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)!

Thing’s that go “POP” on the Workbench…

Sigh, so today was one of those days. I went from feeling ecstatic that something I was doing that I haven’t done before was working, to thinking “Trains are Stupid” and wanting to see how far an HO Scale locomotive can fly in the time it takes you to hear “POP!!”. I decided that I wanted a second Alco S-2 for my Canadian Pacific Railway operating fleet. These were the main Toronto diesel switchers in the 1950’s, so having two different ones along with eventually a steam locomotive would be appropriate. I bought a second Atlas S-2 and decoder supplies in the Credit Valley Boxing Day sale, and curbside picked up the order while out to go to the dentist yesterday morning. I then spent all afternoon into the evening last night starting the decoder installation process. I came back to it this morning to finish wiring the speakers, and after some messing around with software updates, I had a locomotive that responded properly on the test track, moved back and forth, and as you can hear in the video, had sounds.

30 Seconds of glory on the test track for my decoder installation.

Then, with me satisfied everything was working, I reassembled the body onto the locomotive, this, is where it all went sadly wrong. Something, somewhere in the wiring was shifted in this process, or came into contact. I still haven’t figured out where, largely because after I turned on power to test after putting the body on and heard the loud “POP”, most of what I had to say isn’t printable on a civilized internet, and I spent the next chunk of my day trying to calm down and not throw things around or smash things.

It is, at the end of the day, not fatal to the locomotive by any means, the decoder itself is likely shot. I will talk with ESU’s rep in the states and see what they suggest if it is even worth sending to them to look at, I expect, it will really come down to when someone local has the right decoder in stock again or placing an order for another new one, which frankly, having just blown up some cash, spending more is not in the cards for a bit, so back to other layout projects. For tonight, I have cleaned my workbench, worked on blog posts, and ran a train on the layout to remind myself that my hobby is fun, and I do enjoy it, just some days more than others!

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”!

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!

Home Made Static Grass Tufts

As I wrote about last week, I have purchased a Static Grass Applicator for layout scenery. I am still playing around with it, and learning how to create realistic effects, but slowly I am starting to feel like I am getting there.

One of the things you can do with Static Grass, is pre-make tufts of grass, and apply them as needed to fill in along fence lines or foundations, this gives a bit more control than just applying glue down and covering an area. Lots of manufacturers sell pre-made tufts, but there is no reason to spend a lot of money on pre-made when you can make your own and have full control over size and colour.

The one commercial product beyond what I had was a “Tuft Glue”, in my case, from Woodland Scenics, though others are out there. This is a white glue that dries clear and flat, but remains tacky, and this is important as it means you can remove the tuft from the sheet you make it on, and apply it to the layout once its dried. Not much use making tufts of grass if you can’t move them to where you want them!

My first attempt at making “tufts” of static grass. Not a complete success, not a complete failure either.

The technique is simple enough, take a sheet of aluminum foil, place it beneath parchment paper, place dots or lines of the glue on the parchment, clip the static applicator to the aluminum foil so the whole sheet becomes the opposite charge to the applicator, and shake on the grass fibres.

As you can see from the pictures, it does generate a lot of spill, but that can all be carefully shaken off and back into the tub. I’m not sure if it was me struggling, or not getting a good charge into the foil, but I was pleased, but not thrilled with the results. I made a bunch of rookie mistakes, too big a dot of glue, too small a dot of glue, not enough fibre (It’s safe to say none of my tufts have too much grass).

A test Tuft installed on the layout, it looks like I want, weedy grass along the fence.

So on we go with learning static grass. I am definitely feeling that I am getting the hang of it, slowly but surely as I work on test pieces of foam and work up to doing some additions to dioramas before I get to the layout. There will be more to come on this topic for sure, and I look forward to sharing images of static grassed parts of the layout in due course!