Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fascia and the Creative Process

Long winter evenings - despite many having temperatures akin to April - are good times to make progress on the layout as they allow longer work sessions with the kids going to bed early.  Some of the work sessions recently involved me standing in front of the layout, staring at the areas pictured below, and trying to visualize how the finished product would look given the constraints.

The two levels here are different scenes on the railroad, at different locations - so, while I want the area to look organized, I wanted the fascia to continue to provide a visual cue that the top scene is indeed independent.  Further, since crews need to lean over the bottom level to throw turnouts at Iroquois Paper on the top level, this fascia needed to be extra sturdy as well.

Here's how it turned out:

I use 1/8" tempered hardboard for backdrop and fascia construction.  It is hard and smooth, but flexible so that it can be adapted to the benchwork behind it.  As purchased it is a brown color, seen here after cutting and installation but before paint. 

Layout construction - and all of model railroading - is an interesting juxtaposition of creative processes.  On one side it is very linear and organized.  Mechanical repairs, track laying, wiring, decoder installation - these are all activities that have a defined start and finish, more of a linear approach.  On another side, though, we have a totally different creative process when we are visualizing the layout edge, designing and installing scenery, or applying weathering.  These are much more subjective and decidedly NOT linear, with no definite 'finish' line.  

The shot above does a good job showing the variety of sight lines that come together here, which is a big reason why it took me such a long time to see in my mind.

I decided on a thin strip of fascia on the top level, with a larger one on the bottom, using gentle curves to blend into the larger fascia on the layout edge under the interstate highway scene.  Here's a closer view looking down on the new construction. The image below shows some of the supporting benchwork and bracing - I used a 2x3 stud across the main span, and a smaller 1x2 to the left where less strength was needed, and more clearance helped.

With this fascia installed, the next step is to finish fascia on the last stretch of the layout that remains without it - the new branch line and associated benchwork out of view to the right.  I am hoping to install much of that today and be ready to paint all the new fascia this weekend.   It will be a major visual upgrade and help to inspire scenery construction through the rest of the winter.

All of this is also happening in concert with my family expecting the arrival of our third child any day now.  We will be family of five - a whole new level of chaos!  That promises to stretch layout time, but on the other hand, painting fascia sounds like a fun project for my older two kids.

Never a dull moment here!


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Constructive Criticism: Upgrading An SD50

Feedback from viewers is a critical part of improving a model.  While constructive criticism is never 'fun' to hear, it is an opportunity to tap the knowledge of others and take advantage of what is essentially free research, with the final goal of a better model.

I recently replaced the incandescent bulb headlights with LEDs, and added LED ditch lights to my model of Conrail SD50 #6712.  At the same time I added sound and primed & painted the handrails to better match the color of the body.  I was happy how this turned out, and posted this photo to one of the Conrail modeler groups over on Facebook:

Initial feedback was great!  People liked the work I had put into the stock Athearn model.  It had been released painted in several Conrail paint schemes several years ago.  On the prototype, 6712 was the thirteenth unit delivered, and its original Conrail blue paint was very beaten up by the early 1990's. The SD50's were built around the EMD 645F diesel prime mover, a later version of the tried-and-true 645E in the 3000 horsepower 40-series locomotives.  The 645F ran extra hard, and hot, to develop the additional 600 horsepower over the 40-series.    The paint burned and blistered over the engine block and so many of the 6700's were repainted into Conrail's "Quality" paint job by 1994.

While not a big fan of 'Conrail Quality' lettering, these units were a part of the railroad in 1994 and so I elected to have a few proper units in the fleet.  6712 had been painted in late 1993 or early 1994, allowing me an excuse to run it in new and shiny paint.  I had already added some Conrail-specific details to this one - the correct 'bug-eye' marker lights, the cab signal box, lift rings, etc.  Now, with the ditch light project, I installed the deck-mounted MU cable and plugs.  (Yes, that's the Senior Road Foreman running, I figure he'd like to have had the first run of a freshly rebuilt SD50.)

I decided at this time to also add the brake piping to the trucks:

After a few hours, I quickly got the constructive criticism to which I refer above.  A fellow CR fan commented that the model looked great but that 6712 in this era had a modified snow plow, with edges cut away to avoid obstructions on a rotary dumper at Strawberry Ridge Power Plant in PA.  Whether that is the reason or not, I don't know; but in checking photos online, I learned that I had some more work to do.   Using the photos as a guide I hand-cut the distinctive edges into the stock Athearn plow, finishing the cuts with a jeweler's file set.

The result is just one more thing that makes the model distinctive!  A little feedback can go a long way towards more accurate models if we are open to suggestions.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

BRSE-1, and a typical scene

Many model railroaders model the past and there are some who say that model railroading is one of the better time machines invented, especially when it comes to operations.

Here's a typical scene on the Onondaga Cutoff, with train BRSE-1 (Belt Railway of Chicago to Selkirk, NY, leaving on the 11th of the month) topping the grade at CP282 south of Syracuse, NY.  This models the daily passage of the prototype BRSE, with locomotives and cars that represent what actually happened.


You can hear and see the lively conversation that surrounds the activity, and it is much like that on the prototype as well.  Operations brings a layout to life, and keeps the interest high.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not

My father used to say it regularly:  "Waste Not, Want Not!"  A self-described 'child of the depression', he was one to eat all the food on the plate, to welcome hand-me-down clothes, purchase used cars, etc.   "Everything costs money, David.  We have to make sure we save where we can and use what we buy.  That way we have money when we need it."

I am taking his advice with the remnants of the photo backdrop that we recently installed around the top level of the layout.   To make those top views fit, we trimmed off several inches at the top and bottom, measuring carefully to keep the horizons level and the backdrops flat.  The bottom cuts were about 5-7 inches high, and thanks to suggestions from other layout owners, I realized I could install some of the leftovers in my staging areas, suggesting a world behind the trains.

Here we see a broad overview of the area around CP282, the west end of Onondaga Yard, beneath which is CP274, the eastern end of the model railroad.   CP274 is the interlocking where the double-track main line spreads out into 5 tracks used for staging.  Prior to this weekend, looking through that area allowed a viewer to see the studs supporting the layout, all the wiring above the tracks, and the tracks over at CP295, at the far end of the staging yard.   Very ugly!  A backdrop and a quick coat of flat black paint on the plywood changes the view for the better.

By installing leftover backdrop pieces along those studs, suddenly the trains seem to be starting somewhere 'on the railroad' as opposed to the always-gray and decidedly not prototypical 'staging yard'.  CP274 is out east of Syracuse, between Chittenengo and Canasota, NY.  Dwarf signals direct westward movements through the interlocking and up the hill towards the rest of the railroad.

After a few ties and some ballast, this will be a neat little scene for crews starting west across the Onondaga Cutoff.  Dad would be proud!  In a way, it is fitting that this project happened on the one year anniversary, as a token of just how much his guidance and vision have meant to me.   Amen, Dad!  Thank you!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Long Winter Evenings

As the Holidays come and go, we're reminded of good memories and challenging ones, of time with friends and family, and perhaps a nostalgia of times gone by.  Model Railroads can be great time machines and the Onondaga Cutoff is no exception.

Here's a view, courtesy of regular operator Doug Watts, showing Conrail B23-7 1987 idling on the fuel pad at the Onondaga Engine Terminal shortly after 5 a.m. at the most recent operating session. Doug's camera captured the background sky with the light of the coming dawn, and it's looking a lot like the 1990's in this image!

With that sleepy image, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, or best wishes for your holiday of choice.  It has been an up and down sort of year for me and my community but a decidedly 'up-year' for the Onondaga Cutoff.  Persistence pays off!


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Backdrops Are Complete!

Capping a productive few months on the Onondaga Cutoff, and with a lot of help from Jason and Timm, all the photo backdrops on the top level of the Onondaga Cutoff have been successfully installed!  As you have seen over the past few months, different parts of the railroad have taken on a much different feel thanks to the backdrops and now that effect is fully in place.

Now that there is a some time for other projects, it will be nice to take a mental and physical break from the intensive effort to install the backdrop.  The results as you can see from recent posts are worth it.  Here's a quick iPhone snapshot of dusk at CP280.  This was a neat view before, now it's a already a scene with more to come as ballast and foreground scenery can be completed!

It's a major milestone, and 12/6/2016 will be remembered as such.  And yet it is just the beginning of the magic to come as scenes spring up in front of the backdrop.  The best is still yet to come!


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Depth at CP 277

It's not surprising that the look of the railroad changes so much with the addition of high-quality photo backdrops - to me, it's very rare that a painted backdrop looks better than a comparable photo backdrop.  Still, the degree of change from painted to photo in the case of the Onondaga Cutoff is amazing, and the shift in how the scenes now appear is adjusting some of the foreground ideas I have planned.

Here's a panoramic shot of train SEBU stretched out westbound, headed up the hill through CP 277. This is one of the most shallow scenes on the railroad, and yet with this backdrop completed, the eye is drawn to the train, even with no foreground scenery yet completed.  And this is just a quick snapshot!   This was going to be a simple scene along a flat swampy creek, but now it will be a superdetailed scene of its own.  It's a neat change!

Another nice development is that the backdrop has improved some of the longer shots along the railroad, such as here of that SEBU train coming towards CP 280 with the large Iroquois Paperboard plant in the background, with a backdrop of forest and sky.  Again, without any foreground scenery at all, this shot still 'pops' to my eye and will undoubtedly be better with ballast and scenery installed.

Finally, this one's for you, Phil -  had to have a model of the first car I owned, an '89 Dodge Caravan, on the railroad.  It certainly would have been trackside on the OC as much as it was the Chicago Line proper in the mid-90's!  Here it is with a model of my brother's '84 Chevy Caprice on the access road into CP 282.  Just another way to tie the model to the prototype!

Happy Thanksgiving to all you out there, best wishes into the Holiday Season.  This winter will be an exciting and dynamic time for the Onondaga Cutoff and I'll be reporting it here as time goes on!