One little Project at a time

Well, here we are, a week into 2021. I’m trying to do a lot of little things in my life, after 10 months of work-from-home and social distancing, lock-downs and isolation, I discovered over my Christmas break that I am in a rut, both hobby and personally. I have been a creature of routine for years, and over the 10 months of being home basically the whole time, I’m lost. I have lost the ability to get out of bed at a regular time, and function, and was increasingly relying on ever larger pots of coffee each day to try and convince my body to function to work during the day, and have some semblance of a life after work. Every time I look at the layout, I’m looking to do big projects and make visible advancements because I am spending at least 8 hours a day looking at it while I work, and I was getting myself into knots making lists of projects I wanted to do, and getting nothing done because I wasn’t just doing something small and cant do big projects that may need to sit on the desk for weeks when I need it clear each morning for work.

This week, I’ve tried to re-start routine. Before the pandemic, I got up at 6am, was at the bus stop at the end of my street by 6:40, and at my desk at 8am. Come 4pm or so, reverse the trip, and the TTC God’s willing, I’d be home and making dinner by 6pm. Obviously, I don’t need a 2 hour window to get from our bedroom to the home office/layout room 10′ away!! That said, I have set my alarm this week for 7am, the first time its been on regularly since March, I am getting up, doing a quick 20 minute workout, having breakfast, and getting to my desk for 8am. This means, on a normal day, come 4pm, I can turn off my work laptop, and walk away, most likely down the hall 10′ to have a nap for an hour. After that refresher/break, I can get up and make dinner and have an evening (full disclosure, I used to sleep on the subway home after work as part of my post work recovery for my personal time during the day).

So, with that, this week I’ve kinda returned to what I do best in some ways, puttering. Monday night I did some prep on cast metal wheel stops, did some cleaning on the layout, and thought about little things I can do. Tuesday, I built some more hydro poles and cleaned up the ones I’d already built a bit. Wednesday, to escape the news of the day, I set up the paint booth and painted about a half dozen small projects or items that were ready for paint (setup, painting, cleaning filled a good hour and a half where there is no TV and I didn’t look at my phone), including the first batch of hydro poles, primer on part of the H&D Factory, the wheel stops, some sidewalk styrene, and some wheelsets. Thursday evening, I installed some of the wheelstops, the sidewalk and looked at other places that need to have sidewalks made. Nothing big, just little things. Some glue here, some paint there, some scenic scatter in the corner. No big action. Not, “I’m going to build the wall of a building” or lay 10 square feet of ground cover. Just little things, that even I barely notice when I look back at where I was working.

A gallery of little projects, base paint on hydro poles, primer on H&D, sidewalks in front of 60 Atlantic, and wheel stops at the edge of the universe (they will get weathered in situ)!

Sometimes I have to remind myself, I am not building a large layout. The entire area of my benchwork is approximately 36 square feet. For comparison, a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood is 32 square feet. Yes, it fills two walls in my room and half the closet, but it is not large. I don’t know how people build large layouts, as this is daunting enough, but biting off manageable pieces and just puttering a little bit every night, I will get there. I am 7 days into 2021, there are 358 days to go this year. On some of those 358 days, I definitely will take on big projects, but using my weeknights to just do little things that don’t take a lot of time to set up or do, is I think going to be my way of trying to keep going forward. What will I do tomorrow on Friday night? Who knows, maybe nothing, maybe something, but that’s OK and I’m finally starting to I hope wrap my head around that.

These are not the Trains you are looking for (That’s No Train Part 5!!)

I have written in the past about my “non-railroad” modelling projects. This post is a grouping of projects, three I did some time ago, and one that I bought as part of my lock-down spending (and lets be honest here, yes, I have partaken in some retail therapy during lock-downs and stay at home orders and social distancing over the past 8 months!). You can read about previous “That’s No Train” projects here: 1, 2, 3, & 4.

So, if the title didn’t give it away, today I am talking about Droids, Star Wars droids to be exact, and the absolutely fantastic 1/12th scale droid figures from Bandai. For a number of years, Bandai has had a license for Star Wars models in Japan, and were able to have them imported into North America through a sub-licensee. It appears, that Bandai did not renew their license after 2019, as no new models have been announced.

My “Star Wars” shelf in my office, which has outgrown the shelf with the Lego Razor Crest on top of the case!

I had previously bought C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 kits for my shelf of Star Wars stuff in my office/layout room (what can I say, I have varied interests and I like to have stuff out on display!). Over the summer, I finally broke down and bought a fourth droid that I had wanted for a while, K-2SO from Rogue One, the best Star Wars movie (come at me, I’ll have that fight!). Maybe I’m just biased as its the first Star Wars movie I saw in theatres that blew me away. I was too young for the Original Trilogy, and, well, the less we say about Anakin and Podracing…the better.

Some construction shots of K-2SO. Adding two “z” sized LEDs from Evan Designs behind the clear eyes so his eyes can light up.

The Bandai kits are designed for the Japanese market, which is much more demanding in terms of quality than North American modellers are. The kits are “snap together”, but that description does not reflect the quality of fit and finish if you are thinking of a snap-together kit you would buy from a North American manufacturer for our market. The parts literally press together and you can’t find the seams sometimes to get them back apart from a test fit! You don’t “need” to paint them, and for my other droids, I didn’t, for K-2SO, he looked, plain compared to the movie where he had a sheen. So, in searching, I found that Vallejo sells a “metal medium” that you can add to any of their paints to make them metallic, this meant I could mix a variety of greys/gun metals/blacks until I got a shade I liked, then add metallic. It comes though a bit in the pictures, but he has a delightful sheen to the finished paint.

Similarly, in looking, I found people online selling pre-made lighting kits. I didn’t see the point in that vs buying my own LEDs and doing my own thing. I was placing an order in from Evan Design in September for layout use and for another non-train project, so four LEDs for his eyes (twice what I needed, good call, I broke one and still have a spare after finishing!). It was an interesting challenge threading the wire through the kit, not impossible, but one which required thought as i worked my way though it. When I got to his lower leg below the knee, there was no way to thread inside the leg that I could see (especially as that was where I needed to solder wire extensions onto the leads on the LEDs), so I used my standby magic adhesive Bondic to hold the wires in place behind his leg.

My collection of Bandai Star Wars droids. R2-D2 and C-3PO, BB-8, and now K-2SO. The last shot is K-2SO with a Black Series 6″ Jyn Erso.

I used a combination of the kit decals and sharpie gold, silver and copper red paint markers for K-2SO’s detailing. Where it made sense to use the decals, like the Imperial Crests on his shoulders, I did, where I could use paint, I used paint, it creates a more unique finish and makes my K-2SO mine, rather than buying a toy version or how anyone else finishes theirs.

Getting some use out of the photo soft box I bought a few weeks ago to take the photos of the finished droid models.

With that, I have two more non-train projects nearing completion on my workbench. As much as I like doing other things, I don’t have a lot of room to display more side projects, and I need the workbench space for large buildings I need to get building for the layout!

A quick “kick shelf” in the corner

Two of the switches where I have installed my bullfrogs are located in the corner of the tightest part of my layout, the entrance to the closet where I took the door off to extend my layout into the closet for the CPR Staging. Since I installed the switches a few months back, I have caught the pulls to throw them a number of times. Not hard enough to do any damage, but hard enough to make me pause and consider my next move and how to not damage them as I move away.

In thinking about other layouts, I was thinking about how my friend Trevor had brass switch stands on little jut out shelves, and figured a small piece of 1×4 cut to size would angle off the corner so it would be harder to catch the levers but wouldn’t unduly take away any more room for movement for me or any future operators getting into and out of the closet.

A quick corner shelf, just enough to keep me from bashing the switch pull levers.

This was a simple little project, I held a 2′ long piece of 1″x4″ pine in place, traced the arc of the benchwork, marked the width of the board off and cut the 2nd line with my jig saw. Then I clamped it in place, pilot drilled 4 holes into the fascia, and mounted. I am not going to glue the shelf, I haven’t decided if I am going to paint it, or just seal it with clear shellac, but for now, it is in place and doing its job of protecting the switches (and becoming yet another place for me to throw things in close reach as I do scenery!).

A photo cube for project photos

For years when taking pictures of models I have built, I have just bodged something together with bristol board sheets. Its worked, but frankly, it has never been the perfect solution. In one of those enough is enough moments, this week while looking for sometheing else photo gear related, Amazon served up a bunch of photo box options. Looking through them, I settled on one that was $45CDN and offered a $9.00 off coupon (who knows, I don’t understand Amazon’s algorithms). It came with a photo box, six backgrounds of different colours, a carrying case for when its folded flat and has built in LED strips. It also had a tripod clip for a cellphone, which was what I was actually looking for so I can use my cell to take videos when I am out photographing trains by putting it in the clip. I also have a Bluetooth shutter release for the phone, so in theory I could also mount it at a different angle to take pictures remotely now. Time will tell.

Back to the item at hand. The booth is a heavy plastic formed piece that clips together when you fold it out, and folds flat for storage in its case. There are six heavy foam sheets for the backdrop in different colours (white, black, red, blue, green and yellow). The LED strips provide a good base of lighting, and I will experiment more, but will likely use my flash still with my SLR for taking finished project photos for posting.

A new photo cube for taking product photos from Amazon. Not bad for $36. It will do what I need for taking pictures of models when I finish them.

First impressions, is it perfect? No, but for the price, it will do what I want for a while. This is one of those things I’ve said I should buy for years, and I haven’t, so now I’ve effectively bought a starter set. If I find I am making a lot of use out of it and finding limitations, buying a more expensive one might make sense. This is a lesson I have learnt over the years for a lot of things. I have bought tools, if I was unsure if I would use it a lot or like it, I maybe bought a cheaper version, and then have gone back and bought better tools. While I strongly believe in buying the best tool for the task, I am also a realist in terms of budget. For something I am not sure about, a $36 outlay vs. $100 is a smart investment, even if I do go back and buy a more expensive replacement later. This to me is the equivalent of training wheels. In a year or two if I do replace this, I will have more than gotten my moneys worth from it, and if I don’t, the money saved will hopefully mean many other projects or tool purchases happen, its a balance.

Just some quick shots with my iPhone of models that were close at hand. I think once I get out the SLR and the Tripod, this will do just fine for taking pictures of models as I complete them.

Now I need to actually get off my rear and finish some of the half built freight car kits on my workbench to have something worth photographing! Back to the workbench for me!

Public Safety Announcement – Buy a Fire Extinguisher

So first off, no, we have not had a fire or anything else at our house. But we did have an altogether too close to home adventure this summer, in the courtyard of townhouses we live in. We very nearly had a major fire as one of the houses across the courtyard from us had their barbecue go up in flames. Our BBQ’s are all fed by natural gas lines from inside the building, so no propane tanks to explode, but a steady fuel source feeding it.

I’m saying buy an extinguisher as I was out warming up our BBQ, when I noticed the smokey smell, and turned to see the plumb of thick black smoke wrapping up the walls across from us. At first, I thought it was the building on fire as there was so much smoke. The PSA is that we discovered we were the only people of about a dozen houses that have any kind of home extinguisher, as I quickly grabbed the one inside our front door closet that is positioned to be close to the BBQ, and ran across the courtyard and had the fire out by the time the fire department arrived. I went out and replaced our spent extinguisher with two new ones, and our neighbour bought a replacement for the used one as a thank you.

With that, we now have three, one under the kitchen sink, one in the ground floor front closet near the BBQ on our patio/terrace, and the one below in my layout room/workshop. Will a little extinguisher like this put out a catastrophic fire? No, but it might just save your life and let you get out and will put out a small fire. Discovering how many people don’t have them was to put it mildly, shocking. I think the one I used was one of the first things we bought after taking possession of our house just in case something ever happened with the BBQ or in the kitchen.

Fire Extinguisher. Do you have one? No, then go buy one. No really, that should be your weekend goal.

Sometimes its a simple thing

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

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

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

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