May 1, 2016

ProRail East 2016

Paul and John busy operating the layout
While many of our model railroad friends are partaking in ProRail 2016 in San Diego, Paul Dolkos and I decided to have a mini-ProRail East. So this afternoon, John King and Paul Dolkos came by the house to operate the PoLA Layout. John took the throttle while Paul was the conductor. I gave them a brief run down and set them loose. Things appeared to go smoothly. It took Paul a few moments to get accustomed to my switch list. Then they got busy. They reported no major problems, though John suspects that the coupler on the PHL 66 SD-40 is a bit low.  John enjoyed the session and said in his normal deliberate manner, "Well, I made it to LA without having to take an airline flight."

Cutting at the waterline
While they switched the layout, I continued to work on the ship.
Previously, on Friday night in the waning light of the evening I cut off the ship at the water line.

Then I added the hawser reinforcements. I tried adding the bulwark frames, but found that gluing the small pieces of styrene to the fiberglass hull was difficult to do. So I lined the inside of the bulwarks with a layer of 0.020 inch styrene. I had to trim and fit the liner pieces to the complex curves. A little bit of putty was needed to hide the seams. Tomorrow I'll add the frames using styrene glue. That should go much more smoothly.

Hull split in tow

It's starting to look good after a coat of primer.

April 28, 2016

Quarterdeck Modifications

3D test of the new lifeboat launch appliance
I added the quarter deck tonight. Since my superstructure was bigger than the kit plans, I had to make the quarterdeck longer by 1.5 inches to make room for the freefall life boat. This extended the bow edge of  the quarter deck past the curve in the bulwark, so I added to notches to the quarter deck to bring the outside edges back aft. I will put stairs in these locations.   I hope the naval architects don't object too seriously to my mods.

I had to make a new free fall lifeboat appliance as the one that came with the kit one was now too long due to its shallow angle. I based  the lifeboat appliance on a Norsafe design as I was able to download its plans on-line. The photos show a paper and 3D mockup. I will made a more detailed version later.

Next step is to cut away the below waterline part of the hull and get it ready for priming.

Extended quarterdeck and notches.

Paper mock up of the new freefall lifeboat appliance
to check dimensions

April 25, 2016

Deck the hulls with sheets of styrene...

I started adding the decks to the ship. Since this is going to be a static model with the cargo covers closed, I made the deck supports from large pieces of 1/8 inch plywood and basswood strips. In retrospect, I probably should have cut a single piece for the deck supports, but this composite construction with basswood strips and plywood panels is very strong.

I encountered some serious gaps where the forecastle deck meets the hull. I filled the gaps with strips of styrene, then gap filling CA with baking soda. I sanded that down and then put on a skim coat of auto body putty. Once that dries I'll finish sanding.

Some serious gaps - filled with gap filling
CA,  baking soda and styrene strips
Skim coat of bondo

April 23, 2016

Double Dip Op Sessions

Mike Spoor and John Drye stopped by today, but at different times to operate the PoLA layout. Mike went first and had a full switch list of 31 cars to handle. Some of the cars are brand new and had never been used before. Most worked OK, but the bulkhead flat cars tended to derail. Mike tells me those are known for problems and  need more weight to operate better. A load of simulated wood would be an easy way to add weight. So I set them aside. They are very good looking cars.

JD operating the PoLA layout. He's just about to
 head his train back to staging.
After dinner (mom made fried calamari, Alicia made lobster mac & cheese, and I made the salad) John took at crack at the PoLA layout. I removed the bulkhead flats, leaving him with 29 cars to switch. He had a good time.  John said he felt that the PoLA layout was challenging to switch without being a switch puzzle. I was very gratified to hear that. He said this experience has helped convince him to build a similar scope 1950s era Pennsy theme switching layout in HO scale. His current home layout is an extensive N scale depiction of the PRR Horseshoe Curve. But it doesn't have a lot of switching. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

Sanding the fiberglass bulwarks while wearing a
respirator and working outside. It was
a very dusty and stinky job.
Using my dremel moto-tol and a cut-off wheel to cut
the freeing ports in the bulwarks.
While they were operating the layout, I was working on the hull of the general cargo ship. It is made of fiberglass. It was surprising soft and easy to sand. One tricky operation was cutting the freeing ports along the bulwarks. Freeing ports or scuppers are openings in ship sides or bulwarks, allowing for the draining of accumulated water from the decks. Green water can present a risk to stability if not drained in a timely matter, as it can be of considerable weight and induce a free surface effect.  I used my dremel tool on the pre-marked locations. But it was very difficult to get each one perfect. I thought about replacing the complete bulwark with a using a laser cut piece. We'll see how it looks once I add the deck. They look pretty good right now and John, who was watching, reminded me that perfect is the enemy of good.

I also repainted the wind dodger with a florescent orange. It seems like that is more common in the prototype photos I've been looking at. I had originally used florescent red.

April 20, 2016

Aquia Line on Model Railroader Video Plus

Still image from a MRVP promo
In a recent segment of Model Railroader Video Plus, David Popp mentioned that they will soon be showing a video feature on the Aquia Line. If you recall, I blogged about when Ben Lake and Kent Johnson visited the railroad last October and spent a day filming the layout. David says the video came out well in spite of some clips of my talking head.  It will be fun to see how they put the video together, as they always do a nice professional job. One does have to be a MRVP subscriber to view it so if you want to see it you must sign up.

April 19, 2016

The Super Structure

I am back to work on the Port of Los Angeles Layout after completing several other projects.

It's difficult to see flaws in the unpainted acrylic.
A coat of primer is  mandatory to spot
flaws and help fill in gaps.
The first task on the plate is to finish the model of the general cargo ship. I earlier had discussed the problem I had with the paint on the superstructure. I ended up building two more iterations of the superstructure. The final version uses laser cut acrylic plastic for the main walls and decks, strip styrene, and photo etched stanchions and stairs from Deans Marine. The stairs were very tricky to get just right. Look for a new product for Alkem Scale Models to simplify this tricky task.

Base color is white with a maroon deck
 and fluorescent red wind dodger.
The stairs were very tricky to get just right.

April 6, 2016

Virginia Central Annual Reports 1864 and 1865

I was looking through some of the Google books I have stored in my "Google Library" and came across the Annual Reports of the Virginia Central from 1864 and 1865.

They make interesting reading. According to the 1864 annual report, the Virginia Central  was able to keep running and make a tidy profit in 1864 in spite of numerous Union raids and resulting destruction.

 The 1865 report is surprisingly upbeat. Yes, it quickly covers the end of the Confederancy and the loss of the value in confederate bonds and paper money. But then it moves forward describing how the railroad plans to expand. I thought the following passages  were especially interesting.

The company had less than one hundred dollars in its treasury, after the fall of the Confederacy, being a remnant of gold procured for a specific purpose, and only about twenty miles of its road was available for producing revenue. In this state of things, they commenced, on the 21st of April, the Herculean task before them ; laborers and owners of materials had confidence : gradually as repairs were made, additional sections of the Road were brought into use, and on the 22d day of July, it was opened to Staunton, and shortly thereafter to the Western terminus.

No break in connections at the Potomac. 

Whilst the war has been the cause of an almost unbroken series of misfortunes to this company, yet there is one exception : For the greater dispatch of military operations, a Rail Road bridge was constructed over the Potomac during the war, which has supplied a most important link that was wanting in the chain of Rail Roads on the South and North sides of the Potomac. There is now a continuous line of Rail Road, of uniform gauge, between New York and Richmond, by this line. The repeated transfers from Rail Road cars to Steamboats, and from Steamboats to Rail Road cars, is a serious objection in the transportation of freight and passengers, and the time is not far distant, when this company will derive a most substantial benefit from the removal of these impediments. On the 23d of January, 1867, a period of sixteen months, the prohibition contained in the Charter of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Company, against this company giving through tickets in connection with Northern and Southern Roads will cease, when it must derive a most important advantage, both in saving of time and the comfort of passengers, from having an unbroken line of Rail Road between New York and Richmond. The company is now in the enjoyment of improved revenues from that cause ; besides the great United States mail, it is carrying the whole of Adams & Co.'s express matter, the mails and freight not being embraced in the monopoly : cars with Express freight now can run through from New York to Richmond, without transhipment (sic) The annual report.

 It should be noted that the USMRR constructed the bridge "over the Potomac" cited above.  I also found the phrase "great United States" mail is an interesting choice of words. 

The 1865 Annual Report really has an upbeat and forward facing outlook. 

March 28, 2016

Interview on Model Railcast Podcast 216

Switch district in North Las Vegas
We just got back from a great family vacation in southwest Utah. While we did a bunch of activities like hiking in lava tubes, climbing on petrified sand dunes, zig zagging up cliffs at Zion National park, and lots of golf, we hardly saw any trains. Except for about 30 minutes of railfanning North Las Vegas on the day we arrived, and two intermodals we saw on the way back to the airport, we didn't see a train for the whole week.

Just before we left, Tim Harrison interviewed me for the ModelRailcast podcast. We talked about my various projects, layouts and books. The audio track is available on itunes and at this link for non-itune users.

March 8, 2016

Overall view of the Alexandria waterfront diorama

This is an overall view of the diorama. The Virginia Locomotive and Car Works is on the far left. A coal wharf with canal boat is in the center, and the Pioneer Mills flour mill and grain elevator is on the right.   I used Photoshop to extend extreme sections  of the backdrop to cover the full width of the diorama in this low angle view.

Seeing this view makes me want to try it again in O scale.

March 6, 2016

A busy week

Finished Pioneer Mills Diorama

The past week was a busy time highlighted by my 60th birthday.
Veiled Nun, G. Croff

It started off with a evening visit to The National Gallery of Art. It's always fun to take time to visit the museums on Washington, DC mall.

The galleries in the East Building were mostly closed, though the atrium was open. I did note a trio of onlookers discussing Smith's "Die."  The "Die' is a 6-ft steel cube that the artist subcontracted to a local shop for fabrication. Once assembled, its rusty surface was hand rubbed with oil.   I feigned interest in the piece to listen to what the admirers said.  I was rewarded with a stream of  modern art babble worthy of Beetlejuice's Otho.

The Lackawanna Valley by George Innes
I could only take so much of that, so I wandered over to the west building. There I came across, and was especially impressed by, this bust of a veiled nun. The sculptor (I believe it was Guiseppe Croff) captured the gossamer veil in stone. Amazing.  But it wasn't rubbed in oil.

I always enjoy seeing the impressionists, but this time I seemed to gravitate to the 19th century landscapes. There even was a nice train painting, George Innes, "The Lackawanna Valley." I took another look at Winslow Homer's work. He is one of my favorite artists.

Bugeye schooner before restoration at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
On Wednesday, I took a road trip with my mom to celebrate my birthday. We went to the Delmarva peninsula to see the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum,  St Michaels, MD.  Special thanks to the museum staff, especially Paula, for the guided tour of the museum.  St Michaels is a charming town. I used to enjoy riding my bike there, but had not visited in nearly 20 years.
Charming home in St Michaels
Delmarva HO layout

Then we stopped at the Delmarva Model Railroad Club to see their layout.  While in Delmar, DE I spotted a NS engine idling.Later that evening I presented a talk to the club members and wives on the railroads of the civil war. They seemed to enjoy the talk and we had fun meeting the members and seeing their layout.Special thanks to John Huntzinger for inviting me.

Scott and the blast furnace

On the weekend I finished up the Alexandria Waterfront diorama in between two rounds of golf and 5 birdies.  I started taking the final photographs of the diorama before I deliver it later next week.

On Saturday, Scott Wahl stopped by to examine some of my steel mill models. Scott is a member of NV NTRAK. He is working on a home layout based partly on modules. Scott ended up buying the N scale blast furnace, coke works and some steel mill cars from me. I was very pleased to find an enthusiastic modeler that will put these models to good use. I am looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in his layout.

On Sunday, Nancy Griswold,  one AW's friends from law school,  toured the layout with my mom. Nancy made a home made sourdough bread and mom made a pear tart to wrap up the birthday celebration. I was interested in seeing Nancy's reaction to the layout as she is an accomplished artist.  She had some good comments, especially with regard to the detail on the layout.

February 28, 2016

Progress on the Alexandria waterfront diorama

This weekend I poured two layers of two-part resin "water" on the diorama. This is always a stress filled event because if you get the resin mixture wrong, you risk ruining the model. I am happy to report that it worked as planned. The resin is curing and is ready for the final placement of the boats and last layer of acrylic gel to create waves.

While the resin was curing I made several details including a box car under construction, wheel sets along side the loco works, the coal wharf crane, and 4 tipper wagons for the coal yard. One wagon has a mule pulling it, while the others are in reserve.

The canal boat is typical of the type used on the C&O canal. They were 90 feet long and 14 feet wide. They could carry over 100 tons of coal. The coal crane on the wharf is based on photos of similar devices on the US Government coal wharf taken during the ACW.

Lots more detail to go, but the project is almost done.

February 23, 2016

Model Railroads as Art?

 I recently came across this video essay by Robert Florczak on "Why Modern Art is So Bad." He eloquently summarizes exactly how I feel on the subject.

Potomac Creek on my ACW layout
But are model railroads art? Yes, I believe they can be. According to Florczak art should, "demand the highest standards of excellence, improve upon the work of previous masters, and aspire to the highest quality of work attainable."  These are goals that I and many other model railroaders try to attain.

Quinnimont in N Scale
Furthermore, Florczak says that the work should be, "profound, inspiring, and beautiful."

Profound - means showing great emotion, insight, and knowledge. Model railroads that use prototype scenes to tell a story about a space and time can easily attain that.

Inspiring - I know I am inspired when I visit a great model railroad.

A module from the FCSME club

Beautiful - some layouts are beautiful, even if they depict gritty urban or industrial subjects.

Here some examples that I believe show  art in model railroads.

Rob Spangler's backdrop

A antiqued image from my WWI layout

Paul Dolkos's Baltimore Harbor layout

February 22, 2016

Another view of Pioneer Mills

I was looking at the J.B. Clough collection of photos at the Huntington Digital Library. I came across a link to this image. I have a copy of this image that I got from a trip to the National Archives. In my version, the background is hard to see clearly.

My copy from NARA

Close up of the Huntington copy with some Photoshop processing to
enhance the background
In the Huntington copy, a clearer and wider view of the background can be seen. One can see the south and south east facades of the Pioneer Mills. Alas, the resolution is insufficient to provide any good details except that the wharves near the mill were chock full of sailing vessels. The US Army used the Pioneer Mills and the former loco works as storage houses. They must have also utilized the wharves for unloading ships.

It also appears the the barrel to the left of the leftmost tiller operator is smoking. That seems odd to me.

It's always fun to find new detail in these images.

February 21, 2016

Entering the home stretch

All the major pieces of the diorama are complete except for the canal coal boat.

I added the first coat of scenery and gave the water surface a second coat of gloss polyurethane.
Next step is to make the barge. Then I will add figures, barrels, wagons and assorted details. The final step will be to pour the two part resin water.

Matt and Jeff McGuirk
We also had visitors today from Richmond. Mike Garber, Mike Pulaski and Joshua Blay stopped by to check on the various projects. I was the third layout stop for them today as they first visited Marty McGuirk and then Paul Dolkos.

Speaking of Marty, last weekend he and two of this sons stopped by to visit the layout.

Mike Garber, Mike Pulaski and Josua Blay all with throttles inter hands. Look like a logjam at Falmouth

February 15, 2016

Locomotive Works and Wharves

  I made lots of progress on the diorama since the last post.

I finished the locomotive works structure. It is glued to the scenery base and is awaiting final details.
A look at the front of the loco works before
 installing in position

Next I made a large number of lumber stacks in various sizes. I laser cut the wood parts in layers and the assembled them to create the look of lumber that has not been stacked with machine precision.

I also made two smaller sheds that flank each side of Pioneer mills. One is brick and the other has wood siding.  Installing the brick shed made me realize that the backdrop on that side needed some adjustments. I scaled down the some of the backdrop buildings in Photoshop. Then I cut away the part of the backdrop that had to be redone and added the new artwork. The replacement worked very well. 

Loco works glued in place.

Painting the water bottom
At long last, I was ready to cut the terrain base and shape it. I cut the foam with a knife and then used a Surform rasp to shape it. Then I gave the surface a coat of Durhams Water Putty to fill in cracks. Once that was set I painted the base ground cover and the water surface. I also gave the water surface a coat of polyurethane clear gloss to seal the surface and any cracks for the planned two part resin pour. I still need to add the bulkheads along the waterfront.

Wharves are taking shape

This angle view will not be possible when the diorama is installed in the final position at the Lyceum.
The view up Duke Street. This is the view children will have when viewing the diorama. The stick coming from
the mill to the ship is a mock-up of the marine leg.I have not made it yet.

February 11, 2016

Wood Yard at Pioneer Mills

I have just about finished all the structures for the Pioneer Mills diorama. The last structures are the wharves and small two sheds that were adjacent to the mill. There are only two images that show this area and neither one shows the entire area. The first shows the rear walls of a wood shed and part of a low brick wall to the south of the mill building.

This next shot shows the area much later in the 1880s. It is cited in the Alexandria City study on page 22 of the Robinson Terminal Redevelopment document here.  Their caption says, "Backyard of Pioneer Mills, n.d. This circa 1880 photograph shows the houses at 310-306 South Union Street (on the left), James Green’s wood yard (center), the rear of the coopers shop with the kitchen addition removed, and a portion of the brick sheds (on right) southeast of the Pioneer Mills’ main building. (Photographer Unknown, Alexandria Library, Special Collections Branch)." It is not clear to me which building had the brick wall with the vertical slots.

The center house on the far left may be the only building in this image still
standing. Here is the current Google Street View of that house on the south side of Wolfe Street.

Alas, this is not a lot of information on which to base a model. So I plan to add small wooden and brick sheds south of the mill. Their designs will be based on other period buildings. The rest of the area will be open for wood and coal storage.