A shout-out to you! (And you! And you! And especially you!)

Two of the most rewarding things about writing this blog are how many people are reading it – and how many of you are commenting on my postings.

So, to all of you, a big thank you.

And a second big thank you to those of you who have taken the time to provide feedback, additional information, constructive criticism or suggestions, error correction and so on. It’s safe to say I always feel that this blog is a worthwhile and fun exercise (and I never feel like this):
Blog Comments photo BlogComments_zps48edac14.jpg

I’m glad I do this. I’m glad you seem to enjoy it and even, from time to time, get something from it. So, thank you – I look forward to sharing more of my hobby experience with you via these pages.


Spiking Pliers

I recently had several people ask what pliers I use to drive home the Proto:87 Stores etched steel spikes I use to build track. Looking back through my posts on spikes, I realize I never mentioned the pliers.

I’d love to be able to say I have a bespoke set of spiking pliers, designed by master craftsmen for the purpose. But I don’t. No master craftsmen – just Mastercraft.

I use a pair of Mastercraft Mini Needle Nose Pliers from Canadian Tire:
My spiking pliers photo SpikingPliers-01_zpsc0881cef.jpg

The pair I have is no longer listed on the company’s website, but here’s a pair that’s pretty close.

I like the long jaws on these for a couple of reasons:

– They’re sprung, so when I’ve planted the spike I don’t wobble it loose trying to let go of the spike head.

– They’re also long enough that I can see past my hand to actually twist a spike off the fret and position it on the tie.

A few people mentioned that the jaws on their pliers tend to twist when holding the spikes. These also have a bit of twist in them (and even a bit is a problem), but I don’t think one can find a good pair of pliers that doesn’t these days. To compensate, and to provide maximum control when introducing the spike to the tie, I have developed a two-handed technique for holding the pliers. I’m left-handed, so my left hand holds the pliers by the handles and provides the grip and the pressure to drive the spike into the tie. But as the photo below shows, I lightly pinch the jaws between the thumb and index finger of my right hand to keep the jaws from twisting. My right hand also braces my left if needed so I can gently shove the spike into the tie:
How I spike rail photo SpikingPliers-02_zps2c5c789c.jpg

(I’ve also written extensively on this blog about how I distress and finish my ties. Search through posts in the “Ties” category for details.)

CNR 8 Hatch Refrigerator Cars (Soon!)

My friend Andy Malette at MLW Services had a table at yesterday’s annual Copetown Train Show, and the big news for S scalers is that his kit for the CNR 8 Hatch Refrigerator Cars is almost ready for sale.

Andy says “About three weeks” (but we won’t hold you to that, Andy!)

Andy looks pretty happy with how the project is turning out…

Andy and reefers photo AndyKits_zpsdb018739.jpg

…and so he should. The prototypes look beautiful, and he’s put a lot of effort into getting these just right.

The kits are mixed media, with a lot of crisp, clean resin castings and photo etched parts, plus brass details and more. Andy’s doing several variations including two styles of frame, one of which is shown below with all the appliances in place:
CNR 8 Hatch - resin parts photo CNR-8HR-Resin_zps4b013b6e.jpg CNR 8 Hatch - etches photo CNR-8HR-Etch_zps2f672285.jpg CNR 8 Hatch - underframe photo CNR-8HR-Underframe_zps86bc614a.jpg

Watch Andy’s web site for updates. (I expect there will also be an announcement on the usual S scale newsgroups.)

I continue to be amazed at the product being offered for S scale modellers, particularly those interested in the Canadian National Railway. I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Meantime… Andy: put me down for a pair!

Up to my ears…

… in cornstalks!

JTT Corn (Detail) photo Cornfield-02_zps4e283434.jpg

I’ve just spent several hours over two days planting corn in the large field at St. Williams. I did not count them as I planted, but based on how much I ordered and how much is left, it’s safe to say there are more than 2,000 corn stalks in this field:
JTT Corn (Overview) photo Cornfield-01_zpsc95b6a8f.jpg

(To recap, before Christmas I placed a bulk order for these lovely cornstalks, manufactured for HO scale by JTT Scenery Products. The service was excellent – and the package was shipped directly from the factory in Viet Nam.)

I originally planned to plant a field of corn near the depot in St. Williams, and in fact planted a test-patch of about 100 stalks:
Cornfield at St. Williams photo Corn-JTT-01.jpg
(Where the corn used to be…)

But I’ve decided to do something else with that space, and the big field called out for corn.

Here’s how to plant a scale cornfield:

– Poke a hole in your scenery base with an awl.
– Grab a corn stalk with a pair of needle nose pliers (preferably with sprung jaws) and dip the bottom in a puddle of white glue (PVA).
– Stick the stalk in the hole.
– Repeat 2,000 times.

Was the effort worth it? Well, as I look across the tops of the stalks at a passing train, I certainly think so:
X1560 West at St. Williams photo Cornfield-03_zps7fc35f94.jpg CNR 1560 and Cornfield photo Cornfield-04_zpsaf996e5e.jpg Across the cornfield photo Cornfield-05_zps500e98ce.jpg

While there’s still a lot of work to do in St. Williams (including fencing in the fields), I think this area of the layout is coming together nicely. I’m particularly pleased by this view, looking east from the highway overpass:
St. Williams Interlude photo StWilliams-South_zps3dc95074.jpg

And it was a nice break from building tobacco!

Pierre’s kilns: Walls clad and painted

I worked on Pierre Oliver‘s tobacco kilns again today and made good progress.

Following yesterday’s work of cutting out the walls, today I clad them with tarpaper. For this, I like to use masking tape.

I lay a strip on a piece of glass, then measure and mark out strips to slice with a single edge razor blade:
Cutting Tarpaper from Masking Tape photo TobaccoKiln-HO-04_zps67deb3b7.jpg

I made my strips 24″ wide by 30 feet long. Meantime, I drew parallel lines on the styrene walls to help keep the tape strips plumb during application. A small square and pencil did the trick for that.

To apply the strips, I start by laying down strips at each edge of the wall. This keeps any narrow strip away from a corner. I align these with the edge of the wall as shown in the photo:
Adding Tarpaper to Kiln Walls photo TobaccoKiln-HO-05_zpsf4e0e8ac.jpg

(Before laying down the strips, I run a bead of Thick CA onto the wall. This makes sure that the tape will not peel as it ages.)

The 30-foot strips are longer than the wall is tall, so I trim each strip square at the top with a razor blade, then use the leftover strip to start the next column. I overlap each column slightly. Note that the pencil lines have no bearing on the placement of the strips other than to give me something against which to judge plumb.

When all walls were finished, I trimmed the excess tape with a razor blade. In the photo below, an untrimmed wall is at lower left, while a wall is flipped over for trimming in the upper left. A trimmed wall is at upper right. Note that I’ve also penciled numbers on the walls – this is to keep pairs of walls sorted:
Kiln Walls Trimmed and Numbered photo TobaccoKiln-HO-06_zpsd6f020c8.jpg

Finally, I painted the tarpaper. I used Liquitex Emerald Green Soft Body Acrylic and simply brushed it on, full strength, working in the same direction as the tarpaper strips:
Kiln Walls Painted photo TobaccoKiln-HO-07_zpsae853e94.jpg

With that, the walls are ready to start receiving doors and shutters. I’ll do as much of this work as possible before assembling the structures so I can work on the walls while they’re flat on my bench.

My goal is to have these finished for Pierre before the end of the month. So far so good, but there are a lot of little pieces to cut and apply next!

All walls cut for Pierre’s kilns

Having recently finished planting a (plastic) tobacco field, I decided it was time to take a break from scenery modelling and work on structures. I’ve promised my friend Pierre Oliver a set of five tobacco kilns in HO and – having completed one and shown it to him a couple of weeks ago – I’ve decided it’s time to tackle the remaining four.

While I have a dedicated workbench in my home office, the home office is kind of cold at this time of year – not to mention a long way away from the teapot – so I set up shop on the kitchen table today. I made good progress.

As I started into my second mug of tea, I had measured and cut the end and side walls for all four of the remaining kilns. The photo shows that I’ve cut the styrene pieces used to assemble the foundation walls, too:
Walls cut for HO kilns photo TobaccoKiln-HO-03_zpsdd666a3b.jpg

While it’s not very clear in the photo, the two end walls lying on the glass by themselves are now covered in tarpaper (measured and cut from masking tape and secured in place with Thick CA). More on that in a subsequent post.

I’m looking forward to my next work session on these kilns.

The Model Railway Journal story

Model Railway Journal is fast becoming my favourite hobby magazine, even though the subject matter within its pages is almost exclusively British and therefore should be of little direct interest to someone modelling a sleepy Canadian National Railways branch line in southern Ontario.

But, the model-building presented is exquisite, the techniques are advanced and MRJ is where I find out about many other excellent resources published by the magazine’s parent, Wild Swan Publications – such as Gordon Gravett‘s tree books, Iain Rice‘s best books on layout design, and Martyn Welch‘s tome on weathering. (Those who are familiar with these books will know what I’m talking about. If you’re not – well, there’s a great journey ahead for you if you’re willing to take that first step.)

As a fan of MRJ, I was interested to discover The Model Railway Journal Story while browsing the pages at the Titfield Thunderbolt Bookshop.

My thanks to the bookshop for posting this piece!

(I’m also pleased to see that even though Wild Swan does not have a web presence, somebody has created an online index for MRJ.)

My Ai Weiwei moment

Also known as, “The back tobacco field is finished”!
Between the Kilns photo Tobacco-BackField-01_zps2e5562e0.jpg

While using tweezers to build more than 500 little tobacco plants for the back field at St. Williams, I could identify with the craftspeople who painted the 100,000,000 (yes – one hundred million!) porcelain sunflower seeds for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei‘s 2010 installation at the Tate Modern in London:

I’m sure there were many days when those artists felt the project would never end – and I know I felt that way with the Busch HO scale tobacco plants I used.

But the field is done and ready for a fence.

I installed the field this weekend. I realized that since I was going to add dirt to the field to hide the plastic base, I was going to have to prevent diluted glue from pouring over the back edge of the layout (and possibly ruining the fabric backdrop: There’s a gap, about an inch wide, between layout and backdrop but I didn’t want to take any chances). Here’s how I did that:

First, I test-fit the field:
Test-fit field photo Tobacco-BackField-02_zps828739c8.jpg

What’s not obvious in the above picture is that I’ve airbrushed the plants with a variety of greens and a bit of tan. I used flat-drying acrylics from Vallejo, which broke up the uniformity of the plants and killed the plastic shine. Yes, I weathered my crops.

I then set aside the field and laid down a line of No More Nails adhesive near the back edge of the layout. I then put a two-inch wide angle into a length of aluminum foil and glued this to the layout surface, adding more No More Nails to seal the edge of the foil:
A line of No More Nails photo Tobacco-BackField-03_zps5787976b.jpg Catching the mess photo Tobacco-BackField-04_zpsc75ab1bf.jpg

I then spread more adhesive and pressed the field into place:
Gluing down the tobacco field photo Tobacco-BackField-05_zpsffb4ad16.jpg

Then I went away and let the No More Nails cure.

The next day, I shook a Scenic Express dirt blend over the field. I used a soft paint brush to brush the tops of the plants – this was sufficient to knock off most of the dirt that landed on the leaves. I then wet down the area with water (I use an olive oil sprayer, which delivers a fine mist – no wetting agent required) and applied dilute Weld Bond adhesive with an eyedropper. The missing plants in the field really helped with this, as I had spaces to insert the eyedropper without getting glue all over the plants themselves:
Adding soil to the tobacco field photo Tobacco-BackField-06_zps86550235.jpg

Here’s the finished field, ready for a fence:
Tobacco field installed photo Tobacco-BackField-07_zpse1e66846.jpg

I’m very happy with how this turned out.

Finally, as a comparison, have a look at the finished field with airbrushed plants and dirt, versus a photo of the field under construction. I think the extra effort was worth it:
Tobacco field close-up photo Tobacco-BackField-08_zpsea3dc67c.jpg Tobacco Plants photo TobaccoPlants-01.jpg

That’s it for tobacco – for now. I have another 250-300 plants to build for the front edge of the layout, but first I have to build the fence for this field, then build five tobacco kilns.

I’m not yet done with Ai Weiwei moments, it seems!