Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bean Field Module: Beans and Weeds

This weekend I was able to get some more work done on the bean field module. All of the scenery bits came from a Woodland Scenics Landscape Learning Kit, except the gravel shoulders on the road which were made from Buff Gravel and the weed clumps that are grass sifted out of some Scenic Express Farm Pasture Blend/

The bean field was done by squirting stripes of white glue on the top of the ribs created earlier and then dumping a bag of medium green coarse ground foam on. After the glue setup I knocked all the loose foam off and viola! a bean field (kind of). I'm not totally pleased with it but its ok for now. I'd really like to get a whole bunch of Blueford Shops corn to try, but this is an awful big area and would be quite expensive.

All of the ditch ground cover is blended fine ground foam, with some clump foliage bushes stick on here and there. It was much too uniform so I also dusted on some burnt grass and yellow grass ground foam to break it up. The tufts were made by putting dollops of white glue on a piece of aluminum foil and then sifting the grass out of the pasture mix onto them. It worked pretty well but not great.

I test ran a little, and posed for a few photos. The operation was pretty lame but photos turned out good. By far the most complete railroad I've ever done, and it's only 12" long! Looking forward to getting another single started, hopefully this week.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bean Field Module: I Hate Ballast

Unitrack is no easier to ballast than anything else. I thought it might be a little easier to do since the road bed has some texture to it. Maybe it would grab the ballast and keep it on the slopes and between the ties better? Nope. Ballasting just sucks. Now that I've ballasted one module, I'll have to do them all. Blech.

I used Arizona Rock and Mineral ballast, Mauve on the main line and Pink Lady on the secondary. No matter how much ballast you put between the rails, it's too much. It takes so very little to get coverage and not over flow onto the ties and get swept up the sides of the rail that you'll 2nd guess yourself. Don't. If you think you have enough ballast between the rails to start spreading and shaping, you have too much.

The entire track area was sprayed with Rustoleum Camo Brown. A random few of the ties were painted with Asphaltum, Black, and Pavement craft paints. It is very hard to tell in the pictures but the effect in person is very nice.

Also this weekend the dirt and earth ground foam went on the bean field. I painted the field black first, then sprayed on some water/glue and sprinkled on the foam with a tea strainer. After I was satisfied with coverage I spritzed on some Windex and hit it with another shot of glue.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bean Field Module: Terrain

The landscape work is mostly complete on the Bean Field module. The roadbed for the 2nd track was buried in drywall compound to try and give it a secondary look. The ballast will be slightly different, and less of it along with grassy shoulders and weeds. Drywall compound was also used to build up the shoulders of the highway to prepare them for gravel and weeds.

For making the furrows in the field, I used a home made scraper cutout of a for sale sign on my wife's Silhouette cutter. It worked very well. First I smeared a fairly even layer of drywall compound on the foam and then drug the scraper through it as evenly as my shaky hands could. It worked very well I think.

The foreground terrain was done with Celluclay, a paper mache like goop. The pink foam is very very very flat, and even the flattest farmland is not that flat. The goopy mixture was troweled on with a spatula and patted down for a smooth but lumpy finish. I had some difficulty getting it to stick to the pink foam board, next time I will rough the surface to give it some tooth. Once dry it is stuck well, just the smearing and spreading was iffy. Celluclay was also used to give the drainage ditch between the highway and bean field some character.

Also at this point I mixed some black paint and plaster together to "pave" the highway. A very thin layer was used. It is a little light for asphalt, but in my experience (which is limited) it's easier to weather the crap out of stuff and make it darker than it is to make it lighter. This should be a good base for a blackwash, oil stains, and patches.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bean Field Module: Track and Road

I was able to spend some more time on the Bean Field module this week. I rebuilt the frame with 1/4 sanded plywood instead of the MDF. MDF was to wobbly and didn't take nails or glue very well. It is just as light now but 10x sturdier.

The track sections are attached with clear latex caulk. Since I'm using foam for the base of the scenery there was nothing to pound nails into, and I find nail heads to be pretty ugly anyway. I had some concerns about the caulk being strong enough to withstand connecting modules together but it seems to be pretty solid. Spoiler alert: I'll be ballasting also so the white glue and rocks should also help hold it down, not that it really needs it.

I also used latex caulk to attach the Funky Foam highway. I smeared the caulk on the base foam and shaped it to have a slight crown, then laid the road material over and lightly pressed it in. The road width is 2" which should scale out to 12' lanes, with a little extra on the shoulders. The shoulders will be built up next to the road with spackle before applying some gravel.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bean Field Module: Part 1

For my first foray into T-Trak I'm building a Single that will have the signature double track main, a stretch of highway, and a bean field. Very simple, very generic. Hopefully I'm thinking small and simple enough that I'll actually complete it.

I chose to use 1/4 MDF for the box, and pink foam for the base. The fascia box is 2" deep, which is not the RP for T-Track, but I read a compelling article on using a 2" fascia and it sounded like a good idea. There are 2"x2" square blocks of 3/4" plywood in each corner of the box for strength and mounting for the adjustable feet. Feet are 1/4" carriage bolts screwed into T nuts smashed into the plywood blocks.

Kind of at a stand still now until the track and a few scenic supplies arrive.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Ndecisive Modeler

The need for more space in the house is upon us, and has required I rethink my layout plans. I no longer have space for a permanent layout and the River Valley Central has been abandon, the right of way turned back to the planning commission. I peeled up all the track, fortunately I had not ballasted much yet so most of it was salvageable. The pink foam was reclaimed, and the bench work sawed into fire pit size chunks.

I'm staying with N scale however. Throughout my layout planning I gradually moved from switching operations which turns out I am not at all interested in to a railfan type plan that is much more suited to my interests. I've also discovered that i really like building models, maybe more so than actually railroading. I like building structures, painting and weathering freight cars and locomotives. I do need some kind of layout though for the occasional therapy session and photography. The stark white work bench top is a great work surface but a terrible photo backdrop.

Armed with these "givens and druthers" and having seen some neat T-Trak modules from a couple of different clubs, it seems T-Trak might be a good way to feed my inner layout monster for a while. They're easily broken apart and stored, Kato Unitrack is bullet proof, each module can be it's own scene for photographing models or connected together for some railfanning, and each section can be completed independent of other sections helping relieve the "Oh god there's sooo much to do" procrastination.

All that said, I bring to you now the Ndecisive Modeler so you can follow along as I waffle between projects and ideas.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Teaching Myself Illustrator (Spoiler Alert)

The past week or so I've been teaching myself Adobe Illustrator for laying out custom decals for the DME 2nd Hand project, and others. Nothing terribly fancy, just learning to use layers and how to have text follow a path. Here's a preview of the sheet I'm working on. Spoiler alert: There are some markings on this sheet for a couple future projects, I figured if I'm going to have decals printed I may as well get a bunch done at once. There is a little more to add yet though, so I'm not spilling the whole thing!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

DME 2nd Hand Diesels: Paint Shop

Both units went through the paint shop. I used craft paint sprayed with an airbrush on both, specifically Apple Barrel Pale Daffodil, Kelly Green (with a drip of black), Apricot, and Black (with a drip of Pavement). It went on very smooth and even, I was quite impressed. At less than $1/bottle it was a real bargain. I've just about moved entirely away from "model" paints, there just isn't any value in a $5 teeny jar of paint I have to drive 100 miles round trip for. To get it to blow out the air brush I thinned it just a bit with Windex, until it was about whole milk or maybe chocolate milk consistency. I did forget to give the nose of 555 the 'bandit' treatment, and did the top of 6606's nose with green though it should probably be all yellow. Those should be easy to fix. All in all quite pleased so far!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DME 2nd Hand Diesels: Fiddly Bits

A package of fiddly bits arrived from Fifer Hobby. Inside were BLMA cut levers, MU hoses and snow plows. I'm not sure I'd bother with the cut levers again, they are so thin and dainty compared to the hand rails and other details you almost can't see them. They are also a real bitch to bend and install. The MU hoses are a nice touch though, and the plows essential for these units.

Also arriving from Canada were a pair of Miniatures by Eric winter hatches. These are very nice cast brass pieces with very little flash other than the casting nub. They also came with very fine wire mesh for the openings.

That should about do it, after fighting the cut levers I'm not going to bother with lift rings or grab irons and stuff. My eyes just don't see that stuff when it's rolling around the layout, but my fingers somehow manage to bend and break stuff anyway. I do have horns to go on after painting is over and I'm done man handling them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

DME 2nd Hand Diesels: Chopped and Stacked

Both units needed some attention in the exhaust stack area, the 555 needs two additional stacks and the 6606 needed them moved on top of the dynamic brake housing. I decided to dabble in resin casting and make copies of an exhaust stack on the non-dynamic hood. I used a basic Alumilite Mini Casting Kit. The results are much better than I would have guessed and it was very easy. The biggest lesson learned was that when casting such a tiny part it is nearly impossible to mix a tiny amount of resin correctly, and there is mucho wasteo. If I ever need to duplicate a part again I'll wait until I have several molds to fill.

Both units got their noses chopped and cabs loosely fitted. The gear tower on the Life Like mechanism is very tall and as a result the hoods are about 1mm too high, but at normal viewing distance and angles it is hard to tell so it fits the "good enough" criteria for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

DME 2nd Hand Diesels

I haven't finished dirtying up the covered hopper fleet yet but I will some day... Until then, I dug out some Life Like SD9's to give some special treatment to. They'll be converted into a tired DM&E SD9 and SD10. This is a project I've wanted to do for quite a while, and the folks over at are having a fall kitbashing party so it seemed an appropriate time to start these. Life Like is probably not a good starting point for such a project but it's what I have so it'll have to do.

The SD9 will be number 6606 that had its nose cut down in one of CNW's rebuilding programs. I plan to use an Atlas SD26 low nose cab. For the SD10 I'm taking the easy way out and will be doing 555, A MILW rebuild that was wrecked and rebuilt again with GP35 cab parts. Easy peasy, I happen to have a cab from a busted Kato GP50 shell. The air filter for 555 I'm particularly fond of, I measured a Detail Associates HO air filter and drew it in Sketchup, then uploaded the drawing to Shapeways. It's crude but effective.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reality Bites

The plan all along has been to work this little layout for two eras or more. Late 1970's and late 1980's for sure, with maybe a late 90's thrown in now and then. The area I'm modeling stayed roughly the same during this time. The only distinctive change was 1986 when C&NW sold it's Winona, MN to Rapid City, SD line to a group of investors who started DM&E. At that time DM&E didn't have any rolling stock of their own and relied on a lease agreement with C&NW. DM&E did get several locomotives from C&NW, and bought several more from SOO. To pull off my dual era all I need is a change in locomotives. For the C&NW roster an array of beat up Alcos will make it clear we're looking at the end of an era, and for DM&E a couple of raggedy SD9s and 10s should be enough indicate the beginning of another. The DM&E will also roster an SD40-2 in new blue and yellow paint.

The C&NW roster shouldn't have any problem negotiating the tight curves planned. The problem comes when I skip ahead 10 years and try to run the DM&E Severe Duty power. The SD9 and 10 might negotiate the 9 3/4" curve and tight #4s in the staging yard, but I'm fairly certain the SD40-2 isn't going to like that and now is the time to do something about it. At best it will probably pull the car behind it off, and at worst the whole train will flop off the rails and onto the floor. This saddens me a bit, because I had intended to lay all the track using stuff I already have, some of it from my first trainset. Something's got to give though, and unfortunately this track is out.

Pulling the plug on trying to build this without buying any track means there is a great deal more flexibility in how the plan can come together. The new plan features 12 1/2" and 13 3/4 for the two big turns and 15" for the S to the elevator tracks. Not large by any means, but way bigger than 9 3/4 and big enough the SD40-2 should be able to make it through with cars in tow.

Those large curves eat up a lot of space, no longer a 30"x80" it has been stretched out to 36"x96". It is amazing how much more railroad can fit with just a few more sq.ft. The return of the switchback is unfortunate, but not a show stopper. I anticipate the elevator switch engine will be parked somewhere along the spur to the right. The road power will deliver cars to the elevator in 3-4 car cuts and it will be up to the elevator crew to get them all spotted under the loader. That operating change should make the switchback be less cumbersome. The road power won't ever be zig zagging through it, and the elevator switcher won't ever leave it. The angle of the switchback spur is open to debate, it doesn't look right as is. Staging capacity has been increased by a car length or so, and new to the plan is a locomotive staging yard. I think my favorite change is the flowing mainline vs the Bowman Gray stadium.

I still have all the new track I bought for my attempt at a shelf switching layout, but quite a bit more will be needed. Thankfully the Atlas Track Famine has passed and I should have no problem locating the rest of it. Cost will be an issue however, as I've gone from having near zero cost for track to several hundred dollars of track. Because if this I've decided to break it down into more affordable chunks. The main loop will be laid, followed by the industry spurs and interchange, and finally the staging yards. The main loop is key, because getting it to a point where trains can run, even if just a loop, is a huge motivator.