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, February 23, 2017

Fascia and the Creative Process


Long winter evenings - despite many having temperatures akin to April - are good times to make progress on the layout as they allow longer work sessions with the kids going to bed early.  Some of the work sessions recently involved me standing in front of the layout, staring at the areas pictured below, and trying to visualize how the finished product would look given the constraints.

The two levels here are different scenes on the railroad, at different locations - so, while I want the area to look organized, I wanted the fascia to continue to provide a visual cue that the top scene is indeed independent.  Further, since crews need to lean over the bottom level to throw turnouts at Iroquois Paper on the top level, this fascia needed to be extra sturdy as well.

Here's how it turned out:

I use 1/8" tempered hardboard for backdrop and fascia construction.  It is hard and smooth, but flexible so that it can be adapted to the benchwork behind it.  As purchased it is a brown color, seen here after cutting and installation but before paint. 

Layout construction - and all of model railroading - is an interesting juxtaposition of creative processes.  On one side it is very linear and organized.  Mechanical repairs, track laying, wiring, decoder installation - these are all activities that have a defined start and finish, more of a linear approach.  On another side, though, we have a totally different creative process when we are visualizing the layout edge, designing and installing scenery, or applying weathering.  These are much more subjective and decidedly NOT linear, with no definite 'finish' line.  


The shot above does a good job showing the variety of sight lines that come together here, which is a big reason why it took me such a long time to see in my mind.

I decided on a thin strip of fascia on the top level, with a larger one on the bottom, using gentle curves to blend into the larger fascia on the layout edge under the interstate highway scene.  Here's a closer view looking down on the new construction. The image below shows some of the supporting benchwork and bracing - I used a 2x3 stud across the main span, and a smaller 1x2 to the left where less strength was needed, and more clearance helped.


With this fascia installed, the next step is to finish fascia on the last stretch of the layout that remains without it - the new branch line and associated benchwork out of view to the right.  I am hoping to install much of that today and be ready to paint all the new fascia this weekend.   It will be a major visual upgrade and help to inspire scenery construction through the rest of the winter.

All of this is also happening in concert with my family expecting the arrival of our third child any day now.  We will be family of five - a whole new level of chaos!  That promises to stretch layout time, but on the other hand, painting fascia sounds like a fun project for my older two kids.

Never a dull moment here!

~RGDave


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Constructive Criticism: Upgrading An SD50

Feedback from viewers is a critical part of improving a model.  While constructive criticism is never 'fun' to hear, it is an opportunity to tap the knowledge of others and take advantage of what is essentially free research, with the final goal of a better model.

I recently replaced the incandescent bulb headlights with LEDs, and added LED ditch lights to my model of Conrail SD50 #6712.  At the same time I added sound and primed & painted the handrails to better match the color of the body.  I was happy how this turned out, and posted this photo to one of the Conrail modeler groups over on Facebook:


Initial feedback was great!  People liked the work I had put into the stock Athearn model.  It had been released painted in several Conrail paint schemes several years ago.  On the prototype, 6712 was the thirteenth unit delivered, and its original Conrail blue paint was very beaten up by the early 1990's. The SD50's were built around the EMD 645F diesel prime mover, a later version of the tried-and-true 645E in the 3000 horsepower 40-series locomotives.  The 645F ran extra hard, and hot, to develop the additional 600 horsepower over the 40-series.    The paint burned and blistered over the engine block and so many of the 6700's were repainted into Conrail's "Quality" paint job by 1994.

While not a big fan of 'Conrail Quality' lettering, these units were a part of the railroad in 1994 and so I elected to have a few proper units in the fleet.  6712 had been painted in late 1993 or early 1994, allowing me an excuse to run it in new and shiny paint.  I had already added some Conrail-specific details to this one - the correct 'bug-eye' marker lights, the cab signal box, lift rings, etc.  Now, with the ditch light project, I installed the deck-mounted MU cable and plugs.  (Yes, that's the Senior Road Foreman running, I figure he'd like to have had the first run of a freshly rebuilt SD50.)


I decided at this time to also add the brake piping to the trucks:


After a few hours, I quickly got the constructive criticism to which I refer above.  A fellow CR fan commented that the model looked great but that 6712 in this era had a modified snow plow, with edges cut away to avoid obstructions on a rotary dumper at Strawberry Ridge Power Plant in PA.  Whether that is the reason or not, I don't know; but in checking photos online, I learned that I had some more work to do.   Using the photos as a guide I hand-cut the distinctive edges into the stock Athearn plow, finishing the cuts with a jeweler's file set.


The result is just one more thing that makes the model distinctive!  A little feedback can go a long way towards more accurate models if we are open to suggestions.

~RGDave