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.

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!


Monday, July 30, 2018

Making Decisions

There is no way around it - with layout construction, sometimes you just need to make a decision, and move on.  It's a leap of faith to jump in and move ahead with certain scenic elements.  While some scenes make sense conceptually, others have taken longer to come to vision.  One of those is the long embankment west of CP 277.

After installing the fascia here last year, the vision started to present itself, but still - how should this look?  Should it slope down to a river?  Should the whole thing be a river, with a retaining wall protecting the tracks?  Should it slope up and be in a long cut?

Sometimes, the best answer is to start putting in the bones of the scenery to see where it takes you.

Scenery in this tough curved area begins with cardboard strips cut to about 1" width and long enough to fit with some arc.  These are hot-glued into place.

After those ribs cure, it is time for webbing to be pulled through and hot-glued into place.

The nice part about hot glue is that it cools quickly, and that means that we are ready for plaster gauze landform to be installed almost immediately following the ribs.

I started out at the west end of the fill, leaving the detail at the bridge itself for later but getting started on the easier part to visualize.  With plaster gauze, so long as you wet down the first layer, you can always add more.  Once it was in place, the vision for the bridge area came to focus.  This would be a great spot not for an overgrown former canal, but for a groomed and well-managed NY State Park System canal park.  These are all over the place up in Central New York and it's another element that helps set the time and place.  A tow path, a few benches, mowed grass, and a historical marker on a sign post will help this feel right.

With that now started, it was time to plaster the area behind the tracks as you can see above, allowing smoother surfaces that can be painted and fully covered with scenery.  This will be a forest area with some swampy grass in the lower spots in front of the tracks.

With the operation of the Onondaga Cutoff fairly well-established and with several open-house events this fall, I am making a push to get more scenery done, and this was a big step in that direction.  Now I need to make time to create a few hundred SuperTrees!


Friday, July 27, 2018

Setting a Time and Place

In many ways, model railroading has a storytelling role.  Our models are set in a time, and are made to reflect reality of that time.  Further, and arguably unique in model railroading, is the concept of operations and sessions dedicated to operations.  Even moreso there than in other aspects of the hobby, the layout owner and the 'managers' that help with the execution of the session are storytellers.

Take for instance this image:

This car has a story.  Built in the early 1970's, covered hoppers like this carried all sorts of bulk materials that needed protection from moisture.  Wheat, rice, oats, flour, malted barley, sugar - these cars could be used for any of these.   This one was purchased by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad - known as the Milwaukee Road by most.  The railroad was a transcontinental, one of the mighty western railroads that spanned the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and crossed the Continental Divide.  Dubbed "America's Resourceful Railroad" as a nickname, this one crossed other ranges too and came down to tidewater at the Pacific Ocean. 

Yet, trouble brewed.  One of the most difficult transcontinental routes to maintain and operate, the Milwaukee Road was less profitable than it had been by the end of the 1970's.  Early in the 1980's, the railroad abandoned its westernmost operations.  Soon the whole company was bankrupt and sold to competitors.  It was a sad end of a fascinating railroad.  Cars and locomotives were auctioned off.  Some workers went on to other jobs but many retired.

This car, though, still having some useful life, was purchased and put into service by a new owner without a full paint job.  Thanks to the artistry of Lenny Harlos, it has been faithfully recreated for the Onondaga Cutoff, patched for its current owner - East Erie Commerical, better known as General Electric Corporation. 

The Milwaukee was long gone by 1994 but its ghost lived on in cars like this.  This was no longer the glory age of railroads in the early 20th century.  No way.  Dirty, rusted, but with a bright patch of reporting marks and lube stencils, this car looks like a car from the 1970's did in 1994 - part of a rebirth that was just getting some traction.  This car helps set a date and place, and lends a gritty, well-used appearance to the Onondaga Cutoff.  As more cars are weathered for the period, the more it looks like it should - like the real thing. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Long Skirt, Short Skirt!

On the layout, that is.  What did you expect?

As we continue with the 'atmosphere improvement' process on the Onondaga Cutoff, I am happy to say that all the custom skirting for the layout has been completed and delivered to the layout space.  When I have a few minutes, I am hanging the pipe system to support the skirting as we saw recently and then installing the fabric itself. 

...and after. 

 As expected, it's a major change in appearance!   With scenery more or less complete now over the M&E and over the main line from CP282 all the way to the 278 automatic signals near the dairy farm scene, my goal for this part of the effort is to have all the curtains hung over that area before the end of August.

In other news, several newly-weathered freight cars were delivered by Lenny last week, in exchange for a decoder and sound installation on one of his diesels. 

Also, I am making some upgrades to several switch control assemblies in the Island Yard, the locomotive facility that serves to turn power at the east and west end of the run.  This panel requires quite a bit of re-wiring as part of the move but will be a major upgrade in appearance and functionality.

It's hard to believe it is mid-July already.  I have been spending lots of time with the family:

Summer always seems to fly by.  There are plenty of jobs to keep me busy outdoors but the railroad is always calling in the evening, after kid bedtime!  Progress will continue and you'll see it here.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer Projects

I have been working to address a few 'finishing touch' detail projects lately on the Onondaga Cutoff.

While not a big-splash sort of endevour like photo backdrops or layout skirting, I find these smaller scene-by-scene detail projects to be very satisfying.  Over the course of a few hours spread across several days, you can really add a lot of interest to a scene, and it will pop in a way that it did not before.

Take for example Niagara Propane.  This is a location at the west end of Onondaga Yard with a spur to a small, local propane distributor.  Being adjacent to railroad property, this would have been separated by a fence, but to date I hadn't taken the time to scratchbuild chain-link fence.

At ProRail 2018, Bernie Kapinski had opened his Port of Los Angeles layout for operations, and on it he used a product he made under the Alkem Models name - etched stainless steel HO scale chain-link fence.  It does a beautiful job of approximating the look and even includes gates.

I installed according to the instructions and left the gates as manually operated - one more thing for the conductor on the yard job to contend with.  Now this scene, one of the first that visitors see, has a nice finished touch to it.   More fence coming soon to the scrapyard on the Cazenovia Industrial!


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dressing Up the Railroad: A Long Gray Skirt

With much of the messier scenery work on parts of the layout now complete, I have been focusing more on some of the overall layout atmosphere on the Onondaga Cutoff.  This has included repainting and redecorating the entrance stairway to the layout, finishing the scenery on the M&E as it comes through the entrance stairway, and adding daylight LED lighting to areas to balance out the light temperature. 

Layout skirting is something that does a wonderful job hiding the storage beneath a layout.  Rows of boxes and tools create an organized but chaotic and distracting appearance.  While flooring will be addressed someday as well, here's where we are headed:

There are a variety of options available, most of them stock order fabric for trade shows and display tables.   I considered these but have several issues.

First, they are only available in rectangles, and with a sloping floor in a 178-year old basement, that would lead to an obviously uneven appearance along the un-level floor.

Further, these will appear tall due to the high layout heights, and I did not like the look of creased and fluted fabric at 48" high.  For the Onondaga Cutoff I prefer a look of flatter fabric.

Finally, these are generally fastened to their tables with Velcro.  Velcro is an issue for me here since I need to regularly access the storage below the layout, and tearing velcro off each time would eventually damage the fascia.  I needed more of a 'shower curtain' setup, with fabric that can hang from a support rod or pipe mounted behind the lower fascia, and easily be slid sideways to allow access. 

Therefore, I considered another option: custom-created skirting.   A friend of the family loves to sew, and I approached her about the idea.  She advised that buying fabric in bulk would keep the cost down, and taking some careful measurements would allow her to quickly create custom-sewn curtains for each location around the layout, matching the changing elevations and special needs for some locations. 

I remembered an article in Model Railroader some years back about layout skirting, where the author used Pex plumbing pipe and brackets mounted up behind the fascia as a support.  Clasp-hooks can hang from the pipe, and the fabric from that.  I made the decision that this was the best way to proceed.

You can see here how the Pex curves along with the fascia.  I used clamps to attach the pipe to the joists.   The elevation matters as you want the pipe high enough behind the fascia to hide the clasps once installed.  The clasps I used are about 2" total from top to bottom, so I hung the pipe approximately 2-1/2" up.   Some adjustments are needed here and there due to how the fascia is mounted, but with some creativity and patience it came together well so far.

Here is a quick before, during, and after series for you: 

What a change this is, and will especially be once the other side is completed.  Now that this part is installed, the rest will go more quickly, and I expect to have the rest of the layout skirting completed later this summer!