Sunday, July 14, 2024

East Branch Scenery Updates

A little bit of Pacific Northwest "Atmosphere"

In my last post I mentioned that the scenery on the East Branch staging had become a series of stumbling blocks that morphed into a gumption trap. Over the last week or so I have tried to work through them.

One area that had been bothering me was the road towards the east end of the East Branch. I had glued down cork sections for the road, but I was not really happy with them. As seen in the photo I applied a first layer of wallboard mud when I was adding sculptamold to the painted plywood last month. Even after sanding and painting with gray craft paint, I still was not pleased with how it looked. Trimming a too wide section of the curve was a step in the right direction. Another layer of joint compound, sanding, and painting . . . warmer, but not there yet.

Well, it was time for the scenery material du jour: sanded grout. I have been experimenting with sanded grout as a first layer, combing it with various other materials, and preparing a short clinic on using it. Here, I mixed up a dry batch of mainly gray sanded grout and some gray fine ballast from Woodland Scenics and used my now standard approach: white glue, grout mixture tapped from a spoon, isopropyl alcohol, and scenic cement. One issue with the cork road surface was the dip where the cork ended. I was able to disguise that with the grout mixture. While it is still not perfect, I am satisfied with the texture here on this gravel road.

As I mentioned before, I have been applying sanded grout as a first layer on a lot of the East Branch sceniced staging. In this photo I am applying a second layer over an area that appeared "too" soupy after the scenic cement was applied. Particularly when this second layer is a subtly different mix of grout colors or additives, this adds a variety of color and texture without impacting the overall unity of the scene. This is one of the kinds of scenic techniques that approach using elements and principles of art that Lance Mindheim discusses in his book, Model Railroading as Art. 

Two of the goals that I have for building this model railroad are to strive for the model railroad to function as a three dimensional art form and to capture the "atmosphere" of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, it is a model railroad and the trains are important, but maybe they aren't the top priority for me that they may be for some others.

With the goal of capturing some atmosphere, I tackled one area of the berm between the three dimensional benchtop and the backdrop. It already had a first layer of sanded grout applied, and I wanted to attempt to model a section of clearcut there. Using Google images I looked at a number of photos of clearcuts. I had some plaster stump moldings on hand and ordered some more. Using the older ones, I stained them with a dark gray wash and started arranging them in place. Once I was happy with their placement, I used some of my dry grout mixture to level their bases. In the photo one can see this leveling process. 

Having been exploring the look of clearcuts, I decided to expand on my first layer approach and move this scene into a more finished state. I explored using a spray/mister bottle to apply the alcohol wetting agent. Having noticed stray sticks of various sizes abandoned among the stumps in the photos, along with rocks and some greenery, that is what I tried to model. I had a box of grayish (I think oregano) branches that I had collected from our garden in Meadville, and I got into my tub of scenery materials to find some static grass clumps and other foliage. Placing them on the damp grout, I then applied scenic cement.  The end results can be seen in the opening photo of this post. 

Having gotten started, I am enjoying the process. Next up, I envision the clearcut area doubling, exploring with static grass mats and static grass applicator, getting into my box of trees, and ballasting the track. I just watched a couple of videos of model railroaders stating that having one section of completed scenery inspired them to be enthused about their railroad. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

What's Been Happening On the Railroad: Stumbling Blocks or Gumption Traps?

It has been over a month since I last posted, Yikes! I shouldn't get too down on myself; it is somewhat expected that summer is a slow season for model railroading. I have done a few things, just not the steady progress that I had laid out for myself. Some slow progress has continued on the Curtis Cannery roof-top water tower, but I hit a small stumbling block. I tidied up the railroad, cleaned track, and did some solo operations, but I hit a bit of a stumbling block. (Do we sense a theme here?) Just last week I spent some time in the basement because it was the only cool part of the house during our week long heat wave. While there, I returned to scenery on the East Branch, which had been stymied by, wait for it, a series of stumbling blocks.

While my original drawings for the water tower had a different approach, I changed the plan at the last minute to the 12' X12' posts all aligned as straight and plumb verticals with a 90 degree angle at the base instead of many of the posts in the bents having a slight angle. I saw this approach with all straight posts and an angled board added at the end of the bent in a coal trestle somewhere, but I don't remember where. I may be breaking the "don't model from models" rule here. At any rate, I drew over my original drawing, cut and stained the parts, and went ahead starting to glue up the bents with braces as seen in the photo. 

Avoiding the heat working outside on another day, I went down to the workbench in the basement and wrapped up the rest of the braces and slanted end boards. After the glue was dry, I started brainstorming how to tie the joists holding the tank up, the bents, and the tank itself together. I was able to accurately glue the bents together by lining the parts up on the waxed paper covered drawing. Attempting to balance the 6" X 12" joists and bents in place with my shaky hands was unsuccessful as a trial of the new process. This was the stumbling block I mentioned earlier. At first I thought I would have to design a fixture to hold the joists in position and then glue the bents in place upside down. Now I am thinking that an easier approach is to glue the central joists in position at the bottom of the tank with the tank upside down before gluing the bents in place. At least I now have a plan, and I can move forward with cutting the joists to length and staining them. 

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I spent a couple of afternoons in the basement with solo operations. I am experimenting with the notion of having the car cards at an agent's desk that I discussed here and here earlier this spring. Clearing off the layout and cleaning track and loco wheels went fine. I arranged some cars in place and made up the first switchlist. After that I ran a first session that was enjoyable, lasted a little over an hour, and suggested that "model railroading is fun." But then, for the next session, the return of the first session's turn, I had too many cars in the East Branch yard, too many destinations, too many cars to pick up at the NP interchange. And worst of all, too much in my head moving back and forth from the railroad to the agent's desk. Model railroading was NOT fun. Well, over the last month, Lance Mindheim has posted links to some Switching Operations 101 videos on his YouTube channel and discussed solo operations on his blog. After considering his suggestions, my takeaway is to simplify and slow down, instead of trying to jam the operations plan of the whole completed 4th Subdivision into this one location and small yard. 

I had hit several stumbling blocks (actually, a full on gumption trap!) earlier this year on the East Branch staging. Looking back, this is probably why I started the cannery project. I was unhappy with how several parts of this temporary staging were turning out. (They all appear in this photo from February.) I tried justifying the obvious seam between two sections of sky panels as "deal with it, it's just temporary." Despite that, it bothers me every time I notice it, and I don't want to finish painting the tree line there because of it. On the aisle side of the module I had "scalloped" the fascia that I had installed after carving out some of the foam to create some three-dimensionality to the foam tabletop. I also had glued in a cork base for a road at the far end of the scene. I worried that I was in a "can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" situation, but didn't want to start over, so I ground to a halt.

Last week, during the worst of our heat/humidity wave, I bit the bullet and mixed up some Sculptamold. I applied it along the edge of the fascia, hoping to emphasize some irregular natural ground surface and deemphasize the too regular scallop I had cut into the fascia. After painting with my standard brown color, I was satisfied that it had mostly worked. I also went ahead and applied some wall board mud to the cork road base. After painting that a gray color, I am still not happy with it. However, I can see what to do next to correct that, rather than worried I will make it worse and not willing to do anything. 

At this point, I would say that I have possible solutions to most of my stumbling blocks, so that I can move forward and not be a victim of multiple gumption traps. We still have a lot of yard/garden projects to complete, but the railroad in the basement feels more like a place I want to go, a mental respite not a chore.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Curtis Cannery -- Part 3


While work on the railroad has slowed down dramatically, it has not come to a complete standstill. Yardwork, family gatherings, and medical appointments all gathered into the same time frame. Despite not working very steadily, I have made some progress though on the cannery project. As seen in the opening photo, I did complete the loading dock for the brick building, now known as "Building #1."

Although I did a bit of experimenting with the wood block structures, mainly I have been working on the water tower intended for the roof of Building #1. I did a bit of internet sleuthing, finding a number of rooftop water tower images and an instruction video on with Steve Otte on scratchbuilding a wooden water tower. As seen in this photo, I started the tank using a plastic Scotch tape core and a section of a toilet paper roll core. After cutting the cardboard tube to length and slicing it to narrow its width, I used double stick tape to secure the plastic core to the interior of the cardboard tube. Then I hit a bit of a gumption trap. I thought I had some thin balsa wood sheets to cut into circles for the top and bottom of the tank, but they were thicker and sturdier basswood. So I ordered some balsa from Amazon. I could have used cardboard, but I have found that the humidity variations in the basement do not treat thin cardboard very well. (Hmm, I wonder how that flimsy toilet paper tube will hold up?)

After the balsa top and bottom were successfully glued to the tube and allowed to dry under weight, the next step was to side the tank with scale 3" X 12" stripwood planks. After cutting them to length on the Northwest Chopper, staining them with Hunterline "Driftwood," and allowing them to dry, I started gluing them in place with yellow carpenter's glue. My hope is that by gluing the stripwood to the balsa top and bottom disks, the tank cylinder will hold up to the humidity shifts in the train room. Later I intend to use Steve Otte's approach to using jeweler's wire for the water tank bands, but for now it was time to move on. 

Just within the last few days, I went ahead and sketched up and then inked in scale drawings of the base for the water tower to be located on the roof of Building #1. The base will consist of four bents made up of scale 12" X 12" timbers and then probably 6" X 12" joists. The joists are seen penciled on the upper left projection in the drawing. My next steps will include cutting and staining the stripwood before covering the drawing with wax paper and using it as a template for gluing the bents together. I may decide to add braces and nut bolt washer castings; we will see how much detail I am motivated to add in addition to  the bands, building the tower roof, and adding a ladder. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Curtis Cannery Continued

Since my last post I have continued to work on the main parts of the cannery, starting with the Walthers background kit and some blocks of wood. Two friends from the Alleghany Western Division influenced me here. Dick Bradley sent me an email about my last post suggesting that he wasn't sure about the proportions of the warehouse size to the main cannery building. In his view the adjacent warehouse appears too large compared to the main structure. While the size of the brick portion of the main structure is settled with my choice of kit to kitbash, I did increase the size of the wooden portion. If after the main portion is completed I agree that the warehouse is too large, I may change it. My criticism of it is not it's size, but that it is one of the ubiquitous Walthers kits that everyone recognizes as a model railroad building. Bill Schopf, also from my old division, popularized using wooden blocks as the core of models in several clinics when I was still in Division 12 of the MCR. While I haven't decided exactly how the scratchbuilt structure portions will come together, I am pretty sure of the size and shape depicted by the wooden blocks depicted here. After cutting the two blocks I started on the brick portion of the cannery.

My first step was to make a few adjustments to the Arrowhead Ale background kit to increase the depth of the building. As I was planning to scratchbuild a wood loading dock I cut off that portion of the supplied plastic base. I also cut out a portion of an extra wall piece included in the kit to model the deeper exposed end. For the other end, I cut a section of plain styrene sheet to match the depth. I cut some strip styrene to extend the base under the deeper sides. Having a supply of various sizes of styrene on hand made the fitting of kitbashed parts easier than if I had to order online or drive for hours to shop at the nearest brick and mortar train/hobby store. 

After assembling the building with Bondene, the next step was painting. Heading out to the garage, I sprayed the walls with a gray rattle can primer. At the same time I removed the doors and windows from the sprue and mounted them with blue painter's tape on a paint stick before spraying them with a green rattle can primer. After the building had dried overnight, I started painting the brick portions with three or four different red and brown craft paints over the gray primer with a small piece of natural sponge. It looks like a mottled mess until several coats have been sponged on. I also painted some of the individual blocks of the foundation with a mix of gray and tan craft paints. I applied Vallejo's dark gray wash as a control coat and mortar color to the bricks and foundation. 

Once the paint had all dried and set up, I glued the door and window castings in place. The one finished side that I had scavenged from the extra casting had several issues. The appropriate door casting with a transom was not included, so I ended up using one without a transom and boarding up the gap with strip wood. Also, because the two upper windows at that end were aligned with the roof, I trimmed some brick wall scrap to fill those openings. I then measured and cut a heavy piece of sheet styrene for the roof, sprayed it with the gray primer, and glued it into place. As seen in the photo, I made sure that it was square and braced it with some heavy strip styrene to ensure that this portion of the building was stabile in spite of being a three-sided flat.

This photo shows the brick portion of the cannery in place as it currently stands. I have a couple of scratchbuilt additions to add: the wooden loading dock, as well as a water tank and a stair bulkhead on the roof. Also, the roof needs some kind of "texture" beyond the paint. The windows need glazing, and I need to decide if I will add any lighting to this portion of the building. Finally, in looking at the photos, I see the need for some touch up of the trim/concrete sills.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Nooksack Structures - The Cannery

Sketch of possible cannery at Nooksack

So, I have started a new project, planning and collecting information and materials for the proposed cannery at Nooksack. Last week I started sketching some ideas during the Thursday modeling Zoom I attend, and since then I inked it in and started some mockups. Some background: Everson, Washington had a fruit and vegetable cannery called the C. S. Kale Canning Company. I am relocating it to nearby Nooksack and renaming it the Curtis Canning Company. It and other Whatcom County canneries canned beans, beets, carrots, raspberries, pears, cherries, and in the 1950s a lot of green peas. My intension is for it to be a major industry for the 4th subdivision, definitely the largest in Nooksack. 

In this snapshot from today, some mockups tentatively locate parts of the cannery. Starting from the left is a ubiquitous Walthers warehouse, the one building already constructed. Next is a paper mockup of parts from the Walthers Arrowhead Ale background kit. Without kitbashing, it is not deep enough, but by using an extra wall part included in one of the sprues I can make it work. I plan to scratchbuild a wooden loading dock instead of using the plastic one from the kit. I may also scratchbuild a water tank for the roof. Moving to the right or to the east, I have a couple of scraps of wood and my team track dock sort of suggesting the scratchbuilt section seen in the initial sketch. That section needs more planning and  a cardboard mockup.

In this photo, I have a cardboard mockup of a possible additional building located beyond the boiler house drawn in the original sketch. I have DPM modular parts for the boiler house, so it could be started at any time. I have several street view photos of the Carnation plant (that is still standing) from Everson that I may use to create a background photo flat as seen approximated here. If I do, I plan to attempt a couple of techniques from Paul Dolkos: 3D visual foils on either side and layering the photo on matboard. Testing with the NMRA gauge for clearance along the track is critical as I build mockups or buildings. I have ordered the Juniper Freight House kit from Fos Scale Models, thinking it will fit on the other side of the spur, perhaps near where the gauge is sitting in the photo. 

To move beyond some scraps of wood, cut out paper photocopies, and cardboard mockups in a reassonable amount of time, I need to modify my modeling practice. Some possibilities include:
  • Focus on this project
  • Daily time - a little bit every day
  • Maybe more than a little bit - an hour?