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, November 13, 2019

Moving Forward - Doelger Brewing Co. Scenery

Scenery is one of those things that really comes in streaks on a layout.  There are a lot of moving parts that need to be organized in a way that we don't end up having to re-do work, and more than that, there is the constant fact that what you are installing is what people will see.   In  many cases, their first impression of the whole layout is based on scenery.  So - I want it to be as effective as possible.

Now that the Doelger buildings are placed, I feel the urge to finish up the scenery here and move on.  It will feel great to have this scene completed.   So, with the structure finalized, and the concrete slabs cut from styrene sheet, it was time to paint them, weather them and install them.  I scribed lines in all of them by dragging an old, worn out x-acto #11 blade across using a straight edge.  I positioned the blade upside-down so as to get a wider crack, suggesting construction joints in the slab.

I sprayed the styrene black first, then after a few minutes over-sprayed that with beige paint, and finished it up with 'pebble texture' overspray from Rust-Oleum, available at big-box stores.  I sealed the whole thing with Testors Dullcoat.  This gives an even, but random, pattern of tiny beige bits that appear to my eye to do a nice job simulating worn concrete. 

Nothing in Central New York lasts forever with their bitter winters, so concrete pours of different ages will appear different colors to the eye.  I used more, and less, of each of the sprays on different slabs so as to suggest concrete pours of different ages. 

Each slab was lined up using some scrap styrene below on the ties to adjust the final height, ensuring the modeled concrete was below the top of the rail but high enough to appear flush to the eye.  This helps with rail cleaning and operations - we want the wheels on the cars to hit the rail, not the concrete.  Special care was taken to ensure the flangeways on the inside of each rail had sufficient concrete.  

With the slabs glued in place, I test ran a few cars again with no issues.  So it was time now for some ballasting along the track and edges, and installing cinders and weedy grass around the track areas.  As usual, I sprayed the area with isopropyl alcohol and spread diluted white glue in the areas where I wanted the grass and cinders to stick.  I added static grass first with several different colors and lengths mixed together, and went back to add an overcasting of the cinders.   Weeds were glued in separately afterwards, and the whole thing left to dry overnight before I use a small vaccuum with thin fabric over the nozzle to pick up all the product that didn't stick.  This way, you have patches of attached static grass, and can reuse the fibers that didn't stick.  

Another challenge when doing modern buildings (and yes, I still count the 1990's as modern, compared to most other model railroads around!) is that so many industrial buildings have been modified over time.  The majority of those did not use the same architecture as the original structure - modern industrial structures make extensive use of sheet metal and corrugated siding, as opposed to brick and mortar.  So, for the grain unloading area at the brewery, I selected a more modern structure to be built around the malt house where inbound dried grains are roasted to become malt.  

Yup, that looks rather out of place, doesn't it?  Well, lots of things in life look out of place.  The nature of things is to change.  So, capturing that notion in model form is part of the goal!  Many modern industries in the Northeast are an incongruous mix of old and new: old buildings exist of course, but if all your old buildings look perfect and unmodified, you have a rather unconvincing industry.  A modern, successful business would add to their facility in the most cost-effective manner possible and Doelger is no exception.

A few more lights are in place, and with some final placement of static grass and clean-up, I will have the 'final' views of Doelger coming soon.  Stay tuned!


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Progress is Brewing

The old adage is true:  any progress is infinitely more than no progress.  As we have discussed before in this blog, one of the constants of model railroading is that you won't ever finish anything if you don't manage to make some progress.  Even with life keeping me hopping on multiple fronts in the last month or two, I force myself to get down into the layout room each night and do something.  Anything!

As you saw last month, the latest project is to finish up the 'permanent' buildings for the Peter Doelger Brewing Company at Euclid.  The next step was adding some lighting.  

I've selected exterior lights to highlight the facility at night, and included some signs with logos from the actual brewery to help set the place.  I found the lights on ebay from a small manufacturer in China, so for about $28 total, I got 15 wall-mount lights, with pre-wired micro LED's mounted in brass fixtures.  They are really nice and just what I needed for this building. They arrived 10 days after I ordered, shipped to New Jersey in a small box.  

As each was installed, I turned the system on to check to make sure that light was working.  Each has its own current-limiting resistor and I think the color of the light is spot-on for my purposes.  It makes for some dynamic night scenes!

I started to envision the concrete sidewalks and concrete apron for the grain tracks as well, since the kit didn't include any pre-molded.  I decided to make these out of styrene sheet, taking a nod from Jason's success with roadway surfaces around the layout.  The areas between the building and the industrial guardrail along the M&E main track would be prime candidates and offer a different texture for the eye of the viewer.

I measured, measured, and measured, then cut.  Then test fit, then final cuts.  It is slow work but the results will be worth it with a well-weathered concrete walkway down the entire facility, including the barley unloading tracks which will be completely 'encased' by the modeled concrete. 

Now it's off to trick or treat with the kids!  Happy Halloween!  Plenty more OC progress coming next month!


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Visit to the Chicagoland RPM....and Legendary Operations

In a mark of just how busy these last few weeks have been, I’m making a rare blog update from the phone, making use of the commute home.  While most of this month had been good stuff I’m running right about at capacity these days, hoping that I’m not overlooking anything of consequence!

The month began with unprecedented good news when a project I’d suggested and worked hard on came to fruition:  three ‘Heritage Engines’ were released to the world by NJ TRANSIT on October 2, 2019.   

Then, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the famous Chicagoland RPM (railroad prototype modelers) meet at Naperville, IL this year.   The RPM is famous for is clinics and model displays, and for the list of accomplished modelers that attend.  For me, it was also a chance to operate with groups on Bill Darnaby’s famous Maumee Route, and Bob Hanmer’s well-regarded GN/DM&IR layout.  

First up was the Maumee, a railroad I’ve read about for decades in Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman and the rest of the hobby press.  Bill has created a masterpiece of operation, plausibility and detail.  The Maumee represents a fictional road crossing northern Ohio, in the mid 1950’s.

My first run on the route was passenger train #18, and I was too new to even think of taking a photo of that run.  Making your first run on a timetable & train order railroad that is new to you is a nerve-wracking experience!   But the second run, an eastbound extra empty coal train, allowed me to grab this view of the Ohio countryside.  Wow!

Bill’s attention to detail is truly amazing.  Each interlocking tower is built and detailed with the full rod system laid out for the viewer.  Here’s Miami Jct with the Maumee main crossing the NYC Water Level Route.

Another amazing junction is at Edison, with diamonds and a siding.  Bill has his operators use modeled Armstrong levees to line their route and indications through the plant.  Incredible execution of a great idea.  It was an honor to participate!

After a day at the RPM and exploring some of the area, we did another session at Bob Hanmner’s home with his Great Northern/Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range layout.  This layout depicts the neat trackage rights agreement between both roads in central-eastern Minnesota during ore season.  Here, Jerry Dziedzic and Joe Binish enjoy some commentary during the session.

I love this spot, a big DMIR bridge and ore train behind a massive 2-10-4 steam engine.

The RPM itself was a great one too, and a special treat was the local modelers displaying their work.  Here’s two beautiful Elgin, Joliet & Eastern SD38’s.  

And, finally, a really neat Metra F40C.  These models reminded me of a trip with Jack in 1997 to watch trains around the country.  We traveled by Amtrak and had an amazing series of adventures that in hindsight were almost utopian in their storyline.   It was a great way to close out a great trip, made despite the usual chaos and headwind of middle age.   Special thanks as always go to my wife Kristen and children Susie, Teddy & Pete for the time away!   They were all waiting for me upon arrival at the airport which itself is a dream come true.

More to come!  Lots to share as 2019 continues to be a banner year!


Friday, September 27, 2019

On Temperance, and Permanence

Model railroading is a curious hobby of fascination and vision, and one that involves an interpretation of time and purpose.  While the trains take center stage, it is their movement that sets this hobby apart from the majority of other modelmaking hobbies, and the operation of these models in concert with each other and with a plan of some sort that brings life to it. 

Temporary structures 'place hold' on a layout so as to get operations started, and give crews some visual cue of why the cars they are moving are placed there.  Such has been the case with Doelger Brewing on my Minoa & Euclid. Here's an overview of the temporary structures:

These are pieces of different kits I'd had from other parts of the layout, and several building flats that were in boxes people had donated to me over the years.  Cobbled together they make a scene look industrial, and with a sign or two that is all that was required to deliver the visual clues I was looking for.

Author Tony Koester has reflected in his writings over the years on the sense of purpose in operations, giving the railroad a sense of time and place in the greater transportation network that makes railroading in general so compelling.  Tony has made the argument that temporary structures pending the permanent models add a great deal to operations, and I agree.  

So, as the brewery continues to be part of the operation I have finally begun construction of the 'permanent' buildings for the industry.  These are from the Heljan kit for the brewery, to which I will add some modern structures and additions.   First step was the brick mortar, which was applied by painting all the brick sheets with acrylic paint in a mortar color, and then wiping the brick faces clean.

Once dry, window frames and doors are installed.  Window glass will come later, once weathering is completed.  I like how the paint is uneven, suggesting bricks laid in different courses by different masons.  The windows 'pop' with the drab brick around them.   Finishing details will include painting random bricks different shades, and I think it will be convincing. 

Since the structures will be lit, I sprayed the interior side of all walls with a dark gray color so as to prevent light leaks, and used magnetic clamps to hold the glued seams square while they cured.

Testors plastic cement worked very well here so far, and with the clamps I am getting nice tight joints that are so far lightproof.  I will use shadowboxes inside the structures so that certain windows are lit and others dark at night.

For the interiors, I am also planning to install a brewhouse, so that you can see through the large windows into the tanks and kettles for the brewing process.  I think that will be especially striking at night.

The architecture part of model railroading is one of many subject areas, and each offer areas to learn and explore.  More to come as this process continues!


Monday, September 16, 2019

Rapido Visits, Again!

A nice surprise on September 9 was another evening visit from Rapido Trains to the Onondaga Cutoff!   This time around, Josh and Jordan of Rapido reached out to see if they could visit as part of a larger trip doing some research on upcoming projects.

They were mum about most of those, of course, but I did get to hear about Jordan kissing a Rohr Turboliner later that same week.

If that Turbo comes to be, you can bet you'll see one on the Onondaga Cutoff - Amtrak used those regularly on the Chicago Line between New York City and Niagara Falls in the 1990's!

No matter who I've met from Rapido, they have all been fun, informed, and wacky in that happy model railroader / railfan kind of way, and it feels like I've known these guys forever.  The three of us share some modeling interests, especially Jordan and I who have a lot in common in Conrail and in SP interests.   After a tour of the 'OC' we took a few photos of the guys in the layout room.

Employees from Rapido all seem to love layout visits, and Jordan is a Conrail fan. Here's a group shot of all three of us next to CP282.  Rapido's presence on the layout is growing.  Later this year Rapido's much-anticipated B36-7 models are due, and several are headed to the Onondaga Cutoff to bolster the 4-axle fleet.

Speaking of 4-axle GE's, here's my custom-painted B23-7 #1931 working the Cazenovia Industrial Track a few months back.  I put a few photos into Helicon to stack them resulting in a nice depth-of-field, and I liked the result enough that I wanted to share with it you all here.

This caps off a busy summer on the Onondaga Cutoff and I'm excited for the fall.  Next targets include some work to finally finish up the Doelger Brewing complex - as always, plenty of things to come here soon!


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Maintenance Modeling

We've touched on this before here, but one of the interesting parts of railroading that many modelers could emphasize more is modeling the maintenance crews that keep the railroad in good repair.  Every era has them, and with the evolution of mechanized maintenance as well as 'personal protective equipment' (PPE) and safety rules, including some maintenance can help set your era as well.

On the Onondaga Cutoff, Conrail uses custom machinery to help crews maintain track, signals, structures, bridges, and the right-of-way.  Thanks to some custom resin-cast truck cabs and masterful build jobs by my buddy Mark, and to the modification of several of Bachmann's HO scale ballast tamper and hi-rail utility truck, we can model track outages during some operation sessions which adds tremendously to the variety in the operation.

Here Foreman Lee is starting up the tamper, which was left overnight on blue-flag protected track in Onondaga Yard.  The boom truck will drive over in support of the tamper operation.  Ballast tampers on the prototype are used to groom and adjust the ballast beneath and around ties, keeping track level and the ride smooth for passing trains. 

As the sun rises and the machine warms up, the crew gets set to head to the worksite.  This involves paperwork for permission to occupy track - a 'Form D' under the Conrail and 'NORAC' (Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee) rules, akin to a train order, since maintenance equipment cannot be relied upon to shunt signal systems.  These are normally given verbally via the radio, and it's fun to hear that conversation on the radio during a session - it adds nice variety and 'audible scenery' to the atmosphere.

Consider modeling some maintenance equipment for your railroad!


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Warm Nights on the Railroad

One of my primary goals in layout construction on the Onondaga Cutoff is to capture the atmosphere I remember from the 1990's on a healthy, busy Conrail. The second definition of the word is as follows:

Atmosphere noun: the pervading tone or mood of a place, situation, or work of art

Being a professional railroader, and just as significantly being a life-long fan of sitting trackside, has acquainted me with the atmosphere around the tracks. It's exciting anytime but the mystique builds into the night. Add in some warm air, sounds of summer or early fall, the expectation of things to can almost feel the emotion in it.

A few recent images, in my opinion, capture it pretty well. These are taken all in the same few minutes during a recent operation session, and all show train ELSE (Elkhart, IN to Selkirk, NY) waiting and then beginning to work at Onondaga Yard.

For just a moment you can feel like you're back in time, 25 years ago, trackside on Conrail's Chicago Line, while the cicadas and crickets and tree frogs make a racket. For me, I was in love with the railroad and with a wonderful girl; my brother and sister and parents were doing well. The band I was in was playing good music, friends were close and camaraderie all around.  The summer was full of excitement and promise, problems seemed far away and pale in the distance. All of those emotions are tangible again here. The sounds and the feel of locomotives, the smell of warm creosote ties and diesel exhaust, the weight and humidity in the air- these are things that we can almost sense just in allowing ourselves a few minutes to gaze at the images.

Enjoy the last days of the summer, and may your memories bring you back to the atmosphere of good times remembered!