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.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

'State of Good Repair'

On the Onondaga Cutoff, one of my most important jobs is to make repairs as needed to equipment and infrastructure that has issues.  Whether due to heavy use, accident, human error, or malfunction, issues crop up that either damage or highlight poor condition of various layout items.  

For operation sessions to be satisfying, the layout and equipment need to work reliably, with as few mechanical and electrical issues as possible.  Track must be clean and well-aligned.  Switches must throw completely, and consistently.  Equipment must have clean wheels and be tuned for operation on grades with heavy trains.  

Prototype railroads use a term used to plan for and fund maintenance items.  'State of Good Repair' (SOGR) applies to assets that are able to be maintained in a usable condition in perpetuity, throughout the useful life of the asset.   This is a living, breathing idea - many variables need to be considered, and the capital dollars needed to upgrade an asset to reach a state of good repair need to be balanced against what the company can afford.  

We need a 'SOGR' for our layouts, too.   Here we have SD60I 5626, an Athearn Genesis model that has performed for years on the layout.  As happens occasionally, the sound decoder in this one suddenly stopped working.  The unit would make noise but not move.  After troubleshooting, I found its address in an old consist.  A quick deletion of the old consist fixed that.  I went further and added a 'keep alive' capacitor system to the sound decoder to help smooth operations.  Now, the 5626 is resting outside Onondaga Engine Terminal, suggesting recent repairs, and in reality it is ready to rejoin the fleet!

The right-of-way too needs occasional adjustment to be in a state of good repair.  Here, Foreman Homoki waits for an addition to his NORAC Form D before proceeding past CP277 during the last operating session.   During operating sessions, we can model the maintenance process used on the prototype with hi-rail inspections, work trains, and the like.   While most of the SOGR maintenance happens between sessions, it is fun to include a model of the work so that operators get a taste of what the prototype does.

I consistently measure and check switch points for proper alignment and motion, as well as monitoring light from signals and structures to ensure what is supposed to be lit actually is lit.  

Even with maintenance operations, we can suggest a prototypical experience.  Operations doesn't have to be all moving trains - a State of Good Repair takes time and effort on the prototype, and we can effectively share that experience and the challenges it creates with others at our sessions.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

From Stand-In to Actual

Since the Onondaga Cutoff was designed for operations, it was critical to the construction effort to have operating sessions sooner than later.  In addition to having fun, the sessions can teach us about what needs to be improved about the track and capacity of the railroad.  Changes and upgrades can be made to the track and infrastructure much more easily before scenery is completed.

Therefore, I used a variety of temporary structures early on.  These were important to give operators a feel for what would be there eventually, and provided cues for fun operations at the same time.  One of those was the enginehouse on the M&E.  This was a structure I'd had since about 1985 on my first layout, and it served its time well as a stand-in on the OC.  Now it was time to upgrade.

I choose one of the 'Kitbasher Series' kids from Rix Products/Plastruct, which fit my vision for the modern enginehouse that would represent the shops and the sign-up office for crews on the M&E.  It includes doors and window frames, which I cut in as I saw fit for the entrance and yard office.   I also framed out a small office in the corner of the interior. 

While the structure progressed, I graded the foundation area with sculptamold, filling in any gaps between the yard surfaces and the fascia.   Styrene strips were used to frame out the edges of the pour I would make for the concrete floor of the shops.

Smaller strips were tucked in along the gauge side (inside) of each rail for the pour.  I mixed a batch of hydrocal plaster to the consistency of loose sour cream - thick, but pourable.  It was poured along a guide dowel into the corners first, and then tamped down to minimize air bubbles.  After about 15 minutes it was hard enough to gently pull away the forms, and shape the edges accordingly. 

After it cured overnight, I stained the new foundation with a variety of burnt Sienna and gray colors to achieve a look of well-worn concrete.   Once the paint dried I weathered the surface with chalks and black stains.  As this is a light repair facility, I did not include any inspection pit or drop tables - this tiny facility for a short line wouldn't have that sort of investment. 

I added interior lighting and some interior details, enough to suggest a well-equipped facility for inspections and repairs.  The structure was weathered with dull coat, then just a light application of pastels and oil washes to replicate a well-used but newer and well-maintained structure. 

A wheelset storage track was added before a layer of black cinder and yard ballast, which is shown above curing with some sand piles and grit along the rails. 

Next steps here are ballast highlights, vegetation, and some more detail to complete the scene.  M&E crews will now have a much more prototypical scene from which to start and end their runs!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Central Plastics....Scratchbuilding 101

This area at the north end of Euclid Yard was a toughie to visualize.  I needed to hide the vertical curve for the steep grade leaving the yard, but keep the area accessible for switching; further I needed to represent some sort of structure for Central Plastics, a consignee on the M&E that occupies a narrow strip next to the main track.  Well, here's how it is coming out:

I used some cardboard to mock up a few ideas, and settled on one that is a two-tier modern structure with an enclosed unloading area.   The structure is only to suggest a larger plant that is not modeled, as that is all I can fit here!   This does a nice job of hiding the grade on the track, as well as providing some visual interest for viewers and crews working Central Plastics.   Here's an overview:

 You can see how this fits tightly against the fascia, suggesting a larger plant off the layout.  For my first-ever scratchbuilt structure, I used JTT styrene sheet and plastruct styrene strips.  The corrugated sheet was cut to fit, and then joined with the strips; I framed the corners out with scraps at the 90-degree angles.   The door and ends were cut to fit using an HO scale rule.  Black photo paper was cut to fit as ceilings, installed on top of the interior strip bracing.  It's rather basic and bland, but that's just what we need here.

And, here we go - a track-level view showing the door area, now ballasted.  The retaining wall was a piece of leftover bridge abutment that fit perfectly, and then additional corrugated sheet glued in place.  The building and wall were painted with Rustoleum Gray Primer, giving a nice flat light gray appearance that will accept light weathering well from pastels.   Trees will cover the area in back, and the foreground obviously is just getting started here - still, it's fun to see the progress! 

Yet to come here is a sign for the industry, some warning clearance signage, and some door and piping details along with a spotlight or two. 

And the march of the scenery continues south along the railroad!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Coming Together - Greening up the M&E

So as February comes to a close, scenery progress continues on the M&E.  Slowly and surely this side of the aisle is coming to match the level of scenery over on Conrail.

Once the paint dried, I used my mixture of diluted white glue painted over the slopes, and began to add static grass to represent the early fall.  On steeper slopes I used full strength glue to allow for better adhesion and less glue runoff. 

After the grass is down I added some brown leaf flocking, as this will be forest floor area.  Everything was misted with isopropyl alcohol and a spray of diluted white glue, after which time I can remove the masking from the track areas. 

It is neat to see the track area suddenly surrounded by foliage!  

I ballasted the track with a combination of cinders, yard ballast, and some 'Northern Pacific Gray' from Arizona Rock & Mineral, and added some weeds and another light passing of the static grass to tie it all together.   Ballast was glued down with my usual mix of diluted white glue and isopropyl alcohol.  Now it's time to add trees to the forest, a final touch along with some trackside details:  the CR block limit sign, the old DLW milepost (Thanks, Al!) and old T-box.

The ditches are lined with grasses more green in color, suggesting wetter soil at the base of the rock face and along the tracks.  The trees do a nice job hiding the backdrop transitions.  

As this area greens up, progress turns to the yards at Euclid including some industries.  Stay tuned for an update on the 'new' look at Central Plastics!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Shrinking Mountain...and Associated Progress

We've seen it before on this blog - one thing starts the ball rolling and the progress seems to accelerate.  Now that the base scenery is in on Smirnoff Hill, the progress is coming in larger pieces, at least to the eye.  The bright white plaster cures and the first step is to add the base color paint for scenery.  

Once the paint is in place, it's a pretty remarkable change.  Where did the hill go??  Well, it's still there of course, but it's a lot less evident now!  I added my old 'distant canopy' forest green paint, and learned again that my artists's talents are not in backdrop painting.  Yikes. 

But wait...didn't I have a some more leftover photo backdrops?  

As it turns out, YES, and thank goodness.  I carefully cut out a treeline from a piece of trimming from the backdrop leftovers, and glued that along the horizon.  It was long enough to wrap around the drain pipe, too, which will hide an unsightly obstacle, especially once the 'actual' trees are planted in front. 

The backdrop needed time to cure, so I spent the rest of the evening adding base rock to what will be an abandoned siding along the main track.  This will be the Dean Electrical company, honoring my mother's father as his interest in trains was a key to mine.  He was an electrical engineer and since this little company needed a name...yep.

Using the base course, which is the quarry-process available at Lowes for patio paver setting, gives us a nice rip-rap looking base.  I added some damaged track that I sprayed with textured rust-colored paint, which will do a nice job representing abandoned siding track.  Over all this I add my mixtures of Arizona Rock & Mineral 'Yard Ballast' and 'Black Cinder' with a healthy dose of Woodland Scenics fine soil-brown turf mixed in.  

A few pieces of vegetation are tossed on top, and then the area is wetted with isopropyl alcohol and diluted white glue.  It is shown here with the glue still wet and curing, but I am happy how it is coming out!  

As this week goes on I will ride the wave and keep this work rolling.  I'm working to keep moving while the nights are still long, and while outdoor chores are still minimal.  If all goes well, the M&E will have a much more completed look before the winter is through!


Monday, February 12, 2018

Making a Mole Hill from a Mountain

You can't get around compromise in model railroading.  It will find you one way or the other, and it's best to live with it.  This is a case where overthinking can be the death of your progress.  When in doubt, look at the options, but make a decision, and move on. 

It's no secret that the Minoa & Euclid, the shortline that interchanges with Conrail on the Onondaga Cutoff, is a branch that really tested this theory.   Given the constraints in the basement, grades of up to 8% were needed for the route to avoid major physical obstructions around the oil tank.  Would that function once built?   Well, if I were to worry about grades being too steep to look or operate perfectly, this branch never would have been built.

We took a risk in building it, and lo and behold, a pair of locomotives could overcome the steep grades with the short trains that ran on the branch.  But, it was only about a 25-foot run.  My buddy Rick Smirnoff who was instrumental with the benchwork construction suggested to extend the plan around a nook in the foundation for the basement stairs, thus extending the run by 35 feet.   Seeing the steepness work at one spot allowed me to move ahead with this one, and Smirnoff Hill was born! 
That said, it's not pretty, and doesn't appear very prototypical.  The next challenge is tricking the eye with scenery so that we don't focus on the grade as much.

This area had recieved some early experimental scenery that is not up to snuff with my latest efforts, so I am taking another look and will change most of it.  I started with installing my standard cardboard webbing, noting how hills next to the track did a nice job of hiding the grades on other parts of the railroad.  When other areas are steeper, the track appears more reasonably level.

After all that was in place, I cut a piece of 1/8"hardboard Masonite to fit the front of the benchwork as fascia, and used that to attach more webbing with hot glue.  That can quickly be followed by plaster gauze for hardshell, and sculptamold as a final ground surface before paint.  Lots more to come here, it will be a challenge to close this scene out with the workbench so close at hand.

Speaking of the workbench, it was well past time to clean it up.  What a mess.  I cleared the whole surface, and put things back as organized.  Containers for parts and rags, glues, paints, etc now are separate trays rescued from the old toy bin.  This way I can stack those next to the space, and therefore only put them on the surface when they are needed.

Progress, here and there!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Late Summer Details

As winter continues here in New Jersey, and the chaos of young children, middle management at work, and household maintenance grind along, I am making time later in the evenings for the slow and steady progress that has moved the railroad forward.   Lately, I have been finishing some details along the newly installed embankment east of CP 280.

As has been pointed out by some viewers, railroad right-of-way is rarely clean and well-groomed.  The Onondaga Cutoff is no exception - but, the trash comes after the grass!   Some old pallets and tires help to suggest unkempt railroad property, while the green weeds and browning wild grass help to suggest late summer in Central New York.  

Here, SEIN running late comes around the corner into CP280, to start his work at Onondaga Yard.  That's his pick up next to him on the East Lead.

The addition of the new scenery has started to open up some neat viewing angles across aisles.  Here, I am looking from the new embankment across the aisle to the M&E, where their Alcos are idling and waiting for the next crew to arrive.   Summer evening back light helps lend a warm feel to this image.

Some new locomotives are on the workbench and will be added to the roster soon, bringing some 'plain jane' presence as well as a few rare birds, which are as much fun to build and weather as they are to run.   Long evenings help keep things progressing and moving on the OC!