Monday, April 30, 2018

On Backdrop Trees

Like any layout set in the northeastern United States, we can't seem to build enough trees during the construction phase.  No matter what else I am working on, the need for more trees is always in the background.  

In visiting some recent layouts I have decided to focus on the first impressions on the Onondaga Cutoff.  You have seen recently that I have put effort into getting scenery accomplished on the M&E near Euclid Yard.   I also have been inspired to finish at least basic scenery on the first thing visitors see:  The M&E track alongside the staircase, as visitors descend into the basement.  

This is a tricky spot, one of the most difficult to scenic due to the fieldstone foundation and irregular placement of the staircase.  It's never going to be a focus of the railroad but I feel that since it is the first thing we see as we enter the room, it is critical to have it appear finished.  Given the shallow overall scene, and the high likelihood that visitors may brush against the scene, I put some thought into how to construct this spot.  

I used simple corrugated cardboard, cut to fit, and painted forest green as a base.  This was stapled to the stringers behind.  

This is spot where I still like the 'old school' method of tree canopy:  the so-called puff ball tree.  While I have found that the 'SuperTree' kits (available from Scenic Express) are a superior and cost-effective way to create trees, they are fragile, and when only installed in one layer on a shallow backdrop, they appear thin.  My goal here is a thick canopy that can be durable to passing elbows!

Trees are made using spray adhesive and fine turf, as well as Noch leaves as seen above.  Several different shades of green trees, mounted using hot glue in a random pattern, really help to add to the illusion of a forest with different species of trees.  Several rock outcroppings were mounted ahead of the trees as you can see here.

The long-term goal will be to add a layer of SuperTrees over the top of the backdrop canopy, lending some definition and detail to the scene.

Spring is upon us here in New Jersey, and this greenery inside helps create a convincing effect and a great lead for visitors as they descend the staircase into the layout room!


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.