Layout Maintenance, a never-ending task

So, after probably a month or so where I haven’t done a lot of layout work, or ran any trains, I decided on Tuesday evening this week to fire up the layout and actually use it to move the fleet of boxcars parked on it to staging to clear the layout. It ran, but I found multiple problems that required remedial work.

The first, is one I’ve been aware of, but haven’t really dealt with, cat hair. Gandalf is a majestic floof…but he is a floof. Cat hair is a never-ending cleaning chore in our house, and on my layout. While he doesn’t spend a lot of time in the layout room/office (he’s a mommas boy, he hangs out with my better half!), he does come in, and the floof travels! When equipment moves, you can see it picking up and dragging cat hair with it. It is particularly noticeable on the two Rapido locomotives I have, that seem to be floof magnets the way their trucks are designed. Both my SW1200RS and GMD1 had copious amounts of cat fur wrapped into the axles and stuck in with the lubrication that escapes from the gearboxes onto the axles.

One colossal floof, and the results of his floofing wrapping onto axles, and before/after of the SW1200RS and GMD1 trucks as I worked to remove the floof from them. Got a lot out, not all of it. Will have to tackle again!

Removing the floof, was a combination of vacuuming and picking it out with a fine pair of tweezers, followed by more vacuuming. I don’t think I got all of it (in fact I am virtually certain I did not get all of it), but I got enough that hopefully I am starting the fight to make sure it doesn’t get too deep into the mechanism, and to fight it being tracked across the layout. As my layout is still under construction, I haven’t settled into a routine of cleaning and operating it, so dust/hair/debris seems to build up. As I would like to be able to welcome friends in again to see the layout and run trains, I am going to need to actually work on this and come up with a routine for regular cleaning and running equipment. I also need to run equipment to find out where I either have track issues that need resolving, or where there are cars that need wheels/trucks adjusted to run reliably.

The second Tuesday Repair, is something I am still getting used to, broken switches where the rails have popped off. This one, I think is because I left the switch in the thrown position, which the way the Bullfrog Turnout controls are installed, puts a little bit of pressure on the rails, and seemingly over time, found any weak solder joint from the turnouts construction. This is the 3rd time I think I have had to fix a switch, and I am getting more comfortable and confident doing it, which is a good thing.

Repaired turnout on the left. the back rail had come off the throw bar.

While I’m glad I can fix things, I’d rather be spending my time building things and actually advancing the layout. I think figuring out a routine for regular cleaning and running trains will help, even without a plan. I am also starting to feel some motivation generally to actually build coming on, which is nice as honestly, through the summer I have not had a lot of motivation to work, but the later sunrise and earlier sunsets that seem to be catching up on us are bringing on the motivation to model as going out chasing trains in the real world becomes harder and harder as the hours of light after work become shorter and shorter!

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.

Fixing a paintshop whoopsie

Mistakes, we all make them, how much they hurt depend on your ability to get past them without getting angry (a personal challenge), and being able to accept that sometimes, you need a do-over. I have been working for a few months at my on-again/off-again work-rate on a batch of 7 resin boxcar kits. At one point I had thought about having them all built and painted and ready to decal and taking them to a cottage my in-laws have rented in July to do the decals. I have decided, that while totally doable, that is more effort in safely packing them up and the various tools to do the decals, I would rather completely unplug for that week from hobbies, So I am going to do that, but I still want to get these cars finished! At any point for weeks now I could have been decalling cars, instead I’ve been looking at a half finished kit, the last half finished kit at least. I finally this past week decided to get it done and the one other car that wasn’t painted primed and painted…and then the chaos started.

The bad side, the OK side, and the end damage…not my best night at the paintbooth.

I managed, in under 5 minutes to have the car body fall off the paint stand 3 times, smearing the primer the first two times, then breaking off fine etched parts in a stirrup step at the corner, and a cut lever and bracket on one end (and smear the paint again on top of pick up whatever loose crud was in the paint booth). I swore, loudly, and put everything away. I then sent my usual hobby sounding post the traditional “Trains are F@$king Stupid” text, and went to bed.

Scraping off primer with my fingers, post dip on the roof, and isopropyl dip working as normal and just melting away the poorly adhered bad coat of primer.

I have come to the conclusion that the “airbrush ready” mix of Vallejo Primer I have at my paint booth has been over thinned or over flow improvered (is that even a word?) as it sprayed badly, like on top of my dropping it, when it was cured, I was able to scrape almost all the paint off the roof with my fingernail, and some of the primer on the body would come off that easily too. Not much use if the primer designed to give you a good base for applying paint won’t actually hold. I think it is time to pitch what is left in the bottle, and start a fresh batch, something has happened to it as the past couple of times I’ve sprayed it, it has behaved progressively worse.

A good clean coat of primer, this time using my rattle can of Tamiya Fine Surface Primer.

Once the car had been cleaned, I had some time today to fix the broken stirrup step and cut lever, and make sure everything else seemed to be OK and attached where it should be. I found a few parts where it seems the isopropyl also broke glue or CA joints, so after some fixes, it was back to the paint booth. This time, I did what I knew I shoulda done and used the rattle can of Tamiya Fine Surface Primer. This stuff is awesome, and I have almost never had problems with it, yet I’ve been messing around with other primers with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, you just need to stick to what works and go with it. Oh well, as usual, live and learn, but at least it seems I didn’t break anything so badly I couldn’t fix it!

I’m H-a-p-p-y…Go Like Hell…1966 Ford GT40 MkII Number 1 – That’s No Train Part 12!

Another day, another post about not trains…but this was one I’ve been looking forward to building for a bit, and after the past two years of disruptions, the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race returned to its traditional June date last weekend. With that motivation, building my 1/24th Scale model of a 1966 Ford GT40 MkII finally came to the top of the pile, it gave me something to do while watching the race on the weekend, and during the week before to motivate me to get things done on the build to be able to finish it while I watched, but before the whole story…Yes, It’s That’s No Train Part 12!!! Previous ones here.. 1, 2, 3 (& 3.5), 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9,10, and 11!

I have previously built a modern Ford GTLM car from a Revell kit, I’ve wanted to do a 1966 GT40, that car’s predecessor for a while, but the kits that were out there were not available, and rather dated. In 2020, Meng Models, a Chinese company released a 1/12th large scale version, then announced in 2021 that a 1/24th version was coming as well. My local plastic model (and paint/tool supply) at Wheels and Wings had it in (as I write it appears to be out of stock), so I dutifully ordered it and set to thinking about which of the two cars I might build, that I would build. I was torn between the winning #2 of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, or the “losing” #1 of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. If you’re not a racing fan, here is an article on the long standing controversy of the fixed finish by Ford of the race and the potential fix by Ford to make sure the car of theirs they wanted to win, did so. There is also a great book on this history of Ford at Le Mans, Go Like Hell, well worth a borrow from your local library or an addition to your library. I finally decided that I wanted to model the blue Mikes/Hulme 1 car, even though my 2016 car is the one that won on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first win in 1966. While a diorama of the two winners would be nice, I decided I just like the look of the blue car better than the black and silver number 1.

Early stages of work on the GT40, test fitting and checking out, getting sub components of the engine painted and assembled.

The Meng kit is, in some ways a “snap together” kit, a lot of parts are designed in the way that Bandai Star Wars/Gundam style kits, where you could assemble them without glue. It’s not entirely that way, but the way it is designed allows for a lot of easy test assemblies and building sub assemblies to understand how the kit goes together, which is really nice to me, as I was able to think ahead of how I was going to need to modify the driver figure I bought to fit, and if any major changes would be needed to add lighting.

Painting and assembling the kit, working out modifications to the driver figure to fit inside.

I decided that this was going to be my Le Mans week project this year, I needed a break and a mental cleanse from doing the same old things on model train projects, the timing worked out that I was able to set the spray booth up the weekend before, and leave it up for a couple of days, and use my breaks and lunch early in the week to get through painting and masking and repainting different colours so by the time the race started on Saturday morning, I was well advanced and into final assembly and details during the first few hours of the race. By the 1/3 way through the 24 Hours, I had the project mostly done other than some detail touch-ups and could put my feed up and enjoy the race.

Painting the driver figure add on from Le Mans Miniatures and painting interior details/assembling the interior.

I like adding drivers to car models. When I was a teenager and building a lot of model kits, I hated that manufacturers didn’t include drivers, especially in race cars, as it made any attempt to display them dramatically look wrong as there was no one driving. That continues to this day, but unlike 30 (gulp) years ago, thanks to the internet, it is much easier to find after market third party detail kits for models and driver figures. For this one, I found Le Mans Miniatures who makes figures in a variety of scales, including the 1960-1970’s style drive figure I used for this one.

Tinting headlight and taillight lenses, and using the window masks included in the kit to paint the window frames.

One of the challenges of a project like this, is paint colour. There are “accurate match” paints out there, and I used paints from Zero Paints on the modern GTLM, but these are “hot” lacquer paints, that stink and require harsher chemicals for cleaning, which I don’t really like using. I much prefer acrylics that can clean with water and much milder cleaning products, so it took me a while to figure out the “right” blue for the pale Gulf Blue the car wore. I eventually settled on a Vallejo Model Air “Sky Blue”, Number 71306 which to my eyes captures the pale blue right. Is it a perfect match? I don’t know, I know that it looks to my eyes when I look at the car how I feel a Gulf Blue Ford should look, and that is good enough for me!

The Decal Hot Tub makes an appearance. The decals in this kit were really nicely printed with thin film. The red teardrops around the headlights reacted well to MicroSol and settled nicely to the body curves with several patient applications of it.

The final part was to add LED lights. I have a good supply, so was able to just take from my bin of electronics, but I realized that I I don’t have any battery clips and switches left. This car has headlights and taillights wired for lights. I will need to at some point place an order for more switches and battery clips from my usual supplier of Evan Designs, but I will wait until I need a bunch of stuff to make it cost effective, for now, the project can do without the battery and switch. I love the look of the lights in a model, especially when I turn them on in the evening and my office/layout room is dark, the little sparkle and glint just makes models feel alive to me.

All in all, I am really happy with how this turned out, building a kit in a week is pretty fast by my standards, but I don’t feel I cut any corners, I just used a bit of the wind of motivation to get it done, rather than falling into my usual traps of losing motivation or not making time. I need to get back to some layout projects, but as with all my puttering I find if the motivation has flagged even a little, its best to not do things than push them, as pushing is when I make silly mistakes and frustrate myself instead of enjoying the break and positive feelings the hobby is supposed to generate. Pictures of the finished model and some video links to learn more about this car below. Circling back to the title of this post… I’m H A P P Y…

Endurance Racing means racing at night. My models of endurance cars have lights, and they come to life when it gets dark.
The recently completed 1966 GT40 MkII alongside my previously completed 2016 Ford GTLM car on my “Le Mans” diorama base for them.

Below are the trailer to the movie Ford v. Ferrari (Le Mans 1966 outside North America) and to a video of actual footage of Le Mans 1966 with members of Carroll Shelby’s team and Ford speaking about the race.

Quick General Scenery Update

Haven’t been working much on the layout the past few weeks as May has rolled into June. I’ve been “working” on a batch of seven box cars, six are now painted and ready for decals, but other than a post when they are done as a point of pride in completing a bunch of resin kits, they haven’t made for interesting projects to write above. The weather has gotten nice outside as Spring has finally arrived in Toronto (and summers Humidity has not), work has been busy, and staying in the layout room to work on it after the day job work ends has been less attractive. That said, a couple of weeks ago we had a rainy weekend day where I wasn’t feeling like watching TV, and I wanted to both move the scenery on one side of the layout that is nearing completion forward, and make some steps on the other end where I have recently been working on buildings and paving/scenery to keep it moving forward.

The first fence I wanted to do was a wood board fence, I’ve built plenty before, but in doing this one, I used up pretty much all the scale lumber in the right sizes I had. Time for an order of supplies to start being put together. To build the fence, after I cut everything, I dyed it a variety of stain colours to create the appearance of different ages of boards. Once they were all dry, I pre-built the sections on the desk, drilled holes in the layout, and test fitted as you can see below. I am quite happy with the look of the fence. I need to paint and finish the gate you can see in the pictures, but that’s an easy task. Now that I’ve finally got a fence here, I can sort out finishing scenery in the Brunswick Balke Collender yard.

A “quick” wooden fence in progress, counting out if enough boards have been cut, and the finished project.

The second area, I wanted a chain link fence with a big gate across the siding as this is an industry that received tank cars, so that seemed like it would be appropriate detail for it to be fenced off. I have written in the past about my home made chain link fence, so I won’t go into all the details here. I have only half finished it, I haven’t gotten out the tulle to add the mesh, but I have the gates and pieces I need to finish it, which I need to do sometime even though gluing the tulle to the brass frame inevitably means gluing my fingers to it with the CA! Once I get this bit of fence done though, a quick trip to the paint booth, and the gate for the wood fence above and this fence will be done, and I can blend the scenery around the fence.

Making some short sections of chain link and the gates for an area where tank cars are unloaded.

It is as always, nice to see things go from my minds eye to reality, every time I do this, and I know I’ve said it before, seeing things come to life helps me to get/stay motivated to work on other parts of the layout. Always keep making progress, even when its small!