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.

10 days … and counting!

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(An under-construction level crossing for Division Street :: The remains of an interurban line parallel the road)

I might have mentioned it here once or twice already, but I’m building a pair of modules in S scale and taking them to a railway hobby show in Laval, Québec to participate in the S Scale Workshop exhibition layout.

That show – Salon due train rive nord (or: The North Shore Train Show) – happens October 4 and 5. So I’m down to the wire.

Fortunately I’m now done with the wire, too: I invited Chris Abbott over last night, and we got everything soldered up and ready to go. (Thanks, Chris!)

Today, I turned to scenery on two more four-foot sections. Here’s a quick picture of the sections – forming the heart of the Division Street module – taken while the glue dried:

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With the work done earlier this week on the Judge Farm module, I now have basic ground cover and ballast on four of these sections – 16 feet in total. I have six more feet to do, then I can turn my attention to seeing how many details I can add before the show.

If you’re in the Montréal, Canada area two weekends from now, why not come out to the show and see how I made out?

Before last night’s wiring session, I knocked out a huge pot of chili – excellent, if I may be immodest – and laid in a few bottles of Funnel Blower from Box Steam Brewery in Wiltshire UK. Together, they got us through our six-hour wiring marathon.

If you want help with wiring, cook something hearty and buy good beer.

“Leather Brown”

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Today I airbrushed the rails on two four-foot sections from the Judge Farm module that I’m building for TrainMasters TV.

“Rail Brown” is hard to find these days as traditional railway hobby paint lines dry up. Instead of fretting about this, I grabbed a bottle of “Leather Brown” from Acrylicos Vallejo – item 70871 in the “Model Color” line – and used it instead. These paints spray well and dry dead flat – and I think it worked just fine. I’ll have to grab another bottle, though – the one I have may run out before I finish all the track.

Sharp-eyed readers will note the joint between two rail sections in the foreground rail, just to the left of centre. I notched the top of the rail head with a fine saw before applying the joint bars to either side of the web. The paint gets into the notch and does not get removed when cleaning the top of the rails after airbrushing.

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These two sections aren’t yet finished – there’s a lot more scenery work to do. But they’re now close enough to finished that I can show them as part of the S Scale Workshop modular layout at The North Shore Train Show in Laval, Québec in a week and a half.

That’s the good news. The bad news is I still have two more four-foot rectangle sections – plus four small trapezoids – to wire. And then I have to sling scenery, ballast and more “Leather Brown” paint. I’ll get there – and my friend Chris Abbott is coming over tonight so we can work on more wiring together.

But I’m going to spend a lot of time in the workshop between now and next Friday morning when I hit the road…

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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“And such an instrument I was to use…”

“Is this an Olfa knife which I see before me / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.”

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(Chris recites the Olfa knife soliloquy)

Over the weekend, Chris Abbott joined me in the TrainMasters TV studio to demonstrate some best practices and neat ideas for wiring the two modules I’m building and documenting for the show. We covered a lot of ground – from installing drop feeders and track power mains… to using Anderson Power Poles for connections… to building our own cables for the throttle network and mounting the throttle panels… to adding strain relief to all wires and cables.

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TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn captured the process in electrons and seemed most pleased with our presentation, too. He even bought us lunch! (To be fair, he does that for everyone who takes part in the show…)

And of course, there are always trains to watch, since the studio is located next to one of the busiest mainlines in Canada:

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(Me and Barry, taking a break from making TV)

When we got home, my lovely wife invited Chris for dinner and – knowing that wiring is thirsty work – she’d even slipped out to grab some Cameron’s Auburn Ale for us. (Yay – beer!)

I’m really pleased with how the day went – and, it gets me closer to being ready for the exhibition at which I’ll join other members of the S Scale Workshop to entertain the public for two days. Thanks again, Chris!

The time is running out, however, so I’ve been working ahead. Today, I added ballast and started on basic ground cover on the two four-foot sections that are now wired:

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(Brown areas will receive crops while some of the green areas will be further enhanced with static grass – and a lot of fence lines will be required…)

I don’t consider this anywhere near finished, but if I get all sections done to this point they will at least be respectable enough to show.

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(I will have to go back over my track to scrape the ballast off the tie tops once the glue has dried: A single-edge razor blade makes a great scraper)

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(I opted for a gravel road through the underpass: The surface needs more work but this is a good start…)

I may have to cover some scenery-building techniques after the exhibition – fabricating dioramas as needed to demonstrate various approaches. We’ll see how things go.

Chris is coming over this week to help me with the wiring on the rest of the module sections. With luck and focus, we’ll get it done in an evening. That will give me some breathing space to demonstrate some basic ground cover during my next visit to the TrainMasters TV studio.

The clock is ticking…

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
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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, retailing the roof, 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
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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
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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
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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!