Monday, February 12, 2018

Making a Mole Hill from a Mountain

You can't get around compromise in model railroading.  It will find you one way or the other, and it's best to live with it.  This is a case where overthinking can be the death of your progress.  When in doubt, look at the options, but make a decision, and move on. 

It's no secret that the Minoa & Euclid, the shortline that interchanges with Conrail on the Onondaga Cutoff, is a branch that really tested this theory.   Given the constraints in the basement, grades of up to 8% were needed for the route to avoid major physical obstructions around the oil tank.  Would that function once built?   Well, if I were to worry about grades being too steep to look or operate perfectly, this branch never would have been built.

We took a risk in building it, and lo and behold, a pair of locomotives could overcome the steep grades with the short trains that ran on the branch.  But, it was only about a 25-foot run.  My buddy Rick Smirnoff who was instrumental with the benchwork construction suggested to extend the plan around a nook in the foundation for the basement stairs, thus extending the run by 35 feet.   Seeing the steepness work at one spot allowed me to move ahead with this one, and Smirnoff Hill was born! 
That said, it's not pretty, and doesn't appear very prototypical.  The next challenge is tricking the eye with scenery so that we don't focus on the grade as much.

This area had recieved some early experimental scenery that is not up to snuff with my latest efforts, so I am taking another look and will change most of it.  I started with installing my standard cardboard webbing, noting how hills next to the track did a nice job of hiding the grades on other parts of the railroad.  When other areas are steeper, the track appears more reasonably level.

After all that was in place, I cut a piece of 1/8"hardboard Masonite to fit the front of the benchwork as fascia, and used that to attach more webbing with hot glue.  That can quickly be followed by plaster gauze for hardshell, and sculptamold as a final ground surface before paint.  Lots more to come here, it will be a challenge to close this scene out with the workbench so close at hand.

Speaking of the workbench, it was well past time to clean it up.  What a mess.  I cleared the whole surface, and put things back as organized.  Containers for parts and rags, glues, paints, etc now are separate trays rescued from the old toy bin.  This way I can stack those next to the space, and therefore only put them on the surface when they are needed.

Progress, here and there!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Late Summer Details

As winter continues here in New Jersey, and the chaos of young children, middle management at work, and household maintenance grind along, I am making time later in the evenings for the slow and steady progress that has moved the railroad forward.   Lately, I have been finishing some details along the newly installed embankment east of CP 280.

As has been pointed out by some viewers, railroad right-of-way is rarely clean and well-groomed.  The Onondaga Cutoff is no exception - but, the trash comes after the grass!   Some old pallets and tires help to suggest unkempt railroad property, while the green weeds and browning wild grass help to suggest late summer in Central New York.  

Here, SEIN running late comes around the corner into CP280, to start his work at Onondaga Yard.  That's his pick up next to him on the East Lead.

The addition of the new scenery has started to open up some neat viewing angles across aisles.  Here, I am looking from the new embankment across the aisle to the M&E, where their Alcos are idling and waiting for the next crew to arrive.   Summer evening back light helps lend a warm feel to this image.

Some new locomotives are on the workbench and will be added to the roster soon, bringing some 'plain jane' presence as well as a few rare birds, which are as much fun to build and weather as they are to run.   Long evenings help keep things progressing and moving on the OC!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Complete, but not Finished - and the Onondaga Cutoff, In Print!

Big news lately on the Onondaga Cutoff - first, Model Railroad Planning 2018 arrived! As expected on page 44 my article appears.  Kalmbach did a beautiful job putting it together! 

It is such an honor to see this in print, and to see it next to names that I grew up admiring through these pages and those of Model Railroader magazine.  What a rush!

I also have some smaller success to report on the railroad itself.  While waiting for MRP to arrive, I made a big push to complete the scene on which I have been working for several months.  (I had series of late nights in the last week or two.)  The results are what I'd hoped - the scenery was completed ahead of the most recent operating session, and now the railroad has scenic greenery all the way from CP282 and the Syracuse skyline along Onondaga Yard, around the big turn to the east past the dairy farm, to the automatic signals on the bridge at MP 278.8!

First I taped off the areas along the main line where I didn't want grass - the maintenance road, and the track areas.  Once that was in place I installed a mix of static grass as a scenic base.

Once the grass was down, and not yet dry, I proceeded to put down a layer of cinders for the shoulders of the ballast area, and then the ballast itself as shown.

Ballast is spread by the time-tested manner of a brush, with my own addition also of some foam cut to fit which I use as a sort of regulator along the tracks.  Moving this gently back and forth knocks the dust and stones off the rail web and base, and helps to smooth the profile overall, ensuring most ballast stones are down between the ties where they belong.

Here's the profiled ballast before the glue process.   As I have noted here years ago, some of the chalky dustiness will go away after the ballast is soaked with isopropyl rubbing alcohol and diluted white glue (or matte medium).  Once it is soaked it needs to dry for about 36-48 hours to harden.

And, here's the result!  What a change from the earlier photo above.  

Here is the ballasted area beneath the overpass to the east of Onondaga Yard, with all the new scenery in place besides it.  Some details have yet to be added but this gives a good feel for the general look of things.  To some degree, the new scenery seems to belie the amount of thought and planning that went into the scene - this appears as though it has always been this way.  

It's been a great start to 2018, here's to the next few steps on the Onondaga Cutoff - some overdue equipment maintenance and getting a few new locomotives into service.  It's nice to be able to look at this progress each day!


Monday, January 8, 2018

A Disappearing Act

I am watching the mail each day for the arrival of Model Railroad Planning 2018 - I am very excited to see the Onondaga Cutoff in print!   Thanks for your support - see for details!

As regular readers know, recent scenery progress has centered upon the area where the Cazenovia Industrial track comes down to duck under the main line.   With the embankment constructed and painted, it was now time to finish the foliage that can provide the view block, completing the illusion that helps keep this scene from getting too busy. 

First, I taped off the track of the branch, since scenery is messy work - static grass can get all over the place and it's easier to clean with the track protected.  I selected various tans, browns, and greens to get the desired early fall look of dried-out wildgrass.  I also planted some wildflowers and shrubs.

Next, while the new turf cured overnight, I made another group of SuperTrees.  I had started these over New Years Weekend at the Station Inn in Cresson, PA, sitting next to a window overlooking the snowfall and NS mainline action while trimming trees and curing them in glycerin to add some flexibility.   Once home, they were spray painted, and then sprayed with adhesive and covered with flock.  Here's a shot of that operation:

Once the trees dried, I drilled 3/16" holes to accommodate the trunks, and planted the trees strategically to blend together with the backdrop but also to hide the 'tunnel entrance' for the Cazenovia Industrial. While up on the layout I also added yard ballast to the backshop tracks and some basic ground cover in that area too.   A broadside view:

A tighter view, showing a closer photo down the embankment:

Finally, a telephoto view from the iPhone showing the view east along the Cazenovia Industrial Track as it leaves Onondaga Yard and passes by the engine facility.  I am really excited at how these tie the scene together and complete the illusion from all viewing angles - trains down the branch will disappear, and reappear without distracting from the main scene.

The winter months have arrived, with lots of darkness (and this year, three weeks of real oldschool cold and some snow!).  That's a lot of good time to spend on the OC keeping scenery moving, and beginning to get some new power in service too.  

Happy New Year, with lots yet to come in 2018 on the Onondaga Cutoff!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Publication - of the Onondaga Cutoff!

I have been working for some time on a major announcement regarding the Onondaga Cutoff - and today, I can say with excitement that a full-length article on the layout will be published in Model Railroad Planning 2018!

Model Railroad Planning is a special edition, produced by the publisher of Model Railroader, once each year.  It focuses on layout planning and construction, and that's exactly the angle that is taken with my article, which will be published in early January.

I am so grateful for the opportunity, and for the incredible assistance offered by many through the years.  I am hopeful that this is a start to a series of in-depth articles I can create about modeling and layout construction, and that makes me even more thankful for the assistance and guidance. 

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reminders of the Past

It has been discussed before how model railroads function as a sort of time machine for us that are interested in history or in operations.   While the last few installments have left us with a shiny new undergrade bridge, one way we can emphasize history is to use weathering to fade, but not erase, elements of the past in our modeling.  Conrail, for example, ran its trains almost entirely on routes built by its predecessors.  On the Onondaga Cutoff, the predecessor is the New York Central.  

Here, I have applied a series of thinned black with an airbrush to the bright silver girder.  I then moved to add layers with pastel chalk powder, including black and also rust on the bottom flange.  Abutments were painted to represent old, weathered concrete, and then were dusted themselves with pastel chalks.  What a difference!   The old lettering and logos peak through just enough that an observer only sees the lettering after staring for a few minutes.

Here's an aerial view of the whole scene, now with some cinders and ballast along the Cazenovia Industrial Track.   Soon I can feather in the remaining ground cover, a few trees, and we're there!

Sadly, the passage of time also can bring some darker news, and I have some today in that my father's brother, my Uncle Paul, passed away yesterday after an accident at home.  He lived a full life and despite living in Australia, he made several recent trips to the US to spend time with us.  My children knew him, and my heart goes out to his wife and family in Australia.   In the end my father and Paul both passed away doing things they loved: being independent and strong men.  They both passed on their own terms, and both will be missed.  Here is an image, courtesy of Lou Capwell, of the last time each of them visited the Onondaga Cutoff.

This is a good time of the year for reflection, for consideration and quiet appreciation.   Here's to the memories of Paul and Peter Abeles, two brothers and good men for which I am thankful.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November Interchange

Last year, we were invited to have the Onondaga Cutoff be part of an annual round-robin series of operating sessions where a group of layouts in New Jersey are open for a group of modelers and operators from Virginia and Maryland to visit and have a guest operating session.   It was a pleasure to meet so many other modelers of note and to host such a great group of operators!  

This year, we were invited to join the same group on their turf for a weekend of operations and open houses.  I was able to operate on two layouts that have long been inspirations to me:  Mat Thompson's Oregon Coast, and Doug Kirkpatrick's Virginian & Western.  Both were wonderful hosts, and both layouts are nearly complete with robust operations and amazing scenery.  So, I asked permission from the layout owners to share a few of my photos of their spectacular work here.

Friday I was at the Oregon Coast (another 'OC'!) hosted by Mat and Victoria Thompson:

 Jack & Tom hard at work at Hoyt Street Yard, Portland Oregon 

 Jerry working hard at the big Swift Meat Plant outside of Hoyt Street Yard

 Fabulous scenery on Mat's Oregon Coast - the Victoria local passing an abandoned logging camp.

 Friday evening social at Mat's after the session.  Great camaraderie!

 Saturday morning we find ourselves at Doug Kirkpatrick's incredible Virginian & Western, inspired by the Norfolk & Western in VA.  I'm quite partial to the signals, of course, but the hand-laid track is amazing and the scenery very convincing.

 The tail end of my freight train, 99, working at Jamestown Yard.  All cabooses are lit.  The depth of these scenes and the flowing trackwork are a pleasure to see.

Finally, another layout that does night lighting!  While Doug uses blue lights, the effect is wonderful with all the lit buildings and equipment he runs.  Here the switcher at Cincinnati waits in the clear while my train 96 rolls past.  

An overview of the station and mainline at Loraine, lit up after sunset. 

 Signals lit up for east and westbounds to meet at Falls Church, home to a local even overnight.

This was a weekend that I had looked forward to for a full year, and even given high expectations, the weekend exceeded them.  The layouts were wonderful, the operations satisfying and interesting, and the camaraderie reminded me there are still a lot of good people out there.  In short, this is one of the things that makes this hobby so special to us - it's all just good fun.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!