New Year :: Same Old Tobacco

First of all… Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had an enjoyable and safe time as you said goodbye to 2012 and welcomed in 2013.

(My wife and I took part in a wonderful Happy Hogmanay party at our favourite local Scottish pub, The Caledonian. The fun included pipers, fiddlers, delicious food, single malt and a raucous rendition of Auld Lang Syne.)

I’m not one for making resolutions – especially not for the hobby, since a hobby isn’t supposed to create extra pressures in one’s life. But this one should be fairly easy to keep so here goes:

This year, I will finish the tobacco field in St. Williams.

I already have a good start on this, but it seems like the field is taking forever. That’s because there’s quite a lot of work involved.

To create the field, I found some lovely HO scale kits for tobacco plants. They’re Busch 1221. Each kit includes 56 plants which cover a field of just 3-3/8″ square.

That’s a pretty tiny field for tobacco country. To cover a strip across the tracks from the future location of the tobacco sheds, I’m building 10 kits worth of plants. Yep – well over 500 plants. And since each plant has to be assembled from 10 pieces, that’s – well, that’s a whole lot of time at the bench. (Fortunately, it’s a relatively mess-free process using just a handful of tools and some CA, so I don’t have to hide from the rest of the household: I can work at the kitchen table and be sociable.)

I’ve found that building the plants in batches of 16 works best for me. It’s enough of an assembly line process that doing multiples goes a little faster and allows for CA to cure between each step.

For the most part, I follow the instructions. I start by cutting 16 crowns and 16 sets of small leaf castings from their sprues:
Tobacco Plants - Building the crowns photo TobaccoPlants-02.jpg

These must then be glued together to create the crown. A pair of fine tweezers helps – I use them to pick up the crown by the top and dip the bottom in a small dot of CA. With a leaf layer in my other hand, and good eye/hand coordination, I introduce the two pieces together and set them aside to dry. Repeat 15 more times.

The next step is to glue a short metal rod into the bottom of the crown assembly. This becomes the stalk of the plant. I pick up each crown assembly with tweezers, dip one end of the metal rod into a drop of CA, then attach the rod to the crown. When I’ve done this 16 times, my plants look like this:
Tobacco Plants - adding stalks photo TobaccoPlants-03.jpg

For the next step, I deviate from the directions. Busch would have me add three more layers of small leaves to each plant. I cut 48 small leaf groups from their sprues, arranged in 16 groups of three. Then, I rearrange the leaf layers so that I end up with eight groups of three, four groups of four, and four groups of two, as shown here:
Tobacco Plants - Small Leaf Layers photo TobaccoPlants-04.jpg

(I do it this way, instead of completely randomly, because I don’t want to get 3/4 of the way through the field and discover that I’ve run out of one size of leaf. I think the plants will look best if they’re fairly similar, but not identical.)

To add the layers, I use a sewing needle held in a pin vise to apply a drop of CA to the stem, just under the crown. I slide a leaf layer onto the stem. Add another drop of CA, add another layer. The plants now appear as shown at left in the photo below. At the right, I have trimmed 64 large leaf layers from their sprues. I’ve organized them into 16 batches of four to help me keep count, but after I have the pieces I need I’ll simply sweep them into a big pile and pull from it to add to the plants. The layers go on the same way as the earlier, smaller leaf clusters and it’s fairly obvious, as one adds layers, when to stop:
Tobacco Plants - Large Leaf Layers photo TobaccoPlants-05.jpg

The assembled tobacco plants, ready for planting, look like this:
Tobacco Plants - Ready to Plant photo TobaccoPlants-06.jpg

(The photo also shows my pin vise with needle. Very handy!)

The brown plastic “field” appears in some of the pictures. Sharp eyes will note I’ve inked an “X” across some of the holes. On each field square (which can hold 56 plants), I randomly cross out 5-7 holes. I won’t plant in these, so the field is not perfect.

When I have all of the plants attached to the field, I will have to airbrush some flat greens onto them to add a bit of variety to the colouring, which looks too uniform and to plastic (understandably, since that’s what they’re moulded in). I will then dry brush some tan on leaf edges at random to suggest a bit of drying out from the hot August sun. (The field will be almost, but not quite, ready to pick and cure.) Finally, I will have to sift some ground cover over those plastic fields and carefully glue it down. The missing plants will come in handy for that, as the spaces will allow me to insert eye-droppers full of dilute Weld Bond to flood the bases and secure the ground cover.

But that’s a task for later this year. I have built approximately 400 plants, but still have 150 or so to do. And that does not include the five kits I have set aside to add tobacco between the kilns and the fascia! The field awaits…
1stAnniversary-Staging photo FirstAnniversary-06.jpg

Stay tuned…

Crop Report

More Busch tobacco plant kits arrived in today’s mail, from the good folks at Scenic Express. I’m still building the last batch – better get at it!

And my order of corn stalks from JTT Scenery Products has been shipped, expedited (thank you!) – it might arrive by the end of this week, but more likely between Christmas and New Years. Still, I’ll have some holiday time to do some planting.

Photos to come, when the planting’s done!

A cornfield at St. Williams

While searching for something else at a local hobby shop, I came across some beautiful HO scale corn stalks from JTT Scenery Products. I bought five packages and planted them near the depot in St. Williams yesterday:
Cornfield at St. Williams photo Corn-JTT-01.jpg

They’re going to add a nice bit of height to the scene and help blend the layout into the backdrop. They’re pretty eye-catching, too:
The field has ears photo Corn-JTT-02.jpg

There’s no direct link to the corn stalks but they’re item number 95511 – the first item in the JTT Gardening Plants section of the website. They come in a package of 36 for $8.95 – or about 25 cents per stalk.

I’ve already emailed JTT to see if I can place a bulk order – as this photo of five packages in place on the layout makes clear…

JTT Corn photo Corn-JTT-03.jpg

…I’m going to need a lot more of them!

Scenery work (photos to come)

Just a quick update…

I slipped out to the hobby shop today and picked up some really nice corn stalks. They’re HO scale, by JTT (a division of Model Rectifier Corp), and they work great for S scale. I planted these in St. Williams and will post more on this, including photos, tomorrow.

Before heading out, I did some work on the layout with the static grass applicator – adding grass to the right of way from the water tank, through the Lynn Valley and St. Williams, to staging. It looks a lot better – more in keeping with my end-of-life branch line.

Tomorrow, when the glue is set, I’ll give the grass a good vacuuming to make sure everything’s standing up properly and remove any grass that didn’t stick. Then I’ll do some testing, to make sure trains can negoitate the grass: I’ll probably have to thin some of the thick patches between the rails. When everything is as it should be, I’ll post an update – with photos, of course!

First Tobacco

My prototype runs through Ontario’s Norfolk County – prime tobacco-growing country – so no layout representing the Port Rowan branch would be complete without paying homage to this important (if deadly) crop. My representation of St. Williams will include some tobacco kilns and tobacco fields.

Over the weekend, I started building tobacco plants using HO scale kits from Busch:
Tobacco Plants photo TobaccoPlants-01.jpg

So far, I’ve built about two kits’ worth. I have another eight kits to go – and six more kits on order. That’s a lot of model-building time – each kit has 56 plants, each of which has 10 pieces. That said, it’s fairly mindless modelling – I can build and plant a sprue of four plants in less than 15 minutes, I can do it while listening to music or in front of the television, and I can abandon the project at pretty much any point and come back to it when I have a few minutes. I’ll get them all built and planted – eventually…

Scenery blitz in St. Williams

It’s been a few days since my last blog updates, but that’s because I’ve been so busy doing things on the layout that I haven’t had time to write about them.

St. Williams has benefitted the most from this progress, as I transformed the terra foama and plywood terrain into farm fields and grass:
Moving House? photo HouseAtStW.jpg

St. Williams Scenery photo StW-Terrain-04.jpg

Carloads and crops photo Crops-02.jpg

I’ve also ballasted the track in St. Williams (and, in fact, through the Lynn Valley):
Switching St. Williams photo StW-Terrain-01.jpg

Next, I’ll airbrush the rails, then apply grass along the right of way itself to blend the ballast into the adjacent terrain. And a sharp eye will note I have not yet paved the road by the St. Williams depot, so that’s on the to-do list as well:
St. Williams station area photo StW-Terrain-03.jpg

(An even sharper eye will note there’s no driver in the yellow car – or in any other vehicles on the layout.)
Ghost at the wheel photo StW-Terrain-02.jpg

(That’s a job for another day, but I’ve added “S scale plastic figures suitable for chopping to fit vehicles” to my shopping list.)

There are a ton of details to add to the scenery – saplings and bushes for the meadow areas, more crop rows and tobacco fields for the farms. And trees, of course: Lots of trees. Plus, of course, structures.

But there’s very little bare foam and plywood left on the layout – just a bit around the buildings near the end of Port Rowan. And that’s a great feeling!

(As an aside, I’m warming to the idea of adding the house at St. Williams, about which I’ve written elsewhere on this blog. It makes even more sense now that I’ve defined the fields.)

Crop Rows

What on earth did we do before miniNatur?

For those who have been living under a zip-textured rock, miniNatur is a German brand of wonderful scenery materials – such as the late summer crop rows that I’ve planted in one of the fields at St. Williams:
Carloads and crops photo Crops-02.jpg

Here’s a close-up of the field (so fresh that the glue is still drying):
Crop rows at St. Williams photo Crops-01.jpg

For this field, I used three packages of Late Summer Soy Beans & Potato Rows, which I purchased at a local hobby shop. (Scenic Express sells them online, here.) I did my best to line up them in neat rows across uneven ground – and this is a case where the photographs do not do the product justice. The field looks even better in person. I’ll be buying more.