyone!

Anyway, some highlights follow below, with never-before-seen photos!

MVP (MOST VIEWED POST): Jim Dufour's beautiful B&M Cheshire Branch takes top honors as the most popular post. It continues to hold off all challengers comfortably, even most other layout features which, other than the first one, have been widely viewed also.

LEAST VIEWED: At the other end of the spectrum is the least viewed post entitled, 'Practice Makes Perfect... Really?' from April 26th about my preliminary kitbashing efforts of the Ilchester depot. So to recap succinctly, the most viewed posts on my blog are those of other modelers' work and the least viewed is that of mine. Ouch, but  I can actually see that.

PERSONAL FAVORITE: The April 17th feature on Art Curren is very popular with readers, but it really holds a special place for me. It's personal, it's nostalgic and the writing captures some moments through the eyes of an awkward, star-struck 21 year old.

HONORABLE MENTION: The post from May 31st embodied exactly what I would like all of my construction posts to embody... clear writing, detailed photos and a consistent theme. Architects understand 'Firmness, Commodity and Delight' to be the three ingredients necessary for sturdy, useful and attractive design. It's applicable to model railroaders, too.

MOST IMPROVED: The recent post on modeling the key elements of Ellicott City's structures using 'Selective Representation' started slowly with readers, but is really gaining steam... climbing with a bullet, as they say on the pop charts. It's the type of post that I hope will engage readers and spark some dialog.

UNSUNG HERO: Somewhat unexpectedly, the June 16th post about Sam Posey's 'Playing with Trains' generated considerable viewing and comments from readers. It's just outside the top five all-time and obviously everyone has thoughts about why we do what we do.

PARTICIPATION TROPHY: April 24th's 'Road Trip' post earns inclusion here for having the best 'Rhetorical Question of the Day,' whose answers I rehearsed prior to returning home when my wife would inevitably inquire about my dietary decision making. Alas, despite the prepared answers, she was only interested in knowing if I had had a good time.

So a word of thanks to readers and to fellow bloggers for their help and support. Props to those who have offered comments. And a special shout out to those who have included the Old Main Line on their own blog listings. The blogs of Trevor Marshall and Marty McGuirk especially seem to direct many readers here. I appreciate that very much.
The blog itself has been fun, overall. It's been a creative work of self expression, much as a layout itself is. My interest in building dialog and engagement with readers is probably the equivalent of a layout achieving the point of operations.

Maybe this isn't the format for such engagement or maybe it just takes time. In any case, I'll be back in some fashion after Labor Day, but whatever time and energy I have left after life's mounting daily requirements will most likely be directed to the layout itself. In all honestly, it remains to be seen how motivated I will be to update this blog as regularly as I have been. Have a great Labor Day.


Exactly whom is photo-bombing whom in this canine-only picture?