CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Controlled Chaos

I have a lot of projects going on at once. I assume you do too. There are times when I feel that I need twice as much work bench space, but in reality were I to get it I would just fill it up with more junk. Not shown in this picture is the full size banquet table a couple of feet away from my work bench. On it, I have two 7.25" gauge projects underway: a battery electric locomotive and a caboose. I am almost too scared to go to the basement because there is just too much stuff to clean up even before I can resume progress on a project. I would like to think it is controlled chaos (or "KAOS" to all you Get Smart fans) but it isn't. It is a disaster area. Soon, the weather will be nice outside and my modeling time will disappear, which means this upcoming weekend might be my last free one in a while. Where did the winter go?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Scratchbuilding Flatcars - Part 1 (the frames)

My D&H bobber caboose is coming along pretty well. Since I was on a building urge, I decided to start working on my next car. Or two cars, actually! I need to build 8 cars total, and 4 must be scratchbuilt. I figured that working on a flatcar would not only be a good simple starting point but once mastered I could adapt the skills learned there to work on more ambitious cars (which I am waist-deep in researching). A search online took me to the NMRA Lone Star Region's website and among their clinic presentations was a four-part series on scratchbuilding a flatcar from styrene. It literally breaks down every step from start to finish, and suggests the appropriate styrene for all of the popular modeling scales. It is a fantastic resource.

While I think I know the two prototypes I am going to base the cars on, for right now it is just important to start building. I printed out the slides and wrote down all the sizes of styrene I needed. After consulting with my stash, I realized I needed a lot more so off to the hobby store I went. I swore years ago I would never turn into the kind of guy who hoarded hundreds of sizes of tiny little white strips of plastic. Oh, how things have changed. I am starting to outgrow my "shelving system" and will soon need to build more of come up with a system that holds more.

Using my Northwest Short Line Chopper, a fresh Xacto #11 blade, and an old chisel blade that I rarely buy replacements for (I should, though), I started construction on a Saturday afternoon. The only real difficulty I encountered was keeping track of the fact that every quantity had to be doubled because I was doing two cars. In preparation for the project, I had purchased an HO scale ruler (another thing I thought I would never need) though I only got a cheap one for $3 on Ebay. I like clear rulers more than metal ones, because it is easier to see the stock. Little dots were marked on the lower edges to indicate where the beams would be shaped.

Then, portions of the ends of each beam were laid out and cut away. It was a bit tedious but not too much so, and as long as I was close it was okay. No one is really going to be holding up a ruler to the underside of my car to ensure that all are identical. That being said, I found it much easier to use the chisel blade to chop along the cut lines instead of trying to line up a metal ruler along the lines and score with a #11 blade. Personal preference, I suppose. The cut lines were cleaned up with some emery boards I bought at the supermarket. The two inner beams on each car had to be notched for the coupler pockets which will come later.

The bottom edge of the four longitudinal beams have a small piece of styrene glued on the bottom to form a flange cap. Sort of like an L-girder. While there must be easier ways to do this, I did it one edge at a time. First, I glued an oversize piece to the middle of the beam and held it in line with my metal square (which is a really useful tool for all types of model construction). Then I moved onto the next beam, and by the time I was done with that the MEK was cured from the first one. Then, I worked on the diagonal piece, and to keep it firmly engaged with the main brace I wedged it between the square and another pieces of straight aluminum stock I keep in my workbench for occasions like this. Since each beam had two ends, this process was repeated 16 times. Finally, the remaining short edge was done. After everything had cured fully for a bit, I trimmed the flange to final size.

Next, the two inner beams were glued together with a spacer piece of styrene that ran the hole length. After that cured, another piece was glued over the top to make sort of a cap. Side note: all of this is explained in great detail with pictures on the web link I referenced, and I am probably not using the proper terms. Then, some C-channel was notched for the couplers and glued to the ends of the center beams. It is important that these channels be perpendicular to the center beams but there really isn't an easy way to check that with a square. So, I built it on graph paper... one of my useful tricks.

Next, the two side beams were glued to the end channels and again I used graph paper to ensure that everything was square. The side beams were super flimsy at this point so it had to be handled delicately. Finally, eight pieces of cross bracing (bridge beams) were cut out and carefully filed along one edge per the plans and then glued between the sides and the main beams. There was absolutely no way a square would fit in the frame so I taped the frame to graph paper to prevent it from shifting and then glued each brace in, one at a time. I had to hold it in position with pliers and drop in the MEK. It was very Fiddly.

But, at the end of the the first weekend I had two car frames. As my last step for the night, I tried to use some Testors Putty to hide any gaps or scratches, but I used the wrong filler. After a time of sanding, scraping, and prayer, I think I managed to salvage them. The next weekend, I began adding some longitudinal braces, which in this case were Plastruct L-angle. I had to notch the car frames to fit these pieces and at first I tried a razor blade (too fiddly), an Xacto knife (too slow), and a small square file (just plain annoying). But, my motor tool did the notching in seconds, and once the plastic cooled any slag was easily removed.

I don't particular enjoy working with ABS plastic because it doesn't bond as easily as styrene. I started with MEK but the parts kept popping of the slots. They are thin and delicate and not perfectly straight, so adjusting one led to another moving. Even with superglue, I still had problems. I really need to buy that accelerator that I read about. Once all the pieces were in the frames, I weighted them down with the close pins and let it sit overnight. The braces still need to be trimmed to length but I will do that later as even looking at them the wrong way would likely cause them to come unseated.

The car deck was next. While the finished car will have wooden deck boards on top, you still need to add a steel underframe to it. I drew out the floors per the plans and laid them next to each out (with a loop of blue painters tape underneath to keep them from moving) and used my scale ruler to lay out the stake pocket locations. Those are the dark areas on the sides that will eventually get cut away. If you think the lines got confusing, you would be right. I used orange marker first and then blue to figure it all out. Watching TV during the process didn't help. But, these sides will be face down and no one will ever see my mess of a layout job.

Finally, I glued the frames to the deck. Once I had them where I wanted them, I flooded the inner joints with MEK and especially focused on the ABS longitudinal braces. Now that they could be retained in the slot and secured to the underside of the deck, they weren't going anywhere. I used hand pressure to get good bonds, and then put containers of lead shot on top of each frame to keep everything perfectly set until the glue cured. Once that happened, those pesky braces were be rock solid and I was able to safely trim them. Then, I made sure all of the corner joints were square, as I am sure the judges will be focusing on that.

One thing that concerns me is that later in the process I am going to have to cut holes and slots for the brake piping and hardware to go through. The plans just cavalierly say to cut the slots. I don't believe the frame was strong enough before adding the deck to cut slots (it would break), but it sure will be hard to cut them afterwords. I guess we shall see. I had to add more cross braces which involve maneuvering tiny pieces of styrene into the frame and then gluing them with MEK. I cannot even imaging the dexterity and eyesight required for an N scale car. Finally, bolster locations were built up for the trucks to eventually mount to.

Three weekends of work at a relaxed pace and I have two car frames nearly ready for final detailing.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

D&H Sign!

D&H sign leaning against a 2' x 4' piece of plywood.
I was recently given the opportunity to purchase a beautiful D&H sign from the family of Glen Sauter. Sadly, he passed away in 2018. While he primarily modeled tractor trailers and trucks, and frequently exhibited at the Albany Great Train Extravaganza, apparently he had some interests in trains. From the information I was able to gather, the sign was recovered from the Watervliet Yard Offices, which I assume were Colonie Yard Offices. It is made out of hardboard, not metal, and it is in pretty good shape for its age. Mr. Sauter's widow told me that it was over 50 years old. I know nothing else about the sign but would love to hear from anyone with more information. I am very happy to have obtained another piece of D&H memorabilia with provenance.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Uh oh... wrong tube!

With my caboose project nearly finished as far as styrene fabrication goes (it still needs some work done, however), I decided to start my next scratchbuilt car. Or two cars, actually. I will discuss them sometime in the future, but for right now I want to relate an unfortunate story. After building the frames for these two cars, I decided to fill a couple of cracks with Testor's Putty. You know, the whitish stuff that never seems to stick where you want it to and makes a mess when sanding? Yup, that stuff. Well, I used it on these two cars and it worked beautifully. It flowed nicely into the joints, it was easily removed with a blade from areas I didn't want it, and it wasn't grainy at all. I couldn't understand my good fortune but it finally was doing what I want model putty to do. Later that evening, though, I noticed it was sticky. I hadn't waited the full 4-6 hours so I left the cars alone on my workbench for a week. Then, last weekend I tried to sand away the excess and it was still sticky. That can't be good!

Even the D&H couldn't avoid a train wreck in 1985.
It turns out I didn't use putty at all. I saw to my horror that I had used the white "Hardener" tube from a 2-part JB Weld metal epoxy! I rarely keep it on my workbench but I had put it in the area where I store glues (it is a glue, after all) and wasn't paying attention when I pulled it out. I managed to scrape most of it off the models with a chisel blade, but I am not sure if that will be enough. Hopefully, I managed to avoid a train wreck!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Matte Medium, Scenic Cement, or White Glue?

I am gearing up to do some ballasting in the future, so I started gathering supplies. I don't profess to be a scenery expert, and in fact it is one of the aspects of the hobby I enjoy the least. But, I am smart enough to know where to go for helpful advice and tips... Dave Frary! He is the author of the popular book on scenery, and I have several editions of it. He is a big proponent of matte medium for securing scenery and ballast and after building several layouts I also think it works best for me too.

White glue is much cheaper and can be found in any store, but it has two drawbacks that I have noticed. The first is that it sometimes dries white, or shiny, and that just looks terrible on scenery. If you bother to read the forums online, you will find heated discussions on whether it is the glue that causes the shininess or not. Don't believe me? Go ahead and Google it. In a couple of hours when your head hurts, come back and finish reading this. My experience is that it can leave things shiny. The second drawback is that the glue breaks down if it subsequently gets wet, something that frequently happens with me when I put down "layers" of scenery materials during initial scenery, ballasting, and final detailing.

Some also claim white glue leads to "quieter" trains over ballasted track, and others say the same thing for matte medium. Who knows?

Matte medium dries hard and inflexible, and isn't susceptible to further applications of water. That means that you can't redo stuff by soaking in water and having it become flexible. I am okay with that, but not everyone is. I switched over to Woodland Scenics "Scenic Cement" and it worked great but it was pricey. When I heard that it was just repackaged matte medium, I decided to go straight to the source and make my own.

Dave Frary in his book (page 32) explains how commercial matte medium sometimes contains talc powder, which is useful for artists but not for us modelers as it can also make scenery turn white. So, he advocates first diluting the matte medium with water and then letting it sit for a week or more so that the talc settles to the bottom. The stuff on top, which is the adhesive and water that is useful, is then decanted into another container and you are ready to go. Since I have a lot of ballasting ahead of me, I decided to get started with this process.

I went to the store and purchased a bottle of Matte Medium, which is normally $17 for 16 ounces. Since every craft store seems to mail my wife coupons each week, I snagged one and paid only about $8. Not every store has it, though, and most store employees don't know what it is. Then, I searched high and low for a suitable jar and finally settled on a large pickle jar... once washed, of course. I don't even eat dill pickles!

The recipe is to take the matte medium from the store and pour it into the large jar. Then, rinse out the container with three additional portions of water (I used water that was filtered through our Brita filter) and a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol or dish soap to break up the surface tension. You are supposed to let it sit for at least a week, but since I didn't need it right away I let it sit for a month. After that, I poured the top liquid into a large juice container and the smaller matte medium container (I peeled off the label so I wouldn't be confused down the road) and left the talc at the bottom. Boy that stuff is sticky! I had to use a metal spoon to pry it off of the bottom of the glass jar. But, with the talc thrown out, I washed out the pickle jar and it is ready for the next batch.

Friday, March 1, 2019

50 feet (600") Required

Reading is an important part of everyday life. My job involves reviewing contracts, and I not only read for the big picture but also for the little details. That is where the devil hides. So, imagine my great surprise when not 10 minutes ago (after I started typing this blog post, actually!) I realized I had made a mistake. A wonderful, glorious, mistake. This blog post was originally going to be titled "75 feet (900") Required" but that is incorrect. It is now titled "50 feet (600") Required." And what does that mean? I am going to tell you!

As part of the NMRA's MMR "Civil" Merit Badge requirements, you must build and scenic (with ballast, and drainage) 50 feet of track in HO scale. That can include, per their website, sidings and yard tracks. It doesn't have to be mainline track. But, somewhere along the way I got in my head that I needed 75 feet total. That is actually what is required in O scale, so perhaps the error is justifiable. But not to me. I just spent the past thirty minutes in my basement with a roll of twine and a yardstick measuring all of my track. My mainline (not including the lift bridge) is 453" long, my sidings are 205", and my staging yard not including the turntable lead or turntable stall tracks is 172." That totals 69 feet and change.

But I needed 75 feet, which left Mohawk Paper's spur to make up the difference. I also don't want to ballast Mohawk Paper now because the ground contours aren't defined yet, nor do I want to ballast around the turntable because I plan to rip it up after I earn my award. I didn't want to cheat and claim I had 75 feet ballasted when I didn't. So what was I to do? I didn't want to lay an additional 6 feet of track just to ballast it just for this award. So, I reread the requirement. It is so obvious...

And since I only need 50 feet, I am fine. I could even pull a Guilford and start "rationalizing" some of the unnecessary track.            ... that was a Guilford joke ... sort of ...