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

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!!

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)!

Reclaiming my Layout Room for the Holidays

First off, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, whatever you celebrate if you do, I hope you find a way to make the best of it given all that 2020 has thrown at us. I am using up some days off that I need to use before the end of the year, and as I write this on Christmas eve, yesterday was my first day off for a Christmas break until January. As such, first up was to reclaim my layout room/workshop from also being my home office, and banish anything that has been there since mid-March making it my office for my employer as well, and even on day one it made a huge difference. Instead of being in the layout room from 8am having to ignore my models, I meandered in around noon and looked about to choose projects to work on. Talking with my friend Trevor Marshall of late, I realized I have made a lot of progress in 2020, but I want to focus myself on “finishing” the eastern half of the layout from the peninsula into CPR staging in the closet. I am not going to set a specific time target, more of an overarching “is there a project I can work on to advance this end of the layout” plan. If the answer is no, then off I go with something else, but If i can work on things that move that end forward, that I will do.

So, with all that said, I picked out two projects to work on. Making my first telephone poles, and laying the first static grass on the layout. I’ve been practising and learning to use Static Grass, so I decided it was time to actually apply some to the one large grassy area, the prison yard for the Mercer Reformatory woman’s prison! The sad part is, most of the grass is hidden behind the security fence, so you don’t really get to see it, though it will hopefully show in photographs from a slightly higher angle. None the less, laying the static grass in the yard, has brought that area very close to finished. It needs some work around the two trees recovered from Trevor’s layout, to blend the roots in, but the static grass has brought the appearance of the area and around the fence looking much more finished.

Getting set and laying static grass on the Mercer Reformatory prison yard.

For the yard, I removed the trees and fence, and filled the holes with toothpicks so I could find them again, and keep them free of grass and glue. As you can see from the pictures above, I laid green painters tape to help keep grass and glue from getting on the track and roads where I didn’t want it at the moment. I have recently stained the green painted fence with an alcohol and ink mix to tone it down and dirty it up. Nothing earth shattering in the work, or techniques, just good solid actually getting things done.

The finished area, before the green tape was pulled and with the tape removed.

Moving on from static grass, I have had the telephone poles in place for a while, but hadn’t moved on with them. Because on my layout, these are not railway telegraph poles, but city hydro (electricity) and streetlights, I am scratch building them so they match the poles from archives photographs, and at least give me the option to install working lights. My inspiration for the how is from Australian modeller Luke Towan’s Boulder Creek Blog. I am making modifications to his technique that he shares at the link, but I am absolutely 100% using his technique as the basis for coming up with how I am going to build mine. He kindly shares his 3D print designs for components, though this is one of the big areas I am making a change. When my friend Trevor moved, he gave me a giant box of HO Scale stuff, included in it was a set of Rix products telephone poles. The poles are useless, but the cross arms were perfect to cut down to size and modified. I am likely at some point going to get a couple of the pole mount transformers Luke shares printed, as I’ve been struggling to find any available from existing manufacturers (they exist, just not in stock anywhere!). The poles in Liberty Village as seen in archives pictures had arms on both sides, connected by wooden supports, creating a box like look for the arms. To make them consistent, I made a jig using some scrap styrene to set the arms, and let me glue them to the styrene tube poles. The poles are hollow for wiring, the outsides have been scraped with a razor saw so that when painted they will look like wooden poles. We shall see as they say how my painting technique goes!

Building a jig to connect Rix telephone arms to evergreen styrene hydro poles, and cutting down the arms on my NWSL Chopper.

I still need to make a final decision on if I am going to light the streetlights or not, as that determines how I 3D print the Toronto Acorn streetlights (previously used on my Bar Volo Diorama), as Shapeways no longer prints the clear material I used several years ago. I have friends with resin printers, who may be able to print me clear globes and non-translucent fixtures, we shall see, or if I decide not to light them, I can adjust and have them printed as just detail parts. Thus far, all the work I have done with the poles and their mounts in the layout allows for me to wire them and light them, but I can walk back from that if needed. For now, I’ve build 8 poles, and have an order for a package of the Rix cross arms pending to finish the other 10 poles on the layout. It was a nice easy project. I will get the rest of the strip wood pieces I need cut for the braces while I wait, but doing the rest of the poles will be a nice evening project sometime once I have the parts, then I can move on to painting them.

The first test pole assembled, and on the layout, setting up to build the 8 I have enough cross arms for, and the first three in place to see how they look.

All in all, a good day in the layout room, and it was nice to feel positive working in my layout space. On we go with more little projects here through the holidays!

Sunday Putterings

As we approach a return to lockdown in Toronto starting tomorrow, instead of going out and fighting the sheeple going out to malls and stores before they are closed (I hated malls in the before times, in a pandemic, with a lockdown starting at midnight, you couldn’t make me go!), I planned to spend my Saturday and Sunday taking full advantage of the fact that the English Premier League is booking four games with no overlap on Saturdays and Sundays at the moment. I managed to watch all four games on Saturday, but otherwise, I was in a funk. I had no motivation to do anything, didn’t want to work on trains, spent a good chunk of the day watching the football games from bed. This year has been a year, for us all, and I’ve written about some of my challenges with motivation and mental health. Suffice to say, as the saying goes, today was a new day. I got up this morning, watched the 7am Fulham v. Everton game, and by the time the Sheffield United-West Ham United game started at 9, I was up, showered, dressed, and had laundry going! With that, I launched into 5 non-stop hours of model train puttering in advance of plunking myself down on the sofa to watch Liverpool-Leicester City to end the days EPL soccer! What a difference a day makes. I don’t know why I felt energized on Sunday and in the dumps Saturday, but so much has happened, I’m going to focus on the good, while remembering the bad is OK too and that its perfectly normal to not have good days at the moment as well. I just know since I spend all my work week in my layout room, its easier for me to focus on my day job during day job times if I am feeling I have been productive on the layout in my time, which I now do compared to yesterday.

Unexpected Treats for modelling from my better half!

A positive start, shortly after I started puttering, my better half ordered in Starbucks (its snowing here today, she had a zoom coffee date with friends and didn’t feel like going out to get a Starbucks treat), she got me a Peppermint Hot Chocolate and a Ginger Cookie, now that’s how to start a day at the workbench!

Up First, more with the Static Grass Applicator and playing around.

First up, more learning with the Static Grass applicator. I have bought another colour of 2mm material from Woodland Scenics, its quite different in terms of feel from the WWScenics material I ordered with their applicator tool. I’ve not got test samples of all three 2mm colours of base grass I have on styrofoam shingles so I can see how they look under layout lighting. After all of this, I think I am going to use the WWScenics spring, on Tile 1. I like the bit of brighter colour pop for where I’m going to have green grass, and it can be toned down with selective additions of the Woodland Scenics darker green, and layering longer grasses.

I then moved onto my narrow gauge shelf, and added some more static grass and started to play around with some flower scatter and fabric materials I had picked up. As there won’t be a lot of grassy areas on my layout, I won’t have a lot of this, but little pops of colour here and there for a small cost to buy the two different material bundles. I am quite happy with how they look, and while I may come back and add some more to the diorama, I’ve achieved the first goal which was to use it as a test bed for learning before doing anything on the layout.

The Railway Village Diorama in 2017 when completed, and today stripped down for refreshing.

Next up, in order to continue to practice and learn applying Static Grass, I am going to do some “refreshing” and repairs to my Toronto Railway Museum “Railway Village” Diorama. This model of our restored buildings in the park has travelled around the province for the past five years going to shows, and been on display in our house. At the time, I did not have a static grass applicator, and no need to buy one, so I did the grass with my old traditional technique of ground foam. It looked fine, but it hasn’t aged well as it has caught cat hair and dust. Overall, the diorama was a bit tired looking from all the being carted about, so this is a chance to fix and improve things. Today I only cleaned and fixed the ballast, but in the coming days, I have some things I want to try with the static grass to freshen it up and hopefully improve it for whenever I go to another train show.

Working on gravel drive crossings on the layout.

In my last omnibus post of activity, I wrote about how I was starting to fix the level crossings that are not in the paved roads. I have been staining and trimming the crossing boards. They are now getting to about the look I want, they just need some more sanding and trimming to fit to make sure they don’t rise above the railheads and cause derailments.

Handrails and stairs for the entrance to 60 Atlantic.

My final achievement for the day, was a small one. Drilling four holes in the plastic steps for the front of 60 Atlantic, the building I built during my week off. The front steps and handrails are Plastruct parts. Two concrete steps glued together, and then two handrails. The two steps were the perfect width for the front door opening. They were a bit deep, but that was quickly remedied by taking a razor saw taking off the molded in landing as the steps butt up to the landing in the buildings entrance canopy. I think I’m getting close to ready to try and primer the building and paint it. Exciting times.

I’ve managed to write this during the 2nd half of the Liverpool-Leicester match, while curled up on the sofa beneath a warm blanket with an adult beverage. Now to do some cleanup of the dining table so we can enjoy the roast that’s in the slow cooker making the whole house smell delicious!

A week off work full of small projects

I’m a busy body. I’m not good at sitting around and doing nothing, and last week, I took a week off, which normally means I would have gone somewhere or done something. In 2020, that isn’t a thing, so I stayed home. I sat on the patio with some late fall warm days listening to music, I watched Remembrance Day Ceremonies and documentaries, and I worked on a variety of layout tasks.

Painting and scraping, making small steps on many projects.

First up was some time in the paint booth, putting primer on the first of several National Scale Car mini-kit conversions of Intermountain 10′-6″ AAR boxcars into accurate Canadian models, along with starting to turn the styrene tube into wooden telephone poles. I need them to be hollow so I can wire streetlights, so using actual wood was out. Instead, using styrene tube, and a razor saw blade, I can create the appearance of wooden poles. They don’t look like anything yet, but once I get some paint on them, they will. This will be an ongoing project and sooner or later I will write a more fulsome blog post about them.

The other thing being painted, as you can see are 3D printed Fire Hydrants. I went out in the summer and measured actual Toronto Hydrants, these are accurate including the “Toronto Water” TW cast into them, though it’s virtually invisible on the prints. I am super happy with how my hyrdrants turned out, and once they are done being painted and installed, I’ll probably write more about them too.

Finishing the first pass of ballasting the layout. All track now has some ballast, touchups and additions may be needed here and there as I go.

Next up was some actual layout work, ballasting track. The image above shows the last stretch that wasn’t ballasted after ballast and glue were applied. It is a nice feeling as it is a “milestone”, all of my track is now ballasted, it may need to have some more added, but it is now ready for me moving on with finishing the base scenery between the track, roads and building foundations. The last bits of pink foam that you can see will soon disappear!

And another building appears, this time a compressed version of 60 Atlantic.

The next building to move from card/foam mockup to styrene is 60 Atlantic Avenue. A building that spanned the block between Atlantic Avenue and Jefferson Avenue on the north side of the tracks. I have the full block, but it is about half the actual width to fit on my layout, so I am trying to capture the feel of the building through selective compression. I am happy with it, I know what Building it is immediately, and I think others who know Liberty Village will as well when they see it. It’s now ready for paint, trying something different, trying to paint the walls and windows separately, to save a lot of masking and pain that I will have with some other buildings where the windows are already installed. We shall see in time which approach works better for me.

Undoing work I’ve done to correct mistakes

The final task was undoing something I have done. I’ve been laying gravel driveways around buildings, and I made one critical error. Railways would never have allowed gravel to be laid between the rails, even on a private crossing in an industrial area. It moves, and gets pushed up against the inside of rails and causes derailments. The same thing happens in model scale, putting ballast between the rails high enough to be a driveway creates spots where derailments happen. So, using some warm water to soften the glue, I soaked the gravel between the rails and scrapped it away back to level with the rail ties. Now I will be able to go back and add wood board crossings, a much more realistic crossing.

All in all, it was a good week. I had thought I would get more done on the layout, but, at the end of the day, I let how I was feeling drive me. When I got up in the morning, I relaxed, listened to music and started to work on the layout when I felt like it late morning or early afternoon. This is a long term project, and I was never going to finish it in a single week off work, but it was nice to clear the mind and get away from things, knowing that the layout was there waiting for me when I went to my layout room, instead of my work computer and job waiting for me. I’m back to that now, but hopefully the good feelings of relaxation last a few weeks and we can make it to my next break at Christmas.

Sometimes a little does a lot

Last weekend it was nice and not overly humid out, that got me motivated to break out a chunk of cardboard and do some painting with the rattle can of Tamiya Fine Surface primer. I could do this inside the spray booth, but I don’t like using rattle cans inside, and the subjects getting hit with the primer were a bit big for the booth to manoeuvre easily.

Buildings on our patio getting rattle canned. In my opinion, the simple coat of primer to even out all the different colours of material and hide any scuffs goes a long way

The three buildings I’ve built that were ready for the next steps toward painting got a quick coat of grey primer. It gives a nice even base for the next steps of paintings, which will be a mix of paints and pan pastel powders. This was one of those little projects that I’ll have to do time and time again, but where the reward for the effort is really high as the look of the buildings in grey even is much more than in bare plastic.