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, April 1, 2020

Checking in with Lionel Strang

As this wild time continues with the COVID-19 virus and response, my work on the 'real' railroad continues and is more important than ever in some ways.  After the previous podcast interviews, Lionel Strang on his 'A ModelersLife' podcast reached out to discuss how we were doing.

You can listen to the whole thing for free over on their website:

A ModelersLife

As always it's a lively conversation with a thoughtful and witty host - a lot of fun as a diversion in these times of stay-at-home solidarity.  Hang in there!  


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A New Avenue

Well, seems that life has thrown us all a big curveball to start off 2020, as New Jersey, the nation and the entire world is now dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  These are tough times for many and scary times for most, between the illness and the economic fallout that is related to it.  While it has been brewing for months, it has become front-page news only in the last few weeks here in New Jersey.   The response is an unprecedented restriction on gathering, with schools and work largely closed or exclusively online. 

However, the real railroad continues to run, which means that I have work and that I must be on the property in performance of that work.  But, it also means most meetings are now conference calls, and that my kids are home from school with online learning.   That makes for long days for my wife and kids - and so an increased role for Dad when I get home. 

This means it's high time to act on my wife's longstanding plan to get an O-gauge layout set up in the finished attic space for the kids.  Yep, this scale guy is going to delve into building a 3-rail layout!  I figure it's a great way to get the kids involved and give them trains that are theirs to handle and run.  Thanks to some generous donations, it's time to get rolling (thanks Ralph & Chris!).

A quick trip to Home Depot got the basics loaded into the minivan.  Gotta love a minivan:  with the seats folded into their bays, you can fit a full 4'X8' sheet of plywood with no worries.  Cool!

Susie started off helping sand the base plywood.

Once that was cut down and sanded and ready to go, it was time to carry it up to the attic (with big help from Kristen!) and get the framework in place. 

That was covered with outdoor carpeting to give us a base for the track, and a visit to a local hobby shop turned up lots of used Gar-Graves and Ross Custom track for us to play with.  This stuff is nice, and was recommended by some O-gauge buddies over the Lionel track.  Teddy was a huge help in assembling track and trying different configurations.

After a Sunday and a few evenings of work, we got trains running, with more progress to come soon.  The kids are in heaven for a few days - what magic to be able to share this with them. 

With travel restrictions coming to deal with the virus, it's a great time to double down on a project at home you can do with the kids or grandkids.  Time to take the lemon and have some lemonade!  Best wishes during this time, I wish you health and economic stability.  Hang in there, this too will pass.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Shifting Gears

One of the best parts of this hobby is that it really is many hobbies at once.

How many hobbies out there involve carpentry, electrical wiring, computer programming, plaster work, painting, mechanical and electrical construction and maintenance, operations planning, weathering, history, and planning?  Not many.  But one of them is model railroading. 

And so, after major scenery progress, it is a nice change of pace to change categories for awhile and focus on progress somewhere else.  Over the last few weeks, I've finally been able to make some headway on several mechanical projects.  First off, I finally finished up one of Lenny's 'Suffern Hoboken Interstate Transfer' GP35's.  As Lenny contributes his weathering mastery of freight cars and locomotives to the Onondaga Cutoff, I am adding DCC, sound, and ditch lights to his locomotives. 

Lenny's paint and decal work are second only to his weathering skills.  It's such a pleasure to bring some light and sound to his locomotives!

After that project was packed up for delivery to 'home' rails, I opened up a few new additions to the fleet on the Onondaga Cutoff as well.  Conrail's Chicago Line was a kaleidoscopic experience of foreign power in the 1990s - locomotives from all major railroads and many regional railroads as well made appearances on Conrail's trains, with and without Conrail locomotives mixed in.  That allows a fun and dangerous little side hobby for me in modeling run-through locomotives.  

Here we have two ScaleTrains SD40T-2's and one of Athearn's latest-run SD50's.  Each of these models is testiment to the fact that this hobby has never been better.  Adjusted for inflation, you get more than we have ever paid for these models, and it's done perfectly - all we need to do is program their decoders and weather them up, and they're ready to represent run-through power from UP and SP alike on Conrail trains through the 1990's.  Each is factory-detailed to match the look of these engines in the later 1980's and early 1990's - the stuff that used to take me dozens of hours to change on generic models.  Today's stuff is simply amazing.  

While all are nice, boy - these recent ScaleTrains offerings (with new drives, LocSound V5 decoders, dual speakers, keep-alive circuits built in, and the see-through grating) are just incredible. Next time we will have photos of the completed weathering.  Paint and detailing are top grade and it's exciting to spend time weathering them up for service!


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The 'Natural Hat Trick' on AML!

Now for the third part of AML's 'thirty-seven part trilogy' on the Onondaga Cutoff!  And, as you will hear, there is some more to come sometime down the road.  But for now enjoy the last of this long-form interview via the Podcast.


A ModelersLife

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Again on 'A ModelersLife'

Here's a quick post to let you know about the second part of the interview I had with Lionel Strang (and Bruce!) on 'A ModelersLife.'   Once again, plenty of fun conversation, some shenanigans and insight into the Onondaga Cutoff and how it came to be.

Click on the link below (not the images!).


A ModelersLife

Monday, February 10, 2020

Pouring Water for Snooks Pond

Throughout my time in this hobby, certain tasks seem daunting just because I have never done them before. 

Pouring the water for Snooks Pond was one of those tasks.  Over all the years I've been modeling, I had never attempted to use the available epoxy products or 'magic water' products available.  It was intimidating to a degree to be doing something that was a make-or-break technique on parts of the layout that were so visible.

Still, after all the prep in the last few months, it was time.  The 'dam' I made had dried in place, and all the painting and details were ready to accept the 'water.'  I watched a bunch of YouTube videos and a handful of videos on from Model Railroader magazine, and after deciding on the 'EnviroTex Lite' epoxy product, it was time to jump in.

I followed the directions exactly, warming each bottle of the epoxy and the hardener in warm water, then mixing in plastic measured cups exactly as the directions ordered.  

The epoxy was much less viscous than in the videos I saw, thanks to my warming it per the instructions.  This was a critical step.  I poured in the middle of the modeled area, and let the epoxy flow to the sides.

For most of the areas with the details, I needed to encourage the epoxy into the tight spots.  I used old sprues and paint-stirring sticks to do so.   The epoxy has about a 20-minute working time which was more than enough.  

Once all the areas were full to the top of the dam, I had some extra, which I used to fill some of the ditches I'd modeled along other parts of the layout.  This was very successful as well, although more difficult since the epoxy had cooled down and was a thicker liquid.  Still, with some care, it worked out.  

Using the leftovers allowed for all the tiny bubbles to rise to the top after about 15 minutes, just like the instructions had promised they would.  At that time, the directions were to use a small torch to feather the exhaust gases over the poured area.  The carbon dioxide gas would pop all of them.  This worked like a charm.  

I covered the area with aluminum foil 'tents' to ensure no dust would settle in the new epoxy, and let it cure overnight.   I kept the mixing cups handy to use to test the cure, rather than touch the new surface and let it be damaged.  The stickiness disappeared after about 24 hours, and I removed the 'tents' - what a difference it makes!  And, what a relief that it went well.  

This trepidation of trying new modeling techniques for me has been going on from the moment I started to appreciate 'super detail' on locomotives.  I remember a bunch of Model Railroader issues from the 1980's and 1990's written by a guy named David Bontrager.  He did a beautiful job detailing and weathering D&RGW SD40T-2's and an SD50, BN C30-7's, and even a Conrail B23-7.  I loved those then-modern diesels!  He used drill bits I'd never heard of and parts I'd never seen for sale at my local hobby shop, which was a combination train/RC car/game/pet shop.  I didn't know where to start, but I sure loved the look of those detailed models.

I learned of a better hobby shop in 1992 or so, and that was where I got my education on drill bits like the #80, #76, #55, etc.  That shop, the Model Railroad Shop in Piscataway NJ, also had a full selection of detail parts and friendly, helpful staff - finally, I had access to the parts I needed.  After a lot of broken drill bits I started to achieve what I'd hoped for over the years prior.

In summary, don't be afraid to take chances on a new technique or method.  Check YouTube for how-to videos and read the magazines, search their archives online for ideas and suggestions on the topic at hand.  The results are worth the risk!


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

An Interview: "A ModelersLife"

As we walk through the longer nights of the year, we have some fun news in an experience new to the Onondaga Cutoff - an interview!

In the fall last year, I was in touch with Lionel Strang who is the host of 'A ModelersLife' which is a podcast that focuses on different people in the hobby of railfanning and model railroading.  Lionel is well known to me as an author and former columnist for Model Railroader magazine through the 1990's.  He's done some really fascinating interviews over the last few years, and I was excited to participate when he invited me to be on the show.

A ModelersLife

So, click on the words above (not the logo!) for a fun interview with Lionel and his buddy Bruce, with more to come.  It has more stories and background information on the Onondaga Cutoff, and me, than you probably want to know, but it's a fun listen and I hope you enjoy.