Friday, September 16, 2016

A Few Snapshots

As usual the end of summer and beginning of fall are busy times that don't allow as much time for working on the layout.  I'm still making progress here and there and setting up for the big backdrop installation project, which will begin soon.

Operating sessions themselves are a real highlight of the hobby these days, a great chance to bring guys together for a common goal.  And, before the session, a nice diversion from construction continues to be the preparation for the operating sessions!  We had one just last weekend on 9/10/16 and I thought I'd put a few images here for your enjoyment.

The session started at 1750 'fast time' on our 3:1 fast clock.  Darkness came quickly and most of the session was run while the sun was 'down'.  Here, Conrail SD40-2 6437 leading train SEIN (Selkirk, NY to Indianapolis, IN) slowly grinds through the interlocking at CP280 and heads west on the South Runner to make his pick-up.

Earlier in the session, Conrail B40-8 5088 led train SEEL (Selkirk, NY to Elkhart, IN) west passing the old, abandoned tower at CP282.  He was putting his train back together after making a pick-up.

Here's a typical scene at the east end of Onondaga Yard at CP280, with the car department's truck waiting to give a brake test to WADE-30 once DE-30 is put together.

These night shots capture some of the feel we go for on the Onondaga Cutoff - long, cool-but-humid nights along the former New York Central in the days of Conrail.  Things will be getting busy soon with installation of the backdrop, all of which is now on-hand, so stay tuned for some updates on that process!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Backdrop Update...and Keeping Busy

Well, I took the plunge, and finally ordered a photo backdrop for all of the Onondaga Cutoff!

After extensive research online and discussing with other layout owners, I decided to work with Backdrop Warehouse ( due to the quality of their base photographs and their ability to allow a 'mockup' on their website so that I could roughly see how things would come together.  The backdrop will run over about 90 feet of existing Masonite.  I chose scenes that blend in with photographs of the area, and compared that to the Google Earth street views as necessary.

I decided to call the printer directly, using the number on the site, and spoke with Neil several times to get the order put together the way I needed it.  He was able to build transitions for me between scenes based on actual photographs and it will add tremendously to the atmosphere in the layout space.  The lead time is several weeks - I will update this blog with entries on installation here soon.  Exciting developments!

While we await the arrival of the new backdrop, I have taken time to work with Jack to finalize the track layout on the Cazenovia Industrial Track.  Once it was set, I glued the track in place and installed all the wiring needed to power it up.

Here above we have the west switch for the runaround track.  I used old, beat-up switches I had in my scrap box for this project, and glued the track directly to the painted plywood.  This will be buried in mud and ballast in spots, suggesting an old and lesser-maintained piece of railroad.

Using older switches saved me a lot of money and also allowed me to model track that has seen better days.  In this photo the switch is installed and weathered with Rail Brown spray paint.  After this photo was made, I used a Caboose Industries ground throw with the built-in single-pole double-throw electrical contacts, so that I could power the frog.  Slow speed means more potential for stalls, so extra work is needed to prevent that.

This view above shows the  main line up to the left, looking east towards Fayetteville, and the industrial track coming out beneath it.  Once the new backdrop is up, scenery here can begin in earnest, especially since all track is now in place.  It was a nice change of pace to get back to track laying.  After 8 years, there isn't too much more track to lay!

This is a view looking the other direction at the same spot.  The switch to the left will be the spur for a scrap and recycling dealer.  A photo backdrop will greatly enhance this location.

Staying busy laying track and dropping feeders for each rail has filled a week already, and will be work I am glad is done once the backdrop arrives.  I am looking forward to the dramatic change that a photo backdrop can provide.  Get ready for a big upgrade on the Onondaga Cutoff!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to Ballasting

It has been a nice hot and humid August so far in New Jersey, and despite outdoor chores and family commitments that makes for a good reason to spend some time in the cool and dry basement.  Recently I spruced up some of the scenery near the Iroquois plant by adding ballast and some basic scenery.

Worth noting here is how much the color of the ballast changes during the installation process.  The image above is how it looks once it has been installed and glued in place, and then left to dry for 24 hours.  The final product here is a nice approximation of the color mix on the Chicago Line.  However, getting to this point took some experimentation.  The mix is dusty out of the bag and looks too white, and then during the process to set and glue the ballast, it looks too dark - see below!

With the dramatic changes in color, getting started with ballast was a leap of faith as it would have been a big setback to have to remove the entire track structure to re-ballast it should the color have not worked out.   As a review I have settled on Arizona Rock & Mineral 'UP-Silverton Grey' mix, with a bit of 'NYC' limestone mixed in for some variety.  The cinders are from the 'Southern Pacific Yard Cinder' product, and they make a nice blend along the right of way.

Here you can see the difference between freshly ballasted track to the left, and weathered-but-unballasted track to the right.  This is the location of a highway scene coming soon, which will be installed over the unballasted track, hiding it from view at this location so as to add distance to the mainline run.  The temporary cardboard view blocks here will (thankfully) disappear with that installation.  

In other news, the new spur down to Blue Circle Cement is going in, and so far has turned out well.  I have a few more switches and lengths of track to glue in place and we will then be able to wire it up for operation within the next few weeks.  

Backdrop research continues and a purchase will be made soon, starting that process for the fall. The installation of the backdrop will be a startling visual change for the entire layout area.  I'm looking forward to it!


Thursday, July 28, 2016

So, About Backdrops...

We are coming close to the big step of purchasing and installing a photo backdrop on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Using the photo backdrop approach, as opposed to painting, is not a decision I have taken lightly, as some of the long-time readers here will remember.

Two years ago, I tried out painting some distant hills on top of the overall coat of grayish-blue, which worked fine when viewed at a distance but was quickly inadequate when viewed from any closer than about 5 feet.  I read about techniques.  I practiced.  And tried again.  I worked at painting in more detail, but the result was rather disappointing.  I'm no artist painter!

After that, I had the idea to install a photo backdrop of downtown Syracuse (Syracuse, On The Horizon) which was completed in November 2015.  I was very pleased with how that turned out, and it quickly convinced me to look more into photo backdrops.  There simply is no better way to achieve the depth of field and complexity than a properly scaled photograph!

I looked into using more of my own photographs, processed in Photoshop, to complete the rest of the railroad and realized that it would be (1) very expensive and (2) involve seams every few feet.  Not ideal.  Again, I turned to the internet and to my surprise, found several different options for more generic photo backdrops.  Some were not very good - the prints had a fisheye effect, taken from one vantage point as a panorama, and poorly processed.  

The best one I have seen so far is called 'Backdrop Warehouse' and I ordered a sample of one of their scenes.  For $20 shipped, they sent me a 1' X 12' backdrop scene - much cheaper and with far less seams than my plan to use my own large prints.  I installed it behind CP277.  Here's how it looks:

I love the depth that is instantly added to the scene, especially with typical Northeastern details like the telephone pole to the left.  Central Onondaga County is lots of these distant hills on the horizon.  The sky is a nice humid blue, matching my plan for a late summer/early fall theme.  While the sample had very little sky, I like the clouds and color much more than my blue paint.  I do not, however, like how washed out the scene appears, and wish the resolution were a little sharper too.

It turns out those are issues that I believe can be solved by working with the contact at Backdrop Warehouse.  They offer similar scenes with higher resolution, and better contrast.  Their scenes are professionally processed to provide the same scale throughout - no strange fish-eye effect.   And, I can specify how much sky to include, allowing me to have just a few inches of distant woods or fields and then enough sky to suggest the wide-open hills of Onondaga County.

The website allows all sorts of demos too, so I can put together 4 or more 12-foot-long backdrops, so that the scene for the entire railroad can be purchased at once and be continuous.  Installation will be a big deal...imagine having hundreds of dollars of custom backdrop, but having to hang it like wall paper over a model scene, avoiding wrinkles, with no second copy to back us up!

That said, I think this is the way forward.  I will be reaching out to the company in the next few weeks and keep this blog posted on progress.

In other news, tracklaying is underway on the Cazenovia Industrial Track.  It was fun to lay some track again, for the first time in quite a while!  Here it is curing under weight:

The cool basement provides a great respite from the humid, 90+ degree evenings we have been having in NJ this summer.  Little by little we're getting there!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Finishing Up

Over the last few evenings, around usual summer busy schedules, I finished up a few locomotive projects - the 6437 as seen last month under construction, and then also the 2816, my first model of one of the B23-7's from Conrail's first order for those locomotives, delivered in 1977.

With each passing project, I am learning more about the balance of the different layers of weathering - thinned black washes, then dullcoat, then airbrush oversprays, acrylics, and finally pastel chalks.  I'm very pleased with how the windshield masks allow the area where the 'wipers work' to be different than the surrounding areas.

Big decisions are directly ahead relating to backdrop which will set the stage for the final big scenery installations, all of which will be discussed here soon.

This entry is a quick look at the projects that I keep busy with while the big stuff is on hold pending decisions.  As I have mentioned before, any progress is infinitely more than no progress on any given day.  Even a few minutes applying some weathering is worth it!

In family news, our Susie is turning 4 this coming weekend - hard to believe in many ways, but exciting in every way.  Here's a tight crop of a grab shot on July 4th.  She's become a little girl now, and a great big sister!  Happy Birthday Susie!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Slow & Steady

Summer is in full swing and for the last 8 years, that has meant less time in the basement working on the model railroad while spending more time outdoors with the kids, and visiting family and friends.  Later at night, though, I make time to get downstairs to make some progress.

I'm happy to report that CR 6437, my latest locomotive construction project, is coming along well.  In fact, all it needs now is weathering and it will join the fleet.  I added ditch lights and various details to match the prototype in 1994.  

The major scenery work is on hold pending some decisions about backdrops, but while I mull that over, I am working to finalize the track layout for the new branch line.  This will be called the Cazenovia Industrial Track, and will serve several new customers.  I find it very helpful to temporarily lay track out to see how it fits and feels, and think through the operation.  Planning ahead means doing less work two times.

Thanks to big progress in the cooler and wetter months, it always takes time to shift gears away from major progress.  However, it's still possible to make meaningful and lasting progress!  Enjoy the long evenings!


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On Painting Plastic Handrails

A common task in modeling has always been the painting of models.  Model railroading in general has come a long way over the last few years, but painting remains part of the hobby.

As the hobby changes, there has been a move to the inclusion of scale handrails on models - they are beautiful. However, to make them more durable, they are molded from a slippery, flexible plastic, so they resist breaking when they are bent.

The issue at hand is that sometimes, those railings are molded in a color that does not match the paint on the model.  Look carefully at the handrail stanchions here - they almost appear to be purple against the bright Conrail blue on the stock Athearn 'RTR' SD40-2.

I had added new decking and see-through etched brass steps to this model, but that effort is much less effective when the handrails are the wrong color!

So, it was time to try and paint the railings to match.  The problem is many paints will not adhere to the slippery plastic.  Here, I recently tried a trick in using a product advertised as an automotive paint adhesion promoter - specifically, Dupli-Color's CP199 Adhesion Promoter, seen here.

This is nasty and toxic stuff - do not use this indoors.  I removed the handrails from the model, and went outside with the handrails attached to a painting jig to spray the promoter outdoors.  The instructions call for painting within 10 minutes of applying the promoter, so I was set up to go right to painting once the spray was done.

This is more like it - the handrail color now matches the body of the locomotive, and the paint is sticking to the handrails very well.  I will be using this trick in the future as needed!  For 6437, now I will move on to adding ditch lights, windshield wipers, and pilot details, then it's on to weathering.  After that this unit will join the fleet on the Onondaga Cutoff.