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, November 19, 2018

A Busy Autumn Season

These continue to be amazing times for model railroading, and I continue to be amazed and thankful for some of the new experiences I am continuing to have in the hobby. 

First off, at the start of this month, thanks to the graciousness and tenacity of my wife and children, I was able to spend a few days operating on the famous Tehachapi Pass layout of the La Mesa Model Railroad Club, housed in the museum facilities of Balboa Park in San Diego, CA.  Words and photos cannot describe the experience - it's a must see for anyone who enjoys modeling that can get there. 

Check out the details.  The tie fenceposts, the earthwork, ballast, and maintenance roadways. 

A brief overview of the trip is in order:  we flew out Thursday 11/1 early in the morning so as to have a day to get to the club and assist in staging the railroad for operations on Friday 11/2, Saturday 11/3. and Sunday 11/4.  Thursday night allowed some time to 'get qualified' on the physical characteristics of the railroad - and to be amazed at the scope and scale.  WOW.  For instance, one of the club regulars was moving this 105-car train of refrigerated boxcars ('reefers' in railroad jargon) west to Bakersfield for the following day.   105 cars!  You don't see that every day, and certainly not on an operating mountain railroad.

The railroad climbs about 15 real feet in elevation, close to the correct scale for the actual line.  The scenic feature most recognizable from the pass and the layout is the Tehachapi Loop, a full helix-in-real-life on a 2.5% grade eastbound.  Here an SP manifest comes down the hill, crossing under its own tail as it moves west. 

My first solo trip on the railroad on Friday morning was Santa Fe's #23 train, the westbound Grand Canyon, a first-class passenger move.  Since westbounds are superior to eastbounds by timetable direction, I had an easy run with no opposing moves to worry about - they all had to get out of my way!  But even with no waiting, and track speed the entire trip, my journey from Mojave at the east end of the railroad to Bakersfield at the west end took about 45 minutes.   Amazing.

Here that same ATSF train #23 comes down through the lower part of Caliente, CA, having traversed most of the railroad by now.  This scene is one of the most remarkable in all of model railroading, as it is nearly a dead ringer for the prototype.  Caliente in the foreground, the horseshoe curve up the hill, and then successive levels behind the operator in the distance up to Cliff siding, which is a mile away as the crow flies, but 7 miles away by railroad milepost.  Incredible - because that's what we see here, in HO scale!

A good portion of the scenery on the middle areas of the run are above the head of viewers, leading to angles like this one at "Cliff" siding - very appropriately named.

There is no way to really capture the vast expanse of modeling on the railroad, and the attention to detail throughout the finished portions with scenery.  But, here's a tailing off image of ATSF Train 23, with his markers passing the east switch of Ilmon siding.   Bena is ahead with double track from there to Bakersfield.  You get the sense that you are actually running trains on a railroad here, not a layout:  it's so grand in scale to be prototypically vast. 

This post is long enough already, so I'll end with a quick reflection.  As time goes on, my definition for 'busy' seems to change.  In the past I used to think I was busy, with different activities demanding time and energy, and yet those times seem to pale in comparison to these days.  Still these things go on, and there's something reassuring about that.  Holidays like Thanksgiving really allow one an opportunity to sit and breathe and appreciate some of the good things that go unnoticed most days.  Walking without pain.  Food to eat.  The colors of nature, the smiles from happy people, the faith of friends and family, and loyalty of pets. 

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Bringing Empire Recycling to Life

There are few things in model railroading that force progress better than hosting operating sessions.  Particularly bigger events where other serious modelers will be seeing the railroad for the first time, or for the first time in several years.   I want to put the best foot forward, and make the railroad look and run as well as possible.

The last piece of the scene where the Cazenovia Industrial Track runs beneath the Onondaga Cutoff main line was the small spur leading to the Empire Recycling Company, a small scrap dealer served by Conrail.  With the 'Interchange' session coming in November, it was time to tidy this up.

A quick overlay of black cinders and asphalt paving dust from Arizona Rock & Mineral was put in place, up to the top of the rails on the spur.  I wanted to capture the look of a beat-up spur with buried track, so I used N-scale cinders to really get a muddy look to the area.

While that dried for two days, I assembled another of the Alkem Scale Models fence kits, and soldered .022" brass wire in place as posts.   Note that you don't need posts on every vertical support on the kit - two posts per piece is sufficient.  I staggered them to provide even support.

I also used this time to take the Woodland Scenics classic excavator model to the bench.  I clipped off the bucket and scratch built a new electromagnet to hang in is place, suggesting an old machine on its second or third owner, resurrected from dead and customized for scrap loading.  

With the fence painted gray and weathered with pastel chalk powders, I carried the pieces to the site and drilled #70 holes in the surface to the depth necessary to accept my posts.  This was a careful trial & error process, but it came together well.  

Some grassy tufts were added as well as a variety of scrap materials, shown here with fresh glue drying.  Some more scrap is needed, but we are just about there in capturing the latest 'finished but not complete' scene on the railroad.   

Now my guests at Interchange will see a finished scene here, instead of one that is nearly complete.  When there is one thing not done, it becomes the focus, almost like a missing tooth is the first thing people see in a smile.   A blank area in the middle of finished scenery distracts from the rest significantly.  With Empire Recycling completed, Interchange guests will see a finished scene, and the best part is that the regular operators will, too.


Friday, October 12, 2018

Learning About "Photo Stacking"

As time rolls long, change is inevitable.  Some things change for the worse, and many change for the better.  One of those things that is changing for the better is digital photography.

While in years past photographers made images and had to choose the best one for a given audience or taste, that is not the case today.  With the artistic control that photographers have in post-processing for digital images, including Photoshop or other photo editing software, there is a new and exciting ability to convey a final image assembled by using multiple originals. 

In the last few years I have become aware through the model railroading media and other blogs of "photo stacking," a newer technique that allows multiple images with the same framing but different focus points to be combined into one image with much greater depth of field.  Here's my first experience with using this technique on the Onondaga Cutoff:

Note how the track in the foreground, the signals and locomotives in the center, and the backdrop are all in reasonably sharp focus.  Amazing! 

For decades the technique was to use a tripod and long exposure with your F-stop set to the highest available aperture to maximize depth of field.  And that worked, generally - but still kept most extremes in a softer or outright blurry focus.  Photoshop can fix many things but not that.  Enter photo stacking:  separate software that combines the sharpest parts of 5, 10, 20, or more images of the same scene, stacking them and showing just the sharpest parts of each.

I used the Helicon Focus software suite for this, and have lots to learn - but this image was made with 10 base images in about 15 minutes.

Stay tuned as I learn more about this, and share with you here.  This hobby is getting to be more and more fun as time goes on!


Friday, September 28, 2018

Expansive Scenes

In light of the invitation to present at the Mid Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet (MARPM) earlier in September, Jack asked for a few images showing different blocks of trains on the Onondaga Cutoff.  I took an evening to arrange some shots and the results came back looking nice, so I thought I'd share a few here.

The RPM and our presentation went well - people were interested and it was well-received.  It is such a humbling thing to see our names next to those of so many guys who we looked up to for years.  I for one am glad to be able to give a little back to those that reached out to me!

The images....

First off, here is ML480, a big autorack and stack intermodal train that runs in the later evenings.

Next, here's the interchange run from NYS&W, the 'SY-1' job coming into Onondaga where the consist will terminate and return with outbound cars for Susquehanna.

A wide shot of NFSE (Niagara Falls, NY to Selkirk NY) coming through CP277.  He has autoracks up front and manifest behind.

And, playing with Photoshop a bit, here's a tighter crop of NFSE at CP277.  It is amazing how good these iPhones are now at shots like these.

It has been a busy time lately, with the RPM itself, work craziness, little kids at home, and all that goes with those things.  This is when the layout progress may slow but enjoyment can go up:  we can always run some trains, right?

Thanks for your reading this blog, and thanks for all the support!


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Night Light

Recently I have installed a variety of new lighting on the Onondaga Cutoff, and I am pleased with the results.

First up are Alkem Models yard light towers.  Here's YAON-20, the night yard switcher, resting at the Onondaga Yard Office between moves.  New towers were assembled from kits by Phil Monat, and boy, what an upgrade!

Over at the east end, here's outbound cars for ELSE ready for their shove over to the East Lead for pickup. I love the clarity of the LED light used on the towers.

Using better light towers here made several of the others surplus, so I reinstalled them around the shop building and facility to suggest it was on its own circuit. 

To add to the scene above, I did some quick view blocks and weathering on the old B&B headquarters building, then added some light to it, as well.

While the kits were difficult to build, adding lighting is a relatively simple project and makes a world of difference for night operations and night photos.   Those long nights just got a little brighter!


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Different Flavors of Railroading

All of us like to run trains, simulating real-life train movements.  However, one of the major issues in moving real-life trains is dealing with maintenance and infrastructure that is being worked on, either during preventive maintenance or repair.  One aspect of railroading that can be emphasized more on most layouts is maintenance of the right of way and infrastructure that supports operations.  

Here’s a photo of an actual infrastructure issue that occurred, and the subsequent repair that we chose to model during operations.   One of the switches on the west end ladder tracks in Onondaga Yard experienced a rod failure during the most recent operating session.  Rather than make a quick repair during the session, we locked the switch in one direction, simulating a ‘spike and block’ situation where crews mechanically fix a switch to prevent derailments due to a broken component. 

Once the sun came up, I placed one of my block truck models at the location with some figures to simulate the repair process.  After the session I made the repair – a careful application of Walthers ‘GOO’ adhesive did the trick, reconnecting the throw bar with the ground throw.  For this session, we will have the switch out of service for the first hour or so, allowing the track crew to finish their work – and adding some variety to the yardmaster’s job.

Modeling maintenance is a fun part of operations, and helps challenge operators to think outside the usual box of the job.  Where will the next repair be needed?  We will know when it happens – and we will deal with it, like they do on the prototype.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

From White to...Dark Brown

Summer in full swing means limited layout time, but in the mantra of keeping things moving, here you go:  20 minutes painting up the bare white plaster makes a world of difference for visitors and operators until the scenery itself is installed.

A little bit of scenery installed before gluing in the foam shoulders for the canal scene makes life easier down the road, too - installing static grass beneath a low bridge is nearly impossible.

Here's a view looking west at the middle of the scene.  It is going to be something else when there's a wooded hillside here, but even now the long gentle curve is a cool place to watch trains.  Much more appealing than bare white plaster!

Finally here's a view of the whole scene from where the new grade crossing will be installed.  This is one of the more sweeping scenes on the railroad and I aim to keep that aspect, adding lots of trees behind and some smaller ones and scrubby brush in the foreground.  This is an exciting addition, one of the typical Central New York scenes that is just starting to take shape.  I am set here for a major push into the fall!