Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Little here, Little there

 The heat and humidity found us as soon as July did this year, and it has been well timed with the onset of summer activities.  We had a more busy June than normal, with Susie's promotion to the new school for her upcoming 7th grade year along with the school play and family vacations.  As we get past Independence Day and settle into July, there is time here and there for some smaller layout projects that help to keep momentum on progress.  

I am happy to report that the two CP intermodal flats we started last month are finished and have turned out great.  Rapido really filled a niche in the HO market with these.  

Check out the details here!  What I remember most seeing these in the 90's was the faded CP 'Action Red' paint and the open grating in areas where there were unlikely to be tires.  This saved considerable weight but kept the car safe for personnel and mechanical workers.  It is awesome to see these in HO scale!

 Meanwhile the guys at ScaleTrains continue to impress, with two recent offerings really just continuing to set an extremely high bar for the hobby going forward.  Each of these two are stunning models.

These are stock offerings, all I did was add weathering to these.  They are so beautifully rendered that I had to take some outdoor shots too.


Utterly amazing details - look at the lettering on this medallion!  As you can see this unit ended up very clean looking even after weathering, and that is because it is: the Onondaga Cutoff is set in 1994, and this unit was delivered in springtime 1994.   The D&RGW GP30, on the other hand, is more than 30 years old by that point, and is showing more age.

We have discussed that principle here before, but it is a major reason I enjoy weathering so much (especially as the hobby advances and delivers better and better models out of the box) - weathering customizes each model to fit an era and location.  It is part of modeling and is one that as time passes we can get better and better at.  

Speaking of that, too, the 3D printing world is getting to the point where it is hard to believe our fortune.  A well-known Conrail fan purchased an old Conrail hi-rail truck at auction, then had it 3D scanned and now it is available as a kit from a seller on Facebook.  Mine got some paint last night.

Modeling maintenance of way has a lot to do with railroading, and things are so good these days we even have perfect scale model kits of maintenance trucks!  

Can't go wrong these days, everyone.  There is a lot to enjoy now and more to look forward to.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

A lucky photo

 Sometimes we just get lucky.  Today I came across a photo that ended up in a scroll on the Facebook page, and realized something familiar about the image.  It was another Conrail unit from a location in Harrington, Delaware, a spot with lots of Conrail activity back in the day.  

Wait - I know that number!  That's what is so familiar.  Athearn about 10 years ago did a nice looking release of EMD SD40 locomotives, a model on the prototype that was the predecessor to the famous SD40-2.  Conrail had a number of SD40s that were handed down after the consolidation merger and 6286 was one of them, a former CNJ nee-B&O locomotive, and Athearn chose this one to be part of that release.  

This photo, by Ken Carden and posted on a Conrail photos group, went from just another Conrail image to one that shows important details.  First, it was taken in August of 1994, which is exactly my era.  Conrail SD40s were rare by then but this one was still out working.  It also has nice clean paint and black-on-white numberboards, without the white frame stripe, which makes this one a 1989 or early 1990 repaint.  I will need to do new numberboards as Athearn's are the original white-on-black, but besides that my version is ready to go.

What this shows is the importance of keeping our eyes open as modelers, all the time.  You never know when you'll find a helpful photo or text that suddenly verifies what you're doing, or gives you new information so you can better do what you do.  Progress comes in many forms!

Monday, June 17, 2024

It's getting better

 It is a common theme here on the Onondaga Cutoff blog, but it is worth reading again that this hobby is getter better and better.  Month by month there are new products coming out that help us to replicate our favorite equipment across nearly all eras.  

The new Rapido Trains CP and CN rebuilt intermodal flatcars are some of the latest to arrive.  These are the cars that were once boxcars and flatcars and were rebuilt from the frame up to handle piggyback trailers, and later, containers.  Open deck grating was included to cut weight as possible and the cars had a very distinctive look.  Some of them on CP lasted until the late 1990's, and they showed up on not only CP trains but also D&H and Conrail.  

Even just a quick look like this shows the specific prototype detail possible now in a new car.  Weathering is underway and once the car is added to the fleet, I will include a few more photos for you.  Stuff like this really adds some flavor to any intermodal train, and it will be nice to include some variety on the OC in piggyback operations!  

While any of these could certainly have been kitbashed, the availability of them commercially allows modelers to assemble a fleet of them, and also enables all of us to have more time for the railroad and for weathering as opposed to having to kitbash these cars.  From my view it is a win-win to have cars like this available to us all - and another sign that the hobby is healthy and getting better.  

Thursday, May 30, 2024

On Family and Hobby - The Balance

Tonight is the local school play - and somehow it is already my daughter Susie's last school play in this school, as she's bound next year for middle school.  Susie since she was in preschool has loved the play and loved the performance, and now here she is 8 years later - and even more memorable, she has earned the lead role this year.  What an opportunity!

Naturally this event has had a tremendous amount of lead up, and we are very proud of the work Susie has put in.  And also it gives me pause.  Now and again we find a photograph that is timely and my wife Kristen found this one, of Susie back in first grade. Her smile, curly blonde hair and confidence are so tangible here while she is seen climbing one of the trees at the local park.  Her mom took the photo, itself a blessing, and while it was taken just five years ago it seems in some ways a lifetime.  

And so it goes!  This is a success story, and what anyone would have hoped for, and here we are.  Kids grow quickly and it was a growing exercise for me to learn how critical my time around them is.  This is why it is important to put time into the balance between things in life.  Yes work is important, and yes I love the hobby that railroading has always been for me.  But there are a lot of things that depend on me, not just what I want to do in any given moment. Family is the foundation for those things, I am responsible for my family and therefore time with family must get the top spot.  What a wonderful stretch to be able to be there tonight for this show with our family and friends so close that they are like family, too.

More trains coming soon!  All part of the balance of life.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A Special Guest

In the 80's and right through the 90's and 2000's, you didn't mention the hobby to railroad co-workers.  If you were a railroader you kept the hobby to yourself: much easier to answer for yourself if you weren't a 'buff'.  In a way it was almost silly: who would want to go to work if they didn't like what their work was?  

It turns out many of us that are railroaders love what we do, and many make it a hobby as well.  On this past fall's NJ TRANSIT 40th Anniversary Express trip, I had the opportunity to sit with many people that helped make the experience possible, and during a conversation with President and CEO Kevin Corbett, he asked about the model railroad.  I invited him, he smiled and said he'd enjoy it.  Then discussion continued on.  Well, months later, his assistant reached out and asked if we were still on for a session in May - "Kevin would like to attend."  

And so on May 11, 2024, Kevin Corbett, President and CEO of NJ TRANSIT Corporation visited the OC for a session.  And it was great.  Thanks to Heath Hofmeister for the photos!

Friendly and affable, Kevin made everyone feel at ease from the safety briefing - the start of every session - through the operation itself.  He came to NJT at a dark time, and his energy and optimism immediately allowed the railroad to start to get more done than it had before his arrival.  There remain major challenges, yes - but progress is progress.  

Thanks again for making the time and the trip, Kevin!  This is the latest example that the walls between hobby and profession changing.  The railroad industry will only grow and thrive because of railroaders passionately running a railroad for the benefit of customers and the public at large.  The new movement of financial raiders running Class 1 railroads is one that is not sustainable for the economy nor the public, and perhaps those that love railroading can work together to reverse the damage the financiers have created in the name of profit.  

Kevin took photos and shared them with friends and his family - even asked if he could return sometime.  It is a neat opportunity when we have the chance to have someone with Kevin's experience, rank, and ability visit us and watch the OC go to work.  Kevin's support has been indispensable for the creation of the NJT Heritage Locomotive Fleet - and now he can see where some of the passion that helped to create it lives, too.  

Monday, April 29, 2024

Springtime doesn't slow down

 April in the last few years has become a very busy month.  It is amazing that we are almost to May, and as would be expected there were a lot of moving parts in the last few weeks.  

But what a few weeks - a total eclipse of the sun from Deshler, OH, street running in LaGrange, KY, along with a trip to Massachusetts for the Boston Marathon, all followed by a trip to operate trains on a variety of model railroads around San Francisco, California.  

Some amazing experiences.  The eclipse was outstanding - what a surreal and ethereal experience to be in the 100% shadow - and for CSX to run trains and display different aspects for it was amazing luck.  Then the other railfan sights only to be topped by the incredible model railroads of the Bay Area of California.  Wow!

I also did some work to help some fellow modelers out as I could fit it in, and progress has brought us nearly to completion at CP 294, with some exciting final photos coming soon there.

Still:  Ten states in 3 weeks - too much for my taste! The theme is a constant one - so much to do, too many great things to be part of - and so we must push to do as much as we possibly can.  Perhaps there is a time coming where there is less to do, but I feel it is more likely that there will always be an amazing list of things to do.  Maybe, just maybe, there will be an era when there is more time to do those things.  In the mean time, it's a great ride!

Monday, April 8, 2024

On Right-of-Way and Drainage

 There is very little 'flat' about the details along railroad tracks.  Even in some of the most flat and level territory, tracks are installed to facilitate drainage, which means some elevation changes are present even if they must be added by the construction.  

One reason most larger model railroads are built with subroadbed cut to fit the track areas and then mounted on support piers is that the terrain around the roadbed then can easily be built to be above and, more importantly, below the track level.  Water flows down, and adding simulated ditches where that would happen adds a lot of plausibility to your model.  

Here is a scene on the OC where the terrain is both above and below the right of way.  The bridge is up on abutments with slopes down and away from the road, but those slopes keep right on going down past the tracks, suggesting a spot where the railroad is on an embankment.  This is a key to a scene's plausibility and adds a to the overall feel of an area.  Real railroads provide a spot for water to run off too, and modelers should, too.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Doin' what you gotta do...

We can get ourselves in trouble sometimes.  Self-caused mistakes are some of the most frustrating as they are usually quite avoidable.  This photo is one of those stories.

Final scenery over at CP294 has been filling in, as I’d mentioned last month, and as a direct result several other things happened.

Below 294 is deep staging.  Wiring for the track power through CP294, along with the signals, switch machines, and accessories is tight over the top of the three tracks.  In my excitement to make progress, rather than move all the trains from deep staging and leave them all over the main line, I decided instead to use painter’s plastic drops gently stretched over the top of deep staging to shield them from any debris that might fall down.  It worked great - until I knocked the last car of the grain train out while removing the plastic.  It hit the floor and while it survived, the end was bad enough with a broken main coupler box and frame that a rebuild would be untenable for operations. I was pissed - that’s an expensive $55 mistake. 

As I fumed, contemplating options, it occurred to me that this would perhaps be a good ‘wreck repair’ load, on cribbing atop of a flat car, with the trucks removed.  I had always wanted to do one of these after seeing the ones available from and other custom builders.  In fact it’s a great car for that - and while I’d never do that to a functional superdetailed car, a broken one is a perfect match.

So I did some online research and found some photos.  I proceeded to add more damage to the covered hopper to simulate a full end collision….and now needed a flat car to carry it.  Luckily I found a nice new ScaleTrains flat car in my to-do pile which needed only assembly of the wooden deck and final weathering. 

Sometimes when you make a mistake, you just gotta do what you gotta do and make up for it.  I think this came out as well as it could!

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Finally filling in at 294

It has taken nearly 15 years to decide how to add scenery at CP294, and we are finally making great headway.  While the railroad around it and above it was clear, and while the top area is fully covered with scenery in that location, it took a lot to visualize how the lower level would work out.  Tracks were added and moved and all of that required a redo on the vision for scenery.  

Finally after 12 years of operations, it was clear this configuration worked.  And so I got to work.  This will be the location of the former tower, now field office, scratchbuilt by Perry Squier and detailed and installed by me here.  

It will do the dual purpose of belonging to the front tracks at CP294 and visually representing the prototype SJ tower (formerly SS#4 tower) at Solvay.  It also makes visual use of the rear tracks.  On the Onondaga Cutoff, those are the far eastern end of the railroad.  But at Solvay, the visual is a strong reminder of the old West Shore mainline, which was built parallel to the NYC at that spot.  SS#4, and SJ the followed, were between the NYC mainline that they served and the West Shore immediately to the north: exactly the configuration here.

That decided, it was time to get started from back to front with ballast and base scenery.  It is always hard to see a mainline flooded with diluted glue!

It was a tight place to be working, but since the operations had to start first and confirm it all, it was how it needed to be.  Grass came next along with ground cover.  

Ballasting track is delicate but switches are extremely delicate - moving parts don't do well with ballast granules in the wrong spots.  So it is slow, slow progress.  Ballasting the interlocking limits at 294 ended up about 11 hours of work over the course of a week.  

But, after all that, it really does come together well.  Here we are below with glue applied, still wet and awaiting the cure of the ballast to finalize its shape.  Some quick additional weathering and details will follow in the days to come.

The points are held on center by spare ties, so that the glue doesn't freeze the rails shut against a stock rail.  No matter how careful we are, the glue will work great on those points - so you must take action to deal with it as the cure happens.  A few times in the first hour of curing I moved the points by hand, and then again after about 7 or 8 hours, each time breaking the bond of curing glue.  

I also use graphite on the points as I move them, which helps to counteract the bond. Even if it gets mixed with glue residue, this is a helpful step as the glue dries.  Keep working the points once every 8 hours for a full two days, and you're going to have a great result.    

Next steps include foreground scenery, as well as trees and shrubs, weeds, and details.  It will be a busy and satisfying few weeks!

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Pushing the Issue

 We have discussed it before here on the OC blog:  time is our most valuable resource.  And time in your 40's is a fleeting thing.  There never seems to be enough of it to handle all that comes our way.  Family.  Work.  Hobby.  Staying healthy.  Some traveling.  

In that light there are a lot of instances when it would feel more comfortable to stay at home and relax.  However, people are important, and some of our precious time simply must be dedicated to others: spending time with old friends, with distant family, with people who are part of your team even if far away.  And so I decided against odds at work and in lieu of sleep to depart at 0500 on a Thursday morning earlier this month from my friend Jon's home to attend 'Old Timers Weekend' at The Station Inn in Cresson, PA.  OTW as we call it was created by the original innkeeper to bring his friends together, and now has been around for nearly 25 years. I am glad to have attended many of them.  

Jon's idea this year was to railfan our way towards Cresson via Maryland, where we could photograph the Maryland Midland's operations.  We found their rock train, with three big SD's in corporate parent Genesee & Wyoming paint: two former UP nee MP SD50s and a former SP SD45, rebuilt to an SD40-2 internally. Great lashup, and they wasted no time coming up the hill from the quarry south of Union Bridge, MD.  

We chased the train to Union Bridge, a town built to be modeled!  Jon's amazing ability to decipher radio lingo identified MMID train 'UBTT', the local from Union Bridge to Taneytown, MD - and low and behold he had the last remaining Maryland Midland GP38 leading!    What a great start to this little trip.

After that we ended up heading west via county roads and U.S. Highways over the mountains towards Cresson.  We hooked up with longtime friend Mike at Cassandra, PA, as the clouds moved in.  Seeing great friends trackside at old haunts warms the soul.  

A fun shot late at night was four of us trackside in Cresson as train 22X passed us headed east towards New Jersey.  Bright lights from the inn made a neat silhouette of old buddies watching trains together again.  

The next day brought the opportunity to meet some fellow railroaders, where Lou and I posed for a quick group shot in the tiny town.  There are a lot of good people still working in railroading, and we have to take time to appreciate all of that when we can.

As we finished the trip, Jon and I stopped along our route home to visit Todd Treaster, a longtime Conrail and NS locomotive engineer at his home.  He has a truly spectacular collection of N scale trains and his model railroad depicting his version of Enola Yard and the mainline west to Pittsburgh - his home territory.  Jon and Todd traded stories and I was just happy to be there.  

Sure, it was a quick and tiring trip, but in the end sleep we can get when we must and experiences like this come only once in a while - sometimes, only once, ever.  I feel it is important to sometimes insist on going - to push the issue, so to speak.   Thankfully my wife not only agrees but insists: prioritize experiences when we can.  And I am grateful for such a wonderful community of friends that I can join on those adventures!  

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Canyon of Darkness

 Sometimes a grab shot image of the railroad jumps out at us.  Here's one from a recent operation session with SEEL making his daily pickup at Onondaga Yard.  With congestion this night, he ended up working on one of the few open tracks after dark.  

Our train is working in a shadowy canyon of darkness, long after dark on an early autumn evening.  The engineer is running the locomotives while the conductor, hanging on the rear of the cars to be coupled to the pick up, is using his radio to keep the engineer informed about what moves to make.  

This is a lot like the real thing!  

It's just a quick cell phone image, but it's amazing what we can do these days with digital photography.  The color temperature is spot on.  The reflections are perfectly captured.  The details stand out and the whole aura of the image is just what we shoot for during operations on the OC.  

It's just a quick image, of course, but it is hard not to have fun with this hobby!

Friday, February 23, 2024

Springfield 2024 - the Amherst Railroad Hobby Show

Every year in January, much of the model railroad hobby gathers for a few days in West Springfield, MA, home of the long-running Amherst Model Railroad Society's massive 'Railroad Hobby Show'.  It's a big deal in the hobby:  this year, attendance over two days included more than 26,000 tickets, many people attending both days.   Here's a link:

And, here's the map they publish - this year with the Onondaga Cutoff mentioned in name!

For the first time, thanks to a suggestion by Lionel Strang from A ModelersLife podcast, I decided to get a table for the Onondaga Cutoff.  After attending the show it was a really neat experience to be part of it officially!

I made the trip north with Ralph Heiss, a historian and modeler and close friend from NJ.  We set up our booth and got ready for the show.  

Visitors from around the world come for this one.  Here we have NMRA member Martyn Jenkins from Brisbane, Australia at the booth, with Ralph and I.  And more local visitors, too - hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by to say hello.

Matt Paquette and Rodney Kantorsky, both fellow hobbyists who share my fascination with signaling, stopped at the booth as Saturday continued.  

A wonderful gift came from good friend Dave Magill, who arrived at the booth with a relic from the days we model on the Onondaga Cutoff - an Albany Division T-shirt from his collection when he worked the division back in the 1990's.  Talk about a treat!  Complete with classic 90's pastel coloring, this one is a keeper for sure!  

While the show takes a lot of time and energy to pull off, it is very rewarding and a way to help grow the aura of the OC while meeting many fans that have enjoyed the railroad for decades.  It happened a few weeks back and I finally made some time to make a post.   We will be doing this show again, and if you haven't been able to be present at the weekend, give it a try.  It is a fantastic intersection of the people that make the hobby work!  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Good Times

Growing is hard.  And more difficult than the growth is knowing where to draw the line between comfort and growing.  Usually, comfort does not breed real growth!

Like a plant sprouting against the weight of soil, or a bird taking flight, and just as an athlete trains for a marathon, progress and growth normally requires fighting against the good enough, resisting the urge to stagnate.  Comfort will not encourage growth in itself.  

Take operations.  At the most recent operating session on Tony Koester's NKP, there was a dearth of qualified operators.  I was 'voluntold' - volunteered by others - for the role.  Thankfully, Jim Schweitzer is a good friend and a great mentor, and took me under his wing to show me the ropes.  Suddenly here I was copying train orders and 'on-sheeting' trains past my locations for the dispatcher.  

At such an important layout, with some amazing and long-qualified operators, it is a stressful situation being cast into a role that is a leadership role like this.  It is uncomfortable and creates anxiety.  Why would we do this as part of a hobby?

I will argue that we do it as a service to the layout owner, who is looking to create memories.  And we do it as a service to all the other operating modelers that have driven far to come to a good session.  We are stepping up, as they say:  trying to help by doing what others won't or can't do, for the good of those others.  It is not always fun, but it does always feel good to get some of it right.

Doug Watts, a great friend in the hobby and a brother on the road of life, was there - and his quick smile and easy demeanor always helps.  Here we are side Tony's model of Frankfort, IN and the big yard there.  The smiles say it all!

Good times are good, sometimes as much for the effort we apply as for the experience itself.  

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Making Spaces

We don't mean to run out of space.  Most of us modelers don't have a goal of having too little room.  It is just that the hobby is getting so good, so satisfying, and so exciting that the equipment just tends to accumulate.  

But, in the end, that means we run out of space. For years I was avoiding this little project, and finally made it happen over the Christmas break this year.  The old dresser, which had been my brother's when we were growing up in Long Valley, NJ, was pressed into a second life as locomotive storage years ago.  It was good til it filled up.  Now, by adding a slideable shelf as a second level, I have added capacity for another 16 locomotives.

 Railings front and rear were installed and a piece of plywood then cut to fit neatly over the rails. It was about two hours work, but solved a problem for some time to come!

That is, until I dig into a few more new locomotives and get them in service.  When that happens.....I will be out of space, again.