Saturday, October 30, 2010

Playing with Trains

A few weeks ago I accompanied Debra to a conference in Los Angeles. On the last Sunday I found myself at loose ends in the morning. Sitting outside by the pool with a good book and some coffee until the conference ended and we could visit the beach seemed like a good idea. I’d read all my books, and since I’m not yet Kindle-fied I headed across the street to Target – the only option within walking distance – to see what they had book-wise. Being a na├»ve tourist I was surprised that they opened at 8am, but it was convenient. The only paperback they had that looked interesting to me was a thumbed copy of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed By Flames. I had heard a lot of good things about Mr. Sedaris’ writing, but I had never gotten around to reading any. Now was a good time.


It turned out that it was as good as the hype: hysterically funny, biting, insightful, sympathetic, endlessly fascinating – all true. At several points I had to stifle myself so as not to laugh out loud and make my pool-side neighbours think I was crazy. But, eventually, real life caught up with reading and I only just finished it a week or so ago.


I only mention this because I bought and read Playing with Trains by Sam Posey while still hung-over from Mr. Sedaris’ book. I came across Mr. Posey’s book also quite by accident. Searches in Amazon for hobby how-to books dug it up. I’d never seen a memoir built around a person’s model railroading hobby, so I thought I’d try it.


First, it’s something of a celebrity memoir. Mr. Posey was a racecar driver and ABC sportscaster, so his approach to model railroading definitely reflects this position in society. Throughout the narrative about the construction of his model railroad he frequently hires professionals to help with framing, wiring, model building, and many of the construction tasks associated with model railroad building. But, nevertheless, it’s an interesting story, and very insightful into how some of those massive layouts that are featured in the model railroading press are actually built. It’s also a personal narrative, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts on how model railroading was a theme that ran through his life and reflected on its meaning and impact.


Also, being a celebrity was no doubt helpful in gaining insider access to the luminaries I’ve read about in the model railroading press. Learning about the people and dynamics behind the pages I’ve seen on the newsstand was probably the most interesting aspect of the book for me.


Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, but when I got to the end I wondered how Mr. Sedaris might write about an encounter with the world of model railroading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Art Park and the quirks of grass mat installation

Back in the summer I bought a Busch grass mat at George’s Trains. I was browsing and saw a big stack of them in a box and thought I’d buy one just to see if I might have some idea for using it. It’s a little bigger than a 81/2 x 11 sheet of paper; has a ‘grassy’ surface – well, if grassy means a stubbly surface like you’d have after getting a flattop at the barber - on one side, and a papery surface on the other.


It languished in my supplies box for awhile. When I started working on Art Park it seemed like the best material for making a smooth, uniform lawn, which is what I wanted for this scene. Grass mats are a little hokey looking, but for the lawns in a scene that is somewhat fanciful to begin with, it seemed like a good way to quickly build the look I wanted.


I cut the various pieces for the grounds by laying out the patterns on the back of the mat and then sliced them out with a knife and straight-edge. Gluing them down was a little tricky. I got a little frustrated because the glues I had on hand either wouldn’t bond properly, or required a long curing time that necessitated holding down the mat pieces with weights. I finally resorted to overkill and used thick super-glue to do the job. It easily holds down the mat to the form-core base and sets up quickly. The downside is that you need to place the mat on the scenery base correctly the first time because the glue sets up quickly and has only a very narrow window for making adjustments. But, once you’ve practiced a little, you’ll get nice looking results very quickly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Art Park on Idlewild Boulevard - Beginnings

I finally stumbled upon a place and arrangement for the SRSv2 and L’il Overlook buildings: I thought I’d organize them into a public art park on the southern end of the city. Basically, it’s an area that was once a thriving light industrial area, but after going through a prolonged state of neglect where many of the businesses closed down, the old derelict buildings were demolished and it was revived into a tourist area. An early part of the revival was the installation of sidewalks so visitors could walk down from the city, but it’s now moving on to landscaping, structure installation and road building. It’s beneficial to have a level-crossing nearby to bring in tourists – hopefully, it’ll have a station platform to service the park.


There is still some industry nearby. Just to the north, on the other side of the tracks, is the undeveloped location for the Barrel and Marble Works – maybe Cedar Heights Station will find a place here too. The Barrel and Marble Works is a repurposed building: it once housed a mill, but instead of demolition, it has been renovated a bit and leased out to smaller businesses. Further north and east is the Moore industrial park where the still thriving Bunn’s Feed and Seed, and Jones Chemical Company are located. One can see the progression from modern to legacy land use and how the railway fit in.


No, I haven’t lost my mind. Thinking about how the businesses might have evolved helps me to develop the railroad even though it’s just a retro-modern fiction in HO-scale. I’ll try and keep posting photos as the scene develops - this one is just the beginning to set the stage.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cedar Heights Station

I’m interested in models that one can see into or through. Scarboro Square Station was one project where I tried out this idea. It doesn’t have any glass components, but you can look through it from many angles. Cedar Heights Station is a simple project where I wanted to use a glass wall as the dominant element.


The concrete base is built from several pieces of 0.080 inch styrene glued up into a single block as was done with the loading dock at the Jones Chemical Company. When solid, the outer surfaces were coated with putty and sanded when dry to help mask the styrene edges.


The glass wall is cut from a piece of thin clear plastic - I seemed to have lost the specification sheet. It’s edged with 1/16 inch L-shaped styrene pieces that were painted with Tester’s Model Master steel paint prior to gluing to the wall with thick superglue. That job was a nail-biter. I had to be extra careful not to get any glue on areas of glass that could be seen. This may not be the best way to attach these things and I need to look into better methods.


The roof is corrugated Evergreen styrene sheet laminated to a piece of 0.010 inch styrene to give the roof a little more depth and structure.


When I glued-up the various pieces I positioned and held all of them by hand while they dried. I should have used some clamps and templates because things got a little crooked. I pulled things apart a bit and did some re-gluing to square things up, but it only partially fixed the problems. A little strategic camouflaging with figures and scene details helped make things look a little more aligned and righteous.


I’m having a bit of a problem deciding where to place the signboard. I’ll post an update when I’ve made up my mind.


{A rather ominous picture (!) now that I look at it more closely}


Although I like the look of this building, Cedar Heights Station wouldn’t stand-up in the real world; way too flimsy and unbalanced for Ontario, and maybe anywhere else. But, that’s one of the good things about model building, you can build whatever you want.