August 1, 2018

Viaduct? Why not?

Chooch Stones for the viaduct walls
This project has been a real quacker. I finished adding the stone walls to the viaducts on my new modules.  I used Chooch flexible vinyl sheets for the stone walls, as they were just about perfect size for this project. The cap stones are carved basswood. It took several iterations of materials to get the right height of the road bed. One of the problems with using pink foam is that the thickness is not uniform over the whole sheet. So you have to take measures to level it out.

I painted the stone with black acrylic primer. I did some quick dry brushing with gray, but they will require a little more painting to get the colors right.

This is what the stone viaduct looks like now. 

This is starting to look like something other than a wooden table

July 23, 2018

Ten pounds in a five pound sack

Wow, this may be the longest I have gone between posts on this blog. Rest assured, lots of stuff is going on even if the USMRR is in a bit off a hiatus.

First, an observation. I have now been retired from my full time job for about 4 months. It is a great to have finally the freedom to pursue what I like, but real life does get in the way. Taking care of an elderly parent, catching up on deferred maintenance on the house, trying to maintain a semblance of physical fitness, and accommodating my wife's obsession to play golf,  all take up time. Also, I have observed a tendency to just goof off more. When I had a full time job, I had to be more organized and devoted to my hobby tasks, or nothing would  have gotten done. You know the old saying, if you want something done ask a busy person to do it.

With more free time, I have been taking it a bit easy. And it feels good.  I've been playing some video games (well mostly one game, Diablo 3),  enjoying my sports car (and by enjoying I mean washing and waxing), traveling, and even, gasp, watching TV (I am a sucker for those hot rod shows on Velocity channel - somehow we got Direct TV bundled when I upgraded my iPhone on AT&T. We hadn't had cable TV for 20 years!)

Work on the new book is progressing, though it is probably going to be late. The module project is now located in my basement crew lounge, surrounded by the Port of Los Angeles layout.  That puts a crimp on operating PoLA. Work is progressing slowly, and I need to accelerate that, but... see the blog post title. If all goes well, I'll be displaying the module at MARPM (see below).

In addition to the book, I have finally restarted writing articles for the model railroad magazines again. Hopefully, they will get in the magazine publishing pipeline soon.

The 2018 Middle Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet (MARPM) is less than 60 days away. I have been involved in running the event, as my business, Alkem Scale Models, is the primary sponsor. We have a great event lined up.

Have you looked at the clinics that the MARPM is planning this year? If not, then I suggest you do so, because you will find it is a top notch line up of accomplished modelers, professional railroaders, well known authors, and editors from the model railroad press. See this link for more information.

We will also be offering op sessions and open house layout tours to some outstanding model railroads. See this link for a list.

There will be door prizes, social hours and lots of models on display.   The MARPM discounted room rate at the BWI Double Tree offer expires on August 21st, 2018. We recommend you act now if you want to take advantage of our highly discounted room rate of $104 per night plus tax, which includes a full breakfast for 2 per room per day, free parking, and many other amenities that a first class hotel offers. There is a link to reserve a room at the hotel on our web site.

June 23, 2018

Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia

The past few days have  been super busy. It started with a visit to Paul Dolkos's layout. He wanted to confer on some ideas for his back drop. While I was there I got to admire the completed pier shed that I helped build. Paul added the cargo masts to the roof and completed the rest of the details. I had previously cut many of the structure parts on my laser for him. It's always a treat to visit Paul's layout.
Tak and Jennifer in my general costume.

 Later that day my brother Rob,  his wife, Terry, and their daughter, Jennifer, arrived. They had a lot of fun running trains on the layout and doing some cos-play in my general's costume.

On Friday, Dr. Tak, one of Rob's friends from his days working with  the Japanese Space Agency, also visited. Tak really enjoyed the trains, though he is not a model railroader himself.

Jennifer and I also did a Facebook live video of her operating the Aquia Line. That was an interesting experience. We had about 100 people watching live by the end.

Terry tries on the frock coat

Paxton and Brad on the Aquia Line

On Saturday the visits continued. Brad Trencamp brought his nephew Paxton, to see and operate the layout. Paxton got to run trains on the Aquia Line and PoLA.

Brad giving Paxton hand signals on PoLA.

Andy, Bob and Bill (l to R) 

Later, Bill and Andy Sparkmon and their friend Bob Jackson, from Baltimore, arrived to visit the layouts. Bill is an old friend from my C&O Modeling days. He used to live near Pratt, WV on the C&O mainline near Handley. Bill was an excellent source of prototype information on the C&O. It was great to reconnect with them.

Finally, John Drye arrived to help me work on the modules. I had previously decided to shorten the length of  the modules by a foot each.  We joked, in true double speak way, that they were always going to be 4-feet. We have the plans to prove it. 

So John helped me do the job. It was a easy to do using my track saw and associated track.  The new modules are two feet shorter overall, but will fit much better in the space available.  The  track plan will be simplified a bit, but still captures the essence of the scene.

June 20, 2018

The Gainesville Mafia

New gooseneck lights soon to be available from Alkem Scale Models

Mat, Pete and John by Pete's engine terminal
 I took a trip west today to visit with Pete LaGuardia, Mat Thompson and John Swanson, the ringleaders of the  "Gainesville Mafia." Gainesville is a distant suburb of Washington, DC which has attracted a surprisedly large number of model railroaders in our region. The combination of more affordable new housing with large basements seem to be the key factors.

All three of them have large operating layouts.

New paper mill on Mat's layout
First stop was at Pete's house to see his layout and pick up some new products for Alkem Scale Models. These are gooseneck lights that will be available for sale on as soon as I can get some installed and an instruction sheet made up. (see photo above). Pete's layout is freelanced based loosely on a location in Missouri as he features NYC, UP, and ATSF passenger trains. I got to run a NYC 20th Century Limited passenger while there.

Then we stopped by Mat's Oregon Coast layout to see the new areas he has developed in the back room. I hadn't been to his layout in several years. Mat's layout is nearly finished, highly detailed and has several waterfront scenes (much to my delight).

John stands next to his layout command station
John's Pennsy layout is relatively new. He said he had been working on it for 18 months. His focus is electronics and operations. He has all kinds of cool gadgets running on his layout including tablets to DCC and locomotive control,  and operating uncoupling magnets.

After lunch, I drove to Blue Ridge Summit to pick up supplies for my latest module project. Both Bonnie and Brian were there and it was fun to catch up with them on news, as well as to shop in their well stocked store. It's probably one of the best in the US.

Unfortunately, I got stuck in a massive traffic jam on my way home due to a fatal accident on the Wilson Bridge. Although I did not have to cross that bridge, the spill over traffic caused congestion all over the Capital region. Fortunately, I made it home safe, although delayed by an hour and half. 

June 19, 2018

Back on the Chain Gang

RJ Corma HQ in Lexington, KY
 I am back in Virginia after several weeks of travel to various spots around the U.S.  The first was a week long road trip to Pikeville, Kentucky for my father-in-law's final commitment ceremony. Along the way we visited my son in Lexington, KY.

The focus of the trip was golf and family  events, so not too much time for rail fanning. Nonetheless, I managed to sneak in a couple photos of rail scenes we spotted on the way. 

Wooden C&O Caboose in Prestonburg, KY

View of the NS yard in Williamson, WV as we speed by - no time to stop according to CINCHOUSE (aka Alicia)
After a few days home to catch up on chores, I headed to Denver for 10 days to visit my daughter and son-in-law. Danica and I then went on a 7 day road trip to visit several western states, especially the last 3 continental states I had not been in. They were Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Along the way we stopped at various obscure and interesting places, especially Mount Rushmore, Beartooth Pass, Fantasy Canyon, and  Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  See the video at the bottom of the post for a summary of the trip.
Pusher on a east bound coal train into Alliance, NE.
We saw some rail action on the trip, but again our focus was not on rail fanning. Yellowstone was spectacular, as was the Grand Tetons.

After Grand Teton NP, we drove to Utah and stayed for two nights with Brian and Michelle Brendel. One full day was a work day on Brian's N Scale CSX Mountain Sub layout.

Brian had a full do list for me to work on. I got almost all the tasks done, plus a few others not on the list in 14 hours of work. That evening, the Friday Night Group showed up and had an amazingly productive work session. A few more sessions like that and Brian will be able to run trains, now all he had to do is lay some track.

Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad
(RCPE) train in Rapid City, SD
Working on disguising the N&W Wye track at Waynesboro
Brian briefing me on my do
list for the day. I got all but one
done, plus a few extra tasks,

Steve Blodget carving rocks on Jackson River

Danica helping Brian install hills at Panther Gap. Somehow I got blamed for Brian's head wound. 

May 21, 2018

Module Frames Done

The module frames are done. John Drye helped me move them to the basement where I will continue to work on them. The garage is back to being a car storage room. It's a tight squeeze, but they do fit in my basement.

John posed by the modules at the lower height. We then changed the the module height to 50 inches.  The higher elevation allows me to push my portable Craftsman cart under the modules.

Note that the plywood surface is the street level. The tracks will be on an elevated stone viaduct abut 3.75 inches above the plywood surface.

Then I cut some foam core to mock up the main structure on the right side module, which will be a brick warehouse. The  warehouse  will be 24 inches along the track, while the back side angles for about 34 inches. I will have to truncate it to fit on the module.

Four Men and a Trebuchet

This was a crazy busy weekend. My wife has commented that since I retired I am actually getting less sleep than when I was working. I think she is right.

Now that's a wood shop - Colonial Hardwoods, Springfield VA.
The weekend actually started on Wednesday when I bought a car load of plywood at Colonial Hardwood, in Springfield, Va. This is a specialty lumber yard with a complete wood shop. I bought a total of 8 sheets of 5x5 Baltic Birch plywood. They ripped the 3/4 inch thick sheets into over 100 pieces  of 1.5 inch and 3 inch wide by 60 inch long strips, and the ¼ inch into 8 plywood tops.

About $450 of ripped Baltic Birch
These would be used to build modules for Marty McGuirk, John Drye and myself. The excess wood would be used in constructing Marty's home layout. Marty's module is a interim project.  He will be building a module to go along with the two that I am building for my book. John Drye is also building some modules, but these are a stand alone project that he wants to do. All these modules will be in HO scale and share a PRR theme, though JD's are not in the same locale as the other three.

Felix cutting plywood on 10-ft panel saw
Since the lumber yard used a panel saw to cut the strips, I did some checking at home to make sure all long edges of the strips were parallel. As the cutting progresses, the panel stock got smaller, so the chance for the panel tilting out of square was greater. Turns out that only 5 of the strips were off from about a 1/8 to ¼ inch. I trimmed these using my  track saw.

Michael Spoor (with his Army haircut) helps build the first
Friday evening Michael Spoor visited and he helped me build the first module base. It was 30 by 60 inches.
Andy uses a drill for his Trebuchet

Then, a diversion on Saturday. I spent most of the afternoon and evening helping a high school student build a trebuchet model for a science class. He did much of the work under my guidance. He did not have much experience with tools, so it was a good learning experience for him. And yes, we did get it to work, though it might not set any records.

I also cut some parts on the laser for a custom structure.

Mass Production - I cut the strips to length and Marty drilled the pocket holes. You can see some
completed frames to the left bottom of the image.
On Sunday Marty and JD arrived and we had a extended work session. We built 4 more bases and added legs to the first. We couldn't do all the legs as we didn't have the necessary hardware. We assembled the frames with different techniques. The first was to build a square frame with cross members and then attach the top. The second method was to build the frame directly to the plywood top once we insured that the top was square and the proper length. The latter was a bit easier to do.  I'll be covering the building techniques in my next book.

On Sunday evening my mom made for us dinner including a delicious blueberry pie.

May 13, 2018

Modified Extended Links for Prototypical Operation

The recent episodes where operators were poling cars on my railroad convinced me that I needed to do something about the extended links on my locos. Up to now, I had a rule in the operator's instructions that prohibited the use of the extended links. However, the USMRR Aquia Line, and railroads in general in this era, used the extended links on the pilot beams routinely for switching. To be true to prototype, I needed to have operating extended links on the front pilots.
New link on Fury

The problem with my model locos is that the extended links did not swing left and right enough to operate reliably on my railroad. The clevis and pintle of the stock models were true scale size. While they looked great they didn't allow reliable operation. Furthermore, the link of Fury had disappeared. So that was the first modified link I built. I used a piece of 0.032 inch phosphor bronze rod with parts made from 0.010 inch stainless steel parts left over from one of my photo etched frets.
I was able to use the existing pintle on the pilot beam, I just had to drill out the existing hole to accept a .015 inch phosphor bronze rod. The design gave me adequate left and right swing.

New link on Fury showing how it
connects to a freight car
On Haupt, and Whiton I was able to use the existing links. I just had to modify the hole for the coupler pin by drilling it with a 1/16th inch bit and I drilled out the pintle and clevis to accept the 0.015 inch rod.  On McCallum, the clevis had a different design. All I had to do was bend the clevis jaws by using my fingers to achieve adequate swing.

The video above shows the new extended links in operation. These new links will improve the operational flexibility on my layout allowing operators to switch from both ends of the engines. This will also make the layout operate in a more prototypical manner. The only caveat will be when pushing long cuts of cars off the nose. We will have to do more testing to find the limit, but initial tests show 6 cars is not a problem.

May 11, 2018

Model Railroads and Art: Paintings as Inspiration

Tuschman's Photo
Edward Hopper's Original
I recently came across the work of photographer Richard Tuschman. He did a series of photos that were inspired by American Artist Edward Hopper. Here you can compare Tuschman's photo  to  Hopper's original "Hotel by a Railroad."

I like Hopper's work. It has is what I call near photo realism, but usually spare and stark. He really focused on painting sunlight and shadow. Tuschman's photos capture Hopper's style especially the use of light. I find it interesting that Tuschman uses doll house miniatures in creating some of his work. I recommend you take a look at his website (the link is here and above). His work with dollhouses is also intriguing. See his website for more.

Armstrong's model above and Hopper's painting below.
Photo from the late Carl  Ardent's web site

Hopper has inspired many model railroaders to recreate his scenes. It's understandable since Hopper painted many images that had a railroad theme or included a railroad as part of the composition. Perhaps the most famous modeler inspired by Hopper was the late John Armstrong, who built a O scale model of the cafe depicted in Hoppers "Nighthawks" painting.

To get the best comparison between Armstrong's model and painting, one needed to make sure the lights in the cafe model were on while the  room lights were off. A casual visitor to the layout could not get the right lighting in a snapshot.

Another great example of painting inspiring a model railroad is John Ott's "9:45 Accommodation." In this case, Ott's specific objective was to replicate a  E.L. Henry's 1867 painting.  Check out his website to see how well he did. You'll be amazed.

In my Aquia line layout, I've been using prototype photos as inspiration. Once I get the layout more complete, perhaps I will go back and try to replicate some scenes from famous paintings. Winslow Homer has several potential scenes that could be inspiration.

2018 Railway Modelers Meet of British Columbia Wrap Up

We are back home after a week in British Columbia that included attending the 2018 Railway Modelers Meet of British Columbia. The meet was a lot of fun. We managed to add in some golf, gardens, hiking, and rail fanning around the meet. For a video summary of the whole week see this link.

Just one of the beautiful scenes on Mark Dance's layout
Mike Chandler and his gorgeous layout
 Our trip started with a ferry ride to Vancouver island where we stayed in beautiful Victoria. After a few days on Vancouver Island, we returned to Vancouver to operate on Mark Dance's N scale Columbia and Western layout. Due to a hiccup at the hotel, we arrived a bit late to the op session. Thus, I was assigned the task of switching the isolated branch in the mushroom portion of the layout. This branch is served by a car float, and I got to switch it. It was a lot of fun. Mark's layout is chock full of interesting ideas and beautiful scenes.

Afterwards we got to visit Gary Hinshaw's N Scale Tehachapi Loop layout and Mike Chandler's freelanced HO scale rocky mountain railroad. Mike's wiring is just a impressive as the structures and scenery on the layout. There were other layouts open for tours, but we had to skip them to get some rest.
(L to R) John Socia-Lehoia, me, Gary Hinshaw,
& Mark Danceat Gary's N Scale layout

Blog readers (L to R) Ken Rutherford, Greg Kennelly
& Rick Lord
More blog readers (L to R) Rene Gourley, Steve Starke,
Scott  Lamoureux, John Socia-Lahoia
For me, the meet kicked off Saturday morning by presenting my clinic "Down to the Sea in Trains" twice in quick succession. The clinics were well attended. I also got to meet several blog readers (see photos), which was a treat.

I also attended several excellent talks during the rest of the meet. Scott Lamoureux's talk on how he modeled the Cisco Bridge area of the Fraser River Canyon in N scale really impressed me. His small layout  was featured in the May 2017 issue of Model Railroader magazine, however the article focused on the bridge construction and didn't show off much of Scott's incredible scenery work. The layout is not only beautiful to look at, but it depicts the geological features with high fidelity. His layout deserves more coverage in the national hobby press.

On Sunday I presented the keynote talk on how I am using high-tech techniques to model the 19th century Aquia Line.  It was fun to discuss this topic with a group of mostly Canadian citizens. They had a lot of interesting questions.

Rene Gourley thanks me for presenting the keynote talk
There appeared to be a lot of interest in the Civil War. Steve Starke, an N scale modeler who now lives on Vancouver Island,  brought an N scale diorama to the meet. He also plans to add a civil war scene to his N scale layout.

The model room had a nice display of models, including Steve's diorama and a cool model of a rail ferry.

Steve Starke's N Scale ACW diorama