One man band saw

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(Freddie Kruger has nothing on this guy – at least until he runs out of extension cord)

Last night, Chris Abbott joined me for a final bit of prep for the upcoming train show in Laval, Québec. A portable band saw was required. Here’s why:

I’ve been building a pair of modules for the S Scale Workshop, and documenting them for TrainMasters TV.

The module standard specifies a height of 50″ from the floor to the top of the rail. Since I didn’t know the final height of things like roadbed, subroadbed, the thickness of glue, and so on, the legs were left a little long until the modules were built. Then a final measurement of the height was taken, to determine how much to cut off each leg.

It was this much:

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The portable band saw made very quick work of the job. It required about 30 seconds to measure, mark and cut each leg. That gave us plenty of time to double-check our wiring from last week’s marathon. We were even able to install some nifty, bilingual Module ID signs, acquired from Sign-O-Matic via my friend Pierre Oliver (thanks Pierre!)

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There’s still a lot of detail scenery work to do, but that’ll have to wait until after the show. After last night’s work session, the modules are racked and ready to go. Chris and I celebrated by taking advantage of the Monday night 2-for-1 Fish and Chips special at The Caledonian. Mmm… Fish and Chips…

Too much ballast

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(This photo is one of the inspirations for my modules – and it prompted some changes)

As I work towards this coming weekend’s North Shore train show in Laval, Québec, I realized that I was unhappy with the ballast on the two modules I’m building to use with the S Scale Workshop exhibition layout. Looking at some of the prototype photos I’m using for inspiration, the problem was immediately apparent.

There was too much ballast.

As these photos from an earlier post show, the ballasted track was a big scar through the scene – it sat above the surrounding greenery, almost floating above the terrain:

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This was not the effect I wanted. As the lead photo shows, a more subtle ballast profile was called for. So one of my tasks this past weekend was to layer some more ground cover onto the sloped sides of the roadbed.

The following photo shows what I did:

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At upper right, the original ballasted roadbed. In the middle, I’ve brushed on some of my basic terrain-coloured paint (a greyish brown called “Monk’s Cloak”, if memory serves). At lower left, some ground cover material scattered over the paint.

Here’s another look, comparing before and after:

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And a third look. The module section at the back has been worked on, while the three closer sections await treatment:

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I’m much happier with the revision, although I’m also glad I did all that ballasting as the ballast provided a good “grip” for scattering material on a slope.

It looks even better with static grass applied along the railway RoW – as I’ll show in a subsequent post…

Finescale Railway Modelling Review

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(Even as North American hobby magazines struggle, a new magazine debuts in the UK. Click on the cover to visit the FRMR website)

Once again, our fellow modellers in the UK show me how it’s done – this time, in the publishing world, as Greystar Publications launches a brand new quarterly publication. As the name implies, this new effort focuses on finescale modelling – in other words, the UK equivalent of the philosophy that drives Proto:48, Proto:87, the RPM movement and other thoughtful modelling endeavours on this side of the pond.

Already, the Finescale Railway Modelling Review is being praised by those who care about these things (such as this post on the Albion Yard blog), with high hopes expressed for publisher/editor Bob Barlow and co-editor Tim Shackleton.

What’s remarkable is that the Finescale Railway Modelling Review is not the only UK magazine to focus on expert-level railway modelling – not by a long shot:

Greystar also publishes the Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review – a quarterly which, as the name implies, explores the smaller stuff in exquisite detail. (I must admit I’ve never subscribed, mostly because my narrow gauge adventures have been more freelanced in nature. That said, I’ve just taken a one-year subscription to kick the narrow gauge tires.)

In addition, there’s my go-to magazine for inspiration – Model Railway Journal, published eight times per year. (It’s interesting to note that both Bob Barlow and Tim Shackleton have sat in the editor’s chair at MRJ.)

And those are just the ones of which I’m aware.

I find it interesting that the United Kingdom (2011 population: less than 64 million) can support at least two magazines devoted to finescale modelling, plus numerous other magazines that focus on niche interests (e.g.: Miniature Railway magazine, about commercial and garden railways built to ride-on sizes)… while here in North America (2014 US population: more than 318 million; 2014 Canada population: more than 35 million), finescale publications such as Mainline Modeler and Prototype Modeler are a distant memory. We’ve also lost the hard copy editions of the three terrific annuals produced by Westlake Publishing (although I do note that there’s a 2014 Narrow Gauge Annual available as a digital download). And Prototype Railroad Modeling from Speedwitch Media arrived with great promise in 2005 but lasted just two issues (although publisher Ted Culotta recently published a new book after several years, so the publisher is still active at least).

What’s still available? Well, the Railway Prototype Cyclopedia is a valuable resource at 28 volumes and growing. It does tend to focus on documenting prototype equipment to aid modellers, rather than features on models and model railways.

Other, smaller publications are digital only, and many of them struggle to support themselves. Even Railroad Model Craftsman, which picked up the RPM crowd when Mainline Modeler ceased publication, ran into well-publicized troubles earlier this year. (Fortunately, RMC was saved by white knight Kevin EuDaly and will continue to publish.)

But despite having a combined population of more than 353 million – more than five times the population of the UK – we seem unable, in North America, to float even a single magazine aimed at the expert modeller.

Yes, railways are more relevant to daily life in the UK than here in North America, so it’s safe to assume that a greater percentage of the UK’s general population is an enthusiast at some level or another. But even if the North American hobby, as a percentage of our total population, is just 20% that of the UK, the number of hobbyists would still be the same – and yet periodicals aimed at the top 5% of hobbyists (plus those who aspire to that level of excellence) seem doomed to sink.

And those of us looking for an antidote to the consumption-driven hobby of massive layouts and collections done to a “good enough” standard – an approach endorsed by most of the North American magazines – will continue to focus our attention and our magazine-buying dollars on that Green and Pleasant Land…

I’ve placed a one-year subscription to Finescale Railway Modelling Review: I look forward to my first issue.

Above eye-level photography

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Truth be told, It’s unlikely I will have many opportunities to use the modules I’m building for TrainMasters TV. That’s just the way my life works.

However, I don’t think they’ll spend all of their time slumbering under my home layout. For one thing, the overpass on the Judge Farm module set has some great potential as a diorama for eye-level – or even above eye-level – photography. I tried it out this morning after cleaning up the ballast on the ties and airbrushing the rails. The photos in this post were taken in a room in my basement, with just the bare walls as backdrop.

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The Roadshow :: 1

I warned everybody this was going to happen…

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(Click on the image of Yours Truly to visit The Roadshow page on the TrainMasters TV website)

The first episode of “The Roadshow” is now live at TrainMasters TV. Yes, that’s me in the very summery, very flowery shirt.

This episode kicks off an on-going series for TrainMasters TV, in which I describe building two multi-section modules in S scale – my contribution to the Free-mo style layout exhibited by the S Scale Workshop. In Episode 1 of The Roadshow, I’ll take you on a tour of the places I’m using as inspiration for the modules. That inspiration involves one very colourful shirt… a trip to the country with a high-energy team-mate… a big pair of rubber boots… and a flock of stubborn ruminants.

In the series, I’ll share some tricks I’ve learned about building modules – things that work for me, anyway. I’ve also been experimenting with ideas I’ve never tried before. Already, I have a couple of ideas from this experience that I plan to incorporate into my Port Rowan layout. And of course, you’ll get to see some of the techniques I employ in action, as opposed to in a series of still photos (which is what you get here).

There’s a fair bit about these modules on this blog already – here’s the category link. But I hope you’ll join me on TrainMasters TV to follow along as I build my modules.

Now – the pitch:

Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV is a professional producer and editor with a fine eye for camerawork. This is not your typical YouTube fare. In a word, it’s slick. I’m tickled that Barry has welcomed me on board to do this series. His talent and commitment to creating a great show – hosted by hobbyists and focussed on this great hobby of ours – is forcing me to up my game to match.

That said, one gets what one pays for and there is a modest monthly fee for your subscription. But it’s equivalent to buying a package of replacement blades for the hobby knife – and less if you subscribe for longer periods. I consider that a small price to pay to add such a tool to my toolbox.

TrainMasters TV is highly entertaining to watch and a great way to get ideas for one’s own hobby endeavours. I look forward to each episode, and I hope you’ll become as big a fan as I am.

Thanks again, Barry!

Equipment Portraits :: 2

Since the first post on this subject was well received, here are a few more portraits of the equipment that runs on my railway, in no particular order. Once again, I’ve added some notes about each model. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 462085

CNR 462805 - Portrait

This boxcar started life as a ready-to-run plastic model from S Helper Service. It was factory-lettered for an American railroad but at some point, I realized it would make a decent stand-in model for a class of CNR single-sheathed boxcars in the 461000-463999 series. So I reworked this model (and two others), adding a fish-belly under frame, re-detailing the roof with extra ribs, and substituting brass stirrup steps. I wrote about these changes in more detail in a previous posting – have a look here for more information.

B&O 530382

BO 530382 - Portrait

This distinctive “wagon-top” covered hopper is a brass import from River Raisin Models, which brought in 158 examples in 1993. I found my model online. It was factory painted but the lettering had not yet been applied. It was, however, in the box. I decided to experiment with heavy weathering techniques to represent a car that had spent many years in cement service. The lettering has been almost obliterated under spills and streaks, although the car number has been periodically cleaned to remain legible. I’m pleased with the effect. This car rarely appears in operating sessions as it’s just an oddball, but on occasion I invoke Rule 1 (“It’s my railway”) to add some variety to a train.

MILW 21189

MILW 21189 - Portrait

Here’s another lovely import from River Raisin Models – a 40-foot boxcar with horizontal ribs. River Raisin brought in 68 of these (along with 128 50-foot versions) in 1991. I bought my example from Don Thompson (founder of S Helper Service) after posting a note to various newsgroups looking for one. As with all my models, regardless of origin, it has received flexible train line air hoses from BTS.

CNR 7792

CNR 7792 - Portrait

I have written a lot about this car on this blog. It was one of my first projects for the Port Rowan layout – an extensive re-detailing effort to create an essential piece of equipment for my rendition of the Mogul-era mixed train. The car started as an undecorated RPO from American Models. I added details from several sources as well as a few that I built from scratch. I also added numerous grab irons, brake rigging, real glass in the windows, and so on. Like all of my six-axle passenger cars, this one benefits from Tim Trucks. It remains a favourite project of mine.

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Cameron Digital Photo Box

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(The Digital Photo Box by Cameron, with two Fiilex LED lights. The adjustable lens portal is not in place. The vintage chandelier isn’t necessary for good photography, but it does go well in the red dining room…)

In response to my recent post on equipment portraits, reader Scott Haycock asked for more details on the light box I mentioned.

I use a Digital Photo Box from Cameron – a 28″ model, if I recall. I picked it up a few years ago from a local photography store but they don’t seem to be available these days. I’m sure there’s something similar – I’d check with a shop that caters to pro shooters.

The Photo Box is made of various soft materials over a stiff frame. It comes flat, in its own travel envelope with a handle, and uses Velcro(r) tabs for quick set-up and tear-down. It has an adjustable lens portal so one can completely control the lighting – but I’ve never had to use it.

The box also built-in backdrops in white, neutral grey, plus chroma key blue and green (for easier “knock outs” or “crops” in Photoshop). I used the white backdrop for my portraits.

Here’s a look at the box before I’ve added the top/front panels. It shows the white backdrop in place:
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Scott also asked about the lighting I use. Earlier this year, I acquired three Fiilex P360 LED lights. These lights have many neat features but what I really like about them is that they remain cool to the touch. They can be left on for a long time – hours even – with no worries about melting plastic rolling stock or scorching valances (or digital light boxes).

LED photo lights are still relatively new so they’re also relatively expensive compared to traditional halogen lights. But I’ve done a fair bit of photography – of my own layout, and others – and while I loved my Tota-Lights in their day, one 500-watt fixture can do incredible amounts of damage in a very short time.

The cost would be too high were it my own models melted – but immeasurable if I turned somebody else’s prized work into slag.

Great question, Scott – thanks for asking!

Equipment portraits :: 1

Today, I was asked by my friend Jim Martin for a couple of photos of S scale equipment for an article he’s writing. I was happy to oblige and decided I’d shoot them in a photo box – a big translucent cube that does a great job of diffusing photo lights.

The only place I can set up the box is on the dining room table so since I had everything set up anyway, I decided to shoot portraits of several pieces of equipment that run on my railway.

Here are some of my pieces, presented in no particular order. I’ve added some notes on each. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 79431

CNR 79431 - Portrait

This is a Ridgehill Scale Models resin kit for the CNR’s wooden vans (cabooses). The kits were actually offered in a few variations but I can never keep track of the details. I bought this kit and a resin kit for a CNR boxcar (shown below) in case I ever built a module for the S Scale Workshop. The kits sat on the shelf for a few years because I was busy in other scales. Then one day I realized I was never going to get around to building them so I handed them off to my friend Pierre Oliver, who does this sort of thing for a living. The finished models helped me decide to take the plunge into S scale. Despite this, Pierre and I are still good friends… 😉

CNR 408756

CNR 408756 - Portrait

This is a Ridgehill Scale Models resin kit for the CNR’s Dominion (Fowler Patent) boxcars. These also came in a couple of variants, and were offered in CPR versions as well. Like the van (shown above), Pierre Oliver built this one for me. He’s built a lot of rolling stock for me – including several indicated in this blog posting – because I’ve been just to darned busy building my layout and I wanted equipment to run on it.

CNR 487747

CNR 487747 - Portrait

This is a Pacific Rail Shops plastic kit, with several aftermarket modifications and detail upgrades. It’s one of the first rolling stock kits that I built in S scale and it helped me get a real feel for the size of equipment in 1:64. I added a real wood roof walk, Canadian-prototype ladders from Des Planes Hobbies, and a detail upgrade kit from Andy Malette at MLW Services. I replaced plastic brake rigging with wire. This particular kit had been started by the previous owner – who only got as far as adding a ton of weight inside the body, using birdshot and caulk. I was not able to get the lead out (so to speak) so this car really tips the scales. I tend to run it a lot as an LCL car on the Mixed Train.

CNR 55303

CNR 55303 - Portrait

CNR 55303 - Portrait

This wooden plow has become one of my favourite models on the railway, even though it rarely sees service (what with it being August and all). I built this from an Ambroid kit that I picked up from Andy Malette. The kit must’ve been 50 or 60 years old, but the wood was in terrific shape and was a joy to work with. I’ve written a fair bit about this plow already, but I made several changes to the kit – based on a Boston and Maine prototype – to make it more closely resemble a CNR plow. I was fortunate to have a copy of an article about Ron Keith, who modelled several CNR plows in HO scale, to help me create my version. As a box of mostly wood plus a bit of tin and some pretty rudimentary instructions (“Make and add details per the diagram”) the kit was pretty intimidating, so it sat for a few months while I worked up the nerve to start it. Once I got going, though, I found it a very enjoyable experience and was surprised at how well some of the decades-old parts went together. I was also pleasantly surprised by my ability to perform real construction operations, like sanding bevels into the parts that make up the plow bracing.

CNR 209540

CNR 209540 - Portrait

This resin kit – from Andy Malette at MLW Services – builds up into the CNR’s distinctive eight-hatch refrigerator cars. Actually, “refrigerator” is a misnomer, even though it’s spelled out on the side. This is really a “controlled temperature” car – equally at home keeping things warm as it is keeping things cool. I was surprised at the great variety of freight that these carried – everything from produce to live bees. Pierre Oliver built the kit for me, while I added the wooden roof walk, finer hatch rests, and a few other details. I also weathered the car. I really like how the grey sides with red lettering and green leaf pop out in a consist of mineral red boxcars.

NYC 399574

NYC 399574 - Portrait

This is a resin kit from Funaro and Camerlengo – better known for its HO scale resin kits, particularly of New England prototypes. But the company offers a couple of cars in 1:64 as well. I wish it would do more, as there are some interesting prototypes in the company’s catalogue. Pierre Oliver built this kit for me, while I did the weathering. I’m really pleased with the rusty interior, achieved with weathering powders.

CNR 7176

CNR 7176 - Portrait

This is a mixed media kit – etched brass sides and floor, wood roof, and cast details – produced by Andy Malette at MLW Services. (Without guys like Andy, I wouldn’t be modelling the CNR in S scale!) This combine – in its green over black scheme – is essential to running the mixed train in late 1950s sessions on my railway, when CNR 4-6-0s took over duties on the branch. Pierre Oliver built the kit for me, while I did a lot of the finishing work. My contributions included adding the train air and signal lines, the conductor and gate in the vestibule, the window glass (from microscope slide covers) and shades, the opaque toilet window glass, and the weathering. Not visible, but very important to operation, are the retrofits I did to the trucks. I’ve added rigid beam compensation to create Tim Trucks – named for my friend Tim Warris, who designed and laser cut the frames for me. The car tracks a whole lot more reliably than it did with the American Models rigid-frame trucks, which are one of the very few options for a six-wheel truck in S scale. This combine is also fitted with a DCC-enabled back-up whistle.

CofG 56309

CofG 56309 - Portrait

This is a resin kit from Jim King at Smoky Mountain Model Works, built by Pierre Oliver. It’s an unusual model to find on a lightly-trafficked branch line in southern Ontario, but these cars did come to Canada. The reality is, S scale doesn’t have the variety of rolling stock available in O scale – and barely registers compared to the variety that’s on offer in HO. So when a manufacturer takes the trouble to create a resin kit, scale modellers in 1:64 tend to buy one just to support the effort and then we figure out what to do with it. Fortunately, I’m modelling August so I assume the American owners of a huge chunk of land on Long Point are having a summer beach party and have ordered a carload of melons from back home for the festivities. Rich people with summer houses in other countries can afford to do that type of thing…

CML 1952

CML 1952 - Portrait

This is a Pacific Rail Shops plastic kit that was custom-decorated for the NMRA as part of its Legends Of The Hobby line. As I’ve mentioned before, Bob Hegge and his Crooked Mountain Lines were a huge inspiration for me back in the 1970s and 1980s, and when I found one of these custom-decorated kits for sale I just had to grab it. I’m really glad I did. This car features an unusual brake-rigging system, with the main rod from the B-end running outside the truck instead of between the side frames. This allows the car to more easily negotiate traction-radius curves. I modelled this following photos and data from an HO scale Westerfield kit for a Pacific Electric boxcar. Other upgrades include a wood running board and plastic brake rods replaced with wire. I get a kick out of running this car every time…

GATX 480

GATX 480 - Portrait

This is a WA Drake and Company brass import of an 8,000 gallon Type 103 double-dome tank car. It came factory-painted. I like the double domes. And I’m really pleased with the weathering job I did on it. As with all of my freight cars, I added flexible train line air hoses from BTS to this car: They look better than the cast hoses that come on most brass cars and because they’re flexible, they don’t break off.

Burro Model 40

Burro Model 40 Crane - Portrait

Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models imported 150 brass models of these popular MoW cranes in 1992. I found this model – unpainted – after posting a note to several newsgroups. I airbrushed the model with a warm black and weathered it with airbrush and powders. To do this, I had to unstring the rigging – making careful notes of the path of the cable so I could re-string it later. I added the operator to the cab. I also added DCC to this very small model, complete with an electronic flywheel to minimize stalling. (And in 2017, I enhanced the model with sound – a real ship-in-a-bottle experience!) Unfortunately, these models do not run well: The motor is mounted vertically and makes a terrific thrashing sound. However, I’m sure at some point someone will come up with a better gear train – probably me, if I want it to happen. Perhaps an under-floor power truck would work, or a drive train that only turns one axle instead of trying to do both. It’s not like the crane has to pull a train – just itself, and possibly a gondola of ballast. Regardless of its dubious running qualities, it’s a great looking model that is a joy to photograph on the railway, so I’m really glad I have it.

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Division Street :: Spiked!

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(Progress ensues…)

I spent a few hours today in the workshop, spiking rails on the Free-mo-style modules I’m building for the S Scale Workshop, and documenting for TrainMasters TV.

The lead photo shows one of the two four-foot long sections that make up the core of the Division Street module. Today, I spiked both sections of Division Street – every second or third tie. I’m feeling a little cross-eyed right now and my plier-wielding hand is feeling pretty angry. But I’m pleased that I’m almost halfway there: Between the two modules, I have 21 feet of track to spike, and I’ve done about 9 feet so far.

Rails are soldered to PC board ties at each end, with expansion gaps in the middle of the modules. While it’s not obvious in the lead photo, I’ve also applied joint bars to the rails. And I’ve installed some rail segments on the abandoned interurban track that parallels Division Street:

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I added the interurban as a way to demonstrate some more heavily weathered ties. I’ve even added rust streaks to the tops of the ties where the rails used to be, by masking the ties and then brushing them with rust-coloured weathering powder. I’m pleased with the effect.

My work table is silting up…
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… so before I tackle the next set of rails I’ll have to do a sort’n’store. But I’ll do that tomorrow, once the eyes and hands have had a break. The bottle of Mad Tom IPA in the photo is an essential part of the spiking process. Sadly, it’s also empty: I think another adult beverage is in order…

TrainMasters TV: I like spiking, really!

 photo TMTV-RoadShow-TrackIntro_zpsc4ca1e25.jpg(Yes – it was actually jacket weather yesterday – at least yesterday morning. So much for summer: Fall – and train shows – are approaching fast!)

I spent the day yesterday at the TrainMasters TV headquarters, working on the modules I’m building for an upcoming series.

After several work sessions that looked more like Carpentry for Dummies, I’m finally onto something directly railway-related: namely, ties and rail.

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I got a lot done in front of the camera – demonstrating how I prep, distress and weather ties (hint: dice are involved) and how I use the wickedly good steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores, which I’ve also used on my Port Rowan layout.

Now that's a small spike! photo Spikes-01.jpg
(Click on the image to read all of my posts in the “Spikes” category)

Here’s how spiking goes:

1 – Roughly gauge the rails
2 – Twist a spike off the fret
3 – Spike one side of the first rail
4 – Twist a spike off the fret
5 – Spike the other side of the first rail
6 – Check the gauge
7 – Twist a spike off the fret
8 – Spike one side of the second rail
9 – Check the gauge
10 – Twist a spike off the fret
11 – Spike the other side of the second rail
12 – Check the gauge

Repeat about 50,000 times – or until you’re ready to shoot caulk up your nose:

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(Professional clown. Closed course. Do not attempt at home.)

That said, I love to spike track. I find the Zen-like state required mentally relaxing. It’s a great break from thinking about work, deadlines, social commitments, chores, or other things that sometimes cause one stress.

And isn’t that what a hobby is for?

Excuse me while I blow my nose…

Barry Silverthorn is a great host. In addition to putting together a program with first-rate production values, he buys me lunch every time I visit to record a segment. Yesterday, we went to a neat fish restaurant on the water. Thanks, Barry!

Chris Abbott also stopped in to the studio, briefly. He was in the area to visit family, and we had some goodies to exchange. Chris – thanks for helping to unload the vehicle, and thanks for sharing the photos.

Great as always to see you both!