Summer Evening and the ML401

Summer Evening and the ML401
Conrail ML401 rolls west through Central New York farm country in Onondaga County, September 1994.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Central Plastics....Scratchbuilding 101

This area at the north end of Euclid Yard was a toughie to visualize.  I needed to hide the vertical curve for the steep grade leaving the yard, but keep the area accessible for switching; further I needed to represent some sort of structure for Central Plastics, a consignee on the M&E that occupies a narrow strip next to the main track.  Well, here's how it is coming out:

I used some cardboard to mock up a few ideas, and settled on one that is a two-tier modern structure with an enclosed unloading area.   The structure is only to suggest a larger plant that is not modeled, as that is all I can fit here!   This does a nice job of hiding the grade on the track, as well as providing some visual interest for viewers and crews working Central Plastics.   Here's an overview:

 You can see how this fits tightly against the fascia, suggesting a larger plant off the layout.  For my first-ever scratchbuilt structure, I used JTT styrene sheet and plastruct styrene strips.  The corrugated sheet was cut to fit, and then joined with the strips; I framed the corners out with scraps at the 90-degree angles.   The door and ends were cut to fit using an HO scale rule.  Black photo paper was cut to fit as ceilings, installed on top of the interior strip bracing.  It's rather basic and bland, but that's just what we need here.

And, here we go - a track-level view showing the door area, now ballasted.  The retaining wall was a piece of leftover bridge abutment that fit perfectly, and then additional corrugated sheet glued in place.  The building and wall were painted with Rustoleum Gray Primer, giving a nice flat light gray appearance that will accept light weathering well from pastels.   Trees will cover the area in back, and the foreground obviously is just getting started here - still, it's fun to see the progress! 

Yet to come here is a sign for the industry, some warning clearance signage, and some door and piping details along with a spotlight or two. 

And the march of the scenery continues south along the railroad!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Coming Together - Greening up the M&E

So as February comes to a close, scenery progress continues on the M&E.  Slowly and surely this side of the aisle is coming to match the level of scenery over on Conrail.

Once the paint dried, I used my mixture of diluted white glue painted over the slopes, and began to add static grass to represent the early fall.  On steeper slopes I used full strength glue to allow for better adhesion and less glue runoff. 

After the grass is down I added some brown leaf flocking, as this will be forest floor area.  Everything was misted with isopropyl alcohol and a spray of diluted white glue, after which time I can remove the masking from the track areas. 

It is neat to see the track area suddenly surrounded by foliage!  

I ballasted the track with a combination of cinders, yard ballast, and some 'Northern Pacific Gray' from Arizona Rock & Mineral, and added some weeds and another light passing of the static grass to tie it all together.   Ballast was glued down with my usual mix of diluted white glue and isopropyl alcohol.  Now it's time to add trees to the forest, a final touch along with some trackside details:  the CR block limit sign, the old DLW milepost (Thanks, Al!) and old T-box.

The ditches are lined with grasses more green in color, suggesting wetter soil at the base of the rock face and along the tracks.  The trees do a nice job hiding the backdrop transitions.  

As this area greens up, progress turns to the yards at Euclid including some industries.  Stay tuned for an update on the 'new' look at Central Plastics!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Shrinking Mountain...and Associated Progress

We've seen it before on this blog - one thing starts the ball rolling and the progress seems to accelerate.  Now that the base scenery is in on Smirnoff Hill, the progress is coming in larger pieces, at least to the eye.  The bright white plaster cures and the first step is to add the base color paint for scenery.  

Once the paint is in place, it's a pretty remarkable change.  Where did the hill go??  Well, it's still there of course, but it's a lot less evident now!  I added my old 'distant canopy' forest green paint, and learned again that my artists's talents are not in backdrop painting.  Yikes. 

But wait...didn't I have a some more leftover photo backdrops?  

As it turns out, YES, and thank goodness.  I carefully cut out a treeline from a piece of trimming from the backdrop leftovers, and glued that along the horizon.  It was long enough to wrap around the drain pipe, too, which will hide an unsightly obstacle, especially once the 'actual' trees are planted in front. 

The backdrop needed time to cure, so I spent the rest of the evening adding base rock to what will be an abandoned siding along the main track.  This will be the Dean Electrical company, honoring my mother's father as his interest in trains was a key to mine.  He was an electrical engineer and since this little company needed a name...yep.

Using the base course, which is the quarry-process available at Lowes for patio paver setting, gives us a nice rip-rap looking base.  I added some damaged track that I sprayed with textured rust-colored paint, which will do a nice job representing abandoned siding track.  Over all this I add my mixtures of Arizona Rock & Mineral 'Yard Ballast' and 'Black Cinder' with a healthy dose of Woodland Scenics fine soil-brown turf mixed in.  

A few pieces of vegetation are tossed on top, and then the area is wetted with isopropyl alcohol and diluted white glue.  It is shown here with the glue still wet and curing, but I am happy how it is coming out!  

As this week goes on I will ride the wave and keep this work rolling.  I'm working to keep moving while the nights are still long, and while outdoor chores are still minimal.  If all goes well, the M&E will have a much more completed look before the winter is through!


Monday, February 12, 2018

Making a Mole Hill from a Mountain

You can't get around compromise in model railroading.  It will find you one way or the other, and it's best to live with it.  This is a case where overthinking can be the death of your progress.  When in doubt, look at the options, but make a decision, and move on. 

It's no secret that the Minoa & Euclid, the shortline that interchanges with Conrail on the Onondaga Cutoff, is a branch that really tested this theory.   Given the constraints in the basement, grades of up to 8% were needed for the route to avoid major physical obstructions around the oil tank.  Would that function once built?   Well, if I were to worry about grades being too steep to look or operate perfectly, this branch never would have been built.

We took a risk in building it, and lo and behold, a pair of locomotives could overcome the steep grades with the short trains that ran on the branch.  But, it was only about a 25-foot run.  My buddy Rick Smirnoff who was instrumental with the benchwork construction suggested to extend the plan around a nook in the foundation for the basement stairs, thus extending the run by 35 feet.   Seeing the steepness work at one spot allowed me to move ahead with this one, and Smirnoff Hill was born! 
That said, it's not pretty, and doesn't appear very prototypical.  The next challenge is tricking the eye with scenery so that we don't focus on the grade as much.

This area had recieved some early experimental scenery that is not up to snuff with my latest efforts, so I am taking another look and will change most of it.  I started with installing my standard cardboard webbing, noting how hills next to the track did a nice job of hiding the grades on other parts of the railroad.  When other areas are steeper, the track appears more reasonably level.

After all that was in place, I cut a piece of 1/8"hardboard Masonite to fit the front of the benchwork as fascia, and used that to attach more webbing with hot glue.  That can quickly be followed by plaster gauze for hardshell, and sculptamold as a final ground surface before paint.  Lots more to come here, it will be a challenge to close this scene out with the workbench so close at hand.

Speaking of the workbench, it was well past time to clean it up.  What a mess.  I cleared the whole surface, and put things back as organized.  Containers for parts and rags, glues, paints, etc now are separate trays rescued from the old toy bin.  This way I can stack those next to the space, and therefore only put them on the surface when they are needed.

Progress, here and there!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Late Summer Details

As winter continues here in New Jersey, and the chaos of young children, middle management at work, and household maintenance grind along, I am making time later in the evenings for the slow and steady progress that has moved the railroad forward.   Lately, I have been finishing some details along the newly installed embankment east of CP 280.

As has been pointed out by some viewers, railroad right-of-way is rarely clean and well-groomed.  The Onondaga Cutoff is no exception - but, the trash comes after the grass!   Some old pallets and tires help to suggest unkempt railroad property, while the green weeds and browning wild grass help to suggest late summer in Central New York.  

Here, SEIN running late comes around the corner into CP280, to start his work at Onondaga Yard.  That's his pick up next to him on the East Lead.

The addition of the new scenery has started to open up some neat viewing angles across aisles.  Here, I am looking from the new embankment across the aisle to the M&E, where their Alcos are idling and waiting for the next crew to arrive.   Summer evening back light helps lend a warm feel to this image.

Some new locomotives are on the workbench and will be added to the roster soon, bringing some 'plain jane' presence as well as a few rare birds, which are as much fun to build and weather as they are to run.   Long evenings help keep things progressing and moving on the OC!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Complete, but not Finished - and the Onondaga Cutoff, In Print!

Big news lately on the Onondaga Cutoff - first, Model Railroad Planning 2018 arrived! As expected on page 44 my article appears.  Kalmbach did a beautiful job putting it together! 

It is such an honor to see this in print, and to see it next to names that I grew up admiring through these pages and those of Model Railroader magazine.  What a rush!

I also have some smaller success to report on the railroad itself.  While waiting for MRP to arrive, I made a big push to complete the scene on which I have been working for several months.  (I had series of late nights in the last week or two.)  The results are what I'd hoped - the scenery was completed ahead of the most recent operating session, and now the railroad has scenic greenery all the way from CP282 and the Syracuse skyline along Onondaga Yard, around the big turn to the east past the dairy farm, to the automatic signals on the bridge at MP 278.8!

First I taped off the areas along the main line where I didn't want grass - the maintenance road, and the track areas.  Once that was in place I installed a mix of static grass as a scenic base.

Once the grass was down, and not yet dry, I proceeded to put down a layer of cinders for the shoulders of the ballast area, and then the ballast itself as shown.

Ballast is spread by the time-tested manner of a brush, with my own addition also of some foam cut to fit which I use as a sort of regulator along the tracks.  Moving this gently back and forth knocks the dust and stones off the rail web and base, and helps to smooth the profile overall, ensuring most ballast stones are down between the ties where they belong.

Here's the profiled ballast before the glue process.   As I have noted here years ago, some of the chalky dustiness will go away after the ballast is soaked with isopropyl rubbing alcohol and diluted white glue (or matte medium).  Once it is soaked it needs to dry for about 36-48 hours to harden.

And, here's the result!  What a change from the earlier photo above.  

Here is the ballasted area beneath the overpass to the east of Onondaga Yard, with all the new scenery in place besides it.  Some details have yet to be added but this gives a good feel for the general look of things.  To some degree, the new scenery seems to belie the amount of thought and planning that went into the scene - this appears as though it has always been this way.  

It's been a great start to 2018, here's to the next few steps on the Onondaga Cutoff - some overdue equipment maintenance and getting a few new locomotives into service.  It's nice to be able to look at this progress each day!


Monday, January 8, 2018

A Disappearing Act

I am watching the mail each day for the arrival of Model Railroad Planning 2018 - I am very excited to see the Onondaga Cutoff in print!   Thanks for your support - see for details!

As regular readers know, recent scenery progress has centered upon the area where the Cazenovia Industrial track comes down to duck under the main line.   With the embankment constructed and painted, it was now time to finish the foliage that can provide the view block, completing the illusion that helps keep this scene from getting too busy. 

First, I taped off the track of the branch, since scenery is messy work - static grass can get all over the place and it's easier to clean with the track protected.  I selected various tans, browns, and greens to get the desired early fall look of dried-out wildgrass.  I also planted some wildflowers and shrubs.

Next, while the new turf cured overnight, I made another group of SuperTrees.  I had started these over New Years Weekend at the Station Inn in Cresson, PA, sitting next to a window overlooking the snowfall and NS mainline action while trimming trees and curing them in glycerin to add some flexibility.   Once home, they were spray painted, and then sprayed with adhesive and covered with flock.  Here's a shot of that operation:

Once the trees dried, I drilled 3/16" holes to accommodate the trunks, and planted the trees strategically to blend together with the backdrop but also to hide the 'tunnel entrance' for the Cazenovia Industrial. While up on the layout I also added yard ballast to the backshop tracks and some basic ground cover in that area too.   A broadside view:

A tighter view, showing a closer photo down the embankment:

Finally, a telephoto view from the iPhone showing the view east along the Cazenovia Industrial Track as it leaves Onondaga Yard and passes by the engine facility.  I am really excited at how these tie the scene together and complete the illusion from all viewing angles - trains down the branch will disappear, and reappear without distracting from the main scene.

The winter months have arrived, with lots of darkness (and this year, three weeks of real oldschool cold and some snow!).  That's a lot of good time to spend on the OC keeping scenery moving, and beginning to get some new power in service too.  

Happy New Year, with lots yet to come in 2018 on the Onondaga Cutoff!