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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • The train show, as usual, was overwhelming, but alas, there were no bargains in used On30 equipment. I did get to inspect the new Bachmann military loco. It is a nice model, but not for me.

    I did buy a copy of the 643 page epic tome, Silver San Juan, by Mallory Hope Farrell, for the pocketbook pleasing price of twenty-five dollars. When it came out in 1973, it was a masterwork on the Rio Grande Southern. Why buy it now at this late date? There are a couple of reasons.

    There are still several weeks of winter left, so it has a lot of potential as a source of entertainment. Another reason for the purchase is for inspiration, as the current layout moves into its scenery phase. As the layout is not much more than the squircle of tinplate track that got everything started seventy years ago, I could use some railroad related inspiration with finishing it up.


    • Prototypicality and Plausibility

      The Rio Grands Southern was populated with places that had almost magical names; Mancos, Rico, Hesperus as well as Ophir are just a few of them, plus a local landmark, the sinister sounding, reptilian referenced Lizard Head Pass. The current layout place names tend to be uninspired, but nonetheless practical. Factory, Spur and Bunker, as well as the Water Tower and the Road Crossing can be found along the line. The layout also has a sinister sounding landmark of its own, the odoriferously oriented Outhouse Curve.

      The layout was started some two and a half years ago as a blank slate, part-time project. Almost all of the work, so far, has been learning to use new technologies, pink foamboard layout construction as well as DCC. In addition, a variety of operating scenarios were developed to keep the micro/mini layout from getting boring, once it has been completed.

      As a keen student of history, I also did quite a bit of research to ensure the prototypicality and the plausibility of the layout details. However, while history, technology and operations are my specialties, when it comes to scale model trains, I am a scenery newbie. With a lifetime of experience with tinplate train scenery and with time now of the essence (I feel like I have aged a decade in the last few months), I will be dipping into the tinplate bag of tricks to complete the layout.

      While tinplate scenery may not compliment the high standards that have been set for the rest of the layout, I do like the look of it. I especially like the way that the observer's gaze can be fooled into seeing things that are not there, especially if what is seen is coupled to a memory. At this point in my life, memories are all that I have, so I can have a bit of fun with creating what isn't there.

      Questions and comments are always welcome.


      • A Little Bridge For Use As Layout Scenery

        On a "typical" layout, the location of something as substantial as a bridge carrying railroad tracks over some form of abyss would be planned early on and the bridge itself would need to be a structure of some significance. On a layout for an industrial railroad line, following tinplate scenery practice, things are very different.

        The layout starts out as flat as a billiard table and it stays that way with the track and any scenery items that are deemed to be appropriate applied to its surface. Furthermore, in the prototype world, it doesn't take much of a bridge to support a narrow gauge train and in the modeling world, it takes even less of a bridge to span an imaginary scenic detail.

        For industrial railroad use in On30, most of the available HO bridges are both long in length and chunky in appearance, so this surface mounted bridge started out as an Atlas 2564 thru truss in N-scale. Technically, it is a riveted Warren Truss with vertical bracing members that considerably increase its working load and its O-scale length is nineteen and a half feet. As the side trusses are short in height (four and a half feet in O-scale), this type of bridge is often referred to as a pony truss. In Edwardian times, they were almost everywhere, but only a handful exist today.

        The model was heavily, but easily modified to simulate the carrying of the layout track over a proposed layout feature, in this case a small stream. The center portion of the Atlas N-scale bridge, which normally secures a piece of straight track, is cut out. This modification leaves two separate side trusses with attached walkways. As the layout uses sectional track curves of fifteen inch radius and the overhang on some of the Bachmann On30 equipment borders on excessive, the side trusses and walkways will need to be adequately spaced apart to forestall clearance issues, now and in the future.

        A combination of double wide and single width Evergreen styrene strips (Item No. 115, which are 0.015" thick by 0.100" wide) are used for spacers. These match the widths of the large and small rivet welt plates on the bridge's bottom chord and the sectional track ties sit directly on the tops of these spacers. As a tinplate scenic illusion, from a foot or two away, most viewers would never notice that this layout necessity isn't prototypical. In addition, the styrene spacers are thin enough (fifteen thousands of an inch) so as not to disturb the elevation of the sectional track. Thus the layout trains avoid having to abruptly ramp up and down each time they cross the bridge.

        To allow adequate horizontal clearance, the bridge trusses are spaced so their outside faces are three and a quarter inches apart (thirteen scale feet). This allows the bridge to be used as a scenery item anywhere on the layout where there is curved or straight or even transitional track. However, the only part of the layout track that is currently available is the sweeping curve at the front left hand corner and that is where the modified bridge will be placed, pending the final location of the simulated stream bed.


        • Here are some photos of the bridge temporarily positioned on the layout. It actually looks better in real life. As you can see, there is no ballast under the track. That will be the next tinplate illusion.

          Questions and comments are always welcome.


          • Serendipity Provided The Layout With A Two Car Passenger Train

            Although it is not suitable for full time use on the current layout, the recent bash that resulted in the creation of a small passenger station of the flag stop type, got the creative juices flowing in that direction.

            A while ago, I bought a Bachmann On30 passenger car at a local train show to use as a clearance car for the current layout. The price was quite cheap as it had a Thomas Kinkade paint scheme on it. Kinkade was a popular mass market artist who worked with lit up nighttime scenes, so he referred to himself as the Painter of Light.

            As a result of the station bash, I took the above coach apart to investigate the possibility of repainting it. Held together with tiny screws, hidden glue joints and by other secretive means, dismantling most Bachmann On30 equipment tends to be an adventure. The underframe of the car and the simulated "interior" did not need any work, but the body and roof did. Serendipitously, the gosh awful decorative paint scheme (I am not a fan of Kinkade's work) and a layer of green paint as well as a bunch of decorative decals came right off after a soak in some isopropyl alcohol.

            As things turned out, the coach body was molded in a prototypical green plastic with a dull looking finish, which did not need repainting. The roof was molded in black plastic with a gloss black finish, but it became splotchy after it was stripped, especially where the decals were, so it was repainted with flat black.

            The only problem with the Kinkade cars is the clerestory window strips on the sides of the roof. As there is no easy way to repaint them green, that are now flat black to match the roof, with the original yellow tinted windows reinstalled in the openings. With this amount of success, I started looking for a Kinkade combine to go with the coach, so as to make a passenger train that would justify the temporary layout use of the bashed flag stop station.

            I found a combine on eBay at about the same price that I paid for the train show coach. Apparently, although they are all models of the same passenger cars, when compared to the desirable prototype paint schemes offered by Bachmann, the weirder schemes, that were mainly marketed to be collectables, have not held their value, which is fine with me.

            Disassembly of the Kinkade combine and a dip in isopropyl alcohol provided the same overall results as with the coach. With only a small investment in time and money, there is now a prototypical, two car passenger train to run around the layout, whenever the urge should strike. The current layout may be small, but it is never boring.


            • Fitting Guard Rails To The Layout Bridge

              Based on the success of making four rail, narrow gauge yard track by fitting straight pieces of modified N-scale sectional track in between the rails of straight code 83 sectional track (page 6; 8/2/2018), a similar idea was applied to the layout bridge. For the yard track, many of the N-scale ties were removed and those remaining were wedged in between the code 83 ties, making a rigid straight track structure that is usable by both N and HO equipment.

              However, the bridge is on curved sectional track and the function of the added N-scale track is not for running, but for simulating the derailment controlling guard rails often found on railroad bridges, so some adjustments were made. For starters, a six inch length of Atlas N-scale flex track was used. Twenty of the ties on the flexible tie strip were carefully cut loose, but were left still attached to the rails. The rest of the strip was removed in several chunks.

              The remaining ties were evenly spread so that they fit in the spaces between the code 83 curved track ties out on the bridge. In N-scale, the flex track ties are slightly smaller than the rigid sectional track ties, so they just drop into the spaces between the HO ties, with the tension of the bent flex track rails keeping everything in place. The most tedious part was trimming and bending the N-scale rail ends into the traditional guard rail shape.

              As the final location of the bridge on the layout has yet to be determined, the modified piece of N-scale flex track is temporally installed at the current bridge location. When everything is finally nailed down, literally, the modified flex track guard rails can be removed and reinstalled wherever the bridge is placed. A dab or two of ACC will make the guard rails permanent.


              • Simulating Ballast For The Track

                Way back on Page 3 of this project (10/13/2017) I posted a dissertation on the inherent correctness of Atlas code 83 HO track for use on On30 industrial railroads. For me, ballasting layout track using the "traditional" method has been very tedious and it continues to be so.

                Furthermore, in doing additional historic research, I found that applying traditional ballast would be inappropriate for the current layout. For the light loads and low speeds of a prototype industrial line, a thin layer of ballast was applied to the right-of-way, leaving the tie tops exposed along with much of their sides and ends.

                As the current layout surface already has a grass mat covering, some way was needed to apply the ballast, so that it would physically stay in place amongst the constantly flexing HO sectional track sections. Here another tinplate trick comes to the aid of the current layout. With the track laid and held in place by ordinary sewing pins or tiny nails and the trains running like they should, the ends of the ties are marked on the grass mat and the center line of the track is staked out using sewing pins. The track is removed and the "ballast" is painted onto the grass mat surface using a sponge brush and acrylic craft paint. The painted ballast lines should extend out a bit beyond the tie end markings and they should vary some on either side of the track to make a natural look.

                Here is another trick that goes along with the above, buy a fresh pack of Atlas HO rail joiners and as the sectional track is relaid on the painted ballast, carefully replace all of the old joiners with the new tight ones. Any joiners that are loose are not acceptable and mangling the old ones with a pair of pliers isn't going to help. New joiners will ensure good power distribution for the life of the layout



                • Layout Ballast - continued...

                  The ballast color needs to compliment the brown of the Atlas molded plastic ties and the subdued green color of the textured grass mat. "Coffee Bean" is a FolkArt brand acrylic paint color that was chosen. It is marketed by Plaid Enterprises of Norcross GA. It goes on fairly dark, but lightens as it dries and the following is the reason for its color selection.

                  Although "Brownstone" (a type of sandstone) is generally associated with extensive tracts of Edwardian Era urban building architecture, the simulated waste products of its quarrying makes a suitable choice for the layout ballast. The theoretical location of the industrial railroad is somewhere in south central PA where both brownstone and Ganister Rock, a light colored type of sandstone that was the railroad's bread and butter, were being quarried in the same or adjacent counties. Therefore, the Brownstone quarry waste for use as ballast would have been available at an advantageous price. As Ganister was often quarried by just picking up chunks of rock from mountainside outcroppings, no wastage was available for ballast use.

                  Woodland Scenics makes a variety of handy learning kits of which I purchased the LK954 Landscaping Kit. Among other scenery supplies, it contains small packs of seven different ground cover textures and colors, which when combined, are supposed to cover a two foot by two foot space. Each pack contains a quarter to a half a cup of material.

                  After the sectional track has been relaid (don't forget the new rail joiners), a dab here and a pinch there of the above material, applied to the painted on, simulated Brownstone color, will add some variety to the ballast.

                  Questions and comments are always welcome.


                  • Dotage Made Arboreals For The Layout

                    An Edwardian Era poem, while extoling the glories of nature, ends with the well-known line, "Only God can make a tree." The long defunct, previous On30 layout demonstrated to this now elderly and low skilled minion that the poem just might be right. Nevertheless, Woodland Scenics endeavors to make it look easy, as does a number of "how to" videos that were found on YouTube.

                    Way back when, far longer than I care to remember, I bought their Realistic Tree Kit (TR1112), but I never tried it out. The kit contains various sized, flattened flexible plastic armatures, which need to be bent to shape and a bag that is labeled Medium Green Clump-Foliage. Being vacuum packed inside a plastic bag for a long time, the once numerous, individual clumps had morphed into a single lump of green.

                    Having just received my Income Tax refund, I was sorely tempted to abandon the arboreal DIY project and buy an assortment of ready-made trees, but what would be the challenge in doing that? Doubting my untried skills, instead of investing in a new kit, the following photos show my initial attempt at making a model tree using the compromised components of the old one. While I am not keen on the plastic sheen of the dark colored trunk, I will see how it looks when it is blended into the layout scenery.

                    A model tree should be a canopy of green with a bare branch showing here and there, and it should complement its layout setting. As trackside real estate is at a premium, this smallish tree was shaped to fit close behind the red fire hose shanty that is located between two larger wayside buildings (see the initial writeup on page 9).

                    As it is still wintertime and all the limbs are bare, there is nothing prototypical with which to judge the size and shape of the model foliage, so small, irregularly shaped tufts were tediously mined from the great green lump. Their size was an estimation for what would be appropriate for fifteen to thirty foot O-scale trees.

                    Each of the armatures has a nub on the bottom that fits into a roundish plastic base. While these bases would be proper if the layout was to follow tinplate scenery practices, I do have my limits and the base was not used. Instead, the nub was removed and replaced by a common sewing pin, with its head cut off, glued into a hole drilled in the end of the trunk.

                    In place of my usual verbose ending, "Questions and comments are always welcome." I thought I might simplify it with an acronym...



                    • Here is a photo of the tree.


                      • When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

                        Does anyone remember these?

                        They are from the beginning of onboard electronic locomotive sound, as it existed some forty years ago. From left to right, they are the diesel and steam modules from a company named Modeltronics. This was a new technology at the time and there were a number of competing companies on the market. Modeltronics had a reputation of being among the best sounding.

                        The PFM (Pacific Fast Mail) steam locomotive sound system, a combination of trackside control and onboard sound, complete with bell and whistle, was the best, but it was frightfully expensive as well as quite complex. The exhaust sound only Modeltronics modules were generally affordable and they were easier to install. The modules and their rather large speakers required a lot of space and, in HO scale, dummy diesels and big tenders were their usual haunts.

                        The diesel module is two and a half inches long by three quarters high and wide. Using analog electronics it simulates a generic prime mover, from idle to full throttle, with or without a turbocharger. The analog based steam module is an inch shorter and about the same height and width. It simulates a generic exhaust chuff with a modulated volume (soft to loud). While normal DC track voltage ran the diesel module, a separate battery was required for the steam module.

                        The modules were used trackside and adapted to interface with a set of layout controls that simulated prototypical operation. All in all, it was a nice setup, but my work with real trains pushed such interests into the background.

                        Several decades later, when I started modeling again, it was apparent that DCC was the way to go. Normally, I tend to be a traditionalist, but for train sounds I chose to go along with this new digital paradigm and the analog dinosaurs were laid to rest.


                        • The South End View Of A Northbound Horse

                          For anyone who has taken a carriage ride or has worked with draft horses, this rather unphotogenic view is what is often seen. Needless to say, this is not a view that is normally modeled on a layout.

                          Way back on Page 5 and again on Page 7, I posted some information on horses for the layout. Now hunkered down for the duration on the current pandemic, I am attempting to do some Equus modeling. As would be expected, the dollar store horses are a bit on the crude side, so some of the Toob horses from the craft store (the ones that were recommended for use as cupcake toppers) were selected for the layout.

                          The problem with the horses is they are molded from PVC. While the coats of real horses can have a subdued natural sheen, the models look like they were covered in carnauba wax and buffed to a high gloss worthy of a show car, so this clearly excessive sheen needs to be toned down. The models are also molded in the same color, a golden tan that simulates the Chestnut color of real horses.

                          Equipped with a handful of suitable horses and the flat primer contents of several used rattle cans, I started careful experimentation. Due to the majority of panic buying consumers in my area hording every bit of paint removing (and germ killing) isopropyl alcohol, I need to conserve the small hobby supply that I have on hand and that means not screwing up the horse painting project.

                          Studying horse color charts, there are more combinations than you can shake a stick at, provided that is your idea of having a good time. The grey, dark brown and reddish brown spray can primer colors are actually pretty good matches to real horses. The brown based primers started out flat, but picked up the natural oils from my fingers during handling, giving the coat of the model horse a prototypical sheen (more serendipity).

                          As sometimes happens with old spray paint, the dregs of flat grey primer from an almost empty can dried to a shiny finish. In desperation, the model was given a brushed on coat of matte, dark grey, acrylic paint. Normally, my painting skills are such that the things I do by hand look like they were dipped in paint and brushed with a whisk broom, but this humble grey horse turned out pretty good.

                          Much like with show dogs, horses are now bred for specific traits, such as color combinations, but with ordinary draft animals of the Edwardian Era the mane and tail often matched the color of the horse's coat, so these laboring beasts were rather drab looking. Regrettably, the monochromatic models, although prototypical, made the layout pasture look like a modern sculpture garden with an equine theme.

                          As all of the local "non-essential" stores have been ordered closed, including hobby shops and craft stores, I am using up what is on hand. Ancient jars of Testors flat enamels (as long as the caps are screwed on tight, they never seem to go bad) are available to apply contrasting mane and tail colors. However, this means hand painting some rather small details. With only a limited supply of paint removing alcohol, the pressure is on to do well!


                          • Layout Horses-Continued

                            Here are the grey and dark brown horses with their manes, tails and hooves painted. The reddish brown horse only had its hooves painted.

                            The next photos show the reason for experimenting on the other three horses. It shows a Jutland draft horse with a Dutch Collar harness pulling the loaded kiln cart to supply the layout's refractory brick ovens.

                            The real Jutlands were docile and intelligent and were trained to respond to voice commands, so the model requires no bridle. If a regular horse collar is tried on the horse, it would be nearly horizontal and therefore almost useless, so the much simpler Dutch Collar harnesses were used instead.

                            Closeup photographs are not very forgiving (I see I still need to touch up the tail), so the models of the horse and the cart look better from a few feet away. Little by little, the layout is getting finished.



                            • Another Product For The Layout Industry

                              Pandemic prodded research from period reference books revealed an interesting new product for the layout industry that fits the twin themes of prototypicality and plausibility. That product was used to make potash, which itself was extensively used in manufacturing as well as farming.

                              In the Edwardian Era, most of the world's supply of potash was exported from Germany and the import price in the U.S. was eight to ten dollars a ton. When WWI started, the German supply was cut off and the import price suddenly rose to one hundred and fifty dollars a ton.

                              At that point, it was not only patriotic to manufacture potash, but it was also profitable at a windfall level by converting wood ash into the needed potash and "asheries" sprung up almost overnight. This domestic market rapidly collapsed after the war was over and the German export level returned to normal.

                              Back on page 6 of this Forum posting, there is an explanation on making four rail, dual gauge track and the reasons for needing it. I like the look of this rather unusual, but prototypically correct track, so I wanted to display a bit of it on the layout. The potash famine of WWI provides a suitable excuse to literally piggyback wood ash production onto the original production of refractory bricks. The previous photos of the Jutland horse show the four rail track installation.

                              In the layout scenario, the kilns burned cordwood. With the resulting ashes, normally a worthless byproduct, selling for a prototype price of a thousand dollars a ton in today's money, they were collected and were sold to a local ashery.

                              To facilitate this wartime operation, eighteen inch gauge rails were installed between the rails of the thirty in gauge tracks that serviced the kilns. As previously explained, the small industrial cars used for handling the ashes were equipped with outside flange wheels, so the two gauges shared the same flangeway.



                              • Now For Something Really Strange

                                Finding myself basically bored out of my gourd, I tried building something using the methods and materials from fifty years ago, when On30 was just starting. Such things as cereal box cardboard, the wooden sticks from popsicles and other salvaged household things were then the basic materials. A razor saw, a single edge razor blade and a scrap of fine sandpaper were the usual tools.

                                While prowling around the house to find some present day model building materials, I found a box of oversized wooden matches (used to light fireplaces and outdoor grills) and a box of thin wooden coffee stirring sticks. The square matches scaled out to be about eight inches on a side, but they have a rather rough surface, so they need to have the faces lightly sanded. The coffee stirrers are generally eight inches wide by two inches thick. The matches and stirrers used together would make something that has a heavy framework...but what?

                                With model horses still on the brain, I decided to try to make a horse powered treadmill, also known by the commercial term of a "Tread-Power." At the turn of the last century, they were popular for agricultural as well as other uses and a variety of types and sizes were manufactured, with the largest being three or four horses wide. Most of them were set up at an incline with a pitch of one foot in four, as is this single horse model.

                                Basically, while the horse occupied a stall shaped enclosure, it would walk uphill on a treadmill. To the uninitiated, this situation looks rather odd. A power take off was available at the treadmill axles. It seems that horses liked this kind of work, as no heavy harness or reins were required. A loose loop of rope around the horses neck will guide it onto the treadmill, where it would just walk normally, with G'yup and Whoa as the simple commands.

                                As I did not have the means to make a simulated treadmill, the floor of the stall shaped enclosure was filled in with planks. However, I made the floor removable, just in case I wanted to install a treadmill later on. As the horses occupy the rear third of the layout, this allows the use of a visual tinplate trick and the lack of a simulated treadmill should not be noticeable.

                                The prototype agricultural treadmills were generally compact and light in weight to facilitate moving them where needed in the farmer's fields. With only the equivalent of heavy timbers available, the model treadmill was enlarged to be a stationary industrial size. The total building time from an idea to the present state was most of a day, during which time pleasant memories were invoked and my lagging creativity was suitably stimulated.

                                Whenever I make or buy and then install a small horizontal capstan spool, this Tread-Power model will be assigned to pull the kiln cart into position via a rope. This is visually more interesting than just a horse pulling a cart, plus it will, in theory, keep the horsey byproducts away from the workers in the kiln area.