Just plugging away on Projects

February has been a bit of a blah month. I haven’t had a lot of motivation. I’ve been working on things as evidenced by finishing my POP Selfie, but I don’t feel like, and in fact I know I haven’t made much progress on the layout, and that’s OK. 12 months ago I was just starting to think about scenery having just gotten my DCC system up and running and finding the worst of the electrical gremlins that were shorting it out when I first powered it up.

February 2021 Things, two decaled and dullcoated CN AAR 10′-6″ with NSC3 End boxcars ready for weathering, using one of them as a guide for two CPR versions of the cars, and an octagonal chimney arrived via Ebay for Canadian General Electric.

“Finishing” the first two of many box car kit projects I have on the go felt really good earlier this month. I use quotations, as they need to be weathered, not heavily, but to look used. Both cars are 3-4 years old, and I model an era before rampant grafitti and rustbucket cars. They don’t need to be beaten to death, just used looking, some dirt and grime. I am also using them as guides for a pair of CPR box cars brake and underbody detail. This isn’t my favourite part of freight cars, and if I’m honest, close enough is good enough. My layout is close to eye level, so you do see the underbody a bit more, but its still largely hidden. I also, received something I’ve been trying to buy for at least two years, a Cibolo Crossing cast hydrocal octagonal chimney. The Canadian General Electric factory has a distinctive octagonal chimney, and building one from scratch was daunting me, but I knew there was this one out there from a now defunct company, I just had to be patient, and then win an auction. In the end, I got it, for a price I was happy to pay, and which was less than the cost of shipping to Canada! I now have all four large chimneys, and each is a different shape/height, look, as they should be as I move my buildings forward.

Gremlin hunting of a different kind. I discovered that one of my hydro poles was too close to the spur across Liberty Street. Easily moved and the scenery in progress touched up to hide the old hole.

As I’ve been puttering around, I also discovered I managed to mount a hydro pole in a position where it cleared the mainline, but not the siding. This would mean all my equipment would be rubbing up against it, not a great situation. Fortunately, one that was easily remedied by drilling a new hole about an inch to the left, and moving the pole. It took half an hour to do including re-scenerying the area I’d messed up. It felt good to find and fix a problem.

I am still making good progress on the layout, and I’m very happy with how it looks, when I wasn’t in the mood on the weekend, and when I’m mopey of late, I just put on the layout lights and turn off the other lights and look at how things are looking. It makes me happy.

This makes me happy, unfinished as so many things are, it is looking like I envisioned it when I started down this path of building the layout.

I Blame Mears for this…

I lay the blame for this post squarely on the shoulders of my friend in Nova Scotia Chris Mears. He posted a gorgeous drawing by James Hilton of the mini layout of Coy Paper in New Hampshire that Chris is Building (you really should check out his blog on what he’s doing, its going to be great!). I sent Chris an email about something for his mini layout, and the observant sort he is, he commented on something I said in the email and pushed for more info.

My response, was that I am not nearly the artist that James is, and I didn’t think I could do a sketch nearly as nice as his of what I have been noodling around in my mind as a possible side diorama project, which, I note, I don’t really need, I’m building a layout, and I don’t model modern…or own the equipment for the diorama…yet here we are…

Pre-visualization is an important tool in painting, sketching, drawing, architecture, movie making, and, yes, Model Railroading. Sketching things out, looking at how the pieces fit together, can you achieve what you want, and yes, inspiration on the look of what you are doing. Despite my education and professional background as an Urban Planner, I was not strong in drawing, never was. I am decent on a computer in CAD or 3D modelling, but in my life I have never been particularly good with pen, pencil, marker and paper.

So, inspite of my better judgement to continue to not entertain the ideas rattling around in my empty head, in response to Mears’ email (coming back to he who shall be blamed), I pulled out the drawing supplies, and off we went sketching the “Modern” diorama shelf that has been brewing in my mind.

Stages of sketching, from blank paper to pencil lined and ready for ink and colour.
EDIT: Adding this sketch from Anyrail just to try and help visualize my initial thoughts on the track alignment in response to James’ comment. This is really a project where I would need to build the bridge at least in high quality mockup to see what the angles and spacing are.

So what am I thinking of? A tiny compressed slice of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Galt Subdivision in Milton. Using my usual diorama base of Ikea shelves, I can re-arrange the two wide Billy’s I have under the layout to get a 30″ by 10″ shelf, wide enough for a compressed version of the view east from Canyon Road (note my spelling error in the draft work above..d’oh!). This is a stretch of double track, with a slight incline from east to west, where there are a pair of signals to the east of the road, past an old private crossing wooden farm bridge (which is still in use as the only way to access some fields between the CPR tracks and Highway 401!). This is a gorgeous spot, and I became quite smitten with it after finally taking a day and making sure I got some trains there with the bridge framing them. Lets be honest, private crossings like this, especially old timber ones are rare, and it would be all to easy for it to be gone tomorrow and I’d spend years regretting not getting the shot!

The view east from Canyon Road as a CPR train climbs towards Campbelville passing beneath the wooden farm bridge, and my sketch of what I’d like to create. Room for a modern locomotive and an autorack to create the feel of this for photography.

The actual length from the farm bridge to the signals is a lot more than could be modelled in 30″, but, I could create the feel of the location, and it would give me an excuse to buy an Athearn Genesis SD70ACu when they do a second run including the D-Day Tribute locomotive 6644 (I love it, some of my friends think I’m nuts, either way) and a nicely detailed modern autorack like those from ScaleTrains. Do I need any of this? Hell No! But I kind of want it, and I’ve been spending an undue amount of time of late thinking about what supplies I’d need, how I would lay track (even contemplating handlaying it…gasp), and how I would create the sense of the view from the road in HO scale. I guess watch this space dear readers…and Mears….this is for you…

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!