Mucking around with Photo Backdrops

In my constant efforts to improve my skills and learn things, for the Canyon Road Diorama, I am experimenting with a photo backdrop on part of the diorama. The curved area on the right side which provides a backdrop for the view under the bridge photo I am trying to create, should have the Niagara Escarpment in the background. This was why I put in the curved backdrop in the first place, so this shot can be taken without it just being the end of the diorama into space. There are a number of ways to achieve this. I could try to paint something on in the background, and may come back to that, but part of the challenge is converting the geography and grade changes of the real world into something believable in 22″ that has no grade change. Part of the issue, is the alignment of the railway and the escarpment means that it is very visible looking one way down the diorama, but should be less so if you view it from the front (the pictures below will hopefully help this make sense).

Looking from a more front view, the escarpment shouldn’t be visible beyond the clear plastic cap. The other two shots show what the test piece of backdrop looks like compared to the real world.

I bought a commercial backdrop recently, I figured $20 is a small cost to experiment. I have cut off a chunk as you can see, where the treeline in the image is a bit too sloped to work for the escarpment which is reasonably straight across the background. I have lots of material to work with, this piece is for messing around with, I’ve test fitted it, and generally, I actually like the look it creates. It is a bit too vibrant for something that should be off in the distance, but I have some “haze” flat paint that I am hoping I can airbrush onto the backdrop to tone down the colours and make it look more like it is in the distance. Along the main backdrop, the trees/brush/telegraph poles and wires will hopefully help hid the eventual blend into the ridge behind the tracks.

As they say, time will tell, but so far, so good with at least the experiment of trying photo backdrops. At the end of the day, I may hate it and bin the thing, but Nothing ventured/nothing gained right?

Two more Buildings well on their way

Of late, I have been working on a couple more of the edge/foreground buildings on my layout that will at as shadow boxes along the edges of the benchwork to frame scenes and allow visitors and operators to look through the buildings onto the layout. There are 16 buildings of various sizes on my layout, with the two I have started and made a good dent in this week, I have started 7 of them. None are finished, though some are most definitely getting close to that magical “finish line” where I don’t think there is any more work to be done at the moment.

Building Cores and windows making progress. Constantly trying new things to make life easier in in getting from drawings to model with transferring a 1″ square grid onto the styrene core. The Coffman Clamp for corners makes a huge difference in making square buildings.

I am scratchbuilding all of my buildings on the layout, nothing is from a kit, as I am trying to recreate the buildings of Liberty Village as accurately as possible. This does however mean, a lot of work in constructing them. Where I can, or it is practical to do so, I am trying to use commercially available doors and windows instead of drawing and 3D printing, then resin casting them. The large building for Hinde & Dauch box factory that dominates the east end of the layout. It both faces the aisle and is huge, it needs accurate and individual windows. The two buildings I am currently building, are both facing into the layout, one on the peninsula will be fairly visible, the other, along Liberty Street fully faces into the layout, so it will largely will only be seen in photographs.

The peninsula building is marked on the Fire Atlas Maps as the Cooperage, it still exists, but it is not rail served. It is one of the buildings where I have some room for a bit of artistic license, in capturing the feel but not being 100% accurate. I could have drawn and printed windows, but that would have set me back months instead, using a combination of Tichy and Grandt Line/San Juan Details injection molded plastic windows, I have more or less completed the core of the building and have it ready for painting in a couple of days, instead of a months long process at my pace of CAD work, waiting on prints, making molds and casting. As I as noted, I have a lot of windows still to cast for H&D, I don’t need to make more work for myself!

For these buildings, I continue to evolve and experiment with how I transfer drawings and designs from paper or digital to styrene. As you can see in the pictures, with a fine Sharpie, I sketched out a 1″ square grid to match that on my grid paper. Using this and a small square I could transfer locations and mark cutting templates for the windows and doors to be cut out. Once the 0.04″ inner core was cut out, I laminated on brick sheet, and once it was bonded, I carefully trimmed through it using the openings in the core to create my window openings. I am using a variety of windows, some of which have exterior frames, some of which are masonry and do not. I am working to the “look” of these buildings rather than to plans. This frees me up to experiment and learn and work on technique a little.

Looking at the buildings in place on the layout both from the aisle side and the scenery side on the layout.

Both buildings are now nearing paint shop ready. Both need a little bit of work with some gap filling putty around the masonry windows to fill gaps where my cuts were not perfectly straight, so there are not light leaks in the future, and then I can start prepping and painting them. I have come to the conclusion, that it is easier for masonry windows to be painted along with the brick, then masked and painted their colour, where windows that have frames that sit out of the wall, are easier to paint and install later. I have varied this as I have gone along, but as I have advanced more buildings, it is becoming clear that for me at least, splitting up the windows this way makes the most sense.

As with so many things, even unfinished, going from foam core placeholders to partly built structures is a huge difference, and it’s been nice to feel the wind of motivation on the layout again after putting my efforts into side projects for a bit. Hopefully here for the next bit I can make consistent slow and steady progress on both projects.

Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

One Down, Six (and probably more) to Go

Well, that is one more car out of the reasonably manageable pile of kits in my collection. This is the first Yarmouth Model Works resin kit that I have finished. I have three more started, and three more safely in boxes to follow them, and there is at least one car recently released (Kit YMW-130, an 8′ door box with Pacific Great Eastern Decals) I will probably buy, and I am reliably informed there are more new kits coming that will likely interest me based on my prototype and era. This post however, is about one of the kits I have, and have now finished, Kit YMW-113, an ACF (American Car & Foundry) built 40′ boxcar, owned by the West India Fruit and Steamship Company. The WIF operated rail ferries between Palm Beach Florida and Havana Cuba between 1946 and 1961. They owned 150 of the cars represented in this kit. The cars operated all over North America bringing goods to and from Cuba. I have pictures of them as far away as Vancouver British Colombia, so it is entirely plausible that one would have brought goods to Toronto, then been loaded with something from Liberty Village going back to Cuba. That is my story, and I’m sticking to it, it also gives me at least one boxcar that can show up occasionally that isn’t a variation of oxide red/boxcar brown!

Scenes from building a resin kit. My first attempt at building the Yarmouth etched brass ladders, not perfect, but passable.

The Yarmouth Model Works kits are really quite nice to build. The fact that Pierre Oliver who owns the company and his pattern makers are modellers shows, as they understand kit building, and instruction writing. I take my time and regularly look at the reference photos included therein for where parts and lines go. The result, with some time put into it and the usual careful sanding and cleaning needed for resin kits, is a really nice looking model. As you can see in the pictures, the patterns for this car were done in a way that recreates the “oil canning” effect, or the wavy sides from welding the exterior sheeting to the interior support. The masters were drawn in CAD and 3D printed to get that effect, which makes sense as trying to create the effect otherwise to then create a mold to cast from would be a nightmare.

I’m not one for blow by blows of kit building, so I wont go into that, but as with all things, every kit you build, every time you do things again, they become that little bit easier to do, and every issue I ran into (which were mostly user error) will help me with the next car off the shelf to work on.

I’ve mentioned it before, but be aware of your lighting. This is the same car and paint, but in the lighting in my paint booth, you can’t trust the colour, the LED’s do a great job of lighting the workspace, but a terrible job of showing what the colour actually is.

Paint and pictures are as always, your best friend and worst enemy. As you can see above, the roof walk is not connected on one end when I painted the car. In between primer and finished colour, I dropped the car. I thought I hadn’t damaged anything when I checked, then I sprayed the paint, and found the walk was a mess. This was entirely fixable without damaging the paint, and any minor glue marks under the walk will vanish when the car is weathered, but its another important lesson/reminder to not rush when working on models.

Decalled and done and on the layout. Just needs to be flat coated and weathered to be truly finished.

The decals included in this kit are some of the nicest I have ever worked with. They went on super smooth, conformed nicely to the not flat car sides, and just melted away with a tiny bit of Microsol to blend the carrier film. It can make anyone, even a hack like me look good when you have good products to work with!

All in all, I am very happy with how this project has turned out, and it will add a pop of colour among the red/brown boxcar fleet.

Building and Rebuilding a Bridge

For my modern diorama of Canyon Road, the centrepiece is going to be the scratch built wooden farm crossing that still exists over the CPR Galt Subdivision. I looked at various commercial bridges that are out there, and decided that nothing I could find made me happy, but I did find one that would work as a bit of a design guide/aid that I could buy cheaply. There is a Rix Products wooden bridge kit, its an older kit that’s been out there for a while, and is only single track. That said, it gave me something to look at for wooden bridge design, and to use to help me make templates for my own bridge built from stripwood. I pre-stained my strip wood for this project, using a couple of different Hunterline Stains and a isopropyl alcohol/India ink mix. This got me a variety of wood colours, and those colours into the wood before gluing anything together, that means there aren’t areas that won’t stain because the wood has been impregnated with glue. This is something I’m sure I’ve seen written about, but I learned the hard way building wood kits or scratch-building that you need to stain before you glue!

Pre-stained strip wood, home made jigs for a bridge and scratch building the bridge decks and trestle bents with them.

As you can see in the pictures above, i built two jigs using scrap styrene sheet and styrene angles. I used the Rix Bridge as a rough guide for beam and bent spacing, but also made tweaks to get the bents in particular to look like my photos of the actual bridge. The deck jig was set up to let me build up to a 40′ long deck (could probably do longer the way it is set up, but my base only let me add dimensions that far. The deck of my bridge is about 32′ across to clear the two tracks. The bents (legs) on either side are really close to the tracks and edge of the loading gauge in real life, and I wanted to replicate that in the model. Even with the jigs, before I built anything, I used some scrap cardboard to build a mock-up to look at spacing and dimensions. I hang onto a fair bit of scrap cardboard for painting and mockups, its a good practice to have some as it is a cheap and easy way to see if what you see in your mind translates well into 3D before you start actually building with more expensive materials.

Building Bridge Version 1.0. Working through the design and visualization, then building. But yeah, those ramps are a bit steep.

So, with the prep work done, and the diorama reaching a stage where the landforms to support the bridge were in place, I got going with the bridge. Slowly but surely, building sub components, the deck, the ramps, the bents, and getting them together and continually going back and forth from the workbench to the diorama to check fit and appearance. As I was working, the angle of the ramps started to gnaw at me, but I was so happy with the overall look of the bridge, I busily went about convincing myself that it was OK. It wasn’t until the bridge was “finished” and I shared a picture with some friends, one of who’s first response was “gorgeous but those ramps look really steep” did I finally go yeah, I’ve been trying to convince myself its OK and I’ll be happy, but the more I looked at them after that, the more I knew I would not be happy. The good thing is, as I have been moving slowly so I had not gone so far in the ground cover that it would mean undoing work to raise the hillside at the back and reduce the angle of the ramps. The ramp on the front side is shot and doesn’t land, so it would just be a take apart and adjust angle to match the change on the other side.

Rebuilding the ramps and raising the hillside to provide a more gentle ramp onto the bridge. Using a level that mounts into a camera hot shoe to check the bridge levelling.

Once I had confirmed that the ramps had to go, I started looking at how to best fix them. First looking at just making the side that reaches the ground on the back longer, but the more I looked at that, the clearer it became that what needed to happen was raising the hillside a bit so the ramp could stay around the right length while getting a gentler slope. To do this, out came the hot wire tool to carve off a piece of foam, and carve it to a shape where it could be glued on top of the existing hill, and blended in with the Woodland Scenics plaster cloth as I did for the rest of the scenery. With the hill increased in height, it was pretty straightforward then to get the angles cut on the ramp underframe beams and get it into place. All the different pieces then where re-assembled/adjusted and the bridge rebuilt.

With the bridge now approaching “done” in terms of the basic form, I was able to build the jacking that was installed beneath the bents at some point to raise the bridge to clear taller modern equipment, as opposed to building a whole new bridge for the farmer. These where built using HO Scale pre-cut wood ties, stained, and glued together. These actually are really handy for me, as they let me ballast the track without the bridge in place, as the bents sit on top of the risers, so my bridge can stay removable for a while still while I do scenery around it before eventually gluing it into place when I am done doing things that are easier without it there.

Finishing off the rebuilt bridge, getting the footings in (at some point the bridge was jacked up on site and raised to clear modern higher height equipment with large timbers under the legs, and ballasting the tracks.

At the end of the day, scratch-building made it really easy for me to take apart and re-do the things that didn’t work. I have some added details I want to add to the bridge, in terms of bolt castings for where boards meet to add a bit of detail, but, given the pre-staining of the wood I did, I am already really happy with it having the weathered appearance I want. Next up, getting started on the ground cover on the hillsides and telegraph poles.

Tuesday Night Paintshop Whoopise, the camera be harsh on your mistakes

Painting whoopsie, it looked fine before I painted, but after, some damage to the roof walk on the left side of the picture becomes apparent.

A quick trip to the paint booth tonight to get two projects advanced, one a project I am sending to a friend for a DCC install, to do a quick initial weathering on a CPR S-2 locomotive. While I had the paint booth set up, I wanted to get colour onto a Yarmouth Model Works West India Fruit Company ACF 40′ Boxcar. In my setup, I dropped/knocked it over, and it hit the floor. It looked fine after a check, all the detail parts survived and were where they were supposed to be, or so I thought. after hitting it with green paint on the body, it became apparent that the roof walk was both mangled and half separated from the roof. Sigh, nothing that can’t be fixed, but annoying none the less. Important lesson, after something goes wrong, maybe take more time to go back and check everything is ok.

And for those wondering, the green is less bright under normal lighting conditions on the layout, the LED lights in my paint booth are not good for assessing colour tone, they may everything look brighter than it is. Good for seeing where you’ve missed paint, not great for deciding if you are happy with a colour or not.