Don’t be afraid to undo things

This is a new one for me, having never built a larger layout before, rarely have I been in a situation where I am looking at a piece of scenery and track that just doesn’t work. Generally speaking, my dioramas are small enough that by the time I have affixed things, I’ve worked out the kinks. That was not happening on the layout, as one corner of the layout has been bothering me since I laid the track. There is a dead-end spur onto the Toronto Carpet Factory site, its not a piece of track that will ever see much, if any use. If I’m honest, I still haven’t decided if I’m even going to actively tag cars to be switched there, but, the way I originally laid the track, limited the placement of a building and the scenery around it in a way I didn’t like the longer I looked at it, so a change was needed before I got much further with scenery on the layout. Making the decision to rip up track and try to change it is a big one, and after some deep breaths today, out came the tools and away we went!

Before, a straight piece of track into the backdrop, forcing the building to the right.

Toronto Carpet is an odd area on my layout. I have room for the full scale footprint of the building, but because of the limits of HO Scale equipment taking curves, the trackwork is actually pushed away from the main factory building further into the courtyard than in real life. Because my benchwork is narrow, there is not a lot of room there for bending the track in a way that is usable for locomotives, but a freight car should take the tighter curve still as a loading spot.

Taking up the building foundation was the first challenge. I glued them down with NoMoreNails construction adhesive, and this stuff works, but gently, with a putty knife, I got in and separated it from the foam underlay. Important lesson, thank goodness I only put a thin bead around the edges, if I’d put a bunch in the middle, this wasn’t coming up without great risk to track I wanted to keep!

Separating the MDF building foundation from the foam, taking up the track, and realigning it with a curve. The new alignment of the track is then glued down with Alex Clear Caulk.

Its now sitting with my handy dandy brick on it keeping the track in place while the caulk sets, but its a good nights work done and I am already much happier with the area. I think I am going to narrow the building base to pull it back to the backdrop from the tracks, as that will give me a bit of room for the yard and a fence around the carpet factory yard to improve the appearance in the long run. This bit of tearing up track and foundations has bought me a 4″ by 4″ area where I can create good looking scenery, rather than trying to hide the weird angle of the track running straight into the backdrop and building at the same point.

Aside from that, an update from last weeks post, I am keeping on with little projects and tasks. In the past week, I’ve done a bunch of scenery on the peninsula, to help make it look a bit more done. This is making me feel good, as I expect the large buildings on the peninsula are not going to get built any time soon, at least not until I am back at the office more than in work-from-home mode, as I need my full workbench space back to have enough room to build them, rather than giving up the 1/3 of my space that is my overflow for setting things aside being my office desk. The good news is, there is still lots to do before I need to worry about the big buildings, so on we go!

Just a little bit of work at a time and scenery starts to appear on the peninsula.

Tuesday Train #229

Here’s to sunnier days ahead, and the need to take the UP Express to Pearson Airport because we can travel again! A two car UP Express is seen here in 2018 from the Bathurst Street bridge, a popular railfanning location in Toronto. The bridge was closed for most of 2020 for a major restoration/reconstruction. I haven’t been down to see the finished work yet, but it looks fantastic in pictures I’ve seen.

One little Project at a time

Well, here we are, a week into 2021. I’m trying to do a lot of little things in my life, after 10 months of work-from-home and social distancing, lock-downs and isolation, I discovered over my Christmas break that I am in a rut, both hobby and personally. I have been a creature of routine for years, and over the 10 months of being home basically the whole time, I’m lost. I have lost the ability to get out of bed at a regular time, and function, and was increasingly relying on ever larger pots of coffee each day to try and convince my body to function to work during the day, and have some semblance of a life after work. Every time I look at the layout, I’m looking to do big projects and make visible advancements because I am spending at least 8 hours a day looking at it while I work, and I was getting myself into knots making lists of projects I wanted to do, and getting nothing done because I wasn’t just doing something small and cant do big projects that may need to sit on the desk for weeks when I need it clear each morning for work.

This week, I’ve tried to re-start routine. Before the pandemic, I got up at 6am, was at the bus stop at the end of my street by 6:40, and at my desk at 8am. Come 4pm or so, reverse the trip, and the TTC God’s willing, I’d be home and making dinner by 6pm. Obviously, I don’t need a 2 hour window to get from our bedroom to the home office/layout room 10′ away!! That said, I have set my alarm this week for 7am, the first time its been on regularly since March, I am getting up, doing a quick 20 minute workout, having breakfast, and getting to my desk for 8am. This means, on a normal day, come 4pm, I can turn off my work laptop, and walk away, most likely down the hall 10′ to have a nap for an hour. After that refresher/break, I can get up and make dinner and have an evening (full disclosure, I used to sleep on the subway home after work as part of my post work recovery for my personal time during the day).

So, with that, this week I’ve kinda returned to what I do best in some ways, puttering. Monday night I did some prep on cast metal wheel stops, did some cleaning on the layout, and thought about little things I can do. Tuesday, I built some more hydro poles and cleaned up the ones I’d already built a bit. Wednesday, to escape the news of the day, I set up the paint booth and painted about a half dozen small projects or items that were ready for paint (setup, painting, cleaning filled a good hour and a half where there is no TV and I didn’t look at my phone), including the first batch of hydro poles, primer on part of the H&D Factory, the wheel stops, some sidewalk styrene, and some wheelsets. Thursday evening, I installed some of the wheelstops, the sidewalk and looked at other places that need to have sidewalks made. Nothing big, just little things. Some glue here, some paint there, some scenic scatter in the corner. No big action. Not, “I’m going to build the wall of a building” or lay 10 square feet of ground cover. Just little things, that even I barely notice when I look back at where I was working.

A gallery of little projects, base paint on hydro poles, primer on H&D, sidewalks in front of 60 Atlantic, and wheel stops at the edge of the universe (they will get weathered in situ)!

Sometimes I have to remind myself, I am not building a large layout. The entire area of my benchwork is approximately 36 square feet. For comparison, a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood is 32 square feet. Yes, it fills two walls in my room and half the closet, but it is not large. I don’t know how people build large layouts, as this is daunting enough, but biting off manageable pieces and just puttering a little bit every night, I will get there. I am 7 days into 2021, there are 358 days to go this year. On some of those 358 days, I definitely will take on big projects, but using my weeknights to just do little things that don’t take a lot of time to set up or do, is I think going to be my way of trying to keep going forward. What will I do tomorrow on Friday night? Who knows, maybe nothing, maybe something, but that’s OK and I’m finally starting to I hope wrap my head around that.

2020 Year in Review, well its been a year hasn’t it?

Well, what a year it has been, in so many ways, for so many people. We have been lucky in our house and family. Everyone has kept their jobs and their health, and that is thing one, far more important than model trains or anything else. Who knew what was waiting for us when I cheerfully reviewed 2019 12 months ago!

2020 Started out with a bang, a new years visit to operate on a friends layout, and friends coming here to help me wire the layout and reach a point where I could run trains, and that was just the first two weekends of the year! I then had my first “random” visitors in early February who weren’t dragged kicking and screaming through my promises of dinner being provided to help me build (Hopefully Matthieu and Chris can visit again and run trains!), then, well, we all know how the next 10 months of 2020 went. I spent a lot of time working on my own after March, but I have made good use of that time, applying myself to putting things I have learned from others into practice to actually achieve things on the layout, and make some real progress on construction, far more than I had hoped to before the pandemic and having no where else to go and nothing else to spend disposable income on other than hobby supplies.

View of the layout on December 31st showing the state at the end of 2020.

A summary of my year is below, followed by some brief thoughts on my year and the hobby:

Projects Completed in 2020

Projects In Progress

  • Building Liberty Village Layout – Did lots on this!! See page here. This whole post could really be a look at the layout, and I decided for this year, I didn’t want it to be. I want to touch on some highlights and things that mostly make me feel good in a year where feel good has been in short supply at times.
  • Freight Car Kits – I didn’t finish any as of the time of writing, though 5 are literally waiting on me setting up the airbrush to clear coat them before weathering. 5 more are partly built, 3 not started, and one on order. But that is the way of the hobby.
  • Bullfrog Switch Machines – I’ve installed 4, that leaves 8 to go. Its pretty much a laziness thing at this point that I just haven’t felt like doing it as each one takes some time.

Skills

  • Scenery. I did a lot, worked on base scenery, learned static grass. Am working on improving my painting techniques in a variety of ways
  • Wiring, well, I learned, not always good things, but I am pushing myself to become better at soldering and wiring, blown up decoder to end the year notwithstanding.
  • Resin Casting, I bought supplies and cast my own parts. Starting with simple flats like manhole and drain covers, moving on to rocks and stone, then finally windows for buildings from 3D printed masters. Its been a good year on this count.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in Stores in 2021 (This list doesn’t seem to move some years)

  • Rails of Sheffield Caledonian Railway No. 828 – See Here
  • Bachmann LMS Patriot “The Unknown Warrior” – See Here
  • Rapido Trains GO Transit F59 – See Here

Strangely, none of those have anything at all to do with or on a layout set in Liberty Village in the 1950’s, but that’s what display cases are for!


I mentioned at the start that this has been a year of challenges, and while things have generally been good for me, I have not been without the dark times and depressing feelings and moods. It has not been an easy year, even if it hasn’t been “bad” for me, isolation, being at home 24/7 almost with my wife (and we love each other and get along just fine, but space is also important), has worn on me, and I have written about it this year, how living, working and relaxing in our home has been a challenge at times. Talking is a good thing, its part of why I do this blog. I hope people learn something or are interested in what I am doing, but it also is an outlet for me to shout to the interwebs about the things I am doing to be happy and function, even before the pandemic struck.

I am not going to do a “preview” post of what I want to achieve in 2021 as I have some years in the past, the one thing this year has taught me is that it really is true that making plans and scheming isn’t worth it. Roll with what life gives you, take the good and the bad, and make something of it. Thank you all friends I know and those I don’t for coming back and reading. Your feedback, likes, page views helps me keep going, and I hope I reciprocate enough for those of you who blog as well to know I read and appreciate your work and efforts to.

From my workbench to yours, as we see out the end of a year we’ll all be glad to have behind us I think, be kind to each other, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we can talk trains in person.

Stephen Gardiner
December 21, 2020

What is this New Devilry (That’s No Train Part 6!)

Yes, I know, most of you come here for the train content, but, there are still two non-train projects on the go…well, one after I finish this post (Ed: or 2 because it took me so long to write this I bought another since writing this intro!). More non-train distractions here: 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5! This will be a photo heavy post, so you’ve been warned!

Wrapping up the year that has been in 2020, this is a project I finished in November, and just didn’t get around to finishing the blog post about. As things went haywire in March with pandemic fear, being sent home, lock-downs and everything else, like many, I distracted myself with hobbies. In my case, as you all know, I’ve got plenty, so why not add some more! I had picked up a single warhammer figure that I was going to do as a present for a friend, and then in looking at Meeplemart, a local Toronto gaming and miniatures store, over the years I had looked at Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings miniatures, but figure painting has never been something I’ve been good at when I’ve tried, or super interested in as a rabbit hole, yet here I am and I find myself buying the Games Workshop Balrog, as I decided I was going to build a miniature of one of my favourite characters from The Lord of The Rings, the Balrog of Morgoth from the mines of Moria/Bridge of Khazad-Dum part of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Our house is a big Tolkien house, to the point that our cat is Gandalf the Grey Fur…check out his Instagram!!

lord-of-the-rings-020
Screen capture from “Fellowship of the Ring” showing the Balrog approaching Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

The gaming miniature kits are not huge, and not complicated, the detail and artistry is in the painting of them to create layers and effects, as you don’t really have sub assemblies, you need to paint and layer and detail in order as they go. Once I had the Balrog, of course, I started thinking about how to display it, and started going down rabbit holes. A white metal Gandalf figure from eBay here, cast resin dwarven columns there, LED effects (my usual source, Evans Designs)…and a big custom wood base to house it all…and before long I’ve gone from a Balrog figure in April to a full blown 12″ square diorama by May!!

A mega-gallery of building the Games Workshop Balrog of Morgoth gaming miniature.

The Balrog assembly was pretty straight-forward, because of its size, there were some seams that needed filling so they would vanish when painted. The miniature comes with both a whip and sword for the Balrog to hold in its right hand. In looking at them, I felt the sword looked more believable. The whip was defeating me on painting to get a realistic look, so I chose the sword for the Balrog to be wielding. The painting, and in particular, trying to recreate the fire look was one of my real challenges. As you can see from the pictures, I based it in white, for the hottest part inside the Balrog, with yellows, oranges and reds the further out towards the tips. I then went back and touched up the scales on his body where the flame is wrapping around them. For the rest of him, it is subtle, but there are washes of red across all the black of his wings to add a bit of texture and flame appearance across him.

Assembling Gandalf, plotting out the relationship of him holding aloft his staff to stay the Balrog’s progress.

With the figures well in hand, I needed to make sense out of the rest of the diorama. I had plenty of bits of scrap wood from layout construction, and having bought a new Jig Saw during the early pandemic, I was able to cut out the pieces I need to build a base I worked out a roughly 12″ square design base, and then using leftover white pine and MDF, cut out the shapes and built a core for the base. This would hide wiring and create a portion of the bridge of Khazad-Dum.

Easy base building for the diorama. Complete with opening door on the side to access wiring, and a wiring channel under the bridge so I could pull wires after adding rock castings and air dry clay. The last couple show the finished diorama and the hidden wiring door in use.

For the rocks, I decided to cast my own, to both work on my casting skills, and so I could modify them as I saw fit and not be dealing with pre-painted items. I did buy a different slower setting resin because of the size of the two main rock castings for the cliff face. The molds are from Woodland Scenics, and are designed to be used with lighterweight material than the resin I used, but since the weight wasn’t an issue for me, I went with the heavier resin.

Casting Rocks in resin. I could have used a lighter weight material, but I know the resin and I had it for other casting projects. Working on the installing the castings and the resin columns once they are installed.

Once I had my rocks cast, I epoxied the large castings into place after cleaning up and adjusting them to fit, and used a number of smaller rock castings to build up the base around the columns. The base and gaps were filled in with air dry DAS clay, this let me work it into the gaps, and smooth/create rock texture and crevices as appropriate. The base was too big to primer in my paint booth, so I rattle canned on primer on the patio in the fall. I could manoeuvre it to paint the detail and layering of colours inside, which I did. Some small things are hard to see in the pictures, but if you look closely, the helms of the dwarves on the columns have a shimmer. I added metallic medium over their helmets to look like Mithrel, which was mined in Moria. It seemed to me that the dwarves would have wanted their helmets to look impressive and show off the wealth of their underground empire.

Finished Diorama Photos. It doesn’t fit in my photo softbox, so makeshift will do! Trying to give a sense of the overall scale and lighting.
Two brief videos above of the finished Diorama of Gandalf challenging the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

One more non-train project finished…and of course me being me, I’ve been buying the bits for another non-train project…but that is a distraction for another day (and after the day I had with trains today…that’s no bad thing)!