CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, May 28, 2021

Riding the train at the Utica Zoo (1984)

Another birthday is upon me. Typically, I like to try and plan some train outing for my birthday which frequently falls on Memorial Day weekend. Past years have included journeying to Maine to ride the two-footers, Baltimore and their Railroad Museum, several different rail museums in Connecticut, and local tourist trains around here. Last year was a wash, and it looks like this year will be the same.

So I dug into my archives and found a picture of me riding a train from October of 1984. No, it wasn't on my birthday, but I had my glorious blond hair then. This is from the Utica Zoo. I don't know if the train still exists today, but likely not.

Next year I get to have my mid-life crisis. I sure hope there is a train ride involved, or I might end up with a red convertible. I suppose that tender in the picture is close enough!



Monday, May 24, 2021

T-Trak: Structures

I had some free time to devote to this layout, which I hadn't touched since early 2020. That was around the time that the Covid pandemic started, and I had ordered some structure kits from Japan but they were delayed in shipping so that by the time they arrived I just set them aside. I was delighted to find them again and be able to work on this.

Originally, I had grand ideas to light up the interiors of the buildings with lights. Having experimented with SDM LED lights and fiber optics, I was comfortable with the principles behind doing that. Unfortunately, I discovered that the Tomytec kits are not good for this sort of thing. Though they have a lot of good things going for them, nice tight corner joints wasn't on the list. They leaked lighted from every corner, through the roof seams, and along the bottom. When building my first kit I took precautions by painting the insides of the walls black (to block light), and then white (as they would be visible) but the effort wasn't worth it. Tomytec kits are prepainted, usually to a reasonably good degree (better than I could do without putting in a lot of work) and snap together onto molded bases. But their ease of assembly and disassembly meant that tolerances were loose, and since this was a traveling module I wanted everything glued up. So, the lighting was the first thing to go.

I did dress up the buildings to make them more individualized, though. I ditched most of the bases (except for a couple of structures that had warped walls which needed the bases to keep them square). Some of the trim was painted different colors, and the roofs of several buildings were repainted. I applied ink and alcohol washes to all of the sides. The kits come with stickers... all in Japanese which I can't read... so I stuck some on that I liked and the rest I set aside. I freely mixed and matched them too, so I might have a barber shop displaying a sale on ground beef and a movie theater offering tours of a tea factory, but who knows?

All of the buildings were arranged to fit certain spaces, and I think that together they look pretty good. I doubt that they realistically model a section of actual Tokyo, but that isn't my goal with the layout. It is supposed to look like a typical village in an Japanese animated cartoon ("anime") and I think it accomplishes that nicely. I especially like the apartment complex.

My row of stores started to take shape. Yes, the architecture is all over the map but I think it is charming, and perhaps cute. 

I had purchased a movie theater which unfortunately came painted an odd shade of pastel pink. Perhaps there are real movie theaters like that in Japan, but I didn't like it. However, repainting it looked to be a lot of work so I just had to live with it. Unfortunately, it was a little too large for the space I devoted to it so it was "downsized" on my bandsaw.

Once the theater was set in place with a few other stores, its gaudiness was reduced. Or not. Either way, I did customize it with a movie poster of my favorite Anime movie. My wife suggested I use a Godzilla poster, which came with the model. Maybe that will be showing next week.

While I was at it, the roads were given street lines with a white paint marker and a ruler, which worked surprisingly well.

To transport my T-trak module around (14.5" x 37") I found some boxes at the local garden store that were twenty five cents each. Once I cut and pasted two together (well, actually four, as my first attempt was 1/8" too small!) it held my module perfectly.

I still have to create the festival and market scenes, but with train shows on hold for the near future there is no rush. Some stuff has been ordered, and eventually it will arrive. Until then, I will work on details here and there. Of note, Japanese N scale is 1:150 and American N scale is 1:160, so not everything works together perfectly. But it is still pretty close. 

Until next time, Sayonara. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Railfanning: Lock 10 (Rotterdam)

This past Saturday the local NMRA Division held a monthly meeting in person, but for safety reasons we did so outside and well distanced apart. And since we were going to be outside anyway, we thought we might as well have it near some train tracks so we could railfan at the same time. The location was Lock 10 on the Mohawk River, a place I have seen but never been to because I usually railfanned on the other side of the river. The weather was perfect for the occasion.

I brought along an excellent book on the Boston & Maine to read in case I had some free time. As it turns out, the route there took me past Rotterdam Junction which is the western-most tip of the former B&M railroad. As I approached their interchange yard with CSX I saw a train ready to head east. I waited about 20 minutes for it to depart but it never did so I moved on. I later found out from others that it had been there an hour later, so it was a good thing I didn't wait.

This may be the very last PanAm I see with road units painted in the PAR scheme, as CSX engines were already infiltrating the lineup. A crew was walking around near the train but I didn't want to trespass in the yard to find out when they were leaving. 

Across the street was a facility that received tank cars and they even had their own car mover. 

Though we saw five trains during the four-hour window, I think one of the neatest things was this barge that was floating around. The guys on it waved to us, and they tied up right near where we were. 

One type of train I was not accustomed to seeing was an Amazon container train. But, with Amazon Prime's free shipping leading to lots of sales their items need to move fast across the country and this is how they do it.

FedEx shared part of the train too.

It was a hot day, and I got severely sunburned in the process. My wife and dog Clover, who came along for the second part of the meeting, seemed to enjoy themselves though. I wonder what the passengers in the Amtrak trains that passed by thought as they watched a group of 40 old guys sitting in the sun, watching them back?

The highlight of the meeting, however, was receiving my two certificates for my MMR Model Railroad Engineer: Electrical and Master Builder: Cars. Due to various reasons, I had earned them a while ago (one almost two years ago) but I hadn't been able to actually receive them in a formal presentation until today. I am quite proud of them.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Collecting old railroad spikes with Grandpa

I grew up in Rochester but whenever I visited my grandparents in Utica I knew that there would always be a trip to the train station. Even now, when I drive in to visit I still always go to the station first (to the chagrin of my wife). One of my favorite childhood memories is my grandpa taking me down to the old NYC station and walking through the cavernous interior with all of its columns, the really neat looking wooden benches that seemed to go on forever, and the tiny hobby store where I would get a railroad patch or magazine. Then, we would wait for the Amtrak train to arrive, and perhaps watch a freight train being pulled by Conrail. 

Occasionally, we would walk around and find a railroad spike. We would bring it home and my grandpa would let me pick out a color of spray paint from his workbench. For a while they hung in my parent's garage, but now they are on my bookshelves as priced mementos of my days with him. I have collected a few more since then including ones from the A&A and from the D&H in Voorheesville, but none compare with the ones I got with him. 


Sometimes, we would then go to the Children's Museum next door and look at the trains on display outside, including Adirondack Railroad #25 (which was recently saved and moved). The pictures below are from January 1988 when I was five. My grandfather is behind me in the cab, which means my grandmother must be taking the pictures.





Nowadays, collecting railroad spikes is the sort of thing that is frowned on but back then railroads were friendlier. In the 1908s, the station was significantly dirty and run down, and few people were around. I admit I like it a lot better now, but I would still love to go back in time trackside with him again and watch the Amtrak train pull into the station and see the engineer wave.

Me with engine #25 in 2012, during a tour of Utica. Twenty four years later and we both still look good!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Structure - A&A Sandhouse

My last structure is something personal: a model of the Arcade and Attica Railroad's sandhouse. I knew that I was going to model at least one A&A building for my MMR, and I had picked this out from the start. 

Harold Russell drew up plans in the September 1978 issue of Model Railroader, and he was even kind enough to autograph for me one of my copies of the magazine. 

The sandhouse has an extensive history. It is unknown when it was built, though likely it was before 1917. Up until 1947 there was a tank and spout inside of the structure and it functioned as a water tower for their steam locomotives. After 1947, when the A&A dieselized with 44-tonners, the tank/spout were removed and it was used to house and dry traction sand. There was a stove on the single floor south section which was used to keep the tank thawed in the winter time and later to dry the sand. The building also housed bulk salt used for deicing crossings. Later on it also stored track cars, track materials, coach parts and excursion steam locomotive grates and patterns. (Image below from 2004)

The sandhouse saw two later additions. By 1950 the single floor addition off the north of the building was built, and sometime between 1965 and 1975 it was modified to add large doors on the side. These may have been for the inspection cars and were fabricated from surplus sheeting materials used as linings inside of the fleet of A&A’s interchange boxcars. Around 1965 the garage addition (which was relocated from a nearby house!) was joined to the southern extension for the motor cars (inspection / track cars). (Image below from 2007)

Unfortunately, in January 2008 after years of neglect it became a safety hazard and was pulled down. The concrete piers from the tank support still remain. (Image below from 2007)

It definitely had a cobbled together appearance, which I liked. Had I really thought it all through, though, I would have picked a different N scale structure to model as the MOW Benton station I had just finished also had a similar look. Oh well.

I used grooved Evergreen styrene (#2050) for the walls. Because it was only 0.020" thin I had to attach it to some 0.020" styrene to give it some strength. I first laid out the pieces of the scribed styrene and cut them out, and then I laminated them onto the plain 0.020" stuff. 

The sandhouse didn't have many windows, which was nice, and I had some castings in my box that would work. I used them to lay out the openings, which I wanted to cut while the walls were flat.

A Tichy door was also pressed into service for the side entrance.

After gluing the castings into the walls, the structure started to come together. Because it was a combination of four different areas/extensions, I was careful to think everything through before committing to anything. I added lots of bracing where it wouldn't be seen.

One end contained a weird garage stitched on and I wasn't sure what I was going to do for that, so to keep everything square in the meantime I added some interior cross-braces.

Both ends of the tower had what looked like doors or removable panels. Maybe they were for maintenance of the old water tower inside? I don't know, but I cut holes in either end and saved the pieces removed. I then filed them down so that they were slightly smaller and glued them back in. The gaps are now visible enough to draw attention to them, but not at all sloppy.

The backside where the gaps were cut was also reinforced.

One end has a pitched roof. Even though a garage will be added to this end, I built the first extension and braced where the roof would go.

The roof panels were installed and then I filled the tiny gap on the top with a piece of styrene rod. It probably won't even be noticeable under the shingles and tar paper.

The other end has an extension with a full width roof that slanted towards the ground. That was a little easier. The sandhouse top was done the same way as the end.

All of the corners were trimmed out with Evergreen L-angle (#294). As nearly every end had some weird angle or cut to make, I had to do it one piece at a time.

Another one of the window frame is a heavily modified blue window casting from a Model Power kit. In retrospect it would have been just as easy to scratchbuild the frame itself. The original casting is on the right, and the final cut up frame is on the left.

The garage on the end is covered in tar paper for three sides, so I built it from plain styrene. I will later laminate pieces of tar paper to match the plans. It was heavily braced to prevent warping. 

The end of the garage has a door that looked somewhat similar to a D.P.M. door casting I had purchased for a different project, but it required some modifications. I added some styrene trim on the lower area to better match the prototype pictures. There was no need to cut the window opening for the door because once the end of the garage is painted additional wood patches will be added. The plans also indicated that some of the tarpaper on the end had a brick pattern. I wasn't sure how to model that so I used part of the modular brick section from D.P.M. and cut it to fit on the end. Because the brick sheet and door castings were so thick, the white styrene had to be built up to make it all relatively flush. It sure looks odd... but prototypical.

The track-facing side of the garage had wooden sliding doors to allow access for speeder cars. These were built over the plain styrene using grooved styrene. I then took Evergreen c-channel (#262), tiny styrene strips, some L-angle, and n/b/w castings to make the associated tracks and hardware for the doors. This is the type of stuff I really enjoy doing.

The garage was then glued onto end of the sandhouse and the joints were trimmed out with styrene. I noticed that I should have made the roof that overhangs the garage a little longer so I extended it with strip styrene too. 

As per my usual modus operandi, everything about the garage was heavily braced to prevent warping.

The extension on the other end of the building had two steel doors that were hinged to open outward. I made them from plain styrene, and framed them with styrene strip. I didn't add the triangular hinges yet because they will interfere with painting. On both sides of the building were strange brackets with what looked like n/b/w castings, so I modeled them. I suspect they might have had to do with lighting fixtures or power line receptors. 

There are many different roof surfaces on this structure reflecting its cobbled-together history. I labeled each area so I wouldn't mix them up while modeling them. The roof of the central tower is made from tin panels with tar covering the seams. I replicated this by taking thin styrene sheet and roughly scribing/gouging lines to represent panel joints. The rough edges, one painted, will hopefully look like worn metal joints. 

And with that, all the styrene work was done and it was ready for painting. First, I gave it a good bubble bath to remove any dirt, oil, and then it was given several light coats of Testors' brown spray paint. Sadly, my hobby shop had no other suitable brown paint in a spray can. Perhaps they don't make it anymore, but I went with this color and one benefit is that touchups are easy as Testors also sells small bottles of the matching color. 

The two swinging metal doors were painted in two different shades of gray paint. I first thought it might be the way the sun was reflecting on the doors, but multiple pictures confirmed different gray colors. 

All of the roof areas were painted flat black, and the metal roof on the top of the sandhouse was painted rusty red. I then quickly wiped off most of the paint, leaving a streaked, reddish color remaining. 

To look like old, weathered wood, I could have used real scribed wood siding. I had it in my stash, and had even started to lay it out, but changed to styrene as I liked working with it more. So, I had the challenge of making styrene look like wood. After painting it brown, I drybrushed random boards and areas with a lighter shade of brown. 

I then randomly drybrushed areas with black and gray paints. It looks a bit stark right now, but further weathering would tone down the appearance.

Bragdon Enterprises weathering powders were ground into the roof and tar lines were applied. I had never used weathering powders before and I really like them.

It was time for tar paper- lots of tar paper! Nearly every roof surface and half the sides have it in some form or another. Instead of buying a commercial product, I decided to try making it. Some gray paper from Hobby Lobby's scrapbook section was given various washes of homemade ink solutions to look like old, weathered tar paper.

It was then cut into pieces and glued on.

The roof of one extension had long strips which I added, and then weathered. Per the prototype plans I also added some patches and simulated tar lines.

The other end had tar paper strips applied, but they were all different widths and not consistent at all. This was modeled.

One portion of the garage extension has hexagonal shingles, perhaps from when it was originally an automobile garage connected to a house. I couldn't find any hex-shingles commercially available, and even if I did it seemed a waste to buy them for about two square inches of coverage. I had some Rail Scale Models shingles left over from the barn, and so I took a chisel blade and nipped the corners to make them look like half-hexagons. Once they are overlapped they will look sort of like the prototype. At least it isn't more tar paper!

I spoke too soon! Tar paper patches were applied... one was called out on the plans, and one was added to help hide a not-so-perfect shingle job. If that ain't following prototypical practice I don't know what is.

The chimney casting is an Alexander Scale Models (#2705) piece I had in my scrapbox. It is a solid white metal casting, but I drilled out the flue on the drill press and then filed the inside corners square. 

Once painted and weathered, it was glued on and now the sand drying process could begin.

The rear wall of the garage extension was tar paper... lots and lots of little pieces of tar paper. I suppose it is cheaper than just about any other exterior sheathing, but by the end of the project I was sick of tar paper.

The extension on the other end of the building had two gray swinging doors. After they were weathered, tiny black hinges cut from thin styrene and painted black were installed.

I was nearly done with the model... and then disaster struck! I found a picture from 1970 that showed the garage portion of the building in completely different colors than I had painted my model. The end bricks were a yellowish color, and the tar paper beneath it was new and dark black. The wooden batting around the window was new, raw wood with no window in the opening (so I didn't glue any glass in this opening). Worse, the plywood covering the window on the end door, the wooden side door, the sliding doors, and the swinging doors were white. WHITE! And not dull white either, but bright white like they had just been repainted.

So I painted my sliding doors a weathered white, and the plywood on the end door got the same treatment. The people door was painted solid, new whitewash and man it looks hideous on this structure. Stupid prototype pictures... I should have left well enough alone. The two swinging doors on the far end of the building are staying their two shades of gray, though, as painting them white at this stage would probably just mess them up. 

The wooden framework remains for the water spout was also glued up and attached. The plans showed a bit more rigging but I didn't really have good pictures of it, and so I left it as is. I can live with it.

I took some Micro Engineering code-55 flextrack and modified it by removing every fifth tie. I then re-spaced the ties, and not too perfectly either, and sprayed it with camouflage paint.

The rails were painted a lighter brown color, and each tie was hand-painted with washes of black, gray, or brown. An interesting effect occurred that had not happened on my layout: the washes were so wet and the rail was so short in height that the colored paint was sucked up the rail and over to the adjacent tie. Some of the black ties turned the gray ties adjacent to them a mottled, marble-ish color. It is strange, but I left it as the railroad's ties are pretty worn in the area anyway. The base is a wooden plaque I purchased for a couple of bucks from Hobby Lobby. The trimmed corners are a bit fancy for this model, but the regular rectangular ones had rough knots in them. I stained and polyurethaned it. The track was attached and then buried in cinders, real dirt, ground foam, real coal (from the A&A!), and sand.

The final details were a pair of cut up telephone poles- Bachmann, I think. I painted and weathered them and then installed them on the corners. They are a unique detail but very fragile.

Some other things were weathered and scattered around the property. Two sandbags came from Walthers, and while I am not sure if sand was still delivered like this I thought they might work out. Random stripwood was dumped here and there.

The rear of the structure also received some details like boards and static grass clumps. 

The various weathering treatments of the tarpaper made it look different and helped break up the monotony of an otherwise all-black building.

And with that, my structure was essentially finished. I posed one of my Bachmann 44-tonners with the sandhouse and called it a day. 

In the process of building my twelve structures, I learned a lot of new skills. I became more comfortable when working with wood. I found out about LED lighting and fiber optics. I managed to fabricate my own shingles and tar paper. I experimented with new weathering techniques like wood-staining and weathering powders. I built my own bridge board-by-board. I drew up plans for complex structures like churches and barns. I detailed the interiors of several structures. I rolled my own hay bales and "welded" up an auto lift. I scratchbuilt a Pepsi machine, and made church pews and a miniature train layout. And I finally finished the Albany Tomato Company.

I don't think any of my buildings will be award winners, but that wasn't the goal (at least it wasn't when I set more realistic expectations). The Master Model Railroader program was designed to push modelers into learning new things, and this certainly did. The pandemic helped with more free time, of which without it I never would have completed 12 structures in a little over 4 months. But now that it is over, there are other things I want to work on. So, hopefully I can have my models judged in the near future and then I can focus on something else.