Let there be Light!

For those of us who don’t have layouts to work on or operate, our workbench is our most important space in the hobby in all liklihood.  I know mine is, most of my hobby time is spent at the desk in our office/spare room working on projects.  I’ve been horribly neglecting mine for some time, because frankly, I can be cheap when it comes to spending money on things.  I’ve been using a bodged together combination of little 15w bulb desk lamps and an LED desk light from IKEA for ten years since I started getting active modelling in my previous appartment.  Today, I finally cracked and went light shopping.  I don’t think the solution Ifound is perfect, but it strikes a balance between cost and results that at least improves on what I had before.  An LED strip light from Home Depot, designed to mount on the underside of kitchen cabinets to light your contertop was the solution.  Its a 24″ long bar with a strip of LED’s inside.  Even in daylight, the second I plugged it in and looked at how much light it would cast from where I could mount it told me it was a winner.

IMGP1425RawConv.jpgNot the best shot ever, but it makes the point about how much more light i have now than before with the new 24″ LED light strip installed.  Conveniently, the old computer desk i use for a workbench, the underside of the hutch is 19″ above the desk surface, the Kitchen Counter LED recommended a height of 19.5″ for maximum spread/efficency.

In the end, a simple project, but one which I think will drastically improve my working in the coming months, as there were more occurances than less of late where I was finding sufficent light for what i was doing wanting.  I’d been looking at Ottlites, but they still cost a lot more than this, and a side goal was to free up some desk space by not having a lamp sitting next to my soldering iron any longer.  I may look at one of the swing arm Ottlites that also has a magnifier in it to add to the desk down the road, but for now, a successful Saturday improving my workbench!

The Joys of a New Project – Learning from Past Projects Mistakes

I’ve started on the 3D modelling work for a new project.  I’d mentioned it a couple of weeks ago in my mid year review, but there is nothing so satisfying as coming into possession of actual drawings of what you are modelling to create some motivation to get started on a project.  I was lucky enough to get some drawings for the “Mystery Rail Vehicle #3” project, which as I’d mentioned is a passenger car.  I have now designed two fully 3D printed railway vehicles, a heavy load flatcar, and a wooden passenger coach.  As I’ve documented on posts about these models, I have run into issues with the structural rigidity of Shapeways Frosted Ultra Detail Resin, my preferred material for long vehicles in HO Scale.  So, in starting my newest model, I’m literally starting from the frame up and designing a frame for the car that takes what I learned from the previous projects, and combines it into one. This “new” frame design for me will also be modified if successful to create frames for C-1 and C-2 to go with the CNR D-1 so that I can offer them for sale to others who may be interested in modelling those cars.

July29 Shapeways2July29 ShapewaysThe images above show the initial work on the frame for my next passenger car project. You can see the channels down the length of the underbody for brass bars.  These will both give the car more structural rigidity, but also add weight.

Using the lessons from the TTX heavy load car model for the Dominion of Canada shipment, I’m starting this underframe design with channels for brass bars.  One long flay bar will run down the spine of the car to give it overall rigidity.  I’ve added provisions for square bars to run down the sides of the car, as you can see, I am still working on adjusting the magnetic mounting holders to fasten the frame to the body of the car.  I would like to adjust the magnets so the bars down the side of the frame run the whole length between at least the end magnets, so I need to inset the middle frame magnets.

Unlike some of my friends who actually work professionally in the model railroad industry for manufacturers, I don’t have the benefit of years of experience designing models for production to work.  But I am building experience from my own design mistakes on previous projects.  Even in the time I’ve taken to type this I see a couple of things I will adjust to hopefully make the frame work even better.  So with that, back to the 3D modelling software for me!

Tuesday Train #65 “Attention 2 Trains”

IMG_4064“Attention 2 Trains” Note the important message, two trains could be here! Always be safe around railway lines. There are lots of safe locations to take photos from, and just because one train has moved off a crossing, if the lights are still on, there could be another coming you can’t see!

Two Sides of the Same Crossing.  The Goderich and Exeter Railway switches in downtown Kitchener, blocking St. Leger Street with the head end power as cars are uncoupled and dropped in the sidings at the station for the local train to shunt.   This crew was working hard to clear the main line as a VIA Rail passenger train was due to arrive in less than 15 minutes.  I had to leave to get to an appointment before the VIA arrived unfortunately and couldn’t catch the trains together.

IMG_4074The other side of the crossing after I had circled around where the streets were blocked.  A bonus shot of all three units in the train is below.  And yes railfans, that is an Ex-Southern Pacific SD45T-2 “tunnel motor” #3054 (ex-9392) in the middle of the consist.


Model Railroading in 1:1 Scale…aka Volunteering at the Toronto Railway Museum

I know what you’re thinking, is it really modelling if you are doing it in full scale?  Maybe not, but this post is a bit of a push for many like me who spent a long time going to museums and preserved railroads, and never doing anything to help create those places for others to go and enjoy.  You don’t need any railroad skills (or any skills really), there are opportunities for all sorts, even model makers!!!  You don’t even need to commit a lot of time to be really helpful to making something happen either, just a few hours when you have them spare can make the difference between a small museum staying open or closing.

P1050595.jpgMe working the TRHA/TRM Booth at the Barrie-Allandale Train Show, a chance to meet the public and introduce them to the museum.  No skills other than being personable required!!  An example of the range of tasks that a volunteer can be a part of.

I had never been a part of any preservation group or museum prior to me joining the Toronto Railway Historical Association in 2009.  The TRHA is the volunteer group that has constructed and operates the Toronto Railway Museum in the former Canadian Pacific Railway John Street Roundhouse in Roundhouse Park, Downtown Toronto.  I had visited the roundhouse at Doors Open, and seen the TRHA at train shows, and truthfully didn’t pay them much attention until June 2009 when I saw that they were having Canadian National 6213 moved from its long time home at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds to Roundhouse Park.  After this, I took a look at what they were doing, and said hey, these folks are right in my backyard and actually getting things done, I should get up of my rear end and do something to be helpful!  I had alsways wanted to be a part of a museum/restoration group.  I was always very jealous of my friends in the United Kingdom who have a wealth of preserved railways and museums for people to pick and choose from.  Here, there are several good museums and groups around the GTA, but most for me mean hour long drives each way to get there, which limited my motivation to be active.

3613951306_3a56bffb4e_oCN 6213 loaded up at the CNE Grounds, and starting the overnight move to her new home at the Toronto Railway Museum, just under the CN Tower in the distance.

When I started volunteering at the roundhouse with the TRHA, I met some fantastic people who were volunteers, who I am now friends with and see both at and away from the museum.  When I started, my first tasks included scraping rust off two big air tanks and painting them aluminum, and getting right at it in the cab of 6213 and repairing the wiring that had been cut when the locomotive was moved from the CNE.  Trust me, no skills were required to scrape off the rust with a metal wire brush or slap on aluminum paint on the tanks.  It was must definitely grunt work!!  When I started, the museum was in the “Construction Phase”, restoring buildings, preparing our three stalls, and building the 7.5” Gauge Miniature Railway in the park.  It wasn’t open to the public, and the historic railway vehicles in the collection were all tarped over for their protection.

A picture from my first weekend at the TRM, cleaning and painting the air reservoir tanks from the Machine Shop.  Me working in the cab of CNR 6213 to repair the wiring, and a Goal Achieved, making the first runs on the complete loop of the Miniature Railway on New Years Eve 2009.

After the museum opened in May 2010, I did some work operating the miniature railway, but focused on getting involved in restoring historic vehicles, as that was where most of my fellow volunteers attention went after the big push for construction.  Our first project was a four year long restoration of Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway caboose No.70.  I also worked regularly on restoring the interior of the cab of Canadian National Railway F7A 9159 (only the cab remains of this locomotive). I am neither an expert woodworker or metal worker, or any other kind of handyman, but I can work with all these materials under supervision, and take direction to be helpful to those who have the serious skills.  I can definitely say that the skilled people who make up the regular Thursday/Saturday volunteer restoration team at the museum are friendly and willing to help new volunteers learn how to safely use the tools and learn the skills to help with restoration of historic vehicles if that is your interest.  Similarly, if your interest is in dealing with people and operating the miniature railway, there are opportunities for that as well.  It all starts with coming out and volunteering to help however you can, and building trust to get given the opportunities to do the things you want to do!!

Me working on the Cab of CN 9159 on the left, and drilling a part for something (I have no recollection of what I was working on) on the right.

As time went on, I found I was having less time to get down regularly, and work on restoration, but the museum had continued to grow, and following a production of The Railway Children play in the park in 2013, the museum was able to convert space that had been rented by the show into our initial display of historic artifacts.  This space which takes up about half of Stall 17 and a third of Stall 16 is our initial museum, until a future project to fund raise and build a permanent building is launched.  After several years, the initial displays in the Stalls were getting a bit tired, and left opportunities to improve our visitor experience by working on new displays.  As I was having less time to go get dirty on restoration/maintenance, and the Museum Manager and executive knew I had interests in display, I wound up getting involved in the ongoing process to create new displays and update older ones.  This worked as it also allowed me to leverage skills I have from my day job in designing displays and graphic materials for the museum space.

Partially installed exhibit on The Canadian on the left, and updated board on the CPR 3100 Northern Locomotives on the right.  Both new/updated exhibits now on display in the Toronto Railway Museum.

While I know not everyone has the desire to go out and volunteer, if you have even a tiny bit of interest, go out and meet your local museum or historical society.  If they are anything like any museum or group I’ve ever met, they always need willing and motivated people, and any organization worth being a part of will work with you to find out what you are interested/able to do, and help to get you involved in that part of their operations if they can.  I can speak from experience that you will meet plenty of good people in doing so.  The past 8 plus years have been very rewarding (though not without their challenges as with anything else in life), and I am definitely proud of  whatever small contribution I have made to preserving and protecting Toronto’s railway heritage for future generations.

Tuesday Train #64

IMGP9467RawConvCN Train 305 is lead Westbound at Newcastle Ontario by Locomotive 2446, a C40-8M built by GE in 1992. 


CN 305 west is a manifest freight, made up of all kinds of different freight cars.  The early part of the train was mostly oil tanks, with a mix of box cars, lumber cars and autorack cars further back.

IMGP9480RawConvCN 3094, an ET44AC also built by GE in 2015 is found mid-train as a radio controlled Distributed Power Unit (DPU). 


The tail end of CN305 trundles away.  The Rear End Device mounted to the coupler isn’t quite as romantic as the caboose of yesteryear, but it gets the job done of communicating by Radio that the train is still connected, and being a visual red light at night.

That’s No Train Part 3 – Transform and Roll Out!

So, at heart, I’m a big geek/nerd whatever term you deem appropriate (shock and horror across the faces of anyone who knows me at that revelation).  I’m also, unfortunately, someone who grew up mostly in the 1980’s, which is when most of my childhood memories are from. So this is the point where I say if you aren’t interested in my non-train ramblings, you should look away at some other corner of the internets for a bit.

My favourite Christmas present as a kid was Christmas 1985, when I got Optimus Prime, the leader of the Heroic Autobots from the cartoon The Transformers.  He was cool, he was a big rig that transformed into a Robot, and had a repair station and scout in his trailer to help him out.  He was also one of the hot toys that Christmas, and a lot of my friends didn’t get an Optimus Prime under the tree, which made me feel special.

IMGP1258RawConvNot a Train Part 3 in the back, and my G1 Optimus Prime from 1985 (though not really mine, I let mine be sold in a yard sale when i wasn’t interested in toys in my early teens, and eventually regretting it spent a fair bit of money re-acquiring one)

So, every summer, I attend TFCon in Mississauga with friends, it’s a fan run convention for Transformers fans.  Along with several of my close friends, we collect Transformers toys still and read the ongoing Comic Book series.  Last year at TFCon, I helped one of my friends who was liquidating his collection, as he’d realized he had bought stuff without any focus, so he got a dealer table and cleared out a ton of stuff to better homes to help him focus his collection.  I used it as an opportunity to thin the herd and get rid of some duplicates or figures I had decided I didn’t want.

At the show last year, I was looking at the Art Contest Entries, and was thinking to myself, I could do well enough to compete in this.  And I say that as someone who generally hates having their work judged, or even thinking that someone might judge their work if you take it out or let them see it.

After the show in July, a long time thought about building a really nice model of Optimus Prime that I’ve had over the years returned to me.  By luck, in August 2016, I came across the AMT Retro kit of a 1970’s White Freightliner Cabover, the same style of truck that was used for the animation and toys that would become Optimus Prime.  I duly acquired one from my regular source at Wheels and Wings here in Toronto, and set to work (The trailer kit and Italian Military Personnel Carrier were also bought here to support my local, the Hasegawa Kit from Japan was ordered through Ebay as by the time I’d settled on it, timing precluded W&W being sure they could get it into stock).

1/25th Scale AMT White Freightliner Cab Kit, with customization for Optimus Prime

The injection moulded parts are showing the age of the tooling in some spaces, especially in their fit and finish.  The cab in particular is moulded in three pieces, the front, a “U’ shaped middle, and the back wall.  Once they were aligned, they took a lot of filling to hide the ugly seam on the roof, while sanding and fileing to not lose the rivet detail.  Some parts of the kit were also, frankly, just garbage looking and the chrome was so thick on the chromed parts it shattered leaving ugly marks whenever you removed a part from the sprue.  To improve the look with a minimum of effort, I focused on replacing a few key parts to get the look right.  I chose to replace the exhaust stacks, horns, roof lights and rearview mirrors.  The turned aluminum horns and exhausts in the above photos are from MCA Model Accessories in England.  The new mirrors and roof light castings are pewter/white metal from American Industrial Truck Models in New Jersey.  I had never built a big rig model in my youth when I built a lot of plastic kits, so it was a new experience, but as with most things, I have discovered there is a huge community of enthusiasts manufacturing aftermarket parts and details to improve the starting point of a commercial kit.  I didn’t want to go crazy, as I also wanted to achieve a somewhat toylike look for the model, but also do enough to get the kit to look better than its age.

In a move that I know will cause horror for some, all my painting on the truck and trailer were done using Testors Enamel Rattle Cans (bought using the convenient Michaels 50% One Item Coupons, yeah, I’m cheap too!!).  This paint isn’t the greatest in the world for colour match, or achieving an even coat, but it hit the price point I wanted.   It also does work so long as you are super careful in your application to not put too much on, which is very easy with the cans. I used a Bright Gloss Red and Metallic Blue for the Cab, and Graphite Grey Metallic and Flat Black for the exterior of the trailer.  The trailer interior was left in Grey Primer.  The diamond plate was painted flat black, then covered with  Testors Chrome spray (again from the rattle can).  On the exterior of the cab, I used Bare Metal Foil for the silver stripe, and to chrome the front bumper steps, handrails, and fuel tanks.  There is also a bit of foil on the rear mudflaps.

The trailer graphics are vinyl material, meant for a Cricut machine or similar.  I sketched up in CAD the shapes I needed, printed out templates, traced the shapes onto the material and cut the material by hand to apply in two stages.  The first level was the silver base, then the blue stripes.  The Autobot head logo is a pre-cut vinyl decal from Reprolabels. For the Autobot Symbols and license plates, a variety of 2D and 3D stickers from Toyhax/Reprolabels were used.  They make replacement labels for 1980’s vintage Transformers, and add-on sets for newer toys.  The 3D labels were applied in a variety of places including on the fenders and mud flaps, back of the trailer chassis, and engine air intake before painting, then primed and painted over to become subtle hints that this truck was “more than meets the eye”.

Italeri 1/24 Scale Refrigerated Trailer Kit, modified to have a folding down rear ramp as the Toy has, and showing the interior modifications for the Battle Station/Repair Bay, Roller (the scout car) and to hold weapons for Optimus.

To mimic the toy, I wanted the rear doors of the trailer to open, but they toy had a fold down ramp, so once I’d figured out how to create a single piece from the two-part rear doors, I added a tube at the bottom, and worked up clips on the trailer body to run a piece of aluminum bar through, allowing the rear doors to fold down.  Inside the rear doors, I created two extension ramps as the door looked wrong folded down without an extension.  The ramps slide in and out and are held in place by a combination of friction and the styrene frame around them.  I also left the trailer roof separate to allow access to the interior for the other vehicles.  For beneath the trailer, I added a pair of resin tool boxes with white metal handles from M&G Mouldings to look like the feet for the toy trailer.

I also did some work to improve the interior, adding a diamond plate floor, complete with a raised section with gates to hide the tracks on the Battle Station, and a weapons rack for primes laser canon when he transforms into a robot.

Roller, a 1/35 scale Trumpeter Models Italian Puma 6×6, and the Battle Station/Repair Bay, a Hasegawa 1/35 Hitachi Double Arm NEO Excavator.  Both with varying degrees of modification.

For roller, I spent a lot of time looking at various options for military 6×6 vehicles that I could use.  There were a lot of options out there, with very different looks.  Roller, the little six wheeled car in the toy was described as a “scout”.  So i wanted something that didn’t have heavy armaments or cannons, but which looked like something you could deploy to sneak about.  I settled on the Trumpeter Models Italian Puma 6×6, because it was the right size and had the look of something stealthy.  The only real upgrade I did was to order a set of brass radio mounts and wire whip antenna for the rear (from a random ebay seller).

For the Battle Station/Repair Bay as its variously described, I wanted something that had two arms as the toy inside the trailer had.  I wasn’t worried about replicating the toys weird extending/fold out neck, as my goal on the project was to create what Optimus Prime would have looked like if he’d been a real truck in the 1980’s.  I came across the Hasegawa Science World Hitachi Astro Neo Double Arm Excavator kit, and knew it was perfect.  I think the only other Hasegawa kit I’ve ever built was a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter, but it was a joy to build.  The parts went together so well, that even the instructions in Japanese weren’t an impediment!  I only made a couple of modifications to the kit, installing two 3D printed canons on the sides, and making a radio antenna from scrap styrene, a wood dowel cap, and etched brass SD40-2 Locomotive Grills (bringing the trains back for anyone who kept reading!).

Both Roller and the Excavator were airbrushed with old stock Pollyscale C&O Enchantment Blue that I got dirt cheap at the Barrie Train Show.  It has a nice matte sheen to it when sprayed over Tamiya Fine Grey primer.  The claws and some of the details on the excavator were chromed with the Testors rattle cans.

TF Con 2017 3D Art Contest Entries, and the Trophies, custom-made from Transformers Toys for 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

At the show, the entries are all displayed on a table, in the 2D and 3D Art Competitions so the public can see them, and the judges can judge them.  It was my first time entering a contest, other entries were more traditional TF Customs, where someone takes toys and re-paint/detail them to create other characters or unique characters.  All told, there were 12 entries in the 3D Art Contest based on my looking at the table and the entry sign in sheet, so a 1 in 4 chance of coming away with something.  One thing I learned, that I probably should have known, was that because they couldn’t see all sides, or move the models, details could be missed.  Some of the other competitors had framed detail photos or work-in-progress info with their entries to aid the judges.  In my heart, I probably knew I needed to spend some of my final prep time putting something together, but I also felt it looked so good, that it would stand well enough on its own.

So the big reveal, I won 3rd prize!  I didn’t come away empty-handed from almost a years worth of work in building the model specifically to enter the contest.  I received a lot of positive comments and feedback, and when I was packing it up, people pointed out that some of the details were probably missed by the judges because you just couldn’t see them until you were really close or they were pointed out.  I got feedback as much from at least one person who I suspect was a judge.  I was a bit disappointed if I’m perfectly honest when they announced 3rd Prize as being “Real Prime by Stephen Gardiner” in the speakers room at the convention, but then, I got past that and made my way up to collect the trophy, I realized I had achieved my goal of getting recognition and winning one of the three prizes on offer in my first attempt to do so.

IMGP1213RawConvMy model and the 3rd Place Trophy.  The Trophies were made out of Transformers Toys, painted Gold, Silver and Bronze.

I learned a lot from this, despite the fact that I generally hate contests and judging models.  Fear of judgment (either in general or via a contest) has traditionally been one of the things that kept me from being more social in the Model Railroad hobby and showing off my work to others.  By specifically setting out to do a project with the intention of entering it in a competition, I don’t think I did anything different to if I was doing it just for myself, but I did cross a hurdle in my own mind about letting others judge my work and being alright with the outcome.  Maybe I could have gotten 1st or 2nd if I’d written this post or similar to point out the details and brought it with me, but at the end of the day, I won 3rd place and a bit of pride in my work.  I can honestly say that the numbers of medals or trophies I’ve won for any competition I’ve taken part in, or sport I’ve played is small, so I’m going to revel in this for a bit, even if no one in their right mind pays attention to the outcome of the Art Contest at a Transformers Fan Convention!!  Will I do a custom Transformers themed model again? Absolutely, but probably not in the next year or two.  I need to decide what I would want to do, and make sure it doesn’t take away from the important business of model railroading!!

IMGP1263RawConvShortage of Space in the apartment.  For now, I don’t have a shelf even remotely close to big enough to display the model I named “Real Prime” for the purposes of the contest entry, along with my 3rd Place Trophy.