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.


  • 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

The Importance of Light in Painting Models

I’ve been working on what feels like a small mountain of box car kits, but I am slowly making progress. Three of them were ready for paint today. The only Acrylic Canadian National Red #11 I have been able to find is the Badger Modelflex. This isn’t a brand I have used a lot, I think I’ve only used it on one project previously, which is always a bit scary getting used to a new paint. There are lots of questions, does it need thinned, how much if it does, does it gum up the airbrush (the answer on this was yes, moreso than some other paints I use), and how does the colour actually spray and look?

Two 1937 AAR Boxes and a Fowler Patent boxcar, all in CN Red 11 in the bookcase drying/curing after airbrushing. Its a bright red, I think.

Boxcar Reds. You could (and someone probably has) written voluminous tomes on the colour of boxcars. They were red, brown and almost every shade of both in the 1950’s, and that;s when they are clean before they have been out in the world being used and getting dirty!

I don’t get too wound up about these kinds of things, but I do want realistic looking models. So after painting, looking at the red in the bookcase where I store parts after painting, which is in a different room of the house with very different lighting, I had some doubts about the colour and how it would look. After a couple of hours, once it had cured enough to be gently handled, I brought one of the three cars up to the layout, put on the trucks and wheels, and popped it onto the layout alongside cars factory painted from two RTR manufacturers to see how the colour looked on the layout.

A freshly painted Intermountain/National Scale Car 1937 AAR Boxcar in Badger Modelflex CNR Red #11 between a Rapido Gondola and True Line Trains Slab Side Hopper in CN Red #11. On the layout, the Badger looks a lot more reasonable shade.

On the layout, next to other cars, the spread of the colour is not nearly as bad as it looked like it was going to be when I was done painting. Realistically, I should have stopped after paining one car and taken a look before painting the other two, but sometimes, I am not clever. In this case, it didn’t come back to haunt me, but there is a definitely lesson here, if your paint area has different lighting than your layout, test paint! Then you can go and see how things look when they are on your layout. I’m not worried as I could be, as after decals and flat coat are applied, there are many ways to dull and darken the paint including weathering. While it may not look like CN Red to some who get worked up, it does look like other cars in this scheme, which will be a different red/brown that cars painted for other railroads in other shades of “BoxCar Red”!

A staging yard of half built freight car kits

I am nothing, if not scatterbrained sometimes when it comes to building models and projects, I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but knowing yourself is important. Motivation and desire to work on things or do certain tasks ebbs and flows within me. Some days I really am excited to ballast track (the hell??), others, I want nothing to do with it. The same goes for building freight car kits. Some days I am totally in a groove to do fiddly underbody details and piping, other days, the thought of that has me thinking of seeing how far a 40′ boxcar will fly if i take it out side and pull back and launch it across the courtyard! Because of this, I tend to have a lot of projects on the go in various stages of completeness.

My “unbuilt” kit pile. Most of these are started and on the layout half built. It’s small compared to a lot of people’s!

I don’t need a lot of rolling stock for my layout (we’re talking in the tens of cars, not the hundreds like some large layouts), and at the moment, I have 11 kits in hand, 10 of which are in some form of having been started. I’ve also “finished” three kits to the point of being ready to weather this year, though those three are a CN Auxiliary Train with a crane and not really for operations!

CN Staging next to my workbench full of half built kits! The 3 in the back are ready to weather, the other 10 are in various stages of almost ready for paint to barely started!

So, while I hate to set goals artificially, I’m going to set one. I would like to have at least half the cars in the picture above finished, painted, decalled and clear coated by the end of December (December 2020 for those keeping score). That’s five cars. Of them, one hiding is missing just end number decals, and clear coat; one is basically done except for one piece of wire pipe; and one is just missing trucks. So really, I’m setting a goal of finishing building 2 cars, and painting/decaling 4. I think I can do that in two months, especially as I am taking a week off in November to literally just work on the layout, and some time off at Christmas where there is lots of English football to watch to forget about the fact we probably won’t be getting together with friends and family to end the year, such is 2020 though right?

Sometimes its a simple thing

So last week I wrote about how sick I was of looking at the layout spending all day in my layout room as my home office. I’m not sure what flicked the switch, but last night for the first time in what feels like forever (its really just a few weeks), I stayed in the layout room, and puttered. This is a good thing, and a sign that I’m in a good space when I just happily putter away at a bunch of things and get things done without over thinking things or psyching myself out.

I had a super productive couple of hours. I glued down some building foundations, added trim to the lighting valance in advance of painting it, fixed the valance in the closet, worked on adjusting bullfrogs to install in switches, and did the brake piping and rigging on the first of the six or so box car kits I have started or plan on starting in the near future.

Finally, the underbody plumbing and rigging done on one box car project, and on to ladders and other details. I have many more to do, but this was a mental block of late to do one.

I think, my spurt of motivation is two fold, writing about my feeling meh, and the fact that this weekend is the rescheduled Le Mans 24 Hour race. I am really really looking forward to the race this year. I missed last year mostly as I was away (I was having fun, but couldn’t undertake my traditional planting of myself in front of a monitor for the race), and given all that’s gone on in 2020, the prospect of the race has me excited, and I’m going to be in my office/layout room with many screens going and have decided I want to do as many little projects on the layout as possible. I think this weekend will see me make a bunch of progress on things, and that has me excited to go again!

Finishing some various Layout projects

Part of building a layout is reaching milestones, sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small. These are some smallish milestones on various things.

First up, installing fences. None are permanently glued down, but the first four fences, two chain link, one board, and one corrugated steel are no in place on the layout. They all need some adjusting here and there, then some scenery around them, but they are now not propped up with pins or paint jars or clamps or anything else, they are just standing. I dry brushed on thinned white paint to the wooden fence for the Brunswick Balke Collender lumber yard on the south side of the street, using thinned white paint applied to try and create a weathered/whitewashed look as based on the aerial photographs I have, at least originally this fence was a lighter colour, and I think this looks better than bare wood.

The green corrugated metal fence is the southern end of the Mercer Reformatory for Women prison. I’m not modelling the prison itself, the building was off the layout, but the south end of the yard just gets onto the layout. The whitewashed wood fence is the lumber yard for Brunswick Balke Collender’s pool table and bowling alley factory.

Second up, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about rebuilding the legs on the water tower for Hinde & Dauch. I finally got an order of Plastruct Trusses to re-do the bracing and square up the legs. It is in need of a new coat of paint, some primer to hide where paints were taken off and on new parts, then a re-spray of the aluminum to put everything back to looking finished. As part of the rebuild, I also wound up replacing the railing with something a little bit finer. I’m not 100% on the plastic railing. I may yet pull it off and replace it with one made from metal wire, we shall see. I’m not in any rush to paint, I was in a rush to get the legs done as with the bracing gone, and the main legs loose until I had new bracing, it was at constant risk of falling apart, now its at least secure again.

Water tower with straight legs and new bracing. Looking much better to me.

Third, and certainly not last, is finishing paving the roads. This isn’t the roads done, they need some touch ups of plaster here and there, then sanding, painting, weathering, and on to turn them into finished scenery, but, the milestone of having done at least the first level of all the paved roads is a big one, it means I can go back to test running trains as all the flangeway fillers have been removed, and I can work on finding any spaces I got putty I didn’t want that will affect operations before I get on to doing touchups and painting the roads.

The second to last area to be “paved”, and the two gap areas waiting on a final batch of tinted drywall putty when the picture was taken.

To celebrate the end of another work week, I mixed up one last big batch of drywall putty tonight, and finished the roads. My technique has worked and not worked at times, tonight’s paving was mostly ok, but I am glad I am done with the majority of this work other than some touchups. It was harder than I’d thought, though I am mostly happy with the outcome. There are no problems that cant be fixed through some spot filling here and there, some sanding and the eventual painting/weathering of the roads, so that is a good thing!

Finished and setting! The last portions of the roads are paved on the layout.

Now on to cleaning the tracks in the crossings to fix any electrical shorts from rails buried in plaster, and onto some test running of trains to make sure I haven’t done anything to the trackwork that would be better fixed now than when more scenery is done later!

Rebuilding the Water Tower for Hinde and Dauch

Last year I built a kit for the water tower on the Hinde and Dauch factory. The longer I’ve looked at it, and especially now that I’ve started to get the building and its compression/scaling sorted out, some of the things I did per the kit are both not going to work physically and were bothering me visually.

The JL Innovative Red Rock Water Tower built as per the kit in place at H&D and on the ground for sense of scale. It is sitting high in position behind the mockup as I couldn’t find a shorter box.

The kit, while nice, was designed to sit on the ground, the legs splay out and get wider at the bottom than the top. When I look at my pictures and those of the building before the tank was removed for storeys to be added when it was turned into a residential condominium, the legs are clearly straight on this tower. For it to fit on the top of the building in the space available, I needed to disassemble the legs, and get them straight, and either take a couple of inches off, or modify it so it sits hidden inside the tower at the corner of the plant.

With the leg bracing from the kit ripped out, and a new base to hold the feed square, starting to get a much better look.

As much as it pained me to start pulling apart the legs, which were a real pain to get together and get braced the first time, within minutes of getting all the bracing out, and gently prising the tops of the legs loose from the tank, with legs being vertical up and down without any angle to them instantly looked better, and fit better on the building

The water tower in 2005 (with giant sign added) and with the legs straightened and getting more to right height on the layout mockup of the plant.

I’ve since ordered from styrene truss material to re-do the support frames to better match the real world pictures, and once that arrives, I can finalize the height of the tower and start the re-assembly process, and then re-paint to have it back to layout ready. I’ve also ordered some new styrene handrail material, the more I’ve looked at it, the less I like the laser cut wood handrail around the platform from the kit. Such is the way of the modeller trying to recreate accurate representations of real buildings, sometimes, even when you start with a kit, you wind up replacing half of it (or more) to get you to the finish line you were seeking. I’ll post again about this in a few weeks time whenever parts have come in and I’ve made some progress.