CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 Wrap Up

The year of 2019 will first and foremost be remembered as the year of the plague. While I am normally a healthy person, I discovered I have Crohns disease after about ten months of wondering why I felt so lousy and I am only now learning how to cope and adjust to it. As a result, some of the time that I could have spent modeling was instead just wasted doing other things. Still, it isn't literally killing me and there are worse things to have. Oh well.

But, I did accomplish several things in 2019:

1.) I completed the requirements for my NMRA "Master Model Railroader - Civil" certificate. It didn't go as smoothly as I thought it would (a random wire staple used to secure a pair of feeder wires cut through the insulation of both and created a short circuit that I had to track down) but in the end it was worthwhile. The paperwork will hopefully be processed in 2020, and at that time I will revise my fourth layout section to redo the yard tracks and remove the turntable.

2.) I began in earnest to scratchbuild three cars. With my MMR Civil paperwork complete, I am picking up these projects again and am looking forward to progress over the next several winter months.

3.) I installed display shelves along the wall which allow me to look at my HO scale collection of engines and sentimental cars every time I go up and down the stairs in to the basement. This is very encouraging even when I don't do anything else on the layout.

4.) I finally got to New Hampshire to visit Rich Chiodo's magnificent Isle of Shoals Tramway garden railway.

5.) On the 7.25" gauge (1/8 scale) railroad front, I finally finished my battery powered Boston & Maine "critter" engine and Burlington Northern green bulkhead flat style riding car. Now when I visit to the Adirondack Live Steamers I can run my own train, and I will have seat capacity to offer rides to visiting family and friends.

6.) The wife and I visited Baltimore, including the great B&O Railroad Museum.

And, I have some things to look forward to in 2020:

1.) The wife and I are planning a trip to Toronto in April of 2020 to attend the Great British Train Show. Because it is in Canada, I had to get a passport... something I have never had. Naturally, there was a problem with the paperwork but I am hoping it will all be resolved soon. There is a "Little Tokyo" in Toronto too, which means the misses will get to have some fun things to do whilst I am wandering about the show.

2.) I contracted with a company to install a drop ceiling in my basement. This has been a long time coming, and won't be done until May 2020, but I am excited about the prospect of finally having my layout protected from dust and dirt dropping down from above. This will give me the confidence to being adding scenery to my layout.

3.) My 7.25" gauge (1/3 scale) Welsh narrow gauge steam locomotive's valve gear is nearly done. It took a lot of work this past year to fabricate and machine the various bits and pieces of it, and until it was all put together I really didn't have much to show for it. I am hoping the chassis will be able to run on air in 2020. Updates are found on the Chaski home machinist forum.

Here's to hopefully a great 2020!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Rohr Turboliners are coming! (from Rapido Trains)

Port Henry (July 1977)

Any fan of the D&H probably has an appreciation for the Alco PA locomotives that were lovingly saved by President Frederic C. "Buck" Dumaine in 1967 from scrap for service on the Laurentian passenger trains between Albany and Montreal. After that service was discontinued, they were used on promotional excursion trains by new President Carl B. Sterzing Jr. all over the system. When Amtrak and New York State decided to start up passenger trains again, the D&H had the four units restored by Morrison-Knudson in 1975 to pull the newly created Adirondack. When they rolled out of the shops, they were in like-new condition and should have lasted at least 20 years. Sadly, in part because relations between the D&H and Amtrak broke down they were quickly replaced with Amtrak's new Turboliner trains. Boo!

Albany (September 1976)
But, as someone who grew up in Rochester, NY in the 1980s and 1990s, I saw Turboliners quite a bit. I remember even riding one as a child, and the conductor was kind enough to ask my mother if I could go up to see the engineer in the cab. Thankfully, she said "yes" and away I went. Not only did I get to meet the engineer and see the world through the front windows of the cab, but I even got a cardboard Amtrak hat to wear. I have a hunch Amtrak would not allow anyone into their engine's cabs today! Because of these memories, I have very strong feelings for the Turboliners and have waited for years to purchase a model of one. Sadly, none existed....

... UNTIL NOW ...

A Turbo lurking in Colonie shops (April 14, 1977)
Sidenote: why is the front half of #2303 so clean?

Rapido has just announced (on Christmas day, no less!) that they are planning on bringing out the Rohr Turboliner in HO scale. In four different paint schemes no less, With the option for DCC and sound. It looks awesome. It should run well if it is from Rapido. And, like all good things, it won't be cheap (though the price divided by 5 cars isn't too bad). But after hearing the rumor several months ago I emailed Rapido who confirmed that they were planning on announcing the train this year, so I went easy with spending my hobby dollars and saved my pennies. While the "early" Amtrak scheme would be appropriate for my layout (and actually might have detoured over the Colonie Main), I am going to buy the "late" Amtrak scheme with the thinner red stripe and black roof that ran during the time period I actually saw and rode on it.

Rapido put out a video about their new project which shows them walking through the hulks of one of the remaining trains. It is a neat video, though I remembered the trains looking a lot nicer inside when I was a kid. That was 20 odd years ago though, plus the trains have been refurbished at least once (and attempted a second time before New York State sold them for scrap. So, my memories might be a bit confused. One highlight of the video is around 2:13 in where a train pulls into the Utica, NY station... a place where I saw the train several times while trainspotting at the station with my grandfather.

By the way, for anyone with even a casual interest in the history of the Amtrak Turboliners there is an excellent resource out there. Published in 2016, the book Trail of the Turbo covers in exacting detail all of the history behind the Turboliner trains from their initial development through the minor modifications to the final fiasco that became the New York State rebuilding process. Written by Dale Johnson, a person who had extensive connections with the project and apparently was an official photographer for Amtrak at the time, it goes into every nook and cranny. There are some chapters that contain so much detail that I stopped reading and just looked at the pictures. In additional to being historical, it contains a lot of technical data too. The last few sections are pretty depressing as it discusses them turning into piles of rust in Schenectady. Dale had had a table at the Springfield Train Show for 2017 and 2018 (I don't remember about 2019, and don't know about 2020) with books for sale as well as some Turbo memorabilia that he owned. If you can't afford the model train, I highly recommend the book.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Merry Christmas and structure kit with wife

I have wanted to work on a "Christmas" project with my wife for quite a while now. We are usually both very busy so the idea of sharing some quality craft time together sounded relaxing and enjoyable. We were recently at the mall and I came across a structure kit (scale not listed on the box, but it looks like 1:64) which I thought might be just the thing. In all fairness it wasn't a complete scratchbuilding exercise as the walls came already formed with window and trim lines pre-scribed in the material. But, it did require assembly and final painting and detailing was left completely up to the builder.

I opened the package and took stock of the contents: 2 front/rear walls; 2 end walls, 2 roof panels; one base panel; a package of glue; 2 small packages of figures; and some decorative castings. To test both the integrity and deliciousness of the wall material I broke off a corner and ate it... big mistake, as it tasted pretty bad. Obviously, this was a kit foremost and a baked good second. My usual tendency with structure kits is to discard the base as it is too large and unrealistic to integrate with the surrounding scenery, but here I decided to use it (despite it now missing a corner).

The wife's side
We chose to pre-decorate some of the walls prior to assembly, as this would produce the most realistic results. I discovered that the glue came in a squeeze bag that was not really well designed and the results were similar to Testors gloppy cement that comes in the orange and white tubes. However, it smelled a whole lot better (no crazy headaches) and tasted fantastic. In fact, I found multiple places on my fingers to glue just so that I could lick it off.

My wife had much better luck applying it around the windows and doors. Then, we applied glue to the wall and roof joints and assembled the kit. Lacking corner clamps, all 20 fingers were pressed into service. Here, the thinness of the glue proved to be a weakness and it took quite a bit of effort to hold the roof panels in place whilst the glue set. *NOTE: all pictures are curtesy of my wife except the first, which I took. She is a much better photographer.

At the same time, we pressed on with the decorations which led to inevitable bumps and shakes of the building that only further helped to separate the roof seams. However, in retrospect this added to the realistic ramshackle weathering and run down appearance of the building which is popular in modeling circles these days.

My Side
I added a cross-hatched roof pattern to my half of the building, while my wife went for the more traditional sweeping curves. I am not sure which is more prototypical. Finally, additional details such as full-color figures and nut/bolt/washer castings that were oddly shaped as snowflakes were added. It is hard to determine how much realism the figures added even with such further details such as hats or headware added. Looking back, I note we unfortunately grouped the figures in poses that are utterly unrealistic whatsoever. I did my part by removing two from the kit and putting them in as safe a place as I could beforehand (chomp).  

All in all, it proved a really fun way to spend about a half an hour. I am not sure yet on whether I want to submit it to NMRA judging or else just give it to the dog, but I know that I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Wonderful New Year!

On a more serious note, the true meaning of Christmas...

Matthew 1:18-24 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Roster Review: MEC U23Bs in 1984

#284 (May 1984)
Wait a minute! Why am I posting about Maine Central Railroad (MEC) engines here on a D&H blog? And am I going to try and research every locomotive owned by Guilford as they existed in 1984? The short answer is "no." The long answer is that through a technicality I can include models of the D&H's General Electric U23B class on my layout even though they were gone from the D&H by 1983. When I picked my era to model I knew I would have to make hard choices. But, in my back pocket was the fact that these locomotives were gone but not forgotten. I didn't research every U23B but here are a couple as they appeared on or around May of 1984.

#288 (March 10, 1984)
A brief history of the class might be in order. There were sixteen total engines ordered new from General Electric, originally numbered #301-316, and later renumbered #2301-2316. Interestingly, they were the first U23Bs ever built and were the only ones with radiator fairings. (No, I really don't know enough about U23B engines to spot all the specific differences). They were all sold to MEC in June of 1983 as part of Guilford's shifting of assets. MEC repainted their logos on the nose and gave them new numbers via patch painting, but they didn't consistently do it (see the pictures).

#290 (April 1985)
Most stayed in their lightning stripe scheme but several were different. Engine #2312 was first painted in red, white, and blue for the "Preamble Express" (more info here) and numbered #1776. Then it was painted solid blue in the late 1970s. Later, it received a yellow stripe along the lower side sill. Another "special" job was engine #2311, which was the only D&H unit to be painted in solid gray with a blue lightning stripe. Nicknamed the "Gray ghost," the story is that the paint shop ran out of blue paint and pressed on with just gray. I love it, even though it is pretty weird.

Atlas has released seven (!) engines painted for the D&H, including the Bicentennial #1776 and the Gray ghost #2311. I knew I wanted one or two for my layout but they just didn't fit my time frame. Barely. However, despite not being a good painter I think I am competent enough to patch paint one or two for my layout. So, it won't be long before a couple are added to my roster as MEC engines, including #2311.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

New engine! - D&H #5003

I love D&H #5003, a high-nose Alco RS11. It was the only high hood engine with full yellow chevron stripes on the end, which made it stand out and pop. I think it has become my favorite D&H engine (even more so than their Sharks, or PAs, etc... don't ask me why). It was a single engine paint scheme that lasted for a short period of time on the D&H, though it was applied to many of their short hood locomotives. Unfortunately, hasn't been offered commercially by Atlas, and the other sellers of RS11s (Proto 2000, Rapido, etc.) are not likely to do it either. Thus, my only option was to have it custom painted.

But, things have a way of working out. I was in a local hobby store (Milepost Hobbies) where Matt the owner is pretty good friends with a custom painter well acquainted with regional and shortline railroads in the North East. Some discussions were had, and before I knew it arrangements had been made to have an engine painted up for me. I just needed a donor Atlas RS11, and it had to be one of the newer ones with separate grab irons and such. The store owner then pointed to an undecorated Atlas RS11 sitting in the case for sale. How long it had been there wasn't said, but within a span of 10 minutes I had made contact with a willing painter who shared my vision and had purchased the exact model I needed.

Some of my D&H engines (with my three RS-36s missing)
And so I waited, though it only took a month. Maybe less, as I think I missed the first message that it was ready. And boy does she look great! The yellow sill is pretty bright but that will be easy to tone down with weathering, and like all other D&H engines this one wasn't immune to leaking oil, grease, grime, smoke, etc. It just hid better on the darker engine. And now that I have #5003, my wall of RS11 engines is pretty complete. I now have an example of all four paint schemes that still existed on the D&H in 1984 that I am aware of (though a lightning stripe scheme with faded or missing numbers might also be in my future).

Saturday, November 30, 2019

T-Trak Japan: The Start of Something New

The Japanese have a saying: 兎を追う者は一兎をも得ず.

I bet you have no idea what that says. I don't blame you... I can't read it either. It means "One who chases after two hares won’t catch even one." Or, put differently, those who try to do two things at once will fail at both. That is the essence of my modeling career. I need new projects like I need a hole in the head. I have an HO scale layout; a small N scale layout that I built for my wife; another old N scale layout; my live steam trains; my G scale trains; and various other projects. I don't need more. But, something has been nagging me for a while and I thought I would give it a go.

Every once in a while I would look on EBay for random N scale things, and I would find lots of Japanese themed structure kits. I love kits, so they looked like fun. A friend recently put together a model of a Shinto temple for a miniature wargaming project that I gave him some advice with, and it was a neat model. But more importantly, my wife loves everything Japanese. And she loves N scale. And I love my wife. So, it seemed like a way to combine our hobbies (more so then dragging her to train shows or live steam meets or railroad museums or tourist railroads or...

At one time I considered joining the local Albany Albany N-trak club. However, fitting even one 2'x4' module into my car is difficult. And, I didn't want a large layout module that size which I would need to store for 99% of the year, only to get to run it about 1% of the time (if that). It just didn't make sense. Then I remembered T-Trak, the concept of building even smaller modules (some as small as roughly 14" square) with Kato Unitrack on the ends to link them together. Here was something I could do. Of course, I automatically defaulted to the "triple" module which is roughly 36" wide but I had in my head an idea for the scenery and realized I needed space.

But, it would satisfy several creative itches I had and still be small and easy to store. It would also allow me to join a club where my wife could run her own N-scale collection of equipment. When I discussed the idea with her, her first reaction was "I would love it if you would join an N scale club." Sold! So, I reached out to the Albany club again to confirm what standards for T-trak they were using, and they were pretty helpful. I also found the Toyko in N Scale blog, which was pretty useful.

I explored EBay and the internet to find what structure kits are out there. If you search on Ebay for the brand "Tomytec" (or "Tomix," which I guess is a corporate sibling) there are lots of cute Japanese themed building kits that are small and look fun to put together. Tomytec sells them prepainted, or perhaps molded in the colors shown but I may repaint them as I see fit. I found the dimensions of lots of building kits, drew up the dimensions of the bases on metric graph paper, and then shifted them around on a piece of posterboard cut to the size of the module. Other companies sell more modern, realistically proportioned kits but I avoided those. There are lots of paper-structure kits too, which I didn't consider. Having realized I could fill my layout with interesting buildings, I then decided to get serious on the project. Depending on how nice this module turns out, maybe I will mount it on the wall on shelf brackets and display it in the house as a diorama.

I researched prefabricated benchwork kits and ordered one from Masterpiece Modules. It was about $50, so certainly not as cheap as building it yourself... and the web is full of ideas for building them out of cardboard, pizza boxes, foamcore, regular extruded foam, dimensional pine lumber, shipping crates, etc... but I wanted my focus to be on the top of the module, not the framework for it. Kato Unitrack was ordered too and for now I am having just a plain double-track mainline across the front. No switches means no derailments or stalling problems. Wiring is super simple if you only have two mainlines and not much else to deal with. But what to actually build? Humm... 

My wife loves Japanese food, Japanese games, Japanese music, Japanese culture, and especially Japanese cartoons known as Anime. I sometimes watch them with her, but she prefers to view them in the Japanese language with English subtitles which I find hard to follow. But, as a fellow cartoon fan I can appreciate her passion. My favorite anime movie is "Whispers of the Heart" by Hayao Miyazaki. It is about a couple of teenagers in school who are preparing for college whilst dealing with the issues of regular life. While watching anime with her, and especially this movie, I have seen many common themes that I thought would be fun to include on my layout, including... 

(1) A bustling city with lots of tiny stores selling fun things. 

(2) An open air market or a festival where people are dressed up and celebrating something. 

(3) A train station, as public transit is very popular in Japan. 

(4) A grade crossing, as nearly every Anime we watch has people waiting to cross the tracks or the crossing bells ringing in the background. 

(5) A scenic portion with something secluded at the top of a hill like a temple, bath house, or country inn. 

That's a lot to cram in a space 14" deep by 36.5" wide, huh? 

When the module kit arrived in the mail I put it together with wood glue. It didn't fall into place exactly how I thought a laser-cut kit would, but it came out fine. It is super light, but feels sturdy. The corners of the module contain 1/4-20 threaded inserts to attach leveling screws to allow you to raise or lower your module to match it up with others. There are also several holes in the back for passing wires out. It also included a scrap of sandpaper (I used my belt sander instead) and some screws to mount the Kato Unitrack. Having the mounting holes pre-drilled was pretty convenient. All in all, it went together in about 30 minutes. After the glue dried, I then painted the top with brown paint similar to that used on my HO scale layout.  
Then, I mounted the Kato Unitrak. This stuff is very popular in Japan where many people temporary layouts, but it felt flimsy to me. It seemed ready to break at the connectors when I lifted up two connected pieces. But, once screwed onto the base (the mounting holes were conveniently drilled into the benchwork already) it was fine. I hate the look of shiny rails so I painted the sides  with Model Master acrylic Flat Railroad Tie Brown paint (#4885). This helped a lot. Then, to eliminate the plastic-like look of the track, after the track was secured I also applied several coats of an india ink and alcohol wash which also toned down the base. While not perfect, I think it looks a lot better than stock Kato track. 

While waiting for some of the Tomytec building kits I had ordered from Japan to arrive, I allowed my imagination to wander. I looked into building interiors for them, and lighting them up with LEDs (and even purchased some from EBay), and sealing the interiors and corners to prevent light leaks. I also looked into attaching the buildings with small rare earth magnets to make them removable, and considered what I would do with the roofs. Then, my first building arrived and I was a bit underwhelmed. It is a cute kit, a combination of two buildings that together make up a "Country Inn." The pieces for each building were sealed in small bags with extra air for protection, and rolled up into a box.

The instructions were in Japanese but included a general assembly diagram that was pretty easy to understand. Most of the parts were prepainted, though not to the standard I would like, and some parts were already assembled. The window frames and glazing were already installed, details were painted, etc. Oddly, some of the color choices didn't match the image on the box.

Unfortunately, at that point I realized that some things I wanted just weren't going to happen. I don't know if these kits were designed to be put together and taken apart repeatedly, but the corner joints were very loose. The plastic is a soft, flexible type that did bond together with MEK solvent but I had to hold each joint together for a while to overcome large gaps in the edges. Having everything line up square without the aid of the base (which I didn't want to use) was a struggle. There wasn't much room in the corners to add additional bracing. It was, honestly, disheartening. The first building I worked on had the end walls brown and I wanted them white so I repainted them, but white doesn't cover brown well and getting nice clean, square edges in the trim was tough. I also repainted areas that suffered from glue marks and sloppy painting from the factory. Thankfully, it is N scale and trees will cover some of the view lines.

But, I have another four of their buildings in the mail. This experience has tempered my expectations and now I have a better idea of what I can do, and what I can't. I might still add lights to the building, but interiors will likely be a no-go. I will instead focus on detailed scenes outside. As for the finish of the buildings, I will just try and get them as close to what I want as possible. Perfection it cannot be. Unlike American kits (and perhaps kits from other Japanese manufacturers), these Tomytec kits are more like "toys" than "models." That might be how they are advertised in Japan, but I wouldn't know. Still, there is a lot to like with them.

I started working on this project on November 4th, and about a month later I am pleased with my progress. I am not rushing it along, but just enjoying the diversion it is providing. I began working on my scratchbuilt D&H bobber caboose too, so several things are going at once.

Maybe this is the time I will catch that hare...

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Lots of styrene!

I frequently run out of sheet styrene that I need for my scratchbuilding projects. The local hobby store has some in stock of the smaller sheets, and even some of the oversize offerings that Evergreen Styrene sells, but I can't always get there and sometimes I have found that the thickness I need is missing. So, I called around and found a local plastic distributor (Piedmont Plastics) that was willing to work with me. They are a national chain but have a local branch about 10 minutes from my house. I asked if they had any 0.040" thickness styrene in stock but they didn't. They offered to order a 4'x8' sheet from another one of their locations, in this case Chicago, and they said it would only take 2-3 weeks to have it in Albany. In this case, it took two weeks exactly. I worked with a helpful woman named Sarah who was very pleasant, and the total cost including shipping was less than $20. That comes down to $0.004 per square inch, which is much cheaper than Evergreen's "economy pack" of 8"x21" x 3 sheets which sells for around $15 and equals about $0.030 per square inch. That is about 7x as much. And, I can cut my large sheet into any shape I need without having seams.

The only issue was that I couldn't fit it in my car. I figured I would bring a knife or scissors and cut it up in the parking lot, but then I realized I could just roll it up. It wouldn't snap or break on me so it seemed like a good plan. Apparently, no one has ever asked them to do this before as the loading guy I talked to had to discuss it first with his manager. Then, we tried to secure it with plastic wrap stuff and it kept slipping. Next time I go, I will bring a roll of tape and just do it myself.

Either way, I now have a ton of styrene to work with. The process was so easy that I will probably go back and order a couple of other thicknesses (0.060" is my favorite) for the future.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Visiting Mike McNamara's Northeast Kingdom layout

I had a bit of an adventure over the weekend. Mike McNamara, who models railroads around St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 1980 and whose layout is titled the "Northeast Kingdom," participated in a recent set of open houses. Having been a fan of his website and blog for several years, I decided to go and see it all first hand. Unfortunately, it was bound to be a long trip (4 hours each way) and I only had maps and a flip phone. So, in preparation of the drive I purchased a brand new GPS (yeah baby... I'm now in the 21st Century!) and figured out how to use it. In addition to Mike's layout, I also planned to get a cheesesteak so I researched good places near where he lived. All in all, it was set to be a nice drive weather wise and I was looking forward to putting the layout as I visioned it with the layout as it actually exists.

I wish I could say something interesting happened but because of the GPS it was a pretty uneventful drive. I didn't get lost. Mike's place was easy to find. People in NJ drive crazy (but I suppose they say that about NY drivers too.) More to the point, I found Mike to be a gracious host and while I was there his layout operated near perfectly. I swear I was studying the details in one section so hard I willed a boxcar truck to derail, as for the rest of the time when I was in the other room it ran just fine. Beyond that, his layout exceeded my expectations and I came away with a ton of great ideas for my own railroad.

He had three trains running unattended during the open house, and I appreciated that one was an Amtrak train. Too many people these days just ignore Amtrak, but if you want to model passenger trains in the last 40+ years (I know I do) then Amtrak is generally the only way to go. His layout sections were extremely well detailed, and showed a focus on creating realistic scenes instead of just making funny cameo poses. Nothing seemed out of place, and nothing seemed forced. His trackwork was very well done and I loved that nearly all of his switches were controlled by edge-of-layout ground throws. That is what I converted my layout to.

Like any layout, there are areas that he still needs to finish. I can't imagine the frustration of not having any projects to work on, and hopefully in the future I can come back and see what future progress is made. I do wish I had a track plan of the layout and Mike said there is one on his blog somewhere (update: see link in the comments section), so next time I will print it out in advance to get a better idea of how it all comes together.

I don't plan to add many comments to these pictures. I think they speak for themselves. I will only add that his layout looks much better in person than my pictures portray it, and despite spending much of my life in the Kodak city I still consider it a victory to remember to take the lens cap off before pushing the button.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Cleaning up the work bench

Over the winter I was moving along full speed on some rolling stock scratchbuilding projects when I hit a couple of snags. Some large scale (1/8 size) trains I had ordered as kits arrived... one for a battery powered diesel engine, another for a bulkhead riding car... and I wanted to get them finished for the 2019 season. A friend also offered to help me with a project involving my 1/8 size caboose, so that too was put on the work bench. Actually, I have a sturdy full size banquet table I mounted on casters that I use for these larger projects that I roll around when necessary. Then, when they were done I decided to finish ballasting my layout (and replaced every track switch along the way) and finalize my M.M.R.- Civil which consumed another three months. With only so many hours available, my smaller modeling projects were put on hold. I am only now able to get to them.

Unfortunately, the eight months of not using my workbench had turned it into a convenient place to dump junk. Projects, tools, papers, files, concert programs, etc. all got put there. Plus, I discovered that my needs had changed and I wanted to reorganize my tool and part storage area. And that killed any buzz I had about jumping back into my ongoing projects.

I looked at MicroMark, Amazon, and other online places for desktop organizers and found some really nice ones. But, they didn't fully maximize my space and cost more then I wanted to spend. Worse, they weren't really expandable and I still don't know exactly what I want. I didn't think purchasing something that might prove to be wrong for me was a good idea, so instead I went to Home Depot and purchased a 1" x 12", a 1" x 6," and a square dowel and made something on my own. It cost around $50 and only took about an hour (word of warning: don't rely on Home Depot for critical cuts). It is basically a box with no bottom and a shelf that is perfectly sized to hold some plastic storage containers that I had. Nothing fancy.

My previous design had holes drilled in some 1" x 4" lumber for screwdrivers, pliers, scissors and the like. That worked well but I didn't have enough holes for my growing collection of pliers, the screwdrivers were too spread apart and wasted space, and I had other things there that I didn't need. So, I laid them out differently. It is essentially three 1" x 4" boards glued into an C-shape. Since the wooden frame is somewhat tipsy I screwed it to the board below. I tried drilling to more holes on the right but the wood was so dry that it split. If I attempt it again I will clamp the wood first and then drill. For right now, though, it works.

To hold lots of my smaller things I was a bit stumped. I looked on Ebay for small wooden pencil boxes and there are many cheap ones but they were too large, and other containers weren't tall enough. I didn't really feel like building my own out of wood, so I wandered over to the plumbing section of Home Depot and found all different sizes of PVC pipe couplings. They are generally smooth on the outside with a thin ring on the inside. For about $15 I bought about twenty in various sizes and a can of PVC pipe glue. It smells horrible (normal hazard warnings should be heeded) but worked well to attach everything to some 1/8" thick styrene I had on hand. It just sits on the shelf without being attached.

The MEK holder has a small pipe on the back
to hold the long, removable tip to protect it.
For my primary styrene glue, MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone), the stuff is pretty toxic and if it spills on your model your paint will be damaged or worse, your parts will be deformed. I was using a needle applicator bottle from A-West (1" tip, size #16, their smallest) but it clogged. They had provided a tiny wire to clean it but even finding the wire was a pipe dream (get it, eh?). So, I had to use a small brush and the bottle of MEK with just the regular screw cap. It tipped once, which was enough to convince me to get a better solution. I purchased some replacement ones from Hobby Masters (#27RW Gray), including some replacement tips. Still, there are times when I want to use a brush to apply glue, and I also want to keep track of where the two bottles are. Looking at my collection of spare pipe couplings, I also whipped up a glue bottle holder. With one extra one, I made a paint bottle holder too (with another smaller pipe coupler inside to keep the paint bottle from slipping down.

Now I have a nice, clean workbench and am ready to get started on my smaller projects. Which might just happen, or might not, as I decided on a whim last week to begin construction of a Japanese-themed T-trak N scale module. Long story... perhaps a future post... but the empty workbench sure proved handy!