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.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


After a memorable and exciting month of June on the Onondaga Cutoff, with an operating session ahead of a visit from Rapido Trains and subsequent video, July appeared to be much more quiet.  Summer usually allows for less layout time in any case, but also evenings allow for some time to catch up on projects. 

Well, let's just say July found a way to balance out all the positive excitement that was around in June!

Following the fun, the layout was a bit of a mess, with trains and throttles out of position after setting things up for the video shoot.  I was flying high and excited about the upcoming video, looking forward to seeing how Rapido would present the OC.  I decided to do some video of my own to pass the time.  I didn't check the main lines first - while throttles and tools were out of place, I didn't recall any fouling the main.  I chose a big manifest train from staging and a 5-unit consist to lead it.  As it passed through the hidden trackage back behind Iroquois Paper, I heard the unmistakeable sound of something plastic hitting a concrete floor.

I went over to investigate and saw the missing throttle on the floor, and next to it something we all dread: a locomotive had hit the ground.  Trucks were off, parts all over.  As I got close to it, my stomach dropped and heart raced as I saw the cab crushed, and saw for the first time which engine it was.  This wasn't just another engine.  Nope: this was my 6577, my only proper C30-7A.

Conrail rostered 50 of these based in Selkirk, NY, and they were daily across my modeled territory.  Never available commercially except in brass, and in need of several of these, I proceeded to make my own.  Regular readers will remember that this is the one with its own blog post in December 2015.  The one I researched and kitbashed and painted and detailed over 60 hours a few years back.  Not an old blue box engine with details.  Not something used only now and again.  Now it was destroyed due to my own heady haste.  This was a huge loss for our operation and the theme of the railroad.

In checking the scene I discovered what happened: the locomotives on the train I was moving ran into the throttle, which had been left on the main track above locomotive storage tracks due to my rushing around during the Rapido video shoot .  The throttle slid off the main track, falling down and knocking 6577 -of all engines- off the railroad where it fell to the concrete floor.

As you can see, the damage was extensive.  The cab was destroyed.  Details were all over the place.  The body pieces, glued together in the kitbash, were now cracked apart once again.

I was heartbroken.  What to do?  Well, the frame wasn't bent.  Mechanism went back together without too much hassle.  There's that.   And, after I had done this job, CMR Products developed and now offers a C30-7A shell in HO as a polyurethane casting.  While not up to modern injection-molding standard, with proper prep and painting, it would work for me.  Still though...all that time and effort...

After consulting with the guys closest to me on the OC, I started to think about rebuilding using the existing shell.  I had a spare cab for another project that would fit the bill.  Parts could be reused.  The shell could be carefully re-glued.  Inspired by what Conrail's Juniata shops had done, including rebuilds of several C30-7A's that were accident damaged, I decided to do the same.  


This would take some doing.  I cleaned up the replacement cab, modified the headlight and number board housings based on the old cab, and removed the details from the crushed cab for installation on the new cab.  I scrachbuilt flag holders and rain gutters from styrene and glued them in place.

It still is upsetting to see that perfect decal work on the old cab here, but now there is some hope at least!  Number board holes were filled with white styrene and the cab was washed.

I had a can of the same ScaleCoat CR Blue I had used to paint the original model, which was fortunate.  A coat of paint now and we are getting closer....

While that cured I refitted the loose details including steps and handrails, and I took the opportunity to install an iPhone speaker in place of the 'sugar cube' speaker I had used originally.  It makes a huge difference in sound.  I also carved a new headlight lens assembly and light tube.

In the time since I'd done this model the first time, I discovered ShellScale Decals, who do perfect Conrail GE number board decals.  These are much closer to the actual font GE used on these than what comes with the Microscale set.  

Once the decals cured, it was time to move the wipers from the old cab to the new one, and give the dullcoat treatment before window glass installation.

A bit of pastel chalk weathering helped blend the fresh cab into the weathered body.  After installing the new light package, I installed the new cab and attached the handrails.  Well, the brighter headlight and proper number board font are both big improvements.

Now completed and back ready for service, the wreck-repaired 6577 poses for a broadside at Onondaga Yard:

I'll admit that this came out better than expected.  As time goes on I'll add a little more blend to the weathering, but for now this turned out to be a successful rebuild in a situation that looked hopeless to start.  Like the real railroad, sometimes the mechanical shop guys can 'pull a rabbit out of a hat' and get something that looked pretty bad up and running again, adding to the bottom line.  

So, next time you see 6577, you'll know the full story.  

Oh - and I added a guardrail along that storage track, too.  

Enjoy your summer months!


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Rapido's Fun Video at the Onondaga Cutoff

A rumor no more - here's the video that resulted from the June 4 Rapido Trains Inc. visit to the Onondaga Cutoff!

This sure was fun to make, and it's an honor to have had Jason, Dan, and Janet spend an afternoon with me at the layout.  Thanks, guys!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Rapido Trains Inc. Visits the Onondaga Cutoff!

On Tuesday June 4, we were honored to host a visit from Rapido Trains Inc., one of the top manufacturers of model railroad equipment!

When Rapido had announced their production runs of the GE B36-7, a locomotive that Conrail employed extensively across the Chicago Line, I had reached out to Bill Schneider while attending the Mid-Atlantic RPM meet outside Baltimore, MD last year and offered the OC as a layout on which to film their new models.   Rapido has a series of good (and funny) videos for most of their new product releases and the Conrail B36-7's would look quite at home!

One of their project managers reached out, and after some discussion it worked out that they were able to make the trip in conjunction with another trip.

What a hoot to see Jason, Dan and Janet from Rapido Trains at the Onondaga Cutoff!  These are good and friendly people that are moving the hobby forward, and it's exciting to spend time with them.  We ran a few trains and may have done some video shooting, too - perhaps there will be a Rapido video sometime in the future featuring the Onondaga Cutoff....

Dan looks great in his new shirt, don't you think?   After the visit wrapped up, we took the drive north through the hills of New Jersey so that Jason and Dan could see Tony Koester's Nickel Plate Road layout for the first time.

Jason had met Tony years ago but this was a fun chance to spend time together, and operating or spending time looking at Tony's layout is always a treat.  Tony graciously hosted us for a tour of his railroad, and we may also have done a video shot or two there....

It was a late night early in the week, so this post is getting updated later than usual - but the late night was worth every minute to be with some of the leaders of the hobby, and people I've looked up to for some time.   I'm thankful it came together!


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

After the Pouring Rain

Thunder rumbles into the distance as the setting sun jumps out beneath the thunderheads at CP280, Onondaga NY. 

Everything is soaked and it is still drizzling, but the worst is east of us now.  Just as the sun shines through, the Mohawk Dispatcher lines up the last and most important of the afternoon's westbound trains, super-hot TVLA, through the interlocking.

With all the rain we have had in NJ in the last twelve months, and capped by the rainiest spring I can remember, I was inspired to play with the iPhone camera and see if I could create a shot that looked as though it had just rained on the Onondaga Cutoff.  It is always a good challenge to try and create atmosphere in model shots; it helps trick the eye in to seeing more than is there. 

Fun for a quick grab shot!


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Developing Interest

Operations just isn't as much fun when you are by yourself.  While construction has a time for collaboration, it is a balance between working with others or working by yourself.  Operations, though, is just more prototypical and more fun when others are involved.  Lately, due to a variety of local layouts hosting sessions, and due to 3-4 guys from the regular pool of operators moving out of state, owners have been struggling to fill slots for their sessions.  In fact, several sessions have been cancelled account lack of crews.

Some locals have said "We're getting to a point where there are too many layouts!"   Well, I couldn't disagree more.  Having more quality layouts in the area is a great thing.  The issue isn't too many layouts, it is that we need to cultivate more operators. 

To me, it is clear that the operations aspect of model railroading is a rather unique niche and offers a different take than do other hobbies.  The camaraderie aspect is important, although I'd argue that the 'action' aspect is a driving force.  From an outside view, many people make models.  Some actually fly, sail, or roll.  But few hobbies involve groups of working, moving models coordinating their movement together to accomplish a goal.  Model railroad operations is all of this.

And so, I consider it a duty to share the layout through friends and operating sessions, reaching out to railfan photographers or train-watchers, and thorough occasional open houses.  Of course, we can start right at home, too.

I like to focus on younger folks, with children of family and friends, and with my own kids.  Their interest can be encouraged as a catalyst for future involvement.  In the shot above, Teddy is thrilled by the passage of a recent purchase - a NYC 4-8-2 Mohawk steam engine, one that certainly would have worked the Onondaga Cutoff in the 1930's and 1940's. 

A STEAM engine?  Regular readers will know that these are not my standard fare; by 1994 they were long gone and especially from any sort of regular revenue freight service.  But, my sons have fallen in love with steam engines through their toys and shows, as well as YouTube videos of big steam on the move.  When I came across a deal on ebay on this engine, I sprang on it, and the kids have been thrilled!  It lives on the layout between operating sessions at this point and the kids ask about it daily.  And, I'll admit a soft spot for this one myself!  For Teddy's interest it matters little that the cars behind it are 'too modern' - for him, excitement outweighs any questions.

Regular operating sessions too have a place in exposing younger or newer people to the hobby.  Seeing the railroad come alive is fun for me, of course, and the kids have enjoyed watching too, being too young yet to join in to the role playing effort.  A recent project was to add a phone line from the Mohawk DS to the Onondaga Yardmaster, allowing them to coordinate moves over the phone.  The kids noticed and after the past session, wanted to try the phone.

Here we have 2-1/2 year old Pete, and 4-1/2 year old Teddy, talking on the phone and having a ball. 

None of this guarantees anything, besides some quality time between my sons and I.  That alone is worth it.  But it provides an opportunity for the seed of interest to grow, which to me is a responsibility of every layout owner.   

More operators help everyone and help the hobby grow.  We can all work a little harder to get some new people involved.


Monday, April 29, 2019

A Collaborative Month

Long-time readers will recognize the title of this post, as we have discussed the importance of collaboration here before.  A railroad of the complexity of the Onondaga Cutoff would simply not be anywhere close to this operational, let alone with scenery, without help from trusted friends who are skilled modelers and technicians themselves.

As an illustration, this month I was fortunate to be part of several collaborations with the local group of layout owners.  First off was an evening weathering with David Olesen, whose 1986 CSX layout following the former C&O main line over Allegheny Summit is coming along.  He asked to see how I weather locomotives, and brought a few of his new purchases to be our subjects.


Alongside David, I weathered my recent purchase of a CN C40-8M, a fabulous model by Rapido Trains.  Rapido, in my view, is really coming on strong with excellent models of critical locomotives and cars that modelers have been asking about for many years.  

A few weeks later, I accepted an invite from Tom Schmieder, who is working to construct a large and intricate operational layout based on the DL&W's New Jersey lines west of Port Morris in the early 1950's.  He had a group of accomplished modelers there, including Perry Squier, Jerry Dziedzic, and Tony Koester and it was a pleasure to work alongside them.  Bob Bahrs, an expert on DL&W operations in NJ, was there to lend a hand as well.  We had some discussions about decisions Tom was facing, and I think the consensus as usual led to the best construction going forward. 

While just at the benchwork stage, this railroad is going to be something else once it is working.  Our region has needed a Lackawanna operation for some time and this will be it!

Finally, just a few days after that session I was able to spend some time on Jerry Dziedzic's NYS&W layout, where we modified the approaches to a bridge on his railroad to more accurately reflect the prototype. 

Pardon the grab shot, but it illustrates the point I am making: collaboration is possible in many ways, and all of them can be fun as well as productive.  It may sound intimidating, but I would argue the benefits outweigh the costs by quite a margin.  There are a lot of subject experts in the hobby:  why not let experts be experts, and trust them to assist in your vision? 

I have a feeling you won't be disappointed!


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Glimpses of the Operation

Once again we have a fun trackside glimpse of operations on the Onondaga Cutoff, thanks to regular operator Alexander B. whose style you will recognize from some other recent posts.  Using a small camera, we get to see trains passing from unique angles along the route.  This one focuses on the new grade crossing, which is impressive when your view is from about 6 scale feet above the pavement!

Thanks Alexander!  And for the rest of us, enjoy the show!