CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Benchwork: the plan

I started planning what I was going to do for benchwork for my layout. As has previously been mentioned, I want it to be sectional/movable, but not necessarily easily movable. I don't plan to take the layout to train shows and such, but it will be reconfigured over the life of the layout. Also, flipping it on its side for wiring is a must for me. Legs or other supports will be determined later.

What I realized once I started working in the basement again is that this might be too large for the space I had. I allotted a small walkway around the layout for access to the washing machine and dryer, but that might not fly with my wife. As drawn at right, the two green sections are 5' long.

So, I may take the two 5' sections on each side and instead make them 3' sections. Since that is definitely too short for the Watervliet section, it will just be a filler for now. As for the part that adjoins the Mohawk Paper section, it might just be an extension of that. So why not build Mohawk Paper as two 5' sections, which would be easier? Because I cannot see myself devoting 10 feet of the layout to one industry. Allowing 7' and 3' sections gives me more flexibility.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

First track purchased!

Going under the logic that if I spread out the cost of my layout over time it will be easier on my pocketbook, I decided to start purchasing track. Honestly, I first checked Ebay to see if there was anything interesting for sale (HO engines, slides, books, A&A stuff, etc.) but then corrected myself and decided to focus on something I actually "need" (I do not need another 50' boxcar at this time) and that was track. But, since today was rainy and I had already taken it off I drove to the nearby JP Trains hobby store.

After checking out their Roundhouse/MDC and Athearn kits (I can't help it!) and realizing I keep seeing the same ones over and over, I looked at Paul's track selection. And, lo and behold there were three Micro Engineering code 83 #6 LH switches on sale for $15 each... brand new. Since I plan to use code 83 on the main line, and Micro Engineering is the track brand I have decided to go with, I bought all three. The packages were marked "DCC compatible with no modifications necessary," which I hope is a good thing. I plan to power the frogs and control them via a switch (either a TAM Frog Juicer if I use Caboose Industries ground throws, or the contacts from a Tortoise switch machine). I also ordered some ME flextrack. It comes in bundles of six pieces, so I ordered a bundle in code 83, code 70, and code 55. I likely won't need it until spring, but I can at least get a feel for how the stuff works.

News flash: code 55 is really tiny! I had no idea how delicate it was until I had some actually in my hands. Micro Engineering sells sample pieces through their website for I think $1.50 a piece (each piece is about 2-3 inches long). I bought some of each in codes 55, 70, and 83 in both weathered and non-weathered. I mounted them on a small board along with some samples of Hobby Innovations' Flexxbed (formerly Vinylbed) roadbed. I will likely mount small pieces of Atlas and Peco track on the board too, and if nothing else it will allow me to easily show others the various types of track on the market.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Track Plan thoughts

This is the time when the rubber hits the road. As I was trying to finalize how I would build my layout sections I thought that it might be useful to do a more detailed sketch of exactly how I envisioned my train layout would look. Admittedly, I am sure that once it is built and I am sketching it again in full size some things might change. However, we will call this a "Feasibility Study" of the layout.

Ideally, my layout sections would be no more than 2 feet wide and no more than 6 feet long. Some recent articles in the modeling magazines have advocated for narrower (thinner) layout sections, saying that 2 feet just used up lots of scenery materials without any appreciable benefit. That might be true for those modelers building double-deck layouts were the focus is to move trains, but I want my layout's focus be to accurately represent scenes, and I don't think I can accomplish that on a section only a foot deep.

As to length, at least two of my scenes will need to be 7 feet long. Minimum. Sure, I could make them as a 3 foot and four foot combination but that will just increase the number of joints in the finished scene. I want to avoid that. I already will have numerous gaps between sections. Since my basement has easy access to the outside, and because I will make sure if I move to pick a new house with a basement that can easily move in 7 foot long sections of benchwork, I should be fine. I hope.

For the 2 of you who actually studied my sketch from 9/11/2016, you will notice that I inverted the locations of Watervliet Wye and Colonie Liquor. I was rushing, that's for sure. But, I really haven't don't much planning for Watervliet Wye and so I didn't put much thought into it. I haven't explored that area, taken any pictures, sketched and diagrams, etc. I will, I am sure, But, since it isn't the most accessible area to get into I have left it for now. Thus, I threw some ideas together but they are just that, rough ideas.

Frankly, I may discover that 5 feet isn't enough room to do it justice and I may just use that area to model the area just south of Colonie Liquor. (I would swap the Colonie Liquor section and the Watervliet Wye section, because the part is south of Colonie Liquor). There is an interstate (I-378) overpass and an old Erie Canal lock, so it would be fun to build. And, I can build the park where I used to sit and railfan while in law school. So, the Watervliet Wye area is a very strong "maybe" and nothing more. Still, you can see that it faces inwards which means that I could hinge a drop-down layout section for normal storage but raise it up if putting cars on the wye tracks would add anything operationally to the layout.

Mohawk Paper is another question mark. I don't want to model the full industry, and I actually care more about the really neat track that drops down a significant grade through a cut in the trees and over the middle of a road intersection to reach the paper mill. That I want to model. Can I do it in 7 feet? Perhaps, but it will mostly depend on the grade I use. If I use a steel (or realistic) grade I doubt I can drop it enough in the space I have. But, making the scene longer just to feature that grade doesn't make a lot of sense. So, the area next to Mohawk Paper labeled Cohoes may not feature the parts of Cohoes I wanted to model (the bridge over the Mohawk River, the old warehouses, the Cohoes passenger station) and instead will just be a continuation of the paper mill scene. Again, we shall see.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Basement modifications

So, first thing's first: my Albany Tomato Building is on hold for right now. This move into our new house has sapped all energy I have (as well as time) and I will never get the building done by the convention, which is next week. I sort of figured this out a couple of months ago, when all my modeling things were still in boxes, but I hoped that things might change. They won't.

One the other side, the basement is slowly taking shape. We don't have the funds to remodel it at the moment and likely won't for a long time. But, to make it nicer I painted all of the walls a soft blue that is both reminiscent of a backdrop and just happens to be more pleasing than concrete gray. To provide adequate lighting (and fix the problem with having to pull 6 different light cords or plug in various extension cords) a good friend and I installed 12 fluorescent light fixtures and tied them to one switch accessed at the top of the stairs. Very helpful! There is plenty of room for my many books, boxes of research files, and modeling supplies. You can even see part of my two old N scale layouts off to the side, though for right now I am not planning on working on them much.

The ceiling rafters have been slowly dropping dirt as we walk around upstairs, which is a big problem and I am still hoping to cover the ceiling with plastic sheets to contain the dust.

I purchased a desk (actually two... don't ask!) to use as a work bench and I whipped up a quick tool organizer made of wood that clamps to the back. In the process of rerouting all of the cable television wires in our basement rafters I installed a drop to the workbench and bought a cheap television off of Craigslist, so now I can watch football while working. And, a radio let's me listen to games not shown. It should be a pleasant place to work in the winter, and finally I will be able to have a project or two in progress and not need to clean off the kitchen table at the end of the night so we can eat!

I apportioned off a quarter of the basement to devote to non-train stuff, and it houses the washer/dryer, etc. When we remodel the basement I will have these relocated to give me a larger layout area. As it is, I am planning on it taking up one quarter of the basement. It will stand away from two walls by a foot, and be exposed/open on the other two sides. Backdrops will run around the entire outside, so the ideal viewing location will be inside the layout. A portion will be removable for access.

Until recently I struggled with conceptualizing how I would fit my D&H Layout Design Elements (LDEs) into the space, but after fussing a while I think I have a good arrangement. For some areas I have clear ideas of what I want to model and the space it will take (Colonie Liquor, Keis/Norlite), and for other areas (Mohawk Paper, Cokoes) I haven't worked it out yet. One area will require more research to see if I even want to add it (Watervliet Wye) but the location I planned is good because I can extend the wye in or out for scenic or operational interest. And, I can build a staging yard along the wall (lower left in the diagram below) and tie it into the layout easily. The North Albany Yard will be where the lift section is, so I might just make it a generic scene and leave off building a yard being demolished for now.
Of course, once the benchwork is up I may need to shift things around, or shorten/lengthen them to fit into the sections that I can move if necessary. I want each area to be its own benchwork section, which means all four corners will be separate.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

New House - home for the layout!

It's official! After three years of searching, my wife and I have finally found a house that we both love and can afford. And let me tell you, it wasn't easy. Going into the search process, I knew it had to have a dry basement. That was something I wasn't willing to compromise on. It didn't have to be large, it didn't have to be a finished basement, but it had to be dry. That precluded a lot of nice houses that didn't have any sort of basement (who designs those anyway?) or houses that were listed as having a basement but in reality they were the first floor (split level homes: I'm looking at you). Then, subtract the houses we looked at with dirt floors, low ceilings, pipes everywhere, or horrible 90-degree access stairways and you don't have much left.

But, God had the perfect house for us and we just had to be patient. For three years...

Anyway, the basement is perfect for what I am looking for right now. It is large (26' x 36') for a whopping potential 936 square feet. That is almost as much as our current apartment! And, the house has a detached garage and a carport, as well as an attic, so I won't need to devote much basement space to non-railroad related storage. The walls are pretty clear of pipes and utilities, and the ceilings aren't too low. The basement is accessed by a straight stairway AND outside Bilco access doors, so my oversize lumber, machine shop tools, and live steam equipment can come in without problem. And, to top it off, it is bone dry. I really couldn't ask for anything better.

Oh sure, it isn't perfect. It has exposed ceiling rafters, but I don't have the money to install a drop ceiling so for now I will tack plastic sheeting all over the top. It might not look pretty, but it will keep the dust away from my models. Someday, if I want to install a ceiling, I can just pull the plastic down (and try not to ingest all that collected dust.) The walls are poured cement and blocks, which again isn't ideal for my dream set-up of shelf style brackets and standards. But, for now I will build stand alone benchwork until such time as I may refinish the basement. Since the entire layout will be sectional, it won't be the end of the world to move everything out and then refinish it.

At this point, it is just an open canvas for potential. I have an existing N scale layout which I will set up for now but I still need to figure out in my head where I want my modeling desk, my tools, my book shelves, etc. I do plan to paint the walls a sky blue soon to help make it more of a "layout" room. And, I just bought a large metal desk with drawers to use as a real, honest-to-goodness worktable. I am really excited about that, because now I can have a place to leave my stuff out and work on it at my own pace.

The biggest problem I have is that I cannot let this get in the way of having the ATC building ready for the competition in September. But, having a ready workbench will make it easier to come down every evening and work on the project a little.

My plan was to build the layout piece by piece and that is what I will do. Finances will be tight for awhile, but that is okay as I like to scratchbuild and am starting small. So, look out world, the layout is coming!

And in case you were wondering, we started signing closing papers at 11:00AM, we finished around noon, went to lunch with our agent, and by 1:30PM I was in the basement working on cleaning it up and taking measurements to make a scale drawing of the space (see above).

Friday, May 27, 2016

Structure - Albany Tomato Company (part 6)

I was thinking recently that my project was slowing down, even though the deadline for completion is mid-September and I may be busy this summer with other things. And, I was concerned that perhaps I was taking too much time and overthinking things. For example, I cannot paint the building until it is washed. I cannot mount the gray windows in the openings until the exterior of the building is painted brick red. I cannot install the roofs until the windows are in or else risk only being able to install them from inside and below. I cannot install the brick sheets to the inside edges of the roof until the roof is glued in. Etc.

There is something to be said about smart planning and not painting yourself into a corner. However, this building isn't rocket science. So, I decided to plunge ahead with two decisions that will impact my future sequence of operations.

First, I bought a piece of 1/2" thick Masonite that I will use as the base. As you have probably seen, the building has several floors and slopes along the length of it. While in real life it is paved along a grade so that all you see is a nice gradual angle, I am building this model right as a stand-alone building so I don't want to pave it or build it into any permanent scenery. So, I need a foundation that will look decent, support the two elevations of the building, be lightweight, and perhaps make it easier to carry the building around when I need to move it. Since it it isn't part of the model, I am not going overboard with the appearance. I will paint it gray to represent concrete and that is it.

I also plan to install little wooden blocks inside to loosely secure it from sliding. If I make them too tight a fit, and binding could damage the model. Of course, once the roof is installed gluing them will be more difficult so I started working today by cutting little pieces of wood and gluing them to the base. 

I also took a giant Indiana Jones leap of faith forward and glued one of the roofs onto the building. The area of the building that I secured only has two windows and I think I can get them easily from underneath if I need to. The roof over the railroad loading doors will be loose for now until I decide how I will install the interior. The third roof, over the side with all the windows, I may glue now. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Structure - Albany Tomato Company (part 5)

It has been over three months since my last blog post and how time flies. There are several reasons for this.

I have been sick for over 6 weeks with some sort of flu/cold/bug thing. It has made it very difficult to be in the proper, concentrated mindset required when building a model. One of the core rules I have set for myself when doing model railroading related activities is that I must be enjoying it and willing to concentrate on the project at hand. There are certain aspects, such as repetitive cutting of pieces or detail painting, which I don't enjoy. And for those things, I just need to push through them. But, if at any time I am hate the process so much that I just want to rush through it I shut myself down and go to something else. Mistakes made by forcing myself to do something are worse than letting a project sit for a while.

Also, the brickwork is tedious. Because the walls are so large (long), and because I don't want to have splice joints in them, I need to carefully measure and cut the walls. Any mistakes mean getting another long piece to try again. I intentionally ordered more than was required but as this stuff is relatively expensive and must be mail ordered I need to work carefully. Unfortunately, one joint was unavoidable but I think I did a good job. There are no external details like vines or drain pipes to hide them, which is unfortunate.

However, it has been fun too. As the walls go up I overlap the corner joints and then once the cement has cured I carefully use a file to sand the overhang off. I originally thought about using a knife to cut mortar joints at the edges but gave that up because I am sure it would look oversize and sloppy. It is better to omit a detail then add a poor rendition of one.

Once all the external walls were covered, a faced a conundrum. I could glue on the roofs and then apply the brickwork to the roof interior walls, or I could do them first and then add the roof. One roof over the loading dock north-west wall will be removable (at least until the interior detailing is done), but I can glue on the other two. But, if I do that then painting the wall surfaces red will over-spray onto the roof. If I spray all the walls red and then glue the roof, there might be a gap between the wall brick sheet and the roof (necessary to let the roofs drop down.)

The windows are also slowing the project down. Because they are masonry windows, they don't overlap the window openings. So, each opening was cut roughly with a hobby knife and then I used fine metal files to get the openings into the right size and shape. I am sure the ones that are supposed to be the same size are slightly off, but they are close enough.  

I need to build the windows accurately and then glue them in the openings. I will paint them gray before inserting them, as painting them in situ may lead to gray paint on the red or red on the gray. I will likely paint the delicate frames gray, mount them onto clear plastic, paint the backside of the window black to prevent seeing through it, and then glue the assemblies them into openings. Before that, I will glue styrene support pieces from the back over the openings which the window assemblies can be attached to.

Thankfully, many of the windows were covered with corrugated metal at this time so I don't have to build a ton of windows. And, I find building doors and windows fun (at least in G scale) and the strip styrene is cheap enough that any errors can be tossed out without much of a financial impact.

Next Steps
I am still thinking this through. My order of operations must carefully consider painting of the walls and windows, interior access, and roof joints. I am progressing slowly to avoid getting stuck in a box. Since I work on the kitchen table and everything has to get put away after a build session, it is getting annoying to set it all up and tear it all down. But, a September deadline is looming closer!

However, encouraging is that Mr. Kilian saw my building at a recent train show and was very impressed. That made me very happy, and I am glad he approves of what I am doing. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Structure - Albany Tomato Company (part 4)

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2016 will be the the year we get a house so I can start on my layout!

Like many others, I have already turned into a "Wow, I had no idea I hadn't updated this blog in so long." However, I have an excuse. My hobby projects and supplies are currently buried behind a treadmill, itself relocated into the office from the family room where our Christmas tree is. I had to fight just to get some stuff out recently, and it wasn't fun.

Anyway, over the past few months I have been doing some research on HO scale brick sheets for my ATC building. After a preliminary bit of web searching, I decided to rule out milled wooden brick sheets and focused on styrene. From what I could gather, there are two popular products out there: Plastruct's brick sheets and The N Scale Architect's brick sheets.

Plastruct's brick sheets come in different brick patterns in various scales, you get two sheets to a package which are roughly 7" x 12" each, and they about $12 a package. I purchased their PS-91, which are referred to as "Rough Brick." The bricks are molded in dull red plastic without much relief for grout lines, and some of the bricks project a little more from the face (I assume that is intentional to add visual interest, but I am not sure). They look okay but give me the impression that if paint were applied a little too heavily all brick detail would disappear. More concerning, though, is that the sheets are small. They would work for a small building, or for one with lots of exterior piping that could hide joints, but otherwise it might be tough to blend the edges of pieces together.  The cost per square inch works out to 0.07 cents.

N Scale Architects brick sheets also come in different brick patterns, you get two sheets to a package which are roughly 11" x 14" each, and they are about $20 a package. I purchased their #50001, which are referred to as "Modern Brick." These bricks are perfectly molded with much more relief, and look extremely uniform. The sheets are made in white plastic, and the lines are easy to see. The best part though is that the sheets are huge, and I can do any side of my building without having to splice. However, they must be ordered online as my local hobby store doesn't carry them. The cost per square inch works out to 0.06 cents.

To test out and compare the two brands, as well as hone my skills in using them, I built a small structure out of some styrene I had lying around. I laid it out so that each wall had a window, and the four corners would test joining the material to itself and to the other material.

One concern I had was that I had read applying too much cement would cause the sheets to melt. While I didn't pool it on, I used my normal liberal amount and the sheets came out fine. I even added more than necessary from the inside at the windows and nothing bad happened. I also had considered sanding the edges to 45-degrees so that they would join perfectly. This stuff was so thin though (about 0.020") that it would have been impossible.

Lessons learned:

1.) Trim the Factory Edges: always make sure to trim or cut all four edges, as the styrene brick lines were not always parallel to the edges. After you have done that, make sure to mark what is an established "straight" line. I used a black marker, which is why some of the pictures show this.

2.) Orientation: the brick sheets have a front and a back, and if you flip them around the grout lines will be reversed and look silly. The bricks are tiny, so I used a pencil to write "back" on the reverse sides to help me.

3.) Measure carefully and cut a little oversize: since the joints will not be hidden with angle trim, drain pipes, or vines, I cannot cheat and try for good enough. The joints need to be spot on. One of my cuts was about 0.015" too short and it doesn't look good. I guess I could fill it with putty and carve brick lines, but I think trying that might make those brick lines I scribe look too large. I am glad I tested this. I think I will add each side to overhang whatever other ones already exist, and then trim/sand/file down to size.

4.) Windows: because the styrene brick sheets are so thin, I can see the window openings by holding it up to the light. I don't think pre-cutting the windows in the brick sheets would be a good idea because trying to get it all measured and cut, and then glue it perfectly to the building core, would be difficult. When I went to cut the N Scale Architects' brick sheets I cut a bit on the inside and carved my way to the edges, finishing up with files. For the Plastruct, it acted like rubber and I was able to remove it by moving the blade along the edge. It wasn't bad, but it didn't act like the plastic I was used to . It's hard to explain, but both materials worked well.

Here are some pictures of my test structure, which clearly show the two different brick products. The first picture (with the Plastruct on the right, N Scale Architects on the left) shows a perfect joint. You can really see the textural differences in the molded bricks. I actually like the "sloppy" style of the Plastruct bricks more, but after painting I think the effect would be lost. Perhaps if I am going to model a more run down structure I can use them. They may be molded in the red so that they only require a matte finish without a paint coat, but I am not sure.

The all-white joint came out really good and I am quite pleased with it. Of course, again I will only know how good or bad the joint will look once it has been painted. And, it is only then when I will see if I need to cut or scribe brick joints in the corner. I would rather not do it as I am worried about making them too large and then drawing attention to them. Since I don't know how MMR judges award points, I am thinking about taking this to a judge I know and asking for his opinion.

I had to be really careful when applying the cement because I couldn't use clamps. If I did, and some cement got between the clamp and the brick sheet, it could melt the bricks and make them look terrible. This isn't a concern on a regular styrene building because sanding and painting hide that problem. But not with bricks!