What is it with me and side projects?

Because I don’t have enough to do on my layout, or the various projects I am working on, what’s one more project? I don’t quite know what it will be yet, I know what I think it will be, but the Toronto Railway Museum asked those of us with locks on lockers to clear them out so that anyone can use them vs. the limited supply being tied up. As such, on a rainy Saturday, I grabbed a few bits of lumber and a bit of foam, and built a quick 1’x4′ box frame from pine, and fitted in a 2”x2′ foam panel cut in two. I adjusted the foam at home with my hot wire cutter to get it to fit properly. For now, its safely buried in the back of the closet until I am 100% sure what I am going to do with it, but it never hurts to have emergency benchwork for when inspiration strikes.

2022 Year in Review

Its that time of year again, the end, where we look back at what we’ve done, and think about what is to come in the new year. 2022 has been a much better year than 2021, though having ended 2021 in the hospital having surgery two days before Christmas set the bar really low for the year to be better. The good news is, by the time I made last years Year in Review post, I was already well on my way to feeling better. I have been (knock on wood) healthy through 2022, and am incredibly grateful for our Canadian Healthcare System that got me there, despite is problems and challenges. May those in power who seem more interested in driving it into the ground and privatizing it never succeed.

But, you don’t come here for political moaning, you come here for trains (and I am eternally grateful that so many of you do). I have no illusions that I am the best modeller, or the best writer, but I enjoy sharing my ramblings and adventures, in the hopes it helps a single other modeller. My blog has registered over 2,000 views every month in 2022, its best year ever. Every year it seems a few more people read, and I appreciate every view/like/comment as they help to keep me motivated to keep working on the layout and keep writing about it.

Liberty Village Layout Panorama, December 29, 2022. It really does make me happy to see how it looks!
The Canyon Road Diorama, finished in February, a nice start to the year finishing a big project.

Projects Completed in 2021

  • Canyon Road Diorama – See this page for all my posts on the project.
  • Freight Cars – Much to the chagrin of my friend Pierre Oliver, I have built every resin kit in my stash most of them from his Yarmouth Model Works, thus far I have not been tempted to buy more. I am close to as many cars as my layout can handle. I need to actually seriously work on preparing waybills for operation rather than add more cars!
  • Go Transit “MP-40” Stand in for the Toronto Railway Museum. A quick-ish repaint of an MBTA MP36 to be a display case stand in as the Museum has never gotten a factory GO Model for our display
  • Non Train Things – Lancaster Mk.X VERA, Iron-Man, 1966 Ford GT40, Riddles in the Dark

Projects In Progress

  • Building Liberty Village Layout – Did lots on this again in 2022!! See page here. This whole post could really be a look at the layout, but that would sell short the other things I’ve done. I will say that I am really pleased with the progress this year, structures and scenery progressing, my freight car fleet is really there
  • Another Diorama – I have an HO Scale 12″x12″ non-train diorama on the go. No details on what it actually is to share yet, but sometime. I did post about it though here, here and here.
  • Freight Car Kits – I actually finished almost all the cars in my stash! The only kit in the drawer is a Tichy USRA Rebuild, and I need Speedwich Media to re-run the correct doors, and order the decals from National Scale Car to advance it, so it sits in limbo land for the foreseeable future. I also have a second half built Tichy steam crane kit. I should really get back at that someday soon too.


  • Cricut Cutting – I bought a Cricut in February, for a variety of reasons, but largely as I have seen people using these craft cutting machines on model railroad projects. They have been derisively I think called a “poor mans laser cutter”, and while I see why, that is grossly unfair to them. They are not trying to be a laser cutter, but they can do many of the same things. They have many of the same uses, but don’t obviously work the same way. For my purposes, the Cricut has advanced a lot of building on the layout, and will continue to do so by making one of the worst parts of structure building, the cores and rough cut window openings a faster process.
  • Weathering – I have, done a basic weathering/tone down job on about 95% of my freight car fleet. I have a handful of tank cars and oddballs that require some more care to do, then I can look at applying myself to more intensive weathering on some cars.
  • Scenery – Doing it again. Actually taking the skills I have built, and going back to an area I wasn’t happy with. This was a big leap for me, but one I am really happy I did as the area at the closets edge looks light years better.
  • DCC/Electronics – Gremlins, oh electrical gremlins. I have fixed some, others are still baffling me. All part of learning from my mistakes as if we ever find out why one switch in particular hates me, we’ll hopefully not have to go through the extended stress in the future and I can come up with a maintenance/cleaning/operating routine that keeps things working!
  • Operations – I don’t know if this is a skill, or a project in progress, but someday I intend to operate the layout, both on my own and with friends over (visitors, what?). I took some further steps into this world, though largely in the area of maintenance and layout work to make it operate well. Need to put some hours in 2023 into working on paperwork to make operations actually happen.

Thing’s that actually arrived in 2022

That’s a lot of things that don’t belong on the layout, but I have wanted a GO Transit F59 for as long as I’ve been back in the hobby seriously after I finished University in December 2002 and started working in early 2003.

Thing’s I’m expecting to arrive in 2023

  • Bachmann LMS Patriot “The Unknown Warrior” – See Here
  • Accurascale British Railways Class 37 37043 “Loch Lomond” – See Here
  • Kernow Model Railway Centre Great Western Railway Steam Railmotor – See Here I haven’t actually ordered this, but I really want to, why? Why not? I can already hear Mears and Marshall typing comments and emails to try and enable me into buying it! Just have to decide on As Preserved 93 or the GWR Chocolate & Cream version with nameboards for the Severn Valley Railway…
  • Walthers SW9/900/1200 Undecorated – An actual layout project. Modelling an early CN switcher in the black paint scheme. As much as I love my SW1200RS and GMD1, neither are really appropriate for Liberty Village. While I have my brass O-18a steam locomotive as a long time project, something more representative of early diesel industrial switching in Toronto is needed.

Strangely, most of those have nothing 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’m sure there is more stuff out there to tempt me to open my wallet. I have seriously looked at a 3rd Atlas Alco S-2, as CN also used these, but I already have a pair on the CP end of the layout!

All things considered, it has been a very good year. I have finished some models, made progress on the layout, and chased a lot of trains in the real world. In just about 4.5 years my layout has gone from an idea on paper and a bare room in our new home, to something that resembles what I envisioned, and that even kinda runs when you try to run trains on it! I’d have never predicted that when we moved in, but here we are, I continue to surprise myself with the progress being made.

In terms of where I am going, I won’t be doing a 2023 Preview Post, but much like a year ago, I really want to finish the large Hinde & Dauch Paper company in 20223, that I had hoped to finish in 2021&2022. I have made progress, but it’s one of those projects that has kept getting pushed aside. I did advance it, along with a lot of smaller buildings. Hinde & Dacuh is the 2nd largest structure on my layout. One thing I do want to address in 2023 is my display situation. Over the CN staging I have two small cabinets. I would like to replace them with one larger 36″ or 42″ wide unit so that locos and cars can be displayed in context. It would make much more display sense if things were in context, and let me get some passenger car models out of boxes!

My one 2023 “preview”, getting a better display for this area to actually have short trains together on display.

So, with that, I hope you have a wonderful New Years Eve. We are ordering a Banjara Indian Feast for dinner and I am going to torture myself watching the US NCAA College Football playoff games (Go Blue!), because that seems as good as anything else to do on a Saturday night! Stay well friends.

Stephen Gardiner
December 31, 2022

Another Mini Diorama

So, I teased in a couple of posts (here & here) that I am building another stand alone diorama, I’m not going to tell you what it is, but I am going to show a bit of detail. It is another 12×12 project panel model of a specific real world building, much like the Diorama of Bar Volo’s original location I built several years ago. It will have two buildings, one of them is the focus, the second which you’ve seen is background. It will have lights and some other things to make it hopefully, a dynamic feeling mini-scene.

My chosen road material, Lepage Thick Hole Repair drywall compound, tinted with grey acryllic paint so if it gets dented in the future it isn’t gleaming white.

I have started as I do with these small project, a lot of time collecting parts and supplies and doing small side projects that become a part of the bigger whole when assembled. The past couple of weeks these smaller projects are hitting my motivation sweet spot, as I am not doing a lot of new things, but using skills I am pretty comfortable with to putter and visualize and test assemble and look to see how things are going to work. This makes it a good project for work days. When I need my 15 minute breaks in the morning or the afternoon, I can quickly turn to the bench and feel I’ve accomplished something. This is one of the problems I am having with my current main layout project of the never ending windows of Hinde & Dauch paper, I need to be in the right mindset, and have time. A rushed effort in a work break to cut out some windows will inevitably lead to a mistake, and swearing, and trains are stupid… and its summer time, I don’t want to be grumpy with my hobby, I want to enjoy it!!

Scratch Built Traffic Signal

I posted earlier this week about a new side project in discussing brass fire escapes for a building. It does tie to the layout in some skill-building as I will need fire escapes for one building on the layout, and learning to solder brass is a useful modelling skill.

This post, is another related to the diorama, but where the skills being used can be applied to my layout. I don’t have traffic signals on the layout, but I do want to have working streetlights, and there are something like a dozen of my hydro poles that will have street light arms added. Figuring out how to make the lights work is important. For my previous Bar Volo model, I drew up the Toronto Style “Acorn” lamp heads, but they were a bit oversized, and Shapeways does not print the translucent material anymore. I am at some point going to at least get some static versions printed so I can “finish” the hydro poles on the layout, as long as I am smart about how I add the arms, revisiting them to add working lights later is something I can do at some future date, but for now, on with what I was doing this past week, making a traffic light.

Scratch built light standard using K&S Aluminum tubes, some Tichy Phosphor Bronze wire, and the D5 DEM Modelsmiths LED Traffic Light.

For this diorama, I need a single traffic light, in a very specific style of design for the location of the building being modelled. I spent a lot of time searching online, and then, found on Etsy of all places, Modelsmiths Designs. They have a stand alone website too. When I first found them, neither site offered shipping to Canada, which is something I find too often that places won’t ship here, or ask exorbitant rates. Fortunately, the owner was very friendly when I contacted them, and looked into it with their shipping services, and was able to add affordable shipping to Canada, so I ordered two hanging 3 light traffic signals. They sell a range of traffic signals, streetlights, railroad signals and other details in HO, O and S Scales. They also sell electronic controllers for them. I didn’t buy a controller, as I expect I will just static wire the light to a single colour for the diorama, but as I build who knows, I think I have a three way switch somewhere that I could wire in to manually change the light aspect. My initial response to testing the lights now months after I bought them, and fishing the wires through the tubes, is that I am very very happy with them, and hopefully down the road I will have use for other of their projects, I like to support people who make good products, and who go out of their way to be fair in shipping to Canada, as its much easier as a small producer to just saw “naw, the effort for a handful of sales isn’t worth it.”

In terms of construction, I had some different gauges of K&S Metals Aluminum Tube kicking around. I thought about using styrene tube initially, but I think the aluminum does two things, it bends a bit better for the extension arm, and is a little bit stronger for long term handling. I was able to find the specification drawing for the light online, so I had rough dimensions to make sure I built it roughly to scale (as close as my eyesight allows, and I don’t tend to get too worked up about an inch here or there on scale dimensions!).

Working Streetlights. Red, yellow and green LED’s in the lamp housing.

I have some cleanup work to do, and filling in the open ends of tubes, but once I am happy with it, and have fabricated a base, it will be off to the paintshop to provide a cleanish look for the pole and hide the different materials. All in all, a good quick project to get the core work done and see if what I thought actually worked in terms of how to realize this part of the project.

Etched Brass Fire Escapes

I am working on yet another side project/diorama, though at least this time it is in HO Scale like the layout, and is giving me a chance to experiment with something I will need on one of the keystone buildings on the layout, the “Castle” of the Gillette Company at 135 Fraser Ave. This building had multiple fire escapes over the loading dock, so I am going to need a lot of them. I am not 100% sure these are a perfect match for what I need, but they are really really nice, and worked for the side project, so it was a chance to stretch my legs and try to build a new skill-set, soldering etched brass parts.

Etched brass fire escapes for a side project. I actually soldered the parts rather than gluing them, pushing myself for something I’d never had any luck at before.

I bought the Gold Medal Models etched fire escape main set, and the add on set to do the 4 storeys needed. Gold Medal Models are primarily a model ship etched manufacturer, but they offer limited sets of N Scale and HO Scale items, including two styles of fire escape, “regular” and “fancy”. I chose the regular ones.

I have been wanting for a while, to try and solder brass etched parts together. This is most assuredly baby steps into working with Brass Etched kits. My friend Trevor has been building complicated full brass etched locomotive kits of late, and reading his blog posts and trading messages was making me really feel the need to push myself. It also didn’t hurt that I could ask him for advice on how to solder brass, and then go and try to apply his suggestions while making my own mistakes and finding out what worked for me.

These were, admittedly simple to form and solder. The ladders don’t appear to need any solder at all, just fold the sides up, then twist the stairs so they are level. This made me very happy to have bought a good etch bender a couple of years ago. Good tools continue to pay off. The platforms are also simple, fold up the sides and then solder to the deck, a single part with three folds. They then only needed two solder joints, one on each side to form the box. The etches are quite thick, so one of the problems Trevor warned me about in applying too much heat and warping the parts was almost impossible, but I very gently made my best bad effort at tinning both sides of the joints, I then brought the parts together and successfully soldered the four platforms.

Installing the fire escape, with modifications to look a bit more like the real building. This isn’t even the main event for the site project, this is the scenery next door.

The kits included a drilling jig for the three holes needed on each side, so I marked and slowly worked my way up from the 2nd floor to the top drilling holes and adjusting ladders. I even used a spare ladder for access to the ground floor cut into pieces to lengthen the upper ladders to reach between the floor spacing on the building. I even managed to solder the extensions to my ladders. With the etched parts done, I used some styrene to make channels for the ground ladder to look like it is in a slider, and then assembled everything onto the temporarily sticky tacked together walls. Before I assemble everything, I will need to paint it all, but I will at some point likely throw some primer and paint at the fire escape, but for now, I am enjoying the shiny brass as I look at the escapes while I work on the building and the rest of this diorama.

What is the diorama? That’s for some other day, down the road. I do like my secrets, but people may eventually figure out from various side projects I am working on as I post about them. There are a lot of sub components and things I am playing with and experimenting with for this one.

I Am Iron Man… Graffiti for an Autorack…and That’s no Train Part 11!!

Lookit me go, combining things. Home made Graffiti for an autorack for Canyon Road based on a tag I saw in the real world, and a 75mm resin figure of Iron Man. This is most definitely crossing things up, with trains and not trains covering the same territory. Its that time again, another “That’s No Train” project, past ones can be read about here: 1, 2, 3 (& 3.5), 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9 and 10!

I was never the biggest comic book person growing up. I read some here and there, watched the various cartoons of comic book characters, but they were just not my main thing (see That’s not Train Part 3 and Transformers!). When the original Iron Man movie came out in 2008, I remember being interested in it, and looking forward to seeing it, but had no idea where the Marvel movies would go, and how all in on them and the notion of a connected ongoing universe of movies and TV shows would suck me in. In full disclosure, I saw the first Iron Man movie in 2008 high as a kite. I don’t now, and never have used pot with any kind of regularity, as with most I experimented here and there in University, and every now and then over the years at parties with friends. One of my roommates at the time the movie came out in 2008 had made a big batch of pot brownies, I think I missed the part about them being loaded, and had a couple with ice cream before going to see the movie! I was… quite mellow, so it blew me away. To this day I don’t think you could have cast Tony Stark better than Robert Downey Jr., his own history of issues, and his demeanour just scream Tony Stark, and his long run playing the role seems to support my sense that he was perfect for the role.

My inspiration for the Graffiti for my autorack for Canyon Road. Seen in a CPR train at Royal York Road in 2021.

Since the graffiti i saw was not on a CPR autorack like the one I had bought, I wanted to do a tag inspired by the one I saw, not a 100% recreation. I also decided that I would tag one corner of the car, on one side, so I have the option to display a “clean” side as well. I didn’t want this to be a completely tagged and destroyed rack, but modern cars are almost all tagged in some way, so something was appropriate.

Painting the purple backdrop on the autorack, and attempt 1 at the custom printed decal…the clear decal paper did not work!

Having found art I liked, and playing around with it to size and appearance, I started into working on the autorack. First up, I sprayed some purple to be the base of the graffiti, as there was no way the printer could render anything that resembled this. When I initially did the decals on clear sheet, I then made a mask and sprayed the areas that were white for eyes and thrusters. The clear decal didn’t work at all. It basically disappeared completely. Once it was clear the decal had to be largely printed on white decal paper to help the colours show, I made some adjustments and tried again. With a careful trim the fade in the print and the white looked enough like spray that I was happy to apply it and see how it went. Fortunately, this version worked, and once blended with weathering to have some road grime, and healthy applications of Microsol to get it to blend into the car, it was good to go.

Attempt 2 on white decal paper went much better for the main part of the tag, with the text still on clear paper.

The “That’s No Train” part of this post is a 75mm scale resin 3D printed Iron Man i bought online from Ali Express. This is almost certainly a knock off of someone else’s model, but I had been looking for an Iron Man of some sort, either figure, toy or model kit for a while, and haven’t been able to find one I liked.

Resin Iron Man being painted. Assembled, with a post added, in primer, with some attempts at pre-shading and with gold base.

This was a pretty basic item, no instructions, and only two low quality pictures on the website to figure out what it looked like. On top of that, no amount of cleaning seemed to make the resin behave well with any form of adhesive. Eventually, though some brute force and patience, it rounded into shape. I used Microscale MicroMask, even though I paint with Acrylics and it isn’t really compatible with them, it works, but I find it can be tricky to get off with clean lines, definitely some care was needed removing the masking after spraying the red on. After painting, I tried another new technique to me, well known to figure painters, a colour tone wash, in this case, red to match the body, this brought out the colour and collected in the nooks and crannies to give some depth to the figure.

Later Stages of painting, spraying red with the gold masked, pulling off the liquid mask, and adding blue highlights to the eyes, arc reactor and hand thrusters. Then evaluating the two base options and prepping one for painting.

The final part of the project was a suitable base. I settled on a 55mm circular base of the two I bought. It was duly painted with three different shades, two straight from the bottle steels, and leftovers of the custom mix I made for the Bandai K-2SO Model I built previously that I still had leftover of. A single hole drilled in the base to fit the post I installed on Iron Man’s foot to hold for painting made for a nice solid connection between the figure and the base.

Beauty Shots of the finished Autorack with Iron Man graffiti and the resin Iron Man figure.

So with that, both a train and a non-train project are done and off the workbench!